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

  1. #61
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 2

    Book 6 Chapter 2 Old Cat Burning its Whiskers

    Everyone, excluding Susu and Xu Ziling, had never imagine that even toward such a powerful hegemon like Li Zitong, Kou Zhong would still be this brave. They wanted to stop him, but it was already too late.

    Li Zitong smirked inwardly. It should be noted that although nobody knew who started it, but the fact that Kou and Xu, two boys, joining hands in defeating Yuwen Wudi has been spread all over the world. Although upon self-reflection Li Zitong knew his martial art skill was above Yuwen Wudis, how could he not have some misgivings? However, seeing Kou Zhong attacked alone, he reckoned that as long as he could put this kid under control, the other kid would be captured obediently.

    Right this moment, a skin-piercing, bone-penetrating saber qi blasted directly toward his face.

    Kou Zhong completely ignored Li Zitongs long sleeves, which were brushing toward the eardrum acupoints on both sides of his head. Focusing solely on the opponents face, like a lightning bolt his saber struck down. It was a simple, straightforward, but also swift and fierce without equal.

    Watching Kou Zhongs saber strike, unexpectedly a feeling of dread and astonishment grew in the hearts of the crowd of people on the ship standing silently in circle to watch.

    Li Zitongs reputation was built not just in name only, but also in reality; in all his life, among the hundreds and thousands battles, there was no swift and fierce saber strike he had not seen, yet this single saber strike from Kou Zhong seemed to be able to tightly lock his state of mind, giving him a feeling like he could not unleash his ferociousness.

    He was a great master of martial art; as soon as that feeling came, he immediately understood the reason. At the same time his heart shivered in fear, because he knew that unexpectedly Kou Zhong was able to merge the mind, qi and spirit [three energies of Chinese medicine] into one entity, blending it into his saber technique. Only someone who has reached excellent innate saber qi realm would be able to produce this kind of astonishing power.

    Immediately he let out a cold snort and no longer dared to be careless, withdrew his sleeves, swiftly raised a mouthful of true qi, and threw his head backward as his body spun rapidly.

    Plainly Kou Zhongs saber was about to hit, but Li Zitong suddenly circled around to his left side, while stretching out his right hand to knock Kou Zhongs wrist. The style was exquisite beyond compare.

    Seeing Kou Zhong was able to force Li Zitong to change his move in meeting the enemy, everybody could not help cheering in unison.

    Susu pushed Xu Ziling forward and said in a trembling voice, Why havent you helped Xiao Zhong?

    A thread of smiling expression escaped from the corners of Xu Zilings mouth; he took three steps forward and stood guard at the perimeter of the fight.

    Kou Zhong stayed calm without any trace of fear, his left hand launched the Meridian-severing technique taught by Tu Shufang, using his fingers as a saber to sweep aside Li Zitongs eagle claw.

    Bang!

    Without anything fancy, without any trick, the two exchanged a move.

    Kou Zhong let out a stifled grunt and staggered to the side as if he nearly fell.

    Li Zitong also floated to the opposite direction. It was not until he reached the ship railing that he finally stopped; borrowing the bouncing momentum he soared high, like an eagle snatching a chick he aimed to grab Kou Zhongs head, who, by this time was nearly falling into the river. His two hands protruded from inside his sleeves, all ten fingers opened wide toward the tian ling acupoint on the top of Kou Zhongs head.

    Xiang Yushan and the others were about to rush forward to help, but Xu Ziling stood in front of them and spread his arms wide to stop. Calm and composed, he said, No need to be afraid!

    He was the only one who could see clearly that Kou Zhong was borrowing his own yang true qi within the yin true qi to completely neutralize Li Zitongs forceful internal energy.

    Li Zitongs internal energy was of hard, yang-character, by lucky coincidence, it was curbed by Kou Zhongs soft, yin-character energy. Therefore, although his power was deeper than Kou Zhongs, he still was not able to harm Kou Zhongs meridians.

    Xu Ziling took three more steps forward, maintaining the same distance to the two combatants, but still did not make any move. However, whenever Li Zitong was in the vicinity, he would feel Xu Zilings powerful threat, so that he had to reserve some of his power and thus did not dare to go all-out in dealing with Kou Zhong.

    It was a very strange feeling.

    It was as if each and every move he made could not escape this observer, who glared like a tiger watching his prey. As soon as he had slight lax concentration, the opponent would hit his weak point or flaw with tens of thousands catties strong thunderbolt.

    Naturally he could not protest Xu Ziling standing too close, because early on he had already said that he was not afraid of the two boys joining hands to take up the challenge.

    His claw was about to hit Kou Zhong; who would have thought that it was as if there was oil on this kids feet? With matchless agility he slid three chi away, just like a swimming fish. Not only Kou Zhong evaded his strike, he also sprang up high in the air and made somersault, which was about a chi higher than Li Zitong, who was on his way down. His saber drew an arc in the air, sweeping Li Zitongs flank.

    Xu Ziling was pleased inwardly, knowing that Kou Zhong derived this skill based on the swimming fish, and was able to integrate it into the battle.

    Seeing not only Kou Zhong was able to evade Li Zitongs strike and even able to launch counterstrike, and that not only his saber technique did not follow any established rules but as if it came naturally without extra trouble, his shenfa [reminder: body pose or motion in martial art] was weird beyond comprehension, Xiang Yushan and the others were stupefied; they could hardly believe their own eyes.

    Li Zitong was also sighing inwardly; he had no choice but to take out his three chi, two cun nine-section copper whip. Applying his power to shake it, the nine-section whip pulled back and lashed out. Qiang! immediately Kou Zhong and his saber were thrown away and spun very fast like a windmill. But Li Zitong himself was also jolted by the reaction force that just like Kou Zhong a moment ago, he staggered toward the ship railings and nearly fell into the river; luckily his foot caught a piece of the railing and he swung himself up to pounce on Kou Zhong again.

    Xu Ziling let out a loud shout and soared into the air; one fist flew toward Li Zitongs lower abdomen, a gust of burning hot wind accompanied the punch, the power was intimidating.

    Seeing Xu Ziling dared to deal with this nine-section whip with which he ran amuck in Jianghu for many years barehanded, Li Zitong sneered inwardly. Focusing his inner power to protect his lower abdomen, he rose up and sent his whip toward the back of Xu Zilings head.

    Susu screamed.

    Bang!

    Pow!

    After Xu Zilings punch hit Li Zitongs lower abdomen, like a hawk circling in the air, unexpectedly he spun around and was able to evade the whip. His left hand swept across the tip of the whip, knocking the whip section off using his fantastic power and consummate skill.

    Meanwhile Kou Zhong had just landed back on the deck, immediately he brandished his saber and charged forward.

    Li Zitong let out a stifled grunt. He came to sudden realization that he could only neutralize half of Xu Zilings burning hot fantastic force; there were at least forty-percent of that power penetrated his body. In shock he hastily transferred his own internal energy to resist, but he had already suffered minor injury.

    This moment Kou Zhong arrived, pouncing down on him from the air, enveloping him with an arc of saber ray.

    Even in his dream Li Zitong could not imagine that Kou Zhongs counterattack would arrive this quickly.

    Just now, in order to save his face, he went all-out with the hope of inflicting damage to Kou Zhong that he would at least vomited a couple mouthful of blood, and then he would seize the opportunity to deal with Xu Ziling, meeting hard punch with hard punch, so that Xu Ziling would suffer some damage. But now as if he did not suffer anything, like a lively dragon and animated tiger Kou Zhong was charging ferociously; Li Zitong could not stop fear from creeping up in his heart.

    For the first time he no longer dared to belittle the opponent. He secretly thought that over time, these two boys might grow to be more formidable than Ning Daoqi. At least from what he knew, before turning twenty, Ning Daoqi was not as formidable as these two boys.

    The most amazing thing was that these two boys did not follow any specific method. He had neither seen nor heard anybody ever encountered combat tactic like these twos joint forces.

    Li Zitong himself was crazy about martial art; he loved to discuss anything about real battle situation and military strategy, yet he had never heard anybody ever mentioned that they encountered similar situation.

    Dang!

    Li Zitong carried out his pressing the bottom of the chest/trunk skill, his whip lashed out toward the tip of Kou Zhongs swiftly chopping down saber blade. In this split second, he continuously sent out nine different streams of qi, fully aware of the urgency of the situation.

    The two combatants interlocked; they both used their elbows to strike each other.

    Bang!

    By the time Kou Zhongs feet touched the deck, his entire body shook, his legs bent down and he rolled away, straight toward the stern of the ship, splattering fresh blood everywhere, shocking the eyes and astonished the hearts of those who watched the battle.

    Susu screamed and disregarding everything she rushed toward Kou Zhong; anybody would think that Kou Zhong was seriously injured.

    Li Zitong spun around on the tip of his toes, turning his back against Kou Zhong to face the rushing Susu, but did not do anything to stop her.

    He was, after all, an overlord of a region, so naturally he had to have some dignity.

    Xu Ziling suddenly appeared as if he had just been dropped from the sky, his face showed neither anxiety nor delight, as calm as still water, both palms struck together toward Li Zitongs back. Li Zitong had just swallowed back the fresh blood bubbling up from his chest toward his throat, in order to avoid losing face on the spot; at the same time he started to regret his rash decision to brave the danger alone.

    If he had had his men coming with him, he would not have stuck in this bad situation. Just now for the second time he had gone all-out in his attack, hoping to inflict serious damage to Kou Zhong using his schools unique qi cultivation technique, the nine-section shake; but once again he was giving Xu Ziling the opportunity to attack.

    By this time he had more or less have a feel on the two boys totally different techniques, yet there was some kind of subtle method within it that enable the two boys to blend their internal energy seamlessly. He was fully aware that just now he was barely able to neutralize Kou Zhongs yin energy with his yang power; this moment he could not immediately use his yin power to deal with Xu Zilings apparent yang energy.

    While he was thinking of dodging the attack, he suddenly discovered that a fantastic sucking force was hidden within the gust of wind generated by Xu Zilings palms. If he dodged, the opponent could easily pull the qi back; not only the momentum would increase, it would also continue on endlessly, until it drained the opponents strength completely.

    His shock truly need not be mentioned. Immediately he roared, How dare you! Flicking his wrist, the whip lashed out to the hollow of Xu Zilings palms.

    Xu Ziling screamed and spurted out a mouthful of fresh blood. Like a kite with its string cut he flew over Susu, straight toward Kou Zhong.

    Li Zitong struggled hard just to take half a step forward; lifting his sleeve to cover his face, he prevented Xiang Yushan and the others, who were standing about a dozen steps away, from seeing that finally he was unable to suppress his boiling blood and he spurted a little bit of fresh blood.

    Up to this point, the three combatants have not even fought for ten moves yet, but everybody had already overwhelmed with the intensity of the close combat that they felt as if the sun and the moon has lost their light.

    Kou Zhong was still rolling away that very soon he would hit the Baling Bang people watching on the sideline; unexpectedly he bounced back, caught Xu Ziling, and the two of them fell sitting down on the deck together.

    In this short contact, as short as a flash of lightning or a spark of the flint, the two boys true qi blended together like water and milk, flowing from each other and thus their internal injury was immediately seventy or eighty-percent healed.

    Li Zitong lowered his sleeves. Still in daze, he fought hard to stand steadily.

    Susu threw herself toward the two boys, bawling loudly.

    Xiang Yushan, Big Sister Xiao and Yun Yuzhen unblinkingly kept their gaze on Li Zitong, ready to deal with him. Everybody could see clearly that for Li Zitong to knock down the two boys, he had to pay a bitter price.

    Li Zitong was still hesitating whether he should just disregard his face and call for his men to come over to provide reinforcement when Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, helped by Susu, proudly stood up.

    Kou Zhong shook the broadsword in his hand and shouted, Li Zitong indeed has a bit of skill; let us fight again for a hundred rounds.

    Hearing the ample qi in Kou Zhongs voice, Li Zitong was inwardly shocked at how formidable the internal energy cultivation from the Secret to Long Life was; suddenly he moved toward the port side of the ship. His sharp gaze swept across everybodys face, he laughed aloud and said, No wonder Old Du held such a high regard on you, you are indeed a great material that Ol Li could not help feeling fond of your talent. Lets drop this matter here and now; I wish you all safe journey with favorable wind and favorable current.

    He had been rolling about in the black way [criminal world] for many years, he knew how to raise something up and when to put it down. Realizing that it was difficult to capture the two boys alive, plus the fact that Li Mi has issued a decree against them, he thought how much longer would you survive? This moment hed better win their favor, in case theyd meet again in the future. Besides, this way he would avoid inciting enmity with tremendously powerful Baling Bang.

    In addition, he had another thought: if they did not die, after several years, they would consider themselves to be top-notch martial art masters. This kind of enemy, one was already too many, let alone two. Therefore, he dispelled the idea of summoning his subordinates and thus creating more enemies.

    Xiang Yushan and the others were stunned; this did not seem like Li Zitongs usual style.

    Li Zitong cupped his fist, soared into the air, and returned safely to his ship.

    Watching the two ships sailed away, they were finally convinced.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling embraced Susu, they cheerfully shouted, We won! We won!

    By the time Yun Yuzhen and Big Sister Xiao entered their room to see them, Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were lying on the bed, Susu was sitting on a chair by the bed, the three of them were chatting amiably. The room was filled with infinite warmth.

    The two women sat on the chairs on the other side. Big Sister Xiao laughed tenderly and said, Turns out you are really that formidable, even Li Zitong was beaten and ran away.

    Kou Zhong put on a modest act and said, He simply sounded out the difficulties and retreated to avoid defeat!

    Xu Ziling was puzzled, How did Li Zitong know that we are on board?

    Yun Yuzhen replied, Yushan is investigating this matter right now, trying to find the possible mole.

    Big Sister Xiao said, This matter cannot be easily resolved; based on Li Zitongs character, even though on the surface he spoke good words, he might secretly inform Li Mi, and thus borrow someone elses knife to kill you.

    Susu still had lingering fears, I was scared to death! Xiao Zhong spurted that much blood!

    Staring at Kou Zhongs pale face from the loss of blood, she went on, Are you sure you are all right?

    Kou Zhong sat back and said with a laugh, I am really all right. Its just that it will be difficult to treat Shan Xiaoges injury tonight.

    Lets wait until you are fully recovered before talking about it! Susu said.

    Big Sister Xiao said, Tomorrow morning we will arrive at Jiangdu, I hope there wont be any mishaps tonight.

    Giggling, Kou Zhong turned his attention to Yun Yuzhen and said, I want to go back to my room to sleep.

    Yun Yuzhens pretty face blushed slightly; she angrily said, You want to sleep, what does it have to do with me? In her heart, however, she recalled the powerful, elegant and brilliant tactics with which he dealt with the valiant, insufferably arrogant Li Zitong. Compared to the useless Dugu Ce in dealing with Du Fuwei, she could not help making the decision who was superior and who was inferior.

    Kou Zhong sprang out of bed and said to Susu, Let Didi walk Su Jie back to your room to rest.

    Big Sister Xiao cast Kou Zhong a suggestive glance full of foxy charms; she said in a straightforward manner, I have just got here, and you are going to sleep?

    Inwardly Kou Zhong was very happy, knowing that due to his performance just now, this coquettish woman has had a whole new level of respect for him; even her manner was different now. He said with a giggle, After I take care of Su Jie, why dont Dajie come to my room to have a heart-to-heart chat?

    Yun Yuzhen was jealous, but just now she was being too harsh; it would be hard to turn around and withdraw her previous remark.

    Big Sister Xiao laughed jovially that she looked like a flower trembling at the tip of a branch; she said, This Miss must train you, this reckless kid, that internal injury necessitates that you must avoid wine and sex. I still want you to go deal with Yuwen Huaji, I dont want to harm you.

    Susus pretty face immediately blushed deep red; she glowered at Kou Zhong.

    Kou Zhong was greatly embarrassed; he said with a bitter smile, Dajie is truly forthcoming!

    Susu pulled Kou Zhong away and out of the room.

    With only Xu Ziling, Big Sister Xiao and Yun Yuzhen left, the room temporarily quieted down.

    Big Sister Xiao looked at Xu Zilings handsome, magnificent appearance; she suddenly had a strange thought: she was quietly pondering that if this young martial art master was maturing a little bit more, with his aloof and cool temperament, his trim and straight posture, he would be an outstanding character who will make any woman fall in love with him. Its just that his interest toward women was unlike Kou Zhong, who was always full of zest; however, this same exact quality was what attracted other people the most.

    She could not help teasing him, Xu Gongzis and Zhong Shaos personalities are so different, how could you get along so well?

    Xu Ziling was still lying on the bed practicing his internal energy, he really wished the two women would leave him alone; therefore, he snappily replied, Perhaps because we have been together since childhood! We are already accustomed to yield to each other.

    Yun Yuzhen was curious, So you never had any disagreement? she asked.

    Xu Ziling was growing even more impatient; he replied randomly, Of course we have disagreements, but when the anger subsides, we dont have any problem anymore.

    Hearing the tone of his voice, the two women knew it was time for them to excuse themselves.

    Xu Ziling breathed a sigh of relief. Thinking about the last few days, he realized that in terms of ideas and actions, the differences between him and Kou Zhong were growing bigger and bigger; he sighed.

    Supposing Kou Zhong really wanted to recruit soldiers and buy horses, to fight over the world and become the emperor, would he or would he not help him?

    No one knew better than him about Kou Zhongs amazing strength. Not only his intellect surpassed others, his resourcefulness outstanding, his manner of speaking also exceptional, his method slick and sly. No matter how Xu Ziling mocked and ridiculed him, reproached him and blamed him, this kid did not get angry at all. His eloquence was like torrential tide, he knew how to see the wind and set the helm, so that it would be difficult for anybody to get really angry at him.

    Kou Zhong was naturally born with charisma and magnanimity of a leader; given enough time, perhaps even Li Mi, Du Fuwei and the like would even be put to shame by him.

    On the other hand, after practicing the Secret to Long Life, Xu Zilings desire for fame and profit, his admiration for women, were quickly pushed back that he became more and more indifferent.

    All he wanted to do right now was to find a less-travelled scenic spot, where he could wholeheartedly lock himself up for an in-depth study of martial arts, to see what kind of level he could climb to in the end.

    There was a knock on the door, followed by Yun Yuzhens voice, Can we chat for a moment?

    Albeit unwilling, Xu Ziling simply could not be rude to anybody; helplessly he replied in affirmative.

    After shutting the door, Yun Yuzhen sat on the bed. Looking down, she examined his more and more manly countenance. Do you really dislike me, your Beautiful Shifu? she asked softly.

    Xu Ziling and Yun Yuzhen stared at each other for half a day; finally he let out a wry smile and said, If you have ever been cheated, how do you feel? That night, when Yun Bangzhu and Dugu Ce were chatting and fooling around, the two of us were hiding in the corner, before we decided to flee.

    Ah! Yun Yuzhen exclaimed. She was blushing so bad that even the tip of her ears turned red. At a loss to know what to do, she said, So thats how it is, no wonder Kou Zhong was being disrespectful to me earlier, and you look down on me. But I want you to know that I have my own difficulties; such a big gang, without a strong backer, it would be very easy for us to be taken over by others.

    And then, with a hopeful look on her face, she said, After our business in Jiangdu is over, I can arrange a hiding place for you, I guarantee it will be safe.

    Xu Ziling sensed that she had the intention to recruit the two of them to strengthen her Jukun Bang. His heart was moved; he speculated that the reason Kou Zhong disregarded former enmity and teased Yun Yuzhen was most likely because he wanted to get the Jukun Bang under his banner, to become what he called our troops. Otherwise, when he was talking about Yun Yuzhen earlier, he would not have mentioned the by hook or by crook aspect.

    Kou Zhong has grown to become more and more formidable.

    Yun Yuzhen stretched out her lily-white hand to caress his cheek; she said softly, Just give it a serious thought!

    Xu Ziling waited until her hand touched the door latch before he suddenly asked, How was Kou Zhong being disrespectful to you?

    Yun Yuzhens pretty face blushed; still thinking that Xu Ziling was jealous, she irately said, He is so bad; do I need to say more? And then she hurriedly went out.

    Xu Ziling closed his eyes; suddenly his heart felt uncomfortable.

    Kou Zhong was lying.

    He said he was only touching Yun Yuzhens hand; it appeared that he was only testing Xu Zilings reaction to this matter.

    If his reckoning was correct, Kou Zhong was going to do anything necessary to have Yun Yuzhen acknowledging her allegiance to him.

    The one Kou Zhong loved was Li Xiuning, definitely not Yun Yuzhen.

    This was what he called dealing with the enemy by hook or by crook.

    Suddenly Xu Ziling felt that the gap between him and Kou Zhong was growing.

  2. #62
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 3

    Book 6 Chapter 3 Sui Emperor Yang Guang

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling climbed onto the carriage; accompanied by Big Sister Xiao and Xiang Yushan, they entered the city. Susu, accompanied by Yun Yuzhen, was riding on another carriage; they had different arrangement.

    Afraid that the Yuwen Clan might obtain information and thus prevent the two boys from entering the Palace, Dugu Sheng personally came out to meet them.

    Surprisingly, this Dugu Clan martial art master who ranked second only to Dugu Feng had a rather unremarkable appearance. He was about fifty, short and wiry, and looked a bit like an old monkey. But his eyes, which looked half open and half close, were deep and bright; the taiyang acupoints on his temples were protruding high, so that people immediately knew that he was not someone to be trifled with.

    Toward Kou and Xu, two boys, he was polite, but kept his distance; however, he was quite amiable toward Xiao Huan and Xiang Yushan, evidently he did not have too high of a regard toward Kou and Xu.

    Under the escort of Dugu Sheng and about a hundred imperial bodyguards, the party entered the city of Yangzhou.

    Returning to their hometown, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were immediately overwhelmed with unbearable itch; they really wished to slip outside right away to look for their old friends and foes and say hello, also perhaps to see if Yan Laoda [see Book 1 Chapter 1] was still alive and well.

    Xiang Yushan whispered in the two boys ears, We are really lucky, today Yang Guang happens to be in the Palace. You dont know it, but since becoming the Emperor, he never stopped, always going on a tour or a military expedition, infuriating the heavens exasperating the people, angering the gods and distressing the ghosts; otherwise, the people would not have rebelled.

    Big Sister Xiao sighed and said, Now he is giving the western capital Changan to his grandson, Dai Wang [wang king/prince] Yang You, and the eastern capital Luoyang to another grandson, Yue Wang Yang Dong, while he himself is hiding in here, so scared that he even abandoned the Luoyangs sixteen-courtyard madams. To his surprise, however, Du Fuwei attacked Liyang, Li Zitong is also moving to Jiangdu. Basically there is no happy place for him on the earth.

    Irritated, Xiang Yushan said, Dai Wang Yue Wang, one is twelve, the other eleven, unexpectedly they are in charge of western and eastern capitals; wont the true power fall into the hands of high-ranking ministers such as Yang Shichong and the others? If any mishaps happen to Yang Guang, the world will be ten times more chaotic than right now.

    Listening to this, Kou Zhongs eyes lit up, and Xu Ziling could see it clearly.

    The carriage suddenly stopped.

    Dugu Sheng spoke from outside the window, His Holiness has just gone to Lin Jiang Palace, we must change our itinerary.

    After ascending the throne, Yang Guang issued a decree to build the city of Yangzhou, which formerly was under his stewardship as the Zongguan, and changed its official title to Jiangdu. Not only the city was expanded, numerous palaces arose, parks and garden embellished it, north of the city, where there were mountain on one side and water on the other, he also established Gui Yan, Hui Liu, Song Lin, and the others, the so-called Shu Gang Ten Palaces.

    But perhaps the most magnificent was the Lin Jiang Palace, which was built by the shore of Yangtze River. Whenever Yang Guang was prompted by a sudden impulse, whether it was morning or evening, he would go there to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Yangtze River.

    When Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had an audience with this muddleheaded ruler of the historically shortest, and the fastest to disappear, dynasty, he was having a drinking party on a palace balcony overlooking the Yangtze River, accompanied by his favorite concubines Xiao Yu and Zhu Guier [gui means imperial concubine, so I dont think it was her actual name], completely oblivious of the ups and downs of the chaos of war outside.

    Kou Zhong and the others alighted from their carriage at the square in front of the Palace, which was tightly guarded by the Imperial Guards. After a thorough body search, which was personally conducted by Dugu Sheng, to make sure that they did not bring any weapons, he led them into the Palace. However, Xiang Yushan and Big Sister Xiao had to remain at the gate.

    As Dugu Sheng was leading them through the corridors and pathways, they could hear the surging water of Yangtze River, mingled with faint melodious music from the continuously stretching palaces ahead.

    This was the first time that the two boys entered such a richly ornamented, brightly decorated, splendorous and majestic building. Momentarily their eyes were unable to take it all, and they were quite at a loss.

    Kou Zhong whispered, Now this is what I call glory, splendor, wealth and rank.

    Dont talk! from the front, Dugu Sheng coldly shouted.

    Kou Zhong jumped in fright and immediately shut his mouth.

    Xu Ziling mused in his heart, Only ghosts are willing to live in such noisy, raucous, tacky, and irritating place like this. For me, it would be enough if I can live deep in the mountains, in a thatched hut in a secluded valley, with beautiful scenery and birds and beasts as my company.

    There were Imperial Guards everywhere, with checkpoints at every entryway; without Dugu Sheng leading the way, it would be impossible for them to move a single step.

    When the Wangjiang Tai [Riverview Balcony; wang jiang means looking at the river] was in sight, an official appeared ahead and stopped them.

    The man looked gentle and handsome, about thirty-five, thirty-six years old. Upon introduction by Dugu Sheng, they found out that he was the interior minister Yu Shiji, one of Yang Guangs most trusted courtiers.

    Noticing his unstable, floating footsteps, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew that not only this person did not know martial art, his body was scooped empty by wine and women, so that his appearance looked like he was too weak to stand up to the wind.

    Normally, an interior minister ought to be a high-ranking eunuch, but this persons appearance did not have a real eunuch flavor, making it difficult for them to make correct assessment.

    After sizing up the two boys, Yu Shiji said to Dugu Sheng, Its really them.

    Dugu Sheng nodded in affirmative.

    It was only then did Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling find out that Yu Shiji was involved in this matter. If that was the case, then Yang Guangs other favored minister, the Imperial Censor Fei Yun, ought to be key personnel in this operation, which was directed toward the Yuwen Clan, as well.

    After carefully examining the two boys again, Yu Shiji said, Give the account book to me first, the two of you may wait in the side chamber. When the opportune time comes, this official may take you to appear before His Highness.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glances; they were unwilling, but finally had to hand the account book over to Yu Shiji.

    Yu Shiji immediately flipped the pages. When he reached certain page, he suddenly laughed aloud and said, General Sheng, this time we really obtain a treasure. I want to see how much longer Yuwen Clan will be able to shine.

    Hearing that, Dugu Sheng smiled while twisting the tip of his moustache.

    The two boys waited in a room by Wangjiang Tai for nearly two sichen [4 hours]. They waited until the sun was about to set, still no Yu Shiji or Dugu Sheng to take them to see Yang Guang.

    The palaces, as well as the courtyards, were tightly guarded by Imperial Guards, making them feel like prisoner in the palace hall.

    Xu Ziling sat quietly in a corner. Looking at Kou Zhong, who was pacing back and forth restlessly, he frowned and said, Could you be a bit more patient?

    Kou Zhong halted in front of him; he sighed and said, Maybe we were wrong; now even the account book has been taken away, and I still dont know how we are going to leave this place.

    Dont worry! Xu Ziling said, As long as we are still useful, they will rely on us. These people put the cart before the horse, they dont care that outside the chaos is turning the sky and the earth upside down, they are thinking of fighting with other people around instead. No wonder the rebels momentum is growing day by day.

    After a short pause, he went on, What worries me most is Su Jie; after meeting that muddleheaded ruler, we must find a way to leave this place and rendezvous with Su Jie, and immediately go as far away as possible. Whether Yuwen Clan is toppled or not, we must not tarry in this place too long.

    Kou Zhong sat down by his side; he said, You are right. If Yang Guang issues in imperial decree to search and confiscate the Yuwen Clans possession and have their entire family exterminated, it will incite a tempest; Yuwen Huaji and the others will definitely fight will all their strength. If that happen, it would be strange indeed if Jiangdu does not turn into a mess.

    Xu Ziling added, Dont forget that Ol Die and that Li Budong are glaring at Jiangdu like a tiger watching its prey. As soon as they know that Jiangdu in chaos, they will immediately deploy their troops to attack. Ay, this thought is really frightening!

    Kou Zhong did not know what to think.

    While they were busy with their own thoughts, Yu Shiji came in. With him was a big, fat official, whose face was wide, his eyes thin, his nose long like a wine gourd; in short, a crafty villain look.

    Yu Shiji excitedly said, Two Xiongdi, come meet Imperial Censor Daren.

    Hearing him addressing them as brothers, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were rather flattered. Thinking that this must be Yu Shijis partner Fei Yun, they hastily paid their respect according to the way Big Sister Xiao taught them.

    Fei Yun assumed an amiable appearance; he said with a chuckle, Two Xiao Xiongdi have rendered great merit, these days this official will present a memorial to His Highness, he will reward you heavily.

    Lets strike while the iron is hot, Yu Shiji continued, High Highness ought to see the account book. Right now we are going to take two Xiao Xiongdi to have an audience with His Highness, but you must not mention anything about the account book. Even if His Highness ask, you must pretend not to know there is such thing.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in dismay; they understood that the great merit of obtaining the account book would be falsely claimed by these two crafty and fawning despicable men.

    Fei Yun laughed and said, Two Xiao Xiongdi must be men who understand reason. Just serve us well, and I guarantee you will enjoy endless glory, splendor, wealth and rank. We are here!

    The two boys looked at each other with bitter smile; they could only follow behind the two men helplessly.

    Fei Yun, who was leading the way, suddenly lowered his voice. The two boys quickly focused their power to listen, immediately they were able to hear every single word. He said, In one day we received three emergency dispatches from Luoyang. Wang Shichong is really shameful; did he want us to lose our heads? I burned all the documents.

    There is another headache, Yu Shiji said, Just now the Imperial Guard Commander Sima Dekan ignored me when I tried to stop him, he forced himself into the Wangjiang Tai to see His Highness, reporting something about someone exploiting the Imperial Guard army provisions, that the soldiers dont have enough to eat and are hungry. And most of them came from Guanzhong, they knew that the Li Clan is raising an army to rebel, so they worried that their hometown is in trouble; batch by batch they ran away from Jiangdu, so he wanted His Mahesty to issue an imperial decree to pacify the heart of the people.

    Fei Yun laughed and said, Fortunately the person who exploited the army provisions is His Highness himself, we are simply carrying out his order, so he cannot put the blame on us. Hee hee did His Highness have Sima Dekan, that fellow who showed no understanding of the times, flogged?

    Yu Shiji replied, I dont know if His Holiness has changed from his excessive stubbornness? Or perhaps he knew that the Imperial Guard Minister General Dou Xian has also led his troops to flee, so he clearly knew that the situation is serious. He only ordered Sima Dekan to immediately pursue Dou Xian and have him come back here, or else he will have to present his own head. I really wish Dou Xian could go a little faster!

    Meanwhile they had reached the steps leading to the Wangjiang Tai. Yu and Fei, two men stopped talking. Listening to them, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling behind them were aghast. Yang Guang definitely was a muddleheaded ruler, otherwise how could he let treacherous court officials like Yu Shiji and Fei Yun emerge?

    Citizen Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling have arrived! The herald at the gate announced as the two boys followed Yu Shiji and Fei Yun toward the stone steps leading to Yang Guangs dragon throne. They kneeled three times and kowtowed nine times [my dictionary has this additional information: formal etiquette on meeting the emperor]. After the ritual was performed, the herald announced again, You may rise!

    The two boys followed Yu Shiji and Fei Yun stood up, and focused their attention to look. Immediately they were taken aback.

    They saw the twenty-zhang wide dragon platform was packed with beautiful imperial concubines; there were at least fifty, sixty women, like the starts cupping themselves around the moon [idiom from Analects], surrounding the elevated dragon throne, busy feeding fruits to the Great Sui Emperor Yang Guang.

    Dugu Sheng stood erect with straight face under the platform, leading the Imperial Guards standing around the platform, separating Yang Guang from Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling.

    After stroking an imperial concubines breasts by his side, Yang Guang looked down the platform. As if he did not see Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling at all, he looked at Fei Yun and said with a laugh, Fei Qingjia [term used by the emperor for his subjects] is here, quickly help Zhen [an emperor referring to himself] solve this problem.

    Yun Shiji bowed and laughed to flatter him, Your Highness, these two

    Zhen knows, Yang Guang impatiently cut him off, Other matter can wait.

    Under the illumination of the palace lantern, Yang Guangs countenance looked worse than Xiang Yushan before his illness was cured; he was so pale that he looked like a dead person. His age looked to be only around fifty, his head and shoulders stood tall; although he was wearing bright-colored nine-dragon gown, with a tall crown on his head, he gave a depressing impression of a dead person wearing burial clothes.

    Anybody could see that his destiny already nearing its end, his days were numbered.

    Fei Yun hastily said, Your Highness, please reveal it to us!

    Yang Guang sighed and said, Zhen really dont understand, whats not good in Jiangdu? To the south facing the Great River, undulating hills, pleasant scenery, since ancient times has been number one scenic spot in Jiang Huai; yet troops are running away these days, even Dou Xian has personally fled. Qingjia, what do you think is the reason?

    This time even Fei Yun and Yun Shiji were left speechless, other people need not be mentioned; they were quiet out of fear, afraid that they might incur unexpected calamity.

    Fei Yun could not but respond; clearing his throat, he said, There must be some people spreading rumors, instigating the morale of the troops. Weichen [this small official] must investigate clearly, and then report to Your Highness.

    Yang Guang let out a cold laugh and said, Who could instigate the morale of Zhens troops? Zhen has fought to the south and attacked to the north, pacifying the land under the heavens, three times went on military campaign to Gaoli [Korea], my military power unrivalled, admired by officers and soldiers. Zhen really cannot believe they would believe idle talk. Quickly investigate this matter thoroughly.

    Kou Zhong could not refrain from nudging Xu Ziling with his elbow, while putting up a I dont want to hear the truth expression on his face.

    Although Yang Guang did not seem to look at him, unexpectedly he saw that; angrily he shouted, Why is that little ones expression so strange? He has the audacity of being disrespectful to Zhen.

    Fei Yun and Yu Shijis soul flew away and scattered, afraid that before these two witnesses could testify, Yang Guang already had their heads chopped.

    Kou Zhong secretly signaled Xu Ziling, ready to break out the siege and flee for their lives, to create a gap they could exploit to get out. This moment he did not even want to kowtow; he said with a giggle, Most probably it was because Your Highness is too profound that you are able to think that deep. We are only simple ant people, naturally our thought process is also a lot simpler. Just a moment ago Xiaomin [small/lowly citizen] was not able to penetrate Your Highness enigmatic thought, thats why I knitted my little face.

    Everybody cried out inwardly, Yang Guang hated it very much when people used sarcasm against him; this time Kou Zhong was really courting death.

    Under these circumstances, Zhu Guier, who was serving Yang Guang eating fruits by his side, also did not dare to speak up to help Kou Zhong.

    Dugu Sheng sighed inwardly; if he had to personally behead these two boys, he really did not know how to explain it to the Baling Bang people.

    Everybody waited with bated breath; sure enough, Yang Guangs countenance sank and he said coldly, What profound or simple? Kid, what is exactly your point?

    Kou Zhong remained calm, while quietly gathered his mysterious power; he said indifferently, What kid was thinking was that if everybody is able to think like Your Highness, supporting the left and holding on to the right, yet they still want to desert the army, then they are not real men.

    At this point, no one did not consider Kou Zhong to be a criminal on the death row, because what he did was exactly what he should not do in front of Yang Guang, i.e. telling the truth.

    Yang Guang was startled; and then he slapped the arm of his dragon throne and laughed so hard that his body swayed back and forth. Like speaking to a child, he said, That is indeed simple! That is indeed simple!

    Everybodys heart went up and down following the sound of his laughter, because he loved laughing madly before killing someone.

    Xu Ziling nodded slightly to Kou Zhong, reminded him to be ready to slip away any moment.

    The laughter suddenly stopped.

    Yang Guang coughed twice, while allowing Zhu Guier and Madame Xiao to wipe the tears on the corner of his eye. When they were done, he looked down at Kou Zhong and said, As the Emperor, Zhen is buried in ten thousand affairs every day, so that my brain is a bit slow, causing damage to the country and suffering to the people. This time you, kid, spoke out the root cause, Zhen immediately think of countermeasures. Guards!

    All the imperial concubines were laughing and giggling tenderly to flatter him.

    Dugu Sheng was still thinking that his fear finally happened; bowing down, he responded, Dugu Sheng is here!

    Yang Guang was stunned, This matter cannot be done by Qingjia. Guards!

    Everybody looked at each other; they did not understand, whether in the imperial court or in Jianghu, Dugu Sheng had a resounding prestige, why was he not qualified to do such a simple thing as putting these two boys to death?

    Fei Yun and Yu Shiji braced themselves and responded in chorus, Your Highness, please reveal your wish!

    Yang Guang cheerfully said, Immediately go around the surrounding area and collect all widows, unmarried women, even Buddhist nuns and Taoist priestess, anybody who is fit to accompany Zhens troops, to boost the morale of the troops.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings countenance immediately changed; was he going to kill a lot of people?

    Who would have thought that Fei Yun and Yu Shiji immediately clapped and cheered, lauding the brilliance of the Sages idea. Amidst the roar of applause, Yang Guang smiled proudly while twisting the tip of his beard; his Sages heart was greatly comforted.

    Xu Ziling could not help shouting, Your Highness!

    Yang Guang let out a cold snort, Enough! he barked, Today Zhen have spent too much time dealing with national affairs, you are all dismissed!

    The herald at the door shouted, Courts dismissed!

    Thank heavens and thank the earth, Yu Shiji muttered under his breath. Together with Fei Yun, they dragged Kou and Xu, two boys, out of the Palace.

    Leaving the Wangjiang Tai, Kou Zhong broke free from Yu Shijis grab and said, We have not said anything about our business, how can we leave?

    Wiping the cold sweats on his brow, Fei Yun angrily said, We almost get killed because of you, this slave who spoke recklessly. Humph!

    Kou Zhongs eyes shot a cold ray, What did you call me? he said.

    Fei Yun was agitated; he nearly flew into rage, but Yu Shiji interrupted him, We are on the same side, whats passed in passed, why do we have to argue about it?

    Turning to Kou Zhong, he said, Your head is still on your neck, just consider yourself lucky, do you still have to blab around and show off? Right now let this official make arrangement for you to rest, Ill pick several palace maids who are pretty and considerate to serve you. When the time is right, well arrange for you two to have an audience with the Emperor.

    Xu Ziling deeply detested these two big treacherous court officials, he said grimly, Just with that one account book plus two gentlemen with silver tongue it is enough to kill Yuwen Huaji, even if we stayed here, there wont be any good; we have decided to leave.

    Fei Yun was still glowering at Kou Zhong, as if he wanted to eat him alive. But just looking at his belly, he probably could eat at least half of Kou Zhong.

    Yu Shiji stepped in between Fei Yun and Kou and Xu, two boys; he tried to persuade using all possible arguments, This is just a minor misunderstanding, two Xiao Xiongdi must not let emotions dictate your decision.

    Kou Zhong stared coldly at Fei Yun for a moment, and then he calmly said, Xiao Ling is right, we have to go! If you insist on us, two brothers, staying, I dont even know what I might say next time we see His Highness.

    With a cold laugh Fei Yun said, You dare to threaten us.

    Yu Shiji stared hard at Fei Yun, but at the same time he signaled him to keep calm and not be impatient, to deal with these two boys later. And then, putting up a smile he said, Two Xiao Xiongdi did not know it, but although the account book has been given to His Highness, but as for when he will actually thumb through it, even His Highness himself did not know.

    Xu Ziling was taken aback, So Yu Daren has not told His Highness? he asked.

    Of course I have, Yu Shiji replied, But His Highness acted as if he did not hear it; he was busy kissing and petting with Imperial Concubine Xiao, and simply told us to put it down, so that he could look at it when he has time. Therefore, we still have to rely on two gentlemen. Hey! I heard from Yushan that Yuwen Huaji is your big enemy, we all have anger against a common enemy, dont be concerned over this kind of small things!

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

    Xu Ziling was well aware that unless they fought the problem on their face, they would never leave this dreadful place. If it were only the two of them, they could always forcefully break through and leave it to fate. However, having to worry about Susus safety, they could only endure and keep the tone of their voice in check.

    Very well! he reluctantly said, But we only want to rest, no need for any palace maids to serve us.

    Yu Shiji breathed a sigh of relief and said, Not a problem at all. Everything will be as you wish.

    Kou Zhong lay down on a long padded bench by the window, listening to the rushing water of Yangtze River; his thoughts wandering far away, he said, Being the emperor really knows how to enjoy life.

    Sitting by his side, Xu Ziling was leaning against the window, gazing at the starry sky of the dreary winter night. Seeing Yang Guang like that, you still want to be the emperor? he asked in disbelief.

    Kou Zhong sprang up; he came over to Xu Ziling. Half kneeling, he also gazed upon the night sky outside. He said, Since we have to pass this long night in the Palace, cant you let me, Kou Zhong, to reveal a little bit of my heartfelt wishes?

    Dont lie! Xu Ziling said guardedly.

    Kou Zhong was startled, When did I lie to you? he asked.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, This is at least the second lie. The first lie was I, Zhong Shao, only touched Beautiful Shifus slender lily-white hands.

    Kou Zhongs thick face blushed; he said, You must have asked that Poniang this kind of embarrassing question about which part of her Laozi has touched, didnt you?

    Not yielding a single step, Xu Ziling let out a cold laugh and said, So you finally admitted that you have lied to me?

    Kou Zhong was peeved, This kind of passionate love thing, naturally I cannot tell all the gory details to you.

    Xu Ziling said indifferently, I dont seem to recall hearing Zhong Shao said that he likes her?

    Kou Zhong let out a bitter laugh, Just consider me afraid of you! he admitted, All right! I was not totally honest, hee hee I have never been an honest person; at least you, Ling Shao should know it better than anyone.

    Xu Ziling understood that Kou Zhong realized that he [Xu] has seen through his [Kou] heart, and knew that it was time to stop. Going back to the original topic, he asked, So what kind of heartfelt wishes do you want to reveal to me?

    Kou Zhong roared in laughter as he stood up. Sitting on the arm of the chair, he put his hand on Xu Zilings shoulder. His tiger eyes flashed mysteriously, he turned his gaze toward the garden scenery under the night sky outside the window. His voice heavy as he said, Although I said those things, I do not really want to be an emperor; rather, I only want to join the hard-to-come-by game of power struggle over the world. A game where there is no rule, where the ideas of compassion, duty, propriety and integrity are only lip service, but not being used to govern real action in real life. Anybody with enough power, anybody whose fist is stiff enough, will be able to call himself a king.

    Xu Ziling was silent for half a day, finally he said slowly, I understand what you mean; since you were young you were always unwilling to be left out, you always need stimulation and challenges, you need other people to respect you, to fawn on you. You are never afraid of anyone

    Wrong! Kou Zhong cut him off, I fear nothing in Heaven or Earth, but I am scared of you. If you became my enemy, I wont be able to sleep in peace.

    Xu Ziling said indifferently, At that time, wouldnt you try to eliminate me by hook or by crook?

    Kou Zhong laughed so hard that he almost choked; gasping for breath, he said, First of all, you cant possibly become my enemy, at most youll just ignore me! Even if I, Kou Zhong, can be merciless toward anybody, but I can never be heartless toward you. Good Xiongdi, lets not indulge in flights of fancy, lets think about how to get away and go find Su Jie! Looking at that dead fattys expression, after our business with Yang Guang is done, I guarantee that by the time we step out of the Palace gate, there will be several hundreds sabers and axes on every side, ready to chop us, two silly bugs, into minced meat sauce.

    Xu Ziling made an eye signal to him, and then he stretched and yawned, I am dead tired, he said, Go to sleep!

  3. #63
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 4

    Book 6 Chapter 4 Confidential Matter That Is Not A Secret

    Kou Zhong slipped out the window and came back. Dejected, he said, Those two damn [email protected] are really cruel, the security is so tight that even a fly cant escape.

    The place they were staying was located in the garden at the southwest corner of Linjiang Palace, to the west and south of the place were open spaces with nowhere to hide. The walls were high with watchtowers everywhere. To the east was a big garden, to the north was about a dozen big bamboo groves with no passable path. Therefore, the only way out was through the garden.

    Xu Ziling came back a step earlier, he also managed to obtain clear picture of the situation. Sighing, he said, The only way is to charge through the high wall, killing our way out. Its just that there is a thirty-zhang open space between the small garden to the high wall, I am afraid before we reach the foot of the wall, wed be shot dead by the rain of arrows from the watchtower guards, or perhaps wed be cutoff by the opponents martial art masters. Hows the situation at the flower garden?

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and replied, By looking at my expression, you ought to know the situation without having to ask me; there are hidden guards everywhere in the flower garden, plus it is brightly lit, thinking about escaping without the gods know and the ghosts detect is just lunatic ravings. This must be personally arranged by Dugu Sheng to prevent us from escaping.

    And then, with a wolf-viciousness he said, If we cannot get away from a place like this, it will really damage our reputation as the Yangzhou Two Dragons. Those two damn [email protected] will despise us even more.

    Xu Xiling mused, Have it ever occurred to you that even if we manage to get out, we still need to crash our way through the city defense, and then once we are inside the city, its still unknown whether we will be able to find Su Jie or not.

    Kou Zhong chuckled lightly and said, Dont worry! Beautiful Shifu will not dare to deceive me; she has already agreed to leave secret marks all around the city, so that we can easily find their location. This is the benefit of using the by hook or by crook method.

    Xu Ziling was dumbstruck and unable to reply.

    Kou Zhong continued his analysis, The security here seems to be incomparably tight, but we can clearly see that the imperial guards are undisciplined and their morale is low, everybody wants to shirk responsibility or even run away from here. Hey! Just think, if we suddenly gone missing, what would the imperial guards guarding us do?

    Xu Zilings eyes lit up immediately, They would think that since Yang Guang ordered Dugu Sheng to keep watch over us, it would mean they are not fulfilling their obligations; it would be strange indeed if Yang Guang did not behead them all. Naturally the entire team will leave their job to join the rank of army deserters.

    Kou Zhong said, Under normal circumstances, my stratagem might not be useful, but right now their heart is anxious, they have misgivings toward each other, they would not dare to lightly and rashly make indiscriminate action! We still have several sichen until daybreak anyway, we might as well wait for two more [email protected] sichen, and then when those guards are cold and tired, we will commence our grand plan.

    The end of yin hour [3-5am], early mao hour [5-7am].

    Whoo! Whoo! With two signals, one after another two shadows flitted out of the courtyard house where Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stayed, toward the bamboo groves, while several wind lanterns in the vicinity went out at the same time. Followed by chaotic noise of snapping bamboo branches, which alerted the guards.

    Among the Imperial Guards Dugu Sheng dispatched to keep watch over the two boys this time, there was no lack of martial art masters. Immediately about a dozen men flew toward the bamboo groves in pursuit of the two boys, yet they did not even see any shadow of ghost.

    Nobody in the Imperial Guards was not familiar with Yang Guangs temperament; they did not dare to ring the bell to sound the alarm, they only split up and searched around. Some even went into the two boys quarter to take a quick look; after confirming that nobody was inside, they hurriedly joined the search operation outside.

    Half a sichen later, several leaders huddled around in discussion. Someone said, This is awful; does anybody have any plan?

    Another man said, If we stay here, we will die for sure; if we flee right now, we still have a little chance of surviving. Please forgive Xiaodi for not keeping you company.

    In reality, everybody had the same thought, so as soon as that man spoke up, a hundred or so Imperial Guards scrambled out in confusion, climbing over the wall and disappeared until nobody remained.

    Only then did Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling crawled out from the under the bed. The former laughed and said, While there is still time, lets get some of Zhen Saos steamed stuffed buns! [See Book 1 Chapter 1 on Sister-in-law Zhen.]

    By the time Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong entering the city via the secret passage, i.e. the water sewer, the sky was starting to brighten. Returning to their former haunts, everything seemed to be familiar, but also seemed to be unusually strange. There was an indescribable inspiration in their heart.

    Last time Yuwen Huaji used hunting dogs to follow our trail, he should find this secret entrance; why didnt he have his men to block it then? Kou Zhong wondered.

    Xu Ziling was applying his internal energy to dry his drenched clothes, Perhaps he wanted to keep this secret passage for his own needs! he blurted out.

    Kou Zhong gave him a push and said with a laugh, Why bother applying your internal energy? Lets go to Chens old clothing store and steal two sets of clothes! Giving that penny-pincher some heartburn is a good thing.

    The two boys laughed heartily, feeling very pleased with themselves; taking advantage before the sky was not quite bright, they leaped onto the roof of a commoners house, like an old horse who know the way home, they flew over houses and building, enjoying the cold wind against their face, rushing toward Chens old clothing store in the eastern part of the city.

    Since they were counting their chickens before they were hatched, unexpectedly it fell through.

    When they arrived, they found out that Chens old clothing store, as well as about a dozen other stores nearby, had been completely converted into Sui army lodging house.

    Kou Zhong heaved a sigh and said, These troops are like locusts who devoured Yangzhou until it is riddled with gaping wounds and cuts and bruises all over. Ay! Zhen Sao is so pretty, I do hope those thief soldiers did not take a fancy on her.

    Without saying a word, Xu Ziling swept across a side alley toward the marketplace.

    Sure enough, Sister-in-law Zhens steamed bun stall was gone; on its place was a fruit and vegetable stall. The market was still bustling with noise and excitement, but the people they were bumping into were unfamiliar faces with out-of-the-area accent.

    Xu Ziling grabbed the fruit and vegetable stall owner and asked, Where did that auntie who used to sell steamed buns [orig. baozi stuffed steamed buns and mantou plain steamed buns] go?

    The owner let out a bitter sigh and said, Of course she is gone! Only people with nowhere to go like me would stay here waiting to die. But if my merchandise is robbed clean again, tomorrow I am going to try rushing out the city gate.

    An old man, the over of the next stall said, Is Sire asking about the Old Feng? Are you their relatives?

    Kou Zhong hastily replied, We are his nephews.

    The old man shook his head and sighed, Their steamed buns are too famous. As soon as His Highness arrived in Jiangdu, they were enlisted as cook in the Palace. Afterwards nobody knew what happened to them.

    Xu Ziling clenched his fists, turned around and walked away.

    Kou Zhong ran after him; he followed him turning to the left and swerving to the right in the midst of the tide of people in the marketplace. Where are you going? he shouted.

    I want to rescue Zhen Sao out of that place, Xu Ziling indignantly replied.

    Kou Zhong grabbed his arm, Calm down! he said, Have you forgotten the moon in the well?

    Xu Ziling was shaken and stopped abruptly. Immediately the people behind them pushed them forward and said, Dont block the way.

    The two boys hastily squeezed their way out of the marketplace. Leaving that noisy overcrowded place, their head cleared out somewhat.

    Kou Zhong proposed to treat their ailing tummy first.

    They went to a nearby restaurant and sat down. After absent-mindedly stuffed several kinds of steamed buns into their stomach, Kou Zhong said, No matter what you want to do, I will support you, but you must not be hot-headed; first of all, we need to solve the problem of Su Jie, and then we can have a free hand in going all out.

    He sighed and went on, The Great Sui is really finished, the world has turned into a terrible mess, if nobody took the initiative to unify the world, I dont know how much more misery the people on the street will have to suffer. One bad Tujue man fight his way into the Central Plains, we, Han people, will fall under the harsh rule of foreign power. Only if you are willing to help me will we be able to rise in building the rivers and mountains [i.e. country] and, as much as possible, do some good things for the innocent people.

    Xu Ziling said, Your thought seems to be too beautiful and too far for me. Now is not the time to discuss this matter; we slipped away like this, do you think Dugu Sheng will be willing to let us go? It would be best if we could find our Su Jie as soon as possible.

    Kou Zhong grabbed a couple of meat steamed buns, stood up and said, You are in charge of buying us two new sets of clean clothes, I will go look for secret markings; we will meet again at the eastern end of Duke Ma Alley later.

    Xu Ziling looked at him and said, Why not go together? If something happened, we can look after each other better.

    The two of us together is too conspicuous, Kou Zhong replied, Plus it would be easier for our old acquaintances to recognize us. Going separately is a bit safer.

    Xu Ziling had no choice but to let him go.

    Kou Zhong went strutting down the street; from time to time he came across Sui troops, womenfolk was nearly extinct from the street, only older ones remained. Merely from this fact it was clear why so many people wanted to leave Yangzhou.

    In the mind of the people, Sui troops were more frightening than any rebel force.

    Suddenly someone called out, Zhong Shao!

    Kou Zhong jumped in fright. Turning toward the voice, he saw someone hiding in an alley, beckoning him to come.

    Kou Zhong hesitated for half a day, but he finally came over. A young, robust-looking man, who was a bit older than he was, with dark skin and sturdy build, who seemed to know one or two stances of martial art, grabbed his shoulders and said, It is really you! At first I wasnt sure. Hey! You seem to live well!

    This man was called Gui Xiliang, he used to hang around the same crowd with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. When they were younger, they even had several bouts with another gang together, but all ended in defeat. However, the relationship among these several boys could not be considered bad.

    Kou Zhong noticed that he was wearing Zhuhua Bang [bamboo flower gang] uniform, there were even three bamboo leaves embroidered on the lapel of his robe. Since when did you become a Xiangzhu [fragrant master]? he asked in astonishment, You did not climb over a lot of other peoples heads, I hope?

    Gui Xiliang replied, It was entirely due to Bangzhu showing favor to me, by receiving me as his disciple; ay!

    Kou Zhong pulled him toward the other end of the alley, he was puzzled, It was a good thing, right? Why are you sighing?

    Gui Xiliang said, Such a big deal, and you did not know? Where have you been hiding these past couple of years? Where is Xiao Ling?

    Answer my question first, Kou Zhong said.

    Gui Xiliang let out a muted snort and said, Whatever I say, I am the Xiangzhu, why should I answer your question first?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, So you want to be the Laoda [the oldest, i.e. the boss]? In that case, Ill let you be you! These past couple of years Xiao Ling and I went mingling in the Jianghu. Du Fuwei, Zhai Rang, and the others have shook hands with us and drank wine together. Ha! Your turn to speak.

    Evidently Gui Xiliang thought he was bragging; clicking his tongue, he said, You, this little demon, look more thick and solid than I am, its a pity just like before, you did not make any progress. Ay! Do you know that two months ago Bangzhu was beaten to death by the men sent by that muddleheaded ruler? It was simply because he refused to hand over Yu Ling from the Tianxian Lou and sent her away instead.

    Kou Zhong raised his thumb and praised, Good man!

    With a bitter laugh Gui Xiliang said, A dead good man is [email protected] fart useless. Now most of the people in our gang have scattered away, leaving only about a hundred men. We hope that when Du Fuwei, or perhaps Li Zitong come to attack, we can be their contact on the inside so that we can avenge Bangzhu, the Senior.

    Kou Zhongs eyes lit up; lowering his voice, he asked, Have you elected new Bangzhu?

    Gui Xiliang sighed and said, Elect what ghost Bangzhu? Right now we are like a sheet of loose sand, we are only waiting for the muddleheaded rulers death, and then well hold an assembly in Danyang, to look at the possibility of electing the new Bangzhu.

    Meanwhile they have reached the end of the alley, ahead was another big street. Gui Xiliang halted his steps and said, I shall not come out to the light. Do you remember that guy, Xing Rongs house? I am hiding in there.

    Kou Zhong casually asked, Hows Yan Laoda?

    You still have the nerve to ask about him? Gui Xiliang said, I dont know what kind of thing the two of you stole from some government official, you implicated more than a hundred people; since then, no one has seen them. I heard it has something to do with Yuwen Huaji; is that right?

    Kou Zhong heaved a deep sigh and said, Dont worry! I guarantee that Yuwen Huaji wont have too many days to live. That muddleheaded ruler will soon open him up with a saber.

    Gui Xiliang snorted disdainfully, Your dead character has never changed. Yuwen Huaji basically never has any regards toward that muddleheaded ruler; before his death, Bangzhu had a very good relationship with him, he even said that Yuwen Huaji even dare to steal the muddleheaded rulers women.

    Kou Zhongs countenance changed, Do you know which one he stole? he asked.

    Naturally the most beautiful one, Gui Xiliang replied, Otherwise, why would he risk his life to steal her? Do you think he dislike having a long life?

    Kou Zhong groaned inwardly; the most beautiful women by Yang Guangs side were Xiao Fei and Zhu Fei [reminder: fei means imperial concubine]. Zhu Fei was Baling Bang people, so there shouldnt be any problem. But if it were Xiao Fei, then Yuwen Huaji should know that he and Xu Ziling have come to Jiangdu especially to do harm to him.

    The more he thought, the more he was alarmed; no longer in the mood to chitchat with this guy, he hurried away.

    Xu Ziling was waiting for Kou Zhong, empty-handed. The latter asked in surprise, The clothes?

    Xu Ziling indignantly said, All satin garments and used clothing stores have been looted bare; they all closed down their businesses for good. Everybody said that wherever the muddleheaded ruler went, there wouldnt be law and order in that place. Failing the peoples heart like this, I really wish to kill him with one punch. Huh? Why is your countenance so unsightly?

    Kou Zhong craned his neck out to look around, a squad of Sui troops has just passed by. Lowering his voice he said, Did you see anything different about those Sui troops?

    Xu Ziling thought he was still referring to the men that Dugu Sheng sent to catch them. Nothing different to me, he replied, In my opinion, currently the morale of the troops is in a mess, even if there is any order from above, they wont necessarily do it wholeheartedly.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, What I am worried about is not that matter, rather, Yuwen Huaji might have received information about his unfavorable situation. Quick! Lets go find Su Jie, Ill tell you along the way!

    Xiang Yushan proved himself to be a scholar of ability and wisdom; the safe house was at the outskirt just south of the city, not far from the Yangtze River. If any problem arose, it would be very convenient to escape either via the water or on land.

    On the outside, it was no different than an ordinary family mansion, but it was actually Baling Bangs secret hideout.

    By the time the two boys stepped into the courtyard, they immediately felt something was unusual. One of Baling Bang leaders told them in low voice, Dugu Sheng and Fei Yun are here.

    Kou Zhong had already guessed that they would, so he simply laughed aloud and calmly and boldly he strode into the hall.

    Xu Ziling, who was following behind him, had a strange feeling; formerly this good brother of his was just a kid, but facing such a tough enemy he had shown his able side.

    Dugu Sheng grandly sat in the middle of the hall, on his side were Xiang Yushan, Susu and Big Sister Xiao, on the other side was the ill-countenanced Fei Yun. Only Yun Yuzhen was not present.

    On either side stood five, six big men wearing embroidered robe, with just one glance it was clear that these men were martial art masters of the Imperial Bodyguards.

    Dugu Shengs eyes were flickering sharply as he shouted with heavy voice, What do you two think you are doing?

    Kou Zhong leisurely halted his steps, his eyes swept across the hall, and he giggled and said, We, two brothers, also want to know what do you think you are doing? You lightly scolded us as slaves, and locked us up as prisoners. Hey! Lets have everybody judge fairly between us.

    Xiang Yushan cast a deeply concerned glance toward Susu, who was so scared that her face was devoid of any color; he stood up and said, Its good that Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong came back, this is just a little misunderstanding. Come! Sit down and lets talk.

    Fei Yun was putting on an air of big official; he slapped the armrest and shouted, What misunderstanding? Yushan, you sit down, lets clear up this matter first.

    Noticing Susu was scared, Xu Ziling empathized with her; letting out a cold laugh, he said, I dont understand why you are still nagging endlessly; the smart thing to do right now is immediately slip away, if you tarry much longer, I am afraid it will be too late.

    Dugu Sheng understood his implication, he raised his hand to stop Fei Yun, who was about to flare out in anger, and spoke in heavy voice, Can Xu Xiongdi speak a bit more clearly?

    Kou Zhong spoke up, I just heard information that one of His Highness favorite concubines has secret ties with Yuwen Huaji. Therefore, our secret plan is no longer a secret. If you were Yuwen Huaji, what would you do?

    Everybodys countenance changed immediately.

    Suppressing his anger, Fei Yun asked, Where did you get the information from? Do you know which imperial concubine?

    From Zhuhua Bang people, Kou Zhong replied, I heard that the late Bangzhu was Yuwen Huajis man, and thats how I learned about the incident.

    Fei Yun was seething with anger, Turns out its that thief who did not know how to appreciate favors.

    From the tone of his voice, it was obvious that if the death of Zhuhua Bangs late Bangzhu was not directly related to him, he must have had some connection with it.

    Dugu Sheng turned to one of his men, Zhu Ming, did you see anything unusual with Yuwen Clans troops activity today?

    The tall and thin Zhu Ming shook his head and replied, We have been closely monitoring Yuwen Huaji, Yuwen Shiji and Yuchi Shengs men, we did not see anything unusual.

    Dugu Sheng breathed a sigh of relief; he said, Wind from an empty cave cannot be without any cause. Moreover, Yuwen Huaji has always had free access to the Imperial Palace, so this matter is highly possible. Fortunately, Laofu [lit. old man, referring to self] has been well-prepared; in the next two days, I have strict order that no one is to leave the Palace

    Xu Ziling cut him off, Now its not the time to comfort ourselves; didnt you see that last night our men managed to slip out of the Palace? If one of those men cast his lot with Yuwen Huaji, plus the secret information from that unknown imperial concubine spy, Yuwen Huaji should have a clear picture of his unfavorable situation.

    Big Sister Xiao joined in, Who currently holds power over the military?

    Dugu Sheng replied, All His Highness personal bodyguards have been with Laofu for many years, more or less there shouldnt be any problem. However, whether they are harboring some disloyal thought, or perhaps they have been bought, even Laofu does not dare to guarantee.

    Fei Yun added, Other than personal bodyguards, there are also Jiangdus own garrison and the Imperial Guards that are coming with His Highness. The former is under Yuchi Shengs command, the latter under Sima Dekan. Yuwen Huaji and Yuwen Shiji do not have direct authority over military affair.

    The tone of his voice softened as he said, This official is slightly mistaken, hereby I sincerely apologize to two Xiao Xiongdi. This matter should not be delayed, we must take advantage before Yuwen Huaji finds out about it to strike first and gain the upper hand; pull the Yuwen familys root from Jiangdu, otherwise it will cause no end of trouble. Would two gentlemen immediately come with this official to have an audience with His Highness? His Highness sacred self has already returned to the royal city.

    Xiang Yushan also urged, Two Dage must use this opportunity to avenge your benevolent masters big enmity, before Yuwen Huaji finds out about this matter, act fast; otherwise, if you miss this opportunity, there wont be any second chance.

    Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, So there is really no sign of troop movement or any rebellion?

    Hearing the tone of his voice, everybody was startled.

    Susu could not help asking, Xiao Zhong, what do you have in mind? Quickly speak up!

    Xu Zilings intelligence was on par with Kou Zhong, he understood immediately. How many men did Sima Dekan take to pursue Dou Xian? When did he leave? he asked.

    Dugu Sheng was shaken, Do you think he is going to rebel? he asked.

    Kou Zhong said, Soldiers and officers ran away, he will take the blame. Does he have good relationship with Yuwen Huaji?

    Zhu Mings countenance changed; he said, Before Commander set off this morning, he stopped by Zongguan mansion to see Yuwen Huaji and Yuchi Sheng.

    Fei Yun stood up abruptly. Thats not right! his voice trembled, He has no reason to bring twenty-thousand men just to pursue Dou Xians several hundred men.

    Xu Ziling said, His pursuit of Dou Xian is just an empty threat. In my opinion, no later than tonight, he will lead the troops back to join Yuchi Sheng and Yuwen Huajis troops to kill their way into the Imperial Palace.

    Fei Yuns countenance became extremely unsightly, This is extremely urgent, he said anxiously, We must enter the Palace immediately to report to His Highness.

    Hold on! Kou Zhong shouted, We are willing to accompany you braving this danger, but you must let our Jiejie leave Jiangdu first, so that we wont have any fears of trouble in the rear.

    Dugu Sheng and Fei Yun exchanged glances; they hesitated and were unable to make decision. Without Susu, if these two boys employed some tricks and slip away again, they would have no way of finding them back, plus currently time was not on their side.

    No! Susu mournfully said, I will wait for you and we will leave together.

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, Then if something bad happens, nobody will be able to leave. I am afraid that for Yuwen Huaji, this house is no longer a secret.

    Xiang Yushan patted his chest as a guarantee and said to Dugu Sheng and Fei Yun, My two Dage are men who dare to do and dare to take responsibility, plus they have deep enmity against Yuwen Huaji. Two Daren can rest assured.

    Dugu Sheng reluctantly nodded his approval.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling bade their farewell to Susu. Only after handing her over to Xiang Yushan did they enter the How do you catch the tiger cub without entering the tiger's lair? frame of mind, and followed Dugu Sheng and Fei Yun back into the city.

  4. #64
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 5

    Book 6 Chapter 5 The Muddleheaded Rulers End of the Road

    Yu Shiji intercepted them in front of Yangsheng Hall, Yang Guangs personal chamber. With bitter and paled face he said, We cannot have an audience now, His Highness is sleeping.

    Fei Yun anxiously said, Saving people is as urgent as fighting fire; cant we have Madame Guier [lit. imperial concubine] think of a way to wake him up?

    Yu Shiji sighed and said, I have talked to Madame Guier earlier, she said His Highness did not sleep at all last night, he went up the dragon bed to rest only a moment ago. Just who do you think will have the guts to disturb him?

    Dugu Sheng also panicked, What should we do then?

    After exchanging a glance with Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong calmly said, Yu Daren, is it possible to ask Madame Guier, why did he stay up all night?

    Yu Shiji understood his meaning; he went into the palace hall again.

    Dugu Sheng helplessly said, It looks like well have to ask two Xiao Xiongdi to be a bit more patient and wait!

    Xu Ziling said, Just dont watch over us like prisoners.

    Fei Yun also beseeched them, Of course not, he hastily said, As long as two gentlemen do not leave the Palace gate, you can do whatever you like to do.

    Dugu Sheng still did not feel reassured, he beckoned a young man from among his subordinates and introduced him to them, This is Laofus [paternal] nephew, Dugu Xiong, let him accompany you strolling around!

    Xu Ziling remembered something; he said, We have a friend who was enlisted to be a cook in the Palace, we want to ask a favor on his behalf, to have him return to his hometown and reunite with his family.

    Fei Yuns mind was already someplace else; a bit impatient, he said, Such a trivial matter, Xiao Xiong [little Xiong] can do it for you. Finished speaking, he and Dugu Sheng went their separate ways.

    This Dugu Xiong was approximately two, three years older that the two boys, his appearance looked quite good, his brows and eyes astute. Shall we go to the kitchen first, then? he inquired, With Yu Daren in charge, nothing is impossible.

    In that case, Dugu Xiong [this time it is brother Dugu] please lead the way, Kou Zhong said.

    Dugu Xiong led the way. Whenever they encountered palace maids and beautiful servant girls, no one did not stare at Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys. With a hint of envy Dugu Xiong laughed and said, Looks like Kou Dage and Xu Dage are extremely popular with the ladies.

    Very proud of himself, Kou Zhong laughed and said, How long have Dugu Xiong entered the service as His Highness personal bodyguard?

    Not even two months, Dugu Xiong replied.

    Xu and Kou, two boys hearts were shaken, thinking that in order to overthrow the Yuwen Clan, the Dugu Clan had the martial art masters in their whole nest to come out and have them transferred to Jiangdu. Maybe after rooting out Yuwen Clans influence, their next target would be Yang Guang.

    After exchanging some greetings with a group of patrolling guards, Dugu Xiong said in a low voice, I heard two gentlemen have defeated Yuwen Wudi, is there really such thing?

    Kou Zhong said in his heart, Not only Yuwen Wudi was beaten and fled, even your familys Dugu Ba was injured by Xiao Ling, yet you, this kid, still dare to be skeptical. However, his mouth said, Its just exaggerated rumor! The fact was that we were just lucky to escape alive.

    That was quite remarkable, Dugu Xiong said.

    Xu Ziling seldom saw Kou Zhong made modest remarks; inwardly he praised him for being more mature than before.

    Passing the imperial garden at the southeast corner of the Chambers of Imperial Concubines, the aroma of meat and vegetable dishes and cooked rice assaulted the three mens nostrils.

    Dugu Xiong said, Please wait here for a moment, let Xiaodi get Lu Gonggong [term of respect to address a eunuch], the kitchen manager, so that gentlemen can ask him directly. As long as he knows that gentlemen are Yu Darens men, I guarantee he will do his best to help.

    After Dugu Xiong left, Kou Zhong said, Chen Laomou [see Book 2, Chapter 10, Grandpa Chen] said: any imperial palace must have underground secret tunnel. Wed better try to find one, so that in time of emergency we can slip away a bit quicker.

    Recalling the dreadful situation when Li Mi attacked the Big Boss Mansion, Xu Ziling shivered inwardly. How are we going to do that? he asked.

    Kou Zhong pondered, Do you remember? Chen Laomou said that all tunnels must have ventilation. Inside the building, the outlets will be easy to conceal, but in open space, in the garden for instance, it will be easy to find. Ha! Of course Yang Guang built the tunnel for his own use. Therefore, as long as we are looking around that imperial garden just now, well definitely find some tiny traces [orig. spiders thread and horse track]. And then when something bad happens, well flee from that tunnel!

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, Your speculation, I agree one thousand percent. But since Xiao Fei might be the enemys spy, chances are Yuwen Huagu also knew about this secret tunnel. If we rush in and Yuwen Huagu waited at the exit and smoked us, we will be choked to death.

    Kou Zhong slapped his forehead. Dejectedly he looked at the magnificent scenery around the palace halls. Lowering his voice, he said, You are right, flying to the heavens we dont have the skill, fleeing to the earth we might meet dead end, the only way is to do it like the last time, find a place where we could hide for [email protected] several days. This place is at least ten times bigger than the Big Boss Mansion; it should be easier to find a hiding place. But we must be careful lest Yuwen Huagu set the Palace on fire to vent his anger.

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, If the sky is falling, well spread it out as our bedding. When the time of soldiers mutiny and troops rebel really comes, Yuwen Huagu will definitely deal with Yang Guang first, we will then take the opportunity to kill our way out of the siege. Dont forget that we are now martial art masters.

    Kou Zhong roared in laughter, I almost forget! he said.

    A smile escaped from the corner of Xu Zilings mouth, the scene from their childhood years seemed to reappear. In those days they were both open and candid, sometimes they would argue about a small thing over many days, but they would also burst in laughter for no apparent reason at all.

    Kou Zhong said in low voice, They are here.

    Xu Ziling had already heard the footsteps. Dugu Xiongs footsteps were steady and even; not only his foundation solid, the path he took in training martial art was also of the profound, powerful and bold style.

    That Lu Gonggongs footsteps, on the other hand, were floaty, plus his left leg was a bit longer than his right, so one was heavy the other light, his center of gravity was a bit off.

    Thinking to this point, even Xu Ziling himself was wondering why he could conjure up conjecture that many things purely based on ones footsteps. If his skill improved some more, perhaps he could grasp even more things.

    A person can always put an act, but the sound of his footsteps oftentimes can reveal the actual facts.

    From a distance Kou Zhong already saluted and said, Wishing Lu Gonggong good fortune, Xiaozi [I, the little one] Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, came with a specific purpose in mind to wish Lu Gonggong good health.

    Lu Gonggong, whose head looked like a snakes head and whose eyes looked like rats eyes, smiled creepily and said, We are all brothers, there is no need to stand on ceremonies, simply tell me what you need.

    Looking at him, Xu Ziling immediately lost his appetite, but on the surface he still maintained cordial expression; extremely deferential, he said, How could we dare to tell Gonggong what to do? We only want to ask Gonggong about certain fellow by the name of Feng Qiang.

    Seeing Lu Gonggongs blank expression, Kou Zhong explained, He is a short and stout fellow, about forty, formerly opened up a stall at the eastern city market selling steamed stuffed buns; very famous.

    Lu Gonggong sighed and said, I remember now, he had a beautiful mistress! Ay! Too bad he died.

    What?!? the two boys voice cracked.

    Lu Gonggong put on a grieving look on his face, he said, That guy was bull-headed, he frequently argued with the other people in the kitchen, someone framed him up by putting some two-fen long [approx. or 6mm] sharp fishbone inside the steamed buns served to His Highness, implicating a lot of people that even I nearly suffered several floggings. Along with him, more than 300 people were beheaded, most probably the fellow who framed him up was also among those people. Ha! Its really preposterous.

    Xu Zilings handsome face turned white. Kou Zhong hastily asked, How about his mistress?

    Acting as if he has seen through the worldly affairs, Lu Gonggong sighed and said, When His Highness wanted to kill someone, when was the last time he did not have the entire family executed? Oh! No! I heard that Feng Qiangs pretty mistress was given to someone who took a fancy on her, thus she escaped the tragedy. As for the particulars, I know nothing about it.

    Dugu Xiong asked, Who might have information about this matter?

    Lu Gonggong laughed creepily and said, Naturally the guy who was in charge of the execution, Dou Xian.

    The three men looked at each other in dismay. Dou Xian already fled out of the city, how could they find him to ask about this matter?

    They waited until afternoon that day before Yu Shiji sent someone to tell them that they could see Yang Guang now.

    Kou Zhong pulled Xu Ziling two steps back; he said, This muddleheaded ruler will kill people as soon as he is unhappy. If something happens, we split up and run away first, and meet again at the pagoda on the southeast corner. If necessary, we could jump down from the pagoda into the moat outside the city wall, and escape underwater.

    Xu Ziling was emotionally moved, That is really the best thing we can do under the circumstances, he praised, You, this kid, have made a lot of progress.

    Kou Zhong proudly said, We also have a bit of luck; because of that scoundrel Li Butongs messing up, we did not need to heal that Xiang kids illness, as a result, we now have more bargaining chip to control that Xiang kid. Otherwise, we would not feel comfortable letting him take Su Jie away.

    Xu Ziling casually asked, Did you ask where Yun Yuzhen went?

    Kou Zhong lowered his voice, My guess is that Dugu Ce is somewhere nearby, hence she went to have a tryst with him, and did not have enough time to come back this morning. Of course! She never expected that we would leave Linjiang Palace.

    And you are still this happy? Xu Ziling asked in amazement.

    Kou Zhong glowered at him; he irately said, I am not going to marry her, why should I be unhappy? I really dont care. Ha!

    Dugu Xiong cleared his throat and turned around, His Highness does not like people making an unnecessary racket. Gentlemen hey!

    Kou Zhong pretended to be surprised, Of course! Other than His Highness own dragon voice, ha!

    Xu Ziling said in low voice, Our current business is urgent!

    The Emperors Private Chamber Palace in sight, Fei Yun was waiting in front of the Palaces gate, beckoning them to come faster.

    The three men unleashed their qinggong to fly over. Fei Yuns expression looked heavy; he said, Your guess is not bad, Madame Guier said that last night His Highness was pestered by Xiao Fei in some kind of game so that in his excitement he did not sleep a wink. I just now remembered that when I made my report to His Highness yesterday, this s1ut also deliberately teased His Highness by kissing him, so that His Highness did not hear what I said.

    Kou Zhong said, In that case, I am sure that Yuwen Huagu will make his move tonight.

    Have you found Sima Dekans troops? Xu Ziling asked, Are they nearby?

    Fei Yun shook his head and said, After his troops left the city, they disappeared, making me very nervous. Ay! I was so busy looking for women that I did not have time for anything else.

    Xu Zilings countenance changed, How could you do such thing that offends Heaven and reason? he said.

    Fei Yun was about to flare-up, but he struggled hard to press down his temper. With a wry smile he said, I just went to the prison to look for some female prisoners so that if His Highness is excited and want to see it, I will have somebody to hand over to him. This is called looking up to peek into the superiors emotion; otherwise this officials head would have been separated from its body. [Translators note: I am not sure about this part, I simply translate it as is. I am sure it is referring to something else, but for the life of me, I cant remember. EDIT: I just remember something: could it be that it was a reference to Fu Junchuo?]

    Full of regret, Kou Zhong said, His Highness memory shouldnt be too good; perhaps he has already forgotten about it.

    Fei Yun agreed, He often forgets things, he said, But I am afraid that as soon as His Highness sees you, he might recall this matter. If he asks about it, it will be terrible!

    What are we waiting here? Xu Ziling said, Time is of the essence here.

    With a bitter expression Fei Yun said, His Highness and the Imperial Concubines are taking a bath at the Long Life Pool, and then after they are done, they will eat something first, and wont be ready in one or two sichen. Even if we get in we will still have to wait. Very well! Please follow this official.

    Seeing Fei Yuns attitude to them was a lot friendlier, although knowing it was a fake, Kou and Xu, two boys felt a lot better; they followed him into the main hall of the Emperors Private Chamber Palace.

    It was the first time the two boys saw such a splendorous and majestic hall; the carpet underneath their feet was thick and soft, the furnishing was carefully selected for quality, no expense was spared, the painting and decoration hanging on the wall were all priceless treasures, dazzling to the eyes of the beholders.

    Kou Zhong pointed at something and whispered in Xu Zilings ear, Must be brought down here from Guanzhong, Luoyang.

    Dugu Xiong heard him; he nodded and said, Kou Xiong guessed correctly.

    Not a soul was in sight in the Hall, slanting shafts of sunlight came from the western windows; it was a picture of peace and quiet.

    On the southern end of the Hall, there was a padded couch carved with dragons and inlaid with gold and silver; naturally it was Yang Guangs dragon seat.

    After asking to be excused, Dugu Xiong went out of the Hall, leaving the three men waiting painfully.

    Fei Yun was restless; they endured painfully for a couple of sichen until the sun was starting to go down before Yu Shiji came in a hurry to announce the good news, They are done! His Highness is putting on clothes, Madame Guier has persuaded His Highness to receive us.

    The three men had already stood up, hearing him, they sat back down dejectedly.

    A moment later palace maids came in to light the dozen or so palace lanterns hanging all around the Hall; they also closed the doors and windows, and lighted the fire stove at the four corners of the Hall. And then Yang Guangs procession arrived.

    Several dozen eunuchs and palace maids trooped in and divided themselves into two rows. After a moment of commotion, they all stood erect and waited.

    And then Dugu Sheng walked in, leading a large number of Imperial Bodyguards to guard all the entrance and exits. After everything was in place, he whispered to the four men, I am sure Madame Xiao is our problem; just now she was pestering His Highness to go to Linjiang Palace to watch the sunset. Humph!

    His Highness is here! Fei Yun hissed.

    They heard the sound of drum and music from far away. With palace maids and eunuchs leading the way, Yang Guang, accompanied by more than a hundred imperial concubines, leisurely came in. He and Xiao Fei and Zhu Fei were riding on plush sedan chairs, which were carried by strong porters; even their leg muscles were saved.

    Everybody crouched down on the floor to welcome this muddleheaded rulers sacred self.

    It was not until Yang Guang half reclined on the couch and all the imperial concubines were sat properly around him that everybody chanted long live.

    As if he did not see Kou and Xu, two boys, Yang Guang heaved a deep sigh and said, Zhen knows that there are a lot of people out there who are fighting for Zhens title. Ay! If worst comes to worst, I want to be like Chen Houzhu, who, after the country fell, he could be Duke of Changle, and continued his drinking party.

    Everybody was stunned; why did he make such an ominous talk?

    Xiao Fei, who sat on Yang Guangs right, laughed tenderly and said, Your Highness is really talkative; some people always exaggerate about those mobs; Your Highness must not believe every word they say.

    Dugu Sheng said in low voice, Just now under King of Yue, Dong Zhis order, Yuan Shan submitted urgent dispatch, saying that Li Mi is leading million troops, advancing toward the eastern capital, that he already occupied Luokou Storehouse; asking His Highness to respond immediately, otherwise the eastern capital will fall.

    It was new information to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling.

    To their surprise, however, Yu Shiji proudly said, Fortunately this official responded quickly; saying that if that thiefs power were really that great, Yuan Shan would have been killed along the way, how could he have reached Jiangdu? Therefore, on behalf of Your Highness, I already drove that fellow away.

    Hearing that, Kou and Xu shook their head and sighed. Since there really was an emperor like this, naturally there would be treacherous court official like that. If Yang Guang was unwilling to face the fact, how could he believe Yu Shijis blatant lie?

    They heard Yang Guangs voice, Hows the situation of the robbers outside? Fei Dafu [senior official], give Zhen the truthful report.

    Calm and composed, Fei Yun bowed and said, Your Highness please understand, the robbers strength is decreasing day by day.

    Yang Guang sat up straight; frowning, he said, Decreasing by how much?

    Inventing crazy nonsense, Fei Yun said, Only ten percent of their former strength.

    Yang Guang breathed a sigh of relief. As if he had just remembered something, he asked, Yuan Shan said Tang Guo Gong [Duke of Tang State/Country] Li Yuan is rising in rebellion in Taiyuan; is there really such thing?

    Fei Yun jumped in fright; he dropped to his knees and said, Nowadays people on the outside often deliberately start rumors and create trouble; let Weichen [this humble official] investigate clearly, and then submit report to Your Highness.

    A cold humph coming from the palace gate, followed by a shout, Liar!

    The crowd was startled; they all turned their eyes toward the voice. To their shock, they saw Yuwen Huaji in full military attire striding in. On his side was a lofty, handsome middle-aged man.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings eyes immediately shot out deep hatred, but at the same time they cried out in their heart that the situation has turn to the worse.

    Dugu Sheng, Fei Yun and Yu Shijis faces immediately turned colorless. They have already ordered their people that if Yuwen Huaji and his cronies wanted to enter the Palace, they must obtain their permission first, yet right now they did not hear anything until he appeared in their presence; therefore, it was very clear that the situation was far from good.

    It was only now that the Herald at the door announced, Right Guard Garrison General, accompanied by Junior Supervisor, is seeking audience with the Emperor.

    As if they did not see Fei Yun, Kou Zhong, and the others, the two men walked into the middle of the palace hall. After kowtowing and paying their respect to the Emperor, they straightened up and stood facing the people in opposition to them.

    Dugu Sheng moved in front of Yang Guang. The Imperial Guards at the dragon thrones left, right and rear tensed up.

    Yang Guang seemed unaware of the swords drawn and bows bent situation in front of him; he asked in astonishment, Why did General Yuwen say that Fei Qingjia is a liar? [Translators note: according to the dictionary, the term Qingjia (used by the emperor for his subjects) was only used from Tang Dynasty onwards.]

    Fei Yun dropped on his knees and cried, Your Highness, please decide for Weichen, Weichen is loyal and devoted to Your Highness, if there is one word of lie, let Weichens dead body lie around in the wilderness.

    A mocking smile appeared on the corner of Yuwen Huajis mouth; for the first time he saw Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, a deep, cold murderous aura flashed in his eyes, as he said indifferently, Previously Du Fuwei was at Shandong, Changbai; now he has reached Liyang. Previously Li Mi barely occupied Wagang, but now he has Xingyang, and is taking over Luokou. Previously Li Zitong could not be considered anything, but now he is mustering his troops north of Jiangdu, ready to move south anytime. The reason Your Highness has never heard anything of these is simply because you are surrounded by treacherous court officials. There are changes everywhere, you never received the memorials. Thieves are really so many, but someone wantonly lied that their number is decreasing. Since Your Highness heard that the thieves are few, the troops dispatched are not many, hence they are heavily outnumbered. The bunch of thieves momentum is growing day by day, so much so that Tang Guo Gong Li Yuan rising in rebellion, everybody under the heavens heard about it, only Your Highness is kept inside the drum.

    Yu Shiji also dropped down on the floor and cried, Your Highness, please do not listen to slanderous information, the one rising in rebellion is him.

    Yang Guang looked confused; he hurriedly said, Two Qingjia please stand up first, Zhen will never let you be wronged and suffer injustice.

    Yuwen Huaji and Yuwen Shiji let out a cold laugh in disdain. Watching this sight, Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings heart sank, realizing that Yuwen Huaji had seized control over the situation.

    Fei Yun, two men, were still unwilling to crawl up; they cried even harder, Yesterday Weichen presented an account book to Your Highness, it was

    Yuwen Huaji laughed aloud. What account book? he said, Is it this thing? He pulled out something from his bosom; it was precisely the account book.

    This time even Yang Guang knew that these two men did not come with good intention. Guards! he angrily shouted, Arrest them!

    Amidst miserable scream, the imperial guards by the door fell to the east and collapsed to the west, blood splattered everywhere, a group of men rushed in, led by several men wearing generals armor. These men immediately joined Yuwen Huaji, two brothers, and occupied half of the halls space nearest to the main door. The crowd of imperial concubines flower-like countenance turned pale as they scrambled to hide.

    Dugu Sheng and his several dozen of Imperial Guards rushed forward and formed a barrier in front of Yang Guang.

    Fei Yun and Yu Shiji were so scared that their tears dried out instantly; they crawled and rolled to hide behind Dugu Sheng.

    Only Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stood where they were, in the middle between the two opposing troops. Fortunately by this time everybodys gaze was focused on Yang Guang that nobody paid them any attention.

    Sima Dekan! Dugu Sheng shouted loudly, Are you rebelling? Still havent put down your weapon?

    Unexpectedly, Sima Dekan who was the leader of the attacking troops laughed and said, Officers and soldiers are thinking of returning to service, this old general only wanted to submit memorial asking His Highness to return to the Capital. General Dugus words are too heavy.

    Yang Guang stood up. Pointing his finger, he shouted, Zhens treatment to you has never been ungenerous, why did you force Zhen doing something that I am unwilling to do today?

    Yuwen Huaji let out a cold snort and said, Your Highness abandoned the ancestral shrine, traveling all over the place continually: outside, sending military expedition, inside, excessive extravagance, sending the strong to perish under the edge of blades, the old and weak to the gutter, the four citizen classes [i.e. scholars, farmers, artisans and merchants] lost their industries, robbers rise in masses, yet still fully employing traitors to flatter, concealing a fault and refusing sound advice. If you are willing to execute the treacherous court officials by your side, come back to the Capital, Chen [your servants, used by official when speaking to the emperor] are still willing to vow loyalty and devotion, and will strive our hardest for the imperial court.

    Yang Guangs countenance changed. Indeed you are rising in rebellion, he shouted, Whos the provocateur?

    Qiang! Yuwen Shiji pulled the saber hanging on his waist, The peoples grievance has reached the Heaven, why need a provocateur?

    Yang Guang shouted at the top of his lungs, Kill them all for me!

    Kou Zhong pulled Xu Ziling away. Utilizing their power they flew backwards. Bang, they broke through the window and Crash! they landed outside.

    Meanwhile the sound of battle inside the Palace Hall shook the heavens, intermingled with the scream and wails of the imperial concubines, palace maids and eunuchs. The chaos was just like the sky has fallen.

    Once again Kou and Xu, two boys were caught in the middle of heavy siege.

  5. #65
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 6

    Book 6 Chapter 6 Killing Their Way Out of Imperial City

    Before Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings feet even landed on the ground, rain of arrows already shot at them. Evidently other than the Emperors Personal Chamber Palace, the rest of the Imperial City has noiselessly fallen under the control of Yuwen Huaji and the renegades under his command.

    Apparently these hundreds of powerful arrows have been prepared as well; the arrows were hard and accurate, perhaps even Ning Daoqi himself would have to entail strenuous effort to block them.

    Greatly shocked, while their bodies were still falling, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling raised their true qi with four palms faced the ground, unexpectedly before they touched the ground their bodies rose high into the air again. Not only they evaded the rain of arrows, they also managed to throw themselves into the cluster of trees in the imperial garden next to the palace hall.

    With a loud shout countless renegade soldiers, wearing white band on their heads, charged out of the woods to intercept the two boys.

    In an instant the two boys were falling into the enemy ranks and were separated by the crowd.

    Outside the woods there were torches everywhere; the battle cry shook the heavens.

    After brandishing his fists to knock out two men, Xu Ziling managed to snatch a long saber. Using the strength of his wrist, he brandished the long saber, a burst of powerful saber qi passed through the edge of his blade, three men fell face up instantly and died on the spot.

    Seizing this opportunity, Xu Ziling fled up a tree. He saw everywhere outside the woods were people running and chasing and killing each other, several palace halls already caught fire, thick smoke rose up to the sky, blocking the light from the sun and the moon.

    Under the light of the blaze, the Imperial City has become the killing hell.

    Two martial art masters from the renegade troops pursued him up the tree, Xu Ziling executed chain-saber technique, blood splashed and the two men dropped dead to the ground.

    Under the powerful sound of the arrows, Xu Ziling was unable to divert his attention to look for Kou Zhong. Soaring high to the sky, he unexpectedly broke his own record by crossing a distance of seven, eight zhang, and landed on the edge of the imperial forest.

    About a dozen renegade soldiers pounced on him, fast as lightning Xu Ziling darted forward. He tried to avoid being caught in hard fighting. The long saber in his hand flickered like lightning flashes, with unbelievable speed he hacked on three sabers, immediately three more enemies fall face up, they met a violent death. Even he himself was so surprised that his hand could be that formidable.

    Two spears attacked from behind, without looking back Xu Ziling swayed left and right, relying on his senses, and dodged the spear attack by a hairs breath.

    And then he ducked forward and broke out of the siege.

    A harsh shout coming from about thirty zhang on his left. Recognizing Kou Zhongs voice, Xu Ziling knew that Kou Zhong was in danger. His heart was shaken, he could no longer maintain the clear water in the well realm, immediately the spear of a renegade soldier, who had been hiding in the dark, was about to pierce the vital point on his flank.

    The instant the tip of the spear penetrated his clothes, Xu Ziling came back to his senses; his tiger body twisted abruptly, his internal energy reacted, the fatal spear thrust slipped away, it only ripped his clothes and scratched a long cut that reached his back.

    Flicking his saber, Xu Ziling hacked the renegade soldiers face. With a ferocious roar he swept past a dozen or so enemies. His toes kicked the ground, he charged toward the direction of Kou Zhongs voice.

    Under the flickering blaze, a group of about thirty renegade soldiers were engaging Kou Zhong in close fight, one of them was surprisingly Yuwen Shiji. Xu Ziling noticed that for each sword attack from him, Kou Zhong had to strenuously move his spear to deal with it, giving the other soldiers the opportunity to attack.

    Xu Ziling also noticed that Kou Zhongs entire body was covered with blood, and that his footwork was unsteady, so he knew that Kou Zhong would not be able to hold on much longer.

    Letting out a wild roar, Xu Zilings saber and body merged into one entity; forgetting any saber technique, he simply brandished his saber in a large saber sweep, like a furious billowing waves of the stormy sea it shot toward Yuwen Shiji.

    Yuwen Shiji was just thinking that in two or three more sword moves he was going to take Kou Zhongs life, and then he would turn his attention to find Xu Ziling. Seeing Xu Ziling was coming to deliver his own life, he was delighted; leaving Kou Zhong behind, he turned around to meet Xu Ziling.

    Xu Ziling had already thrown the matter of life and death to the back of his mind; his heart and mind were free from surprise and fear.

    Dang! Dang! Dang! the two men crossed each other in the air and exchanged three moves.

    When his sword made contact with Xu Zilings saber, Yuwen Shiji knew something was not right; he felt that the opponents scorching hot true qi was bursting out of the saber and an instant later it attacked his meridians; his own Mysterious Ice Energy [see Book 1 Chapter 1] seemed to be subdued by the opponents incomparably subtle innate true qi, so that he found it hard to block.

    Although his power was far inferior to Yuwen Huajis, but compared to Xu Zilings, it was still deeper. Just by taking a mouthful of true qi, he neutralized at least half of the strength of the opponents qi invading his body. The sword in his right hand executed an exquisite, beyond compare technique, to deflect the long saber sideways, and continued seamlessly to hack on Xu Zilings neck; only the power was not as severe as before.

    Xu Ziling stayed calm without any hint of fear, his left palm stretched out flat, with incredible precision it moved from bottom to top, without even missing a hairsbreadth it landed on the swords blade and pushed it up.

    A whiff of chilliness crept up in Yuwen Shijis heart; now he understood why Yuwen Chengdu and Yuwen Wudi suffered defeat in these two boys hands, and why his elder brother Yuwen Huaji repeatedly ordered him not to allow these two boys escape alive from this place.

    A sudden gust of wind assaulted his back.

    Since the two men exchanged moves in the air, by now Xu Ziling has landed behind him. Yuwen Shiji has never imagined that Xu Zilings saber would be that fast; unexpectedly without the slightest delay Xu Ziling already launched a counterstrike, swiftly hacking toward his back.

    Yuwen Shiji ignored the still surging qi in his body. Clenching his teeth, he swiveled around and promptly blocked Xu Zilings saber.

    Qiang!

    Yuwen Shiji let out a miserable groan, his mouth spurted fresh blood, as his sword, along with his body, was struck by Xu Zilings saber that he flew backward until his back crashed against the trunk of a large tree. Injury on top of injury, he slumped down to the ground.

    Xu Ziling did not get it easy either, Yuwen Shijis reaction force jolted his body that his meridians nearly burst and his five viscera nearly ruptured; fortunately he had sustained many injuries in the past that he already knew what to do. The instant before he fell to the ground, he incited the fantastic beyond compare, which can bring people back from the dead, innate true qi from the Secret to Long Life, to neutralize Yuwen Shijis overpowering Mysterious Ice Energy.

    Bang!

    Xu Ziling fell heavily by Kou Zhongs feet.

    A hard fight where both sides went full strength like this, victory or defeat was decided very quickly.

    Having experienced how formidable Yuwen Shiji was, Kou Zhong thought Xu Ziling was dead. In his fury, with a divine strength, which nobody knew where it came from, his spear thrust to the left and pierced to the right, killing the enemy that they scattered to the east and fell down to the west.

    Someone wanted to attack him from behind; Kou Zhong swiftly turned around and thrust his spear. The enemy spurted blood as his body was thrown about a zhang back. The other enemies were intimidated by his power, plus Yuwen Shiji was out of commission, hence they scattered away in panic.

    Kou Zhong felt the sky was spinning, the earth went around; he knew that it was because he had lost too much blood and had exerted too much strength. His condition was very close to a lantern which oil was nearly dried up. Letting out a deep sigh, he believed that the two brothers would lose their lives in this place. But suddenly Xu Ziling sprang up and shouted, Get on my back!

    Kou Zhong was delighted, Good kid! he shouted. Casting off the spear, he threw himself onto Xu Zilings back, and held on to him tightly.

    Xu Ziling circulated his qi to force a mouthful of fresh blood out of his system, afterwards the pit of his stomach felt better as his qi was able to flow freely. And then he leaped diagonally up onto a tree branch protruding horizontally overhead first before borrowing the bouncing force of the branch he flew ten more zhang toward the back of the roof of a two-storied building nearby.

    His movement was as fluid as moving clouds and flowing water. By the time the renegade troops wanted to pursue, he, with Kou Zhong on his back, was already at the roof ridge on the other side of the building.

    There was a long laughter from afar but quickly coming near. Yuwen Huaji flew over and shouted, Where do you think you are going?

    Hearing Yuwen Huajis voice, Xu Ziling knew that if he caught up with them, they would not escape alive. Hastily he jumped down, and landed in the courtyard of the palace complex where the palace maids and the eunuchs slept. Without thinking he ran inside the building.

    Yuwen Huaji did not expect Xu Ziling would dare to hide inside the building, he was still flying on the roof, looking for the two boys everywhere.

    Inside the building cries of grief shook the heavens, about a dozen renegade soldiers were pressing down several palace maids on the floor, doing their beastly deeds.

    Xu Ziling forgot their own safety, he brandished his saber with all his might, killing the renegade soldiers, but those palace maids were already at their last gasp.

    Another group of renegade soldiers rushed in. Xu Ziling quietly raised another mouthful of qi to break out through the window, carrying Kou Zhong on his back.

    Kou Zhong whispered in his ear, Pagoda!

    Xu Ziling understood; he dashed toward the hiding place.

    By this time most of the buildings in the palace complex have already engulfed in the sea of flame, the only people going back and forth were the renegade soldiers searching for survivors.

    Xu Ziling unleashed his consummate escaping skill, fleeing high and ducking low, toward the pagoda on the southeast corner of the complex. The renegade soldiers did see them, but in a flash they already vanished, hence they did not know where to pursue.

    Meanwhile Kou Zhongs breathing has become short and weak, his hands and feet lost their strength. Xu Ziling thought fast; taking advantage while the two peoples chest and back were pressing against each other, he sent his true qi to enter Kou Zhongs body.

    The pagoda was in sight.

    Suddenly there was a cold snort coming from behind.

    The two boys recognized Yuwen Huajis voice, their soul flew away and scattered.

    Kou Zhong wanted to let his hands and feet go, with the intention of letting Xu Ziling escape alive, but Xu Ziling held on to him tight, while suddenly made a sharp turn sideways to evade Yuwen Huajis splitting the air palm strike, and then promptly entered a palace building that was still burning.

    Yuwen Huaji had just scored a great victory he killed his mortal enemy, Dugu Sheng, with one palm strike, naturally he was unwilling to follow the two boys taking risk, so he leaped onto the roof of the building, thinking that the moment the two boys going out of the building would be the moment they would lose their lives. To his surprise, however, all he saw was a ball of fire rushing upwards.

    Yuwen Huaji stared hard; turned out it was Kou Zhong brandishing a piece or burning beam with all his might. At first glance he thought it was just a ball of fire, so with a long whistle he swooped down.

    After receiving Xu Zilings true qi, which complemented his own perfectly, Kou Zhong was able to recover some his strength. Upon seeing that, he looked back and laughed, Yuwen Huagu, nice move!

    Waving his right hand, he transmitted his qi into the blazing beam to created millions of burning fragments raining down on Yuwen Huaji.

    If it were only sparks of fire, Yuwen Huaji was definitely more than able to deal with it, but in the midst of the sparks was Kou Zhongs true qi, which was a different story altogether. If because of this he suffered damage on his face, the gain of killing the two boys would not make up for his losses. Therefore, he could only sigh inwardly and moved away to the side.

    Just this short delay was enough for the two boys to flee into the bamboo forest under the pagoda.

    Wherever the two boys went, fire sprang up everywhere.

    Yuwen Huaji was so angry that he spouted smoke through his seven orifices; he knew Kou Zhong set everything in his path on fire, to block him from chasing or intercepting them. Hurriedly he gathered his mysterious power and taking advantage before the fire grew, he rushed into the woods. To his surprise, however, these past several days the weather was dry and the wind was strong, plus Kou Zhong intentionally waved the burning wood around, so that sparks flew everywhere, the fire followed the wind, the wind intensified the fire, in a blink of the eye most of the bamboo forest caught fire. Crackling noise of the fire was everywhere, forcing Yuwen Huaji to make a detour and had to enter the forest in a roundabout way.

    The most annoying thing for him was that the burning bamboo created thick smoke, making it difficult for him to estimate the two boys position.

    Suddenly a loud laughter coming from above, Kou Zhong was quacking like a duck as he said, Yuwen Huagu, well let you keep your stinky head for the time being, but just be careful! Dont let anybody else take it before we fight you.

    A whooshing noise suddenly filled the air; by the time Yuwen Huaji cried out inwardly, there was a splosh! of the water from the moat just outside the imperial city wall. By the time Yuwen Huaji reached the top of the wall, he saw under the illumination of the blaze that the water in the moat was as flat and smooth as a mirror; the two boys have disappeared without any trace.

    Looking back, he saw the entire imperial city was like a sea of fire, thick smoke hid the starry sky above.

    Muddleheaded ruler is dead!

    The entire Jiangdu was boiling.

    The big fire of the imperial city painted half of the sky above this great city bloody red.

    From time to time renegade soldiers on horseback galloped by and cried out, Muddleheaded ruler is dead!

    Some people went into hiding in fear; but some others set off firecrackers in joyous celebration. The young and the strong swarmed toward the imperial city to look for Yang Guangs dead body, they wanted to burn and peel it to vent their anger, or perhaps they were hoping to get a bit of share of the treasure the muddleheaded ruler left behind from the hands of the renegade soldiers.

    The official storehouse was broken and looted bare.

    Some renegade soldiers even took advantage of the situation to break and enter common peoples houses to rape and plunder, so that a clash ensued. The entire city of Yangzhou was in chaos, Yuwen Huaji and his party were helpless to exercise control over it.

    Dripping wet and cold, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had to do their utmost just to crawl out of the moat, and groped their way toward the aqueduct outside the city.

    On the streets, mobs of people allied themselves with each other, carrying clubs, staffs, swords and spears; as soon as they saw a Sui soldier alone, they would swarm toward him and beat him up, without the slightest care whether the soldier was actually the hero who had helped killing the fatuous ruler. It was a clear display of their bitter hatred toward Sui army and the government officials.

    Xu Ziling was straining to carry Kou Zhong on his back walking along the street, pushing his way through crowds of spectators bustling with noise and excitement.

    A burst of applause and cheers shook the heavens, turned out a squad of about twenty Sui soldiers were being dragged down from their horses by the masses and were beaten half dead.

    Kou Zhong groaned, That section of river course was really hard, and I have no true qi at all; my body feels light and fluttering, and I seem to lose all my strength. Huh? You, this kid, are not injured at all, why does your footstep also seem floaty?

    With a bitter smile Xu Ziling replied, You have the nerve to say that? You, this kid, is so heavy. You dont know how hard it is to carry you on my back.

    Kou Zhong knew that Xu Ziling has exerted too much strength; struggling hard to separate laughter from his coughing, he said, You, this kid, really know how to crack a joke. Ay! This time we failed to harm Yuwen Huagu, and nearly lost our little lives instead; we are definitely out of luck thoroughly.

    Xu Ziling glanced around at the chaotic situation; he noticed that some houses at the west side of the city had just started to catch fire. He said with a heavy voice, Yuwen Huagu will not benefit too much advantage from this, to control this terrible mess is not easy at all; and dont forget that Ol Die and Li Zitong are waiting around here, glaring like a tiger watching its prey!

    Kou Zhongs legs gave up, he nearly fell to the ground, his whole body was exhausted as he was holding on to Xu Ziling for dear life. The two boys strained hard just to walk several steps forward; finally they could not take it anymore. Entering a small alley, they sat down on the ground with their backs against the wall.

    After catching up their breath, Kou Zhong said, We might not be able to rely on that water route, cant say for sure, but Yuwen Huaji might be waiting for us there to walk right into the trap.

    This moment about a hundred or so renegade soldiers arrived; as soon as they saw the armed mob, they immediately attacked. The battle cry shook the heavens, everybody fell over each other whether to evade or to run away. It did not seem like an organized attack, rather, it looked like these renegade soldiers spontaneous act of retaliation.

    Watching people desperately running to the other end of the alley right in front of his eyes, Kou Zhongs spirit was aroused. I dare say that all the city gates are wide open, he said, I dont believe no Sui soldiers will take this opportunity to flee.

    Xu Ziling was trying hard to gather his true qi, but he could not succeed. He mused that if they met even an ordinary Sui troop, they would suffer calamity. Sighing, he said, So what if the gates are open, do we have strength to walk out? Hows your injury?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, After we get out of the city, let me, Zhong Shao, strip naked and have you count how many cuts are there on my body, I guarantee it will scare you. Fortunately Laozi [I, your father] have deep power, the cuts can automatically fuse together to stop the bleeding, otherwise I would have died from hemorrhaging alone. The most formidable thing was that [email protected] Yuwen Shijis sword; he could pierce the true qi protecting my body. But at least this young master returned the compliment by giving him a kick; otherwise, how could you knock him down? Quickly thank me.

    Xu Ziling roared in laughter. You, this fellow, will never concede, he said, Were it not for me, you, this kid, would have become minced meat sauce.

    Kou Zhong joined him in laughter. Wiping the tears from the corner of his eye, he said, Why is it that even after we failed and were wiped over the floor, and now whether we will live or die is still hard to forecast, we could still be this happy?

    Xu Ziling craned his neck to look at the street where there was no lantern and no burning fire. The chaotic street just a moment ago has become as quiet as the ghost place, except for unceasing shouting and screaming from the distance. Breathing a sigh of relief, he said, The reason is very simple: because we are still young. As long as we still have days ahead of us, and we dont die, even if we are a bit late, we can always find Yuwen Huagu to settle the old account clearly.

    Kou Zhong acted as if he was deep in thought concerning this matter; and then, propping himself against the wall he stood up shakily, and spoke with determination, Even if we have to crawl, we have to crawl out of town. If we dont leave now, there is a good chance we will never leave.

  6. #66
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 7

    Book 6 Chapter 7 Father and Son Reunion

    Stepping into the main street leading to the southern suburbs, the two boys immediately felt at ease. They saw millions of people hurriedly moved in the same direction. People and carts fighting over each other for the right of way, the sound of crying and shouting shook the sky. It was not clear anymore who were the soldiers and who were the thieves, everybody just wanted to rush somewhere else to avoid the calamity.

    Xu Ziling was helping Kou Zhong walking through the crowd, groping in the dark, forging ahead. The sky was covered with the thick smoke and the debris blown by the wind from the direction of the imperial city. The grand city of Yangzhou has turned into the terrifying hell of Asura.

    When they reached another intersection with a small alley, the crowd ahead of them was suddenly thrown into confusion; they heard someone yelled, Hear the newly-appointed Commander-in-chief Yuwen Huajis order: go back immediately, otherwise you will be killed without any pardon.

    Everybody shouted together; ignoring the order, they walked even faster toward the port. Soon afterwards the flow of crowd was moving freely. Nobody knew where the renegade troops captain, who had just made the announcement, had gone to.

    Kou Zhong spoke in Xu Zilings ear, This is the power of the masses. As long as you know how to use it, it can display previously unimaginable efficacy.

    Xu Ziling let out a bitter laugh and said, How about leaving some spiritual talk behind? I am having a hard time helping you walk.

    Before he even finished talking, a crowd of men and women pushed them from behind that they had no choice but to stagger along for a dozen paces. And when they looked up, they were already in the wilderness outside the city.

    The two boys followed the tide of people, suffering untold hardships to leave the Jiang County behind, walking along the river toward Danyang. As long as they could find the biggest brothel along the Yangtze River, there was a good chance they would find information about Xiang Yushan, Susu and the others.

    Kou Zhongs internal injury was actually rather heavy. Fortunately, after taking a rest in the forest by the road for two days, Xu Ziling recovered his strength first, and then he put his hand to help Kou Zhong treating his injury.

    After ten days, the two boys continued their journey. While nearing Danyang, they came face to face with a group of refugees and found out that Du Fuweis partner, Fu Gongyou has captured Danyang, so that Danyang residents fled out of the city to take refuge in the rural areas and other towns and counties nearby.

    By the time the two boys arrived at a little town called Dingshi northeast of Danyang, nine out of ten houses were vacant; a dismal atmosphere just before a great catastrophe about to strike.

    After finding someone he could ask, Kou Zhong came back and said, Turns out five days after Yang Guang was killed, Li Zitong received the news and promptly brought his force to attack Yangzhou. That coward Yuwen Huagu did not dare to meet the enemy, he took a boat and slipped away. I heard that instead of going back to Luoyang, he went to Changan.

    After laughing aloud, he went on, This kid still did not dare to be the emperor, he embraced Yang Huangs nephew Qin Wang [king of Qin], and made him the emperor, so they are going to Changan to seek only ease and comfort.

    Xu Ziling, who was sitting by the well, sneered and said, The road is long, the soldiers are weary; Yuwen Huajis reputation has never been good, everyone regards him as the emperors hunting dog, and now just the evil rebel dogs master. Basically he does not enjoy popular support. I dont believe he can achieve any great things. Humph! Lets not talk about Changan, even if he went to Luoyang, would Li Mi be willing to let him off?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Of course he is going to Changan! I heard the Li Clan is marching on to Changan, I just dont know whether they won or they lost? That kid Li Shimin is really not a simple person.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Why do you care about so many things? Right now I am most concerned over Su Jie. Danyang is a mess, that need not be mentioned, I dont know whether they have met some mishaps. Ol Die is not a lay practitioner of Buddhism. If he found out that we are in the city, it would not be much different than bumping into Yuwen Huaji.

    Kou Zhong said with a wry smile, Even if everybody in Danyang has turned into a tiger, we still have to go there; otherwise we will lose contact with Su Jie.

    Having made up his mind, the two boys continued their journey.

    The towns and villages closer to Danyang have all become disaster area after the fire. Their guess was that it was all the good craftsmanship of the defeated Sui troops who were running away from Danyang. Just these batches of defeated thief soldiers returning to the north have brought about such enormous suffering to the common people.

    The two boys heart grew very heavy.

    When the city of Danyang was in sight, the two boys discussed the best way to enter the city. Xu Ziling said, Although Danyang city wall is a bit lower than Jiangdus, it is still at least several zhang high. Without hooks and ropes, even if we trained the Bird Crossing Technique for ten more years, we would still be unable to jump over it. So what do we do?

    By this time the two boys clothes were soiled and raggedy, their hair messy and their faces dirty. In this kind of critical period, no matter how much money they had, it would be useless.

    Kou Zhong has been eating only wild fruits for the last twenty days, he lost the sense of taste in his mouth already, so he was dying to get into the city. Nobody would expect we came to Danyang, he said, Plus right now we cant even recognize ourselves. We might as well swagger into the city.

    Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, The city guard is most strict in wartime, my fear is that there will be spies mingling among the people going into the city. If we simply crash in through the gate, I am afraid something wrong might happen.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Are you forgetting that we are Wulin martial art masters now? If we cant crash in, well simply run away, and then think of other ways to enter the city. Throw your ghost-headed saber first, lets go!

    Surprisingly enough, when the two boys entered the city, they saw Du Fuweis Jianghuai Army were interrogating everybody at the gate; however, they only asked a couple of questions to the two boys. After finding out that they were refugees from Jiangdu, they simply let the two boys entered without any further questions.

    As soon as they were inside, Kou Zhong excitedly said, Finally our bad luck days are over. Ever since we came to Zhai Rangs Big Boss Mansion, I dont know whether it was because we were affected by his rotten bad luck, but we always had bad luck, so much so that we almost lost our lives in Jiangdu.

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, All Zhai Rangs people are dead, what else there is to say? You ought to look at it the other way: after so many calamities we did not die, our flood of good fortune is really the same as the heavens.

    Thinking that soon they were going to see Susu, Kou Zhong readily admitted, Right, right! Our flood of good fortune is the same as the heavens. Oh, something is not right here! Didnt Xiang kid say that after going into town, we need to walk straight for three hundred steps or so, and then we will see his mothers something courtyard? We have walked for over a thousand steps, why didnt we see that ghost signboard?

    Xu Ziling halted his steps in shock, Oh no! his voice trembled, Did you remember we saw several buildings that were burned through the top? I am afraid it was right there.

    Like a couple little beggars the two boys sat on the street, staring blankly at the passers-by sparsely gracing the street, with occasional Jianghuai army soldier galloping on horseback, yet nobody paid any attention to these two boys. For the last few years there were people fleeing from calamity everywhere, this kind of sight no longer surprised them.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, I really feel like seeing one Sui soldier kill one, seeing two Sui soldiers kill a pair. If they wanted to leave just leave! No one is stopping you; why would they burn everything before leaving? If they wanted to rob, why did they have to burn and kill?

    Xu Ziling indifferently, Blaming the Heaven and blaming the Earth is useless. Logically speaking, that Xiang kid is highly intelligent, he must have a way to contact us.

    Kou Zhong dejectedly said, We have been sitting here for half a day, not even half a person came to contact us. I wonder if we should just wait here forever, or should we go buy some clothes that are a bit brighter and neater, and then find a cure for our hungry tummy, and finally find a place to stay for the night?

    Xu Ziling straightened up and rose, I know you dont have the patience, he said, Just go!

    Xu Ziling was lying on the bed, practicing his internal energy cultivation. He only stopped when Kou Zhong came back.

    This place was not a hotel or an inn, rather, it was a house abandoned by its master, who fled the calamity with his entire family, so that the two boys could use it as their temporary shelter.

    Xu Ziling sat up. Any news? he asked.

    Kou Zhong sat down beside him and said, I left Beautiful Shifus markings all over the city. If that Xiang kid sees it, he will know that we are here.

    Hows the situation outside? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhong shook his head, Daytime is still all right, he said, But as soon as it is dark, everyone is afraid to go out into the streets. The shops are either closed for the day or closed for good. Ol Dies men are truly disappointing, from time to time they break into the citizens houses to commit their evil deeds, angering the heavens and grieving the people. No wonder hearing the Jianghuai Armys arrival, everybody ran away.

    In my opinion, Xu Ziling said, That Xiang kid ought to be gone someplace else with Su Jie. Ol Die has so many enemies, Baling Bang could be one. Naturally Xiang kid wanted to preserve his head.

    While Kou Zhong was deep in thought, suddenly there was a knock on their door.

    The two boys shivered in fear, they looked at each other in dismay.

    Kou Zhong immediately sprang up and said, Perhaps its Xiang kid, because I left secret marks to point out that we stay in this place.

    Xu Ziling was greatly delighted; he dashed toward the main gate, and standing behind the door, he called out, Who is it?

    No response from the other side of the door.

    Kou Zhong had a very bad feeling; he darted toward Xu Ziling and whispered in his ear, Somethings wrong, lets get out of here!

    But suddenly they heard a sigh coming from the middle of the hall.

    The two boys scalp went numb; they turned around immediately, and saw their tall and thin old dad, still wearing his tall hat, with his hands behind his back, was standing in the middle of the hall, with his face devoid of any expression, he was coldly sizing the two boys up and down.

    Among the people that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling feared to meet, Du Fuwei ought to be on the top of the list; even meeting Li Mi or Yuwen Huaji was not as dreadful.

    Thinking that this time Du Fuwei has come prepared, he must have prepared inescapable net before making personal appearance for this father and son reunion, the two boys were groaning even harder in their hearts.

    Letting out a dry cough, Kou Zhong said, This is Ol Dies territory, just call your men out!

    Du Fuwei could not help laughing, Good kid! he said, Still so cunning. You are trying to sound out what your Ol Die has prepared this time, arent you? Let me tell you straight! After receiving the information that the two of you have entered the city this morning, Die immediately rushed for more than forty li nonstop to see you, these two little demons. Right now I dont have even half an attendant by my side. If you want to escape, just escape!

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Die is the number one martial artist in the world, you have a reputation to keep, and now your children do not have a single weapon we could lay our hands on; is it possible for Die to give us three days grace period, so that we can make appropriate arrangement, before we and Ol Die go somewhere out of the city to have a his mothers battle?

    Du Fuwei looked up at the beam; he said indifferently, I want to speak alone with you, Kou Zhong.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly stunned; they both thought that perhaps he wanted to deal with them one person at a time. But it was unnecessary, because even with the two boys fighting together, to defeat this world-caliber martial art expert was simply lunatic ravings.

    Deep in his heart Xu Ziling had a feeling that things were taking a turn for the better. Besides, if they were going to die anyway, there was no harm in taking his mothers gamble a little bit. Thereupon he nodded and said, In that case Ill wait outside the door! Finished speaking he climbed out the window.

    Du Fuweis expression was serene; he sat down in a chair at the southern end of the room and said in a soft voice, Xiao Zhong! Have a seat!

    A bit flattered by the courtesy, Kou Zhong sat down in an imperial tutor chair [high back with arm rests] on his right hand side.

    Du Fuwei was silent for half a day. Finally he said calmly, Yuwen Huaji has been with Yang Guang for too long, a lot of his bad habit cannot be changed. Going to Peng Cheng, because the waterway is blocked by Li Mi, he has to make a detour toward Changan, hoping that he could beat Li Yuan by one step in gaining control over the Capital. Unexpectedly he ordered his men to rob common peoples more than two thousand ox carts. More foolishly, he used those carts to transport palace maids and treasures he plundered from Yang Guangs palaces, while weapons, equipment and food provision he had ordinary soldiers to carry on their back, provoking the soldiers that they are rebelling. The leader was precisely Sima Dekan, who once joined hands with him in killing Yang Guang. Although he managed to pacify the rebellion, his strength took a big hit. Ay! Yuwen Huaji has always been known for his wisdom and scheming ability, its hard to imagine that he would commit such an unwise move.

    Kou Zhong did not understand why the vicious and extremely wicked Du Fuwei would want to chat with him; he had no choice but to endure patiently and listen respectfully.

    Du Fuwei went on, His stupidity benefited Li Mi, who had Xu Shiji and Shen Luoyan prepare an ambush at Liyang, and inflict defeat on Yuwen Huaji; countless soldiers surrendered, women, money and goods were lost. Relying on his exceptional martial art skill, Yuwen Huaji led twenty thousand remnants toward Weixian at the north; his reputation will be difficult to maintain.

    Kou Zhong blurted, Wont that mean Li Mis prestige is flourishing? He could not help thinking about Li Mis Duke of Pushans Decree to have him and Xu Ziling hunted and killed. Their unfavorable situation has made a turn to the worse. Moreover, thinking back to Du Fuwei in front of him, whom he had no hope of overcoming, unless there was divine intervention, there would not be any narrow and lucky escape this time.

    Du Fuwei turned his attention to Kou Zhong; gazing deeply into his eyes, he said, Between you and Xiao Ling, two boys, I like you, this kid, better. Do you know why?

    Kou Zhong thought that he was being sarcastic; he sneered and said, Toward Dies misplaced kindness, Child will be eternally grateful [orig. hard to forget even after ones teeth fall out].

    A hint of smile escaped from the corner of Du Fuweis mouth; he said softly, Does Child want to know the reason?

    Speak up then! Kou Zhong grudgingly replied, Even if Child does not want to listen, I cant.

    Du Fuwei did not pay any attention to Kou Zhongs frigid irony and scorching satire; he said indifferently, Because you, this little demon, are a lot like me.

    Stunned, Kou Zhong looked at him; for the first time he could feel that Du Fuwei was sincere.

    Du Fuwei averted Kou Zhongs gaze. Looking straight ahead he said slowly, Yuwen Huaji did not look into the mirror; his martial art skill is abundant, but his popularity is insufficient. When the news of that fatuous ruler got killed reached Luoyang, Yang Shichong [sic, I think it was supposed to be Wang Shichong] immediately threw his support to King of Yue, Yang Dong to be a puppet emperor. Nowadays, whoever has control over the military will have control over the general situation. Otherwise, even if you have unrivalled martial art skill, you will become no more than an outstanding warrior or perhaps super assassin.

    Listening to the implication of what he said, Kou Zhong started to get a feel of the purpose of this one-on-one conversation Du Fuwei wanted to have with him.

    Du Fuwei explained further, Li Yuan cant be considered anything; however, this dog father unexpectedly begot a tiger cub Li Shimin. In succession he swindled the Tujue and Liu Wuzhou not to attack Taiyuan, so that the Li Clan wont have fears of trouble in the rear, furthermore, it enabled him to launch sudden attack to defeat Song Laozheng [venerable old man], capture Changan, and support King of Dai, Yang You to be the emperor, and nearly angered Li Mi to death.

    Du Fuweis eyes returned to Kou Zhong as he spoke in heavy voice, Right now the Sui Dynastys name remains, but the reality is gone. Although one after another their later generations are receiving support to become the emperor, it is nothing more than the final radiance of the setting sun; a little bit of excitement here and there before it is thrown into oblivion. Those with aspiration, who make unifying the world [China] as his mission, who are carrying thousand different schemes, who are surveying the world, other than Li Mi, who could possibly contend with me, Du Fuwei?

    Kou Zhongs tiger-eyes lit up; his eyes exuded incomparable passion, but he did not say a single word.

    Boldly and powerfully Du Fuwei slapped a small table by his chair, the solidly built table immediately disintegrated and crumpled to the floor.

    Kou Zhong jumped in fright and turned his eyes on him.

    Du Fuweis eyes exuded a spirited ray that Kou Zhong has never seen before. Staring at Kou Zhong, he said, If you are willing to earnestly and sincerely recognize me, Du Fuwei, as your father, and change your surname to my Du surname, I, Du Fuwei, will treat you like my own, and will help you become the new dynastys emperor.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, You dont want to be the emperor? he asked.

    Du Fuwei threw his head back and let out a long laugh; he said, Li Mi wants to be the emperor, Yuwen Huaji wants to be the emperor, Dou Jiande wants to be the emperor, although he has no guts Li Yuan also wants to be the emperor. Everybody wants to be the emperor, but what about me, Du Fuwei? Its only this: with my martial art skill, I am unwilling to be left out.

    Kou Zhong looked at him incredulously; he sounded him out, You are really willing to yield the emperor position to me?

    Du Fuwei replied in a heavy voice, The fish and the bears paw, you cant have both at the same time [idiom from Mencius]; both are difficult to attain. If I forced you to help me becoming the emperor, someday I will be killed by you. You and Xu Ziling are the type of person who innately unwilling to accept an inferior status. The first time I talked to you, I already knew it.

    Kou Zhongs tiger body shook severely; he awkwardly said, If I really admit you as my father, how could I possibly harm you?

    Du Fuwei sighed and said, In the struggle over the throne, nobody has any relationship with anybody else; compassion, duty, propriety and integrity are totally useless. Those who want to achieve big things do not attach any importance to reality, its easy for them to say empty words, and in everything they do, they must be vicious and merciless. The reason why the Ol Du thinks highly of you, is precisely because you are that kind of person. You have ambition, and you have the capability. So when everybody in Jianghu say that you are simply lucky, only the Ol Du is deeply aware that the two of you are really formidable. Just ask anybody, who has not fallen under your trick and fallen under your control? And who has really been able to deceive you?

    After a short pause, he continued, Xiao Ling and you are two different types of people; even if I killed him, he would never admit me as his father.

    His expression turned serious as he went on, As soon as you make your decision, we, you and I, have the world in our bag.

    Kou Zhong thought hard for half a day; he suddenly said, Supposing I am unwilling, are you going to kill me?

    Du Fuwei smiled wryly and said, Originally I did have such intention, but on second thought, if you are not delighted to do so, later on you will guard against me, and I guard against you, whats the point in that? But I am quite surprised you asked me that; it seems to me that you are not going to accept.

    Kou Zhongs eyes were gleaming with unusual shine, as if he was entering a beautiful dream world. Brimming with vision for the future, he slowly said, If I obtained the world by relying on you, Ol Die, then its really too unexciting. Yes, I do have ambition to win over the world, but what I am really looking forward to is the course of events. Before achieving the goal, I want to empty-handedly experience the challenge and blood and sweat of invigorating the country. Die, do you understand?

    Du Fuwei straightened up and rose; laughing wildly, he said, Do you know that by calling me Die repeatedly, you have saved your and Xu Zilings little lives? Just now I was ready to make my move. So be it! I want the two of you to leave town immediately, I guarantee that no one will stop you. Next time we meet, dont blame me for being ruthless.

    And then looking back, he smiled and said, Youd better find a good place to hide, get out of the limelight and the intensity of the fire; otherwise you would become ghosts who died unjustly under the Duke of Pushans Decree.

    After another loud laugh, he disappeared.

  7. #67
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 8

    Book 6 Chapter 8 Total Abandon

    The two boys left Danyang city in a hurry, they ran for more than ten li in one breath before stopping on a small hill.

    Suddenly there was a crash of thunder, followed by lightning and more thunder occurring at the same time, and then heavy rain started to pour.

    Kou Zhong thought he might as well take his upper garment off; standing bare-chested, he looked up to the sky and shouted, What do we do now? Laotianye [God/Heaven], how about telling me, Kou Zhong?

    Xu Ziling also looked up and opened his mouth wide, happily swallowing several mouthful of rainwater. Du Fuwei showed considerable respect toward you, why did Zhong Shao let this great opportunity slipped away? he said, If only you called him Die, Jianghuai Army is yours.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, This is called no desire for convenience. Besides, how could it be that simple? Dont forget that there is also Fu Gongyou.

    Xu Ziling roared in laughter and said, Dont lie to me, there must be another reason.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Its indeed difficult to conceal anything from you. Jianghuai Armys thief-character is too heavy; bad habits die hard, they are definitely not a good material for the struggle over the world. But the most important reason is that I, Kou Zhong, dont want others to say that I start my career by relying on the Old Du.

    And then his eyes lit up as he said, In this world, there is nothing more beautiful than life itself, but life has to have meaning, the beautiful part is the process and the experience. Success or failure is not a big deal, its the course of events during the struggle that is the most fascinating. My good brother, do you understand now?

    Xu Ziling nodded, Of course I do! he said, But Du Fuwei is also right, you and I are two different types of people, the pursuit of our goals is even more different. Perhaps there will be a day after you obtain the world that we, two brothers, will go our separate ways.

    Kou Zhong grew silent. Suddenly he roared in laughter and said, The encounter of the future is his grannys goddamn business. Right now what do we do? Returning to Danyang is out of question, will we simply lose touch with Su Jie just like this?

    Xu Ziling mused, The lifes encounter is controlled by fate. Although everybody advises us to be a turtle who withdraw its head [i.e. person who refuses to face reality] by avoiding Li Mis decree to hunt and kill us, but where is the fun in being such people? We might as well look for something we can do in total abandon, so that the world will know. When that Xiang kid hears it, naturally he would want to bring Su Jie to be reunited with us.

    Crash! A flash of lightning split the sky, painting the heaven and the earth deathly white.

    Being at the front seat of the natures display of power, the two boys were momentarily speechless.

    It was quite some time later that Kou Zhong broke the silence, What are we going to do? he asked.

    Xu Ziling burst into loud laughter, You are really absent-minded; have you forgotten about the batch of salt we transported the other day? Well take the goods out and transport it to the northwest region, where salt is most scarce. As long as we can overcome the obstacles along the dangerous and difficult path, if this mission succeeded, we will become genuine martial art masters.

    Kou Zhongs powerful body shook. Good idea, he said, We deliberately publicize it along the way, so that whoever wants wealth but doesnt love his life may either come to get our heads, or deliver his life to us.

    Crash! The thunderstorm grew more violent.

    As soon as the storm lessened up, the two boys immediately set off toward the place they called the training beach, the place they would never forget as long as they lived, the place that, other than the small valley where they buried Fu Junchuo, was able to stir their emotion the most.

    Because this time they were taking land route, they had to speculate a lot along the way, which made their journey slow. However, the two boys did not grow impatient, because their focus was on the martial art training.

    By this time the two boys had gained a wealth of combat experience. With the addition of the dreadful threat from Duke of Pushans Decree, plus knowing that this journey of transporting the salt was extremely dangerous, the two boys were very careful and extremely focused. They talked less, and tried as much as possible to avoid entering any village, city or marketplace; they only relied on wild fruits to allay their hunger, without any distraction they trained day and night, leading a rather ascetic life.

    Naturally at that time they did not know that this period was where they made an astonishing breakthrough, which laid the groundwork to reach the status as invincible martial art masters in the universe.

    One day, because their clothes have been so worn-out that it could not even cover their bodies, they had no choice but to enter a small town to buy two new sets of clothing as replacement.

    This southern town did not seem to be affected by the fire of war; it was bustling, flourishing and peaceful. It happened to be some sort of holiday that every household was decorated with lanterns and colored banners, everybody was wearing new clothes, and firecrackers were crackling incessantly.

    By nature, Kou Zhong was more inquisitive than Xu Ziling, so he went outside to find out what was going on. When he came back to the inn, he said to Xu Ziling, who was meditating in full concentration, Turns out this place is under Lin Shihongs power. This fellow was originally the Er Longtou [second boss] of Poyang Hui [society]. After only a few months rising in rebellion, the Da Longtou [big boss] Cao Shiqi was eliminated by others, giving his cold hand the opportunity to hold some hot fried dumplings. On top of that, because he killed and beheaded Sui Dynastys valiant general Liu Ziyi, his reputation soared, attracting his former subordinates so that the number of his men added together reaches more than 100,000. This fellow declared himself an emperor, taking Chu as the name of his dynasty, with Yuchang as his capital. Jiujiang, Linchuan [both are in Jiangxi] and several other large counties have all fallen into his hands. Hey! There are other news, wed better go to a wine shop and talk it over some big bowls of wine and big chunks of meat.

    Xu Ziling frowned and said, This past month all we ate was wild fruits, cassava, King Solomons seal [Polygonatum], and the like; our digestive system is used to clean and mild food; I am afraid eating meat and drinking wine will make us sick.

    Kou Zhong pulled him up and said, Exactly for that reason we have to rejoin the world. You, this kid, have the tendency of withdrawing from worldly affairs, which makes me afraid that you might become a Buddhist monk or a Taoist priest. Worse yet, you seem to completely lose interest in girls.

    While talking, he pulled a pair of daggers from his bosom, and stuffed one into Xu Zilings hand; he said, These are very expensive, I bought them from a street vendor, very good steel. The best part is their names, yours is called cutting off jade, mine is called dispersing gold, Hui Jin Duan Yu, such interesting and strange names.

    Xu Ziling examined the dagger in his hand; the hilt indeed had ancient seal script engraved on it, duan yu two characters. He said, I dont like using weapons, why did you give it to me?

    Kou Zhong slapped his back excitedly; with a hearty laugh he said, Its for you to shave your beard. Go look into the mirror, see if you can recognize Xu Ziling!

    Xu Ziling still did not understand, Whats the big deal? he asked.

    Why you suddenly become so stupid? Kou Zhong angrily said, If nobody recognize who we are, then nobody would come to us to settle the debt. If this matter is not elevated, how can we let Su Jie know that we are still in the world of the living?

    Still confused, Xu Ziling followed Kou Zhongs order and used the dagger to shave his beard. While shaving, he sighed and said, This is really a treasured blade!

    Kou Zhong had just shaved his face clean, squinting as if he was looking at the bright sun he said in astonishment, Your, this kid, appearance seems to change, but I cant tell exactly whats different. Could be changes in personality traits, like a degree or two of transcending-the-earth refinement?

    Xu Ziling did not seem to care to even look back at him, he spoke indifferently, You look more like Wulin martial art master as well; you could even scare people without fighting.

    Kou Zhong laughed and cursed, Get lost, you big headed ghost! And then he pulled Xu Ziling to go to the wine shop.

    The wine shops main hall was nearly full, more than thirty tables with only two empty ones. The patrons were mostly traveling merchants or people who make a living as traveling performers, those who wandered the world.

    When the two boys stepped into the hall, they immediately attracted the attention of most people, some even looked startled and showed unsure expression.

    Kou Zhong swaggered toward one of the vacant tables and sat down. Get Ol Kou two catties of good wine first, I want the top quality ones, he shouted.

    As soon as the two words Ol Kou came out of his mouth, those several people were visibly shaken immediately, and their faces looked weird, as if they were delighted.

    Xu Ziling saw this, and said in low voice, Be careful, someone might poison the food and wine.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Dont forget that a hundred poison cannot invade our body, Shen Poniangs poison could not do anything to us.

    Xu Ziling irately said, Even if we can expel poison, it still wasted a lot of effort, not to mention the inconvenience. It is still better to be a bit more careful.

    There shouldnt be any colorless, odorless poison in the world, Kou Zhong replied, As soon as Laozi give it a glance with my keen eyes, a sniff with my sharp nose, I guarantee there wont be any poison slipping through my nose and my eyes.

    Although he said that, this kid actually went to the kitchen to personally monitor the server pouring wine. He also ordered some dishes, mainly dumplings with meat filling and green veggies, with only one dish of stewed meat. It was clear that although with his mouth he said all those things, he still took Xu Zilings likes and dislikes into account very much.

    The two boys acted as though there were nobody else present, they ate and drank as much as they liked. While being tipsy and merry, Kou Zhong said in low voice, When Li Yuan heard that the muddleheaded ruler was killed, he forced King of Dai Yang You to hand over the emperor position to him. Outsiders naturally say that that child was perfectly happy to abdicate and yield to him. Ha! We have one more emperor coming out.

    Must be Li Shimins idea, Xu Ziling commented.

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, Hard to say. I heard that Li Shimins older brother, Li Jiancheng is also a formidable character. Another brother is Li Yuanji, his bravery is unrivalled, his martial art skill surpasses his older brothers. Ay! That Li kid is so pitiful, with much toil he fights over the world, in the end he might only benefit Li Jiancheng.

    Xu Ziling said, They are hands and feet [fig. brothers] with deep feeling between them, riches and honor will be enjoyed together, why bother about that kind of things?

    A smile of contempt appeared on the corner of Kou Zhongs mouth, but he did not say anything.

    Unlike Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling was concerned about Li Shimin; he said, Hows the situation in Guanzhong?

    Guanzhong capital is a piece of fatty meat [fig. cash cow], everybody wants to eat it up. Li Mi and Yang Shichong [theres this name again, I dont know whether it was a typo or different character from Wang Shichong] actually had a lot of chances to snatch it away from the Li Clan at Changan, but they are curbing each others move that in the end nobody could make any move. Do you still remember that guy Xue Ju?

    Xu Zilings memory was exceptionally good; he nodded and said, That was the guy who wanted to copy Qin Shihuang [first emperor, 259-210 BC], that idiot who called himself Xi Qin Bawang [the overlord of the western Qin], right? His dominion Jincheng is west of Changan. Do you think he is fighting for food against the Li Clan?

    Kou Zhong said, Kid, you are so smart that others cannot help loving you, one guess and you hit the target. This idiot claimed to have a hundred and thirty thousand men under him, and looked down on Li Yuan. Unexpectedly he dared to recklessly attack a solid city like Changan, and was beaten by that Li kid outside the city, and had to crawl back home before he finished eating, thus his prestige also took a large fall.

    Xu Ziling asked in amazement, This place is so far away from Guanzhong, how could you describe it with living spirit, living image, as if you have witnessed it with your own eyes?

    Kou Zhong proudly said, In this small town, at least one out of four people is a refugee from the north. I am just adding a little imagination to that, and you are listening with smile of exultation.

    Xu Ziling said, The big battle between Wang Shichong and Li Mi is inevitable, I just dont know who won and who lost.

    Kou Zhong smiled mysteriously and said, Turns out you havent forgotten Shen Poniang.

    Xu Ziling let out a forced laugh; he said, You have contracted the incurable disease of using too much imagination. I was only concerned over the situation of the world. If this chaotic situation continues, common people will have to suffer I dont know how much more pain.

    Kou Zhong said, Since that muddleheaded rulers death, the situation is getting more tangled and complicated. One of the so-called five martial art masters of Sui Dynasty, Shen Faxing, and thus is one strong character outside the Four Powerful Clans who is able to gather his descendants based on surname connection, took office as the Governor of Wuxing. On the pretext that he was attacking Yuwen Huaji, he gathered sixty-thousand Sui troops, to occupy Kunling. His fame and power flourished suddenly, and called himself Jiangnan Dao Da Zongguan [the big steward of Jiangan (area south of Yangtze River) road], in direct opposition to Li Zitong and our Ol Die. These rebel armies, one was originally Sui troops, and the other was originally born from grass and pond, have deep enmity against each other. Water and fire cannot tolerate each other.

    In that case, Xu Ziling said, Li Clans victory over Xue Ju is actually a crucial turning point, because from now on they no longer fear threats from the west, and can simply sit and watch the heroes of the Central Plains killing each other.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, I know that you always think highly of that Li kid, but he and his brother Li Jiancheng once wanted to attack Luoyang, in the end there was neither accomplishment nor pay back. The current situation is a stale-mate; nobody is able to do anything to the other side.

    Xu Ziling pressed Kou Zhongs cup down. Dont drink too much! he said, Something might happen tonight.

    Kou Zhong pushed his hand aside and drained his cup in one gulp. There was an unusual glint in his eyes as he said, This is the last cup.

    Xu Ziling knew that he had evoked the bad memory of Li Xiuning in Kou Zhongs mind. Sighing inwardly, he pulled Kou Zhong back to their room at the inn.

    That night indeed there were Jianghu people who acted recklessly by coming to them looking for trouble, but they were beaten to be in a sorry state by the two boys, and ended up running away with broken arms and broken feet. The two boys knew it was only the beginning, so they might as well not hiding their identity, as they swaggered through towns and villages, pressing on toward their training beach.

    They were not people who love to flaunt their courage and strength at all, while deliberately elusive, sometimes for two, three days they trained in the wilderness, cultivating the internal energy from the Secret to Long Life, baffling those who were trying to follow their trails.

    On one hand, they were focused on their training; on the other hand, they wanted to use these endless streams of people who were coming to their door coveting Li Mis reward as their target practice, to see whether the technique they previously learned could be thoroughly blended with what they had just learned, or perhaps with their own interpretation, to become even more comprehensive, to enable them to control the true qi within their body smoothly, and to bring out the innate quality to its extreme saturation.

    One day the two boys chatted about making a stop at Yuhang, so they paid taxes as required by the rules and entered the city. Kou Zhong laughed and said, I wonder if those [email protected] Haisha Bang [see Book 2 Chapter 4] still exists? Now that the Yuwen Clan is powerless to defend itself, Haisha Bang cannot flaunt their viciousness. We might as well tear down their Yuhang Division, forcing them to offer us a big ship, with a hundred sailors, a thousand sacks of salt, and ten thousand beauties. Ha! The more I think, the happier I am.

    Xu Ziling swept his gaze around, the scene on the streets did not look much different from what he remembered, only there were a lot more Jianghu people around, but no one dared to look directly at them, obviously these people knew who they were. Some even made a detour to avoid them.

    Laughing aloud, he said, Gain the initiative by striking first, it can really save us a lot of trouble. This place is probably Shen Faxings territory, someone who has been a government official is, after all, different; everything in this place is clear and orderly, unlike Ol Dies place that looks like a mess.

    Kou Zhong halted his steps and pointed to a shop across the street. Do you remember? he said, Its here! Look! Everyone in that bunch of people at the door has ominous glint in their eyes, their expression looks bad.

    Xu Ziling looked over; he recalled Haisha Bang Yuhang Divisions Vice Helmsman Tan Yong, who that night walked out of precisely that place.

    Just like that night, about a dozen Haisha Bang disciples gathered in that store, everybody had a weapon in his hand, everybody was glaring at the two boys, as if they were ready to fight at any time.

    Kou Zhong said, That idiot Dragon [King] Han Gaidi [reminder: his real name was Gaitian, tian heaven, di earth] mustve thrown his lot to Shen Faxing, otherwise, I would be surprised if he is not swept out of Yuhang. Shen Faxing made it clear that he is on crusade against the Yuwen Clan; thereby Han Gaidi, who is accustomed to piloting the ship, has a deep understanding on how to steer the rudder by looking at the wind.

    Xu Ziling took the initiative this time, he strode across the street straight toward that store; beckoning Kou Zhong to come along, he said, Attacking the unprepared is the best policy! Cmon good brother!

    Kou Zhong laughed and followed him, just like they were going to play a fun game.

    Right this moment, they both felt that they had grown up to be adults, no longer two young marketplace hooligans.

  8. #68
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 9

    Book 6 Chapter 9 Full Display of Their Capabilities

    Those Haisha Bang members were used to bullying, upon seeing this, those dozen or so men stormed out of the shop, carrying sabers and hatchets, to meet the two boys.

    Like a tiger entering a flock of sheep Xu Ziling charged into the enemy ranks, punching and kicking. Very soon those bull-like sturdy men were constantly flying off or falling to the ground, so after a moment no one could even crawl up.

    The passers-by on the street fell over each other to run away, the situation was chaotic.

    Kou Zhong whined, Cant you at least leave two for me to play with? while he hacked and grabbed one of the men, and dragged him inside the shop. Soon afterwards he walked out and took Xu Ziling toward the dock. He said, Their division headquarter is really at that salt street, adjacent to the warehouse where we stole the salt from. From there it should be a bit more convenient to steal a boat.

    Did the guy you grab cooperate? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhong let out a cold humph, Can he not? he said.

    Xu Ziling laughed aloud, and walked ahead of him out of the city.

    About midway, several hundred riders galloped out of the city gate like a whirlwind. Without even looking they knew that these riders must be from Shen Faxings army.

    Kou Zhong jumped in fright, Looks like they have more people than we can handle! he said.

    Recalling the hard battle in Jiangdus imperial city, Xu Ziling was rather timid as well; hastily he followed Kou Zhong running into the wilderness.

    Xu Ziling lay down on top of a big horizontal branch protruding from a big tree in the jungle by the seaside, enjoying the spectacular scenery of the setting sun in the ocean, feeling that his heart and mind were as broad and infinite as the scenery in front of him, that all the you fight, I snatch of the secular world has turned into a trivial matter that had no place in the grand scheme of eternity.

    Ever since he put on brand new clothes and shaved his beard that day, Kou Zhong also seemed to change into a different man, brimming with fighting spirit. While he was in deep contemplation, occasionally his eyes would shine with unusual gleam, although it was not clear whether he was thinking about the struggle over the world.

    Xu Ziling himself was more and more intoxicated with exploring the way of the martial arts; other things no longer had any place in his heart and mind. The only thing that he was unable to put down was Susu. As for Kou Zhong, naturally he did not need to worry.

    He also remembered Shen Luoyan and Princess Dong Ming. But they were merely like floating light or fleeting shadow, not something that could move him emotionally.

    For him, the most unbearable thing in life was feeling. Every time he thought about Fu Junchuo, he was always overwhelmed with heartbreak and depressing feeling, so that his hatred toward Yuwen Huaji grew deeper.

    After killing Yuwen Huaji, he would roam the world, even go beyond the Great Wall, to experience the many colors life has to offer.

    As for the great undertaking of unifying the world, it was not something that he dreamed of doing; those were things that people like Kou Zhong or Li Shimin should undertake.

    His only goal in life was to explore the wonder this world had to offer, to attain the highest level of the martial art world he could achieve, to see through the mystery of life. But he had never forced himself; he always let everything fell into its place at its own time. Just like when Kou Zhong wanted him to eavesdrop the old teachers lecture, wanted him to stealthily learn martial art, he simply went to listen, to learn. Until he comprehended the immeasurable mystery of the Secret to Long Life, he finally grasped the meaning of life in his hand, to have his own way of life and his own goals.

    Suddenly alarm went off in his heart.

    Xu Ziling closed his eyes. Getting rid of ten thousand thoughts in his mind, he instantly sensed someone creeping toward him from the southwest direction. This person could be considered the best among the martial art masters whom he encountered ever since he left Danyang, but it was definitely not Kou Zhong.

    If it were Kou Zhong who sneaked in to play trick on him, he would have to enter the ten-zhang range around him before Xu Ziling could detect his presence.

    But this person was still thirty zhang away when Xu Ziling started to sense his presence.

    Right this moment, he also detected the enemys presence from other directions; all were about twenty zhang away from him, thus it was clear that these several enemies were a notch above the first one.

    In that instant he made up his mind to fight to the end; otherwise, he would lose contact with Kou Zhong, who went out to scout the enemy positions.

    Like a ghost Xu Ziling swiftly slid down to the foot of the tree. Because he had a more accurate picture of the enemies position and their approaching route, with only one or two shenfa [motion in martial arts] he managed to slip through the enemy eyes and through the gaps in their blind side into lush underbrush.

    The sky was getting dark, the sunrays gradually disappeared on the horizon on the other side of the ocean, the woods grew so dark that it was getting more and more difficult to see anything.

    Suddenly there was the sound of rustling sleeves against the wind, followed by someone exclaimed, Huh? Apparently he was startled for not able to find Xu Ziling.

    Xu Ziling understood; the opponents must have seen him earlier from a distant height when he was lying down on the tree branch, but by the time they went into hiding in the nearby forest, Xu Ziling was already gone.

    Xu Ziling crouched low in the grass, narrowed his eyes, held his breath and calmed his qi as he looked out. Unless the opposite party searched to this place, based on his fantastic true qi, they would never find him. In the past, when his cultivation was still shallow, even martial art masters like Li Mi and Zhai Rang were not able to detect his presence as he was hiding on the beam; let alone there were not too many people of Li Mi and Zhai Rangs calibers in the world, therefore, he was not worried the least bit that his presence would be detected.

    Two men in black appeared under the big tree where he lay down in contemplation earlier, one tall, the other short. But because their backs were facing him, he could not see their faces. Its just that by looking at the deep-pool, towering-peak way they were standing, the imposing manner and strength they exuded, he knew that these men were not mediocre masters.

    Another rustling of the wind, another person appeared under the tree, and Xu Ziling heard, I have searched everywhere, theres not even half a shadow of ghost around.

    This moment Xu Ziling suddenly sniffed an exotic delicate fragrance, followed by a subtle, almost inaudible noise of something splitting the air. Xu Ziling groaned inwardly, knowing that someone was coming from behind, and it was a woman, whose bodys fragrance had already been delivered by the sea breeze into his extremely acute nose.

    Xu Ziling hastily crouched down to the ground.

    A sword swept past the grass above him, followed by four more; each strike was fast and fierce. If he had been squatting just like a moment ago, he would have been hit by the sword.

    The delicate fragrance moved away, obviously the woman had moved someplace else to continue her search.

    Xu Ziling snickered inwardly. He sat cross-legged, thinking that Kou Zhong should be back any time soon.

    A moment later the three enemies gathered together, two men and one woman; they talked in low voices. Most probably the other person was still searching in the vicinity.

    The first to be heard was a man with strong voice, This is perhaps the best chance to intercept them. Looking at the current situation, it looks like they are going to run away overseas to escape Li Mis decree to hunt and kill them.

    Where did that kid go? another man with coarse voice asked.

    The first man replied, Da Zongguan [big/first manager] and Han Bangzhu [gang leader] have already guessed from their route that they were heading this way. This matter is very important to Da Zongguan, otherwise, why would he toil our Xia Xianzi [goddess/fairy/female immortal] to personally come here? The speaker was a young man, apparently he was trying to flatter that woman.

    A burst of silver-bell like laughter was heard, and then that woman, who was known as Fairy Xie said, In my opinion, he is trying to slip away. We will lay a trap here. Supposing by lucky coincidence that kid Kou Zhong managed to escape Han Bangzhus inescapable net, we will take care of him here. As long as we can capture one of them alive, the Duke Yang Treasure Trove will be in our, Jiangnan Armys bag.

    Xu Ziling was shaken; now he knew why Kou Zhong had not come back yet. Not in the mood to listen further, he quietly backed away.

    He had just stepped out of the forest when a shadow flashed in front of him, and he realized he had fallen into a heavy siege. Someone behind him laughed aloud and said, Kid, you are so nave, we swindled you a little bit and you fell right into it.

    Another man said, It was not a complete lie either, the other kid might have been captured already.

    Xu Ziling maintained his composure and did not show the slightest sign of fear at all, under the dim moonlight he coldly sized them up. Other than four people who appeared first, there were two more people. Every single one of them looked highly capable, obviously these were not ordinary warriors.

    The one blocking his way was a scholar with a rather confident and casual demeanor, with a long sword in his hand, which he pointed at him from a distance.

    On his left was a bald man, thick and solid like a bull, both his left and right hands carried big hatchets, so that even without any explanation anybody could infer that he was an expert in external skill, the brave-general-who-charge-and-break-through-enemy-lines type of person.

    On the far right was a white-haired, dreary-looking, big and tall old man. His sword was still hanging on his back, his manner grave. If Xu Zilings guessed correctly, of the three men, this mans martial art skill must be the highest.

    Suddenly he heard the wind behind him, it was the two men and one woman who had just swindled him, flying over from the forest, blocking all of his escape routes.

    One of them laughed and said, Kid, you missed your last chance! If just now you turned around toward the dense jungle, you might be able to slip away.

    These people were saying all these things to attack Xu Zilings mind; they wanted Xu Ziling to feel foolish and thus disturbed his concentration.

    The white-haired old man cupped his fist to salute and said, Laofu [old man, referring to self] Shen Fazheng, the older brother of Jiangnan Dao Da Zongguan [see last chapter, Book 6 Chapter 8]. If Xu Xiongdi is willing to come back with us, the Ol Shen guarantees that Xu Xiongdi will be received as our honored guest and will be treated with utmost hospitality.

    Xu Ziling stood up straight in the middle of the siege, there was a deep and immeasurable, unusual gleam his tiger-eyes, but his countenance was still and calm like the surface of water without any ripples, his upright body was like lofty mountain that gave others the impression that he would be hard to shake.

    The scholar-looking man held the sword with both hands as he saluted and said, Zaixia Li Changheng from Poyang Pai [Poyang (county in Shangrao, Jiangxi, Sect]. We are very fond of Xu Xiong; if we could exchange weapons of war for gifts of jade and silk, nothing can be better that that.

    And then he introduced the bald man, Tu Li Xiong is Huangshan Pais [Mount Huang (in Anhui) Sect] martial art master; he is Da Zongguans Left Vanguard, while Zaixia is his Right Vanguard General.

    A tender laughter was heard from behind, the beauty, who was called Fairy Xie, said, Nujia [your (female) servant] is Xie Yujing, you must not forget it!

    The one called Shen Fazheng smiled and said, The remaining two gentlemen are the Lian Clans brothers from Qishan Pais [Mount Qi (in Gansu)] Sect], Fan Xiong and Chu Xiong; both are martial art experts famous in Jianghu for their whip. In Laofus opinion, before long their Drifting Cloud Whip will be numbered among the Amazing Skill Ultimate Art.

    Are you done? Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, If you are, just make your move!

    The six people were greatly surprised.

    It should be noted that none of the six of them was not martial art master with resounding name in Jianghu. Any one of them came out, very few people would dare not to give them any face. This time, under Shen Faxings bidding, all six of them came out of their respective Sect to deal with these two boys; at that time all of them felt that Shen Faxing was making a big fuss over a minor issue. Who would have thought that Xu Ziling had the impertinence to speak such a boastful remark?

    Actually, in Xu Zilings heart, because he was so accustomed to meet martial art masters, other than Du Fuwei, Madame Dongming, Dongming Princess, Ba Fenghan, and several other martial art masters of their rank, he did not have any regard to other people.

    Tu Li roared violently, This fellow is unable to differentiate good from bad! Before he finished speaking, his shoulders and arms turned around. Two huge hatchets, which were originally held flat on his chest, hacked diagonally down. These two axes swept down one after another like a swiftly turning wheel. Just this one move has demonstrated that he did not simply rely on brute strength, but that he was a martial art expert who was beautiful inside and out.

    At the exact same time, a cold qi was piercing toward Xu Zilings vertebrae from behind.

    Seeing the opponents were this formidable, Xu Zilings spirit was greatly aroused. He knew that these two hatchets were simply to divide his mind, the real threat was the finger wind attacking him from behind.

    The opponents spent this much effort, in the end they merely wanted to capture him alive.

    Xu Ziling suddenly moved sideways toward Tu Lis right side. Not only he evaded the sneak attack on his back, by a simple shift like that he was also forcing Tu Li to change his move in panic.

    Everybody was shaken.

    It was called just with one move the expert will know which one was there which one was not.

    Tu Li was about to twist his waist in a horse stance to continue his attack, Shen Fazheng called out loudly, Hold it there!

    Xu Ziling halted instantly; he did not even dodge or block the huge hatchet hacking down on him, showing no sign of nerves at all.

    Tu Li took his hatchet back in horror, remembering Shen Faxings order to capture the two boys alive.

    Watching this, the rest of the people wiped the cold sweats from their foreheads, thinking that there was actually someone who had a full confidence on the enemy like that in the world.

    Shen Fazheng spoke politely, There is one thing Laofu would like to inquire.

    Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders noncommittally. Whether it was his movement or his expression, everything displayed confidence, poise and elegance.

    Everybody was emotionally moved; they all sensed the unique gracefulness of this young, new rising star of Wulin who recently shook the entire Jianghu.

    Seeing Xu Ziling did not speak, Shen Fazheng had no choice but to go on, Xu Xiongdi, dont you want to know what happened to that other Xiongdi?

    Shen Fazhengs nickname was the blade that attack the heart. As the name implies, this man was an expert in psychological warfare. Before they even came here, they had already decided that killing Xu Ziling was not a difficult task, but capturing him alive was not an easy thing at all. Therefore, Shen Fazheng designed a variety of psychological attacks to be used as appropriate. Previously, Lian Fan, Lian Chu and Xie Yujing, three peoples attempt to lure him out was his crafty scheme. Shen Faxing was able to rise to his present position, his older brothers contribution was extremely significant.

    However, against everybodys expectation, Xu Ziling did not show the slightest bit of surprise, the corner of his mouth even revealed an extremely touching smile. With that kind of touching, natural expression, nobody would dare to doubt his sincerity.

    The three people, who were facing him and watching his demeanor, were suddenly overwhelmed by a very strange feeling, as if they were enraptured by this young martial art masters graceful, elegant and outstanding innate beauty.

    Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, Thank you for your trouble and your concern; unless I see that brother of mines dead body lying on the ground, I will not believe that anybody would have the ability to

    Lian Chu had a fiery temper, plus he did not see that extremely touching smile, so how could he bear it? Flicking his strong wrist, the long whip in his hand struck like a viper toward the vital acupoint behind Xu Zilings ear. If Xu Ziling were really hit, even if he had the divine skill protecting his body, the whip would have made him lose consciousness for sure.

    The reason Qishan Pais whip technique could dominate the Jianghu was precisely this unique skill whip acupoint. It should be noted that this amazing whip movement could be launched at any angle to attack the opponent, so that it was very difficult to guard against.

    Lian Fan and his brother Lian Chu had telepathic connection between them, seeing his younger brother made his move, his whip also moved. His whip suddenly bent in half, making it half as long as the original, but it still had the eight-chi long whip handle that shot forward from his left rear side toward the middle of Xu Zilings back.

    Shen Faxings Right Vanguard General Li Changheng also made his move; the sword in his hand created a dozen or so sword patterns, blurring the vision of the opponent, and then one pattern suddenly shot out toward Xu Zilings throat, with incomparable viciousness and ruthlessness, without the slightest bit of reservation.

    The Left Vanguard General Tu Li let out a low whoo hoo roar from deep within his throat, while his pair of huge hatchets was moving up and down. Although he did not make any move, he created a great threat that at least Xu Ziling would not dare to evade on his direction.

    Although Shen Fazheng also did not make any move, he exuded an unfathomable-mystery feeling in other peoples heart.

    And then there was also the threat from Xie Yujing who was standing behind him. Nobody could predict whether she would make her move or not. And if she did, when would it be?

    It was the first time for Xu Ziling to face so many opponents of martial art masters with similar skill level; however, amidst the opponents fierce offensive and seamless coordination, there was one big weakness: they wanted to capture him alive. Therefore, the real threat to him was Lian Chus whip striking the acupoint behind his ear; the rest of the attacks were only to distract his attention.

    If not for the enemies were having this intention, they would have enough power to kill him; however, they would also have to pay a very heavy price.

    Xu Zilings mind entered the still water in the well realms; it clearly reflected the surrounding environment without the least bit distortion, accurately grasped the opponents movements, the technique and timing of each attack.

    The sensing ability of his eyes, ears, and nose was elevated to its limit, even the skin underneath his clothes could generate the response he needed to attain the martial art masters knowing the enemy phase.

    With a low groan, with nobody able to see what style he was executing, Xu Zilings legs suddenly pushed hard, like an arrow he flew vertically straight into the air.

    This move was really outside everybodys expectation.

    It should be noted that when one was flying into the air, as soon as ones true qi was depleted, one would immediately fall back down. Moreover, when one was in the air, ones ability to change a move, as well as ones flexibility to defend oneself from the enemy suffered a huge setback, so that one would become the most obvious attack target. Under heavy besiege, even less people would dare to try this stunt. Therefore, Shen Fazheng and the others were all taken by surprise.

    As if Lian Chus whip had an eye of its own, it also rose up to chase Xu Ziling. It was due to Lian Chu was still under the effect of his forward momentum, so that momentarily it was difficult for him to pull back, so he might as well continued his whip to chase after the sole of Xu Zilings feet, relying on his a zhang and a half long whip, trying to attack this young adversary.

    Both Li Changhengs sword and Lian Fans whip stick struck empty air.

    From behind, the Flying Fairy Xie Yujing let out a peal of tender laughter, while like a wisp of smoke she also flew diagonally up into the air, chasing after Xu Ziling, whose speed kept increasing. The pair of daggers in her hand swiped toward Xu Zilings neck and waist; it was vicious and merciless to the extreme.

    Just now, when Xu Ziling threw a glance to look at the enemys situation, he only saw five people; she was the only one missing. Therefore, it could be clearly seen how superior her lightness skill was. Afterwards, he also sniffed her bodily scent carried away by the breeze, so he knew that she was closing in on him fast. Clearly she obtained her Flying Fairy nickname not by a fluke at all.

    It looked like Lian Chus long whip was about to hit the yongquan [lit. gushing spring] acupoint at the sole of Xu Zilings foot, so he was ready to send his energy via the whip. Who would have imagined that using a very simple footwork, Xu Ziling used the tip of his toes to meet the tip of the whip?

    Whap! Two streams of energy slammed into each other.

    Lian Fan [sic] felt a burst of extremely hot true qi flowed along the whip and penetrated his hand. The true qi turned into a strand of such a powerful force that his own true qi protecting his body did not seem to have the least bit of effectiveness. With a stifled grunt he was shaken so severely that he nearly fell to the ground.

    On the other hand, Xu Ziling borrowed the reaction force from the tip of the whip to give him the opportunity to draw another mouthful of true qi while his body was still flying midair, which enabling him to traverse sideways and fly outside the siege. Xie Yujings famous Flying Fairys Short Blade completely failed.

    Lian Fan had deep emotional ties with his brother; forgetting Xu Ziling, he rushed over to hold Lian Chu up and asked, How are you feeling?

    Lian Chus entire face was flushed with abnormal redness; with acute shortness of breath, he gasped, Quickly help me circulating my energy!

    Seeing that in just one move Lian Chu had suffered great loss, everybody was overwhelmed with shock; however, they did not have time to think too much. Shen Fazheng, Tu Li, and Li Changheng, three men immediately gave chase.

    Again, Xu Ziling changed direction midair. But by the time he landed on the slope of a small hill, Xie Yujing was soaring right behind him.

    Xu Ziling let out a smile brimming with masculine charm; stretching both hands out, suddenly the hands turned into hundreds and thousands finger shadows, palm shadows, to meet her Flying Fairys Short Blade head-on.

    For the first time the two combatants had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. Xu Ziling noticed than Xie Yujing was about twenty years old, her hair was rolled up in a bun on top of her head, the clothes she was wearing were of palace style colored painted-on design, her overall dress style resembled Yang Guangs imperial concubines. Her jade countenance was as pretty as a flower, her figure was graceful, brimming with extreme female charms. In terms of beauty, she was not inferior to Yun Yuzhen.

    Xie Yujing also noticed Xu Zilings good looks; her pretty eyes brightened, but her hands were not slacking at all. Borrowing the momentum of her falling down from above, the two blades protecting each other, suddenly advanced suddenly retreated, the blades changed several times in the blink of an eye, in a chain attack toward Xu Ziling.

    Ding! Ding! Dang! Dang!

    Like a divine treasure Xu Zilings hands jabbed, swept and plucked, blocking Xie Yujings fierce offensive moves completely. The most formidable thing was that each finger, each palm also sent out incomparably scorching innate qi, forcing this beauty to constantly bounce back, so that she was unable to fall to the ground, and had to continuously engage him in hard fighting in the air.

    By this time Shen Fazhengs sword attack arrived first. Letting out a long whistle Xu Ziling unleashed the Meridian Severing Technique Tu Shufang taught him, taking advantage while Xie Yujings blood and qi were churning after being shaken by him, he scratched the vein on her left wrist, while the middle finger of his right hand poked the tip of the other short blade.

    Xie Yujing screamed involuntarily, both hands went numb, the short blade in her left hand suddenly moved to Xu Zilings hand, followed by a burst of hot qi penetrated her right hand blade and entered her body. Naturally she could show off by meeting the attack head-on, but it would not be much different than she was trying to kill herself. Therefore, she had no choice but to raise her qi and somersaulted backward, to fly away as far as she could, to neutralize the opponents fierce true power.

    For that reason, when Shen Fazhengs attack arrived, Tu Li and Li Changheng were still seven, eight zhang away, the situation became one-on-one confrontation between Shen Fazheng and Xu Ziling.

    Xu Zilings eyes shone with cold rays. With a cold humph he charged directly into the core of Shen Fazhengs sword net, unexpectedly applying the dangerous tactics of burying himself in close combat.

    When Tu Li and Li Changheng arrived, they did not know where to start.

    All they saw was two figures chasing each other on the slope of the hill, entangling each other into a ball, while the sound of clashing blades was ringing continuously.

    It was only now that Shen Fazheng came to understanding as why Xu Ziling was able to drive Yuwen Wudi away in defeat, anger Li Zitong that he retreated, and escape the imperial city under the besiege of Yuwen Huajis rebel troops. It was because this young martial art masters most formidable moves were all without predetermined pattern, the moves were entirely instant creation like a heavenly steed soaring across the skies.

    The figures suddenly separated.

    Shen Fazheng staggered and fell back.

    In their shock, Tu Li and Li Changheng attacked together from left and right.

    Xu Ziling waved his right hand, the Flying Fairys Short Blade flew to meet Li Changhengs face, while he himself flew toward Tu Li.

    Bang! Bang!

    No matter how Tu Li changed the angle, Xu Ziling seemed to already anticipate the changes of his two hatchets, using the edge of his palm he ferociously cut onto the hatchets body.

    Tu Li let out a miserable grunt; the tremendous hacking force pushed him back. Momentarily forgetting that he was on a sloping hill, he nearly rolled down in an extremely awkward condition.

    Li Changheng evaded the short blade thrown at him. He was about to charge upward when Shen Fazheng, with his hand pressing against his right flank, where blood was gushing out from an open wound, shouted, Changheng, back off!

    Li CHangheng stopped grudgingly; he cast an angry look toward Xu Ziling, who was standing at the top of the hill.

    The others have also come over, but not in surrounding formation like before.

    Xu Ziling looked at the enemy with his cold eyes and aloof demeanor, as if he considered himself unexcelled in the world.

    Shen Fazheng said, Lets drop this matter today, I am sure we will meet again someday.

    Just as they appeared suddenly, they disappearance was even more sudden.

    Naturally Xu Ziling knew that this was just the beginning. Collecting his terrified mind, he darted down toward the dock.

  9. #69
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 10

    Book 6 Chapter 10 Revealing True Feelings

    Xu Ziling ran over a small hill, and saw Kou Zhong at the foot of the hill. That guy only wore pants, he was bare-chested, with a steel saber of unknown origin between his teeth, and was immersing himself in a small creek, washing the bloodstains all over his body.

    Under the moonlight, his skin looked shiny and glistening, his perfect physique looked like a leopard that has just reached adulthood, brimming with power from head to toes, and some kind of extraordinary, yet conforming to the law of heaven, beauty.

    He looked focused and did not seem to realize Xu Zilings arrival. But suddenly he looked up at him and broke into wide grin. His smile was as brilliant as the shining sun, and it was full of captivating charms. The saber in his mouth dropped into his hand, with a casually flick of his hand the saber flew and embedded itself on the thick bough of a large tree by the creek.

    With several jumps Xu Ziling wend down the hill, and sat on a large rock protruding out of the water in the middle of the creek. He quietly stared at the still trembling saber hilt without saying anything.

    Kou Zhong dipped his whole head into the ice-cold water of the creek, drank several mouthfuls of cold water, pulled his head out the water, wiped the water from his face, and said with a sigh, I killed a lot of people, but also received injuries. The most serious one is a punch on the pit of my stomach, but I beat that guy up that his bones shattered. Humph! They wanted my life, naturally I took enough of theirs.

    A burst of emotion bubbled up in Xu Zilings heart; for the first time he realized that Kou Zhong and he had become important figures who were able to assume personal responsibilities.

    Kou Zhong immersed his entire body into the water. Giggling, he said, Fortunately, we have miraculous internal energy, any injury will be healed naturally without leaving any scar. Otherwise, it would be awful when we have to take off our clothes; our bodies will be covered with scars, how could we let others see that? Hey, why dont you take a dip in here? The water will clear up your brain a lot.

    Xu Ziling shook his head to decline, Who attacked you? he asked.

    It was Haisha Bang people, Kou Zhong nonchalantly replied, They were under the leadership of that flirtatious Taoist Priestess, trying to catch me with ropes and nets like I was a wild dog. Several hundred people against me, one man; I really dont know why they committed such a shameless act. Fortunately I was fighting and fleeing at the same time, and in the end I slipped into the water to escape. You Qiuyan [(sic) it was the Mermaid You Qiufeng in Book 2 Chapter 7] still thought that I was the useless kid of the past, she went underwater to give chase, and fell under Laozis control. Fortunately I, Kou Zhong, have always had tender, protective feelings for the fairer sex; I only pinched her breasts a couple of times and then I let her go. This time Im telling you honestly, you, Ling Shao, should not suspect that I am lying to you.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, You are such a loose guy; a Taoist Priestess, and an enemy in this matter, you still refused to let her off.

    This is called confusing the enemys heart, Kou Zhong lightly said, When that s1ut saw me, her eyes lit up; I was merely comforting her while we were at it. Who knows? Perhaps in the future there will be other benefits too.

    Xu Ziling remained silent.

    Kou Zhong rose up from the water with a splash, the creek water came to his waist. Stretching, he said, Oh, my good brother! It seems to me that recently you disagree with my conduct a lot, is that right?

    Xu Ziling sneered and said, Marrying a woman is every mans dream; as your brother, how could I blame you? Its just that you are basically only teasing them verbally and causing mischief driven by your carnal desire, you view everything only from a utilitarian consideration. That is what made me a little uncomfortable!

    Kou Zhong nodded, That is precisely the difference between intentionally seeking and without any desire to seek. We are pursuing different goals; hence we appear to have different opinion. This is the effect of training the Secret to Long Life; you are hot, I am cold. Not only it changed our temperament, it even changed our character. When I kill people, unexpectedly I dont have any stirring or surging emotion. Even now I dont feel like it was a big deal. Otherwise I would have been slaughtered by others by now.

    Whats your plan now? Xu Ziling suddenly asked.

    Kou Zhong sat on the bank of the creek, leisurely watching his feet kicking and playing in the water. He smiled and said, Didnt we agree to proceed with our salt business? When people no longer dare to mess with us, we will succeed.

    Thats not what I am asking, Xu Ziling said, I want to ask you: how are you going to fight for the world?

    Kou Zhong looked at him. There was an unprecedented glint in his eyes. Without answering the question he said, If I really want to vie over the world, I must ask you to do something for me: to kill someone.

    Xu Ziling was visibly shaken. That Li kid! he exclaimed.

    Kou Zhong threw his head back and roared in laughter; he looked so heroic and majestic. Slapping his thigh, he praised, This is called great minds think alike [orig. heroes usually agree]. Among the people worth our considerations, in terms of bearing and charisma, who could surpass him? Plus his predecessors have been involved in politics and government affairs, he is acutely aware of the way to govern the people, and he is still young, so I say that he is my, Kou Zhongs biggest rival.

    You are not afraid Xiuning will be grieved? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhongs eyes flashed coldly; he said, How can one woman affect my grand plan and great undertaking?

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and asked, But why did you ask me?

    A faint smile escaped from the corner of Kou Zhongs mouth. I am not afraid of anybody, he said, Except you, one person. And I know that you have a very good impression toward that Li kid. As long as you dont stop me, and that Li kid agrees to work for me, there will come a day when he will die under my, Kou Zhongs hands. I am ruthless to anybody; you and Su Jie are the only exception.

    Xu Zilings razor-sharp gaze was fixed on him as he said, If one day after you obtain the world you find it necessary to have me eliminated, will you personally make your move?

    Kou Zhong slapped the water surface with his palms, a column of water rose. Turning his head and his eyes to look at the drenched Xu Ziling, he roared in laughter and said, Thats not going to happen. Quickly apologize to me!

    Xu Ziling leaped high into the air and pounced on Kou Zhong, pulling him down into the water. The two boys wrestled and fought just like when they were little kids, totally without any martial art masters style.

    When Kou Zhong had Xu Zilings head locked in the crook of his arm, gasping and laughing he said, Kid, do you know that there is another decree to hunt and kill us?

    Xu Ziling stared at him blankly, What kind of ghost decree? he asked.

    It was that flirty Taoist Priestess who told me, Kou Zhong replied, The issuer is that Shan Wanjing, who grew to hate you because of her unrequited love for you. The reward is one thousand taels of gold plus one of Dongming Pais divine subduing-sect weapons, the Dongming Sword; very attractive. One thousand taels of gold is enough to finance a hundred-strong army for two, three years.

    Xu Ziling smiled bitterly and said, That stinky Princess is not worth the trouble. Its just a useless account book! Hey, dont put my mouth into the water!

    Kou Zhong raised his head a few cun and said with a giggle, Its hard to fathom someones mind; girls mind is even harder to understand. Ha! Hatred caused by love. Do you surrender now?

    Xu Ziling suddenly lifted up Kou Zhongs entire body and threw him backwards. Without looking at Kou Zhong fell flat on his back into the water, he cursed, Hatred caused by love my @$$. From beginning to end, the one she looked up to was that Li kid, or perhaps even Ba Fenghan, never the two of us.

    Kou Zhong pretended to be crawling up in such a sorry state; wiping his face, he said, Since we are already wet anyway, we might as well go steal a boat. I will settle the score with you later.

    The two boys returned to the past where there was no load in their minds. Hee hee ha ha they chased each other toward the sea.

    When the two boys had their heads out of the water in the sea, they saw moored at the pier hundreds of ships and boats, big and small, none of them was not brightly lit, and all of them were chained together to each other. Not only there were men on sentry duty on the boats, there were also patrolling boats going back and forth, and a lot of Haisha Bang men equipped with bows and arrows and other long range attack weapons.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, We created enough disturbances that Haisha Bang people will not have a good sleep tonight! Han Gaitian himself is an arrogant idiot. His subordinates, those Fat Assassin You Gui, Charging General Ling Zhigao [see Book 2 Chapter 7], and the others are nothing; this is such a counter-productive deployment. If I were in charge, I would have ordered all boats to steer away from the dock, so that even if we have the power, it would be difficult to carry out.

    Are all these dozen or so piers belonged to Haisha Bang? Xu Ziling asked.

    Ought to be so, Kou Zhong replied, Because of Yuhangs prime location, plus Han Gaitian tied brotherhood with Shen Faxing, Haisha Bangs navy vessels are concentrated at Kunling and Yuhang, two locations, with the main responsibility to transport army provisions and supplies for the Jiangnan Army. If we burn all these ships, Jiangnan Army will fall into predicament. Lets consider it a payback for their treatment to us. Come on!

    The two boys dove into the bottom of the sea and swam toward the enemys battleship.

    By the time they reappeared on the surface, they were already in the middle of the enemys ships. Avoiding the patrolling boat, the two boys hid in the dark side of a ship, discussing the next step.

    Kou Zhong said, These ships are at least one zhang apart from each other. Even if we burn one or two of them, it would still be difficult for the fire to spread to other ships.

    Thats easy, Xu Ziling said, We only need to scuttle one or two particularly big ships. When the ships sink, because they are chained to each other, the sinking ship will pull the other boats along. Burning them will be a lot easier then.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, That is a good plan indeed. Ill go find tinder, you go bore holes on the ships. Remember to use your Jade Cutter, dont dig by hand. Ha!

    Third watch of the night [11pm 1am]. Haisha Bang piers were suddenly thrown into confusion. The two biggest ships suddenly sank at the same time, pulling the other ships along with them.

    Looking at the speed those ships were sinking, those with discerning eyes knew immediately that someone was playing a trick on the bottom of the ships.

    You Qiuyan, You Gui and Ling Zhigao, three people led a large quantity of Haisha Bang martial art masters to rush out. The former shouted with her tender voice, Quickly untie the chain!

    Kou Zhong appeared at the bow of one of the ships. Naked from the waist up, he had a saber in his right hand and lifted high a torch in his left, as he laughed aloud and said, Too late!

    You Qiuyan and the others were still scared of him from their earlier battle, plus You Gui and Ling Zhigao were hacked by him, and their wounds were still burning. Seeing him coming with such an awe-inspiring might, momentarily they panicked.

    Flames soared to the sky.

    Just by looking at the speed at with the blaze spread, one would know that kerosene must have been poured out onto the ship, thereupon the situation quickly got out of hand.

    You Qiuyan screamed, Kill him!

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and jumped onto another ship. With a saber in his right hand and a torch in his left, he beat the swarming in Haisha Bang people that they would whine on for days; one after another they were thrown into the sea.

    When You Qiuyan and the others were rushing toward Kou Zhong, they suddenly saw from another ship some distance away one fiery arrow after another were shot in succession toward the other ships. Flames immediately rose up from all around.

    Meanwhile Kou Zhong had disappeared. You Qiuyan focused her attention to look, turned out it was Xu Ziling who released the arrows, the Haisha Bang people who were guarding the ship had already driven to the sea by him.

    You Qiuyan shouted, Quickly put out the fire!

    By this time, cutting the ropes was already useless, all the ships were entangled in a heap. The flame from the ship Kou Zhong burned had already spread onto nearby ships.

    The shouts from the ships shook the heavens. The Haisha Bang people whether they should put out the fire first or to chase and intercept the enemy; it was a total chaos.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling jumped from one ship to the other, setting everything in their path on fire, creating havoc wantonly, but always avoiding the enemys main force.

    You Qiuyan and the others knew they should have split up to intercept the enemy, but recalling how formidable these two boys were, they were scared to face the enemy alone and thus could not guarantee their little lives. With no other choice they had to hunt down only Kou Zhong.

    Night breeze blew, the fire was getting bigger.

    More than ten ships were trapped in the sea of fire.

    Suddenly Kou Zhong turned back to meet You Qiuyan and the others. The Hall Master of Yuhang Division, Leng Qiu bore the brunt. Hastily he brandished his staff to attack.

    Kou Zhongs tiger-eyes flickered continuously, brandishing his saber he hacked backward; suddenly he broke through Leng Qiu staffs line of defense. With one step forward he chopped at his left shoulder. Fortunately Leng Qiu could keep up with the helmsman, plus he really had real skill, so in his shock he swept the tail of his staff up to block, and took a step back at the same time.

    Two sabers chopped down on Kou Zhong in an attempt to rescue Leng Qiu from danger.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud, but his saber continued to strike the tail of Leng Qius staff, and swiped through Leng Qius left arm before he retreated to the aft of the ship. Leng Qiu grunted in pain, his blood splashed and he pulled back.

    A chill crept into everybodys heart, why did Kou Zhong seem to be more formidable than the last time they fought?

    Dang!

    Kou Zhong parried the two sabers at the same time, lightning fast both his legs executed chain kicks, two Haisha Bang martial art masters, who normally went on the rampage in Yuhang, immediately spurted blood as they flew face-up backwards, so that You Qiuyan and the others panicked.

    Holding the saber across his chest, Kou Zhong shouted, All right! Today I do not wish to kill anymore. You want to kill us, we brothers burned your ships, we are even. Tell Han Gaitian and Shen Faxing to come to us! If you dare to pursue us, dont blame Laozis saber for not showing mercy.

    The crowd was intimidated by his display of power, momentarily they only dared to make a show of charging, but nobody really dared to move forward.

    In the battle a moment ago, the dead and wounded on their side numbered more than thirty men, a considerable loss; this moment the opponent had the addition of Xu Ziling. While their own strength was substantially reduced, who would dare to step forward to strike the tigers whiskers?

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and soared into the sky. With two somersaults, he landed on a medium sized sailboat that Xu Ziling brought over.

    Looking at the sailboat sailing away, You Qiuyan suddenly stomped her foot and pouted, Still not putting out the fire? I am annoyed to death!

    The sailboat went full speed ahead, the two boys took turns singing loudly. They were extremely happy, as if all the unhappy incidents recently have been purged completely.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Haisha Bang is one of the eight-gang ten-societies. It ranks above Beautiful Shifus Jukun Bang, yet we managed to put their face in a bag and slap their big mouth, we even burned a dozen of their ships.

    Dont be so smug, Xu Ziling said, We had just tied a deep enmity with Jiangnan Army; we are going to see some hard days ahead in transporting our goods.

    Kou Zhong sat at the edge of the boat, watching Xu Ziling at the helms; he cheerfully said, Isnt that our original intention? I dare say that since ancient times there never be martial art masters who fought day and night like us. Three months experience worth more than other peoples three years. If this continues, in ten months we will gain ten years worth of skill. Ha! What a great deal!

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, You, this kid, seem to be more excited the more you fight. But you are right, only from real combat experience we will learn good stuffs; at least seeing sabers and spears flying around we dont feel it is such a big deal.

    Kou Zhong just smiled but kept his opinion for himself. Unexpectedly he fell asleep. Without any option Xu Ziling had to prop his eyelids open, while steering the sailboat toward the brightening horizon where the sky and the water met.

    Three days later, the two boys returned to their former haunts. Gently and cautiously they brought the boat to the shore and moored it well. Sitting on the beach, all sorts of feeling welled up in their hearts. The two boys were lost in their own respective thought; they both felt their excitement was driving them mad.

    By the time the sun was about to sink into the ocean, Kou Zhong picked up a handful of sand. Watching the grain of sand trickling down from his fingers, he sighed and said, Xiao Ling! Have you ever thought that we would have days like today? In the past we often boasted that we are martial art masters, while in fact we are well aware what kind of nine-schools-of-thought[1] character we are. Now we have truly become martial art masters, but so what? We are still unable to do anything to Yuwen Huaji.

    Xu Ziling laughed involuntarily, Zhong Shao really knows how to talk that kind of talks, he said, There must be something else behind it. Say it!

    Kou Zhong shook his head and sighed, Seems like in this world, you are the only one I cant fool, he said, All right! You want me to say it then Ill say it. What I mean is that the world is like a big pie [orig. flat bread], whoever has the ability, that person will get a slice. That ability represents strength and power. Once we have these two distinct things, we will be qualified to do the things that we like, whether it is for the benefit of thousands of people, or to settle gratitude and grudges; in short, without these things, there is no law. Even if I became Bi Xuan, and you became Ning Daoqi, killing Yuwen Huaji is still not an easy thing, perhaps we even have to pay it with our own little lives. Do you understand what I am talking about?

    Xu Ziling somberly said, I was just thinking about how we spent every moving moment here in the past, yet you are thinking about vying over the world; arent you afraid you will miss many wonderful things in life? Every day you are thinking about either killing other people or guarding against being killed by other people.

    Kou Zhongs big eyes lit up, But those are the stimulating things, those are the exciting things. If I have nothing to do all day long, wont I suffocate myself to death? Previously I also thought about putting up with you a little bit, only doing conscientious thing and making profit unscrupulously, but the more I think about it, the more I feel its not worth it. If you dont do the most exciting things, how could you live with yourself? Presently what the people all over the world need is one true master and liberator; if you have aspirations, how could you miss anything?

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, When all is said and done, what you want is for me to help you.

    Kou Zhong moved in front of him, dropping down on one knee, he reached out with both hands to grab Xu Zilings shoulders. With eyes projecting deep emotions and passionate expression, he solemnly said, No one in the world understands your ability, wisdom and spirit better than I do. With you, my good brother, helping me, other people can only retreat for three days march [i.e. giving way in the face of superior strength].

    Xu Ziling reciprocated by reaching out to grab his broad shoulders; he spoke heavily, Well said! No one in the world understands you better than I do as well. Only you, one person, can turn the entire world upside down. Basically you dont need my help.

    Kou Zhong dejectedly let his hands go and sat down on the sandy beach. He sighed and said, How can I see you go?

    Xu Ziling reached out to wrap his arm around him tightly; he said in a low voice, Weve grown up. Each one of us have our own vision and goal in life, we are no longer Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling of the past. In the future you dont need to take the responsibility of avenging Niang, just go do what you need to do! The day you and I go our own ways will be the day I set out on my journey to assassinate Yuwen Huagu. If I cannot put my hand on the blade that will enter that wretched body, I can never find true peace in my heart.

    [1] Nine schools of thought, philosophical schools of the Spring and Autumn, and Warring States periods (770-220 BC): Confucians, Taoists, Yin and Yang, Legalists, Logicians, Mohists, Diplomats, Miscellaneous, Agriculturalists. Figuratively: mainstream, abysmal.

  10. #70
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 11

    Book 6 Chapter 11 Delivered to Their Door

    In just one sichen [i.e. 2 hours] the two boys managed to load more than forty sacks of salt onto their boat. Only after thinking that in the past they had to work all night long and spent tremendous strength [orig. the strength of nine bulls and two tigers] to accomplish the same thing did they really feel the progress they have made.

    Dawn had yet to arrive, they already set sail.

    Kou Zhong said, Let us try to follow the Great River upstream westwards inland, if we cant go on, then well take land route!

    Xu Ziling frowned and said, In term of steering the boat, you and I are low-hand [Translators note: in Chinese, master/expert is high-hand], we cant even compare with ordinary sailor. In the ocean, there is no problem, naturally! Especially under the situation where the breeze is still, the waves are quiet. But when we enter the river

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, You think too much! If the boat sank in the Great River, we will simply dredge his mothers up. Taking the land route at that time wont be too late. Dont forget that we are high-hands [see note above] both on land and sea.

    Xu Ziling put Kou Zhongs hand on the rudder and said with a laugh, Your turn. I am going to the cabin to sleep.

    Kou Zhong grumbled, If I had known earlier, I would have grabbed several Haisha Bang minions and forced them to pilot the boat, then we would not have to suffer like this right now.

    Xu Ziling woke up by the sound of battle drums; momentarily he thought he was in the battlefield. Rushing out of the cabin, he saw Kou Zhong was squinting to look at three boats in triangular formation coming fast toward them. The boats had more tapered ends, and each one was about a zhang longer compared to their boat. Therefore, in term of mobility, especially since their boat was loaded with salt, those boats had the upper hand.

    Both sides were coming fast toward each other.

    Under the abundant sunshine, the two boys could see that all three boats had several dozen men standing on the deck; everyone had an arrow strung on a bow, or loaded stone catapult, ready for action. Some even had long poles and other tools to lock the ships in their hands, while they were moving back and forth on the deck; it was an awe-inspiring scene to behold.

    Flying high above the deck was a banner with Gao character on it.

    Xu Ziling came to Kou Zhongs side and frowned, Who are these people? he asked.

    A bright smile appeared on Kou Zhongs face; he said cheerfully, Just by listening to the drums, we know that they are in high fighting spirit. But looking at the disorderly way they are moving around, we know that they are simply a mob. They must be pirates who go everywhere to plunder; the best sailors we can catch.

    What? Xu Ziling cried out.

    Just leave everything to me, Kou Zhong said, Let us hide inside the cabin first to avoid the arrows. Once they board our boat, well show them some trick and have these hairy thieves see.

    Bang! Bang! Using hooks and ropes, two of the enemy ships sandwiched their boat from left and right, and the crowd of thieves immediately swarmed in. Three men charged into the cabin, while the rest inspected the sacks of salt on the deck and in the hold.

    The other pirate ship took the lead; all four boats now sailed together. For the time being, it looked like the pirates had the situation under control.

    Three of the pirates, who looked like the leaders, stood on the aft giving directions to the rest of the pirates. The biggest and tallest was a man with eyes that looked like bronze bell. His long hair was draped over his shoulders, his face full of beard, his physique looked bold and powerful. Two short tasseled spears, about five chi long each, were hanging in an X shape on his back, making his overall appearance even more awe-inspiring. It is kind of surprising that there was such character among the pirates.

    Huh? this man exclaimed, Er Lang has gone into the cabin for so long, why havent he come out with those two boys in custody?

    A short, thin man with a dignified look standing by his side said, Let me go take a look!

    The man on the other side, a thick and strong young man, who was only a cun or so shorter than the big man with loose hair, but still bigger and taller than average person, with two iron rings hanging from his waist, apparently some kind of weapon from a strange school, said, Let me go with Erge [second (older) brother].

    The man with loose hair nodded his approval, he said in a low voice, Somethings strange, be careful!

    The young man laughed aloud and said, What kind of wind and waves we, Donghai Sanyi [three sworn brothers of the eastern sea] have never seen? Finished speaking he followed that short and thin man, which he called the second brother, into the cabin.

    While the big man with loose hair was following his two sworn brothers disappearing into the cabin entrance with his eyes, an underling came to report, Daye [big master]! All the sacks piled up on the deck contain salt.

    The big man with loose hair muttered to himself, Tough luck. Unless these useless goods are transported inland, just how much money can we sell them for? But the boat is top-quality goods.

    A voice glibly responded, Your three boats are not bad either, perhaps youll let us make his mothers deals.

    The pirates were shocked; their countenance paled.

    Kou Zhong was sitting leisurely at the cabins roof, one leg above the other, the broadsword lying across his knees, his feet hanging above the hatch, swaying back and forth casually, looking indescribably comfortable.

    Under the bright sunlight, his smile looked so brilliant, his tiger-eyes exuded some kind of deep and immeasurable divine ray. When he looked around and their eyes met, nobody did not feel dread growing from the bottom of their heart.

    The man with loose hair was shocked. What did you do to them? he asked.

    With flawless smile Kou Zhong replied, Tell your men not to act recklessly first, and then this Shaoye will be interested in considering whether he should answer your question.

    The man with loose hair made prompt decision. Everybody stop! Come to my side! he shouted.

    The more than twenty pirates who boarded the boat hastily moved to the aft, so that they became two sides facing each other, the enemy and us were demarcated clearly.

    The man with loose hair was clearly someone who valued comradeship. His eyes glittered like frost and snow, as he said coldly, This time just consider us committing an offense. As soon as Sire release them, we will immediately turn on our heels, and we never eat our words.

    Kou Zhong knew that these people saw them quietly subdued five of their comrades, so they were scared in their hearts; thereupon, he laughed aloud and said, How can it be that easy? I want all of you to throw yourselves into the sea, hand over your three boats; otherwise, dont even think that you will live to see tomorrows sun. Humph! You rely on strength to loot the weak, you ought to know that this day will come.

    The pirates countenance changed, they all shouted and cursed. Everybody assumed the heroic posture of ready to fight to the death.

    The man with loose hair let out a sudden burst of shout, Shut up! Slowly taking out the pair of spears on his back, he said in a heavy voice, This is called refusing a toast only to be forced to drink a forfeit. Kid, state your name.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Old kid, you tell me first!

    The man with loose hair was taken aback, and then he smiled and said, One is a kid, the other an old kid, fair enough, listen up. Laozi is the head of Donghai Sanyi, the Double Spear, Gao Zhandao.

    Kou Zhong doubled over in laughter, Luckily the weapon you use is rather special, if you only used sword, youd have to change your name to Single Sword, Gao Zhandao. That nickname, you must have come up with it yourself, didnt you?

    Gao Zhandao and the pirates have never met someone who in the face of a battle was still able to talk and laugh as though nothing had happened, plus his words were amusing and without any devious or blaming intention; a strange feeling started to grow in their heart.

    Rubbish! Gao Zhandao shouted angrily, Since you refuse to give up, just call your companion, we will see whos superior whos inferior. While secretly signaled his men by his side, as soon as the other enemy hiding in the cabin came out, they ought to immediately rescue their comrades.

    This was the brilliance of Kou Zhongs plan of capturing five men of the opponents side, otherwise, Gao Zhandao might come back to his pirate ship and launch long-distance attack, then their own boats demise would be guaranteed.

    Kou Zhong suddenly calmed down. His tiger-eyes shining with divine light, as he stared at Gao Zhandao and spoke indifferently, Just to deal with you, these small thieves, there is no need for my brother to come out. Gao Zhandao, if you still have a little bit of thiefs guts, just fight one-on-one with me; if you can take ten moves, this Shaoye will release your men.

    Shut up! Gao Zhandao roared angrily, How could I, Gao Zhandao, tolerate your random babbling of little thieves this and that, left and right? No need to have ten-move limit either, let us see who has real skill.

    Kou Zhong frostily said, You board boats to loot, if not thieves, then what are you? You rely on force to bully the weak, you only dare to make a move on fishermen, common people who have no power to fight you, if not small thieves, then are you something completely different?

    A man standing by Gao Zhandaos side retorted and cursed, Arent you also a thief? Is smuggling salt considered honorable or shady business?

    Kou Zhong laughed involuntarily, Whats not honorable in this? he said, Northwest region lacks salt, we spare no effort, transporting salt over ten thousand crags and torrents, we buy and sell honestly, both sides are perfectly happy to do business; dont you think it is much more noble than robbing money and goods that others obtained from their blood and sweats and hard work?

    The crowd of pirates was dumbstruck and unable to reply.

    Kou Zhong vehemently continued, Mens existence in the world is to have critical and lofty aspiration, to have broad view over the world. After Laozi earns this profit, I want to use it to recruit soldiers and buy horses, to fight over the world, to accomplish great undertaking that will stand for eternity; how could you, small thieves who only know how to rob left and seize right, understand?

    Gao Zhandao snorted disdainfully; striding over, he shouted, No kidding! Let Laozi see how much weight you carry.

    While the crowd of pirates burst into cheers and applause, Kou Zhong already sprang up and swooped down from above; like a thunderbolt the long saber in his hand struck toward Gao Zhandaos face.

    Gao Zhandao did not expect Kou Zhong to be so dauntless, that as soon as he said that they would fight he immediately fought. The incoming attack carried the ten thousand jun [1 jun = 30 catties] force of a thunder; without any choice he clenched his teeth and raised his double spears and crossed them on each other to block this incomparably swift and fierce saber.

    It should be noted that for top-quality martial art masters, before they could display their power at peak condition, they must focus their attention first and warm themselves up, and only then would they be able to release the full potential of their internal energy without any reservation. Someone like Kou Zhong, who did not go through the process but was able to unleash his power brimming with explosive force like this, was simply too shocking; the crowd of pirates was astonished beyond words.

    Pow! With a dull thud Gao Zhandao staggered seven steps back in succession before he could stabilize his footing; his countenance was deathly pale.

    Kou Zhong, on the other hand, was secretly full of praise, realizing that this man was actually a lot more superior to them, two brothers; unexpectedly he was able to withstand Kou Zhongs full-powered blow.

    The crowd of pirates could see clearly that their leader was in bad situation; they rushed forward to stand in front of Gao Zhandao, but nobody dared to make any move against Kou Zhong.

    Kou Zhong stood quietly, holding the saber across his chest, exuding some kind of heroic, uninhibited aura in a beautiful, elegant posture. Bending his finger, he flicked on the blade of his saber, creating a clear, ringing buzz. He smiled and said, Since you are able to block my saber strike, this time I am willing to drop this matter.

    Gao Zhandao had just finished driving away Kou Zhongs cold qi invading his body; overwhelmed with amazement, he said, May I ask Sires honorable surname and great given name?

    Kou Zhong replied nonchalantly, My name is Kou Zhong, my brother is Xu Ziling. I wont be surprised if you have never heard our names.

    The crowd of pirates was visibly shaken.

    How could we have not heard? Gao Zhandao suddenly said, Recently you burned more than a dozen Haisha Bangs ships, even Li Mi cannot do anything to you.

    Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, You have fast and abundant news indeed. Did you get the information while you were disembarking and strolling on land?

    The pirates were amazed, one of them even said, How could Kou Ye [master] even guess those things?

    Kou Zhongs desire to fight vanished completely. Seeing the pirates looked at him with admiring, even adoring eyes, he laughed aloud and said, Lets make a deal. We will release your five brothers; in turn you prepare a sumptuous banquet for us, two brothers to enjoy. After that, we will go our separate ways; hows that?

    Gao Zhandao put away his two spears; he said with delight, This is the first time in my life that I, Gao Zhandao, meet this kind of natural hero like Kou Ye. Kou Ye is willing not to blame us for our recklessness, naturally we will gladly accept [orig. deference is no substitute for obedience]. Ha! This is really wonderful.

    Turns out the pirates were originally Sui soldiers. In the seventh year, second month of the great undertaking [Translators note: I believe this is in reference to the founding of the Sui Dynasty], Emperor Yang issued an imperial edict to send a punitive expedition to Gaoli [Korea, see my note, Book 1 Chapter 3]. These people were conscripted at Zhuo County, to join Sui Armys main force heading to Korean capital, Pyongyang [ping rang]. After the first victory, subsequent military expedition suffered defeat after defeat; Sui troops were demoralized, plus army provisions ceased to reach them.

    Gao Zhandao was a member of a 300,000-man army, they suffered crushing defeat in the middle of summer, and only 2,700 men were able to return to Liaodong [peninsula].

    The first time they defeated Gaoli, the cost in terms of manpower and physical resources was disastrous, they ought to recover. Who would have thought that Yang Guang sent the second punitive expedition to Gaoli in the ninth year of the great undertaking? Taking advantage while Yang Guang was out in the military expedition, and common people detest military service and forced labor bitterly, while the world was in chaos, the Director of the Board of Rites Yang Xuan led the troops to rebel. It was during this time that Gao Zhandao and the others decided to rebel against the Sui and followed Yang Xuan as renegades.

    After Yang Xuans troops were defeated and he died, Gao Zhandao and the others fled back to Kunling. To their surprise, the family they left behind had been implicated and was beheaded early on. Without any other choice they had to flee to the sea and became pirates.

    The short and skinny fellow was called Niu Fengyi, the young man was called Zha Jie. Not only these two had a quite good martial art skill, they were also educated men who read a lot of books. Therefore, along with Gao Zhandao, the pirates pushed them to become their leaders.

    The group originally had 52 men, but presently they grew to become 228 men. This time they went out to sea, only 208 men joined the expedition, the others stayed to guard their lair in Changsu [county, in Suzhou, Jiangsu].

    The four boats sailed together northward as a fleet along the coastal region.

    The sky gradually darkened, but the boats were brightly lit.

    A banquet was prepared on Kou and Xu, two boys boat. Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong, Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi, Zha Jie, and a few more leaders sat around the table, drinking and chatting merrily in perfect harmony.

    As for steering the boats, they handed it over to some small thieves to handle.

    After listening to their life story, how the government official drove the people to revolt and forcing talents to become pirates, Xu Zilings ill will diminished a little. More so, he noticed that these people were real men who valued family, thereupon he asked, Gao Xiong, you cant go on like this; dont you have the desire to turn over a new leaf?

    Niu Fengyi smiled bitterly and replied, Right now the world is all split up and in pieces, where can we find a place to live in peace and work happily? Currently we band together into a group, nobody dares to mess with us for no reason; we are quite well-off, even if we agree to stop, I am afraid our fellow brothers will not want to agree.

    Zha Jie spoke up in earnestness, We are merely forced to fall into the grass. Therefore, unless it is absolutely necessary, we would never kill indiscriminately. Even in robbing, we also have a sense of propriety; we never rob impoverished fishermen. If Xu Ye dont believe me, ask the people around here, you will now our, Donghai Bangs [eastern sea gang] work style.

    Another leader, Wei Yuan, said, At first we saw two gentlemens ship bore the flag of Haisha Bang, we thought you were from Haisha Bang transporting goods for Shen Faxing, an attractive and easy mark.

    Gao Zhandao suddenly turned to Kou Zhong, who was enjoying a large bowl of wine and a large piece of meat and was chewing contentedly, Just now Kou Ye mentioned something about your aspiration to vie for the world; I wonder what kind of grand plan do you have in mind?

    Xu Ziling shot Kou Zhong a look; he was the only one who understood Kou Zhongs super-outstanding trick in controlling others. Just now he was unleashing that skill with all his heart and soul to manipulate Donghai Bang people, using both soft and hard methods to scare them off that they became like clay in the palm of his hand. The most formidable part was to raise the opposite partys lofty aspiration, while displaying the I-dont-give-a-damn attitude, so that they would be most willing to come to him.

    Kou Zhong drained the wine in his cup in one gulp, put the cup down, used his sleeve to wipe the wine stain from the corner of his mouth, swept everybody with his flashing-with-divine-light eyes, and spoke nonchalantly, Tell me, who is currently have the biggest chance and the most qualifications to obtain the world?

    Without the slightest hesitation Gao Zhandao replied, Naturally its hey! I am only stating the fact. In term of prestige, naturally Li Mi holds the first place.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, He is only well-regarded on the surface. The biggest problem is the Eastern Capital has high and thick city walls, it also has former Suis elite troops, on top of that, they are under the leadership of Yang Shichong [sic], who has real skill in military literature and military strategy. Previously Li Mi failed to attack Luoyang, and now cant attack Luoyang even more, even slight carelessness will cause him big defeat. [Translators note: while I think it was Wang Shichong, but because I am not 100% sure, I am afraid to simply change it to Wang Shichong; henceforth I will write the name as is.]

    Zha Jie did not understand, It is rumored that Duke Mi is proficient in historiography, well-versed in Records of the Grand Historian [by Sima Qian (145-86 BC), Han Dynasty historian] and History of the Former Han Dynasty [by Ban Gu (AD 3292)], and is also proficient in the art of war, his repeated victories over repeated battles confirm this. The most formidable thing is that he knows how to buy the heart of the people. If he cannot obtain the world, who will have that qualifications?

    Kou Zhong already had a card up his sleeve; he said, Dont forget there is still Dou Jiande in the northeast curbing Li Mi. Besides, this fellow Li Mi has committed something that a hundred-time, a thousand-time he should not have done.

    Niu Fengyi was stunned, Whats that? he asked.

    Xu Ziling knew what Kou Zhong was going to say, inwardly he admired Kou Zhongs ability, wisdom and charisma; to touch these three mens heart would be as easy as turning his hand.

    He murdered Da Longtou Zhai Rang, Kou Zhong calmly replied, Because of that, the old generals who had been following Zhai Rang are discontented and afraid of their own safety. Wagang Army no longer has the unity of the former Wagang Army.

    Gao Zhandao was puzzled, But presently tens of thousands people are coming to him, outstanding heroes from all over the world are flocking to Xingyang to attach themselves with Duke Mi and achieve greatness; his strength ought to be increased.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Coincidentally, this has become two major problems for him. First of all, the old people are afraid they might be pushed aside by the newcomers, add to that the apprehension of high-ranking officers who used to have close relationship with Zhai Rang; secondly, the elite troops of the new Wagang Army thereby has good and bad people intermingle with each other, who could tell if they have been infiltrated by the opponents spies? Humph! People keep saying how talented and outstanding Li Mi is; in my opinion, he is only so-so. If I were him, I would only house-arrest Zhai Rang, let him be a puppet leader who has a name but no reality.

    Gao Zhandao and the others exchanged glances, they all showed amazed look on their faces. Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, knowing that Kou Zhongs intention to vie over the world was already like an arrow that left the bow; there was no turning back. Li Mi and the others have just gained one more terrifying formidable opponent. Having Gao Zhandao and his group of pirates under his control was only the beginning.

  11. #71
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 6 - Chapter 12

    Book 6 Chapter 12 The Debut of the Wing

    Under the star-filled-sky ocean, four boats slowly sailed in a fleet.

    After another round of wine, Gao Zhandao modestly asked, That being the case, who does Kou Ye think will have the greatest chance to sit on the throne?

    Kou Zhong turned to Xu Ziling and said, Why dont Xu Ye tell us?

    Xu Ziling shook his head and said, Our Kou Ye can tell it more vividly, I also want to hear Kou Yes enlightening remarks very much.

    Kou Zhong sneered and said, You, this kid, are the best in deriding me.

    Meeting everybodys eager eyes, he said word by word slowly, Whoever can seize Guanzhong will become the emperor, ruler of the new dynasty.

    And then, as if his thoughts were wandering far away, he said, Those who desire to obtain the world but dont understand the time, geography and harmony of the people, these three things, are like the blind who rides a horse in the night overlooking an abyss. Changan is located at the Guanzhong Plain [in Shaanxi, valley of the River Wei]. It is situated south of Wei River, north of Qinling Mountain Range, fertile land that spans thousand li, surrounded by a range of hills. Since ancient times it has been a strategic location for both transportation and military matters. Zhou, Qin, and Han have all made it their capital, they constantly built and expanded it. The present Changan has been built by Yang Jian as a new city. Not only its scale is the apex in the world, it also opens wide the connecting canal drawing Wei River flowing to the east to Tongguan and enters Yellow River. Speaking of transportation, Luoyang is perhaps superior to some degree. But speaking about military affairs, we must give a serious look at the latter. In the past Qin Shihuang was able to unify the six directions, sweeping and wiping out the outstanding heroes, the reason is summarized in these eight characters: fertile land people flourish, danger can be guard against [di wo ren fu, you xian ke shou].

    Niu Fengyi slapped the table and sighed, Reminded by Kou Ye, todays situation came to Fengyis mind. The present situation is exactly the same as the Warring States period [475-221 BC]. History unceasingly repeats itself; this is the best example.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Compared to the Warring State period, where the heroes were fighting over the world, the present situation is a hundred times, a thousand times more chaotic.

    Everybody nodded their head in agreement.

    Gao Zhandao asked, Are you saying that the Li Clan has the greatest opportunity to become the overlord of the world like Qin Shihuang?

    Kou Zhong shot a glance toward Xu Ziling before saying indifferently, If I, Kou Zhong, did not exist, then that would be the case.

    By this time Gao Zhandao and the others were already in complete prostration to Kou Zhongs insight; they busily asked him to elaborate.

    Kou Zhongs spirit was greatly aroused; he said, The Li Clan has three big problems, which are not easy to resolve: in the first place, they used to be Sui officials, and common people detest Sui Dynasty bitterly. Anything, be it people or object, associated with Sui Dynasty is difficult to accept. Secondly, the Li Clan is a famous, rich and powerful family. During the time where peoples mind is in rebellion mode, this has become a burden instead. Thirdly, their heir apparent is Li Jiancheng and not Li Shimin. I, Kou Zhong, dare to bet my neck that this will go wrong in the future.

    Niu Fengyi agreed, Kou Ye has a brilliant insight. Although Li Jianchengs martial art skill is superior to his father, and has the reputation as the number one martial art master of the Li Clan, he is unlike Li Shimin whom people give their allegiance to, his popularity is far too inferior. Currently he is the Tangs Heir Apparent, but he is highly questionable.

    Kou Zhongs eyes shot a chilling light, but his tone was surprisingly calm. Again, word-by-word he said slowly, At the moment the Li Clan is barely able to stand firm and have a stable footing. The calamity within their bosom is precisely the territory they occupy: Western Qins Li Gui and Xue Ju, two large forces, the so-called Western Qin is settled Guanzhong is calm, Western Qin is a mess, Guanzhong is chaotic; plus Qin and Liang are situated on higher ground to the west of Longshan Mountain Range, their tiger-eyes are staring at Guanzhong. The longer the Li Clan is unable to pacify the Western Qin, they cannot be considered as truly in control over Changan, Even more, they are powerless to go east to take Luoyang, and go on to pacify the world.

    And then he slapped the table so hard that the soup and meat dishes splashed, bowls and cups shook. Whoever can drive the Li Clan away and occupy Guanzhong will be able to rule the world, he said solemnly.

    Zha Jie scratched his head, But I heard that on the way to attack Guanzhong, the Li Clan absorbed a great number of generals and soldiers from various regions, as well as recruited able-bodied men, their military strength reaches 300,000 men. On top of that, their city defense is strong; taking Changan is easier said than done. Didnt Xue Ju have just suffered a crushing defeat?

    Kou Zhong leaned back on his chair, stretched himself, and said, The finesse of an army is not in its number; otherwise Gaoli would have been eradicated by Yang Guang early on. Dont forget that I still have the Duke of Yang Treasure Trove!

    Gao Zhandao and the others were emotionally moved.

    Recalling Fu Junchuo, Xu Ziling suddenly felt uncomfortable. He rose up and said, Please forgive Zaixia for taking my leave, I want to go to the cabin and rest for the night. Without waiting for any response he simply left.

    Kou Zhong was silent; his tiger-eyes flashed a sad look.

    Xu Ziling stood quietly by the window, silently gazing at the bright moon over the sea.

    Kou Zhong quietly pushed the door and entered. He came behind him and said softly, Are you unhappy that I touched Duke of Yang Treasure Trove?

    Xu Ziling shook his head, No! he said, I have no such thought. Niang told us the location of the treasure, clearly she wanted us to go get it. Im just afraid that you talked too big too soon, if another day you cant find the treasure, you wont be able to honor your commitment. Thats all.

    Kou Zhong said, Thats why I wanted you to help me. One lifetime two brothers; you have to help me find the treasure no matter what, and only then can you leave.

    Xu Ziling turned around to meet Kou Zhongs passionate expression in his eyes; all kinds of past events flashed through his mind. His heart softened and he said, So what do you have in mind?

    Kou Zhong was greatly delighted; he said, Over the last several years that kid Gao Zhandao has amassed a large quantity of weapons, boats and wealth. If we can train them well, they can become our disciples army. With them as our troupe members, we can make meticulous plan to put an act of transporting salt. Other than killing Li Mis prestige, our reputation will also soar. Along the way we can recruit soldiers and buy horses, and tie good relationship with heroes all over the world. The best part of our plan is that we do not occupy certain territory, we wont declare ourselves king, and only emerge to contend for hegemony after we obtain Guanzhong. Hey! What do you think?

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly, You are talking too far ahead, he said, At most I will only help you find the Duke Yang Treasure, and then I will withdraw and leave you.

    Kou Zhong hugged him. That is enough, you are indeed my good brother, he said, We are going to organize Shuanglong Bang [double-dragon gang]. Leaving no stone unturned, we infiltrate all militias, gathering intelligence first, while continuously buying the peoples heart. Once the uprising begins, we know exactly who our opponents are.

    Knitted his brows, Xu Ziling said, Gao Zhandao and the others are used to be pirates, will they be willing to listen to your commands?

    Kou Zhong let him off, laughed aloud, and then lowering his voice, he said, They have just kowtowed and offered me a toast, and called me Bangzhu [gang leader]. Now we are going to their pirate nest; after establishing good control over their power and organizing and training them, we can be on our way immediately.

    And then, patting his chest he said, Trust me! I, Kou Zhong, can train a team of peerless-throughout-the-world elite troops, a team that can beat Li Mi, Ol Die, Yuwen Huagu and the others that they will cry for their Niang. Oh! But you have to help me train as well.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, I should have known that you would beat the snake following the stick [see Book 3 Chapter 3]. But after obtaining the treasure, you must not use any other trick to make me stay.

    Kou Zhong extended his big hand and said, One word and its settled!

    Xu Ziling also reached out to grab his hand tightly.

    Looking at Kou Zhongs tiger-eyes gleaming with unusual shine, a hard-to-describe feeling welled up in Xu Zilings heart: he had a faint feeling that in this troubled times, right this moment, powerful hegemon, who could move clouds just by waving his hand, who could control rains with a turn of his hand, has suddenly emerged.

    Shuanglong Bang was established quietly without the knowledge of any Jianghu people.

    Kou Zhong demonstrated his outstanding talent in controlling the more than two hundred men who were accustomed to live oppressing others; everybody was willing to look up to him for leadership.

    In just one night he managed to blend Li Jings Bloody Battle Ten-Style, Tu Shufangs Meridian-Severing Technique, plus the martial art of his own understanding, into a new set of Divine Dragon Eight-Strike, which he then passed on to Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi, Zha Jie, three men, and delegated them to teach the Gang members.

    He also single-handedly developed a simple, yet tight organizational structure. The general idea was that there were two Gang Leaders; naturally Xu Ziling could not hold any other office, but the fact was that virtually all power was in Kou Zhongs hands. Under the Gang Leader, there was one military advisor [Junshi], four gang protectors, and then three Hall Masters overseeing three inner halls: internal affairs, finance, and training, which were under Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi and Zha Jie, respectively. The three outer halls were in charge of war, intelligence and provisions.

    Each hall had a hall master and his deputy hall master, which were in charge of day-to-day hall affairs to some degree. Except for the three inner hall masters, the other positions were still vacant, waiting for suitable virtuous candidates.

    In the water fort of Changshu [county, Suzhou, Jiangsu], Kou Zhong was busy day and night; he personally drafted a proposal of the Gang Bylaws. After he was done, Gao Zhandao and the others could not think of a single character to change; as a result, they admired him even more.

    He forced Xu Ziling to train his men. Xu Ziling was amiable and approachable, so he enjoyed great popularity, plus everybody could see that his pair of hands was superior to any weapon, hence he was extremely admired. His men were in high morale and did not have any contempt to him due to his young age.

    Two months passed quickly like that. One day Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were studying the changes and variations in troop formations, Gao Zhandao came to report that a large number of Jianghu people from surrounding area heard the news, and since they admired the two, they came to join the Gang as volunteers for the uprising.

    Kou Zhong pondered for half a day before saying, Please tactfully decline them all. Currently our condition is not stable yet, there are still a lot of things not on track; if we suddenly expand, we may have a dismal ending.

    Gao Zhandao accepted the order and left.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Xiao Ling! When we are victorious in battle we can expand.

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, The rumor has leaked. This bunch of people must be spies sent by Shen Faxing. Seeing that we did not fall into his trap, these next couple of days he may send his men to attack us. Let me send our spies to scout the enemys movement, when they come back, I will report to Bangzhu.

    Kou Zhong doubled over in laughter, Kid, dont tease me; what Bangzhu? Arent you also one? Bangzhu or Emperor are just appellation people use, between us, brothers, there is no such thing.

    Xu Ziling laughed aloud and left without further ado.

    After Xu Ziling returned that night, Shuanglong Bangs several highest echelons gathered in the main hall for a secret meeting.

    Xu Ziling said, It is just as Kou Bangzhu thought, Shen Faxing deployed approximately two-thousand men to lie in ambush in a forest southeast of our stronghold, estimated distance two-day marching.

    It was only now that Gao Zhandao and the others found out what happened. But looking at Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings we have everything under control expression, they became excited too; rubbing their fists and wiping their palms, they were eager to go into battle with heads held high.

    Kou Zhong said, This time we are going to fight a beautiful battle. We are not looking to annihilate the enemies, we only hope to meet the enemy head-on, inflict heavy losses, and behead the commander-in-chief. And then we will deal with other things one by one, proceed with previously developed plan.

    So which plan are we going to do? Niu Fengyi asked.

    Kou Zhong replied, If my estimation is correct, this time Haisha Bang is also taking this opportunity to settle old debt, therefore, they must have come with the enemy as well, if not, they must have taken the water route to attack us from two fronts, water and land, hoping to kill us clean in one go.

    Turning to Xu Ziling, he said, Ill give you Han Gaitian.

    Xu Ziling smiled slightly and said, In that case Ill hide alone in Haisha Bangs flagship, and become maritime assassin one time.

    Full of admiration, Zha Jie said, When as soon as we got here Bangzhu ordered us to reinforce the defense, we thought that it was superfluous; but know we know that Bangzhu really have foresight.

    Kou Zhong laughed, but did not say anything, while thinking in his heart that if Laozi did not have a bit of ability, how could I control you, this bunch of big thieves?

    Three days later, it was a moonless and windy night. Everybody was well aware that the time the enemy was going to attack has come.

    When darkness fell, all Shuanglong Bangs seven warships quietly left the dock. Kou Zhong led a hundred men to lie in ambush at the more than a dozen bunkers on the mountain and fields outside their water stronghold, quietly waiting for the enemys honorable selves to honor them with their presence.

    By the first watch period [7-9 pm] more than fifty warships, big and small, appeared on the surface of the sea outside the water stronghold, let down their skiffs, and launched the attack from the sea.

    Almost at the same time hundreds of torches lit up, covering the mountains and the plains, as probably close to a thousand men were charging toward their stronghold.

    The enemy taking the land route relied mostly on cavalry, with the infantry providing support; it was a large-scale military attack.

    Who would have thought that before they even reached the stronghold gate, the horses were either falling into pits full of sharp spikes, or stepping onto the field of sharp spikes that their feet were broken, their blood splashed and they fell to the ground. For a short while the situation was a total chaos.

    This moment, close to five hundred skiffs full of soldiers have just arrived at the wooden fence surrounding the water stronghold when suddenly out of nowhere several dozen fiery arrows filled the sky. The surface of the sea around them, as well as the dozen or so wooden constructions across the wooden stronghold rapidly caught fire. Very soon the invading troops were trapped on the sea of fire.

    Haisha Bang and Shen Faxings coalition army realized that they had fallen into a trap. Hastily they blew the trumpet signaling retreat.

    Kou Zhong led his men to fire arrows from the dark, while at the same time signaling his men everywhere to set on fire to cut the enemys retreating path. Right this moment Xu Ziling had just climbed onto Han Gaitians five-mast flagship.

    He craned out his neck from the edge of the ship to look around, and saw on the platform above the cabin on the main deck Han Gaitian was standing anxiously, like an ant on a hot pathway, unceasingly issuing orders, while the subordinates around him were quiet out of fear. His other subordinates on the other ships were running back and forth, trying to get the ships turn around is hasty retreat.

    The most formidable part of Kou Zhongs plan was that the enemy did not have any attack target.

    Xu Ziling took out the pebbles he had already prepared and suddenly jumped up onto the deck, and then soared onto the platform. His hands threw the pebbles in rapid succession toward the wind lanterns hanging from the masts, rupturing their covering and extinguishing the fire inside, so that by the time he landed onto the platform, the entire deck has fallen into complete darkness.

    Han Gaitian did not even have any chance to fetch his weapon, Xu Zilings fist already arrived at his chest.

    Overwhelmed with shock, the Fat Assassin You Gui and the Charging General Ling Zhigao on his left moved to intercept.

    Bang!

    Han Gaitian was worthy to be the leader of a gang; crossing his palms together, he met Xu Zilings fist head-on.

    A scorching qi suddenly turned into million strands of soft thread, which, contrary to Han Gaitians wish, penetrated and invaded his arteries and veins.

    In unbearable discomfort Han Gaitian nearly threw up blood; hastily he recoiled backward and circulated his internal power to dissolve the invading qi, while his subordinates swarmed forward to surround this terrifying lone assassin.

    Who would have thought that in a flash Xu Ziling disappeared from their midst and soared above Han Gaitians head? Fast as lightning his both feet kicked in succession toward his face. You Gui and Ling Zhigaos weapons trying to meet him hit empty air.

    Although the other men also pounced on him, but because Xu Ziling was moving like a ghost, plus the deck was so dark that it was difficult to see, momentarily they were thrown into confusion, nobody knew how to deal against this enemy, so that although they had the strength, it was difficult to unleash it.

    Swish! Swish! Swish!

    The Mermaid You Qiuyan stepped aside, waved her hand and continuously shot three silver hairpins, which she pulled from her hair, toward Xu Ziling, who was flying in the air.

    Bang! Bang!

    Han Gaitian abruptly raised a mouthful of true qi to keep the endlessly surging blood in his vessels under control, while lifting up his palms to block Xu Zilings swift as the wind rotating wheel of six kicks.

    Han Gaitian let out a painful groan, staggered and fell down; trickle of blood appeared from the corner or his mouth, having experiencing the dreadful innate true qi from the Secret to Long Life.

    Xu Ziling fantastically shifted forward, missing You Qiuyans secret projectile by a hairbreadth. Although he started later, he arrived earlier behind Han Gaitian.

    Han Gaitian was so scared that his soul flew away and scattered; although he knew that it was a desperate moment, he could only rely on himself to save his own life. Turning around, he raised his palms to attack Xu Ziling.

    Suddenly Xu Ziling spun swiftly; in an instant he counterattacked with five palm strikes and four kicks, plus a shoulder bump and an elbow strike, giving the impression that any part of his body could become a deadly weapon.

    The sound of clashing qi rang continuously.

    The two combatants were suddenly closing in to each other, but then just as sudden they separated.

    Xu Ziling somersaulted and leaped away from the platform, and then with another push of his toes on the ships railing, he leaped into the boundless ocean, and disappeared without a trace.

    Everybody rushed toward Han Gaitian; they saw him clasping his hand on the pit of the stomach. It was only by leaning on, and helped by, You Qiuyan that he did not fall down to the floor.

    They saw Han Gaitians face was like the golden paper used in funerals; he said in trembling voice, Retreat immediately, my internal injury is extremely heavy, albeit the opponent was being lenient to me. We hereby drop this matter.

    Everyone was stunned speechless.

    Who could have imagined that in mere two months Xu Ziling has become much more formidable?

    And thus Shen Faxing and Haisha Bangs coalition army suffered defeat and was forced to retreat. They lost more than a thousand men, while could not even touch the enemys shadow.

    By daybreak, seven warships, carrying the Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling-led Shuanglong Bang, quietly set sail from a hidden dock by the water stronghold, which had been burned to coke, bound for the ocean.

    Everybody of the Shuanglong Bang was in high spirits, they all looked up to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling like deities.

    Kou Zhong knew that he had established his credibility, so when the darkness fell, he summoned Gao Zhandao, three people, into his presence, and instructed them, We will separate here. You will secretly go to the appointed place, to recruit soldiers and buy horses, and to advance our carefully drafted master plan. Xu Ziling and I will take only four men to transport the salt to Guanzhong. Be sure to remember not to take any risk and to advance too quickly, you must not leak our relationship even more.

    The three accepted the order and returned to their respective boat.

    Kou Zhong walked over to the aft, toward Xu Ziling, who was standing with his hands behind his back, enjoying the ocean scenery. He sighed and said, Our great undertaking is finally launched. When we left Yangzhou that day, I was dreaming that this day would come.

    Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, If Su Jie did not meet any mishap, we should be able to see her soon.

    A bit embarrassed, Kou Zhong said, I am very concerned about Su Jie too. We parted in the middle of winter, and now it is already the end of spring. Five months passed before we know it.

    Their sailboat changed direction, slowly leaving the fleet, heading toward the northwest.

    Only four sailors and those sacks of salt remained on the boat. These four men were Duan Yucheng, Bao Zhifu, Ma Gui, and Shi Jie. They were roughly between twenty to twenty-four, twenty-five years of age, and everyone was handpicked personally by Kou Zhong, and have undergone special training by him; they all had especially high natural gifts.

    Xu Ziling looked deep into Kou Zhongs eyes and said, Transporting the salt this time has made us tying a lot of enmities; have you considered the consequences?

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, But it has also made us tying a lot of friendships. Xiongdi! Life is like that; if we want friends, then we will have enemies as well. This can be considered an important phase in our training. As long as we dont die, by the time the salt is safely delivered to Guanzhong, we will become martial art masters unequalled under the heavens!

    The moon rose from the horizon, illuminating the entire border where the sea and the sky met, creating a mysterious, as well as beautiful, world.

  12. #72
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 1

    Book 7 Chapter 1 Two Lords of the Yangtze River
    Translated by Foxs

    The salt boat left the ocean to enter Yangtze River against the stream.

    Knock! Knock! Knock!

    Following the knocking on the door, Xu Zilings voice replied from the inside, Come in!

    Kou Zhong pushed the door and entered. Seeing Xu Ziling sitting cross-legged on a chair by the window, he laughed and said, You, this kid, are really diligent.

    Xu Ziling replied indifferently, I have a very bad feeling; there will be trouble tonight.

    Kou Zhong sat down across from him; nodding his head, he said, I came here to tell you exactly that, the enemy has caught up with us, two ships are hanging on our tail. I really wish I could turn around and have fun killing them.

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, Fighting power is at the bottom of our list. What crafty idea do you have this time?

    Kou Zhong shook his head and swayed his noggin as if he was reciting something, Knowing me, Kou Zhong, am not like Xu Ziling. We can never sit quietly on a boat without inviting others to look for bad luck. But if there are that kind of shameless people around, if we dont have the guts to fight, then we have the guts to burn their ship or drill their boat. Otherwise our salt goods will be in jeopardy.

    Xu Ziling said, Kou Bangzhu must give considerations to Duan Yucheng, those four kids; otherwise, even in lifting or other menial jobs, Kou Bangzhu will have to toil your precious hands.

    Kou Zhong let out a bitter laugh and said, I am begging you! Please stop speaking using that kind of sarcasm to make fun of me! Naturally I will give them consideration. As the Bangzhu, if I dont cherish my underlings, who would want to throw their lives in for me?

    Xu Ziling also felt that his tone was a bit too excessive. Just consider me in the wrong! he said apologetically, What brilliant scheme are you thinking?

    Kou Zhong made himself comfortable, leaning back on his chair he stretched out his legs, and said, After dark, we will make our first move by getting rid of those two ships following behind us

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, You are not thinking of scuttling other peoples ships, are you?

    Kou Zhong was upset. You guessed it again, he said, Speaking about underwater skill, who could surpass us? Those four guys are making preparations as we speak. When we get out of the back of the cabin later, they will release a great amount to thick smoke to interfere with the enemys line of sight, and then well seize that chance to go underwater, well take care of the enemys ships, one per person. This time we are going to use the real tool to bore a boat. Based on our Two-Dragon of Yangzhous divine skill, with two, three strikes we should be able to huh?

    Rapid footsteps were approaching, flustered and exasperated, the short, small, but highly capable Bao Zhifu blurted out outside the door, Two Bangzhu, the situation does not look good, the enemys catching up with us.

    The two three-mast ships behind them were only about forty zhang away, and were closing in really fast; evidently their speed was a lot faster than their boat.

    Presently the river course was deep, and the stream rapid; both banks were dangerous towering precipice, with the water closer to the edge full of dangerous reef, very steep. Obviously the enemy had already picked this exact place to launch their attack early on.

    That night the moon was really beautiful, the turbulence reflected the moon and the stars splendor, like millions of slivery snakes dancing on the surface of the water; it was extremely wild and enchanting.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong stood at the aft, focusing their eyes to look, and saw that the observation platform on each ship were packed with dozens of people, all were also looking at and pointing at them.

    When the two boys gaze fell on the decks of the enemys ships, they could not help sucking a mouthful of cold air, because each ship had at least several men with drawn bow pointing at them, as well as several catapults.

    How could they fight this battle?

    Kou Zhongs eyes flashed a cold murderous look. I wonder whose ships are they? he asked no one in particular in a heavy voice.

    The slender and handsome Duan Yucheng, who was in charge of the helm, heard him and called out, They should be Dajiang Huis [Great River Society] warships. Their best trick is that they are able to turn fast, which other helmsmen are not able to do.

    Dajiang Hui was one of the Eight Gangs Ten Societies; they achieved their fame in Jianghu early, which was by no mean an easy feat. Their Gang Leader and his deputy were the Dragon Lord Pei Yue and Tiger Lord Pei Yan, two brothers, famous to be vicious and merciless. Even as early as they were still in Yangzhou, the two boys had already heard about their notoriety; its just that they did not expect that as soon as they entered the Yangtze River they already came across these vicious people.

    Kou Zhong nudged Xu Ziling and muttered, His grannys Niang, we cant beat them fair and square, what can we do this time?

    Although ever since their debut they had already anticipated encounter with enemies who wanted to invade their territory, but they only thought about little clowns in groups of three or squads of five, or perhaps one or two martial art masters who wanted to curry Li Mis favor, never this kind of big troop formation.

    The enemy basically did not give them any chance to have a close combat.

    Xu Ziling spoke nonchalantly, Abandon ship!

    Kou Zhong was staring at the enemy ships, which were about twenty zhang away by now; stunned, he asked, Wont that mean this batch of salt will come to naught?

    Xu Ziling said in amazement, Zhong Shao, why does your brain suddenly become so slow? The one abandoning the ship is the two of us. Dont you see that every one of the enemies is equipped with wet suit and harpoons? Apparently after sinking our ships they are going to go underwater to capture us. Then why dont we jump into the river one step ahead, so that the enemy wont need to waste arrows, sling stones, and the burning oil?

    Kou Zhong slapped his forehead; applying his internal energy he shouted toward the enemys ship, Pei Yue, Pei Yan, are you, a snake and a cat, going to poo or pee here?

    A cold snort came from the enemys ship.

    The two boys shivered in fear; the opponents snort was loud and clear, but not excessively shrill, evidently he had a deep internal strength, definitely not someone they want to mess around with. If on top of that there were also other martial art masters plus more than two hundred warriors with deep water skill, equipped with net, bows and arrows, their chance of getting capture was a hundred percent.

    Another dull, stuffy voice from the enemys ship on the left said, The two of you must be tired of living; death is near at hand and still dare to blurt out offending remarks. If you are a bit smarter youd immediately stop your boat. Do you think that our Dajiang Hui is as friendly as those Haisha Bang people?

    The two boys focused their power into their eyes, and saw the speaker to be a tall and sturdy man, with baldhead, broad face, and thick lower jaw, wearing black robe, looked rather lofty, and only around forty years old.

    But the one really attracting the two boys attention was a twenty-something man in purple clothes standing to the left of the baldhead. This kid was tall and thin, but sturdy, the bridge of his nose was high, but rather flat. His look was actually not bad, its a pity that his eyes were unusually small and narrow that they seemed to pull his face together, so they did not match his overall appearance, which gave people a very uncomfortable feeling.

    The reason the two boys paid a particular attention to him was because inside this mans narrow eyes, the pupils were gleaming with unusual shine, evidently it was because his internal energy was a notch above the man who has just spoken; definitely a rival difficult to deal with.

    This moment, Ma Gui, whose face was full of pimples came behind the two boys to report, We are ready to release the smokescreen anytime!

    Kou Zhong was greatly delighted. Watch for my signal! he said.

    Ma Gui received the order and left.

    To divide the opponents attention, Xu Ziling laughed aloud and said, Stopping the boat so that everybody can be intimate with each other is a must, but I wonder which Dajiang Huis Dangjia [the one in charge] is speaking?

    The baldhead shouted coldly, I am Pei Yan. If you are tactful, immediately lower your sail and stop the boat, otherwise we will attack. If that happens, dont blame our Dajiang Hui for not showing any mercy.

    The young man in purple clothing let out a shrill laughter before saying, Currently Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong are very valuable; otherwise, how could you move Pei Er Dangjia to toil for ten days and ten nights to follow your trail? However, unlike other people, we dont capture you to be presented as a gift, we only hope to collaborate with two gentlemen, to start a great undertaking.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance; they understood now that the opponents were after the Duke Yang Treasure.

    Noticing the enemies had been closing in for ten more zhang, Kou Zhong shouted, Sire, who are you?

    Pei Yan answered for him, You guys really have eyes without eyeballs, that even Changbai [mountain] number one martial art master Wang Baogongs only Gongzi, the Thunder Saber Wang Kuijie Gongzi you dont recognize. How could you roam the Jianghu?

    Pretending to be greatly astonished, Kou Zhong responded, I wonder if Bi Xuan and Ning Daoqi recognize Wang Gongzi? Wont that mean that they should not have roamed the Jianghu?

    Pei Yans original intention was to flatter Wang Kuijie, but hearing Kou Zhongs remark, he was stumped.

    Worse yet, Wang Kuijie was embarrassed.

    Realizing that the opponent might turn embarrassment into anger, Kou Zhong hurriedly issued an order to release the smokescreen.

    Sure enough, the sound of drums arose from one of the enemys ships; everybody bent their bows with arrows at the ready; as soon as the ships were getting closer, they would shoot.

    With continuous creaking noise, more than a dozen stone, about a chi-square each, were shot first from the trebuchet, and flew high up in the sky toward them. At the same moment, four windows closest to the water at the aft of their boat suddenly opened, four streams of black smoke erupted out.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling immediately soared into the air, their fists and feet worked together, diverting the stones that looked like they might hit the boat away.

    Before the enemys ships had the chance to launch the second round of stones, the thick smoke was blown by the wind so that they were trapped inside the smoke.

    Black smoke was continuously blown from the bellows operated by Bao Zhifu and Shi Jie, two persons. In the blink of an eye the air behind the boat was covered in thick, dark smoke.

    On the deck, Ma Gui, Duan Yucheng, along with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, four people, who, after all, were still young at heart, cheered excitedly.

    Suddenly there was a loud gust of wind; someone was breaking the smokescreen, like a big bird swooping toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, with the vigor of a gigantic hawk catching a rabbit, as a ball of saber ray pounced on them.

    Kou Zhong stayed calm without the slightest sign of fear; he shouted, Good move!

    Lightning fast he drew his long saber and turned it into cold light. Ding! it hacked onto the saber ray protecting the opponents body.

    The man and Kou Zhong exchanged an all-out saber attack; in horror he found out that Kou Zhongs saber not only carried an incomparably amazing cold true qi, which broke through his own saber qi and even forced it back, but also the cold qi continued to seal his saber momentum so tight that he was unable to continue his attack. In his great shock, he borrowed the opponents force to catapult himself back, made a somersault in the air, with the intention to land on the platform on top of the cabin.

    On the other hand, Kou Zhong was also jolted by the opponent that his qi and blood surged up in his chest. While he was secretly shocked by the opponents formidability, Xu Ziling already soared into the air like an angry eagle, to intercept the dreadful opponent by one step, so that the two of them exchanged several moves in the air.

    Xu Zilings weapon was his body.

    In addition to his hands and feet, no part of his body could not be used as an offensive weapon against the enemy. Obviously that person has never encountered such moves; three times in succession his saber attack were neutralized by Xu Zilings saber-breaking technique, so that his leap could not continue and he was forced to alter direction toward the side of the boat.

    Xu Ziling also felt his strength was exhausted, so he safely landed on the platform to take a breather.

    Only then did he see clearly that this person was precisely Wang Baos son, Wang Kuijie.

    Meanwhile, Kou Zhong had anticipated the point where the opponent would land, hence he already flashed over and waited with the saber held horizontally across his chest. Laughing aloud, he said, This time it is indeed a good move!

    Wang Kuijie groaned inwardly; he saw Kou Zhong was waiting down there with tight defense, while he himself was still unable to dissolve completely Xu Zilings qi invading his body. Falling rapidly like this would not be any different than suicide.

    Swish!

    Nobody knew where the arrow came from, but it swiftly flew toward his back.

    Wang Kuijie was also an outstanding talent; abruptly raising his qi, he miraculously rose up by a chi or so to evade the powerful arrow, and then with a flip he leaped over Kou Zhong and plunged into the water.

    Carrying his big bow Ma Gui rushed over to the edge of the boat and ferociously shot an arrow to the spot where Wang Kuijie disappeared into the water.

    By this time the surface of the river behind the boat was completely shrouded in black smoke. Kou Zhong breathed a sigh of relief.

    Xu Ziling leaped down beside him and said, That guys saber technique was swift and fierce, I was nearly fooled.

    Kou Zhong nodded, His qinggong is not bad either, he said.

    Fixing his gaze at the black fog behind the boat, Xu Ziling said heavily, If you have to fight him fair and square, how confident you are in scoring a victory?

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and replied, At most only fity-fifty.

    Both were feeling heavy; they no longer had the same confidence as when they first started.

    The days ahead would not be easy.

    The morning sun was rising, a new day has begun.

    Avoiding the Yangtze River, the salt boat entered a tributary and cast anchor in a river bend hidden underneath thick lush trees.

    After rushing all night long, Duan Yucheng and the others, four men, needed a good rest. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys were on guard duty.

    Xu Ziling noticed that Kou Zhong was looking for a small sharp chisel, and when he found it, he diligently carved something on the blade of his saber. Squatting next to him, Xu Ziling asked, What are you doing?

    I want to give my treasured saber a proper name, Kou Zhong replied proudly.

    Xu Ziling burst out laughing; he said, If you consider this saber a treasured saber, then all sabers under the heavens, with the exception of some especially inferior quality goods, can also be considered treasured sabers.

    Kou Zhong solemnly said, That is precisely the reason it can display my, Kou Zhongs prowess. This is originally an ordinary saber, but because of me it will become world-famous tool, this is the saber that will let me strike everywhere all over the world. Ha!

    Xu Ziling sat down on the deck, close to the boats railings. Taking a deep breath of early morning air, watching a flock of birds flying in the sky, he stretched and asked, What ghost name are you carving there?

    Kou Zhongs thick face turned slightly red; he said softly, Moon in the Well!

    At first Xu Ziling was startled, but then he could not stop smiling, Good kid! he said, You have the cheek to enjoy this good name alone!

    Kou Zhong smiled apologetically and said, How about yielding to me a little bit? One lifetime two brothers, why argue over such thing too much?

    Xu Ziling was lost in thought for half a day. He finally said, Duan Yucheng, these four guys natural talent is not bad. After checking out their channel and meridians, I designed a set of qi cultivation method for each of them. If they are successful, they are going to be your biggest help.

    Kou Zhong gratefully said, Fortunately you had time to think about those kinds of thing, currently day in and day out my time is spent in thinking about future plan, I dont have time to think about that kind of water-mill effort.

    Xu Ziling said, Speaking about intelligence, Duan Yucheng is at the top of the list. But in terms of martial art skill, Bao Zhifu will be the most accomplished in the future. Above all, this man is unbelievably dauntless, with firm and persistent fighting spirit; he is the most suitable candidate to practice a hard-bridge, hard-horse skill like Li Dages saber technique.

    Kou Zhong nodded his agreement; he said, Shi Jie excels in light, nimble skill. Just wait till I finish teaching him a set of saber technique I developed based on my comprehension of the swimming fish, I guarantee that his future accomplishment will not be inferior to the others.

    Xu Ziling said, Ma Gui is most adept at archery and secret projectiles, only his internal energy is lacking. If we can make up for this deficiency, his future accomplishment will also be immeasurable.

    If these two boys dialog fell into the ears of great scholars and grandmasters such as Bi Xuan or Ning Daoqi, those people would be so amazed that their jaw would drop. The reason was not only because of their brilliant and original insight, but also because of their ability in measuring talents and designing teaching materials accordingly, with suitable internal energy cultivation method for each one, demonstrating the fact that the two boys have reached the level of accomplished founder of a sect.

    Their fantastic martial art skill, first inspired by Fu Junchuo and the Secret to Long Life, enriched by Li Jings Bloody Battle Ten-Style, their Beautiful Gang Leaders Bird-Crossing Technique and Tu Shufangs Meridian-Severing Technique, has by this time evolved into a unique, complete set of martial art skill, which was totally their own.

    It was precisely because they had never received any rigid set of technique that they were relying on their own hard work and groping about, but the result was a more flexible change and variation, a set of technique of their own.

    Kou Zhong suddenly had his heart filled with emotional stirring; he said, Listening to the tone of your voice, it seems like you are ready to leave me anytime. Ay! I am so not used to not having you around.

    Xu Ziling smiled; he said, The most important thing for a real man is to keep his words. You, Zhong Shao, have already promised that after we find the Duke Yang Treasure, you will let me go freely; therefore, you cant casually renege on your promise.

    Kou Zhong sighed helplessly.

    This moment they heard the sound of oars hitting the water, a group of five fishing boats that were strung together was sailing not too far from the river bend; it was such a calm, peaceful and relaxing scene that anybody would be hard-pressed to think that they were in the world that was all split up and in pieces, with war continuing everywhere.

    Xu Ziling said, Are we going to break through Li Zitongs Jianghu Armys barricade tonight?

    Kou Zhong mused, Li Zitong cant totally close the Great River, so he will still have to send his warship to check all vessels going back and forth. As long as we can grasp the right moment, we definitely will have a chance of breaking through.

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

    Kou Zhong also reacted; both he and Xu Ziling turned their gaze toward the shore. But the shore remained dark and quiet with no human shadow in sight.

    The two exchanged glances; they both felt very strange.

    If it were only one of them felt it, they could dismiss it as mere misperception. But the current situation was simply too weird. Who could have hidden inside the two boys perception range? Not only that, who could have beaten their vision by one step faster?

    By dusk, the salt boat departed the river bend where they have been hiding.

    Transporting the salt to Guanzhong had nothing to do with making profit; rather, it represented the two boys cherished wish. It could be viewed as a severe test in their martial art cultivation. If they were able to complete this task successfully, it would confirm their ability to resist any enemy.

  13. #73
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 2

    Book 7 Chapter 2 Alarming Change On The Salt Boat

    Not long after the salt boat entered the Yangtze River, the weather turned bad, a drizzle fell continuously.

    Because Duan Yucheng and the others, four men were on duty, Xu Ziling went to the kitchen to prepare a meal. He and Kou Zhong have worked as cooks before, so it was a very easy task for him.

    Kou Zhong went up the deck to patrol a few times; for some unknown reason, he had a strange feeling that someone was watching them in secret, although there was no other boat in sight, the banks were also devoid of any trace of human presence.

    After telling Ma Gui and the others to raise their vigilance, he went to the kitchen at the aft to find Xu Ziling.

    The dishes were nearing completion. Seeing Kou Zhong came to see him, Xu Ziling knitted his brows and said, I also have a very ominous feeling; from time to time my heart alarmed, my body leaping, and I cant calm down.

    After focusing his spirit to listen all around, he spoke in Xu Zilings ear, I suspect the enemy is already hiding on the boat; perhaps its even that fellow Yang Xuyan. Remember we had a strange feeling this morning, but did not see anybody?

    Xu Ziling nodded in agreement. Yang Xuyan was called the Shadow Assassin because he was skilled in hiding, was able to come and go without any trace, and only he had that kind of ability.

    Kou Zhong went on, Fighting one-on-one, neither one of us is his match, but if we join hands, we have a chance to stake our lives against his; therefore, from now on we must not separate.

    Xu Zilings eyes revealed a determined look; he shook his head and said, If we are like that, we will never be martial art masters who are able to assume personal responsibility.

    Kou Zhong stared blankly. You are right, he said, Since that the case, it will be better if we gain the initiative by striking first, well try to force him to come out and decide life and death. Ay! I wonder which side has this kid thrown himself into; the muddleheaded ruler is dead, why didnt he simply retire?

    Xu Ziling was dissatisfied, he said, Just by listening to your last three sentences, I know you have trepidation in your heart. Didnt Niang teach us to place ourselves on a field of death and fight to live? [an idiom from Sunzis Art of War] Only by forgetting life or death will we be able to bring out our skill to the finest detail. Someone like you, who is timid even before fighting, will be defeated for sure.

    Kou Zhong painfully said, Dont forget that Yang Xuyan that kid even dared to assassinate Ol Die. If we train our martial art skill for several more years, we might be comparable to Ol Die, but right now we are not.

    Xu Ziling heaved a sigh. Honestly, he said, I am deadly afraid as well. But this is precisely the purpose of our trip in transporting the salt, to place ourselves on the field of death, to seek survival with all our strength, to advance in the martial art cultivation by the most rigorous practice. Do you understand?

    Kou Zhong took a deep breath. Patted his chest, he said, All right! Ill listen and obey. Lets just be a bit more careful!

    Finished speaking he turned around and left.

    After finishing up the last dish of rice with vegetables marinated in soy paste, and as he was about to bring the dishes out, he seemed to hear a faint sigh that sounded like a womans coming from the doorway.

    Xu Ziling was shocked.

    Based on his current mental cultivation, who could possibly come this close to him and was still able to fool his acute psychic senses?

    As he turned around abruptly, the lights suddenly went out.

    At the exact same time, a chilling malicious spirits howling pierced his ears, as if from the land of the living he was suddenly whisked away to the nether world.

    Xu Ziling stayed motionless while collecting his spirit; focusing his power to his eyes, gradually the surrounding became brighter, and he was able to see everything with double clarity.

    Immediately his tiger body was shaken severely.

    Because he saw a woman with long hair and white clothing was standing at the door. Although because her head was hanging down he was unable to see her face, but her bearing, her build, and most of all the strong deja vu vibe that she exuded, bore extremely strong resemblance to Fu Junchuo.

    Momentarily forgetting that Fu Junchuo had died early on, Xu Ziling blurted out, Niang!

    The woman trembled slightly, but then she suddenly disappeared.

    Xu Ziling bolted out of the door.

    The corridor was pitch-black; there was no trace of the woman.

    With a gust of wind Kou Zhong flitted over; with calm and composed expression he simply said, All four of them have disappeared. Huh? What happened to you?

    Xu Ziling was about to answer when suddenly, Splosh! Splash! Splosh! Splash! one after another the sound of something hitting the water came from both sides of the boat.

    The two boys cried out, knowing something bad happened, and rushed out of the corridor. But just as they crossed the door and stepped into the deck, they halted their steps in extreme shock with their eyes fixed toward the bow.

    Under the drizzling rain, a lovely woman wearing white, a long sword hanging on her back, her beautiful hair like a cloud, was sitting calmly hugging her knees, as if she was the only one left in the world, at the tip of the bow.

    From their angle of view, her silhouette looked at least 90% like Fu Junchuo, especially her long hair and her posture; plus there was this overwhelming dj vu feeling in their hearts.

    Having seen her before, Xu Ziling was a bit better, but Kou Zhong simply lost himself as he cried out, Niang!

    The woman slowly turned her face around.

    It was a dignified and gentle face, with graceful and delicate, straight nose right in the middle between her pair of sweet and charming bright eyes, so bright that she seemed to be able to look deep into their soul.

    To their surprise, it was the same mysterious, beautiful woman who had come together with Ba Fenghan the other day. At that time the boys had already had a feeling that she looked a lot like Fu Junchuo. But tonight she deliberately imitated Fu Junchuos dress style, so that one after another Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were fooled and called her mother.

    The salt boat was without anybody steering it, but it kept sailing upstream due to the tailwind. For the time being, since the river course was straight, it was not a problem, but as soon as they encountered any twist or turn, the boat would crash into a cliff for sure.

    Kou Zhong came to his senses; he saluted and asked, May I ask Miss, what did you do to our four brothers?

    Throw them away! the woman replied indifferently.

    Hearing that, the two boys looked at each other in dismay. If Duan Yucheng and the others had their acupoint sealed and were thrown into the river, wouldnt their death be guaranteed?

    The woman let out a cold snort and said, You, these two kids, are more crafty than I thought. Harming my Shijie [martial (older) sister] is not enough, you called her Niang in front and behind her back, and have confused eyes and ears.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly surprised; the opponent was unexpectedly Fu Junchuos Shimei [martial (younger) sister], so they also groaned inwardly, because now they could not avenge Duan Yucheng and the others.

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, Turns out its Shi hey! What should we call you? How about Shiyi [martial aunt (mothers sister)]?

    The womans jade countenance sank. Shut up! she bellowed, You may deceive others, but dont ever dream of deceiving me, Fu Junyu. Shijie hated Han people the most, plus she was a virgin, how could she admit you as her sons? Not to mention telling you, Han dogs, the secret of Duke Yang Treasure-trove.

    Xu Ziling hastily said, Shiyi must not misunderstand, before her death Niang confirmed us as her sons, and has passed on our precious schools basic skill. If you dont believe me, you can test us a bit.

    Fu Junyu coldly said, Very well! Tell me, what is Yi Jian technique? [yi ancient name for go (Chinese chest), jian sword, see also Book 1 Chapter 3, Yi Jian Dashi.]

    The two boys were dumbstruck; they were speechless.

    Kou Zhong said, Niang only taught us the internal cultivation of the first level of Jiu Xuan Da Fa [Great Method of Nine Mysteries] before she was heavily injured and passed away; she did not tell us anything about Yijian technique.

    Fu Junyu looked up at the rainy night, she said indifferently, Using sword is just like playing chess. Each sword move is just like moving a chess piece, and the battlefield is just like a live chessboard, ever-changing. If one fails to grasp the overall situation, cannot estimate the enemys next move, then he cannot grasp the chance of victory. This is a very important principle, Shijie did not tell you?

    This moment the boat was swerving out of the middle of the river and was slowly leaning toward the left bank.

    Xu Ziling said, Niang only told us about the every change of divine power and that the treasure trove hidden deep within oneself is self-sufficient.

    Fu Junyus charming body trembled slightly; she hung her head low in deep thought.

    The salt boat was only less than four zhang away from the shore; fortunately a wind blew, sending the boat back toward the middle of the river; it was exceptionally thrilling.

    The Korean beautys cherry lips suddenly blurted out, I will kill you!

    You still dont believe us? the two boys cried out involuntarily.

    Fu Junyus jade countenance turned extremely cold, but surprisingly the tone of her voice was extremely gentle, Its because I believe you that I must kill you. Ay! Shijie, how could you pass on our divine skill to Han dogs? Now Junyu will have to clean up our school for you and keep this matter from reaching Shifus ears.

    The last two sentences were spoken with her face toward the heavens.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt their scalp went numb.

    It was not because they were afraid of Fu Junyu at all, but due to her relationship with their Niang, they must not harm her or use heavy hands against her, and since that the case, they could only accept defeat without any chance of victory at all.

    Kou Zhong hastily said, Yu Yi [Aunt Yu], please set your heart at ease; from now on we will never mention that Niang had taught us the Great Method of Nine Mysteries, is that all right?

    Fu Junyu scolded tenderly, Whos your, two Han dogs, Yu Yi?

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong knew she would make her move any time, so they were instantly in full alert.

    Who would have thought that Fu Junyu appeared to be in deep thought again? It was quite a while later that she finally spoke nonchalantly, All right! Looking at Shijies face, I am willing to spare you two from death; but there are two conditions.

    Seeing things have turned to the better, the two boys promptly inquired.

    Fu Junyu coldly looked at the two boys up and down several times before speaking calmly, First of all you must swear an oath never to reveal the secret of Duke Yang Treasure to anybody, but you must tell me the treasures location.

    Xu Ziling had no problem, but Kou Zhong was stunned on the spot; that treasure concerned his grand plan for vying over the world, how could he tell others?

    Fu Junyu continued, The second condition is that I must take your martial art skill back, our Yijian Pais core technique must not be disseminated to Han people.

    Kou Zhong breathed a sigh of relief instead.

    He was originally afraid that Xu Ziling would force him to accept the first condition. But now Fu Junyu wanted to cripple them by taking their martial art skill, naturally they could not accept that. Thereupon, with a cold snort he said, If you are really Niangs martial sister, how could you not know the secret of Duke Yang Treasure? I almost fell into your ruse.

    Xu Ziling sighed inwardly; he knew that because of his desire to vie over the world, Kou Zhong completely disregarded the fact that Fu Junyu was their Niangs martial sister.

    Fu Junyu was exceptionally calm; as if she was talking to herself, she sighed softly and said, I knew Han dogs are like this; Shijie, how could you be so muddleheaded?

    Qiang!

    Fu Junyus sword already moved into her hand, while at the same time she flew up and over the two boys head and landed in front of the cabin door before turning around to face them. She looked at the two boys with disdain and said, Let me see how much martial art skill Shijie imparted to you!

    Her movement was swift beyond belief, like moving clouds and flowing water, her posture beautiful; her skill appeared to be superior to Fu Junchuo, who was adept at lightness-skill.

    Kou Zhong drew the Moon the the Well saber, and adopted a defense stance; he shouted loudly, Niang! We are cornered and have no choice, please do not blame child.

    Xu Ziling knew that Kou Zhong was speaking those words for his sake.

    While looking up, he was aghast to see that far ahead upstream, a sharp bend appeared on the river course. However, he was helpless because Fu Junyu was blocking the path toward the rudder.

    Fu Junyus pretty face was still as calm as still water, but her pair of beautiful eyes shone with deep, determined murderous aura. The sword in front of her was vibrating lightly, exuding wave after wave of sword qi, forcing the two boys to circulate their internal energy to withstand it.

    Kou Zhong took a step forward and raised his saber horizontally in front of his chest in ready-to-strike posture. He spoke coldly, Saber and sword are heartless, it would be better for Shiyi to think thrice.

    Fu Junyu mocked him, Didnt you say I was an impostor? Why do you keep on calling me Shiyi?

    Kou Zhong replied while maintaining his heroic spirit; he laughed aloud and said, Why dont Shiyi think about it yourself? The fact was that Niang did not have time to tell us the treasures location before she died, so now you can only take our martial art skill back, but we certainly wont wait helplessly for death. Since things have come to this, let us look at Shiyis real skill!

    Before he even finished talking, Fu Junyu was already about five chi away on his left, swinging her sword swiftly toward Kou Zhongs left shoulder; her speed was indeed like a ghost or demon.

    Kou Zhong has never seen anybody with shenfa faster than Fu Junyus. Yet he remained calm and unhurried as he raised his saber to block. He did not rely on naked eye, but on the almost psychic sense he developed from the Secret to Long Life.

    Xu Ziling was also startled by her speed.

    When Fu Junyu was floating, it was as if she turned into light smoke, as if she was without any substance.

    Bing!

    The saber and the sword collided.

    Kou Zhongs tiger body was severely shaken; he had to stagger two steps sideways before he could stabilize his footing.

    Fu Junyu floated onto the edge of the boat, but she suddenly flashed toward Kou Zhongs right side, and in an instant she slashed her sword down five times.

    Each slash of the sword did not have Kou Zhong as its target, yet Kou Zhong was flustered trying to parry each strike, puzzling Xu Ziling, who was watching the fight.

    Fu Junyus leg suddenly flew out, the tip of her boot was going to sting Kou Zhongs calf, while Kou Zhong was straining left and right to parry her attack, demonstrating her forte in executing extremely cunning and strange changes.

    Kou Zhong roared sharply; like a swimming fish he moved toward Fu Junyus right side from an angle that was totally beyond the opponents expectation. Not only he evaded her absolutely brilliant kick, but at the same time he backhandedly swept his saber toward Fu Junyus right flank.

    Evidently Fu Junyu was taken by surprise. She dodged the incoming saber, swiveled her body around, and moved toward Kou Zhongs back.

    From her flank, Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well saber went down, forcing Fu Junyu to float away again.

    Suddenly Fu Junyu flashed toward Xu Ziling, waving her hand around, so that the fingers turned into several dozen cold points shooting toward him.

    Xu Ziling sighed, realizing that after testing Kou Zhongs power, she was afraid the two boys would join hands against her, plus she noticed that Xu Ziling was without any weapon, so she wanted to deal with him first before turning back to deal with Kou Zhong.

    Kou Zhong roared, This Poniang is ruthless and formidable, Xiao Ling, you must not hold your hands!

    Like a big eagle Xu Ziling had already surged diagonally forward, using the edge of his palm like a saber, he hacked down on the flat of the opponents sword.

    Two qi collided.

    While Fu Junyu was overwhelmed with amazement that Xu Ziling dared to meet the attack empty-handedly, also that he was able to pinpoint the exact location of her sword amidst the sword shadows and the blade rays, and was able to brilliantly neutralize her attack, Xu Ziling had already moved behind her back and bumped her with his shoulder.

    She had never heard about this kind of fighting.

    However, she had already tested these two boys internal strength; although it was incredibly strange, it was still two notches below her seventh level of the Great Method of Nine Mysteries. Thereupon, while saying inwardly that you are just courting death, she also pushed her back to meet Xu Zilings attack.

    Bang!

    Xu Ziling spurted a mouthful of fresh blood; like a kite with cut string he flew away to the other side.

    Kou Zhong was at the ready; he was one step ahead to be at the place where Xu Ziling was about to fall, and raised his hands to catch him up.

    Fu Junyu was also jolted by Xu Zilings reaction force that she staggered three steps forward, with streams of true qi invading her body, creating unbearable discomfort that she almost threw up blood like Xu Ziling.

    But she was actually delighted instead of alarmed; suppressing her injury, she turned around and shot her long sword like a lightning toward Xu Zilings back, hoping that she would skewer the two boys together in one move, and dispose of them ruthlessly.

    What she did not know was that Kou Zhong had already transmitted his true qi into Xu Zilings body, dissolving his injury. This moment the two boys suddenly separated, Kou Zhong let out a violent roar, the Moon in the Well hacked down on the enemy.

    Xu Ziling sent out a punch, the target was her right shoulder.

    Caught off guard, Fu Junyu screamed; the sword in her right hand parried Kou Zhongs long saber, her left palm clenched into a fist, she simultaneously took the two boys toppling the mountains and overturning the seas attack head-on.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were jarred to the left and right, but Fu Junyu also spewed a little bit of blood. She soared into the air, landed on the viewing platform first, and then with a somersault she flew toward the left bank. Her tender voice came through, Some day I will take your lives, but now I will let you live a bit longer!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had just steadied their footing.

    Boom!

    The salt boat crashed onto the reef standing in great numbers along the beach, jolting the two boys that they rolled around on the floor, battered and completely exhausted.

  14. #74
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 3

    Book 7 Chapter 3 General Assembly in Bamboo Forest

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong crouched on a pile of rocks by the beach, staring blankly at the salt boat tilted at 45 degree, wedged between the reefs; they wanted to cry, but no tears came out.

    The sail mast was broken, a long, large gash opened up on the hull from the sharp reef scraping at the bottom of the boat.

    Even if someone were able to take the salt boat off the reef, it would still be difficult to repair the vessel.

    When they set off, they were filled with heroic spirit; who could have guessed that before they even reached Jiangdu, the boat was destroyed, their men went missing; the blow they experience was understandable.

    The two boys lost their interest, they did not feel like hauling the salt down the boat.

    Kou Zhong said with a wry smile, Before we graduate our first disciples, our boat is already destroyed; this does not seem to be a good omen.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, After daybreak, well search along the river, to see if we can find their bodies and give them proper burial.

    Kou Zhong hatefully punched both fists into the air, with an angry humph he said, That Poniang does not deserve to be Niangs Shimei, her character and broad-mindedness fall too short compared to Niangs, she refuses to understand that there are also good and bad among Han people, she only knows to call us Han dogs.

    Xu Ziling said, Thinking about how much suffering the common people of Gaoli had to endure under Yang Guang troops iron hoof, we cant really blame her for that. Ay!

    Kou Zhong coldly said, Listening to the tone of your voice, when we meet her next time, even if we have the chance, you might treat her leniently. Dont you think Duan Yucheng and the others died an unjust death?

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, Do you think killing her is that easy? Fighting one-on-one, we are still a level below her. This Poniangs qinggong is really formidable.

    Kou Zhong dejectedly said, Hows your internal injury?

    Xu Ziling replied, Although our martial art skill is still not enough, our healing technique is actually incomparable under the heavens. A moment ago I was aching all over, but now I am completely all right.

    Kou Zhong roused himself; he laughed and said, Xiao Ling is really exceptional; if it werent for you bumping her back, I am afraid we were still unable to injure her. And if we werent able to injure her, it would mean we were going to get injured or killed. Thinking about it, it was extremely risky and dangerous.

    Xu Ziling knitted his brows in deep thought, But her Yijian technique is really quite profound. Sword battle is just like playing chess, the battlefield is the chessboard. How would we know if the next move is double rook seize the warrior, or abandon the rook to protect the commander? [not sure about this, must be some reference to Chinese chess.]

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, They must be referring to Gaoli chess, dont think too much about it!

    Xu Ziling seriously said, Speaking about chess, the principle of chess is the same as the principle of mental cultivation. First of all we must see through the opponents opening [in chess], only then can we decide how to attack or defend, to advance or retreat. Formerly we only know how to counter every move; the troops arrive we resist really cant be considered first-class martial art principle.

    Kou Zhong was about to reply when suddenly they heard unusual noise coming from downstream. Focusing their senses to listen carefully, unexpectedly it was Duan Yucheng and the others, four mens familiar footsteps.

    The two boys were pleased beyond their expectation; they rushed forward to meet them. After the calamity, renewed life, there was only joy in their hearts.

    Turned out Fu Junyu was being lenient to them; before tossing them into the Great River, she unsealed their acupoints first. Whether they wanted it or not, Kou and Xus ill feelings toward her was greatly reduced.

    Pulling themselves together, they moved the sacks of salt from the broken ship to the shore and hid them in the jungle. They also chopped the broken boat into pieces of boards and logs, and floated the pieces along the river.

    By daybreak, the surface of the river was back to normal, as if this matter had never happened.

    After being tossed from side to side all night, Duan Yucheng and the others, four men were exhausted. Thereupon Kou Zhong ordered them to rest in the jungle, while also guarding the salt. In the meantime, he and Xu Ziling went to the nearby town to see whether they could by a mule cart to transport the goods.

    When the two boys reached the official road, Xu Ziling said, You are proficient in astronomy and geography, tell me which way to go.

    Kou Zhong confidently said with a laugh, I knew you wouldnt let me off. We have just left Changsu the day before yesterday, plus we hid for half a day, so we should not have reached Jiangyin yet. If mountain peoples guess is correct, if we walk to the west for a couple of sichen, we should reach Jiangyin! Ha ha! Are you convinced?

    Xu Ziling sneered and said, Are we there yet? Just use your feet, not your mouth!

    The two boys unfolded their shenfa, and sure enough, less than a sichen later the city of Jiangyin appeared in the distance.

    Kou Zhong said triumphantly, When you come with me, you wont make a pointless trip. I was just wondering Jiangyin city nowadays has fallen into whose hands?

    Xu Ziling looked up at a caravan of horses and mules going down the hill heading toward Jiangyin; he laughed and said, Cant you go up and ask?

    Kou Zhong bumped into him and with hee hee ha ha he ran down the hill. Xu Ziling ran after him. But when they were about to reach the caravan, the people of the caravan shouted repeatedly, telling them to stop.

    Five or six riders from the caravan reined their horses and turned back to block them. An old man who appeared to be their leader shouted, Whos there!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly surprised; why did they act nervous and tense as if they were facing an enemy?

    The two boys had no choice but to stop. Kou Zhong cupped his fist and said, Gentlemen, Lao Ge [old elder brothers] please do not misunderstand, we, two brothers, only wanted to inquire about the situation of Jiangyin, to see if it is safe to enter the city.

    A middle age man with thick eyebrows and big eyes next to the old man nodded and said, You dont look like vicious disciples of Tieqi Hui [armored horses society]. What is it that you wanted to ask?

    Kou Zhong suddenly understood, Turns out Lao Ge mistook us as Tieqi Hui men. And then elbowing Xu Ziling, he went on, Do you know who is the leader of the Tieqi Hui? Could it be that he took the name Xiao [little]?

    Those several men under the leadership of the old men laughed; they understood that Kou Zhong deliberately made fun of the name Ren Shaoming. Immediately the distance between the two sides diminished considerably.

    [Translators note: this is hard to carry over to English. Ren to take/appoint/assume, Shao few/less/junior, Ming name/famous. Kou Zhong said took the name xiao ren xiao ming.]

    Tieqi Hui was one of eight-gang ten-society. In the recent years they emerged suddenly to become a big underworld gang in the Jiangnan [south of Yangtze river] area. Their Bangzhu [gang leader] Green Dragon Ren Shaoming was an expert in using the meteor hammer. Together with the Huizhu [society leader] of Poyang Hui, Lin Shihong, who recently called himself the Emperor of Chu, they were known as the Two Hegemons of Jiangnan, the two dominant figures [orig. whose foots move sways the balance] of the Wulin world of Jiangnan. [Translators note: here the dragon (蛟 jiao) is legendary dragon with the ability to control rain and floods, not the usual 龙/龍 (long).]

    It was rumored that other than losing to the Song Clans Heavenly Saber Song Que in a fight over territorial dispute, Ren Shaoming had never met a well-matched adversary. From this, it could be seen that he was indeed exceptional.

    The old man laughed and said, You, this kid, have a bit of courage and insight; so which Sects disciples are you?

    Kou Zhong put on a respectful look as he said solemnly, We, two brothers Fu Zhong and Fu Ling are the seventh generation disciples of Zhuhua Bang [bamboo flower gang]; Yan Kuan is our grandpa [or master].

    The old man was stunned, The Yan Kuan who was martyred due to his loyalty in Yangzhou? he asked.

    This time it was Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings turn to look at each other in dismay.

    First, they did not expect that the old man would know such an insignificant character like Yan Kuan; second, how did Yan Laoda become a martyr due to his loyalty?

    The man with thick eyebrows who had spoken earlier suddenly made a secret signal, which only Zhuhua Bangs member could understand.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling hastily returned the politeness with another Zhuhua Bangs secret signal.

    All the six men opened their robe at the same time, exposing the Zhuhua Bang insignia on the lapel of their clothes. It was only then did Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong realize that they had come across one of their own.

    However, even when they were still in Yangzhou Yan Laoda and the two boys were intermingling with various characters of the Zhuhua Bang, they had not reached enough seniority to have a bamboo tree, which was the formal low level insignia of Zhuhua Bang disciples, embroidered on the lapel of their clothes; let alone this moment.

    Kou Zhong awkwardly said, Three years ago, in order to hide from the authorities, we, two brothers, wandered around everywhere, hey!

    We understand, the big man said, Yan Kuan was the first faithful martyr from our Gang who was killed by that muddleheaded ruler; if you did not flee, your lives would not be guaranteed.

    The old man showed a doubtful look, Since you are Zhuhua Bang disciples, how come you did not recognize Laofu [old man, referring to self]?

    Noticing that the insignia embroidered on the old mans clothes was eight wind bamboo [not sure, this is literal translation], Kou Zhong knew that this man must be of Hall Master level. He had a brainwave and said, Could it be Wind Bamboo Halls Tangzhu [Hall Master] Shen Beichang, Shen Ye [master Shen]? Pulling Xu Ziling along, they hastily performed the ritual of saluting a Hall Master.

    The old man stroked the long beard under his chin; he laughed aloud, You are indeed one of our own, he said, This time you came here, was it because you heard the news and came to participate in our Gangs General Assembly in Bamboo Forest?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glances again; could it be that they had come across another lucky coincidence?

    Zhuhua Bang was one of those gangs with tight organizational structure. Under the Bangzhu, there was one Junshi [military advisor], followed by Wind, Clear, Rain and Dew, four Halls. Under them were Duozhu [helmsman], Xiangzhu [fragrant master] and the Gang disciples. General Assembly in the Bamboo Forest was the highest assembly of the Gang, except in case of an emergency, it was held only once every three years.

    Kou Zhong turned to the man with thick eyebrows and said, My guess is Daye must be Wind Bamboo Halls Deputy Hall Master, Lou Feng Daye!

    Lou Feng had a rather favorable impression on these two boys; he said, Lets talk after we are inside the city!

    Along the way Kou and Xu, two boys figured out what was going on. Turned out after the muddleheaded ruler was killed, Yangzhou fell into Li Zitongs hands, Zhuhua Bang elected new Gang Leader at Danyang, but then Jianghuai Army attacked Danyang, Junshi Shao Lingzhou seized that opportunity to lead the Gang to occupy Jiangyin. Although in term of power they were far inferior to Li Zitong, Shen Faxing, and the like, it was enough for them to become a local power.

    Recently all local powers were trying to pull them apart, notably the most active one was Tieqi Hui who occupied Wuxi and Jinling, south and southwest of Jiangyin, respectively.

    Tieqi Hui Leader Ren Shaoming was even openly trying to lure the Hall Masters of Clear Bamboo Hall, Rain Bamboo Hall, and Dew Bamboo Hall, three halls; time and again he sabotaged the Gang Leader election. His intention was to absorb the dragon without a head Zhuhua Bang and incorporate it under Tieqi Hui banner.

    The General Assembly in Bamboo Forest this time was Junshi Shao Lingzhous initiative, supported by Shen Beichang, to discuss the effort to counter Ren Shaoming and the three other Halls renegades operation, while hoping that they would be able to elect new Gang Leader in the assembly.

    In this journey, Shen Beichang and the others have suffered repeated Tieqi Hui attacks, and have lost close to a hundred men; hence the reason they were nervous and tensed.

    During their Yangzhou days, other than Yan Laoda, practically nobody knew that these two boys names were Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. They only knew the two boys as Little Zhong and Little Ling; naturally nobody knew that Yan Kuan was implicated and was killed because of them, they thought that Yan Kuan was martyred because he dared to oppose the muddleheaded ruler. Only Kou and Xu, two boys, were aware that Yan Kuan and martyrdom had nothing to do with each other.

    Among the caravan, there was a carriage with its curtains hung down, and it was guarded particularly strictly. With glancing knock, sideways stroke Kou Zhong was trying to find out the identity of the person inside the carriage, but all he obtained was the reprimand of the Deputy Hall Master, Lou Feng.

    In the city, the two boys followed the Wind Bamboo Hall people into the Wind Bamboo Hall mansion house in the town center. Taking advantage while Shen Beichang and Luo Feng went to see Junshi Shao Wuzhuo [sic], the two boys slipped out into the street.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, This Shao Wuzhuo is indeed a talent; just look how he govern the city that everything in Jiangyin is clear and orderly, the chaos outside does not seem to affect this place.

    Watching the bustling scene of people coming and going, Xu Ziling agreed, The south has always been bountiful, plus Jiangyin is the connecting fort at the mouth of Yangtze River to the ocean; as long as their production capability is not destroyed, the people can live in peace and work happily.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had changed their clothes into Gang uniform with a single bamboo embroidered on them, the insignia of the lowest level Gang disciples. This moment they saw five or six Zhuhua Bang disciples were walking in their direction while talking loudly among themselves; hurriedly the two boys made a hand signal to show their respect.

    When those several people saw that the two boys insignia was of the Wind Bamboo, they snorted repeatedly and simply left without paying them any attention.

    Kou and Xu, two boys were taken aback; it was only then did they realize that those people did not belong to the Wind Bamboo Hall, and that the struggle among the four Halls was clearly very intense.

    They found a restaurant and took a seat, the waiter stepped forward and politely welcomed them.

    After the waiter left, Xu Ziling frowned and said, Zhong Shao, you seem to forget why we are here?

    Kou Zhong smiled apologetically and said, If I randomly fabricated some words, you will definitely accuse me of being not honest enough. The bottom line is that we are now considered Zhuhua Bang people, and now Zhuhua Bang is in distress as they are on the brink of annexation, we should really spend a bit of effort to help!

    Xu Ziling sneered and said, You are just thinking of taking Tieqi Huis place and take over Zhuhua Bang for yourself!

    Kou Zhong said, How could you consider it the same thing? Ren Shaoming is a big rotten-egg of the dark road [i.e. criminal], but I, Kou Zhong am a good man who in all respects conduct myself in consideration of other peoples needs. If Zhuhua Bang fell into my hands, it would be their good fortune. One lifetime two brothers, will you or will you not help me?

    This moment the waiter came to offer some pastries, but he lingered at their table. I wonder if both masters belong to Wind Bamboo Hall, he asked respectfully.

    Kou Zhong was surprised, Whats the matter? he asked.

    The waiter said, As long as you are Wind Bamboo Hall or Shao Junzhis men, we will serve you free of charge. But Daye [big master] must not let Ren Shaoming prevails! And then he left, deeply worried and sick at heart.

    Xu Ziling stared blankly for half a day, and then he sighed and said, Very well!

    Kou Zhong was pleased beyond his expectation. General Assembly in Bamboo Forest will start tonight; we are going to see the opportunity and act accordingly!

    Recalling Duan Yucheng and the others, four men, Xu Ziling was about to speak when they heard a chuckle and someone spoke, You, two boys are unexpectedly here!

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong jumped in fright and turned their gaze toward the door. To their surprise, it was Gui Xiliang, who had risen to the Fragrant Master position, the guy the two boys used to hang around with. Next to him was another familiar face, also someone whom they hang around with, Xing Rong. This kid was slim, his hands and feet looked lithe, and seemed to be rather cunning.

    The four of them saw each other; naturally it was a very happy occasion. The two boys were happy and they found it amusing that Gui Xiliang was putting an air as a fragrant master.

    Xing Rong knitted his brows and said, Since when did you become Wind Bamboo Hall people?

    You did not steal someone elses clothes, did you? Gui Xiliang asked suspiciously.

    Gui and Xing, two mens clothes had bamboo flower embroidered on the lapel, showing that they were direct subordinate of their Gang Leader, but since they currently did not have Gang Leader, naturally they were under Junshi Shao Lingzhous command.

    Seeing the long saber hanging on Kou Zhongs back, Xing Rong happily said, Watching you two with glowing faces, I dont know where you stole the weapon from, but you must be mingling with the right crowd!

    Xu Ziling self-deprecatingly said, Why stop with right? He practically had grand style. Zhong Shao practically held hands and drank wine together with Zhai Rang, Du Fuwei, and the likes; dont you think it was impressive enough?

    Tsk, tsk, Xing Rong repeatedly clucked his tongue, but his face showed that he was scorning Xu Ziling for boasting groundlessly.

    Kou Zhong reached out to pat Xing Rongs shoulder; he said with a laugh, You must not be that jealous.

    Xing Rong laughed, but pushed his hand aside, and heaved a deep sigh.

    Dont brag, Gui Xiliang said, Remember that we are among brothers, you come with me from now on! Tonight after Shao Junshi becomes Bangzhu, I will report to him about you.

    Kou Zhong made a non-committal remark; and then he asked, Are you sure Shao Junshi will become Bangzhu?

    Xing Rong replied, In terms of popularity, capacity, status, and martial art skill, no one in our Gang can consider Shao Junshi is second to anybody, but the situation is not that simple.

    Gui Xiliang spoke in an authoritative tone, Nowadays everybody wants to stick their foot in our General Assembly in Bamboo Forest; they ought to know Ren Shaoming, that treacherous bandits behavior, plus that thief is now in cahoots with Lin Shihong. The situation is not too optimistic.

    Xing Rong said, Luckily Shao Junshi obtained the Song Clans support; otherwise Ren Shaoming and Lin Shihong would be even more unbridled.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glanced; their eyes lit up. The Song Clan? they asked, Who are they sending to support him?

    Gui Xiliang frowned and said, How could you inquire about such confidential information? We are going back to Junshi Mansion; are you coming or not?

    Kou Zhong stood up while pulling Xu Ziling along, and said, Naturally we will follow Gui Xiangzhu [fragrant master] to increase our knowledge.

    Xing Rong objected, But we have not had our fill yet, why would you stand up so quickly?

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, But we are already full; let us go outside first and wait respectfully for two Dage.

    They had just stepped out of the door, the same bunch of young men from the Rain Bamboo Hall they saw earlier crowded in; they intentionally bumped the two boys aside, clearly they were trying to pick a fight.

    However, the two boys were familiar with this kind of situation; they refused to be provoked.

    Outside the door, Kou Zhong excitedly said in a low voice, This is getting more and more interesting. Let us strike a friendship with Shao Lingzhou during the assembly, and then see where things go from there.

    Xu Ziling knitted his brows and said, I just think that this matter is too troublesome, plus it is also not something we would receive any benefit from, nor is it something that we could do.

    Kou Zhong raised his clenched fist in front of his eyes and said, Under similar circumstances, it would be difficult for us to be of any use; being mere two kids would not suit us well. However, it has become clear right now that whoever has harder fist would get the chance to speak. Dont you think that we have a great opportunity here?

    Xu Ziling grumpily stared at him for a moment. Suddenly the sound of bowls and cups falling to the ground and shattered followed by the sound of people shouting and cursing was heard from inside the restaurant.

    The two boys were staring blankly at each other; could it be that the Rain Bamboo Hall people dare to violate their Gangs rule by starting a fight with Gui Xiliang, two people?

  15. #75
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 4

    Book 7 Chapter 4 Meeting Face to Face on a Narrow Path

    Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong were forced into a corner, with the latter was wounded in the left arm and blood was still trickling down from the wound; evidently they were at a disadvantageous position.

    The other guests, as well as the waiters, were crowding the wall on the kitchen side; everybody appeared to be outraged, but nobody dared to speak up.

    As soon as Kou and Xu, two boys entered the hall, two Rain Bamboo Hall disciples guarding the door pointed their finger at them and shouted, You, two small fry, get lost! You have no place to speak up in here.

    Seeing an old friend injured, Xu Ziling let out a cold snort and strode forward.

    A sword flashed; one of Rain Bamboo Hall men slashing his sword toward Xu Zilings left shoulder.

    Xu Ziling had not even reacted, Kou Zhongs leg flew out.

    Bang!

    The man was kicked heavily that the sword flew off his hand and his body flew backward and crashed heavily on a chair; immediately the sound of splintering wood was heard.

    Everybody in the hall was shocked.

    The other five Rain Bamboo Hall men were scared out of their wits by Kou Zhongs display of prowess; they all retreated to one side, opening up a gap between the two sides, with each side has received disadvantage from the opponent.

    Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong looked at Kou and Xu, two boys in disbelief.

    Kou Zhong cupped his fist and said, Gui Xiangzhu, how would you like subordinate to handle these renegades who dared to offend their superior?

    A strong and muscular man, who seemed to be the leader of these Rain Bamboo Hall men shouted, What do you mean offending superior? I, Bai Rong, am a Rain Bamboo Hall Xiangzhu, under the order of Tangzhu [hall master] Luo Xian to invite Gui Xiangzhu to have a talk with us. You two are the ones who are offending your superior.

    Gui Xiliang looked at the enemy, who were still struggling to crawl up from the floor, and spoke in a heavy voice, Do you need a blade to invite me to talk?

    Kou Zhong pointed his finger to Bai Rong and said with a laugh, In this matter, Bai Xiangzhu is wrong. All right! How about we tie them up and wait for Luo Tangzhu to come and be the judge between us, to see whos right and whos wrong.

    Bai Rong gave an eye signal, immediately two of his men charged forward, brandishing their saber to hack on Kou Zhong.

    This time Xu Ziling let out a cold snort and stepped in front of Kou Zhong. Slapping rapidly to the left and to the right, he pushed the two blades aside, and then taking a step forward he punched the two mens lower abdomen.

    The two men were thrown back from the strike, and crashed onto Bai Rong, so that the three of them rolled down on the floor like a gourd, in a very sorry condition. The rest of their men stayed quiet out of fear, and even more scared to make any move.

    Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong could only stare blankly with mouth agape. In just a short period of time he was already overwhelmed with a whole new level of respect toward these two boys.

    Kou Zhong calmly clapped his hands and said, Well? Do you want to create havoc at the Rain Bamboo Hall and take down Luo Da Tangzhus [big/great hall master] power and prestige? If Gui Xiangzhu does not wish to go, just let us, the two small fry, do it for you.

    Gui Xiliang was silent; he signaled Xing Rong with his eyes, and then forcefully pulled Kou and Xu to the street and said, Lets go back to Junshi Mansion first and talk about it.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew that he was scared; they had no choice but to smile wryly and come with him.

    Like most cities in Jiangnan, the river became the link between Jiangyin City and the four rural areas outside the city; the river also formed the skeleton of the town layout.

    The houses along the river were whitewashed, the ones facing the water had their walls and windows reflecting the ripples, painting a fresh and clean artwork like scenery of the patchwork of waterways. Rows of water lanes interspersed with small bridges, small boats carrying people in beautiful silk dress; a touchingly beautiful spring scenery.

    Junshi Mansion was originally the Jiangyins provincial military governor mansion, it was located at the town center, the confluence of the river courses. Right in front of the main gate there was a big bridge spanning across the river lining the Junshi Mansion, so that the entire building complex looked even more imposing.

    Comparatively speaking, the south was more calm and peaceful than the north. Due to the influx of northerners who fled to the south to avoid calamity, Jiangyin appeared to be even more bustling and flourishing.

    In troubled times, it is easily understandable that the common people did not wish to see any changes within the Zhuhua Bang.

    Even though Xu Ziling also did not wish to be drawn into this kind of power struggle and territorial dispute, he still felt that he ought to prevent Tieqi Hui, whose evil reputation has spread far and wide, from taking over Zhuhua Bang.

    As Gui Xiliang was leading the two boys crossing the bridge, they came across trouble.

    Mai Yunfei, another fragrant master who was in guard duty that day, who was also the head disciple of Military Adviser Shao Lingzhou, with a rather handsome and dignified look, as well as an arrogant and conceited individual, stared hard at Kou and Xu, two boys, and said, Shifus order, from now on, no stranger is allowed inside Junshi Mansion.

    Gui Xiliang suffered quite a loss of face in front of Kou Zhong, two people; but he was helpless. As a last attempt, he said, These two were disciples of loyal martyr Yan Kuan, who in the past had bravely sacrificed his own life in Yangzhou. In recent years they roamed the Jianghu and have acquired good martial art skill. Just now they had beaten Rain Bamboo Halls Bai Rong until he was in a sorry state; therefore, I was hoping to introduce them to Shao Junshi and recommend them for promotion.

    Mai Yunfei condescendingly swept his gaze over the two boys, assuming an understanding look, he shook his head and said, You can do that tonight.

    Gui Xiliang helplessly pulled the two boys to the side and said, Let me go inside to see Shao Junshi first, and then Ill come to get you two and take you in.

    Xing Rong groaning apologetically and said, Mai Yunfei relies on his position as Shao Junshis first disciple, plus he is Shao Lanfangs lover, so he has always been riding roughshod over people, especially to us, who used to be the late Bangzhus attendants. Sooner or later we will have him fall head first.

    Gu Xiliang knew he was not Mai Yunfeis match, so pulling Xing Rong aside he said, Dont talk nonsense, lets go in first and talk later. You two wait for us here.

    After the two men left, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling walked over to the rocky beach of the river at end of the bridge; just like in the past, like a couple of marketplace rogues they sprawled on the beach facing the water.

    Kou Zhong looked at Mai Yunfei, who was guarding at the other side of the bridge, and said with a laugh, That scoundrel Xiliangs luck does not seem to be too good; originally he had the opportunity to achieve meteoric success in his career, but the Bangzhu was slaughtered by the muddleheaded ruler. And now he is up against Mai Yunfei, whos butting head with him in all aspects, so that even to get inside the Mansion he had his hands and feet blocked. I wonder why would he still want to be this kind of Xiangzhu?

    But then he turned excited as he said, Shao Lanfang is the most famous beauty in our Zhuhua Bang; we might as well rob Mai Yunfeis most cherished possession, so that he would die of anger.

    Displeased, Xu Ziling said, If you seduce somebody elses lover just for that reason, I will definitely not allow you to do that.

    Kou Zhong pulled Xu Zilings shoulder and laughed apologetically, I was just kidding! he said, Xiao Ling, dont take it too seriously.

    And then he changed the subject, As a Xiangzhu plus the last disciple of the late Bangzhu, Xiliangs position is not low, on top of that he still has the support of the late Bangzhus direct subordinates. Tell me, do you think he has a chance to be the new Bangzhu? Otherwise, Mai Yunfei would not squeeze him on purpose.

    Xu Ziling was lying down, supporting his body with his elbows, enjoying the afternoon sun; hearing Kou Zhong, he was taken aback. Xiliangs skill is too shallow, he said, He is not qualified to be a gang leader, dont pull to the east and lead to the west, you are the one who wants to be the gang leader!

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, I really dont have that desire, plus it wont work. Right now Li Mis power is flourishing, if I became Zhuhua Bangs Longtou [lit. dragonhead, i.e. big boss], there is good chance Zhuhua Bang wont last a few days. But if Xiliang became the new Bangzhu, he only needs to rely on us for support, and then there wont be any difference to me becoming the Bangzhu.

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, If you want Xiliang to be the Bangzhu, I am afraid you will have to slaughter the current Junshi and all his cronies clean; are you that formidable?

    Kou Zhong looked down on the river water under his feet; he muttered, That is really a bit difficult, but it is not impossible at all. The most important thing is that Xiliang was the late Bangzhus disciple. This guy used to be very gutsy, but perhaps he has been bullied for a long time that he lost his confidence. Hmm!

    Xu Ziling spoke in low voice, That Mai Yunfei is coming!

    Kou Zhong looked without raising his head; he saw Mai Yunfei, leading four of his men, walking away from the head of the bridge, following the rocky path toward the beach where they sat. Kou Zhong laughed and said, Probably he is angered by Xiliang?

    Before Xu Ziling had any chance to respond, Mai Yunfei had already shouted from the distance, You, these two kids, are sitting and lying down in front of the Junshi Mansion like that; whatever next? Quickly go back to the Hall where you belong!

    Xu Ziling did not react at all, he was still enjoying the sun with his eyes closed.

    Kou Zhong squinting his eyes looking at him and said, Mai Xiangzhu, I was wondering if you are deaf, and did not hear Gui Xiangzhu ordering us to wait for him here? You quickly go back to the place you are supposed to guard.

    Mai Yunfeis countenance underwent a drastic change, while the four hunting dogs behind him rushed out to close in on the two boys on the riverbank; very imposing.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, What? You want to fight?

    Mai Yunfei was so angry that his handsome face turned green; he gravely said, Stand up!

    Still calm and unruffled Kou Zhong said, Since you are not the Bangzhu, and you are not our grandpa, what makes you think you can order us around?

    Mai Yunfei could not hold back anymore. Throw them into the river! he bellowed.

    The four men was about to make their move, Xu Ziling threw himself backward on the sand; fast as lightning his hands reached out to grab the ankles of the two men behind him.

    Under Mai Yunfei and the others utter shock, plus nobody knew what technique Xu Ziling used, the two men were thrown overhead, and Splash! they landed in the river, and immediately struggled hard to crawl onto the opposite bank.

    Amidst the shouting and yelling, more than a dozen Zhuhua Bang disciples who were guarding the Mansion at the other end of the bridge rushed over.

    Qiang! Mai Yunfei and the other two men drew their sword, but instead of charging forward, they retreated. Apparently they were waiting for the rest of the men to arrive before they dared to make their move.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and sprang up, his long saber left its scabbard and in one fluid motion hacked down on Mai Yunfei.

    Mai Yunfei raised his sword horizontally to block.

    Dang!

    Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well returned to its scabbard. Mai Yunfei staggered five steps back before he could steady his footings; his countenance turned unbearably ugly.

    Meanwhile his reinforcement has arrived. They crowded behind him, but nobody dared to step forward to fight.

    Xu Ziling also sprang up. Pointing to the other end of the bridge, he said, Someones coming, you dont mind your proper business, but are engrossed in bullying your own people. If that is not dereliction of duty, then what is it?

    It was only then did Mai Yunfei caught his breath back; he was fighting hard to suppress his continuously surging blood and qi provoked by Kou Zhongs saber power. Along with his men, he turned his head around to see, and indeed there were a group of about a dozen riders galloping along the street heading toward the head of the bridge.

    Only after giving the two boys a vicious look and said, I will settle the score with you later, did he lead his men to hurry back over the bridge.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other and burst out in laughter. The former shook his head and sighed, Why are there so many people who love to ride roughshod over others in the world?

    The sound of hoof beats was getting closer.

    The two boys looked over and were stunned.

    Because one of the riders turned and galloped toward them, on the horseback was astoundingly the beautiful and energetic young lady of the Song Clan, Song Yuzhi.

    This beauty with unique style reined her horse and stopped. Arrogantly and coldly she looked at the two boys from head to toes several times. Finally her eyes landed on the Wind Bamboo insignia embroidered on the lapel of their clothes. Knitting her jet-black eyebrows, she said, You, these two drifters, why do you suddenly become a single bamboo [level] disciple of the Zhuhua Bang? Are you conspiring against the law?

    Although the other people did not come over, their attention was fixed on the situation over here.

    Kou Zhong smiled slightly and said, Come! Let me do the introduction: this is Miss High and Mighty Song Yuzhi. And then wrapping his arm around Xu Zilings shoulder and pulled him closer, he said, My brother Xu Ziling; he looks handsome enough, right?

    Seeing him giving her an irrelevant answer, plus he was mocking her, Song Yuzhis jade countenance fell. Feigning disdain she shot a glance toward Xu Ziling. A weird expression appeared suddenly in her eyes, but just as sudden it died out. And then with a tender snort she said, Seeing that you have not committed any wicked conduct, I want you to leave town immediately. Otherwise, with just one word from me, dont even think that you can leave town alive.

    Kou Zhong slapped his own forehead, hard. Xiaodi [little brother, referring to self] nearly forget, he said, Our, two brothers heads are extremely valuable. Song Xiaojie [young lady], please go ahead and give your word! Lets see how many people we can drag down to accompany us to the grave.

    Amazingly enough Song Yuzhi did not get angry. After staring at Kou Zhong for half a day, she finally turned to Xu Ziling and said, I advise you and your brother to leave together! If people knew you are here, they might give you gargantuan problem.

    Xu Ziling has never had any good opinion on arrogant, precious daughters of lofty family and big clan; he felt that those girls would always look down upon ordinary men. He replied indifferently, We are basically not afraid of anybody; otherwise, we wont be here talking to Miss Song.

    Song Yuzhi sighed and said, Although you have made a little name for yourself, but compared to Li Mi you are still far too inferior. Well, just think about it!

    Kou Zhong asked in surprise, Could it be that Miss Song has a high regard toward this handsome brother of mine? Why are you so amiable toward him, but toward me you are so stern and harsh? After all, the relationship between you and I ought to be a bit deeper.

    Finally Song Yuzhi could not take it anymore. Shut up! she angrily said.

    Kou Zhong giggled and pulled Xu Ziling away.

    Hold on! Song Yuzhis tender voice called out.

    Already three or four riders galloped over toward them.

    Kou Zhong let Xu Ziling go, he stopped abruptly, his hand already pressed on the hilt of his saber, his entire body stood up perfectly straight, his tiger eyes flashed with deep and unfathomable sharp gleam, his countenance became incomparably hard and callous, his entire being seemed to exude a terrifying, powerful grandeur.

    Song Yuzhi suddenly felt that this instant Kou Zhong has completely turned into someone that she did not recognize, no longer like the kid who laughed and giggled in the past, but rather a hero, a towering figure who stood straight and wouldnt surrender in front of any storm, who would not be afraid of anybody.

    But then, against all expectations, Kou Zhong suddenly broke into laughter, revealing a splendid, as bright as the sun, smile on his face. Shaking his head, he said with a sigh, This wont do! How could I, Kou Zhong, be hard-hearted in front of Miss Song?

    Finished speaking, he laughed aloud and pulled Xu Ziling away.

    Song Yuzhi was disconcerted by his dramatic change and the tone of his voice, as well as his demeanor, and his teasing, which were overflowing with youthful, masculine charisma. Unexpectedly she forgot to stop them.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sat down against the wall in a quiet, secluded alley, just like back in Yangzhou, when they were still little rogues from the marketplace.

    With a faint smile Xu Ziling said, Zhong Shao, are you thinking of replacing Li Xiuning with her?

    Kou Zhong revealed a smile that showed that he had pondered it over; stretching himself, he spoke leisurely, Love affair between boys and girls will only increase the burden in our mind. I dont mind looking for a girl to have fun, but I will never let myself get emotionally involved. Our business is more important, other matters must be set aside. Teasing the haughty Song familys Miss is all right, but dont ever think that I, Kou Zhong, will want to be inconvenienced by fawning on her, by stooping down for her. Do you understand?

    But what are we going to do now? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhong said, We can either leave right now, or wait until tonight, when we can create his mothers havoc in here. What do you say?

    Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders, I am certain my idea will be different than yours. In my opinion, we cant manage, nor do we have the ability to mind the Zhuhua Bangs affair. Not to mention Duan Yucheng and the others are still waiting for us. It is better to avoid unnecessary trouble. Dont you think we have enough trouble of our own already?

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Can you not have that much prejudice against me? When did I, Kou Zhong, ever dare not to esteem your, Ling Shaos opinion? Just as you said, well steal a mule cart and leave. Perhaps two mule carts will be enough.

    Xu Ziling looked doubtful, Where can we steal mule carts from? he asked.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Naturally from the Wind Bamboo Hall. They have that many mule carts, loaning two for our use shouldnt be any problem. We can simply make any excuse, the mule carts will be ours immediately. Just leave it to me.

    Xu Ziling was unhappy, Shen Beichang and Luo Feng are very kind to us, how could we repay good with evil?

    You are right, Kou Zhong nodded, In that case wed better go take a look at the Rain Bamboo Hall. Since we already had enmity with them, adding one shouldnt make any difference.

    Xu Ziling understood immediately; he smiled wryly and said, You [email protected] muddled-egg [i.e. scoundrel/[email protected]], after going around and around, in the end you still want to create trouble, and then see in there is any opportunity to fish in troubled water.

    Kou Zhong roared in laughter, Nobody knows me better than you do, he said.

    And then he pulled Xu Ziling hard and lowered his voice, Just now Rain Bamboo Halls Hall Leader Luo Xian sent that Bai Rong to get Xiliang to Rain Bamboo Hall, there must be a conspiracy somewhere, so we might as well find out what it is. Hey! You cant ignore Xiliang and Xing Rongs two little lives, can you?

    Do you know where Rain Bamboo Hall is? Xu Ziling asked.

    Kou Zhong replied, When a sage does not know something, he would not feel ashamed to ask and learn from his subordinates, right? Dont drag your feet, come on!

    Knowing he could not win against him, Xu Ziling helplessly followed Kou Zhong.

  16. #76
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 5

    Book 7 Chapter 5 Easy as Pie[1]

    The two boys arrived in front of Rain Bamboo Halls main gate. When the dozen or so doorkeepers noticed that they were Wind Bamboo Hall men, they immediately showed a hostile look, yet nobody really took these two boys seriously. Simply because among the Rain Bamboo Halls disciples guarding the door, the lowest rank was still above the two boys single bamboo level.

    The number of bamboo determined their rank.

    Bangzhu [Gang Leader] had ten bamboo sticks, Junshi [military counselor] nine, and below them were Tangzhu [Hall Leader], Fu Tangzhu [Deputy Hall Leader], Duozhu [Helmsman], Xiangzhu [Fragrant Master], in decreasing number of bamboo sticks.

    Previously, when the two boys were with Yan Kuan, they did not even have half a stick of bamboo, but now for no reason at all they were promoted to one bamboo stick.

    The two boys walked side by side toward the main gate. Someone immediately shouted, Wind Bamboo Hall kids, stop right there!

    Qiang! Kou Zhong drew his Moon in the Well.

    Xu Ziling pulled him aside and asked in surprise, Why use blade?

    Kou Zhongs eyes flashed with freezing cold sharp rays, the tone of his voice was even colder that it made peoples heart shivered as he spoke emotionlessly, If I dont kill these renegade Gang members, how could Xiliang obtain the Bangzhu position?

    Xu Ziling was shaken and let him go. A dozen or so guards also suddenly revealed their weapons and charged forward.

    Right away miserable scream and painful grunt fell incessantly on the ear. Like a swimming fish Kou Zhong weaved in and out among the men, those who came in contact with his blade immediately had their blood splashed and they fell to the ground; unexpectedly no one was able to provide any resistance.

    By the time Kou Zhong stepped over the gate into the courtyard behind the wall, the ground behind him was littered with fallen enemies; although their wound was serious, no one had a life-threatening injury, or even suffered any disaster of losing their limb or broken bones. It was awfully clear that his move was very well measured.

    Xu Ziling could only stare blankly at him. Kou Zhong turned his head around and shrugged his shoulders, If you dont do this, who will fear you? Come! My Ling Shaoye!

    One in front of another, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling attacked their way into the Rain Bamboo Hall, those who tried to block them were swept by the wind, the disciples were beaten to a sorry state, and scampered off like wolves with their tails between their hind legs.

    Although the two boys made their debut not too long ago, they were already battle-hardened, even hard fighting with magnificent army with thousands of men and horses did not deter them, much less these unprepared Rain Bamboo Hall disciples who came under sudden attack.

    From the steps at the front of the hall they continued on to the main hall before finally met a martial art master.

    Ding! Ding! Ding!

    Three clear ringing sounds were heard. Kou Zhong did not even stagger a single step as he blocked three spears in succession. Letting out a long laugh, he said, Is it Rain Bamboo Halls Deputy Hall Master Bao Baiyou?

    The incoming person had not replied, he was already kicked by Kou Zhong on his lower abdomen, and was sent flying backward and fell to the floor; his mouth spurting out fresh blood, and was unable to crawl back up.

    Xu Ziling struck with both hands, left and right, continuously sending four Zhuhua Bang disciples of deputy-fragrant-master rank.

    Hold on!

    While Bao Baiyou was being helped up, like a tide a hundred or so men flocked toward the other end of the main hall.

    A dozen or so men of all kinds of shapes and sizes appeared from among the crowd toward Kou and Xu, two people.

    Just by looking at the insignia on the lapel of their clothes, it was obvious that other than Wind Bamboo Hall, the other Clear Bamboo Hall, Rain Bamboo Hall and Dew Bamboo Halls Hall Masters and their deputies were gathered here.

    Clear Bamboo Halls Hall Master Zuo Qiubi was the easiest to recognize; compared to average person, he was short and small, but very thick and solid like an ox. His eyebrows arched, his face sunken, and his shoulders were disproportionately very wide, so that he looked like a shrinking giant.

    This moment his eyes were flashing with murderous intent; striding one step forward, he pointed his halberd and angrily shouted, Who are you? You dare to display shockingly bad behavior in our Zhuhua Bang territory?

    Coming face to face with these numerous Zhuhua Bangs martial art masters, Kou Zhong stayed calm without any sign of fear; he laughed aloud and said, Colluding with outsiders, traitors who attempt in vain to ruin our Gangs foundation, you are not qualified to talk to Yangzhous loyal martyr Yan Kuans disciples.

    Even though they were confronting this kind of swords-drawn-and-bows-bent situation, where life or death could easily be determined, Xu Ziling was greatly amused and had to struggle hard to keep himself from roaring in laughter. One of Kou Zhongs strong points was that he was able to express any absurd thing in a bold and full of confidence, even lofty, manner.

    Rain Bamboo Halls Hall Master Luo Xian roared, I dont care who you are, today the two of you came in alive but will leave lifeless.

    A saber flashed, a slim man charged at an oblique angle, drawing a cluster of saber flowers, swiftly attacking Kou Zhong from the left side.

    Without even looking Kou Zhong casually swept his saber. Dang! The attacking saber, along with the wielder, was jolted that the man staggered back and fell into the crowd.

    The hall suddenly fell silent.

    Kou Zhong returned his saber into its sheathe; his expression and bearing were not to be outdone by Ba Fenghan when burst into Wang Tongs Mansion the other day.

    Dew Bamboo Halls Hall Master Tong Changfeng let out a cold snort and said, So you do have a little bit of asset; report your names to this Tangzhu first!

    Turned out the one launching a sneak attack just now was the Deputy Hall Master of the Dew Bamboo Hall, Yan He, whose skill level, as well as the depth of his power, was known very well by Tong Changfeng. He saw how Kou Zhong was able to push Yan He with ease, which he knew he would not be able to do, he became somewhat more polite.

    Kou Zhong threw his head back and laughed aloud, Walking, I have never changed my surname, sitting, I have never changed my given name. Kou Zhong is my name, and he is Xu Ziling; have you heard it clearly?

    Zuo Qiubi and the others looked at each other in dismay; no one did not have his countenance changed.

    It should be noted that for the last few years, due to the Duke Yangs Treasure Trove affair, coupled with the fact that even Du Fuwei, Yuwen Clan, Dugu Clan, Li Mi, and the others were helpless to capture them, Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings reputation soared; in fact, for the time being it was second to none.

    During the battle at the coastal region recently, they managed to inflict serious damage to the coalition force of Shen Faxing and Haisha Bang; this news has spread far and wide all over the world, and has propelled their prestige to top ranking martial art masters position.

    Therefore, when they found out that these two were Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, everybody was overwhelmed with emotion.

    Zuo Qiubi was a Jianghu veteran, he spoke solemnly, Rising young heroes, our Gang has always had deep respect toward two gentlemen; why did you come to bully us today?

    Xu Ziling took a step forward and said coldly, We are indeed loyal martyr Yan Kuans disciples, Gui Xiangzhu can bear witness for us in this matter; therefore, we are definitely entitled to care about Zhuhua Bangs affair, and we simply cannot not care about it.

    Kou Zhong heroically and loftily said, Where is Tieqi Huis Ren Shaoming? If he is sensible, he would have come out immediately, to let us cut his head off to be sacrificial offering to the late Bangzhu. If you still harbor any desire to betray our Gang, today you may forget about leaving this place alive.

    Zuo Qiubis countenance changed. You went too far! he said, Charge!

    Everybody drew his weapon.

    Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, knowing that Kou Zhong had made up his mind to support Gui Xiliang for the Gang Leader position, so that through him he could exercise control over Zhuhua Bang, and thus expand his own power. For that reason he forced the other side to fight, to inflict heavy blow to the collusion forces with Ren Shaoming.

    Kou Zhong suddenly withdrew toward Xu Ziling, and rapidly said in low voice, After each of us kill a Tangzhu, we must slip away immediately. If we fail, we must escape even more. Just listen to my signal.

    At a moment like this, did Xu Ziling have a choice? He simply nodded.

    Two spears, three swords and one saber attacked the two boys from different angles.

    Kou Zhong roared, his body swayed, and somehow he has already entered the Clear Bamboo Hall crowd led by Zuo Qiubi; the saber in his hand whirled around, immediately two opponent sabers fell down.

    Xu Ziling soared into the air, his target was the top of Rain Bamboo Halls Hall Master Luo Xians head. Both his palms pressed down, an enormous qi forced the people around Luo Xian to scatter around, leaving Luo Xian alone to face the attacker.

    No matter how formidable Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were, they did not have the capability to kill the more than a hundred Zhuhua Bang martial art masters. Furthermore, if this hard fighting continued, they would fall into the disadvantageous position of the few against the multitude. Therefore, the two boys made up their minds to use the ten-thousand jun [unit of weight, 1 jun = 30 catties] thunderbolt force, while they were still in their peak condition, for each of them to kill one Hall Master. And then the remaining Hall Master would find it hard to clap with one hand, and it would be foolish not to run away immediately.

    In the meantime, Kou Zhong already arrived in front of Zuo Qiubi; he sent out ten chops in rapid succession, and all of a sudden Zuo Qiubi realized that everybody around him was hacked down all around and just happened to block the other Gang members from coming up to help him.

    Bang!

    Four palms, belonging to Xu Ziling and Luo Xian, who did not even have time to use his sword, collided. Luo Xians arms flexed slightly; as if in the power department he was a notch below Xu Ziling, while the fact was that they both shared the limelight. It was simply because Xu Ziling was high in the air pressing down, so he gained a lot of advantage.

    Luo Xian was secretly delighted, thinking that Xu Zilings skill was only so-so. He estimated that if he could block Xu Ziling for a moment, then he would not have to worry because the other people would catch up and chop him into mincemeat.

    Right this moment, tens of thousands streams of burning hot qi suddenly entered through his palms, penetrated his own true qi, no-hole-did-not-get-entered like the hot qi invaded his arteries and veins.

    While Luo Xian felt his soul flew away and scattered, the pressure on his palms disappeared without any trace; however, an excruciating pain emerged in the pit of his stomach, and his ears heard the sound of disintegrating bones.

    His last perception was that Xu Zilings left and right knees struck his chest in quick succession.

    Zuo Qiubis martial art skill was superior to Luo Xian; he drew a couple of short copper stick and parried Kou Zhongs three saber strikes.

    Dang! Dang! Dang!

    Zuo Qiubi yelled angrily, the pair of sticks shot out at the chest level straight toward the pit of Kou Zhongs stomach. Who would have thought that as he was clearly going to hit the enemy, he suddenly found out that he was hitting empty air?

    Saber wind was cutting down from behind.

    Zuo Qiubi turned around to parry. To his shock, behind him was also an empty air, not even the enemys shadow.

    Tangzhu, be careful!

    Zuo Qiubi felt stabbing pain on his lower back; a burst of cold qi invaded his body from the blade of the saber. Instantly his body froze, he was unable to move a single step.

    From Zuo Qiubis right waist Kou Zhong pulled his saber out and in one fluid motion swept it across three enemies who attacked fiercely. Letting out a long whistle, he backed off immediately.

    Bang!

    Xu Ziling was one step ahead of him; he already leaped up toward the ceiling, broke through the roof and fled away. Kou Zhong followed closely behind him; using the same home he also flew up and was gone.

    Based on the two boys martial art skill and strategy, they had just accomplished something that was nearly impossible.

    Like a whirlwind Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling rushed toward the big stone bridge in front of the Junshi Mansion. Mai Yunfei and the other disciples on guard shouted in a flurry, telling them to stop.

    The two boys did not bother to explain, they simply used their fists and kicks to charged through the barricade, sending them into the river like a gale sweeping dead leaves, battered and exhausted.

    Only Mai Yunfei seemed to be able to give a token resistance; he managed to block Kou Zhongs two moves before being kicked by Xu Ziling, who has been waiting impatiently on the side, and was also sent to the river.

    As the two boys were charging into the main hall like a hot knife through butter, Junshi Shao Lingzhou, Wind Bamboo Halls Hall Master and his deputy Shen Beichang and Luo Feng, and Song Yuzhi and her team, who were having a meeting in there, were stunned to see them.

    Shao Ling zhou was slim, very tall, and on his delicate and handsome face there were five strands of long beard. His age was around forty, his overall appearance reminded them of a religious scholar or even a Taoist immortal.

    When he saw the two boys charging in, his eyes flickered with cold rays as he shouted coldly, Which mad disciples have the impertinence to disturb my Mansion?

    On the north end of the main hall two rows of imperial tutor chairs were arranged, Song Yuzhi occupied the seat of honor on the east, displaying how much respect Zhuhua Bang was showing to the representatives of the Song Clan. Next to her were three men who appeared to be her martial art masters.

    Sitting on the wests seat of honor was surprisingly the thousand-loveable, a hundred-charm gorgeous woman, the famous courtesan who, back in Yangzhou, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling loved to peek from a distance, the most popular lady of Tianxian Lou, Miss Yu Ling.

    Zhuhua Bangs former Gang Leader Yin Kaizhan was executed by Yang Guang precisely because he refused to present her to him.

    It was only at this point the two boys understood the reason Yin Haishan was braving death by having her sent away from Yangzhou was because Yu Ling has become Madame Yin Kaishan.

    Sitting under Yu Ling were, in order, Shao Lingzhou, Shen Beichang and Luo Feng. Standing behind the imperial tutor chairs were a dozen or so Zhuhua Bang and the Song Clans people whose rank was rather low.

    Standing behind Yu Ling were precisely Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong, two kids, who, as with eyes open wide they stared at Kou and Xu, two childhood friends of theirs, were at a loss on how to defend them.

    Song Yuzhi was the first to speak up, Shao Junshi, please calm down. These two must have very strong reason, please let them come in and speak up!

    Shal Lingzhou immediately shouted his order, Let them in!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling strode a few steps forward. The former laughed aloud and said, We are here to propose a business deal. Based on the fact that we, two brothers, have just killed Zuo Qiubi and Luo Xian, perhaps we ought to have the qualifications to speak!

    When they heard this, other than Song Yuzhi, the others were completely taken by surprise.

    Wind Bamboo Halls Hall Master Shen Beichang said in heavy voice, Even Laofu has eyes but failed to see; who are you two?

    A gentle and soft, and very pleasant to hear, voice rang from Yu Lings fragrant lips, These two are called Xiao Zhong and Xiao Ling; they have grown so tall that Qie [I, your servant (deprecatory self-reference for women)] nearly did not recognize them.

    After a short pause, she went on, In the past they were the little bandits under Yangzhous loyal martyr Yan Kuan; they loved to steal a peek on Qie. One time they were caught Qies men, but seeing their extraordinary character, Qie decided to have my men let them go.

    Seeing Yu Ling still recognized them, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt both honored and greatly embarrassed at the same time, because what they did was not the most honorable thing.

    Luo Xian was relieved, So be it! he said, At least you did not really tell us lies.

    With a wry smile Kou Zhong said to Yu Ling, Yu Ling Jie, do you have to go into such detail about our past?

    Yu Ling covered her mouth as she laughed coquettishly and said, And you are still as shameless as before.

    This exchanged immediately eased up the tense atmosphere.

    Knitting his brows, Shao Lingzhou said, Since you are one of our own, plus you have trained quite a good martial art skill, we would be more than happy to receive you; why did you have to fight and force your way in?

    Xu Ziling cupped his fist and said, Gui Xiangzhu has indeed led us to pay our respect to Shao Junshi, but we were stopped by Mai Xiangzhu outside the bridge. Right now the situation is urgent, we simply had to force our way in, would Shao Junshi please forgive us.

    His refined and gentle bearing immediately earned Shao Lingzhous favorable impression. Nodding in approval, he called, Xiliang! Is that true?

    It is indeed true, Gui Xiliang hastily replied.

    Kou Zhong interjected, If Shao Junshi immediately dispatches the elite troops of our Gang, we should have enough time to intercept the renegades led by Dew Bamboo Halls Tong Changfeng, and annihilate them in one move, and thus avert our Gang from being split up in pieces.

    Shao Lingzhou, Shen Beichang, Luo Feng, and the others were visibly shaken; they were obviously quite tempted by Kou Zhongs proposal.

    Song Yuzhi and her uncle, his fathers cousin, Song Shuang, who was sitting next to her, exchanged a glance; they knew Kou Zhongs courageous and ruthless style of cutting weeds and eliminating the roots.

    Just by utilizing a simple strategy, the entire situation, as well as the initiative and powers, immediately fell into Kou Zhongs hands. Therefore, it was clear that he was the kind of personality who could create clouds by turning his palm up, create rain by turning his palm down.

    A Duozhu [helmsman], Ye Bingchen, standing behind Shao Lingzhou expressed his opinion, This is a very important matter, how do we know that the two of you are not spies sent by the enemy to lure us into a trap?

    After glowering at Kou Zhong, Song Yuzhi said, Although this person loves to babble nonsense, he is not the kind of person who loves to tell lies; even more, he is not the kind of person who could be easily bought by the enemy. Am I right, Kou Zhong, Hero Kou?

    Everybody was shocked; it was only now that they realized that the Xiao Zhong, Xiao Ling in front of them were actually the Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, whose names shook the Jianghu, on whose heads laid two separate hunt and kill orders, namely the Duke of Pushans Decree and the Dong Ming Dispatch.

    Gui Xiliang and Xing Rongs shock was, quite naturally, no need to be mentioned.

    Shen Beichang stood up abruptly; he said gruffly, Mere Tong Changfeng, he is not worthy in Laofus eyes. Leave this matter to Laofu!

    From his bosom Shao Lingzhou took out the Zhuhua Ling [Bamboo Flower Plaque, symbol of authority] and whisked it toward Shen Beichang, who, upon receiving it, immediately took his men out.

    Song Yuzhi also made a hand signal, immediately two Song Clan martial art masters under Song Shuangs command also left in a hurry.

    The main hall fell silent.

    Kou Zhong chuckled softly and said, Many thanks Miss Song for vouching for me; is it possible for me to have a private chat with Miss?

    Song Yuzhi spoke in disdain, There is nothing that cant be said in front of others. Whatever it is, you may speak up here.

    Song Shuang was surprised inwardly, recalling that although this beautiful niece of him was rather strong-willed, it was very seldom that she butted head with other people with equal harshness. Moreover, Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings names were among the Song Clans list of people whom they ought to try to win over. Therefore, determined to help to smooth things over, he said, I am Song Shuang. Why dont Kou and Xu, two Xiongdi, come over here and sit down first so we can talk it over?

    Shao Lingzhou also immediately ordered his disciples to serve tea; his manner was very polite.

    Putting on an angry expression, with a forced laugh Kou Zhong said, Since Miss Song refuses to do me the honor, is it possible for Xiaodi to have a private chat with Junshi?

    Shao Lingzhou was put on the spot; he looked awkwardly at Song Yuzhi, this beautiful representative of the Song Clan, his big supporter.

    Song Yuzhi could not help glowering at this lofty, wild and free-spirited young man. Why so sneaky anyway? she said crossly, If it is concerning Zhuhua Bangs affair, naturally we should discuss it together.

    Xu Ziling spoke up nonchalantly, Since we cannot discuss it with you, we, two brothers, will leave immediately. Only we would appreciate it very much if Shao Junshi could bestow four mule carts for our use.

    Realizing the deadlock, Song Shuang signaled Song Yuzhi with his eyes as he stood up and said, Let us talk about it nicely. Kou Xiongdi, would you be willing to reveal a little bit of what you want to discuss, so that Yuzhi may consider whether she ought to talk to you privately?

    As if nothing had happened, Kou Zhong said, Its nothing. I was mistaken to think that Miss is still interested in the Duke Yang Treasure; who would have thought that there is no such thing? I really dont have anything good to talk about!

    Everybody in the hall was emotionally moved.

    Seething with rage, Song Yuzhi stood up and walked over toward the inner chamber. Get your @$$ in here! she said coldly.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud; he winked at Xu Ziling first before running after her.

    A strange feeling rose up in everybodys heart; they all had a vague feeling that Song Yuzhi was unusually blunt toward Kou Zhong. Could it be that it was because she had viewed him in a new light?

    [1] Chapter title: orig. to feel in ones pocket and take something out.

  17. #77
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 6

    Book 7 Chapter 6 Passionately Selecting Precious Woman

    Song Yuzhi took Kou Zhong through the corridor connecting the main hall with the rear pavilion, and then slanting to the left into the west hall, before she was heading toward one of a row of rosewood chairs in the middle of the hall to sit down.

    Kou Zhong hurriedly preceded her to pull the chair out a little from the round table and pretending to be respectful he solemnly said, Song Da Xiaojie, please sit down!

    Song Yuzhi glowered at him angrily. She sat down, and said with a tight face, Speak up!

    With his left hand grabbing the arm of his chair and his right hand holding on to the back of the chair, Kou Zhong leaned over and put his mouth close to Song Yuzhis jade-like sparkling and translucent, emitting whiffs of fragrance, small ear, and sighed in admiration, Smells really good! He also made a show of sniffing around and putting an act of a playboy.

    Song Yuzhi struggled hard to maintain her wooden expression. Knitting her jet-black eyebrows, she said, Would you mind moving a bit far away?

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud. Suddenly he straightened up his tiger body, walked around the table, and sat down pompously. His eyes flickered with mysterious flashes as he stared deeply into Song Yuzhis beautiful bright eyes. Just as suddenly he sighed and said, Looks really good!

    Displeased, Song Yuzhi said, What nonsense are you babbling about?

    Kou Zhong showed a brilliant smile, revealing a row of shining white teeth, and then he seriously said, The number of women who are worthy to earn my, Kou Zhongs praise is really not many, and Miss Song is definitely at the top of the list. Just now Xiaodi was enjoying Miss Songs graceful figure and your touching dainty steps from the back, already my heart and soul were intoxicated, and I am sure that I will never forget it as long as I live.

    Song Yuzhi was wondering in her heart why she did not stop this kid from speaking such frivolous words, even more so, why didnt she feel the slightest bit of anger? While averting his burning hot gaze, which was able to penetrate her heart, she lowered her head and said, If you continue speaking that kind of frivolous thing, I wont speak with you.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Men and women pleasing each other is the great unifying factor in human relationship. As long as we are sincere and in a good faith, how could you call it frivolous?

    Song Yuzhi sighed and finally met his eyes. Shaking her head, she said, Kou Zhong, if you are thinking of playing a trick on me, Song Yuzhi, it will be useless. First of all, I will never be fond of you. Second, I always think that you are the kind of person who loves to speak flowery words to coax us, womenfolk. Third

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, Isnt it true that your Die has already given your hands in marriage, that you already have a future husband?

    Song Yuzhis tender body trembled slightly; hanging down her tiny head, she nodded and said, Its good that you can guess that!

    Kou Zhong mused how could he not guess? Such a high-class family and powerful clan like the Song Clan, especially the Clan Leader Heavenly Saber Song Ques beloved daughter, her marriage option was naturally strictly limited to families that were well matched in terms of social status. Men could take concubines based on personal preferences, but women did not have this kind of liberty; they could only depend on their family to make the arrangement, to be matched with appointed men.

    Kou Zhong shrugged his shoulders with confidence and at ease as he said nonchalantly, Difference in social status is one thing, how much Miss dislikes me is another thing. But for me, whatever I feel in my heart, I will only feel comfortable if I speak it up.

    Heaving a deep sigh, he turned his gaze to the window, toward the garden outside the pavilion resplendent under the brilliant sunshine. Shaking his head with a wry smile, he said, Ever since that day in Xingyang city, at the small alley outside Shen Luoyans residence wrestling with Miss and hugging and having close personal contact, I

    Greatly embarrassed, Song Yuzhi cut him off, I forbid you to mention that matter, from now on you must not mention it to any other people, especially Xu Ziling.

    Kou Zhong broke into giggle, Forgive me, he said, I already could not bear not to tell him. If I kept it bottled inside of me, I would burst to die, ha ha!

    Song Yuzhi was greatly angered, You, this kid, will never be serious. It is clear to me that you are teasing me again. What I hate the most is people like you.

    Kou Zhong spread out his hands, Miss, calm down! he said, After all, I, Kou Zhong, have a little bit of self-realization. I clearly know that Miss cant possibly look up to a man with a humble origin like myself. Right now Miss is willing to listen to me unloading whats in my mind, Kou Zhongs appreciation is indeed not shallow. From now on I will not mention that matter!

    Song Yuzhi shook her head in distress and cast him a hateful stare. She hated him for being frivolous, but she was also afraid that from now on he would be heartless. The contradiction in her heart was really distressing.

    Ever since she was little, her dream mate was a man of noble birth, erudite and multi-talented, cultured and refined, charming and handsome.

    The one in front of her was wild from head to toes, a playboy loved to seduce women of good family. Hence, he should be a man she loathed the most. Yet he had created in her an unprecedented stimulation, and deep down in her heart she was wishing that he would continue talking to her like that.

    It was not to say that she had fallen in love with him, rather, that kind of stimulation had made her forget the load of her mind and made her wish to continue listening to his bullshit.

    Kou Zhong sprawled himself comfortably in the chair, after stretching out, he said in gentle voice, After we part this time, I dont know whether there will be a day we will meet again, but I know that for the rest of my life, I will never forget Yuzhis demeanor when you are happy and when you are angry.

    Slightly cross, Song Yuzhi said, I forbid you to call my name, you and I dont have that kind of relationship yet.

    With a hint of smile on his face, Kou Zhong looked at her straight in the eye and said, Very well! I respect Miss Songs view. Let us talk about Zhuhua Bangs affair now!

    Song Yuzhi fought hard to suppress the disappointment that arose suddenly in her heart; she said with a wooden face, Youd better not get involved in my Song family and Zhuhua Bangs affair. My Song family wont make any business deal with you even more.

    Kou Zhong straightened up his body; without the slightest care in the world he smiled and said, Then there is no point in any negotiation. Whether in the future your Song family and I will become friends or foes, let Laotianye decide.

    Turning around, he was about to walk away when Song Yuzhi suddenly stood up and shouted with her tender voice, Kou Zhong, dont you dare walking away from me!

    Kou Zhong leisurely walked around to Song Yuzhis back, put his face close to her brimming-with-energy beautiful face, breathing his warm breath next to her completely-without-blemish skin, and said softly, Miss Song, what instruction are you going to bestow to me?

    Song Yuzhis breathing quickened; her breasts were heaving up and down in an unprecedented rate. Suddenly she turned around and fast as lightning her jade palm pressed on Kou Zhongs broad chest, and she said with hatred, I want to kill you!

    Kou Zhong opened up both arms and with smile across his whole face he said, Be my guest!

    Song Yuzhis pretty face alternated between light and dark, at first the beautiful pupil of her eyes was suffused with profound murderous aura, but just as sudden the murderous aura was replaced by a complex emotion.

    From her jade palm she could feel Kou Zhongs heartbeat, and every single beat brought her unparalleled shock.

    In a flash she recovered her cold demeanor. Sending out a burst of force she pushed Kou Zhong away that he staggered three steps back, and then she said emotionlessly, What do you have in mind?

    A deep, unfathomable smile appeared on Kou Zhongs face; turning around, he walked over toward a large window. Standing proudly like a mountain, he looked outside the window, put his hands behind his back and said, When the world is in chaos, heroes appear. Take you Song family for example, before your ancestors established the Song Clan, werent they the same as Kou Zhong, people who dont have anything at all? In time of rapid changes like this, anybody could become a duke, marquis, general or prime minister, even an emperor who unifies the world [tian xia].

    Song Yuzhi detected the heroic, proud and strong aura in the tone of Kou Zhongs voice; momentarily she was stunned speechless.

    Kou Zhong took a deep breath and said, Supposing I killed the Green Dragon [see Book 7 Chapter 3] Ren Shaoming, how would Miss repay me?

    Song Yuzhi was speechless for half a day. She left her seat and walked over until she was about five chi from his back. Shaking her head, she said with a sigh, You are either excessively overestimating yourself, or you are underestimating Ren Shaoming too much. Do you think Ren Shaoming is of the same level as Zuo Qiubi, Luo Xian, and the others? In Jiangnan, Ren Shaoming and Lin Shihong are equally famous. Other than my Die, nobody dares to think that he is better than him. Not to mention Tieqi Huis men are strong their horses robust. Merely his subordinates, Evil Monk and Amorous Nun, two great martial art masters, who both are in charge of their two factions, I am afraid the two of you will have trouble to deal with.

    After smiling wryly, she added, Much less presently everybody in Jianghu wants to capture you; the two of you are in an extremely difficult situation. Will you have time to mind other peoples business?

    Letting out a cold humph, Kou Zhong said, Future fact will authenticate what I, Kou Zhong, say today. Right now I just want to ask Miss Song: supposing I can kill the thorn in your Song familys side, will you, Song Clan, be willing to support Gui Xiliang, the beloved disciple of the late Bangzhu, to inherit the Bangzhu position?

    Staring blankly at him, Song Yuzhi said, You have such a grand ambition.

    Without ambition, how can you accomplish great things? Kou Zhong loftily said, As long as Miss Song provides intelligence on that Ren Shaomings movements, I, Kou Zhong can guarantee that his little life will be difficult to protect.

    Against her will Song Yuzhi took two steps forward to his left side; after scrutinizing his silhouette, which was brimming with masculine charisma, she said in heavy voice, If you knew that we have sent three different teams to assassinate Ren Shaoming, all three times we suffered the misfortune of having our entire troops failed miserably, would you even consider another near-suicide plan like that?

    Like a twister Kou Zhong spun around so that he came face to face with Song Yuzhi, who was only about a cun shorter than he was, and the distance between them was less than three cun. His tiger eyes shone with a very strong confidence while his voice was full of fighting spirit, Those who can achieve extraordinary great undertaking must achieve extraordinary matters first. What we, two brothers, lack right now is a great battle which will cause sensation in Wulin. This deficiency will be rectified by Ren Shaoming first. Even if you are unwilling to make a deal, this matter is still absolutely necessary. Besides, even if we do not make any move, do you think Ren Shaoming will still let us off?

    Song Yuzhis blank expression immediately disappeared, her beautiful eyes were glistening as she locked gaze with Kou Zhongs eyes. She said in heavy tone, Although we have considerable influence toward the Zhuhua Bang, we may not necessarily be able to influence the candidates of Bangzhu election.

    Dont lie to me, Kou Zhong said, If Zhuhua Bang loses the Song Clans support today, it will collapse tomorrow. If I killed Ren Shaoming, you guys will support Gui Xiliang to be the Gang Leader. The first order of business is to delay the General Assembly of the Bamboo Forest. In this short period of time, I will rely on you to do your magic.

    Song Yuzhi said in distress, You are too overbearing and love to force others to do your bidding.

    After looking deep into her eyes for a moment, Kou Zhong said, I am leaving now. Miss Song, please think about it! Anytime Miss Song sends us intelligence about Ren Shaoming, well carry out the transaction.

    Song Yuzhi recovered her calm-demeanor completely; not letting the proximity between them, so close that they could smell each others breath, bothered her, she looked back into his eyes and said, Dont you still have the Duke Yangs Treasure thing to tell me about?

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, Please tell your esteemed father, if he is willing to give his beloved daughter in marriage to me, Kou Zhong, the Duke Yangs Treasure will be my, Kou Zhongs betrothal gift to offer to him. If your esteemed father could accept Gui Xiliang as his disciple, that will be even more ideal. Yuzhi ought to understand my meaning!

    With a loud laughter he simply walked away, leaving Song Yuzhi whose thought was in a whirl.

    Four mule carts were tied together. Driving the cart at the head of the train were Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong urged their horses to send them off out of the city.

    The city defense was strengthened substantially, the Zhuhua Bang men joined hands with the citizens of the city, working hard together to set up fortifications.

    Kou Zhong turned toward Gui Xiliang and said with a laugh, Kid, you need to work a bit harder, and then your brother, me, will help you to attain the Bangzhu position.

    Gui Xiliang was greatly shocked, What nonsense are you talking about? he said.

    Nonsense? Kou Zhong sneered, This is more real than a piece of pearl. With me and Xiao Ling supporting you, plus the Song Clan behind you, your chance of becoming the Bangzhu is greater than anybody elses.

    Xing Rong, who was riding on the other side, was so shocked that his face turned green and his lips paled, Are you going to kill us? How could Shao Junshi let Xiliang become the Bangzhu? he asked.

    Xu Ziling remained silent, but from his expression, it was clear that he resented Kou Zhongs remark.

    Kou Zhong calmly said, We are all brothers, how could I harm you? The fact will prove everything. Go back now!

    Lashing the whip down, he drove the mule train faster passing through the city gate and into the dusty road outside.

    Kou Zhong cast a glance toward Xu Ziling. He sighed and said, Xiao Ling, just consider it I am asking for your help, all right? Dont give me that kind of look, you made my heart feel so uneasy.

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, What did you talk about with Song Yuzhi? You made us waiting anxiously for more than half a sichen.

    Naturally talking about the conditions of our business deal, Kou Zhong nonchalantly replied, But in passing I was also teasing her, to see whether she would refuse or welcome my advance with her alluring seductive appearance. Dont you think she is alluring?

    Xu Ziling let out a subdued snort and said, I dont care how alluring she is, its no use. Because what you are looking for is not her as a person, but her Song familys tremendous power. If you obtain the Song Clans support, you would obtain power over half of the south. Now I am convinced that in order for you to win over the world, you will do anything, by hook or by crook.

    Kou Zhong said exasperatedly, Xiao Ling, not again! To tell you the truth, I really have adoring thought toward her. But I realized its just a delusion. Because she has been betrothed early on. Ay! Right now my great undertaking is just getting started, your support is very critical for me. Besides, dont you forget that if we do not expand our power, sooner or later we will be slaughtered by either your precious Princess or Li Mi.

    Xu Zilings heart softened. He heaved a sigh, and no longer said anything.

    By the time the sun set over the western hills, the jungle where Duan Yucheng and the others, along with their salt, were hidden appeared on the horizon.

    The surging water of the Yangtze River outside the jungle looked spectacular under the glow of the setting sun.

    Kou Zhong let out the secret signal. But after waiting for half a day, they still did not see Duan Yucheng and the others coming out of their hiding to meet them.

    The two boys exchanged glances, both felt something was not right.

    They jumped down the cart, untied the mules from the carts, and let them rest and eat some grass. And then side by side they walked down the hillside toward the jungle.

    Kou Zhong said in a low voice, If something is wrong, well flee toward the river and regroup. Do you think it could be Ren Shaomings men?

    I dont know! Xu Ziling replied.

    Fully alert, the two boys entered the jungle. They crept toward the place where they hid the salt, while sending their qi toward their feet and eyes, to see whether there were any traps around.

    When they reached the clearing in front of the place where they hid their salt, the two boys could only stare blankly with mouth agape. Because they saw Duan Yucheng and the others, four men, were tied with their arms behind their back and the rope looped around their necks. Even their mouths were stuffed that they could not speak. And they were placed on top of the salt sacks that were piled up into a small hill.

    A cold snort came from behind them.

    The two boys turned around in shock, only to see Fu Junyu standing enchantingly behind the two boys. Her face was as cold as ice and snow while her pretty eyes shot incomparable hatred toward them.

    A warning signal went off in their hearts.

    The two boys turned their eyes toward the pile of salt again, and saw a handsome, dignified Ba Fenghan, whose entire being exuded some kind of cold blade aura, was sitting leisurely at the edge of the salt hill, and was looking at them up and down, with a hint of smile at the corner of his mouth.

    The two boys scalp went numb, while in their heart they groaned incessantly.

    Any one of these two adversaries would give the two boys a very hard time to deal with, and now both of them were here and worse yet, they seemed to work together.

    Acting as if he was ready to destroy them, Ba Fenghan calmly and leisurely said, Kou Xiong, Xu Xiong are now renowned figures. Early on Zaixia [lit. under, myself (humble)] had a mind to make friends with you. Its a pity that you have provoked Junyu, so that even Zaixia is in an extremely difficult position.

    After a short pause, he went on, If you are willing to fight one-on-one with Junyu, life or death will depend on your real skill, Zaixia can promise not to interfere. I wonder what the two brothers think?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Xiling exchanged some glances. Suddenly they roared in laughter together.

    Their laughter was filled with strong fighting spirit.

  18. #78
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 7

    Book 7 Chapter 7 Mortal Danger, Escape Alive

    Kou Zhong thundered, Xiao Ling, you go pay your respect to Yu Yi [aunt], leave it to me to accompany Ba Xiong playing several moves!

    Fu Junyu let out a cold humph and said, This fellow does not know the immensity of heaven and earth. Based on those several tricks of yours, what gives you the qualification to challenge Fenghan? And dont call me Yu Yi anymore. I have no relationship whatsoever with you.

    Ba Fenghan burst out laughing and said, Although you, these two kids, are quite all right, your level is not enough to play with Ol Ba. Just show your real skill nicely, see if you are qualified to have relationship with Junyu! If I make my move, I will not hold my hands at all.

    While talking, both his facial expression and his demeanor carried the poise of a man from an influential family, perfectly matching his heroic and grand countenance, which made other people admire him from the heart. No wonder Fu Junyu was conquered by him.

    Xu Ziling smiled faintly and said, Ba Xiong is too conceited. I am afraid that when you are too full of yourself, when suffering defeat, it would be even harder for you to get off the stage.

    It was Fu Junyu who scrambled to take the initiative on Ba Fenghans behalf; with her tender voice she scolded, No need to spout nonsense! Whos going to go first?

    Ba Fenghan did not take offence at all; he simply sized the two boys up coldly, but in his heart he started to get a peculiar feeling that he had never felt before.

    Since making great accomplishment in martial art at the age of eighteen, these past seven years he made it his special purpose in life to fight in one place after another all over the world, to temper himself through real combat experience, so that his spirit, qi and mind were rising into unprecedented heights. It could even be said that his vigor was simply uncontested.

    Upon arriving in the Central Plains, the number of martial art masters from famous schools who fell under his hand was at least forty, fifty people. However, he had never encountered anybody who could talk and laugh as though nothing had happened like Kou and Xu, two people. Apparently these two boys did not think of him as a big deal.

    Simply this kind of cool-headed skill was enough to make him have a whole new level of respect for them. Not to mention Kou Zhongs innate overbearing character and Xu Zilings calm, confident and cool character, which were rarely seen, were enough to make his heart itch. Too bad he already promised Fu Junyu that he would refrain himself and was going to sit on the sideline as a spectator; otherwise, he would have charged forward to try it himself.

    The official reason of his trip to the Central Earth this time was to flee from Bi Xuan, but the unspoken reason was actually to actively resist Bi Xuan. Compared to Bi Xuan, he had to admit that he was still several notches inferior; therefore, he headed east to gain real combat experience before he would attempt to have a decisive battle against Bi Xuan again. And now that he saw a good test object, how could his heart not itch to try?

    Meanwhile Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Yu Yi, please keep calm, dont get excited! If you want to fight then fight!

    Qiang! The Moon in the Well left its scabbard, and immediately turned into a rainbow, shooting toward Ba Fenghan, who was sitting on the pile of salt sacks.

    Almost simultaneously Xu Ziling soared into the air, like a turning wheel his two fists attacked Ba Fenghans face.

    This move was totally beyond Ba Fenghan and Fu Junyus expectation; they had never imagined that the two boys would be so dauntless. Unexpectedly they had the impertinence to make their move against the most overbearing Ba Fenghan first.

    Ba Fenghan let out a cold snort. Nobody saw which move he was using, but his body suddenly flew upwards swiftly. His left hand drew the saber, his right hand pulled the sword, which exploded into two blade bursts, separately meeting the two boys attacks.

    The two boys made a sound like a muffled thunder as the three figures swiftly met and just as swiftly separated.

    Even with Ba Fenghans ability, due to the fact that he did not anticipate encountering two streams of qi, one cold and one hot, from the Secret to Long Life, especially because Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew how formidable he was and thus they went all-out in this first attack, he could not help suffering a hidden loss. As his body flew backwards over the salt sacks, he made an effort to land behind the pile, and seized that opportunity to neutralize the true qi invading his body.

    Actually, Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings condition was even worse.

    The strength of the earthshaking reaction force from Ba Fenghans saber and sword definitely could not be anticipated in advance. Like a sharp blade it penetrated the two boys bodies, so that they immediately suffered severe internal injury.

    Although the clash only happened in an instant, there was simply no room to maneuver in this simple, no-fancy moves, head-on clash.

    When Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well struck Ba Fenghans sword, he only felt that the opponents sword emitted two different streams of power, so that it was difficult for the opponent to pin down. Kou Zhongs entire body received a thunderbolt strike, which jolted him backwards.

    When Xu Zilings fists met the blade of the saber of the most formidable opponent in his life, in the split second just before the fist met the blade, the two combatants true qi had already clashed heavily against each other. To Xu Zilings shock, the enemys powerful qi continued to flow along the swords edge into his body like hot knife through butter, and he could barely dissolve this qi just before it invaded the arteries and veins around his heart. Immediately his blood and qi surged, he was unable to continue with the follow-up move, and was thrown backwards.

    Just before the two boys landed heavily on the ground, like a ghost Fu Junyu floated over with the sword in her hand. The two boys knew that the moment they touched the ground was the critical moment between life and death, hence they swiftly rolled toward each other.

    Bang!

    When the two crashed into each other, Fu Junyus sword had become sword screen that filled the air, hiding the sky and covering the earth, coming down to trap them.

    But it never had any chance to hit the two boys.

    Right at the moment when the two bodies touched each other, their true qi immediately flowed from one body to the other. Not only it healed each others internal injury, it also strengthened each others true qi.

    In the whole wide world, perhaps only these two boys were capable of doing this kind of incomparably fantastic healing tactics.

    Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well soared into the sky, penetrating Fu Junyus sword net.

    Taking the opportunity while Fu Junyu was impeded by Kou Zhong, Xu Zilings body shot up from the ground toward the opponents left side, and send out a palm strike across empty air.

    Ding!

    Although Fu Junyu had already anticipated that the two boys still had strength to strike back, she did not think that they would be able to strike back at full force. In her shock, even though she managed to block Kou Zhongs saber attack with ten-thousand jun [1 jun ~ 30 catties] thunderbolt force, she was caught off guard by Xu Zilings palm wind.

    However, she was a martial art master after all. The instant before the palm wind reached her body, she suddenly changed direction midair and moved sideways. But still, the palm wind swept her and made her let out a stifled grunt, while she was thrown far away.

    Ba Fenghan, who was on the other side of the salt pile, was actually more shocked than Fu Junyu, who had suffered injury. Having a superior eyesight, before the two boys even made their move, he had already seen the level of their skill, and was so sure that even if they joined hands, they would still be not his match. Who would have thought that even after he was using two different streams of qi to attack the two boys, not only was he unable to injure the two boys, unexpectedly they still had enough strength to strike back with even more bold and powerful force? How could he not be shocked?

    By this time he still had not been able to neutralize the two boys cold and hot qi completely, yet he knew that the current situation demanded immediate action. Therefore, forcing himself to raise his qi up, he soared high into the air.

    The sword returned to its sheathe, the saber moved to his right hand, he swiftly charged toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who had just emerged from the pile of salt.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Ba Xiong, please return! While speaking, his hand did not hesitate at all, he raised his saber to parry.

    Meanwhile Xu Ziling swept toward Duan Yucheng and the others. Left and right he moved lightning fast to pat around on the four mens body, the ropes binding them disintegrated into cun-long pieces, and their acupoints were unsealed at the same time.

    Ba Fenghan, who was still in the air, saw all these and his scalp went numb.

    It should be noted that he sealed the four mens acupoints using his unique schools technique; not only it was a high level technique in acupoints-sealing, he also spent considerable time to do that. Yet Xu Ziling was able to break his technique merely by brushing his hands. No wonder he was greatly shocked.

    Actually, Xu Ziling did not understand any acupoint-sealing technique, he was simply sending his true qi into their bodies, and simply prompted natural circulation of their own qi through their meridians, and thus spontaneously breaking the unique skill that Ba Fenghan was immensely proud about.

    In the meantime Duan Yucheng and the others heard Xu Zilings order; they hurriedly climbed down the pile of salt and ran away as fast as they could.

    By this time continuous ringing was heard as Kou Zhong was blocking three of Ba Fenghans swift, fierce and unparalleled saber strikes.

    Noticing how Kou Zhong was quite straining in taking Ba Fenghans attack from above and the danger seemed to be growing without restraint, Xu Ziling hastily charged from an angle; his two hands turned into a blur of fists filling the air, violently attacking Ba Fenghan.

    After restoring her qi, Fu Junyu also charged forward with the sword in her hand.

    Kou and Xu knew their situation was getting worse; if they let Fu Junyu took control of either one of them, the other one would be slaughtered by Ba Fenghan in under ten moves. Therefore, they immediately attacked Ba Fenghan together with everything they had.

    Ba Fenghan knew very well that given a bit more time, he would be able to get these two under control; however, his true qi was depleted, plus the two boys hot and cold, two opposing true qi were very difficult to deal with. Therefore, helplessly he had to fly side ways to evade the attack.

    The two boys did not dare to continue fighting; they halted their movements and immediately turned around to escape toward the Great River. Even if Bi Xuan, Ning Daoqi came personally, it would still be difficult for them to catch up with the two boys, who were already more than a dozen zhang away in such a short period of time.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stuck out their heads from among the reefs littering the bank of the river, to see whether Ba Fenghan and Fu Junyus shadows have entered the darkness in the distant opposite bank downstream from where they were.

    Xu Ziling stuck out his tongue and said, That Fengzhi Han [rheumatism, see Book 4 Chapter 4] is probably more formidable than Old Die or Yuwen Huagu.

    Among the people they had encountered thus far, Du Fuwei and Yuwen Huaji were the ones with the highest martial art skill. Therefore, Xu Ziling was saying that among the martial art masters they encountered, Ba Fenghan was the most overpowering one.

    With lingering fear, Kou Zhong said, Have you forgotten Yang Xuyan? At least this time we are not injured. Do you reckon they might come back?

    If I were them, Xu Ziling replied, I would find a hilltop where I could wait patiently. The moment we, two big melon heads, came back to retrieve our goods will be the moment we die in our beds at ripe old age!

    Immensely proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, This is called heroes usually agree. Right now Fengshi Han and Yu Yi must be blowing their little noggins top in rage because of us; they would not let us off even if they had to die. Ha! If we can lure that pair of wild mandarin ducks [i.e. lovers] in a wild goose chase for several hundred li, wont Xiao Duan [little Duan] and the others have plenty of time to deliver the goods?

    Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, Whether we can outrun Fengshi Han or not, I dare not say. But we definitely cannot outrun Yu Yi; have you thought about it clearly?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Playing hide-and-seek is playing hide-and-seek, it is a different thing from competing qinggong with everything we have. Speaking about escaping skill, they are not our, Central Plains Two Dragons match.

    Xu Zilings childish heart was greatly aroused, he laughed and said, Who approved our promotion from Yangzhous Two Dragons to Central Plains Two Dragons?

    While playing with the water, Kou Zhong laughed and said, This is called progress. Right! We should meet Xiao Duan and the others. Where did we say well meet?

    Xu Ziling replied, Since this place is not far from Baling, we might as well go there to look for Su Jie, perhaps shes been looking for us and could not find us.

    Excellent plan! Kou Zhong cried out, Well find those four kids first and then well think about it carefully. Come on!

    Finished speaking, the two boys dove into the water again.

    The two boys ran swiftly long the river toward a comparatively higher elevation. Crouching on top of a large rock, they concentrated their attention to the lower reaches of the river.

    How come we have not seen anybody? Kou Zhong wondered, Could it be that we overestimated them? If we had known this, we might as well come with Xiao Duan and the others to deliver our precious cargo of salt.

    Xu Ziling frowned and said, I have a very ominous feeling. They may have been winding around and wait for us ahead.

    Aghast, Kou Zhong abruptly turned his head around, and happened to see from the jungle ahead a flock of birds flew up because something startled them. Nudging Xu Ziling, he said in a low voice, You are right. Now what should we do?

    Xu Ziling smiled lightly and said, Now we circulate our breathing properly, preserving and nurturing our spirit, waiting until they cannot take it anymore and come out of their hiding, and then well leave.

    With a wry smile Kou Zhong turned over to lie under the bushes, and then with a sigh of contentment he said, I wonder how many stars are there in the sky?

    Copying him, Xu Ziling also pushed everything out of his mind as he lay down comfortably next to him. Staring at the magnificent vast night sky full of stars above, he said, Everything before our eyes are so fantastic. Ever since the heavens and the earth existed, those stars also existed for eternity. Not only have they cycled continuously, but the unlimited changes also contain imperturbable physical law. If our martial art skill can imitate the stars, i.e. constancy is concealed inside the changes, will it also exist eternally?

    Kou Zhong was emotionally moved, This logic is even deeper and more mysterious than the moon in the well. For the time being, let us call it Star Transformation. But how do we apply it to martial art?

    This moment Xu Ziling has completely forgotten about Ba Fenghan and Fu Junyu who were persistently hunting them. He said seriously, Perhaps this is what Niang said about the principle of guarding only one thing. When we are fighting against people, there were thousand thoughts ten thousand considerations on how to achieve victory; there are too many variables, yet we still cannot truly grasp the subtle constant within the ten thousands variables. Therefore, from the beginning we failed to achieve the first-class level.

    Kou Zhong was shaken, I understand now, he said, What you said about guarding only one thing is merely the mental cultivation [xin fa], just like the moon in the water well. In my opinion it is like what Yu Yi said about the Yijian principle [reminder: yi here is the ancient name for Chinese chess]. The emptiness is the chessboard, the stars in the sky are the chess piece. Although the chess pieces move with countless permutation, they still have to follow certain immutable law. Therefore, as long as we can grasp this legal principle of obtaining victory, countless permutation will never leave each other, in the end we can still control the enemy to score a victory.

    Xu Ziling sat up and thought hard, When we play chess, if in every step we can force the opponent not to have any option to react, we could gain control over the overall situation. But in facing Ba Fenghan, Yang Xuyan, Ol Die, that kind of martial art masters, we are practically on the receiving end of being forced not to have the ability to deal with it, and were forced to just counter every move; hence none of those changes or constants can be used.

    Kou Zhong also sat up straight; scratching his head, he said, Honestly, the more I think, the more confused I am. But is it possible that the opposite is true, i.e. if we can grasp the opponents constant, it would be as if we know the layout of his chess pieces, wont it be like grasp it and the victory is assured?

    Casting his gaze toward the distant jungle where Ba Fenghan, two people might be hiding, Xu Ziling shook his head and said, When one is in a battle, he only knew how to defeat the enemy to save his own life; how could he grasp the constant change of the enemy? Unless he is able to transcend the chess movement

    Speaking to this point, the two boys were shaken at the same time, and looked at each others eyes.

    Kou Zhong spoke with trembling voice, His grannys Niang, I know the Yijian principle. First, we must understand the immutable law of the chessboard, just like the other day Yu Yi hacking and chopping randomly, seemingly without any principle, yet she was forcing me to respond constantly, totally powerless to take the initiative to strike back, just because she was one step ahead of me in grasping the several moves I was going to play next. Only if our martial art skill can reach this realm will we be able to feel that our skill has finally attain the way. But her cultivation is still too shallow, only after several moves, she was confused by my changes.

    If Fu Junyu knew that the remark she casually blurted has helped these two martial art talents in making an unmatched breakthrough, she would definitely regret it.

    Gazing up at the stars above, Xu Ziling muttered to himself, Yijian Method, Yijian Method!

    Kou Zhong groaned as if he was sighing, Its not Star Transformation, but Chess Transformation. No! Star Transformation is a bit better, a bit more mysterious. After this my Moon in the Well ought to be called Star Transformation Precious Saber.

    Xu Ziling shook his head and said, No! Your saber is still the Moon in the Well. You cant have three hearts two intention [i.e. wishy washy]. Star Transformation is mine.

    You cant be serious! Kou Zhong cried out, Are you saying that you are going to carve the Star Transformation, two characters [xing bian] onto your hands? Which one are you going to call Star Transformation? Your left hand or your right hand? When you fight, are you going to warn your opponent to watch for your Star Transformation hand? Ha

    While Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were doubling up in laughter, a warning signal suddenly went off in their hearts.

    Ba Fenghan and Fu Junyu appeared about twenty zhang away to their left, and were fleeting over like a shooting star toward them.

  19. #79
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 8

    Book 7 Chapter 8 Excellent Escape Plan

    One after another Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling fled for their lives on the mountain and fields. By this time the two boys had reached the body weary, strength exhausted state; but because powerful enemies were after them, they could only run toward the precipitous mountain trying to escape.

    Since three days ago when Ba Fenghan and Fu Junyu caught up with them, they had run for several hundred li from Jiangyin toward Dongji, passing through Yixing and Yongshi, two big county towns.

    Although the have given everything they had, with crafty scheme and brilliant plan, all along they were unable to shake off Ba Fenghan and Fu Junyu. It was only then did they realize that either one of Ba or Fu was an expert in tracking and following; they could not help whining on for days.

    That evening Ba Fenghan, two people were getting closer and closer, the two boys sensed that they were only about a hundred or so zhang away. Fortunately they came across a rapids in a secluded canyon deep in the mountains, plus the rain was pouring heavily. The two boys followed the rapids downstream for more than ten li before they were able to delay the imminent disaster for a few moments.

    By the time the two boys crawled up from the river, not only their strength was gone their muscles weary, their clothes were tattered and they were covered in scars due to the frictions with sharp rocks along the way; in short, they were completely battered and exhausted. Kou Zhong even lost his Moon in the Well.

    Under the downpour the two boys climbed over an overhanging cliff, and since they were unable to take it any longer, both collapsed on the ground.

    Gasping for breath, Kou Zhong said, You think we lost Fengshi Han yet? The rain is so heavy, any scent or trace ought to be washed away!

    Xu Ziling turned his face up, to let the sharp raindrops shoot like arrows onto his face. He sighed and said, No matter how you look at it, it seems to me that this guy is determined to stake it all against us; whoever collapses first is the loser.

    Kou Zhong bitter said, Supposing this time we can escape alive, it would mean that our qinggong has made tremendous progress. Ay! When we left that day, we were so proud and strong, who would have thought that this wicked Ah Yi [maternal aunt] who cannot tell good from evil, plus one Fengshi Han, can make us look like the dog of a mourning family?

    Xu Ziling dropped down with his entire body crouched down on the ground, his handsome face close to the muddy edge of the cliff, he groaned and said, The Heaven decreed that to be a great man, one must first labor his muscles and bones, temper his will, and deplete his body. In my opinion, before we are out the critical circumstances, we ought to practice for three more days!

    Kou Zhong also craned his neck to look down into the ravine below, he saw a waterfall from the upper left cliff rushing down into a small lake, with dark jungle all around it, which extended continuously in the canyon below until nobody knew how deep or how far.

    Leaning out farther away, he saw underneath the cliff about ten zhang away from him was an old pine tree with great number of branches and luxuriant leaves; it was exceptionally spectacular.

    Having a brainwave, Kou Zhong called out, Xiao Ling, come quick and look, like a miracle a big tree unexpectedly grew under the cliff; it must be a place of charm and beauty. We might as well go down to take a look, who knows if there is a cave down there where we can hide for several days, so that even their feet become crippled from walking, that wicked Ah Yi and Fengshi Han cannot find us.

    Xu Ziling made an effort to prop himself up and crawl toward the edge of the cliff; but before he had any chance to look down, his body suddenly shook, Bad! he said.

    Kou Zhong was greatly startled; following Xu Zilings gaze, he looked toward the opposite side of the ravine, to a small hill that was perhaps about fifty zhang lower than their cliff. But he did not detect anything unusual. What is it? he hastily asked.

    This moment the rain was getting heavier, plus the forest was dark, so that not only it was difficult to see into the distance, they also had to raise their voices just to be heard.

    Xu Ziling put his lips next to Kou Zhongs ears and said in a low voice, They are coming! Just now a sudden gust of wind carried the sound of broken branches into my ears. Heavens! How did they do it?

    Kou Zhong was frightened as well. Under this kind of circumstances, how did the enemy manage to trail them and keep them at their arms length?

    Do you still have any strength left? he asked in heavy voice.

    Xu Ziling shook his head with wry smile. Do you? he asked back.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, We, two brothers, are the same thing. If you are incapable, naturally I am too. But in my opinion, wicked Ah Yi and Fengshi Han are not much better compared to us. Otherwise they would not have broken a branch. Right now there is only one way out, which is going down to look for a cave. What do you think? Do you want to try?

    Xu Ziling said, Based on our experience these past few days, no matter where we hide, they always managed to find us. But tonight apparently their hearing is also impeded by this heavy rain, so that for the first time they let us lie down here for nearly half a sichen. If we could exploit this favorable situation, we might be able to escape with our lives.

    Recalling the small lake at the bottom of the waterfall, Kou Zhong had a brainwave, Right now, even though Ning Daoqi and Fu Cailin have eyes, its like they are blind. Supposing ha I got an idea.

    The two boys standing side by side at the edge of the cliff, each one holding a large rock that they wrapped in their tattered outer robe.

    This moment they heard the sound of wind from behind coming nearer and nearer. Kou Zhong signaled Xu Ziling with his eyes, suddenly the two boys let out a shout and throw the large rocks down first before they followed by jumping down.

    By the time the two boys have safely landed on the old pine tree below, the rocks were still falling rapidly down. The sound of their robes rustling against the wind continued on, getting farther and farther away; there was really no difference from if they were jumping down.

    The two boys did not dare to breathe loudly, they crouched on the pine tree and did not dare to budge.

    Splash! Splash! The sound of objects falling into the water was faintly heard from about a hundred zhang below.

    Fu Junyus voice followed from above, Good kid! Unexpectedly they escaped.

    Ba Fenghan sighed and said, These two [email protected] kids endurance is indeed astonishing, their courage is even bigger that it wraps the heavens. Junyu still want to go after them?

    Fu Junyu resolutely said, Even to the end of the earth I want to go after them.

    Listening from below Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in dismay; they really wished to know why Fu Junyu was fuming with rage between gritted teeth and hated them so much.

    Ba Fenghan suddenly said, The rain is getting heavier.

    After a moment of silence, Ba Fenghans voice was heard again from above, Is it possible for me to take care of some business first before I can accompany Junyu looking for those two kids to settle the account? he said tenderly.

    Fu Junyus reply was cold, Who wants you to accompany me? Get lost, go see that Dongming Pai girl!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly astonished. Could it be that Dongming Pai girl was Dongming Princess Shan Wanjing? Could it be that she already joined hands with Fengshi Han?

    Forcing a laughter, Ba Fenghan said, Junyu, havent we come into an agreement to become intimate friends? Why does the tone of your voice sound like you are a jealous lover?

    Fu Junyu said heavily, Do you really think that we are good friends? This time you, Ba Fenghan, volunteered to deal with those two boys, in the end you only want to win that girls favor. Are you saying it was because you really want to be good friends with me?

    Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, If Junyu wants to think like that, there is nothing that I can do. But in conduct and interaction in society, a real man ought to know when to let go and when to act, and not to be controlled by others; only then will he delight in what he say. I dont care how Junyu views me, from beginning to end Junyu is the first [female] confidante I encountered after I entered the Central Earth.

    Fu Junyu replied indifferently, You may say whatever you like! From beginning I, Fu Junyu, am already aware what kind of person you are. After killing those two boys, I will immediately return to Gaoli, and will never come back.

    Another gust of wind arose; apparently in her anger Fu Junyu abandoned Ba Fenghan.

    Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Zilings ear, This guy is alone now, will we seize this opportunity to launch a sudden attack?

    Do you have any strength? Xu Ziling asked back.

    Kou Zhong shook his head dejectedly.

    Above, Ba Fenghan heaved a deep sigh and then talking to himself, he laughed coldly and said, Fu Junyu, who do you think you are? How could you understand me?

    Finished speaking, he left immediately.

    But Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling who were listening from down below suddenly felt the chill creeping into their hearts.

    The two boys did not find any cave down below. Without any choice they had to crawl back to the cliff above. They waited until the rain eased up, then very gently and cautiously they left the mountain area.

    Rushing toward the northeast, they crossed over a green mountain ridge, and picked up some wild fruits in a dense forest in a small valley to allay their hunger. Only after resting for the night and restoring their strength did they continue their journey.

    After going through these three days as fugitives, the two boys felt that they had renewed life after the calamity, and that they finally saw light again.

    Two days later, they came into a village. Upon entering the village, they asked around and found out that Baling was actually only about fifty li south of this place, and were pleased beyond their expectations. After buying two sets of coarse clothes from the villagers, they found a place to stay overnight, and the next day, even before the sky brightened they already hastened on their way toward Baling.

    Aware that sooner or later they would meet either Ba Fenghan or Fu Junyu, those formidable opponents, they were more interested than ever in training their martial art skill, delving into the newly gained insight of the Yijian principle.

    As they took a rest along the way, Kou Zhong said, Do you remember those two disciples of Bi Xuan, one man and one woman? Looks like they cannot deal with Fengshi Han at all.

    Xu Ziling let out a bitter laugh and said, Are you talking about Tuoba Fang [sic, it was Tuoba Yu in Book 5 Chapter 9] and his pretty Shimei? Of course I do. We still have the appointment to meet at Luoyang, but it looks like we are going to miss it.

    Kou Zhong said, We are forced by circumstances, nobody can do anything about it. Ay! We are in such a mess because of that wicked Ah Yi and Fengshi Han, I am afraid even my business deal with Song Yuzhi will come to nothing.

    What business deal? Xu Ziling asked in surprise.

    Kou Zhong dejectedly replied, Her Song Family will support Xiliang to become Zhuhua Bangs Bangzhu, I will kill Tieqi Huis Ren Shaoming for her Song Family.

    Xu Ziling was horrified, Have you thought well what kind of person Ren Shaoming is? If he is someone without an oil lamp [this is literal translation, I dont know what it means, but I think we can guess ], he would have been slaughtered by the Song Family early on; why would they need to inconvenience you, Zhong Shao?

    His spirit aroused, Kou Zhong said, Do you remember what I said about our goal must be far-reaching? Supposing we can make a plan to assassinate Ren Shaoming, Tieqi Hui will received the most severe blow, Lin Shitong will also be like he is losing an arm. One eliminated the other diminished, Zhuhua Bang and Song Clans power will rise. It would be a lot more interesting than it is now.

    But then he turned dispirited and downcast, But now I lose contact with Song Yuzhi, how could we achieve that?

    Xu Ziling said, I am not averse to assassinate Ren Shaoming. This man has always been notorious, his bad deeds are too many, indeed death cannot wipe out his crimes.

    Kou Zhongs eyes lit up, he said excitedly, Obtaining Ling Shaos approval, things are greatly different. Come! Let us go to Baling first to find Su Jie before discussing this matter further!

    By dusk that day, the city of Baling finally appeared ahead.

    The two boys entered the main road and not long afterward they reached the city gate. They saw a flag fluttering from the top of the city wall with one character Liang embroidered on it. The security was very tight, those who entered the city must show their passes.

    When their turn came, Kou Zhong braced himself to say, We are here to pay a visit to our friend.

    The city guard eyed them up and down before saying, Right now the situation is very tense, all unauthorized people are prohibited from entering the city. Quickly get lost!

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, The friend we are looking for is a Baling Bang people, would officer please make things easy for us? And then leaning closer, he whispered in the guards ear, Would ten taels of silver be enough?

    The soldier coldly sized them up; seeing that the two boys were dressed in coarse peasant clothes, he suddenly shouted, Guards! Help me capture these two spies!

    More than a dozen city guards swarmed over to surround the two boys.

    Kou Zhong waved his hands and said, We are here to find Xiang Yushan; if you dont believe me, just ask him and everything will be clear.

    The soldier asked them in disbelief, Are you really General Xiangs friends?

    This time it was the two boys who looked at each other in disbelief; how could that Xiang kid suddenly become General Xiang?

    Xu Ziling hastily said, That is certainly the case. We will have to trouble Officer to pass on the message, just tell him that Su Jies brothers are here looking for him! He did not dare to report his name, for fear that it might bring unnecessary trouble.

    The soldier stared blankly for a moment, and then said, Turns out Madame Susus relatives. Guards, report to General Xiang immediately!

    Madame Susu! the two boys blurted out.

    The soldier looked at them with an odd expression on his face, Could it be that you dont know your virtuous older sister has married General Xiang?

    The two boys scalp went numb; they could not utter even half a sentence.

    Xiang Yushan, wearing full military regalia, jumped down the horse, walked over to the two boys, and said with great delight, Thank Heaven and thank the Earth! I have been hoping two Dages arrival.

    Seeing how respectful Xiang Yushan was toward these two boys who professed to be relatives and were dressed in coarse peasant garments, also hearing how Xiang Yushan addressed them as Big Brothers, the soldiers were so surprised that they could not keep their mouth shut.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, on the other hand, simply looked at each other with wry smile on their faces; they were not sure how to deal with this Jiefu [older sisters husband].

    However, since family scandal should not be told to outsiders, Kou Zhong wrapped his arm around Xiang Yushans shoulders, and pulled him to enter the city. With a cold humph he said, How could Su Jie be married to you? It must be that you, this kid, used some kind of shady trick to force her!

    Without saying anything Xu Ziling walked on Xiang Yushans other side, so that they formed a left-right guard against him.

    Xiang Yushan hastily said, How can I, Xiang Yushan, be that kind of person? It is possible that your virtuous sister discovered my infatuation toward her and thus she agreed to give herself wholly in marriage to me. Ay! You dont know that each time Madame remembers you, she is so worried that she always cry. It is good that now you are here!

    Kou Zhong stretched out his arm out of his sleeve and said with a wry smile, Did you see this? As soon as you said infatuation, Laozis hair immediately stood up.

    Xiang Yushan was greatly embarrassed; smiling apologetically, he said, If I, Xiang Yushan, tell you even a single word of lies, let the Heaven strike me with lightning.

    Kou Zhong stared ferociously at him and said, If you dare to be capricious toward Su Jie, even if you became the Emperor, I will hunt you down and take your little life. Are we clear?

    Xiang Yushan hurtfully said, How could it be? Two Dage, please dont worry!

    The three of them walked briskly along the street, while behind them about a dozen of Xiang Yushans personal attendants followed on horsebacks, which prompted the passers-by to look at them with raised eyebrows.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling asked, How did you become a general?

    Xiang Yushan was astounded, Havent you heard? he asked, After the muddleheaded ruler was killed, Xiao Er Dangjia [second chief] proclaimed himself to be the Emperor in Baling, taking the title of his dynasty the Great Liang.

    And then he lowered his voice and went on, Er Dangjia is actually the descendant of the Southern Liang Dynastys Emperor Wudi, Xiao Yan, so now he simply reinstated the title of the former days!

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, And he always think highly of you; no wonder your face is glowing.

    Blushing, Xiang Yushan said, That is by two Dages grace, together with Xiaodis own effort, so that now I recovered completely!

    Kou Zhong let go of his arm draped around Xiang Yushans shoulders; he sneered and said, Its good that you know your place and call yourself Xiaodi; dont you ever have any delusion by expecting us to call you Jiefu. Is that right, Ling Shao?

    Xu Ziling spread his arms and smiled wryly, What can I say? he said.

    Kou Zhong gave Xiang Yushan a hard push as if he was venting his anger. Come! he shouted, Let me increase my knowledge by looking at General Xiangs qinggong after you recovered from your injury. If we walked as slow as a snail like this, chances are even after daybreak we still cant see Su Jie.

    Xiang Yushan staggered two steps sideways, but then he shot up and landed on a private citizens house, while the two boys hurriedly gave him a chase.

  20. #80
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 7 - Chapter 9

    Book 7 Chapter 9 Deep Love between Sister and Brothers

    Susus gentle voice came from the inner hall. She seemed to be talking with someone else.

    Even until now, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling have not been able to accept the fact that Susu had been married into the Xiang family. Especially since her husband was this Xiang kid.

    Even if they thought until their brains burst, they could not find anything good in Xiang Yushan that would attract the opposite sex, something that could make Susu fall in love with him.

    The one she loved should be Li Jing.

    Like a whirlwind Xiang Yushan entered the inner hall and cried out, Madame, Bangzhu, look whos here?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who halted their steps outside the door, were greatly astonished; who did Xiang Yushan call Gang Leader?

    Ah! Susus tender voice was heard, followed by another womans voice, Let me look for Su Jie.

    Unexpectedly it was the Jukun Bangs Gang Leader, the Beautiful Shifu Yun Yuzhen.

    She rushed to the door and upon seeing Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, her pretty eyes lit up instantly, while her countenance showed that she was pleasantly surprised. Heavens! she cried out in her tender voice, You are finally here!

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and took a stride forward, reaching out toward her face, he stroked her cheek and said with a laugh, Beautiful Shifu has lost some weight, could it be it was because you missed your disciples?

    Yu Yuzhen revealed a complicated look on her face; both angry and happy, she stared fiercely at this frivolous disciple of hers. In the meantime, Xu Ziling already flitted past these two persons and rushed inside the hall.

    Susu was being helped by Xiang Yushan to rise up from her chair, her face revealed a mixture of disbelief and delight as she cried out in her tender voice, Xiao Zhong! Xiao Ling!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings eyes immediately fell onto her bulging tummy. Everything seemed to be impossible and unreal. It was as if they were deeply lost in some fantastic, bizarre dreamland.

    Finished crying, Susu laughed. Finished laughing, Susu cried again. She was so overwhelmed with emotion that she scared Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who used everything they knew to console her before she was slowly calming down.

    Xiang Yushan ordered his servants to prepare a sumptuous banquet, and let the two boys gorge themselves. Susu, Yun Yuzhen and Xiang Yushan also accompanied them eating a little bit.

    Talking about what happened after they parted, they chatted endlessly.

    Xiang Yushan sighed and said, We escaped the very night just before Danyang fell to Fu Gongyou, Madame adamantly refused to leave, leaving Bangzhu with no choice but to seal her sleeping acupoints. Du Fuwei has always been like fire and water with us; if we were captured by him, we would surely lose our lives. We left a mark outside the brothel door; didnt you see it?

    What mark? Kou Zhong said with a bitter laugh, The building had been burned to the roof.

    Yun Yuzhen said, We waited at Yongshi for the whole month, last thing we heard was that you inflicted great damage to Haisha Bang and Shen Faxing consecutively at Yuhang and Changre. By the time we sent people over to find you, the two of you have already slipped away to who knows where.

    Susus eyes turned red again, she said accusingly, Dont you know how to come looking for me a bit earlier?

    Xu Ziling hastily apologized, We are wrong. We have never thought that you would return to Baling.

    Trying to change the subject, Kou Zhong asked Xiang Yushan, Hows your current situation?

    Our situation is really not bad, Xiang Yushan excitedly replied, We have just taken Yulin and Cangwu, and right now our Right Marshal Dong Jingzhen are fighting over Panyu against the Tieqi Hui. The victor will be the overlord of the South.

    Kou Zhongs spirit was greatly aroused; he said, I was just looking for Ren Shaoming to test my saber. Where is that guy?

    Xiang Yushan and Yun Yuzhen were stunned; they stared blankly at him.

    Xiao Zhong always loved to do dangerous things, Susu said with displeasure, In the south, Ren Shaomings martial art is second only to Heavenly Saber Song Que, he is equally famous with Lin Shihong. Cant you consider it carefully? Jiejie wants you to stay to accompany me. Ay! You dont know how hard it was to worry over you.

    Kou Zhong laughed but did not say anything. Underneath the table he kicked Xu Zilings foot.

    Xu Ziling shook his head slightly, he was unwilling to stick his head out for him.

    Kou Zhong had no choice but to turn to Xiang Yushan to probe further, If you could deal with Ren Shaoming, Panyu would be yours.

    Knitting his brows, Xiang Yushan said, Lets not talk about Ren Shaoming, merely the Left and Right Law Protectors under him, the Evil Monk Fa Nan and the Amorous Nun Chang Zhen are all first class martial art masters. On top of that, nowadays everyone is afraid of being assassinated, so their guard is extremely tight. Even if Ning Daoqi agreed to personally assassinate him, his chance of success would still be extremely low.

    After a short pause, he went on, Tomorrow I am going to submit memorial to His Highness, he has always had deep appreciation toward two Dage, he will certainly put you in important position, and this Madame will not have to worry about two Dage anymore.

    Kou Zhong said indifferently, No need to bother you! We, two brothers, are accustomed to free and easy life, we are not used to listening to anybody elses order.

    And then, ignoring Xiang Yushans disappointed look, he turned toward Yun Yuzhen and said, Beautiful Shifu, what kind of business you are running now?

    Casting a coquettish glance toward him, Yun Yuzhen said, Just menial job delivering goods here and there. Kou Gongzi cant possibly be interested.

    Hearing that, Kou Zhong immediately guessed that having acquired Xiao Xian as big supporter, Jukun Bangs power enjoyed tremendous boost, and now they were bearing the heavy responsibility of transporting supplies for him.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, What a coincidence, we are also in the cargo industry now. Ha! I almost forget to tell Xiang kid I mean, General Xiang. And then he told Xiang Yushan about Duan Yucheng and the others might arrive at Baling any time soon.

    Why didnt you guys travel together? Yun Yuzhen asked in surprise.

    Kou Zhong replied nonchalantly, That muddled-egg Ba Fenghan chased the two of us for several hundred li, how could we go together with them?

    Xiang Yushan and Yun Yuzhen were greatly shocked. Ba Fenghan? they blurted together.

    Is there a problem? Xu Ziling asked in astonishment.

    Susus flowery countenance lost its color, You guys really did not know the immensity of heaven and earth. Ever since Ba Fenghan entered the Central Earth, he consecutively defeated several dozens of martial art masters from famous schools; he triumphed in every battle, his reputation flourishes even above the Four Major Clans. Several times several big schools sent their martial art masters to join hands besieging him, last I heard he was able to leisurely escape while still managed to kill a lot of them. How could you possibly provoke him?

    We are not scared of him, Kou Zhong sneered, Were it not for him joining hands with that Korean Fu Junyu, we could have had him bag his food and leave before he finishes it.

    Xiang Yushan and the others were dumbstruck.

    Yun Yuzhen asked in disbelief, Korean woman Fu Junyu is even more superior to Luocha woman. If she really joined hands with Ba Fenghan, how did you two escape with your lives?

    Kou Zhong stroked her thigh underneath the table, making her charming body tremble slightly. And then he shrugged his shoulders and said, Whats so strange about it? Being hunted and nearly killed was not a proud thing to say, why would we want to toot our horn?

    It was still hard for Xiang Yushan to believe; he asked, Did you fight with them openly?

    Of course we did, Kou Zhong replied, Otherwise we did not need to run his mothers several hundred li, until finally we came to this place.

    While Xiang Yushan and Yun Yuzhen were looking at each other, Susu reproached him, Xiao Zhong! Cant you be a bit more polite? You still cant change your bad habit of using foul language.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, I intentionally used foul language just to hear Jiejies touching tone in reproaching me. Ha!

    Although she was happy inwardly, she glowered at him and said, Xiao Ling is much better than you! So naughty!

    Momentarily the banquet table was rippling with the sincere love between the sister and brothers. The beautiful circumstances when they first met in the past seemed to return this very moment.

    When Xu Ziling woke up the next morning, he felt his entire body, from head to toe, was full with qi. Seeing Susu was safe and sound, and that she had found the home of her own choice, Xu Ziling seemed to put down the big stone weighing his heart.

    Last night as he lay in bed cultivating his internal strength, his mind, qi and spirit entered an unprecedented level of cohesiveness.

    As he lay down, looking at the top of the mosquito net, his mind was focused on the Yijian Sword inspired by Fu Junyu, which was the ideal realm during combat where one was able to grasp all the changes and the constant elements of the overall situation.

    When the two sides were facing each other, it was just like they were scrutinizing each other, inevitably they would be able to home in on the hidden clue. It was the insight that one could only gain via real combat experience, something that would match his own strength.

    Just like the other day Fu Junyus seemingly random and non-threatening sword strikes toward Kou Zhong, yet Kou Zhong was flustered and could only run in circles; simply because she had the insight to gain initiative, just like in chess, each move could make the opponent struggle to cope.

    While he was deep in thought, Susus voice was heard outside the door, Xiao Ling! Are you awake?

    Xu Ziling hastily jumped down the bed, put on his outer robe, and pulled the door open to let Susu in.

    After seated properly, Susu sighed and said, Are you guys angry that Jiejie married Yushan? I dont know why it happened but it did; even though I know that you dont like him, but his character is actually very good.

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, Jiejie is oversensitive. At first we did not like him just because there was a bit misunderstanding, thats all! Afterwards we understood, the sky is already clear after the rain, and now we are happy that Jiejie has found a husband according to your wishes.

    Things have come to this, what else could he say?

    He and Kou Zhong were different.

    Kou Zhong did not like Xiang Yushan because he was unpleasant to the eye; but Xu Ziling did not have favorable impression toward him because he was too smooth and evasive worldly-wise.

    Susu gloomily said, Other than Yushan, Jiejie only has the two of you as my close relatives. But Jiejie knows that your aspiration is a thousand li away, and very soon you will leave me. Ay! Does it have to be like this? Why dont you stay and nurture your career here?

    How could Xu Ziling tell Susu that Kou Zhongs aspiration was to vie over the world and become the emperor? And that while he watched all these changes, his real hope was to roam the world like the wild crane in the clouds?

    While he was at a loss on what to say, Susu went on, Other than Li Mi and Dongming Pai, right now the number of people outside who want to get the Duke Yang Treasure from you is really beyond counting, but you dont give the least bit of thought to your own safety. Tell me, what should Jiejie do?

    Xu Ziling felt a big headache coming. Letting out a forced laugh, he said, I am afraid the number of people who want to kill Ba Fenghan is no less than those who want to kill us, but isnt he still pretty much alive and well? Cant Jiejie not worry about us too much? Just assist your husband and educate the children [idiom] well, when we have spare time, wed definitely come to visit you. Have you thought about your childs name?

    Immediately Susus pretty eyes shone. She laughed and said, Why dont you think for me? See if you can come up with a good name.

    And then as if she suddenly remembered something else, she lowered her voice and said, Does Xiao Zhong really like Yun Bangzhu?

    Xu Ziling found it was getting harder and harder to tell Susu the truth, because the fact was that Kou Zhong was only toying with Yun Yuzhens feeling, just like Yun Yuzhen used to toy with their emotions. You lied to me, I cheated on you, the one to emerge victor[1] has yet to be seen.

    Without any better option he replied vaguely, I am not too clear about what happened between them.

    Susu knitted her beautiful eyebrows anxiously; she said, Although Yun Bangzhu is very competent, she is not an honorable woman; she has a hopelessly muddled relationship with one of the Gongzi of the Dugu Clan, while she also has a secret affair with Hou Xibai. When you have a chance, go talk to Xiao Zhong! You are the only one he would listen to.

    While with his mouth Xu Ziling said yes, in his heart he could only smile bitterly. This sister of his had a very good intention, but her thought was just too nave; she still thought Kou Zhong as a little child. While the real Kou Zhong in front of their eyes was not someone who could be pushed around by anyone, including Xu Ziling.

    Meanwhile Kou Zhong pushed the door and came in. Seeing the two people inside, he immediately roared in laughter and said, I thought Xiao Ling was still asleep, turns out he is already chatting with Su Jie who plays favorite. You are not talking about me, are you?

    Having a guilty conscience, Susus pretty face blushed; she was somewhat at a loss to know what to do.

    Kou Zhong was astounded, You are talking about me! he said.

    Xu Ziling sneered, What if we talked about you? he said, Su Jie is very concerned about you, she is afraid you might fall into some bad guys trap.

    Kou Zhong immediately understood. Laughing involuntarily, he walked over to an empty chair and sat down. Finally we, the three sister and brothers, meet again! he said with a sigh.

    With a slightly trembling voice Susu said, Can you stay here for a few days longer? Just consider it Jiejie is beseeching you.

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, Tonight we are going by boat to Jiujiang. Supposing everything went well, we will be back in a few days.

    Susu was stunned, What are you going to do at Jiujiang? she asked, Does Yushan know?

    Jiujiang was a strategic town at the confluence of Lake Poyang and Yangtze River. Currently it was under Lin Shihongs power. Going downstream from Baling, it could be reached within two days time.

    Naturally Xu Ziling was able to guess that Kou Zhong wanted to take the advantage while the salt goods was still on its way to accomplish the assassination mission of the unapproachable Ren Shaoming without making any noise.

    If he could really kill Ren Shaoming and afterwards could escape safely, undoubtedly he would gain formidable renown to give him authority over the world.

    And after gaining the reputation, naturally everything would go smoothly and easily [orig. what the heart wishes, the hand accomplishes].

    Moreover, this way he could also crush Lin Shihong and Ren Shaomings alliance in dominating the south. Kou Zhong indeed had rigorous schemes and deep foresight.

    If the South really fell into Kou Zhongs hands, he would advance to Guanzhong and seize it, and then the various powers in the north could only clench their fists in envy.

    Kou Zhong revealed a confident smile as he spoke softly, At the end of the day I am doing this for Su Jie. Both Lin Shihong and Ren Shaoming could go to Jiujiang to formalize their alliance. If this matter is accomplished, their first order of business would be to forge ahead and take down Baling; therefore, this matter must be broken at the earliest possible time. It was Jiejies fujun [lit. husband lord] who told me, he also made the arrangement for us. Do you think he is aware of it or not?

    Susus countenance changed, How could Yushan let you brave this danger? she said, No! I am going to talk to him.

    Xu Ziling pulled her tender lily-white hand, and said in all earnestness, Jiejie please dont worry, what Xiao Zhong said is right; if we dont break Lin-Ren alliance earlier, the South will become a one-sided situation. Even the Song Clan who is far away south at Lingnan will be powerless to stand on their feet, let alone your Baling Bang.

    Xu Ziling very rarely parroted Kou Zhong. Although he knew that it was mainly for Susus sake, Kou Zhong was still very happy, Xiao Ling is right! he said excitedly, Su Jie! Trust us! After cutting of Ren Shaomings stinky head, we will come back to accompany Jiejie for several days before heading north.

    Someone knocked the door. Xiang Yushan came in and said, After breakfast, we will go to the Palace to see His Highness. Two Dage, what do you say?

    Under the escort of a dozen or so Xiang Yushans personal guards, Kou Zhong, along with Yun Yuzhen, Xiang Yushan and Xu Ziling, divided into two rows, galloped their horses out of the General Mansion toward the Imperial Palace, which was originally the Zongguan Mansion that the Liang Dynastys Emperor Xiao Xian rebuilt and refurbished.

    Because Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were so eager to see Susu the previous day, plus it was already evening, they did not pay any attention to the citys scenery. It was only this morning that they found the city to be remarkable.

    On the north, the city stood against the Yangtze River, on the west it bordered the large commercial hub of Dongting city. The scale was quite grand. The city was square-shaped, with the crossing main street as the central axis. The streets, alleys, and buildings were neat and orderly, most of the houses facing the street had covered veranda, which functioned as a shade in hot summer days and protection from rain during rainy season. Not only it provide convenience for the pedestrians, it also gave cozy and intimate feeling.

    All houses had faade with decorative carved pattern, which showed that the residents were well off, everybody lived in peace and worked happily.

    Because Baling Bang has always had close relationship with the Sui Dynasty, they enjoyed the domination over the county towns in the surrounding area. Xiao Xian himself was originally a local official, hence he enjoyed the support of the local rich families and members of the gentry.

    Since Emperor Yang has died, it was only natural that Baling Bang took control over the local situation, while the county citizens were only too happy to celebrate; therefore, unlike the other gangs and societies who had to go through struggle and the fire of war, the county was able to preserve its strength, and has become the most advantageous condition for the Baling Bangs newly founded Liang Dynasty in their contend for hegemony over the world.

    Currently there were six big powers in the South.

    The one with the most flourishing prestige was Du Fuwei and Fu Gongyous Jianghuai Army, which occupied Liyang and Danyang, two big strategic towns. But since for the time being they had to deal with the powers from the north, they had no time to expand southward.

    Although Li Zitong occupied Jiangdu, but since Emperor Yang and the Sui Army made a mess of things, their strength suffered a huge setback, so that they appeared strong, but in reality was quite weak.

    Shen Faxings Jiangnan Army was at the Southeast, but since the northwest route was blocked by Li Zitong and Du Fuwei, and the south was prominently under Guangdongs Song Clans control, it was difficult for him to make any move.

    Therefore, the conflict in the South has become the stage for the two big powers, Lin Shihong and Xiao Xian, who refused to concede to each other. Presently the balance of power was leaning toward Lin Shihong, simply because he had Tieqi Huis help. From this, it was clear that the Green Dragon Ren Shaoming was a crucial factor in the southern arena.

    Kou Zhong was able to see through this, hence he came to Song Yuzhi to strike a deal.

    If it were any other condition, the Song Clan would not be interested.

    This moment everybody was riding along a span of street lined with two-story buildings on both sides. Xu Ziling looked up to enjoy the richly ornamented, carved with fancy patterns, windows and eaves. While the bustling atmosphere of the city gave him an unspeakable feeling, there was another extremely familiar sensation that suddenly bubbled up in his heart.

    The same sensation that he felt just before the Shadow Assassin Yang Xuyan mounted a sneak attack.

    That instant he knew that Yang Xuyan has arrived.

    [1] The victor: orig. to whom the deer falls. Coincidentally, Jin Yong has a rather elaborate explanation on this subject. If you are interested, please check the Deer and Cauldron, Chapter 1, translated by yours truly.

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