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

  1. #101
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 9 Chapter 5

    Book 9 Chapter 5 Room for Hegemony

    West and south of Jingling County, the Yangtze River and its two tributaries, the Zhang Shui and the Ju Shui form a delta of fertile land. As the two rivers flowing through, they irrigate good agricultural land on both sides, before finally converge into the Great River.

    The climate here is mild, the soil fertile, natural resources abundant. Flying Horse Ranch was located in such open country. The pasture was particularly rich, all four sides were bordered by mountains, surrounding a fertile land of more than ten li in either direction. There were only two gorges to the east and to the west providing access. The ranch was an inaccessible stronghold with the protection of natural barriers.

    After entering the mountain pass with the team of riders, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling reached the mountain ridge where they could have a birds-eye view of the ranch. They saw piece after piece of cultivated lands, big and small, were covering the valley below, forming beautiful patterns like a quilt; they could not help feeling carefree and relaxed.

    On the pasture full of beautiful colors: dark green, light green, umber-black dye, in all kinds of hues stitched together, more than a dozen mirror-like lakes of various shapes and sizes dotted the land. The deep-green color of the water of the lakes vying against the dark-green color of the grass to be the most glamorous, with their flowing light and overflowing color, full of life and beauty that the two boys held their breath in admiration.

    No matter from whichever angle they looked, the border of the grassland was an endless line of undulating mountain peaks, stretching as far as their eyes could see.

    In this fairy-land that resembled the Garden of the Peaches of Immortality, countless poultry and livestock roamed around freely: white sheep, brown or grey cows, all kinds of horses; adding even more color to the already-saturated beautiful prairie.

    The northwest corner was comparatively higher than the rest. A magnificent castle was built there, with its back against the steep wall of ten thousand fathoms precipice, and its front overlooking a winding-like-a-piece-of-ribbon brook, making it even more spectacular.

    By this time everybody dismounted from the horses and continued on foot. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling walked in the middle; looking around, they were ecstatic, almost felt that this trip has not been made in vain.

    The things Kou Zhong noted were the construction of the fortress and its strategic points, as well as the sentry platforms and lookout stations, while Xu Ziling was single-mindedly enjoying the beautiful and picturesque scenery.

    The exit to the gorge was equipped with a city gate tower, with a trench, three zhang wide and five zhang deep dug in front of it, crossing the gorge outlet. The bottom of the trench was full of sharp spikes, so the only way in was via the drawbridge. It was indeed a one man can defend it, ten thousand men cannot cross situation.

    Upon entering the grazing land, it was obvious that Liu Zongdao and the others became more relaxed; everybody was chatting and laughing loudly as if they had just laid down the heavy burden on their backs.

    Mounting their horses again, they galloped toward the castle along the gravel road.

    Different types of farm animals were separated by wooden fence. The shepherds were rushing back and forth between the wooden fence, shouting repeatedly. The farmers were working quietly on the fields, occasionally the low mooing of the plowing ox blended with the neighing of the horses and the bleating of the sheep.

    Along the way, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling gained further understanding of this seemingly standing-aloof-from-worldly-affairs Flying Horse Ranch.

    The founder of this Flying Horse Ranch, the first generation Ranch Master Shang Xiong was a military leader from the end of the Jin Dynasties [265-420AD]. When Liu Yu broke away from Jin and changed the countrys name to Song [of the Southern dynasties (420-479)], the world split up.

    Avoiding the disaster of war, Shang Xiong led his troops and clansmen to go down south, and by chance found this hidden valley. Thereupon they decided to live in peace and work happily in here, establishing the Ranch.

    From the time the Ranch was founded to the time the Sui Dynasty unified the world, spanning a period of 160 years, the Flying Horse Ranch has had seven different Ranch Master, all from the Shang family clan, passing down from generation to generation, and all had supreme power over the Ranch.

    As for the other clans, namely Liang, Liu, Tao, Wu, Xu, Luo, and the others, after more than a century they multiplied and continuously moved out to the surrounding area, forming the villages and towns around the Ranch, so much so that the majority residents of the two big cities by Ju Shui, Yuanan and Dangyang, were originated from Flying Horse Ranch.

    Flying Horse Ranch was also the economic lifeblood of the region. Their product, excellent quality horses, was world-famous. Yet because the Ranch Masters always adhered to the teachings of their ancestors, they did not participate in Jianghu matters, as well as got involved in imperial court. Maintaining a low-key work ethic, they had always been businesspeople; hence the reason Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling never heard about them.

    The first generation Ranch Master Shang Xiong was of military background, with deep understanding of punching and kicking principles; hence he encouraged his subordinates and clansmen to research and study martial arts, promoting martial style throughout, so that everybody in the Ranch was strong, brave and adept in warfare, unafraid of bandits and robbers from the outside, and became a force able to ensure the peace and safety of the region, and thus won the veneration of the citizens of the cities and towns in the vicinity. It was somewhat similar to the role of Duba Village toward Jingling.

    Whenever the Flying Horse Ranch was in need of staff, they usually recruited new people from the surrounding area; it was very rare that they would seek employees from different part of the country.

    But this time it was a special case; first of all, it was due to Liu Zongdao had a favorable impression as soon as he saw the two boys, but probably more importantly, it was because the Pastry Chef of the Ranch had passed away recently, and none of the new recruits was able to satisfy the female Ranch Master Shang Xiuxuns taste buds. Consecutively more than ten different people have been discharged, prompting Liu Zongdao to invite the two boys to try.

    Seen from the front, the Flying Horse mountain city was even more impressive.

    The city wall was built following the topography of the mountain, constructed from uneven pile of rocks; it wound and snaked, and went up and down along the steep terrain. Behind the city was bare stratified rock, with cavities perched high into the sky, so that even flying birds would find it difficult to cross.

    The troops crossed the river via the suspension bridge, and entered the city. All the bridge guards treated them amiably and enthusiastically, in friendly atmosphere, giving the impression that they were all members of one big family living in harmony with each other.

    Beyond the city gate was a wide street sloping upwards, extending to the Ranch Masters inner castle at its highest point. On either side of the road was an unbroken line of houses, with streets and alleys all connected to the sloping road; a distinct characteristic of a mountain city.

    Pedestrians and carriages traveled back and forth along the road, as majestic as a thriving metropolis. Flocks of children played noisily, making Kou and Xu to open their eyes wide and click their tongues in wonder, since they had never imagined that such a happy place really existed in the world.

    All the buildings were plain and simple, constructed mainly of rocks, but the model was spacious. Bell-shaped pavilions, decorated archways and doors heavily lined up both sides of the road; plain, unadorned design that clearly defined the grand and heroic spirit of the establishment of the city.

    The scale of the inner castle was even grander; the main building complex consisted of five layers of halls and pavilions, plus another side palace hall colonnade. Buildings of various sizes were spread out within the castle complex, everything clear and in good order, linked together by gardens and shrubberies, small bridges and fountains and waterfalls; elegant and graceful.

    Upon entering the castle, Liu Zongdao and the old man Xu took the good horses from outside the northern border to see the Ranch Master, but Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling was led by the young fellow Luo Fang toward the Housekeeper Mansion to report for duty.

    Due to their lowly position, naturally the two boys did not have the qualification to see the Housekeeper, Shang Zhen. Therefore, they were received by his assistant, Liang Qian, who was in charge of personnel affairs.

    This man was around forty-years old, dressed in scholar attire. At first his manner was arrogant, but after hearing Luo Fangs explanation that these two were the Pastry Chef recommended personally by Liu Zongdao, he became rather polite.

    After routine interview of the two boys background, Liang Qian said seriously, There is one thing that I must make it clear to the two of you: unless Changzhu [Ranch Master] nods her consent, gentlemens employment here is only probationary. During this probation period, unless under someone elses escort, you are not allowed to leave your lodging house. After you are officially employed here, I will personally go through the Ranchs rules and regulations with you.

    Kou Zhong said excitedly, A country has national laws, a house has family rules; this aspect, we understand clearly. Its just that when can we showcase our unique talents, so that Changzhu get a taste of the goodies we can produce?

    After casting a sidelong glance toward the two boys, Liang Qian asked Luo Fang, who was standing on the side, What was Liu Zhishis comment on their products?

    Luo Fang replied awkwardly, Er Zhishi has not tasted their handicraft.

    Liang Qian stared blankly for half a day. His countenance changed, he said, Why didnt you tell me earlier? If Changzhu blamed me for dereliction of duty, who would have pity on me?

    Smiling apologetically, Kou Zhong said, Liang Fu Guanjia [Deputy Housekeeper] may rest assured that we

    Less bullsh1t, Liang Qian cut him off impatiently, Right now Ill have someone take you to have some rest. After making some arrangement, Ill have someone bring you to the kitchen to see what can you do? Well talk again after you pass my test.

    After a pause, he went on with a sympathetic tone, I want you to be well aware of the situation: I lost track of how many Pastry Chefs, all with experience over ten years more than you have, plus outstanding reputation, yet they absolutely had no luck in this matter at all. Men! Take Xiao Ning and Xiao Ling to the courtyard of the Rear Castle.

    And then, turning to Luo Fang he said, You are dismissed!

    ※ ※ ※

    The courtyard was located east of the Rear Castle. There were more than a dozen buildings in it, and next to it was precisely the kitchen that supplied food to the people of the Inner Castle, from top to bottom. The two boys were placed in a small room in one of the buildings; they also had to change into low-rank Flying Horse Ranch uniform.

    Sprawling on the bed, Xu Ziling grumbled, Thousands and tens of thousands names in the world, why must you pick Fu Jing? People are calling me Xiao Jing, Xiao Jing; so awkward, like I turned into a woman. It also reminded me of Dong Ming Princess. [Reminder: same Jing character as Shan Wanjings name.]

    Kou Zhong was leaning against the window, looking out. He said proudly, You are Xiao Jing, and I am Xiao Ning; both reminded us of people we ought to forget; we are even. Ay! Why am I thinking about these things at time like this? I was just inventing crazy nonsense and blurting out those names, I thought we only had to tell them and be done with it.

    And then he became excited as he said, That day in Cui Shan town when we worked for Ol Zhang, he often bragged that his dumpling oil rice, jade-well rice are peerless under the heavens [see Book 1 Chapter 9], and now we can confirm whether he indeed has bragging rights.

    Xu Ziling chided him gently, You are right; Ol Zhang often bragged about his rice dishes, but he had never said his pastries were anything amazing. Ay! You, this kid, also love to brag, and this time you are implicating me that I have to share the humiliation with you.

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day. Like a wandering soul he walked over to the bed and sat down. Logically speaking, Ol Zhangs pastries cant be that lacking, he muttered to himself, At least, I think so. Hey! I think they are all very tasty!

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, Other than being good at consoling yourself, what else can you do? Have you forgotten what that rotten ghost scholar surnamed Liang told us that there are a lot of outstanding pastry chefs who had been sacked and sent home to till their fields? Ol Zhang is just like you; he loves to brag. Rice dishes he may have a skill or two, but pastry? Ill say even by patting the horses bottom he wont be able to catch up with big citys or big towns famous masters.

    Kou Zhongs countenance changed, What should we do? he asked.

    Xu Ziling said in an unusual tone, If you really want to be Pastry Chef in here, I may be able to accompany you. What I am most afraid of is if you are coveting others ranch, and here to obtain both riches and sex. If thats the case, please forgive Xiaodi for not be able to keep you company!

    Kou Zhongs old face turned slightly red; he said in embarrassment, Can you not paint me in such an unbearably light? Most probably that Shang Xiuxun is just another Zhai Jiao; nothing to look at. I only want to build a good relationship with her, so that when I buy horses from her in the future, I can get a bit more discount. Thats all!

    Staying calm and composed, Xu Ziling said, Whatever you say, its useless. First thing tomorrow morning we have to get out of here; I forbid you from looking at her even for a glance.


    Kou Zhong pummeled Xu Zilings thigh and cried out, You have to think of something for me!

    Ow! Xu Ziling cried out in pain and dropped back onto the bed. Stroking the sore spot, he moaned, You wanted to kill me?

    Kou Zhong was skeptical, Based on your, Ling Shaos power this day and age, a gentle slap could give you that much pain?

    Xu Ziling angrily replied, Your Niangs gentle slap carried the strength of a vortex of qi. You nearly broke through the qi protecting my body.

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong was about to speak, when a young womans voice was speaking angrily from outside the door, Whos making a big fuss inside? Get your @ss out here right now!

    Stunned, the two boys looked at each other.

    The woman shouted again in her tender voice, If you dont get out, Ill come in and youll be sorry!

    Were coming! Were coming! Kou Zhong replied, Miss, please calm down, we are just goofing around here!

    The woman said in heavy voice, The two of you are newcomers from the outside, you think our Ranch is the place to goof around? More bullsh1t and you will be rewarded with ten sticks each according to our rules.

    Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in dismay before rushing to the door and out to the corridor.

    Standing under the sunshine was a tall and thin, with slender waist like a willow tree, middle-aged woman. Although her overall appearance could be considered all right, her hollow cheeks were dry and heavy, as if she could fly into a rage at any time. With frosty countenance she stared at them.

    Her clothes were of gorgeous silk, but it did nothing to help her lack of luster, just like it was hung on the bamboo pole to dry under the sun.

    Standing behind her was a little maid that looked pretty and pleasant; she was secretly sizing up the two boys in curiosity, her eyes showed sympathy.

    Kou Zhong cupped his fist to salute and said, This is

    Without any trace of politeness the tall and thin woman cut him off, You must be Fu Jing and Fu Ning. Looking at your smell-of-mothers-milk-not-yet-dried appearance, how much experience can you possibly have? Er Zhishi is an astute man, but sometimes he is muddleheaded, unexpectedly he got you, these two useless people to waste my precious time.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were broadminded people, they could not possibly lower themselves to her level; thereupon they kept silent and ignored her insults.

    The more the woman cursed, the more her anger rose; she grumbled, Just yesterday I sent people to Yiling to send gifts and invite the most famous Pastry Chef in the area to come and serve Changzhu, but now you, two kids who dont know the immensity of heaven and earth, came to mess things up. This is really irritating!

    The two boys suddenly understood, the reason this woman was so unfriendly was because of rivalry. She wanted to be in charge of hiring and firing kitchen workers, but the people she hired failed to satisfy the Ranch Masters taste, hence she lost face big time.

    This time, supposing the Second Manager Liu Zongdao succeeded in recommending these two boys, wouldnt she lost even more face? In view of this, Liu Zongdao was not as simple as he looked to be.

    Three or four young male servants congregated at the corridor on the other side of the courtyard, busily gesticulating at the two boys, in a taking-joy-in-calamity-and-delight-in-disaster manner.

    However, even under this vicious womans lashing out without leaving them any room to maneuver, the two boys remained calm and composed, like even if they were being scolded for three days and three nights, they would not be impatient.

    More and more people heard the commotion and came to watch, filling the corridors around the courtyard. A large group of children, who were playing in the vicinity, also rushed in, creating a very lively scene.

    Xu Ziling noticed that one of the children, a little girl was staring at him curiously, seemingly unable to take her pair of big eyes off of him; he could not help smiling at her.

    The woman angrily scolded him, Are you listening to me?

    Bashfully the little girl hid behind her friend. Xu Zilings tiger-eyes flashed with cold rays; he looked straight into the womans eyes and unfazed, he said, We are hired to make cakes and pastries, not to receive your insults. Besides, why speak so much nonsense? Wont testing our skill be enough? Whats more, we dont even know who you are. If you think we are unsuitable, why not confront Liu Er Zhishi directly?

    With Xu Zilings piercing gaze on her, the woman immediately felt as if she was burning in a scorching flame; her arrogance was gone instantly. Furthermore, considering the opposite partys response was reasonable, neither haughty nor humble, momentarily she was stumped.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, We still dont know how to address Auntie.

    The vicious woman finally regained her composure. Letting out a cold snort, she said, I am in charge of the general affairs of the kitchen; everybody calls me Lan Gu [(paternal) auntie Orchid]. Hey! Come with me! I want to see what amazing skill you have. Finished speaking she stormed away.

    Kou Zhong put on an act by bowing respectfully with clasped hands in four directions, just like a performer expressing his gratitude to the audience, which immediately prompted a roar of laughter.

    Lan Gu did not look back, but her originally-lacking-color face became even more pale from anger.

    ※ ※ ※

    The two-storied building they called kitchen was actually made up of twelve kitchen units. Working in this place were the chefs and their subordinates, amounting to more than sixty people: chefs, assistants, apprentices, and kitchen helpers; each position was clearly identified, and everything was under Lan Gus supervision.

    One unit, called the Upper Kitchen, specialized in supplying meals for the Ranch Master, Housekeeper, and other important personnel of the Ranch, and was further divided into four stations: east, south, west and north. The south station was Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings pastry section.

    Still fuming, Lan Gu took the two boys to this place, and then with a wooden face said, Before the day you are officially hired, you must not roam around anywhere. Otherwise, if you offend the Ranchs rules, even Er Zhishi wont be able to protect you.

    Noticing that in their station, other than the steamer basket to make pastries, knives and cutting board, stove and other kitchen tools, the table was as empty as anything, Kou Zhong asked, Where can we get the ingredients?

    Struggling hard to keep her temper under control, Lan Gu ordered the pretty maid standing to her left, Xiao Juan! See if they need anything, and then let Uncle Gu know. Understand?

    With her head hung low, Xiao Juan acknowledged the order, but she could not help stealing a glance toward the two boys, while a delighted expression appeared on the corners of her mouth.

    I want to see what kind of trick you are going to play, Lan Gu muttered to herself. Finished speaking, she left without looking back.

    The three people looked at each other. Pfft! Xiao Juan suddenly burst into tender laughter and said, I am waiting for two Big Masters instruction!

    Kou Zhong sat on the edge of the stove. After scrutinizing Xiao Juan for quite a while, he smiled and said, Xiao Juan Jie [elder sister] is really pretty.

    Xiao Juans jade cheeks immediately turned as red as sunset clouds; half delighted half angered, she cast him a hateful look and said, If only I had known earlier that this person cant be serious.

    Folding his arms in front of his chest, Xu Ziling went to the door, looked out all around, and said with a wry smile, Wed better get out of here as soon as possible! How could Lan Gu be willing to give us highest quality ingredients? This is called even the cleverest housewife cannot cook without rice.

    With a serious expression Xiao Juan said, Two Xiao Shifu need not be worry! You have the support of Er Zhishi behind your back, no matter what Lan Gu wont dare to play tricks in this regard, not to mention she basically does not believe that you can make any cake that will satisfy Changzhus taste.

    Does Xiao Juan Jie believe? Kou Zhong asked slyly.

    Hanging her head down, Xiao Juan chuckled lightly, and then shook her head slightly. But then she looked up with a puzzled expression on her face, You dont seem to be nervous at all, she commented, Could it be that you really have full confidence?

    Kou Zhong breathed out a sigh and said, Speaking about taste, everybody is different. Even if you get the Chief of Imperial Kitchen who previously served that muddleheaded ruler to come over here, your honorable Changzhu might still be dissatisfied.

    Xiao Juan turned her gaze toward Xu Ziling, who was still leaning against the door, looking out. Xiao Shifu, what are you looking at? she wondered.

    Xu Ziling was focusing his power onto his ears, trying to eavesdrop the conversation in the other stations. Hearing the question, he replied indifferently, Nothing. I am just looking around. As long as you are willing to look attentively, youll be able to see a lot of things.

    Xiao Juan seemed to understand, but she did not really understand. Nodding her head, she sat down on a chair at the side. Knitting her jet-black eyebrows, she said, I am still waiting for two Xiao Shifus instruction. Hmm! But you really dont look like Pastry Chefs; you look more like chivalrous heroes and warriors.

    Turning toward Kou Zhong, she said, The saber behind your back is not just for decoration, is it? Why not get good knives that are more decent?

    Kou Zhong changed the subject, Isnt Xiao Juan Jie Lan Gus trusted aide? Why do you seem to be very willing to help us out?

    Pouting her pretty mouth, Xiao Juan replied with a little disdain in her voice, Whos her trusted aide? I am Fu Dajies [big sister] subordinate. Were it not for Fu Dajie sending me to tell Lan Gu to have you make pastries, she could have been leaving you forgotten, or perhaps even forcing you to leave.

    Whos Fu Dajie? Kou Zhong wondered.

    Xiao Juan proudly said, She is Miss must trusted person, the head of the maids of our Changzhus mansion.

    And then, lowering her voice, she added, And she is in good terms with your good friend, that Luo Fang bro. I dont need to tell you why she is willing to keep an eye on you, do I?

    Kou Zhong suddenly understood what was going on.

    Xu Ziling cheerfully said, We need three catties of dragon eye flour, a bottle of cows curdled milk broth, ten strips of white lotus roots, eight taels of fresh lotus seeds He listed a string of ingredients in one breath.

    Xiao Juan took note of everything, cast a sweet smile toward the two boys, and happily left.

    Stupefied, Kou Zhong asked, Arent those the ingredients for cool-breeze rice, dumpling oil rice, and jade-well rice?

    Xu Ziling calmly sat down and said, Exhaustion drives changes, changes drives breakthrough. Just now I overheard that not only Shang Xiu Xun is a glutton, she also loves to try novel things. So well make cakes that even we have not tasted yet. After she has tasted it, shell definitely have a second thought. Zhong Shifu, do you understand?

  2. #102
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 9 Chapter 6

    Book 9 Chapter 6 Beauty As Fair As Jade

    Sweet aroma from the pastry kitchen permeated the whole place.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at the new strange-looking cake they pan-fried with butter, both were radiant with delight. But when the former scooped up some, the cake, which aroma was so tempting, torn apart immediately. The two boys wanted to cry, but they had no tears.

    They have worked hard all afternoon, but until the sun set over the western hills, they still did not have any cakes.

    The most annoying thing was that Liang Qian, Big Sister Fu and Lan Gu repeatedly sent their people to urge them, adding urgency to this matter.

    The good ol cake seemed to give them more headaches than Wanwan.

    Kou Zhong said, We might as well make these cake ingredients as stuffing, wrap it in dough mixed with bean flour. After flattening it, well use peeled sesame seed to pick it up and evenly deep fry its egg in the wok; I guarantee it will be sweet smelling, crispy and tasty.

    Xu Ziling crossly said, Whats the difference from molded flaky pastry then? Wed better use the steamer basket; after heating the spices, it will also emit sweet aroma without compromising its natural flavor.

    This moment Lan Gu entered the kitchen. Feigning surprise look, she said, Whats that in the ladle? Are you going to make deep-fried cake, or thin porridge?

    Kou Zhong struggled hard to restrain the fire in his belly; he glowered at Lan Gu, making the latter immediately felt chill all over her body, so that she was trembling uncontrollably. Like a defeated hen she went out obediently.

    Regaining his composure, Kou Zhong said, Perhaps we should separately try pan fry, deep fry, roast, and steam, four different methods, making four different cakes. As long as there is one that that poniang [woman (derog.), b1tch; see Book 1] think its tasty, wont we be able to redeem our face? Once I think about Lan Gu, that b1tch, I feel like we should not lose this battle.

    Xu Ziling agreed, Let me make some deep-fried pancake with fresh savory taro flavor. You think about the other three flavors.

    This moment Xiao Juan came; the two boys hurriedly pleaded with her to get more ingredients.

    ※ ※ ※

    By the time the two boys sat down, both mentally and physically exhausted, four different new cakes emerged.

    Xiao Juan clapped and cheers. Picking the tray up, she said, Ill take this to Fu Dajie. Mmm! Smells really good! Just by looking at them I know they are sweet, crispy and tasty.

    The two boys sprang up at once. One on her left, the other on her right, they walked out with her.

    Stunned, Xiao Juan halted her steps, What are you doing?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Such a precious thing, how can we not escort it personally? If someone should add any strange material to it along the way, wont we be finished?

    Xiao Juan laughed tenderly and said, It is well covered; how could anybody play a trick? Who would have such guts? But if you want to roam around, just come with nujia [I, your servant] then.

    A shadow flashed, Liang Qian barred their way, and said crossly, I have not tasted it, where are you taking it?

    Sticking out her silky breasts, Xiao Juan said, This is Fu Dajies order; as soon as it is done, I must bring it to Changzhu while it is still warm. Its none of your business.

    Obviously Liang Qian was rather afraid of Big Sister Fu; as soon he heard that, he was stunned and could only stare blankly.

    Lan Gus voice was heard from the side, You two forgot the rules? Who gave you permission to roam around randomly?

    Xu Ziling replied indifferently, We are people who abide by the rules, right now we have Xiao Juan Jie leading the way, how can it be regarded as roaming around randomly?

    The three people boldly marched forward, leaving the angry-until-their-faces-were-devoid-of-any-color Liang Qian and Lan Gu standing behind.

    Ranch Master Shang Xiuxuns residence was called the Flying Horse Courtyard, located in the middle of the Inner Castle. It consisted of more than thirty buildings, surrounded by wind-and-fire wall all around, constructed of brick and wood.

    The two boys followed Xiao Juan into the courtyard via the back door, passing through a nine-bend corridor attached to the buildings. As they walked along, their eyes feasted on garden sceneries, one seemed to be more beautiful from another. Far and near the buildings were of different heights, strewn at random among the wooded area, a picture of elegance and rustic blended in harmony.

    The most unique aspect was that due to the manors elevation, occasionally they were able to catch a glimpse of the beautiful pasture below the Flying Horse City extending endlessly into the distance. Under the dim light of the crescent moon, it looked even more serene and peaceful.

    Along the way, they encountered numerous maids, servants and mansion guards; all were staring at them politely, but with Xiao Juan, a maid close to their Ranch Master, leading the way, plus the two boys were wearing pastry chef attire, everybody knew that they were the newcomers and thus nobody was giving them any trouble.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were not people who had not seen the world, but seeing the hall and the other main buildings construction, their style and raised beam type and the roof beam structure, with their fitting delicately carved eaves beam components and the gorgeously ever-changing trim of the corridors, which strengthened the sense of depth, the landscape garden lining it, has sparked the penetrating, serene feeling hidden deep within their hearts.

    The three of them walked through gates and passed doors, sometimes one or two atriums and winding corridors, until finally Xiao Juan took them into a reception hall. Putting the cakes down on a round table, she said, You sit here for a moment, I going to notify Fu Dajie.

    After Xiao Juan left, Xu Ziling sat down quietly, while Kou Zhong looked around everywhere. He looked at the western garden scenery outside the window on the other side of the room; he also looked at the structure of the buildings, as well as leaning out of the window to look at the adjacent room, which happened to be a study room.

    The study room was furnished with mahogany furniture; there were Four Treasures of the Study on the table [i.e. brush, ink stick, paper and ink-stone]. Leaning against the wall was a shelf full of antique knickknacks. Under the illumination of a palace-style lantern, he could see a roll of rhyming couplet hanging on one side of the wall, on it were written There is delight in the Five Confucian relationships [ruler-subject, father-son, brother-brother, husband-wife, friend-friend]; apart from the Six Classics [Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Rites, Book of Music, Book of Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals], there is no other literary works. But he did not see anybody.

    Walking back to Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong sat down by his side and said, Looks like not only this Changzhu is a poetic individual, she has some scholarly knowledge as well. But there is also a tiny bit of lone flower admiring itself feeling on her. I just hope she does not look like Zhai Jiao!

    Displeased, Xu Ziling said, Being born ugly is not a sin. Zhai Jiaos fate is pitiful, it would be best if you dont joke about her.

    Kou Zhong nodded to acknowledge the admonishment, Yes! he said, I was wrong!

    Xu Ziling was emotionally moved. This is perhaps one of your strengths, he said, You are willing to admit mistake, and can learn something from it. Just like recently you love to talk about compassion, duty, propriety and integrity, just because I often accused you of being too exploitative; is that right?

    Embarrassed, Kou Zhong said, You, this kid, are making fun of me.

    Xu Ziling looked out the window, at the garden reflecting the moon and the lantern light; smiling, he said, You are right. This Shang Xiuxun is definitely not an ordinary person. Just look at the layout of the rockery and amazing stones, and the ingenious arrangement of the wintersweet [chimonanthus praecox], the Japanese banana [musa basjoo], the wisteria, the osmanthus flowers; none did not appear as stereoscopic image standing right in front of the window, making people ponder endlessly. From this you could tell that she is brilliant.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, And dont forget that she really knows how to eat.

    And then he turned around and leaned over and said in a low voice, If she is as beautiful as Shan Wanjing, would Xu Ye give her your consideration? Based on your moral standing, outward appearance and martial art skill, you should be a good catch. Hey!

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, It would be best if I married both Shan Wanjing and Shang Xiuxun; that way, by the time you are striking the world, when you need weapons youll get weapons, and when you need warhorses youll get warhorses!

    Having his foxs tail revealed, Kou Zhongs big eyes lit up as he said, Good idea! Aiyo!

    Xu Ziling withdrew the fist he struck Kou Zhongs thigh with and said, You should know whats called vortex power by now, ha! How can I be as unethical as you are?

    Suddenly they heard barely audible sound of footsteps.

    The two boys looked at each other, and both could see the surprised look on each others face.

    Turned out the sound of footsteps came from the Riders Building connected to this reception hall, which was less than a zhang away from the door. That is to say that the newcomer was within two zhang from them before they started to detect her presence.

    Definitely it was not the sound of Xiao Juans familiar footsteps. This adorable girl has come and gone their pastry kitchen no less than twenty times today; they could even replay it in their mind.

    This persons qinggong was superior, definitely not below Fu Junyus.

    At this thought, the two boys scalp went numb as they watch the door, thinking that it would be really terrible if Fu Junyu really showed up.

    Then the two boys eyes lit up.

    A young woman, with multifarious bearings, whose jet-black and beautiful hair cascaded down like two streams of waterfall on her fragrant shoulders, which looked like they were carved by a knife, whose beauty was extraordinary, which probably was comparable to Wanwans, who was dressed in tight warrior outfit, stepped into the room. She did not seem surprised at the two boys presence.

    Her simple and elegant outfit highlighted her outstanding face and her shiny sun-bronzed skin and tender and lovely flesh, which exuded a burning hot youthfulness and enviable health.

    Her pair of beautiful eyes was unfathomably deep, her thick eyelashes were adding more mystery to her phoenix eyes, which were rippling like the most fragrant and richest wine brewed by the immortals.

    While Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were looking at her, dumbstruck, she gracefully walked over to the best seat across from the two boys and sat down. Stretching out her slender lily-white hand under her gauze dress, she opened the lid of the tray, took a quick look of whats inside, wrinkled her pretty, straight, and small nose, and said, The aroma is ordinary, but the outward appearance is very unique, because I have never seen an ugly delicatessen like this.

    Greatly surprised, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other, and then they scrambled to stand up and salute her. Changzhu! they exclaimed, Please forgive our disrespect!

    Without even looking at them, Shang Xiuxun put the lid on the side, and grabbed one of the cakes, put it in front of her fragrant plump and glossy lips, and then with her neat and snow white small teeth, which color complement her skin color well, she gingerly took a bit on the corner, and carefully sampled the cake.

    The two boys nervously looked at her cheeks, which movements were barely perceptible. However, even after the movements ceased completely, this peerless beauty outside of Wanwan still did not speak, and still did not react to either their stare or their salute.

    Since she did not speak, the two boys did not dare to ask.

    It was not that they did not have the courage; rather, deep down they were afraid to know the answer, especially recalling Lan Gus loathsome look.

    In this life-and-death-decisive-battle like moment, a smile, like a glimmer of the moon breaking through the dark clouds, escaped from her mouth; her pair of big eyes, which looked as if they affectionately contained her feeling, swept the two boys over. She nodded and said, Can still be considered edible. Although not top grade, the creativity is commendable, it surpasses those so-called famous chefs who are hidebound by convention. Sit down!

    The two boys cried out close-call in their hearts; they gladly sat down across from her.

    Shang Xiuxun sized them up and down, her definitely-not-simple sharp eyes made the two boys uncomfortable.

    They struggled hard to curb their true qi, so that it would not leak out via their eyes and thus exposing their true identity.

    Shang Xiuxuns pair of jet-black eyebrows was suddenly knitted together, making her pretty forehead appeared like beautiful rippling waves of the ocean. Looking perplexed, she asked, You dont look like people who do this kind of thing for a living, am I right?

    Kou Zhong regained his composure, while in his heart he groaned, This fairy is formidable! Nodding his head, he said, Changzhu is formidable. Making cakes is indeed our side occupation, our main line of work is salt trading.

    Pfft! Shang Xiuxun covered her mouth as a tender laugh escaped her mouth.

    It was quite some time later when she finally let her hand down. As if she had just seen Kou Zhong for the first time, she looked at him for a good while with graceful smile on her face before speaking softly, You are forthcoming and witty; you amused me that I am also going to be frank with you. Just by looking at this cake, I am going to give you half a tael of gold per month per person; is there any problem? It should be more or less the same as profiting from salt trading, isnt that right?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly surprised. They had never imagined that Shang Xiuxun would be this straightforward; even more surprising, they never expected that pastry chef income could be this lucrative. A strange feeling welled up in their heart.

    Without waiting for their response, Shang Xiuxun went on, These days I am going to have a lot of guests. Just like your cake, your outward appearance is not bad, but your eyes lack a bit of spirit. But I dont mind that at all, I just want you to come out and greet the guests for me during the banquet, or perhaps Ill have you explain how to make these strange cakes.

    Without much choice the two boys nodded their agreement.

    After stretching her alluring limbs, Shang Xiuxun stood up.

    The two boys hurriedly paid their respect and sent her off.

    Shang Xiuxun casually said, Every ranch has its own rules, violators will be severely punished, even Er Zhishi will be helpless to defend you. The Housekeeper will be responsible to explain this aspect to you clearly.

    Finished speaking, she left without even looking back.

    The two boys looked at each other in dismay.

    After making sure that she has really left, Kou Zhong heaved a sigh and said, This beauty is both pretty and formidable. Do you think she has seen through us?

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and replied, This is extremely hard to say. But one thing I know: this poniang is capable of enticing any man to his death.

    Kou Zhong felt the same way. She is blessed by the Heaven, he commented, Not only with exceptional countenance, but also with naturally touching gracefulness. As for wealth, power and martial art skill, not a single one is lacking. Hey! Are you interested?

    Xu Ziling irately said, Your own heart is moved yet you still say such thing. Do you believe that I can beat you up?

    Kou Zhong sat down disappointedly; he said, For the sake of Song Yuzhi, I have lost the eligibility to pursue the deer, to chase under her skirt. This is the high price one must pay for the sake of vying over the world!

    Familiar sound of footsteps was approaching, the elated Xiao Juan, like a burst of fragrant wind, stormed in. Changzhu is willing to hire you! she called out with her tender voice, And now I am taking you to see the Housekeeper.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xiao Juan took them to the Housekeeper Mansion, and signaled them to stop just in front of the main gate, while she herself stepped over the threshold and continued toward a chair at the inner end of the hall, where she said respectfully, Da Guanjia [great housekeeper], the two Xiao Shifu are here.

    The two boys took a furtive glance, and saw smoke filling the air; not only tobacco smoke spouting out of the pipe, but also spiraling fragrant smoke from the sandalwood stove on a small table at the corner of the room, blending into some kind of scent filling the room.

    A tall and sturdy man with bald head was reclining on the couch, with two pretty and flirtatious women on each side, giving him massage.

    This big housekeeper of the Flying Horse Ranch was swallowing clouds and blowing out fog from the long tobacco pipe in his hand in a laid-back manner. His head was supported by a pile of soft pillows, his eyes were on the beam overhead, and he spoke glibly, So young yet have good skill; it is indeed rare.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling could only listen quietly; they both thought that this mans airs was above Shang Xiuxuns.

    Looking from the side, this Housekeeper appeared to be around fifty, his nose straight, his upper lip arched slightly over his upturned lower lip, giving him some kind of charm, showing his very strong personality and self-confidence.

    A bit like he was talking to himself, Shang Zhen continued, Entering our Ranch, you must observe our Ranchs rules. Offender to the rules is subject to severe punishment. Do you understand?

    The two boys promptly acknowledged.

    Shang Zhen turned his head to cast them a quick glance before his gaze returned to the roof. Letting out a dry cough, he said, We rarely employ outsiders, but this is a special case, plus you have a manager-level recommendation, so I have nothing to say.

    After a short pause, his eyes gleamed with cold flashes as he turned his head toward the two boys again and said, Although what you are wearing now bears Flying Horse insignia, you are still considered outsiders. Unless within three years you go the distance in compliance to our rules, receive a manager-level recommendation, and receive Changzhus approval, you cant be considered Ranch people. Understand?

    Just by looking at his fierce and sharp gaze, one would know that his internal strength had reached a first-class master level. No wonder the Flying Horse Ranch was able to stay aloof from the dispute of the outside world.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling could only nod their heads in agreement.

    Shang Zhens gaze returned to the ceiling. Suddenly he sucked in a mouthful of smoke, and then slowly blew it out, Outsiders also have outsiders rules to follow. First of all, you must never engage in an illicit sexual relationship with any Ranch women. You want women? Take a leave and go to neighboring cities and towns to solve your problem. Otherwise I will castrate you.

    Xiao Juan, who was standing across the threshold from them, lowered her head; even she was blushing to the roots of her ears. The two boys embarrassment need not be mentioned.

    As if nothing happened, Shang Zhen calmly continued, Unless receiving special approval, usually you are not allowed to leave the Inner Castle. As for other rules, Liang Qian will explain to you in details. You are dismissed!

    ※ ※ ※

    By the time they finished with Liang Qian and returned to their living quarters, it was already the first watch of the night [between 7-9pm]. It was only then did Xiao Juan happily bid her farewell from the two boys and returned to the Ranch Master mansion.

    After sniffing at himself and then sniffing at Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong proposed, We are covered in greasy smell, and then well have to crowd into one bed; how could we sleep? We might as well go to the bath house and enjoy a good his mothers cold water bath. I wonder if there is any house law prohibiting us from sleeping this his grannys late at night.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, But where is the bath house? Right now everybody is hiding under his quilt looking for a dream; we wont find anybody to ask for directions.

    Just now I still saw some rooms with lantern lights in them, Kou Zhong said, Besides, bath house cant be several li away from here, we can always look around while trying to find somebody to ask. Hey! We can always use some warm-up exercise before looking for the Duke Yang Treasure. This one will do!

    Xu Ziling finally agreed. The two boys picked up two sets of clean uniforms, and groped their way around out of their room.

    The huge courtyard was quiet with no one in sight. Apart from their room, the other rooms were dark without any lantern or light, some even transmitted sounds of people snoring. Fortunately the main gate had a lantern hanging above it to provide illumination.

    The sky was full of stars, but the moon was not showing its face. From the direction of the pasture came the sound of sheep bleating and horses whinnying, interspersed with the dogs barking, creating a unique atmosphere of a mountain town.

    Kou Zhong unleashed his natural gift of geography, To the left is Changzhus mansion, the Flying Horse Courtyard, to the rear is the kitchen building, to the right is the rear mountain, only the direction of our exit that I dont know where it leads to. If we want to try, we should try this direction.

    Xu Ziling pricked up his ears and listened carefully, he said, But the sound of running water actually comes from the rear mountain, perhaps there is a seasonal spring in there somewhere. Only we will have to blindly grope and bump our way to it. If we break many taboos of this place, taking sticks or whips is totally not worth it.

    Kou Zhong agreed, You are better than me in being a servant; I have never thought about sticks or whips. Ha

    While talking and cursing at each other in low voice, the two boys walked quietly on tiptoe toward the exit leading to the rear mountain.

    Only after entering a moon gate that they found another garden behind the courtyard. The most amazing thing was that there was a corridor that wind back to the outside, that extended into the garden, opening up the depth of field, bringing about beautiful scenery as one walked along the corridor toward the garden. There was a lily pond on the left, with a small hexagonal pavilion built in the middle, and a small bridge connecting it to the bank.

    The moon appeared on the horizon to their right, bathing the serene rear courtyard in its silvery light; the scenery was extremely moving. The two boys forgot about bathing, they stood still, full of praise.

    Kou Zhong looked up toward the sharply bent cliff behind the courtyard, where on a crack in the rock an old tree defiantly grew with its branches dancing lightly in the wind. He could not help sighing and said, Since our debut, this is the first time I am having the intention to shun the world and retreat to secluded place; a clear indication of how strong the influence of this place to me.

    Xu Ziling deeply shared his sentiments; he said, Whoever built this landscape garden in the Inner Castle must be a master builder. Even Yang Guangs imperial garden doesnt have this kind of intoxicating effect.

    Kou Zhong nudged him and said with a laugh, Do you see that gracefully winding clear creek? It must have come from a spring on the rear mountain. If we can find its source, we could take a quick bath and go back to the hexagonal pavilion to cool off and admire the moon; wont that be fun?

    Xu Ziling was also in a good mood; he stepped forward as soon as Kou Zhong finished.

    With a tourist mind, the two boys turned to the left and wound to the right along the winding corridor, where more and more beautiful sceneries emerged on both sides. After passing a bamboo forest, they heard the crashing noise of water. Turned out at the end of the path was a square pavilion, overlooking a hundred-zhang high cliff, where a stream of waterfall flew down with irresistible momentum. Were it not for the bamboo forest separating the two places, the thundering sound of the waterfall could have been heard from the courtyard.

    The two boys gasped in amazement.

    To the left there was a gravel path leading toward the square pavilion, winding along the edge of the cliff, extending toward the depths of the forest, creating in their hearts the desire to explore this secluded area.

    Following the path, the two boys turned to the left and wound to the right, until suddenly a wide panorama opened up before their eyes. There was a small two-story building strategically situated on the tableland overlooking the cliff.

    This moment they could still see light coming from the second story, indicating that not only this building was inhabited, but also that the inhabitant had not gone to sleep yet.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had never expected that there would be a place of charm and beauty at the end of the path. They were about to turn around and walk back when an old-sounding mans voice was heard from the upstairs, Noble guests have already arrived, why not come up and meet Laofu face-to-face?

  3. #103
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 9 Chapter 7

    Book 9 Chapter 7 Strange Encounter At The Back of The Mountain

    An elegant room does not need to be big, fragrance does not require a lot of flowers.

    As the two boys stepped over the main gate, where a sign board carved with the characters An Le Wo [Comfort Zone; lit. still/calm happy nest] was hanging over it, a feeling of serene, peaceful harmony welled up in their hearts.

    Opposite the entrance, on the beam supported by two pillars, there was another wooden board with this couplet written on it: Mornings are suitable to make qin [zither] music, evenings are suitable to strike the se [standing harp with 5-25 strings]; old friends have arrived, new rains are starting to fall. The calligraphic style was elegant yet simple, bold and powerful.

    This hall was shaped in a four-sided living room style, with all four sides have wooden pot-style windows. On the far end the plant in the pot drooped down, covering the view of the dangerous precipice beyond. The gentle sound of the bamboo grove dancing in the wind faintly penetrating the inner hall, adding a more relaxed, natural feeling to the simple, plain, rustic mahogany furnishing of the room. On the corner, there was a cedar wood stairs leading to the upper floor.

    The old-sounding voice came again, Gentlemen, please come upstairs!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance, then walked slowly up the flight of stairs.

    The room upstairs was divided into two sections by a standing screen. The front section had a round table and several chairs; presumably the rear section was where the host slept.

    This moment a man was standing at the window, facing out. He spoke in soft voice, Two Xiao Xiongdi, please sit down, try the Six-fruit Brew Laofu personally made.

    It was only then did the two boys notice the wine bottle and wine cups on the table. The aroma of the wine permeated the whole place.

    Under the illumination of two palace-style lanterns hanging from the beam, they saw that other than the table and chairs, there was only a few necessary furniture, all made of rosewood, displaying its stylish, quaint grandeur.

    The old man dressed in formal intellectual attire. Although because his back was facing the two boys that they were unable to see his face, he looked slightly taller than Xu Ziling. Furthermore, because of the oversized long robe he was wearing, he exuded some kind of loftiness that commanded other people to look up in respect.

    Recalling their own low rank, the two boys looked at the wine on the table, but were unsure of what to do.

    The old man sighed and said, Drink! Theres wine to enjoy, life is short!

    His voice carried a profound helplessness, giving the impression that he must have a sad past.

    Kou Zhong pushed Xu Ziling and sat down first.

    They were both moving very cautiously, not willing to make any noise to disturb the sacred quietness of the small room upstairs.

    They could still hear the faint sound of waterfall from the distance.

    Kou Zhong lifted up the wine bottle and poured three cups. Seeing the old man has not made any movement, he picked one cup, and handed the other one to Xu Ziling.

    The fruit brew entered his throat. The aroma was mellow and rich, soft and fresh. The most amazing thing was that the fragrance was thick, but in congruence, so that the aftertaste lingered long.

    Tranquil and calm, the old man said, This wine is brewed from a collection of pomegranate, grape, tangerine, crabapple, green plum, and pineapple, six types of fresh fruits. The manufacturing method involves picking the fruits, washing in water, bleaching in water, crushing, pits removal, soaking, juice extraction, fermentation, blending, filtering, and aging process, before loading it in barrels and burying it for three whole years. And it tastes good!

    Kou Zhong praised wholeheartedly, Laozhang [Sir/gentleman] is adept in wine brewing, and is very creative.

    The old man was silent for half a day before speaking softly, Laofu has lived here for nearly thirty years. Other than Xiuxun, nobody ever dared to barge in here. You must be newcomers.

    Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew that they had violated a taboo; the latter apologetically said, Liang Fu Guanjia [deputy housekeeper] has never mentioned this place to us, and thus we have disturbed Qianbeis [senior/older generation] peace. I

    The old man interrupted him, You have Yangzhou accent; this is strange, since the Ranch very seldom hires outsiders. What do you do?

    Thereupon Xu Ziling narrated their story again.

    Up to this point the two boys were still unclear of the old mans identity, or his relationship with the Ranch, but they were quite sure that he was an unfathomable senior martial art expert.

    Kou Zhong could not help asking, Has Qianbei really never left this place in thirty years?

    The old man laughed aloud, Of course not, he said, Although these past thirty years I have lived peacefully in this An Le Wo, but I spent quite a bit of time outside, more than the time I spent in this place. This time I came across you, it can be said it is predestined affinity; its not easy for us to be here.

    Finished speaking he slowly turned around to face the two boys.

    It was a very particular face; plain, simple, inelegant, amazingly old. His long, thick black eyebrows extended almost to the edge of his temples, while the other ends nearly met above the bridge of his nose, in stark contrast with his deep, elegant hawk eyes. There were wrinkles at the corners of his mouth and under his eyes, making him appear to have a rather cold, tired and sad look of the affairs of life.

    The bridge of his nose was straight and powerful, just like his waist. With the addition of his lips, which displayed natural air of arrogance, his slender and clean face, he ought to be someone who enjoyed the riches and honor, the glory and splendor of the world to the fullest; yet now he looked more like a dejected nobleman whose heart had died.

    His gaze slowly swept the two boys. Smiling slightly, he said, Do you know why as someone who take no notice of the things of the world I asked you to come up here?

    The two boys shook their head with blank expression on their face.

    Revealing an exhausted look, both physically and mentally, the old man sat down slowly, took the six-fruit brew cup and drained it in one gulp, and said with a wry smile, Were it not for this thing suspending my life, theres a good chance I would not see gentlemen today.

    Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in dismay. Is Qianbei injured? the latter asked.

    The old man nodded, The injury I received thirty years ago, he said, Although that witchs demonic power was lauded as the crown jewel of the heretical schools, it still failed to take my life; by taking advantage of the mountains topography and utilizing my knowledge of geography, I managed to escape a thousand li and finally hid in this place.

    He sighed and went on, In thirty years, with my heart and soul I built the landscape garden. Were it not for this sustenance, I am afraid I have already succumbed to my injury and died. But these days I occasionally remember the old enmity, thereupon my injury flared out. I am afraid the old mans days are numbered.

    Breathing out a mouthful of cold air, Kou Zhong asked, Who was that witch?

    The old man stared hard at him for half a day; he also cast a glance toward Xu Ziling. Instead of answering the question, he said, Actually, I have seen you a while back; I even eavesdropped your conversation. You two are very interesting kids indeed.

    The two boys were stunned. Where did Qianbei see us? Xu Ziling asked.

    The old man spoke indifferently, Do you remember that abandoned village? The one where Zhai Rang fell into a sinister plot, so much so that his full works fell apart.

    The two boys remembered the smoke from kitchen chimneys; their countenance changed instantly. It was you! they said.

    Although the old man has exposed their true identity, his demeanor was still as amiable as before. He smiled and said, That was the reason I invited you to come up; just by looking at your ability to suppress your divine qi, so much so that you can conceal it from Xiuxun, I know that your skill has advanced tremendously. Kou Xiao Xiong and Xu Xiao Xiong, can you tell me what enmity has brought you here to be pastry chefs?

    The two boys were greatly embarrassed; however, seeing his friendly manner, they did not conceal anything, and told him about how they acted before thinking. Naturally they did not tell him about Kou Zhongs intention to utilize the Ranch in his effort to vie over the world; they only told him about trying to evade the enemys tracking.

    The old man did not reveal whether he believed their story or not; after pondering for half a day, he said, Among the four managers of the Flying Horse Ranch, in terms of intelligence and martial art skill, Liu Zongdao ranks first. Logically speaking, under normal situation, he cant possibly meddle in the kitchens personnel affairs. His high regard on you may be due to something else; perhaps your outward appearance and your aptitudes!

    Xu Ziling respectfully asked, Qianbei must be a greatly well-known character of the Jianghu; would it be possible for you to reveal it to us?

    A glimmer of proud smile appeared on the corners of the old mans mouth; he replied nonchalantly, Even if Ning Daoqi sees me, he would respectfully greet me Lu Laoshi [teacher]. Ay! What does it mean anyway? Ultimately I still nurse a grievance under that witch hands, and the illustrious name I built my entire life hereby lost forever.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong racked their brains trying to remember a Jianghu senior character with the surname Lu.

    Feeling it would be embarrassing to ask directly, Kou Zhong tried a roundabout way, Who was that witch anyway?

    The old man straightened up his back, his eyebrows rose, his sharp eyes shone with murderous aura as he said hatefully, Have you heard about Yin Gui Pai?

    The two boys blurted out in chorus, Empress Yin, Zhu Yuyan!

    It was the old mans turn to be stunned. You are indeed not simpletons! Unexpectedly you knew about this witch. Ay! There are two things that I regret doing in all my life, and one of them is to fall in love with this woman. To think that I, Lu Miaozi [his given names literal translation is clever kid] has always been conceited all my life, unexpectedly I made continuous mistakes; other than blaming it to my luck, what else can I say?

    The two boys felt the name Lu Miaozi sound very familiar, but it took them quite a while to remember that it was Shen Luoyan who mentioned his name, saying that he was the number one skilled craftsman under the heavens. Supposedly her weird net was coming from his miraculous hands. No wonder the design of this Inner Castles landscape garden, the layout of every tree, every stone, seemed as if it was made by Heaven, all because he was secretly behind it.

    Glistening teardrops appeared from Lu Miaozis eyes; unable to bear it anymore, he turned his head around and let out a painful sob.

    Suddenly he shook his head and heaved a deep sigh, and then spoke in low voice, Youd better go back and go to bed! If you are free tomorrow, try to find time to come here, I have something to tell you.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling slept for less than two sichen [i.e. 4 hrs] when the sound of knocking on their door woke them up.

    From the outside, Xiao Juan called out, Two Xiao Shifu, wake up quickly, it is dawn!

    The two boys were a hundred thousand times unwilling to get out of bed, but Xu Ziling was pushed by Kou Zhong to open the door.

    As soon as Xiao Juan came in, her eyebrows rose up so high as she said, What happened to you two? Such a dirty clothes and you went to bed in it? Take it out now and change, let me take the dirty ones to be washed, all right? Two great generals?

    Rubbing his eyes, Kou Zhong fell back onto the bed and said, Can I sleep a little longer, please?

    Putting her hands on her small waist, Xiao Juan angrily said, Changzhu wants to see you, quickly take a bath and change your clothes.

    Xu Ziling sat down on the corner of the bed and said with a wry smile, Not taking a bath is also violation of the house rule?

    Xiao Juan stomped her feet and said, If you keep doing this, I wont pay any attention to you anymore!

    Kou Zhong sprang up, pressed his hands on Xiao Juans shoulders, and smiled apologetically, Xiao Juan Jie, please calm down; may I ask which way is to the public bath, north, south, east or west? Also how many li do we have to walk? The sooner we go, the sooner we will come back.

    Xiao Juan wanted to keep a straight face, but in the end, Pfft! she could not help laughing. Rolling her eyes, she frowned and said, Dont stand too close; you stink!

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and stood back. Casually he caught the clothes Xu Ziling threw at him; he was adamant not to concede, There are many kinds of stink, my kind is the best kind of stink.

    Xiao Juan laughed tenderly and went out the door. The two boys scrambled to follow on her left and right sides.

    The weather was very nice that day, an old servant was sweeping dead leaves in the courtyard, everywhere they looked, they saw people were coming and going. Three young maids, who were pruning the flowers and bushes, were brazen enough to stare at them.

    Kou Zhong whispered in Xiao Juans ear, Why does Changzhu want to see us?

    Xiao Juan did not care at all, How would I know? she replied, It was Fu Dajie who ordered me to get you.

    Kou Zhong fell back to Xu Zilings side, who was walking three steps behind; he laughed softly and said, It ought to be because you are handsome enough, right? Ha!

    Xiao Juan suddenly stopped, turned around with arms akimbo, her apricot eyes glowered at them as she shouted with her tender voice, What did you say? You must be talking bad things about Changzhu.

    The two boys did not expect her reaction to be this intense; they jumped in fright.

    Xu Ziling hastily said, Xiao Juan Jie, please dont misunderstand, Xiao Ning only said that probably Changzhu did not think we did not learn enough lesson, so that she summons us to admonish us.

    Xiao Juan half-believing, half-doubting; she spoke with serious expression, Just remember: dont be disrespectful toward Changzhu, otherwise, no one will be able to bail you out.

    Without any choice, the two boys nodded their promise.

    Xiao Juan continued in low voice, If you really dare to speak ill of Changzhu behind her back, I will no longer pay attention to you.

    ※ ※ ※

    When Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling arrived at the Flying Horse Pavilion, where Shang Xiuxun handled day-to-day operation of the Flying Horse Ranch, this beautiful Ranch Master was having a meeting with the Housekeeper Shang Zhen and the Four Managers, including Liu Zongdao. About a dozen men and women were standing outside the courtyard, Deputy Housekeeper Liang Qian and Lan Gu were among them.

    Noticing the two boys arrival with Xiao Juan, they all turned their attention to them. Lan Gu even whispered something to a man standing next to her, evidently she was talking about the two boys.

    One of them, a young girl with well-proportioned figure, gentle, refined, and dignified, with elegant appearance, stepped forward to meet the three people. Frowning, she said, Why so late? Changzhu has already asked about you, you dont know how embarrassed I am.

    After explaining the reason, Xiao Juan introduced them, This is Fu Dajie!

    The two boys hurriedly paid their respect, while secretly praised Luo Fangs luck with women was indeed not shallow; they also did not expect her to be so young, yet her position within the Ranch was quite high.

    Big Sister Fu studied the two boys for a moment; an amazed look flitted across her pretty eyes. She was just about to speak, when the man standing guard by the door called out, Summoning the two Pastry Chefs!

    Big Sister Fu instructed them in low voice, Come with me, be careful when speaking.

    The two boys could not help feeling a bit nervous as they came to just outside the threshold.

    They saw that the entire furnishing inside the hall was finely carved furniture, in the middle was three-panel marble-deck big reclining chair, on east and west were symmetrically placed two marble armchairs with circular screen and a matching small table decorated with some small objects; the atmosphere looked solemn and serene.

    Shang Xiuxun was half-reclining on the chair, she was dressed in mens clothes, complete with a hat to cover her beautiful hair, yet it was still difficult to conceal beautiful glow of her oppressing natural beauty.

    The Housekeeper Shang Zhen was sitting on the first chair to her left, and the next in line was precisely Liu Zongdao, while the other two [sic] managers were sitting on the other side.

    The three people had to give way to an old man coming out of the pavilion. Big Sister Fu saluted to him and reported, Two Xiao Shifu are here. And then she whispered, You are new here, you cant cross the threshold. After that she withdrew to the side.

    The two boys had no choice but to stay outside the threshold and saluted inside, feeling a bit awkward.

    Shang Xiuxun had her head down, concentrating on drinking her tea. Shang Zhen was blowing smoke from his pipe. Liu Zongdao returned their salute with a smile, but the other three managers eyes were like sharp arrows shooting at them.

    Liu Zongdaos single eye lit up as he smiled and said, Was it because the hard journey that you were unable to get out of bed?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were quick-witted; they knew he was saying that in their defense, hence they promptly agreed with him.

    Taking advantage while Shang Xiuxun was still drinking her tea, Liu Zongdao introduced the other three managers.

    The First Manager Liang Zhi was a man short in stature, about forty years old, but grew a beautiful, glossy black beard. His eyes flickered with terrifying sharpness, the taiyang acupoints [on ones temples] bulged out. Just by looking at his appearance, one would immediately know that he was a martial art master expert in both inner and outer skills.

    The Third Manager Tao Shusheng was a big and tall middle-aged man, his eyes long and narrow like a goats, making his appearance unflattering.

    On the contrary, the Fourth Manager Wu Zhaoru was young and handsome, his skin as fair as a girls; but compared to Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings unique physical appearance, he appeared exceptionally inelegant.

    The three managers response seemed to be rather cold; it appeared that they only nodded their heads to acknowledge the two boys salute just as a courtesy to Liu Zongdao.

    Shang Xiuxun put down the cup and picked up something that looked like an account book from the small table and looked down to browse it. Absent-mindedly she said, Other than pastries, what else can you make?

    Everybody, including Big Sister Fu and Liu Zongdao, was taken aback; nobody ever thought that their astute Ranch Master would summon the two boys just to ask such a trivial matter.

    With his hands hanging by his side, Kou Zhong respectfully replied, We know a bit of everything.

    The Third Manager Tao Shusheng scolded them harshly, Genius! Changzhu is asking you, outside of pastries, what other expertise do you have. Do you understand the question?

    Wu Zhaoru seemed to be breathing through the same nostrils with Tao Shusheng; he laughed mockingly and said, Perhaps they have expertise in a bit of everything!

    Xu Ziling did not take any offence, but Kou Zhong really wished he could take the two men outside and give them a good beating; but right now all he could do was glug! swallow his anger into his belly.

    Shang Xiuxun still had her attention focused on the book; she did not even seem to hear what others were talking about. It was quite a moment later she finally said slowly, In the meeting tonight we will have honored guests coming from the north. Northerners love to eat roast meat, smoked meat and stuff like that the most. Do you know how to make them?

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, Roast meat, smoked meat are no problem. Changzhu, please just instruct us which one to make.

    Smoked meat then, Shang Xiuxun replied without thinking.

    Clearing his throat, the First Manager Liang Zhi said, Its not that I dont trust you, but the guest status is definitely not a small matter, plus he is from a dignitary family, and pay particular attention to food and drink. If your skill in this regard were slightly lacking, you would only display your meager skill before an expert. Therefore, is it possible for you to tell us first how you are going to make the smoked meat?

    Finally Shang Xiuxun raised her small head up; her pretty eyes were fixed on the two boys, Thats right! she agreed, Tell us then.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were well aware that Liang Zhi and the others suspected their identity; fortunately they did have genuine goods at fair prices skill they learned from Ol Zhang. The latter spoke nonchalantly, The most critical thing in making smoked meat is to blend the flavor of the seasoning well, requiring boiling water over high heat, mixing Sichuan pepper, lilac, amomum, cardamom, ominato, garlic, fresh ginger, thick soybean paste, tofu, and sweet soy paste [please dont ask me, I have no idea what these seasoning are]. Only then will the finished product have both the bright color and the thick savory taste.

    Kou Zhong joined in, Next will be the smoking technique itself. First, mix the choice meat and the sauce well in a big pot, and then smoke it over cedar wood. The skin will be crispy and the meat tender, inside and outside will be cooked uniformly; the fat wont taste greasy in the mouth, the lean meat wont break our tooth, and the distinctive flavor will be unique.

    The two boys were both eloquent and able to adapt to the situation well; echoing one another like that, they painted a very vivid picture as if a plate of hot, spicy delicacy with its aroma permeating the whole place was already served on the table.

    Emotionally moved, the Housekeeper, Shang Zhen, removed the pipe from his mouth and said, Indeed you have real ability and learning, definitely not con artists.

    The two boys laughed in their hearts. Thank you for Da Guanjias praise, they spoke in unison.

    Shang Xiuxun was noncommittal; she looked down on the book again and said absent-mindedly, Tonight, other than in charge of the main dish, you also have to prepare some dessert. Dismissed!

    Returning to their room, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling did not know whether they should laugh or cry; Shang Xiuxun grandly and seriously summoning them, unexpectedly it was only to discuss such a chicken feather, garlic skin matter.

    However, this matter has brought unintended aftermath; since Lan Gu could not figure out Shang Xiuxuns treatment toward them, immediately she became a lot friendlier than before. After inquiring about the ingredients, she immediately went to make arrangement for them.

    Kou Zhong thought hard, Who could come from the north and has illustrious family background? he asked aloud.

    Displeased, Xu Ziling said, Youd better leave some brainpower to deal with the pastries and dishes for tonight! Although we know how to make smoked meat, but what we learned from the Ol Zhang would not do the trick. If they had never eaten any smoked meat before, it is still all right, but if we want to gain those northern peoples praise, it would be no more than a dream.

    With much trepidation he said, Just by remembering our creativity in producing the cakes yesterday, I already have a headache. You must think of something.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, I am relying on you to think of something.

    The two boys you look at me, I look at you, suddenly their eyes lit up at the same time.

    Pointing at Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong said, Are you thinking about him?

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, He is the number one master craftsman in the world; plus he is experienced and knowledgeable, at least he is able to brew outstanding wine, cooking dishes and making pastries should not be too far below!

    The two boys sprang up immediately.

    Xu Ziling pulled Kou Zhong back and said with a laugh, You stay here to deal with Lan Gu, I am going to ask him, the Seniors guidance, understand?

    Xu Ziling had just left; Lan Gu stepped across the door. Frowning, she asked, Where is Xiao Jing?

    Kou Zhong simply rubbed his belly, and then pointed outward.

    Lan Gu smiled knowingly and said, Everything for the sauce is readily available, but you must select the meat yourselves. Do you need any help? Or perhaps another room in the kitchen?

    Kou Zhong immediately unleashed his delaying tactic; he said, We, two brothers, have always advanced together, retreated together; we have business, then we have the capacity. I am going to wait until he finishes pooping before we set about our task together. Hee! If we need extra hands or extra room, well let you know!

    Lan Gu gave him a dirty look. She was about to lash at him, but then she changed her mind and pressed down her temper; so after mumbling something she left.

    Soon afterwards two make servants came to deliver the seasoning. Kou Zhong immediately got busy.

    A moment later Luo Fang came to find him. After chatting for a few moments, Kou Zhong asked him, Do you know what kind of people are coming tonight?

    I am not clear about that, Luo Fang replied, All I know is that the guests are obviously people of great influence; otherwise Changzhu would not personally go out to meet their ship. From time to time these past few years, there have been people coming here trying to build friendly relations, but Cahngzhu has never attached any importance to them like she does this time.

    Kou Zhong failed to grasp the main points; he blurted out, Right now the whole country is in rebellion, and we have war-horse to sell, naturally people are trying to build friendly relationship with us!

    That is true, Luo Fang proudly said, But there are some guys who acted recklessly, they came wanted to take control of us by force. Its just that within hundreds of li around here, who are not our Ranchs descendants and disciples? Any wind blowing swaying the grass, nothing escaped our attention.

    Following the tone of his voice, Kou Zhong said, Which people have that much guts?

    A bit vexed, Luo Fang said, Have you heard the people on the street mentioning the four popular piece of doggerel recently? They are the Not even a blade of grass grows Xiang Batian, Chicken and dogs wont remain Fang Jianding, scorched earth for a thousand li Mao Zao, the Ghosts weep the Deities cry Cao Yinglong.

    Kou Zhong had a sudden revelation, Ah, those must be the Xiang-Fang-Mao-Cao, the Four Big Bandits!

    Luo Fang hatefully said, Precisely those four men, whom the deities detest and the ghosts loathe, who loot all over the place and in all directions, who leave trails of destruction everywhere like locusts, who rape and pillage, not stopping at anything.

    After a short pause, he went on, We are as close as lips and teeth with Duba Village of Jingling, we support each other, and have several times killed their small bands of raiders, so that they view us as a nail in their eyes early on. But recently they secretly forged an alliance, in preparation to break off the rescue route between Jingling and us, and then they will go all-out to attack Duba Village. This scheme is certainly very malicious.

    Kou Zhong understood now. Although in themselves the Four Big Bandits power was insufficient to deal with war on two fronts, it was enough to separately lay heavy siege on Jingling or Flying Horse Ranch, then they would be able to nibble away the surrounding towns and villages, so that it would be difficult for the Duba Village and Flying Horse Ranch to maintain their existence. Even if they ultimately obtain victory, their strength would take heavy beating.

    Hows those thieves strength? Kou Zhong asked.

    Lou Fang replied, Of the Four Big Bandits, in terms of martial art skill, the Ghosts cry deities roar Cao Yinglong is the most superior, he also has the largest number of thieves under his command, up to 30,000 people, and they constantly recruit new people; constantly expanding on daily basis. Currently they are occupying Baodong County near the Great River, more than a hundred li to our west. Their prestige rose up greatly, the other three Bandits consider him as their leader.

    This moment Xu Ziling returned, his face flushed with excitement, Lets start immediately, he said.

    After greeting him, Luo Fang said, Do your job well. Changzhu has never shown such high regards to anybody from the kitchen. Perhaps later on you and I can become brothers. All right, Ill leave you alone!

    After Luo Fang left, Kou Zhong happily said, You have good material?

    Xu Ziling sighed in praise, Not only good material, this is basically the secret recipe of the unique school of the number one skilled craftsman in the world. For the time being we can learn two recipes, one is smoked fish, the other is Jinhuas sweet and crispy. Come on! Processing takes time, while we dont have much time. We can talk while working. Tonight, we, the Twin Chefs of the Central Plain, will show off our great skill, which will shake the four seats. Those who eat it will sincerely convinced and ready to concede. Wont it beat martial art superiority?

    Kou Zhongs old pride swelled up; he laughed and said, Why, of course! It would be best if after eating it, Shang Xiuxun would give her heart to you, Great Chef Xu; that would be even more blissful! Ha

    Seeing Kou Zhong would never change his character, Xu Ziling said irately, Come on! This treasured dish is called Saber Fish of Yangtze River, Mr. Lu said that if we mix and stir it with eggs, sauce and flour, and make it into strips, and then smoke it until crisp, it will be so tasty that after eating it, even the blinds would want to open their eyes. Get out! Less talking about your dream of vying over the world.

    ※ ※ ※

    After all the ingredients were ready, the two boys were busy non-stop.

    By dusk, the smoked fish and the sweet and crispy were ready.

    It was only then did the two boys remember that not even half a grain of rice entered their tummy that day. Without any scruple they helped themselves to a piece of smoked fish each and ate it with total delight.

    Kou Zhong chewed and spoke, Such delicious food, I cant believe it came from our hands. Wed better do obeisance and take that old fellow as our master, see if he has other consummate skills we can learn from him.

    This moment, Xiao Juan and Big Sister Fu decided to honor the kitchen with their presence. Seeing the two boys embezzled the food, the formers almond eyes grew big as she scolded them, You two are really brazen; you have the cheek to eat the food meant to entertain the guest to your fill.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, We are only checking the taste. Hey! This smoked fish still lack a little bit, let me add a bit more sauce and check it again.

    Grabbing another piece of smoked fish, he made a show of basting it with more sauce, and then wolfed it down his stomach with total abandon.

    The two women were at a loss on how to deal with him. Big Sister Fu said crossly, Changzhus order, although during the banquet you will serve nearby, you will also have to introduce Jiangnan delicacy to the guests. Do you understand?

    Xu Ziling did not like the crowd; even worse, he did not like to be other peoples servants who were sent to do their bidding. Pretending to be exhausted, he said, We have been busy all day long, our body weary, our strength exhausted early on; can we be excused from this one obligation?

    Xiao Juan laughed and said, What one obligation or half obligation? Are you being drafted to fight a war? Changzhu has high regards on you, thats the reason she is willing to let you increase your knowledge by getting involved in this occasion. Whatever Changzhu says is the golden rule; disobedience is punishable by beheading. Are you clear?

    Big Sister Fu smiled sweetly and said, In the Ranch, nobody else is like you, who make things happen but love to act behind the scene. Quickly get those things and come with me, Changzhu wants to sample it first!

  4. #104
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 9 Chapter 8

    Book 9 Chapter 8 Meeting Face-to-face On A Narrow Path

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stood respectfully by the table, unable to take their eyes off beautiful Ranch Master Shang Xiuxun, whose beauty shared the limelight with Wanwan, who, at this moment, was picking up a piece of smoked fish with her fingers, and sent it to her fragrant lips, using her unique schools eating technique, slightly revealing a perfect row of her snow white teeth, and took a small bite with a charm that was beyond human understanding. Her pretty eyebrows were slightly knitted as she slowly chewed the fish.

    Big Sister Fu and Xiao Juan, who were standing on the other side of the table, were also nervous. They were afraid she would be dissatisfied and kick the two boys out of their Ranch.

    Shang Xiuxun cast a sidelong glance toward the two boys. Suddenly, with a somewhat childish embarrassment she gobbled up the rest of the fish, and chewed happily. Her table manners and her expression were indescribably moving.

    Pretending to be modest, Kou Zhong asked, Is it acceptable?

    Shang Xiuxun rolled her pretty eyes, but was still unwilling to meet his eyes. Well, she said, Your level of achievement this time is better than those strange cake. Ah! No! It is simply incomparable. After this, I dont want you to become Pastry Chefs anymore!

    Xu Ziling respectfully said, How about Changzhu try the sweet and crispy first before making decision?

    Shang Xiuxun cast him a quick glance, making Xu Ziling, a man with very high mental power also felt the unusual force from her pair of vast and deep, limpid-autumn-water eyes that hooked his soul and summoned his spirit. A bit reluctant to put down the smoked fish, she grabbed a piece of sweet and crispy, and quickly put it in her mouth.

    Emotionally moved, she asked, Did you really make these?

    Very pleased with himself, Kou Zhong said, Hey! Yesterday we were still getting used to the kitchenware and the ingredients in this place, hence we somewhat failed to meet your standard. This time Changzhu is finally able to taste our real skill!

    Like having a full wind behind his sail, Xu Ziling caught on, Culinary art is just like calligraphy or painting, only by having ideas one would be able to move the brush. We also have to immerse ourselves to study meticulously. If Changzhu can give us more free time to study, our products will be a lot better.

    Regaining her composure, Shang Xiuxuns beautiful eyes flitted across the two boys. Slowly putting down the crispy cake, she leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes. Do you know how to paint? she asked.

    Just now Xu Ziling was merely parroting Lu Miaozi, but at that time he did not teach him how to answer this kind of question; without any choice he simply said, Xiao Ren [little/lowly one] does not know. It was our Shifu who told us when he taught us this skill.

    Shang Xiuxun opened her eyes, nodded and said, Your Shifu must be an extraordinary person.

    And then she went on, Looking your as-healthy-as-a-horse physique and your robust body, have you ever learned martial art?

    Xiao Juan hastily signaled them with her eyes, imploring the two boys to be careful in responding to this question.

    Sticking out his chest, Kou Zhong said, A dozen or so ordinary low-class thieves are not our match.

    This was precisely Kou Zhongs brilliance. It should be noted that although the two boys were able to suppress the natural true qi within their body, and were able to diffuse the gleam in their eyes, but martial art masters are martial art masters; inevitably, there would be enough of spirited vigor showing through. At least due to their qi cultivation, their skin would glow, their muscles firm, which would be hard to conceal from anybody with discerning eyes.

    Kou Zhong straightforwardly admitted that he knew martial art, and he did it with such exaggeration that others would be suspicious instead.

    Shang Xiuxun spoke indifferently, So you use a saber?

    Feigning amazement, Kou Zhong asked, How did Changzhu know?

    Big Sister Fu was obviously Shang Xiuxuns pet; she interjected, When your arrived, every body in the Ranch saw a rusty saber hanging on your back. Hee! Did you pick it up on the road?

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, Dajie guessed correctly!

    Shang Xiuxun spoke tactfully, Tomorrow morning, get the saber and show it to me.

    Turning to Xu Ziling, she said, How about you? What kind of martial art did you learn? Who taught you?

    Xu Ziling replied, I trained punching and kicking skill; just like Xiao Ning, we have trained under more than a dozen different Shifu, none of them belonged to certain school or sect.

    This moment the Housekeeper, Shang Zhen came in from the main hall to report, The guests will be here shortly.

    Shang Xiuxun stood up gracefully and said to Big Sister Fu, Teach these two kids the Mansions rules, do not be lacking in manners toward outsiders.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sat in a cloister built around a building behind the Ranch Masters residence, enjoying the preferential treatment Big Sister Fu was giving them.

    Sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, Kou Zhong stretched out and said, Can you guess whos coming?

    Xu Ziling was sitting on the lowest wooden step in the middle of the porch leading toward the courtyard, with his feet stepping on the grass. He was listening attentively to the voices intertwined with the sound of cups and plates in the main hall. Hearing the question, he said, There are a lot of elites in the north, how can I guess which one is it?

    Being a servant does not seem to be too bad, Kou Zhong said, But the worst thing is that we have no freedom; the Ranch is this much big and this much fun, but we are trapped in here.

    You just want to learn how to raise horses, right? Xu Ziling asked, If you are not happy, we can leave anytime.

    Dont go yet, Kou Zhong excitedly said, If we go, we cant walk the Heavens way.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, What do these two things have to do with each other?

    Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong told him about the Four Big Bandits forming an alliance.

    Emotionally moved, Xu Ziling said, We cant just ignore this matter, but what can we do?

    Hearing that, Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, but he was interrupted by Xiao Juans footsteps.

    Seeing the two boys disregarding the filth, like a dead snake or rotten trash sitting on the floor, the little girl angrily scolded them a moment. She said, Crawl up quick! Changzhu wants you in the main hall to serve the guests, to explain how you made the smoked fish.

    ※ ※ ※

    Upright and unafraid, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stepped into the main hall. From behind the carved-flower screen they peeked into the packed hall, where the banquet was taking place; immediately their countenance changed. With their heads hung low, they turned around to scurry back inside.

    Seeing this, Big Sister Fu was startled; quickly spreading out her arms, she blocked the two boys escape route and hissed, What are you doing? Dont you know Changzhu and the guests are waiting for you?

    Kou Zhong smiled apologetically and spoke in the lowest voice he could muster, Just now the two of us ate the wrong things, so now we need to go to the latrine to poo. Advancing together retreating together. Fu Dajie, please be kind and make things easy for us.

    Big Sister Fu was angry, amused, and anxious, all at once. Stomping her feet, she said, Dont act willfully and make a scene, whatever it is, you just have to bear it for a moment. Humph! Only ghost will believe your nonsense [orig. ghost talk]. Quickly get in! Otherwise, house rules await.

    Xu Ziling also lost his heroic spirit; he pleaded for leniency, Xiao Ning indeed talked nonsense [again, ghost talk]; the fact of the matter is that we are not accustomed to grand occasion like this, right now we are so nervous that we feel like going pooping. Would Fu Dajie please tell Changzhu, so that we would not make her lose face?

    Before Big Sister Fu had any chance to reprimand the two boys sternly, Shang Xiuxuns silver-bell-like voice already called from the inside, Xiao Ning, Xiao Jing, what are you doing over there? Come here quickly to greet the noble guest. Princess Xiuning enjoys your smoked fish very much; she wants to compliment the Chefs!

    This time, even Kou Zhong regretted that from thousands and tens of thousands names in the world, why would he called himself Xiao Ning? But now it was too late. Just like riding a tiger and cannot get off, plus Big Sister Fus push with all her strength, the two boys braced themselves to step away from behind the screen.

    Under everybodys gaze, they felt like they were marching into the marketplace without a single thread of clothes on; totally embarrassing and unbearable.


    Li Xiunings sweet and tender voice entered their ears; knowing that they had been recognized by her, the two boys did not have any courage to even raise their heads.

    This evening, the Flying Horse Ranchs six most important people were all present, because the VIP guest was none other than the Tang King Li Yuans daughter, Li Shimins younger sister, and Kou Zhongs first love, Li Xiuning.

    Even when facing a magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, Kou Zhong would not be this timid and desperate.

    Shang Xiuxun, Shang Zhen, and Liang Zhi, the four Managers attention was fixed on Kou and Xu, two boys. Suddenly hearing this tender exclamation, they could not help turning their gaze toward Li Xiuning in shock.

    Accompanying Li Xiuning this time was Li Gang and Dou Wei, but neither one knew the two boys. Seeing Li Xiuning, who had always been sweet-tempered, gentle and quiet, unexpectedly cried out involuntarily because of two Pastry Chefs, they were also greatly puzzled.

    Li Xiunings astonished expression quickly faded; somewhat embarrassed, she said, Please forgive Xiuning for failing to follow etiquette; it was simply because I have never expected that the two Shifu are so young.

    This moment Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling already came to the banquet table; they stood facing Li Xiuning, with grim expression and hands hanging by their sides.

    Li Xiuning recovered her usual calm, poised and elegant demeanor; turning toward Shang Xiuxun on her right, she smiled and said, How do we address the two Shifu?

    Shang Zhen, who was sitting to her left, replied on Shang Xiuxuns behalf, One is Fu Ning, the other Fu Jing; they are fellow brothers from the same village.

    He did not point out which one was Fu Ning and which one was Fu Jing; apparently because he did not have any respect toward the two boys, and simply introducing them perfunctorily.

    Li Xiuning repeated the names Fu Jing and Fu Ning twice in her heart. Her pretty face suddenly turned slightly red; apparently she had just gained a sudden comprehension. Fortunately the change was not too obvious, so that the other people were unaware of it.

    Shang Xiuxun laughed and said, Xiao Ning, Xiao Jing, Princess Xiuning and Li Gang, Dou Wei, two Daren are praising your smoked fish to high heaven; they even thought that it was wirhout equal under the heavens. Why havent you thanked them?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling forced a smile inwardly; without any choice they bowed down to express their thanks.

    Li Gang was astute; seeing the two boys outstanding appearance, which was rarely seen in the world, he knew that only Li Shimin could be compared to them. Thereupon he sounded them out, Based on two Xiao Shifus natural endowments and talents, no matter which business you picked, I am sure you will stand out among your peers. How did you select culinary art?

    Kou Zhong replied nonchalantly, This is called the time dictates the fate. If it were time of peace and prosperity, we, two brothers, might find a way to seek scholarly honor, to do something good for common people.

    Astounded, Dou Wei said, Xiao Shifus style of conversation is not uncouth, your words carry deep meaning, but was the tone desolate and cold? Was it because of some sad memories?

    Xu Ziling was afraid Kou Zhong might expose some mistake in his speech, plus he noticed that Shang Xiuxuns beautiful eyes were fixed at them with thoughtful expression in them, thereupon he hurriedly replied, Just before entering the Hall, we, two brothers were chatting idly, which led us talking about our hometown being ravaged in the fire of war; therefore, our mind was in turmoil. Dou Daren, please do not take offense.

    Li Gang nodded; addressing everybody sitting around the table, he said, The whole country in rebellion, the first to bear the brunt has always been the common people. Take the private coin minting that is very popular nowadays; it brings the maximum destruction toward common peoples livelihood. Originally one thousand qian is worth two catties. But now in private coin minting, a thousand qian is less than one catty; so much so that iron disk, leather and paper are being used in place of copper coin. If this situation continues, I really dont know what the end will be.

    Liu Zongdao joined in, If only the Great Tang can unify the world, corrupt practices will be eliminated, the world will be in peace and security.

    Li Gang chuckled and said, It will require Changzhus full support for this endeavor to succeed.

    Shang Xiuxun declined to comment. Rolling her beautiful eyes, she turned toward Li Xiuning, who was sitting quietly with a blank expression on her face, Princess, arent you going to inquire how they made the smoked fish?

    As if she was just awakened from a dream, Li Xiuning said, Xiuning is going to! Tomorrow I want to visit the kitchen to get a hands on lesson with two great Shifu; that would be the best approach.

    A jealous look flitted through the Fourth Manager Wu Zhaorus eyes; he proposed, Im sure Princess Ning is very busy. I could have them write the recipe in details; that would work as well.

    Li Xiuning cast a quick glance toward Kou Zhong, who had his head hung low, and insisted, It would be better if Xiuning personally ask for two great Shifus brilliant guidance!

    Shang Xiuxun laughed indifferently and said, Just as Princess wishes!

    Turning toward the two boys, she said, You are dismissed, go get some rest.

    ※ ※ ※

    Returning to their room, Kou Zhong dejectedly slumped himself in the chair. He seemed to want to talk, but no words came out.

    Xu Ziling sat down opposite him; he said indifferently, As long as she is not married yet, you still have a chance to get her. Kou Zhong of today is totally different from Kou Zhong of yesterday; nobody will dare to despise you.

    Kou Zhong sighed. After pondering for a moment, he slowly shook his head and said, I already have no way to turn back. Lets not speak about she already has a sweetheart, even if she is willing to marry me, I wont abandon my aspiration of contending for hegemony of the world over wife or family. Ay! I know my own problem, you should also understand me, I, Kou Zhong, am absolutely not a person who will be easy content with my lot in life.

    Xu Ziling had no more to say. He said, I promised Mr. Lu to visit him tonight. Are you coming?

    Kou Zhong shook his head, I just want to think by myself quietly.

    After pondering for half a day, finally Xu Ziling rose up and left.

    ※ ※ ※

    When Xu Ziling arrived at Lu Miaozis little two-story house, this number one master craftsman in the world was standing proudly at the edge of the cliff outside his house. He appeared to be contemplating old affairs; there was a melancholy look on his face.

    Xu Ziling came behind him, paid his respect and greeted him.

    Lu Miaozi did not seem to care that Kou Zhong was not coming at all. He led Xu Ziling to the hall of the lower floor of his house, and after seated properly he said, Although Jianghu people esteem me as the number one master craftsman in the world, they thought theres nothing I dont know, theres nothing I cannot do; this is definitely a misunderstanding.

    Xu Ziling sincerely said, Mister is definitely someone with most experience and knowledge this kid has ever encountered in my life. The smoked fish and sweet and crispy that we made according to Misters instruction were simply

    Lu Miaozi cut him off, Regretfully that is precisely my weak point. I was interested in everything, anything can provoke my curiosity; with limited life I was pursuing infinite knowledge. Supposing I was able to focus on martial art, although I may not necessarily able to overcome that witch, at least I would be able to escape unscathed, and thus would be able to live eight or ten years longer.

    But then he smiled and said, Then again, were it not for my extensive knowledge of medical science and therapeutic regimens, I would have been dead thirty years ago, and today I wouldnt be able to meet with you, Ziling, to spend the night chatting and drinking.

    Xu Ziling deeply felt his conflicting emotions, but could not find any word to say.

    Lu Miaozi said, Since leaving my home town at the age of twelve, until I was fifty, not a single moment I spent not living a wandering life; only constant changes and continuous stimulation made me enjoy the beauty of life. It was not until the bitter defeat in Zhu Yuyans hands thirty years ago that I finally settled down. Although from time to time I still travel around, my mood is already substantially different. I became more interested in arts, and have spent considerable time and energy to delve into it, until I finally obtained an unexpected discovery.

    Xu Zilings interest was greatly piqued; he could not help commenting, This discovery must be extremely important!

    Lu Miaozi revealed a knowing even you, this kid who have neither greed nor ambition, are also tempted by it smile, but he did not respond directly. Instead, he changed the subject by saying, These past thirty years the things that fascinate me and drive me to study meticulously are: landscape gardening, building construction, mechanism, weaponry, history, geography and botany, the seven subjects of knowledge.

    Xu Ziling sucked in a mouthful of cold air and said, Any one of those subjects will take an average person a lifetime of effort to master, yet Mister is able to master all of them at the same time. Hey! It is really hard to believe.

    Smiling wryly, Lu Miaozi said, This is called a leopard can't change its spots; however, if I wasnt wearied because of the internal injury, I might have concentrated on the martial art and then gone to find that witch so that both of us would perish together.

    With a wistful look on his eyes, he heaved a deep sigh and said, Actually, landscape and building architecture was not something Laofu loved dearly. It was because I lost a game of chess against Qingya that I was forced to fulfill my bet, and had to design the courtyards, orchards, buildings and pavilions in this place.

    After a sad sigh, he continued, However, if I did not devote my heart and mind in this, there is a good chance that the remorse would attack my heart and my injury would flare out and Laofu would have died. Oh, Qingya! This debt of mine, when can I repay it to you?

    Noticing Xu Zilings puzzled look as he stared at him, Lu Miaozi explained, Qingya was Xiuxuns mother. Ay!

    Intuitively, Xu Ziling understood that there must be an unusual relationship between Lu Miaozi and Shang Xiuxuns mother.

    Lu Miaozi looked as if he suddenly aged several years. After another deep sigh, he went on, After inflicting injury that time, Zhu Yuyan personally hunted Laofu down. Originally I wanted to go to Ning Daoqi to seek shelter; who would have thought that he was traveling abroad? I could only go to the Flying Horse Ranch to hide. By employing all kinds of deploying troops to mislead the enemy schemes, I managed to deceive the witch into thinking that I have also escaped abroad; otherwise, Laofu would have been killed by that witch early on.

    And then, with a serious expression he continued, This witchs heretical skill has reached the pinnacle of demonic school proficiency, it involves inscrutable supernatural beings method. Ning Daoqi has subsequently fought hand to hand with her three times, yet he still cannot do anything to her.

    Remembering Wanwan, Xu Ziling remained silent.

    Lu Miaozi was deep in thought for half a day. Suddenly his palm, which appeared empty, powerless and floaty, slapped the surface of the table. Although it did not create any sound, an imprint of his palm, at least a cun deep, appeared on the hardwood tabletop. With pained voice he said, Oh, Qingya! I really owe you so much. If I could go back in time, I would definitely not slip away secretly. All those mans great undertakings are no more than fleeting smoke; how could it be compared to your glance filled with love?

    A burst of emotion welled up in Xu Zilings heart; remembering Kou Zhong, he wondered if someday, just like Lu Miaozi, Kou Zhong would also regret this chance encounter?

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong rose up to his full height from the chair. Gnashing his teeth, he picked up the Moon in the Well, and then like a floating smoke he flew out the window, and disappeared into the dark courtyard.

  5. #105
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 9 Chapter 9

    Book 9 Chapter 9 The Escaping One

    Lu Miaozi said apathetically, Before my death, can you come here to see me every night?

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, As long as I am still here, I can accompany Mister every night to chat.

    Lu Miaozi said, If it were Kou Zhong, he would have been very eager to learn all kinds of skill from me; you have neither greed nor ambition, and are at home wherever you are. Thirty years ago I would have chosen Kou Zhong instead of you; but today, you are my best choice.

    Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, Compared to Mister, I am a complete layman; I am afraid it would be hard for me to learn anything in such a short period of time, or live up to Misters expectation.

    Lu Miaozi smiled slightly and said, Success or failure, you and I need not worry about it; just consider it an idle chat. Were it not for coincidentally meeting you in this time, I would not have any interest to hand down the understanding I gained during the last thirty years to you.

    Xu Ziling mused, Supposing Kou Zhong asked me what I learned from Mister, it would be difficult for me not to tell him honestly.

    Lu Miaozi was unable to help laughing; he said, You are very forthcoming; but what I am going to teach you is the natural way; it will be useful only for someone with indifferent attitude toward life like you, Kou Zhong will not be interested. Whats the harm in telling him honestly?

    Xu Ziling breathed out a sigh of relief. Thats good, he said, I thought Mister was going to teach me how to build all kinds of mechanism and gadgets.

    Lu Miaozi laughed involuntarily again; he appeared to be considering the best way to unload everything in his mind to the young martial art expert with extraordinary natural ability in his presence.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong flew to the top of the bell tower on the Ranch Masters residence. He saw row after row of roof ridges extending continuously to the distance. There were lantern lights everywhere, and guards, maids and servants walking along the corridors connecting the buildings.

    Using the technique he learned from Chen Laomou, he quickly determined which building ought to be the main building, and that building should be the guesthouse. With further investigation, he was sure he could find where Li Xiuning was staying tonight.

    He could not refrain his heart from sighing.

    She was scheduled to see and talk to him the next day, yet he still wanted to see her tonight; if it was not superfluous, then what was it?

    But soon his mind was flooded with blazing fire of desire. He was about to fly toward his target, a cluster of courtyards, when in a distant building he saw a shadow flashed.

    Greatly astounded, Kou Zhong temporarily pushed Li Xiunings matter to the back of his mind and flew out to pursue.

    ※ ※ ※

    Lu Miaozi slowly stood up and walked over to the window. Looking out at the steep rock wall of the opposite cliff, with his back toward Xu Ziling, he said in heavy voice, Between the Heaven and the Earth, everything has its own law, as well as many superficial changes, but no departure from the original stand. The law has its own beginning, and also has its end.

    Xu Ziling was astounded, The law has its own beginning, this logic is quite simple and easy to understand, but it has its end? I remain puzzled after pondering over it a hundred times.

    Turning around, Lu Miaozi smiled and said, Didnt I just say that after spent considerable time and energy for thirty years, I finally obtained an unexpected discovery? This is precisely the answer to your question.

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, Mister keeps dangling a carrot in front of me; cant you just speak out?

    Lu Miaozi cheerfully said, I just want you to have a deeper impression, hence I intentionally used some tricks.

    After pondering silently for half a day, Lu Miaozi slowly said, Great spread out is numbered fifty; forty is used, nine remains. These two sentences are from The Book of Changes [Yi Jing], which has always regarded as a teaching method of divination, simply because divination uses fifty stalks, which evolved into several methods. Except for one, I dont know how many heaven and earth principles are hanging on these two sentences.

    And then he asked, Have you read The Book of Changes?

    Xu Zilings thick face turned reddish; he shook his head indicating that he had not.

    Lu Miaozi sighed and said, When our ancient predecessors said anything related to these methods, due to their beliefs that mysteries of heaven must not be revealed, they always hid the head and showed the tail. Due to the proceeding sentence, dividing two will take the shape of two, which is precisely a divinatory diagram method, people have taken wrong steps in life, not knowing the usage of the hidden principle, and the principle of the hidden usage in the preceding two sentences; it is indeed the deepest layer of meaning of the law.

    It was the very first time that Xu Ziling had any exposure to the changing principles. His interest greatly piqued, he said, Those two sentences sound interesting. What Heaven and Earths secret they actually contain?

    Remaining tranquil and calm, Lu Miaozi said, Fifty is the perfect number. When the number reaches fifty, all living things under the heavens are on their places; there is no movement. However, if one number is missing and becomes forty-nine, there will be a lot of empty positions open. The other forty-nine will thus be on the move, there will be thousands changes and ten thousands usage; there will be no limit.

    Xu Ziling slapped the table and shouted with praise, This explanation is exquisite beyond compare.

    Lu Miaozi was astounded, Do you really understand what I was saying? he asked.

    Whats so difficult to understand? Xu Ziling asked in consternation, Just like fifty chairs will seat fifty people. If these people are not allowed to change position, or allowed to go somewhere else, naturally there wont be any changes. But if there was one less person vacating one chair, its only natural that there would be a lot of changes.

    After staring blankly at him for quite a long time, Lu Miaozi sighed and said, You, this kid, indeed have superior natural talent; probably there wont be any second person in the present age with that thought. What you just understood is precisely the essence of the law. It is called the escaping first; what has escaped is precisely this one. All the things that those river diagrams and stream books are talking about are no more than nature [innate] and nurture Bagua [eight divinatory trigrams of the Book of Changes]. From nature and nurture, the heaven and the earth exchange position, the universe turns around, and thus the change begins.

    After a short pause, he continued proudly, Any knowledge between the Heaven and the Earth, including martial art and life, in its highest realm is how to find back this escaping one. Only after this one is found will everything begin to return to the perfect before the Heaven and the Earth discerned it realm. This is the greatest discovery I made after thirty years of hard thinking.

    Xu Zilings body shook severely; his tiger-eyes shot an unprecedented level of flashes. In that instant, he grasped one kind of mystery within a mystery, relating to the secret principle of the Heaven and the Earth.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong pushed his speed to its limit.

    Inside his body, like flashes of lightning the vortex of cold energy traveled back and forth at an astonishing high speed within his meridians, enabling him to move nimbly with the same freedom of action of the fish swimming in the water; compared to before, the difference was like the Heaven and the Earth.

    His feet landed on the back of a buildings roof, and he swiftly slid down to the ground. Passing through a moon gate at the entrance of a side garden, he swiftly moved across toward the back of a thicket, barely missing an elderly maids sight, who had just opened the window to look out. Somersaulting over the perimeter wall, he flitted diagonally to the top of a building nearby, and then ricocheted toward a horizontal branch protruding from a big tree next to the building. Borrowing the elastic energy of the branch he flew toward the top of another building, from where he just caught sight of the shadow was shooting up at an angle toward the top of the Inner Castles external wall.

    Kou Zhong jumped in fright; but then immediately realized that the opposite side must have used flying rope with hook or similar tools; otherwise, other than Ning Daoqi, Bi Xuan, or other martial art masters their caliber, who could leap straight onto the city wall over fifteen zhang high?

    Who was this person?

    Kou Zhongs toes pushed on the branch of an old Banyan tree by the wall; unleashing his qinggong and exerting his entire strength he flew to the top of the wall just like a fish leaping out of the water.

    He was still about a zhang away from the top of the wall when he ran out of momentum. While Kou Zhong was groaning inwardly, suddenly he felt the vortex of cold energy within his body grew and multiplied without end, giving him a boost of power.

    Greatly delighted, he raised a mouthful of true qi and lightly set his feet on the wall.

    Due to its geographical advantage of inaccessible natural barrier, the Flying Horse Ranchs defense was concentrated on the outer wall; they guarded against the outsiders but not against the insiders. Therefore, the Inner Castle defense was not as tight. Anybody who was familiar with the situation and knew how to avoid several sparsely located sentry posts and lookout towers, plus in possession of first class shenfa, would be able to enter.

    Kou Zhong was an expert in escaping and hiding. As soon as he reached the top of the wall, he lay prostrate while craning out his neck to look back and forth.

    The mountain towns chain of buildings below the city wall extended all the way until the outside city wall.

    Beyond that wall was the vast pasture, with tents everywhere and where the horses and the sheep whinnying and bleating.

    After entering a small house with a courtyard, the dark shadow did not reappear. Kou Zhong sighed inwardly, knowing that he had to cancel his desire to meet Li Xiuning privately, a rare opportunity in thousands of years.

    Leaping down the wall, he darted toward the building where the dark shadow disappeared.

    ※ ※ ※

    Lu Miaozis face was radiant with a divine light, as he spoke word by word, This missing one or escaping one is circulating around the world continually, it roams around incessantly, while at the same time exists inside all living things. Laozi [Lao-tze] called it Dao [Tao, the way], Sakyamuni called it Fu [Buddha/Buddhism]. The idea behind Fu is consciousness [Buddhist enlightenment]; thousands changes and ten thousands usage, there is no limit.

    Xu Ziling slapped the table and said with a sigh, This is indeed the most formidable xinfa [lit. heart law/method, I think I translated it as mental cultivation before] in the martial art study; just like during the life and death battle, this escaping one also circulating incessantly following the moves. If one can accurately grasp this concept, then one would be able to determine the opponents life and death.

    This time it was Lu Miaozis turn to be bewildered; frowning, he said, I have never thought that this principle and martial art theory are related.

    Xu Ziling explained matter-of-factly, Within the duel itself, the qi is produced by the orifice, and the original spot of the qi creation is the life and death orifice. If this orifice was broken, even Ning Daoqi, Bi Xuan and their peers would undoubtedly die. Supposing during the time the true qi is circulating within the body this orifice is also constantly moving, it will be just like the escaping one, with constant change following the Heavens enumeration. And thus the enemy would have no ability to grasp it or break it.

    Stunned, Lu Miaozi stared at him for half a day. He sighed and said, This xinfa of yours, not only it has never been recorded in any ancient books or martial art manuals, nobody has ever mentioned it either. Ay! I always boasted that my intelligent surpasses others, just because I had extremely vast knowledge. It was only because I failed to focus on martial art that my accomplishment could not reach Ning Daoqi and his peers level. Who would have thought that only after seeing you today, I realize what exceptional talent in martial art study is really like?

    Xu Ziling said sheepishly, I was just blathering; but this is really an interesting principle, I must study it carefully with Kou Zhong. I hope Mister would not mind?

    After staring blankly for quite a while, Lu Miaozi said, Why would I mind? It seems to me that just now you have not fully expressed yourself; would you care to elaborate some more for me?

    Exerting himself, Xu Ziling said, Just based on the qi orifice within ones body: during battle, there will always be the strongest and the weakest points, which are also moving incessantly following the styles changes. Being able to avoid the strong and strike the weak is the most formidable technique to control the enemy.

    Frowning, Lu Miaozi said, This method maybe effective in dealing with ordinary martial art master, but Ning Daoqi, Zhu Yuyan, and the likes, I guarantee there wont be any weak point to be found.

    Xu Ziling begged to differ; he said, Its not that they dont have any weak point to exploit, its just that the strong and the weak merge together, so that others cannot find it! Supposing we can be one step ahead in finding the next moves changes, by striking into an empty point, we can make them revealing the weakest point. Heavens! I finally understand the Yijian method. Its like anticipating the next piece; each move is forcing the opponent to have no choice but to respond, to have no choice but to expose their weak points.

    Listening to that, Lu Miaozi was dumbstruck. It was quite half a day later that he regained his composure. First he revealed a bitterly self-deprecating expression, and then with a hoarse voice he said, Now you can grasp the essence of this principle better than I do. I can teach you anything and you can use this profound theory to learn about landscape and building architecture, mechanism and various other subjects.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong flitted across the rear courtyard of the big building. Passing through a long corridor, he reached the courtyard connecting the front and the rear sections. Pulling himself up, he waited on the roof for a moment before leaping back down on the ground, and moved toward the shadow under the window on the west side of the building. Just as he was about to take a peek inside, someone in the house cried out, Huh?

    Kou Zhong was greatly shocked. Unexpectedly this person was so superior that he was able to detect his approaching; his martial art skill was definitely better than the one wearing black night-walker outfit Kou Zhong was stalking earlier. Not daring to be careless, like a lightning he hid behind a cluster of trees nearby.

    A gust of wind ensued, a man in dark clothes flew out of the window, his luminous eyes scanned the surrounding, and then he jumped onto the roof.

    The person in black clothes just now also jumped out the window, walked around the building to the west window, and called out in tender voice, Nobodys here! Are you sure you did not hear it wrong? She was wearing a hood, so that only her eyes and nose were visible.

    At his hiding place, Kou Zhong mused inwardly, Turns out its a girl, but he was sure that he had not heard her voice before.

    The man jumped down to the ground. Wrapping his arm around her waist, he said with a laugh, Perhaps a rat passed by! Its always good to be a bit more careful.

    Kou Zhong cursed in his heart, Your Die is a rat! Narrowing his eyes until they appeared as a line, he looked at the man.

    The man was between twenty-four, twenty-five, not too tall, but his shoulders broad and his waist solid. Although he could not be considered good looking, but there was a hint of manly man in him.

    He was talking and laughing with the woman, but there was no smiling expression on his eyes; they look grim and callous. Under his thick eyebrows, his two eyes continuously scanned every nook and cranny in the dark courtyard, but somehow he missed the underbrush only about ten paces away from him.

    The women spoke intimately, How could I dare not to be careful? Arent I afraid to receive punishment from you like the other night?

    The man burst into lewd laughter; the arm around her waist moved toward her fragrant butts and he said, Its getting late, the old guy will be back from the feast soon, and I need to make a report. If we are successful this time, I can guarantee endless glory, splendor wealth and rank for you to enjoy.

    What a pity! Kou Zhong cried out inwardly; unexpectedly he would not have the opportunity to eavesdrop their plots.

    Unwilling to part, the woman said, The old ghost still has to deal with a lot of things, he would not be back this early. The night is still young!

    The tone of her voice was so suggestive that even Kou Zhong who was eavesdropping also felt the enticing force; he could not help praying to the Heaven that the man would stay, so that he could learn more about their secret.

    Who would have thought that the man remained unmoved? His eyebrows slightly rose, his face was back into its callous expression, and he said with a sinister smile, If we are delayed, I might be falling under your coquettish hooves punishment; go back quickly!

    The woman whined, You really have a heart of stone; you already sent me to sleep with the old ghost, leaving me unsatisfied every night, and when a rare opportunity arises, you still refuse to comfort me. Hee! But what nujia loves the most is your heroic air and generosity. Off we go!

    After kissing each other in the mouth, the two people promptly left in separate directions. Without the slightest hesitation Kou Zhong ran after the man.

    If he heard that s1uts voice again, he was sure he would be able to recognize her. Right now he was most curious about how this man would overcome the Ranchs natural stronghold to go back to the outside world.

    Besides, his hands were terribly itching right now.

    ※ ※ ※

    Lu Miaozi said cheerfully, Garden landscape design is a natural design. The gist of it is to bring out the power of the scenery, just like painting a dragon and dotting in the eyes. In such a clear matter like this, in addition to the things mentioned above, it has to be wide open and clear; not only it will harmonized mental cultivation, it will also trigger the mystery known only to Heaven. Thus this is not a simple principle at all.

    Noticing that Xu Ziling was nodding continuously, he asked in amazement, Such an ethereal, difficult ideas, yet you are listening with smiled of exultation?

    Xu Ziling calmly replied, Since setting foot in the Castle, I already have the feeling that Mister has just described. Its just that I cant describe it as exquisite and as thoroughly and in appropriate terms as Mister did, so when listening to it, I am very delighted.

    Lu Miaozi was dumbstruck for a while. Finally, half delighted half frustrated he said, I really want to find something that when you hear it, you wont understand. Ha! Actually, I ought to be happy, just like meeting an intimate friend or something; otherwise, it would be like casting pearls before swine [orig. playing lute to a cow], perhaps I would have been so angry that I lost several days of my life.

    After taking a long, long breath, Lu Miaozi went on, Although there are countless changes in landscape design, only nine are important, i.e. space, light and shade, partition, lining, form, hue, climate, scent, and the type of fruit you want to offer. Do you have it memorized?

    Xu Ziling repeated what he said, word for word.

    Do you understand it? Lu Miaozi probed further.

    Grabbing his head, Xu Ziling said, Mister explained it so clearly, whats not to understand? However, from those nine items, I cant think of a way to use the last two in martial art; the rest may be put to good use. Its only now do I understand that on the highest level, all that Mister had said so far are interlinked.

    Lu Miaozi smiled wryly and said, When did I explain that? Even if you beat me to death I would have not believed that merely based on these several sentences you already understand the essence of what I researched for many years. Why dont you explain to me the first key point, space?

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, What if I explain it incorrectly?

    Lu Miaozi roared in wild laughter; patting Xu Zilings shoulders vigorously, he said, while still laughing hilariously, Over the last thirty years, I have never been as delighted as tonight; I can even say that perhaps my life has just been extended for a few days. Go ahead! Do you think I, Lu Miaozi, am so narrow-minded that I cant even tolerate mistakes?

    And thus Xu Ziling explained, Space is something that exists everywhere. For example, when two people are facing each other, the space between them will change constantly; whoever grasps this space concept will grasp the chance to seize victory. Landscape design is the same way, it suggests the concept of space; for example: a residential building behind a high wall; there is a far-reaching concept of space, as if there is an abyss behind the house. All those level plains/high plains, high/low or visible/invisible, looks big in the midst of small, are all about space composition. Am I wrong?

    Remaining calm and collected, Lu Miaozi asked, What about light and shade?

    Xu Ziling replied, Actually, it is directional issue; facing the sun or facing away from the sun, the scenery will be completely different. Take the tall forest grown at oblique angle west of Misters small two-story building for example; they can provide heavy shade during the full light of day. Another example would be under the bright sun or moonlight, the shadows on the wall moves, banana shades cover the window, parasol tree [Sterculia platanifolia] shades extend on the ground, Chinese scholar tree [Sophora japonica] shades cover the front courtyard. Just by exploiting this kind of light and shade, we can create unlimited creative concept.

    Without giving Xu Ziling time to think, Lu Miaozi skipped to the fifth item, form.

    Staying casual, Xu Ziling replied, That is like painting dragon with fine points; i.e. involving linked items in the landscape design. For example courtyard, atrium, moon platform, intersection, and the like; also ancient vines, old trees, balcony, benches, railing, fence, or perhaps gazebo, veranda, elevated pavilion, rotunda, rockery, fishpond, small bridges, and so on, stitched together to form the scenery, so that people will look it with pleasure.

    Lu Miaozi slapped the table and sighed, You, this kid, have finished your apprenticeship. Get lost now! Come back tomorrow!

  6. #106
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 9 Chapter 10

    Book 9 Chapter 10 Gratitude and Grudges Spanning Two Generations

    When Xu Ziling was leaving Lu Miaozis little house, he almost burst into a song to vent his excitement.

    Having a conversation with the wise is better than studying for ten years. This saying probably described this case the best.

    Many things that usually stayed as clear as mud even after he bitterly pondered over it, suddenly made sense.

    Just like after blazing sun drove away the dark clouds, now he was able to see ten-thousand li of clear skies.

    This escaping one principle would enable him to achieve real infinite benefits throughout his life, it was more formidable that discovering a breakthrough consummate skill.

    When he stepped into the gate leading to the rear courtyard, the alarm suddenly went off in his heart.

    The feeling that he usually got when someone was spying on him in the dark.

    From the abstruse mysterious realm Xu Ziling immediately returned to reality. Regaining his composure, he quickly restrained his true qi, and continued walking to his room in ordinary peoples heavy steps.

    The first watch of the night [between 7-9pm] has already passed; the moon was already high in the sky.

    He decided to use no change to deal with ten-thousand changes, deliberately pretending to be completely off-guard as he walked along the corridor surrounding the space between the building and the courtyard, toward the front door of his room.

    He deduced that whoever was watching him must have already been lying in ambush somewhere inside the room, while Kou Zhong was strolling outside to look for Li Xiuning.

    It would be strange indeed if anybody from the Ranch came looking for them at this time and was not surprised to find the room was empty. With this thought, he felt relieved and simply pushed the door and walked in.

    A sword qi assaulted his body.

    In that instant, Xu Ziling already determined that the attacker was the outstanding beauty [orig. national grace, divine fragrance] Shang Xiuxun; moreover, although the sword carried ferocious momentum, it still left some leeway, and was not meant to take his life at all.

    Ah! The edge of the sword already rested on Xu Zilings throat.

    Shang Xiuxuns cold-frost-like face was right in front of his. Where have you been? she coldly asked.

    Xu Ziling used his power to drain the blood from his face; pretending to be scared out of his wits, he replied with trembling voice, I just went to the small pavilion by the cliff at the back to enjoy the cool air!

    The tip of Shang Xiuxuns sword emitted powerful qi, penetrating deep into his channels. Fortunately he had learned the skill he stole from Wanwan, and applied it pragmatically to send his vortex of qi to the yong quan acupoint on his left foot a step ahead of Shang Xiuxun, so that the qi in his meridians was only slightly stronger than average person. Unfortunately however, he was unable to maintain this condition for too long, but he really did not have any other alternative.

    Sure enough, Shang Xiuxuns true qi reached his dantian and circulated there for two cycles before she retrieved it away. Returning her sword to its sheathe, she hissed, Where is that good Xiongdi of yours?

    Xu Ziling breathed a sigh of relief for real; he said, He had some tummy problem, and went to hey Changzhu ought to know?

    Half-believing half-doubting Shang Xiuxun stared hard at him for a moment, Light the lantern first, she ordered.

    Xu Ziling groaned inwardly; if Kou Zhong did not return soon, even with his silver tongue he would not be able to convince this beauty with above average intelligence.

    ※ ※ ※

    The lantern gradually brightened, bathing the room in its gentle and warm light.

    Sit down! Shang Xiuxun ordered.

    Shang Xiuxun waited until Xu Ziling was sitting properly in the chair by the window before she took the chair by the table in the middle of the room. With her pretty eyes shooting sharp rays, she fixed her gaze on him and said, You must have known Li Xiuning before, havent you?

    It was only then did Xu Ziling understand the reason she was looking for them. Pretending to be stunned, he asked, Whos Li Xiuning?

    Shang Xiuxun smiled and said, You are acting very well. With Li Xiunings self-cultivation and well-composed character, it was impossible that she would suddenly make much fuss about nothing. You want to conceal it from me; I wonder if you would confess after being served the house rules? This is called refusing a toast only to be forced to drink a forfeit.

    Xu Ziling mused that probably Kou Zhong would not return tonight, so if he still wanted to cover up the left and conceal the right, he could only cook up some dumb excuses. But if he had a falling out with Shang Xiuxun, he would not be able to come to Lu Miaozis place tomorrow night.

    With a wry smile, which came from his heart, he said, If Changzhu dont believe us, we will leave tomorrow. Even if we really know Li Xiuning, we did not violate any Ranch rules. Ay! I really dont know what to say.

    A complex expression, which was hard to decipher, appeared in Shang Xiuxuns eyes; as she was about to speak, footsteps were heard, coming toward their direction. The two peoples eyes immediately fell toward the open door.

    Kou Zhong swaggered into the room, Changzhu! he blurted out in shock.

    Shang Xiuxun looked at him coldly.

    Kou Zhong was certainly a genius at practicing fraud; pretending to have a sudden inspiration he said, Changzhu must be here to admire my treasured saber a bit early!

    Shang Xiuxuns eyes fell onto the Moon in the Well hanging on his back; she spoke indifferently, Where have you been? Why do you have to bring a saber?

    Kou Zhong was used to seamless collaboration with Xu Ziling, naturally his gaze flitted toward him first, but without missing a beat his mouth spoke, Just now Xiao Jing and I He noticed Xu Zilings toes were pointing at the direction of the back mountain, and his hand was rubbing his belly; being a smart aleck as he was, he continued, Hey! Xiao Jing and I went to the back mountain to see that old Mister to learn some skills; we also ate something. Ha!

    What? Shang Xiuxun blurted out.

    Kou Zhong knew something was not right, but he did not know where he had revealed the cloven foot.

    Xu Ziling hastily tried to remedy the situation. What did you say, he angrily said, Have you forgotten Old Misters order?

    Kou Zhong realized suddenly; smiling apologetically, he said, Although Old Mister told us not to tell anybody, Changzhu is our boss. Its all right for us not to tell anybody else, but we should not conceal it from her. Xiao Jing, you are so muddleheaded; why havent you apologized to Changzhu?

    Xu Ziling continued the charade, I only know that a real mans word is worth nine sacred tripods; no wonder after eating Old Misters stuff you got diarrhea.

    Shut up! Both of you! Shang Xiuxun hissed.

    Stunned, the two boys looked at her.

    Shang Xiuxun stood up and said, You two, come with me.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling followed behind Shang Xiuxuns alluring back, straight toward Lu Miaozis small two-story house.

    There was still light at the upper floor, but there was no sound.

    Shang Xiuxun looked up to the upper floors window; her pretty face lengthened as she shouted heavily, Old Man [orig. lao tou er, usually used in a rude manner]! You break your promise!

    The two boys jumped out of their skin; they had never expected Shang Xiuxun would be so impolite toward the number one master craftsman in the world who designed and built the Inner Castles landscape garden.

    Lu Miaozis voice was heard, Changzhu has not visited my An Le Wo for three years; why dont you come upstairs and enjoy a cup of Six-fruit Brew with the Old Man?

    Shang Xiuxun turned frosty; she said coldly, This Changzhu is not interested. I only know that you broke your promise; so are you going to leave on your own, or do you need me to personally kick you out?

    Listening to this, the two boys were at a loss; they did not understand why Shang Xiuxun adopted a like fire meets water attitude toward Lu Miaozi.

    Lu Miaozi sighed and said, When did I break my promise?

    Shang Xiuxun replied heavily, Three years ago when Niang passed away, you promised in front of Niang that you would not meddle in our Ranchs affairs, and that you would not leave the back mountain even for half a step, which was why I let you stay. But now you have the audacity to teach my Ranchs people; if that is not breaking your promise, what is it?

    Lu Miaozis head suddenly appeared on the window. He looked down and stared blankly at Shang Xiuxun.

    Shang Xiuxun was furious, I forbid you to look at me! she shouted.

    Lu Miaozi sighed. Shifting his gaze to the night sky above, he yearned, You look so much like your Niang.

    Regaining her composure, Shang Xiuxun coldly said, I forbid you to mention Niang. You are basically not worthy to talk about her. Until today I still dont understand why Niang adamantly wanted to protect you. All right! Are you or are you not going to nicely get out of here on your own?

    Lu Miaozi asked softly, Are they your Ranchs people?

    Shang Xiuxun was taken aback, They are hired by me, personally. If they are not my Ranchs people, what do you think they are?

    Lu Miaozis gaze fell on her face again; he said with a sigh, It hasnt been three years, they are still outsiders. Ay! He was clearly unwilling to argue with Shang Xiuxun, but in this case he was forced to; otherwise, he would have to leave in a big hurry.

    Shang Xiuxun was indeed stumped; stomping her feet, she said, Lu Miaozi, Niang is dead, why are you still reluctant to leave?

    Lu Miaozi sighed and said, Is it possible to give me ten more days? After that, Changzhu will definitely not see me again.

    Shang Xiuxun took a deep breath and said, Looking at Niangs face, this Changzhu agrees to grant you ten days grace period.

    Turning around, she glowered at the two boys and barked, Get lost and go back to sleep!

    ※ ※ ※

    Lying on their bed, the two boys were silent for a long time.

    Finally Kou Zhong was unable to hold back, I found some spies, he blurted out.

    Xu Ziling responded indifferently, Didnt you go out to look for your Princess Xiuning?

    Kou Zhong sat up and said with a wry smile, I did want to look for her, but along the way I came across the spies. Thereupon he narrated his experience.

    Xu Ziling frowned and said, If you ran after that guy, how come you were back so quickly?

    Kou Zhong dejectedly said, That guy has hooks and ropes and wooden cut [tool to collect the thread on the spinning wheel (courtesy of Akolaw)] kind of tools to climb the mountain, he was able to hike precipitous cliff, and I did not dare to follow him up too closely, so in just several twists and turns I lost him, making me nearly die of anger.

    But then he turned cheerful and said, This is called blessing in disguise, because if I did not come back in time, Beautiful Changzhu would discover our true identity.

    Xu Ziling also sat up and said, You said that rubbing tummy means you have to go to the bathroom, how come you said you were eating something?

    Kou Zhong blurted out laughing and said, You did not show your going to the bathroom expression, how could I tell?

    Xu Ziling was also amused; thinking deeply, he said, This time you clearly made a mistake; if the one you were following was that s1ut, you would know by now the spy who is colluding with the enemy.

    Kou Zhong sneered and said, With so many clues, are you afraid she might escape out of the hollow of our palm?

    After a short pause, he continued confidently, First of all, this s1ut must be somebodys concubine, plus she has not been someones concubine for too long. Secondly, the sucker she cheated must be one of the Ranch people attending the banquet last night, and since they referred to him as the old guy, only Shang Zhen and Liang Zhi are eligible to be in the list. So easy to investigate, what are you afraid of?

    Recalling the two gorgeous women massaging Shang Zhen when they first met, Xu Ziling nodded and said, Shang Zhen holds the highest possibility; but this kind of case is not easy to investigate. Besides, even if we knew who she is, unless we reveal our own identity, we still cant do anything to her.

    We can start from her lover, Kou Zhong said, He will come back here, sooner or later.

    Xu Ziling said, Well find a way to examine that building tomorrow, there bound to be some spiders thread and horse track to be found.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Xu Shaoye seems to be very concerned about Beautiful Changzhu, ha! I think she was just using all kinds of excuses to be close to you.

    Xu Ziling said irately, You seem to forget about Li Xiuning already; otherwise, how can you still laugh?

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Because of that adulterous couple plus Beautiful Changzhu, I really forgot about her. Therefore, I can safely say that I am able to get her out of my mind. Right! I forgot to ask you what skill you learned from Lu Miaozi? Is it something fun?

    Thereupon Xu Ziling had Lu Miaozis abstruse theory completely out in the open.

    Emotionally moved, Kou Zhong said, This theory is more profound than the Yijian Technique; we must explore it to the end. What else?

    Xu Ziling explained the nine important aspects of landscape design; who would have thought that he was only on the third item of the list when Kou Zhong already yawned and interrupted him, There is one thing that I feel very strange; didnt Shang Xiuxun say that three years ago Lu Miaozi promised not to leave the back mountain even for half a step? Yet he obviously slipped out from time to time. There must be a secret tunnel somewhere; otherwise, how could nobody ever detect his coming and going?

    Knowing that Kou Zhong had no interest in landscape design, Xu Ziling lay down and said, Sleep!

    ※ ※ ※

    Bang! Bang! Bang!

    The two boys were absolutely unwilling to get out of their bed.

    Lan Gus harsh voice screamed from outside the door, Have you become thieves last night? Do you know what time it is? In the entire Ranch, only the two of you are still asleep. Will you believe me if I say I am going to get in and tear your bed down?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other with wry smile on their faces. The former jumped out of bed to open the door and said, The two of us went to the back mountain to accompany Changzhu admiring the moon, and we talked all night long. Cant we just sleep a bit longer?

    Lan Gu was immediately scared by him and stopped talking. Changzhu? she blurted out.

    Kou Zhong continued boldly, If you dont believe me just ask Changzhu, see if we really went with her to the back mountain or not.

    Noticing the bright sunlight outside, Xu Ziling realized that the sun was already three-pole high. Only because the two boys were accustomed to using their sleep time to train, plus they did not have enough sleep the last two nights, they felt that it was not enough. Dont make a fuss! he cried out, We are awake!

    Lan Gus horse face alternated between red and white, but the tone of her voice was a bit more polite, Changzhu is taking Princess Ning on a tour around the Ranch, she said, When they are back, Princess Ning is going to visit the kitchen to see how you prepare the smoked fish. This is Changzhus order. You havent prepared anything yet?

    As Lan Gu was about to leave, Kou Zhong called her, There are a few things that we, two brothers, really dont understand; every time Lan Gu came to us, you always want us to work like an ox, to work like a horse. But nobody ever told us where the public bath is, where the latrine is. Not to mention how to solve the problem of getting three square meals every day. Last night Changzhu even wondered why we, two able-bodied men, have to crowd into one bed. Whos in charge of these things anyway?

    Appearing behind Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling laughed and said, Therefore, we decided to slacken off in our work today, unless there is great improvement in our living arrangement.

    At first Lan Gu put her hands on her water-snake-like waist, but then she let her hands dropped limply by her side. Its just that these past two days we are extremely busy that we have no time to pay attention to you, she said weakly, Go freshen up and change your clothes first, well talk later.

    The two boys smiled victoriously.

  7. #107
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 9 Chapter 11

    Book 9 Chapter 11 Wholehearted Gratitude

    Xu Ziling was about to slip out of the pastry kitchen when Kou Zhong grabbed him and pulled him back. Helplessly he smiled wryly and said, The entire process of making the smoked fish has been prepared properly; to explain it, the famous chef Kou, whose mouth is like a torrent, can handle it singlehandedly with ease. By firmly detaining Xiao Ren in here, dont you feel like you are wasting manpower?

    With pained expression on his face Kou Zhong said, Just consider me begging you to stay this time, all right? Without you here, I am afraid things will go wrong. Hey!

    What can go wrong? Xu Ziling asked, Give me an example?

    Clearing his throat, Kou Zhong said, For example, in a moment of rashness, I might abandon the great undertaking in favor of my feeling toward the Princess. Or perhaps I will lose face as a real man to kneel in front of her, begging her to marry me. Ay! One lifetime, two brothers; please be obedient and stay here to give me moral support.

    Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself, You think she is coming to have a tryst with you? he asked, I can guarantee that Lan Gu will be by her side to lick her butts, even Beautiful Changzhu might be here, glaring like a tiger watching its prey, to see what dirty little secret you have with Li Xiuning.

    Kou Zhong shook his head and said, Your experience with women is still somewhat inferior to Laozis. I dont know if you noticed Princess demeanor last night; that kind of her thoughts in a whirl, not knowing what to do expression, clearly represented the fact that she has no affection toward me at all. Therefore, she is not coming today for that, or else she will find all kinds of excuses to dismiss others.

    Xu Ziling said in astonishment, Not only you grew an acupuncture orifice on your tian ling acupoint [i.e. top of the head], you also grew a pair of eyes there. I plainly saw last night you fixed your eyes on the floor, how did you see the subtle changes in her expression?

    A bit embarrassed, Kou Zhong said, A martial art master [orig. gao shou, lit. high hand] like me, merely depending on my perception I would know a lot of things; do you understand? Xu low hand? So, get back in here!

    Xu Ziling raised his hands, Can I go to the bathroom first? he asked.

    Kou Zhong changed tactics, hugging Xu Ziling as warmly as he could, short of giving him a kiss, he said, My good Xiongdi, remember, the earlier you go, the earlier youll come back.

    Xu Ziling was indeed thinking of slipping away, but Kou Zhong preemptively said, One lifetime, two brothers; we advance and retreat together.

    Unable to get away, Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, Such a timid guy, how could you contend for hegemony of the world?

    Where are you two going?

    Stunned, the two boys turned around.

    Shang Xiuxun and Li Xiuning were walking along the promenade, and would soon catch up with them. Surprisingly, there was no entourage.

    Shang Xiuxun was still wearing tight warrior outfit, with a feather on her hat, so that in her loveliness, there was a vigorous heroic air.

    Li Xiuning was surprisingly plain and simple; she wore a pure white long gown with blue vest with yellow-flower pattern on it. She appeared lovely and touching. This beauty was similar to Song Yuzhi, in that she also carried a particular grandeur and daintiness specific to women who were born in high-class family and big clan, a personality trait that can make any man feel small in her presence.

    The two women were outside the corridor, basking in the beautiful sunlight, so that their glamour radiated all around, so that they appeared to be exuding some kind of exotic natural endowment that transcended the mortal world.

    Momentarily the two boys could only stare blankly at them.

    As the two women elegantly came to their presence, Li Xiuning graciously said, Im sorry! I made the two Great Shifu waiting for a long time!

    The two boys hastily saluted and answered humbly.

    Shang Xiuxun spoke indifferently, Xiao Ning, you explain to Princess, I need to talk to Xiao Jing for a moment.

    Seeing Li Xiuning, Kou Zhong forgot everything else. He also wished that he could have an opportunity to talk with her privately; thereupon he hurriedly took Li Xiuning to the kitchen.

    Shang Xiuxun took Xu Ziling toward the garden at the rear courtyard. Reaching a pavilion, she stopped and said, What did that Old Man tell you last night?

    He taught us how to design garden and landscape, Xu Ziling replied, Would Changzhu like me to repeat it for you?

    Turning her back toward him, Shang Xiuxun asked, He didnt say anything else?

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, He also told us about himself, how thirty years ago he was wounded by the enemy, and how these past few days the old injury flared out, that his days are numbered!

    Shang Xiuxuns tender body trembled slightly, What? she blurted out.

    Xu Ziling continued in low voice, According to Mr. Lus own estimate, he would only live eight to ten more days. Perhaps because of this he kind of look upon us with favor!

    Shang Xiuxun slowly turning her tender body around, her beautiful eyes looked deep into Xu Zilings eyes for half a day, before she said softly, Have you two thought about your own future? Will you be satisfied being two chefs for the rest of your life?

    She suddenly changed the subject like that, Xu Ziling was caught off guard and was at a loss of how to respond, hence he only gave her noncommittal answer, If we dont become chefs, what can we do?

    Displeased, Shang Xiuxun said, You are originally not chefs anyway, you were merely salt smugglers; how dare you say such thing to me.

    It was only then did Xu Ziling remember what Kou Zhong had told these people; he calmly said, Whatever we do, in the end its just looking for money. Smuggling salt carries very high risk, we may lose our life savings at any time; how can it be compared to earning steady income of half a tael of real gold each month?

    Shang Xiuxuns eyes shot sharp rays, her words contained deep meaning as she asked, After earning enough money, what are you going to do?

    Xu Ziling improvised on the spot, It depends on the current political situation; if the world is back to its unified peace, we will return to our hometown and open a small restaurant. Hey! For us, this is terrific!

    Shang Xiuxun smiled and said, You are still lying to me? Just by listening to your clear reasoning, the elegance of your style of conversation and response, I know that you are definitely not ordinary folks. Besides, Lu Miaozi is haughty and conceited, how could he have any interest in spending any time with you? Who are you? Why did you come here?

    Xu Ziling groaned inwardly; fortunately his mind churned an idea, immediately he found a countermeasure. Smiling wryly, he said, Changzhu is indeed formidable. The two of us are actually Yangzhou people. Niangs family was aristocratic family in Yangzhou, we ran a restaurant that had good reputation locally. Afterwards the muddleheaded ruler was assassinated, Yangzhou was thrown into chaos, the mobs and the soldiers looted all over the place, implicating us that we were left destitute and homeless. We wandered around and ended up in Yuhang. At first we worked in a restaurant; later on we saw how profitable salt trading was, hence we took the risk to run one. Who would have thought that we met robbers along the way, and were barely able to escape with our lives? And that was how we ended up here.

    What he said was half truth and half false; unless Shang Xiuxun was able to confirm certain details of his story, it would be difficult to find any flaw. He was not concerned that this beauty might find out their real identity in Yangzhou, because other than Yuwen Huaji and a limited number of people, nobody knew that they were actually Yangzhous ruffians.

    Shang Xiuxun stared at his face for a moment; her jet-black eyebrows knitted slightly, she asked, Where did you learn your martial art from?

    We were Shi Longs martial school disciples, Xu Ziling replied, Later on Shi Long offended that muddleheaded ruler, he was executed, along with all his relatives. Fortunately [maternal] grandfather spent a lot of money on our behalf, so that we were not implicated [orig. guilt by association].

    Shang Xiuxun looked as if she did not know what else to ask; she was silent for a long time. Only now did Xu Ziling really breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that she has not heard anything about Shi Longs relationship with the Secret to Long Life.

    Shang Xiuxun suddenly looked at him up and down several times, and then calmly said, Honestly, people with physical and personality traits like you, two brothers, are really rare in the world, otherwise the Old Man would not have high regards on you. However, because you have missed the prime age to start training martial art, no matter how hard you train, your accomplishment would be limited. Ay! Being chefs is a waste of talent for people like you; therefore, while the Old Man has not died yet, you might as well ask him to impart on you some kind of unique skill, perhaps I will consider hiring you in different capacity, and thus you wouldnt have to waste your lives.

    For the first time Xu Ziling started to have a good impression on her; he respectfully said, Thank you very much for Changzhus direction.

    Somehow Shang Xiuxun let out a gentle sigh before saying, You may go back now! Li Xiuning ought to finish learning about how to make smoked fish; is Chai Shao really that attractive?

    The last sentence made Xu Ziling stared blankly at her.

    ※ ※ ※

    As soon as Kou Zhong stepped into the kitchen, he pointed to the various ingredients neatly organized on the table, and in deadly earnest expression he started to explain, This is the seasoning, and here we have the sauce; this

    Theres no one else around! Li Xiuning cut him off.

    It was as if Kou Zhongs acupoint had just been sealed; he froze for half a day, before finally hung his hands and said dejectedly, Princess, please grant your advice.

    Li Xiuning moved up behind him and said softly, Er Ge [second brother] was very concerned over you, because you were unwilling to follow him in conquering the world, he often felt unhappy. This time I can see you again, its really great. Ay! How did you end up hiding here and being chefs? Was it because you were afraid of Li Mi?

    Kou Zhong suddenly straightened up his back and said coldly, We are not afraid of anybody!

    Li Xiuning cheerfully replied, No wonder Er Ge praises you without cease; just by looking at wherever you go you turn the sky and the earth upside down, I know your ability. Now I understand Er Ges evaluation on you in those days was not simply exaggerated praise.

    The fragrance of Li Xiunings breath as she spoke was wafting gently into Kou Zhongs nose; he shook his head with a bitter smile as he walked over toward the window. As he stared blankly outside the window, at the scenery of people moving about in the courtyard under the bright sunny sky, his mind was in turmoil.

    He has finally made it. But he could not go back to the former days. If Li Xiuning had said those words in the past, he would not have to bow out sadly, did not dare to compete with Chai Shao over her fragrant heart, because of low self-esteem.

    Seeing he walked over and was lost in thought, Li Xiuning sighed inwardly.

    Based on her orchid hearts intelligence, she already understood Kou Zhongs feeling for her even then. But with her familys power, talent, and beauty, there were an untold number of men who fell for her; therefore, she did not take it seriously.

    But this time seeing Kou Zhong again, not only he had turned into a dignified, handsome and great man, the most attractive thing about him was that he exuded some kind of hard-to-describe personality traits. Its just that the matter between Chai Shao and her had already been settled conclusively; no one could alter it, including her. But she did not wish to change it either.

    While she was in dilemma, not knowing whether she should stay where she was or should walk over toward Kou Zhong, Kou Zhongs voice entered her ears, Are you married?

    Li Xiunings tender body shook dramatically; hanging down her small head, she sadly said, Although I am not yet married, my situation is not much difference to a married woman.

    Kou Zhong threw his head back and let out a long laugh; like a whirlwind he turned around and with his eyes shooting lightning-like light he said, Very well! Ill consider you as someone else wife. Perhaps youll find it difficult to understand, but I really am happy with your answer, because from now on I can get rid of the distraction in my heart and wholeheartedly fight for my ideals.

    In Li Xiunings eyes, he seemed to be changing into another person, revealing Kou Zhongs insufferably arrogant, overbearing heroic spirit, that she had never imagined would appear from him. Shocked, she was momentarily unable to say anything.

    Kou Zhongs awe-inspiring, radiating all around air suddenly turned into an incomparable tenderness; revealing his bright, sunshine-like signature smile, his flashing snow-white teeth, he said apologetically, Xiaodi was momentarily unable to restrain emotions, and have frightened Princess; I am terribly sorry. Looks like Princess interest today is not in smoked fish, but is us, the two boys, instead. So now Princess ought to know the answer.

    Taking a deep breath, Li Xiuning fought to keep her emotion, which was fluctuating endlessly due to Kou Zhongs instigation, under control. She nodded and said, Although Xiuning understood Kou Xiongs kindly feeling, it is still hard for me to avoid feeling extreme regret and disappointment. I wonder whether there is still room for amendment?

    Kou Zhong nearly turned from hero [ying xiong] to a coward [lit. gou xiong, black bear] and blurted out, Only if you are willing to marry me! Fortunately he remembered Song Yuzhi and the Shuanglong Bang he personally founded; pressing hard this urge, he calmly smiled and said, Life is interesting because although we lost a lot of things, we also gained a lot of other things. There are moments of joy, there are also days of wounded spirit and broken soul.

    And then, striding in front of Li Xiunings tender body, he looked down and stared deep into the beautiful princess beautiful eyes; his tiger-eyes shooting out ocean-deep emotion that stirred her heartstrings and made her shivering inside. With an incomparable tenderness in his voice he said, Perhaps Xiuning has never had me, Kou Zhong, in your heart, but in my, Kou Zhongs heart, you, Xiuning, was the first woman that made me fully enjoyed the kind of feeling that made me difficult to sleep at night, that made me worry about personal gains and losses, but also made me enjoyed the matchless excitement of the first love. Although it was only for a night, it has made me extremely grateful. Thank you.


    By the time Li Xiuning was crying out tenderly, Kou Zhong already left the kitchen in big strides.

    And he never looked back.

    ※ ※ ※

    Shang Xiuxun and Xu Ziling, one in front of the other, arrived at the kitchen door. Seeing Kou Zhong strode out with grim expression on his face, they were both stunned.

    Without waiting for Shang Xiuxun to ask any question, upright and unafraid Kou Zhong walked past the two and muttered, I am going to the latrine.

  8. #108
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 9 Chapter 12

    Book 9 Chapter 12 Underground Collection

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sat side-by-side on the low stonewall by the pavilion on the back mountain, facing the precipitous cliff towering in the sky; below their feet was precisely the hundred-zhang deep abyss where the falling water rolled on endlessly.

    After Kou Zhong finished listening to Xu Zilings latest generation of lies he told Shang Xiuxun, Kou Zhong wiped the cold sweats from his forehead and said, Fortunately I said I was in a hurry to go to the bathroom; otherwise the beautiful Changzhu might grab me and ask questions, and then we would have to jump down this ravine.

    Craning his neck to look down into the rapids at the bottom, he wondered aloud, Based on our martial art skill, if we jump down, would we die or not?

    Xu Ziling smiled slightly without saying anything, but his eyes seemed to penetrate the deepest part of Kou Zhongs heart.

    Finally Kou Zhong surrendered, Why didnt you ask me what happened between Li Xiuning and me a moment ago?

    Xu Ziling sneered and said, Didnt you say that the martial art from the Secret to Long Life has turned you more and more cold-hearted? You also said that for the sake of vying for the world, you would do anything by hook or by crook, and that youd sacrifice everything you valued in your life? Since that is the case, do I still need to beg for an answer from you?

    Kou Zhong slapped his thigh and said with a sigh, Ling Shao, this time you are wrong. The fact is that I am extremely vexed right now, because I could not help asking her if she was married to that muddled egg Chai Shao [Translators note: I feel that muddled egg is funnier than scoundrel, [email protected] or @$$hole ]. Just think! Ling Shao! Supposing her answer was Im not married yet, how would I handle her? I was fully aware that by asking that question I was spinning a cocoon around myself, yet I still asked her. Tell me, why did I do that?

    Xu Zilings response was tepid, So what did she say?

    Grieved, Kou Zhong replied, She said that although she has not officially married, but theres not much difference with a married woman.

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, That is akin to saying that the one she loves is Chai Shao. That answer is indeed very difficult to bear, and also made me feel for the first time that you deserve sympathy. So what are you going to do? The moves you make in the battlefield of love will give you more headaches than the moves in the life and deaths confrontation, plus the battlefield of love will leave both sides wounded.

    Kou Zhong coolly said, Hence the reason I turned grief and indignation into strength; I told her I did not care in the slightest, and I thanked her for giving me the taste of grief for losing my love. With great difficulty I resisted the intense urge to kiss her and stormed out of the door. With my back against her, I felt so much pain that my entire body went numb.

    Xu Ziling casually remarked, So did you go to the latrine to hide while weeping in bitter tears?

    Stunned, Kou Zhong turned his head to stare at him, Dont you have any sympathy toward the poor me? he asked.

    Xu Ziling coldly replied, Because the one deserving my sympathy is not you, but Li Xiuning.

    Kou Zhong had his eyes fixed on the cliff across the canyon; he mumbled as if he was talking to himself, I was indeed a bit out of line, but at that time I really had a feeling that the more I hurt her, the happier I would be. That was a completely out of control emotions, I know in my heart that Im still holding tight on her.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Thereupon you gave it your all in your attempt to, in a snap of your fingers, make her that she wont be able to forget you. Isnt that more cruel and ruthless to her?

    As if he was in delirious ravings Kou Zhong said, Kill me now! I am in unbearable pain.

    Xu Ziling reached out to put his hand on his shoulder; he said with a wry smile, I spoke without tact too much! Matters between men and women are like this, basically there is no logical explanation. Whoever has a bit stronger divine power to protect the body will suffer less harm; upon inspection, looks to me that its very difficult for your divine power to protect the body to meet a minimum standard.

    Kou Zhong said in astonishment, You said you dont have any tact, but now I just want to cry bitterly.

    The two boys you look at me, I gaze at you, and then a smile started to form at the corners of their mouths, followed by a chorus of laughter and difficult-to-discern bitter-sweet hot tears, which warmed their hearts, and enforced the mutual feeling of sincere friendship between the two brothers.

    Gasping for breath, Xu Ziling patted Kou Zhongs shoulder and said painfully, Every time you lose your love, you are dragging me down and leaving me confused; therefore, I am the real victim here.

    Kou Zhong said with a wry smile, Why is it that although I have suffered losing my love for the first time early on, the second time around is still unbearable? Not only that, its getting worse!

    Shrugging his shoulders, Xu Ziling said, Whats so strange about that? Its because your love to her was even deeper.

    Kou Zhong seemed to be fully recovered; he nonchalantly nodded his head and said, What you said is not without reason; over time, dripping water can wear out hard rock, therefore, right now my heart must have hundreds of holes and thousands of cavities. This is called the great method of dripping tears on the heart; its a different tune played with equal skill with Lu Miaozis escaping one, because Li Xiuning is precisely my escaping one. Even though Shang Xiuxun is half a notch superior to her, in my heart I only have her.

    And then he added, The rice has already been cooked, theres no more stopping. To conform to the Yijian Technique, what will our next step be?

    Xu Ziling calmed down; pondering deeply, he said, Well have to find a way to identify that s1ut first.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, If only we could go door to door and knock.

    Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, With your exceptional ears, eavesdropping within a radius of a hundred li should not be a difficult thing to do!

    Kou Zhong laughed despite of himself, Real exaggeration! he said, Come on!

    One after another the two boys jumped down from the stonewall and strode away from the pavilion.

    Arriving at the winding corridor, they were met by Xiao Juans slim and graceful figure. I found you! she called out cheerfully.

    ※ ※ ※

    Shang Xiuxun was sitting upright and still on one side of the spacious study room, engrossed on a book she was holding with both hands, seemingly oblivious that Big Sister Fu has arrived, with the two boys right behind her.

    Across the small garden outside was precisely the reception hall where Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling met her for the first time. At that time they had their spirit and soul upside down by this beautys charming and touching mannerism as she sampled their handicraft.

    The fact was, in her heart, Shang Xiuxun hated herself.

    Even she did not understand why she loved to see these two boys so much; perhaps because she was so lonely?

    It was not an issue of how many people she had by her side; rather, it was an issue of her state of mind.

    She was the only daughter of the former Ranch Master; since her childhood she had been cultivated to be the heir, hence with aloof and remote position, governing her subordinates was as natural as breathing. Everybody venerated her like a deity; only these two boys were the exception, although on the surface they were very respectful. Just by looking at the brazen and wild expression in their eyes when they looked at her, she knew that in their eyes, she was just a woman.

    This has sparked a ripple in her heart, something that was fresh and unique.

    Big Sister Fu reported, Two Xiao Shifu are here.

    Kou Zhong took a few steps forward; holding his saber with both hands he presented it to her and said, Treasured Saber is here!

    Seeing Kou Zhong pretending to be respectful and proper, Pfft! Shang Xiuxun burst out giggling, just like a blooming fresh flower, so that Big Sister Fu, who seldom saw her beautiful demeanor like this, was stunned.

    Noticing the three people were staring at her, Shang Xiuxun strived to suppress her smile; with a wooden face she scolded in low voice, How many treasured sabers are there in the world?

    Still in low voice she went on, Fuer, you may withdraw!

    Big Sister Fu was slightly stunned, and then she withdrew from the study room.

    Shang Xiuxun put down the book on the small table by her side. From Kou Zhongs hands she took the Moon in the Well; immediately her face showed astonishment. I did not expect it to be this heavy, she said in surprise.

    Kou Zhong smiled apologetically and said, This treasured saber is different from ordinary sabers.

    Frowning, Shang Xiuxun said, Why are you standing so close?

    Embarrassed, Kou Zhong stepped back to Xu Zilings side. Only the latter knew that he really did not wish to part with the Moon in the Well.

    With her left hand Shang Xiuxun held the scabbard, with her right hand she lightly grabbed the hilt, but her pretty eyes were fixed on the two boys. She said calmly, Although this saber is unremarkable at all, plus its a bit rusty, but somehow when I went back, from time to time the sight of this saber appeared before my eyes, and I have some kind of unspeakable feeling toward it.

    Kou Zhong praised her wholeheartedly, Changzhu indeed has a superior taste, unlike people with mediocre, superficial taste.

    Shang Xiuxun was already accustomed with the two boys conversational manner, which did not regard her as the Ranch Master. Glowering at him, she said, Who wants you to flatter me?


    The Moon in the Well went out about half a chi from its scabbard.

    Emotionally moved, Shang Xiuxun said, I have never seen any blade more blunt and more dull, without any shine, than this one, yet I have never seen some kind of loftiness in a simple and unadorned, inelegant blade like this either.

    Her pretty eyes shot toward Kou Zhong, she said in a heavy voice, How did you get this?

    Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong replied, It was my Ah Ye [(paternal) grandpa] who gave it to Die, and Die gave it to me.

    Returning the saber to its scabbard, Shang Xiuxun muttered irresolutely, I wonder what did that Old Man say about this saber?

    Kou Zhong was slightly stunned; now he remembered that that night he lied about carrying this saber to see Lu Miaozi and learn martial art from him, but Lu Miaozi basically has never seen this saber. However, naturally not answering was not an option, therefore, he replied respectfully, Mr. Lu said that this saber was the personal weapon of the one saber expert of two hundred years ago, the Saber Overlord Ling Shangren; I dont know how it fell into my paternal grandfathers hands?


    The Moon in the Well was pulled out of its scabbard by Shang Xiuxuns delicate and beautiful lily-white hand; she drew with it about a dozen saber flowers in front of her, but there was no frightening yellow glow like when Kou Zhong was using it.

    A bit disappointed, Shang Xiuxun held the saber still and examined it carefully. She was puzzled, Is it really rust? But it does not look like rust stain; rather, its the texture of the metal specific to the sabers body.

    Noticing that just like Xiao Xian, Shang Xiuxun did not bring out the sabers unusual luster, Kou Zhong was even more convinced that he was the true master of this treasured saber. He said proudly, This is a psychic treasured saber; my grandfather once said that one time a thief broke into our house, this saber unexpectedly let out incessant ringing to warn us!

    Listening to this even Xu Ziling was frowning, thinking that Kou Zhong went too far; but then again, only by doing that would they convince Shang Xiuxun that it was part of family legend.

    Shang Xiuxun glowered at Kou Zhong and said, You are bragging! Have you ever heard the saber ringing?

    Kou Zhong said with a wry smile, Last time a thief came, it happened to be resting, so it did not ring.

    Shang Xiuxun was unable to hold back much longer, she burst into silver-bell like moving tender laughter, put the saber back into its scabbard, and tossed it back to Kou Zhong. She said, Play a move or two, show me how much success you achieved from Shi Long.

    Kou Zhong held the saber across his chest, pulled it out of the scabbard, and hacked into the air several times, using low hand moves and techniques unique to Shi Longs martial school, with all the shortcomings displayed accurately and wonderfully.

    Shang Xiuxun covered her laughing mouth and said, Although your expression is of a martial art masters, your technique is quite mediocre, ay! You paid money to learn the skill in vain.

    Pretending to refuse to concede, Kou Zhong said, Please check this out, my move stars fill the sky!

    He moved the saber and brandished it wildly.

    Seeing him going all-out until his face turned red and his ears hot, Shang Xiuxun laughed like a shaking stem of flower; she said, If you continued like this, there is no need for the enemy to kill you, you would die of exhaustion!

    Kou Zhong awkwardly returned the saber to its sheath; panting, he said, Sabers are used to attack the enemy; how could you not use any force?

    Shang Xiuxun no longer paid any attention to him; turning to Xu Ziling, she said, And what is your expertise?

    Xu Ziling was just admiring her alluring, beautiful-beyond-human-comprehension, touching manner while she was laughing; hearing the question, it was as if he had just been awakened from a dream. I am worse compared to Xiao Ning, please excuse me!

    Irritated, Shang Xiuxun said, Looks like you disregard me as your Changzhu more and more. Dont you know that what I say is an order?

    But then she smiled and said, So be it! Avoiding displaying your disgrace to save face is a smart move.

    Suddenly rapid footsteps were heard in the distance, but coming fast toward them. The First Manager Liang Zhis voice was heard outside the door, Subordinate has an urgent matter needs to be reported to Changzhu.

    Still smiling, Shang Xiuxun said, Da Zhishi, please come in!

    The two boys hastily stepped aside.

    Liang Zhi came over toward Shang Xiuxuns seat in large strides. Bowing, he said, Reporting to Changzhu: there are about 2000 enemies appear about thirty li from west side entrance of the Ranch, they look to be the vanguard regiment of the Four Big Bandits.

    Shang Xiuxuns pretty eyes flashed with cold rays; she spoke cool-headedly, Any movement outside the east side entrance?

    With solemn expression Liang Zhi replied, Theres no report yet.

    Shang Xiuxuns gaze fell onto the two boys; she spoke heavily, You may return to your lodging house. If there is nothing important, do not walk around; understood?

    The two boys promptly acknowledged the order and withdrew from the room.

    ※ ※ ※

    Closing the door to their room, Kou Zhong sat down by Xu Zilings side. This does not make sense, he said, Anybody knows that Flying Horse Ranch is more difficult to break than any other fortified city; why would the Four Big Bandits abandon their stronghold and attack this place? There must be an intrigue here.

    Could it be only a diversion? Xu Ziling mused, Their real target might be the nearby Dangyang or Yuanan, or even farther down Jingling.

    That is more preposterous, Kou Zhong said, If I were the Four Big Bandits adviser, I would concentrate my force to attack one of those cities, to lure the Flying Horse Ranch to send rescue expedition, and then ambush them along the way; that would be the proper thing to do. Once their troops are dispersed, it would be strange indeed if the Ranch would not suffer total defeat.

    Suddenly he laughed aloud and said, The theory that Lu Miaozi invented is best applied to the art of war; currently we are lacking this escaping one from what we know about the Four Big Bandits plot. If we could find this precious one, then the enemys movement will be in place. Everything becomes reasonable and fair! His granny, what in the world is this precious escaping one?

    Knitted his brows, Xu Ziling said, If that guy and the spy were sent by the Four Big Bandits, they would hatch their plots in the dark; there is no reason for them to attack with clear saber and clear spear like this. With regard to the Ranchs topology, coordinated offensive from inside and outside wont do much good either.

    Severely shaken, Kou Zhong said, I get it!

    You get what? Xu Ziling happily asked.

    This must be the luring the tiger from its mountain stratagem, Kou Zhong said, The wine lovers heart is not in the cup, but on my sweetheart who does not love me, Li Xiuning.

    Xu Zilings tiger eyes flashed brightly, You are right, he nodded, Because she saw Li Xiunings arrival during the day, the spy reported it to the outside ghost; the outside ghost then left sneakily. From this, we should know that this matter is related to the sweetheart in your dreams.

    A bright murderous intent appeared on Kou Zhongs eyes; he snorted coldly and said, The Four Big Bandits really dont know what they are getting into, unexpectedly they have the guts to target Xiuning. Uh! Not right! What benefit could they gain by offending the Li Clan?

    The benefits might be in many aspects, Xu Ziling analyzed, For instance, breaking the good relation between the Ranch and Li Clan; or perhaps generous rewards or support from Li Clans enemies, and so on. Has your brain been dulled by Li Xiuning?

    Kou Zhong embarrassedly replied, Maybe a bit confused; but what can we do now?

    Xu Ziling said, If I were the character inciting the Four Big Bandits behind the scene, naturally one alive Princess is more useful than one fragrant, worn-out jade, perished Princess.

    Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, Could it be that the man behind the scene is Li Mi?

    Xu Ziling replied, Li Mi, Yang Shichong [sic], and Xue Ju are highest in the suspects list. Just imagine that on one hand the Four Big Bandits are dragging the Ranchs main force, on the other hand they are deploying their strongest martial art masters from the mountain area descending into the mountain city, with the spy providing support from the inside. Shall we tell Shang Xiuxun directly?

    Who can tell how Shang Xiuxun would react? Kou Zhong said, Better leave it unsaid. Let us find the spy first, and then well meet the incoming enemies head-on.

    Xu Ziling shook his head and said, Youll be in charge of the inside, Ill concentrate on the outside. Only then will we have the golden opportunity of destroying the Four Big Bandits for a thousand years.

    Kou Zhong jumped in fright, Can we do it the other way around? Let me take care of those four thieves heads.

    The one in charge of the inside must work closely with Li Xiuning, Xu Ziling countered, Only you deserve it.

    With a pained expression Kou Zhong said, Have a pity on me, this kid who lost his love!

    Xu Ziling laughed involuntarily, Didnt you want me to pursue Shang Xiuxun? Maybe this is an opportunity. When someday she realizes how much effort I spend on her behalf, perhaps she will be touched and will give herself to marry me!

    Naturally Kou Zhong knew that he was just joking and teasing him, but he also knew that there was no room for discussion. Gnashing his teeth, he said, And you still call yourself my good Xiongdi? Its so unfair that you trick me into the trap.

    Xu Ziling roared in laughter and said, I am enabling Zhong Shao to display your prowess both on the battlefield of the heart and the battlefield of life and death; you ought to be grateful to me. Come on!

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Where? he asked.

    Letting out a natural and unrestrained laugh, Xu Ziling said, Why, to see our facilitator behind the scenes of course!

    ※ ※ ※

    After listening to the entire matter to the end, Lu Miaozi looked at the two boys up and down for half a day, sizing them up. And then rising to his full height, he walked over to a bookshelf, and stretched out his hand inside to operate some sort of mechanism.

    Creak! Creak! A stone slab, about three chi by three chi square in the middle of the hall caved in, to become the topmost step of a series of steps leading down; it was indeed astonishing to behold.

    This was the very first time that the two boys saw such an elaborate mechanism with their own eyes; they were dumbstruck.

    Get down! Lu Miaozi ordered, and took the lead going down the stone steps.

    The two boys excitedly followed him down the two-zhang deep flight of stairs.

    At the bottom was a spacious cellar about three-zhang square. On one side were two big wooden crates, on another side ten elaborate wooden cases were arranged on small tables along the wall.

    Hanging from the wall on all four sides were seven, eight kinds of strange-looking things that might be weapons.

    Surprisingly enough, the air in the cellar was only slightly more stuffy than the room upstairs; evidently the room had an adequate ventilation system.

    Lu Miaozi took a case from one the small tables and handed it over to Kou Zhong, saying, If you really want to get the Duke Yangs Treasure, you must read and study this book.

    Kou Zhong received the case and took a look. Carved on the surface of the case was Mechanism Study, three large characters [ji guan xue]. Greatly delighted, he said, Mister really knows whats in this kids heart.

    Lu Miaozi took three other cases at once and handed them to Xu Ziling; smiling wryly, he said, After I am dead, you may open the cases and browse through whats inside. Otherwise, if you tell me that after reading through one time you already understand it completely, I wont die with closed eyes. Ha!

    Xu Ziling smiled sheepishly and looked down to read. Turned out they were the Astronomy [lit. Heavenly Star Study], Mathematics, and Architecture, three books.

    Pointing to the two cases with characters Military Strategy and Geography carved on them, Kou Zhong said, Those two cases will also be very useful to me.

    Absent-mindedly, Lu Miaozi said, Take it! Who told me to have such fate as meeting with you!

    Without any trace of politeness Kou Zhong took the wooden case. Were it not for Xu Ziling stopping him with his eyes, he might have opened the case and looked at the books inside.

    Lu Miaozi walked over toward one of the big crates and plopped himself down. He patted the wooden crate, making a Peng! Peng! sound, and with a wistful look on his face he said, These are the gadgets I created thirty years ago. While wandering destitute in Jianghu for many years, they had made me countless glistening yellow gold. And now whats left in the box are things I do not have the heart to sell. After I die, whatever you can use you may take away, but leave the rest to accompany me buried in this room!

    Pointing to an iron-rod sticking out from the corner, he said, If you use your power to pull the iron rod down, this room will close in ten breaths, and nobody will be able to open it. Moreover, this room will descent ten more zhang, and will be my An Le Wo [reminder: Comfort Zone, the name of his house] after I die.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Mr. Lus reputation is indeed well-deserved; merely this kind of brilliant construction and mechanism is enough to earn you the title of number one master craftsman since times immemorial.

    Lu Miaozi sobbed while shaking his head; with such an unbearable sorrow he said, Life is like a dream, in just a snap of the fingers, we will return to dust, leaving only intertwining disgrace and regret. If I had the chance to start all over again, I would not have been interested in these playthings that make people addicted.

    And then, pointing to another chest he said, In there you will find ten exquisitely made masks, which can make you change shape in a single shake and become another person. It was most convenient when I roamed the Jianghu. I guarantee that nobody can see through it. Tonight you can put the masks to good use.

    The two boys were greatly delighted, and were very excited as well.

    Lu Miaozi seriously said, No matter how exquisite and ingenious the device is, in the end it is still minor art. Relying on it opposite to cultivating upper-class martial art, it is really harmful and not beneficial; therefore, I do not encourage you to use them. These ten masks are the exception.

    Kou Zhong was emotionally moved, Misters lesson is very good, he said, Just now I had greedy thought to find a way to transport everything out, but now of course I do not dare to disobey Misters instruction!

    Lu Miaozi fixed his gaze on him for a moment. He sighed and said, Now I like you a little bit.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Turns out Mister did not have favorable impression toward me all along, he said.

    Lu Miaozi shook his head and said, Its not like that; its because I am quite proficient in the art of looking at peoples countenance. I noticed that your eyebrows rose up and your eyes sharp, your noses energetic look straight through your face and it is pointy; evidently you have great ambitions and not afraid to take a risk out of desperation. The good aspect is that you are the type of hero people of all ages admire. The bad aspect is that you are the type of dominating hegemon. Therefore, I always have thirty-percent wariness toward you.

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, Since Mister is adept in looking at peoples countenance, cant you see that I do have good and honest heart?

    Xu Ziling blurted out laughing and said, Such sickening words and yet it came out of your mouth; from this it can be clearly seen that your goodness is limited!

    Lu Miaozi also laughed involuntarily. Standing up, he took a pair of steel claws from a wall nearby, and gave each person one, saying, This is a pair of Flying Divine Escape [fei tian shen dun, lit. fly to heaven divine escape]. In those days I relied on these treasures to escape Zhu Yuyans hunt. They can be used separately, can catch and bore through any object; naturally only those with strong martial art skill can operate them easily. The steel ring on their tails can even extend as long as ten zhang of rare, precious ice silkworm thread. With your true qi, you can use the steel claw as nimbly as your hands, the silk thread can be long or short, but today I am not in the mood to elaborate, you must research it yourself!

    The two boys were pleased beyond their expectations; they expressed their gratitude promptly.

    Lu Miaozi said, You may leave the books here. After each of you pick your mask, you may take Flying Divine Escape claws and join the excitement. Remember to come back here to recount to me the course of events you subdue the enemies and seize the victory.

    After exhaling a mouthful of air, he added, I dont know if it was the Li Clans good fortune or the Four Big Bandits lousy luck that they unexpectedly provoked you, these two guys.

  9. #109
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    Mar 2012
    Ni Yang Realm ATM

    Default Book 10 Chapter 1

    Book 10 Chapter 1 Separate Deployment
    Translated by Foxs

    The atmosphere at the Flying Horse Ranch tensed up.

    The sentry stations and lookout towers, which were normally unguarded, were now tightly guarded. All the able-bodied men in the entire Ranch marched out of the mountain city batch by batch, and reassembled at the pasture ready to head for the battlefield.

    As soon as Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling slipped back into their room, before they even had any chance to sit down, Lan Gu already came and ordered them, Changzhus strict order: unless under specific assignment, Inner Castle people are to stay in their respective courtyards. Violator will be dealt with in accordance with the house rules. Are you clear?

    Leaning by the door, Kou Zhong said to Lan Gu, who was standing outside the door, We are at war or not, everybody still has to eat; therefore, Lan Gu came to deliver this strict order to us, isnt it superfluous?

    Lan Gu did not expect that Kou Zhong would not give her any face at all, his expression did not show any concern for his superior; she was so angry that her thin face turned green as she said, I am in charge in this village courtyard. If I want you two to stay her then you are not allowed to take one step out of the door; otherwise, dont blame me for being discourteous.

    Giggling, Kou Zhong said, Lan Gu, calm down. Just now the Housekeeper reported to Changzhu that the vanguard of Four Big Bandits allied armies appears in the vicinity; we were just talking with Changzhu about our living arrangement.

    Turning his head toward Xu Ziling, who was sitting in a chair, covering his mouth and snickering, he called out, Xiao Jings memory is better than mine; what did Changzhu say again?

    Xu Ziling promptly put up a serious expression, and said flatly, Changzhu told us not to worry. She ordered us to make more pastries to entertain Princess Ning and her entourage, and we must not be careless, because our Ranchs grand reputation in negotiation and troops deployment depends on it.

    Lan Gu was tongue-tied, because she remembered that she has not made any new arrangement for their lodging; her anger subsided considerably. Since you have Changzhus order, why are you still here? she spoke haltingly.

    The two boys thanked the Heaven in their hearts, and quickly slipped out toward the firewood shed.

    ※ ※ ※


    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling finished making pastries, put them in brocade box, and holding it with both hands they headed toward the Green Ring Courtyard where Li Xiuning stayed. Along the way they encountered several patrolling troops, but after some explanations, they did not have any trouble.

    Green Ring Courtyard was a standalone courtyard surrounded by high walls on all four sides. The right side of the middle of the courtyard was dancing trees; the scenery was serene and seemed to be detached from the outside world.

    The most distinguishing feature of this courtyard was that outside the entrance, there was a rock garden approximately ten zhang in diameter, the pouring water from which form a pond underneath with goldfish in it. There was also a long nine-bend bridge, more than ten zhang long, connecting this garden and the middle courtyard.

    The long bridge weaved left and right among the rocks, much like a maze, and in the middle there was even a hexagonal pavilion; the layout was ingenious, making people sighed in admiration.

    Xu Ziling noticed that Kou Zhong was silent the entire trip; he knew the conflict in Kou Zhongs heart because of Li Xiuning, yet he also knew that in this kind of matter, nobody can lend a helping hand; therefore, he could only sigh in his heart.

    Inside the hexagonal pavilion sat two fully armed men; looking at their clothes, the two boys knew that these men were part of Li Xiunings personal guards. Seeing the two boys, the two men asked in surprise, Anything wrong?

    Kou Zhong explained the purpose of their visit. One of the men said in relief, Just give it to us!

    Kou Zhong had already anticipated that this would happen; he smiled and said, Earlier this morning, Princess Xiuning came to tour the kitchen, and instructed us, Xiao Ren, that after we make the pastries, she wanted us to explain how to make it. Would two Daye please make a report inside?

    The guard frowned and said, Princess is receiving guests, plus this is not an urgent matter. We must report it first and see whether Princess can receive you or not later on. It would be better if you just give that thing to us.

    Without much choice the two boys put the pastries down, turned around and left.

    Once they were out the guards vision, Xu Ziling wondered, Who might be Li Xiunings guests?

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, I am sure they are Ranch people; for her, they are guests. Oh! Not good!

    The two boys remembered the spy at the same time.

    Xu Ziling made a prompt decision, We will immediately split up; remember to go back first to fetch your Moon in the Well.

    Kou Zhong pulled him back and said, Outside, the enemy may attack and besiege us for ten days, half a month, the situation inside is more critical, how could you slip out and have fun this soon and leave me to suffer in here alone?

    Xu Ziling pushed him back and said, If we are acting together, it will be easier for others to suspect us. Dont forget that body shape and height cant be changed. Besides, we want to train ourselves to assume personal responsibility to better prepare ourselves for the future. Do you understand?

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling changed into the night-walker outfits that Lu Miaozi supplied them earlier. After putting on the masks, they immediately changed into two completely different persons that they nearly could not recognize each other.

    Xu Ziling turned into a thirty-something rough-looking man, with rough bronze face, full of pockmarks, plus saber scar about three cun long on his right cheek; a Jianghu big-bandit, who was used to kill and burn, persona. His face matched well with his tall and straight, sturdy built; so that his entire person exuded an indescribable coarse and wild aura.

    Kou Zhongs appearance was even weirder. Not only he had an aquiline nose, which was not too pleasant to look at, his face was covered in full beard; an arrogant, violent, tyrannical and wild persona. His age looked to be about ten years older than Xu Zilings new persona.

    The two boys took turn looking into the copper mirror and both doubled-up in laughter.

    Kou Zhong patted Xu Zilings shoulder and said, Tonight we, the Two Eccentrics of Yangzhou, are deployed separately, to turn his mothers heaven and earth upside down. [Translators note: just want the readers to know that the same character (怪) was translated as freaks in Eagle Shooting Hero (as in Seven Freaks of Jiangnan), but I feel that in this context the two boys were not exactly freaks.]

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, If anybody finds out that we are not here and inquire later, we must say that we went to Mr. Lu to learn his skill; are you clear?

    Hanging the Moon in the Well on his back, Kou Zhong replied, In that case, we ought to rendezvous at Lu Miaozis place first to be absolutely safe. Come! The guy who does not have any yiqi [spirit of loyalty, code of brotherhood]!

    They jumped out the window.

    Xu Ziling followed closely behind Kou Zhong, unleashing their night-walk skill, darting like a rabbit, crouching like a heron, subsequently passing several rows of buildings, until they finally reached a two-story building and crouched on its roof. Why did you say I have no yiqi? he whispered.

    Staring at the general direction of the Green Ring Courtyard where Li Xiuning stayed, Kou Zhong said hatefully, You said you have yiqi? The fun things you hogged for yourself, leaving me in here eating the northwest wind, waiting for the enemy to execute their plot like an idiot.

    At first Xu Ziling was smiling, but then he could not help laughing. Who told you to become that romantic? The hero rescues the beauty; its yours exclusively. Remember to regroup at Mr. Lus place before daybreak. Please behave! Now if youll excuse me, Xiaodi is not able to accompany you!

    Raising his arms, like a lightning he soared into the night sky in the direction of the Castles wall.

    Watching Xu Ziling disappearing into the distant darkness, Kou Zhong sighed helplessly and slid down onto a smaller building. With movements like a swimming fish, his ghost-like figure floated toward the Green Ring Courtyard.

    The vortex of qi within his body grew and multiplied endlessly, making him appeared to have unlimited supply of explosive power. Evading several teams of patrolling guards, traversing the rock garden, he reached the foot of the courtyard wall.

    Kou Zhong focused his mind and sent his power to his ears. Immediately an incomparably moving world of audio descended into his ears. The swimming fish moving their tails in the pond under the forest of rocks, the dancing leaves in the evening breeze, even any noise within the ten zhang radius around him: the breathing, the coughing; nothing escaped his eardrums. So much so that he startled himself, surprised that he had become more and more formidable.

    If he could hide within the central zone of the Green Ring Courtyard, wouldnt he be able to use his pair of ears to listen to most of whats happening within the Courtyard?

    But of course it would not be easy. Not only was Li Xiuning herself a martial art master within the Li Clan, her intelligent was also surpassed others. Under the current circumstances, she would have deployed her men to form a tight perimeter, which would prevent the enemy from breaking in.

    And then there were Li Gang and Dou Wei who came with her; both were not easy to deal with. Once a misunderstanding arose, things could go bad real fast.

    Thinking to this point, since he already had a good grasp of the situation on the other side of the wall, he drafted a plan to infiltrate the Courtyard.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling shot toward the city wall like an arrow, the divine escape in his hand shot out, controlled by his internal power, noiselessly grabbing the top of the wall in between two lookout towers, and then at the dead end, out of the line of sight of the guards, he flipped over the wall, and then after loosening up the divine escape, again he noiselessly flipped over the fifteen-zhang city wall, and stuck himself to the wall he slid down to the ground.

    Taking advantage while the guards attention was focused on the pasture outside the city, he darted along the foot of the wall toward a safe place where the river was running along the city wall.

    The stars filled the sky, but the moon was hazy; suddenly a strange feeling welled-up in his heart.

    A strong feeling of loneliness overwhelmed his heart, as if he was entering an isolated world, where he no longer related to anybody else.

    The divine escape shot out again, grabbing a large rock on the opposite bank of the river. The vortex of power concentrated at the yongquan acupoint on his right foot, enabling him to shoot to the other side almost parallel to the water surface, greatly reducing the chance of being detected.

    Without even stopping he entered a sparse forest and ran toward the eastern gorge entrance.

    He had neither a plan nor confidence that he would be able to avoid detection from the guards at the eastern gorge entrance, because by using the flying divine escape, he could easily climb over the steep and dangerous cliff to get to the battlefield outside.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong leaped over the wall, the divine escape in his hand shot out like lightning, the claw traversed an eight-zhang of empty space and caught the eaves of the building nearby, propelling him toward the roof, where he quickly ducked into the darkness.

    After listening carefully and making sure he clearly grasped the layout of his surroundings, he slipped down to the ground. Halting and darting, he passed through a small garden and flitted across three buildings, and finally hid under a flowering shrub.

    Sweeping his eyes around, Kou Zhong found out that he was in right in the heart of the garden, with flowers and trees, a pond, rockery and a pavilion around him; an elegant and serene environment.

    All the buildings surrounding the garden were brightly lit, and he was able to faintly hear voices from those buildings.

    Focusing his heart and mind, Kou Zhong listened carefully. Immediately a womans voice coming from the building to his left caught his attention.

    Just by hearing her voice Kou Zhong immediately recognized that this was the woman whom he trailed secretly the other night; the spy.

    Deliberately lowering her voice, she said, Princess Ning ought to understand by now, that since Changzhu knows Li Tianfan and is going to have confidential meeting with him in the near future, she is very likely to provide Li Mi with war-horses and equipment. Although Housekeeper and most of the Managers are in strong opposition, their urging is in vain.

    Kou Zhong shivered in fear; he had a faint feeling that this conspiracy is somehow related to Li Mi. Because no matter what happened to Li Xiuning, the Li Clan would naturally suspect that the root cause was the collusion between Shang Xiuxun and Li Mi.

    If Li Tianfan was Li Mis son, then he must also be Song Yuzhis fianc.

    This is serious, Li Gangs voice was heard, I wonder if your honorable husband is aware of Madams visit this time?

    Full of confidence, the woman replied, Of course, it was Laoye who implored Yuaner to seize this opportunity to come and discuss this matter with you, with the hope that our relationship with your honorable Clan will not be damaged just because Changzhu is unable to think straight.

    Kou Zhong praised her in his heart; under these no-conflict circumstances, she was able to make Li Xiunings side at least have some misgivings.

    Dou Weis deep and heroic voice was heard, This is really strange, because as far as we know, Li Mi is the main culprit who secretly supporting the Four Big Bandits in disrupting the South; why would the Four Big Bandits come to attack the Ranch?

    The woman named Yuaner calmly replied, Laoye has already analyzed this matter; it may be a deliberate diversion. Thats why he repeatedly urged Yuaner to contact you as soon as possible, because most likely this is Changzhus first muddleheaded action under Li Tianfans instigation.

    Princess Ning, Dou Wei said, No matter what, we must immediately strengthen our defense.

    He who comes is surely ill-intentioned, no-one well-meaning will come, Li Xiuning replied indifferently, If this matter is really driven by Xun Jie [elder sister], she knows our strength like the back of her hand; we cant guard against her even if we want to.

    Hearing her voice, there were both love and hatred in Kou Zhongs heart. The beauty was able to display such cool-headedness under these circumstances, no wonder the Li Clan entrusted the heavy responsibility of negotiating with Shang Xiuxun to her.

    Li Xiuning went on, Is it possible for Yuan Jie to notify Da Zongguan [big chief manager] to have a confidential discussion with us?

    Kou Zhong cheered inwardly; if Li Xiuning saw Shang Zhen, Yuaner cheap trick would be exposed immediately.

    To his surprise, however, Yuaner readily agreed; she also said, Yuaner will immediately dispatch a messenger to notify Laoye. He is currently in charge of the eastern gorge defense; unless there is a military emergency, there shouldnt be any problem.

    And then Yuaner took her leave, Li Xiuning, three people personally sent her off.

    Kou Zhong has more or less understood Yuaners plot. He pondered over whether he should seize this opportunity to hide inside Li Xiunings personal chamber, waiting for her return, and then he could hey! Thinking to this point, his heart was burning; forgetting everything else, he flashed in.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling stood on top of a peak above the steep cliff, overlooking the plain extending into the distance outside the mouth of the western gorge.

    Under this hazy moonlight and star-filled night sky, the winding mountains and rivers appeared to unfold from under his feet.

    Suddenly Xu Ziling understood Kou Zhongs desire for supremacy over the world.

    It was the feeling of sovereignty over the world, the feeling of dominion over the mother earth.

    Someone Kou Zhongs character would never take second place to anybody.

    He, Xu Ziling, would not be willing to accept inferior status either, but what he was after was free and easy, unfettered way of life.

    No one can tie him down.

    Including Kou Zhong.

    After helping Kou Zhong getting the Duke Yangs Treasure, he would have accomplished his responsibility as a good brother. The meritorious deed completed, he could retire.

    At the end of his eyesight, he saw a small hill about three li southwest of the city gate tower at the mouth of the gorge, where human figures were moving about; by his estimate there were at least several hundred people going down the slope of the hill, pouring into the vast prairie between the small hill and the mouth of the gorge. It appeared that these people were pushing toward the Ranch.

    About five li to the northwest, there was a winding river with nine bends and ten turns traversing the prairie toward the back of that small hill, with dense forest on both sides, from where came the neighs of the horses hidden over there.

    Between these two places, there was a small village built by the river, but he did not see the least bit of lights, neither did he hear any sound of dogs or chicken; obviously all the villagers have fled early on.

    On this side of the mouth of the gorge, the Flying Horse Ranchs warriors also marched out of the city gate tower, with the imposing manner of soldiers ready for war. Just by looking at the two sides movements, he knew that hard battle was inevitable.

    Xu Zilings blood was boiling. Like a big bird he soared into the air and jumped down the cliff.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong flitted up toward the roof, and immediately crouched down motionless.

    Dou Weis voice was heard again, Does Princess think that that Yuaner is trustworthy?

    Li Xiuning sighed and said, How could Shang Xiuxun be that kind of despicable scumbag? But we definitely must be on guard; well decide what to do after we talk with Shang Zhen. Oh! Is there a way for us to examine Yuaners background?

    Li Gang said, For the time being, we have no way He suddenly stopped speaking.

    While Kou Zhong was pondering why, a clear and bright male voice came from the eaves of the opposite building, Friend, you broke into the Green Ring Courtyard at night; may I ask what brings you here?

    Kou Zhong jumped in fright. Granted that his attention was focused at eavesdropping Li Xiunings party discussion, but the other side was able to come this close him so quietly; evidently he was a martial art master.

    And the voice sounded a bit familiar.

    When he looked up to see, to his astonishment, it was Li Xiunings lover, Chai Shao.
    Last edited by ycb5959; 01-27-16 at 04:40 AM.

  10. #110
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 2

    Book 10 Chapter 2 Debut of the Divine Skill

    Leaving the gorge area, Xu Ziling raised his qi to speed along among the trees, while from time to time shooting the divine escape to alter his angle and direction, as well as to increase his speed, sort of like a kid who had just received a fun new toy, which he enjoyed and loved very much that he could not bear to let it go.

    He felt as if the Flying Divine Escape has become a part of his body. The nimble and free-flowing true qi was the ingenious link between he and the divine escape, enabling him to manipulate it like what the heart wishes, the hand accomplishes.

    It was a little bit like using a long whip; he was even able to use the divine escape to forge ahead in a roundabout way [orig. going round the curves and skirting the corners], so that he was able to go through the forest like a ghost, without any obstruction at all.

    In fact, he was almost flying freely like a hawk; whenever his toes pushed on the tree trunk or horizontal branches, he would get enough force to propel him forward, so that he was flying across the woods without his feet ever touching the ground. This kind of joyous feeling was indeed the most fresh and exciting experience he ever felt in his entire life. The most wonderful thing was that because he was using the spiraling power, the divine escape automatically spun as it flew toward the target, so that not only it shot faster, the strength also increased tremendously as well.

    Right this moment, the wind-borne sound of battle was starting to enter his ears, and it was growing more intense by the minute.

    Recalling that the Four Big Bandits killed and burned everywhere, making the common people live in utter misery, Xu Ziling could not stop righteous indignation from filling his heart, so he flew toward the sound of the fighting at his top speed.

    ※ ※ ※

    By the time Kou Zhong slid down to the ground, sound of the wind sprang up everywhere; he already fell into a heavy siege.

    Dou Wei and Li Gang blocked his escape route, while fast as lightning Li Xiuning also arrived; together with the two men they formed a triangle, with Kou Zhong in the middle.

    While Kou Zhong was groaning inwardly, Chai Shao landed by Li Xiunings side. Laughing proudly, he said, Friend came here easy; if you are able to leave easy, will our Li Family have any face to see our Jianghu friends?

    If Chai Shao was not present, Kou Zhong would have simply revealed his identity and explained the purpose of his visit, and this matter could be resolved. But now that he came face-to-face with his rival in love, unexpectedly an indescribable fire rose up in his heart, no matter what he refused to get away from this situation in such a stupid and cowardly way.

    Its just that he was caught off guard because he never expected that Chai Shao might hide to protect Li Xiuning in secret.

    Sound of the wind sprang up everywhere, more than a dozen Li Xiunings personal guards showed themselves up the parapets and between the building and the trees, forming a ring around him so tight that not one drop of water could trickle through. Most had a bow or a crossbow in their hands.

    Li Xiunings sword was pointing to the vital acupoint on his chest, bursts of chilling sword qi were pressing on him. She spoke coldly, Which side does Sire represent?


    It was only now did Chai Shao pulled a pair of arm-protector steel truncheon, one long, one short, from his back. The long one was approximately three chi, the short one was about a chi and a half; both were glittering gold, extremely dazzling to the eyes.

    He was moving in such a confident and at ease way, which was pleasant to look at, but at the same time his imposing manner was quite intimidating. Somehow, this has aroused Kou Zhongs eager-to-win, striving-to-excel, strange state of mind even more.

    Dou Wei was wielding a heavy steel staff, which he held horizontally in front of his chest, practically cutting off Kou Zhongs rear right sides escape path, making people felt like wherever he was going to run to, he would have had to stake everything he had.

    Li Gang was armed with a pair of sword, but the degree of sharpness of his sword qi was a notch below that of Li Xiunings; hence it could be said that among the four people besieging Kou Zhong, his martial art was the weakest.

    Before they fought, Kou Zhong was already certain that Chai Shaos martial art was superior to Li Xiunings, because as soon as he appeared, the besieging nets pressure immediately multiplied several folds, so that Kou Zhong did not dare to rashly run away.

    Abruptly sucking in a mouthful of true qi, Kou Zhong pressed down the anxiety in his heart, returning to the moon-in-the-well placid condition. Using the technique taught by Lu Miaozi, he applied his internal energy to tighten up his vocal cords, so that his laughter became sharp and shrill, This time I came blindly here, indeed there is something Id like to tell you. Would Princess Ning be interested to hear?

    As Li Xiunings eyes met his, her heart was suddenly filled with a familiar feeling. Have we met before? she asked in astonishment.

    Letting out a cold snort Chai Shao said, If Sire is willing to throw your weapon down and have your hands tied, we would listen to whatever it is you have to say.

    Remembering Chai Shaos arrogant manners toward him and Xu Ziling with arrogance the other day, and how his expression showed contempt as he looked at the two boys, Kou Zhongs anger flared.

    Especially now that he was standing side-by-side with Li Xiuning in an intimate manner, like they were a couple of talented man and beautiful woman, a match made in heaven, it would be strange indeed if Kou Zhongs heart was not filled with hatred out of jealousy.

    He was even considering going all-out, breaking with siege with all his strength, no longer care about Li Xiunings affair, to see what kind of ability this kid had that he dared to protect Li Xiuning.

    Li Gang spoke in heavy voice, If friend is unwilling to have your hands tied and waiting to be captured, dont blame the saber and sword for not having any eyes.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said slowly, I only want to say something, and then Ill leave immediately. Would Princess Ning step aside and talk to me?

    Dou Wei laughed toward the other men and said, This guy thinks that we are just the same as him, an idiot!

    Hearing that, Li Xiuning and Chai Shao looked at each other and laughed.

    Originally Kou Zhong was going to persuade using all possible arguments to uncover Yuaners conspiracy, but seeing Li Xiuning and Chai Shao looking at each other with lovey-dovey eyes, instantly he threw this thought at the back of his head. Worse yet, he saw Li Xiunings limpid-autumn-water like touching beautiful eyes cast a sincere look full of deep passion; immediately he had a hard-to-understand feeling as if he was being cheated.


    As the Moon in the Well left its scabbard, Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, If you want to fight, then lets fight! But dont you ever regret it!

    Li Xiuning and the others immediately felt his forceful, overbearing saber qi; hastily they hastened their own true qi to resist.

    Chai Shao asked in surprise, Friends skill is out of the ordinary; definitely you are not a nobody in Jianghu. Why until now still insist on being sneaky by not daring to reveal your name and surname?

    Kou Zhongs sharp gaze fell on Li Xiunings pretty face, which wound around his dreams and pulled away his soul; he said indifferently, Isnt Princess Nings future husband being superfluous? If I can reveal my name and surname, wouldnt I already say it early on?

    The four peoples countenance changed greatly.

    It should be noted that presently Chai Shaos identity was kept a secret, because he was tasked to protect Li Xiuning in secret. If Shang Xiuxun found out, the relationship between the two sides would immediately turn awkward.

    However, this was not an unresolved matter, they could always explain. The frightening thing was if Kou Zhong were Li Mis man, it would mean that their real strength has been exposed to the enemy.

    A murderous aura flitted across Li Xiunings pretty eyes; she said coldly, How do you know his identity?

    Actually, it was tantamount to admitting to Kou Zhong that Chai Shao was her future husband. Although Kou Zhong was already aware of this fact, he still felt as if the pit of his stomach was struck by a thunder, making him so angry that he nearly vomited blood.

    Smiling wryly, he said, There are a lot of things in this world that are difficult to explain. But I am definitely not related to either Li Mi or the Ranch. If Princess can be sensible and agree to have an earnest talk with me, I can guarantee a valuable information in return, and then I will immediately leave.

    Chai Shao shook his pair of long and short arm-protector steel truncheon; murderous aura immediately pervaded the air. Laughing casually, he said, Do you think you can leave that easy? If you dont throw down your saber and surrender immediately, youll see real trouble under my hands!

    Dou Wei, who was standing at Kou Zhongs side, also shouted, Since you have the guts to come, dont be gutless by wanting to run away.

    Kou Zhong sighed inwardly; if this moment he changed his mind and introduced himself, it would appear that he was afraid of Chai Shao, which, even if he had to be killed, he would never do. Thereupon he nodded and said, Sword and saber indeed dont have eyes. Gentlemen, please be careful.

    With a sudden gust of wind Dou Weis heavy staff smashed toward Kou Zhongs head from behind, practically pulling open the curtain of battle.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling flew through the sparse forest, and saw outside the forest, torch flames at the prairie illuminate the sky. A group of more than a hundred thieves wearing red band on their heads was besieging a group of twenty or so Ranchs warriors in close combat. Surprisingly he recognized one of the warriors as Luo Fang.

    On the hilltop at his left, a dozen or so men were standing; other than one man, who presumably was the leader, the rest were wearing red band on their heads, so they were very easy to recognize.

    Obviously Luo Fang and his men had fallen into disadvantageous position; they fought strenuously in circular formation. In the middle of the circle, seven or eight men were either lying on their backs or on their stomachs; apparently they had received injury and thus lost their strength to continue fighting.

    On the thieves side, there were quite a number of casualties as well; it was indeed an intense battle.

    Xu Ziling had no time to think why Luo Fang and his men fell into such perilous situation. He soared to the air and threw himself in the middle of the thieves formation. Before his feet even touched the ground, two men were kicked and died on the spot.

    With this sudden change, while the thieves were still unclear of what happened, four more men received his punches and died.

    Whether it was a kick or a punch, Xu Zilings vortex of hot power shot out freely. The strangest thing was that his victims were not thrown back; rather, they suddenly dropped down to the ground, their faces did not even show any bruise.

    Two enemies rushed in from the left side, the flickering sabers in their hands matched their loud shout and violent hiss, as they rapidly came to attack.

    Like a ghost Xu Ziling darted in between the two, his body flashed, his shoulders subsequently slammed onto the two. This time, learning from experience, he was using hard, ferocious force. The two mens shoulder bones shattered immediately, the sabers in their hands were spun around and flung to the side, their bodies were thrown toward a dozen or so thief troops that were rushing toward Xu Ziling, so that the enemy ranks were immediately tumbling down in confusion.

    By this time, he was only about twenty paces or so from Luo Fang and his men. One after another the nearby thieves left Luo Fang and the others to charge toward Xu Ziling.

    Xu Ziling sent out a punch across an empty air, the violent vortex of hot energy shot straight toward a man who seemed to be the leader of those dozen or so men charging toward him.


    As if he was swept away by a storm or a gigantic wave, his entire body were lifted off the ground, and then like a kite with cut string he crashed onto two of his companions behind him. The three men rolled on the ground like a gourd, their muscles and bones shattered.

    The rest of the men had never seen such a powerful long-distance punch like this; they were scared and flew away in all directions.

    With Xu Ziling diverted most of the enemy, Luo Fang and his mens momentum was greatly boosted; they charged forward that the opponents suffered a crushing defeat, while trying to move toward Xu Ziling.

    Another group of about forty enemies came to attack Xu Ziling, giving him an enormous pressure. Yet Xu Ziling was by no means cowardly and panicking; his spirit has entered the no-victory, no-defeat, the still-water realm.

    Amazing things happened.

    All of a sudden, he was able to clearly grasp the situation of the entire battlefield.

    That is not to say that he knew every little detail of everything happening; rather, by means of different levels of his vision and hearing, he was able to grasp the variation of whats true and whats false in his surrounding, both near and far, thereby he could determine his advance and retreat.

    It was an unprecedented feeling.

    Prior to this, he could only deal with the most critical thing in front of him. But now, even though the enemies were swarming at him from all directions, his perception was extended beyond the crisis he was facing. Not only was he aware that the enemies on the hill were advancing toward him, he was also aware that Luo Fang and his men had again fallen into heavy siege of the regrouping enemies after his attack.

    Xu Ziling let out a long whistle and soared into the air. When he landed, it was precisely by Luo Fangs side, while at the same time he formed a saber with his hand, and fast as lightning swept it across the flashing sabers of the thieves, who were raining their attack toward Luo Fang and his men.

    The man did not even have any chance to evade, so forget about turning back the saber to block. Looking helplessly he was cut by the palm saber at his chest, was thrown back and died.

    With the same manner Xu Ziling subsequently stepped a dozen times around, immediately the opposite side suffered a crushing defeat and was thrown into a mess.

    Xu Ziling was able to clearly sense the strong or weak point of every single one of the enemys attack, his countermeasure matched their situation perfectly.

    It was a very subtle feeling.

    Just like the limpid water in the well that can reflect anything. On the surface, the opponents in front of him appeared to carry torrential momentum, but in his eyes, there were gaps and flaws everywhere. Basically this situation did not even worth him using the Yijian Xinfa.

    This moment a broadsword came sweeping across, carrying with it a fierce whistling noise; the saber qi was threating, it was the fiercest saber Xu Ziling ever encountered since the battle began.

    Xu Ziling cheered inwardly. His palm hacked down, it hit the blade of the opponents saber, sending the vortex of hot energy toward the enemy. The saber wielder groaned miserably, the saber fell down, his mouth spurted out blood, he staggered and fell back.

    Apparently this man had quite a status among the bunch of thieves; as the crowd saw that he could not take even one palm strike from Xu Ziling, they were terrified and followed him fleeing in all directions.

    Xu Ziling forgot that he was in disguise; without thinking he came over to Luo Fang and asked in concern, Are you all right?

    Luo Fang was astonished, I am all right, he replied, May I know En Gongs [benefactor] honorable surname and great given name? Your kindness in saving our lives, our Flying Horse Ranch will definitely pay you back.

    Xu Ziling just realized his faux pas. This moment the bunch of thieves had run away one after the other, the Ranchs fighters came over, they all looked at him with grateful eyes.

    Assuming a bold and uninhibited manner, Xu Ziling laughed aloud and said, Rioting thieves and bandits, every single one deserved to be punished. As for my name and who I am, it is not even worth mentioning. It would be best for you to immediately return to your unit, I have not killed enough people.

    With another long laugh he ran toward where the enemys forces were concentrated.

    ※ ※ ※

    As Dou Weis staff was smashing his head from the back, Chai Shao made his move at the same time. Like two streaks of lightning the long and short arm-protector steel truncheons separately shot toward Kou Zhongs face and chest. It was filled with murderous intention, bold and powerful to the extreme, and extremely ruthless. His qi power tightly covered the opponent, so that whether Kou Zhong wanted to strike back or run away, he would have to go all-out first to face this attack.

    Although Li Gang was one step late in launching his attack, he also took an unfair advantage by attacking from the side. The pair of swords in his hands swept across Kou Zhongs neck and his waist, with incomparable ruthlessness; a move so vicious that people would find it difficult to associate his attack with his usual air of an elegant Confucian scholar.

    Only Li Xiuning took a half step back. The tip of her sword was still exuding sword qi, to prevent Kou Zhong from breaking the siege in that direction, but she did not join the foray.

    If it were the former Kou Zhong, this moment he would be at a loss to know what to do. Even though he might not necessarily suffer immediate defeat, injury would be hard to avoid. Fortunately, after surviving near death experience with Wanwan, where he reaped profit from a disaster, he learned to develop the vortex of qi, which no one from ancient times had ever learned, his martial art took a step which could not be imitated, forward, so that it was not just a case of self-improvement by diligent study.

    This moment, just like swimming fish, he weaved in and out among the siege, and then brandishing his saber in ferocious hack. Swish! Swish! Swish! three consecutive chops, yellow glow filled the air, unexpectedly he hacked Chai Shaos two arm-protector steel truncheons and Dou Weis steel staff.

    Chai Shao and Dou Weis hearts turned cold.

    Originally they had ninety-percent confidence of their own moves, but under Kou Zhongs fantastic shenfa, they felt as if the opponent was clearly in front of them, but suddenly he turned into a disembodied ghost so that they were completely off in trying to seize his position.

    It was a very serious problem.

    It should be noted that when martial art masters exchanged blows, they must constantly estimate changes and adjust their moves accordingly. On the surface it appeared to be a simple problem, but it really contained a myriad of knowledge.

    Kou Zhong was able to fully use his fantastic shenfa within about three chi of space, so that the opponents could not correctly predict and determine his position. In other words, it was akin to suddenly lose their target; how could they not be in great shock? Immediately they were at a loss.

    Under the flourishing yellow glow and the criss-crossing saber qi, Chai Shao and Dou Wei met Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well head-on.

    Dang! Dang! Dang! With three shocking explosions, like an astonishing cyclone of ice the unmatched fantastic vortex of qi flowed through the point of contact of the saber blade and their weapons, and burst into their bodies, straight toward the bottom of their abdomens.

    The two men had never expected Kou Zhong to be this formidable, their entire bodies, from head to toe, were severely shaken.

    Chai Shaos power was still two notches above Dou Weis; he only staggered two steps back before managing to steady his footing. With a stifled grunt the latter was jolted backward.

    Seeing the unfavorable situation, Li Xiuning waved her delicate hand to create a sword pattern pressing down on Kou Zhong.

    Kou Zhong opened his tiger-eyes wide open, flashes of lightning shot out. With unspeakable calmness he casually turned his saber backhandedly to pare between Li Gangs two swords, and then striking up followed by cutting down, Dang! Dang! Li Gang was immediately routed, his pair of swords bounced up and down, so that his line of defense was wide open, while at the same time he felt the opponents hard-to-resist vortex of qi burst in, straight toward his heart and spleen. His soul flew away and scattered, he ran away backward.

    Dont come! Chai Shao shouted, stopping his own men, who were standing outside the arena, from entering the fray, while he flashed into Li Gangs position to mend the siege. He coordinated his double arm-protectors with Li Xiunings offensive, his expression looked extremely heavy.

    Such a formidable foe, he had never imagined it in advance.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud. Unexpectedly he bent his back and bumped himself against the retreating Dou Wei, not only to temporarily widened the distance so that it would be hard for Li Xiunings sword force to reach him, Chai Shaos attack also fell on empty space.

    Under this situation, if it were before the battle, Dou Wei would have brandished his staff to block, so that if Kou Zhong did not die, he would definitely suffer serious injury. But presently Dou Wei was making every effort to dissolve Kou Zhongs fantastic qi invading his channels, so that his current power was only about fifty-percent his usual strength, plus he was still overcoming the backward momentum of his retreat earlier. Therefore, if he forced himself to fight, other than he did not have any confidence of breaking Kou Zhongs true qi protecting his body, if the opponents back, which was brimming with vortex of qi, crashed onto him, how could he stay alive?

    In great shock, Dou Wei did not dare show-off; he hastily sidestepped Kou Zhongs body.

    Actually, Kou Zhong himself did not expect that in these several clashes, he was able to take the initiative and full control of the situation, so that advancing he could attack, retreating he could evade; he could not help feeling so pleased. Stop! he shouted.

    Li Xiuning and Chai Shao were afraid he might take the opportunity to kill either Dou Wei or Li Gang; thereupon they followed his order and held their weapons.


    Kou Zhongs saber went back to its scabbard, but he himself still carried the aura of an unsheathed saber, so that others did not dare to belittle him.

    His gaze swept the crowd with his awe-inspiring might radiating all around; with his intimidating body shape and expression, which did not match his fake faces smiling expression, he spoke nonchalantly, Gentlemen should have known that if I meant harm to the Princess, I would not need to hide the head and show the tail. That being the case, let us all sit down and drink some tea, and have a nice chat!

    None of Li Xiuning and her men was not stunned.

  11. #111
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 3

    Book 10 Chapter 3 You Hoodwink Me, I Cheat You

    Xu Ziling squatted by a brook. He washed his hands first, and then scooped the water with his hands and delightedly drank two mouthful of fresh water.

    The refreshing creek water poured into his throat, greatly rejuvenating his mind and spirit, while not too far away the sound of killing and the hard battle was still heard, and on the other side the hoof beats sounded like a distant rumbling of a thunder. But in that instant everything seemed to be detached from him.

    The three cuts on his arm, left shoulder and right leg still hurt a little bit, but the cuts were more or less healed; they no longer bled.

    In his mind he still remembered vividly how under the enemys heavy siege he killed a lot of the enemy leaders. And then using the divine escape he easily got out of the siege by hanging from tree to tree.

    The thieves forces were clearly more than several thousand strong, plus their martial art masters were as numerous as clouds, so that the Ranchs fighters who met the enemy head-on were repeatedly caught in bitter struggle.

    Right now, the only way he could help the Flying Horse Ranch to get out of this disaster was to find the location of the Four Big Bandits main force first, and then utilizing guerilla warfare he would kill their Commander-in-Chief. In this way he would completely frustrated enemys morale and disrupt their troop disposition.

    His mind made up, Xu Ziling shot the divine escape and leaped to the top of a towering old tree by the creek, to survey the battlefield situation.

    ※ ※ ※

    Chai Shao laughed coldly and said, If Sire does not die, we will accompany you drinking hot tea and chatting!

    Reaching out to pull Li Xiunings lily-white hand, he quickly withdrew.

    Watching that, Kou Zhongs heart was burning with anger; he stood blankly on the spot, unaware that Li Gang and Dou Wei had also moved away.

    Release the arrows! Chai Shao thundered.

    Amidst the swish, swish! noise, the Li Clans warriors on the eaves and in the garden pulled their bows and crossbows and shot arrows toward Kou Zhong.

    Chai Shao also let go of Li Xiunings hand. Fast as lightning, his two arm-protectors shot toward Kou Zhong, carrying with them an extremely swift and fierce power.

    Even if he were able to, it would still be very difficult for Kou Zhong to block this well-coordinated salvo of arrows with the Moon in the Well in his hand, to say nothing of he still had to deal with Chai Shaos shooting arm-protector steel truncheons, which were suffused with powerful qi.

    In that instant Kou Zhong regained his senses and soared straight up to the air just before the arrows penetrating his body. Li Xiuning cried out tenderly. The moment the arrows, darts and arm-protectors hit an empty space, her body followed her sword, tailing Kou Zhong to the air.

    The sound of crossbows being reloaded echoed from all directions, indicating the second salvo of arrows was about to be launched.

    Kou Zhong was unable to borrow more strength; he had nothing in the air he could use as a shield. At the same time he had to deal with Li Xiunings attack from below, while a concentrated arrows might come any time. Even Ning Daoqi, Bi Xuan and martial art masters their caliber would be at a loss to know what to do.

    Nevertheless Kou Zhong remained calm without any fear. The divine escape in his left hand shot like lightning toward the peak of an old tree on his left. Just before Li Xiunings sword reached him, he changed direction sideways and disappeared into the distant darkness.

    Watching this, Chai Shao and the others could only stare blankly, but nothing can be done.

    ※ ※ ※

    Raising his qi, Xu Ziling sped along, and stopped only after going over a hill.

    Many different trees were growing thickly at the foot of the hill, with a small river flowing gently in the middle. Far ahead he saw the small village that he saw earlier from the top of the cliff.

    Just now when he was surveying the battlefield situation, he found out that the main force of the thieves scattering in all directions were all centered on this small village. Feeling strange, he decided to come over to look.

    Currently the small village was as quiet as a ghost town, he did not feel anything unusual at all. After a short contemplation, he decided to run down the slope of the hill. But as he almost reached the village, suddenly an alarm went off in his heart; a feeling similar to when he felt someone was watching him from a boat docking by Yangtze River outside the city of Baling. He could not help feeling surprised.

    Could it be that someone was hiding inside the house over there?

    From time to time the sound of battle was still resounding from all directions, reminding him that the battle was still raging, and it was growing in intensity.

    After taking a deep breath, filled with great confidence, Xu Ziling walked over to the gate of the biggest and tallest house in the village. Reaching out, he knocked the door three times.


    The wooden door opened to the inside, while a sword swiftly and fiercely stabbed onto his chest.

    This sword strike was not simple at all. It looked like just one strike, but it actually contained endless attacking attribute and countless changes and follow-up moves. The most formidable aspect was that while the tip of the sword was vibrating and shaking, it sent out seven, eight sword qi in succession, Chi! Chi! continuously, enveloping all the vital acupoints around Xu Zilings chest and abdomen with suffocating power.

    Xu Ziling had a feeling like the one he had when he was confronting Yang Xuyan, plus because he was in the open while the enemy was hidden, temporarily his eyes were filled with dots of sword tip, and his breathing could not flow freely.

    When it looked like he was about to be injured by the sword, Xu Zilings slender hands suddenly shot up in front of his chest, his ten fingers opened up like a blooming flower, each finger carried a subtle change, and each moved gracefully beyond belief in different angle, to meet the sword tip in such a narrow space.

    Ding! Ding! Dang! Dang!

    Amidst the continuous sweet sound like tinkling pearls on a jade tray, Xu Ziling neutralized the opponents swift and fierce sword move while standing steadfastly, without moving a single step.


    The door closed again. But Xu Ziling was able to see the sword wielder was none other than Shang Xiuxun wearing tight warrior outfit.

    Although he felt strange on why Shang Xiuxun was not in the battlefield leading her troops but stayed here instead, but Xu Ziling was relieved because this beautiful Ranch Master was still safe and sound.

    While he was about to raise his voice to call, thunderous sound of hoof beats came from both ends of the village. Xu Zilings mind was churning at the speed of light; he flew back, leaped onto the roof of the building across the street, and lay prostrate motionless, calmly waiting for the upcoming change.

    ※ ※ ※

    Leaving the Green Ring Courtyard, Kou Zhong leaped onto the top of a bell tower. He felt like crying, both from grieving and bitterness of his heart, which were extremely unbearable.

    Previously he thought that he could get over Li Xiuning easily, but when he saw Li Xiuning obediently let Chai Shao pulled her tender lily-white hand, Kou Zhong realized what important place she occupied in his heart. Since she already had Chai Shao protecting the flower, why would she bother minding him, an outsider?

    A breeze came, rippling the pond water, distorting the image of what was at the bottom of the pond.

    Kou Zhong sighed. He made up his mind to no longer pay attention to Li Xiuning, as he flew toward the Castles wall. Apparently he decided to vent up his heartache and grievances on those hapless low-class bandits.

    ※ ※ ※

    The hoof beats stopped suddenly.

    The two groups of riders stopped at the entrances to the village and jumped down their horses. Most of them spread out to guard the exits, while only about twenty people boldly entered the village.

    From his high vantage point, Xu Ziling looked down and saw that other than four men wearing white bands on their heads holding torches high above their heads, the rest of the people all dressed differently. All carried the air of martial art masters. Apparently they were the leaders of the thieves.

    The four men taking the lead looked even more distinct. Most likely they were the Four Big Bandits, who ran amuck the Yangtze River region, whose terrifying names spread out in all directions. Their age appeared to range between thirty and forty years.

    Xu Ziling could not help shuddering in fear, while thinking inwardly that no wonder Shang Xiuxun was hiding in here. Because of intelligence failure, they thought the incoming enemy was only one team several thousand strong, while the fact was that the Four Big Bandits were going on an all-out attack, with the objective of seizing the Flying Horse Ranch in one move. The strange thing was that in this time of turmoil and chaos of war, how did the Four Big Bandits obtain such a great magical power and find out that Shang Xiuxun was hiding in here?

    The bandits stopped in the middle of the village. One of the four leaders laughed aloud and said, I am Xiang Batian; Jianghu friends who love to joke bestowed me the title not even a blade of grass grows as my nickname; all because they dont understand me at all. The fact is that I am a man who loves and cherishes flowers; if Shang Changzhu dont believe me, just try giving yourself to me for three days, I guarantee that you will be able to correct the notion of the gravely-mistaken people all over the world.

    The other thieves immediately roared in laughter; a laughter brimming with obscene overtone.

    Xiang Batians profile and outward appearance really made others did not dare to give a compliment. He was a fat man, short in stature. Not only his body was short, his limbs were also sort and stubby. He had a pot belly, and a flat, gourd-shaped head that looked like it grew out directly from his fat shoulders.

    But his eyes, which were so narrow that he appeared to be eternally squinting, were gleaming with demonical, unusual blue flashes, so that people would know that not only he was an expert in internal martial art, the path he took was that of the heretical school of martial arts.

    In his hands he was holding a pair of flickering silvery light steel rings with sharp teeth on the edges, strengthening the impression that he was a dangerous and mysterious person.

    Nobody knew how many people had died under his Soul-snatching Tooth Ring.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling, who was lying low on the back of the roof slope, suddenly felt an overwhelming and intense murderous intention, which he himself did not understand. Upon further reflection, he realized that it was because of the verbal insults were directed to Shang Xiuxun.

    Standing next to Xiang Batian was a thick and solid, sturdy man, with a criss-crossing pair of wolf-teeth clubs on his back, the flesh on his face grew without restraint, and a big wart grew on his forehead, which made him appeared uglier. The man laughed wildly and said, Changzhu recklessly went out to battle, your defeat is guaranteed. But if you are willing to give yourself to serve us, to be our companion in bed, naturally everything can be discussed. His talk was even more obscene.

    The thieves roared in lewd laughter again, filled with arrogance.

    Xu Ziling suddenly remembered that spy.

    If there were no spies playing their tricks, how could the thieves know Shang Xiuxuns whereabouts? They would not know the Flying Horse Ranchs strength, and thus the Ranch would not take such a beating in such a short period of time.

    However, as long as the Ranch was able to steadily defend the mouth of the gorge on both sides, they still could not be considered lost.

    Another bandit leader laughed eerily and said, One bed one companion. Fang Sandis [third (younger) brother] proposal is amazing. Its just that Shang Changzhu is a virgin; even if in her heart she is a thousand times, then thousand times willing, but in the presence of so many people, naturally her tender face is blushing bashfully, so she is speechless! Dont you think my, Mao Zaos perception on womens heart is thorough enough?

    This persons figure was tall and thin, a picture of a bad demon scholar; he had a pair of double apostrophe thin moustache above his lips [orig. eight character (八) shaped], and a horsetail whisk stuck on his back. His attire was nondescript [lit. neither fish nor fowl]. Just by a single glance one would have been able to guess that he must be the scorched earth for a thousand li Mao Zao, who ranked second among the Four Big Bandits.

    The one who spoke earlier, the man with a wart on his forehead, the one he called the third brother, must be the chicken and dogs wont remain, Fang Jianding.

    The one Xu Ziling paid particular attention to was the only one who had not spoken yet, who ought to be the leader of the Four Big Bandits, the ghosts weep the deities cry, Cao Yinglong.

    This person looked majestic; he had a pair of big catching-the-wind ears, his forehead was covered in deep wrinkles, his cheekbones high, his cheeks sunken, his eyes appeared half-open half-closed, giving others deep impression. But his overall appearance was not as loathsome as the other three; he appeared a bit like an old pedant who does not like to talk.

    In his left hand he held a spear forged entirely from refined steel; it appeared to weigh at least forty or fifty catties.


    Xiang Batian raised both hands up and struck his pair of Soul-snatching Tooth Ring, creating a clear and crisp sound. The dozen or so of his men standing behind him immediately fanned out to do house-to-house search. Some even leaped onto the roof to act as a lookout.

    For the next few moments, the continuous sound of doors breaking and windows shattering was heard. The murderous intention in Xu Zilings heart was rising as he quietly gathered his power.

    ※ ※ ※

    With the aid of the divine escape, Kou Zhong dove through the Inner Castle, flying over the houses and leaped over the buildings, in the direction of the outer city wall. As he was passing the courtyard where he caught sight of Yuaner and that outside ghosts tryst the other night, he had an idea and turned toward it.

    He faintly heard voices from the building, but saw no lantern light.

    Kou Zhong crouched low in the courtyard. After going through a fierce battle of conflicting thoughts within himself, he still could not bear to let it go. Leaping onto a tree by the house, he looked in through the window.

    From this angle, he was able to see Yuaners lover [lit. male adulterer] from the other night and another man sitting on the chairs by the window, facing other people, who were out of his line of sight. But listening to the conversation, he determined that there were no less than ten people in that room.

    With the lesson he learned last time, Kou Zhong knew that the lovers skill was quite outstanding, so he hastily employed the inner breathing from the Secret to Long Life, while at the same time suppressing the brilliance of his eyes.

    He heard someone said, The most brilliant aspect of our entire operation this time is the coordinated attack from the inside and the outside, and thus catching them off-guard. Moreover, with Gongzi [young master] personally presiding over it in secret, we need not worry that the Flying Horse Ranch will not fall into our hands.

    The lover laughed aloud and said, Chen Laoshi [lit. teacher] ought to stop flattering me. I, Li Tianfan, am merely a small fry who waves the banner and cheers from the side. The one holding the command flag is Shen Junshi [military strategist/advisor].

    Kou Zhongs scalp went numb instantly; it was only then did he realize the seriousness of the situation.

    Military Advisor Shen was, naturally, Shen Luoyan. Li Tianfan was Li Mis son, also Song Yuzhis betrothed. Just the fact that these two people were sitting in this meeting was a strong and powerful indicator that Li Mi did not spare any effort to seize the Flying Horse Ranch and deal with Li Xiuning at the same time.

    Sure enough, Shen Luoyans warbling sweet voice came from inside, Gongzi is too modest! Luoyan is ashamed and dare not accept the honor. Right now its only the hai hour [between 9-11pm], Shang Xiuxun has become the fish in Cao Mengzhus [alliance master/leader] net, we should also hear news from the Inner Castle.

    Li Tianfan sneered and said, Shang Xiuxun has always been a lone flower admiring itself; she has no regards toward the people of the world. In terms of ability and wisdom, how could she match Shen Junshi? While we still have a bit of time, it would be best if Shen Junshi could give us more details on our coordinated operation.

    This man struck the right note, proving the adage that tiger father would not begot dog child; apparently he was a very capable leader.

    Kou Zhong was seriously considering killing this son; if he succeeded, wouldnt Song Yuzhis engagement be annulled immediately? Or else, if Li Mi succeeded in capturing Luoyang, Song Yuzhi would have to immediately marry into the Li family.

    He already lost Li Xiuning; if Song Yuzhi was married to someone else, and the Song Clan and Li Mi became family, it would be a big blow to Kou Zhong, both in his public, as well as his private lives.

    Thinking to this point, his heart was boiling, but his mind was still as cold as ice.

    The most important thing right now was to get a feel of the strength of these people inside. Just one Shen Luoyan was already difficult to deal with, not to mention Li Tianfan, who was even more formidable. If he was not careful, he might even lose his life here.

    Ay! If only Xiao Ling were here. Now he only wanted to be the knight in shining armor [orig. hero who rescues the beauty]. If he by any chance could win her heart, nothing could be more ideal than that.

    ※ ※ ※


    The wooden door burst open.

    A man burst into the house where Shang Xiuxun was hiding. Xu Ziling was storing up his power and waited. The moment the Four Big Bandits made some unusual move toward Shang Xiuxun, that would be the moment he would also make his move.

    The Four Big Bandits looked shocked as they turned to look at both the front and rear doors of the house. Not because they heard any particular noise, but because there was no sound from the inside, not even footsteps.

    This did not make any sense at all.

    The man who entered the house was not an ordinary fighter. Even if the entire Flying Horse Ranch was inside the house, they could not possibly subdue him in just one move.

    Xu Ziling was surprised as well; he forgot to make his move.

    Cao Yinglong, who thus far has not spoken yet, suddenly said coldly, Men! Smash the whole house to pieces for me!

    The crowd of bandits behind him thundered their acknowledgement and moved out immediately.

    The martial art masters among the bandits, who were standing guard on the surrounding roofs, also had their attention focused in this place. They all held their torches high, so that the entire village was aglow.

    Fang Jianding shouted harshly as he stepped out from among the crowd. Storming up the stone steps, with both palms he struck the wall next to the door.

    At first the wall did not show anything unusual, but then the eaves above started to shake like in an earthquake, followed by the entire wall started to crumble and ruptured inward, slightly exposing the situation inside the hall, before it got covered by collapsing roof, the broken tiles and the rising dust.

    The crowd of bandits broke in thunderous cheers and swarmed toward the house like a pack of hungry beasts sniffing the blood of their prey.

    Witnessing Fang Jiandings formidable palms, Xu Ziling thought that if he was using the pair of wolf-teeth clubs on his back, it would definitely a total annihilation [orig. sweeping away a thousand armies]. But this has aroused his fighting spirit even more.

    This moment he heard gusts of wind from the building to his left. The martial art masters on the bandits side were swarming toward his hiding place. Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. Momentarily putting aside his intention of killing the bandits leaders, his gaze quickly scanned his surroundings, near and far, trying to find a new hiding place.

    In a side garden of a house just outside the range of the torches light, he saw a small brick structure approximately two zhang square that looked like a shed where people put their junks. Quickly sliding down the roof, he went to hide in there.

    The wooden door opened easily. Before he was able to see anything clearly, he heard a soft rumble of mechanism from the underground. But because of the incessant noise outside from the house coming down, the other noise was kind of drowned, so that he would not have to worry that the people outside would hear it.

    Xu Ziling quickly closed the door. As expected, the room was filled with miscellaneous farming tools, but the middle of the room was empty. A slab of floor slowly sank down, exposing a dark and deep tunnel underneath.

    Xu Ziling immediately remembered Lu Miaozi, the number one master craftsman under the heavens.

    ※ ※ ※

    Shen Luoyan was about to speak when a bird cry was heard from a roof on a distance. Li Tianfan immediately said, Li Xiuning has fallen into the trap, everything proceeds as planned.

    Kou Zhong knew that they received the signal Yuaner transmitted from the Inner Castle; he could not help smiling wryly inwardly.

    Could he really ignore Li Xiunings safety?

    Let alone this matter had direct relation to his endeavor for hegemony over the land under the heavens!

  12. #112
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 4

    Book 10 Chapter 4 Display of Prowess

    Xu Ziling leaped onto the beam and hid himself in the little space between the beam and the roof, suppressing the refined qi within his body, while activating his inner breathing, and quietly waiting for what would happen below him.

    The noise from the collapsing wall was still continuing. Xu Ziling saw eight people came out of the tunnel in single file.


    He knew that the building outside was completely gone. But naturally the bandits outside could not find anybody inside, because Shang Xiuxun had moved her troops over here.

    The Third Manager Tao Shushengs voice was heard below, I wonder what is Liu Zhishi doing? How come he has not arrived to lend us a hand?

    Shut up! Shang Xiuxun coldly snapped, Liu Zhishi and his troops must avoid the enemys main force to come here according to our plan. This ruse to mislead the enemy is not working. Who told us to miscalculate the enemys strength? Now we have no room to advance or to retreat.

    Someones coming! Big Sister Fus voice was heard.

    Everybody hastily held their breath and calmed their qi.

    Outside, the sound of broken doors and shattered windows was still resounding. Xu Ziling peeked down, and saw the eight people have divided themselves into four groups, with each group looking out from one window on each side of the building.

    Shang Xiuxun and Big Sister Fu were standing behind one window, Tao Shusheng occupied one window alone, the other five people appeared to be Shang Xiuxuns personal guards.

    Xu Ziling could imagine that Shang Xiuxuns troops must have fallen into an ambush, and this group of people must have fought their way out of the siege while protecting Shang Xiuxun, and reached this small village, which was designed by Lu Miaozi, from which they sent out a signal to Liu Zongdao to lead his troops over here to rescue them. Who would have thought that for some unknown reason, the Four Big Bandits had clear information of their whereabouts and personally pursued them? And now they were trapped in this predicament.

    Tao Shusheng suddenly turned his head around to look at the other people. After making sure that everybodys eyes were focused on the outside, his right hand swiftly reached into his pocket and took out something. When he started to move his hand to throw that thing outside, Xu Ziling no longer care about anything, he shouted in low voice, Stop it!

    The eight people inside the shed were greatly shaken; they all looked up to the beam. Tao Shusheng hastily put that thing back inside his pocket without anybody noticing.

    Shang Xiuxun and the others knew very well that there was someone up there, but they did not dare to make any noise.

    Xu Ziling stuck out his head and called out softly, I am absolutely not with the thieves, and I dont have any ill-intention. I am coming down now!

    Shang Xiuxun was indeed a capable Commander-in-Chief. She knew this mysterious persons power was definitely not inferior to hers; even more, his internal energy was incomparably strange, if she had to fight with him, they would only alarm the bandits. Thereupon she waved her people to make some room to show him her good faith.

    Xu Ziling slid down along the pillar. But before his feet touched the ground, Tao Shusheng rushed one step forward and stretched out his finger to jab on his chest.

    The finger created a loud swishing noise.

    Shang Xiuxun wanted to stop him, but it was too late.

    Xu Ziling knew that Tao Shusheng was afraid he might expose him as the traitor; letting out a cold laugh, unexpectedly he let Tao Shushengs fingertips jabbing on his chest, but fast as lightning his right palm shot out.

    Tao Shusheng was greatly delighted, thinking that even if you have your true qi protecting your body, it would be hard to resist my fierce finger power. Who would have thought that as soon as his finger touched Xu Zilings skin and he was about to send out his power, a burst of strange and incomparably hot true qi had already penetrated his own body via his fingertip, straight toward the meridians in his hand? Not only it neutralized and scattered his own true qi, it still had enough power to burst into his channels.

    Tao Shushengs entire body shook; while his soul flew away and scattered, Xu Zilings right palm changed from slapping to sweeping, it swept his lower abdomen.

    Tao Shusheng slumped down immediately, but Xu Ziling quickly grabbed his belt and gently set him down on the ground.

    Originally, he thought that at least he would have to use eight to ten moves, but had never expected that there was such a strange powerful qi in the world that he would succeed as soon as he and the enemy met face-to-face.

    Including Shang Xiuxun, everybody was dumbstruck. Nobody expected that based on Tao Shushengs power, he would be this easy to be subdued by the opponent. Fortunately, this man did not seem to bear any evil intention and only sealed Tao Shushengs acupoint to make him temporarily lose consciousness.

    Shang Xiuxun raised her sword and pointed to this majestic looking man, brimming with wild and free charms. Who the hell are you? she shouted coldly.

    Focusing his power in his ears, Xu Ziling listened carefully for any activity near and far; he knew that the bandits have temporarily moved their troops elsewhere to search, hence he heaved a sigh of relief.

    Looking deep into Shang Xiuxuns beautiful eyes, he assumed a heroic, uninhibited manners as he said nonchalantly, Just now your humble servant blindly spoke out and alarmed everybody. Does Changzhu know the reason?

    Shang Xiuxun coldly sized him up and down several times; she also looked at Tao Shusheng who was lying on his back under his feet. She spoke indifferently, If friend wont state your identity clearly first, we can forget about having a civil conversation.

    Xu Ziling stepped back to where Tao Shusheng was originally standing. He said, As soon as Changzhu sends someone to search your respected subordinates pocket, you will understand what I am talking about!

    Startled, Shang Xiuxun stared at him for a moment. Her pretty eyes shooting sharp gleams, she said in heavy voice, Is friend saying that he is the traitor?

    Just by hearing this, Xu Ziling knew that she has already had doubt, but she merely did not dare to affirm that he was indeed the traitor! Because this month happened to be the month where it was Tao Shushengs turn to assume the heavy responsibility of intelligence gathering.

    Xu Ziling replied indifferently, Just now I saw him about to throw something like fireworks or flares out of the window. Huh! Someones coming!

    The sound of something splitting the air suddenly arose in all directions.

    ※ ※ ※

    Open country by the pasture at the mouth of the gorge.

    Kou Zhong was hiding on a tree, focusing his attention on Li Tianfan, Shen Luoyan, and the others, a total of fifteen peoples activities. Looking at those wearing the Ranchs uniform, he saw one whose body shape, as well as appearance, looked a lot like the old man Shang Zhen. He even dressed like Shang Zhen, so that unless one was very familiar with Shang Zhen and was scrutinizing him at close distance, one would not be able to tell that this old man was a fake. Otherwise it would be very easy to pass off fish eyes for pearls [i.e. fake from the genuine].

    This moment the man was lifting up his tobacco pipe and puffing smoke like swallowing clouds and blowing out fog; even Kou Zhong was very impressed.

    The other people were dressed as Shang Zhens personal guards. To Li Xiuning and those outsiders, especially with Yuaner covering up on the side, it would be strange indeed if they were not deceived.

    The most formidable part of this scheme was that Li Xiuning was lured away from the Castle, plus although Li Xiuning had the power, she could not bring a large number of her men to go to a meeting. If the fake Shang Zhen plus Li Tianfan, Shen Luoyan and their numerous martial art masters rose together in rebellion, their chance of success would be quite high.

    The one posing as Shang Zhen was actually the one they called Teacher Chen. In terms of martial art skill, he was second only to Li Tianfan and Shen Luoyan. In addition, there was also a thirty-something man surnamed Bai and a thin man called Ma Fang, who seemed to be the martial art experts within this group. The former had double axes on his back, while the latter had a sword hanging from his waist. The other dozen or so men appeared to be between twenty and twenty-five years old, and all of them had protruding taiyang acupoint [on the temples]. Just by looking at their skill in climbing the mountain and scaling the ridges while they stole into the pasture, it was clear that these people were not ordinary fighters.

    Shen Luoyan looked cold and detached; it looked like she lost a bit of weight, but was still very beautiful. She wore a hat to conceal her long hair, and was dressed in a mans clothes, which increased her attractiveness.

    From time to time there was the sound of horse neighing breaking the tranquility of the pasture.

    Right now all the Ranch people were concentrated on both entrances to the gorge and in the Castle, the pasture was left with only about a dozen guards, which was akin to leaving it unguarded at all. Plus this place was part of sparse forest near the eastern gorge, and it was very late at night with only the hazy moon and dim stars providing illumination. If anything should happen here, nobody would know.

    The entire plot was so perfect [orig. seamless heavenly clothes].

    The only flaw was Kou Zhong.

    Shen Luoyan was still briefing her men on the timing and the method of their operation when Li Xiuning arrived.

    Kou Zhong applied more power to his eyes and looked at the direction of the Green Ring Courtyard. He saw seven [sic] figures appeared at the edge of the sparse forest. Li Gang and Dou Wei took the lead, followed by Li Xiuning and Yuaner in the middle, and Chai Shao and another young martial art master closing the rear; they quickly came near.

    Kou Zhong had a thought; he quietly slid down the tree.

    ※ ※ ※

    Shang Xiuxuns countenance changed, Into the tunnel! she ordered, while her palm pressed on Big Sister Fus back, pushing her beloved maid to enter the tunnel first.

    The others hurriedly followed.

    Grabbing Tao Shushengs belt, Shang Xiuxun hesitated a moment. And then she turned to Xu Ziling and said, Friend, get down!

    Xu Ziling smiled slightly and said, Ill stay to deal with the enemy. Changzhu, dont forget to close the entrance.

    Shang Xiuxun was grabbing Tao Shusheng and jumping into the tunnel; hearing him, she looked at him in shock.

    By the time the two sets of eyes met, the door shattered and someone charged in, brandishing his saber.

    Xu Ziling shouted loudly and with all his strength concentrated on his fist, he sent out a punch over the empty space.


    Unexpectedly, the man was unable to withstand at all and was thrown back with his body, along with his saber, spun like a windmill, knocking down five or six bandits who were following behind him; all had their bones broken and their viscera shattered. No survivor. And thus the power of the fist was proven.

    Watching this, Shang Xiuxun was dumbstruck. It was not until Xu Ziling urged her again that she went down the tunnel and closed the entrance.

    Two windows on the left and right shattered at the same time, two spears shot in like the tongue of a viper.

    Xu Ziling waited until he heard the sound of the tunnel door closing, and then his hands spread out to the left and right to grab the two spears; shook and broke them. Brought by their own momentum, the two spear-wielders stumbled toward him.

    Xu Ziling pulled his hands back. Using his elbows he struck left and right toward the two mens chests. They spurted fresh blood and fell to the ground.

    Without even looking, Xu Ziling proceeded by throwing the two broken spears backwards and hit a man who had just leaping in through the window right on his chest. The man fell onto the window frame without uttering any noise, the upper part of his body was knocked out of the window that he was hanging face up on the window will, he died a horrifying and bizarre death.

    Outside the building suddenly fell silent, except for the crackling noise of the torches, and nobody else dared to charge inside.

    Suddenly Cao Yinglong thundered from the outside, Shang Xiuxun, if you have guts, get out and compete real skill with the ol Cao. Apparently Xu Zilings blitzkrieg method has provoked his ferocious character.

    A ten-thousand-zhang heroic feeling welled up in Xu Zilings heart; he laughed aloud as he walked out the door leisurely with his hands behind his back.

    Tangled bodies lay outside the building, dead bodies in all odd conditions that were difficult to describe.

    Led by Cao Yinglong, the Four Big Bandits were standing in a row, while their men spread out in crescent moon formation behind them, while all kinds of weapons, spears, bows and arrows, sabers, axes, swords and lances, flickering incessantly under the torches light, with thick murderous aura filling the air, plus more than a hundred pair of eyes, all focused on Xu Ziling.

    When the crowd of bandits saw the one walking out was not Shang Xiuxun, they were all stunned.

    Who are you? the not even a blade of grass grows Xiang Batian roared.

    Xu Ziling calmly replied, Who I am, you are not even worthy to ask!

    The crowd of bandits roared in anger; more than a dozen arrows were immediately shot toward him.

    ※ ※ ※

    The two groups slowly came toward each other.

    Li Xiuning was also a prudent and cautious person; she slowed down and stopped at approximately three zhang from the fake Shang Zhen and the others. Raising her cupped fist, she greeted, Housekeeper, how are you?

    The fake Shang Zhen took a step forward and led the others to return the courtesy. He said, These are all my trusted subordinates who have been with me for many years. Princess Ning may set your heart at ease. This man could even imitate Shang Zhens voice with seventy, eighty-percent similarity. Added to that, he was speaking in low voice, so that anybody who was not familiar with him would find it hard to tell the difference.

    Li Xiuning cast a sidelong glance toward Yuaner first before saying, Xiuning apologizes for pulling back Housekeeper from your duty at the eastern gorge. Why didnt you all ride instead of walk?

    The fake Shang Zhen putting an air of sighing and said, Naturally its to conceal our movements from the enemy. Ay! Huh?

    Footsteps were heard from behind Li Xiunings group. Both groups turned to look in astonishment.

    They heard someone yelled, Princess! Sorry, I am done [the word here refers to relieving oneself] now! It feels good!

    Li Xiunings delicate body shook severely, because she recognized Kou Zhongs voice.

    Under everybodys watchful eyes, a full-bearded man with boorish appearance and a nose like a hawk, appeared from among the trees, rushing over, while rubbing his hand over his tummy, skipping and leaping.

    Chai Shao and the others knew this guy was formidable, their countenance changed; but as they were about to pull their weapon out, Li Xiuning signaled them to stop. I said you dont need to come, she called out in tender voice, Why didnt you obey me?

    Kou Zhong nodded. Changing his voice, he said, Princess, dont be angry! Princess, dont be angry!

    On the other side, the fake Shang Zhen, Li Tianfan, Shen Luoyan and the others were watching with knitted eyebrows; they were all confused.

    With Li Xiunings respectable status, how could her subordinate be that rude by saying relieving himself right in front of her?

    Kou Zhong acted as if he did not see Li Xiuning; swaying to the left and swaggering to the right, he walked over under Chai Shao and the others angry glare toward the space between the two groups. Clearing his throat, he said, Princess, please forgive me, let Xiaoren do the introduction first, hey!

    Pointing to Li Tianfan, who was standing behind the fake Shang Zhen, he spoke as if he was reciting a poetry, This is Li Tianfan Gongzi, the Wagang Forts Duke Mis only son.

    Li Xiuning and the others countenance immediately changed greatly.

    In a flash Kou Zhong was already standing by Yuaner; with hee, hee, ha, ha he said, And this pretty madam is Housekeeper Zhens new concubine; her former status, however, was Li Gongzis wom Ah!

    Knowing her identity was exposed, Yuaner could not stay calm anymore; she reached inside her sleeve and pulled out a poisonous dagger, with which she stabbed Kou Zhong and Li Xiuning.

    As soon as Kou Zhong exposed Li Tianfans identity, Li Xiuning was already on guard against Yuaner. With a tender humph her green-jade sleeve swept across the stabbing tip of the dagger.

    Kou Zhong pretended to be horrified and jumped back to evade, while shouting and yelling, Murder! Murder! and rushed toward the fake Shang Zhen.

    Seeing Kou Zhong was no longer there to stop her, Yuaner pulled her dagger away from Li Xiunings sleeve. She was just about to leap back when Chai Shao noiselessly pressed his finger onto her back. Yuaner immediately slumped down to the ground.

    Ignoring the fake Shang Zhen and his mens murderous look, Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, This gentlemen who impersonate the Housekeeper is called Chen Laoshi, as for his great name humph!

    A young man standing next to Li Tianfan was unable to hold back; he rushed forward while brandishing his saber to hack Kou Zhongs left shoulder. His saber technique was swift and precise.


    The Moon in the Well left its scabbard.

    Everybody was stunned with the yellow glows sudden appearance; but before they could see clearly what it was, Dang! the attacker and his saber were flying backward in swirling motion. Even after landing on the ground, he was still rolling away for a zhang or so, and stopped only after crashing against a tree, and died on the spot.

    Such an overbearing and fantastic saber power, nobody had ever seen it before. Those in Li Tianfans side who wanted to make their move immediately changed their mind.

    Acting as if he had done nothing unusual, Kou Zhong nonchalantly put the saber back into its scabbard as he stepped over toward Shen Luoyan, who was standing on the other side of the fake Shang Zhen. But before he said anything, Shen Luoyan already spoke coldly, Stop dressing up as a god, playing the devil. Where is your good Xiongdi?

    Kou Zhong leaned over; with a brazen face he said, He is afraid of you, hence he is hiding!

    Everybody in Li Tianfans side was stunned; they had never expected that these two people were old acquaintances. But they could not remember which formidable Wulin figures had appearance like he did.

    Shen Luoyans beautiful eyes exuded a singularly complex expression; she said softly, Tell him to come out and kill me!

    Kou Zhong backed off and laughed aloud, Who will have the heart to kill Shen Junshi whose beauty captivating even the birds and beasts? [Orig. chen (shen) yu luo yan - fish sink, goose alights, an idiom from Zhuangzi, which was a play of words on Shen Luoyans name.]


    The Moon in the Well left its scabbard again.

    Kou Zhong straightened up his back; immediately an overbearing aura of total annihilation [sweeping a thousand armies] filled the air. He sternly shouted, Other than Shen Junshi, nobody will be spared!

    The cold light from his eyes shrouded Li Tianfan. The Moon in the Well slashed out, its power fierce and strong beyond compare, yet it also carried a swift and nimble, fantastic feeling with it.

    The spiraling power enveloped the entire battlefield.

    Li Xiunings charming body trembled lightly, knowing deep in her heart that she would never forget Kou Zhongs overbearing and moving spirit in front of her eyes. Stealing a glance toward Chai Shao, who was standing by her side, she saw his frightened look as he fixed his gaze on Kou Zhong. Her fragrant heart could not help feeling slightly guilty.

  13. #113
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 5

    Book 10 Chapter 5 The Actual Life and Death Situation

    Xu Ziling pushed the ground with his toes; he soared to the sky to evade the arrows raining down on him. Makin a somersault in the air, he was aiming at the Four Big Bandits, when one of the four bandits, the scorched earth for a thousand li Mao Zao roared and leaped into the air in an angle, like an artillery shell he shot toward Xu Ziling with both palms extended out.

    Xu Ziling cheered inwardly, because this attack saved him from receiving the second round of arrows. At the same time he felt the air around him became as cols as ice and snow. His qi spiraled violently, boosting his already strong will to fight. Seizing this opportunity, both his legs shot out, the tip of his toes happened to hit the hollow of the opponents palms.

    Mao Zaos tall and thin body was shaken violently for a moment; not only his powerful palm strength was dispersed out of the palms, part of it even burst back into his body and scattered inside his channels, which caused him unbearable pain.

    What happened was that Xu Zilings kicks were imbued with extremely strange power, one light the other heavy. The light one was so soft that not only Mao Zaos right palm was unable to send out his qi, like gossamer the opponents true qi bored into the hollow of his palm, and dashed through into his inner organs. The heavy one was solid and violent beyond comprehension, like an unceasingly spinning drill boring into the hollow of his palm, so that his palm suddenly felt burning, and his true qi was like a rock splashing into the water and dissipated in all directions.

    In all his life, Mao Zao has killed people like scything flax, and gone through countless battles, big and small, but he had never met such a strange and formidable true qi before. Letting out a muffled groan he applied the thousand-catty fall and dropped down to the ground.

    Seeing Mao Zao suffered a big defeat, the chicken and dogs wont remain, Fang Jianding was afraid Xu Ziling might followed up the victory and pressed home the attack, he drew the pair of wolf-teeth clubs, each weighed more than a hundred catties, from his back. His huge figure rolled diagonally, he quickly came above Xu Ziling. His wolf-teeth clubs danced to create layers upon layers of clubs shadows, swift and fierce beyond compare shooting down toward Xu Ziling.

    The not even a blade of grass grows Shang Batians short and stout body dashed out from below to take Mao Zaos position. His two steel-tooth ring flew around at an angle from left and right, their target was Xu Zilings flanks, who was still about a zhang away from the ground. During their flight, the steel rings created a strange high-pitch noise, carrying with it a threatening force.

    Other than Cao Yinglong, who stood motionlessly with his head raised high, the rest of the bandits were also closing in toward the three people in fierce battle, forming layers upon layers of heavy siege.

    As he followed Mao Zao closely as he dropped suddenly to the ground, Xu Ziling took a sudden breath of true qi, and then turning his body around, and kicked with both legs to the middle of Fang Jiandings clubs shadows. Without missing a single hairsbreadth he kicked right at the wolf-teeth clubs, while at the same time his palms pushed down on an empty air, sending out two streams of spiraling-wildly qi, to attack Mai Zhaos thin back.

    Cao Yinglong, who was about a zhang away, was shocked. Anxiously he leaped up; with his palms faced down, he swept across in cutting movement. The two sweeps of sharp qi did not attack Xu Ziling, but cutting at Xu Zilings palm force attacking Mao Zao.

    Tchok! Tchok!

    Xu Zilings toes hit the wolf-teeth clubs. The vortex of qi burst via the clubs and pushed Fang Jiandings true qi back into his body. Not only Fang Jianding could not continue on to the next change of his attack, his footwork was greatly disturbed as well, forcing him to borrow the momentum to fly backward to evade. He could not help but was horrified and greatly shaken; how could such a powerful martial art master suddenly appear like this?

    The falling down Mao Zao also felt the vortex of qi pressing down on him; realizing the situation was bad, he struggled hard to press down the surging qi inside his own meridians, as well as spurting out a mouthful of blood to lessen the pressure. His right palm pressed down toward the ground, his real qi spat out, he borrowed the reaction force to roll his body in the air, with the hope that he could evade these two palms that were about to take his little life.

    Bang! Bang! Like muffled explosion Xu Zilings palm power met Cao Yinglongs palm wind, which although started last, but arrived first. And thus his momentum was greatly reduced, while his entire body flew backward. It was then did he know the reason Cao Yinglong was able to be the head of the Four Big Bandits; his power indeed far surpassed the other three Big Bandits.

    Cao Yinglong himself was not any better; his entire body was severely shaken, he staggered back two steps, and cried inwardly, how formidable!

    Because Xiang Batians soul-snatching tooth-rings were linked with a fine thread, he was able to control the rings by transmitting his true qi via the thread. The two rings changed direction, like shadows following the shapes the rings followed Xu Ziling.

    Xu Ziling let out a long whistle and fast as lightning he dropped straight to the ground to evade the flying rings.

    Lances, spears, sabers and axes immediately swarmed in from all directions.

    Xu Ziling knew that if he did not seize this opportunity, taking advantage while Mao Zao has not recovered his qi and joined the fight, he would not have the second opportunity tonight. The image of Kou Zhongs big head suddenly flashed in his mind, wishing that he were here with him.

    Having that thought, Xu Ziling threw himself crouching on the grass in the courtyard, both legs sweeping wildly to four directions like a wheel, while the flying divine escape noiselessly shot out like lightning through the gap between the enemies legs. The gods was not aware, the ghosts did not perceive, the claw shot toward Mao Zaos right ankle, who at this time was just about to bounce up after he landed on the ground.

    Seeing Xu Ziling was surrounded by a dozen or so martial art masters of their side, Xiang Batian and Fang Jianding thought that exhausting the enemys strength first might not be a bad idea; thereupon they waited outside the formation, while catching up their breath and restoring their energy.

    On the other side, Cao Yinglong slowly approached the battle arena, holding a spear in each hand. With every step he took he created an indentation on the ground about three cun deep, indicating that he was continuously amassing his energy.

    By the time Mao Zao was leaping up, his strength had already been more or less recovered; the murderous intent in his heart was flaring. He was thinking of taking revenge and erasing the humiliation when suddenly a severe pain shot up from his right ankle, straight toward his heart and spleen. In his shock he looked down, only to see an exquisitely made steel claw, as if it was a living devil hand, was embedding its five fingers deep into his flesh. Not only that, it also carried a powerful pulling force.

    Mao Zao was so scared that his three immortal souls and seven mortal forms [a Taoism concept] have gone for the most part. Hastily he lowered himself in a horse stance and sent his strength to his right leg to resist the pull.

    On that side, Xu Ziling had just kicked two bandits on the pit of their stomachs. Seeing Mao Zhao fell into his trap, he sent his strength to pull. And then taking advantage of Mao Zaos own reaction force, his entire body shot like an arrow toward Mao Zao, who was still about three zhang away, sticking close to the ground between the crowd of thieves legs. Not only those who were bumped by him had their bones broken and their flesh rent, the weapons coming down at him were hitting an empty space as well.

    Such strange move ought to be the first since the history of the martial art world.

    While Cao Yinglong, Shang Batian, Fang Jianding and the crowd of bandits were still at a loss of this shocking move, Xu Ziling consecutively knocked down seven, eight men. Like an artillery shell he shot until he was about half a zhang in front of Mao Zao.

    Mao Zao knew it was a critical moment. Although all around him were the brothers from his side, he felt as if he was standing alone between the heaven and the earth, and could only rely on himself in everything.

    The horsetail whisk on his back, with which he ran amuck in the world, suddenly appeared in his hand. He was just about to sweep away when the steel claw on his ankle suddenly produced five streams of spiraling energy attacking his heart and his veins.

    Although Mao Zao managed to sweep his horsetail whisk, since he was using at least eighty-percent of his true qi to deal with the enemys power from his leg creeping up toward his body, his own power was greatly diminished.

    Xu Zilings left palm strike changed direction; it turned upward at an oblique angle. In the eyes of the spectators, who were unable to see clearly, it looked like the two were brushing past each other at high speed.

    Mao Zao let out an earth-shattering scream, his entire body was thrown sideways, and his horsetail whisk was flung to the ground.

    Until now, Cao Yinglong and the others were still unclear on how Xu Ziling managed to get out of the siege, and how he could overcome Mao Zao that easily. Overwhelmed with shock, they pounced toward Xu Ziling.

    When it looked like Xu Ziling was about to fall into another siege, he suddenly changed direction sideways. By using the divine escape, which was still attached to Mao Zaos dead body, he suddenly traversed sideways along the ground, so that Cao Yinglong, who was extremely powerful, also had to pounce on empty air.

    Xu Ziling laughed aloud; adeptly pulling back the divine escape, he leaped onto a thick branch protruding horizontally from a big tree. He knew that if he did not leave now, he would not need to bother to leave at all.

    While he was about to shoot the divine escape out, he heard a tender shout.

    Looking down in surprise, he saw Shang Xiuxun, alone, was charging out of the small building, attacking the crowd of bandits that they suffered a crushing defeat, with blood splashed everywhere.

    Xu Ziling groaned inwardly. After examining the three bleeding wounds on his own body, without the slightest hesitation he shot down toward Shang Xiuxun.

    ※ ※ ※

    One side had imposing manner like a rainbow, the other side had their plot fell through and stood exposed, fearful and timid due to their guilty conscience. This side was growing, that side was declining; it was indeed a comparison of heaven and earth, or cloud and mud.

    Added to that was Kou Zhongs first taste of the vortex of qis astonishing power. Too bad that due to the limitation of present circumstances, he could find any worthy opponent to test the full power of his saber. But this moment murderous intent was growing in his heart, and he wanted to kill Li Tianfan, so that the political marriage between the Song Clan and the Wagang Army would die and thus ended all his troubles, while at the same time it would break Li Mis heart. One stone to kill three birds. His imposing manner soared; for the time being nothing could match it.

    The Moon in the Well swept across the air. Although it was an extremely simple saber strike, coupled with his swimming-fish shenfa, it was like the flight trajectory of a bird, or the swimming path of a fish; there was no trace. Rolling, whirling, surging saber qi followed the saber shooting toward Li Tianfan first.

    Li Tianfan has mastered Li Mis skill. These past several years he had been following his father in fighting in one place after another all over the world [reminder: tian xia, i.e. China], his real combat experience was incomparably vast, but it was the very first time that he had to deal with such a formidable saber.

    By the time he saw yellow glow arriving, the opponents long saber was already in front of his head, hidden in it was an overbearing qi that he would not be able to resist. Upon self-inspection, he realized that even if he had several sabers, it would still be very difficult to block. Thereupon, he thundered, Attack! while he himself leaped backward to evade.

    The one on his left was the Great General under Shen Luoyans command, Chen Tianyue, who impersonated Shang Zhen, a martial art master from Hua Shan Pai [Mount Hua in Shaanxi]. Hearing the command, together with a young martial art master on Li Tianfans other side, Xia Xinquan, one sword and one saber, they intercepted from left and right, one slashed upward the other stabbed downward, with the intention of giving Kou Zhong difficulty in dealing with it.

    In terms of strategy, they were doing the proper thing, simply because anybody could see that Kou Zhongs saber strike some kind of un-retractable overbearing momentum, so that it was impossible to meet the saber blade head-on.

    Everybody at Li Xiunings side pulled their weapons and thronged forward to prevent the enemy from forming a siege against Kou Zhong. Kou Zhong laughed aloud; like a swimming fish he flashed in between the two enemies, unexpectedly Chen Tianyue and Xia Xinquans sword and saber fell on an empty space, while their bodies were brushing close to each other. It was precisely this cun or so distance that decided their fate.

    Like lightning flashes the yellow glow struck.

    Xia Xinquans power was at least two notches below Chen Tianyue. He was the first to be hit by the saber, so that he spun and staggered back, his blood splashed. Even he himself was not clear which part of his body was hit, due to the speed of the saber.

    Chen Tianyue now had to face Kou Zhong alone. By this time, Li Tianfan, Shen Luoyan, and the others were retreating outwards. While he was in shock and was about to dodge out as well, Kou Zhongs saber qi had already enveloped his entire body. The Moon in the Well sometimes appeared another time disappeared in front of his eyes; the changes were indeterminate. Clenching his teeth, he focused all his energy, and slashed out with his sword.

    Ever since his debut, this was the first time that he was unable to grasp the changes in the opponents moves, and was forced to brandish his sword blindly.

    Dang! Dang! Dang!

    Chen Tianyue continuously changed his direction three times, while also continuously backing off before he was able to neutralize Kou Zhongs one saber strike.

    Kou Zhong was cheering inwardly, but his saber was still relentless. The Moon in the Well fantastically filled the air with its yellow light, like howling wind and torrential rain it stormed toward the pasting and gasping Chen Tianyue.

    This moment Li Xiuning and the others also arrived. Shen Luoyan and Li Tianfan exchanged glances; they knew that their plot tonight has completely fallen through and stood exposed, plus they were totally under the enemys control. If they did not seize this opportunity to escape, they could forget about staying alive. Thereupon with a loud shout they quickly flew away.

    Chen Tianyues miserable scream was heard from behind.

    When Li Tianfan and Shen Luoyan looked back, they only saw Li Xiuning and the others chasing them like the wind, but Kou Zhong had disappeared.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling flew down at an angle like a big bird toward Shang Xiuxun. Xiang Batian and Fang Jianding immediately soared to the sky to intercept.

    Cao Yinglongs spear merged with his body into one entity as he charged toward Shang Xiuxun, becoming a blur of spear shadow, with awe-inspiring momentum. His thought was that if he managed to separate the two, and strike them one by one, even though they had lost Mao Zao, it would still worth the price.

    This moment Shang Xiuxun was busy facing the three long sabers and two long spears that attacked wildly from all directions, so that momentarily she had to change from offense to defense.

    Seeing Cao Yinglong coming to attack, she knew the situation was not good; hurriedly she focused her attention and gave her all. Her left hand unleashing her exquisite and outstanding technique, she grabbed a spear being thrust toward her flank. Exerting a sudden force, thump! the bandit wielding the spear immediately fell sitting down on the ground, with blood flowed out of his eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Without making any noise he fell face up and gave up his ghost.

    Applying a sucking force onto the sword in her right hand, she led the man wielding a saber who was meeting her face-to-face, toward the spear thrusting at her from behind. With a miserable cry the spear pierced his chest and thru his body.

    At the same time she flew backward; not only to evade the other two sabers, but also to make the spear wielders behind her to kill their own men. In his confused state of mind, plus he was unable to hold back his spear, a saber wildly struck the vital point on the pit of his stomach. The man was thrown backward.

    Shang Xiuxun abruptly charged forward, the sword in her hand turned into thousands of sword shadows, two saber-wielders were nearly hit at the same time, and thus ended the bandits effort to besiege her.

    Meanwhile Cao Yinglong had just flown above her. Seeing her brilliant swordsmanship, he knew that they would not be able to capture her alive, so he put all his strength into his spear to strike.

    The violent qi was suffocating that the crowd of bandits had to move back, opening up a large area of open space.

    Bang! Bang! continuous clashes rang as Xu Ziling relentlessly exchanged blows with Xiang Batians pair of rings and Fang Jiandings pair of wolf-teeth clubs.

    Although he had the advantage of downward momentum, the force from the two mens combined assault was enough to jolt him that his mouth spurted blood, even a small piece of skin and flesh from his right leg was gashed by the wolf-teeth mace in Fang Jiandings right hand.

    However, the two Big Bandits had also suffered quite a setback. Xu Zilings fantastic technique and his spiraling energy pressed them down that they were unable to unleash their follow-up move, and their bodies were spun sideways and were thrown to the ground, in such a sorry state.

    On the other side, Cao Yinglong was striking down from the air, each spear strike was fast beyond human comprehension, yet each one also carried a flash of change, swift and powerful without equal, unceasingly taking advantage of each spear-sword impact force to propel himself halfway back into the air, before using the thousand-catty fall to drop back down; hence he was always occupying advantageous position.

    Being the Ranch Master of Flying Horse Ranch, all along Shang Xiuxun was lacking Cao Yinglongs rich real combat experience; it was only now did she realize that she had fallen into his evil schemes. Not only she had to deal Cao Yinglongs full weight, she had also cope with unending volleys of arrows and secret projectiles from four sides, eight directions. As one can well imagine, she was struggling with everything she had, and very soon she already suffered not a few injuries.

    While her fragrant sweats were dripping profusely, Xu Ziling arrived.

    Cao Yinglong was aghast; he had never expected his hurricane-like offensive still failed to put this delicately pretty beauty in order. While maintaining his attack in disregard of minor injuries he suffered, a strong vortex of qi stormed at him from above.

    Cao Yinglong groaned inwardly. Raising a mouthful of true qi, he turned from smart to clumsy, and soared to the air, brandishing his spear to meet Xu Zilings fist head-on.

    A bizarre thing happened: Xu Zilings own body was unexpectedly spinning faster and faster, so that by the time the fist and the spear met, Xu Zilings body had turned into a rapidly spinning shadow. Watching this, the hundred or so bandits in the battlefield were flabbergasted.

    Cao Yinglong had no choice; the power of his entire body had been concentrated on the tip of his spear, so he might as well shoot it out toward Xu Zilings fist.


    Two streams of qi collided, violent explosion spread out everywhere, forcing everybody to back away.

    Cao Yinglong did not feel like he was hit by a solid object, rather, it was a huge, unequalled rapid vortex of energy with sharp edges, which rolled around his own true qi and forced it back into his body.

    He was an outstanding character after all; throwing his body sideways, he rolled over while spewing a mouthful of fresh blood before he was able to disperse the opponents extremely strange qi energy.

    Xu Zilings condition was just slightly better than his. Stopping the spin, he had to spurt out the second mouthful of blood; but then he took advantage of the impact force to turn around and leap to Shang Xiuxuns side. After staggering a few steps he was able to steady his footstep.

    Cao Yinglong dropped down on his butt on the ground, rolled about a zhang away, and only then was he able to spring up.

    Idiots! he roared, Why havent you attack?

    Like having a rude awakening the crowd of bandits swarmed toward Xu Ziling and Shang Xiuxun. Once again the ear-splitting battle cry filled the air.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong was sitting on a rock high on the cliff above. Removing his mask, he fixed his eyes on the two figures, which, by this time, had just reached the edge of the mountain.

    Because he had trailed Li Tianfan before, he was able to use this shortcut to beat him by reaching this place one step ahead and waited for his honorable arrival here.

    In his heart, he had neither anxiety nor delight; his feeling was cold and detached that even he himself did not understand. He could not just kill indiscriminately, but he could not turn a blind eye toward the enemy either.

    After finding out that Li Tianfan was Li Mis son, he already made up his mind not to let him go back alive to see Li Mi. But all along he still had a feeling toward Shen Luoyan; it was hard for him to ruthlessly destroy the flower. Outside Baling County that day, he even let the Mermaid You Qiuyan go, much less Shen Luoyan!

    Under the moonlight, Li Tianfan and Shen Luoyan were approaching rapidly.

    They started with more than ten people and now they became only two people; evidently in order to pursue and attack Li Xiuning, they had paid a bitter price. It was also obvious that Li Tianfan and Shen Luoyan were selfish people, who did not hesitate to sacrifice their subordinates lives in exchange of their chance to escape. If they were not solely preoccupied with escaping, it would not be that easy for Li Xiuning, Chai Shao and the others to subdue their men.

    The two people eventually detected his presence; they halted in shock.

    Raising the Moon in the Well, Kou Zhong leaped down, and stood at the peak of the slope to block their way. You think its that easy to leave? he said with a cold laugh.

    Li Tianfans eyes flashed with a deep cold murderous intent; glaring viciously at him, he said, Wheres your partner?

    Shen Luoyans beautiful eyes suddenly exuded a red-hot expression, but it disappeared just as quick.

    Kou Zhong sneered and said, To deal with you, this kid, me, one person, is more than enough. Others are experts in both literature and martial art, but you are an expert in hiding and fleeing, plus very adept in easily abandoning your subordinates. You are really unworthy to be Li Mis son.

    Li Tianfan laughed indifferently and said, Do you want to arouse my anger? Its not that easy. No need to waste too much words, make your move, lets see your real skill!

    Kou Zhong saw Shen Luoyan pulled the soul-snatching hairpin from her hair, but did not see Li Tianfan producing any weapon. Inwardly he was quite astonished; could it be that just like Xu Ziling, this guy also loved to use his fists and legs?

    But this moment he had no time to think. Taking a step forward, he pointed to the two using his Moon in the Well, sending out a powerful saber qi.

    Li Tianfan let out a cold laugh. Not allowing Kou Zhong to amass his momentum, he flipped his two hands to reveal a pair of short blades approximately two chi long each. One slashed upward the other stabbed downward, his technique was vicious and harsh to the extreme. Laughing, he said, The right is called shooting the sun, the left is called moonshine; they can cut gold and pare jade. Kou Xiong better be careful!

    Seeing that even though he verbally abused Li Tianfan, yet he was still able to maintain his elegant demeanor, Kou Zhongs heart shivered in fear. The Moon in the Well swept swiftly; relying on the weight, length and the sharpness of the weapon, he tried to gain the upper hand first.

    Yellow glow suddenly flared out. Its power was definitely unstoppable; the violent saber qi hacked down on Li Tianfans clothes fluttering in the breeze.

    Li Tianfan did not show the least bit sign of fear; rising to the challenge, he fought a fierce hand-to-hand combat with Kou Zhong.

    The sound of weapons clashing was ringing incessantly.

    Surprisingly, Shen Luoyan was simply watching with folded arms, as if she had full confidence on Li Tianfans ability.

    In a flash, Kou Zhong, using the extremely agile swimming fish shenfa, successively sent out a dozen or so swift saber strikes toward Li Tianfan from different angles; a very intense offensive so that from attacking, Li Tianfan was forced to take defensive stance, the all-out attack became dodging and evading.

    But Li Tianfans shooting the sun and the moonshine, two blades, were moving with elaborate and exquisite changes. On top of that, his footwork was fantastic. Every time Kou Zhongs saber slacked off a little bit, immediately he adopted counterattack style, forcing Kou Zhong to strenuously maintain his offensive momentum.

    It was only now did Kou Zhong know that Li Tianfan was indeed not a dog child [from idiom: tiger father would not begot dog child].

    Shen Luoyan glaring like a tiger watching its prey on the side also posed a great threat to him.

    Kou Zhong remembered Lu Miaozis Escaping One principle, but in reality he still did not know how to use it. All he could do right now was sending his vortex of qi via his Moon in the Well, which turned into streak after streak of yellow lightning constantly striking Li Tianfan.

    From the beginning Li Tianfan did not stop retreating, the sabers circle was getting narrower and narrower. When it looked like his blood was about to splash under Kou Zhongs saber, suddenly he abandoned his blade and stretched out his arm to block.

    Kou Zhong was greatly surprised; he thought that the opponent should not be so desperate to risk his life like this. Hurriedly he reduced his power by thirty-percent.

    It was at this moment that Shen Luoyan made her move. The Soul-snatching Hairpin swiftly lunged toward Kou Zhongs open right flank. Her shenfa was as quick as a demon.


    The Moon in the Well struck Li Tianfans right arm, creating a loud metal-to-metal clashing noise.

    Kou Zhong realized that Li Tianfan must be wearing some kind or magical armor on his arms. He knew he had fallen into disadvantageous position; also, he knew now why Shen Luoyan picked this right moment to launch her attack. Hastily he dodged sideway.

    Li Tianfan laughed aloud; his blades momentum changed fast. Relying on his arms, which were impervious to the enemys sharp weapon, he unleashed a series of violent attacking moves to penetrate the opponents defense, entering every crack and loophole in Kou Zhongs saber momentum.

    Shen Luoyan repeatedly let out her tender shouts, as she continuously circled around Kou Zhong, launching surprise attacks each time she saw an opening.

    Kou Zhong has lost his advantage. Were it not for the opponents had to spend considerable strength to deal with his vortex of true qi, perhaps he would have been defeated early on.

    Realizing the disadvantageous situation, Kou Zhong let out a long laugh, and suddenly retreated toward the top of the slope, while at the same time his saber hacked down an empty air.

    This saber strike was actually in accordance with the Yijian Technique.

    Li Tianfan and Shen Luoyan realized suddenly that this one saber strike actually sealed up all spaces from which they could launch their attacks, so that any successive move they were planning could not be unleashed.

    Overwhelmed with shock, the two people backed off.

    Revealing a bright, sunny smile, Kou Zhong put his saber back into its scabbard and spoke amiably as if he was addressing his old friends, Enough playing today, please say hello to Duke Mi on Xiaodis behalf.

    And then after another loud laughter, he winked at Shen Luoyan, and flew away.

    After being shaken by Kou Zhongs like a heavenly steed soaring across the skies saber strikes, unexpectedly Li and Shen, two people did not dare to restart the battle.

    ※ ※ ※

    With their backs and hips pressed up against each other, Xu Ziling and Shang Xiuxun dealt with wave after wave of attacks from four sides, eight directions. A strange feeling that they were of the same flesh and blood started to develop in two peoples hearts.

    Dead bodies were scattered all around them, the number of cuts and wounds on their bodies was also growing more and more.

    Cao Yinglong, Xiang Batian and Fang Jianding, three Big Bandits were standing on the eaves. From their vantage point they directed their subordinates in continuous offensive against the two people under siege below.

    Suddenly the sound of battle cry sprang up everywhere from the southeast direction, and rapidly approaching.

    Cao Yinglong stomped his feet, his countenance changed. What kind of trick is this? he said, How come we know nothing until they arrived here?

    Fang Jianding roared; he was about to rush down to deal with Xu Ziling, two people, when Cao Yinglong pulled him back and shouted, Small neglect may breed great mischief, we retreat immediately.

  14. #114
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 6

    Book 10 Chapter 6 The First Drop of Tear

    Crack! Boom! Bang! Bang!

    The sound of exploding firecrackers in the courtyard, mixed with the boisterous sound of shouting, cheering and applauding, woke Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling up from their slumber.

    Kou Zhong sprang up from the bed, ran to the window, looked out and called, Xiao Ling, come quick! The firecrackers are better than the ones at Yangzhou piers during New Years celebration!

    Xu Ziling let out a moan; he turned around and went back to sleep, ignoring him completely.

    Kou Zhong came back and sat on the bed; he sighed and said, I have already advised you; if only you listened to me, we would joined hands to deal with Li Tianfans plot, and then go find the Four Big Bandits to give them trouble. You would not have to suffer eighteen wounds, big and small!

    Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself, Since when did you pick the habit of taking joy in calamity and delight in disaster? he said.

    As if nothing had happened, Kou Zhong calmly said, Since last night, when you abandoned me, a pitiful orphan. Tell me, whos the one causing a lot of trouble?

    Xu Ziling sat up cross-legged on the bed; he said indifferently, You should be grateful to me. Otherwise, how could you be this high-spirited? Oh! No! You should be fuming mad!

    The two boys glared at each other hatefully, and then turned their heads around to avoid each others eyes. But the two boys could not bear to stay mad at each other for long. Very soon both burst out in laughter. The difference was that there were tears in the midst of Xu Zilings laughter, because his wounds have not healed completely.

    Catching his breath, Kou Zhong said with a laugh, Actually, I have fallen into your evil scheme: Li Xiuning is yours, Zhong Shao ought to go be the hero who saves the beauty. Would that Shen Luoyan be considered mine? Other than you, Xu Shifu, who would be the best hero to reprimand the beauty?

    Xu Ziling reached out to gently stroke his big head and said, Our ancestors said: between the heaven and the earth, nobody does not belong. Li Xiuning is definitely your escaping one; its not appropriate for any outsider to meddle. I was that good to you, yet you have the impertinence to blame me. Besides, great spread out is numbered fifty; forty is used, nine remains. If we exclude Li Xiuning, the escaping one, who could say for sure that beautiful Junshi is not included in that number? Who could say for sure that she does not belong to you?

    Kou Zhong asked in amazement, How come Ling Shaos mood is much better today? As soon as you woke up, you are like the little bird in the springtime that sings continuously.

    Xu Ziling blurted out laughing and said, If you think Shang Xiuxun would have any regard toward me, the Daxia [chivalrous hero] with saber scar of last night, then I can tell you that you have a crazy thought! When I left, she did not even know whats my surname and whats my given name.

    Speaking to this point, he could not help recalling the feeling when he and the beauty stood with backs and hips pressed against each other as they deal with the enemy.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Its useless for you to say anything now; lets just wait and see whos right! Ha!

    There was a knock on the door. Xiao Juan called out from the other side of the door, Other than you, two fellows, the entire Ranch are ready to express good wishes and celebrate the victory; you are not out yet?

    Just by listening to her tone, which was unlike before where she shouted and berated the two boys, they knew that she was carried away with excitement.

    The two boys looked at each other, they could see the delight in each others eyes. If they could make Xiao Juan, this adorable girl, this happy, then all the hard work and pain they suffered last night was worth it.

    The two boys were of humble origin; therefore, they had special affection and a feeling of camaraderie with lowly people such as maids, servants, and the like.

    Without waiting for their response, Xiao Juan continued her shouting outside, Quickly get up, wash up and change your clothes. The troops returning in triumph will be back in the city soon, we must welcome them outside the city gate! Nujia must go now!

    After sister Xiao Juan left, Kou Zhong knitted his brows and said, I really do not dare to think: our victory in last nights battle was not easy, I dont know how many people sacrificed their lives? What do you say, how would Shang Xiuxun deal with Tao Shusheng and Yuaner, that pair of spies?

    Xu Ziling mused, These two are people with some status; Tao Shusheng even holds a very important position. Shang Xiuxun will have a very big headache in dealing with this, it could even implicate a lot of other people.

    Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, I hope this matter will occupy enough of beautiful Changzhus mind, because if she stays idle, she might suspect us. We simply have too many things that she ought to be suspicious!

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, One day delay is better than nothing. My wounds wont be completely healed and leave no scar before three, four days.

    Kou Zhong pulled him out of bed and said, Then what are we waiting for? Right now it is crucial for us to buy some time and hope that Li Xiuning would understand the situation and be a bit more discreet in concealing our identity, so that we can learn some exquisite skills from Lu Miaozi.

    ※ ※ ※

    That day Shang Xiuxun and Liu Zongdao did not return to the city with the troops. The one leading the procession was the Housekeeper Shang Zhen. Obviously he has not been informed yet about Yuaner; while receiving the accolades of the people lining up the streets, he looked so proud.

    For those who came back to the city, their most important task was to take care of the wounded soldiers and the remains of those who sacrificed their lives. So it could be imagined the intensity of the battle outside, as they were still in ruthless pursuit of the defeated troops of the Four Big Bandits.

    By dusk that night, the two boys groped their way toward Lu Miaozis small two-story building. This number one craftsman under the heavens was surprisingly in a very high spirit. Pointing to the pair of divine escape claws on the round table, he asked, Are these things working?

    The two boys wholeheartedly and sincerely nodded their heads, while their mouths uttered incessant praise.

    Lu Miaozi laughed aloud and said, I did not expect Ziling to be able to get rid of one Big Bandit using this trinket. The two of you were able to turn the Ranchs defeat into victory; otherwise, the consequences would be simply unthinkable. In the last thirty years, I have never been as happy as today.

    Finished speaking, he picked up the pair of divine escapes from the table; shaking his hand, he threw them out the window, into the abyss under the cliff.

    The two boys were stunned.

    Lu Miaozi spoke casually, I dont want you to repeat my disastrous policy. If you are used to depending on this gadget, dont think that you will make a cun of advancement in your qinggong. Although in the beginning you will have some conveniences, in the end the gains do not make up for the losses. Do you understand?

    Albeit begrudgingly, the two boys understood Lu Miaozis good intention; they both nodded their heads.

    Lu Miaozi cast his glance toward the beautiful scenery under the setting sun outside the window, the scenery that recalled past memories. With a wistful sigh he said, There is a subtle and inalienable relation between time and life, just like the alternating night and day, just like the elusive life itself, so that the heart is distracted, and it is difficult to be oneself. Just like success and failure, which is only a fleeting matter, and not an impassable chasm at all. In the end, a pile of yellow dirt will bury all those successes and failures. You are still young, it might be very difficult for you to understand what I said. But in the end there will come a day when you will have the same perception that I have. Beyond victory, there might be defeat. The two are the different sides of the same coin.

    The two boys listened with a frown on their foreheads as they ponder over it deeply.

    Lu Miaozis expression showed that he was reminiscing of the past. He said gently, In all my life, I only fell in love with two half-women. Tell me now, dont you think that was a strange remark?

    Kou Zhong said, One of the half women must be Empress Yin, Zhu Yuyan. I wonder what complicated and confusing relation did Mister have with her?

    Lu Miaozi laughed and said, Kid, you are very practical. As soon as you see any opportunity, you wanted to know the details about Yin Gui Pai.

    Kou Zhong unashamedly said, This kid just want to obtain justice for Mister.

    Lu Miaozi nodded and said, That was the main reason why I am holding the two of you in such a high regard; if we cannot deal any harm to that witch, even in my death Laofu will not be able to close my eyes.

    Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, Mister, please set your heart at ease, we have already had some enmities with Yin Gui Pai.

    Thereupon, with I spoke one sentence you narrate one word, he and Kou Zhong told Lu Miaozi their story. When they narrated how Wanwan was able to make her body appear without the slightest bit of qi in her meridians, Lu Miaozi showed a serious, deep-in-thought expression.

    Finally Kou Zhong said proudly, And now that demon [or beautiful woman, see Book 8 Chapter 10; also in subsequent paragraphs] must be thinking that our souls are roaming the netherworld. You cheated me, I deceived you; how fun!

    Lu Miaozi pondered deeply for half a day; finally he spoke solemnly, From what you told me, this demon has received Zhu Yuyans personal instruction, and has become the next person after Zhu Yuyan within the Yin Gui Pai to master the Tian Mo Gong [celestial devil skill].

    Xu Ziling asked out of curiosity, Is Tian Mo Gong difficult to train?

    Kou Zhong mused, There must be at least three people who had mastered it; otherwise, who handed down the Tian Mo Gong?

    Slapping the table, Lu Miaozi said, Well said. But the first one who unlocked the Celestial Devil Secret was not Yin Gui Pai people, his background was even more unfathomable, unlike Ci Hang Jing Zhais [see Book 1 Chapter 7] Sword Canon, which was founded by a Buddhist nun.

    As if he had just gained a sudden understanding, Xu Ziling remarked, That Celestial Devil Secret is a bit like Secret to Long Life. Although there were people of the successive generations who managed to cultivate it, but nobody can really be immortals; including the two of us.

    Delighted, Lu Miaozi said, Speaking with you, I can save a lot of time. Celestial Devil Secret, the Sword Canon, the Secret to Long Life and the enigmatic War God Catalog put together are known as the Four Masterpieces of the Ancient and Modern times. Each book contains secrets about life and the universe throughout all ages. How could they be that easy to unlock?

    War God Catalog? the two boys asked in unison.

    Lu Miaozi said, That is probably the most elusive among the Four Masterpieces. Although subsequent generations have orally passed on the legend about this book, nobody has ever seen it for real. I am not too clear on the details myself, so dont ask me.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, Supposing Zhu Yuyan and Wanwan really mastered the Tian Mo Gong, who, other than Ci Hang Jing Zhai people, could possibly match them?

    Lu Miaozi said flatly, You, two boys.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong looked at each other; they were dumbstruck.

    Quite a while later Kou Zhong grabbed his head and said, I was just accidentally training a little bit. The fact is that I dont understand one word of those undecipherable strange characters in the Secret. Hey! Can it be considered I have mastered it?

    Lu Miaozi burst out laughing, The Secret to Long Life was passed on from generation to generation, and I dont know how many people have trained it, but no one has ever learned any martial art out of it. You did. Whether it was accidental or the right place at the right time, that is the fact. Moreover, just by looking at the fact that Wanwan tried to harm you but failed to kill you, I can tell that the eccentric martial art from the Secret to Long Life is able to contend against the Tian Mo Gong; otherwise, I would suggest that you two find a hole to hide, and never again appear in Jianghu.

    And then, he rubbed his hands excitedly and said, All right! Enough chatting, lets go back to the topic at hand. Are you interested in learning more about Yin Gui Pai?

    ※ ※ ※

    It was only close to daybreak that the two boys returned to their lodging. Sleeping less than three sichen, Lan Gu already came to wake them up. But this time she came with good intention: she had arranged new residence for them.

    It was in the Senior Shifu living quarters at the kitchen courtyard, located at the southern side of the Flying Horse prairie. Altogether there were four separate buildings.

    The two boys original expectation was merely that each of them would have a decent room, but beyond their expectation, Lan Gu actually took them to the doorstep of one of the buildings and said, This house has a front hall with bedrooms at the rear. Other than public baths, everything else is available. The house has been swept clean. You may bring your stuff and move in immediately!

    It was the very first time that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had a house all for themselves; a peculiar feeling welled up in their hearts.

    Lan Gu was unusually pleasant toward them; she said, These past few days everybody was busy. Wait till Liang Fu Guanjia [deputy housekeeper] has a bit more time, I will ask for a maid for you to better serve your accommodation.

    And then, beaming with smile, she said, Since you are from our kitchen courtyard, when you have a chance to see Changzhu, dont forget to say a few good words on our kitchens behalf.

    It suddenly dawned on the two boys that since they have become Changzhus favorites and were often called to see her, this woman was trying to curry favor from them.

    Lan Gu also said, Princess Nings party sent someone to let me know that when you have time today, go to their place. She really enjoyed the cakes you made for her the other day!

    ※ ※ ※

    By dusk that day, after moving their belongings, which could not be called simple anymore, to the rooms they selected, the two boys returned to the spacious front hall and sat down.

    Kou Zhong stretched out his limbs and said with a sigh, Now this is what I call power. Even if the kitchen is like this, were it not for Shang Xiuxun treating us favorably, we would still be piling up and being squeezed into that narrow nest.

    Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, Li Xiuning is looking for you, why dont you go to see her?

    Casting him a sidelong glance, Kou Zhong said, One lifetime, two brothers. You cant possibly let me going alone miserably to see her, can you?

    Xu Ziling could not help laughing; he said, You think Li Xiuning is extremely dangerous [orig. severe floods and fierce beasts]? The one she wishes to see is you, not Zaixia. You think I am that nave? Ha! Please forgive Xiaodi for not able to help however much Id like to!

    Kou Zhong sprang up and started to sing, The wind came whistling over the cold water, once the warrior leaves Ha! I am not going to say any ominous words! You want me to go, then Ill go!

    Seeing Kou Zhong left excitedly, Xu Ziling was amused; he sprawled comfortably on his chair, and turned his gaze toward the garden outside the window. His mind went back to their discussion with Lu Miaozi the previous night.

    This number one craftsman under the heavens was definitely very experienced and knowledgeable, erudite and multi-talented. He had read ten-thousand scrolls of books, and he had walked ten-thousand li of road, so the benefit they derived from him was not shallow.

    Because he was not an ordinary person, oftentimes his conduct came as a surprise, which was puzzling to everybody else.

    Suddenly his sixth sense picked up something, followed by the sound of footsteps approaching.

    Almost immediately the image of Luo Fang appeared in Xu Zilings mind, which surprised him to no end. How did he recognize Luo Fangs footsteps without deliberately trying to? How did he automatically know it was Luo Fang just by the sound of his footsteps?

    Right this moment, Luo Fang stepped over the door in high spirits; he called out, You must congratulate me, I am now a Fu Zhishi [deputy manager]!

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong walked past the stone forest, and reported the purpose of his visit to the Li Clans guards.

    Soon afterwards he was sat in the side hall where Li Xiuning was talking to Yuaner the other night, and the guard withdrew.

    Kou Zhong waited in bewilderment; leaving the chair, he looked out the window. A pair of beautiful butterflies was frolicking among the cluster of flowers, chasing each other.

    From the inner hall, Li Xiunings footsteps were coming closer. Finally she stopped behind him and said, Thank you!

    Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, Am I free to go now?

    Li Xiuning was silent for half a day. Finally she spoke softly, Do you remember that night I stabbed you with a dagger over the window?

    She had provoked a beautiful memory in Kou Zhongs heart. It was the night the bright moon shone its light at an angle, he and Xu Ziling had just obtained the account book and thus performed meritorious deed for Li Shimin. When they were climbing the hold of the ship, he heard Li Xiunings charming voice, and could not stop himself from looking in to take a peek. As soon as Li Xiuning found out, she pressed her dagger against his throat.

    It was love at first sight, as well as the instant his extreme failure of the first love began; naturally it was ingrained in his memory and he would never forget it.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, How could I not remember it? I cant forget, even if I wanted to for just half a moment. Therefore, I must leave now; otherwise, even if I turned into smoke fish, I would be unwilling to leave.

    Pfft! Li Xiuning giggled tenderly. She said, If you were smoked fish, I would have eaten you, so that you wont be able to go anywhere else. Please tell Xiuning, was it because of this that you decline Shimin Erges invitation?

    With his back against her, Kou Zhong said, Dont tell me that it is only now that you guessed the reason. The bitter pain in his laughter was getting deeper.

    Li Xiuning heaved a deep sigh. She said, Oh, Kou Zhong! How can Xiuning deserve your misplaced kindness? On this earth, I dont know how many women, who are a hundred times better than Xiuning, are waiting for your love. Oh, Kou Zhong! Can you look up to the sky?

    She gracefully walked over to Kou Zhongs side and pointed to the star-filled night sky; she said, Each star represents one opportunity; therefore, there are countless opportunities, just like there are infinite stars. The chance encounter between Xiuning and you was just one opportunity. But out there, there are still countless opportunities, some are painful, some are happy, so much so that sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between the pain and the happiness that it is sad and discouraging. You are not an ordinary person at all, naturally you will have extraordinary encounters. You should not be concerned with accidentally missing one opportunity.

    Kou Zhong did the one thing he longed for the most, but also the most unwise: he turned his eyes on her.

    He saw an absolutely elegant beauty looking up to the sky, her eyes gleaming with thirst, as if it was a dream or a fantasy; chilling and moving to the extreme.

    Severely shaken, Kou Zhong said, The problem is that you, Xiuning, are the bright moon in the dark sky of my heart. Under this bright moon, other stars have become dim.

    Li Xiuning shot a glance toward him, but as soon as the two sets of eyes met, they both averted their gaze, as if it was a bit unbearable. It was an extremely delicate situation.

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong spoke with pained expression on his face, This kind of matter, the more we talk about it, the more it becomes impossible to unravel. It would be best if I leave as soon as I can!

    Li Xiuning was startled, Can you at least stay to hear what Xiuning has to say? she asked.

    Kou Zhong already made a somersault out of the window. Returning to his mischievous, free and easy style, he revealed a brilliant smile and spoke nonchalantly, If Princess Ning wanted to invite us, two brothers, on your esteemed brother Shimins behalf, please forgive us.

    After staring hatefully at him for half a day, Li Xiuning stomped her feet and said, Very soon you are going to make Xiuning very angry with you.

    Kou Zhong had his hands pressed on the window sill, as if he was about to lean over and support his weight on it. He said dejectedly, I am doomed! I should not have come today. Every single expression of yours had made every single illness in my heart more serious; and now I am afraid I am already beyond cure.

    Li Xiuning hung her petite head down and said, Just consider me begging you. Oh, Kou Zhong! Forget me!

    Kou Zhong turned around and left. Dispirited and downcast, without looking back he raised his hand to say goodbye.

    And then, entering the woods, sometimes he was visible, sometimes he disappeared behind the trees, but it was a long time until he finally disappeared completely from Li Xiunings blurry vision due to the tears in her eyes.

    She finally shed her first passionate tear for Kou Zhong.

  15. #115
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 7

    Book 10 Chapter 7 Returning To The Western Paradise

    Luo Fang excitedly said, This time our victory was an extremely close call, even I almost lose my life. Fortunately there was a mysterious scar-faced Daxia [great hero] who drew his saber to help us, attacking the bandits that their casualties are very heavy. As if he was feeling his pocket and took something out, he even took the scorched earth for a thousand li Mao Zaos severed head in the middle of magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, and thus reversing the situation of the battle.

    And then, with much trepidation he went on, You would not have believed how thrilling the situation was. At first we thought it was just an army of two, three thousands to invade and harass us; who would have thought the bandits would cover the mountains and the plains? They attacked us that we were completely routed. Fortunately Changzhu [ranch master] and Er Zhishi [second manager] separately led their troops via two different routes to curb the enemys main force, again with the help of that mysterious Daxia, Also Da Guanjia [housekeeper] led his troops out of the pass to face the attack head-on. Only then did we manage to resist the enemy. By the time Changzhu lured the enemy into the trap outside the village, the eastern gorge also dispatch troops to help, and so we defeated the enemy in one move, pursued and attacked them for a hundred li, and killed them until they threw off their pants. Hey! Where is Xiao Ning?

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, Fu Zhishi [deputy manager], please sit down!

    Luo Fang acted as if he did not realize that he was the deputy manager; he was only staring blankly for a moment, before as if he had just been awakened from a dream he sat in the chair Xu Ziling pulled out for him. Looking all around, he remarked, This house is not bad at all. Where is Xiao Ning?

    Xu Ziling sat down across the table from him. He knew that Kou Zhong knew how to coax him; hence the reason Luo Fang preferred Kou Zhong over him. He replied, He was summoned by Princess Ning; he should be back any moment!

    Luo Fang revealed a disappointed look, but immediately returned to his excited mood. As if he was about to confer a top secret, he leaned over and lowered his voice and said, This time it was entirely due to Er Zhishis recommendation, because under the Third Manager, people more qualified than me can be found everywhere. Besides, the San Zhishis [third manager] position has been taken over by Xu Lao. So now all managers and their deputies are our Er Zhishis men, something that was unthinkable in the past. Fortunately in the battle this time I have shown a bit of performance. But I heard that it was Er Zhishi who talked to Changzhu for the whole sichen, and with Da Guanjias support, before she finally agreed.

    Xu Lao was Xu Yang, the deputy of the Third Manager, who, like Shang Zhen, loved to smoke pipes; hence they had a good relationship.

    Liu Zongdaos face, who was blind in one eye, appeared in Xu Zilings mind; a slightly uncomfortable feeling crept up in his heart.

    This man actively groomed his own power. Could it be that he had another agenda?

    Speaking of which, he and Kou Zhong could also be considered his men.

    Staying tranquil and calm, he asked, Has misfortune befallen San Zhishi?

    Letting out a cold snort, Luo Fang said, He usually did not have any regards toward others, and loved to flaunt his awe-inspiring authority. When he visited the battlefield for real, would he still be able to show off? Just in a couple of confrontations he was slaughtered!

    Xu Ziling was well aware that Tao Shusheng was executed in secret, but the official announcement was that he sacrificed his life in battle; either because the family scandal should not be broadcasted outside, or it was a method to purge the remnants of a defeated clique. The Fourth Manager Wu Zhaoru has always been breathing through the same nostril as Tao Shusheng; perhaps he was also involved in this matter.

    Xu Ziling very much wanted to ask about Yuaners fate, but in the end he held back and asked, Has Changzhu returned?

    Luo Fang was unsure, She should be back in a few days. The situation outside is very chaotic. After Ren Shaoming was assassinated, not only there was a fast change of scene in the south, the turn of events north of the River is also not too encouraging.

    After exchanging some more chitchats, due to his newly-appointed post, Luo Fang had hundreds of matters to attend to; thereupon he said goodbye and left.

    While Xu Ziling was still musing over the situation caused by Ren Shaomings death, Kou Zhong, with stupefied look on his face, came back. He sat down absent-mindedly, his eyes looking straight ahead, just like two empty holes.

    Xu Ziling was about to question him, Kou Zhong dejectedly sighed and said, Finally she and I came to an end.

    Xu Ziling reached out to grab him by the shoulders and said heavily, Not everything in life is lovely flower, round moon, blissful with everything going on as you wish. While we do not need to serve beautiful Changzhu these next few days, we might as well ask for guidance Mr. Lu, to have a bit more positive outlook.

    Kou Zhong nodded; he said, Its critical that you tend to your injury and heal quick, dont leave the slightest amount of scar; otherwise, your scar faced Daxia will expose the foxs tail!

    ※ ※ ※

    And so they passed their days like that.

    Lan Gu appeared to be afraid of them that she did not dare to come and harass them; so the two boys enjoyed a free and easy life, day and night they slipped out to talk with Lu Miaozi, discussing the written notes of his lifelong learnings.

    Due to the differences in characters, Xu Ziling held special interest in landscape design and astronomy, while due to his ambition, Kou Zhong was more interested in history, the art of war, and mechanism; each in the correct place.

    On the surface, Lu Miaozi did not look like someone at the deaths door; his complexion was still ruddy and bright. Yet the two boys were aware that he had reached the last brightest moment just before the flame dies.

    ※ ※ ※

    One evening, the two boys were just thinking of going to Lu Miaozis place, when Xiao Juan, whom they have not seen for a few days, suddenly appeared, telling them that the Ranch Master wanted them. So they knew that the beauty has come back.

    Having a guilty conscience, they could only brace themselves to go see her.

    Shang Xiuxun was sitting alone in her study; she was busy reading scrolls of document piling up on her desk. The two boys stood in front of her desk and saluted, she merely uttered an ehm, as if she thought looking up to acknowledge their presence was not worth doing.

    After the two boys stood transfixed for quite a while, she suddenly said flatly, Take off your clothes!

    What? the two boys blurted.

    Tossing the writing brush in her hand, Shang Xiuxun looked up to stare at them. She spoke irately, Take off your clothes is take off your clothes. Which part of it you dont understand? My word is your command; otherwise, house rule is waiting for you.

    Forcing a laugh, Kou Zhong said, Other than our Niang, no other women have ever seen our innocent bodies. If we strip naked in front of Changzhu, it wont look so good if anybody ever finds out!

    Shang Xiuxun gave him a stern look; she scolded, I did not tell you to take off your pants. Still refuse to comply? Are you waiting for the beating?

    Xu Ziling was about to argue, Kou Zhong was afraid he might unmask their true identity, he quickly cried out, You want us to take off our clothes, we will take off our clothes!

    Seeing Kou Zhong peeling off and stripping his upper garments, exposing his refined naked thick and solid torso, and knowing that Shang Xiuxun wanted to see if they had any scars on their bodies, plus remembering that they were going to see Lu Miaozi, finally Xu Ziling relented.

    Shang Xiuxun rose up to her full height, walked around the two boys for a few turns, and then returned to her desk, while failing to cover her disappointment. Waving her hand, she said, Get lost!

    The two boys picked up their clothes, and were about to get out when suddenly Shang Xiuxun stopped them, Get dressed first before going out. If you go out like that, are you looking for scandal?

    The two boys awkwardly put on their clothes under her shining eyes. Noticing that she looked like she was still thinking about something, Kou Zhong probed, Changzhu! Can we get lost now?

    Shang Xiuxuns eyes looked at the two boys up and down several times. She said coldly, Do you work out every day?

    Kou Zhong realized that she had her doubt upon seeing their perfect and solid muscles. Of course, he spoke without thinking, Every day, first thing in the morning, we spend at least one sichen punching and kicking, only then will we be in high spirit.


    Shang Xiuxuns palm slapped the table; her apricot eyes grew big as she scolded them, Nonsense! In the entire Ranch, you are the ones who get out of bed the latest; you need people to ring the gongs and beat the drums before you are willing to wake up. You dare to lie to me?

    Smiling apologetically, Xu Ziling said, Getting up early is indeed our habit, but lately we followed Changzhus instruction to learn new skills from Mr. Lu every night, so that our day and night are reversed. Thats why we sleep late!

    Kou Zhong did not expect her to know about their everyday life; without any better option, he awkwardly admitted, Changzhu Daren, please be magnanimous. I was merely speaking out of habit, forgetting the recent changes in our lives.

    Shang Xiuxuns eyes were growing brighter and sharper; regaining her calm and composed manner, she said, But Liu Er Zhishi said that during the several days of travel to this place, he has never seen you two trained martial art?

    Afraid that Kou Zhong might brag, Xu Ziling hastily said, Simply because we saw Er Zhishi and the others have superior martial art skills, how could we dare to display our slight skill before an expert? Please Changzhu understand.

    Half-believing, half-doubting, Shang Xiuxun stared at him for quite a while. Finally she sighed and said, If one day I find out that you are hiding something from me, I will kill you with my own hands.

    Kou Zhong heaved a sigh of relief inwardly, knowing that Shang Xiuxun no longer suspect Xu Ziling to be the scar-faced strange hero. Now can we get lost? he asked respectfully.

    With a straight face, as if she was furious, Shang Xiuxun said, No!

    The two boys were stunned.

    Shang Xiuxun pondered a moment. In the end she waved her hand and said, Go! But every day you must report to me the old guys condition.

    What time do we need to see Changzhu? Kou Zhong asked.

    Shang Xiuxun replied impatiently, I will have someone summon you. Now get lost!

    As if they had just received the Emperors amnesty, the two boys scurried out.

    ※ ※ ※

    Upon arriving at Lu Miaozis small building, the two boys were shocked.

    Lu Miaozi was still sitting up straight, but there was no sign of blood on his face anymore; his eyes were closed and he did not say anything.

    The two boys jumped forward to hold him from left and right. Lu Miaozi let out a long breath and opened his eyes, Help me get down! he said.

    Kou Zhong quickly jumped toward the bookcase and pulled the iron rod to open the tunnel door. With squeaking noise the trap door opened, revealing the basement underneath.

    Lu Miaozi said, I have set aside your stuffs and my notes and packed them up properly. When you leave, you may take it with you.

    The two boys helped him down the tunnel and came to the underground room. To their surprise, they saw a stone bed in the middle of the room, complete with a pillow, quilt, everything. Following Lu Miaozis instruction, they lay him down on the stone bed.

    Lu Miaozi put his head down on the wooden pillow, folded his hands over his chests, and told the two boys to cover him up with the shockingly crimson embroidered quilt. And then this dying old man sighed and said, Our life in this world is merely a white steed flitting past a crack. When you think that youll never reach the end of life, in the blink of an eye you are already at the moment where you breathe your last.

    Kou Zhong felt like crying, but not even half a drop of tear came out of his eyes. He said resolutely, Mister, rest assured! We will definitely deal with that Yin Gui Pai witch, so that you can vent your anger.

    Lu Miaozi shook his head with a wry smile; he said, You must weigh your ability and act accordingly! If you came across Zhu Yuyan right now, it would be akin to you are delivering your lives in vain. Besides, my hatred toward her right now has completely disappeared. Were it not for her, I wouldnt have accompanied Qingya for twenty-five years, and I wouldnt have realized that in the end, she is the only one in my heart. Its finished! Its finished!

    The two boys looked at each other, at a loss of what to say.

    Gasping lightly, Lu Miaozi said, Off you go! Dont forget what to do.

    Aghast, Xu Ziling said, But Mister is not dead yet!

    Lu Miaozi suddenly brightened up; slightly angry, he said, Do you want to see me breathing my last and turn into a useless creature?

    The two boys did not know what to do. Lu Miaozi softened up; he said gently, Each of you kowtow to me three times and then leave! I cant hold it much longer. Ha! Death is not so terrible. I wonder what will happen?

    After hiding the stuffs given to them by Lu Miaozi in a safe place, the two boys dejectedly left the small two-story building, which has now become desolate, cold, and cheerless.

    With his right hand pressed against Xu Zilings shoulder, Kou Zhong sighed bitterly and said, Other than Niang and Susu Jie, quite possibly that old guy was the nicest person to us. Too bad that just like Niang, we only met for a few days and he was gone.

    Recalling Susu, Xu Ziling sighed.

    Are we going to leave tonight, or tomorrow morning? Kou Zhong asked.

    Xu Ziling shook his head, No! he said, We are leaving right now. Whats the point in staying?

    Li Xiunings beautiful image appeared in Kou Zhongs mind; her voice as she told him to forget her seemed to resound in his ears. Nodding his head, he said, Very well! Ill fetch my Moon in the Well, and then well find a way to slip out of here.

    When their door was in sight, Lan Gu suddenly appeared in front of them and said, You two, pack your valuables immediately, you are going with Changzhu on a trip; it is indeed an honor! Changzhu appointed you to be in charge of her diet along the way!

    The two boys could only stare blankly.

    ※ ※ ※

    At dusk, a party of twenty-eight people galloped out of the eastern gorge into the vast plains outside.

    Other than Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, the two servants of the Great General, Big Sister Fu and Xiao Juan also came along to take care of Shang Xiuxuns everyday life. The others were all Flying Horse Ranch people, consisting of manager-level Liang Zhi, Liu Zongdao and Xu Yang, and deputy-manager-level Luo Fang, and Liang Zhis deputy Wu Yan, a stocky man of around forty years of age.

    There were also two old men called Shang Peng and Shang He. Everybody, including Shang Xiuxun, addressed them as Peng Gong [grandpa/a term of respect to address an old man] and He Gong.

    The two old men very seldom spoke, but their eyes were flashing like lightning; obviously these two were Flying Horse Ranchs martial art masters who shared the same surname Shang with the original founder.

    After traveling for half a day, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling still did not know where Shang Xiuxun was heading leading such a team of warriors.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were in charge of driving the only cart they brought. The cargo was naturally their tents, food, cookware, and other stuff.

    While urging the four steeds pulling the cart, Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Zilings ear, Well slip away as soon as we finish preparing dinner. If we wait till they eat their fill and drunk of wine, it could be considered extreme benevolence and beyond our line of duty!

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, Arent you an expert in geography? This direction seems to be leading to Jingling. Zhong Shao, do you concur?

    Kou Zhong looked distracted for a moment. Smiling wryly, he said, This time lets consider you win; with practice, your geography skill seems to be improving. But taking care of twenty-eight peoples livelihood is not an easy task, how can it be compared to going on a scenic tour to Jingling?

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, In that case we are leaving tonight!

    ※ ※ ※

    As night fell, Shang Xiuxun issued her order to pitch their camp by a brook for the night. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling immediately got busy lighting fire and cooking dinner. They worked hard until dark. Fortunately Xiao Juan was helping them, so they were able to relax a little bit.

    After eating their specialty, dumpling oil rice, everybody praised them without ceasing, so that the two boys were beaming from ear to ear. Luo Fang, Big Sister Fu and Xiao Juan ate together with the two boys in a circle around a bonfire, giving them an interesting taste of the wild open country.

    Kou Zhong took this opportunity to ask, Where are we going, actually?

    Lou Fang was surprised, Nobody told you? he asked, This time we are going to Jingling!

    What happened in Jingling? Xu Ziling wondered aloud.

    Obviously Luo Fang did not know the details, he said, It seems like something important is going on there.

    Big Sister Fu lowered her voice, It was Jinglings Fang Zhuangzhu [village master] sending a messenger to Changzhu, asking for help. We are just the advance troops, as soon as the others are ready, they are going there as well.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other; they both can see the fear in the others heart, because both of them were thinking of the same terrifying possibility.

    Losing their interest in small talk, after sprouting some nonsense for a while, they excused themselves to take a rest, and hid inside their small tent.

    Lying on his back next to Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, This is terrible; we should have guessed from Wanwans affair that Qu Ao has joined hands with Ol Die.

    After a short pause, he went on, Do you remember when we were in Xingyang, at Shen Luoyans courtyard, Song Yuzhi told Shen Luoyan that Qu Ao is working together with the Ol Die to assassinate Li Mi? And now clearly Ol Die is using beauty entrapment. Wanwan must be back in Jingling, weaving a tale to tell Fang Zetao, that affectionate Zhuangzhu. As long as she stretched her finger, Fang Zetao will be finished.

    Xu Ziling had his eyes fixed on the top of the tent; he spoke bitterly, Even without Wanwan, Fang Zetao is already no match for the Ol Die. The most tragic thing is that Duba Village has always relied on the Flying Horse Ranch for mutual support. However, after their disastrous victory, their strength suffered a big blow; basically they were no longer able to aid Jingling; otherwise, they would not have sent twenty eight people, but a big army of over ten-thousand men and horses.

    Kou Zhong peeked out the tent to look at Shang Xiuxun and the others, who were sitting around the campfire, chatting. He said in a low voice, By todays reckoning, wed better go to Jingling as quickly as possible, before Wanwan makes any move, we take one step ahead to kill her.

    Displeased, Xu Ziling said, By that time, we will be extremely tired, how could we still have any strength to deal with Wanwan? Not to mention that even if we are on our top form, we still cannot easily score a victory against her. Worse yet, what if she badmouthed us in front of Fang Zetao? This guy has been enchanted by this fox spirit that his eyes are blinded, his heart is confused. If we try to be clever and end up with egg on our faces, I guarantee that demon [or beautiful woman] will laugh until her belly hurts.

    Distressed, Kou Zhong said, This one is not right, that one is wrong, what should we do then?

    Xu Ziling calmly gave him his analysis, There is no quick fix for this matter. If I was the Ol Die, since I only need to grasp it and the victory is assured, I might as well lure the entire Flying Horse Ranch people out of their nest, and then set up an ambush along the way. This way I can take care of two largest powers of this whole area in just one move. After that, either going north or south will be a lot more convenient.

    Kou Zhong acted as if he had just met him for the first time; delighted and sincerely willing, he said, You are a lot more formidable than I am. Ay! I dont know why this moment my brains went blank, my mind and spirit are restless; I cant seem to think about anything. So what do we do?

    Xu Ziling sat up, and said indifferently, Its not that I am more formidable than you are, its just that my mind is clear my heart is unobstructed. Just like the water in the well, it can reflect everything. You, this kid, on the other hand, since you saw Li Xiuning yesterday, you look like a mess. If your eyes are not opened, you might as well go back to your village to cultivate land or perhaps open up a restaurant!

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day; finally he nodded and said, Your lesson is well-said, I definitely did not make any progress. All right! From now on, I want to reform and start afresh. I wont think about her anymore.

    After pondering silently for a moment, he went on, Hence this time Shang Xiuxun led her people to Jingling, there is a good possibility that we will fall into Ol Die or perhaps Chang Shumous plot. And that would be very dangerous.

    Finally your head clears up! Xu Ziling delightedly said.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, Not quite, only a bit. Based on Ol Dies dynamic character, right now he must be itching to make his move; he might already take control of Duba Village that they are not able to move a single step, and then Flying Horse Ranch will be left alone to fend for themselves. Oh! Xiao Juan is coming!

    The two boys promptly pretended to be asleep.

    Outside the tent, Xiao Juan called out in low voice, Are you asleep? Changzhu wants to see you.

  16. #116
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 8

    Book 10 Chapter 8 Night Talk by the Creek

    Just like a goddess from Heaven descending into the world, Shang Xiuxuns sleeves were fluttering in the night breeze as she stood proudly with her hands behind her back. Tranquil and calm, she said, The dumpling oil rice you made tonight was of an extremely high level of achievement; it was very satisfactory.

    Promptly Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling modestly express their gratitude.

    The beauty looked up at the starry sky. Her tone turned cold as she said, The old fellow is already dead, isnt he?

    Xu Ziling nodded sadly.

    Shang Xiuxun did not turn around, she had her back against the two boys, as if she did not want them to see her expression. It was quite a while later when she spoke, Come with me!

    The two boys were greatly surprised; this woman has always been arrogant, difficult, and was always proud of herself; she took credit alone, and alone she bestowed rewards. This invitation was indeed out of keeping with reason. Without much choice, they followed behind her, with belly full of suspicion.

    Shang Xiuxun walked slowly in the wilderness. Under the dim light of the stars and the moon, her beautiful hair looked sparkling and dazzling. Her elegant figure exuded with otherworldly, indescribable, and mysterious beauty.

    For a long time Shang Xiuxun did not say anything.

    Until they came to an area with large rocks strewn along the creek. She stopped, sighed softly, and said, Sit down!

    We can stay standing, Kou Zhong hastily said.

    Shang Xiuxun selected a large rock and sat comfortably before saying again, Sit down!

    Seeing her sitting down, how could the two boys stay polite? Each of them selected a nice flat and smooth rock and sat down.

    They could still hear the voices of Liu Zongdao and the others conversation in the distance.

    Shang Xiuxun said softly, Do you think I am too harsh? You were asleep and I woke you up to see me.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, You are our big boss, naturally we have to obey your orders.

    Pfft! Shang Xiuxun giggled tenderly. She was deep in thought as if she was entranced for half a day, before smiling and said, This is precisely why I like to talk to you, these two boys; because you treated me as your boss, not like other people who regard me as supreme Changzhu. The most amazing thing is that I know that in a lot of matters you keep me in the dark and deceive me, yet I have no way of grabbing your Achilles heel [orig. pain foot].

    The two boys were greatly embarrassed. In which regards Changzhu thinks we are deceiving you? Xu Ziling asked.

    Shang Xiuxun coquettishly shook her small cicada head; her eyes swept the boys around. Looking up to the sky, she said softly, I am not too clear myself, but I always feel that you two are not simple at all. Niang used to say that Lu Miaozi was highly intelligent, his natural disposition proud and aloof, had never had any regards toward anybody, hence he had never taught anybody his skill. Ay! A persons character is not going to change, so why did he have such a high regards on you?

    Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, I am afraid we wont know the answer unless he is back from the dead!

    Tranquil and calm, Shang Xiuxun said, Dead men tell no tales! So what did he leave you with? Just before we left, I took a walk over to that small building of his, and that hateful old guy did not leave anything behind!

    Xu Ziling replied heavily, Mr. Lus exquisite gadgets have become funerary objects, everything was buried with him underground.

    Shang Xiuxuns beautiful eyes gazed deeply into his eyes; she asked indifferently, So he did not leave anything to you?

    Kou Zhong replied, Only a few written account of what he learned in all his life. Changzhu wants to look over it?

    Shang Xiuxun shook her head and said, I dont want to touch his stuff.

    The two boys breathed a sigh of relief inwardly, both thought, That would be best.

    Liar! Shang Xiuxun suddenly said.

    The two boys jumped in fright. They thought that if she wanted to do a body search on them, they would leave immediately.

    A hint of smile escaped from the corners of Shang Xiuxuns lips; after staring at the two boys for a few moments, she said calmly, It does not make any sense. The old guys inventions are thousand-gold treasures that Jianghu people find it hard to find. Since he had such a high regards on you, how could he be that stingy? However, I wont investigate this matter further; or else that old fellow will laugh at me from the Nine Springs [underworld in Chinese mythology] below.

    The two boys breathed a sigh of relief inwardly again, yet their faces did not show the slightest trace.

    Shang Xiuxin sighed grimly before saying, My heart is a bit of a mess, why dont you two find any interesting things to talk about?

    Unexpectedly the beautiful Ranch Master was talking to them in an imploring tone; the two boys felt quite overwhelmed by this favor.

    Xu Ziling suddenly said, How about I set up a divinatory diagram to see what is happening to make Changzhu have such a troubled heart.

    Kou Zhong inwardly praised Xu Zilings brilliance.

    Shang Xiuxun was greatly astonished, You know divination method? she asked.

    Xu Ziling confidently replied, Just learned it from Mr. Lu.

    Afraid that she might refuse, he hurriedly raised his hand according to the method Lu Miaozi taught him, showing a form of [divination] six ren [not sure what it is, dictionary says ninth of the ten Heavenly Stems], pinching one finger to another [as in calculating] and then with a serious expression said, This form of divination is called covering distress. The reason Changzhus heart is in turmoil is simply because the situation is unclear, there are snares along the way.

    Shang Xiuxun was stunned, Seems like you do have a bit of skill; in just a short seven, eight-day period you managed to learn such a difficult and obscure thing?

    Having a sudden inspiration, Kou Zhong caught on, Xiao Jing is a genius in divination, and I am a genius in the art of war. Hee!

    Shang Xiuxun said in disdain, You are a genius in thick-skin-ness; have you looked in the mirror lately?

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Dont despise the old fellows insight; if you dont believe me, go ahead and test me.

    Snorting disdainfully, Shang Xiuxun muttered softly and said, All right! Sun Zis [Sun Tzu] Art of War has eight main essentials; recite them for me.

    Remaining calm, Kou Zhong explained, The book is dead, but the people are alive. So let me analyze the situation Changzhu is facing. Changzhu does not need to have your heart distracted, your thoughts are in turmoil just because the situation is unclear.

    Shang Xiuxun stared blankly for half a day; finally she decided to test him for the time being, Tell me! she said.

    Kou Zhong spoke respectfully, This time Changzhu is leading your troops toward Jingling, was it because Jingling sent people to ask for your help?

    Shang Xiuxuns phoenix eyes turned cold; slightly angered, she said, Was it Fuer who divulged it to you?

    Xu Ziling was displeased; he said, Disaster is facing us, Changzhu still haggles over every ounce in such thing as house regulation, Ranchs rule, those kind of chicken feather, garlic skin, small matters?

    Shang Xiuxun was taken aback. A strange feeling started to creep up her fragrant heart. The Xu Ziling in her presence did not have the least bit of subordinate-feel at all; unexpectedly she had forgotten to reprimand him.

    Calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong started his analysis, This time Jianghuai Army is moving west, their timing could not have been better, obviously they had already planned it well ahead and now making their move

    Shang Xiuxun cut him off, Who told you that Jianghuai Army is threatening Jingling?

    Immensely proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, If you need somebody to tell you, then you are not a real genius in the art of war. There are a lot of things the eyes dont see, the ears dont hear, but the eyes and ears of the heart can figure out.

    After a short pause, he smiled and said, All along, Jinglings Duba Village and our Changzhus Flying Horse Ranch are the big powers surrounding the fatty meat at the side of the mouth. Its just that this meat is difficult to swallow, and its hard to know where to start! Currently the Four Big Bandits invaded our Ranch, so Du Fuwei seized the opportunity to move his troops to threaten the flank, which is Jingling. If you say that these two things have no relation at all, even if you beat me to death, I will not believe you.

    In Shang Xiuxuns eyes, the two boys seemed to be transformed into two totally different persons, who were speaking frankly and with assurance, so that she could not help being entranced while listening to them, and momentarily forgot that their lowly position within the Ranch did not afford them the qualifications to talk to her like that.

    Frowning, she said, You are rather familiar with the situation in Jianghu, but how did you guess that Du Fuwei is holding back his troops without moving outside Jingling? Why didnt he besiege the city and attack violently? While speaking the last two sentences, the tone of her voice turned stern, her jade countenance appeared to be skeptical.

    Xu Ziling replied nonchalantly, Besieging the city will be his next move. Du Fuwei ran amuck along the Great River, and he is well versed in the art of war; right now he has the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, why wouldnt he use it? Just think, if the Ranchs main force is already defeated before it reaches Jingling, Changzhu could only retreat and defend the Ranch, and then contacting the towns and villages all round, deploying tight troops formation to resist. If Du Fuwei decided to spread out the battle, it would be more difficult than ascending to the heaven.

    Shang Xiuxuns tender body trembled slightly; she pondered deeply in silence, while her face showed her deep concentration. Evidently she was moved by what Xu Ziling said.

    Kou Zhong spoke heavily, This time Changzhu leads your troops in a journey, there is a possibility that Du Fuwei might pull a snake from its hole [i.e. exposing a malefactor]

    Shang Xiuxun stood up suddenly; she said coldly, You two go back to sleep!

    Finished speaking, she hurried toward Liu Zongdao and the others to discuss the new development.

    ※ ※ ※

    When they woke up the next morning, Shang Xiuxun summoned the two boys into her tent. She was accompanied by Big Sister Fu and Xiao Juan. Her countenance heavy, she said, This time, I consider the two of you have rendered great merit; some other day I will evaluate your merit and bestow rewards. For now, we need to change direction. You two and Fuer, Juaner go back to the Ranch with Er Zhishi; understood?

    The two boys groaned inwardly.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, Changzhu dispels us, it is really unwise.

    Both Big Sister Fu and Xiao Juan turned pale; they thought that the two boys dared to contradict their Ranch Master, perhaps they did not want to live anymore.

    Yet Shang Xiuxuns reaction was not as intense as they imagined; she was only showing displeasure as she said, In which regard am I unwise? If you cant give me a good reason, I guarantee that you will be sorry.

    Kou Zhong calmly said, Dont forget that we are hey! You know what I mean! You have talents yet you dont want to use it; that is not a smart decision.

    Astonishingly, Shang Xiuxun did not get angry; she sighed and said, Its not that I wasnt thinking of taking you along, but our journey to Jingling is treacherous and hard to fathom. If something should happen, how am I supposed to take care of you?

    Kou Zhong lowered his voice to make a show that he was taking this matter seriously, To tell you the truth, the two of us, brothers are actually crouching tigers, hidden dragons. If something happens, defending ourselves is not a problem. Hey! What are you laughing at?

    Both Big Sister Fu and Xiao Juan were unable to hold themselves; from snickering they burst into big laughter while covering their mouths.

    Shang Xiuxun was smiling as well; she said crossly, Based on your three-legged cat martial art skill, what crouching tigers, hidden dragons are you talking about? Just follow my order, I have no time to waste on you.

    Xu Ziling hurriedly said, Changzhu, please listen to me. We have received Mr. Lus instructions, when we meet the Ol Die hey! I mean, Ol Dus main forces, we could be put to good use

    Rubbish! Shang Xiuxun snapped, By the time you use what you learned in a few days to build some mechanism, the city would have been broken and perished.

    With tongue like a reed [i.e. glib tongue], Kou Zhong said, Changzhus reasoning is flawed. Lu Miaozis breast was filled with knowledge of this age, one of those happen to be troop disposition. Just like Zhuge Wuhou [i.e. Zhuge Liang of Three Kingdoms] arranged eight troops disposition diagram at the stone quarry, learning this kind of thing depends on talent and not on the learning duration. For example, for example, just by hearing it once, Xiao Jiang already understood the lesson. If you dont believe me, Changzhu may give him a test.

    Shang Xiuxun, Big Sister Fu and Xiao Juans doubtful look fell on Xu Ziling. Without much choice he simply blurted out, The Heaven is numbered five, the Earth is numbered five, five counted five results in a whole number. Hey! Is it enough?

    Kou Zhong added interest to the story, This is called the five whole troop-dispositions of the Heaven and the Earth, it could give rise to changes and battles of supernatural beings, even if the opponent has magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, as we enter the troops disposition, we could ha ha as if entering the fog.

    Half-believing, half-doubting, Shang Xiuxun said, If you two changed into Taoist robe, you can become two novice Taoist demon.

    Big Sister Fu and Xiao Juan saw the two boys awkward manner as they were being ridiculed and scolded, and could only endure with bitter smile.

    Seeing one stratagem failed, Kou Zhong executed a different plan, Changzhu is sending us back to the Ranch, simply because you are afraid our little lives cannot be guaranteed; therefore, I will perform another divination. This divination oh this divination is called absolute guarantee, meaning it will guarantee our two little lives, guaranteeing that not a single strand of our hair will be harmed.

    Shang Xiuxun sneered and said, Since when did you change from a military genius to a divination genius?

    Kou Zhongs serious expression did not change; upright and unafraid, he said, This is the simplest and most fundamental divination skill; it relies on sincerity and upright intention. The heart as the basis, the calculation is employed; the so-called joining the Heaven and the Earth in reliance of the calculation. Great spread out is numbered fifty, starting from one to equip five. Small spread out becomes ten, hence the great spread out becomes fifty-five. Based on these arguments, the divination is as accurate as the deities.

    He was an extremely intelligent person; although he had little interest in divination, but listening to Lu Miaozi and Xu Zilings discussion, he learned a little bit of superficial knowledge. That plus his bragging skill, in the end he was able to provide clear and logical explanation.

    Shang Xiuxun pondered for half a day; she said coldly, Why are you so eager to go to Jingling? You dont seem to care even for your own lives?

    Thinking fast, Xu Ziling replied solemnly, Because when Mr. Lu saw that we want to study for practical applications, and that we want to strive our hardest for the Ranch.

    Kou Zhong added, Before his death, he also said that we do not have the appearance of those who would be short-lived, and that our good fortune is profound, therefore, we can have a free hand in tempering ourselves in a great undertaking.

    The two boys were accustomed to echo one another. Listening to them, Shang Xiuxuns jade countenance was slightly moved. She asked, Can your divination foresee good and bad luck?

    His countenance did not change at all, Kou Zhong said, That is only natural. Whatever you want to know, let Xiao Jing calculate with his fingers, and everything will be all right.

    In his heart, Xu Ziling could not wait to box Kou Zhong a little bit, but on the surface he had no choice but to put on the air of the number one divination expert in the world, naturally accompanied by a smile and a nod of his head.

    Shang Xiuxun seemed to go through a very strenuous effort to convince herself; she said listlessly, Very well! Ill let you stay to give it a try. Good or bad, you only have that old fellow to blame for mistakenly scrutinizing your facial features. After you become ghosts, dont blame me for not giving you sufficient warning.

    ※ ※ ※

    And thus they continued their journey.

    The original group heading for Jingling consisted of twenty-eight people has now become twenty people, which was divided further into four groups, each group adopted different route, with several rendezvous points in towns and villages along the way, to pull wool over peoples eyes.

    It was unclear whether Shang Xiuxun wanted to rely on their divination ability, or she simply loved to listen to their bullsh1t, or perhaps she wanted to personally protect them, but she had Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong in her team, along with Liang Zhi, Wu Yan, plus the two senior martial art masters Shang Peng and Shang He; hence this group had the greatest power.

    This group of seven people embarked on their journey in disguise; Shang Xiuxun was wearing mens clothing. Shang Peng and Shang He sat in the carriage, with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling still acted as the drivers. Liang Zhi and Wu Yan became the family warriors who rode behind the carriage to protect them.

    By that afternoon the group cut into the official road leading to the big city of Xiangyang, northwest of Jingling.

    Gradually the road became busier with men and horses. Traveling merchants tend to stay together as a group, as they relied on numbers to provide strength. Only Jianghu characters would dare to come and go alone, or perhaps traveling as small group of two or three people.

    Liang Zhi fell behind a little bit, and then he came to report to Shang Xiuxun, Subordinate has inquired of people who come from Xiangyang, I heard that the city is under the control of one Qian Duguan, a local warrior. This person is adept in using a pair of sabers, and has proclaimed himself the hegemon of Xiangyang. Anybody who spares no effort in his account will have no problem with the authority. But the entrance duty into the city is considerably high, so the traveling merchants are grumbling.

    Shang Xiuxun said, In front of Xiangyangs gate, just before entering the city early tomorrow morning, we must board a boat going down to Jingling. Although we will have to spend another day of traveling time, we will make the enemies unclear of our course of journey. It is still very worthwhile.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling suddenly understood that Shang Xiuxun accepted their advice and thus playing some tricks on their route to Jingling.

    Shang Pengs voice came from the carriage, It would be better if Laofu go ahead of you to Xiangyang to make arrangement about the boat. In this time of chaos all over the world, sometimes huge amount of money may not necessarily be able to hire a big boat to carry men and horses.

    Shang Xiuxun said, Peng Lao, please dont worry, Xiuxun has already sent Xu Yang and Luo Fang to travel at double speed to hurry to Xiangyang to handle this very same matter!

    Changzhu is very thorough! Shang Peng praised.

    When Liang Zhi was about to speak up, rapid hoof beats came from behind. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were about to look back, Liang Zhi shouted in displeasure, Dont be meddlesome, quickly get the cart to the side.

    The two boys were startled by his order, they hastily brought the cart to one side of the road.

    A group of more than thirty people, who looked like outlaws and fugitives of Jianghu, galloped fast past them; every one of them looked at this group to size them up.

    One of them, a young man who appeared to be their leader, said, Do they look like it?

    Another fat man replied, Not quite!

    And then, like a tornado they disappeared around the bend ahead.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong wiped the cold sweats on their foreheads. Turned out the two men speaking were the Gold and Silver Spear Ling Feng and the Fat Demon Jin Bo [See Book 9 Chapter 3]. The other day when they were hiding underneath the ruble, they heard the voices of these two men, hence they immediately recognized them. Later on they wanted to pursue these men to test their skill, but came across Liu Zongdao and his men, and ended up hired as chefs at the Flying Horse Ranch. It was quite a surprise to come across these men again in here.

    Fortunately the men did not recognize the two boys; otherwise they would be in terrible trouble.

    What were they doing going to Xiangyang?

    Who are these people? Liang Zhi wondered aloud.

    Shang Xiuxun suddenly said, Xiao Jing! Do your divination for me, see if you can find out what they are up to?

    Xu Ziling helplessly pinched his fingers in calculation, and said, They are looking for two men, full of fierce fighting spirit and animosity.

    Ah! Wu Yan exclaimed, They must be Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. These two men have turned the southern skies upside down, and they have the secret of Duke Yangs Treasure. Every body wants to capture them.

    Liang Zhi nodded and said, Fu Zhishi is right. But since these two were able to assassinate Ren Shaoming in the midst of magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, how could they be easy target? Those men are simply overestimating their own capabilities.

    Shang Xiuxun asked in heavy voice, How old are Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling? Do you know what they look like?

    Wu Yan replied, They made their debut several years ago, so perhaps they are around thirty! Ive heard people say that they look pretty thick and solid like an ox, their faces and eyes sinister, with just one look youll know that they are not of the benevolent type.

    While on one hand the two boys cursed him in their hearts, on the other hand they were quite grateful to Wu Yan.

    Shang Xiuxun was silent for half a day before giving out her order, Lets hurry on!

    Knowing the danger has passed, the two boys breathed a sigh of relief.


    The whip gently struck the horses bottom, the carriage once again proceed speedily along the official road.

  17. #117
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 9

    Book 10 Chapter 9 Enemies On A Narrow Road

    Xiangyang was located at the confluence of various rivers by the Han River. Following the River downstream, in one day one would reach a Hannan, a market town rather smaller in scale, and then in two more days one would reach Jingling.

    Since Yang Guang was assassinated by Yuwen Huajis uprising, sharp changes have been happening in all parts of the country. The original hegemons proclaimed themselves king or emperor, taking advantage of the situation to expand their territory. Those who were former Sui officials adopted a wait-and-see attitude or unmasked their poles to rise up, becoming local power, safeguarding their own towns and villages, their homeland.

    Xiangyangs Qian Duguan was a classic example.

    Double Sabers Qian Duguan was the big boss of Hanshui Pai [River Han Sect], his character was in between orthodox and heretical, he had quite a face both in front of the local black and white circles. His main business was silk, and his family owned ample properties.

    When the news of Emperor Yangs death arrived, Qian Duguan arose with the peoples support. He was elected leader by local wealthy families and members of the gentry, as well as by the local gangs and societies. Driving out the Xiangyangs district magistrate, he formed large militia and seized the power.

    Although Qian Duguan himself knew he did not have enough power to contend for hegemony of the world, yet in this time of rising wind and rolling clouds, the world was in chaos, he was able to maintain Xiangyangs autonomy without any need to look up to anybody elses face. During the time where Li Mi, Du Fuwei, Li Zitong, and the other major powers were standing in opposition to each other, he was still able to strike water right and left, so much so that his business was flourishing, his trading brisk, majestic as if he was the local king.

    By dusk, Shang Xiuxun and her party rushed into Xiangyang just before the city gate was shut; after paying glistening-yellow gold entry duty at the gate, they entered the city.

    Xiangyangs city wall was tall and thick. The wall was equipped with arrow-platforms and watchtowers, as well as bell towers and drum towers opposite to each other, giving up an air of grandeur, so that before even entering the city, they already had deep impression.

    Upon stepping into the city, everybody entered the main street connecting the north and south city gates. Since it was already early evening, the lanterns were lit. Over the street were layer upon layer of towering arches and sky bridges connecting the unending row of store buildings from one side of the street to the other. The long street was simple and unadorned, with row upon row of residence buildings. Pedestrians and carriages traveled back and forth on the street, a picture of lively city in time of peace and security, making people forgot the fire beacon and dangerous situation on the outside.

    From time to time, a group of three to five armed men in blue warrior outfit passed by, with overbearing attitude, hence it was clear that they were Qin Duguans men. They almost did not see any young women on the street; occasionally they saw a few out-of-towners, but they were all scurrying along with heads hung low.

    Xu Yang, Luo Fang, and the others have been waiting for them in the city for quite a long time. Luo Fang has even prepared some rooms at a rather upscale hotel. After settling down, Kou and Xu, two boys remained in their room, waiting for Shang Xiuxuns further instruction.

    Kou Zhong laughed quietly and said, Luckily just now we were sitting down, plus we are wearing stable hands attire. Otherwise, with our builds, we might be recognized by Ling Feng and Jin Bo, those two muddled-eggs. [I know the official translation is scoundrel/[email protected], but I think muddled-egg is funnier.]

    Xu Ziling crossly said, Are you a narcissistic freak? One day without praising yourself makes you feel uncomfortable?

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Everythings good! I was just lightening up the atmosphere. Ay! This time we are going to Jingling, just thinking about Wanwan made my heart as heavy as lead; I feel so upset that I wanted to cry. Not to mention there is also the Ol Die to be dealt with!

    Xu Ziling sat on the bed with blank expression on his face. It was quite a while later that he said, So finally you decide to stand head-to-head with the Ol Die? How do you feel?

    Kou Zhong dejectedly sat down on a chair by the door; the corner of his mouth revealed a hint of bitter smile as he said, I only know that this time he will be unwilling to let me off. But if I have a chance, I still want to let him off one more time, to make it even, nobody owes the other anything.

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, Now thats a good man; outstanding!

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, But this time dont expect any chance to do a good mans deed. Whether it will be a one-on-one fight or we meet in the battlefield; we are still a notch below him. Jianghuai Army is a matchless powerful army; it cant be compared to the Four Big Bandits mob army.

    Xu Ziling muttered hesitantly, Beautiful Shifu is sending Liu Zongdao back to the Ranch; what exactly is her plan?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Once Xu yaodao [demon Taoist] pinches his fingers to calculate, wont he know everything?

    Smiling, Xu Ziling said, Just go to your granny; as soon as you have a chance you framed me.

    While Kou Zhong was roaring in laughter, Luo Fang knocked on their door and entered, We have a reservation at Jia Xiang Lou [House of Fragrance] the biggest restaurant around here for two banquet tables on the second floor. Come with me!

    The two boys were greatly astonished; they did not expect that under the circumstances, Shang Xiuxun still did not forget to show of extravagance.

    ※ ※ ※

    The House of Fragrance had three floors, bottom, middle and top. The third floor was exclusively for distinguished guests. Unless frequent visitors and local celebrities, practically nobody else would be able to make any reservation.

    Flying Horse Ranch were outsiders, so they could only reserve tables on the first and second floor, plus Xu Yang still had to bribe the proprietor that he gained a face and thus was able to make this arrangement.

    Not only Shang Xiuxun was wearing mens clothing, she also darkened her face a little, and stuck two pieces of slanted moustache, giving the impression of a Confucian scholar. Although her overall appearance was rather comical, it was better than showing off her beauty, which was capable of causing the downfall of a city.

    Looking at her outlandish look, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling nearly split their sides laughing, but struggled really hard not to.

    The crazy thing was: Shang Xiuxun did not consider them being disobedient; she simply smiled slightly, and proceeded to take the lead together with Liang Zhi.

    Once the group was assembled, they walked down the street.

    Shang Peng, Shang He, two old men, were tasked with guarding the rear.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling understood that more and more people recognized them; without much choice they pulled their servants hat low, covering their foreheads down to their eyebrows. They also deliberately hunched their backs that walking has become quite an ordeal.

    Luo Fang, who was walking beside them, asked in bewilderment, How come you become so sneaky all of a sudden?

    Avoiding a group of people walking straight toward them, Kou Zhong put on a fierce-looking Jianghu thugs and replied in a low, serious tone, Even Changzhu has to put on an act; we as subordinates also have to conceal our true identity, right?

    Suddenly there was a commotion to their left; pedestrians scattered everywhere. To their surprise, there were two gangs of more than a dozen men each were involved in street brawl; they chased each other along the street, sabers and swords flew everywhere.

    Luo Fangs mind was divided; he quickly pulled the two boys aside.

    With her hands behind her back, Shang Xiuxun stood boldly, as if she was interested in watching the fierce battle where flesh and blood splashing everywhere.

    Puzzled, Kou Zhong turned to Luo Fang and Xu Ziling and said, Did you see that? Arent those Qian Duguans subordinates, the Xiang Han Pai disciples? Why are they watching with folded arms and not try to interfere?

    Xu Ziling turned around and sure enough, he saw a group of seven, eight men wearing blue warrior outfits, mingled among the crowd watching the bustling scene. Not only they acted as spectators, they even continuously gesticulated excitedly that their spittle splattered flew around.

    Luo Fang was not surprised; he said, This is Qian Duguans rule; as long as it does not harm his interest, he adopts neutral position to all fights and vendettas among the Jianghu people. Besides, even if he wanted to interfere, there is really not much that he could do.

    Kou Zhong was speechless. Is there still law and order? he asked.

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling replied, Law and order have long gone.

    Kou Zhongs eyes flashed sharply, but he no longer spoke.

    Meanwhile, victory and defeat would be decided soon. The beaten group left behind several dead bodies as they ran toward a side alley.

    The Xiang Han Pai warriors in blue outfits swarmed around to drag the dead bodies away. In the blink of an eye the street returned to its former lively condition, so that it was hard for others to believe that something has just happened here.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were aghast, but Luo Fang remained calm, as if nothing had happened.

    After crossing an intersection, they could see the House of Fragrance big signboard in the distance, while from across the street they heard the sound of bamboo flute and string ensemble, mixed with the sound of finger-guessing game, gambling and drinking.

    Turning his head around, Kou Zhong saw a pleasure house. The entrance was packed with people; it was unusually busy.

    Four or five rough-looking bodyguards were stopping the guests coming into the brothel; perhaps they wanted to check whether the guests had enough money in their purse.

    Kou Zhong could not help stopping to watch. While he was thinking about his and Xu Zilings own adventure, that each time they visited a brothel, the result has always been a disaster, he could not help laughing inwardly, three people bumped into him.

    He did not dare to reveal his martial art skill, hence using ordinary peoples step he simply moved aside. Right this moment, one of them reached out to grope his pocket.

    Inwardly Kou Zhong was delighted, thinking that you dare to fully use your magic hand to me, an expert in stealing away other peoples silver pouch, it was just like brandishing a large hatchet in front of Lu Ban [legendary master craftsman, called the father of Chinese carpentry]. Thereupon he unleashed his Severing-arteries Skill he learned from Tu Shufang, the chief manager of Zhai Rangs household. In one grab he already caught the opponents wrist.

    The man was about to struggle, Kou Zhong sent a stream of true qi into his wrist; immediately his entire body went numb.

    When the other two men saw what happened, they scurried away in panic.

    You are hurting me!

    Kou Zhong looked closer; turned out the perpetrator was a sixteen, seventeen years old boy with rather delicate features; he did not look like a bandit at all.

    Remembering his own life back in Yangzhou, Kou Zhongs heart softened. His left hand took out a piece of gold, he stuffed it into the boys hand and said in low voice, Your pickpocket skill is so sub-standard; you shouldnt continue doing this!

    Dumb as a wooden chicken, the boy looked at him, and then he looked at the gold in his hand; his eyes revealed a grateful look.

    From ahead, Luo Fang turned around and called, Xiao Ning, come on!

    Patting the boys shoulder, Kou Zhong hurriedly caught up with Luo Fang and Xu Ziling.

    ※ ※ ※

    By the time the three of them climbed the stairs onto the second floor, Shang Xiuxun and the others had already been seated around two of the five tables by the windows facing the street.

    The entire second floor was clamorous and crowded with all kinds of people. But one of the tables next to the window was occupied by only one person.

    This persons body type was majestic. Just looking at his back, others would feel that he exuded some kind of terrifying aura.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings countenance changed; they groaned inwardly, because even if this person had turned into ashes, they would still be able to recognize that this back belonged to Ba Fenghan.

    The waiters and other guests appeared to be accustomed to this young martial art master who occupied an entire table all by himself; nobody even showed unusual look toward him.

    While the two boys were contemplating whether they should turn around and slip away to avoid being recognized by him and thus unmasked their identity, Ba Fenghan already turned his head around to look. He flashed a meaningful smile toward the two boys. And then his gaze turned toward Shang Xiuxun, and his face immediately revealed an astounded look.

    Lou Fang has also noticed Ba Fenghan; immediately he pulled the two boys along and hissed, Dont just stand here and block the path unless you want to create trouble. Come on!

    Helplessly the two boys followed him to sit on the table adjacent to Ba Fenghans table. Copying him, they also sat with their backs facing the head of the flight of stairs. Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan were only separated by a distance of half a zhang or so, while at the same time he blocked Ba Fenghans line of sight toward Shang Xiuxun, who was sitting on the seat closest to the corner.

    Ba Fenghans table had a pot of wine and several dishes of appetizers. But looking at those dishes, it was obvious that he had not touched the food at all; he was simply pouring his own drink in a leisurely manner of a martial art master.

    His sword was laid down on the table, but they did not see his saber.

    Shang Xiuxun leaned forward slightly and looked back toward Ba Fenghan; her pretty eyes showed that she was emotionally moved. Obviously she was shaken by Ba Fenghans perfect wild, leisurely, and extremely masculine countenance and build.

    Swept by Ba Fenghans penetrating gaze, the other people sitting in Shang Xiuxuns table: Liang Zhi, Xu Yang, Wu Yan, Shang He and Shang Peng, all felt a chill in their hearts. How formidable! they cried out inwardly; nobody has ever expected they would encounter this kind of rarely seen martial art master who was still this young. But nobody knew who he was.

    Suddenly someone on the street shouted loudly, Ba Fenghan, come down to receive your death!

    Immediately the entire restaurant gradually quieted down. But there were still comments like Here we go again!, Lets watch some excitement, and the like, rising and falling in succession, until finally it grew so quiet that even the sound of a falling pin would be heard clearly.

    Astounded, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked down and saw standing on the street were four men, tall and short, but each mans eyes revealed ominous glint. With weapons in their hands, they issued challenge to Ba Fenghan, who was sitting upstairs.

    Shang Xiuxun and the others were all emotionally moved.

    Ba Fenghan was a martial art expert from the Western Regions. These past couple of years he unceasingly challenge martial art masters from famous houses and schools, as well as local heroes and evil tyrants, in all parts of the country, yet suffered not even one defeat. So much so that the families seeking revenge assembled and besieged him, yet he was still able to escape easily. His reputation has spread in Jianghu for a long time. Together with Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Hou Xibai and Yang Xuyan, they were known as most outstanding martial art masters of the present days young generation, obtaining the highest accolades.

    In the eyes of the Wulin people, it was only after they succeeded in assassinating Ren Shaoming that Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings prestige barely caught on with the other three, and they were considered as one entity, unlike the other three, who were considered able to assume personal responsibility.

    The four challengers on the street were wearing black warrior outfits of the same style. Their ages ranged from around thirty to around forty. The tallest guy was wielding a pair of hooks, while the other three used sabers. Their appearance looked fierce and tough, making others feel that they were not of the benevolent type.

    Luo Fang said in a low voice, Did you see the plum blossom insignia embroidered on the lapel of their robes? These four are the leaders of the Plum Blossom School. Together with their Laoda [oldest/big boss] Gu Yue, they are known as the Five Vicious Plum Blossoms. Their subordinates numbers more than a hundred young men, specialist in breaking into a house for robbery, and they wont shrink from any crime. I wonder if their Laoda was killed that they came here to seek revenge.

    This moment, the tall guy thundered, Little Thief Ba, get out here! Dages [big brother] debt of blood must be repaid by your blood.

    Kou Zhong raised his thumb toward Luo Fang, praising him for hitting the target at the first guess, so that Luo Fang was feeling very proud of himself.

    Calm and composed, Ba Fenghan poured the wine from the pot into his cup; without even looking at the four remainders of the Five Vicious Plum Blossoms, he smiled and said, What qualifications do you have that you ask me to get out for you? I can take care of your Laoda in less than three moves. If you can take one move, I will be very surprised.

    As if he knew that Shang Xiuxun was watching him with rapt attention, he turned his head around and raised his cup to toast her with a smile. Rather unnaturally Shang Xiuxin averted her gaze to avoid his.

    With a sudden shout, as if the earth was struck by scorching thunder, one of the Vicious leaped up at an angle with the intention of charging onto the second floor.

    Ba Fenghan let out a cold snort, his eyes were still fixed on the side view of Shang Xiuxuns face. Fast beyond humans understanding the cup in his left hand moved. The wine inside the cup turned into droplets of arrows shooting at lightning-fast speed toward the enemy who was leaping upstairs.

    The mans feet have just left the ground, his roar had not yet stopped, the arrows of droplets accurately pierced his mouth. The mans entire body shook severely; his eyes, ears, mouth and nose spurted blood, his head was thrown backward, he fell flat on his back and died a violent death on the spot.

    The entire second floor stood up with a thunder-like roar.

    It was the first time that these people personally witnessed someone killing the enemy using droplets of wine as arrows, and the victim was an evil bully who ran amuck the region.

    Flying Horse Ranch people were all shaken as well.

    Only Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys, continued drinking their tea calmly as if nothing has happened.

    The other three Vicious turned pale with fright; their aggressive arrogance disappeared without a trace. Lifting up their dead comrades body, they immediately covered their head and sneaked away like a rat, provoking the hooting and booing of the people watching down the street from the second floor windows.

    Ba Fenghan acted as if what he just did was a trivial matter; he resumed his leisure drinking. Soon afterwards the restaurant was also back to its former condition, just like the street after the two gangs brawl earlier, as if nothing had ever happened.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling heard someone on the table behind them speaking in low voice, This was the seventh idiot who did not like to have a long life. They could be considered lucky; prior to this, those who came were more powerful than they, but half of them could not leave alive.

    The food and wine arrived.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling no longer had any interest in Ba Fenghan; plus they saw that he did not come to provoke them, hence feeling relieved, they chewed vigorously. On the contrary, Shang Xiuxun, who was usually addicted to food, perhaps because of Ba Fenghans influence, she appeared to be heavy-hearted. Only after eating two pieces of yellow-croaker fish, she put down her chopsticks.

    Shang Peng and Shang He, two old men, still from time to time looked at Ba Fenghan, sizing him up.

    Suddenly a voice was coming from the top of the stairs, I want those two tables!

    The waiters stunned voice was heard, But the guests have not left!

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stared at each other in horror, knowing something was wrong, simply because they recognized this repulsive voice belonged to Qu Aos first disciple Changshu Mou. They were sure this time he came to confront Shang Xiuxun and her men.

    Evidently the Flying Horse Ranch people also knew who Changshu Mou was. Other than Shang Xiuxun and Peng, and He, the two old guys, they all looked keyed up and alert.

    Naturally the two boys did not dare to look back; thinking that the opponent has come prepared, they would be lucky if after an all-out battle the entire team could retreat safely.

    Ba Fenghan seemed to be entranced; he did not pay any attention to what was going on behind him at all.

    More than a dozen footsteps appeared behind Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, a womans voice shouted, We want to use these two tables; go!

    It was the voice of the Tiele beauty, Hua Lingzi, who once exchanged blows with Xu Ziling.

    Because Kou and Xu were sitting with their backs facing them, they were not yet aware about these two big adversaries presence.

    It was as if Ba Fenghan had just woken up from his stupor; he laughed aloud and said, The disciples that Qu Ao is sending out are all so overbearing like this?

    When the guests at the two tables behind the two boys learned that the people who wanted to use their tables were Qu Aos disciples, they immediately became as tame as sheep and ran away in panic.

    Changshu Mou came to the table behind Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, and deliberately sat down with his back toward the windows. His back was less than half a zhang away from Kou and Xu, two boys. To his left was Ba Fenghan, to his right was Shang Xiuxun. The distance between them was less than a zhang; the situation was indeed very strange.

    One after another the other martial art masters on Changshu Mous side sat down; their number happened to be twenty even, Genggehuer and Hua Lingzi separately sat down on Changshu Mous left and right.

    Seeing the waiter was still standing with trembling hands and feet and did not immediately clear up the leftovers on the table from the previous guests, Changshu Mou calmly said, When I, Changshu Mou, was still in my humble country, I have already heard Ba Xiongs illustrious name, and was already filled with admiration, wishing earnestly that I can have an opportunity to ask for your brilliant guidance. I wonder if in these couple of days Ba Xiong has spare time, can we agree on a time and a place where we can talk intimately?

    Ba Fenghan drank the wine in his cup in one gulp, and casually threw the cup to the floor between him and Changshu Mou.


    The china cup shattered into pieces and scattered all over the floor.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glances; inwardly they were greatly surprised. Whether it was intentional or unintentional, this Ba kid unexpectedly was helping them!

    Calm and composed, Ba Fenghan said, Selecting an auspicious date is not as good as a chance encounter. I will leave town tomorrow, just let me, Ba Fenghan, see how much of Qu Aos skill has Changshu Xiong mastered.

    Everybody halted their chopsticks; several hundreds eyes were all on Changshu Mou, wanting to know how he would react.

    Genggehuer and Hua Lingzis countenance changed suddenly. While they were about to rise, Changshu Mou waved his hand to stop them, and then he let out a long laughter that shook the roof tiles.

    Those in the restaurant who knew whats what were emotionally moved; they heard the sound of his laughter was high-pitched but not overbearing, yet it was able to pierce their eardrums. Obviously in terms of both inner and outer skills, Changshu Mou had reached transformation stage.

    The laughter suddenly stopped.

    Although there was no wind, Changshu Mous white clothes suddenly fluttered; immediately a burst of cold and sharp murderous aura arose. A gentle and soft smile appeared on his handsome face, as he shook his head and said with a sigh, What a delight. Too bad right now I have an important thing to do. I wonder if Ba Xiong could stay a bit longer?

    And then he turned toward the waiter, who was standing on the side without knowing what to do, and barked his order, Give me two more orders of the same food that the friends from Flying Horse Ranch behind me ordered. Go!

    The waiter hurried away.

    Shang Xiuxun knew the enemy would make their move anytime; she signaled her men to instruct them who should fight and who should leave.

    This is called he who comes is surely ill-intentioned, no one well meaning will come [i.e. be careful not to trust strangers].

    Changshu Mous party seemed to have very high confidence, they must have something to rely on; perhaps they still have hidden troops downstairs or outside the building. However, merely Changshu Mou, three martial brothers and sister, already had formidable power.

    The other seventeen Tiele warriors had understated expression; each one was as calm as ordinary people. Those with discerning eyes would be able to tell that these men were not to be trifled with.

    In the restaurant, crow and peacock made no sound [i.e. absolute silence]; nobody was willing to leave and miss watching the excitement. Everybody was waiting quietly for Ba Fenghans response.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked down to the street, and found out that the street, which was originally bustling with people coming and going, has suddenly turned as quiet as a ghost domain; the stores and shops have closed their doors, and not a single human being was to be found. Immediately they realized that Changshu Mous operation to deal with the Flying Horse Ranch has received Qian Duguans tacit approval; they could not help shivering in fear.

    Ba Fenghans voice rang out, This is indeed a coincidence. I was going to deal with two friends from the Flying Horse Ranch for some personal gratitude and grudges; would Changshu Xiong also wait a little bit?

    Both Shang Xiuxun and Changshu Mous men were surprised.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew it was time for the ugly woman to meet the father-in-law. While they were looking at each other with wry smile on their faces, Ba Fenghan suddenly muttered as if he was talking to himself, Why is Junyu late?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were gob smacked; they both thought that it would be worse if they came across Fu Junyu.

    Shang Xiuxuns gaze fell on them, her eyes gleamed with cold flashes.

    Kou Zhong finally spoke up; he sighed and said, Since Changshu Xiong lost your golden shields, I wonder if you are now using iron shields, copper shields, wooden shields, leather shields, or perhaps rotten shields?

    This remark was like a sharp tip suddenly appeared out of nowhere. First, Changshu Mou was greatly shaken; next, he turned around and seeing Kou Zhong, he stared in disbelief at the two boys.

    Luo Fang was even more shocked; along with everybody elses golden eyes and fiery gaze, he stared fiercely at the two boys.

    Kou Zhong turned around and flashed Changshu Mou one of his splendid smiles. He even raised his hand to greet him and said, Hello! You have fallen into a trap! Wanwan is secretly conspiring with us; otherwise, how could you idiots drop by here to receive a beating today? Ha! Really funny!

    And then, pointing at the two new shields hanging on Changshu Mous back, he roared in laughter and said, Turns out its iron. Ha! Suddenly you became poor!

    Next, he turned toward Shang Xiuxun, who was glowering at him, winked and said, Changzhu Daren, please be magnanimous; we, two brothers, will atone for our crimes by meritorious acts!

    Other than those in the know, everybody listening was baffled; they were unclear on who exactly Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were. However, just by the fact that Changshu Mous side did not recklessly make their move, they knew that these two boys must have unusual background.

    With a tender laugh Hua Lingzi said, We should be the one who said interesting; let this Miss see how you, these two kids, are going to render meritorious acts?

    Finished speaking, two short blades immediately moved from her sleeves into her hands.

    Hold on! Ba Fenghan suddenly shouted.

    Just like that, the swords drawn and bows bent atmosphere was temporarily suppressed.

    Genggehuer had found early on that Ba Fenghan was unpleasant to the eye; he laughed coldly and said, Isnt Ba Xiong meddling in other peoples business too much?

    Ba Fenghan sneered and said, Whether I am meddling or not, it depends on my mood. But if even a little bit of face you are not willing to grant me, dont blame Zaixia for putting my foot down.

    Even with Changshu Mous arrogant and conceited character, he was unwilling to deal with the Flying Horse Ranchs martial art masters and Kou and Xu, two boys at the same time; not to mention with the addition of Ba Fenghan, a formidable opponent. Thereupon he put down his ambitious and ruthless character. With his back against Kou Zhong, he sat comfortably in his chair and slapped the table and shouted, Why havent the food and wine been served yet?

    Shang Xiuxuns silver-bell-like laughter rang out, attracting the entire restaurants attention. She then said calmly, I have long heard Ba Xiongs saber and swords mutual splendor; is it possible for you to let Xiuxun broaden her horizon?

    Everybody, including Ba Fenghan himself, was stunned; nobody understood why grew new branch out of a knot by suddenly issuing challenge to Ba Fenghan.

    Except Xu Ziling. He understood a little bit her frame of mind. First of all, she was annoyed that the two boys deceived her, and then she was mad at Ba Fenghan sticking his nose right this moment by wanting to settle scores with the two boys, which would give Changshu Mou an unfair advantage.

    This moment Xu Ziling turned his head to look at Ba Fenghan. Ba Fenghan also happened to look at him. As the two mens eyes met, it was as if four streaks of lightning struck against each other in the air.

    Xu Ziling straightened up his back and shoulders, his imposing manner rose up steeply, revealing a terrifying graceful bearing that no one, Kou Zhong included, has ever seen before. Calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, he cast a sidelong glance toward Ba Fenghan and said with a smile, Has Ba Xiongs saber been broken?

    Ba Fenghan was astonished, Xu Xiong has indeed guessed correctly. Ten days ago Zaixia met a martial art master that I have never met before, which resulted in my saber got broken. How did Xu Xiong guess?

    As soon as the two words Xu Xiong came out of his mouth, the room was abuzz with people expressing their opinions. By this time everybody guessed that these two brothers must be Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong, who dealt with Ren Shaoming.

    Shang Xiuxun revealed an extremely angry expression. She stomped her feet under the table to vent out her anger, yet in her fragrant heart she was secretly pleasantly surprised; it was indeed an extreme contradiction.

    Liang Zhi, Luo Fang and the others were dumbstruck; in their hearts, there was an equal amount of disbelief and delight.

    When Ba Fenghan mentioned that he encountered a strong opponent that he had never met before, his eyes revealed an extremely complex expression, as if it was a very memorable encounter. Noticing that, Kou Zhongs heart was moved; he said, Whats so difficult to guess? We also know that the opponent Ba Xiong encountered was a woman as beautiful as an immortal from the Heaven; her fragrant name is Wanwan. Ha! Isnt that right?

    Ba Fenghan burst out laughing. He said, Right! Ha! But Kou Xiong is only half right. She did look amazingly beautiful, but she was not Wanwan at all; rather, the most outstanding female martial art master since the beginning of Dugu Clans history.

    Dugu Feng? Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling blurted out together.

    This time Ba Fenghan was stunned. Have you fought with her too? he asked in astonishment.

    Changshu Mou joined in; he asked in amazement, Does that mean Ba Xiong was losing a battle? How come I have never heard about this woman?

    Kou Zhong sneered and said, Whats so strange about you never heard about it? Isnt Ba Xiong also unclear about this female demon Wanwan?

    Changshu Mou was displeased, I was talking to Ba Xiong, you interrupted me, he said.

    Kou Zhong was about to retort, Shang Xiuxuns tender voice snapped, Why so much bullsh1t? Just shut up! Ba Fenghan, let me see if your sword is stronger than your saber.

    The room grew quiet again.

  18. #118
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 10

    Book 10 Chapter 10 Strange Move to Suppress The Enemy

    Before Ba Fenghan had any chance to reply, Fu Junyus voice came from the top of the stairs, Why is everybody quieted down? What happened here?

    She appeared like an apparition or a demon that come and go without any trace. Although there was no lack of capable people on the upstairs, no one heard any footsteps coming up the stairs.

    When things come to a head, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling calmed down instead; they took the stand and were ready to adapt to any circumstances.

    Ba Fenghan rose up to his full height; he laughed and said, Finally Junyu is here; I have been waiting for you for five days!

    While walking over, Fu Junyu swept her gaze around the room.

    This Korean beauty was wearing purple-red warrior outfit inside, and purple-red cloak on the outside, in stark contrast with her snow-white skin. Her glamour radiated all around, taking away the limelight from Hua Lingzi.

    However, if Shang Xiuxun was willing to reveal her true identity, although Fu Junyu was an outstanding beauty, she would still have to concede to her.

    Fu Junyu gaze landed on Hua Lingzi first before moving to Changshu Mou; she said in astonishment, Unexpectedly its Tieles Changshu Mou.

    Changshu Mou immediately rose up to salute and said, Turns out its Yijian Dashi Old Fus distinguished disciple Miss Junyu. Changshu Mou is paying his respect.

    With Changshu Mou standing up like this, he was blocking Fu Junyus line of sight toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling.

    Ba Fenghan took this opportunity to signal Kou and Xu, two boys; he made a helpless gesture by spreading out his hands with a bitter smile on his face. Obviously he was saying, I already warned you guys, but you did not leave earlier. Now you cannot blame me.

    Fu Junyu halted her steps to return the greeting and said, Turns out its the White Clothes Golden Shields Changshu Mou Xiong. Junyu failed to show her respect.

    The two were so polite and courteous toward each other, so that casual onlookers were unable to make any sense of the tangled and complicated relationship between the two.

    Finished with the propriety, Fu Junyu walked over toward Ba Fenghan, who was standing respectively, waiting to receive her. From the corner of her eye she suddenly caught Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong. In shock, she stopped right on her track.

    The two boys hastily left their seats and greeted in chorus, Yu Yi, how are you? Nephews pay you their respect!

    Other than Ba Fenghan, who was still smiling wryly, the others were even more confused.

    Fu Junyus phoenix eyes shot a deep cold murderous intention. Whos your Yu Yi? she said frostily, Watch the sword!


    The sword left its sheath.

    This moment Fu Junyu was standing closest to Xu Xiling, about a zhang away. Once the sword flashed, immediately it turned into a dozen sword shadows.

    Just before the sword momentum reached him, Xu Ziling let out a cold shout and took half a step forward. Unexpectedly his palm cut into the empty space separating the two.

    It was such a simple chop with the edge of the palm, but to those who watched the process, there was some kind of extremely bizarre, yet flawless feeling.

    First of all, Xu Ziling gave up the impression that this palm chop carried the power of his entire being, yet it also gave up the impression of light, powerless chop. The contradiction was very difficult to explain.

    Secondly, the observers clearly saw every detail of his movement from start to finish, yet the entire process felt totally natural, without beginning, without an end. Just like the motion of the stars in the blue dome of heaven, which has no beginning and has no end, just like the flight of a bird, or the path of a swimming fish, unconstrained like a heavenly steed soaring across the skies, without leaving any trace.

    Thirdly, the moment his palm cut the empty space, Fu Junyus suffocating sword qi seemed to be all of a sudden sucked clean by this one palm, leaving only an empty, floating sword shadow, which no longer constitute any killing power.

    To experts like Ba Fenghan, Changshu Mou, Shang Xiuxun and others on their caliber, it was even clearer that this one move by Xu Ziling had deadlocked the strongest attack route of Fu Junyus sword technique. The timing and the position were like seamless heavenly clothes.

    None of the spectators was not emotionally moved.

    Letting out a muffled groan, momentarily Fu Junyu was unable to alter her sword momentum that she was forced to retract her sword and even took half a step back. With all blood drained from her pretty face, she said in shock, Yijian Technique?

    Everybody was even more stupefied.

    They all knew that Yijian Technique was the consummate skill of Koreans Yijian Dashi [reminder: dashi great master, sometimes used to refer to Buddhist monks] Fu Cailing, with which he moved unhindered outside the Central Plains. As Fu Cailins direct disciple, naturally Fu Junyu was also an expert of the same skill. Therefore, if it were Xu Ziling who uttered that question, everybody would feel it was proper and to be expected as a matter of course, yet now it was the other way around, naturally the spectators were even more confused.

    Xu Ziling stood proudly with both hands hanging free by his side, and a faint smile on the corners of his mouth, looking absolutely elegant and outstanding, proud and aloof above the crowd. He said respectfully, I still need to ask Yu Yis directions.

    The murderous intent in Fu Junyus beautiful eyes grew even stronger.

    Kou Zhong knew the situation was about to get worse; being a quick-witted person that he was, he suddenly shouted, Changshu Mou, watch the saber!

    The Moon in the Well left its scabbard and curved toward Changshu Mou, who was standing by the table.

    Yellow glow flashed, saber qi filled the air.

    Ah! Shang Xiuxun cried out. She did not expect that in Kou Zhongs hand, this saber could generate such an unusual glow.

    Changshu Mou did not expect Kou Zhong to suddenly make his move to challenge him; the most aggravating thing was that following the opponents saber, there was a burst of spiraling saber power, so that other than withdrawing from the table, he basically had no other choice.

    Right now he did not have time to examine why Kou Zhongs power had advanced by leaps and bounds, and was capable of sending out this kind of unheard of qi power, which was even stranger than the Yuwen Clans Mysterious Ice Energy.

    Letting out a cold shout, the pair of shields moved to his hands, while at the same time he lowered his torso in a horse stance, and in split second concentrated all the power in his body. Right shield moved first, left shield held back, both shield met Kou Zhongs divine as if it was made by heaven, saber strike.

    His tablemates, Genggehuer, Hua Lingzi and the seven Tiele martial art masters, were completely shrouded by Kou Zhongs saber qi. Their response capability was inferior to Changshu Mou, naturally their only way out was to scramble away from the table to evade.

    Immediately chairs were overturned, the people scattered, chicken flew and the dogs scampered.

    Kou Zhongs saber strike did achieve what he expected, while at the same time it intimidated Fu Junyu, letting her know that without Ba Fenghans assistance, basically she did not have any chance to deal with the two boys alone; naturally she must not act recklessly.

    Ba Fenghans eyes lit up. Just now Xu Zilings palm strike was undoubtedly an amazing move throughout all ages. But the simplicity was in the defensive style. Not only it would not incite the opponents desire to win, it was also effective in calming down the opponents arrogance; hence it carried the sense of subduing the army without a fight.

    On the contrary, Kou Zhongs saber strike was completely offensive, a domineering move, a sweeping, insufferably arrogant, something that would not go back unless it sees blood. Immediately this martial art master, who had taken an oath to climb to the summit of martial art study, had his blood boiling.


    Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well hacked down on Changshu Mous right shield. Like a mountain flash flood break out the dam, a powerful vortex of energy, resembling a thousand whirlpools all of a sudden rolled toward the iron shield.

    Changshu Mou lowered his body even more, using the amazing skill Concentrating Nine Real Changes taught personally by Qu Ao, within a snap of the fingers he turned the innate true qi within his body into nine sequences to withstand Kou Zhongs invading vortex of energy, also to stop his shield from spinning around like a windmill.

    If he was using his former golden shields, due to the exceptionally good metal property, which contained softness in the hardness of the metal, this single clash would not be able to determine victory or defeat. However, this pair of shields had just been forged a few days ago. The pure steels property was not suitable for Changshu Mous usage. It was meant to be temporary replacement.

    All around the room, only he and Kou Zhong were clear of this fact. The moment the shield and the saber impacted, the shield suddenly became the point of power struggle between the two combatants true qi.

    Kou Zhongs power was trying to spin the shield and wrestle it from Changshu Mous hand, while Changshu Mous power was trying to twist it in opposite direction to counteract the opponents violent spinning force.

    The two streams of true energy collided, the iron shield immediately fell apart.


    Changshu Mous left shield moved up to fend off Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well. Kou Zhong put his saber back into its scabbard and laughed aloud, You broke another one. The blacksmiths will have new business. Hee!

    Genggehuer and the others, including the Tiele martial art masters on the other table, immediately stood up in anger; they all drew their weapons.

    Shang Xiuxun also issued her order, Flying Horse Ranch people also stood up from their table with weapons withdrawn; the battle could happen at any moment.

    When the guests at the seven, eight tables nearby saw how formidable Kou Zhongs saber was, they were afraid to be the fish in the moat [i.e. collateral damage], and thus scattered everywhere, clearing up the dozen or so tables on this side of the window.

    Changshu Mou raised his arm to stop his men from making any move. After looking down at the remainder of the iron shield on his right hand, he casually tossed it to the floor, laughed involuntarily, and said, Kou Zhong, do you understand Jianghu rules? You mounted a sneak attack like that, what kind of hero are you?

    Greatly surprised, Kou Zhong said, That day when Fang Zhuangzhu [village master, see Book 8 Chapter 11] and I were chatting, didnt Changshu Xiong also drop from the sky and mounted a sneak attack? Whatever kind of hero Changshu Xiong is, I am also that kind of hero.

    Although she knew that she was not supposed to laugh at a time like this, Shang Xiuxun could not hold it. Pfft! she burst out giggling, and greatly diffusing the swords drawn and bows bent intense atmosphere.

    Kou Zhong cupped his fist toward Shang Xiuxun and said, Thank you very much Changzhu for cheering on me.

    Shang Xiuxun glowered at him viciously. But with her pair of fake moustache, she looked absolutely weird.

    Obviously Changshu Mou was at a loss. Looking up to the ceiling, he could only say, All right, three times, and then his eyes flashed with ominous glint as he coldly said, I wonder if Zaixia and Ba Xiongs fight can be momentarily postponed?

    Hearing that last sentence, everybody knew that since the battle was imminent, he wanted to clarify Ba Fenghans position first. The situation at hand was clear; whichever side Ba Fenghan and Fu Junyu stood with, that side would have assured victory.

    Kou Zhong signaled Xu Ziling with his eyes, hinting that if Ba Fenghan was not tactful, they would join hands and take care of him first. Although this was not an easy matter, they simply must try.

    A complicated look flashed through Ba Fenghans eyes. Finally he turned his gaze toward Fu Junyu.

    Fu Junyu maintained a wooden expression; it was quite a while later that she spoke up, No matter how Changshu Xiong look at it, you already lost by half a step. According to Jianghu rules, the gratitude and grudges between Changshu Xiong and these two boys must also be postponed.

    Noticing Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were looking at her, she angrily said, I am not helping you at all, I just dont want you to die under anybody elses hands! Why havent you

    Kou Zhong was afraid she might say the word get lost. If she did and they really get lost, they would lose quite a bit of face. Therefore, he cut her off in loud voice, Yu Yi please take care of yourself, we, two brothers, are showing filial piety toward Niang, the firmament can be our witness. And then he signaled Liang Zhi with his eyes.

    Liang Zhi understood; he bowed toward Shang Xiuxun and said, This place is unsuitable to stay for an extended period of time, Changzhu, let us continue our journey.


    Shang Xiuxun tossed two ingots of gold on the table and said coldly, Today its our Flying Horse Ranch treat! Finished speaking she walked out leisurely between the two groups of Tiele warriors. Shang Peng, Liang Zhi, and the others followed closely; they swaggered freely under the ominous glint of Changshu Mou and his mens eyes.

    ※ ※ ※

    Leaving the House of Fragrance, they saw the street was filled with Tiele warriors and the people of Xiangyang; fortunately, after considering the pros and cons, Changshu Mou did not issue any order to attack. However, naturally the enemy was unwilling to let the matter drop just like this.

    Shang Xiuxun made the decision to abandon their horses and luggage at the inn, and immediately climb the city wall to leave the city.

    Along the way Shang Xiuxun ignored Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong completely, but she did not drive them away either. Seeing Shang Xiuxun like that, other people, including Luo Fang, who has always been in good terms with them, did not dare to talk to the two boys.

    Xu Yang had already paid a lot of money to hire a cargo ship. This moment he added three more ingots of gold, ordering the boatman to sail immediately.

    It was only after the boat departed the dock and sailed down the River that everybody breathed a sigh of relief for being able to escape with their lives.

    The ship was spacious and sturdy; there were seven, eight cabins available for them to use. In a rather awkward atmosphere, Xu Yang assigned the cabin at the aft for Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. He said in a low voice, Changzhu is mad at you, the two of you better do something. Ay! I did not expect Er Zhishi to be that astute and able to see far ahead. After shaking his head with a sigh, he gave the two boys a friendly pat on the shoulders, and then without saying anything he went to the aft to swallow clouds and blow out fog.

    Kou Zhong whispered to Xu Ziling, Guarding against people, that we cannot do without. Ill go to check the boatman and his three mens foundation.

    When Kou Zhong went out to talk to the boatman, Luo Fang waited until Shang Xiuxun, Liang Zhi, Shang Peng, Shang He and the others went into their cabins, and then he went out to find Xu Ziling. Which one of you was that scar-faced Daxia? he asked.

    Xu Ziling was leaning against the railings, enjoying the night scenery on both sides of the river under the moonlight. Facing the night breeze, he laughed and said, The scar-faced part was real, but the Daxia part was a fake. We are brothers of the same Ranch, there is no need to speak superfluous words.

    Luo Fang gratefully said, I owe my little life to Xu Xiong. Hey! Your martial art skill is indeed formidable. Do you really know Yijian Technique? How did that one palm chop into the air force that b1tch [orig. poniang] to draw back?

    Xu Ziling explained, The logic is actually very simple; it does not matter what style or move, everything uses the good ol timing. As long as you can grasp the timing accurately, you can be one step ahead of the opponent in sealing the path of his attack and transfer of energy, and at certain point intercept and destroy, the opponent would find it difficult to make any changes, and becomes like having his hands and feet bound. If he strives to continue the attack, it would be akin to breaking his own strike, and wont have the power to meet the enemy.

    Luo Fang was speechless. He said, This principle is easy to grasp but difficult to put into practice. Like that Korean womans sword technique that has countless changes, I couldnt even see it. But even if I could see it clearly, it is still difficult to oppose her swift and fierce sword qi; so that even though I know the theory, it is useless to me.

    Knowing is always better than not knowing, Xu Ziling comforted him, As long as you set this target and train your eyesight and skill hard, one day you will succeed.

    Luo Fang seemed to comprehend this logic. This moment Kou Zhong was back and said cheerfully, There shouldnt be any problem. Turns out there is a small cabin at the aft. Since we are pastry chefs, we should be able to make some cakes and present it to Changzhu to make her happy.

    Xu Ziling understood his intention. Do we have enough ingredients to make some cakes? he asked.

    Kou Zhong whispered in his ear, The boatman has some lotus fragrance cake leftover. You know what to do! It should be all right as long as there is no poison in it.

    ※ ※ ※

    Knock! Knock! Knock!

    Who is it? Shang Xiuxuns voice came from the inside.

    Its Xiao Zhong and Xiao Ling delivering some snacks, Kou Zhong replied.

    Shang Xiuxuns response was tepid, I am not hungry! Dont come bothering me!

    Kou Zhong flashed Xu Ziling a there is hope expression. He smiled apologetically and said, Just now Changzhu ate only a little bit of food; it would be best if youll let me send you a little bit of cake, so that it is ready whenever Changzhu wants to eat!


    The wooden door opened, revealing Shang Xiuxuns fairy-like countenance. She stared coldly at the two boys for a moment before turning around and walked in.

    By the time the two boys pushed the door and came in, Shang Xiuxun was standing in front of the bed, with her back against them. Although she was still wearing mens clothing, her beautiful and shiny jet-black hair was cascading down her fragrant back like a sheet of delicate satin, filled with females most moving charming beauty.

    Kou Zhong put down those several pieces of shameful lotus fragrance cakes on the simple and crude small wooden table, and then with a flair he plopped his buttocks down on the chair, and signaled Xu Ziling to sit down as well.

    Why havent you left? Shang Xiuxun said in soft voice.

    Xu Ziling closed the door, and then with a bitter smile he said, We did not intentionally want to deceive Changzhu; it was just

    Shang Xiuxun cut him off, Who killed Mao Zao that night?

    Kou Zhongs tiger-eyes lit up. Changzhu, please understand, he said respectfully, That man was Xiao Ling.

    Shang Xiuxun slowly turned her delicate body. Stomping her feet, she said angrily, Really doesnt make any sense! I plainly tested you, but I could not detect any true qi inside your body.

    Kou Zhong said in great delight, Changzhu is back to your regular self! The fact is that we were using an extremely simple technique. All we need to do was to hide our true qi in an acupoint that nobody expects.

    Leaning against the window, Shang Xiuxun said with a frown, True qi is circulating endlessly, it flows continuously among the Eight Extraordinary Channels; how could you conceal it in a certain acupoint?

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, So thats how it is? But we can do it, and that demon Wanwan is even more superior.

    Whos Wanwan? Shang Xiuxun asked.

    Thats the reason why we must discuss it in details with Changzhu, Xu Ziling replied, This matter is extremely important; it even concerns Jinglings survival.

    Shang Xiuxun slowly walked toward the table and sat down on a chair that Xu Ziling pulled out for her. Tell me! she said solemnly.

  19. #119
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 11

    Book 10 Chapter 11 Under Heavy Rewards

    By midday the next day, the boat reached Hannan, another big city before Jingling. Entering the full harbor, they cast anchor at the dock. They saw boats coming back, but not one boat heading towards Jingling. The boatman went out to ask around, but opinions differed.

    Some said there were pirates blocking the water ways, some said the City of Jingling had been taken over by the Jianghuai Army, some even said that there was a water demon in the river, boring into the passing boats. In short, the people were in turmoil, nobody dared to proceed toward Jingling.

    Naturally this boatman was no exception. No matter how Xu Yang and the others tempted him, offering more money, he was unwilling to take the risk. Finally the boatman said, How about if I sell this boat to you, and you can take it to Jingling yourself?

    Xu Yang and the others looked at each other in dismay; simply because no one knew how to sail.

    Kou Zhong stepped forward bravely; he slapped his chest to indicate leave it to me.

    And thus the transaction, involving a huge amount of money, took place.

    After the boatman and his sailors left, carrying their gold in great delight, Kou Zhong said, We left our luggage and supplies at Xiangyang, and now since we are already in Hannan, we might as well go into the city to buy some supplies and make preparations. It would be best if we could buy a dozen or so strong bows and a thousand or so arrows, so that if something happens, we would not be caught in a difficult situation.

    He added, Also, some kerosene, oil cloth, and other materials. I am skilled in water battle; we will use fire to attack, so we must not be unprepared.

    Shang Xiuxun, who was still wearing mens clothing, asked in doubt, You really know how to do it?

    Immensely proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, Havent you heard about my bold and powerful victory over the Haisha Bang? If I did not have any weight in maritime warfare, how could I deal big blow on Haisha Bang?

    Liang Zhi modestly asked, So what else do you want to buy?

    Seeing Xu Ziling snickering on the side, Kou Zhong shouted, Whats so funny? And then he gave them a shopping list.

    Wu Yan, Luo Fang and the others listened with respectful attention, and then they left noisily, entered town and spread out to do some serious shopping.

    With nothing else to do, Kou Zhong proposed that they go to a restaurant by the dock to eat lunch.

    Liang Zhi shook his head and said, This is not a good time. It was not easy for us to obtain this ship. You go ahead! Ill stay to guard the ship.

    Shang Peng and Shang He also refused to go ashore.

    Seeing Kou Zhong looking at her expectantly and making an eye signal, Shang Xiuxuns heart softened. Very well! she agreed.

    Xu Ziling wanted to go back to his room to rest, but Kou Zhong pulled him to come along.

    ※ ※ ※

    As soon as Shang Xiuxun stepped into the restaurant, she wrinkled her brows.

    Turned out the inside was crowded to its bursting point; the restaurant was full with people from all trades[1], so that all thirty or so tables were filled to capacity.

    Shang Xiuxun turned around and was about to leave. But Kou Zhong pulled her sleeve and said, Changzhu, dont worry, subordinate can make arrangement.

    Shaking off his hand, Shang Xiuxun said, If you want me to sit on the same table as these people, just forget it. If you want to squeeze in, just squeeze in yourself!

    Giggling, Kou Zhong said, I told you not to worry. Changzhus temperament, we are quite clear about it. Just give me a few taels of silver first! Ill clear up a table immediately. Youll see.

    Shang Xiuxun crossly said, You have no money?

    Smiling mischievously, Kou Zhong said, I have a little bit, but how can I be compared to Changzhu whose riches rank high in the world?

    Shang Xiuxun painstakingly held her temper in check; she grabbed three taels of silver and dropped them on his outstretched palm.

    Kou Zhong took the money and boldly marched away.

    Shang Xiuxun scooted over toward Xu Ziling, who was standing quietly with his hands behind his back. She spoke gently, I have not yet had the opportunity to thank you!

    Xu Ziling knew she was referring to that night, where they fought a hard battle side-by-side; he smiled and said, That was an unforgettable memory; I should be the one who thanks you.

    Pfft! Shang Xiuxun burst into a tender giggle and said, You and Kou Zhong are practically two very different kinds of people, I really dont understand how you can mingle together. He loves to brag about little things and speaks about it as if it was a big thing; but you love to play down big things as if it was an insignificant matter.

    Xu Ziling said, Under normal circumstances, he is indeed, as you said, that kind of person; but in really important matters, in no way would he act willfully and make a scene. Otherwise everybody would have seen his other side!

    Shang Xiuxuns pretty face suddenly reddened; she said in a low voice, I suddenly feel very happy. Do you want to know why?

    A peculiar feeling crept into Xu Zilings heart; he asked in astonishment, What makes Changzhu suddenly opens up your heart?

    Shang Xiuxun shrugged her tender and beautiful shoulders, and said nonchalantly, No reason at all. Since I became Changzhu, this is the first time I feel happy for no particular reason. I only had this kind of feeling when I was little; I had never expected that today I can relive my childhood feeling.

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, Changzhus remark is really thought-provoking. Hey! That kid succeeded!

    Under heavy rewards, the waiter led them to a small table by the window. Not only nobody else tried to sit on it, they could also feast their eyes on scenic view of the Han River pier.

    After taking the order, the waiter bowed respectfully and left.

    Satisfied, Shang Xiuxun said, You do have a knack on doing things like this; but three taels of silver to buy an empty table is kind of expensive.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, Only one tael of silver.

    What about the other two? Shang Xiuxun asked in surprise.

    Without even thinking, Kou Zhong replied, To pay the bill later, of course! Right now you are dressed like a pampered, spoiled brat, a white-faced Gongzi of noble family; naturally youll have attendants like us whod settle the bill. Look! There are already people who stare at you with drooling mouth.

    Shang Xiuxuns entire face was burning; she spoke ferociously, Really dogs mouth wont grow ivory; cant you speak a bit more proper and polite?

    Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself; he said, Changzhu has fallen into a trap. He deliberately said those things to divide your attention, so that you wont force him to spit out the money he already pocketed. Do you think the wine and food we ordered will cost as much as two taels of silver?

    Shang Xiuxun was delighted, Very good! she said, Xiao Ling is helping me! Turning toward Kou Zhong, she spread her palm wide and protested coquettishly, Give it back!

    Kou Zhong grabbed her delicate jade-palm; scrutinizing it, he analyzed, This palm has three peaks, meaning fame and profit of every kind!

    Blushing profusely, Shang Xiuxun pulled her hand back, and crossly said, How could you be this rude?

    Not fair! Kou Zhong cried, Just now Changzhu let Xiao Ling pull your hand to have a heart-to-heart talk, but now I cant even read your palm?

    Greatly embarrassed, Shang Xiuxun said, How can there be such thing?

    From the corner of her eye she caught Xu Ziling bursting out laughing; she realized she had fallen into his trap again. Stomping her feet, she said, Dont think that I will fall into your trickery again! Quickly take out the silver you embezzled.

    Finished speaking, she covered her laughing mouth again, prompting more people to stare at her charming, pretty beyond human comprehension, pampered son of a wealthy family look.

    Kou Zhongs tiger-eyes flashed with cold rays; sweeping the restaurant, he scared those people that they hastily averted their gaze.

    Shang Xiuxun laughed until she was out of breath; she said, If you, Kou Daye is in urgent need of some money, eight or ten ingots of gold, I wont be stingy; why would you bother embezzling me a mere two taels of silver?

    Kou Zhong heaved a sigh of relief; flashing his brilliant smile, he said, Men who stretch out their hand to ask for money are the most useless. Only those who have guts will earn money with all their heart and all their strength.

    Hearing that, Xu Zilings heart was moved.

    These sentences pretty much summed up Kou Zhongs frame of mind in his endeavor to vie over the world; he disdained to do it just by hanging his hands by his side. The more difficult and the more challenging it was, he would be most interested; otherwise, he would have accepted Du Fuweis hard to refuse proposal the other day.

    Shang Xiuxun seemed to be in very good mood; she no longer argued with Kou Zhong. Meanwhile the waiter returned with their food. The two boys leaned over and started to chew. But she cast her gaze outside the window, looking at the boats turning back from the Han River.

    Who could tell me what had actually happened in Jingling? she mused.

    With his mouth full of food, Kou Zhong mumbled, One ingot of gold!

    What? Shang Xiuxun blurted out, I have not even settled the account of those two taels of silver with you, and now you want to be a hopeless ghost who demands money?

    Deadpan, Kou Zhong said, Under heavy rewards, there will be brave men. You want news, others want gold. Its fair and square!

    Seeing his outlandish behavior, Shang Xiuxun could not help glowering at him; but in the end she fished out an ingot of gold, while speaking disdainfully, Its easy for you to say; one tael of silver to buy an empty table, one ingot of gold to buy ghost news, but you dont know whether the person wanting to earn the gold will tell you rubbish.

    Kou Zhong swallowed his food. Sighing contentedly, he said, Money is supposed to be spent; money that dont get to be spent is a waste. This is a money in exchange of goods society, if it is used properly, not only it could make you enjoy everything comfortably, it could also make your life more colorful, and could even earn you fame and profit, and power too, to such an extent that the Emperors throne is not impossible to obtain.

    Shang Xiuxun was emotionally moved. Turns out you want to be like others who vie for the throne. But the money you spent so far has been mine!

    As the spectator, Xu Ziling was able to see more clearly. He knew that Kou Zhong has been going all out to win Shang Xiuxuns heart, to make her happy, and thus greatly reduced the distance between the two, so that in the future this beauty would support him.

    Against all expectation, Kou Zhong suddenly rose up to his full height and raised the gold high above his head. Whoever can tell me whats going on in Jingling, this gold will become his! he shouted loudly.

    His voice was full of energy; it immediately subdued the clamor that the noisy restaurant gradually quieted down. Everybodys eyes were on him. As soon as they saw the glittering yellow gold high up in the air, seventy-percent of the people there shouted, I know! and then stood up hurriedly, so that the restaurant was in an uproar.


    Kou Zhong pulled his Moon in the Well and waved it lightly; fast as lightning the treasured saber soared and embedded itself deep into the beam.

    While the blade that was outside the beam was still quivering endlessly, Kou Zhong thundered, I am Kou Zhong who cut off Ren Shaomings bird [or pen1s] head. If anybody dares to babbling nonsense to deceive me, or perhaps simply giving me news that everybody already knew, I will immediately break his mothers egg.

    After this, one after another the people sat back, no longer made any noise. Right this moment, a middle-aged man in scholar attire stood up smoothly, with an unspeakable calmness.

    Kou Zhong said, Everybody continue eating, your Daye does not like to be looked at!

    Everybody kept quiet out of fear; they simply buried their heads in the dining table. The sound of laughing and chatting was greatly reduced as well.

    Pointing to the middle-aged scholar, Kou Zhong called, You, come here!

    And then, sitting pompously, he said to Shang Xiuxun, who was still laughing like a trembling stem of flower, Interesting! This is the power of gold combined with the saber.

    Shang Xiuxun rolled her coquettish eyes to him, and swore under her breath, A dead evil tyrant whose entire body is covered in copper stench. But at the same time there was a peculiar feeling rising up in her fragrant heart.

    All along, in the Flying Horse Ranch she was aloof and remote. Forget about playing or joking with others, she did not even have anybody with whom she could vent up to unload her mind. Yet the kid in her presence was able to make her bursting with joy, mixed with bashful and anger, which was difficult to differentiate.

    It was undeniably a fresh and moving feeling.

    She could not help shooting a quick glance toward Xu Ziling, who appeared to be deep in thought; a totally different type of person, yet was also able to pull her heartstrings.

    The middle-aged scholar came to their table. The waiter hurriedly added a chair for him, while continuously blabbering Kou Ye this and Kou Ye that for fear that his service was unsatisfactory.

    After the waiter withdrew, Kou Zhong put the gold in front of the scholar, and said with an indifferent laugh, Let me hear first what makes you qualified to earn this gold.

    The scholar smiled and said, Zaixia Xu Xingzhi, a public figure in Jingling; formerly I held an official post as the secretary of Duba Villages Right Vanguard Fang Daoyuan, and only this morning I came here by boat. Kou Ye, do you think this qualification is enough? [Translators note: different Xu surname from Xu Zilings.]

    The man spoke with grace, his demeanor calm and collected, neither servile nor overbearing. The three could not help sizing him up again.

    Xu Xingzhi looked to be approximately thirty, his gaze ran deep without betraying his emotion, obviously he was well versed in martial arts and possessed considerable skills. His long eyes and straight nose, combined with his five-strand long beard, which matched very well with his delicate features, gave him the impression that he looked like a Taoist immortal.

    Kou Zhong nodded, No question about that, he said, Please continue!

    Xu Xingzhi looked up at the Moon in the Well stuck in the beam; he said slyly, The first thing in military operation is to gain military intelligence. I wonder if Kou Ye would be willing to add another ingot of gold?

    While Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were looking at each other in disbelief, Shang Xiuxun already took out another ingot of gold and heavily dropped it on the table in front of the scholar. Letting out a cold humph, she said, If what you say is not worth two ingots of gold, I will cut off your ear.

    Xu Xingzhi laughed aloud. He put the two ingots of gold into his pocket, and then calmly, without any sign of fear, he said, Dont worry, I totally earn these two ingots of gold.

    A bit impatient, Kou Zhong said, Speak up quickly!

    Xu Xingzhi was still calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos; he said slowly, Right now Jingling has worries outside and trouble inside. On the outside is Jianghuai Armys massive military force besieging the city, cutting off the water and land transport. In the inside is gorgeous female demon causing internal strife, brothers are massacring each other.

    Kou Zhong and the others countenance changed immediately; at the same time they felt that the two ingots of gold were money well spent.

    Xu Ziling asked heavily, Is that demon called Wanwan by any chance?

    This time it was Xu Xingzhis turn to be astonished; he said, This gentleman must be Xu Ye! How do you know that woman Wanwan?

    Lets talk about that later, Shang Xiuxun interjected, Tell me Jinglings situation in details, dont miss anything at all.

    Xu Xingzhi said, And id Zaixia is not mistaken, Miss must be the Flying Horse Ranchs Changzhu, Shang Xiuxun, because only she would be so concerned about Jingling, and only she would be so liberal with money.

    The three people were moved again; they had a feeling that this Xu Xingzhi was not simple at all. Naturally Shang Xiuxuns bossy demeanor [orig. order people around by pointing the chin] also contributed to give away her status as someone who was accustomed to boss people around, only Xu Xingzhi did not want to speak it out.

    Kou Zhong asked, So what happened in Jingling? And how did you know that Wanwan is a female demon? Because on the surface she is apparently a fairy.

    Xu Xingzhi smiled wryly and said, Ever since she pretended to sleep without waking up, I have already warned Fang Ye that this womans background is dubious, and did not conform to reason at all. But Fang Ye simply treated my warning as the wind passing his ear, just because he is obsessed with her beauty.

    Xu Ziling asked in wonder, Didnt Fang Daoyuan know that Wanwan is Fang Zhuangzhus woman?

    Xu Xingzhi sighed and said, That was precisely the reason I warned Fang Ye. What happened between that female demon and Fang Ye, nobody knows. But the result is that Fang Ye was killed by Fang Zetao. Fortunately, knowing that disaster was hard to avoid, I already made preparation, hence the reason I was able to escape Jingling in timely manner. Now under Fang Zetao there is no more capable general, plus the morale of his soldiers was shaken. If I were Shang Changzhu, the best strategy right now is to immediately return to the Ranch to prepare your troops for imminent war, while at the same time make contact with other powers in the area, to resist the Jianghuai Armys invasion.

    The three people looked at each other; nobody expected that Jinglings situation has deteriorated to this condition. Wanwan has managed to make the originally as-steady-as-iron-bucket solid fort to collapse silly and became as precarious as a pile of eggs.

    Kou Zhong asked, Hows the situation at Du Fuweis side?

    Xu Xingzhi replied, Du Fuwei personally led the seventy-thousand strong main force, besieging Jingling heavily, but deliberately open up the southeast road, in order to sway Jingling peoples heart and crush their aspiration to defend their property to death. It is definitely a brilliant strategy. Right now Jinglings power is gone, the citys fall is just a matter between morning and evening.

    Shang Xiuxun coldly said, The gold is yours.

    Xu Xingzhi understood that she was dismissing him. He was about to stand up and leave, when Kou Zhongs tiger-eyes gleamed with cold rays.

    Mister Xu, whats your future plan? Kou Zhong asked with a smile.

    Smiling wryly, Xu Xingzhi said, I was thinking of taking refuge in Guangdong, but deep in my heart I am rather unwilling. Presently I have not made any decision yet.

    Kou Zhong probed further, A talent such as Mister, any militia would be happy to employ. Why dont Mister go around to try your luck?

    Xu Xingzhi sighed and said, In terms of fame and power, nowadays Li Mi is at the top; but in terms of long-term plan, the Li Clans base at Guanzhong is the most advantageous. But I dont like Li Mis biting the hands that feed him, and I never liked large and influential clans style. The rest are not worth mentioning.

    Shang Xiuxun asked in astonishment, Li Yuans second son Li Shimin is talented and capable, plus he likes to befriend heroes and warriors from all over the world, he appoints talents appropriately, and washes away the degenerate custom of the rich and powerful family; why did Mister speak of him in such an inferior tone?

    Xu Xingzhi said, If the Li Clan has Li Shimin in charge, he will be able to unify the Clan. Problem is that Li Yuan is a gutless muddle-head; unexpectedly he abandoned Li Shimin and set up his oldest son as the heir apparent. Although this man Li Jiancheng has high martial art skill, he is an obstinate and self-opinionated man, always suspicious and envy talents. Never mind! It looks like Id better be looking for a quiet place and stay outside of the arena watching a bustling scene!

    Kou Zhongs eyes shone even brighter. Laughing aloud, he said, Mister was born in this world, if you dont create a great undertaking, wont you just turn your back on the aspiration of your heart? If it were me, rather than feeling wronged all my life, I might as well follow a dead-end road to bring forth new ideas. Even if the horse inside the hide is a dead horse, it is better than gloomily and stuffily enduring life month after month, year after year.

    Xu Xingzhi was amazed, Turns out Kou Ye harbors magnificent aspiration in your heart. But the worlds great powers are already established, what else can we do?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, If we can find a suitable location, we can talk about it later. If I, Kou Zhong, be fated not to die in Jingling, I will see Mister in Luoyang.

    Xu Xingzhis countenance changed, You still want to go to Jingling? he asked.

    Shang Xiuxun seriously replied, Fearing calamity and turning back, how could that be what we do?

    Xu Xingzhi pondered quietly for half a day, he also sized Kou Zhong up for a while; finally making up his mind, he said, Merely based on Kou and Xu, two Dayes courage and insight is assassinating Ren Shaoming, I will wait for two gentlemen in Luoyang for three months.

    Immediately they decided on the secret mark with which they would contact each other; only then did Xu Xingzhi took his leave cheerfully.

    After retrieving his Moon in the Well from the beam, Kou Zhong and the others rushed back to their boat. As soon as everybody was back onboard, they weighed anchor and sailed toward Jingling.

    [1] People from all trades - Orig. Three Religions (Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism) and Nine Schools (Confucians, Daoists, Yin-yang, Legalists, Logicians, Mohists, Political Strategists, Eclectics, Agriculturists).

  20. #120
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Book 10 Chapter 12

    Book 10 Chapter 12 Forcibly Crashing Through A Barrier

    Under the boundless drizzle, the boat zigzagging along the river course, rapidly heading downstream.

    The Han River was as quiet as a ghost country, just like this incomparably solitary boat was the only thing remaining between the heaven and the earth.

    Xu Ziling, Liang Zhi, Luo Fang, Wu Yan, four men, each one armed with a three-zhang pole in their hands, stood on the bow. Every time the boat was about to crash onto the dangerous pile of rocks strewn along the riverbank, four poles stuck together, changing the boat direction to safety.

    The other team of warriors united in common effort to scull the boat and control the sail under Kou Zhongs yelling and screaming, enjoying themselves amidst the extremely busy situation.

    Shang Peng and Shang He finally went up the deck, preparing themselves to flee for their lives in case the boat capsized.

    Shang Xiuxun was standing on the bridge, viciously staring at Kou Zhong, who was flustered at the helm. She said crossly, Didnt you brag about your expertise in steering skill? Something about leave it to me? Did you see this? If there is no one dedicated to help you, this boat would have been capsized ten times already.

    Smiling apologetically, Kou Zhong said, Beautiful Shifu, please calm down, my experience is in sailing in the ocean; therefore, momentarily I am not used to this nine-bent thirteen-turn small river like this. Look!

    Shang Xiuxun looked forward, a bend rapidly approaching right ahead.

    Kou Zhong shouted repeatedly, the boat made a sharp turn, and then smoothly entered a river section that was as straight as a ramrod, giving them a moving feeling like they had just climbing over an endlessly rugged mountain and set foot on verdant village on a level road.

    Before their eyes the river section suddenly opened up to a wide panorama, light drizzle filled the sky. Everybody wiped their foreheads, and broke up in cheers. Even Shang Peng and Shang He showed a rarely seen happy expression as if relieved from a burden.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, We finally finished our apprenticeship! In the future, whether vast body of water or gigantic ocean, big river or small creek, it will not confound me.

    With her back against him, facing the wind and the rain, Shang Xiuxun said indifferently, What did you just call me?

    Kou Zhong was taken aback; after thinking for a moment he came to realize what she was asking about, Ah! That is your nickname, Beautiful Changzhu. Although it is a bit long, but it is both easy to say and suits you well. Hee! [Translators note: Beautiful Changzhu has five characters (mei ren er chang zhu). Most nicknames were four characters or less.]

    Shang Xiuxun said in a low voice, You think I am really beautiful?

    Kou Zhong was greatly stunned; he asked in wonder, Changzhu, do you really not know that you are as beautiful as an immortal, that you are absolutely stunning?

    Shrugging her shoulders, Shang Xiuxun replied, Who has ever told me?

    For the first time Kou Zhong realized how lonely she was.

    Her situation at the Ranch was similar to Yang Guang of the former Sui; nobody dared to tell him the truth. While it was plain as day that they were defeated in battle, he still thought that he was comparable to the Emperor of Qin, Han Wu.

    Shang Xiuxun did not know her own beauty. The Ranch people naturally could make idle remarks about her appearance quietly, but nobody dared to declare it openly.

    A bit bashful, Shang Xiuxun asked for advice, Which part of me do you think beautiful?

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Your beauty is perfect. Xiao Ling and I love to watch your lovable disposition and wonderful manner when you are eating the most; whether you are biting lightly or chewing vigorously, you intoxicate peoples heart and mind.

    Shang Xiuxun turned her tender body around and said in delight, You speak pleasant words, just like you make such good cakes.

    It was also the first time that Kou Zhong saw her like this; he could only stare at her without being able to speak even half a word.

    Shang Xiuxun suddenly reverted back to her usual cold, indifferent way; she said, Theres still about a sichen before we reach Jingling. If the enemy seal off the river with steel rope, what should we do?

    Another first for Kou Zhong; it was the first time that he felt Shang Xiuxuns trust and reliance on him. He also felt that the distance between the two of them had been reduced significantly. He could not stop strange feeling from bubbling up in his heart.

    In term of beauty, without question Shang Xiuxun was a level above Li Xiuning, but for some reason she could not touch his heart like Li Xiuning did.

    There was no denying that this beautiful Ranch Master had a tremendous attractive force to him, but it was not strong enough to make him desperately cast everything, forget everything, to pursue her, to obtain her.

    He would have to weigh the pros and the cons and find the balance, and adjust the distance between himself and her, because he did not wish to damage the delicate relationship between him and Song Yuzhi for her sake.

    A bit impatient, Shang Xiuxun pursued, Whats on your mind?

    With this rude awakening, Kou Zhong looked up to meet her flower-like jade-countenance and her expectant gaze. His heroic spirit greatly aroused, he said, If I, Kou Zhong, come out to vie over the world, will Changzhu sell warhorses and equipment to me?

    Without even thinking, Shang Xiuxun frowned and said, Of course I will help you! But you are so destitute, where would you get the money to buy horses from me? Even though I am the Changzhu, I still need to scrupulously abide by my ancestral way of doing business, I cant do business at a loss, and I cant be involved in disputes of the Jianghu.

    Kou Zhong replied in all earnestness, Can Beautiful Changzhu at least suspend all trade? Give me three months, I will have enough gold and I will come to see you.

    Displeased, Shang Xiuxun said, Let us talk about it after coming out of Jingling alive!

    Seeing she did not categorically deny his request, Kou Zhong was inwardly very happy.

    This moment Shang Xiuxun turned her head around and saw Xu Zilings tall and straight, confident and at ease, back as he was talking with Luo Fang and Liang Zhi on the main deck. Her fragrant heart unexpectedly had a nagging feeling that she had done something wrong.

    ※ ※ ※

    The sailboat continuously sped up, rushing farther downstream.

    Under the continuous drizzle, they saw two warships standing side-by-side on the watercourse ahead, behind a strip of steel rope traversing the surface of the river.

    Xu Ziling was now at the helm, Kou Zhong was now standing proudly at the bow, carrying a rather insufferably arrogant, overbearing air around him.

    Shang Xiuxun and her men stood on the deck behind him. Everyone had a bow and arrow in their hands. Each arrowhead was wrapped in oilcloth, ready to be lighted with the stoves available all around them to become fire arrows.

    Walking away from Kou Zhong, Shang Xiuxun asked, Do you really have confidence?

    Kou Zhong was watching the flurry of the enemys activity from realizing that they were coming straight toward them. Hearing the question, he turned his head around, flashed a smile full of confidence at her, patted the Moon in the Well on his back, and said, Dont forget that this is a divine saber that can communicate with the spirits. I guarantee that no one would expect this move. Even if they personally see it, they wont dare to believe their own eyes.

    After a short pause, he laughed aloud and said, Did you see that? Right now they dont even have time to raise the sail; we break through their barricade, straight toward Jingling, they would not even able to see our tail clearly. That would be interesting.

    Liang Zhi anxiously asked, What if you fail to cut the steel rope?

    Kou Zhong shook his head, Impossible! he said, I will definitely cut the steel rope.

    This moment they were only about seven zhang away from the steel rope blocking the river.

    The situation on the two enemy ships more than twenty zhang away was clearly visible. The Jianghuai Army troops on the boats were already in battle position. Bows and catapults were strung, ready to shoot arrows and rocks.

    But this was not the reason why the heart of the people on the boat was anxious.

    Looking at the steel rope, which was as thick as a babys arm, everybody felt their scalp went numb, imagining the dreadful consequences if Kou Zhong failed and the boat crashed onto the rope.

    Only Kou Zhong remained as calm as usual, as if he never thought there was a remote possibility that he might fail.

    Four zhang, three zhang

    With no breeze, Kou Zhongs clothes fluttered, creating rustling noise.

    A stream of invisible vortex of energy was surging around his body.

    Xu Ziling, who was standing on the bridge manning the rudder, had his eyes gleaming with divine light; they were fixed on Kou Zhong, who was standing proudly at the bow like a deity descending into the mundane world. His heart was also filled with overflowing heroic spirit.

    This steel rope represented one crucial step in the course of events in Kou Zhongs endeavor in vying over the world.

    If he was able to break through this obstacle and sail toward Jingling, the spirit of the troops in the city would definitely be greatly roused, their morale would be greatly boosted.

    He even had indistinct feeling that if Kou Zhong was able to accomplish this magnificent feat, he would win over the Flying Horse Ranch people, from top to bottom, so that they would be in favor of supporting Kou Zhong in his great undertaking of hegemony over the world.

    This saber strike must only succeed and could not fail.

    Not only would it display his astonishing power, the more important thing was that it would validate the accuracy of his judgement.

    The enemy ships were beginning to hoist their sails.

    Three zhang!

    With a wild roar Kou Zhong soared into the air to pounce on the steel rope.

    This was such an unexpected move that even the enemy was awed. Everybody stared with their eyes grew wide, and forgot to release the stones and the arrows.

    Fiercely gnashing her silvery teeth, Shang Xiuxun shouted tenderly, Light the arrows!

    Flying over the empty space, Kou Zhong pulled the Moon in the Well from its scabbard, and turned it into a sharp ray that violently chopped down in the steel rope below.

    Right this moment, Kou Zhong seemed to transform into a totally different person than his usual self.


    While the men from both sides were craning their neck to look down, the Moon in the Well turned into an arc of yellow light, like a streak of lightning struck the steel rope.

    The steel rope seemed unable to withstand the saber strike; it suddenly snapped and fell into the river.

    Shang Xiuxun shouted tenderly, Release the arrows!

    Soaring into the sky, the fiery arrows illuminated the river course, separately raining down on the two enemy ships.

    Flying Horse Ranch peoples morale was high; they were full of confidence and fighting spirit.

    Like a swift running horse their boat sailed across the steel rope that was blocking the river, speedily glided downstream.

    It was not until the arrows nearly arrived that the enemy appeared to be awakened from a dream; with rallying cry they returned fire.

    Kou Zhong somersaulted in the air. As steady as Mount Tai he landed back to his original position at the bow of their boat, with aloofness as if he looked at the world in disdain.

    The saber was back in its sheath.

    This moment two huge rocks happened to fill the sky as they flew toward them.

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud. Like a leopard he leaped and met the rocks head-on with his fists.

    Bang! Bang!

    The rocks shattered into powder and rained down the river.

    Kou Zhong was shaken by the impact as well; he dropped back onto the deck, right next to Shang Xiuxun.

    Seeing his fists were covered in blood, Shang Xiuxun was aghast, Are you all right? she asked.

    Kou Zhong was unable to crawl back up; his body appeared to have lost all its strength. But he was still laughing heartily and said, That was fun! That was fun!


    The hull shook violently.

    Without anybody able to stop it, a huge rock hit the port side deck. Immediately wood fragments splattered everywhere as the deck shattered.

    The boat leaned to its side before finally leveled up again.

    Xu Ziling thundered, Brothers, were through!

    Everybody cheered.

    Looking back, they saw the two enemy ships were on fire. Forget about pursuing, they were having a difficult time just to take care of themselves.
    Last edited by foxs; 04-29-16 at 08:55 PM.

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