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

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    Default Book 22 Chapter 7

    Book 22 Chapter 7 Ambushing Troops Secret Crossing

    Bai Wenyuan took a map, drawn on silk cloth, and spread it out on a makeshift crude wooden table setup by the command tent. As if by prior agreement, Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Xuan Yong immediately stooped down to examine it carefully.

    Pointing to a big mountain range spanning diagonally across the map, Xuan Yong said, This must be Dahong Mountain. Even the mountain roads are listed clearly. This is the first time that I see such a meticulous map.

    Kou Zhongs sharp eyes caught a line of small characters on the corner of the map; he read, Respectfully made by Bai Wenyuan. Ha! Turns out Bai Xiong is an expert in drawing map. Apologies for failing to venerate.

    Bai Wenyuan modestly declined, Its just a minor art handed down in my family, it cant be considered anything.

    Sighing with admiration, Xu Ziling said, The writing brush Bai Xiong used must be stiffer than ordinary writing brush tip, otherwise, how could you draw such fine lines? Plus there are many kinds of color, it is nice-looking and pleasing to the eye.

    Slapping the table in praise, Kou Zhong said, The most awesome thing is that it wont discolor; the ink must be very special.

    Seeing that his hand-painted map received so much appreciation, Bai Wenyuans mood was somewhat better; he cheerfully said, All Zaixias ancestors were geography masters; we studied Fengshui and Five-Element meticulously, therefore, since childhood I followed my humble father going everywhere to survey mountain and river terrain, and drew it for the record. Only Ive never thought that in the future it would find itself for military use.

    Xuan Yong said, From here to Flying Horse Ranch, there are at least a hundred different routes, plus we have Bai Xiong, who is familiar with the mountain and river terrain, leading the way. What are we afraid of?

    Smiling ruefully, Bai Wenyuan said, Because of the Dahong Mountain and several big rivers separating east and west, in reality there are only five routes in the interior of the mountain, plus two routes north and south of Dahong Mountain. The worst part is that the setup of the sentry locations was all designed by Zaixia, no matter how we try to conceal our track, it will be difficult to escape the opponents eyes and ears. Ay! Its all my fault!

    Proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, If we do not go to the Flying Horse Ranch, but go straight to Yiling instead, what do you think?

    Bai Wenyuan dejectedly said, That is worse. Xiao Xian already ordered Dong Jingzhen, he knew from the war two gentlemen waged against Li Mi that gentlemen can effectively use ambushing troops, therefore, there is a great possibility that you might launch surprise attack to Yiling, hence they are already prepared to guard against this. Furthermore, the only route to Yiling from here is by way of Chang Jiang [Yangzte River]; it will be more easily exposed.

    Xu Ziling asked, Does Bai Xiong know the route An Long and Zhu Mei took to return to Hans interior?

    Bai Wenyuans pair of eyes flashed coldly, he also replied coldly, Naturally via Chang Jiang; this way they wont have to be afraid that Fu Gongyou might overtake them.

    Kou Zhongs spirit greatly aroused, he asked, How many ships do they have?

    Bai Wenyuan replied, Their fleet consists of ten wine-transporting ships; we came here disguised as cargo ships transporting wine. The fleet should still remain on the crossing dock west side of Tongan, pretending to wait for the shipment of the raw material to make wine, while actually we are waiting for An Long.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, This is called the Heaven is helping me. Now we must immediately hasten to hit the road; before An Long and that poisonous womans arrival, well take possession on those ten wine-transporting ships, and then well execute the secretly crossing the Wei Riber at Chencang stratagem [idiom: refers to a stratagem used by Liu Bang against Xiang Yu], using them to advance to our destination.

    Xuan Yong accepted the order and hurried out to notify the other generals.

    Emotionally moved, Bai Wenyuan said, Shao Shuai, please uphold justice for Wenyuan.

    Wrapping his arm around Bai Wenyuans shoulder, Kou Zhong said, Bai Xiong, dont worry. What I am afraid of is that at that time, you will still find it difficult to abandon old feeling.

    Pei! Bai Wenyuan spat, and spoke with a cold snort, Even if that poisonous woman cut me up into ten thousand pieces, I will not knit half my brow.

    Xu Ziling said, Killing Zhu Mei is easy, but An Longs martial art skill is no small matter; if he slips out of our net, he might spoil our plan big time.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, Hence we must really plan it well before making any move; we will setup a large and tight net so that An Long will not have any door from which he could escape.

    Bai Wenyuan was silent for half a day; finally he shook his head and said, My bad; there is no reason for you to risk your lives for me, it is also not worth it for me to take this risk for the sake of this cheap s1ut. As soon as we get the ships, we will head west immediately. A gentleman wants to take revenge, ten years is not too late. Let An Long and that cheap s1ut fall into emptiness, with Fu Gongyous pursuing troops behind them. That can already make me extremely happy.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Very well! In short, I, Kou Zhong, guarantee that I will wipe Bai Xiongs deep enmity clean. Hows Bai Xiongs spirit? We are still relying on you to lead the way!

    This moment their men arrived leading their horses. Bai Wenyuan flew up the horseback and said with a laugh, As soon as I remember that cheap s1ut, my vitality rose up a hundredfold; two gentlemen please be at ease.

    Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Xuan Yong and Bai Wenyuan jumped down their horses, and flew up to the top of a hill. Under the moon and the starlight, about half a li down below they saw the rippling waves of the Yangtze River. Moored on the crossing-dock were seven medium-sized sailing boats, with no light at all.

    Thank Heaven and thank the Earth, Kou Zhong said, Bai Xiong is indeed a geographical expert, so we can catch up ahead of that pair of dog man and woman. But why seven ships instead of ten?

    Bai Wenyuan shook his head and said, I am not sure. Perhaps the other three are on another mission!

    Whos guarding the boats? Xu Ziling asked.

    All of them are An Longs men, Bai Wenyuan replied, We must kill them all, lest they leak the news.

    Noticing Xu Zilings eyebrows were immediately furrowed, Kou Zhong hastily said, That is too cruel and heartless; as long as we can capture them all alive, we can set them free in some deserted riverbank. Even if they wanted to, it would be difficult for them to transmit the news, only homing pigeons will be faster than we are.

    Stunned, Bai Wenyuan said, Shao Shuais style of work is certainly entirely different from Zhu Can, father and daughter. Ay!

    Trying to console him, Xuan Yong said, Our people are ready, the most urgent thing is to survey whats ahead of us.

    Turning to Kou Zhong, he said, At the Yellow River, several times has subordinate led my men to attack enemy ships moored on the riverbank. Shao Shuai only need to set the time of the attack, I guarantee that everything will be executed properly.

    This matter should not be delayed, Kou Zhong said, We seize the ships and capture the men immediately, using fast to defeat slow, using well-prepared to beat ill-prepared. Pure and simple: it will be a delight!

    Like a ghost or a demon Xu Ziling floated back; he gave report to Kou Zhong and his men, who had been hiding behind a pile of rocks by the shore, The ships defense is sloppy and ordinary; each ship has about a dozen sailors. If we move fast enough, I guarantee that we will be able to capture everybody in one net.

    Kou Zhong signaled Xuan Yong, who had been waiting by his side, to move. The latter immediately let out an owl cry, the seven groups consisted of seven hundred men in total, who had been crouching low on the ground, responded by going into the water, and then without making any noise they swam toward the seven ships.

    Xuan Yong sent out another signal, Bai Wenyuan, leading more than four hundred men cavalry, responded. From the mountain road, with battle formation at its peak, they galloped down toward the crossing dock.

    The dense sound of hoof beat broke the serenity of the late-night riverbank, completely drowning the rustling sound of the flowing water.

    Lights immediately appeared on the moored ships. Shadows flickered and flashed, all attention was at Bai Wenyuan and the men who dressed as his subordinates.

    Bai Wenyuan galloped out of the formation and shouted, Summon everybody immediately, prepare to set sail!

    Someone on the ship responded, Everybody is already waiting onboard! What about Da Laoban [big boss]?

    Bai Wenyuan cried out, Da Laoban is here, but Jiang Huai Armys pursuing troops are behind him. Quickly let us aboard!

    Hearing the pursuing troops, the men on board immediately panicked. They set down the plank, raised the sail, and set sail in confusion.

    Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Zilings ear, Success! Its our turn now.

    Creak! Creak!

    Kou Zhong pushed the door and entered; he said to Xu Ziling, who was sitting up from the bed, Wake up!

    Did you have to make so much noise to wake me up? Xu Ziling said in displeasure.

    Kou Zhong sat on the edge of the bed, stretching out in exaggerated movement, and said, I also fell asleep and was out cold. Look! The sun is at least four-pole high!

    Xu Ziling deeply felt the same way, Now I understand what is called toiling the army in military expedition is not what a wise man would do. The two of us already made our names, but last night when I went to bed, I still feel like all the bones in my body were falling apart.

    Kou Zhong looked out the window at the mother earth bathed in bright and beautiful sunshine. He said, This time we can be considered a bit lucky, running into Bai Wenyuan. If not, it would not be different than walking right into the trap. Now we are disguising ourselves as An Longs fleet transporting raw material to make wine, plus we have Bai Wenyuan, this genuine-goods-at-fair-prices Garuda Army general stepping in to direct the operation. Do you think there is still any flaw?

    Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, When An Long and Zhu Mei arrived at the crossing dock and found out that the seven ships have gone missing, what would they think?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Naturally they would indulge in flights of fancy; but they would never find half a hoof print on the ground, because we swept it away. Therefore, they would never think to associate Bai Wenyuan with us; they might think that Jianghuai Navy arrived and captured their men and ships, or perhaps they had scared his men off that his wine boat slipped away.

    Where did the other three ships go? Xu Ziling wondered.

    Its nothing, Kou Zhong replied, They just received An Longs order to sail to Jiangdu to do business. Turns out An Longs wine-transporting ships have always been doing business with those Snake and Dog, Two Fools, Pei Yue and Pei Yan.

    The Dragon and Tiger, Two Lords became Snake and Dog, Two Fools in Kou Zhong mouth.

    Xu Ziling left the bed and walked over to the window. He stretched his limbs, while looking at the fascinating forest and open country beyond the bank of the river, resplendent in the bright sunlight. Where is our next stop? he asked.

    Kou Zhong said, We are going to reach Xiao Xians Jiujiang [lit. nine rivers] county tonight. If we can pass this place, our ambushing troops will penetrate deep into the enemys territory. Currently I change my mind; I want to deal a crushing blow to the coalition army under Dong Jingzhen leadership in one go. Ling Shao, do you have any thought?

    Xu Ziling agreed, It ought to be so, he said, Shall we notify Beautiful Changzhu [Ranch Master] to coordinate with her?

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, According to Bai Wenyuan, although they failed to take Changyang and Yuanan, but they put these two cities under siege that not one drop can trickle through. Flying Horse Ranch is also under close surveillance, so we must not beat the grass to scare the snake at all.

    And then, rising up to his full height, he came over behind Xu Ziling and said, Do you think Shi Feixuan came to Hefei has something to do with Wan yaonu?

    Of course, Xu Ziling replied, Their struggle has turned from a battle of force and blade into a competition of control over the world. Shi Feixuan is fighting for the happiness of the people, while Yin Gui Pai wants to expand its influence. If the future emperor is under Yin Gui Pais control, Ci Hang Jingzhai will not have any place to set their feet. That will be more beneficial than defeating Shi Feixuan.

    Emotionally moved, Kou Zhong said, Your conjecture is very rational. In that case, among the warlords vying for supremacy, there must be one Yin Gui Pais man. Could that person be Ol Die?

    Xu Ziling pondered, Ol Die does not look like Yin Gui Pais man at all, Xiao Xian is more like it. But if Xiao Xian is indeed a Yin Gui Pai demon, he would have not helped us assassinating Ren Shaoming. And thus, Lin Shihong is the biggest suspect.

    Kou Zhong sat comfortably in the chair by the cabin window; he said cheerfully, If it is really Lin Shihong, then its the same as if Yin Gui Pai is eating a damaged walking stick. Currently, no matter how you think about it, you wont remember Lin Shihong. Unless in a short period of time he can acquire Xiao Xian and the Song Familys support; if not, he can only wait to be destroyed by the other faction.

    Do not underestimate anybody, Xu Ziling said, Although, contrary to expectation, Lin Shihong stays in the south, but he occupies Poyang Lake, which give him distinct advantage. Presently, the Song Family and Xiao Xian are helpless to do anything to him, hence the reason Yin Gui Pai is keeping the hostility under control, conniving at our high wind and high rain, the more we make chaos the better. When Xiao Xian is crossing to the north, Lin Shihong can expand in a big way. This aspect must not be lightly ignored.

    Slapping the table in praise, Kou Zhong exclaimed, Makes sense! Or perhaps Lin Shihong has nothing to do with Yin Gui Pai at all; the real demon can be Liu Wuzhou, Liang Shidu, Dou Jiande, even Li Zitong, Zhu Can, or Cao Yinglong. Ha! This guessing game is really interesting.

    Xu Ziling sat down in the other chair; smiling, he said, As long as we are successful in one thing, it doesnt matter which one is the Yin Gui Pai demon, we will deal a heavy blow on Yin Gui Pais grand scheme of world domination.

    Kou Zhongs spirit was shaken, What one thing? he asked.

    Xu Ziling replied indifferently, Taking over Xiangyang, driving out Qian Duguan and Bai Qinger.

    Kou Zhongs pair of tiger-eyes lit up; nodding, he said, Well said! That is Yin Gui Pais heaviest x木莸悖 [I have no idea what it is, the first character seems to be missing, I checked all my three sources] in the Central Plains. The day I conquer Jingling will be the harbinger of Qian Duguans downfall; the King of Heaven or Lao-tze wont be able to stop me, Kou Zhong.

    In the dark of the night, the seven ships were sailing slowly into the waters of Jiujiang.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling put on their mask, and stood behind Bai Wenyuan, ready to deal with any sudden change.

    In their hearts, the two boys had some kind of peculiar feeling.

    It was in this big city on the southern bank of Yangtze River that they went through the nine-deaths-and-were-still-alive realms, succeeded in killing Ren Shaoming, destroyed the conspiracy between the Tiele people and Yin Gui Pai, reversed the situation in the south, which also made their names shook the heavens.

    Jiujiang has changed hands several times, before finally fell into Xiao Xians hands, forcing Lin Shihong to stay in Poyang.

    A small boat of Baling Army sailed speedily toward them.

    Bai Wenyuan talked with the captain, who had climbed aboard to their ship, naturally there was no problem. But when they started to relax, a warship left the dock and head straight toward them.

    Astounded, Bai Wenyuan asked, What is it?

    The captain returned a blank, Its General Chen Wus ship, he replied, I dont know what it is either; perhaps he just wanted to speak with General Bai!

    Everybody cried, Bad! inwardly, but they had no choice but to wait with blank expression on their faces. If they were discovered, their previous achievement would all go to waste, killing a few people would not help.

    While their scalp went numb, the enemy ship slowly approached. A general, leading four or five attendants, leaped over to their ship, laughed aloud, and said, Bai Jiangjun, how are you? How come I did not see Mei Gongzhu [princess]?

    Everybody, without exception, breathed a sigh of relief.

    Bai Wenyuan stepped forward and raised his cupped fist in salute, Chen Jiangjun, please do not blame Xiao Jiang [lowly general] for passing through the door but not entering; it is because we have an urgent matter, and must return immediately. Mei Gongzhu has something to attend to and has to stay in Hefei; she will be two days late.

    Chen Wu nodded and said, That is as it should be. This time I came aboard to pay a visit, there is actually a favor Id like to ask.

    Bai Wenyuan laughed aloud and said, Chen Jiangjun need not stand on ceremony; as long as it is within Xiao Jiangs power to do so, it will definitely be done properly.

    Chen Wu said, To Bai Jiangjun, this is merely the exertion of lifting one's hand. Three days ago, we intercepted Flying Horse Ranchs ship on the River, killed more than a dozen people on the spot, but one kid managed to escape, only this evening we were able to catch him back. We were just about to torture him for questioning when we heard Jiangjun is here. I was wondering if you could do us a favor by taking this man to Dong Shuai [Commander]? This mans martial art skill is quite good, he must have a bit of position in the Flying Horse Ranch, plus he had been seen with Kou and Xu, those two thieves, he might be of a great use to Dong Shuai.

    Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were both sad and happy at the same time. Sad naturally because Flying Horse Ranch brothers were killed. Happy because with no blood on the men's swords [idiom: effortless victory], they could rescue back this kid, who, very likely, was Luo Fang.

    Naturally Bai Wenyuan did not stop agreeing.

    Bring him here! Chen Wu shouted.

    The ship left Jiujiang.

    His spirit took a beating, Luo Fang, with bare upper body, while letting someone clean and replace the bandage of his many wounds, drank a cup of hot tea, and spoke in disbelief, I thought everything was over, who would have thought that unexpectedly I came across you guys; its just like in a dream.

    Kou Zhong hatefully said, It was practically a trap. They intentionally let you go to us for help, but on the way back they made their move against you. Fortunately Laotianye has eyes, we ran into you.

    Xuan Yong said, Now victory and defeat will be decided by who can move a bit faster. We have no other choice, we can only go ashore at the most advantageous location, and then go full speed to attack Dong Jingzhen so that he will be caught unprepared, and then rendezvous with the Ranchs main forces, while the enemy is flustered, we launch a large-scale counterattack, resolving it in the shortest time possible.

    Everybodys eyes turned toward Bai Wenyuan.

    Full of confidence, Bai Wenyuan said, In three days, we will turn into River Ju, and disembark at Chunfeng Du [lit. spring breeze crossing], about ten li south of Dangyang. I am confident that we will be able to keep all gateways in the dark, and hide from Dong Jingzhens hidden army at the Chunfeng Hill. I will then make a map, and have everybody study it, to determine how we are going to make Dong Jingzhen suffer a big defeat.

    Delighted, Kou Zhong said, We will to use these three days time to preserve and nurture our spirit, so that when the time comes, we are not a weary force, but a lively-dragon, animated-tiger-in-military-expedition ambushing force!

    The crowd responded with thunderous roar. Their morale was elevated to its highest point.

  2. #262
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 22 Chapter 8

    Book 22 Chapter 8 Strange Tactic To Subdue The Enemy

    At noon, everybody abandoned the ships and disembarked at the eastern bank of Ju River. They hid the seven ships in a tributary of the River, and took their horses to hide into a dense forest near the riverbank. While the horses were resting and eating grass, Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Luo Fang, Bai Wenyuan, and Xuan Yong, five men left first to scout the enemy situation.

    Dong Jingzhens ten-thousand-man elite troops were stationed only five li upstream from the place they disembarked. Several landing docks were built along the Ju River, and moored on these docks were more than a dozen battleships. Close to shore were three main wooden strongholds, for Xiao Xian, Zhu Can, and Cao Yinglong, respectively, the three factions troops.

    The positioning of their garrisons was indeed very strategic and impeccable; it was close to both the water and land major routes, not only it would enable them to rapidly provide assistance to the attacking troops toward Yuanan and Dangyang, they would also be able to intercept Kou Zhongs Shaoshuai Army, either by water or land.

    The five men felt a very big headache.

    Disappointed, Bai Wenyuan said, Although I was clear about the situation in here, I didnt know they would be divided into three strongholds on separate hills. Watchtowers standing in great numbers are not the problem, but they also flattened the nearby trees, so that in attacking one factions stronghold, no sound can be hidden, no risk can be avoided.

    Frowning, Xuan Yong said, These three wooden strongholds are extraordinarily sturdy, the defense inside and outside the fort are adequate; just by releasing arrows from the battlement holes, they can smash our attack. If we had more time, we could use battle equipment to attack the fort, but now we are unable to do anything.

    Distressed, Kou Zhong said, If we cannot break the enemy tonight, tomorrow we cannot hide from the enemys spies. The biggest headache is that our military strength is already inadequate to attack one stronghold, forget about attacking the three forts at the same time. Looks like we can only use deceit.

    Xu Ziling patted Luo Fangs shoulder and said with a smile, Xiongdi, I am afraid we will have to wrong you!

    A sailboat appeared from the tributary, braving the darkness going upstream in the direction of the enemys stronghold.

    Everybody was standing on the observation deck, looking into the distance at the terrain on both banks.

    This evening the moon was casting its light directly onto their faces, shrouding the mountain forest near and far in its golden light. Even without any lantern, everything could be clearly seen.

    Naturally Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had their masks on to hide their real identity. The former sighed and said, Next time we are using ambushing troops to attack the enemy, we must plan it not to happen on the full moon. Like right now, there is not much difference to mounting a sneak attack during the daytime.

    Xu Ziling asked Bai Wenyuan, In Bai Xiongs knowledge, is it possible that Chen Wu of Jiujiang would use a homing pigeon or something like that to notify Dong Jingzhen one step ahead that we are going to take a prisoner for him?

    Muttering to himself irresolutely, Bai Wenyuan replied, That possibility is surely quite high; while naturally homing pigeons do not know how to fly here, but they could fly to Yiling, and then the information can be sent here using fast horse.

    Kou Zhong said, Well find out really soon. Come!

    Calm and unhurried, Bai Wenyuan personally operated the signal lantern to notify the two skiffs coming to meet them.

    After the three boats met, the two skiffs turned around and piloted them toward the place where they should dock.

    Before they even cast their anchor, a high-ranking military officer from Baling Army jumped aboard, saluted to Bai Wenyuan, and said, Bai Jiangjun, how are you? Xiao Jiang Lei Youshi. Dong Shuai already knew you are coming, but did not know it would be this soon. [Translators note: interesting fact, Lei Youshi means thunder is starting.]

    Laying down the load on his mind, Bai Wenyuan laughed and said, Such an urgent matter, naturally wed do everything in our power to come quickly to deliver the prisoner. Any news about those two small thieves?

    That Baling Armys Deputy General called Lei Youshi replied, We received news today that by using some tricks, those two small thieves turned Rong Fengxiangs Bai Ye General Assembly upside down and in complete shambles. Um, didnt Bai Jiangjun come from there? You ought to have clearer knowledge about this.

    Bai Wenyuan cheerfully said, This matter is unusually complicated, well talk in details after I make my appearance. How about Lei Xiong come to our sides fort to chat after we hand over the prisoner to DongShuai?

    Smiling bitterly, Lei Youshi said, I am on duty tonight; how about tomorrow night? Those two small thieves have always appeared and disappeared unpredictably [orig. gods appear and devils vanish]; even Li Mi, Yuwen Huaji, Li Zitong, and the others are not their match, it wont do if I dont have twelve awake-spirits.

    A bizarre feeling rose up in Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings hearts.

    It was not polite words, but it came from the enemys mouth, heartfelt words full of wariness; it could clearly be seen that their names had intimidated the world, no wonder Xiao Xian, Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong were so active in plotting against them, and attached more importance to them rather than the Flying Horse Ranch.

    The hull shuddered slightly, the shipped was docked.

    Bring the prisoner out! Bai Wenyuan shouted.

    Immediately someone pushed Luo Fang out and handed him over to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who took their positions on his left and right, as they walked down the ship. On the surface Luo Fang looked like he had been beaten pretty bad; not only his clothes were tattered, there were streaks of dried blood and some bruising on his face as well.

    The others remained on board the ship.

    Leading the way, Lei Youshi casually commented, Your ship seems to be riding low on the water, it must be filled with goods.

    Walking behind, Kou, Xu and Lou, three men were secretly startled, but Bai Wenyuan nonchalantly laughed and said, Lei Xiongs eyesight is indeed formidable; the entire hold is full of rice grain, it would be strange indeed if it werent low. If not for the tail wind, we would not have arrived here this quickly.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance; they both could see the brilliance of this answer. With these few sentences, Bai Wenyuan successively resolved several issues; not only he was praising Lei Youshi, he also addressed the heavy load of the ship, and most importantly he explained the tail wind, which enabled them to arrive swiftly, and thus dismissed the other partys misgivings.

    Arriving on shore, a group of more than twenty Baling Armys troops escorted them, in front and behind, as they walked toward the Baling Armys stronghold.

    Lei Youshi looked back at the hanging-his-head-dispiritedly Luo Fang, and spoke in a low voice, This kid seemed to have received some sufferings from Bai Jiangjun; whats his name? And what kind of useful information did he bring?

    Bai Wenyuan was waiting precisely for these questions; delighted, he replied, This kid is called Luo Fang, an important figure of Fu Zhishi [deputy manager, see Book 9 Chapter 4] level within the Flying Horse Ranch. He was on his way to see those two small thieves to ask for help, but was returning alone earlier to inform Shang Xiuxun about the grand plan concerning the counteroffensive against us. Tell me, do you think this is a useful information?

    Emotionally moved, Lei Youshi said, That is indeed an extremely important information; Bai Jiangjun is really resourceful.

    Bai Wenyuan responded gloomily, It was none other than that set of old tricks, nobodys mouth is stronger than those malicious torture.

    Lei Youshi shouted to a Baling Army soldier in front of him, Run to notify Dong Shuai: Bai Jiangjun has an extremely important information to be reported immediately.

    Accepting the order the soldier ran away.

    Lei Youshi suddenly smiled evilly, The day before yesterday we caught a group of village girls in the neighboring villages, among them there are two whose appearance is fairly beautiful, is Bai Jiangjun interested?

    Murderous intent immediately flashed through Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings eyes.

    Bai Wenyuan laughed and said, Lets set them aside for Lei Xiongs enjoyment! I just came back from Hefei. Ha! Lei Xiong ought to know what I am talking about!

    Greatly delighted, Lei Youshi said, Understand! Understand! Ay! Living in wild, mountainous country is indeed too dry and maddening.

    This moment the entourage turned uphill along the sloping path leading toward the mountain stronghold; they saw on both sides of the road three layers of trenches to trap horses, full of sharp thorns in the inside. Seeing this, Kou Zhong and the others cried lucky! inwardly.

    Were it not for this brilliant scheme of entering by deceit, with less than a force of two thousand men attacking three separate wooden forts with tens of thousands men inside, it would be like a moth throwing itself into a flame, or like using a praying mantis arm to block a chariot.

    The commander tent was brightly lit.

    Dong Jingzhen was sitting in the commander chair, on his left and right stood four high-ranking military officers, all were unable to take their eyes off Luo Fang, who was being dragged into the tent.

    Dong Jingzhen looked to be around forty years old, tall and thin, with square face and big ears, and distinct lines on his face, his chin was protruding, his eyebrows and hair thick, his overall appearance was bold and powerful.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling shouted at the same time, Kneel!

    Luo Fang shook for a moment, as if his legs suddenly went weak, he dropped on his knees, with head hung low; his acting was so good that even Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, and Bai Wenyuan could not see any flaw.

    Apart from Lei Youshi, the other guards did not follow inside the tent.

    Dong Jingzhen laughed aloud and said, Bai Jiangjun could extract such an important military intelligence from this kids mouth, you have rendered great merit to the coalition forces, it is worthy of celebration.

    Bai Wenyuan turned toward Kou and Xu, two men, and ordered, You wait outside the tent.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling loudly acknowledge the order, turned around and out of the tent.

    This command tent was located in the center of the wooden stronghold, surrounded by large empty space, with all the other tents located fifty paces away. There were eight guards standing around the tent.

    The twenty some soldiers who came with Lei Youshi were standing on the path, ready to get out of the fort and return to the crossing dock.

    The two boys ran after them, and walked toward the strongholds gate.

    All the officers and soldiers within the camp were already in their tents to rest and sleep, only those who were on guard duty remained outside to patrol the fort. Except for the wind lanterns illuminating the main paths connecting all four stronghold gates, the camp was dark. Under the bright moon, the tents looked like mounds of steamed buns growing out of the ground.

    There were more than ten soldiers standing on guard at the gate, four of whom were serving on sentry duty on the watchtowers rising approximately two zhang high on either side of the fort gate. But because nobody could have imagined that the enemy has arrived, the alert level was very low, the vigilance was slacking.

    As the guards saw the group of soldiers, they hastily opened one side of the gate to let them pass.

    Xuan Yong and the others came following the ship; five hundred elite troops were crowding in the hold of the ship. They have already taken care of the Baling Army soldiers at the crossing dock.

    They also secured the area for the arrival of the men and horses from their side. Xuan Yong personally led more than a dozen men with superior qinggong to hide at the foot of the hill nearest the trenches of horse trap. This moment, seeing the forts gate opened, they quickly pounced out.

    The guards on the watchtowers were the first to find out, but as they were about to shout, Kou Zhong soared up, while releasing a series of flying blades. Four guards grunted miserably, and turned into muddleheaded ghosts.

    Xu Ziling moved at the same time; like a tiger entering a flock of sheep, he brandished his fists, one after another the guards at the gate fell to the ground, without even had any chance to utter any word.

    Kou Zhong took a breath midair and somersaulted toward the gate. Together with Xuan Yong and his men rushing over, with the speed of lightning they took care of the Baling Army, who were about to rush out of the fort to help their comrades.

    In a few blinks of the eye, the secure-as-a-city-protected-by-a-wall-of-metal-and-a-moat-of-boiling-water stronghold gate has already fallen into their control.

    After meeting up with Xuan Yong and his men, Kou Zhong gave his order, Clean up the patrol and guards on the watchtowers first, lest they send out an alarm.

    Responding to his order, the men spread out.

    The rest of Shaoshuai Army rushed over from the crossing dock.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling reached out to grab each others hand to congratulate each other, they both felt lucky.

    Although there were more than four thousand Baling troops inside the stronghold, all they could do was to wait for the slaughter.

    After making adequate preparation and ensuring good coordination, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling took twenty Shaoshuai troops, who had changed into Baling Army uniform, to return to the command tent.

    As the guards around the command tent saw them left but came back, especially with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling on the lead, they were surprised.

    Taking advantage while their attention was focused on Kou Zhong and his men, Xuan Yong and his men rushed out from their hiding, swift as lightning they subdued the guards.

    They heard Dong Jingzhens laughter from inside the tent, Luo Xiongdi certainly know how to be tactful. Since you are willing to rely on our sides help, I can guarantee you futures riches and honor, glory and splendor, and boundless good fortune for your offspring.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling lifted up the tents curtain and stepped in.

    While Dong Jingzhen and the others turned their eyes toward them in shock, Bai Wenyuan and Luo Fang suddenly made their move to attack the men closest to them. Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well left its scabbard and turned into a streak of yellow light, hacking onto Dong Jingzhen, whose weapon was still lying on the side.

    Xu Ziling sent out double punches across empty air, attacking the two high-ranking military officers at Dong Jingzhens left and right.

    For a period of time saber ray and sword shadow pervaded the air in the tent.

    Dong Jingzhen was an outstanding figure as well; even in shock and facing death, he did not panic. Throwing himself backward, the tumbled and rolled out of the tent. Although he managed to evade Kou Zhongs shocking-the-heaven-moving-the-earth saber strike, he could not dodge Xuan Yongs Bird Beak Strike and more than a dozen sabers and swords coming right up on him. Immediately blood rushed out from the many wounds on his body. Were it not for his profound and powerful true qi protecting his body, plus he immediately soared up to the sky to get away, he would have died on the spot.

    The Moon in the Well was like a shadow attached to his figure; it chopped down on him head-on.

    Dong Jingzhen roared; his right palm swept across the Moon in the Wells blade, with exquisite-beyond-compare move to save his life.

    Vortex of energy burst into his body via his palm.

    One was seizing the opportunity to strike with all his strength, the other was facing an attack in a hurry after he was injured in the battle; the difference was like heaven and earth, cloud and mud.

    Dong Jingzhens entire body shook; curling into a ball, he rolled unnaturally backward, blood did not stop spurting out of his mouth, until finally he lay spread-eagled on the ground, and could only gasp for breath.

    Xu Ziling pounced out of the tent, and said with a laugh, All clear!

    Sweeping his gaze around, Kou Zhong saw that the men in the tents nearby have been awakened by the sound of the fighting. Tearing off his mask, he shouted, Drop down to the ground; those who resist will be killed without mercy!

    Everybody followed the order.

    Kou Zhong shot a glance at Dong Jingzhen, whose hands and feet were being tied by his men using cowhide rope; he turned toward Xu Ziling and said with a sigh, Ling Shao ought to know that I have no other choice; on the battlefield, it is either you kill me or I kill you. Dont forget that they have already done too big of a damage to such a small place.

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, I did not blame you, no need to say it with that many words. Come!

    And he took off ahead of Kou Zhong.

    It couldnt really be considered a battle at all.

    Because Dong Jingzhen and a lot of high-ranking military officers were captured first, the Baling Army, who had just been awakened from sleep, was like a dragon without a head. One after another they surrendered, saving Kou Zhong from the sin of having to kill a lot of people.

    By the second watch of the night [between 21:00 23:00 (i.e. 9-11pm)], the entire wooden stronghold has fallen into Kou Zhongs hands, so that they were able to proceed to the second phase of their plan.

    Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, and Bai Wenyuan, holding the crestfallen Dong Jingzhen in custody, along with more than forty of their men disguised as Dong Jingzhens personal guards, galloped their horses toward the other wooden stockade, under the command of Zhu Cans other great general, Wen Liang, followed by Xuan Yongs thousand-man Shaoshuai Army. Luo Fang and the other several hundred men stayed behind to guard the wooden fort.

    The group rode at full speed, and reached the Garuda Armys wooden stockade, which was only half a li away. Reaching the gate, they shouted at the guards, Dong Jingzhen Da Shuai [great commander] has urgent matter to discuss with Wen Shuai [Commander Wen], we have information on Shaoshuai Armys whereabouts.

    Bai Wenyuan also shouted, Its me! Open the gate and let us in.

    Naturally the guards did not know it was a ruse, since they saw Dong Jingzhen, and the high-ranking military officer from their own side, Bai Wenyuan, they opened the gate while sending someone to run to notify Wen Liang, who was asleep in his tent.

    The gate was barely opened when the group swarmed in, and immediately killed everybody within their sight. For a short while battle cry shook the heavens, rousing the officers and soldiers inside the camp from their beautiful dream.

    Like a tidal wave Xuan Yong and his men came pouring into the stronghold, setting fire everywhere, and destroying everything in their path.

    Very soon the entire wooden stronghold has been engulfed in the raging inferno. The confused Garuda Army could only run toward the other gates and flee into the wilderness.

    Cao Yinglongs bandit army came to provide assistance, but they were caught by the ambushing Shaoshuai Army and were beaten to a sorry state; they also fled the stronghold in disorder.

    By daybreak, the coalition forces of three sides elite troops had ceased to exist.

  3. #263
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    Default Book 22 Chapter 9

    Book 22 Chapter 9 Making Threats and Promises

    Dong Jingzhen was brought inside the tent.

    Kou Zhong rose up to meet him, Quickly untie Dong Shuai [Commander]!

    The guard who brought him in was dumbstruck. It was only after Kou Zhong repeated his order that he drew his dagger and cut the ox-tendon rope binding Dong Jingzhen.

    After ordering his men to leave the tent, Kou Zhong spoke cheerfully, Dong Da Jiangjun [great general], please sit down.

    Dong Jingzhen swept his gaze across the command tent, which originally was his own. Sighing dejectedly, he said, Just kill me. I, Dong Jingzhen, will never bow to a kid like you, whose smell of your mothers milk not yet dried.

    Kou Zhong did not take offense at all; still smiling amiably, he said, I know that Dong Da Jiangjun cannot accept your defeat. But since its the fact, I am helpless to change it. Dont Dong Da Jiangjun agree with me?

    Dong Jingzhen still repeat the same sentence, Just kill me!

    Were it not for his internal injury was rather heavy, he would have attempted to seize the opportunity to break the siege.

    Kou Zhong remained indifferent and at ease; he said, I do not intend for you to surrender to our side at all. Your entire family, father and mother, wife and children, are all in Baling; if I forced you to surrender, or even made a claim that you have surrendered to us, and thus helped us to break the other two strongholds, wouldnt I bring your entire family to their death? This is not the kind of thing that I, Kou Zhong, do.

    Hearing the last few sentences, Dong Jingzhens face immediately lost its color, because he knew that it was not an empty threat at all. This move was more sinister than threatening to kill him. Dejected, he said, You are so cruel! Speak up then!

    Kou Zhongs eyes flashed with cold rays, he said, I want to make a deal with you. As long as you agree, you can take approximately two thousand of your men who fell into our hands to immediately take the boat to return to Yiling, to the right via Ye Lu. I am sure Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong will not let you off, because they believed it was you who attacked them.

    Dong Jingzhen appeared to have aged several years; dejectedly he slumped back into is chair.

    It was only then did Kou Zhong sit into Dong Jingzhens commander chair. He said, I want to know the actual troops deployment that Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong are going to use to attack Yuanan and Dangyang.

    Frowning, Dong Jingzhen said, How could they be willing to let me know that kind of military intelligence? Arent you just forcing me into a corner? Why dont you simply kill me?

    Kou Zhongs tiger-eyes shone with terrifying strange light enveloping Dong Jingzhen. Slowly he pulled the Moon in the Well, and lay it down on the small table by his side. He spoke heavily, I treated Da Jiangjun in good faith, but Da Jiangjun treats me, Kou Zhong, like an idiot. Perhaps I would really behead Da Jiangjuns head, and then behead all Da Jiangjuns men. Dont blame me for not giving you a very clear warning.

    Dong Jingzhens countenance changed. He said, A warrior can be killed, but cannot be disgraced. You want to kill me, you want to cut my flesh, Ol Dong will not knit half my brow. But you cant insult me

    Kou Zhong sighed loudly to cut him off; shaking his head, he said, Da Jiangjun better not finish whatever it is you wanted to say. What kind of man Xiao Xian is, you and I are very clear about it. After sweeping away the Flying Horse Ranch and us, he is going to deal with Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong. Now that you have such a chance of cooperation, how could Dong Da Jiangjun not seize the opportunity to spy their two armies actual situation without too much extra effort?

    Dong Jingzhen averted his gaze; hanging his head low, he said, This is simply gauging the heart of a gentlemen with ones own mean measure!

    Kou Zhong knew that he had struck Dong Jingzhens vital point, and he knew that this man was not like the rather-die-than-submit faade he was putting on, otherwise last night he would not have surrendered under the sword blade, to go with them to deceive the gate and break the stronghold. Rising to his full height, Kou Zhong said, Since thats the case, there is no point in us continuing to talk. I wonder if Dong Da Jiangjun has any interest in watching your brethrens heads fall to the ground one by one?

    Grieved, Dong Jingzhen said, You win!

    Upright and unafraid, Kou Zhong walked out of the tent, toward Xu Ziling, Luo Fang, Xuan Yong and Bai Wenyuan, who were waiting for his good news, and made a sign of victory.

    Xuan Yong gestured with his chin toward the command tent, asking for instructions on how to handle Dong Jingzhen.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, Naturally we treat him with due respect; how could I, Kou Zhong, be a cruel murderer? We will release all prisoners immediately, let them depart by boat, but they are not allowed to bring any weapon or horses. Give them enough provision for two days.

    Xuan Yong accepted the order and left.

    While walking toward the strongholds gate, Kou Zhong, who was accompanied by Xu Ziling, Luo Fang, and Bai Wenyuan, said, Now Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong must be thinking that Xiao Xian is conspiring to murder them. How do you think they will react?

    Skeptical, Luo Fang said, Do you think Dong Jingzhen might lie?

    Having a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, We have Bai Xiong here, who has deep knowledge of Zhu Cans actual situation, as well as certain understanding of Cao Yinglongs, so he simply cannot speak out crazy and unfounded ravings. He is just a fellow who is greedy for life, afraid of death. In order to keep his life, he might even sell out his old Die, much less Zhu Can, who are the enemy and not friends at all, and Cao Yinglong, that leader of the thieves?

    Thinking deeply, Xu Ziling said, The question is whether Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong really believe that Xiao Xian betrayed their alliance, and that because of Zhu Meis pitfall Bai Xiong has realigned his allegiance to Xiao Xian.

    Bai Wenyuan resolutely said, Cao Yinglong, I do not dare to guarantee, but Zhu Can has a violent temper; in his distress over the disastrous casualties of his elite troops, his trusted lieutenant Wen Liang died in battle, he will definitely vent all his resentments on Xiao Xian, and will lose all reasons.

    Proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, The most brilliant is that Zhu Can will never guess that I may come from the Great River, and thus slash at least three days of travel. This is the black pot Dong Jingzhen has to carry on his back.

    The four men stepped out of the stronghold. Under the bright sunlight, the green mountain and grassy hill extended in front of them, their spirit was greatly aroused. Xu Ziling took a deep breath, sighed and said, That will do. If Zhu and Cao are convinced that Xiao Xian turns his back on the alliance, Xiao Xians next step must be crossing the river to the north, taking advantage while the two main armies are stuck in the siege of Dangyang and Yuanan, to seize control over their army camps. In this case, the two could only retreat immediately. If the situation progresses to this stage, Shao Shuai ought to be able to take advantage of that!

    Bai Wenyuan nodded and said, Not only Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong will have misgivings toward Xiao Xian, under this kind of wind sighing and crane calling [i.e. panic at the slightest move], every tree or bush an enemy soldier [i.e. seeing everyone as an enemy] situation, they could even be suspicious and jealous of each other, so it will be difficult for them to cooperate. We will have the opportunity.

    Remaining tranquil and calm, Kou Zhong said, Based on our current strength, that is, including the Flying Horse Ranch and Jinlings Duba Villages former soldiers and generals, we could only attack one of those armies. Which unfortunate man Bai Xiong thinks we should pick?

    Grateful, Bai Wenyuan said, Just by Shao Shuais words, Wenyuan is willing to serve you. Frankly speaking, naturally I wanted to pick Zhu Can to avenge my big hatred and deep enmity. But strategy-wise, this is not a prudent choice. This case can be divided into three aspects.

    Astonished, Luo Fang said, I only thought that Zhu Cans military power is strong, while Cao Yinglongs is weak, but I never thought that there are two other reasons.

    Smiling, Bai Wenyuan said, Its simply because for the time being, Luo Xiongdi has not thought about it!

    Xu Ziling said, I can only guess one more reason: if we strike and defeat Zhu Can, Xiao Xian might immediately deploy his troops crossing the River to seize control over the two raging allies territories. Cao Yinglong is, after all, a roving bandit; he knows how to attack but not to defend. As for blocking Xiao Xian crossing to the north, no matter what, he cannot be compared to Zhu Can.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, The third reason may be to take the lid off the goblet!

    Bai Wenyuan cheerfully said, Actually, Xu Xiong said it well. Although Cao Yinglongs military power reaches forty thousand men, all along they are just roving bandit on horseback; an army division that is brought together by chance. When winning, their momentum is like the rainbow, but as soon as they see their side defeated, they would beat a hasty retreat, their hearts will be in panic, and they will lose their will to fight. They are not like Zhu Cans men at all, who have family and relatives in their homeland to protect. Most of them are single men, all alone in the world; when they say they want to go, they just go. As long as we can accurately predict the method, as well as the route, they are going to retreat, we will be able to thoroughly take them out in one fell swoop.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Bai Xiongs view is subtle and unique; Zhu Can, father and daughters desire to put you to death was very unwise.

    Smiling bitterly, Bai Wenyuan said, It was precisely my strong opposition against alliance with Cao Yinglong that aroused Zhu Cans murderous intent. Zhu Mei was already fed up with me for some time, fortunately two gentlemen came to my rescue. In the past few days I have had the opportunity to fight alongside all of you, it was indeed an unprecedented joy for me.

    Kou Zhong patted his back vigorously; letting out a long laugh he said, In the future we will all be family.

    In his excitement, Luo Fangs face turned deep red; he sighed and said, Cao Yinglong strung through and filled with evil [idiom: guilty of monstrous crimes], we will kill him until not a single armor remains.

    Kou Zhong said, In Bai Xiongdis opinion, where would Cao Yinglong withdraw to?

    Bai Wenyuan took out rolls of map from his pocket; selecting one of them, he spread it out on the ground. The other three men followed him squatting down, listening to his explanation, Before the alliance, Cao Yinglong has suffered defeat under me, he retreated toward a village west of the Xi River south of Jingling; he captured more than a hundred small villages, so he is hated there and has no place to pick, and can only go to the east, returning to his old nest. He must first cross River Ju, across Mount Jingshan, and pass through River Zhang. If we could prepare an ambush on River Zhang, taking advantage while he is crossing the river to launch pincer attack from both sides, I guarantee they will never return to their old nest.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, This plan is a seamless heavenly clothes [i.e. flawless].

    Reaching out to Luo Fangs shoulder, he laughed and said, Xiao Fang ought to know what to do!

    Luo Fang puffed his breast and said, I will hurry back to the Ranch immediately to notify Changzhu [Ranch Master].

    The entire Shaoshuai Army advanced toward the jungle on the east bank of River Zhang, set up their camp and prepared their food. Men and horses must try hard to have good rest, to eradicate the exhaustion over three days, day and night, continuous journey of rushing into this place.

    Without stopping to rest, Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Bai Wenyuan and Xuan Yong, four men, galloped upstream along the east bank of the river.

    When they reached an especially narrow gorge in the river, Bai Wenyuan pointed with his horsewhip straight ahead and said, If we have enough time, we could build wooden structure here, and fill it with bags of sand and stones to stop the river. When Cao Yinglong cross the river, we could destroy the dam, and let the rolling waves flush away Cao Yinglongs thieves crossing the river, so that their head and tail will be separated into two sections. At that time we could seize the opportunity to make a surprise attack. It will be as easy as blowing off dust.

    Xuan Yong regretfully said, First, we do not even have bags, second, to build such wooden fence we will need at least ten days or more, not to mention exhausting the army, wearying the crowd. In term of time, we really cannot cope.

    Xu Ziling asked, Bai Xiong has fought many times against Cao Yinglong; is there anything about him that we must pay particular attention to?

    Bai Wenyuan muttered to himself irresolutely, There are three reasons why Cao Yinglong is able to move unhindered across Hubei: first, they are able to march really fast; they move swiftly and unpredictably. As soon as they encountered a dangerous and difficult path, they would immediately withdraw far away. This is the roving bandits inherent quality, yet it is really able to help him repeatedly going through numerous crises.

    After a short pause, he went on, The second reason is that they use war to raise war. No matter how bad they suffer setback and crushing blow, as long as they were able to escape alive, they would go everywhere, looting and recruiting mobs to expand and rapidly grow. Finished ransacking one place, they would simply go to another place, completely without any fear of trouble from the rear.

    Kou Zhong commented, But the disadvantage is that everybody joins in for individual interest, there is no identical ideal to be spoken about. As long as we can get rid of Cao Yinglong, Fang Jianding, and Xiang Baxian, these three head thieves, those loose sand will be dispersed and will never get together again.

    Xu Ziling recalled the former Sui dynastys troops, who, after defeat, went everywhere to burn and loot, to rape and kill; he spoke resolutely, We must wipe out this kind of disciples who kill people like scything flax completely; otherwise, the neighboring villages will be facing imminent catastrophe.

    Xuan Yong nodded and said, To destroy them completely will not be easy, but we are not completely without any way to do that.

    Kou Zhong asked Bai Wenyuan, What other exclusive trick does Cao Yinglong have?

    Bai Wenyuan replied, He is adept at night battle; whether marching or fighting, they especially choose to do it at night. Only then are they able to appear and disappear unpredictably [orig. gods appear and devils vanish]. Whether attacking or retreating, they will always occupy the advantageous position.

    Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong said, How can we force them to cross the river in the full light of day then?

    Xu Ziling thought aloud, If we can create certain situation that would make them aware that the Ranchs main forces are following close at their heels, then they would not be able to choose either day or night.

    Kou Zhong said, It would be best if Cao Yinglong cannot guess that we would arrive one step ahead of him, preserving and nurturing our spirit at the far riverbank, waiting for his arrival. Also, he would think that if they could cross the river, they would be able to throw away the pursuing troops, and return safely to the fertile countryside.

    Squeezing his horses belly, Bai Wenyuan said, Follow me. Turning the horses head, he galloped away downstream.

    After repeatedly stopping and going for about ten li, Bai Wenyuan rushed back upstream. Only after four, five li, he flew off his horse, to let his horse, which was foaming on its mouth, to rest and eat grass. Bai Wenyuan carefully examined the area around the riverbank. Finally he stood behind an underbrush and laughed aloud, The Emperor of Heaven does not turn his back on the believing man. I finally found the place where that Cao thief crossed the river last time.

    Kou Zhong, three men, were greatly delighted. They rushed over to him; from the underbrush that was pushed open by him, surprisingly they found four wooden stakes, as thick as a human body, which were driven deep into the ground. The stakes had groove on them to tie the rope.

    Everybody dispersed to look, and found eight such stakes.

    Bai Wenyuan said with delight, Although the river here is ten zhang wide, the water is slow and flat, more suitable to river crossing than any other sections.

    Xuan Yong cast his gaze faraway toward the opposite bank; he laughed and said, I am positive that in that jungle by the bank we will find hundreds of floating buckets. If they strung the thick ropes on the water, and put wooden planks on them, they can make pontoon bridge. In less than one sichen, they can build eight such bridges.

    Kou Zhong said, The answer is in front of us. If only we know it as soon as we see it.

    Xu Ziling said, We must force the thieves to cross the river in haste; otherwise, if we let them arrange battle formation on the shore first, and give them the opportunity to setup lookouts on high places, it would be difficult for us to mount a surprise attack.

    Kou Zhong said with a sigh, It all depends on whether the beautiful Changzhu will obediently listen to us!

    Turning toward Xuan Yong, he said, We will move the troops here tonight, and make all necessary preparations. Now we are going to cross the river to take a look. After making sure that the equipment for the pontoon bridge are hidden on the opposite bank, Wenyuan and I will meet the Ranchs main forces. You and Ling Shao stay on this side.

    And then he laughed and said, Persisting in evil brings about self-destruction. Oh evil thieves! This time Laotianye is putting you away, I am simply helping Laotianye accomplishing it!

  4. #264
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    Default Book 22 Chapter 10

    Book 22 Chapter 10 Taking Advantage of Defeat to Pursue

    Kou Zhong, following the lead of the old horse who knew the way home [idiom: in difficulty, trust an experience colleague] Bai Wenyuan, encountered Cao Yinglongs troop of thieves withdrawing toward the River Zhang. The two were halfway up the mountain, looking down at the enemy.

    It was not until this moment that he really breathed a sigh of relief, having confirmed that Cao Yinglong was indeed acting as they expected: as soon as he heard about Xiao Xian turning his back on the alliance, he immediately abandoned the siege, made a turnaround and retreated to fertile villages.

    The Ranchs main forces should not be too far away.

    According to their agreement, if Cao Yinglong retreated, the Ranchs main forces would go all-out to pursue closely.

    Under the moonlight, the procession of the thieves on horseback looked like a long snake slithering across the grassland.

    Bai Wenyuan said, The Three Bandits forces consist mostly of infantry; their cavalry should not be more than seven thousand. If they encountered any mishaps, the cavalry would seize the way first and leave the infantrymen far behind.

    Kou Zhongs tiger-eyes brightened up, as he spoke in heavy voice, To move the troops, one must observe the enemy first; this is called knowing the other side. The so-called taking advantage of doubt to sow discontent, taking advantage of exhaustion to attack, taking advantage of hunger to trap, taking advantage of separation to scheme, taking advantage of weakness to sweep, taking advantage of chaos to exploit, taking advantage while the enemy has not arrived to thwart their movement, taking advantage while the enemy has not sent out any troop disposition to gain control, taking advantage while the enemy is victorious to seize by force, taking advantage while the enemy is defeated to pursue. We have used the taking advantage of doubt to sow discontent move to break down their three-side alliance, forcing Cao Yinglongs forty-thousand strong main forces to become like rats scurrying off into the wilderness. This time we are going to use the taking advantage while the enemy is defeated to pursue to kill them all that not a single armor remains.

    Full of admiration, Bai Wenyuan said, What you said resonates deeply with the Art of War; Shao Shuai is indeed an erudite scholar.

    How could Kou Zhong have the nerve to tell him that he learned everything from Lu Miaozis secret book? Without any better option, he resisted from answering.

    Praising without ceasing, Bai Wenyuan continued, Shao Shuais most formidable move was to make threats and promises; scaring Dong Jingzhen that he took his more than two thousand men hurriedly fleeing back to Yiling. Furthermore, they had not a cun of steel [idiom: unarmed and defenseless], not enough provision, so that even if they did not want to return to Yiling, they simply could not. This matter cannot be concealed from Zhu Can, so that he is more convinced than ever that Dong Jingzhen was indeed the main culprit. Who would believe that someone would be foolish enough to let the tiger return to its mountain? Even if Xiao Xian utters a hundred statements, no one would argue with him. Zhu Can pulled his troops, Cao Yinglong has no choice but to follow his lead and withdraw.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Psychologically speaking, since Dong Jingzhen believed he had leaked military intelligence concerning Zhu Can and Cao Yinglongs movements to me, he is ashamed and has guilty conscience, hence he would not dare to explain everything clearly to his allies.

    And then, looking down at the enemy, he spoke heavily, Just by looking at the opponents formation in disorder, their provision carts are falling far behind the main column, we know that their body and soul are weary, their thoughts in a whirl. If we rob their provision carts, so that we are adding hunger on top of exhaustion, they will be put in chaos and will scatter away; their only way out is fleeing toward River Zhang, hoping to cross the river as quickly as they could, hence we will have the opportunity we can exploit.

    Squeezing his horses belly, he said, Lets go!

    Xu Ziling and Xuan Yong were patrolling their camp. Seeing more than a hundred of their men were making straw dummies, Xu Ziling asked in astonishment, Whats that for?

    This is called creating diversion, Xuan Yong replied, Because we are a few in number, it will be difficult for us to block tens of thousands of thieves fleeing into the wilderness. We will put small number of soldiers mixed with straw dummies in several strategic locations, giving up the impression of huge momentum, forcing the enemy to only dare to escape toward the place where, on the surface, seems to have fewest men, but the empty is actually real, and thus they are falling straight into our trap.

    Good plan! Xu Ziling praised.

    Reaching the shore, he saw about a thousand of soldiers digging trenches, also setting up sharp stakes hidden at the bottom to trap horses, and covered the trenches with mud and grass.

    Xuan Yong explained, This is targeted at the enemies who cross the river in haste; they would never expect us to set ambush on this side, hence they will definitely flee in calamity.

    Xu Ziling halted his steps. Looking into the distance at the opposite shore, he spoke heavily, War is imminent, I wonder what Xuan Xiongs reflections are?

    Xuan Yong stood side-by-side with him. Sighing contemplatively, he said, Since Da Longtous [reminder: big boss, referring to Zhai Rang] death, I thought that I would have nothing to look forward to in military campaign, in the battlefield! Who would have thought that I received Shao Shuais promotion? Not only to avenge Da Longtous deep enmity, but also to display what I am good at. The longer I associate with Shao Shuai, the more I admire him. I am referring to not only his knowledge, strategy, and martial art skill, but also his insight. The best trait that makes people willing to submit cheerfully is his conduct; you would never doubt that he might be suspicious and jealous of you. And any impossible task, in his hands it will become possible, as if where the water flows, a canal is formed. To be in contact with him is really exciting and interesting.

    Xu Ziling pondered quietly that that was precisely Kou Zhongs charm, as well as his biggest asset in the contention for hegemony over the world.

    The sound of hoof beats shook the heavens; under the afternoon sun, the Ranchs ten-thousand strong elite cavalry appeared from the surface of the earth like a tidal wave. Kou Zhong and Bai Wenyuan galloped down the hill to meet them.

    Amidst the bugle horn, the two-thousand strong vanguard units under the leadership of the Ranchs two Managers [orig. zhishi], Liu Zongdao and Luo Fang gradually stopped.

    Liu Zongdaos single eye emitted sharp yet warm expression; even from afar he laughed and said, Zhong Xiongdi, how are you? In just a short one year you have become the Shao Shuai whose name shakes the world.

    Kou Zhong urged his horse to come near him; leaning over, he embraced him, and said with a laugh, Just a ripple of false reputation, not worth Liu Shu [uncle] mentioning. Is Changzhu with the main force behind you?

    Liu Zongdao smiled and said, Changzhu is here!

    The vanguard army suddenly separated into two sides, creating a pathway in the middle of the men and horses, while at the same time they drew their swords and shouted, Long live Changzhu! The morale was boiling to its extreme point.

    From the middle of this human path, Shang Xiuxun, wearing full body armor, in awe-inspiring heroic spirit, urged her snow-white, without a single colored-hair, divine-spirited, top-quality warhorse, forward, galloping over as fast as lightning. With the silver white body armor and helmet, and the bright yellow cape fluttering in the wind behind her, she looked like the goddess of war descending into the world of the mortals.

    Evidently her mount was very fast. Behind her, the Da Guanjia [big housekeeper/manager of the household] Shang Zhen, leading a group of high-ranking officers, was struggling extremely hard to keep up with her.

    Stunned by her heavenly beauty and stately appearance, Kou Zhong was dumbstruck.

    Shang Xiuxuns equestrian skill was superb; with her men saluting and cheering on both sides, she galloped faster and faster. In the blink of an eye, like a tornado she already reached Kou Zhong.

    Kou Zhong, she shouted tenderly, Is your horse a Khitan steed? Lets have a race.

    Before Kou Zhong even had any time to respond, like a gust of wind Shang Xiuxun already flew in-between Kou Zhong and Liu Zongdao.

    All right, Kou Zhong called out, turned his horse around and galloped away in a wild chase.

    Liu Zongdao, Bai Wenyuan, Luo Fang, and the others waited until Shang Zhen and his men caught up before they led the troops to pursue behind the two, who, by this time, have become two small dots in the distance.

    In one breath Shang Xiuxun rode for more than fifty li, before she finally stopped on the top of a hill. Kou Zhong fell behind about half a li or so, and by the time he came to her side, the Ranchs main forces were still about ten li behind.

    The sun was setting behind the western mountains, the glow dyed the sky on the horizon red. Sitting on horseback, Shang Xiuxuns eyes looked straight ahead, as she spoke, calm and composed, Go figure!

    Deliberately gasping for breath, Kou Zhong said, Changzhus horse is really fast.

    Looking at him, with a hint of smile in her beautiful eyes, Shang Xiuxun said, I was not talking about that at all. Comparing horses, even Khitan steed cant compare to my enhanced breed.

    While greedily drank on her beauty, which he had not seen for a long time, Kou Zhong laughed and said, What was Changzhu talking about then?

    Shang Xiuxuns beautiful eyes looked deep into his eyes, she said, Figuring you knew I was in difficulty, and immediately rushed over in disregard of everything else, and executed a brilliant scheme in timely manner, breaking Zhu Chan, Xiao Xian, and Cao Yinglongs conspiracy, yet when you see me, you did not out on an air of someone who had rendered a great merit. Do you understand?

    Looking grieved for being wronged, Kou Zhong said, Beautiful Changzhu, what kind of man do you think Kou Zhong is? My respect and admiration toward Changzhu knows no bound; how could I dare to put on airs?

    Pfft, Shang Xiuxun giggled tenderly, just like a fresh flower suddenly blooms. Her eyes returned to looking ahead, she spoke tenderly and with naivet, Its been a long time since I heard this call, unexpectedly there is a bit of freshness in it. Oh! How about this: after we destroy Cao Yinglongs group of horse-mounted bandits, Ill give you ten thousand highest quality warhorses, with which you can crisscross the world and unify the rivers and mountains.

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, This does not conform to the Ranchs rules, plus it might generate other peoples misperception, thinking that Changzhu is being sucked into this vortex of power struggle. Wed better wait for me to obtain the Duke Yang Treasure, and then using real gold, white silver I will buy horses from Changzhu. This way nobody would dare to speak even half a word of gossip about Changzhu.

    Shang Xiuxun slightly shrugged her almond shoulders; with sweet and charming demeanor she said, You want to play brave, Xiuxun will be happy to play along.

    Turning her head around, her beautiful eyes rippling with odd expression as she looked at him and said, I havent seen you for a year, you, this kid, appear to have more heroic spirit than before. This name Shao Shuai is very good; it is most suitable for you.

    A peculiar feeling welled up in Kou Zhongs heart, so much so that he had a strong urge to pull her into his embrace. Since Li Xiuning and Song Yuzhi, he had never felt this way toward any woman.

    The Ranchs main forces arrived at the foot of the hill, a group of high-ranking officers left the troops and galloped up the hill to meet up with them, however, Jinglings Duba Villages former generals like Feng Ge, Feng Han, and the others had to stay behind at Yuanan and Dangyang, hence they did not come.

    Kou Zhong saw Fu Dajie [big sister], Xu Yang, Liang Qian, Wu Zhaoru, and the others; everybody was extremely happy and excited.

    The First Manager Liang Zhi was in charge of watching over the Ranch, so he did not come either.

    Shang Xiuxun was respectful toward Bai Wenyuan, this official who had rendered great merit. After saluting him and exchanging some pleasantries, she turned to Kou Zhong and said, Its late, wed better pitch camp and take a rest. During dinner we can discuss how to pursue and attack Cao Yinglongs troops of thieves?

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, Fortunate timing is fleeting. Cao Yinglongs brilliance is precisely waiting and regrouping during the daytime. Supposing that we overtake them, they will take advantage of our troops being weary, our horses tired, to strike back using their dominant military strength. When we are resting in the night, he will be marching at full speed. With this reversed day and night scheme, they would occupy the invincible position. Therefore, if we want to defeat him, we must march in the night, snatch their provisions first, disturb their hearts and rob their will, and drive their formation into disarray, so that they flee in confusion toward the Zhang River. Only then will we have the chance of annihilating them at one stroke.

    The Ranch people all nodded in agreement, but their faces showed difficult expression as well.

    Shang Xiuxun said, We have been rushing on the road for three days, men and horses are dead tired. Even if the men supported the idea, the horses wont be able to endure.

    Having a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, As long as the men are willing to endure, it will work. I have already made preparation, along the way we seized thousands of high quality warhorses from the enemy, which we can use like relay stations, as convenience as simply exchanging the horses.

    Bai Wenyuan added, It appears that we are now only one horse-ride day away from the enemy. If we could exchange horses on the way smoothly, then we could overtake the enemy by tomorrow night, and thus we could carry out our surprise attack.

    Everybodys spirit was greatly aroused; their admiration of Kou Zhongs deep plans and distant thoughts was growing.

    Shang Xiuxun cast a sidelong glance with her thousand-tenderness and hundred-charm eyes toward Kou Zhong, and said with a laugh, You, this kid, is so full of tricks.

    And so she solemnly issued a decree, ordering Shang Zhen to personally pick a thousand martial art experts who were most adept in night travel, plus having the most exquisite equestrianism, to be on standby to set off.

    Everybody immediately took advantage of this short break to let their horses drink water and eat grass. While Bai Wenyuan, along with Luo Fang, Liu Zongdao, and the others, who were familiar with the surrounding terrain, were studying the route, Kou Zhong and Shang Xiuxun walked to the side to talk.

    This beautiful Ranch Master suddenly asked about Xu Ziling. Kou Zhong laughed and replied, From time to time he and I both also miss Changzhu.

    Shang Xiuxun responded in displeasure, Your love-to-speak-out-of-line character still has not changed. As soon as you left, you were like the yellow crane, I could only learn about your recent developments from people returning to the Ranch. Ay!

    Why did you heave a sigh? Kou Zhong wondered.

    Shang Xiuxun fixed her beautiful eyes on the gradually darkening night sky, as she spoke softly, You have put Shang Xiuxun in a very difficult situation. The Li Clan has a very good relationship with us, Li Xiuning is even a dear [lady/girl] friend whom I knew since we were little. They came up with a plan for dealing with Liu Wuzhou purchasing warhorses from the Tujue, hoping that I can breed and train new good horses, which I could supply to them on regular basis. Tell me, what should I do?

    Feeling tenderness toward her, Kou Zhong said, How could I let Changzhu be in difficult situation? If Changzhu has a hundred horses, you could sell fifty each to Li Xiuning and me, then Li Xiuning would not be able to blame you.

    Astonished, Shang Xiuxun turned her eyes toward him; her jet-black eyebrows slightly knitted, she said, Kou Zhong, what kind of person you really are? Are you really doing it for me? Or is there another ruse? I really cant see through you.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, Sometimes I am a cunning fox, other times I am a stupid pig; I really am not clear myself. But one thing I am certain: no matter what, I will not do anything to harm the affairs of the people I care about. In the big contention for hegemony of the world, which covers practically the entire Central Earth, I only have a 10% chance of winning, while the Li kid, Shimin, has at least 60% of the remaining 90% chance, with the remaining 30% belongs to Dou Jiande, standing at 20%, and together, Du Fuwei and Xiao Xian accounted for 10%. Therefore, if Changzhu is not able to help me, the consequences will be dire.

    Emotionally moved, Shang Xiuxun said, Only real hero and outstanding character can say such words. Since you know the chance of losing is greater than the chance of winning, why dont you realign your allegiance to the Li family?

    Stunned, Kou Zhong said, If I, Kou Zhong, am willing to be under other people as their hunting dog and slave, would I still be Kou Zhong?

    Shang Xiuxun apologetically said, I am only passing on the words that someone else entrusted to me. I knew early on that you would never listen.

    Staring blankly, Kou Zhong said, Li Xiuning?

    Shang Xiuxun nodded slightly. She has a letter that she entrusted me to give to you, at this moment I have it with me, she spoke softly.

    Kou Zhong was silent for half a day. Finally he spoke indifferently, Just tear it for me!

    Xu Ziling was standing at the riverbank; suddenly remembering Susus untimely death, which caught him unprepared, he could not help feeling the pain as if an awl bored through his heart. The last streak of sunset was disappearing under the grassy land of the opposite bank.

    If Fu Junchuos death made him grow up from a child to an adult, then Susus death has changed his view of life.

    Men only live for several decades of summer and winter; what is actually the purpose of that?

    This moment Xuan Yong came from behind and reported, The fire beacon signal indicated that Cao Yinglong is indeed withdrawing in this direction, and they will arrive the night after tomorrow.

    Xu Ziling was awakened from his deep thought, to return to the ruthless reality. Muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, If for any reason the Ranchs main forces cannot come in time for pincer attack, and the enemy is crossing the river under carefully laid out defense, will we still be able to launch surprise attack?

    Xuan Yong replied, Then we only have fifty-fifty chance, success or failure is hard to forecast. It will purely depend on how Cao Yinglong would counterattack. When that time comes, we will need Xu Ye to make the decision.

    Xu Ziling mused inwardly that Kou Zhong certainly made good recommendation by putting him in such important position that he must make decision that would affect the life or death of thousands of people. Smiling ruefully, he said, You are more qualified than I am to make that decision.

    Full of confidence, Xuan Yong said, Xu Ye, set your heart at ease, Shao Shuai will definitely have a way to force Cao Yinglong to cross the river in a flurry.

    Xu Ziling again mused inwardly that the reason Xuan Yong had such confidence was because he had never seen Kou Zhong, when facing defeat, fought like desperate rooster.

    In fact, before dealing big blow on Li Mi, they did not have too many successes; Susus death was precisely a continuation, as well as the aftermath, of such failure.

    If that day they did not come across Xiang Yushan on the street and asked him the way to the brothel, Susu would not have to die of pent-up frustration. Going deeper into his thought, if they did not encounter Li Jing, would their lives be happier?

    Unfortunately, life does not have any what-if. It was as if Laotianye had a pair of invisible, unreachable, formless hands that was pulling individuals together to stimulate gratitude and grudges, and entangle those people together in an intricate fate.

    Life is full of ups and downs, floating and sinking, without the freedom to act independently.

  5. #265
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    Default Book 22 Chapter 11

    Chapter 11 Demonic Sect Hua Jian

    After daybreak, under Bai Wenyuans guidance, Kou Zhong and Shang Xiuxun, leading the Ranchs elite troops, finally arrived at the small valley where they would exchange their horses. The warhorses were under the care of more than a dozen Shaoshuai Army soldiers. None of horses was not in its optimum condition, which posed an extreme contrast to their strength-exhausted, muscle-weary warhorses that came with them.

    After calculating the distance and time, Kou Zhong and Bai Wenyuan decided to rest for half a sichen.

    The warriors felt as if they had just been granted an amnesty from the Emperor. The hardship of the all-night travel really need not be mentioned. In a split second they were already sprawled over the entire valley, creating an impressive sight. To let their horses rest more comfortably, they all unloaded the saddle. The officers and soldiers took off their armor, and either sitting or sleeping, they made themselves as comfortable as possible in light garment and simple adornment.

    Kou Zhong went to the small brook in the valley to wash his face with the ice-cold water. Scooping up the water, he drank more than a dozen mouthful in one go; he felt extreme delight, free and easy, and satisfaction.

    Shang Xiuxuns graceful, clear and melodious voice suddenly rang out behind him. Are you or are you not willing to accept the letter, and thus absolving me from this responsibility? there was a slight anger in her voice.

    Kou Zhong simply dipped his head into the water. Shang Xiuxun walked over; grabbing the back of his collar with one hand, she stuffed the letter into his neck with the other.

    Aiyo! Kou Zhong cried out, stood up and blurted out, Kong Laofuzi [i.e. Confucius] had said, indecent assault includes touching; some people also said that men and women should touch hands when they give or receive things [this one is actually a citation from Mencius]. Beautiful Changzhu, you disregard all these rules and regulations. Looks like in the future, I, Kou Zhong, will not need to abide by the rules toward you.

    Shang Xiuxun retreated three steps back. With a smile yet not a smile, with anger yet not really angry, she fixed her gaze on him, who was trying to fish the plain yellow letter from the back of his neck in panic, while his head was still dripping wet. Pouting her cute lips, she spoke with disdain, Since when did a man like you ever abide by the rules? But if you dare not to behave toward me, I will punish you according to the house rules.

    Kou Zhongs eyes fell onto the letter in his hand; he saw written on the letter was Addressed to Mr. Kou Zhong for your perusal, six polite, yet maintaining the distance, characters [Kou Zhong xian sheng guan yue], in beautiful calligraphic style. His heart ached, but pretending to be happy, he said, Turns out Beautiful Changzhu is seeing me as belonging to your family, I just do not know you regard me in which capacity? Plus Changzhu must implement the discipline personally; contrary to what you might expect, this is something that I seek but fail to get. Just now your jade-hands groped my neck, this moving feeling will not be forgotten as long as I live.

    Shang Xiuxuns pretty face blushed slightly, she spoke fiercely, If you are babbling nonsense to me again, I will immediately take my men back to the Ranch, and will not pay any more attention you.

    Kou Zhong pondered deeply for half a day, before putting it together with Lu Miaozis treasured book inside his oilcloth bundle, which he hid well inside his pocket. Dejectedly he sat on a big boulder by the creek, wiped the traces of water from his face, and pointed to another big rock opposite him, he said, Why dont you sit down and have a chat with me?

    As Shang Xiuxun was cheerfully sitting down, Kou Zhong handed a dried ration to her and said with a laugh, Changzhu, please do me the honor. Your demeanor when eating is the most beautiful sight in the world.

    Shang Xiuxun tore the dried ration he handed her, but her face did not show the slightest bit of displeasure; on the contrary, she asked blissfully, What do you mean beautiful? Only you can say such thing.

    Kou Zhong already had good understanding of her temperament; although she loved to act aloof and remote, her fragrant heart was actually extremely lonely, dry and withered. After pondering quietly, he replied softly, When I eat something, I swallow it in one gulp; when my tummy is full, thats all there is to it. But when Changzhu eats, your expression is extremely adorable; it is brimming with curiosity and seeking-the-hidden-away, exploring-the-mystery look, but there is also the resistance of the desire to gobble up the food quickly. If the delicious food was a culinary delicacy and heavy, your eating posture was even more graceful beyond comprehension, as well as carrying the pure innocence of a little girl. Ay! Are you, or are you not, going to let me watch you eat? Do you want me to feed you? If I can obtain this superior task, it will bring me greater honor than unifying the world. It would be better if youd just marry me! That way I can prepare some good food that I can serve to you every day.

    Shang Xiuxun laughed like a flower trembling on its stem; she scolded him in anger, If I have nothing to do, looking for you to relieve boredom will be really good, you are able to talk about anything, and it will appear like a deluge of heavenly flowers [idiom: extravagant embellishments], and will sound really fascinating. What do you mean resistance of the desire to gobble up the food quickly? At most its just like before the battle we must scout the real situation first, before deciding on the advancing or retreating path. There is no such thing as the woman marrying the man; who do you think I am? Dong Ming Princess?

    Seeing her laughing and joking without restraint, plus noticing her absolutely-dont-care charming attitude, Kou Zhong was greatly delighted; he said, You have not even left your ladys chamber for three steps, yet you knew about Dong Ming Pais social custom of the woman marrying the man into her family; it could be said that you possess great magical power.

    Clearly Shang Xiuxun was in a high spirit to chat; looking immensely proud of herself, she glowered at him and said, Dont you forget that Lu Miaozi favorite pastime was to play chess and chat with my Niang. And Niang loved to recount all kinds of strange things to me the most.

    Kou Zhongs heart was moved, he said, In that case, have you ever heard about the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Sects?

    Straightening up her waist, Shang Xiuxun said, Of course I have.

    Kou Zhong happily said, I am just gathering information about that; tell me quickly.

    Full of smile, Shang Xiuxun leaned her hazel tree head [I swear, this time it is not cicada; maybe a typo? 榛] sideways, appearing to be pondering over past memories, before saying smoothly, The conduct of the people from the demonic way is secretive and unfathomable; therefore, only a handful people have any knowledge about this. Even martial art masters who came from the Two Sects and Six Ways of demonic schools would try in thousand ways, a hundred plans, to conceal their origin, lest they provoke those people who consider themselves of the orthodox ways to besiege and attack them.

    Astounded, Kou Zhong asked, What are the Two Sects and Six Ways?

    Shang Xiuxun replied, The two sects are Yin Gui Pai and Hua Jian Pai [lit. among the flowers, the title of this chapter]

    Stunned, Kou Zhong said, Hua Jian Pai, this name is fairly pleasant to hear, but I have never heard anybody mentioning it.

    Shang Xiuxun said, Between the two sects, Yin Gui Pai is always the leader, not because Hua Jian is inferior to Yin Gui, but because in each generation, Hua Jian only has one disciple; therefore, the identity is highly secretive, even people of demonic schools do not know who the descendant of the Hua Jian Pai is.

    Kou Zhong was puzzled, Supposing this descendant, because his training goes wrong and he pass away, or perhaps he suddenly die in battle, wouldnt their teaching be cut short? Although this situation is very rare, but over many years, it is bound to happen.

    Shang Xiuxun crossly said, You always love to call out ironic remark of flaws and loopholes; others naturally have a way to guard against that happening! They have the so-called Hu Pai Zunzhe [Protector of the Sect, zunzhe simply means honored sir], with the specific responsibility of preserving the notes, references and manuals that each generations disciple writes down based on what he has learned through experience and study, to ensure that Hua Jian Pais teaching will not be cut short.

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, Wouldnt that mean that there is more than one disciple per generation? At least there are two. Yet you blamed me for making ironic remark.

    That is because you just dont understand the details! Shang Xiuxun said, These Hu Pai Zunzhe are not Hua Jian Pais disciples at all; they are just custodians of Hua Jian Pais library. To put it more strictly, they only have to know where those books and records are hidden; moreover, they must be women. It is because Hua Jian Pais martial arts are only suitable for men, and not women. If a woman forcibly trained it, there will be unexpected calamity.

    Kou Zhong was listening with eyes open wide and mouth agape. This Hua Jian Pai is really strange, he said, The practitioner must be a lonely, secretive, and peculiarly eccentric person. Oh! Changzhu, you are so beautiful!

    The morning sun was rising behind Shang Xiuxun, framing her in its brilliant light. The effect was like raising her purity to a higher level, showing off her tenderness and beauty that was out of this world, causing Kou Zhong to blurt out in praise.

    Shang Xiuxuns jet-black eyebrows knitted slightly, she said, Dont change the subject. Its not that Hua Jian Pais descendants are lonely by nature, rather, they are in pursuit of loneliness, because Hua Jian Pai has a belief, that is, the relationship between people is superfluous and meaningless, which is actually one step further, and has more profound and long-lasting implication than Lao-tze Li Ers thought of being old and dead, and do not have dealings with each other.

    Greatly interested, Kou Zhong asked, Such an extreme thought, yet they took such a romantic name. I wonder if Changzhu know who the disciple of this generation Hua Jian Pai is; could he be one of the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way?

    Shrugging her shoulders and shaking her head, Shang Xiuxun replied, I already said that even demonic schools people do not know for sure, forget about people who are not from demonic school trying to find out who it is. As for the previous generations Hua Jian Pai disciple, Lu Miaozi had a guess that it was Shi Zhixuan, whose heart was moved by Bi Xiuxin of Ci Hang Jingzhai, so that he was reluctant to leave this world. None the disciples of the Hua Jian Pai are not elegant, fine gongzi [young master], smart, distinguished and accomplished. Only this way will they soar among the flowers. They use heartless to confront passion, to break the heart of women all over the world. Hey, why does your countenance become this unsightly?

    Taking a deep breath, Kou Zhong said, I know who the Hua Jian Pais disciple of this generation is.

    Xu Ziling and Xuan Yong spurred their horses to inspect the arrangement on the eastern bank of the Zhang River. For the most part, everything was at its final stage, hoping to obtain some time to take a breather before the enemy arrived. The two galloped up a high hill, and looked around as far as the eye can see.

    Xuan Yong suddenly asked, Xu Ye is just at the prime of your life, right at the time when a man would have aspiration to travel far and make his mark in the world; why do you always have the heart to retired? With you helping Shao Shuai, who among the heroes of the world will be able to compete against you two?

    Xu Ziling was enjoying the colorful reflection of the distant mountain on the Zhang River, with dense green forest providing dark shades on both sides of the river. The river looked like an embroidered belt, which a fairy from heaven tossed down onto the earth, meandering north and south, adding unbounded tenderness and affection to the whole wide earth. He sighed and said, Everybody has different ideals and pursuits. Supposing the warlords contending for hegemony over the world are only Cao Yinglong, Zhu Can, Xiao Xian, Wang Shichong, and those like them, I would definitely fight side-by-side with Kou Zhong to the end. But among the warlords now, there are Liu Heita, Li Shimin, and the others, all are chivalrous heroes. I really do not have the heart to regard them as the enemy. Only because Kou Zhong is my Xiongdi did I let myself to get sucked into the whirlpool of the contention over the world.

    Xuan Yong nodded and said, Xu Yes breadth of mind is indeed different from ordinary men. Liu Heita is certainly a special figure, but Li Shimin is basically not the crown prince. Even if he managed to snatch the crown prince position, he is, after all, a man born of honorable school, big clan; during the struggle over the world, he would salute those who help him to the extreme. But after obtaining the world, wouldnt he play the-birds-are-over, the-bow-is-put-away game? Being from powerful and wealthy family, how could he understand the plight of the people below him?

    Xu Ziling was silent for half a day. This kind of thing varies from person to person, he spoke slowly, It was not my intention to speak good words on behalf of Li Shimin, I just wanted to be fair. Take Han Gaozu[1] for example; he was an insignificant Tingzhang [ancient official title] from Sishui [county, Jining, Shandong]. After obtaining the world, winning success and recognition, didnt he bestow the title Wang [king/prince] to the younger generation of the same surname? But he was vicious and merciless toward the kings and marquis of different surname who helped him during the conflict; even Han Xin[2] was not spared from death. Evidently it has nothing to do with class origin.

    And then he smiled and said, But there is one thing that Xuan Xiong has seen accurately: Kou Zhong is absolutely not the kind of person Liu Bang was.

    Xuan Yong said, During the Qin and Han era, there was no honorable school, big clan yet. I have been oppressed by the descendants of the rich and powerful. My humble father also suffered false accusations from powerful clans people that he died. Were it not for Da Longtou taking me in, and passing on to me some martial art, I, Xuan Yong, would never have seen a day like today.

    Xu Ziling agreed, Powerful school and influential clan are indeed going on the rampage for a period of time, harming and bringing suffering to many people. Xuan Xiong has the aspiration to help Kou Zhong breaking through the world, it is a wonderful thing. A man born in troubled time, he should go out to create an undertaking.

    Xuan Yong spoke clearly and boldly, To be buried in a horse hide [i.e. to give ones life on the battlefield] ought to be considered a glory for a real man. If in my conduct I shrink my head in fear, I would rather be blown up in battle. To be able to follow Shao Shuai, it is indeed the most delightful matter in my life.

    The sun was slowly creeping to its zenith, bathing the whole earth, including the river, mountain and fields, in its glorious light.

    Kou Zhong was precisely the morning sun that has just appeared. There would be a day where he would rise to the zenith.

    From the back, Shang Xiuxun caught up with Kou Zhong and Bai Wenyuan, who were at the head of the procession; she asked, According to the hoof print and footprint, the thieves shouldnt be heading this direction.

    Kou Zhong fell back a little to ride side-by-side with her; he explained, Because thief Cao might pitch camp during the day to rest, currently we are only less than half a day away from him. Just the sound of hoof beat will be enough to alert him. Therefore, we are taking the long route to be in front of him. By the time they are marching tonight, we will ambush him and burn his provisions.

    Satisfied, Shang Xiuxun said, Just consider your answer reasonable enough.

    Kou Zhong was dying to ask bout the Two Sects and Six Ways further, but they must hasten at full speed, thereupon he had no choice but to temporarily shut this matter tightly in his heart.

    By that evening, they already rounded a large circle, from the mountain road back to the plains, hurrying to be ahead of the Three Bandits army. Were it not for Bai Wenyuan, this old horse who knew the way home, they could forget about obtaining, as well as executing, such a marvelous plan. Because the slightest mistake or losing their way would mean that they lost the good opportunity.

    Kou Zhong made a prompt decision to choose a hill, where the ambushing troops would be hidden behind the hillside on which was the road the enemy must follow.

    When he and Shang Xiuxun went to the top of the hill to inspect the area, he seized the opportunity to ask more about Hua Jian Pai. He said, Supposing Shi Zhixuan was the Hua Jian Pai previous generations disciple, and Bi Xiuxin fell for him, wouldnt it mean Ci Hang Jingzhai had suffered a big blow? [Translators note: the original text was kind of gibberish here, so the last sentence was only my interpretation (blame Paonakata for this).]

    Shang Xiuxun pondered deeply; she said, This matter appears to be far more complicated than you think. Niang has repeatedly discussed this with Lu Miaozi, but even Lu Miaozi was not too clear about the particulars. He only knew that Shi Zhixuan might be a rare outstanding martial art master of Hua Jian Pai, which was not inferior in any respect to Zhu Yuyan and the Xie Di Xiang Yutian. Do you know what kind of man Xiang Yutian was?

    Kou Zhong replied, I just found out about that; I happen to know that there exists some strange thing called Demonic Emperor Relics.

    Shang Xiuxun was greatly astonished, How did you know that? she asked, This is the top secret of the demonic schools, even their own people are strictly forbidden to mention it to each other.

    The reason I am asking about this matter, Kou Zhong replied, Its because Ling Shao had a chance encounter with Bi Xiuxin and Shi Zhixuans daughter Shi Qingxuan [different xuans]; otherwise, I wouldnt even be aware of the existence of the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Ways.

    A strange feeling welled up in Shang Xiuxuns heart, a feeling that she herself did not understand. It seemed like she did not like to hear Xu Ziling and Shi Qingxuans names being mentioned together in one sentence; she could not help falling silent.

    The sky gradually turned dark, with occasional dim starlight appearing on the cloudy night sky. The moon has not shown its face.

    Yet full of spirit, Kou Zhong kept talking, I got it. Didnt you say earlier that Hua Jian Pai people treated the passion of the secular world with heartlessness? Bi Xiuxin must have had her heart moved by this Hua Jian Pai martial art master with a heart of stone, but that is also as if she has broken his demonic power. The problem is Bi Xiuxins real enemy must be Zhu Yuyan; therefore, she was using this method to win Shi Zhixuan may not necessarily be useful. All along she might lose under Zhu Yuyans hands.

    Shang Xiuxun cast her irritation out of the lake of her heart; she spoke indifferently, Bi Xiuxin was indeed defeated so that her calm power [jing from Ci Hang Jingzhai] was greatly decreased. But her Yin Gui Pai opponent had suffered equally.

    Delighted, Kou Zhong asked, What did Zhu Yuyan suffer?

    It wasnt Zhu Yuyan, Shang Xiuxun snapped, It was Zhu Yuyans daughter. On the night before her decisive battle against Bi Xiuxin, she slipped away overseas, angering Zhu Yuyan that she nearly suffered fire deviation. That was twenty years ago!

    Kou Zhong was severely shaken; he cast his gaze to the sky, trying to jog his memory. Closing his eyes, he muttered, I have a good guess on who Zhu Yuyans daughter is! Ay! I should have guessed it early on. No wonder Bian Bufu can be his father.

    Dissatisfied, Shang Xiuxun said, Earlier you said that you know the current generation disciple of Hua Jian Pai, and now based on the several sentences I said, you are able to guess the identity of Zhu Yuyans daughter; who is she? Tell me quickly.

    Kou Zhong took a deep breath; recovering from the shock, he said, Although I cannot say with 100% confidence who the current Hua Jian Pai disciple is, it is extremely possible that he is the Passionate Prince Hou Xibai. I wonder if Shi Zhixuan is already dead? If he is not, where is he now?

    Shang Xiuxun wrinkled her elegant-beyond-comprehension straight nose; with a little displeasure in her voice, she said, Why not tell Xu Ziling to personally ask Shi Qingxuan? How would I know her family matters?

    For the first time Kou Zhong felt that she was jealous because Xu Ziling was with Shi Qingxuan. After staring at her absolute-beauty countenance with astonishment, he laughed involuntarily and said, Ziling and Shi Qingxuan are just strangers coming together by chance; in a lot of things, it is inappropriate for him to inquire of her directly.

    Blushing with shame, Shang Xiuxun cast him a sidelong glance, hang her head low and said, How would I know the relationship between them? Tell me, who is Zhu Yuyans daughter then?

    Full of confidence, Kou Zhong said, I am quite sure it is Madame Dong Ming. Only I dont know why unexpectedly she married Bian Bufu, who is her older generation, plus whose stinky name spread far and wide, no! It should be whose stinky name spread secretly. However, Bian Bufu also have wild schemes toward Wan yaonu, so clearly the people of demonic schools never pay attention to proper human relationships and difference between generations. In their eyes, things that do not conform to reason are actually quite reasonable.

    Hearing the name of Wanwan, Shang Xiuxuns eyes spouted flames of hatred; she spoke heavily, You must help me kill that female demon, to avenge He Bo and Peng Bos [uncle, older than ones father, referring to Shang He and Shang Peng] ocean-deep blood debt.

    A feeling of empathy welled up in Kou Zhongs heart; nodding, he said, Absolutely. As long as I am still breathing, I will never let anybody from Yin Gui Pai get away. But right now it is not the time yet, we must still endure it a bit longer.

    Shang Xiuxun thought that Kou Zhong was referring to his martial art skill was still not enough to subdue Wanwan; with glistening tears in her eyes, she nodded in agreement.

    Kou Zhong had to fight the strong urge in his heart. It was the first time that this staunch, remarkably beautiful woman showed this kind of lovely, pitiful appearance. Evidently deep in her heart, not only she was relying on him more and more, but she also trusted him fully. In this extremely tender-affection inducing moment, he nearly pulled her into his arms, when suddenly he remembered how just now she was jealous because of Xu Ziling. Hastily he pressed down his desire and spoke tenderly, The road of life is never smooth and flat. Inevitably there will be a lot of matters that do not go according to our wish and about which we cannot do anything. Separated in life and death, partings and reunions in joys and sorrows, these eight characters [sheng li si bie, bei huan li he] sum it all.

    Shang Xiuxun quickly recovered; a little embarrassed, she said, I have never been this weak. I dont know why in front of you I became this fragile. Ay! I was telling you something; where was I?

    Suddenly there was an urgent sound of hoof beats.

    The two turned their eyes in the direction of the sound, and saw Luo Fang urged his horse like flying, coming near from afar, while making signal with his hand that the enemy was coming this way.




    [1] Han Gaozu, posthumous name of the first Han emperor, Liu Bang (256 or 247-195 BC), reigned 202-195 BC.

    [2] Han Xin (-196 BC), famous general of first Han emperor, Liu Bang.

  6. #266
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 22 Chapter 12

    Book 22 Chapter 12 The Battle of River Zhang

    The first to pass was the vanguard cavalry of the thief army. Only in three days, four nights, the Three Big Bandits thief army tight formation has deteriorated into disorder. For a time the plains were full of scattered light of the torches.

    Perhaps because it was only two days away from River Zhang, everybody was as anxious as stray dogs, thinking that after crossing River Zhang, they would be able to sleep without any worry. Yet actually it was not surprising that they were having that idea.

    To Kou Zhongs ambushing troops, this situation was actually an easy drive on a familiar path; the key was to use focus to generate chaos, to use order to create dispersion.

    Shang Xiuxun whispered in Kou Zhongs ear, Currently, although we managed to obtain a thousand men, to defeat them, we still do not have any assurance.

    Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, This time we dont want to only obtain one victory, but we want to put an end to these bandits who harm the world of the living thoroughly. We also want to lower the casualties on our side to the lowest point. Only this way will we show off our real ability.

    Suddenly recalling an old affair, he asked in passing, How could Tao Shusheng be bought by these roving bandits that he agreed to betray the Ranch?

    Shang Xiuxuns pretty eyes flashed with sharp rays; she coldly said, How could Cao Yinglong buy him and entice his heart? It was Li Mi!

    Finally Kou Zhong found the answer to this mystery.

    On the other side, Bai Wenyuan was peeking through the gap on the trees on the enemy troops winding around the horse relay station; he spoke in low voice, The vanguard cavalry and the carts carrying provisions at the back of the line are separated by about three li distance. If we move fast enough, we might be able to strike before the enemy riders turn around to come to their aid. And then our whole division will retreat promptly.

    Get on your horses! Kou Zhong shouted.

    Shang Xiuxun hurriedly issued her order, which was then rapidly transmitted down the line.

    One after another one thousand Ranchs warriors mounted their horses.

    Among them, several hundreds held torches in their hands, prepared to burn the provision carts.

    Approximately a hundred carts carrying provisions finally appeared before their eyes, protected by around two thousand thieves, mostly infantry; their cavalry was less than five hundred.

    Kou Zhong waited for the fortunate timing. Suddenly he roared wildly, and charged out of the jungle on the slope of the hill, taking the lead to attack the convoy of the enemys provision carts.

    The Moon in the Well was raised high in the air.

    Shang Xiuxun, Bai Wenyuan, Luo Fang, Xu Yang, and the others followed closely behind, trailed by one thousand elite Ranch riders in fan-shaped formation closing in to trap the enemy in the middle.

    The torches were lighted up, the fire illuminated the night sky, increasing the tidal-wave like surging momentum of the thousand riders.

    The enemy formation was immediately thrown into chaos. Those with fast reaction were going to pull their bows and arrows, but several hundreds powerful arrows were raining down on them. Momentarily the men fell face up, the horses overturned, in utter defeat.

    Like surging waves the chaos rippled from the back of the line toward the middle, and then continued on to the vanguard units. The bandits, who have wantonly plundered the area north of the river, which Cao Yinglong relied on, were immediately trampling each other.

    Kou Zhong was the first to charge into the enemy ranks. The Moon in the Well appeared as a streak of continuously flashing yellow light hacked down the four enemy riders who galloped to meet him, so hard that the men and their weapons were thrown off of the horseback. Gaining the upper hand by this show of strength, he charged deep into the enemy formation. Those who tried to intercept were swept away by the wind. The most formidable thing was that he did not even need the Moon in the Well to touch the enemys body; merely the saber qi was enough to make the enemys seven apertures to bleed and sending them to their death.

    The Ranchs elite cavalry, as if they were descending from heavens, crushed into the enemy formation that the entire convoy of provision carts was separated from the middle army and the vanguard unit, and was put into a completely passive situation.

    Two of the provision carts caught fire first, the flames and smoke soared to the sky.

    Shang Xiuxun was using a long spear. Because she had a group of high-ranking military officers protecting her from left and right, her momentum was like a rainbow; the scream of the enemies thrust by her spear reached the sky.

    In less than half a day, the entire convoy of provision carts was paralyzed, as well as broken into several sections, the thieves were scattering in all directions, fleeing for their lives; even the drivers of the carts jumped down and abandoned their vehicles.

    One after another the overturned carts were set on fire, so that the entire area became a sea of fire.

    Kou Zhongs murderous intent flared up; leading about a hundred warriors, he charged toward the thieves, who were trying to come to the aid of their retreating companions. It was only after he saw the opponents vanguard riders, under the leadership of Cao Yinglong, rushing over from both sides ahead that he shouted retreat.

    The surprise attack was finally over, successfully.

    Xu Ziling chopped down a sturdy and solid pomegranate tree trunk, and spent half a day using his dagger to pare the small branches away to make it into a zhang and a half long stick. Its weight, as well as the feel of it in his hands, was very close to the ideal in his mind.

    Battlefield could be different from desperate fight against martial art masters in general, long weapons were always more advantageous.

    While making this pomegranate wooden stick, his mind was calm, his spirit was highly focused that he noticed every subtle detail on the tree trunk; which side needed more cut, at what angle he had to make the cut, everything was according to a certain amazing reason that even he himself found it difficult to explain clearly, but he knew that he must not make the slightest mistake.

    After the long stick was finished, he had a feeling that this pomegranate stick was as if it was his own flesh and blood. Looking at each chop and cut, which were like the work of the gods, he felt as if it was a very valuable lesson for himself. At least, after Susus death, his spirit has never felt so satisfied like this.

    When the sun was moving away from the middle of the sky and leaning away to the west, Xuan Yong came to report that he had found the enemys track.

    Xu Ziling quickly stood up from the big rock where he had been sitting for about half a day; one hand putting the stick behind him, he said in delight, Kou Zhong succeeded; otherwise, Cao Yinglong would not have traveled in haste during the day.

    Xuan Yong nodded and said, According to the scouts, the enemy formation is in disorder, they are completely like scampering wolves or scurrying frightened rats, running away to the wilderness. This time Cao Yinglong ought to be in the-path-exhausted, the-road-ended situation.

    And then his eyes fell onto the pomegranate stick sticking out from Xu Zilings right shoulder.

    Xu Ziling handed the long stick over for him to see. The murderous intent in his eyes flared out strongly, yet the tone of his voice was extremely calm as he said, Tonight I will use this stick to take away Cao Yinglongs dog life.

    Like a wave of fiery cloud, the Ranchs main forces, led by Shang Zhen, swept through the enemy ranks, to rendezvous with Kou Zhong and Shang Xiuxuns special forces. Without stopping to rest they rushed in the direction of Zhang River.

    Hearing that they have been successfully burned Cao Armys provision carts, their morale soared like a rainbow, their battle spirit was uplifted.

    They changed formation; the vanguard unit was divided into two teams, each team had two thousand men, under Kou Zhong and Liu Zongdaos command, respectively, with Luo Fang and Bai Wenyuan as their deputies.

    Shang Xiuxun was in command of the middle army, with Shang Zhen brought up the rear.

    They absolutely did not wish to overtake the Cao Army before they crossed the river, because it might force the enemy to fight hard like a trapped beast.

    By dusk, Kou Zhong and Luo Fangs vanguard units were the first to reach the mountaintop from which they were able to look at the Zhang River in the distance. They saw the eastern bank of River Zhang was full of enemy troops in battle array, ready to fight with their back to the river.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Cao Yinglong indeed have a real skill. But he is making two big blunders.

    Astonished, Luo Fang said, But I think the strategy he is using now is very brilliant. If we attack rashly, the casualties will definitely be disastrous.

    Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, He is just bluffing [orig. looks impressive but is worthless]. First of all, he lost all his provisions. How long can he fight on empty stomach? If we set up an iron-clad trap in here, he will only end up in total defeat. This is his first blunder.

    After a short pause, he went on, The second blunder is that he thought I didnt know that he is waiting for the dark to set up the pontoon bridge, and then cross the river sneakily. This strategy is actually extremely brilliant, too bad he did not know there is another ambushing troops on the other side, just waiting for his thieving self to arrive.

    Listening to this, the spirit of the men of his left and right was greatly aroused; toward this Cao Army, who had murdered their friends and relatives, no one did not gnash their teeth in anger, they all wanted to annihilate the enemy as quickly as possible.

    The moment of vengeance has finally come.

    Puffing his chest, Luo Fang asked, When should we attack?

    Kou Zhong shouted, This will be decided by Xu Ziling. The moment they release fireworks on the opposite bank will be the moment thief Cao will repay all debts with his blood.

    Clang!

    Kou Zhong drew the Moon in the Well. Pointed it at an angle toward the horizon, with ten-thousand-fathom heroic spirit he shouted, Light the torches, set them up on every hilltop, while digging trenches at the same time. I want to setup a net that not a single enemy will be able to escape. Ranch troops will prevail, thief troops will fail!

    The moment his murderous intent was flaring, the bitter battle, where he had to defend Jingling in the past, reappeared in his mind. The difference was that this time, attacking and defending roles had been easily reversed.

    His troops responded in thunderous roar.

    When darkness fell, Xu Ziling put the pomegranate wooden stick on his horseback. Standing in the dense forest, he and Xuan Yong kept a close watch over each and every move that the enemy made.

    On the opposite bank, the Cao Army lighted more than a hundred torches in tight battle formation, while covertly building the pontoon bridges.

    A bit worried, Xuan Yong said, If Cao Yinglong relies on this confusion to have his men crossing the river and setup formation on this side of the river, based on our current military strength, I am afraid we are helpless to do anything to him.

    By this time, five out of eight pontoon bridges have already been completed, the cavalry was the first to take their horses crossing the river. The situation was more urgent.

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, Under normal circumstances, we are indeed helpless to do anything to him. But look closely at them; they all show hungry, exhausted and beleaguered look on their faces. As long as your eight trebuchets are doing their job to create confusion, for instance, destroying one of the pontoons, I guarantee that the enemy will break down and lose their will to fight, any formation they are creating will be useless.

    His confidence restored, Xuan Yong nodded and said, I was indeed a bit worried about personal gains and losses. We are honing our strength for the big push, as well as trying to catch the enemy off guard with a surprise attack [idiom, from Sun Tzus The Art of War]. I know that the other side does not know about us, so we are really in an invincible position. Hey! How could Xu Ye, in such an urgent situation where war could happen any moment, still look so calm and composed?

    Xu Ziling replied indifferently, As long as you are able to put life and death, success and failure, completely out of your mind, and able to have free spirit and comfortable thought, you will be able to completely bring out your full potential.

    Revealing a deference expression on his face, Xuan Yong spoke in low voice, Xuan Yong receives benefit from your advice.

    Finally the eight pontoon bridges were completed, from beginning to end it took less than half a sichen. The number of men crossing the river increased dramatically; waves after waves of men were heading to the grassland on the western bank of River Zhang. Most men and horses were at the end of the limit of their strength; as soon as they crossed the river, they sat on the ground, no need to mention any will to fight.

    When should we attack? Xuan Yong asked.

    Xu Zilings pair of tiger-eyes suddenly lit up; he said, Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding already crossed the river! Xiang Baxian [sic. It was Xiang Batian in Book 9 Chapter 7] will make Kou Zhongs job a bit easier!

    And then he turned his head and shouted, Light the torches!

    Behind him, the sound of battle drums and bugle horns immediately shook the heavens. From the eastern bank, loud battle cry and the whooshing noise of big rocks splitting the air also shook the heavens.

    From the Ranch warriors point of view, everywhere on the mountaintops on the opposite bank were bright with several thousand torches, painting the riverbank, as well as the sky, blood red, so that the pontoon bridges, which were originally hidden in the dark, were completely exposed. The torchlight also revealed what seemed to be the flickering shadows of ten thousand horses and thousands of men.

    Shang Xiuxun was greatly surprised, How come there are so many men?

    Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, Good kid! Unexpectedly he knew how to bluff; even I am intimidated by him.

    Boom!

    One big rock accurately hit a pontoon bridge, the more than a hundred men and horses on it were immediately overturned and fell into the water in such a sorry state.

    At the same time, from both upstream and downstream, not far from the crossing, several hundred archers appeared, and mercilessly shot those who were falling to the water and were trying to swim to their direction.

    The thieves on both sides of the river, as well as those who were still on the pontoon bridges, were thrown into confusion, and were trying to flee for their lives, yet they were trapped into a completely desperate strait.

    Bang!

    The fireworks released from the opposite bank burst into greenish-white sparks high in the sky.

    Charge! Kou Zhong shouted.

    The Ranch Cavalry of five thousand men were divided into five units of one thousand men each, like five tornadoes sweeping through the enemy lines.

    From about a dozen or so mountaintop jungles torchlight lighted the sky, raging flames spread wildly, so that the moon and the stars in the sky lost their splendor.

    In the river and on the shores, dead bodies were everywhere.

    Out of eight pontoon bridges, five have been destroyed. The killing was just the beginning.

    All Shaoshuai Army and Ranch warriors wore yellow headbands; those without the yellow band were killed without mercy.

    Xu Ziling and Xuan Yong, each leading five hundred men, rushed out of their respective hiding place and charged toward the enemy. The remaining several hundred men were spread out with the straw dummies, increasing the momentum of their attack. They also released powerful arrows to intercept any thief who happened to flee in their direction.

    The thieves abandoned their horses and fled on foot to be able to run more easily.

    Xu Ziling fought at the head of his troops. His state of mind has entered the out-of-the-ordinary non-self boundary. His zhang-and-a-half long pomegranate stick displayed its matchless swift-and-fierce killing power to the fullest extent. It poked, swept, hacked, or struck, ao that the enemy, along with his weapon, would be thrown out and died on the spot, no one was able to prolong his remaining breath.

    The thieves have turned into a sheet of loose sand; those who were able to run have run, those who were unable to escape could not even form any battle array; only small groups of three or four men were fighting desperately with their backs against each other for support.

    Its just that the thieves were indeed too numerous; over the years, they were accustomed to pass their days licking the blood from their blade, accustomed to see the wind and the waves, so that although they were hungry and trapped in difficulties, in this life-and-death crisis, they were still unyieldingly brave and were fighting desperately with everything they had.

    At first Xu Ziling was able to identify Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding, and was rushing over to kill them, who would have thought that thousands of enemies swarmed toward him from the shore? Before his eyes were dense shadows of people with flickering blades, naturally he could not see Cao Yinglong and Fang Jiandings whereabouts.

    Crack!

    A thief with exceptionally outstanding martial art skill met his stick with a spear. But after three exchanges, Xu Ziling flicked his wrist, the pomegranate stick pushed and pulled to create a gap, which he immediately exploited. With a thrust the thiefs chest shattered and he died.

    However, with this slight delay, the soldiers to his left and right immediately bore the brunt of the enemys desperate offensive. Immediately seven or eight Shaoshuai soldiers fell to the ground. Clearly the battle was very intense.

    Xu Ziling had no time to grieve for the dead and the wounded, all he knew was that he must vent his resentment to the enemies on four sides, eight directions. Once again the pomegranate stick flaunted its prowess; it rolled toward the enemy like the waves of the great river Yangtze, killing the enemy that they scattered in all directions.

    As soon as anybody was within his pomegranate stick range, blood splashed and body flew, not a single one narrowly and luckily escaped.

    Depending entirely on this powerful masters leadership, the remaining four hundred or so Shaoshuai Army soldiers were able to break the enemy line into two sections, creating the most favorable situation for the other Shaoshuai Army unit under Xuan Yongs leadership.

    Arrows were still shot constantly from Shaoshuai Armys entrenchment position toward the fleeing bandits, so that dead bodies continued to accumulate along the shore in total disorder.

    One side was focused, while the other was in disunity.

    Although the Cao Army was numerous, because the troops heart was in disorder, they quickly lost their number advantage. Cao Yinglong was unable to pull the wildly swelling water into a stream.

    The thieves successfully crossed the river numbered approximately ten thousand men. When the ambush began, close to a thousand men plunged into the river, attempting to escape, but the Shaoshuai Army ambushing on both upstream and downstream mercilessly shot them with arrows.

    It felt like the fierce fighting would never end.

    Wherever they went, Xu Ziling and his men were like breaking dried twigs and pulling rotten weeds, so that the enemy left behind a mess dead bodies, everywhere they touched, it was frighteningly severed limb and blood; yet there were still countless enemies all around, so that Xu Ziling felt as if he was in an endless killing spree, as if he had fallen into an ant hole. As soon as his hand slowed down slightly, an enemy appeared in front of him, going all out, disregarding his own life, to counterattack. It was a fierce battle where either you die or I perish.

    Suddenly the pressure was lightening up; turned out he had reached the riverbank. He saw the raging battle on the opposite bank was not less intense from the battle on this side.

    Xu Ziling saw the enemy fleeing everywhere like a tide. His heart moved, he stuck the pomegranate stick into the ground, and then borrowing the power from the stick, he flew midair, while his tiger-eyes scanned the crowd.

    He saw that the Shaoshuai Army under his leadership only had more than three hundred men left, while on the other side, Xuan Yongs team was not much better. But they succeeded in defeating the opponent, so that no one dared to fight with them, and all he saw was fleeing enemies scattering in all directions.

    A group of about a hundred enemies was running away, the leaders happened to be Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding. Letting out a wild roar, Xu Ziling landed back to the ground, and led his men in full speed pursuit.

  7. #267
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 22 Chapter 13

    Book 22 Chapter 13 Conditions of Forgiveness

    Under cover of the arrows, the five units of cavalry on Kou Zhongs side swept through the enemies, who failed to cross the river, like five fiery dragons, sparking an intense battle on this side of the river.

    Naturally Kou Zhong and his horse were always at the front. The Moon in the Wells cold ray flashed, the blade never missed, there was always someone screaming miserably and fell to the ground. The killing was so intense that the sky dimmed and the earth darkened, the sun and the moon lost their light. In a short while the enemies, who had lost their will to fight zealously, were smashed that they also lost their will to care of each other, and were utterly defeated.

    Under the huge pressure, one after another the enemies jumped into the river, hoping to escape the purgatory of the human world, to cross the border of massacre.

    He had just hacked an enemy and sent him flying, when Luo Fang by his side cried out, Xiang Baxian!

    Kou Zhong halted his hand to look at the direction Luo Fang was pointing. He saw several hundred thieves with a fat and short man on horseback wielding two steel-toothed rings on the lead, opening up a path to break the siege and escape toward the lower reaches of the river.

    Kou Zhong ordered Luo Fang to lead their troops for him, and then letting out a long whistle, he soared from the horseback and thundered, Xiang Baxian, where do you think you are going? Kou Zhong is here!

    These words carried powerful inner strength, unexpectedly it completely drowned the shouts and cries on the battlefield, just like a crashing thunder on the plains.

    When the soldiers of his side heard this, none did not have his fighting spirit redoubled. When the enemy soldiers heard this, they were scared out of their wits, and fell apart even faster.

    Traversing nearly eight zhang of empty air, Kou Zhong suddenly took a breath, and flew five more zhang horizontally. In the blink of an eye he arrived in front of Xiang Baxian. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he whirled around, while brandishing his saber. One after another six enemies had their weapons broken, their blood splashed, and their bodies flew out. With this one saber strike he succeeded in intimidating the enemy around him, so that everybody ran away in all directions, away from this demon personifying pestilence, as if they agreed to grant him rarely-appeared empty space on the battlefield.

    It was only this moment did Xiang Baxian realize that he was standing face-to-face against Kou Zhong, with nothing in between; hastily he reined his horse to stop. He was going to order his underlings to charge forward to dampen the opponents acute spirit, but then he realized that the men following behind him have scattered away that not a single one remained.

    Kou Zhong revealed a brilliant smile, but his tiger-eyes shot a shocking divine light, as if he was able to see the opponent through. Injustice master has always been injustice master! he shouted loudly, Normally it is hidden, but when facing death, it can be seen clearly. Xiang Baxian, since you can make not even a blade of grass grows [his nickname, see Book 9 Chapter 7], have you ever thought that a day like today would come?

    Xiang Baxian swept his gaze around; he knew at once that his big momentum has gone, but contrary to expectation, he decided to give it all. He made a flip off his horse, struck his rings to each other, creating a clear ringing sound, and said with a nasty laugh, Others are afraid of you, this kid Kou Zhong, but I, Xiang Baxian, see you as just a little pig-dog. Ill get rid of you first, and then Ill find the others to settle the debt.

    While speaking, his eyes opened big and round, and with odd footwork he swiftly approached Kou Zhong, his pair of rings launched a lightning strike.

    With a roar Kou Zhong took the strike head-on, his saber moved at lightning speed, it completely blocked the two steel rings, which cut down from the most crafty angle like two clumps of cold cloud. The moment the saber collided with the rings, the sound lingered incessantly in the ear.

    A dozen or so ring-strikes later, Xiang Baxian already lost his will to continue; swiftly he traversed sideways.

    In this the other diminish, I increase situation, Kou Zhongs saber momentum suddenly flared up, while at the same time he followed the opponent traversing to the left. The Moon in the Well entered the opponents line of defense through the gap between the two rings. It was actually an ordinary move, but because his footwork could change something rotten into something magical [idiom], it became extremely overbearing.

    Xiang Baxian had never imagined Kou Zhong would have such a strange move; his beautiful dream of slipping sideways to regroup and then launching a counterstrike was immediately shattered. Abruptly his double rings closed in, hoping to clip the opponents long saber, afterwards he would jump into the river to escape.

    Who would have thought that at the last moment Kou Zhong took a breath, the Moon in the Well momentarily stopped in the air?

    This stop was the beauty of the move, which sealed Xiang Baxians fate.

    Dang!

    The two rings struck each other.

    The Moon in the Well moved powerfully again, like an urgent thunder violent lightning hacking down on the contact point of the two rings.

    Violent power burst in. At first Xiang Baxian felt like he was struck by lightning, the pair of rings was jolted by the enemys saber, as well as was shaken toward him. But when he wanted to retreat, a bloodstain appeared on his chest.

    Pulling his saber back, Kou Zhong shouted, Xiang Baxian is strung through and filled with evil, he is executed as a lesson to others.

    Like a crash of thunder, his shout reverberated into every nook and corner of the battlefield.

    Dang! Dang!

    One after another the pair of rings fell off his hands.

    With disbelief on his face, Xiang Baxian looked at the blood spreading rapidly on his chest. He screamed, and then fell on his back to the ground.

    Xu Ziling straddled the horse that his man took to him, and then with another group of a hundred or so men, all wielding sabers, pursued in the direction Cao Yinglong and his men were escaping.

    The big earth swiftly moved on the opposite direction to his left and right.

    On the plains, Cao Yinglong had only around fifty men remaining, they ran desperately away toward the mountain area southeast of the river.

    Because both in terms of power and shenfa Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding were far more superior than the other men, they were more than ten zhang ahead of everybody else, hence were very easy to recognize.

    When the thieves saw that Xu Ziling was leading his men to pursue, they knew that his interest was on the thieves chiefs, Cao and Fang, two men, hence they took the chance to run away in all directions, hoping to preserve their own little life, putting their thief nature on full display. There was no loyalty and righteousness to be said.

    Naturally Xu Ziling could not possibly pay attention to these insignificant soldiers; seeing they were still more than ten li away from the mountain area, he deliberately slowed down his horse, maintaining a distance of three, four zhang behind the two, as if he was driving a flock of sheep, looking at their difficult situation, while also exacerbating their wear and tear even more.

    From time to time his men shot arrows from the horseback, forcing the two to dodge to the left and evade to the right, so that they were battered and exhausted even more.

    After seven, eight more li, Cao Yinglong finally realized Xu Zilings trick. Roaring in anger, he stood with his spear held horizontally across his chest and shouted, Jianding! We fight him to the death.

    Who would have thought that Fang Jianding regarded his words as the wind past his ear? He ran away even faster.

    Xu Ziling filled the pomegranate stick full of his true qi, its power broke out suddenly, as if it was a living creature, unexpectedly the pomegranate stick rapidly spun away from his grasp, without making any noise it flew pass over Cao Yinglongs head, and continued toward Fang Jianding as if it was able to recognize him. If it were under different circumstances, although the pomegranate stick was flying, propelled by its own spinning power, and thus did not create any gust of wind, but with Fang Jiandings skill as an established martial art master, he would definitely be able to sense the sticks presence.

    However, currently he was like a stray dog; forget about several days of exertion, merely the escape in panic just now has already consumed large amount of his true power, so his reaction was far less sensitive than usual.

    Also, if Cao Yinglong had warned him, he ought to be able to avoid the deadly disaster in time.

    But Cao Yinglong hated him to the bones because he ran away; how could he be willing to help him?

    While everybody was staring blankly, like a powerful arrow the pomegranate stick continued flying, rapidly closing in on Fang Jianding. It broke through the true qi protecting his body, and pierced through his back.

    With a violent scream Fang Jianding fell forward, the pomegranate stick stood on his back like a pillar pointing to the sky; it continued spinning for several revolutions before it started to slow down and finally stopped. The scene was bizarre to the extreme point.

    The torches were burning brightly. The Shaoshuai Army fanned out, everybody has a bow and an arrow in his hands, aimed at the sole target.

    Xu Ziling flew off his horse; fixing his gaze on Cao Yinglong, he said with a cold laugh, if you swear not to run away, I am going to give you a chance to have a fair duel; otherwise these arrows will fly, and I will add finger wind and fist power to it.

    This chief of bandits of this generation had his face underwent a number of changes, from gloomy to clear, indeterminately. It was quite some time later that he let down his hands and spoke in distressed, I admit defeat. If you are willing to let me go, I wish to deliver to you the entire sum of riches gathered over many years. Plus I swear I will never set foot on Jianghu anymore.

    Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, That kind of ill-gotten wealth is stained with the blood of God knows how many innocent peoples blood. Even if you sent it to me unconditionally, I would not want it.

    Cao Yinglong angrily said, How could you, this person, be so stubborn and old-fashioned? This wealth can make thousands upon thousands of people live in peace and work happily, and to restructure their homes. Even if you dont want it, it can always be used for charity. Xu Xiong, please think thrice.

    Letting out a long laugh, Xu Ziling said, Well said! Why dont I capture you alive and bring you back? Lets see if you, this greedy-for-life, afraid-of-death disciple, can endure the taste of torture. Perhaps, other than your wealth, youd also draw a map telling us how to find your hidden treasure as well?

    Cao Yinglong spoke heavily, Greedy for life and afraid of death is human nature. But if I knew that I would be humiliated in vain, I would definitely not let you capturing me alive. How about this? On top of the wealth, I can also give you another secret information. If after you hear it you think the information is valuable, you will let me go.

    Laughing involuntarily, Xu Ziling said, Cao Yinglong, if you are thinking of using this to stall for time, to restore your true energy, you are definitely wasting your scheming.

    You must not misunderstand, Cao Yinglong anxiously said, The first information is pertaining Yang Xuyans past history and origin. If you refuse to heed my warning, Shi Qingxuan will be caught in a bad situation with no hope of reprieve.

    Shaken, Xu Ziling said, How do you know I knew Shi Qingxuan?

    So you know I am not spouting nonsense, Cao Yinglong said, What do you think? Would you agree to this business deal?

    Xu Zilings eyes shone with sharp light.

    Cao Yinglong repeated, Only after you hear it and you think the information is valuable will you let me go, so basically there is no need to be afraid I would lie to you.

    Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. In that moment he really did not know whether he should listen to Cao Yinglong and let this disciple, who have committed ten thousand evils, to struggle on whilst at deaths door.

    One after another Kou Zhong and Shang Xiuxun crossed the only remaining pontoon bridge to rendezvous with Xuan Yong.

    This time, although they achieved total victory with only a few thousand bandits managed to escape, the casualties on their side was quite heavy. The Ranch lost nearly one thousand warriors, Shaoshuai Armys casualties also reached five hundred men, not including those who are wounded.

    This was the price of war.

    After sweeping her gaze around, Shang Xiuxun asked Xuan Yong, Where is Xu Ziling?

    Xuan Yong respectfully replied, Xu Ye led his men to pursue and kill Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding.

    What direction did he take? Shang Xiuxun anxiously asked.

    Xuan Yong pointed to the southeast.

    Under the morning light, the grassland stretched out as far as the eye could see.

    Shang Xiuxun spurred her horse and galloped away, while calling out tenderly, We must go quickly to help.

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for a moment, and then he pursued closely behind her horse; a bittersweet feeling of equal proportion welled up in his heart.


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    Last edited by foxs; 11-28-17 at 11:46 PM.

  8. #268
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 1

    Book 23 Chapter 1 Startling-the-Heaven Secret

    Xu Ziling silently stared at Cao Yinglong. It was quite half a day later that he said, Cao Yinglong, you have always been vicious and merciless; dauntless and unafraid of death you intimidated Hubei, why do you suddenly become this greedy for life, afraid of death? Clearly there is deceit here. I wont be fooled.

    Cao Yinglong revealed a hint of pained expression of someone whose ambitious and ruthless character had been cut short. Its not surprising that Xu Xiong has that notion. Even if someone had told me earlier that I, Cao Yinglong, would seek survival by negotiating with someone else, I would be the first one not to believe. Ay! Xu Xiong, is it possible for you to temporarily dismiss your men so that we could talk a little bit?

    Xu Ziling hesitated for a moment, but in the end he ordered his men to disperse some distance away, but still maintained the siege to guard against Cao Yinglong escaping. Then he jumped down his horse and walked over toward Cao Yinglong.

    With his efficacious acute perception, Xu Ziling did not sense the opponent raising his qi and circulating his energy to restore his dramatic loss in true power.

    This once-going-on-the-rampage bandit chief suddenly looked like he aged more than ten years in just a short period of time, exposing his mentally-and-physically-exhausted, weary state. With a wry smile, he said, Just now when I saw Xu Xiong pierced Jiandings back with a long stick, I had a feeling that Xu Xiong is the kind of person that will never be able to knock down the enemys dispirited heart. In that instant, myriads of thoughts flitted in my mind, just like I was suddenly awakened from a nightmare, feeling that my hands are reeking of blood, my sins grievous. Afterwards I feel like every hope is turning into dust, being alive is not as good as dead.

    Letting out a cold sneer, Xu Ziling said, If being alive is really not as good as dead, you would not have negotiated your survival with Ol Xu!

    Cao Yinglong nodded and said, I am not surprised that I am provoking Xu Xiongs ridicule. The truth is that under that kind of circumstance, in my heart suddenly welled up an urge and longing, which I have tried to suppress for more than twenty years; I wish I could accomplish this desire, hence I am asking Xu Xiong to put me on a horse. If Xu Xiong is afraid of being cheated, I can disperse 90% of my own power first, retaining only a little bit for protection and self-defense. This way Xu Xiong wont have fears of trouble in the rear, and will be able to save Shi Qingxuan in time. If Xu Xiong still think that this is not feasible, please immediately take my life, I absolutely will not fight back.

    It was as if Cao Yinglong had become another person altogether; there was some kind of sincerity in his voice that evolved from the depth of his heart. This, plus the substance of his speech, made others unable to doubt his sincerity.

    Yet the contradiction in Xu Zilings heart was exasperating.

    Speaking about conduct, even if Cao Yinglong died ten thousand times, it would still be not enough to redeem his sins. Plus Xu Ziling had made up his mind early on; he swore that he would get rid of this big bandit chief. But for Shi Qingxuans sake, should he make the deal?

    Cao Yinglong calmly said, If after listening to me Xu Xiong thinks its not worth it, or perhaps you sense that my words are not completely honest, you may make your move at any time to take my life. I will neither resist nor resent it.

    Astonished, Xu Ziling asked, Cao Dangjia is really not afraid that whether I think you tell the truth or a lie I still take your life?

    Smiling bitterly, Cao Yinglong said, If thats the case, I can only blame myself for at the deaths door, I misjudge you, hence I will die with no complain.

    Shi Qingxuans image floated in the lake of Xu Zilings heart. Whether it was a fantasy or a reality, he could not tell, as if he would never be able to pry into the complete picture of her jade countenance. An unspeakable feeling welling up in his heart, he nodded and said, Very well! Ol Xu will listen with respectful attention.

    Cao Yinglong muttered to himself irresolutely for a moment. It was quite some time later that he spoke in lowered voice, If I dont tell the rise and fall of the terrain [idiom: the whole sequence of events] in details, it would be difficult to enter Xu Xiongs confidence. Fortunately it is still a couple of sichen before dawn, we have enough time. Have Xu Xiong ever heard about Two Sects and Six Ways?

    Xu Ziling understood his meaning; if Cao Yinglong really destroyed 90% of his martial art skill, then he must flee far away from the danger zone before daybreak, and then concealing his identity to avoid all his enemies who had hatred and desire for revenge and might pursue and search for him.

    To say the least, Flying Horse Ranch people definitely would not let him go, and it would be difficult for Xu Ziling to stop them.

    Xu Ziling replied, I have only heard about the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Ways, but I have never heard about Two Sects and Six Ways. Yin Gui Pai ought to be one of the two sects, am I right?

    Cao Yinglong nodded and said, Yin Gui Pai is indeed being regarded as the chief among the demonic schools, simply because they possess the demonic schools treasured book Tian Mo Mi [demonic/devils secret], which, together with Ci Hang Jian Dian [Sword Canon of Ci Hang (Jingzhai)], are the two supreme classics of the demonic and upright, two ways. The former grew into the Two Sects and Six Ways, the latter are Ci Hang Jingzhai and Jing Nian Chanyuan.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, Is Cao Dangjia a demonic schools man?

    Smiling ruefully, Cao Yinglong replied, If I was not a demonic schools man, how could I have any relationship with Yang Xuyan?

    Seeing a peculiar look flashed through Xu Zilings face, he hastily said, Although my body belongs to the demonic school, in my heart I hate my school to the bones. Simply because after I grew up, purely by accident I discovered that when my revered master received me as his disciple in the past, unexpectedly he mercilessly murdered my father and mother, brothers and sisters, in the name of severing karma with the secular world, so that my heart was brimming with hatred, yet I was clearly helpless to rebel, so I could only vent my hatred and desire for revenge someplace else. Only today I am awakened; the past is like a nightmare.

    For the first time Xu Ziling felt a little bit of sympathy on him; he asked, Who is your honorable master?

    Cao Yinglongs eyes spouted flames of hatred; he spoke heavily, He is the Xie Wang [demonic king] Shi Zhixuan, whom even Ci Hang Jingzhai is somewhat wary of!

    Shi Zhixuan! Xu Ziling blurted, Isnt he Shi Qingxuans biological father?

    Cao Yinglong looked up to the sky; for the sake of time, he changed the subject by saying, In the past hundred years, the whole country is in rebellion, the demonic schools have emerged to meet a historic destiny by producing several outstanding characters. The most prominent would be Yin Hou [empress yin] Zhu Yuyan, Xie Di [demonic emperor] Xiang Yutian, and Xie Wang Shi Zhixuan. In term of reputation, Zhu Yuyan is the most famous, but in term of strength, the other two are definitely not inferior to her.

    Xu Ziling blew out a mouthful of cold air; he said, At the deaths door, Xiang Yutian recovered his innate sense of right and wrong. Since Shi Zhixuan already had union with Bi Xiuxin, logically he should have mended his ways.

    Cao Yinglong revealed dread, mixed with despicable, condescending expression on his face. Pei! he spat, and said, Shi Zhixuans innate character is evil. The fall of the Sui dynasty, and the world turned from being unified back to numerous and disorderly, he is the person who bore the greatest responsibility.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling said, Unexpectedly there is such thing. What ability did Shi Zhixuan have that he managed to topple the Great Sui?

    Gnashing his teeth, Cao Yinglong said, Shi Zhixuans other identity was Yang Guangs most doted on and trusted minister Pei Ju, who was in charge of domestic and foreign commercial trade. Yang Guang sent out military expedition to Gaoli was precisely due to his instigation.

    Xu Zilings heart was severely shaken.

    That day at Man Qing Yuan Xing Mofei mentioned this name to them [see Book 16 Chapter 5], saying that he wrote the Maps and Notes on the Western Regions in three volumes, and an account on the profile of the forty-four states of the Western Region, which, at the end of the preface he wrote, from Hun and so on will faint and be exterminated, which led to Yang Guang sending a large military expedition abroad. Fu Qians visit to the east this time was precisely to find him to settle the account. This man was an expert in espionage and conspiracy. In the Western Region he stirred the wind and stirred the rain, implicating the Tujue that they split up and attack each other, filling the plains with the dead and injured. It was also because Yang Guang sent out three military expeditions to Gaoli that led the rebellions springing up everywhere, which ended up in the demise of the empire.

    Cao Yinglong hatefully said, Yang Guangs heartless and brutal regime, although it was related to his natural character, but were it not for Shi Zhixuan pushing the wave and adding to the billows, Yang Jians [first Sui emperor] strong and solid familial property would not have failed that quickly.

    Xu Zilings scalp went numb; he said, By doing this, what good would that bring him?

    Cao Yinglong sighed and said, The problem is that whether it was Emperor Wen or Emperor Yang, they all vigorously advocated Buddhism. Establishing Buddhist temples across the whole nation, transcribing Buddhist scriptures, proclaiming the Buddhist doctrine, and so on, are like preaching the entire nations power, which to the demonic schools belief system, acted in a way that defeats its purpose. How could Shi Zhixuan tolerate them messing up with their demonic ways? In the final analysis, the battle between Ci Hang Jingzhai and the demonic schools is the battle over tradition.

    Listening to that, Xu Ziling was dumbstruck. Puzzled, he asked, If they are really targeting Ci hang Jingzhai and Jing Nian Chanyuan, why not the sects of demonic school put their strength together, and wipe them out in one move? Why would they draw all the people into deep water and scorching fire? If they attracted foreign tribes to invade, wouldnt it be the gains do not make up for the losses?

    Sneering, Cao Yinglong replied, Demonic schools emphasize without regard for others feelings, without regard for characters. Those practicing the highest technique could even be without regard for sons, without regard for grandsons. Just like the Buddhists, they also look at life as a fleeting moment, illusory without ultimate meaning. Its just that they are adopting bewildering method, not for the salvation of the people; rather, they see morality and etiquette as simply trifling matter, something that they can use to achieve their purpose, by hook or by crook, unfettered by any constraint.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Cao Xiongs former conduct and deeds indeed deeply represented the demonic schools objective.

    Cao Yinglong dejectedly said, Because I was adept in the demonic schools influence, I only felt as if everything was as it should be by rights. Since Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty banned many schools of thought, and revered Confucianism as sole orthodoxy, the battle over tradition began, and the world started to have distinction between the righteous and the heretic. By the time demonic teaching Han Yi Hu Shu [lit. Han (ethnic group) interpretation of Hu (barbarians/non-Han people) books] came from the east, things got more complicated so fast. For you, the strife for the world is a political battle; for us, this is a battle over tradition. While the other flourishes and grows, we sink and cannot rise. Even though right now my feeling is not the same as yesterday, toward those so-called Buddhism from the outside, I still feel deep pain and loathing. Humph! Buddhism is nothing more than evolution of demonic book, a fallacy of the demonic law, a cheat on the teaching of the ignorance. All those past sins, future karma, doctrine of Dana [Buddhist practice of giving], while hoping for ten thousand times the reward, holding a day of fasting, while hoping for a hundred days of grains, and thus the confused and the fools will have presumptuous demands of achievements and virtue. If they really want to achieve emptiness in ten thousand ways, why are they using greed and deceit even until now?

    It was the first time that Xu Ziling heard someone repelled Buddhism. Apparently this argument was hanging on the demonic school peoples mouth quite often, hence Cao Yinglong was able to spit it out like surging tide, or like the flowing water of the Yangtze River.

    Cao Yinglong continued, As for the desire to wipe out Ci Hang Jingzhai, it is easier said than done. Yin Gui Pai has always been butting head with Jingzhai, but all along has always been in the disadvantageous position. Moreover, Jingzhai has already surpassed ordinary religion, and has become the supreme holy land of the two houses, Buddhist and Taoist. Whoever attacks them openly might provoke intervention from martial art masters like the Taoist Schools Ning Daoqi, or perhaps the Buddhist Schools Four Sects [here the word is zong school/sect/ancestor/clan] holy monks, who, so far, have always disregarded the affairs of the human world.

    Listening to this, Xu Zilings hair stood up on its end. Emotionally moved, he asked, Who are the Four Sects of the Buddhist School?

    Although he was dying to ask directly about Shi Qingxuan, he could not help being attracted to Cao Yinglongs explosive narrative of the demonic schools internal affairs. It was only then did he understand why Cao Yinglong was so confident that he would consider this intelligence to be valuable to some extent, so much so that it would be enough to trade for his life.

    Without they realizing it, it was only about half a sichen before daybreak. Xu Zilings mind has been fully absorbed in this Jianghu politics, which exceeded his expectation, but which was also closely related to the current struggle.

    Cao Yinglong looked at the sky again, and then hurriedly replied, The Four Sects are Tiantai Zong [lit. heavens platform, school of Buddhism], Sanlun Zong [Three Treatise], Huayan Zong [from dictionary: Chinese Buddhist school founded on the Buddhavatamsaka-mahavaipulya Sutra (Garland sutra)], and Chan Zong [Zen Buddhism]. The Abbotts [orig. Zhuchi, manager] are all senior [or holy] monks whose martial art skill has transcended beyond the mundane, arhat-like, and possess deep, rich cultivation through religious practice, who have never been drawn into any dispute in Wulin, as well as the vulgar world [Buddhist concept]. It is only natural that no one dares to provoke them. The only exception is Shi Zhixuan. He had paid respect [i.e. take discipleship] to Sanlun Zongs Jiaxiang [county, in Jining, Shandong] Dashi, Ji Zang, and Chan Zong Four Ancestors Daoxin Dashi [not sure about this], one after another, stealing their skills. In the demonic schools, he also held two posts simultaneously as the Chief of two schools. Were it not for Jingzhai producing Bi Xiuxin, I am afraid that even if Ning Daoqi personally make his move, he might not be able to subdue him.

    Seeing Cao Yinglong was so cooperative, not hiding anything he knows, not stopping before he has said it through, Xu Ziling began to believe his sincerity that he has washed his heart and renewed his face, and so he started to be a bit anxious about his safety as well. Although his belly was full of questions, he did not dare to stray from the subject too far; hence he asked hastily, So what does Yang Xuyan have to do with Shi Qingxuan? Why does he want to harm Shi Zhixuans daughter?

    Cao Yinglong replied, Strictly speaking, Yang Xuyan cannot be considered a demonic school man at all. His only relationship with the demonic school came from Shi Zhixuan.

    He paused a moment, as if he suddenly made up his mind, and then said, Yang Xuyan is Yang Jians grandchild, the son of Yang Yong, the nephew of Yang Guang.

    Emotionally moved, Xu Ziling said, So thats how it is!

    Until now, they had never been able to unravel the mystery of Yang Xuyans identity, since he seemed to take orders from Yang Guang, yet he also seemed to help outsiders in dealing with Yang Guang. But if he was indeed Yang Yongs son, then Yang Guang, who was guilty of murdering his elder brother, the Crown Prince Yang Yong, and set himself up on the throne, was his personal, father-murderer, enemy.

    Cao Yinglong continued, Shi Zhixuan secretly rescued Yang Xuyan, by using another childs dead body as his substitute. Originally it was out of bad intention; he intended to disrupt the Sui politics by restoring Yang Xuyan to the throne. Who would have thought that things kind of got out of hand? Unexpectedly he discovered that whether in terms of character and aptitude, Yang Xuyan actually has the qualifications to inherit his ultimate skill; hence he accepted him as his disciple, and taught him martial art. This matter, other than me, no one in the world knows; therefore, I shamelessly use this as my bargaining chip to Xu Xiong.

    And then he closed his eyes, his countenance turned white, the joints within his body produced faint crackling noises.

    This was the first time that Xu Ziling witnessed the secret technique of the demonic school to disperse ones power; inwardly he was sorrowful, but he knew he should not stop it from happening.

    Cao Yinglong slowly said, When Shi Zhixuan realized that the chaos in the world has escaped from his control, also for some other reason that neither Yang Xuyan nor myself understood, he suddenly vanished without any trace. Originally I was unwilling to join hands with Zhu Can and Xiao Xian, but Yang Xuyan personally came to see me, persuading me to lay a trap against you, he also divulged the fact that Shi Qingxuan has joined hands with you to deal with You Niaojuan and the others. If we did not immediately take care of you, perhaps Shi Zhixuan might hide Shi Qingxuan in secret, and implicate that she had handed over the demonic schools manuals to you. Therefore, we must resolve this matter in the shortest time possible, using the two-pronged approach: I would deal with you, and he would go to Sichuan to cheat the manuals from her hands. As for the details, even I am not too clear about it. All I know is that Yang Xuyan, this mans innate tendency is evil just like Shi Zhixuan, and he firmly believed that only by getting rid of Shi Qingxuan will Shi Zhixuan recover his natural instinct to come out and help him obtain the world.

    While speaking the last sentence, all trace of blood has disappeared from his face, and he was gasping for breath constantly.

    Xu Ziling was overwhelmed with grief; he reached out to pull this once tyrannizing, killing people like scything flax, extremely vicious mans hands. On one hand, he was checking whether the dispersing-power process was real, on the other hand, he wanted to stop the process from continuing. Aghast, he said, Yang Xuyan informed you about this crafty scheme many days ago, how could I still have time to stop him?

    Having obtained Xu Zilings true qi, Cao Yinglongs face recovered its color. Sighing, he said, Shi Zhixuans only favor to me was that he imparted to me his demonic power. Now I have returned his power back to him, I do not owe him anything.

    Only after gasping for another breath did he address the question that Xu Ziling was dying to know, For some reason, that kid has unexpectedly suffered internal injury, and has to hide for some time to recover before he could go to Sichuan to find Shi Qingxuan. Therefore, if Xu Xiong leave immediately, there is a very good chance that you might be ahead of him and help Shi Qingxuan neutralizing this problem.

    By this time any suspicion in Xu Zilings heart has vanished; letting go of his hands, he said, Cao Xiong, what exactly is your unfulfilled wish?

    Smiling bitterly, Cao Yinglong replied, Xu Xiong is indeed very smart, knowing that after dispersing my power, I can barely live for only about a year. But this wish, I can only rely on myself to fulfill it. Ay! This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly. The short version is that I have secretly betrayed my school by having a relationship with a woman and have a daughter with her. This time I am throwing everything away, I want to go back and see them, mother and daughter, for one more time, to tell them that I had other difficulties, and did not have any intention to abandon them.

    Hearing that, Xu Ziling was dumbstruck. If previously someone had told him that Cao Yinglong, who committed murder without batting an eye, unexpectedly harbored this kind of profound love toward his wife and daughter, he would not have believed it even if he was to be killed.

    Xu Ziling knew there was not much time; pursing his lips, he whistled to call his mount, while asking, What actually are Two Sects and Six Ways? Whats their relationship? Shi Zhixuan held the chief positions of which two sects?

    Cao Yinglong gratefully took the horsewhip; he replied, There are altogether six volumes of Tianmo Mi [The Demons Secret], which spread out and grew into Two Sects and Six Ways. Each Sect has a style of their own, of which the Tianmo Shu [demonic method/technique] is the most formidable, and Dao Xin Zhong Mo Da Fa [demonic big method cultivated from the way of the heart] is the most weird. But after Shi Zhixuan fused the highest xinfa of Hua Jian Pai and Bu Tian Ge [lit. mending-the-heaven pavilion] and founded the amazing power of Bu Si Yin [lit. not dead (immortal) print/seal/mark], he raised his banner among the demonic schools that even Zhu Yuyan and Xiang Yutian must gasp with admiration.

    And then he added, The Two Sects are Yin Gui Pai and Hua Jian Pai, the Six Ways are Xie Ji [extreme evil], Mie Qing [wiping-out feeling], Zhen Chuan [authentic tradition], Bu Tian [mending the heaven], Tian Lian [heavenly lotus], and Mo Xiang [devil appearance]. Among which, Zhen Chuan split out into two, which are Zu Zhen Chuan [authentic tradition of the ancestors] and Laojun Guan [Lao-tze (Taoist) Monastery].

    Cao Yinglong flipped over to mount the horse, and called out, We part here; if we do not have time to meet again, Xu Xiong must, by all means, be careful of Yang Xuyan. In the future, he might become another Shi Zhixuan.

    And then he leaned over and took a bamboo tube from his bosom, which he stuffed into Xu Zilings hand, before clamping the horse and left. The Shaoshuai Army separated to let him out of the encirclement.

    Led by Kou Zhong and Shang Xiuxun, nearly a thousand Ranchs warriors swarmed in like a clump of swift cloud, just as they caught sight of Cao Yinglong, who appeared to be a small dot on the prairie under the light of the beginning of dawn.

    Shang Xiuxun looked suspiciously at the lone rider in the distance. When she got to Xu Zilings side, she asked, Isnt that Cao Yinglong?

    It is indeed him! Xu Ziling calmly replied.

    What? Shang Xiuxun blurted out.

    By this time Kou Zhong had urged his horse to ride by Xu Zilings other side. Reining the horse, his gaze moved from Cao Yinglong to the dead body on the ground, Fang Jianding, who still had the pomegranate stick sticking out of his back, but he did not say anything.

    Shang Xiuxuns countenance sank; she stared at Xu Ziling hatefully and said, Why did you let him go?

    Xu Ziling looked down at the bamboo tube in his hand, he spoke indifferently, He used secret pertaining to Yang Xuyan in exchange for half a year of his life, so that he can fulfill the wish of the past many years.

    Shang Xiuxuns countenance changed, she said, What kind of thing Yang Xuyan is, that unexpectedly in Xu Yes eyes he is more important than the blood debt of thousands of our Ranch warriors?

    Kou Zhong hastily tried to smooth things over, he said, Changzhu, please calm down. Ziling must have his own reasons.

    Shang Xiuxuns face turned as cold as ice as she said, Of course you are helping him! I am not mad, I just need a satisfactory explanation.

    By this time the sky gradually brightened. Although more than a thousand warriors gathered on the grassland, everybody was quiet out of fear, holding their breath and calming their qi.

    Xu Zilings eyes met the round, open-wide apricot-eyes of Shang Xiuxun, whose face was deathly white. Smiling ruefully, he said, I originally determined not to let Cao Yinglong leave this place alive, but because he exchanged information involving Xiaodis friends life or death, I just had to

    What friend? Shang Xiuxun cut him off.

    Xu Ziling answered honestly, Its Shi Qingxuan. Have Changzhu ever heard her name?

    Shang Xiuxun was stunned; she stared blankly for a moment, and then the color started to disappear from her pretty face. Inwardly Kou Zhong cried, Bad!, but while he was at a loss of what to say, this beautiful Ranch Master screamed, Turns out it is Shi Qingxuan. No wonder Xu Ziling, you unexpectedly disregard our Ranchs blood debt, and let this evil thief, who deserves to be cut a thousand times, to enter the ocean, to return to the mountain, and let him continue slaughtering ten thousand people. Just consider me misjudging you.

    And then she turned to Kou Zhong and fiercely said, I am going after Cao Yinglong now, are you coming or not?

    Kou Zhong responded with difficulty, Just now Ling Shao said that fellow Cao Yinglong only have half of his life, and that he wont last more than half a year, hey!

    Shang Xiuxun spoke word-by-word, I only asked you, are you coming or not?

    Kou Zhong dejectedly replied, Whatever Ling Shao said is the same as what I, Kou kid, would say. Changzhu, please forgive me.

    Shang Xiuxun rushed her horse forward for a dozen or so paces, but then she turned back, swept her gaze around, her phoenix eyes contained a complicated expression as she nodded and said, Good! three times, before calling out tenderly, All gratitude and grudges between me and you, two boys, are hereby broken into two segments with a single cut. Hereafter we have nothing to do with each other. Brothers! Follow me, lets go!

    Unexpectedly she no longer going after Cao Yinglong, instead, her horse flew back the way she came. All Ranch warriors had no choice but to follow behind her; they came like a tornado, they left like a tornado. In the blink of an eye they disappeared, leaving Xu and Kou, two boys, and more than a hundred Shaoshuai Army, who looked at each other without being able to say anything.

    Kou Zhong leaped down from his horse, smiled wryly, and shook his head, Jealous woman, he said.

    Xu Ziling helplessly said, Im sorry!

    Wrapping his arm around Xu Zilings shoulders, Kou Zhong said, One lifetime, two brothers; why say such thing? We dont have Flying Horse Ranch, then we dont have Flying Horse Ranch. Its not the end of the world.

    A warm feeling burst inside Xu Zilings heard. Stuffing the bamboo tube into Kou Zhongs hand, he said in low voice, Inside ought to be the map to the stolen goods that that thief has hidden; he was going to give it to Yang Xuyan. If you have time, you ought to take a look!

  9. #269
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 2

    Book 23 Chapter 2 Separate Mission

    While Shaoshuai Army was cleaning up the battlefield, the two boys sat on a pile of rocks by the River Zhang, discussing the valuable information that Cao Yinglong provided. Kou Zhong picked up a broken arrow lying down by his feet. While playing with it, he said, Cao Yinglong should be telling the truth, or else he is a genius in fabricating stories and tooting his horn. At least the part where Yang Xuyan is injured cant be a lie. Furthermore, if you compare it to Shang Xiuxuns story, it was like seamless heavenly clothes. Ay! This Beautiful Changzhu is so hot-tempered. Whoever marries her will have a very big bad luck. Oh, my Niang!

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, This is called different class origins. We paid obeisance to Yan Laoda as our master [Book 1 Chapter 1], at least we are accustomed to accommodate other people. She is set up on high; although she is surrounded by people, she is a lone flower admiring itself, hiding inside that little world of hers that is isolated from the crowd; perhaps her life is cheerless and lonesome. Therefore, although she does not know how to conduct herself, how to put herself in someone elses shoes, or how to give thought to others, we cant blame her. I just hope that when she calms down, she might change her mind! Otherwise, your great undertaking of regaining Jingling will potentially die in the womb.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, I did not blame her at all. We cannot expect everything in life will happen according to our wishes, or else Niang and Su Jie did not need to die. But if I were you, I might also let Old Cao go to fulfill his wish before he dies. If my guess is correct, Shi Qingxuan is the custodian of Hua Jian Pais library, and while she is at it, she might even be the caretaker of Bu Tian Jiaos [jiao cult, as if in Ming Cult of Yi Tian Tu Long Ji] scriptures. And Yang Xuyan is pretending to be the disciple of Hua Jian Pai, he is going to Sichuan to deceive her and harm her. What are you planning to do?

    Grabbing his head, Xu Ziling said, Do I have any choice?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Dont act like you are in pain. In my opinion, you have the excuse you need to see Miss Shi, your heart must be really happy. Just put your butts in order, I dont care if in the latrine youd stand or sit.

    Xu Ziling looked at him in astonishment. Unexpectedly you still have the mood to make such a dirty joke, he said in surprise.

    Grieved, Kou Zhong said, Although this time we seized total victory, we lost nearly half of our brothers. They have been through fire and water with me, yet I cannot bring them home to be reunited with their family and share riches and honor together. If I dont make some vulgar jokes, how could I divert myself from the sorrow cramming down my heart?

    Amazed, Xu Ziling said, Your way of mourning is indeed extraordinarily weird.

    Kou Zhong sized him up carefully; he said, You have always been more compassionate than me [orig. bemoaning the state of the universe and pity the
    fate of mankind], why do you seem like a bit unconcerned?

    Xu Ziling contemplated for a moment; sighing lightly, he said, Its not that I am unconcerned, but I am a bit numbed toward life and death. After Su Jies death, I often ponder the question of life and death. What happens after death? One is existence, the other is nothingness. If all is nothing, then once the main problem is solved, all troubles are solved [or death ends all one's troubles]. Suffering, broken-heart, despair, depression, are all the facts of life. But if all exist, then it is really interesting; whether its reincarnation or going to the Temple of Heaven or the nether world, in short, going to another world. In this way of thinking, death is no longer frightening. We weep for the death, but its just because we cannot see through. I even expect death a little bit. In this regard, Laotianye is just; whether you are of noble birth or aristocracy, or perhaps merely ordinary, common people, everybody has to experience it once.

    Listening to this, Kou Zhong was so surprised and confused that he was unsure how to respond. It was quite a while later that he slowly exhaled and said, Despite your expectation, you must not commit suicide; at least not before we find the Duke Yang Treasure.

    Xu Ziling was cross, Go to your grandma! he cursed, I must now go to Sichuan; how about you?

    Distressed, Kou Zhong said, The most ideal situation is of course I am coming with you to visit your little Qingxuan. Unfortunately, I have to rush back to see Chen Changlin and his clansmen, the Jiangnan troops. I have no choice but to agree on a place where we can meet later and go together to Guanzhong to try our luck. Ay! You must be a bit more careful!

    Xu Ziling responded indifferently, Are you afraid I might die before coming with you to find the treasure?

    Sneering, Kou Zhong replied, Compared to my good brother, can the Duke Yang Treasure be considered anything?

    Rising to his full height, Xu Ziling said, I was just joking. Both of us must be a bit more careful. Not only we are being sucked into the maelstrom of the contention over the world, we are also progressively being drawn into the mysterious power struggle between the upright and the demonic. One slip, and we will be caught in a situation without any hope of reprieve.

    Kou Zhong suddenly stood up; turning his gaze toward the sinking sun on the western horizon, he spoke slowly, word-by-word, The fact is, the moment we obtained the Secret to Long Life, we are already falling into this unknown struggle, from which we cannot escape, even if we wanted to. This is our destiny.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling hastened on his journey for four days and three nights straight. By the time he reached a county town east of the Great Bashan [Mount Ba], he could no longer endure it, and had to throw himself into an inn to rest.

    Since ancient times, the road into Bashu [Sichuan] has been widely known as hard to pass, because it was surrounded by a range of hills, range upon range of mountains, high mountains and deep valleys. In between was the Yangtze River snaking through it like a belt. Converging streams and joining flows, both grand and majestic, as well as dangerous and difficult.

    To enter Sichuan by land, one must go through the plank walkway going around the mountain between the Great Mount Lou and the Great Mount Ba. As for the waterway, there was the Three Gorges natural stronghold. Therefore, no matter how chaotic the outside world was, as long as one could occupy Sichuan and declare himself king, by relying on the dense river channels within its borders, plus the Dujiangyan gravitational irrigation system [more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dujiangyan], one could develop the agriculture, with which one could hold his ground for a long period of time. Hence it enjoyed the good reputation as the land of abundance.

    Although the inhabitants of Shu [short for Sichuan] region were mostly Han, there were more than forty other ethnic groups, such as Qiang, Yi, et cetera, hence it was very rich in local customs.

    The county town Xu Ziling was stopping over was Shangyong City, north of River Du, Fang Ling County, Hubei, one of the major stations on the main route toward Shu region. From here, he would only need half a day of travel to enter the mountainous area of the Great Mount Ba.

    The city was officially under Zhu Cans control, but in reality it was under control of the combination of a former Sui official and the local gangs and societies; therefore, it was fortunate not to be ravaged by Zhu Cans Garuda Army, except for limited exploitation as the Army was passing through.

    According to Bai Wenyuan, all the gangs and societies in Sichuan and its surrounding area accepted order from Chuan Bang [Sichuan Gang] as the leader. This Chuan Bang was already one of the biggest powers outside Duzun Bao [Supreme Fort]. Its Gang Leader, the Spear King Fan Zhuo had outstanding martial art skill, an expert in wielding the spear, and was on an equal footing with the Wulin Magistrate, Xie Hui [see Book 22 Chapter 3], a veteran and an esteemed character in Wulin.

    After having a good soak in the bathhouse, Xu Ziling returned to his room and slept for half a day. It was only when the dusk fell that he went to a restaurant along the main street to have a big meal.

    Suddenly he felt like he was a brand-new person.

    The non-stop journey of the past few days has consumed a lot of his physical strength and true power, while also made him too busy to think about anything, hence all troubles were thrown to the back of his mind.

    After dinner he asked for a pot of wine. But before he even had the chance to take the first sip, an alarm went off in his heart. Instinctively he turned his head toward the entrance, and saw a beautiful young [married] woman under escort of four big men, boldly lifted the hanging curtain and entered in. Surprisingly, it was the female chief of the Chang Jiang Alliance, Zheng Shuming.

    It was obvious that Zheng Shuming was looking for him; she went straight to him, without any trace of politeness sat down on the chair across the table from him. Her phoenix eyes shone with power as she hissed, It is indeed you!

    The four big men spread out toward the four corners. The other guests immediately felt the peculiar atmosphere, one after another they paid their bill and left. Even the waiters disappeared to who-knows-where.

    Xu Ziling raised his cup to toast her and drained it in one gulp. He smiled and said, Zheng Dangjia, what advice do you have for me?

    ※ ※ ※

    Bu Tianzhi and Chen Changlin welcomed the covered-in-dust Kou Zhong into one of Jukun Bangs secret hideouts located in the southwest of Jiangdu.

    After taking their seat, Chen Changlin cheerfully said, Fortunately we did not bring disgrace in following the order. Five hundred twenty-eight good-quality horses from Khitan and Korea already fell into our possession.

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, Two gentlemen are indeed very skillful, just with the hands behind your back you managed to completely take over so many good horses. How did you do it?

    Twirling his mustache, Bu Tianzhi smiled and said, Of course by outsmarting the enemy. After putting our men together in Donghai, we set sail toward the ocean, and then going at full speed toward the mouth of the Yangtze River, we set an ambush at Hudou Island [orig. zhou, island in a river]. When the three seagoing ships transporting the horses arrived, we raised Li Zitongs flag, posing as naval escort to meet them, and falsely notified them that the river ahead was blocked by the Du Army, so they must disembark at Ninghai, in the vicinity of Jiangdu. As for other details, we can tell you if you wish to know.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, This is equal to crippling Li Zitong and Ku Ges dog legs [i.e. lackey/henchmen]. Hows the situation of Du and Shen, two armies?

    Chen Changlin said, Luo Xiong is monitoring their activity day and night. Because Jianghuai Army is still holed up at Qingliu, its hard for us to attack. We have no choice but to watch helplessly and wait for the fortunate timing when they march into Jiangdu.

    With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, If Im guessing correctly, within these two days Du Fuwei might send his army to attack Jiangdu. Because the news of Zhu Can and Xiao Xian withdrawing their troops and Cao Yinglong suffering total defeat of his army must have reached Old Dus ears, he will seize the opportunity before I am back at Liangdu to invade Jiangdu. Currently Xuan Yong is leading the troops returning to the east. I traveled day and night to come here like this, it is precisely to enjoy this excitement.

    Bu Tianzhi and Chen Changlin were emotionally moved; they had never expected that Kou Zhong would have such brilliant and incredible achievements.

    While Kou Zhong was still talking over some details, Luo Qifeis messenger came to report that Jianghuai Armys vanguard and pathfinder unit has already left Qingliu to set out toward Jiangdu.

    Everybody immediately felt the opening clouds to see the moon moment.

    Kou Zhong cheerfully said, Its time for that kid Xiliang to make his move!

    ※ ※ ※

    Zheng Shumings beautiful eyes lit up; it appeared that she had no malice as she took a good, long look at Xu Ziling before speaking softly, Perhaps Xu Xiong would find it hard to believe, this time nujia came to pay a visit without any wish to recklessly brandish weapons.

    Being at the receiving end of this pair of beautiful eyes, which seemed to hide a lot of things that were hard to understand, Xu Ziling was nonplussed. Clearing his throat, he said, That would be best; otherwise it wont be good for anyone.

    Zheng Shuming calmly said, The fact is, we do not have enough power here to deal with you. Plus we do not wish to tie an unraveled enmity with your Shaoshuai Army, since it wont bring the slightest benefit to our Yangtze River Alliance.

    Xu Ziling did not understand, Arent you in alliance with Yun Yuzhen and Xiao Xian? With Xiao Xian as your backer, you shouldnt have any misgivings in dealing with us.

    Zheng Shuming smiled and said, This is called the situation has changed. Previously our number one public enemy was the roving bandits headed by Cao Yinglong, which was the reason for the establishment of the Yangtze River Alliance. But now that Cao Yinglong has been destroyed by you, we decided to place ourselves outside the struggle between you and Xiao Xian. Ay! Were it not for being compelled by circumstances, whod dare to set himself against the two of you?

    Xu Ziling mused inwardly, So thats what happened. A bit embarrassed, he said, Are we that dreadful?

    Zheng Shuming suddenly shouted tenderly, Bring me wine!

    Receiving the order, the men brought some wine and poured her a cup. They also refilled Xu Zilings empty cup to the brim.

    Zheng Shuming raised her cup to toast him, Unexpectedly Xu Xiong is just like nujia, we are fond of the contents of the cup. Lets drink for the total annihilation of Cao Yinglong.

    After exchanging a toast with her, Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, It was only recently that I discovered the benefit of good wine; previously, I only drink when I could not decline anymore.

    A blush suddenly exploded on each of Zheng Shumings cheeks, the kind of flirtatious expression of a mature young woman who was unable to hold her alcohol, making her appeared more tender and beautiful, more alluring. With a smile on her face, she said, It was only after my late husband passed away that Shuming started to copy others, drinking wine to relieve boredom. I wonder what made Xu Xiong started to drink?

    Xu Zilings countenance darkened. Watching Zheng Shuming as she poured another cup full of wine, he shook his head and said, Nothing!

    Zheng Shuming knew how to read expressions; she knew that he was unwilling to confide in her. Thereupon she put down the wine pot and ordered her men to wait outside. Lowering her voice, she said, I hear that after killing Fang Jianding, Xu Xiong let Cao Yinglong go; I wonder if what I heard was true?

    Xu Ziling shivered inwardly. If Yang Xuyan heard about this, he might be able to speculate that Cao Yinglong had used the secret as an exchange for his life, which would be very bad. However, his mouth responded, Zheng Dangjia is really well-informed.

    Zheng Shuming sighed and said, So it did happen. I believe Xu Xiong must have a very good reason to spare his life. But Shuming is a bit grateful to you instead. If Xu Xiong had not let him go, Shuming would not have the opportunity to kill the enemy who murdered my husband with my own hands.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling said, Wasnt your husband killed by Ba hey

    Zheng Shuming replied mournfully, My late husband died in the duel against Ba Fenghan only because his old injury relapsed, but the main culprit responsible for his injury was Cao Yinglong.

    Xu Ziling mused inwardly that such a muddled accounting, perhaps nobody knew how to settle it. What made Ba Fenghan fight with Jiang Dangjia? he casually asked.

    Smiling wryly, Zheng Shuming replied, He came to settle an old score on the behalf of Dong Ming Pai; but if he wasnt so overbearing, it would not have developed into such plight. Ay! Can we not talk about such things?

    Inadvertently Xu Ziling gained further understanding of the hard-to-fathom relationship between Shan Wanjing and Ba Fenghan. He nodded without saying anything.

    Zheng Shuming toasted him with another cup of wine, saying, This cup is to offer best wishes on the capture and killing of Cao Yinglong, also to console the million ghosts who died unjustly under his hands.

    Staring blankly, Xu Ziling said, Zheng Dangjia this time

    Zheng Shuming cheerfully said, The reason I am hastening to Chengdu this time is precisely to hunt and kill Cao Yinglong. Over the past few years, in order to deal with this evil thief, we have painstakingly gathered all information pertaining to him. We knew that he had never stayed in one place for more than a month; only in Chengdu he lingered for more than three months. Afterwards, he had been making multiple trips to Chengdu. Once he even went shopping at a cosmetic shop. Thus it is clear that he must have a woman somewhere in that place. Since he is at the end of his rope, I am quite certain that he might be hiding in Chengdu.

    Listening to that, Xu Ziling immediately felt a big headache. While he was hesitating whether he should tell her that Cao Yinglong only had half a year to live, and asked her whether she could be magnanimous, Zheng Shuming went on, This deep enmity of killing my husband is absolutely irreconcilable, I will not let this evil thief off, no matter what.

    Xu Ziling had no choice but to swallow the words that were hanging by his lips.

    Zheng Shuming noticed that he wanted to say something but then hesitated. Did Xu Xiong want to say something? she asked in astonishment, May nujia be so bold to ask why Xu Xiong simply must let him go?

    Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling replied, It would be best if Zheng Dangjia dont know. Otherwise you might be drawn into an unnecessary, but could easily bring disaster to you, gargantuan trouble, but with absolutely no benefit to Chang Jiang Lian.

    Her countenance changed, Zheng Shuming said, Unexpectedly it is that serious? In that case, does Xu Xiong have any advice for me on pursuing and killing Cao Yinglong?

    Inwardly Xu Ziling praised her intelligence and quick-witted, as well as her thoughtfulness and cautious mind. He took this opportunity to say with a laugh, Cao Yinglong already reached the path exhausted, the end of the road state, he wont live for much longer. Whether Zheng Dangjia can find him or not, it wont make much difference. If you could, dont get involved in this matter, that will be a sensible act.

    Zheng Shuming knitted her pair of crescent-moon-shaped pretty eyebrows as she stared at him for half a day. Her cherry lips opened lightly as she said, To hunt and kill Cao Yinglong has been the unanimous decision of our Chang Jiang Lian, from top to bottom. Ever since we received the flying pigeon news, we have put all manpower and thrown all resources into this matter, otherwise we would not have found Xu Xiong this quickly. I am afraid we cannot change this matter. I wonder if Xu Xiong could be a bit clearer: does he really suffer serious internal injury?

    Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. Smiling wryly, he said, Zheng Dangjia, please forgive me, what I can tell you Ive already told you.

    Zheng Shuming softly said, I am afraid Xu Xiong still does not trust nujia!

    Xu Zilings heart moved, he asked, Why did Zheng Dangjia walk together with Bai Qinger?

    Zheng Shuming replied in low voice, That is another reason qie wanted to see you. Why did Kou Zhong call Bai Qinger a yaonu? He also mentioned to her the name of Wanwan, who made Jingling the city destroyed, the people perished.

    Xu Zilings tiger-eyes flashed coldly; he spoke indifferently, Good question! Zheng Dangjia still dont understand?

    Zheng Shumings countenance changed again; aghast, she said, Is Bai Qinger really a Yin Gui Pai people?

    Xu Ziling replied frankly, Bai Qinger is a Yin Gui Pai female demon. Zheng Shiru is Yin Gui Pai demon. I am afraid even Qian Duguan cannot get off of this relationship. Zheng Dangjia must be very careful.

    Zheng Shiru? Zheng Shuming blurted out, Does Xu Xiong have any proof? As far as I know, this man has always been acting alone and independent, arrogant and has high opinion about himself, unlike any Yin Gui Pai demon.

    Naturally Xu Ziling could not tell her that he disguised himself as Yue Shan and saw through Zheng Shirus real face and real purpose. Without any better option, he said, If we did not uncover it, who would have known that Luoyang Bangs big boss Shangguan Long is Yin Gui Pai people? This matter is absolutely true. Zheng Dangjia should not lightly ignore it.

    Zheng Shumings pretty face turned deathly pale, she bit her lower lip, but did not say anything.

    Intuitively Xu Ziling felt that she did not believe him, plus this matter involved the emotion between a man and a woman; otherwise, her reaction would not be that strange.

    Sighing, Xu Ziling poured another cup of wine for the two of them, saying, This cup is for Zaixia paying my respect to Zheng Dangjia, hoping Zheng Dangjia would attach most importance to the general situation. I also offer this toast to say good-bye. Please!

    He had not finished speaking, someone entered the restaurant in big strides. Surprisingly, it was the Mad Scholar of Henan Zheng Shiru.

    ※ ※ ※

    Without making any noise at all Kou Zhong leaped down the city wall. After hiding the rope with the hook well, in the blink of an eye he already set foot on the red-light district, where he spent countless childhood days in Yangzhou.

    He put on the mask that turned him into the full-bearded man with eagle-beak nose. His destination was Tian Xiang Lou to find Madame Yuling. Only through her would he be able to get in touch with Gui Xiliang while evading other peoples eyes and ears.

    Perhaps because the news of Du Fuweis main forces invading their territory has not spread around, the atmosphere at the red-light district was still peaceful and lively, making people wonder perhaps the situation inside Yangzhou did not have the slightest relationship with the fire of war outside the city.

    Along the sides of the street, red sleeves floated and disappeared, the lanterns illuminating the road, the sound of music and song were everywhere. Kou Zhong could not help feeling that he had fallen back into his youth when he could only peek from the outside, leaning against Cui Nong Hong, while other people were staking a thousand pieces of gold on one throw [idiom: extravagant]; a hard-to-describe emotion welled up in his heart.

    In that instant, past happenings filled his mind completely, as if he was back as his old little rascal self, roaming the streets of Yangzhou, living a life where hardship and happiness were difficult to tell from each other, but where his heart was filled with longing and expectation of the future.

    At the same time, another train of thought rose in his heart, making him feeling dazed and lost.

    The fact is, he could never go back to the past. It is also impossible to recall the past years by his thought, he could not change the choices and mistakes that he made in the past either.

    Whats lost is lost. Time is like powerful current that will never turn back.

    He had already lost a lot of precious things. In every case, people constantly make mistakes, make inappropriate choices, while regrets always come later. This is a recurring phenomenon. This realization seemed to make him dazed and at a loss as to which path to follow.

    All previous efforts and achievements did not seem to carry any lasting importance; it could not even scratch the itch in his heart.

    If only he could walk hand-in-hand with Song Yuzhi, strolling along this bustling scenic spot of Yangzhou, it would be such a beautiful thing, touching and satisfying the heart.

    Suddenly the sound of hoof beats urgently pulled his thought back to the grim reality, and then he realized he had just walked past Tian Xiang Lous main gate.

    A horse-drawn carriage was just hurrying out of the gate.

    Suddenly an ominous feeling rose up in Kou Zhongs heart; he ran after the fragrant carriage, which ought to carry Madame Yulings honorable self.

  10. #270
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 3

    Book 23 Chapter 3 The Battle Between Orthodox and Heretic


    Letting out a long laugh, Zheng Shiru said, Knowing someone by their reputation cant compare to meeting them in person. This time I am able to pay an official visit to Xu Xiong, it is indeed a joy of life. Zaixia Zheng Shiru of Henan.

    Xu Ziling and Zheng Shuming exchanged a glance; they were both a bit embarrassed and were at a loss of what to do. Moreover, from her eyes, Xu Ziling caught a request. Zheng Shuming seemed to be unwilling for Xu Ziling to expose Zheng Shirus identity on the spot. But Xu Ziling did not have the intention to do so.

    Originally, Yangtze River Alliance wanted to hunt and kill Cao Yinglong out of hatred; plain and simple. But now that Zheng Shiru appeared, this matter immediately became complicated. For the first time Xu Ziling had a feeling that this mans identity was vague, it was difficult to ascertain, so much so that he seemed to be shrouded by profound mystery.

    He helped Yangtze River Alliance to hunt and kill Cao Yinglong; was it at Zhu Yuyans behest? They should have been aware of Cao Yinglongs real identity early on.

    To them, what value could Cao Yinglong possibly have?

    As this series of questions flitted through Xu Zilings mind, a bit demonstratively Zheng Shiru sat down by Zheng Shumings side; he even moved his chair a little closer to her, as if to say that this woman was mine. However, speaking about talent and appearance, he did have the qualifications to make women toppling over him.

    Xu Ziling smiled slightly and said, Zheng Xiong, how are you? I wonder if your trip to the west this time is related to Cao Yinglong.

    Hearing Cao Yinglongs name, his eyes lit up with a bit of sharp light, so that Xu Ziling was even more convinced that he did not err in his guess.

    Zheng Shiru nodded and said, Shumings business is my business. Thief Cao harmed countless people, everybody has the right to punish him. Therefore, Shiru really does not understand why Xu Xiong could let the tiger returned to its mountain? Zaixia does not wish to blame Xu Xiong at all, just wishes to know how did that thief Cao persuade Xu Xiong to spare his dog life?

    Zheng Shumings expression looked unnatural; apparently because her relationship with Zheng Shiru was not shallow. Moreover, she had just heard from Xu Zilings mouth that Zheng Shiru was a Yin Gui Pai demon. Her mind was churning, her emotion was extremely complex.

    Xu Ziling felt that Zheng Shiru was not really seeking answers; he just wanted to destroy his relationship with Zheng Shuming. Thereupon he replied indifferently, Please forgive Xiaodi for not able to explain the details, all I can reveal to you is: Cao Yinglong has a very deep affinity with a certain secret demonic school. He is not as simple as merely being the head of once rampant roving bandits.

    He suddenly changed his mind and intentionally leaked a little secret.

    On one hand he wanted to let Zheng Shiru know without a doubt that he had seen through his real identity; on the other hand, it was necessary to remind Zheng Shuming that the Zheng Shirus motivation in helping her dealing with Cao Yinglong was not as simple as what she thought.

    Stunned, Zheng Shuming said, This matter is that serious? Finished speaking, she could not help casting a glance toward Zheng Shiru.

    Xu Ziling indifferently shrugged his shoulders; his movement was free and at ease, and was very pleasing to the eye.

    Zheng Shiru spoke in heavy voice, Since Xu Xiong said so, we will surely be more careful. Please allow Zaixia to ask a question, which is, Xu Xiong made an appearance in here, is it in preparation to enter Sichuan?

    Zheng Shumings attention was immediately drawn to this issue, because it was the question she had been asking, but yet to receive any answer.

    Xu Ziling laughed calmly and said, My trip this time is to visit a friend. It has nothing to do with Cao Yinglong. Excuse me!

    Finished speaking, he floated away.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong ran after the carriage, while looking for a good opportunity.

    Focusing his power to his eyes, instantly he was able to see through the window curtain; he saw Madame Yuling sitting alone inside the carriage, she seemed to be preoccupied.

    An ominous feeling rose up in his heart.

    The carriage was speeding in the direction of Zhu Hua Bang headquarters. This moment, as it came to a crowded intersection, the carriage slowed down.

    Unleashing his footwork, Kou Zhong appeared to be walking slow, but actually he moved fast and reached the intersection point one step ahead of the carriage. Seizing the opportunity while the carriage was turning, fast as lightning he pulled the carriage door open, pulled off the mask, closed the door, and sat next to Madame Yuling.

    All movements were like moving clouds and flowing water; everything was completed in the blink of an eye. Although the street was crowded with pedestrians coming and going, no one could clearly see his move. They only felt like a shadow flashing in front of their eyes, so they thought it was due to their own blurry eyes.

    Madame Yuling gasped in surprise. But when she looked clearly and recognized him, she appeared to be pleasantly surprised.

    Hearing the gasp, the driver asked, Madame!

    Im all right! Madame Yuling scolded gently, No need to go to the headquarters, just take me around town for a while.

    And then turning to Kou Zhong she said, Xiliang and Xiao Rong had an accident!

    Kou Zhong was shocked, Accident? he blurted out.

    Madame Yuling nodded angrily and said, I just receive the news; Li Zitong have them sent to the Zongguan Mansion. I was going to see Shao Lingzhou to discuss this matter.

    Kou Zhong pondered for a moment. Suddenly he smiled and said, This is called flying into a rage out of humiliation. Let me go to Li Zitong to have a word with him!

    What did you say? Madame Yuling cried out.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling left the city that very night. Traveling by the moonlight he headed toward the Great Mount Ba, but his heart was in turmoil.

    Should he care about Cao Yinglongs affair?

    Looking at it from any position and with any point of view, Cao Yinglongs death should not be pitied. The problem was that when Xu Ziling gained more in-depth understanding of this person, he discovered that inside his violent and tyrannical shell, Cao Yinglong was no more than a pathetic snake without the freedom to act independently. Furthermore, knowing that he would not have long to live, letting him accomplishing his cherished desire before he died seemed to be reasonable and fair.

    Under normal circumstances, he should not interfere in this kind of affair, but when Yin Gui Pai was involved, everything became complicated and not normal.

    Supposing Cao Yinglong had no value, Zheng Shiru would not have put so much effort. But what else did he have that of any value? Did Cao Yinglong still keep something from him? It was already too late to talk about it.

    By the time he was thinking to this point, he has been running on foot for nearly ten li non-stop. Ahead was a row of unbroken rolling mountains extended on both direction, like a giant dragon lying down in the vast plains.

    Right this moment, he heard a faint ringing of silver bell like tender laughter coming from the jungle to the southwest, followed by a series of ringing noise of weapons striking against each other.

    Even with his level of self-cultivation, Xu Zilings heart was severely shaken. Because he recognized the laughter.

    ※ ※ ※

    Striding forward with head high, Kou Zhong came to the Zongguan Mansion where Li Zitong resided. Shouting loudly, he said, I am Kou Zhong. Tell Li Zitong to come out to meet me.

    None of the guards at the gate was not shocked; furthermore, no one dared to be negligence. Immediately one of them rushed inside to report.

    Noticing that all the guards were staring at him as if they were having a face-off with a big enemy, Kou Zhong smiled and said, If I came here to fight, behind me there should be magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, right?

    What he said was reasonable, but the guards were already intimidated by his presence, how could they feel at ease?

    With the sound of clothes fluttering in the wind, a big and tall man in military uniform appeared at the gate. The guards busily saluted him and stepped out of his way.

    With blazing eyes the man sized Kou Zhong up and down before speaking coldly, This general is Qin Wenchao, serving under Wu Wang [the King of Wu]. I received Wu Wangs special order to welcome you. Shao Shuai, please!

    Kou Zhong sighed inwardly.

    If Li Zitong had personally come out to greet him, then there would be implicit intention to exchange weapons of war for gifts of jade and silk [idiom: to turn hostility into friendship], and to work together. But now that he sent someone to meet him, clearly he was scrambling to gather his manpower, with the intention to draw Kou Zhong into the shell without being able to leave alive.

    However, Kou Zhong had already anticipated that such thing might happen; therefore, he spoke heartfeltly said Jiu Yang [honorific: I've long looked forward to meeting you/It's an honor to meet you at last.] twice, before stepping over the gate. Together with this ultimate martial art master, whom he once admired when he was a kid, they walked toward the main mansion.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling soared and flew toward the sound at full speed.

    However, not only the sound of fighting disappeared, he did not even hear anything else.

    If it was someone else, by this time he would have been in predicament and would not know where to look. But Xu Ziling was different from ordinary people. Without stopping at all, he flew through the jungle where the sound was coming from, and then crossed over a brook. Relying on his outstandingly sharp intuition, as swift as a flying bird he traversed a grassland between two small hills. When he ran across another hilltop, he saw the most emotionally moving fierce battle after the duel between Fu Junchuo and Yuwen Huaji, and the big battle between Ba Fenghan and Qu Ao.

    ※ ※ ※

    Seeing Kou Zhong was walking in large strides - upright and unafraid, by his side, without saying anything, Qin Wenchao could not help asking, Shao Shuai has honored us by your presence. I wonder whats the purpose of your visit?

    Kou Zhong replied indifferently, I have committed great sin and should not be allowed to live. Therefore, I specifically drop by to give your honorable superior the opportunity to kill me, because I have lent Old Du a helping hand in breaking the city. Ha!

    Being ridiculed by him, Qin Wenchao was dumbstruck and went silent, as if he was pondering over the meaning of his words.

    The two men passed through the corridor with guards standing on both sides, respectfully saluting them, and then crossed over the doorstep of the entrance into the main hall of the Zongguan Mansion.

    In the brightly lit hall, sitting high on the throne at the southern extremity of the hall, Li Zitong stood up and laughed heartily, Kou Shao Shuai is certainly highly skillful and audacious; after capturing my Donghai and killing my younger brother, you still dare to come alone. Are you trying to take advantage of my, Li Zitongs tent being without anyone in it?

    Kou Zhong leisurely stepped into the main hall. Sweeping his gaze around, he saw dozens of high-ranking military officers standing on both sides, including Shao Lingzhou. Everybody was glowering at him, seemingly eager to pound on him. He could not help blurting out laughing and said, Wu Wang praises me too much! I am neither highly skillful nor audacious; I just miscalculated Wu Wangs hospitality. May I ask whether Wu Wang wants to dye the hall with blood, or do you want to render big blow on Du and Shens coalition forces? Either way, it only needs one word from Wu Wang to decide.

    Li Zitong was slightly startled; his eyes emitted a fierce and harsh light. Staring hatefully at this young, formidable opponent, who did not show the slightest flustered demeanor, he shook his head and sighed, Kou Shao Shuai did not misjudge my hospitality, rather, you underestimated my, Li Zitongs ability and wisdom, while overestimating your own ability. Right now this main hall has been heavily surrounded, even if you grew wings on your back, you will not be able to escape the arrows shot down from the sky by the archers.

    Qin Wenchao left Kou Zhong standing in the middle of the hall to take his place after Zuo Xiaoyou, who was the first in line on Li Zitongs right-hand side. He said, Da Wang [Great King], please consider, why dont we listen to Kou Shao Shuais proposal first?

    All the high-ranking military officers, including Zuo Xiaoyou and Bai Xin, nodded their head in agreement.

    But Shao Lingzhou coldly said, Da Wang must not listen to his graceful words, flowery speech. This kid is most adept in using crafty plots and machinations. Once we are not careful, we might fall into his trap.

    Merely by these few sentences, Kou Zhong knew that Shao Lingzhou has had an acrimonious falling-out with the people on Gui Xiliangs side, hence he did not have any scruples in dealing with this situation.

    Kou Zhong chuckled and said, Shao Junshi overpraised me! But I do have a bit of unconventional way of doing things. However, let me say this again: if you know that you cannot overcome Old Du, what would you use if you dont use crafty plots and machinations? If Jiangdu fell, Shao Junshi could simply swat your butts and get as far away as possible, but I feel sorry for those other people. No wonder Shao Junshi can speak in such a beautiful, confident-and-at-ease manner.

    Shao Lingzhous countenance changed slightly; he laughed coldly and said, I just said that you are an expert in crafty plots and machinations, and now you are already sowing dissension, keeping the blood in your mouth while spouting people. If I, Shao Lingzhou, really have that intention, let me not die a good death.

    Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, How about you just consider I was blaming Shao Junshi wrongly? However, I have one thing Id like to ask for Shao Junshis guidance: if Shao Junshi is concerned over Jiangdus safety like Qin Jiangjun, just like Qin Jiangjun, you would at least be interested in what Xiaodi come here to propose. Why did Shao Junshi have the lack of interest to even hear it? Is it because you see that your personal gratitude and grudges within the Gang is more important than the Great Wus rise and fall?

    These words were spoken with passion, and were quite logical; it was even more fierce and harsh compared to curses and critics. Even if Shao Lingzhou was craftier, momentarily he was at a loss for word.

    Without waiting for him to reorganize his flags and drums, Kou Zhong turned his attention to Li Zitong on the platform; he said, Whether you want war or cooperation, Wu Wang, please bestow your instruction!

    Li Zitong had his gaze fixed on Kou Zhong, his countenance slightly changed several times. Finally he took a deep breath and said, This king is listening with respectful attention.

    Right this moment, from the entrance to the left of Li Zitongs throne came a womans voice, Hold on!

    Hearing that voice, Kou Zhong groaned inwardly.

    ※ ※ ※

    Ding! Ding!

    In an instant Wanwans Tian Mo Shuang Zhan [Celestial Devil (or Demonic) Twin Slayers, see Book 11 Chapter 2] repeatedly tapped Shi Feixuans Se Kong Jian [Color Empty Sword, see Book 15 Chapter 2], and thus she escaped danger by a hairsbreadth, by sweeping away the sharp weapon, which, if she was half a cun late, would pierce the pit of her stomach. And then like moving clouds and flowing water she retreated to one side, while her gauzed sleeve swiftly shot the Tian Mo Dai [Devils Belt/Ribbon], creating a meticulous belt net so that Shi Feixuan was unable to seize the opportunity to pursue and attack.

    A fantastic ring of indigo light appeared on the pupil of this outstanding Yin Gui Pai direct disciples beautiful eyes, which was the unique phenomenon of the Tian Mo Gong when it was trained to the peak.

    It was only this moment that Xu Ziling realized that when Wanwan repeatedly said that she had not dealt with the two boys will all her strength, it was not an empty threat to intimidate them.

    Just by looking at the way she blocked and the way she retreated was enough to give Xu Ziling a big shock. The one thing that left the deepest impression in his heart was Wanwans ability to use the Tian Mo Shuang Zhan in such a quick and violent-like-lightning way to block and to strike, and then in the blink of an eye changed it into the Devils Ribbon that lingered continuously like it was being wrapped around her finger, the kind of amazing move that resembled nature itself, with no gap to exploit; it has indeed reached the realm of the grand masters level. Rarer still, she was able to put her hearts intention and the state of her mind into the move, and showed it in full light. Therefore, although there were a number of strokes in between, the movements and sound were simple, as if it was written as a book that others could understand clearly. Basically, if he had not witnessed it with his own eyes, he would not have understood.

    That day, when Ba Fenghan chopped his blade three times, there was still a gap between one strike and the other, thus Dugu Feng was able to exploit this opportunity and broke his saber technique.

    With Wanwan, however, not only the changes of her move were without any flaw, the most formidable part was that the changes between hard to soft and vice versa was like the nature itself. If Shi Feixuan continued to pursue and attack using the same sword move, she would definitely suffer losses.

    Therefore, although on the surface Wanwan appeared to be at the disadvantageous position, the fact is that she would be able to grab her dominance at any time.

    Beyond Xu Zilings expectation however, Qiang! suddenly Shi Feixuan returned her sword to its sheath, while with her left hand she lightly brushed some stray hair that was blown by the wind. So calm and composed as if she had never fought an intense battle just now, she smiled and said, Lets just drop this battle now; Wanwan Jie [older sister], what do you think?

    Like a pair of snakes the two ribbons slipped back into her gauzed sleeves. Wanwans face showed a mixture of anger and laughter at the same time. She cast a glance toward Xu Ziling, who was standing behind Shi Feixuan, first, and then laughing helplessly she said, With an uninvited guest coming to disturb our interest, even if we dont want to drop it, it cannot continue anyway.

    Suddenly she flashed a sweet smile toward Xu Ziling before flying backward, and then disappeared into the forest.

    Shi Feixuan sighed faintly.

    Feeling awkward, Xu Ziling said, I came at a bad time!

    Shi Feixuan slowly turned her tender body around, and then shook her head and said, No! You came in time, otherwise the ending would be both sides suffer.

    ※ ※ ※

    Walking out gracefully from the rear hall was precisely the Beautiful Shifu Yun Yuzhen, with whom Kou Zhong had gratitude and grudges that were difficult to separate.

    Only by looking at her smiling expression, Kou Zhong knew that she had confidence that she would be able to persuade Li Zitong to go all-out in dealing with him.

    Plus she had Xiao Xian behind her. So no matter what, Li Zitong would want to be on her good side, unlike Shao Lingzhou, who was merely a guest with the same ranking as his own officers.

    This was indeed a variable that was beyond Kou Zhongs expectation.

    Li Zitong sat back into his dragon chair. The tone of his voice became gentle, as he spoke tenderly, Yun Bangzhu, please advise.

    Inwardly Kou Zhong was shocked. He finally understood that Gui Xiliang and Xing Rongs arrest was due to Yun Yuzhen playing tricks. This woman was very aware of his character; she knew that if the two were in trouble, he would come to their rescue. Thereupon she set up a trap and waited for him to fall into it. Her only problem was that she had never expected that Kou Zhong would openly drop in and thoroughly display his formidability.

    Another headache for Kou Zhong was that from Li Zitong and Yun Yuzhens current eyes and eyebrows come and go demeanor [idiom: exchange flirting glances with each other], Kou Zhong knew that this man and woman have hooked up, or even engaged in heated love affair, so that if Kou Zhong attacked Yun Yuzhens personality, he would not obtain the desired outcome.

    If he fought, he would only end up spilling his blood in Jiangdu. The more he thought about it, the more he felt that such defeat under this s1uts hands was not worth it. However, things had progressed to this point, he had no choice but to block the soldiers as they come; and if he was unable to block, it would fall into Xu Zilings hands to avenge him in the future!

    While Kou Zhong was thinking to this point, Yun Yuzhen was taking light jade steps toward Li Zitongs dragon throne. Bending down, she spoke in low voice in Li Zitongs ear, her fragrant lips slightly opened as she was talking for a moment.

    Inwardly Kou Zhong praised her, Formidable!; this kind of pillow-talk-like malicious words are most effective to be used on lecherous men.

    Taking this opportunity, Kou Zhong took notice of the high-ranking military officers in the hall, all of them were knitting their brows. From their outward appearance, it was obvious that Qin Wenchao and Zuo Xiaoyou had been whispering to one anothers ear; clearly they were not happy about Yun Yuzhen bewitching Li Zitong.

    Suddenly a glimmer of hope grew in Kou Zhongs heart; his spirit was greatly aroused.

    This moment Li Zitongs voice entered his ears, If Shao Shuai really want to work together in good faith, why dont you return Donghai and those five hundred Khitan warhorses that you robbed to their rightful owner? Of course, Shao Shuai has to stay here for a few days. After everything has been transferred properly, we will discuss matters of vital importance.

    Throwing his head back, Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Wu Wang, you really know how to crack jokes. Too bad Du Fuwei and Shen Lun dont like to listen to jokes. Otherwise, maybe you could make them withdraw based on this.

    Qiang!

    The Moon in the Well left its scabbard, provoking the imperial bodyguards on both sides of Li Zitong, and the various generals on his left and right, to draw their weapons as well.

    Kou Zhong held the saber horizontally across his chest, his posture was like a deity. In a loud and clear voice he said, That day when Yuwen Huajis troops besieged Liangdu, I, Kou Zhong, sent someone to you, asking for help. Wu Wang, you ignored it completely. It was you who did not want to cooperate, and wasnt me, Kou Zhong, at all. Under current circumstances, the victor will be king, and no one can argue. How can Donghai be given to you just because you said it? As for the five hundred Khitan warhorses, they represent the conspiracy between you, Wu Wang, and Ku Ge, to bring harm to me. Disregarding old enmity, I, Kou Zhong, come to help you to resolve the distress Jiangdu is experiencing, yet not only you dont know how to be grateful, you even want to put me to death, all because of a woman whom Xiao Xian sent to instigate you and to play you in the palm of her hands. This is an impossibly stupid thing. Lets not talk superfluous words; lets just see if you are more capable than Li Mi or Wang Shichong to be able to keep me in Jiangdu forever. But, Wu Wang, dont you forget that I still have countless brothers and friends. Its just that maybe, under grief and indignation filling their breast, they will join the Jianghuai Army, believing that they might wipe out my blood debt.

    Listening to him, Li Zitongs face alternated between red and white; in the end he flew into rage and said, How dare you! Death is near at hand, you are still this presumptuous. Off with his head!

    The imperial bodyguards received the order with a roar.

    An incomparably complex expression flitted across Yun Yuzhens pretty eyes as she lowered her head.

  11. #271
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 4

    Book 23 Chapter 4 Gathering the Little Life Back


    Xu Ziling and Shi Feixuan stood side-by-side on a small hill; ahead was the Great Ba Mountain Range, which lay horizontally on the mother earth, extended all the way across the plains. Under the night sky, with stars scattered about like chess pieces on the board, the mountain range appeared like a huge barrier. But if he took the sky bridge from the Great Ba, he would be able to reach Sichuan, which was acclaimed as the land of plenty.

    Intoxicating fragrance from Shi Feixuans body assaulted Xu Zilings nostrils. This was the second time that he had the opportunity to stand at such a close proximity with this beautiful woman, who was as simple and elegant as a fairy.

    But he did not dare to indulge himself in wild and fanciful thought, because her heartless hint at Hefei was still deeply engraved in his heart.

    By nature, Xu Ziling was a free and easy man who loved to live a simple life; it was very easy for him to take an indifferent view on this kind of man-woman affair.

    However, he could not deny that every word, every smile of this outstandingly stunning beauty could make him feel like he was bathing in the spring breeze, as if he was enveloped by the attractive, infatuating natural scenery of spirited rain that came out of the empty sky.

    Shi Feixuan turned her pretty face, smiled, and said, Since we parted at Hefei, Wanwan and I had many battles, one after another; she always employed guerilla tactics, fight and run, so that it seems like she is trying to ascertain Feixuans weight before the final battle. Although she did not appear to succeed, but even until just now, she still had plenty of strength left, but was unwilling to determine victory and defeat in an all-out battle.

    Xu Ziling looked up to meet her limpid, bottomless exquisite eyes; he spoke indifferently, Perhaps she is waiting for the Xie Di Sheli to make its appearance!

    Slightly stunned, Shi Feixuan said, Unexpectedly Ziling Xiong also knows about the sacred relics?

    Xu Ziling rarely saw this human-being-character side of her, inwardly he was rather proud. Nodding his head, he said, I just heard about it by random chance. Why did Miss Shi call it Sheng Sheli [sacred relics] and not Xie Di Sheli [demonic emperor relics]? Is there any difference between the two?

    Smiling, Shi Feixuan replied, The correct name should be Sacred Relics, because it is the emblem of the identity of the Sheng Ji Zong Sheng Di [Sheng Ji - Most Holy, Zong, maybe ancestor, school, or maybe a name, Sheng Di holy emperor. So it could mean Holy Emperor of the Most Holy School]. Its just that outsiders want to change Sheng Ji Zong and Sheng Di into Xie Ji [extreme evil] Zong and Xie Di; hence Sheng Sheli became Xie Sheli or Xie Di Sheli! Just think, who would be willing to call themselves Xie Pai [demonic sect]?

    Xu Ziling was amused as well; shrugging, he said, Make sense; I was so nave!

    Shi Feixuan looked at him deeply, as if she wanted to ingrain his appearance at this moment in her mind. Quite a while later she diverted her gaze toward the starry sky above the Great Mount Ba, and asked in a soft voice, May I venture to ask Ziling Xiong, this is not a well-known secret at all; where did you hear it from?

    Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, Im not sure if I should say it. Miss Shi, please dont take offense.

    Astounded, Shi Feixuan said, If Ziling Xiong does not wish to say it, then dont. May I ask where is Ziling Xiong heading right now?

    Instead of answering, Xu Ziling asked, Is it possible for Zaixia to ask a rude question first? How does Miss Shi view Hou Xibai?

    Shi Feixuan showed a touching demeanor of being deep in thought, and then she looked at him and spoke softly, How does Ziling Xiong view this man?

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling replied, I have a little suspicion that he is this generations disciple of Hua Jian Pai, but Miss Shi must not ask me to come up with any solid evidence.

    Shi Feixuan smiled and said, Feixuan would never ask you for that. Because your guess is 100% accurate. From the first day I came upon him, I knew his identity and origin, and he had never concealed it from me.

    Xu Ziling was greatly shocked.

    ※ ※ ※

    Hold on!

    Zuo Xiaoyou stepped out in large strides to block the personal guards, martial art masters who were pouncing out from Li Zitongs left and right.

    Li Zitong simply had to give a bit of face to his top rank general, who has brought a large number of his men to realign their allegiance to him; hastily he shouted his order to stop.

    After begging for forgiveness, Zuo Xiaoyou turned toward Kou Zhong, who was standing proudly in the middle of the hall, inside the siege. Laughing coldly, he said, Shao Shuai has less than ten thousand men under your command, and your foundation is not stable yet; to achieve that is already not easy, how do you think you are going to solve our Jiangdu crisis?

    None of the generals did not nod. This was precisely the question in everybodys heart. Du Fuwei only need to take a part of his troops to build rampart and defend it strongly, and it would be enough to wear down Shaoshuai Army coming down south to help Jiangdu by cutting their food supply.

    Seeing his objective has been reached, Kou Zhong put the saber back into its scabbard; he said, How do I address this general?

    Zuo Xiaoyou replied indifferently, I am Zuo Xiaoyou.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, I already guessed its Zuo Da Jiangjun, I just need Da Jiangjun to confirm it with your own mouth!

    Li Zitong had just been listening to Yun Yuzhen whispering something else in his ear; he scoffed and said with a sneer, Lets talk less superfluous words; why dont this king take a guess. Did Shao Shuai lead your troops west toward the Ranch, along the way you suffered an ambush which resulted in total defeat of your army, leaving Shao Shuai escaping alone, and now you come to swindle this king?

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, I already told Da Wang not to listen to womens slanderous report; the fact is just the opposite. Yun Bangzhus master, Zhu Can, and Cao Yinglongs coalition armies has been utterly defeated, each one has returned to their base camp. Cao Army has been totally wiped out by me by the bank of River Zhang. This news should reach this place very soon, only Yun Bangzhu has not received it! Ha! That is laughable indeed!

    None was not emotionally moved.

    Yun Yuzhen scolded angrily, Nonsense! With your trivial a thousand plus troops and horses, not to mention being exhausted from marching to remote regions, how could you defeat our allied armies?

    Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong said, Yun Bangzhu is absolutely correct; however, superior army attacks using scheme. Also, there is a saying about battle of wits and not battle of brute force. Your allied armies and Du and Shens coalition armies have been guilty of the same sin, which is each army has selfish motives. I simply exploited this fact and they crumbled. Yun Bangzhu might want to send your men to gather intelligence; for example, by inquiring from the traveling merchants who have been there and back, to see whether I am simply babbling nonsense.

    Another high-ranking military officer spoke up, This general is Bai Xin. May I venture to ask Shao Shuai to speak a bit more clearly?

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, The situation is exceptionally complicated, but I can explain how we are going to solve the crisis in Jiangdu; after hearing it, gentlemen will know whether it is feasible.

    Li Zitong inwardly mused that after you explain it, killing you then would not be too late. Thereupon he nodded and said, Speak up! This king will listen with respectful attention.

    Just by listening to the tone of his voice, everybody knew that he practically did not believe that Kou Zhong really had a way to lift the siege.

    But Zuo Xiaoyous expression showed that he was deep in thought; he interrupted, Is it possible that Shao Shuai is thinking of exploiting the conflicting views between Du Fuwei and Shen Lun, using the driving-a-wedge-between-partners strategy? We have also thought about that, but because the two armies are separated by several dozen li, also because they are taking turn in besieging the city, we do not have a good plan on how to execute it.

    Shao Lingzhou laughed coldly and said, If Shao Shuai can only think about the same thing, it would be best if you dont speak up to show your disgrace.

    Kou Zhong stared at him. With displeasure in his voice, he said, Shao Lingzhou, you are increasingly moving backward. Even Da Wang, under the instigation of a woman, still understand that he has to at least listen to me to see if I really have the ability I can show you; at most, only after listening to me he would make his move to kill me. Yet you advised me not to speak up. I wonder if you are a spy sent here by Du Fuwei? Otherwise, how could you not give the least bit of thought toward the Great Wu?

    While Shao Lingzhou was about to blow off his anger, Li Zitong already rebuked angrily, If you dare to speak frigid irony and scorching satire to me, I will have you slaughtered first; I dont want to hear half a sentence of your nonsense.

    Kou Zhong calmly said, I, Kou Zhong, am not your subordinate, and am not coming here to kneel and beg forgiveness from you. If you are courteously willing to cooperate, then I might have a bit of interest; otherwise, why would I give you an advantage for nothing?

    The murderous intent in Li Zitongs eyes flared out immediately. Qin Wenchao hastily said, Da Wang, please calm down. Lets see if Shao Shuai has any good proposal first.

    Li Zitong struggled hard to put his anger under control; nodding, he said, Very well! Just consider I was wrong, Shao Shuai, please speak!

    Unless he was an idiot, everybody present knew that Li Zitong only wanted to wait for Kou Zhong to finish speaking before he would make his move.

    Kou Zhong laughed calmly and said, To use the driving-a-wedge-between-partners strategy, there must be two favorable conditions. Right now the first favorable condition had just appeared, which is Jianghuai Armys vanguard had just left Qingliu to march toward Jiangdu; they might appear outside the city any moment. As long as we are able to know well the situation of their march, we could set up an appropriate ambush or attack their camp along the way.

    The men on Li Zitongs side immediately broke into a commotion. They started to believe that he was not babbling nonsense at all, because they had just received the news about Du Armys movement only half a sichen ago. Evidently Kou Zhong had setup a vast intelligence network in the area.

    With a smile on her face, Yun Yuzhen said, Du Fuwei crisscross the left of the river, if they collapsed because of your ambush, he need not come out to mingle in the world.

    Suddenly a flashing light appeared Kou Zhongs eyes; fixing his gaze on Yun Yuzhen, who was sitting on the platform to Li Zitongs left, he sneered and said, You caused Su Jies death, and thus has become the mortal enemy that Xu Ziling and I, two boys, will never forgive, yet you can still laugh? When did I say that I would ambush and defeat Old Dus main forces? But if the one mounting a sneak attack on Old Du is surprisingly Shen Luns men, what would the consequences be?

    Being at the receiving end of his stare, Yun Yuzhens heart trembled, so that this usually smart-tooth-and-sharp-dental woman became speechless.

    However, everybody else showed skeptical expression on their faces.

    For the first time Li Zitong showed that he was emotionally moved, as if he had just been awakened from animosity and womens charm. Is Shao Shuai thinking of posing as Shen Luns men and mounting a sneak attack on Jianghuai Army? he spoke heavily, This tactic is easy to grasp but difficult to put into practice. As soon as both sides meet and exchange information, they would know that we are the one playing ghost.

    Kou Zhong inwardly mused that Li Zitong was indeed something; in this kind of critical moment, he was not careless at all.

    In the hall, the crow and peacock made no sound, everybody was quietly waiting for Kou Zhongs response.

    Kou Zhong calmly said, If it were your men, lets not mention that you wont escape the eyes and ears of Jianghuai Armys spies, even if you are dressed in Jiangnan military uniform and insignia, but you still use the swords, spears, sabers and halberds forged by Tie Ji in Jiangdu, and the bows and arrows manufactured by Chang Huilong, you would only end up as a laughingstock. Hence the reason Da Wang has an easy to grasp but difficult to put into practice impression.

    Tie Jie and Chang Huilong were Jiangdus most famous weapon manufacturing companies; this was the fact no one did not know.

    Seeing Kou Zhongs card-up-his-sleeve attitude, Zuo Xiaoyou slowly said, Listening to Shao Shuai, you must have prepared an army flawlessly disguised as Jiangnan Army; am I right?

    Before Kou Zhong answered, Yun Yuzhen already interrupted, How would I know that you, Kou Zhong, are not just making empty promises? To find such army is not something that can be done in a mere ten days time. Not only they have to speak in Jiangnan accent, they must also use weapons produced by Jiangnan weapon manufacturer.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, Yun Bangzhu has been to Luoyang and drank Rong Fengxiangs birthday wine; I wonder if you know someone by the name of Chen Changlin?

    Her countenance changed slightly, Yun Yuzhen said, Never heard of it!

    Another general spoke up, Da Wang, please understand, Chen Changlin is my fellow countryman. For many generations his clansmen are seagoing ship builders, and they have business relations with various tribes in Nanyang [Southeast Asia/South seas].

    Just by listening to his accent, others immediately knew that he was a replacement guaranteed if not genuine [idiom: authentic] Jiangnan man.

    Qin Wenchao asked in surprised, How could Yun Bangzhu not know this man? Even I, who stayed in Jiangdu, have heard that he was an important guest who came by Wang Shichongs personal invitation.

    Li Zitong stared blankly for a moment before letting out a stifled grunt, and then staring angrily at Yun Yuzhen, he said, Shao Shuai, please continue.

    Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, The fact is, I have nothing important to say. Because Changlin Xiong was not pleased with Wang Shichongs conduct, he came to throw his lot with me, plus he recruited a large number of brothers from Nanhai region, naturally already equipped with their own weapons, arrows and darts. Hey! Im sorry to say, but it was they who robbed Old Kus five hundred Khitan steeds; Da Wang, please be aware.

    Bai Xin joined in, Da Wang, please understand, currently Shaoshuai Army and our Great Wu are as close as lips and teeth. If Jiangdu is broken today, tomorrow it will be Liangdus turn. Therefore, we must not suspect Shao Shuais sincerity.

    Letting out a cold snort, Shao Lingzhou said, Kou Zhongs conduct has always exceeded all expectations, it is difficult to fathom; perhaps because he is eager to rescue certain people, he is using false words to defraud us. Da Wang, please think thrice.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud; he met Li Zitong fierce and harsh gaze, which was like two sharp arrows shooting at him. With assurance and composure, he said, No matter what, Da Wang will have to fight this battle. Otherwise, if Jiangdu fell, youd have expended a great deal of effort to kill me, Kou Zhong, in vain, and still dont have anything at all, except a group of enemies to hunt and kill Da Wang, including Chen Changlins several thousand brothers who are experts in naval battle. Apparently you have not considered it.

    Finally Li Zitongs countenance changed slightly. These last few sentences were extremely heavy with threatening power, because he did have the intention that in case he was defeated, he would run away overseas.

    This moment, all eyes were fixed on Li Zitong, waiting for him to make his decision.

    While Yun Yuzhen and Shao Lingzhou were crying Not good! inwardly, Li Zitong did indeed take a deep sigh, as if he was venting his anger away, and then said, Get Gui Xiongdi, two men, out for me. I wonder if Shao Shuai still have interest to stay and drink a cup of wine water?

    Kou Zhong inwardly wiped his cold sweats. He knew that he had finally gathered his little life, which was already halfway into Yan Wangs [Yama] hands, back.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Zilings eyes were looking at Shi Feixuan, who was sitting cross-legged on the top of a hillock, his ears were listening to her sweet-sounding voice, which sounded like the voice of an immortal, while the enchanting night sky above was full of stars. A hard-to-describe feeling welled up in his heart.

    Whether in the future they would be friends or foes, he was certain that he would never forget this moment as long as he lived.

    He heard her gentle and soft voice speaking, Hua Jian Pai has never produced any extremely vicious, exceedingly evil men. What they pursue is the art, entering into the martial way, and they see the martial way as some kind of the highest art directly related to human beings. Therefore, all disciples are multi-talented, focusing on the artistic conception of grace in the art; therefore, they are able to raise their banner among many schools and sects, and their famous reputation was not weakening for a very long time.

    Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, If thats the case, how come Hua Jian Pai is classified as demonic schools Two Sects and Six Ways? Furthermore, it is on an equal footing with Yin Gui Pai?

    Shi Feixuan looked up at the starry sky, her pretty eyes emitted a touching multi-colored light, as if she was able to see the real righteousness through the outward appearance of the beautiful universe; she spoke smoothly, The separation of the whole Dao [Tao, the way] is really due to the difference of ideology. During the Spring and Autumn [770-476 BC] and the Warring States [475-221 BC] periods, hundreds schools of thought vied to be the best, only then there was division of the school of thought. Since Han Wu rejected many schools of thought and revered Confucianism as the sole orthodoxy, everybody believed in Confucianism as the righteous way. Only afterwards did the division between Righteous and Demonic exist; this is purely man-made. As for where the demonic schools came from, it is difficult to pursue the source one by one. All we know is that they oppose Confucianisms set of believe in benevolence and righteousness, propriety, wisdom and trust, and they are blaming the ignorant masses for learning the hypocrisy. After passing through long-term development, they are increasingly rebellious against orthodoxy. At the end of Han, the Yellow Turbans Peasant Uprising thieves and the Way of the Five Pecks of Rice Taoist Movement were among those. Any thought that goes to the extreme could be considered leaving the Way and entering the heretic.

    Listening to this, it was as if the murky darkness suddenly opened in Xu Zilings heart. Previously, it has always been very difficult for Kou Zhong and he to understand Yin Gui Pais conduct and deeds. Because since they were little, the only teaching they received was from Bai Laofuzis set of ideology, which was a mixture of Buddhism and Confucianism.

    Shi Feixuan turned her pretty face around, and spoke indifferently, Confucianism speaks about impartiality, about the doctrine of the Middle Way. Hua Jian Pai is definitely an extremist sect, believing that humans true nature and feeling is above all morality. Mixed with art, they developed a set of ideology that the orthodox sects find hard to accept; hence people classified them as demonic sect. The fact is, Hua Jian Pai and Yin Gui Pai are inherently different.

    Looking at her absolutely beautiful silhouette, with its curves like spirited sky and deep valley, Xu Ziling asked in low voice, So what do you think of Shi Zhixuan?

    Shi Feixuan cast her gaze back toward the distant mountain range and the wilderness, as if she was getting in touch with the load on her mind. It was a long time later that she sighed lightly and said, Im afraid Shi Zhixuan is one of so many different kind of demonic schools; he was holding two positions at the same time, as the head of two schools Hua Jian Pai and Bu Tian Ge. And these two sects martial art xinfa and the direction they are heading are fundamentally different. Until today, nobody understand how he could fuse the two sects martial art into one, creating unrivalled demonic skill that everybody is terrified of.

    In the end Xu Ziling was unable to bear it anymore; he asked, Shi Zhixuan is both demonic and evil, that that

    Shi Feixuan had an orchid character and intelligent mind, naturally she could guess the reason he wanted to speak up but then hesitated. She spoke softly, Did Ziling Xiong want to ask, since Shi Zhixuan was this kind of man, how did our humble schools Bi Xiuxin become his woman? And you worry that Feixuan might follow the track of an overturned cart [fig. repeating a disastrous policy]; am I right?

    Xu Zilings handsome face blushed; embarrassed, he said, I was thinking about the former question, but have not thought about the latter one.

    Shi Feixuan turned her head back to look at him; she seemed to enjoy looking at his embarrassment. A hint of smile escaped from her fragrant lips as she spoke softly, Were it not for Xiuxin Shibo [martial (older) uncle] cherishing the worthy-of-the-greatest-admiration moral character of if I dont enter the hell, who would enter the hell by using herself to test the devil, this world would have been turned upside down by Shi Zhixuan, and the demonic would grow, while the Way would vanish.

    Taken aback, Xu Ziling asked, Since thats the case, why do Miss so admire and trust Shi Zhixuans disciple?

    An unprecedentedly sweet smile burst forth on Shi Feixuans face, with tender, innocent manner she sneered and said, In the end there is still this question, yet you say over and over again that you have not thought about it?

    Xu Zilings handsome face blushed again.

    Even he did not understand why in front of her clear eyes he was so out of control.

    Shi Feixuan rose up to her full height, her jade countenance recovered its still-water-without-any-ripple expression. Changing the subject, she spoke indifferently, Where is Ziling Xiong going?

    Xu Ziling understood that she was saying goodbye, he could not control the strong feeling of discontent suddenly welling up in his heart. Fighting to put his emotion under control, he stood up and said, If Miss Shi has an important matter to do, please do as you wish!

    Shi Feixuan fell silent. Her eyes stared into the distance.

    Mountain breeze blew, her dark green scholar attire fluttered in the wind, creating a rustling noise, composing a breathtakingly stunning picture.

  12. #272
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 5

    Book 23 Chapter 5 Four Holy Monks


    Kou Zhong took Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong with him, while Li Zitong, Zuo Xiaoyou and the others personally were sending them off the Zongguan Mansion. Compared to the treatment when he came, it was like heaven and earth.

    At the Mansions gate, Shen Beichang, Luo Feng and Madame Yuling were waiting for them; everybody showed disbelief expression on their faces.

    Shen Beichang said, This place is not suitable to talk; follow me.

    Half a day later, they reached a shop, which had connection with their Gang, nearby. More than a dozen Zhu Hua Bang leaders of Xiangzhu [fragrant master] level were already waiting inside, most were younger than thirty, but everybody had grave expression on their faces

    Finished listening to Kou Zhongs narrative, Madame Yuling let out a tender snort and said, Whatever problem we have within the Gang, we ought to resolve it internally. Shao Lingzhou is borrowing outside force to deal with our Gang brothers, he is already violating the Gangs rules; what a despicable, shameless man.

    Evidently Madame Yuling still had strong influence within the Gang. Listening to her, nobody present did not show indignation. Only Shen Beichang remained expressionless; nodding his head slightly, he said, However, this is not a good time for internal strife. It was only because Li Zitong needs Shao Shuais support that he agreed to release Gui Tangzhu [hall master] and Xing Fu Tangzhu [deputy], two men. Once the siege is relieved, this lowly man might turn his face around, so much so that he might deploy his troops to intercept Shao Shuai; therefore, we must think thrice before making our move.

    Luo Feng agreed. He said, The only way right now is to leave the city immediately. We will settle the account with Shao Lingzhou later. Shao Shuai, what do you think?

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, I cannot think of a better idea. Taking advantage while Li Zitong does not dare to give us any difficulty, we must leave as soon as possible. Youd better pretend that you are going to help me dealing with Du Fuwei. Although Li Zitong is well aware of whats going on, it will make it easier for him to step down the stage [fig. to disentangle himself].

    Shen Beichang made the decision, So be it!

    Everybody chorused their agreement.

    ※ ※ ※

    Shi Feixuan turned her tender body around to face Xu Ziling. Her jet-black eyebrows knitted lightly, she said, Listening to the tone of Ziling Xiongs voice, you seems to be somewhat resentful toward Feixuan?

    Laughing calmly, Xu Ziling said, Miss Shi does not touch the dust of the world; you can come and go freely without anything or anybody controlling you. But I, Xu Ziling, am only a mortal, I still have questions Id like to ask about, but it seems to me that Miss wont answer my question!

    Smiling, Shi Feixuan replied, The misunderstanding is too big. Just now Feixuan was asking Ziling Xiong, where you are heading, yet you evaded the question and did not answer. Not only Feixuan is an ordinary person, I am also a woman who loves a tooth for a tooth, hence I am forced to have some reservations, yet you dared to blame me?

    Hearing this kind of little-girlish talk coming from the mouth of a woman, who, although she could not be considered sanctimonious yet, but she had at least the solemn demeanor of the immortals, Xu Ziling could only return a blank stare; he felt even more unsure. This kind of formidable verbal attack has caused his heart to be in turmoil.

    Shi Feixuan tried not to laugh; opening her eyes wide, she said, What? Suddenly you became a mute? From here, you can only go to Sichuan. Whats so important that you are abandoning your Shao Shuai brother and rushing for thousands of li to go to Bashu?

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, If Miss Shi wants to know, why cant you just ask me directly? Why did you use a roundabout way to tease me?

    Shi Feixuan returned to her usual calm and composed manner; she spoke gently, Because until this moment, Feixuan still cannot grasp what kind of person you are; therefore, I am using all kinds of indirect approach to feel you out.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, Am I that difficult to understand?

    Nodding her head, Shi Feixuan replied, If I may say so, Feixuan is good at judging a persons character, yet I find it difficult to understand you and Kou Zhong, two persons. Because Kou Zhong has some pursuits, he is comparatively easier to fathom. But you are like a well that is difficult to tell whether its deep or shallow. On the surface you look simple, but I cannot get to the bottom, hence I am curious; I want to know where have you learned so much about the secret of the demonic schools Two Sects and Six Ways. This time you are entering Sichuan, what noble errand brings you here?

    Xu Ziling calmly replied, Actually, I do not have any intention to conceal anything. I am going to Sichuan this time is to look for Shi Qingxuan, concerning something of a huge importance to Miss Shi.

    Shi Feixuans jade countenance slightly moved, she asked, What is it?

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong followed Shen Beichang, Luo Feng, Gui Xiliang, Xing Rong, and the others, various Zhu Hua Bang brothers, with his eyes as they were leaving via land route, before he himself rushed toward the dock outside the city, where he climbed on board a fishing boat that came to his rescue, and then quickly went far away.

    The boat was manned by Chen Changlin. To his pleasant surprise, other than him, Bu Tianzhi and Luo Qifei were also coming. Meeting again after a long period of separation, they were very happy.

    Kou Zhong used the simplest way to present the situation at Li Zitongs side. He said, Li Zitong was willing to lower his voice and suppress his anger, to look the other way while letting me, his big personal enemy, walking away, clearly he is well aware that he is powerless to resist Old Dus new round of attack. Therefore, we must win and must not lose. If we let Old Du to capture Jiangdu, we will have no choice but to pack and quit and go someplace else. Jianghuai Army is not a laughing matter.

    Luo Qifei said, That is precisely the reason Shao Shuai is seeing Qifei here this time. Three times have I sneaked into Qingliu in disguise, eventually I discovered a young general under Du Fuweis command by the name of Chen Sheng; this man is bold and powerful, an expert in battle, and Du Fuwei relied heavily on him. If we could pose as Shen Luns men and kill this man, in his grief and indignation, Du Fuwei might disregard everything to attack Shen Lun.

    Bu Tianzhi joined in, Based on Qifeis observation, Chen Shengs five-thousand-strong troops ought to leave Liuhe tomorrow night to provide support to the land-based vanguard troops coming to Jiangdu.

    What kind of place is Liuhe? Kou Zhong asked.

    Luo Qifei replied, Liuhe is a county town linking Yangtze River waterways, located by the Chu River east of Qingliu. From there, with tailwind and clear passage, they could reach Jiangdu in only one day. Chen Sheng is in charge of Jianghuai Navy stationed in Liuhe, his fleet consists of more than seventy ships, big and small.

    His countenance changed, Kou Zhong said, Such a short water travel, mounting a sneak attack will be more difficult than ascending the heavens.

    Chen Changlin shook his head and said, Actually we must not mount sneak attack either. The route from Liuhe to Jiangdu is entirely under Du Fuweis tight control. We can only use thunderbolt-reaching-the-ear method to hit Chen Shengs command ship, and then board the boat to kill him. Because a man who is adept in naval warfare poses greater threat toward Shen Faxing, Du Fuwei will believe firmly without any doubt that it was Shen Luns men who did this.

    Luo Qifei nodded and said, Under Shen Luns command, there is a martial art master adept in using spear called the Chang Qiang Lang [lit. long spear youth] Gu Jun. He has imposing stature, somewhat similar to Shao Shuai. If instead of using saber Shao Shuai uses a spear and assassinates Chen Sheng, even if Shen Lun jumped into the Yangtze River, he would not be able wash the suspicion clean.

    Bu Tianzhi added excitedly, I have transferred seven fast ships most suitable for this kind of ambushing attack to the nearby waterway especially for this mission, and I also have them disguised as Haisha Bang warships. When the time comes, well use Haisha Bangs usual military strategy to carry out the surprise attack. I guarantee no one can see the flaw.

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, Gentlemen, uncles and brothers, whatever instruction you have, just let Xiaodi knows, and Ill do it!

    Hearing that, the crowd roared into laughter.

    Kou Zhong suddenly sighed. Turning his eyes on the night sky brightened by Jiangdu city light, he shook his head and said, If I can spare some time for a separate task, Yun Yuzhen can forget about slipping back to Baling alive.

    ※ ※ ※

    Emotionally moved, Shi Feixuan said, Yang Xuyan is Shi Zhixuans disciple!

    Xu Ziling spoke heavily, Not only he is Shi Zhixuans disciple, he is also the son of the former Sui dynastys deposed crown prince Yang Yong. Because Shi Zhixuans other identity was Pei Ju, the author of Maps and Notes on the Western Regions, can Miss Shi make an associative connection on this matter?

    Shi Feixuan appeared to be pondering deeply. It was quite a while later that she nodded and said, Thank you very much Ziling Xiong, your remark has brought many suspense surrounding Shi Zhixuan to light. This is indeed a matter of great importance; I wonder where did you get it from?

    After recounting his encounter with Cao Yinglong, Xu Ziling said, Kou Zhong and I guessed that Shi Qingxuan did not know who the Hua Jian Pai disciple of this generation is. Therefore, Yang Xuyan will, using some deceit, attempt to gain Shi Qingxuans trust, in order to get the manuals that Shi Zhixuan handed over to his daughter for safekeeping.

    Shi Feixuan said, Actually, Shi Qingxuan is not the custodian of the Hua Jian Pais ancient books and records. If I am guessing correctly, Yang Xuyan is looking for the Bu Si Yin Juan [lit. not dead (immortal) printed scroll] hidden in the small valley of the hidden forest. If this printed scroll fell into anybody elses hands, it would be absolutely useless; only in the hands of Yang Xuyan or Hou Xibei, these two direct disciples of Shi Zhixuan, will it bring huge benefit.

    The more Xu Ziling listened, the more confused he was, Shi Zhixuan and Immortal Printed Scroll, what is it?

    Showing a pained smile on her face, Shi Feixuan said, For the last hundred years or so, both to us and to the demonic schools, Shi Zhixuan is the bad person who brought the most headache. Just by looking at how this man can use one hand, single fist, with no blood on the mens sword, to cause the fall of the Great Sui, and make the world all split up and in pieces, we can infer his formidability. Were it not for Xiuxin Shibo moving his true feeling, leading him to fuse the orthodox and heretic schools, as well as to develop and create the Immortal Printed Scroll that appears to have no flaw, the world may not be in the situation its currently in.

    Taking a deep breath, Xu Ziling said, What kind of terrifying demonic skill Immortal Printed Scroll actually is? Is it because when trained to perfection, the practitioner will not die? How is it compared to Tian Mo Da Fa [demonic great method] and Dao Xin Zhong Mo [the heart of Dao (the Way) kind of devil]?

    Shi Feixuan calmly replied, In this world, there is no such thing as skill and technique that can make people live forever and wont die; keeping this mortal flesh forever is not a sensible act at all. Has Ziling Xiong heard about the Four Holy Monks of Buddhism?

    Xu Ziling did not understand why she suddenly changed direction; he nodded and said, I heard Cao Yinglong mentioning this. I think they are Tiantai, Sanlun, Huayan, and Chan Zong. Shi Zhixuan stealthily studied Sanlun Zongs Jiaxiang Dashi and Chan Zong Four Ancestors secret arts [see Chapter 1].

    Muttering to herself irresolutely, Shi Feixuan said, It seems that Cao Yinglong really had a change of heart; what he said was not a wild babble at all, because this is the secret that the Four Ancestors have never revealed to outsiders. Shi Zhixuan is an exceptional genius in martial art study. As soon as any strange skill or secret manual fell into his hands, he could always fuse and link them up together, and then produce another pivotal skill out of it, which is of an even higher level than the original. In Wulin history, I am afraid only you and Kou Zhong are qualified to be mentioned on equal terms with him.

    First, Xu Ziling was stunned; he really never expected that Shi Feixuan had such a high evaluation on Kou Zhong and him. And then, his old face blushed. Embarrassed, he said, Miss Shi praised me too much!

    Shi Feixuan smiled and said, No need to stand on ceremony. You and Kou Zhong are the marvels of the Wulin world that people still find it difficult to believe even until now. How formidable Immortal Printed Scroll really is, lets not talk about it yet. Just know that the Four Holy Monks had joined forces to hunt and kill Shi Zhixuan, wanting to take his martial art skill away. Three times they surrounded him, yet he still managed to escape albeit being wounded. From this you can infer how terrifying Shi Zhixuan is.

    Noticing Xu Zilings expression, Shi Feixuan sighed and said, If Ziling Xiong assumes that the Four Holy Monks martial art skill is just so-so, then you are gravely mistaken. The reason their name does not appear in Jianghu was simply because they are really men who are outside this world; they had never been involved in Jianghus ordinary affairs, unlike Ning Daoqi, whose name shakes the heavens. In the past, Jiaxiang and Four Ancestors joined forces with Tiantai Zongs Zhihui [lit. wisdom/intelligence] Dashi, and Huayan Zhongs Dixin [lit. emperors heart] Zunzhe [lit. honored sir], to hunt down Shi Zhixuan. Even Yin Gui Pai kept quiet out of fear; nobody dared to interfere or to attract troubles. From this you can infer how formidable the Four Holy Monks are. Speaking about power, you would find it difficult to compare any one of the Four Holy Monks with Ning Daoqi.

    Sucking a mouthful of cold air, Xu Ziling said, In that case, wouldnt Shi Zhixuan be more formidable than Zhu Yuyan and Xiang Yutian?

    You cant compare them like that either, Shi Feixuan replied, I can only say that they are figures of equal rank. As for who is superior and who is inferior, it would be difficult to tell unless they are having a show-down.

    Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, Just now Miss mentioned that to the demonic schools, Shi Zhixuan is also a big bad person; what do you mean by that?

    Shi Feixuan replied, Because Shi Zhixuan has the intention of unifying the demonic schools, he is definitely a threat to the leaders of various demonic schools. Zhu Yuyan is extremely afraid of the consequences if this is really happening. Were it not for Xiuxin Shibo breaking his Immortal Printed Scroll, Im afraid Zhu Yuyan would have lost her most-revered-within-the-demonic-schools status early on.

    Xu Ziling could only stare blankly in silence. In Luoyang that day, Zhu Yuyan snatched Shangguan Long back from him, Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan, as easily as blowing off an air from her mouth. Remembering this, he still had a lingering fear. From this, he could imagine to what extent Shi Zhixuans martial art prowess was.

    Cast her eyes to the night sky, which would become dawn very soon, Shi Feixuan spoke softly, Now, the only flaw in Shi Zhixuans Immortal Printed Scroll is his daughter, whose resemblance to Xiuxin Shibo is striking. She is also the only person who can make Shi Zhixuan cannot be unmoved. Cao Yinglong has a very deep understanding of this aspect of Shi Zhixuans. If Shi Qingxuan suffered any mishap, Shi Zhixuan might revert to his Xie Wang [demonic king] innate character without any worries. Therefore, we must do everything we can to stop Yang Xuyans evil scheme to prevail. Otherwise, an unknown variable would appear in this world, which is chaotic enough as it is.

    Looking at the first streak of dawn across plains on the eastern horizon, Xu Ziling asked, Would Miss Shi like to hasten toward the small valley in the hidden forest with Zaixia?

    Shi Feixuan apologetically said, Feixuan is accustomed to coming and going alone. If Ziling Xiong check in at the Yue Lai [lit. pleased to come] Inn at the south market of Chengdus Shaocheng district, Feixun will look for you there.

    Lets just wait and see, Xu Ziling replied indifferently.

    Inwardly he thought that you roamed the Three Gorges together with Hou Xibai, yet now that we are clearly having the same destination, you want to travel separately into Sichuan. From this, his position and importance in her heart could clearly be seen. That being the case, it would be better if he travelled alone, unrestrained and leisurely trying to find Shi Qingxuan without any care; he would be more free and unfettered instead.

    Naturally Shi Feixuan was able to hear the tone of his voice, but she did not offer any explanation. After bidding farewell with each other, they went their separate ways. In fact, they were going to enter Sichuan from opposite directions.

    Xu Ziling put his feeling under control, threw all the troubles to the back of his mind, and ran toward the Great Mount Ba at full speed.

    ※ ※ ※

    The fishing boat reached the shore.

    Wheres our warship? Kou Zhong asked in great astonishment.

    Bu Tianzhi smiled and said, To deceive Jianghuai Army spies, naturally we must use a little trick. We used winch and long wooden logs to tow the seven warships ashore, and then covered them with trees and branches to make sure that we dont reveal any flaw.

    By this time Kou Zhong was following the crowd into the jungle by the shore; after passing through more than a dozen thick bushes, a wide panorama suddenly opened up before his eyes, where the seven boats were laid out in a row, securely nestled on the frame slanting down toward the river. All these were beyond his expectation.

    Chen Laomou was directing his men to paint Haisha Bangs insignia on the hull of the boats using red lacquer; he was busy, yet was full of joy.

    Seeing Kou Zhongs appearance, the warriors morale was greatly boosted.

    This lot of boats did not have big hull. Just by looking at its shape, one would be able to feel its lightweight and agile characteristics.

    Kou Zhong sighed with deep admiration; this tactic of hiding boats inside the forest, he would never have thought about it, not even in his dream.

    Offering his expertise, Chen Changlin explained, These are the smaller size warships that Haisha Bang is most adept in using; they are good for assault and breaking the enemys defense. If theres wind, the sail will be fully opened, if theres no wind, they will use the oars. Both sides of the ship are reinforced with crenelated parapet walls, which protect half of the body against powerful bows and strong arrows. There are holes below the walls for the oars to go through, while the sailors operating the oars will be completely hidden inside the ship.

    Noticing small holes along the crenelated parapet walls, Kou Zhong praised, These holes must be for shooting arrows; wouldnt it be better if the holes are slightly bigger?

    Chen Laomou came over and said, These are called crossbow window or simply tooth gaps, used especially to shoot arrows from crossbows. Therefore, they dont need to be too big to take aim and shoot.

    How much longer? Bu Tianzhi asked.

    Wiping the sweats off his brow, Chen Laomou proudly said, We only need to cover the hull with raw cowhide to protect against fire. This is the trick that Haisha Bang usually use, its known as the Meng Chong Doujian [lit. dashing-against-covering fighting ship]. It could be said that in framing them up this time, we spare no effort.

    Luo Qifei said, Our operation this time has been through repeated scrutiny and careful thought. We do not dare to keep the warships in the open, precisely because we dont want Jianghuai Army to grow suspicions. These seven warships came separately from elsewhere, winding around in big circles, hence Du Fuwei would believe firmly without any doubt even more.

    Kou Zhong exclaimed in admiration, If I were Ol Die, I would also fall into the trap. Ha! And now the only thing I ought to do is just to have a good nap?

    Chen Laomou laughed aloud and said, Shao Shuai, go ahead and sleep in peace! It would be best if you sleep on the boat. When the time comes, Laofu [old man] will wake you up. Ill also disguise you. Otherwise, how could the Chang Qiang Lang Gu Jun brave the Great River to put Chen Sheng to death?

  13. #273
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 6

    Book 23 Chapter 6 Contending for Supremacy on the Sky Bridge

    Xu Ziling finally set foot on the Great Mount Ba, which was overflowing with danger, famous for its plank walkway all the way since ancient time thru today.

    This kind of dangerous man-made pathway, constructed around the mountain in a roundabout route, was mainly built by cutting holes on the sheer cliffs and precipitous rock faces and then inserting beams into the holes, which served as the skeleton for the wooden planks laid out on top of them.

    As people were walking on it, on one side was the uneven surface of the rock cliff, while the other side was thousand-ren [unit of length, my dictionary did not have the definition, baike.baidu only says 8 or 7 feet] steep cliff. When the mountain breeze was blowing, the feeling was that the entire walkway was swaying, the foothold was unsteady. Those who are bold would still feel fright at every step, while those who are timid would be unable to move a single step.

    At first Xu Ziling was overwhelmed with marvel, but suddenly his mind opened and cleared up. The unpleasant mood stirred up by Shi Feixuan was washed away clean. Along the way more and more marvelous scenery emerged; it was extremely pleasing to the eyes.

    Maintaining a touring-the-mountain, visiting-scenic-spots frame of mind, he thoroughly enjoyed the covered-by-trees-and-underbrush deep mountains, high ridges, marvelous peaks and amazing rocks.

    Cloud fir [spruce], cold fir, red fir, iron fir [tsuga chinensis], all kinds of fir [Cunninghamia lanceolate] trees, mixed together with ginkgo tree, fragrant fruit tree, paulownia tree, formed the ever-changing natural ecology. It was not only a paradise for birds, but golden sub-nosed monkeys [Rhinopithecus Roxellana], macaque, wildebeests, and hairy crowned deer were roaming around freely, so full of life. When he rounded a bend, the scenery changed again.

    The first to catch his eyes was the roaring of the waterfall, while the walkway was continuously widening. Burst of water droplets hit him on the face, while the mist pervaded the air on the opposite mountain. A waterfall appeared like a jiao dragon [legendary (horned) dragon with ability to control rain and floods] coming out of a hole in the mountain, cascading down along the cliff, straight to the bottom of the cliff into a boiling torrent, and then rushing out following the terrain with strong momentum.

    Seeing all these, Xu Zilings mind was intoxicated. He stopped to enjoy the view with his hands behind his back, feeling the essence, qi, and spirit in his entire body soared without any bound, and ten thousand changes converged into one.

    In this moment of clarity, there was no distinction between internal and external.

    The man was the nature, and the nature was the man.

    Before this natural wonder, all struggles, enmity and killing have become irrelevant.

    Right this moment, suddenly a familiar voice entered his ears, saying, We must be especially bound together by fate; unexpectedly I come across Xu Xiong here.

    Xu Ziling was still staring fixedly on the mountain flow down below, formed by the water flying out of the cliff above. It converged first into more than a dozen of layer upon layer of pools, big and small, then flowed around the colorful rocks filling the bottom of the waterfall. Under the bright sun the rippling waves sparkled magnificently. Smiling, he said, Naturally we are especially bound together by fate. But I wonder if Hou Xiong is leaving Sichuan, or is entering Sichuan?

    Hou Xibai walked slowly along the walkway toward Xu Ziling, while waving the Fan of Beauty in his hand lightly, in such an unspeakably elegant and graceful demeanor, confident and at ease above the crowd.

    Xu Ziling sighed inwardly; if they fought in this place, both sides would have no way out. This matter could only be resolved by one of them defeated and perished. At the same time, he was also blaming himself for being careless. Ever since leaving Yangzhou, he has been neglecting this young martial art master of Hua Jian Pai, while Hou Xibai has been lurking on the side, waiting for an opportunity like the present.

    Was it because Shi Feixuan knew that he was nearby that she was unwilling to enter Sichuan together with Xu Ziling? Listening to the tone of Shi Feixuans voice, she only had good impression toward Hou Xibai, without any bad feeling at all.

    Hou Xibai stopped when he was about a zhang or so from him; he spoke smoothly, During the reign of Xian Wang of the Zhou dynasty, Qinhui Wang wanted to destroy Shu [i.e. Sichuan], but no matter how hard he tried, he could not force entrance into it; thereupon he issued an order to make a stone ox with five heads, and daubed the ox tail with gold dust, claiming that the ox could produce gold excrement, and have the ox delivered to King of Shu. Greatly delighted, King of Su ordered his men to construct the plank walkway to welcome the golden ox. Eventually the Qin army forced entrance into Su along the Golden Ox Walkway and wiped out the Su State. Wont you say that things like this are actually the main cause of disaster for the people of Sichuan?

    Looking back at the plank walkway that he had just walked through, Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, Later on, Zhuge Liangs Six Campaigns from Mount Qi, Jiang Weis Nine Campaigns on the Central Plains [both are from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms], were also transporting troops along this path. Therefore, the fault is not on this Golden Ox Walkway, but on the people; dont Hou Xiong think so?

    Swish!

    Hou Xibai opened his fan fully, and then waved it back and forth; the speed was irregular, but it seemed to follow some kind of law-within-no-law rhythm, like it was very easy to fathom, yet was impossible to grasp. It was such an extremely weird feeling.

    I never thought Xu Xiong would be this familiar with the history of Sichuan, he spoke in astonishment, Evidently the walkway we are standing on has been through many different reconstructions. The most ancient Golden Ox Walkway started in Mei County of Shaanxi, passing through the Xie valley, winding around the Bao Valley, and into Hanzhong. To the west it goes out to Mian County, through Yang Ping mountain pass, and into Sichuan, passing through Qingchuan, JianGe, Zitong, Mianyang, and arrives at Chengdu. Currently the Hanzhong to Sichuan section has changed into Ningqiang, surpassing seven mountain passes. This is precisely the section that Xu Xiong stopped to admire, as if you wanted to become an immortal and go directly into danger.

    Hou Xibai took a step forward, closing the distance between the two men to approximately eight chi, while the Fan of Beauty continued to wave, one after another, producing Swish! Swish! noise. The side of the fan facing Xu Ziling had only one painting of Wanwans amazing image, putting her faintly discernible, unfathomable innate character, touching portrait in full display. One corner also had the ten-thousand-kinds-of-grace, another implicit-charm-in-rhyme, image of the famous courtesan Shang Xiufang.

    Xu Ziling was still standing with his hands behind his back; noticing Hou Xibai did not respond, he went on, It seems that Hou Xiong did not wish to answer. Xiaodi suddenly has a weird thought; supposing one of us suddenly ascend the heavens to become an immortal, I guarantee that no one in Jianghu would find out.

    Blurting out laughing, Hou Xibai said, Xu Xiongs idea is very interesting. Regrettably, the world of the immortals has no doors, so nobody could open it as he wishes. Perhaps Xu Xiong wants to turn a good dream into nothingness!

    A sliver of without-any-care-in-the-world smile escaped from the corner of Xu Zilings mouth; remaining tranquil and calm, he said, Whether the world of the immortals has a door or has no door, so much so that whether there is the world of the immortals or afterlife, Xiaodi practically has never had any imagination nor any desire to look forward to, hence I have no good dream to be turned into nothingness. Even toward life and death, Ol Xu has a very indifferent view. I wonder if Hou Xiong would be interested in giving it a try?

    Finally Hou Xibais countenance changed. His eyes shone with sharp, peculiar light, the rhythm of his fan became more erratic, but it was not in confusion at all. If the listener was not Xu Ziling but another first-class martial art master, perhaps he could not stop rushing out and making his move.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong lay on his back on the bed, but was unable to sleep. With eyes opened wide he stared at the ceiling of the cabin, with myriads thought surging in his mind.

    He was thinking of his relationship with Du Fuwei.

    It could be said that Du Fuwei was the first person ever to show respect on him, to consider Kou Zhong to be qualified to inherit his burning incense stick and his undertaking. Yet due to all kinds of reason, Kou Zhong declined his good intention.

    In the past he was willing to let Kou Zhong left Liyang, demonstrating his breath of mind and positive outlook, which surpass others, and revealing his sincere affection, which was inconsistent with his style.

    But in return, Kou Zhong bitterly defended Jingling for ten days and ten nights, so that Du Fuwei could only gain tragic victory.

    Today he was going to destroy Du Fuweis grand plan of attacking Jiangdu. Thinking about this, he felt depressed and helpless.

    That trusted lieutenant of his called Chen Sheng was a total stranger to Kou Zhong. There was no grievance in the past, there was no animosity in the present, yet tonight, using thousand ways and hundred plans, Kou Zhong was going to make him meet his death, just to incite Du Fuweis anger, all in the name of contention over the world. Therefore, he had to proceed by hook or by crook, not stopping at anything. Contention over the world is just like that.

    Ay!

    Yet if he could go back to the past, he would still decline Du Fuweis good intention and proposal.

    The real reason was that Du Fuwei did not enjoy popular support too much. Plus Kou Zhong did not wish to get things done by relying on others.

    Thinking to this point, Kou Zhong jumped out of bed and ordered his men serving outside the door to summon Chen Changlin, Bu Tianzhi, and so on for a discussion.

    ※ ※ ※

    Finally Xu Ziling reacted; suddenly he turned his tiger-body around, so that he was directly facing Hou Xibai, who was standing at an oblique angle about eight chi away on the walkway.

    Two pair of eyes met, both men stared unyieldingly toward each other.

    Hou Xibai stopped waving his fan and put it away on his back. Nodding his head, he said, Xu Xiongs brilliance is indeed beyond Zaixias expectation.

    Xu Ziling smiled and replied, We are no better or worse than each other!

    The two men were not simply uttering polite words.

    In fact, ever since Hou Xibai raised his voice to speak, the two have been on a head-on confrontation. Xu Ziling was bit lucky, because as he was enjoying the beautiful scenery of the waterfall on the opposite mountain, his state of mind converged seamlessly with the ten-thousand changes outside, entering the no-man, no-me [non-self, anatta], forgetting inside, forgetting outside, state, in deep union with the purpose of the Secret to Long Life. Although he had not raised his qi or applied his power, all the orifices within his body were full of life; naturally the innate true qi circulated freely, from head to toe, there was not the slightest flaw.

    The reason Hou Xibai chose this place to make his appearance was originally to borrow the waterfalls surging momentum and its loud rumbling noise to conceal the vibration, as well as any noise, generated on the walkway as he was stepping on it, while actively calculating how to launch one strike, with a ten-thousand-catty-thunder momentum, to successfully getting rid of this formidable opponent, who, in so many aspects, was able to rival him.

    From his footwork of standing at an oblique angle, pressing down on the plank walkway going around the mountain, to the rhythm of his opening and waving his fan, not one did not imply the profound-mystery law and logic. As soon as Xu Ziling was somewhat influence by it or was a bit distracted, he would make his move with all his strength. Staking everything, disregarding injury or death, he simply must strike to kill this opponent, in such a no-retreat, no-escape battlefield.

    Who would have thought that not only Xu Ziling was not influenced by him the slightest bit, he remained in the profound mystery state, which Hou Xibai found to be amazing and inexplicable, which Xu Ziling suggested earlier that he had no regard of life and death. Consequently, Hou Xibai felt that if he forcefully made his move, both of them would only end up perishing together.

    And that was the reason he praised Xu Ziling wholeheartedly.

    From Xu Zilings point of view, Hou Xibai did not give him the slightest gap that he could exploit, hence the reason he did not dare to turn around earlier, afraid that his concentration would fail him.

    The rhythm of Hou Xibais fan was some kind of gongfa [skill/power law/method; this is another one of those that I dont know how to translate succinctly (the other being shenfa and xinfa)] analogous to the Tian Mo Yin [demonic sound] that Zhu Yuyan employed. One slight mistake, he wound incite the opponents terrifying attack. He waited until Hou Xibais heart appeared to be shaken. He chose the exact time when the opponent was in the middle of two shakes of his fan to turn around; the exact moment when the Fan of Beauty was at its limit of movement.

    This kind of subtlety accurately grasped the rhythm of the opponents fan, which appeared like random, without any order, movements; in a way, it was tantamount to thoroughly break the brilliant skill of waving the fan.

    From this, it could be said that Hou Xibai has been hiding his real strength all along, hence the no better or worse than each other comment.

    Xu Ziling still had his hands behind his back, while standing upright and unafraid. His eyes stared fixedly on the opponent, his stored-up imposing manner expanding unceasingly, assuming the unyielding attitude of going-all-out, staking-everything, fight-might-happen-any-moment.

    Hou Xibai was still maintaining his confident and at ease, unconstrained appearance, but the fact was that he was standing straight like a mountain, exuding a biting cold vortex of qi, restraining the opponent from a distance, abundant with sweeping-away-the-world spirit.

    A glimmer of smile escaped from the corner of Xu Zilings mouth as he spoke indifferently, Did Hou Xiong accidentally run into me entering Sichuan, or did you already know that I am entering Sichuan?

    While continuously looking for any gap in the opponents line of defense, Hou Xibai replied, This matter is unusually complicated, but it is closely related to Qingxuan. Xu Xiong, what do you think?

    Inwardly, Xu Ziling cried, Formidable!

    It should be noted that fighting on the plank walkway, any shenfa or footwork would not be effective. The only way was to fight force against force.

    Even though there was indeed relative superiority between the two mens martial art skill level, but the difference was not far. Therefore, they must resort to various means to weaken the opponents fighting spirit, to divide his attention, in order to succeed in one strike.

    Hou Xibais choice of words was precisely to achieve that objective.

    If Xu Ziling was distracted by the two words unusually complicated and pondered upon it deeply, also by Hou Xibai intimately calling her by her first name Qingxuan, which would make Xu Ziling think that his relationship with Shi Qingxuan was quite complex, then Xu Ziling would fall into the trap.

    Fortunately, Xu Ziling was quite indifferent toward success or failure in men/women relationship; hence he was not too affected by it. Smiling instead, he said, Hou Xiong clearly knew that before entering Sichuan, Xiaodi had an all night long chat with Miss Shi.

    This is called playing someone at their own game; moreover, he was hinting that Shi Feixuan was nearby.

    According to Xu Zilings analysis, the reason Hou Xibai was able to select this place to intercept him was that he obtained the information from the Yangtze River Alliance, simply because Yun Yuzhen and Yangtze River Alliances Zheng Shuming had secret connection. Furthermore, Hou Xibais skill with women definitely raised this possibility.

    Sure enough, Hou Xibai was slightly startled.

    Naturally Xu Ziling was unwilling to let this built-up-through-painstaking-efforts golden opportunity pass; stepping forward, he sent out a heavy punch.

    Hou Xibai did not take out his fan at all; he simply put his fingers together and used the palm chop with his left hand.

    Bang!

    Qi power collided.

    Both of them tumbled backward as if they were struck by lightning, opening the distance between them a zhang or so.

    Hou Xibais revealed an extremely grave expression. Why not spiraling qi power? he shouted.

    Xu Ziling was struggling to suppress his boiling blood and qi, while inwardly he was very shocked. If the opponent had not mistakenly thought that he was going to use spiraling qi power, he would have suffered quite a bit of loss in this exchange.

    He had managed to create all sorts of favorable situations, yet still ended up both parties shared the limelight. Evidently Hou Xibais true power was at least a notch above his. Not to mention Hou Xibai has not used his fan yet.

    Smiling slightly, he said, How come Hou Xiong did not use the amazing skill of Immortal Printed Scroll?

    Hou Xibais eyes emitted an unprecedentedly fierce expression. Was it Feixuan who told you? he spoke in heavy voice.

    While resisting his rapidly increasing fierce qi momentum, Xu Ziling sneered and said, From this, it is clear that Hou Xiong has not had any chance to meet Shi Qingxuan, otherwise you might mistakenly guessed that it was she who told me.

    Recovering his calm manner, Hou Xibai blurted out laughing and said, But it is also possible that I have just visited her fragrant residence, right?

    Letting out a long laughter, Xu Ziling said, Absolutely correct!

    Both palms struck out at the same time, immediately a violent force rolled straight toward Hou Xibai.

    ※ ※ ※

    While the warriors were working hard, the cabin was serene under the lazy afternoon sun.

    After sweeping Bu Tianzhi, Chen Laomou, Luo Qifei, and Chen Changlin, four men, with his eyes, Kou Zhong pondered deeply for half a day before finally speaking slowly, I have two things that Id like gentlemen to consider carefully.

    Everybody knew he still had more to say, hence they just waited silently.

    Appearing to be very deep in thought, Kou Zhong said, Tonight we only need to hurt Chen Sheng, but there is no need to kill him. I want to borrow Chen Shengs own mouth to tell Du Fuwei who had wounded him.

    There shouldnt be any problem, Bu Tianzhi said, As long as we manage to burn a few more of his boats, it will be enough to provoke Du Fuweis wrath.

    Chen Changlin said, Chen Sheng ought to know Gu Jun. If there is any flaw, in the future, our achievement will be completely wasted.

    Chen Laomou joined in, Outside appearance is not a problem. In confusion, it woud be enough to have fifty, sixty-percent resemblance. Could Changlin describe his general appearance that I can use as my reference?

    Chen Changlin nodded to give his consent, but he said, Gu Juns spear technique is very particular; if Chen Sheng sees it, he will definitely be able to tell it apart.

    Have you seen it? Bu Tianzhi asked.

    Chen Changlins eyes emitted deep hatred. Letting out a cold humph, he said, Not only seen it, I have tasted it.

    Listening to this, everybody knew that he had fought Gu Jun in the past, perhaps he even suffered some losses.

    Delighted, Kou Zhong said, That will do! Imitating ten or twenty-percent will work; Chen Sheng would think that Gu Jun was deliberately concealing his martial art.

    After a short pause, he continued, The other thing is that in order to avenge Changlin Xiong, we must, by all means, kill Shen Lun. But we also must make Shen Faxing thinks that it is Du Fuwei who kill him. This way, the enmity between them will never be resolved, forever.

    Luo Qifei said, Changlin and I have repeatedly considered this over; we both think that as long as Du Fuwei believed that Shen Lun attacked him, the moment Shen Lun withdraw his troops, we will ambush him from the side. This way, all accounts will be credited to Du Fuwei. The only difficulty is to determine the suitable time and place.

    Muttering to himself irresolutely, Kou Zhong said, Supposing when Chen Sheng is injured Du Fuwei did not advance but retreat instead by withdrawing to Qingliu to regroup, then it would be really bad for us. Therefore, we must have a contingency plan. It would be best if we can force Old Du so that he wont dare to delay.

    Frowning, Bu Tianzhi said, Is there a way to make Du Fuwei thinks that Shen Lun has sold him to Li Zitong? That way, Old Du would try to smash one of the two in the shortest time possible, or else he would fall into the situation where he is caught up in between.

    Slapping his thigh, Kou Zhong praised, This is merely the exertion of lifting ones hand [fig. requiring a very light effort]. Have somebody deliver a letter to Li Zitong at once; have this fellow immediately spread a rumor, saying that Shen Faxing has already made peace with him. If this rumor can enter Old Dus ears one step ahead of Chen Sheng being attacked, he would be even more convinced.

    And then he rose to his full height, stretched his limbs, and said, This time I really can sleep a good sleep!

  14. #274
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 7

    Book 23 Chapter 7 Shifting the Blame Onto Eastern Wu

    Hou Xibai shifted sideways to retrieve the folded fan on his back; in a confident-and-at ease, natural, brimming-with-a-sense-of-beauty posture, the tip of the fans skeleton, rapid-beyond-comprehension, pointed at Xu Zilings double palms coming down at him, and then the fan opened, using the side full of portraits of beautiful women he blocked Xu Zilings real killer move, while sending out a kick toward his lower abdomen.

    Xu Ziling rapidly whirled around, both palms created hundreds of palm shadows like an illusion, while his leg seemed to move, but was not actually moving. Even with Hou Xibais ability, he could not advance prematurely, while also did not dare to withdraw backward, afraid that the opponent might snatch the key moment, and then he would suffer troops in defeat like a landslide [idiom], and lost his life on this no-escape, no-retreat plank walkway.

    Hou Xibai resorted to a set of exquisite and abstruse fan technique. His fan opened and closed without showing any gap, as he parried Xu Zilings rainstorm-like fingers, palms, and fists attack. The sound of strong wind collided against each other lingered on.

    Pow! hundreds and thousands fan shadows covered everything. The middle finger of Xu Zilings left hand made contact with the tip of the fan.

    A vortex of qi, which Hou Xibai had been expected all along, burst in via the Fan of Beauty, slow at first, but quickly became faster.

    This inner power attack was like fighting at close range with short weapon, there was no room to change move at all. The two combatants staggered backwards at the same time.

    At this moment, the two men began to know the real ability of his opponent.

    Hou Xibai only staggered back five steps before he managed to regain his footings; his handsome face alternated between red and green. Only after several rounds of these changes did he recover his usual fair countenance.

    Xu Ziling nearly stepped out of the plank walkway. Turned out Hou Xibais Fan of Beauty was able to execute four taels to push aside a thousand catty technique, simply because it was able to use some extremely weird technique of borrowing force to strike force called You Shan Xie [lit. outstanding expertise to unload/to remove], by shifting the opponents inner power. And Hou Xibais level of mastery has reached perfection, a as the arm moves the finger, free, unconstrained state.

    Nearly every strike, a punch or finger thrust, had a miss-the-target feeling, just like trying to catch a loach with empty hand, like clearly it was caught in hand, but he was unable to hold on to it steadily.

    It was precisely the prescribing the right medicine for an illness best method to deal with the spiraling energy.

    However, although he gained the upper hand, it actually entailed strenuous effort.

    Fortunately, at the last moment he gained the initiative by utilizing the amazing move of Using the man to play the sword, using the sword to play the enemy [see Book 11 Chapter 8] of the Yijian Technique. Furthermore, he exploited the unique environment of the plank walkway to force Hou Xibai to go full strength by disregarding everything in meeting the attack head-on, so that he avoided the final fate of defeat and perishing.

    The skill difference had been decided.

    Xu Ziling struggled hard to recover from his own momentum that sent him to the edge of the walkway. And then, using the innate true qi from the combination of Secret to Long Life and Jade Annulus of He Clan, he neutralized most of Hou Xibais strange energy invading his body. But he still needed two more steps before he could stand firm.

    He nearly vomited blood. Luckily when his meridians were about to burst, his five viscera felt like shattering, he exerted himself to raise the true qi within his body. The internal injury immediately recovered more than half in such a miraculous way. It was as if the true qi in his body could faintly control the opponents gongfa.

    Hou Xibais most formidable aspect was that when Xu Zilings spiraling energy burst in, slow at first and then turned fast, Hou Xibais internal power became suddenly hard and suddenly soft, using both gentle methods and force, breaking open his spiraling energy, and diverted it to both sides, enabling him to force entrance into the true qi in the opponents body, so that at most he could only retain fifty or sixty-percent of his original level, and thus greatly diminished the killing power.

    Such a demonic power was indeed never seen; no wonder Hua Jian Pai was able to stand side by side with Yin Gui Pai on the demonic way.

    From this, it could also be inferred the extent of Shi Zhixuans formidability.

    Swish!

    Hou Xibai opened up his fan and lightly brushed it sideways. With confident laugh he said, Much obliged for the experience! Xu Xiong is certainly brilliant, but if this is the extent of your skill, Xu Xiong may forget about leaving this golden-ox way alive today.

    Hearing that, Xu Ziling heaved a sigh of relief instead.

    If the opponent seized this opportunity to pursue and attack, he would be doomed to death for sure. But now that he spoke to stall for time, it was clear that although his martial art skill was stronger than Xu Zilings, and his moves were a notch better than his, plus his injury was slightly lighter than his, yet his speed of recovery must be somewhat slower than Xu Zilings.

    Taking another mouthful of breath, Xu Ziling let out a long laugh and said, No better or worse than each other! Hou Xiong, please receive another one of Xiaodis punches.

    Right foot stepped forward, left fist sent out a punch.

    Obviously Hou Xibai was stunned and was greatly puzzled, and then his expression turned serious, his clothes, from head to foot, fluttered.

    Xu Zilings punch was extremely slow, but his internal energy was continuously accumulating, so that when his fist was nearly in position, the wind generated by the punch already reached Hou Xibais body. The most magical thing was that from nothing at the beginning, the punch power gradually coalesced until finally it became an incomparably forceful qi power following the moving fist, like a formless but natural iron pillar being thrust toward the chest.

    Hou Xibai started to regret his decision to intercept Xu Ziling on this plank walkway. If it were an empty and wide land, breaking Xu Zilings move would be like handling a butchers cleaver with ease [idiom: skillfully and easily]. But on this unique environment, being forced by Xu Zilings gradually condensing qi power was like having a thousand kinds of ultimate art, yet was unable to find a solution. The only way out was to meet the attack head-on.

    Hou Xibai roared; pulling his Fan of Beauty back, he used his left palm to swiftly chop down to strike the middle of the column of qi.

    Spiraling energy flared out.

    Xu Ziling has learned from experience that his spiraling energy was focused and did not disperse, like a sharp awl breaking into the opponents exploding energy.

    Bang!

    Both men tumbled backward and spurted blood at the same time. It was injury on top of injury.

    This time Hou Xibai could only neutralized twenty-percent of Xu Zilings qi power, hence he suffered quite a loss.

    If it were on a flat land, he had seventy, eighty-percent confidence to put Xu Ziling to death. But on this plank walkway, Xu Ziling was able to bring out the fantastic qi power he obtained from the Secret to Long Life, and unleashed its greatest might.

    Both sides withdrew five steps back.

    Hou Xibai wiped the bloodstain on the corner of his mouth with his sleeve; smiling bitterly, he said, Please let Zaixia retract my arrogant words. The fact is, this time I was itching: seeing an opportunity that was difficult to come by, I wanted to force Xu Xiong to swap pointers, not really wanted to hurt Xu Xiong. Xu Xiong is honorable and magnanimous, please pardon this offense.

    Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, Xu Ziling said, Hou Xiong is so straightforward, Xiaodi admires you extremely. Since thats the case, is Hou Xiong going to enter Sichuan, or leave Sichuan?

    Hou Xibai laughed aloud and said, Xu Xiong has quick movements and quick mouth. Naturally Zaixia is moving forwards. Xu Xiong, please do as you wish.

    Xu Ziling smiled slightly, while forcefully pressing down another mouthful of blood that was welling up in his throat, and then leisurely and confidently he walked past Hou Xibai.

    Actually, the severity of his injury was far heavier than Hou Xibai thought. Basically he did not even have any strength left to lift up his fist; therefore, he must leave this dangerous place as far away as possible at once.

    Hou Xibai hesitated for a moment, and then stepped aside to let Xu Ziling pass. He even bade him farewell earnestly, with a reluctant-to-part expression.

    Xu Ziling traveled for more than ten li in one breath. After making sure that Hou Xibai did not follow, he violently vomited a mouthful of blood and dejectedly sat down on the ground.

    ※ ※ ※

    Seven warships slowly sailed out of a hidden tributary, heading for the Great River.

    All warships were in total blackout, they only rely on the moon and the stars to guide them toward their target.

    Chen Shengs Jianghuai Navy had left Liuhe at dusk, sailing speedily toward Jiangdu. According to the report, their fleet consisted of a total of more than one hundred and twenty ships, big and small; thirty of which were warships, the rest were cargo ships carrying supply wagons and army provisions.

    If this fleet met with a mishap, not only Du Fuweis vanguard unit would lose support, their plan of besieging the city might be delayed as well. Under this nothing else to do situation, Du Fuwei, whose rage soared to the heavens, would have to find someone to vent his anger, and the only way for him to vent his anger would be Shen Lun, who would definitely try to redeem himself.

    In war, the objective ought to be striving for victory, whether by fair means or foul. Using spies was a normal practice in military strategy, ever since the ancient times.

    Kou Zhong, who looked somewhat like the Long Spear Lad Gu Jun, a fierce general under Shen Luns command, was standing on the deck. To his left and right were Chen Changlin and Bu Tianzhi, respectively. The atmosphere was a bit tense, everybody was holding his breath, quieting their qi, ready to deal with the imminent raid.

    The key to their victory was to catch an enemy off guard with a surprise attack [idiom, from Sunzi's The Art of War]; using fast to defeat the slow, while the enemy was caught off guard, to break the formation of their fleet, to use every means to put the enemy into chaos. And then when the enemy was unclear of what was going on, they could use the few to defeat the many.

    The seven ships stopped at the dense forest at the mouth of the river, right next to the riverbank.

    The rolling Great River ahead was flowing to the east.

    Sailing for two more sichen from here, one would reach Jiangdu.

    Kou Zhong took a deep breath and looked up to the sky. His heart was full of emotional stirring.

    In his heart, he still had nothing but good opinion and respect toward Du Fuwei, but for the sake of even more far-reaching goal, he had to do this to Du Fuwei. Thinking about this, his heart was saddened.

    They should be here by now! Bu Tianzhi whispered in his ear, Our timing is very accurate.

    Kou Zhong regained his senses. Casting his eyes toward the confluence of the tributary and the main river, his spirit entered the calm state.

    Chen Changlin spoke quietly, Tonight the southeast wind is blowing. If we follow the enemys tail tightly, we can attack by following the current and the wind at our tail. Its going to be absolutely sure. Problem is, it might turn into a full-scale battle, and then its going to be more difficult to defeat Chen Shengs command ship first.

    Bu Tianzhi sighed and said, Too bad we do not have any information on Chen Shengs natural disposition; otherwise, we could plan our attack focusing on his character. Right now we can only take a risk.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, The most dangerous situation would be if his command ship is at the head of the procession, because then we must take the risk of attacking first, and face the danger of the rest of the warships counterattacking by following the current.

    Bu Tianzhi spoke heavily, If we stay close to the Great Rivers northern bank, we could release smoke and scatter ashes.

    Kou Zhong resolutely said, We might as well take a two-pronged approach; while we raid the opponents command ship, the other six warships will separate so that the enemy cannot see our real strength. While confusing the enemy with smoke, we use cross-shaped [orig. ten character] arrows to burn the enemys sail, use trebuchet to smash the opponents hull, to create damage as much as possible. Once its done, we can abandon the ship and flee into the water.

    And then he added one sentence, As long as Chen Sheng is wounded, we have successfully accomplished this mission.

    They are here! Chen Changlin cried out in low voice.

    Two lightweight battle ships of Jianghuai Army were passing by ahead.

    After waiting for half a day, four comparatively larger warships and a dozen or so cargo ships appeared.

    And then three multi-deck huge battleships followed.

    Bu Tianzhi was delighted, The Heaven is helping us; that ship in the middle is the command ship.

    Kou Zhongs spirit was greatly aroused; his true qi flowing through the meridians in his entire body, he shouted, Success or failure will be decided by this battle. Brothers, follow me, attack!

    The order issued, the Meng Chong Doujian [see Chapter 5] left its hiding place, the oars came out; following the current, it flew toward the enemy ship at full speed.

    ※ ※ ※

    By the time Xu Ziling opened his eyes, the sky was full or stars, the night sky on the high mountain felt even more enchanting.

    He circulated his true qi for two more cycles before standing up to his full height. But his head still felt light and dull, so he could not help but was horrified.

    Since practicing the xinfa of the Secret to Long Life, no matter how serious the injury, he was always able to recover quickly. He had never tried treating his injury close to five sichen like this, yet his meridians still did not flow freely, and the qi circulation was still difficult. From this, it could clearly be seen how formidable Hou Xibais Hua Jian Pai demonic skill really was.

    If he had to fight right now, at most he could only use forty or fifty-percent of his usual skill. Naturally he could not control his true qi like playing with magic like he usually did.

    He was well aware that Hou Xibai would not let him off. The moment he found out that his internal injury was much lighter than Xu Zilings would be the moment he would look for him.

    Even if he recovered one-hundred-percent of his power, perhaps he would still be not Hou Xibais match. Therefore, the only thing Xu Ziling could not right now was to get as far away as possible, so that Hou Xibai would not be able to find him.

    He was about to leave when he heard the sound of wind from the plank walkway leading toward Sichuan. While Xu Ziling was crying Bad! inwardly, a man, with face like beeswax, emaciated, his forehead and cheeks full of lines of hardship, rapidly flew over toward him.

    Evidently the man had never thought he would meet a passerby in the dark of the night, on this dangerous path deep in the mountains and desolate valley; he halted his steps in shock.

    Xu Ziling groaned inwardly.

    Surprisingly, it was the utterly vicious, extremely evil, Going Against The Tide You Niaojuan, the Sheng Ji Mens renegade disciple, the one who ranked last in the list of the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way.

    It was indeed enemies on a narrow road [idiom].

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhongs boat was very fast. In the blink of an eye it already rushed out of the tributary and swiftly entered the flowing stream of the Great River.

    They saw ahead of them, behind, left and right were the enemys battleships and cargo ships; it was quite frightening.

    Bu Tianzhi was at the helm. He steered the battleship toward the northern bank of the Great River.

    Fiery arrows were shot, lime were scattered, while at the same time the stern produced heavy smoke, which, because of the tail wind, rapidly enveloping the command ship.

    Battle drums were like rolling thunder.

    The enemys fleet was in chaos.

    The boat was rapidly pressing toward the command ship. Momentarily the battle drums and the battle cry resounded across the Great River.

    The four light battleships trailing the command ship were immediately dispersing to strike back ferociously toward Kou Zhongs ship.

    Arrows and rocks rained down on them, the momentum was extremely astonishing.

    Although Bu Tianzhi did everything he could to take the circuitous route, the opponents rocks still managed to hit them. The crenelated wall was shattered, holes and cracks were constantly appearing on the hull, wood splinters were flying everywhere.

    Fortunately, by this time their own warships appeared from the tributary in continuous stream, cutting the enemys fleet into several sections, so that their head and tail were separated from each other.

    Boom!

    The other multi-deck ship turned around and rammed their ship. This is called the tough wins against the fragile, the big wins against the small. The bow shattered immediately. It spun around twice on the Great River, and finally capsized.

    Kou Zhong shouted loudly, Boys [orig. er lang men]! Board! Carrying his long spear, he soared into the sky.

    Whether they succeeded or not this time, it would be up to him.

  15. #275
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 8

    Book 23 Chapter 8 Initial Estimate Difficult to Accomplish


    You Niaojuan swept his gaze around, and then with a loud laughter he walked over toward Xu Ziling; bizarre expression flashed through his eyes as he spoke softly, This renxiong looks quite handsome!

    Hearing that, the hair on Xu Zilings entire body stood on its end; You Niaojuans manner and intonation was brimming with some kind of excitement, cruelty, and perversion, as if he was hinting that since I come across you this interesting plaything, here, why cant I gorge myself, and do whatever I please?

    Fortunately, Xu Ziling knew how to distinguish condition from hearing voices, so he knew that You Niaojuans serious injury was only recovered sixty or seventy-percent; otherwise, Xu Ziling would have no chance at all, even if he staked everything he had. But presently he had at least some chance to attempt escape or even to commit suicide, to avoid falling into this great evils hands, in which case living was not better than dying.

    Turning around, Xu Zilings eyes shot a fierce and stern expression. Not showing any fear at all, he met the opponents gaze, blurted out laughing, and said, Lao Xiong [ol bro], whats your honorable surname and great given name? Since you dare to travel alone on this dangerous path, you must not be any ordinary person, but I wonder a friend of which way are you?

    You Niaojuans eyes showed a skeptical look; sizing Xu Ziling up and down, he noticed that Xu Ziling was not well. Immensely proud of himself, he said, Xiao Xiongdi [lil bro] talks like a seasoned veteran; you seem to understand Jianghu way, your martial art skill must be not bad. How about this: if you can guess my name and my origin, I will make an exception and let you off.

    Pretending to be surprised, Xu Ziling said, You and I have no past grudge, and currently have no enmity, how could you not let me off? But to guess who you are is not difficult at all. Its just that I see you are not the kind of a man who speak and keep your promise. Even if I guess correctly, you would still want to fight to dispose of me; why should I rack my brain to guess it?

    Astonished, You Niaojuan looked at him for half a day; finally he shook his head and said with a laugh, You are indeed a kid who dont know the immensity of heaven and earth. Just by looking at your eyes, I knew that you have limited weight [i.e. importance]. How about this: you guess who I am, and you block three moves from me. If you could do any one of those two, I guarantee that I will let you off. Ha! Fascinating handsome boy. Unexpectedly he put an air of a wicked cat playing with a mouse.

    Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, How much does your guarantee worth per catty? Unless you are willing to make a vow according to your schools incantation, I will not believe you.

    You Niaojuans entire body, from head to foot, shook. Taking a step backward, his eyes shone with ominous glint, he spoke sternly, Who are you?

    His heart moved, Xu Ziling said, Who am I, its not your concern; if you want to fight, lets fight. This Shaoye [young master] dont have time to bicker with you endlessly, not to mention I dont have the mood to do so.

    You Niaojuan laughed grimly; his laughter started soft, but was getting louder, until at last he was howling with laughter. A laughter that was full of insanity and frightening insinuation. Moreover, the wrinkles on his face rippled back and forth, so that he looked extremely ugly.

    Suddenly Xu Ziling sent out a palm chop, slicing the air between the two.

    You Niaojuans laughter vanished; he took a step backward in shock, and stared blankly at Xu Ziling with disbelief in his eyes.

    Originally he was about to make his move, but Xu Ziling seemed to have the ability to predict the future; his palm chop happened to be one step ahead in cutting off the path of his intended move, naturally he was gob smacked in amazement.

    But Xu Ziling felt his qi and blood were churning inside his body, he nearly vomited blood. He started to realize that his internal injury was more serious than he thought; raising his qi to walk away was not a problem, but if he had to fight You Niaojuan, this vicious demon of the present age, perhaps he would have collapsed in less than three moves.

    You Niaojuan was a veteran, immediately he saw the signs. Stunned, he said, Turns out you are suffering from internal injury. No wonder your move is so brilliant, but your eyes are dim and lifeless; even I failed to see it previously.

    Struggling hard to keep his boiling blood and qi under control, Xu Ziling sneered and said, No better or worse than each other; just by listening to your voice, I know that you, Lao Xiong, are also suffering from internal injuries. Let us stake everything together until our internal injuries burst forth; lets see whod die first.

    You Niaojuan was about to make his move, unexpectedly Xu Ziling laughed aloud, and took half a step sideways toward the edge of the plank walkway.

    You Niaojuan could not stop the amazement in his heart. Greatly puzzled, as well as astonished, he said, What martial art is this?

    Xu Ziling knew that You Niaojuan was starting to be alerted and was having misgivings. This one step move was the limit of what he currently could do. This changing position, plus the temporary upper hand he gained, coupled with one move he previously showed, were all different tunes played with equal skill, so that the opponent would not dare to take the risk by advancing prematurely.

    In somewhat disdainful tone he said, You Niaojuan, can you still be considered our demonic school man? You have not even seen Immortal Printed Method?

    For the first time that night You Niaojuans eyes showed fear; he stared without blinking at Xu Ziling, and spoke heavily, Who is Shi Zhixuan to you?

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong soared to about four zhang above the water, while taking the whole scene of the battle on this section of the Great River at once.

    His seven warships have all entered the river, cutting off Chen Shengs fleet into a dozen or so separate sections, of which at least twenty cargo ships were burning, although with different degree of severity of the disaster. These burning ships provided a very thick smoke, which was blowing downstream following the direction of the wind.

    Other than his own command ship, which was hit and sunk by the enemys multi-deck ship, one other ship was also knocked by the enemys warship that it was overturned. The rest of his ships, under cover of darkness and the thick smoke, weaved left and right while wantonly attacking the enemys cargo ships.

    About a dozen of Chen Shengs warships, including the command ship, which were already ahead, turned around urgently and sailed against the wind and against the current to counterattack, but they were trapped in the smoke in an instant.

    By this time Kou Zhong was out of breath; abruptly taking another breath, he traversed sideways about a zhang in the air, and landed on the deck of the huge ship that smashed his ship over.

    Immediately sabers, spears, hatchets, swords, and so on, more than a dozen weapons welcomed him.

    Kou Zhong pulled back into the air, and leaped toward the deck of the second level. Using the spear technique, with at least twenty-percent resemblance of Gu Juns spear moves, he blocked the swarming enemies so that they fell forward and flipped backward, in full display of his prowess.

    There was a sudden gust of wind.

    Turned out Chen Changlin also followed him on board. With his authentic thick Jiangnan accent, he called loudly, Gu Jiangjun, over here!

    Shouting his response, Kou Zhong soared and made several somersaults in the air and landed on the bow of the ship. Sweeping his long spear across, an explosive force followed, five or six enemies besieging Chen Changlin suddenly felt the palm of their hands were shaken and split. Immediately their weapons fell off, and they scattered in all directions.

    Chen Changlin had just hacked down three enemy soldiers; while signaling Kou Zhong with his eyes, he soared away.

    Kou Zhong looked back, and happened to see Chen Shengs command ship was only about three zhang to his left. Cheering inwardly, he quickly gave chase.

    This could be his only chance to ambush Chen Sheng.

    ※ ※ ※

    Letting out a cold snort, Xu Ziling said, You dont have to worry about that.

    The ominous glint in You Niaojuans eyes subsided; acting calm and collected, he said, Even if you are Shi Zhixuans direct disciple, Ol You hasnt stepped foot in Jianghu for twenty years, my appearance has changed a lot; how did you guess it was me?

    Xu Ziling shivered inwardly, thinking that these martial art masters of the demonic way, indeed not a single one was easy to deal with. Yet on the surface he adopted an apathetic and unmoving manner, as he spoke indifferently, I dont need to explain that even more. I just want to know, do you still want to fight?

    You Niaojuan laughed aloud and said, Since you are Xie Wang Shi Zhixuans disciple, how could Ol You dare to offend? Xiao Xiongdi, please. With exaggerated movement he step aside as if asking a nobleman to take the lead.

    Inwardly Xu Ziling felt something was really wrong; it looked like You Niaojuan could see through that he was a counterfeit article. Immediately coming to his senses, he examined himself and straightaway saw where he made the mistake. If he were a real Hua Jian Pai disciple, like Hou Xibai, for instance, how could he easily expose his own identity?

    If he could think of the reason, naturally he could also find the solution. Thereupon Xu Ziling deliberately knitted his eyebrows and said, You shouldnt flaunt friendship for Shi Zhixuans sake, because he and I dont have any relationship at all.

    You Niaojuan was stunned and confused at the same time.

    He had intended to stake everything, even at the risk of aggravating his internal injury, to kill this strange young man who knew his identity. As long as nobody found out, he did not care if his Shifu was the King of Heaven himself.

    Xu Ziling tried to urge his internal qi again. Unexpectedly he felt a burst of discomfort and irritation. In his shock he was terrified and came to realize that in his eagerness to save himself, he had violated the big taboo of no-action of the Secret to Long Life by doing action, the big taboo of ten thousand thoughts are silent realm of the Taoist school of thought, hence he started to experience the first stage of fire-deviation. Focusing his attention at once, he looked up to the night sky.

    You Niaojuans voice entered his ears, If what you used just now was really Immortal Print xinfa, yet you said that you have no relationship whatsoever with Shi Zhixuan, then this is really strange. I wonder if Xiao Xiongdi could explain it a bit.

    The sky was densely populated with dots of stars. On this dangerous path on the mountain, the night sky appeared even more clear and penetrating.

    Xu Ziling spoke in great surprise, Why does You Zongzhu [head of a clan/school] suddenly become so polite? I have always been receptive to softness and do not respond well to harshness, so I have no problem in revealing a little for you. But this is a matter of great importance; you must make an oath according to your schools incantation to ensure that you wont revealed it to the third party.

    You Niaojuan threw his head back in long laughter. Gasping for breath, he said, What makes you, this kid whose smell of your mothers milk has not yet dried, think that you can repeatedly ask me to make an oath? I only need to capture you, and then if I want to, you will call me Die [daddy].

    Xu Ziling laughed aloud and said, What a joke. You think you can catch me as soon as you wish to do so? On your guard!

    Suddenly he moved forward, both hands opened horizontally, the two thumbs were pressing toward You Niaojuans eyes, while the other fingers moved up and down like a wave. The technique was strange beyond comprehension.

    Immediately You Niaojuans countenance changed.

    Although Xu Zilings strange move was beyond his depth, it was not the move that shocked him. The reason his countenance changed was because Xu Zilings appearance right now practically did not look like someone who suffered internal injury. The only explanation that he could think of was that Xu Ziling was putting on an act; after You Niaojuan lost his guard, Xu Ziling made his move at full strength to deal with him.

    This thought led him to guess further that the opponent was deliberately waiting here to block his path and to challenge him, taking advantage while You Niaojuan has not recovered from his internal injury to take care of him. Otherwise, how did he know that he was You Niaojuan? Despite what he said, the other party must have some kind of relationship with Shi Zhixuan.

    These thoughts flitted across You Niaojuans mind like a flint spark, which also led him to select the most proper course of action.

    Letting out a strange cry, You Niaojuan flew backward like a ghost, and in an instant disappeared behind the bend on the plank walkway.

    Xu Ziling could not hold it anymore; he spurted a small amount of blood, and slumped down to sit cross-legged.

    A moment when he looked at the night sky, his mind was just like yesterday, when he was watching the waterfall, where ten-thousand changes joined together without any gap between them, so that he managed to blend together a little bit of true qi, which unexpectedly has scared off You Niaojuan, who had become like a bird startled by the mere twang of a bow. He was really extremely lucky.

    He had not sat steadily, a pair of delicate lily-white hands was pressing on his broad shoulders, followed by Wanwans tender-and-soft-as-water voice speaking by his ear, With me protecting you on the side, why must you urge your true qi?

    ※ ※ ※

    One after another Chen Changlin and Kou Zhong landed on the deck of Chen Shengs command ship, and were immediately trapped into a blood soaked and hard-fought struggle.

    Chen Changlin was the first to reach the target command ship; he was like a demon falling down from the smoke and killing the archers standing on the bow looking for their target so that they fell to the east and tumbled to the west. He was just thinking of charging toward the bridge deck above when suddenly more than a dozen warriors in light armor surrounded him. Every one of them had unusually outstanding martial art skill. Although Chen Changlin himself was a Jianghu expert, immediately he found himself unable to move a single cun.

    Fortunately Kou Zhong rushed over in time. Together they brandished their sword and spear, and only then did they snatch back the initiative. Not that they were forced back into the river, but their original plan to quickly look for Chen Sheng as soon as they landed on the ship became just a wishful thinking that came to nothing. More aggravating was that the fire on the burning enemys ships upstream was growing in intensity, wall after wall of thick smoke were blowing over following the tail wind; not only it was difficult to breathe, it was also difficult to see anything. Looking for one person among the disorderly army was easier said than done.

    Kou Zhong no longer hid his strength; unleashing his prowess, he consecutively struck down four enemies. Yet the enemy was still increasing without letup; although the two of them gave it their all, they were still surrounded at the bow of the ship in endlessly hard battle.

    Not too long afterwards many cuts and wounds already appeared on the two mens bodies. They could only disregard everything in dealing with the perilous situation before their eyes, while at the same time feeling something was really wrong; how could Chen Sheng have this many superior martial art masters under his command?

    At this time the number of enemies losing their lives under their sword and spear has reached to at least a dozen, but there were still layer upon layer of martial art masters around them, so that they were stuck in a hard battle.

    Suddenly a familiar voice came from the direction of the upper deck of the ship, saying, Boys, let me take a look who has such guts!

    While Kou Zhong was greatly shaken with horror, the enemies surrounding them followed the order by withdrawing to both sides. Chen Changlin still thought the newcomer was Chen Sheng; he seized the opportunity by rushing out of the opening.

    While Kou Zhong was crying out Bad!, a fast shadow like a ghost swept over to meet Chen Changlin. At the same time, a thick smoke happened to roll by, swallowing Chen Changlin inside it.

    Realizing their situation has turned from bad to worse, Kou Zhong charged through the enemies, who were pouncing back at him from left and right, using the absolute maximum speed he could muster, to fly toward Chen Changlin inside the thick smoke.

    Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

    A series of continuous ringing was heard, followed by Chen Changlins miserable groan. Kou Zhong ran into the staggering-backward Chen Changlin.

    Kou Zhong realized that whether they could survive or not would depend purely on this moment. Moving quickly, he threw himself to crouch on the deck, his long spear shot up from under Chen Changlins crotch, and flew at an angle; like a streak of lightning it flew through the thick smoke to meet the terrifying enemy pursuing over, not worrying whether the opponent would be able to see him or not.

    If the opponent could see him, he certainly could recognize Kou Zhong immediately, because the newcomer was the Universe in His Sleeve Du Fuwei, whose name shook the world.

    Who would have thought that he would be on board this ship?

    This moment Kou Zhong did not have time to consider any grand plan, and could only think about how to escape with their lives intact.

    Even with Du Fuweis brilliance, in this kind of thick smoke, he could only rely on his instinct to sense the spear leaving Kou Zhongs hand in sneak attack; his sleeve swept, Dang! he struck down the spear.

    Although what Kou Zhong had used was not spiraling energy, the momentum was powerful. When striking down the spear, Du Fuwei felt his entire body shook, and he was forced to sway slightly backward. But this split second delay was enough to give Kou Zhong the golden opportunity to escape.

    As soon as the spear left his hand, Kou Zhong grabbed Chen Changlins waist, and then, borrowing the momentum as he rolled around, he turned backward, just before the enemies were closing in, to cross over the approximately two-zhang distance. Midway through he soared into the air to evade the enemys interception, and then threw themselves into the river.

    By the time they fell into the ice-cold water, even Kou Zhong himself was unable to tell whether the operation this time was a success or a failure; he could only surrender everything in Laotianyes hands.

    ※ ※ ※

    With a rueful smile Xu Ziling said, How could there be such a coincidence?

    Wanwans entire tender body was leaning against his back, her arms snaked around his waist and abdomen like a tight hoop, as she was half kneeling behind him. She spoke softly, I was chasing after You Niaojuan, and Feixuan is chasing after me. Whom are you chasing after?

    As early as when Wanwan touched his shoulders, Xu Ziling has been opening up his mind. Putting what little true qi he managed to amass on his dantian, he prepared himself for the worst, trying to see if he could break his own heart meridian to kill himself. As soon as he made up his mind, his heart was free of any obstruction instead. With peaceful heart and tranquil qi he said, Whomever I chase after is none of your business. Are you willing to let me off?

    Wanwans pair of burning hot lily-white hands pressing on his lower abdomen emitted two streams of comfortably warm true qi, squeezing into the ocean of qi under his dantian, giving him a feeling of unspeakable comfort and drowsiness that made him wanting to sleep.

    He heard her gentle and soft voice replying, Of course I am not willing to let you off. Oh, Ziling! Do you know that in this world, you are the only man who can move my heart? Do you know what attracts me the most? Let Wanwan tell you, all right? I love to see your expression of contempt and disdain when you look at me; there has never been any man who looked at me with that kind of expression. Ay! Unexpectedly there is such an icily arrogant man like Xu Lang [term of endearment to address a husband or boyfriend] in the world. Your forehead is high and grand, as if there is infinite wisdom inside. Even when walking on main street and rubbing shoulders with a crowd of people, you are still standoffish, carrying that kind of melancholy and cold and detach nature like you are walking alone in the wilderness. But when you smile, you look so sincere. With this kind of special characters blended together, which woman will be able to resist you?

    When he heard that, on one hand Xu Ziling was dumbstruck, on the other hand he felt her true qi penetrating his lower abdomen was stirring up in him some kind of masculine desire.

    Suddenly, his nostrils were assaulted by Wanwans captivating body scent; furthermore, he seemed to feel her every fiber, her curvaceous and wonderful, well-developed body, brimming with boundless seductive power, stirring up in him the strange feeling that was hidden deep within.

    The worst was that what little true qi he had also disappeared without any trace, so that he became like a piece of meat on the chopping block, for her to manipulate however she wished.

    When it comes to crafty plots and machinations, as well as using trick in a struggle, naturally he was not this Yin Gui Pais most outstanding direct disciple after Zhu Yuyans match.

    Even if he still had all his strength, perhaps he would still fall head first under her hands, let alone he was completely without any power to resist just like right now.

    Knitting his sword-shaped eyebrows, Xu Ziling said, If you, Wanwan, stir up my lust using despicable method, I will look down upon you.

    Wanwan pressed her pretty face on his bloodless cheek; while nibbling his earlobe lightly, she spoke slowly, Xu Lang must not misunderstood. Taoist school emphasizes training the essence and transforming the qi. I just want to examine the secret of your Secret to Long Life, hence I simply must explore your lower part. Cant you just endure it for a bit longer?

    Because his qi was bounded, Xu Ziling was unable to do anything about it, hence he had to shut up.

    At the same time, in his heart he was thinking about demonic schools people, who had no regard for others feeling and abandoned righteousness, who, with thousand ways, a hundred plans, prevented themselves to be aroused to passion toward anybody. Even when they wanted to bear and raise children, they would select the man they loathed the most to have intercourse; Zhu Yuyan choosing Yue Shan was one example.

    Earlier Wanwan confessed to have fallen in love with him, therefore, she wanted to kill him.

    Currently Wanwan has progressed from completely fake to be somewhat real, so much so that she poured out her deep feeling toward him, without any misgivings at all; therefore, there was a very high possibility that this was a prelude to her killing him.

    Wanwans true qi continued to make strange things happen within his body. She said, After resolving this matter with Xu Lang, Wanwan will run after You Niaojuan, taking advantage of his injury to kill him, and take him back as a sacrifice for Xu Langs soul and spirit [of the deceased]!

    While Xu Ziling was crying Im done for! inwardly, Wanwan suddenly exclaimed, Huh?, and withdrew her lily-white hands, while hiding behind him.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling looked up. To his surprise, You Niaojuan came back.

  16. #276
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 9

    Book 23 Chapter 9 Theres A Way To Reverse The Rotation Of The Sky


    The burnt vessels were sinking one by one, leaving only a small amount of smoke slowly rising to the sky. Under the starlight, the hundred or so Jianghui Navy fleet of warships and cargo ships were berthing on both sides of the river. It was impossible to guess what their next move would be.

    The Shaoshuai Army, composed of Jiangnan younger generation troops, have been evacuated safely, only they had to swim away, because all seven warships have been wiped out completely, and have to be written off as lost assets to them.

    Kou Zhong and Luo Qifei stayed behind in a nearby forest, to watch Jianghuai Armys movement from a distance. Chen Changlin originally wanted to stay to watch the outcome, but because he suffered loss due to Du Fuweis wrath, Kou Zhong had Bu Tianzhi send him off so that he could recover in time.

    Luo Qifei whispered in his ear, Altogether we destroyed twenty-three of their cargo ships, and damaged three warships and seven light boats. This battles outcome is not bad at all.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, Too bad this kind of battles outcome is not enough to stop Old Du from attacking Jiangdu. I just hope that Old Du would examine Gu Juns spear; otherwise, this time we are ruining the enterprise for the sake of one basketful.

    Suddenly Luo Qifei shook; he said, The ships are starting to move!

    Focusing his attention, Kou Zhong looked up. He saw Du Fuweis command ship was sailing downstream, but then made a sharp turn; unexpectedly they returned to where they were coming from. One after another the other ships followed suit.

    The two looked at each other. They both saw the excitement in each others eyes.

    Finally Du Fuwei was duped.

    Precisely because he suspected that the man attacking him was Shen Lun that he canceled his trip to Jiangdu. Without first removing this threat, Shen Lun, how could he dare to attack Jiangdu at the risk of facing danger from both sides?

    ※ ※ ※

    You Niaojuan stopped about two zhang away. His eyes fell onto the bloodstain in front of Xu Zilings knees; laughing demonically, he said, I have indeed guessed correctly that, you, this stinky kid is really an arrow at the end of its flight, it was practically a false bravado. Ol You only need to pocket you, you are nearly crawling on the ground.

    Inwardly Xu Ziling thought that You Niaojuan, you have come just in time, thereupon he deliberately provoked him to make his move. Having this brutal life [not sure, 残生], he spoke in displeasure, Old You, you have fallen into the trap again! I spat this blood to deceive you. If you dont believe me, just pull the single-legged copper man from your back and pound it on Laozi to give it a try. Ha! You are a stupid, pathetic mother thief.

    You Niaojuan noticed that Xu Zilings expression looked spiritless and haggard, yet his mouth was still hard and aggressive like that; he could not help feeling stunned. And then an evil grin appearing on the corners of his mouth, he wrinkled his face until every single line was prominent, and with a howl of laughter he said, Good kid, you are really quite something! In this kind of plight you still refuse to die. I just want to see what are you going to do? You have the cheek to speak conceited nonsense.

    With a loud roar and lightning speed he sent a punch over empty space.

    Xu Ziling was amused inwardly; You Niaojuan sending a punch from a zhang away, clearly he was testing the water, which showed his paranoid innate character.

    However, although he was internally injured, this punch was not a small matter. A biting cold qi power that toppled the mountains and overturned the seas surged over, with a pulling force hidden within. Evidently, although on the surface this punch carried torrential momentum, the goal was still to capture Xu Ziling alive.

    Xu Ziling felt Wanwans delicate jade palms pressing on his back; a stream of swiftly moving, unfathomable, seemingly empty yet solid, yin and soft in nature, yet abundant and unstoppable, fantastic true qi like a tidal wave burst into his meridians.

    Immediately Xu Ziling felt his entire body was full of energy, he felt as if this uncontainable stream of astonishing demonic true qi was leaking out of his body, his five viscera and six bowels could not be protected, he could not help extending his fingers toward You Niaojuan to poke remotely.

    Chi!

    Like a tidal torrent a surge of qi power flowed along the Yangming meridian and Taiyin meridian on the outside and inside of his right hand and burst forth, passing through Quchi, Hegu, Sanjian, Erjian, Yunmen, Shaoshang, various acupoints, so that all of them became intolerably yin and cold, until finally it shot out from the Shangyang acupoint of the second finger, piercing toward the enemy.

    In that instant, he grasped the principle of the Tian Mo Da Fas true qi flow and its passage through the acupoints and arteries and veins, which was indeed very different from the Secret to Long Life. Other than Ren and Du, two main meridians, the meridians that the Demonic Qi was using did not differ much from the Secret to Long Life. However, the main emphasis was on the twelve auxiliary straight passages, which were Taiyin lung passage, hands Yangming large intestine passage, foots Taiyin spleen passage, hands Shaoyin heart passage, hands Taiyang small intestine passage, foots Taiyang urinary bladder passage, foots Shaoyin kidney passage, hands Jueyin pericardium passage, hands Shaoyang three truncal cavities passage, foots Shaoyang gall bladder passage, foots Jueyin liver passage, and foots Yangming stomach passage.

    Starting from the Taiyin, ending on the Jueyin, relying mainly on the Ren and Du, two main meridians, it flowed in a cycle, like a circle with no beginning and no end. Although the direction of the flow could vary, it could still be searched through the arteries and veins, following the hands three yin, from the viscera to the hand; or from the hands three yang, which was from the hand to the head. From the foots three yang, from head go down to foot; from the foots three yin, from foot going to the abdomen. Ten thousand changes not departed from this cardinal rule.

    It was as if Wanwan leaked a bit of Tian Mo Zhen Qi to Xu Ziling.

    Xu Zilings heart was moved, he suddenly thought of one possibility to avoid his predestined fate this time.

    Wham!

    The finger wind violently pierced the fist power.

    The strangest thing happened.

    Wanwans jade palm pressed on his back suddenly became as cold as ice and snow, while at the same time it generated a sucking force a lot more brilliant and mysterious than You Niaojuans pulling force, so that unexpectedly most of You Niaojuans power was pulled over, but was suddenly pushed out just before it entered Xu Zilings meridians.

    Xu Ziling was aware of the peculiarity of the Tian Mo Da Fa, he was waiting for precisely this moment. By way of Tian Mo Da Fas totally different way of circulating qi along the meridians, the moment it cycled back, he seized the opportunity to borrow part of Wanwans true qi. Because Wanwan wanted to control the true qi within his body, while she had to deal with You Niaojuan, whose demonic skill was outstanding, unexpectedly he managed to conceal it from her.

    You Niaojuans countenance changed immediately. His punch turned into a palm, with which he drew a circle, while flying backward at the same time in an extremely sorry situation.

    Positioned between the two, Xu Ziling had to admire You Niaojuan, not only for his profound demonic power, but also for his fast and brilliant ability in meeting a contingency; unexpectedly as soon as he knew the situation was bad, he changed his move instantly, by withdrawing his qi power, changing from disregarding everything in head-on confrontation to dispersing the power and fleeing away. It was such an extremely ingenious move. Otherwise it would be difficult for him to escape unscathed.

    The upper part of You Niaojuans body swayed before he was able to steady his footing. His face became extremely ugly, his eyes shone with ominous glint, as he spoke sternly, Kid, who are you? Whats your relationship with Zhu Yaofu [(older) female demon/witch]?

    Wanwans palm left Xu Zilings back; she withdrew all her true qi, but she did not know that a stream still remained in Xu Zilings body, silently battering his blocked meridians.

    He was hiding the true qi in his yongquan acupoint on the sole of his foot, and then released it a strand by a strand to heal the injured acupoints and channels.

    This moment there was nothing he liked better than talking nonsense to stall for time; therefore, he sighed and with calm smile said, If I tell you that Zhu Yuyan, Zhu Yaofu is my archenemy, I wonder if you, Old You, would believe me?

    Stunned, You Niaojuan asked, Didnt you just use Tian Mo Da Fa?

    Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Xu Ziling replied, At its highest level, demonic schools big method [Da Fa] are all singing different tune but using the same skill, able to control the true qi as one wishes, with countless changes, more and more emerge. Immortal Print method is not inferior in any respect to Tian Mo Da Fa; no wonder you, Old You, could misunderstand.

    Wanwans delicate hand was pressing on his back again, while Tian Mo Qi gushing into his body.

    You Niaojuan was a little discouraged; half believing half doubting, he asked, Then who are you?

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, You want to know? Its easy. Just before reaching the nether world, I will tell you.

    Laughing evilly, You Niaojuan said, All right! Let me see if you really have that kind of weigh.

    The single-legged copper man appeared in his hand.

    Xu Ziling pushed out both palms.

    Greatly astonished, You Niaojuan said, Is your martial art can only be put to use sitting down on the ground?

    While speaking, the single-legged copper man in his hand made two rapid rotations, and the moment it gained enough momentum, and was about half a zhang away from Xu Ziling, it struck down at full force.

    The objective of this strike was to kill the enemy in one shot; the momentum was greatly different to his previous attack just a moment ago. The single-legged copper man produced whistling noise like a violent storm scraping against the canyon walls; it also seemed like piercing through the sky above and the earth below. Although it was released in such a short distance, in terms of speed and angle, the copper man still carried subtle changes, so that it was difficult to know when it would hit, and where it would strike; it was a clear that this vicious man, who was listed among the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way, did not carry his title in vain. If he had not suffered internal injury, perhaps even Wanwan would not dare to meet his full-strength strike head-on.

    But Wanwan also displayed her reaching-universally-shocking-level skill.

    Her Tian Mo Qi burst into Xu Zilings Yangming and Taiyin, two passages, and then like the Great River separated into its tributaries, it went straight toward his ten fingers. Without him being able to control it, Xu Zilings both hands clawed the empty air in front of him to remotely control the opponents copper man pounding toward him.

    You Niaojuan suddenly fluttered lightly, as if he had no strength and was feeling unwell. On the contrary, his copper man has become heavier than a thousand catty, yet it was difficult to advance a single cun. However, this was purely his feeling; for a spectator on the sideline, there was no difference at all, his copper man was still striking down like a gale onto Xu Ziling, who was still sitting cross-legged on the ground.

    Xu Ziling, who was as the center of the two combatants pitted themselves against each other in demonic power, felt his breathing became rugged, his entire body felt aching all over, his skin and flesh felt about to burst, his eardrums hurt so much. Other than the noise produced by the copper man, which sounded like ten million ghosts of those who died unjustly wailing and screaming in their strange howling sound, he could not hear anything else.

    Xu Ziling closed his eyes to relieve the unbearably tremendous force pressing down on his eyelids.

    Tian Mo Zhen Qi was suddenly withdrawn, and then was released again. One suck and one spit, in just the blink of an eye, it made sharp difference in the outcome of the battle.

    You Niaojuan felt as if he was trying to push a ten-thousand-catty heavy boulder with all his strength, but suddenly the boulder became as light as a feather. The pain and discomfort of such a wrong usage of strength could be easily imagined.

    You Niaojuan almost tumbled forward; aghast, he quickly reduced thirty-percent of his strength. In this frightening moment, the Tian Mo real power rolled back to meet his copper man.

    Boom!

    Xu Ziling changed his claw into palm, heavily slapping the copper mans yellow shiny bald head.

    A spectator who was not involved the battle would not know the subtlety and mystery of these various changes.

    Qi power was raging.

    You Niaojuan only took a step back, the copper man was changing again; it struck five times in a row with increasing strength, swift and severe to the extreme point, showing that he had the qualification to become Zhu Yuyans match.

    Xu Ziling suddenly opened his tiger-mouth and laughed aloud, With Immortal Print technique, you cant kill me, no matter what. Dont you get it?

    Putting his finger together into a palm chop, he sliced left and right. No matter from which angle You Niaojuans copper man was striking, he was always one step ahead in chopping it with his palm, producing a series of extremely irritating Bang! Bang! noise.

    While You Niaojuan was admittedly amazed and greatly puzzled, Wanwans fragrant heart was in turmoil as well. Since the battle began, Xu Ziling has always been under her control; if she wanted him to punch, he would punch, if she wanted him to raise his hand, he would raise his hand. But these several palm chops were Xu Zilings own moves, which, after absorbing the Tian Mo Qi from her, he transmitted it via meridians and acupoints that she could not understand, from yin and soft to yang and hard.

    To a very large extent, it could be said that under the circumstances, she and Xu Ziling were life and death partners who shared both the honor and the disgrace; if she presumptuously retracted her true qi, while Xu Ziling would definitely die under You Niaojuans copper man, she would be affected as well; her feet was already too deep in the mud, she could not stop even if she wanted to.

    Plus this should not have happened.

    Basically, she was borrowing force to counter the force; she was a great expert and was extremely skillful in playing with the Tian Mo Qi to follow her hearts desires. Yet even after self-examination, she had to admit that she never encountered something like this, where after receiving her true qi, the other person was able to use it for his own benefit, and in a flash was able to transform it into his own. It was indeed such a marvelous skill.

    It wasnt clear whether Xu Zilings He Shi Bi Shen Gong [divine skill/power from Jade Annulus of He Clan] has been trained to such level, simply by adding a slight alteration, he was able to treat You Niaojuan like the evil qi of the Jade Annulus of He Clan that could destroy the heart and split the lungs, and Wanwan was like Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan in the past.

    Relying on the true qi he borrowed earlier, Xu Ziling pulled Wanwans innate true qi, but did not flow it through the twelve straight passages but diverted it through his Secret to Long Life passages, and changed it naturally to become his own true qi, which could subdue the enemy, while also healing his internal injury; one move, two gains. The delight in his heart was difficult to describe.

    Being hacked down by his palm, You Niaojuan let out strange cry repeatedly. The most irritating thing was that no matter how he changed his move, the opponent was always able to move one step ahead by cutting it. And the palm chop was always heavier than the previous one, the moves were increasingly more exquisite, every strike was like the divine stroke of a pen in a miraculous hand.

    With a sudden long whistle, Xu Ziling stooped down and shot out off the ground. His eyes shot strange light, with a twist of his waist he attacked You Niaojuan in one move, executing an extremely fierce counterattack.

    Finally You Niaojuan caught a glimpse of Wanwan behind him; his countenance changed dramatically and he screamed wildly, Its so infuriating! Swinging the single-legged copper man, he parried Xu Zilings fist, and then flew backward and disappeared behind a bend on the plank walkway, but his voice was still heard from far away, The time my injury is healed will be the time of your, this pair of Yin Gui dog man and woman, death.

    Xu Ziling turned around to face the beautiful Wanwan, who was standing within his reach. Shrugging his shoulders in such an elegant manner, he said, You failed to kill me again! Would Miss like to keep trying?

    Two clumps of red cloud, which made her look even more tender and beautiful beyond comprehension, flew across Wanwans sparkling and translucent, penetrating jade cheeks. Stomping her foot, she said, You, this dead little thief wicked scoundrel, tricked me into pouring so much of my hearts content. You must compensate me.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling stared blankly at her.

    Smiling sweetly, Wanwan said, You, this kid, really have some ability; just now you were mentioning Immortal Print technique, was it Shi Feixuan who told you that?

    Xu Ziling came to his senses; the touching image of Wanwan revealing her hearts content just now was still fluttering in his mind, so that he had to constantly remind himself that she was callous and ruthless. Sneering, he said, You should know that between you and me, there is nothing to say.

    Helpless, Wanwan smiled indifferently and said, Almost forget that you are a stubborn kid. All right! You dont want me to ask, then I wont ask. Where are you heading now? If you refuse to tell me, I will follow closely behind you like a diao xue gui [lit. hanging-boots ghost]. I want to see if you have appointment to see Shi Feixuan, I will be jealous.

    Xu Ziling felt a big headache; frankly speaking, if Wanwan did not look for him to fight, it could be considered his good fortune. On this kind of high mountain, big mountain ridge, where the plank walkway was the only way to go, practically there was no way he could cast her away. And if that happened, perhaps he would not even be able to sleep.

    Smiling wryly, he said, If I told you, would you leave me alone and we go our separate ways?

    Wanwan moved forward a little. Three more cun, and she would be in his bosom. Only then did she stand charmingly; looking up at his heroic, outstanding face, she spoke softly, How could I do anything that will make you unhappy? Just by listening to your exchange with You Niaojuan a moment ago, I know what you are going to do in Sichuan!

    Turning her tender body around, Wanwan gracefully started to walk leisurely in the direction of Sichuan.

    The only thing she left behind was her intoxicating fragrance.

  17. #277
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 10

    Book 23 Chapter 10 Lantern Festival in Chengdu


    One year became a city, two years became a capital, [Orig. Chengyi and Chengdu, respectively. Not sure if Chengyi is a places name, Google did not give me good information.] hence the origin of the name Chengdu [capital of Sichuan, lit. becomes capital].

    During the Warring States period [475-221 BC], in the autumn of the ninth year of his reign, King Huiwen of Qin [reigned 338-311 BC] dispatched senior official Zhang Yi [political strategist, born before 329 309 BC] and Sima Cuo to lead large army to attack Shu [short name for Sichuan], annexing it and called it Shu Jun [county], with Chengdu as the junzhi [seat of the principal county magistrate].

    The following year King of Qin accepted Zhang Yis proposal to build Chengdu county seat.

    Based on comprehensive survey of the successive dynasties in the establishment of the city, whether in term of the rugged mountain, or the possession of water conservation system, only Chengdu had no danger threatening its existence, but there was no benefit of the waterway either. Furthermore, the town site was on the low-lying areas of the plains; it was wet and rainy, and there were a lot of marshes nearby, which requires manpower to improve it.

    In order to build the city, the people of Shu have been digging around a lot. The areas where the dirt was removed became large ponds. The well-known ones included Liu Chi [lit. willow pond] at the west side of the city, the Tianjing Chi [lit. sky well (courtyard) pond] at the northwest side of the city, the Ximo Chi [lit. washing the ink stick], Wansui Chi [lit. ten-thousand years (i.e. long live)] at the north side of the city, and the Qiansui Chi [lit. thousand years] at the east side of the city. These ponds could irrigate the good agricultural land, to raise fish and produce grains, but could also serve as natural barrier in the east, west, and north, three sides, during wartime.

    On top of that, during King Zhao of Qin, the defender of Shu, Li Bing [c. 230 BC, historical hydraulic engineer] built Dujiangyan, forming a unique water conservation system, which solved flood disaster, irrigation, and water transport, three major problems of the Chengdu Plains.

    Chengdus city wall had twelve li perimeter, seven zhang high walls, and was divided into two sections: Tai Cheng and Shao Cheng [major and minor city, respectively]. Tai Cheng was on the east, about seven li wide, Shao Cheng on the west, not even five li wide.

    At the beginning of Sui dynasty, Chengdu was the seat of Yizhou [name of old state in modern Sichuan] Zongguan Mansion [its a generic name for governmental office buildings], which then reverted back to its former name, Shu Jun.

    Tai Cheng was the seat of government agencies and residential areas; it was the center of politics. Shao Cheng was mainly business district, the most famous was Nan Shi [south market], where skillful artisans of a hundred arts, rich merchants and huge traders, as well as peddlers and carriers engaged in business, do their work and live peacefully.

    Before setting off in his journey, Xu Ziling has inquired from Bai Wenyuan about Chengdus current situation.

    As it turned out, when the Sui government collapsed, the leaders of the three major powers of Sichuan, Duzun Baos [see Book 22 Chapter 6] Xie Hui, Chuan Bangs [lit. Sichuan Gang] Fan Zhuo, who was known as Spear Hegemon or Spear King, and Ba Mengs [East Sichuan Alliance] Monkey King Feng Zhen, held a meeting to decide the fate of the Shu people. They decided to retain the original former Sui dynastys officials and governmental structure, and changed the name of Shu Jun to Yizhou [see above]. In order to show the difference between the old and the new, the new policy was backed by the three major powers; neither one declared himself king, nor proclaimed himself hegemon, they decided to wait for the advent of the Bright Ruler.

    It was said that all of these were facilitated by the Wulin PanGuan Xie Hui [magistrate/judge of Wulin, Book 22 Chapter 3]. Thus, it was clear that this man had an outstanding insight, he knew that Sichuan received protection from the mountain and the water, plus the people were simple and honest, they ardently loved the self-sufficient life, and wished to hold a small part of the territory; therefore, they had no place in the power struggle.

    After hastening in his journey for three days straight, Xu Ziling paid the tax to enter the city just before nightfall. He wanted to take a rest for one night, and continued on to Huanglong [lit. yellow dragon] in the morning to look for Shi Qingxuans secluded forest in the small valley.

    The fact was that his internal injury has not been completely healed; he still needed a good nights rest to preserve and nurture his spirit in order to deal with any danger that might happen suddenly.

    As soon as he entered the gate, Xu Ziling felt Shu peoples relative ignorance of the chaos of war in the Central Plains; the rising and peaceful prosperity, the extravagant of the rich and powerful, have made them stand aloof from worldly affairs.

    The first thing that caught his eyes was countless colored lanterns; some were hanging outside the door of the businesses and residential buildings, some were brought by the pedestrians. Children were flocking together, frolicking with portable lanterns in their hands, in all kinds of colors, shapes and sizes, strange, skillfully made, glorious and dazzling.

    Girls were dressed in lovely scene of blossoming plants swaying in the breeze [or simply: gorgeously]; Qiang [ethnic group] girls magnificent clothes and beautiful dresses were brimming with exotic romance. Charming laughs and playful noises rose and fell in succession, overflowing shops stood in great numbers along the main street leading to the city gate. On the crowded street [orig. not one drop can trickle through], firecrackers noise was unending, green smoke rose up everywhere; the city was full of holiday atmosphere.

    Xu Ziling counted the day, and suddenly realized that it was the Mid-Autumn Festival [15th day of the 8th month, lunar calendar]; he could not help looking up at the full moon, which light was somewhat hidden by the smoke and the fire. A familiar feeling welled up in his heart, but there was also a little bit of out-of-place feeling with the warm atmosphere around him.

    After leaving Yangzhou, he and Kou Zhong had lost the mood to celebrate any holiday; this was perhaps the price of contention over the world!

    Peace and prosperity ought to look like the scene before his eyes. His heart could not help being touched.

    If Susu were still alive, she would be very happy to join him in the fun.

    Suddenly, he was sucked into the city market, which was brimming with life of passion, lantern shadows and candlelight, as he rubbed shoulders with the tide of people slowly moving along the street. Multistoried buildings and pavilions stood on both sides of the street, none was not decorated with lanterns and colored banners; all were opening their door to let the people enjoy the gaiety. Richer households invited musicians and performing artists to liven things up; elated, extravagant, and delightful. There was the surreal feeling of morning-exhausted-for-an-extreme-evening, falling-forward-in-bewilderment and losing-consciousness-because-of-the-wine.

    For a time, Xu Ziling did not know where to go.

    In the bustling and fiery festive atmosphere, suddenly there was something thrown at him from who-knows-where. Xu Ziling easily caught it. Turned out it was an embroidered ball. Stunned, he looked up to see, and in the depths of the lights, he saw a woman standing on the opposite street among a group of children burning firecrackers, staring at him through the gauzed veil covering her face.

    Even in the night when the girls dressed like butterflies contending to be the most beautiful, she did not reveal her pretty face, jade countenance. Yet her graceful and amazingly handsome figure still made her stand out like a crane among a flock of chicken.

    It was that kind of familiarity.

    In just this one glance, he already recognized Shi Qingxuan.

    More than a dozen Qiang maidens walked by hand-in-hand while laughing tenderly between he and she. Seeing Xu Zilings elegant appearance and tall, well-built stature, their pretty eyes lit up while sending him repetitious amorous glances.

    While Xu Ziling was hindered that he was unable to move a single step, Shi Qingxuan lifted her delicate hand to slowly remove the gauzed veil covering her face, exposing the lower part of her nose. Suddenly, the cacophony of playful laughter around him seemed to be rapidly fading; although the crowded thoroughfare and overflowing alleys in the surrounding area were filled with hundreds and thousands of tourists taking advantage of the festival, he felt that between the Heaven and the Earth, there was no third person apart from him and Shi Qingxuan. Although the two were separated by a four-zhang wide street filled with people and passing carriages, yet in his eyes, there was no barrier at all.

    It was an indescribable feeling. Although he was still unable to get a full view of her, yet this slight revelation of her could make him feel even more familiar and comfortable. It was as if by her action, she was telling him, Here you go! I am showing you some! in a touching manner. Compared to her deliberately putting on an ugly nose or disguising herself in rough, swarthy complexion, the beautiful scenery before his eyes was indeed an extremely pleasant surprise.

    The first thing that impressed him the most was her slender, delicate and clean, smooth-like-satin-brocade neck, which extended out like a swans neck of her plain yellow gown, which made her appeared even more delicate and pretty beyond human comprehension. It was a totally different kind of beauty; it was some kind of extraordinary beauty.

    It was precisely because the top half of her face was hidden behind the veil that he paid particular attention to the previously overlooked part. In fact, he never tried to look at her from a males perspective.

    By the time his gaze shifted from her exquisitely charming chin to her two fragrant lips, which appeared to store abundant feelings inside except that she had never been willing to reveal the feelings, but merely appeared a little bit happy and a little bit angry, it looked like her lips were moving. Although there was no audible sound, from the way the mouth was moving, Xu Ziling could read her loud and clear, You finally came.

    Xu Ziling was about to squeeze his way through the crowd, Shi Qingxuan suddenly put down her veil, while his line of sight was also blocked by a big and tall man.

    Xu Xiong, how are you?

    Startled, Xu Ziling looked up. Turned out it was the Mad Scholar of Henan Zheng Shiru. And then, when he tried to look over his shoulders across the street, Shi Qingxuan had disappeared in the crowd without a shadow, just as sudden as her appearance.

    Astonished, Zheng Shiru looked back following his gaze, and asked in surprise, Did Xu Xiong see your acquaintance?

    Having an extremely close miss, Xu Ziling nearly wanted to give Zheng Shiru a good beating, but naturally he must not let him know about Shi Qingxuan. Frowning, he said, Nothing! I was just looking around!

    Acting friendly, Zheng Shiru pulled his arm; without asking whether Xu Ziling wanted to go or not, he spoke like an old friend, as they were walking together, Why did Xu Xiong arrive so late? This morning I sent someone to meet you at the gate.

    Not in a good mood, Xu Ziling said, When I left, Zheng Xiong was still in Shangyong, how did you arrive here earlier than Xiaodi?

    Zheng Shiru let go of his arm and said with a laugh, Xu Xiong left too hastily! Zaixia and Zheng Dangjia actually wanted to invite you to take the boat and come here via the waterway. While saving our legs, we can also feast our eyes on the beautiful scenery of the Three Gorges, the magnificently steep Qutang Gorge, the serenely beautiful Wuxia Gorge, and the rapids on the shore of Xiling Gorge. Each one has its distinguishing feature; there is no road beyond the rocks, no sky when the clouds open, they could be considered the wonders of the Great River.

    He spoke powerful, resounding words, to the point of with embellishing power, combined with the haughty air that arbitrarily emerged from beneath the surface; although Xu Ziling was sure that he was a Yin Gui Pai demon, or at least had a close relationship with Zhu Yuyan, Xu Ziling still found it difficult to think of malicious thing about him.

    Xu Ziling was still thinking about how to get away from Zheng Shiru so that he could look for Shi Qingxuan, when Zheng Shiru suddenly produced a pot of wine seemingly out of nowhere, took a couple of mouthful first, and then stuffed it into Xu Zilings hands.

    This moment, because the mention of the Three Gorges brought to his mind Shi Feixuan and Hou Xibai traveling together, plus he smelled the wine aroma permeating the whole place, he reckoned that Zheng Shiru would not play a trick in poisoning him; besides, poison could not harm him anyway, thereupon he resolutely took a big mouthful. When returning the wine pot to Zheng Shiru, the fragrant, thick and burning liquor passed through his throat and went straight to his intestines and viscera. Good wine! he could not help praising.

    Zheng Shiru raised the wine pot again and drank another mouthful; letting out a loud burb, he put his hand on Xu Zilings shoulder and sang, Returning very late at night heavily intoxicated, needing help to enter the chamber as if not yet awake, helplessly drunk, brewing musk-deer-mixed-with-orchid-scent wine. Frightened to sleep, chuckling gently. How long can the road of life be?

    Tipsy feeling burst forth, when this kind of decadent song lyric that for generations came spontaneously out of the wine one time drunk solved a thousand anxieties, entered his ears, Xu Ziling modestly felt that within his singing voice, there was a faint desolate, solemn and stirring feeling. He could not help feeling his ill will toward this man was reduced by thirty-percent.

    With heroic, fervent air, Zheng Shiru said, I dont know why, but when I see Xu Xiong, I feel like we are kindred spirits. Tonight, we wont go home before we are drunk. Let us go up to the San Hua Lou, the most famous in Chuan Shu, equally famous with Shanglin Yuan of ChangAn, Guanzhong, to the top floor where we can gaze afar, accompanied by beauties, to enjoy the bright moon of the Mid-Autumn.

    Recalling that he and Kou Zhong were doomed to have bad luck whenever they visited a brothel, Xu Ziling was startled, Zheng Xiong is too polite! he said, Please forgive Xiaodi for not able to accompany you.

    Pulling him to the side of the road to avoid a group of children running around with lanterns in their hands, Zheng Shiru asked in astonishment, Does Xu Xiong have an important matter to attend to?

    Feeling a bit guilty, Xu Ziling did not want to lie to him, thereupon he replied honestly, Tomorrow I do, but the road is long and hard, so I want to rest a bit early today. When I have the opportunity some other day, I will accompany Zheng Xiong.

    Zheng Shiru smiled and said, If Xu Xiong wants to have a good rest, you ought to let Zaixia take care of it even more. I can guarantee that everywhere you go in the city, you wont find an inn or a hotel where you can sleep tonight.

    Xu Ziling only need to look at the people constantly bumping arms and knocking shoulders with them, and he already believed him 90%. Without any better option, he said, Zheng Xiong, please dont worry, someone already reserved a room for me in advance. Therefore, tonights lodging shouldnt be a problem.

    By now he was bent on leaving Zheng Shiru so that he could go look for beautiful Shi; thereupon he had to casually invent some crazy nonsense.

    Zheng Shiru laughed aloud and said, Exactly which inn is that?

    Xu Ziling cursed him inwardly. Having no other choice, he mentioned the name that Shi Feixuan gave him, the Yuelai Inn in the south side of the city, because that was the only hotel he knew by name in Chengdu.

    Zheng Shiru was slightly startled. Shrugging his shoulders, he said, Since thats the case, let Zaixia take Xu Xiong there. If there is any problem, this humble brother can make other arrangement.

    Xu Ziling was quite surprised, as well as puzzled, by his cordiality. Thinking that a bit later he might have to suffer embarrassment when his lie was uncovered, he smiled wryly and said, Zheng Xiong is indeed a true friend.

    Zheng Shiru led him in the direction of the south market. Pointing to a tall building towering under the bright moonlight in the southwesterly direction, he said, That is Zhangyi Lou [reminder: lou multistory building], built to commemorate Zhang Yi building the city in the past. From the top floor we can see the permanently snow-capped Yulei Mountain about a hundred li away, as well as the Neijiang and Waijiang [inner and outer rivers, respectively] flowing out of the Dujiangyan and winding around the city. The scenery is extremely beautiful.

    Astonished, Xu Ziling said, Zheng Xiong is very familiar with Chengdu.

    Zheng Shiru suddenly sighed and said, I was wondering if Xu Xiong is extremely wary toward me, Zheng Shiru?

    Xu Ziling has never expected that from introducing Chengdus scenic spot, he would suddenly change subject to such a sensitive question. Why would Zheng Xiong say such thing? he asked indifferently.

    To tell you the truth, Zheng Shiru began, This time Shiru came here specifically to find Xu Xiong, because I want to have a good chat with Xu Xiong, to clarify some unnecessary misunderstanding; would Xu Xiong be willing to listen to me?

    Xu Ziling sneered inwardly; when he was impersonating Yue Shan, he had personally seen that Zheng Shiru and Zhu Yuyan had some kind of relationship. If right now, with graceful words, flowery speech he denied that he belonged to Yin Gui Pai, then Xu Ziling might as well shed all pretense of cordiality by scolding him directly and driving him away, so that he would not follow him and be a hindrance. Xu Ziling was already tired of being hopelessly muddled with Zheng Shiru like this; he just hated to punch a smiling person like that in anger!

    Cold and indifferent, he replied, Xiaodi is listening with respectful attention.

    Zheng Shiru lowered his head. While continued walking, he appeared to be deep in thought. Finally, half a day later he shook his head and said with a wry smile, I am the kind of person who, one, have a bad name, two, do not seek favor. But for my love of wine and beauty, some people jokingly call me mad scholar of wine and women. Although it has derogatory meaning, to me, it is as sweet as syrup [idiom, from Book of Songs: to endure hardship gladly].

    The two turned into a side alley. Obviously there were a lot less pedestrians, but there was a group of foreign girls coming over, singing and dancing, wearing buttoned Chinese jacket without collar and short-sleeved gown on the top, plus several items of covering garments. The hem of their skirt was semi-circular, with streamer girthed their waist, while the back of their waist was folded into a pair of triangular floating ribbon hanging behind their back, in embroidered silk with decorative design, beautiful and dazzling to the eyes, linked to the pleated skirt on the lower part of their body, flared like morning glory flower, which emphasized their prominent and well-developed figure when they were walking. The pleated skirt swayed as if the lower garment was treading on clouds; what is true and what is false complimented each other. There was an extremely implicit charm, enhanced by the dazzling headdress, earrings, and breast ornaments. Xu Zilings eyes could not take it all in; he found it mesmerizing and amusing.

    Zheng Shiru said, They are Yi girls. The skirts they are wearing could not be considered wide. The skirts of Nakhi and Pumi girls in Bashus Lugu Lake region are wider than you ever thought. Dont imagine that you could make it without several zhang of fabric folded together.

    Xu Ziling pulled his eyes away from the girls full of dynamic alluring back, and asked in bewilderment, Such a wide skirt, how are they wearing it?

    Putting on an air of the expert, Zheng Shiru said, Wrapping it several times around their body is a common thing, the rest of it will be tucked behind their waist, so that it will look like they are carrying something behind their back, very distinctive. Ha! Xu Xiong is so handsome, tall and straight, when you pass through the road where Yi people live, you must be careful. Yi women are beautiful; even more so, they are bold and passionate. Once they entangle you, they will never let you go, its not something that you can solve by walking away.

    Inwardly Xu Ziling blew out a mouthful of cold air; thinking that fortunately when that group of Yi girls was throwing flirtatious glances at him, he did not respond by smiling. Otherwise, he might not be able to get away, just like Zheng Shirus current wretched state.

    Zheng Shiru silently led him turning to the left and branching to the right along the streets where people were coming and going, until they reached a more secluded side street. He spoke in heavy voice, Please forgive Zaixia for one thing Id like to ask about: why did Xu Xiong and Kou Xiong arbitrarily assert that Qian Duguans favorite concubine Bai Qinger is a Yin Gui Pai person?

    Xu Ziling thought the time has come; halting his steps, he spoke indifferently, Have we read wrong?

    From a house somewhere came the sound of drums and happy music, while a group of children parading along the street with lanterns in their hands was coming straight toward them, full of festive pomp.

    Contrary to Xu Zilings expectation, Zheng Shiru said, Not only she is Yin Gui Pai person, she is also Wanwans Shimei, her position is very high. Her husband-concubine relationship is just a pretense, but this is a top secret. However, Xu Xiong and Kou Xiong seem to be able to see it through quite effortlessly.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling looked at him. Straight to the point [orig. to open the door and see the mountain] he asked, In that case, which position and what responsibility does Zheng Xiong have within the Yin Gui Pai?

    He has finally reached the limit of his patience, and did not wish to beat around the bush any longer.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong unleashed three saber strikes in a row, hacking his subordinates that they were falling to the east and tumbling to the west. This moment, Chen Changlin, Luo Qifei, Chen Laomou, and Bu Tianzhi, four men, were coming to see him. Hurriedly he shouted his order, You guys continue to practice.

    He came into the hall with the four and sat down. Are you here to invite me to enjoy the Mid-Autumn moon? he said with a laugh.

    Chen Laomou looked out the window at the saber and sword coming and going outside. Kou Zhong had personally picked ten young men from the Jiangnan Army to be trained as his personal bodyguards. He said, Shao Shuai indeed have a skill in training the army.

    Looking at the inner courtyard sprinkled with the moonlight, Kou Zhong recalled four of his men who came with him transporting salt to the north, where three of them met with a violent death under Yin Gui Pais hands, and ones whereabouts was unknown; his heart turned intensely cold and aching, he only nodded slightly in response.

    Luo Qifei, who had hastened back recently, spoke heavily, After returning to Qingliu, Du Fuwei sent people to summon Shen Lun to see him. Shen Lun is aware that Du Fuwei suddenly withdrew the large-scale operation of besieging Jiangdu; hence he was overly suspicious. Not daring to personally see Du Fuwei, he only sent his man to inquire. After chatting with Shen Luns emissary for a while, Du Fuwei drove him away.

    Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, Shen Lun, this kid, really helps us succeeding.

    And then he asked in astonishment, Qifei, how did you know what happened in Old Dus Command Mansion so clearly?

    Luo Qifei laughed and said, With money, even the ghosts will be worn down. I have someone from my hometown working for Du Fuwei; a few words in exchange for a bag of gold, who can refuse?

    What should we do next? Chen Changlin asked.

    Leaning back in his chair, Kou Zhong slyly said, We dont need to pay attention to how Du Fuwei will gain the initiative by striking first to take care of Shen Lun; we only need to mobilize our entire forces to keep watch along Shen Luns retreating path. The time he is fleeing back to Jiangnan will be the time we will ambush him, so that Changlin Xiong can take revenge and erase humiliation. We will retreat as soon as we succeed, and let Li Zitong clear the mess. Tonight, we wont care about anything except admiring the full moon and drinking some wine. Tomorrow morning, we will immediately set out on our journey. I am very clear of Old Dus temperament; he will definitely resolve this matter in the shortest time possible.

    The crowd agreed in unison.

    Chen Changlins eyes lit up; he seemed to already see the desperate situation where Shen Lun was being ambushed and killed.

  18. #278
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 11

    Book 23 Chapter 11 Appointment with A Beauty

    Smiling wryly, Zheng Shiru said, I knew you would have this kind of understanding. The fact is that although I do have a close relationship with Yin Gui Pai, I am not a Yin Gui Pai man. Its just that in all his life, my humble father managed Yin Gui Pais business affairs and traveled all over the country to acquire all kinds of supplies for them, so I have been in contact with Yin Gui Pai people since I was little, and thus have become someone that they trust.

    Xu Ziling was dumbstruck. For a long time now he has always thought that Yin Gui Pai stood outside of the real world like Ci Hang Jingzhai, that they were detached from Jianghu and society, that they were another kind of people who did not eat the food of common mortals. Yet, listening to Zheng Shiru now, he realized that they still need to earn money and make a living, just like everybody else. [Translators note: all they referring to Yin Gui Pai are feminine.]

    He said, What Zheng Xiong revealed just now could be considered Yin Gui Pais big secret. Zheng Xiong is not afraid Zhu Yuyan wont be happy?

    Zheng Shiru replied, My humble father has passed away many years ago. Yin Gui Pai already has someone else to take my fathers place. I myself no longer have a direct relationship with them. Only because of my relationship with Bai Qinger that I was helping Qian Duguan to manage Xiangyang. But now that my business with Bai Qinger has come to a close, I dont want to care about Yin Gui Pais affairs anymore.

    Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, Since thats the case, Zheng Xiong do not need to explain everything to Xiaodi either; this will not bring you any benefit.

    But it wont bring any harm to me either, Zheng Shiru replied with rueful smile, For Xu Xiong, what I was just telling you cant be considered a secret at all. The reason I explained the situation was that I really dont want to stand as Xu Xiongs enemy; even more, I dont want Shuming to misunderstand me, thinking that I am a Yin Gui Pai man.

    Xu Ziling suddenly saw the light. But naturally he must not believe Zheng Shirus words that easily. Because if Zheng Shiru really gained control over the Yangtze River Alliance via Zheng Shuming, and Lin Shihong was really a Yin Gui Pai demon, then it would be catastrophic to their major undertaking.

    Its just that for the time being, it was difficult to find a way to verify whether what Zheng Shiru said was the truth or a lie. This extremely charming man was absolutely not simple.

    Sighing, he said, Time will tell whether Zheng Xiong is telling me the truth. Its late! Zheng Xiong, please go back!

    Zheng Shiru smiled and said, Xu Xiong must be extremely annoyed by my bothering you. Yuelai Inn is just around the corner ahead, how could Zaixia abandon you midway? Come!

    ※ ※ ※

    After three rounds of wine, Kou Zhongs heart was moved; he asked Chen Changlin about the Song Family of Lingnan, Where exactly is Lingnan? Is Changlin Xiong familiar with the Song Family over there?

    The five were sitting in a circle in the small garden at the rear courtyard; this house was one of Bu Tianzhis secret nests, it was not far from the Great River and was hidden deep in a small valley, a very good place to escape from the world.

    The bright moon was hanging high in the sky, stirring up in Kou Zhong his wounded feeling of round moon does not mean there will be reunion with the loved one [courtesy of Akolaw], so that he was suddenly dying to know more about Song Yuzhi, who, by this time, had been returning to Lingnan.

    Chen Laomou, showing off his seniority, answered instead, Lingnan actually refers to Yuecheng, Dupang, Mengzhu, Qitian, and Dayu, these five ranges [separating Hunan and Jiangxi from south China, mainly Guangdong and Guangxi] encompassing a vast area in the south. My, Chen Laomous own mother was an outstanding beauty from the Zhuang ethnic group in Lingnan. Ha! At least my Die often bragged about her, ha!

    Everybody just smiled.

    Chen Changlin said, Lingnan is the Song Familys territory. The Song Family operates beast of burden, jadeite, pearl and precious stones, rhinoceros and elephant, and other businesses involving local products. They started at Xiongqu and then grew into local political power. Because the mountain is high, the emperor is far, for the last five dynasties, no matter who the emperor is, he has to give the Song Family enough face. By the time the Heavenly Saber Song Que took leadership, the Song Family reputation has already grown a hundredfold, and they enjoy majestic position in Jianghu. Within the Wulin world south of the Great River, no one dares to doubt his qualification as the number one saber expert in the world.

    What about that Huang Gongcuo? Kou Zhong asked, What kind of thing is he?

    With a cold snort Chen Laomou said, Huang Gongcuo is not a thing, but a big [email protected] [orig. confused ball]. His natural disposition is that he always shields his shortcomings, and is very temperamental. Although his martial art skill is quite high, no one in southern Wulin likes him. Potentially, he and the Song Family are like water and fire. However, after Song Que defeated Yue Shan, Nanhai Pai [South China Sea Sect] became silent even until today.

    Chen Changlin continued, During the eighth year of Emperor Wen of Sui, the Sui Army captured Jiankang [old name for Nanjing], but the Song Family was unwilling to realign their allegiance to the new Emperor. Yang Jian then sent his great general Wei Xian to lead the troops to the foot of the mountain range, but he did not dare to enter Lingnan even for half a step. Later on, Sing Que observed the situation and formed a judgment; realizing that resisting the Sui would bring more harm than good, he changed his mind and went out of the mountain range to meet him, and accepted the title Qiao Guo Gong [lit. duke of the Qiao State] the Sui dynasty conferring to him. Yang Jian personally granted him the right to form his own government, to set up his own government officials of Zhangshi [chief official historian] level and below. He gave him his seal, a right to develop his own military forces, and so on, just short of proclaiming him a king. It could be considered a very generous treatment.

    Bu Tianzhi said, Ever since Yang Jian ascended the throne, all along Song Que was unwilling to enter the imperial court to present himself [to a superior], Yang Jian was helpless to deal with his steadfastness in resisting the enemy relying on inaccessible territory, and with his autonomy.

    What a courageous spirit, Kou Zhong praised.

    Chen Laomou sneered and spoke sharp and unkind words, Using pleasant words, we call him steadfast, but using unpleasant words, we call him stubborn. Song Ques appearance is very handsome; in the past he enchanted countless beautiful women, yet evidently he had a heart of stone. At first, he wanted to remain single and did not want to get married, afterwards, due to the family pressure, he had no choice but to marry, but unexpectedly he picked an ugly woman to be his wife, so that the woman who loved him the most more or less nearly killed herself to give vent to the grievance in her heart. Ha! This mans action is really unpredictable.

    Kou Zhong jumped in fright, thinking that fortunately Song Yuzhi took after her father, otherwise it would be terrible.

    Luo Qifei was amused, Mou Gong is really funny, he said with a laugh.

    Kou Zhong pondered, I understand how Song Ques prestige could rise over the southern sky. The reason he married an ugly woman as his wife must be so that he could devote his aspiration to the way of the saber. Otherwise, if he indulged himself in the delight of the ladys chamber, it could naturally weaken his will to fight.

    Bu Tianzhi nodded and said, Shao Shuais conjecture ought to be pretty close; very insightful.

    Chen Laomou laughed and said, Song Que must be thinking that going to bed [orig. 行房 - a euphemism for sexual intercourse] must be a hard work, without even half a bit of pleasure.

    Kou Zhong asked, Anybody know the relationship between Song Que and Zhu Yuyan?

    Everybody shook his head in bewilderment.

    Looking up at the bright moon in the sky, Kou Zhong was thinking of seeing Song Que first, and then he thought about Song Yuzhi, and his heart was boiling.

    If right now he were to go to Lingnan immediately, would Song Yuzhi change her mind?

    He hated it that at the moment he could not spare time for a separate task, therefore, he would never know the answer to that question.

    But was he really unable to spare some time?

    ※ ※ ※

    The inn was extremely quiet; there was only one old shopkeeper dozing off by the door. The sound of the two men pushing the door and stepping inside was still not enough to wake him up. Perhaps the receptionist and the other workers of the inn were slipping away into the street like a swarm of bees to enjoy the excitement of the Lantern Festival.

    Zheng Shiru cleared his throat. Only then did the old shopkeeper opened his eyes; with blurry vision he looked at the two men up and down.

    Zheng Shiru greeted him and said, My friend here is surnamed Xu; has anybody booked a room for him here?

    Xu Zilings handsome face was burning with embarrassment. Although Zheng Shiru could only be counted as half of an enemy, but having his lie uncovered in front of his face was hard to take.

    The old shopkeeper nodded his head incessantly, Right! he said, There was a Qin Gongzi booked a room for Xu Gongzi; he already paid for three nights of accommodation.

    While undoubtedly it was quite surprising for Zheng Shiru, Xu Ziling was dumbstruck as well. How did Shi Feixuan make such an appropriate arrangement?

    Apologizing, Zheng Shiru said, Turns out I really misunderstood Xu Xiong, so Zaixia will not dare to garrulously disturb you anymore.

    After leaving the address where he could be contacted, he left without saying anything.

    Being left alone, Xu Ziling was feeling relaxed and comfortable. He went to the public bathroom first to soak himself, and then, after stuffing his belly with a couple of wild fruits that he picked along the way, he sat cross-legged on the bed to meditate.

    Recalling the encounter on the plank walkway, he felt lucky of having a new lease of life.

    Originally he thought about going out to the street to find Shi Qingxuans fragrant footprints, however, remembering the street was so crowded that he was unable to move a single step, he had no choice but to dispel this idea. Besides, since she was not in the secluded forest of the small valley, Yang Xuyan would be pouncing an empty space. Therefore, she ought to be safe for the time being.

    This beautys flute art was matchless under the heavens, her style was even more faintly indiscernible and hard to fathom, so that others would find it difficult to tell whether it was real or merely a fantasy.

    He also thought about how earlier he already made up his mind not to come to this inn where Shi Feixuan wanted to meet him. Who would have thought that somehow Zheng Shiru steered his steps and confused his direction, and then the ghosts shoved the gods pushed, he ended up in this inn anyway. Evidently fate has a way to render him helpless to act independently.

    After letting his thoughts ran wild for quite a moment, his mind gradually entered the the-thousand-thought-vanished realm of the Way [Dao/Tao]. The true qi within his body flowed naturally, the empty space inside expanded infinitely, the barely-there remaining internal injury quickly faded away.

    After nobody knows how much time has passed, suddenly his heart was moved, and he regained his senses.

    Then there was a soft knock on his door.

    Shi Feixuans sweet, clear and melodious voice spoke tenderly outside the door, Xu Xiong! Is it convenient for Feixuan to come in?

    Xu Ziling was greatly surprised. It had never occurred to him that Shi Feixuan would be willing to come into a mans room, even if there was not the slightest bit of man-woman intimate contact. Hurriedly he jumped out of bed and pulled the door open.

    Shi Feixuan, still wearing mens clothing, was standing charmingly outside the door. Her deep and impenetrable beautiful eyes were flashing with strange light.

    Xu Ziling retreated to the side and said, Please come in.

    With light lotus steps, carrying the fresh and clean fragrance that was uniquely hers, Shi Feixuan came into the room. Sweeping the room with her eyes, she said with a smile, This room is quite spacious, I hope it is to Xu Xiongs satisfaction?

    Standing behind her, Xu Ziling said, For someone who has slept in the wild, mountainous country for the past few months, this is like a luxurious mansion!

    Shi Feixuan let out an indifferent, Oh? and then, under Xu Zilings polite bidding she sat down on a chair by the table. Waiting for Xu Ziling to sit down properly opposite her, Shi Feixuan smiled sweetly and said, When I booked this room for Ziling Xiong, I did not think that Ziling Xiong would really come. Who would have thought that Ziling Xiong is really willing to do me the honor? This is really beyond Feixuans expectation.

    Xu Ziling had to smile wryly in return and said, Why would Miss think that I would not come?

    Shi Feixuan lightly shrugged her fragrant shoulders and said, Thats just a subtle reaction that I sensed when a person came in contact with another person. Ziling Xiong made Feixuan feel that you are the kind of person who can cast anything that cause complications away and simply ignore them. I wonder if Feixuan has misjudged you?

    Laughing calmly, Xu Ziling said, Miss praises me too much! I am far inferior to that servant boy who concocted pills of immortality; how could I have such ability?

    Shi Feixuan stared deep in his eyes with her beautiful gaze; she said, Perhaps Xu Xiong dont realize it yourself, but compared to the last time I saw Xu Xiong, your personality traits have changed; evidently you have had fortuitous meeting on the mountain.

    Neither confirming nor denying, Xu Ziling replied, You can say theres a little bit of that!

    No longer pursuing this matter, Shi Feixuan asked, Has Ziling Xiong decided when you are going to set off toward the secluded forest of the small valley?

    Xu Ziling sat back comfortably in his chair and shook his head, I am not going! he replied.

    Shi Feixuan was stunned, Wasnt it the purpose of Ziling Xiongs trip this time? she asked.

    Being able to surprise Shi Feixuan, Xu Ziling felt wicked satisfaction in his heart, but then he was amused by his own childish thought. Meeting the opposite partys shining-luminously spirited eyes, he responded indifferently, Something came up, I need to change plan. May I ask how long will Miss Shi be here?

    Frowning, Shi Feixuan stared at him for quite a while. Suddenly she let out a bitter smile and said, Turns out Ziling Xiong is still blaming Feixuan. Actually, Feixuan really have another important matter so that I was forced to part company with Ziling Xiong while rushing toward Chengdu. Originally I did not intend to explain, but now I will have to explain!

    A strange feeling welled up in Xu Zilings heart, but he could not tell what kind of feeling it was.

    Averting her gaze, Shi Feixuan slightly raised her cicada head to look at the full moon hanging high in the night sky outside the window. She spoke smoothly, Dont think that Feixuan did not care about anything. Feixuan made an exception by booking this room for Ziling Xiong, it was for the sole purpose of expressing my regret. Feixuan often see myself like a solid rock in the stream. Although every moment every instant the water flows over the rock, it will only make the rock smoother, without leaving any traces at all. But people are not rocks, Feixuan also has feeling.

    Xu Zilings heart was shaken, he was speechless.

    Shi Feixuan turned her gaze back to him, her countenance also returned to its usual tranquil, calm and composed expression. She said, What I just said has already surpassed what Feixuan is accustomed to speak. This time Feixuan going down the mountain, setting my foot on the world of the living, naturally it was because I received a mission from my master. But there is also a hidden intention of entering the world for spiritual cultivation. The highest xinfa in the Jingzhai is that one must enter the world before one could cultivate virtue, not by building a cart behind closed doors at all.

    After staring blankly at her for half a day, Xu Ziling asked, What xinfa is that? Arent both Buddhists and Taoists speak about the four elements are vanity [idiom: this world is an illusion], purification of defiling illusion, and letting things take their own course [Daoist doctrine of inaction]? Why do you have to mingle among the secular world and be bothered by trivial things to succeed?

    Shi Feixuan serenely replied, Confucian school differentiates between single-benevolence for the body, double-benevolence for the world. Buddhism school also differentiates between Hinayana and Mahayana. If I dont go to hell, who will? is precisely the act of sacrifice. My humble Zhais [i.e. Ci Hang Jingzhai] Ci Hang Sword Canon has a principle of broken and then standing, crumbling and then rising up. Evidently those who cant stand the test and being sharpened on grindstone cannot become very capable person. My humble Zhais highest xinfa is known as Jian Xin Tongming [the heart of the sword is brightly lit]. Among my worthy predecessors of successive generations, there has never been anyone who could cultivate virtue by closing the door and defending oneself. So much so that even on the second highest xinfa Xin You Lingxi [mutual sensitivity of the heart], it was rare that anybody could master it; precisely because it is easy to break, but difficult to stand. Xiuxin Shibo actually had the highest prospect of climbing into the Jian Xin Tongming level, but because of her relationship with Shi Zhixuan, she could only stop at the Xin You Lingxi level. Yet she was an exception rather than the norm.

    Embarrassed, Xu Ziling said, Does Miss imply that Xiaodi is one of the obstacles in Misss virtue cultivation? In that case I have the reason to be very proud.

    Shi Feixuan has never anticipated that Xu Ziling might blurt out this sentence. Giggling tenderly, she said, Now you are a bit like Kou Zhong! No wonder the two of you could become brothers in hardship. Feixuan did not intentionally make that implication. By willing to stop at the inn to meet you to repay you, I just want to tell you that I am not as heartless as you thought.

    Xu Ziling did not dare to reveal the truth even more, but his mood was considerably better. He said, I must have shown indignation that is hard to quell that Miss is compelled to waste your time to explain everything.

    Shi Feixuan nodded and said, It should have a bit of influence. First, I asked you what happened on the way here, you responded evasively. And then, I asked you when you are going to the secluded forest of the small valley, you responded indifferently. The reason of your indignation must be me!

    Xu Zilings old face turned red; he said, It was because I am afraid to be a vain lowly person that I feel some things are inconvenient to mention. It was not because I wanted to deliberately conceal it from you. Would Miss please forgive me?

    Emotionally moved, Shi Feixuan said, Is it possible for you to tell me? Feixuan would never regard Ziling Xiong as a lowly person who sow discord between people.

    After slight hesitation, Xu Ziling said, I was attacked by Hou Xibai on the plank walkway of the Great Mount Ba and nearly lost my life. What does Miss think of this?

    Shi Feixuans jet-black eyebrows were knitted together as she asked, Did he really want to kill you?

    Recalling what happened at that time, Xu Ziling replied slowly, I do have that feeling. But later on he acted like an old friend, saying that he must pretend like he simply had to kill me to force me to fight him for real. But when we fought, it was definitely a desperate fight, unlike a friendly contest to amuse ourselves.

    Smiling, Shi Feixuan said, You are the kind of person that ordinarily stand aloof; only when chatting like this you are revealing your true temperament. The fact is, I am not the least bit surprised of him challenging you. Earlier he confided in me that he wanted to experience the ultimate art that you and Kou Zhong learned from the Secret to Long Life.

    Surprised, Xu Ziling said, You still trust him that much.

    Shi Feixuan replied indifferently, I can only say what I observed. If Hua Jian Pai can travel on the right track because of him, wont it be an enormously good thing?

    How could Xu Ziling say anything after that? Originally, he wanted to tell her about Hou Xibai planning on ambushing him in Yangzhou, but now he had no choice but to swallow it back into his belly, and felt his interest dwindling very quickly.

    Shi Feixuan spoke softly, Toward him and toward Ziling Xiong, I do have a bit of different feeling; I am still wary toward him. Does Ziling Xiong understand?

    Xu Zilings heart was still cooling down, fast. He spoke slowly, I might as well tell you this: just now I caught a graceful glimpse of Miss Shi in the city, but I did not have any chance to talk to her. Thats the reason I do not intend on going to the secluded forest of the small valley.

    Revealing a surprised look, Shi Feixuan was deep in thought for half a day. Suddenly she said, Would Ziling Xiong be interested in going out with Feixuan to the city to see the Lantern Festival tonight?

  19. #279
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 12

    Book 23 Chapter 12 The Worlds Situation


    Tipsy and merry, Luo Qifei said, From the Jianghuai Army, I obtained another information, which is, after inflicting defeat to the Tang Army, Xue Ju suddenly became ill to the point of death. As a result, his son Xue RenGao ascended the throne and became the new Qin Emperor, stationing his troops at Zheshu.

    Everybody was emotionally moved.

    Chen Laomou asked in disbelief, Xue Ju had a very deep power; unless he suffered fire deviation, how could he suddenly fall ill and die?

    Kou Zhong was concerned over another problem, What do you mean by the Tang Army was defeated?

    Luo Qifei responded, His death is still a rumor. I think Id better start from the beginning. Two months ago, Xue Ju personally led his main forces to attack Jingzhou. Along the way, his troops robbed, took prisoners, and killed, all the way to the vicinity of Binchuan and Qizhou, shaking Guanzhong. Thereupon Li Yuan sent Qin Wang Li Shimin as the Marshall of the Military Expedition to the West, with Liu Wenjing and Yin Kaishan as his deputies, leading his troops to meet the enemy at Gaoshu. Strange thing happened; Li Shimin suddenly fell ill, leaving only Liu and Yin, two men, to lead their main forces. Xue Jus elite cavalry came from behind, outflanking them in surprise attack. The fought fiercely from Binzhous Qianshuiyuan [lit. shallow water spring, not sure if this is a places name], resulting in the Tang Army lost nearly half of their troops and generals, as well as Gaoshu. Li Shimin was forced to return to Changan. Since raising his army, this was the first time Li Shimin lost a battle.

    Greatly astonished, Bu Tianzhi said, That is surely a fantastic story. How did Li Shimin suddenly get sick at this time?

    Kou Zhong said, If I am guessing correctly, Yin Gui Pai definitely has a part in this matter, and most probably the one undertaking the task was Wan Yaonu. Li Shimin could be considered outstanding as well, unexpectedly he did not die. Ha! I get it! Shi Feixuan chasing this yaonu all the way to Hefei, maybe it was because of this matter as well.

    Listening to that, everybody else was completely at a loss. Thereupon Kou Zhong briefly explained his thought, and then asked Luo Qifei, What other rumor there is concerning Xue Jus death?

    Luo Qifei replied, Some say that Xue Ju was assassinated, because several sichen before his death, he was still patrolling the army camp at the front line like energetic dragon and ferocious tiger.

    Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, Must be that kid Yang Xuyan. Only he has the ability to take the enemy generals severed head in the middle of magnificent army with thousands of men and horses like feeling in his pocket and taking it out. Good kid!

    But didnt Yang Xuyan suffered big loss under Shao Shuais hands? Luo Qifei asked.

    Chen Changlin said, Xue Jus son, Xue RenGaos martial art skill is outstanding; it even surpasses his fathers. Moreover, his great general Zong Luohou is both intelligent and brave. Although Xue Ju is dead, I am afraid the Tang Army still cannot gain any benefit.

    Luo Qifei shook hid head in disagreement, Xue Jus prestige is nothing that Xue RenGao could achieve. Xue RenGaos greatest shortcoming is precisely his arrogance; he does not get along well with various generals. Xue Jus death most likely will be the pivotal point where the Western Qin Army would turn from prosperity to decline.

    With grave expression, Kou Zhong said, Do you have any news from Liu Wuzhous side?

    Shaking his head, Luo Qifei replied, There seems to be no activity.

    Kou Zhong mused, Must be because the Tujue people are still unwilling to have an acrimonious falling-out with Li Yuan. Without the Tujues support, Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang would never dare to move south rashly. Ay! This is called to sit and waste a good opportunity.

    Luo Qifei said, But I heard that the reason Xue Ju was so bold and powerful and unstoppable in his advance to Guanzhong in the east is because the Tujue are supplying equipment and warhorses in secret.

    Chen Laomou said, Is it possible that Liu and Song, two men, are afraid that if they led their troops to the south, they might benefit Xue Ju, father and son? Because they would never have anticipated that Xue Ju would suddenly meet a violent death; they only thought that Xue Ju, father and son, could greatly weaken the Li Clans strength, therefore, it would be best to let them fighting each other until both sides suffer. At that time, it would not be too late for them to swagger down to the south.

    Chen Changlin shook his head and said, If they had that thought, then they did not understand the art of war. If I had to guess, Id say that the reason Liu Wuzhou still did not dare to rashly go south must be because Dou Jiande is restricting his movement. This man would never showoff his debt toward the Tujue, not at all like Guo Zihe, Liang Shidu, and the others, who have to look at the Tujues countenance to conduct themselves.

    Because Chen Changlin had served under Wang Shichong, naturally he was familiar with the situation in the north.

    Thinking deeply, Kou Zhong said, Behind his back, Xue RenGao still has Li Gui. If the entire Western Qin Army came out of their nest and invaded the east, and Xue Ju lost his life along the way, what could Li Gui do?

    Luo Qifei said, All along Li Gui covets the Qins Longyou [short name for Gansu] territory occupied by the Xue Clan, father and son. But as for what he is going to do, we dont have any news yet. Our so-called latest intelligence is, at best, already two months old.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Just like Xiaodi, Li kid is lucky. Based on the bits and pieces that I gathered, this kid Xue RenGao is adept at employing blitzkrieg strategy, which is matched equally by his brave generals and valiant soldiers. The praise of soldiers and weapons acute and magnificent is definitely well deserved. Unfortunately, his adversary is Li Shimin. The Li kids greatest strength is stable defense, two words [wen shou], which is precisely Xue Ren Gaos bane. My speculation is that Xue RenGao would enjoy small victories first but suffer crushing defeat later. Once Li kid captured Longyou territory, Li Gui will have no choice but to surrender, and then it will be the various hegemons outside the pass turn. Ay! We should have deployed our forces a bit sooner.

    Shaking his head, Chen Changlin said, If the Li Family, father and son, really pulled their troops out of Guanzhong, they would potentially become the target of a multitude of arrows of the whole world. While admittedly Wang Shichong and Dou Jiande would definitely not allow them to succeed, various hegemons of the north and south might also seize the opportunity to go up north and go down south. Apparently, the situation is not that simple.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, I was hoping it was so. The problem is that not only Li Shimin understands heavenly strategy, he is adept in buying the peoples heart, and the worst thing is that this kid has Shi Feixuans support behind his back, who is spreading benevolence and righteousness image on his behalf. Therefore, many times, without trying too hard, he is able to receive the enemys surrendering soldiers. He must not be underestimated.

    And then he asked, I have not had the opportunity to ask Changlin Xiong about the struggle between Wang Shichong and Li Mi!

    Chen Changlin replied, When I left the Eastern Capital, Wang Shichong was still occupying the upper hand position; he is unceasingly expanding his territory, as well as recruiting a large number of Li Mis high-ranking military officers and soldiers. However, Wang Shichong practices nepotism, he is also narrow-minded; as a result, he is causing severe internal conflicts, with various factions fighting and scheming against each other. Plus he is highly unpopular; especially after the news that he wanted to kill Shao Shuai was spreading, even more generals are bitterly disappointed at him. All along, it would be difficult for him to succeed in the great undertaking.

    Bu Tianzhi asked, From Li Mis side, which fierce generals throw their lot to Wang Shichong?

    Chen Changlin replied, The most famous are, primarily, Qin Shubao, Cheng Zhijie, and Luo Shixin, three men. But in my opinion, it would be very difficult for Wang Shichong to retain their service.

    At long last Kou Zhong heard the news about Qin Shubao. Emotionally moved, he said, Turns out Qin Shubao attaches himself to Wang Shichong. This man is definitely a fierce general that even Shen Luoyan was nearly defeated in his hands, only too bad for him Ling Shao and I messed up his situation.

    Bu Tianzhi said, I hear Cheng Zhijie is also known as Cheng Yaojin [589-665, a famous general of the Tang dynasty]. In Wulin, he has quite a reputation. He is also a valiant general that cant be ignored.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, The name Cheng Yaojin is a bit easier to remember. Cheng Zhijie is too bookish and sounds old! [Yaojin biting gold/metal, Zhijie understanding festival/holiday] Hows Li Mi, that kids current situation?

    Chen Changlin replied, According to the intelligence that Wang Shichong received, Li Shimins top general Li Jing made contact with Li Mis chief imperial strategic adviser Wei Zheng [(580-643), Tang politician and historian, notorious as a critic, editor of History of the Sui Dynasty]. This Wei Zheng then persuaded Li Mi to surrender to the Li Clan. If this affair is accomplished, perhaps without even spending one soldier one troop, the Li Clan would obtain a large tract of land, which extended to the ocean on the east, to the River on the south, reaching Ruzhou to the west, and Kongwei County to the north, which currently under Wagang Armys control. But I heard that Xu Shiji and Shen Luoyan are strongly opposing the proposal, assuming the heroic attitude of better be a broken jade than surviving as a roof tile. These two have great influence on Li Mi, hence Wang Shichong is still very at ease over this matter.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Li kid is really formidable that he even thought about this. At least he only sent one person to speak a few words, Li Mis army is immediately split into two factions: those who want to surrender and those who want to fight. Very cost effective. We should study it well.

    Bu Tianzhi said, While admittedly Wang Shichong, Liu Wuzhou and Dou Jiande are Li Yuan, father and sons most formidable opponents, Xiao Xian and Du Fuwei are not adversaries without substantial threat either. They only need to remove some obstacles, and then they could move north at any moment. If I were Li Yuan, under these circumstance, I would definitely not move my troops to attack Luoyang.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, Can Xiao Xian join hands with Du Fuwei? Under the same circumstances, this certainly cannot happen. But if Li Yuan, father and son, really take their troops out of Guanzhong, what is impossible will become possible.

    Chen Laomou said, If the Li Family wanted to deal with either Xiao Xian or Du Fuwei first, they could only take the Jinchuan via the Bashu [Sichuan] route. Then most probably they would go down along the river, take Jiangling first, and then following the river, go east to attack Du Fuwei. However, this route is tiring to the troops, definitely not something that a wise man would do.

    Kou Zhongs countenance changed, he exclaimed, My Niang! Now I know why Shi Feixuan is going to the southwest!

    ※ ※ ※

    After staring blankly at Shi Feixuan for half a day, Xu Ziling showed a hint of bitter smile and said, There is indeed a small misunderstanding between Miss Shi and I; frankly speaking, I originally decided not to come to Yuelai Inn to stay for the night, who would have thought that I met someone whom I did not want to meet? In order to get rid of his entanglement, I had to pretend that I had a friend who reserved a room for me here; as a result, I was forced to come here. To make the best after a mistake, I thought about staying here for one night, and then leaving tomorrow morning; who would have thought that Miss found me here? Hey! I am really sorry.

    Shi Feixuan was listening to him in keen interest, and then, with a smile on her face, she said, This is called a destiny! Why did Ziling Xiong suddenly have the urge to pour out whats in your mind?

    Recovering his free and at ease attitude, Xu Ziling replied calmly, Before answering this question, can Xiaodi ask a question fist?

    Shi Feixuan replied indifferently, Ziling Xiong, please go ahead.

    Xu Ziling said, My understanding is that all the inns and hotels in Chengdu have already booked solid. Miss arrived here cant be much earlier than I did, but how could you easily book a room for me? And why was the mister old shopkeeper outside was so respectful and so polite to me?

    Shi Feixuan replied nonchalantly, Its simply because I did it through someone else, and in Chengdu, this person is very resourceful. Now, can you answer Feixuans question?

    It was only this moment that Xu Ziling started to understand that Shi Feixuans trip to Chengdu was not as simple as it appeared on the surface, because with her character, she would never visit anybody, especially a man, this casually. After slight hesitation, he said, The answer is very simple: simply because I did not wish to accept Miss invitation.

    Shi Feixuan did not think it was rude at all; on the contrary, she smiled even more cheerfully and said, Naturally Feixuan has already guessed so, but I just wanted to hear Ziling Xiongs explanation one step further. As Im sure Ziling Xiong already know, Feixuans invitation absolutely does not involve any feeling between a man and a woman; rather, it was for different purpose.

    Xu Zilings heart grew even colder. But he quickly dispelled this vexing thought and said, All Misss actions and speeches are enshrouded in profound mystery, how could we, mere mortals, understand it? Besides, right now I just want to get a good nights sleep. Everything else can be considered tomorrow morning. Miss, please do not laugh at me.

    Who would laugh at you? Shi Feixuan spoke in displeasure, I can only blame your mouth for not following your heart. The truth is that you are expecting Shi Qingxuan to come here looking for you. You also resent Feixuans view on Hou Xibai. Am I right?

    Stunned, Xu Ziling said, I really did not think that Shi Qingxuan would come to look for me. From the tone of your voice, it seems that Miss does not have a peaceful relationship with Shi Qingxuan. As for Misss other guess, are you suggesting that I, Xu Ziling, am jealous?

    Just like her own description about the water flowing over the solid rock without leaving any trace, like a quiet water without any ripple Shi Feixuan said, Just consider Feixuan misunderstood you! I was just trying to figure out what kind of man Xu Ziling really is. Not many people can arouse my curiosity like Ziling Xiong, and that is the truth. Will Ziling Xiong believe me?

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, Other than the heavy responsibility you received from your master, what else can Miss possibly care about? This time I am going to Shu [Sichuan], I just want to warn Shi Qingxuan, to tell her to be careful of Yang Xuyan. Once I am done, I will immediately leave. Other things I dont want to care, not to mention it is out of my control anyway.

    Shi Feixuan nodded and said, Feixuan understands. If there were no Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling would become free clouds and wild crane, without any concern over the affairs of life. I respect Ziling Xiongs decision; moreover, I hope that Ziling Xiong would be willing to do the same. Feixuan will take my leave now!

    ※ ※ ※

    Everybody looked at Kou Zhong in astonishment.

    Kou Zhong took a sip of his wine and said heavily, Shi Feixuan must be going to Sichuan to pave the road for Li kid. This will mean that if Xue RenGao didnt fall into disadvantageous position, then he will be blown back to his roots by the Li kid.

    Everybody was speechless.

    Ci Hang Jingzhai was the holy land that the Wulin world was looking up to. If they clearly showed their support to the Guanzhongs Li Family, father and son, their prestige would potentially increase many times over. If Shi Feixuan personally take this matter into her hands by going to Bashu to speak on Li Shimins behalf, unless it was a stubborn man or someone with a hidden agenda of his own, it would be very difficult for anybody to say no to Ci Hang Jingzhais request. Moreover, if Xue RenGao were routed, the Li Clans fame and power would rise even more like the sun in the middle of the sky. To neutral regional powers, early attachment to the future ruler was naturally much more valued than an oath of allegiance when the time came.

    Bu Tianzhi said, Duzun Baos Xie Hui [see Book 22 Chapter 6] plays a critical role in Bashu. Without him giving the nod, no one would dare to act on his own initiative. He and the Song Family of Lingnan have in-laws relation, surely he wont easily surrender to the Li Family, father and son?

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, Zhi Shu has this view because you have not seen Shi Feixuan. Not only she is more beautiful than an immortal, her words, insight, knowledge and experience are as formidable as her sword. If she is willing to forgo her honor and surrender her nobility by taking the role of Li kids government official like Su Qin or Zhang Yi, I guarantee that she will be able to impress many people.

    And then, as if he had just remembered something, he turned to Chen Changlin and asked, After the Dugu Clan was defeated and they ran out of Luoyang, where did they go?

    Chen Changlin replied, The safest place will be Guanzhongs Changan. Besides, they are relatives.

    Puzzled, Bu Tianzhi asked, What relationship there is between the Dugu Clan and the Li Clan?

    Chen Changlin said, Li Yuans father and Yang Jian each took Dugu Clans older and younger sisters as their wives, thus the relationship was established. My understanding is that there is Yang Xuyan thrown in the mix as the go-between, so Li Jiancheng ignored Li Shimins strong opposition and convinced Li Yuan. Therefore, although the Dugu Clan is lodging under another persons roof [idiom: to live relying on someone elses charity], they are extremely well-off.

    Kou Zhong felt big headache; thinking that he was about to go to Changan for a treasure hunt, yet his enemies were gathered there. This would make things doubly difficult for him.

    After heaving a sigh, Kou Zhong blurted out without thinking, After taking care of Shen Lun, I am thinking of going to Lingnan to pay my respect to Song Que.

    Everybody was caught in surprise that after the mountain road twists around each new peak [idiom: things have taken a new turn] he suddenly blurted that remark; they were all greatly astonished.

    It was as if Kou Zhong was just awakened from a dream; seeing everybody was staring at him, he said, What did I just say?

    Chen Laomou replied, You said you wanted to see Song Que.

    Ah! Kou Zhong exclaimed; his old face slightly blushed, he nodded and said, Right! I should pay an official call to him, the Senior. From here to Lingnan by boat, how many days will it take?

    Knitting his brows, Chen Changlin replied, A few days will do. But this man, Song Ques character is proud and aloof; he is very difficult to get along with. Shao Shuai hastily coming to his door, I dont know how he will react.

    Chen Laomou spoke heavily, Perhaps he would try Shao Shuais saber technique.

    Luo Qifei said, The Song Family has never really participated in the power struggle after the Sui perished. Ill say they might repeat the stratagem of obtaining the world from Yang Jian. Based on their superior geographical location, whoever becomes the emperor would have to placate them generously.

    Chen Changlin added, Therefore, the Song Family cant possibly be drawn directly into the power struggle of the present day. If Shao Shuai wanted to persuade them, you would only waste your time.

    Slightly embarrassed, Kou Zhong said, I just want to say hello. But since gentlemen say so, let me give it some more thought!

    Yet the beautiful image of Song Yuzhi emerged in his heart; moreover, it quickly grew even more vivid and intense.

  20. #280
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    Default Book 23 Chapter 13

    Book 23 Chapter 13 Soft Talk in Beseeching Each Other


    Xu Ziling sat in his chair, staring blankly, while myriads of thought were surging in his mind. Naturally he could not possibly mistakenly think that the only reason Shi Feixuan inviting him to enjoy the Lantern Festival was because she was thinking highly of him; just like she admitted herself, there must be another profound intention. This immortal-like beautys action was hard to fathom. If she did not reveal it herself, perhaps he would never have guessed it for the rest of his life.

    Thinking to this point, his heart became restless. This rare emotion made him difficult to sit quietly again, hence he sprang up and went out of the inn. When he reached the street, he suddenly came to realization that he really did not know where to go to find Shi Qingxuan.

    After warning her, he wanted to leave Sichuan immediately, he did not wish to stay even a moment longer.

    If anything, he was hurt by Shi Feixuan always defending Hou Xibai, so now he just wanted to drive her completely out of his mind, and did not want to be bothered by her. It was not jealousy at all; rather, he was frustrated because even after he was trying to be a lowly person, he still failed. On top of that, thick or thin, his status never changed, which made him feel even worse.

    When all is said and done, Shi Feixuan really did occupy a place in his heart.

    Recalling Kou Zhong, who was also not pleased with himself in the area of man-woman relationship, he could not help feeling a bit bitter, but a bit amused as well, and felt that all of these were ridiculous. How surprisingly similar were the two boys bitter experiences.

    He really wanted to laugh aloud, but he could not laugh.

    He suddenly felt uncertain about the future; he could not make up his mind. After finding, or failing to find, the Duke Yangs Treasure, what was he going to do? Most probably he would look for Yuwen Huaji to settle the score! But what about after that? He could not remain in the Central Plains, because as soon as he found out that Kou Zhong was in difficulty, he would not be able to stop himself from trying to help him. Only if he went somewhere where nobody knew him would he not have to guess who would fight with him next. He was already weary of licking the blood from the saber blade livelihood.

    A continuous breeze was blowing cold air on the street, blowing the lanterns hanging outside every door every gate, while the flame was flickering inside the swaying lanterns, creating spectacular scenery.

    A horse-drawn carriage suddenly stopped in front of him. Zheng Shumings pretty face appeared on the window and said with a smile, I was just looking for Xu Xiong. How about coming on board? Qie has something Id like to ask for your guidance.

    ※ ※ ※

    A bit tipsy, Kou Zhong returned to his room. Without taking off his boots, he lay on the bed, with only one thing in his mind: presently he was still far inferior to Li Shimin. And for the first time he understood the rationale behind Du Fuwei willing to offer him the throne.

    Since his arrival to Luoyang, everything has happened too quickly, too fast, plus one thing was connected to the other, so that he felt as if he did not even have time to breathe, and was simply too busy to give real consideration to his own situation.

    Only just now did he have the opportunity to sit down, to drink and to chat, so that he could not help thinking about the problem facing each player in this game of power struggle.

    Others might not be aware of it, but he clearly knew that attacking Jiangdu could be said as Du Fuweis last effort in this strive for the world, yet this effort was destroyed by Kou Zhongs own hand. Under this kind of circumstance, it was extremely likely that Du Fuwei would fall from Shi Feixuan, the beautiful lobbyists consideration. In which case, wouldnt it mean that Kou Zhong inadvertently doing Li Shimin a big favor?

    The strive over the world was not a duel between two people, but a long-term desperate struggle involving strategy, political willpower, as well as mental and physical efforts. Li Shimins expansion was faster than his expectation, so that he was overwhelmed with disheartened and frustrated feeling.

    Ay!

    If he failed to retrieve the Duke Yangs Treasure, he might as well come with Ling Shao going sightseeing.

    If Song Yuzhi was willing to change her mind and not blaming him, then he might as well marry her!

    He was tossing and turning restlessly, half drunk and half awake, while remembering people and the things of the past, the wrong marriage between Susu and Xiang Yushan, the intertwining of love and hate between he and Song Yuzhi, his falling-out with Li Jing, Shang Xiuxuns sulking and leaving. All kinds of emotions filling his heart; shame, remorse, regret over one thing after another, kept attacking his mind until eventually he felt extremely lonely.

    This was perhaps the price he had to pay in striving for the world!

    ※ ※ ※

    Aboard the carriage, Xu Ziling was taken aback. Not because there was another young upper-class woman in the carriage, but because this young [married] woman had at least sixty-, seventy-percent resemblance with Song Yuzhi, so that in just one glance he was able to recognize the woman as Song Yuhua, Song Shidao and Song Yuzhis [older] sister who married Xie Huis son, Xie Wenlong.

    After exchanging some pleasantries, Xu Ziling sat down on the seat opposite to the two women.

    Apologetic for inconveniencing him, Song Yuhua said, Yuhua was originally planning to ask Mr. Zheng to invite Gongzi to my humble home to chat, so that Yuhua could temporarily act as the host. However, unknowing to me, Gongzis noble self is very busy and has no time to spare time for a separate task. Left with no choice, I presumptuously came to pay a visit, hoping that Gongzi would not take offense.

    Xu Ziling had a sudden understanding, now he realized why Zheng Shiru insisted on walking him toward the inn; it was simply because someone asked him to do so. However, he was wondering what kind of urgent matter Song Yuhua was dealing with, so that although the holiday was coming right into her face, she still found the time to see him.

    Zheng Shuming spoke amiably, We came at an opportune time, otherwise we would miss Xu Xiong again; we really did not expect that Chuan Bang [Sichuan Gang] people might book a room in advance for Xu Xiong.

    Xu Ziling mused inwardly that turned out Shi Feixuan booked the room for him via Chuan Bang people, naturally he could never have guessed it.

    Song Yuhuas jet-black eyebrows were slightly furrowed, her demeanor was warm, gentle and beautiful, in total contrast to Song Yuzhis brash, unyielding manner. Yet she was carrying a different kind of charm, which stirred up other peoples tender affection, making them unable to refuse whatever she was asking. He heard her cherry lips speaking softly, A couple of months ago Lu Shu [Uncle Lu] came to Chengdu and stayed for a short time; it was only then did I know that Xu Gongzi and Kou Gongzi are actually closely related to Yuhua. Therefore, since we all are of the same side, I was not afraid of being rude and came to see Gongzi.

    Xu Ziling was unclear whether it was because of love me, love my dog [orig. love the house and its crow] or perhaps because of her lovely and touching manner, but he started to have a favorable impression on her. He spoke confidently, Madame Xie must not have any misgivings; whatever it is, no need to hide anything, just tell me.

    Zheng Shuming spoke in low voice, Id better

    Song Yuhua pulled her sleeve and said, Ming Jie no need to leave.

    Then she turned toward Xu Ziling and said, Evidently Gongzi is already aware that the Qin State has already been defeated and perished. The Li Clan completely occupies Longyou territory, so that their Li Familys fame and power is like the sun in the middle of the sky, all outstanding heroes are in danger.

    Inwardly, Xu Ziling was severely shaken. He began to understand why Song Yuhua wanted to talk to him.

    Zheng Shuming added, The Western Qin Army inflicted defeat on the Tang Army, killing Li Shimins troops that he abandoned the spears and dragged the armors while escaping back to Changan. But with Xue Ju fell ill and suddenly died, followed by his son RenGao succeeding to the throne, the entire situation has been completely reversed.

    Slightly displeased, Song Yuhua said, Ming Jie should have spoken a bit clearer. Li Shimin is not the Xue Family, father and sons enemy at all. It was because his internal injury was relapsing that he was unable to lead the troops. As a result, Liu Wenjing and Yin Kaishan held command over the army, and only then did they suffer the big defeat that they had never experienced before.

    Astonished, Zheng Shuming asked, Didnt Li Shimin recover from his illness already?

    Song Yuhua explained patiently, Li Shimin was not sick, and Xue Ju did not die of illness at all. This was the news that was announced to the outside world, the fact is that when Li Shimin was leaving Luoyang to return to Guanzhong, along the way he fell into the ambush of martial art masters of unknown origin led by Song JinGang, and received heavy injury. All along he has not recovered yet. Leading the troops to the west to resist the Qin Army had triggered his injury, and so they were defeated.

    Listening to all of these, Xu Ziling was dumbstruck. Earlier he had heard from Kou Zhongs mouth about Xue Ju, who proclaimed himself Xi Qin Wang [King of Western Qin], moving his troops east to Guanzhong. Only at that time he did not know that there were so many twists and turns in this story, so much so that even Li Shimin had to pay bitterly.

    Emotionally moved, Zheng Shuming said, In that case, who assassinated Xue Ju? Those capable of slaughtering him cannot be simple people!

    Song Yuhua replied, Other than Shadow Assassin Yang Xuyan, who would have this ability?

    Hearing Yang Xuyans name, Xu Zilings eyes shone with terrifying strange light. How did Xue RenGao fall from power? he asked.

    Song Yuhua gave him a clear-cut answer, The Li Clan reached out to Li Gui first; they sent a special envoy to Liangzhou to negotiate surrender, Li Gui gladly agreed. He was conferred the title Liang Wang [King of Liang], with territory partially belonged to the Western Qin State. After solving this fears of trouble in the rear, once again Li Shimin led his army into battle. This moment RenGao was still occupying superior position, they defeated Tang Armys Qinzhous Zongguan Dou Gui first, and then besieged the strategic town Jingzhou. Time and again he beat Tang Armys generals; until they met Li Shimins main forces. Xue RenGaos great general Zong Luohou met the enemy head-on; who would have thought Li Shimin hid the supplies from the enemy? After battling each other for several dozen days, Xue RenGaos army provisions were depleted, one after another his subordinates, who all along could not accept his leadership, surrendered to the Tang. Li Shimin has been spying the opponents army and knew their hearts had been swayed, he carried out the strategy of enticing Zong Luohou into a decisive battle at Qianshuiyuan, resulting in big defeat for Zong Luohou, killing several thousands of the enemy.

    This kind of bitter battlefield situation being told by a pair of cherry lips of such a delicate beauty, naturally the feeling was different. Yet just by listening to how clear she was narrating the battle of Qianshuiyuan, it was obvious that she was worthy to become the Heavenly Saber Song Ques daughter.

    The two knew that she has not finished yet, hence they did not interrupt.

    Song Yuhua continued, And then Li Shimin personally led a two-thousand strong elite cavalry to rush toward Zheshu city, where Xue RenGao was holding his troops. Later on the Tang Army units also rushed over via various routes to surround Zheshu city so that not one drop can trickle through. At nightfall, under cover of the dark, the soldiers defending the city scrambled down the city wall to surrender. Xue RenGao was trapped beyond any hope of rescue, he had no choice but to take his troops out to surrender, so that Li Shimin gained ten thousand elite troops. Other than Xue RenGao, who was beheaded, the rest were pardoned.

    Zheng Shuming turned to Xu Ziling and said, It was after Qie received this news that I made up my mind; I no longer wish to be drawn and swept into the struggle over the world.

    Song Yuhua said, Now that Guanzhong is stable, Li Gui is just like a little clown jumping over the beam. Even if he breaks the agreement, it will definitely not cause any disaster. Plus there is Ci Hang Jingzhai supporting the Li Family, the world is watching at the scenery as one after another the regional powers, from Zhanglong in Pingliang [prefecture, Gansu], Xiaozhao in Henei, as well as Fufeng [county, Shaanxi] and Hayang [county, Hubei], are attaching themselves to the Li Family. As for our Bashus position, it is going to be decided within the next few days. Miss Feixuans immortal self already came in person, nobody dares to disregard her.

    Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. Li Shimins prestige is rising would mean Kou Zhongs prestige is falling.

    Li Shimin finally proved by using the facts that he was able to strike and defeat another ambitious and ruthless character. Combined with Shi Feixuans support, it was fair and reasonable to say that he had the power and influence as the ruler overlooking the world, while Kou Zhong was still struggling just to survive. The difference between them did not stop at a hundred or perhaps a thousand li.

    Under this kind of circumstances, Kou Zhong was caught in the low tide of nasty juncture, which made it even harder for Xu Ziling to abandon Kou Zhong and leave. How would they end up in the future?

    The Yuelai Inn was located in a comparatively secluded street. Because the crowds were concentrated on the main streets, all around them was extremely quiet. The carriage was parked by the side of the street, it neither blocked the passageway nor attracted any attention.

    Under Song Yuhuas clear and bright, limpid eyes, which carried a beseeching tone, Xu Ziling smiled ruefully and said, What is it that Madame Xie wanted to say to Zaixia?

    Acting as if it was hard for her to say it, Song Yuhua hung her cicada head down and spoke softly, Yuhua is very scared.

    This time, even Zheng Shuming could not help asking, Hua Mei, what are you afraid of?

    Up to this moment, Xu Ziling was still unclear about the relationship between the two women, but since they were calling each other Jie and Mei [older and younger sister, respectively], they must have had a very close relationship.

    Suddenly he also thought about An Long, and was wondering if he had returned to Chengdu. But he was not sure if inquiring about this matter to Song Yuhua at this moment would be appropriate.

    Distressed, Song Yuhua replied, I am scared of Dies situation; he has never liked barbarians, but he dislikes Li Yuan even more. Its just that we in the south do not have enough aspiration to improve the situation, our Song Family resides in the secluded Lingnan, it is hard to go up north to strive; otherwise he might already be drawn into this power struggle.

    Xu Ziling helplessly said, Is this the reason Madame is looking for Zaixia?

    Recovering her calm and composed manner, Song Yuhua nodded and said, Currently, no matter how you count it, the number of people in the world who can resist Li Shimin is very few, and Xu Gongzi and Kou Gongxi are two of those few, plus you have close relationship with our Song Family, Kou Zhong is even in love with San Mei [third (younger) sister]. Ay! What should Yuhua do?

    Zheng Shuming sighed and said, Kou Zhong is the kind of person who would keep on fighting in spite of all setbacks, a heroic character with unsurpassed unswerving determination. No matter how nasty the situation is, he can still turn defeat into victory. If Hua Mei wanted to beseech Xu Xiong to persuade Kou Zhong to cup his hands in obeisance and acknowledge his allegiance to the Song Family, you would save a lot of trouble of speaking to him yourself.

    Song Yuhuas pleading eyes looked deep into Xu Zilings eyes; she shook her head and said, I know that based on Yuhua, a married womans words, it will be difficult to persuade such an extraordinary character like Kou Gongzi, but I do have a tiny request that I hope Xu Gongzi would be able to uphold justice and lend a hand; Yuhua will be extremely grateful.

    With Song Yuhuas gentle, beseeching words, Xu Ziling felt he was almost melting. He was about to answer when they suddenly heard hoof beats, from afar at first, but quickly coming near.

    Zheng Shuming stuck her head out to look; immediately a happy expression appeared on her face. Turning toward the two, she said, Please continue your chat! Shuming must excuse myself for a moment.

    Xu Ziling politely pushed the door open and got off. After Zheng Shuming got down to meet the incoming rider, he climbed back into the carriage and sat down again.

    Song Yuhua appeared to be in difficulty again; hanging her cicada head low and biting her lower lip, it looked like she was about to say something, but hesitated.

    Xu Zilings heart was moved; focusing his power onto his ears, right away he was able to hear the exchange between Zheng Shuming and her two men.

    He heard Zheng Shuming angrily said, You sure that is really Cao Yinglong?

    Her subordinate replied, We are about eighty-, ninety-percent sure. Although he is wearing a mask, we recognized his build and his particular walking gait. Even if he turned into ashes I would still recognize him.

    The other man said, This fellow is really crafty; unexpectedly he took advantage of Mid-Autumn Festival to enter the city and mingle among the crowd. At first we were deceived by him as well; fortunately he went to the house next to Chenji Teashop at Dadong Street and stayed there for a while, hence he did not escape our eyes and ears.

    This moment Song Yuhua seemed to suddenly make up her mind; raising her head to look at Xu Ziling, she spoke with determination, Yuhua only ask Xu Gongzi to do me a favor: you must not, by all means, let Kou Zhong see my humble father.

    Immediately Xu Zilings mind was divided. No longer able to hear Zheng Shuming and her subordinates conversation, he blurted out, What?

    Song Yuhua spoke slowly, Because if you let Die see Kou Zhong, they will be like bees seeing honey; we wont be able to separate them. And only you can do it for Yuhua. Ay! Yuhua also understand that this request is too excessive, Xu Gongzi must not take offense.

    Zheng Shumings voice was heard from outside the carriage; she spoke apologetically, Shuming has something important that I must leave immediately, Xu Gongzi and Hua Mei, please forgive me.

    Finished speaking, she hurriedly left without any explanation.

    Xu Ziling was distraught with anxiety [orig. heart distracted, thoughts in turmoil]; while admittedly even death cannot wipe out Cao Yinglongs crimes, on one hand, his life would end soon, and on the other hand, this trip was to comfort his soon to be orphan and widow. Not to let him accomplish his last wish would be extremely cruel.

    What should he do?

    Noticing that he was muttering to himself irresolutely without saying anything, Song Yuhua anxiously said, Does Xu Gongzi think that Yuhuas request is too unreasonable?

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling replied, I can only promise that I will do my best. Its just that more often than not, things of the world do not happen as we expected, it is nothing that we can control.

    Delighted, Song Yuhua said, I know that Xu Gongzis promise worth one thousand catties of gold; Yuhua is relieved.

    Xu Zilings heart was already flying someplace else. Hurriedly taking his leave, he got off the carriage and rushed toward the main street. After asking for direction to the Dadong Street, he leaped onto the roof, and then flying from roof to roof, leaping high and fleeing low, he rushed toward the target.

    Chengdus main streets were as bright as daytime; the milling crowds, the unending sound of firecrackers, the fireworks illuminating the horizon, the entire city was boiling with the blazing atmosphere under the full moon above. But he felt like he was living in another world, a lonely world, separate from the land of the living. This time he was trying to save an utterly vicious, extremely evil, big thief chief who, because for a period of time he was on the rampage, killing people like scything flax, everybody wanted to hunt and put him to death. Come to think about it, all these things seemed to be really strange.

    Right this moment, he saw shadows flashing in front of him, heading straight toward him.

    Xu Ziling hastily dodged into a side alley, right in time to see something that looked like a big ball flitted across overhead like a shooting star. Surprisingly, it was one of the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way, An Long, carrying someone under his armpit.

    Behind him, more than a dozen shadows were running after him, one of them being Zheng Shuming.

    Recovering from shock, Xu Ziling hastily ran after them.



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