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

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    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 4

    Book 14 Chapter 4 Coming in with Ferocious Momentum

    Stunned, Wang Shichong asked, Didnt the Jade Annulus of He Clan fall into your hands?

    And thus with that question Kou Zhong knew for sure that there was some mole in Jing Nian Chanyuan that sent information back to Wang Shichong. Because he knew that the Jade Annulus of He Clan has been stolen, hence he was surprised that the one stole the jade treasure was not Kou Zhong.

    This morning, after the three washed all the traces from last nights heist at a clear stream, they buried all evidence, including masks, clothing, and pomegranate wooden sword, in a secure place before swaggering back into the city.

    The guards at the gate were all Wang Shichongs men; they immediately stopped Kou Zhong and invited him to see Wang Shichong.

    And this Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan parted ways as well. The former went out on some fictitious errand, the latter went to Princess Dong Ming to fish for information.

    Inside the secret chamber.

    Kou Zhong put an act by smiling wryly as he sat down; with a sigh he said, I dont want to talk about it! We did touch the bell tower of the Monastery, who would have thought that baldhead Liao Kong detected our presence and mobilized several hundred to chant salvation prayers for us? Without any choice we had to sound out the difficulties and retreat to avoid defeat.

    Wang Shichongs eyes flashed with cold rays. After glaring at him for a moment, he asked in astonishment, Lets not talk about the Jade Annulus of He Clan first, how come your countenance and your eyes look a bit different than before?

    Kou Zhong stretched out his limbs and said, This is called mastery of study lies in diligence, also amusement in desolation. Last night after escaping the Jing Nian Chanyuan, we had nothing to do, so we went to a mountaintop nearby and used our true qi to open up each others meridians. Since Wanggong [king and duke] is able to see it, it shows that our training method is really effective.

    This was the alibi that the three fabricated. Lies hidden within the truth, and truth contained within the lies. Even someone as cunning as Wang Shichong would find it hard to differentiate true or bogus.

    Kou Zhong then frowned and said, Listening to the tone of Wanggongs voice, it looks like the Jade Annulus of He Clan has been stolen. This is not possible. First, Jing Nian Chanyuan is like the Imperial City, to find a tiny precious jade is like fishing a needle from the sea. Second, everybody in the Monastery has superior martial art skill, Liao Kong is even more deep and immeasurable; unless you, Wanggong deploy a large army to storm in, all we could do is just standing at the bottom of that eight-hundred plus stone step leading into the front gate of the Temple, heaving a sigh.

    Wang Shichong was slient for half a day. Finally he sighed and spoke dejectedly, Its useless even if I believed you. Just now Jing Nian Chanyuan sent a messenger to me, asking me to inform you that tonight before the Zi hour [11pm 1am] you are to return the Jade Annulus of He Clan to the Monastery. Otherwise they wont spare any effort to get the Jade Annulus of He Clan back from you. Under this circumstance, even I will be helpless to protect you.

    Kou Zhong suddenly flew into a rage, This is preposterous! Even if they killed me I could not hand over that pain-in-the-butt ghost jade annulus to them.

    The last sentence was an absolute truth.

    But by saying that, Wang Shichong overthrew Kou Zhongs conjecture earlier that he had a mole in the Monastery sending him secret information.

    Frowning, Wang Shichong said, Liao Kong has never paid any attention to the affairs of the world, but this time due to the lost treasure is true fire has been ignited. As chance has it, just before the treasure is stolen, you happened to come over there, hence even if you jump into the Yellow River, it will be difficult to wash the suspicion from you. It would be best if the three of you lie low until the intensity of the fire dies down. I really do not wish to stand face to face with Jing Nian Chanyuan, Ci Hang Jing Zhai, so much so Ning Daoqi, as the enemy.

    Inwardly Kou Zhong cursed Wang Shichong as not having enough yiqi [spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice/code of brotherhood], but on the surface he put on an understanding expression as he said, Wanggong, set your heart at ease. I will definitely not put you on the spot. Hey! Am I free to go?

    Wang Shichong sighed and said, I know you must be blaming me for not having enough friendship, but under current situation, I really cannot divide my attention to deal with such a formidable foe. However, if you indeed have something to do with the Jade Annulus of He Clan theft, naturally I will have the as the water receded, the rocks appear opportunity.

    Kou Zhong knew he did not believe the story concocted by the three of them; smiling, he said, Whom do I, Kou Zhong, fear? Even his mothers Shi Feixuan, baldhead Liao Kong, Old Demon Ning, if they insist on accusing me wrongly, let them come with their horses.

    Stretching out his hand, Wang Shichong pressed it down on Kou Zhongs shoulders.

    Kou Zhong thought he wanted to plot against him or perhaps take this opportunity to do a body search. Startled, the true qi within his body reacted naturally, in an instant his entire body was filled with true qi, in term of speed, it was at least double the previous speed, one of which bore through the jianjing acupoint on his shoulder and went straight into Wang Shichongs palm.

    Pow! As soon as Wang Shichongs palm touched Kou Zhongs shoulder, it was jolted out. What are you doing? he cried out in fear.

    Fortunately Wang Shichongs internal energy cultivation was quite deep, otherwise he would have been hurt.

    It was only then did Kou Zhong realize that he had misunderstood him.

    Quickly thinking of an excuse, he said, Reporting to Wanggong: the skill I learned from the Secret to Long Life oftentimes is out of my control.

    Wang Shichong circulated his inner power to neutralize the vortex of qi invading his body. With a strange expression on his face, he said, Your power is a lot more superior than my original estimate. No wonder Shangguan Long was defeated under your hands. I forgot to ask you: after you caught him, how did you deal with him?

    Kou Zhong dejectedly said, Empress Yin, Zhu Yuyan personally made her move; she intercepted us and snatched that fellow away from us.

    Shaken, Wang Shichong asked, Zhu Yuyan?

    This time Kou Zhongs rueful smile was real; he said, If not her, who else? Who else would be able to snatch the fatty meat at the edge of our mouth? Ah yes, about last night: in the duel between Qu Ao and Fu Qian, who won and who lost?

    After staring wide-eyed at him for half a day, Wang Shichong revealed a hard-to-believe expression as he shook his head and said, Since Zhu Yuyan already made her move, how could she only take the person without taking lives?

    Letting out a cold snort, Kou Zhongs eyes flashed spirited light, which was several times more intense than previously. He spoke heavily, It all depends on the contest of true ability. I admit that fighting one-on-one, I definitely am not her match, but with the combined power of all tree of us, she is helpless against us. Wanggong still has not replied my question.

    Wang Shichong exhaled and said, Do you know that when you got angry just now your eyes lit up with strange rays of light like the flickering stars in the sky? That is the innate true qi of the Man and Heaven touching each other realm; the Daoists call it empty space creating lightning. Although I have met countless capable people, but those whose eyes can emit golden rays like that cant be more than five people. No wonder Zhu Yuyan is unable to deal with you.

    Inwardly Kou Zhong was delighted, but he was also afraid to raise his suspicion again, hence he giggled and said, Wanggong praised me too much! How could I be that formidable? Its just that the Secret to Long Life is unusual; the beginning is indeed Man and Heaven touching each other, but I have not really reached the level of martial art accomplishment Wanggong just said. Almost forget to ask you: is there any movement of the Dugu Clan on the other side? Didnt you say you have the Palace City heavily besieged? How come last night I saw Dugu Feng walking to and fro freely in Man Qing Yuan?

    Wang Shichong said, Do you remember the Beautiful Barbarian Lady Linglong Jiao? Not only she is beautiful and her martial art skill high, she is also intelligent and cunning, an expert in reconnaissance and intelligence about the enemy. Indeed she is a rare talent.

    The image of her cold-as-ice-and-frost, aloof and thousand-li-distant, yet brimming with strong feminine charm, moving appearance immediately floated in Kou Zhongs heart. Nodding, he said, My memory on beautiful women has always been good.

    Wang Shichong laughed and said, Men should be like that. Theres no harm in telling you! She went into the Palace City last night to scout information. When she got back, she said that the Dugu Clan, from top to bottom, everybody was in high-spirit, full in confidence. As soon as I heard it, I knew something was amiss. Dugu Feng [summit, not phoenix] must have something up his sleeve, hence he could be this calm and composed, not afraid that I besiege the Palace City. After some deliberation, Xiyi Xiong, Kefeng Daoren [Taoist Priest] and Chen Zhanglin unanimously agreed: Our battle line has been stretched too thin. If the enemy attack, it would be hard for us to look after both the head and the tail. Therefore, we will concentrate our forces inside the Imperial City, while spread out secret agents inside the Palace City. In this way, we can advance to attack and retreat to defend; in terms of military tactic, this is a lot more brilliant. What do you think?

    Kou Zhong inwardly thought that this Beautiful Barbarian Lady was indeed a rare talent; unexpectedly she was able to deduce the situation based on the other sides demeanor. Nodding his head, he said, Linglong Jiaos insight is very accurate. In my opinion, Dugu Feng is waiting for someone from Nanhai Pai. I heard that the Nanhai Xianweng [old immortal of the Southern Sea] Huang Gongcuo is rushing here.

    Wang Shichongs countenance changed, When did you obtain that information? How did Dugu Feng persuade him to come?

    Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong said, Naturally Dugu Feng does not have that ability. But Li Mi has a close relationship with Huang Gongcuo. It is also possible that the Nanhai Pai wants to expand their influence to the north. The lads passion meets the lass desire, they are together from the first beat. Old man Huang and old woman You, the two combined equal to nearly two hundred years of power, they are really not easy to deal with.

    Wang Shichong rose up to his full height. He said, This is no small matter, I must deal with it immediately, otherwise we will die without knowing whats going on.

    Kou Zhong already understood his selfish personality. Leaving aside his question earlier about the outcome of Fu Qian vs. Qu Aos decisive battle, he immediately took his leave.

    Stepping out of the strictly guarded Shangshu Mansion, Dong Shunis cute voice called out from behind, Kou Zhong! Where the hell have you been these past two days?

    ※ ※ ※

    By the time Xu Ziling stepped into the Dongjia Restraurant at the head of the Tianjin Bridge, more than a dozen pairs of eyes were immediately fixed on him.

    The restaurant was crowded as usual, the atmosphere was very lively, with more than half of the patrons were traveling merchants and Jianghu people from all over the country.

    Those who stared at him looked surprised, and then they whispered to each other. There were even some girls who threw amorous glances at him.

    Xu Ziling knew that it must be because at Man Qing Yuan last night he revealed his skill, so that he became an instant celebrity.

    Especially since they dared to stand up openly against Li Mi, Yin Gui Pai, Qu Ao, and other major powers, hence nobody dared to belittle them.

    Moreover, last night they uncovered Luoyang Bangs Shangguan Longs real identity, and even captured him using their real skill. This matter was related to the rise and fall of the Wulin world of Luoyang; it would be strange indeed if it did not create quite a sensation all over the city.

    All these factors added together, overnight, the three men became Luoyangs most attractive figures.

    Turns out it is Xu Ye; is Kou Ye going to come later on? Shall Xiaoren take you to the VIP room upstairs? Turned out it was the same waiter who greeted them yesterday. It was unclear whether he had heard the rumor, but his manner was a lot more reverent and respectful, almost with trepidation, compared to the previous day.

    Xu Ziling actually wanted to find a quiet place where he could spend time with himself. The purpose of his fictitious errand this time was to find himself. Sighing inwardly, he said, I am coming alone, and I think the main hall will be a bit more lively.

    The waiter busily replied, Everything will be as Xu Ye wishes; Ill find a table for Xu Ye right away.

    Receiving such a grand and serious reception like this, Xu Ziling felt uncomfortable instead. Smiling indifferently, he said, Just call me when you find an empty table! I am going to enjoy the scenery of Tianjin Bridge outside.

    Without waiting for an answer, he simply walked out of the door.

    Under the sunny sky, people and vehicles were coming and going on the Tianjin Bridge, boats and vessels were traveling back and forth on the Luo River flowing under the Bridge. It was a bustling scene of the water and land transport hub of a metropolis.

    This moment, someone was stepping out of the restaurant. When Xu Ziling was stepping aside to let him through, the man suddenly stuffed a ball of paper into his hand. Xu Ziling recognized the man was Xu Xingzhi; his anxiety vanished, he quickly put the crumpled piece of paper into his sleeve pocket.

    Xu Xingzhi walked up the Tianjin Bridge, and disappeared into the stream of people.

    Xu Ziling was about to return to tell the waiter not to bother finding him a table when a carriage halted right in front of him.

    The curtain lifted, revealing Shen Luoyans flowery jade countenance.

    This pretty military strategist, whose intelligence and planning and scheming skill was well-known throughout the world, laughed sweetly and said, Ziling! Would you get in the carriage to chat with me for a while?

    A feeling of disgust welled up in Xu Zilings heart; he coldly replied, We are treading different paths, we are not scheming against each other, what is there to talk about?

    Shen Luoyan did not pay him the slightest bit of attention; she said, Xu Gongzi is obviously unaware. Currently rumors are flying around the Eastern Capital like crazy, they all said that the Jade Annulus of He Clan has fallen into one of you and your two friends hands. This moment nobody is not rubbing their fists and wiping their palms in eagerness, vowing to wrest the treasure out of your hands. Dont you want to know a bit more news?

    Inwardly Xu Ziling was shivering in fear.

    Jing Nian Chanyuan lost the treasure just happened the previous night. If the Monastery people did not deliberately leak the news, how could the streets know and the alleys hear? But when Shen Luoyan spoke, it has always been difficult to tell the truth from the lies; perhaps she was exaggerating on purpose.

    Xu Ziling nonchalantly laughed and said, No need to chat and laugh! Although I know one possible location where the treasure might be stored, but upon self-examination, I know I do not have the qualification to steal it. And I dont believe someone really stole the ruler seal from there; you dont have to sound me out.

    Shen Luoyan stared at him for half a day, as if she was trying to tell whether he was telling the truth or was just lying to her. Finally she sighed grimly and said, If you are telling the truth, then you are in really big trouble. Ci Hang Jing Zhai occupies paramount position in Jianghu; nobody dares to mess with them!

    Xu Ziling pretended to be surprised, What are you talking about? he asked, You talk like the Jade Annulus of He Clan is really lost. Where did you hear it from?

    Shen Luoyan swept her gaze around, the passerbys eyes were on them, sizing them up. Slightly angry, she said, Just get in the cart and talk, all right? The big street and big alley, where people are coming and going, is not the place to talk about confidential matter.

    Xu Ziling smiled slightly and said, We have nothing to talk about, they want to think that I stole it, then let them think that I stole it!

    No longer paying attention to her, he turned left toward the Tianjin Bridge.

    He had only walked for a dozen paces when Shen Luoyan got off her carriage and ran after him. Very angrily she said, What is your head made of? Such a stubborn and obstinate man. You were at the Jing Nian Chanyuan just before the treasure was lost; if I dont look for you, who should I look for? Although you put on a mask, but someone recognized your build.

    Xu Ziling groaned inwardly; fortunately the opposite side still had no conclusive evidence. Its just that all he could do currently was to keep denying insistently.

    Shen Luoyan was wearing light yellow tight warrior outfit, her beauty was comparable to the glorious splendor of Luoyang City under the brilliant sun, which Xu Ziling was not in the mood to enjoy.

    Sighing, Xu Ziling said, Where exactly did you hear that from?

    Shen Luoyan replied indifferently, Do you know that Wang Bo and Liao Kong have close to fifty years of friendship? This morning he issued Wulin notice to men and horses of all sides, announcing the circumstances surrounding the theft of the Jade Annulus of He Clan. Furthermore, he said clearly that if by zi hour [11pm-1am] tonight you have not returned the treasure, he will stop at nothing to have the three of you killed. You still think this is a joke?

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, If I am really the one who stole the treasure, I would have flown far away last night; how could I stay here, waiting for others to give me bad luck? I dont care what would happen, if they have the ability, let them come to me!

    By this time the two have reached the Tianjin Bridge. The man was like deep and clear wine, elegant like an immortal amongst the mortals; the woman beautiful and alluring, lucid and elegant, just like a fairy descended to the world. Naturally they attracted the passer-byes glances, as well as envious and admiring gaze.

    Who would have thought that they had the appearance of unity, but divided at heart? To talk further, there was this kind of intense murderous air in the radiance of spring between them.

    Shen Luoyan roused her spirit to walk with him for a short time; lightly stomping her tiny foot, she said, Since when did you become arrogant and wild like Kou Zhong? Do you know that after the zi hour tonight you will be Wulin worlds public enemy? Shi Feixuan and Ning Daoqi will be among those who will look for you. Top martial art masters from the most powerful schools and sects, both orthodox and heretical, will be your enemies.

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, What can I do? I have no choice but to resist the incoming troops, to build earth embankment when the flood comes.

    Lowering her voice, Shen Luoyan said, If that thing is really in your hands, we can make a deal.

    Sneering, Xu Ziling said, Even if it were in my hands, I would never make any deal with anybody related to Li Mi. Shen Junshi, do you understand?

    Shen Luoyan hung her head in silence. She quietly came closer and spoke in tender voice, If I had nothing with Li Mi anymore, then what?

    Stunned, Xu Ziling cast her a quick glance; shaking his head in disbelief, he said, I can only think that you must be joking.

    Shen Luoyan heaved a deep sigh; she nodded and said, I know you wont believe me, but this time it is really for your own good. Perhaps the biggest problem is that practically there is not a single man who can ascertain who the big treasure thief is? The only possibility is one of you three in disguise, since the body type matches yours. A real man dares to do what he dares to admit; why should he be afraid of admitting what he had done? Wont he be afraid to be the laughingstock of all men under the heavens?

    Her speech was very formidable, even Xu Ziling was nearly unable to withstand. Smiling bitterly, he said, That being the case, we have to take advantage before the zi hour to escape from Luoyang, because no matter how we plead our innocence, nobody is going to believe us.

    Shen Luoyan pulled him into a side lane; turning to the left and winding to the right, they finally arrived at a quiet place. Lowering her voice, she said, This is precisely the deal I wanted to make with you, and it was Mi Gong [Duke Mi] himself who gave me instructions. As long as you admit that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is in your hands, not only do we not want you to hand it over to us, all old debts will be struck in one stroke. Furthermore, we will utilize all manpower and physical resources to bring you out of Luoyang. What do you think?

    Listening to this, even Xu Ziling had his heart slightly moved. Frowning, he said, Stop lying to me. Is Junshi saying that your boss does not wish to take the Jade Annulus of He Clan for his own?

    Shen Luoyan crossly said, Both you and Kou Zhong can be called smart, but can be also called stupid. Who didnt know that nobody does not want to have the Jade Annulus of He Clan? But definitely nobody is stupid enough to make his move to steal that thing. Itself, although the Jade Annulus of He Clan is the most famous precious jade since times immemorial, its true worth is actually on its historic significance and what it stands for. Moreover, originally this jade was held in safekeeping of the worlds most revered Ning Daoqi, and then from him, it was handed over to the representative of the White Way Wulin, Shi Feixuan. Only a madman who does not wish to live would try to steal it. Do you really get it? Only when Shi Feixuan personally hands it over to you would this Jade Annulus of He Clan be able to play its intended role.

    Xu Ziling was puzzled, So your Mi Gong is already positive that Shi Feixuan wont pick him as the Jade Annulus of He Clans true owner, and thus he would rather have the Jade Annulus of He Clan disappear forever? he asked.

    Smiling wryly, Shen Luoyan replied, If I denied that, then I would be lying to you. But under the circumstances, I am sure you would understand if I cant reveal anything more to you.

    After a short pause, she went on, Never, ever, underestimate Shi Feixuan. There is a very strong possibility that she would be Ning Daoqis successor as the most outstanding grand master of the Wulin world of the Central Plains. Just by looking at the swift and decisive way [orig. sound of thunder technique] she handled the missing treasure this time, we know that the method she is using is in profound congruence of the swordsmanship. Very soon you will be forced to a dead end!

    Xu Ziling cut her off with a cold snort, Therefore, if we really run away, it would be tantamount to admitting that we did steal the Jade Annulus of He Clan. Ha! Shen Junshi, your scheme this time is really brilliant, no wonder you are willing to write off our former hatred at one stroke! Its because later on, Shi Feixuan and Ning Daoqi will look for us to give us bad luck. Am I right?

    As if she was hurt, Shen Luoyan took a step back; her pretty face turned white. With ashen countenance, she furiously said, You really dont know others kind intention. That being the case, you will take responsibility of the aftermath yourselves! I have nothing more to say, just do your best.

    Stomping her feet in anger, she turned around and left.

    Xu Ziling remained standing still. A long while later, he chuckled and said, Since friend already honored me with your presence, why dont you show up?

    From both ends of the alley cold snorts were heard simultaneously, followed by the Changbai Twin-Malevolent Fu Zhen and Fu Yan jumping down from the top of the wall.

    The former carried a long-handled ax made of pure steel, only he added a sharp-pointy awl on the ax head, making the weapon effective to chop, hack, as well as pierce, like a spear. The latters weapon was even weirder; it looked like a sword, but was curved, the blade and tip looked like a beak. In just a glance it was obvious that the style he used must be dangerous and odd.

    Xu Ziling was very well aware that he had fallen into Shen Luoyans carefully laid-out trap. This time the opponent must have spared no effort and was doing everything they could to have him either killed or captured alive.

    But remaining calm and without any fear he suddenly raised a mouthful of true qi, and took the initiative to charge the enemy.

    ※ ※ ※

    Dong Shuni pulled Kou Zhong aside to evade a platoon of guards; pouting playfully she said, How messed up are you? Yesterday, for the whole day, I did not even see your shadow. You are just like heartless rat that as soon as your tummy is full, you ran away as far as you could.

    Seeing that the more than a dozen guards in front of Shangshu Mansions door were staring at them with eyes wide open, Kou Zhong was embarrassed. Cant you talk with a bit lower voice? he said.

    Dong Shuni broke out in an extremely charming smile; with an air of innocence, she nodded and said, As long as you are willing to accompany me, nujia will naturally listen to you!

    Today she was wearing a tight-fitting warrior outfit, white skirt with red trimming, so that the curves of her beautiful body was shown in full light: whats supposed to be protruding was protruding, whats supposed to be small was small, brimming with youthful and fiery seductive charm. However, Kou Zhong was not in the mood to enjoy all of these; he said in astonishment, Didnt you say you dont like to see me anymore? Why this sudden change of heart?

    Pulling his sleeve, Dong Shuni walked alongside Kou Zhong along the main street of the Imperial City toward the South Gate of the Imperial City. With a child-like excitement, she said, Because, after thinking about it back and forth, I realized that among all these people, you are the best, unlike those people who crowd around me like houseflies swarming around honey. Much less Shangshu Daren basically has no intention of letting me to marry you; he even forbids me to have any relationship with you.

    Kou Zhong cursed in his heart. Indeed Wang Shichong was up to no good.

    Perhaps the theft of the Jade Annulus of He Clan was no more than a trap. Its just that he never expected that Kou Zhong would be successful, and now he was trying to shirk from responsibility and push this matter aside and wipe his hands clean.

    Putting her lips at his ear, Dong Shuni softly said, I want you to accompany me in taking part in a dinner party. Well talk about plans for eloping then.

    What did you say? Kou Zhong blurted out.

  2. #162
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 5

    Book 14 Chapter 5 Songs of Chu on All Sides[1]

    Xu Ziling nearly cried out in surprise.

    Because the instant he raised his true qi, the yongquan acupoints on the sole of both feet left and right turned one hot one cold: the cold qi from his left yongquan acupoint burst straight toward the Du meridian on his back, via wei zhen, passed through ni wan, followed the Ren meridian and downed to his dantian. The hot qi from his right foot was flowing on the opposite direction; upstream the Ren meridian, passed through the zuqiao acupoint between the eyebrows, through niwan and down Du meridian, and entered the dantian from the weiban acupoint on his backbone.

    The most amazing thing was that when the two different streams of hot qi met with each other at the niwan, immediately the two streams became a vortex: one along the other inverse, the two streams flowed swiftly in opposite direction within the meridians.

    Every time the flow arrived at certain acupoint, the true qi unexpectedly coalesced and expanded just like a whirlpool, making each acupoint inside him become like a storehouse of true power.

    His dantian thus became like the headquarter where his main force resided, while his thirty-six main acupoints became like the positions where his smaller squadrons were stationed.

    This has never happened before.

    Even during training with Kou Zhong, where the yin and the yang converged, it was merely yin hidden amidst the yang, and yang contained within the yin; unlike right now where the yongquan on his left foot was able to automatically absorb abundant innate yin qi from between the Heaven and the Earth.

    The only explanation was that the fantastic power of the Jade Annulus of He Can has thoroughly transformed his meridians, and not simply, as Ba Fenghan said, enhanced it.

    If formerly the meridians were like trickling water from a brook, currently it has become surging and rolling large river.

    This kind of shedding ones mortal body and exchanging ones bones feeling was truly hard to describe.

    The sensitivity of all his senses was raised exponentially.

    Any sound within a hundred zhang radius around him could not escape his hearing. Even his skin was sensitive to the changes in the air induced by Fu Zhen, Fu Yan, two mens movement.

    An enormous momentum emanated from the two mens bodies. Its strength was not evenly distributed; rather, it followed the movements of their thoughts as they were constantly looking for any gap or weak point on Xu Zilings body that they could exploit; therefore, the intensity of the momentum was also constantly changing.

    He had never experienced this kind of clear understanding of what is true and what is false of the opponent; it was just like a somewhat blind person who suddenly gained his eyesight back.

    In that same instant, he also sensed another enemy was hiding somewhere behind the wall to his left, waiting for him to escape before carrying out a surprise attack.

    His entire mind was crystal clear; nothing could escape his perception.

    In this instant, he knew that Fu Zhens long-handle axe would be the first to attack, and then Fu Yans strange-looking beak sword would follow.

    These two definitely had overbearing martial art skill; when they appeared just now, their aggressive momentum immediately enveloped him, so that he was unable to get away.

    If it was before his meridians were transformed, they definitely had the strength to kill him, but now he had utmost confidence that if he wanted to escape, he would have no problem. The only question remained was how to deal with the third enemys sneak attack.

    Thinking to this point, Fu Zhen and Fu Yan had already pressed on to within ten paces of him.

    Qi power stormed in, murderous aura filled the air.

    The two enemies roared at the same time.

    The long-handle axe rose up to the air; it turned into a flash of lightning swiftly chopping down on his neck. A powerful, without equal, qi power had already split the air toward him.

    Assuming a horse stance, Fu Yans beak sword, following a weird attacking path, struck from an approximately a zhang away. It appeared capable of attacking any part of him, in accordance with the variety of fantastical changes unique to unconventional weapons characteristic.

    The Two-Malevolent of Changbai dared to stand in opposition to Wang Bo; they were indeed not ordinary men.

    For a moment murderous aura filled the air.

    These two brothers eyes shot cold rays as they hatefully stared at Xu Ziling. If it were someone else with comparably weak mental strength, merely their stare would be enough to turn his heart and guts cold, his fighting spirit gone.

    Xu Ziling was well-aware that based on his current skill, which had advanced by leaps and bound, he could overcome one of them, but under normal circumstances, there was no way he could resist both of them at the same time, not to mention there was another martial art master lurking nearby, waiting for an opportunity to attack.

    Any one of these two brothers from Fu family was top ranking martial art master who was able to stand on his own; otherwise, Shen Luoyan would not have trusted them to take care of him.

    His brain traveling at the speed of light, Xu Ziling swiftly, beyond human understanding, flashed several times.

    Fu Yans figure snapped immediately; his eyes shot a disbelieving expression, his momentum and confidence weakened somewhat.

    Turned out with every flash, Xu Ziling was able to meet every single one of Fu Yans beak swords attacking paths.

    The most shocking thing was that Xu Ziling seemed to have the foresight: he had just made the change, Xu Ziling already made a very subtle shift, so that his offense immediately lost its biggest threatening force. More astonishing yet, when Fu Yan altered his offense accordingly, Xu Ziling was one step ahead in staggering away a little. This situation happened several times in a row, so that Fu Yan was unable to do anything, the same helpless feeling when one tries to catch a loach, which keeps slipping out of his hands.

    It was the very first time that Fu Yan ever experienced this kind of abnormal situation.

    Before, at least half of his abilities lay in the special structure of his beak sword and the strange and crafty changes of its attack paths, something that was impossible for the opponent to defend effectively.

    However, this time was different: before they even fought hand to hand, the opponent had already grasped the sword path. It has never happened before. Momentarily from being active he was forced to be passive, so that he was at a loss of how to proceed, hence his offensive slowed down.

    In this battle of supremacy, the battle line was precisely this sliver of difference.

    These past several decades, these two brothers from the Fu Clan had developed impeccable joint-strike technique. As soon as it was unleashed, there should be absolutely no flaw that could be exploited by the opponent.

    As soon as the pressure disappeared, Xu Zilings momentum increased rapidly. Amidst the tranquil-without-any-ripple frame of mind, he flashed forward to meet Fu Zhen, with his finger pointing out.

    The true qi within his body was like a broken dam. The spiraling stream of qi, which relied mainly on the ocean of qi to spin, circulated on the Ren and Du, two meridians one cycle first, before flowing toward the intersection of falun and kanli. By the time it reached the armpit, cold and hot separated. One followed yang yu, the other passed through yin yu, and converged at the palm of his hand, becoming vortices of cold and hot true power that flowed in parallel, each stream of qi power contained thirty-six flying-thallium[?] like vortex, shooting out from his middle finger.

    In the meantime, Fu Zhen had also pulled back his qi; because of the sudden decrease in Fu Yans momentum, the front line was affected as well, so that they had no room to advance or to retreat.

    But he was like riding a tiger where it was difficult to get off, he wanted to stop but was unable to do so, plus he wanted to take advantage of Xu Zilings power, which could not surpass his several decades of training. Therefore, he increased his speed instead to charge forward, with his long-handle axe swiftly chopped down. Relying on the heavy and sharp axe head, he wanted to suppress the opponents insignificant finger.

    Were it a top-ranking martial art master of Wanwans caliber, by this time he would have attempted to drag the offensive back a little, to match Fu Yans heavy offensive move, hence although Xu Ziling could not be immediately defeated, he would have had a hard time in dealing with them. However, in term of intelligence Fu Zhen has always been known as inferior, therefore, this strategy was actually a big blunder.

    When the fingertips were about to make contact with the axe blade, Xu Ziling swayed back in the direction of Fu Yan; his shenfa was as amazing as if it was made by heaven, so confident and at ease, yet also looked casual as if it was a random move.

    The axe blade swept down about five cun away from the fingertips.

    Immediately Fu Zhens soul flew away and scattered. But he was still an exceptional master; hastily altering the chopping motion into thrusting, he simply pulled back the axe and used the sharp pointy awl of his axe head to stab the opponent.

    Xu Ziling laughed aloud, knowing that the force behind Fu Zhens blade has diminished, while the new force has not been generated yet. Touching the axe head with his fingertips, his true energy shot out like crazy.

    Bang!

    Two streams of qi, one hot and one cold, flowed into Fu Zhens body along the axe under Xu Zilings control, separately toward the yang yu and yin yu, two meridians. Like a string of pearls vortices of qi burst in one after another, Fu Zhen immediately suffered major loss.

    Another mistake he made that he had already heard about Xu Ziling and Kou Zhongs unique skill of spiraling energy, and had already drafted a plan on how to deal with it, but he had never expected that the opponent was able to generate two separate streams of qi, cold and hot, in the form of swirling energy balls, which also able to penetrate the true qi protecting his body.

    The most formidable part was that the cold and hot, two energies were entirely different, as if two separate martial art masters were attacking him at the same time.

    This moment he no longer had the time to think about injuring the enemy. Gathering the power in his entire body, he struggled hard to pull himself away and withdrew.

    In his heart Xu Ziling cried out, How formidable! When his no stronghold one cannot overcome qi power entered Fu Zhens body, it immediately encountered a powerful resistance and unexpectedly it was reduced in half; otherwise, just this one finger would be enough to make Fu Zhen vomited blood and sustained internal injury.

    The beak sword attack arrived.

    Letting out a cold snort, Xu Ziling made a back flip. Not only to avoid the ruthless-without-equal sword attack, he also flew over Fu Yans head, and pressed both palms down.

    Fu Zhen was still being carried away by his backward inertia. His face alternated between red and white, and temporarily was powerless to meet the attack.

    Fu Yans momentum had already diminished, plus his power was half a notch below Fu Zhen. Seeing his older brother was beaten back by Xu Ziling using only one finger, his courage turned cold, and was secretly thinking about retreating. However, how could he retreat now? Thereupon he had no choice but to brandish his beak sword into a thin disk of sword shadow, while bending down his knees to guard against the attack from above, no longer trying to attack but only trying to protect himself.

    Seeing that even in such a bad situation he was still able to maintain a leak-proof defense, Xu Ziling cried inwardly that he was very lucky. If his strategy had not been brilliant, which prevented the two brothers from forming a siege against him, quite possibly this day next year would be the anniversary of his death. Therefore, he did not dare to tarry either.

    One palm struck down on the ground, the other palm turned into finger jab, the tip of his finger pushed the blade of the sword. Borrowing the reaction force, Xu Ziling soared vertically into the air.

    Suddenly a spear flashed by from the sky.

    After taking a quick glance, Xu Ziling nearly abandoned his plan to stay and stake his life, because the attacker was precisely his archenemy, Wang Bodang.

    Were it not for his brutality against Susu, there was great possibility that Susu would not have married Xiang Yushan, and her lifes happiness would not have been in such a predicament.

    This man definitely had excellent martial art skill. Upon applying his power, the pair of flexible spears in his hand became curved like a bow, plus when the spears sprang up again, the elastic force added the intensity of the attack that it was difficult to resist.

    Furthermore, the timing and the angle of attack was so accurate without the slightest error, so that Xu Ziling, who was still soaring in the air, had no choice but to go all-out to deal with it.

    However, it was not clear whether Xu Ziling had already anticipated this move, but his palm strike to the ground happened to be effective. Utilizing the backlash force, Xu Ziling traversed sideways and landed some distance away. With several leaps, he disappeared behind some roof tiles.

    Wang Bodang landed on the alley; together with Fu Zhen, two brothers, they looked at each other helplessly, their eyes were filled with frustration and amazement.

    Who would have guessed that with the three mens combined power they still failed to hold him back?

    ※ ※ ※

    Dong Shuni furiously said, Whats the emergency that you frightened me? Do you want me to marry that lecherous old man Li?

    Kou Zhong was shaken inwardly, Xu Ziling guessed it right: in order to deal with the currently most powerful Li Mi, Li Yuan and Wang Shichong had stricken a political marriage deal. The goods was precisely Luoyang beauty, Dong Shuni, whose fame spread out in all directions.

    After taking care of the threat from the west, Wang Shichong would have a free hand in dealing with Li Mi, while the Li Clan would be just as happy to sit on the mountain and watch the tigers fight.

    All these were planned by Li Shimin; its just that he did not think that he would be the person Shi Feixuan would choose, and that in the future he would contend against Li Jiancheng for the throne.

    Actually, what kind of person was Li Jiancheng? He has always been arrogant and headstrong, certainly he would not give up that easily.

    If this news leaked out into Li Jianchengs ears, it would be difficult for Li Clan to maintain good faith and solidarity.

    Too bad this brilliant scheme could not be put in practice, because Xu Ziling would absolutely not be happy if Kou Zhong ever employed this kind of dirty trick. Much less the news came from him.

    Kou Zhong simply had to let nature take its course.

    Paper cannot wrap fire, sooner of later Li Jiancheng would find out about this matter.

    The city gate in sight, Dong Shuni pulled him to stop; probing Kou Zhong, she asked, Have you found a way?

    Kou Zhong was awakened from his deep thinking, This matter involves many complex issues; lets talk about it tonight! he replied perfunctorily.

    How could Dong Shuni know what went through Kou Zhongs head had nothing to do with eloping? She happily said, Tonight, early xu hour [7-9pm], wait for me at Rong Fengxiangs mansion houses back door. I will try to sneak out. Dont leave without me!

    Astonished, Kou Zhong asked, Who in the world is Rong Fengxiang? Where does he live? What are you doing there tonight?

    Dong Shuni snappily replied, Such a famous person like Rong Fengxiang you dont know, yet you dared to hang around Luoyang? In Luoyang, he has both money and power, Da Jiufu [first maternal uncle] is even jealous of him to some degree. Here, eight out of ten casinos belong to him. His daughter, Rong Jiaojiao, is in good term with me, we are known as Luoyangs Two Beauties. Today is the auspicious day for his fiftieth birthday; therefore, he is holding a feast at his house. Do you understand?

    Kou Zhong said with a laugh, Since he is a Jianghu celebrity, of course I know how to find his house. But when you slip out and do not see me, it would be best if you find a second man to elope with you, because I might have been beaten to dead by a bunch of vicious nuns and monks!

    Unwilling to be bothered by her any longer, fast as lightning he slipped away, leaving the furious Dong Shuni stomping her feet, yet was unable to do anything to hold him down.

    ※ ※ ※

    The crumpled paper was crushed into pieces by the internal energy, and the breeze scattered it into the Luo River.

    Under the sunlight, the water of Luo River glittered brightly, while continuous stream of passenger ships and cargo boats came and went.

    Xu Ziling sat on the dike of the Luo River, basking in the sun. He was completely relaxed, putting the trouble of the Jade Annulus of He Clan totally out of his mind.

    He was well aware that after going through the bizarre encounter the previous night, he had made a very important breakthrough in his pursuit of martial art excellence. Otherwise, he would not be here enjoying the sunshine and the tranquility of the enchanting scenery of the busy downtown area.

    Some distance away to his left, the flow of pedestrians and carriage on Tianjin Bridge spanning the Lou River had been steadily increasing, but it seemed to be in another dimension that had nothing to do with him.

    Right this moment, someone was coming behind him.

    Without needing to turn around to look, Xu Ziling knew that it was Li Jing; he sighed inwardly.

    Li Jing came over and sat down beside him. Fixing his gaze at the Luo River, he sighed and said, Just hand me that thing!

    Xu Ziling replied indifferently, Since when did you become Shi Feixuans spokesperson?

    Li Jing said bitterly, I know that you are mad at me because of Su Mei. But I have always regarded her as my good Meizi, I had never had man-woman feeling toward her. Just like you and Kou Zhong are my good Xiongdi; therefore, now I have no choice but to advise you to return something to its rightful owner.

    With a cold laugh Xu Ziling said, Whether anyone wants to do something or decides not to do a certain thing, it is very easy to find words of explanation and excuses. Its just that in this kind of thing, it is difficult for outsiders to intervene. I just want to ask you one thing: did Li Shimin ever send Yang Xuyan to assassinate Xiang Yushan?

    Li Jing had never expected Xu Ziling would ask such question. After staring blankly for half a day, he responded, This matter involves Qin Wangs classified information. I, Li Jing, earn my salary from others, there are certain things that I am not at liberty to speak out.

    Actually, by saying that, he had indirectly admitted it.

    Xu Ziling spoke heavily, And now, did Li Shimin send you here to advise me to surrender something?

    Displeased, Li Jing said, How could Qin Wang be that kind of person? Besides, he basically does not have any desire to obtain the Jade Annulus of He Clan. I just worry about you, and I just found out that you have the ability to turn into someone else, but I could only hide it in my heart, and do not dare to tell Qin Wang. You ought to understand that I am hard-pressed from left and right!

    Laughing aloud, Xu Ziling said, Since we are not brothers anymore, you are free to do anything you want.

    Li Jing sighed and said, I understand your feelings. Actually, it was also due to Su Meis matter that I am having a very bad misunderstanding with you guys. But public matter is public matter, personal matter is personal matter; the Jade Annulus of He Clan is something that you must not touch. Even if you obtained it, what good would it bring you? So much so that even if you gave it away, nobody would dare to accept it; why bother then?

    Toward Li Jings earnest and well-meaning advice, Xu Ziling only felt disdain; he coldly said, If Li Shimin really does not have any interest to obtain the Jade Annulus of He Clan, and there is no more gratitude and grudges between us, wont that mean we no longer have anything to talk about?

    Li Jing stood up suddenly. Her tiger-body stood erect, his eyes flickered with cold rays. Fixing his gaze on the layer upon layer of buildings on the opposite bank, he spoke in heavy voice, Since Ziling is determined to be like this, I have nothing more to say. But no matter what, we all are brothers. I just want to say something, and I do hope youd listen.

    Recalling the trials and tribulations they were going through together in the past, Xu Ziling was overcome with emotions. Smiling wryly, he said, Please speak up!

    Li Jing said, Currently, the land under the heavens is all split up and in pieces, disaster of war never ends; in the end, the victims are the common people. We are men with lofty aspirations; we must choose brilliant master to serve, so that the whole world will be reunited once again. And according to my many research, only Qin Wang is worthy to be such person; Shi Feixuans opinion is no different than mine. By saying this, I hope you understand what I mean? Virtuous cause of today, any personal feeling ought to be set aside.

    Xu Ziling knew that Li Jing had seen through Kou Zhongs ambition, not his, hence he was able to say all these things.

    Shaking his head, he said with a sigh, Who the real brilliant master is, I am afraid only time will tell. When all is said and done, this matter is as simple as contending over the world. If you are just beating around the bush on this topic, I would rather you dont say anything. I, Xu Ziling, have no interest in serving anybody. This is called everybody has his own ambition.

    Li Jing laughed aloud; he even said several Good! in a row, before calmly walked away.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong hurriedly left the Imperial City to rejoin Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan.

    This matter has taken surprising turn and has developed rather abruptly.

    First of all, Liao Kong Dashi has been using his good friend Wang Bo to announce this matter publicly. This seemingly reckless move was actually a brilliant tactic after careful deliberations.

    Perhaps Shi Feixuan was the mastermind behind it.

    It was a clever scheme; it would turn whoever stole the Jade Annulus of He Clan into lawless disciple, and thus would become the public enemy of all major powers.

    Secondly, it will unite all school and sects of the White Way, who had been admirers of the Ci Hang Jing Zhai, under a common goal.

    As an outsider, it would be inappropriate for Shi Feixuan to be directly involved in the dispute of the mundane world; therefore, by having Wang Bo, who had announced that he withdrew from the race of becoming the Emperor, contacting various powers of the White Way, if she could retrieve the Jade Annulus of He Clan and then continued her selection process, the momentum would be even more explosive.

    Of course she did not know that the Jade Annulus of He Clan had met its fate and was finished. And now, even if she had the three men fried and had their bones torn, she could not force the Jade Annulus of He Clan to appear.

    Ah!

    Thinking about it, he felt it was very funny.

    When he was about to turn into the main street, a figure ahead of him flashed by and blocked his path.

    Kou Zhong focused his attention to look.

    Turned out it was a scholar who looked like a clerk. Twirling the moustache above his lips, he nodded and smiled at Kou Zhong. This persons sparse moustache matched his morbid countenance; only it looked grossly disproportionate, making him looked frivolous, but also a bit deliberately mystifying.

    His eyes even had yellowish tinge; very unattractive. His belly swollen, a sign of his indulgence of wine and women.

    Yet Kou Zhong was certain that the opposite party was a first class martial art master, or at least close to Bian Bufus caliber.

    It was purely an intuition when martial art masters encountered one another; there was absolutely no supporting evidence.

    When Kou Zhong was inwardly scolding himself, Do not judge a person by appearances, this sickly-looking middle-aged man saluted and said, Zaixia the Sick Scholar Jing Zhaoning, a guest of the Zhi Shilang Mansion, receiving Zhi Shilangs order to invite Kou Gongzi to Zhi Shilangs boat for a chat. [Translators note: not sure if it was a name or a title, Shi Lang literally means noble minister.]

    Astonished, Kou Zhong asked, How do you know that I am Kou Gongzi? This is the first time we met, is it not?

    Jing Zhaoning laughed aloud and said, Such a talented person like you, Kou Gongzi, is not necessarily one in ten thousand; as long as someone gives me direction, how could I not recognize you? Kou Gongzi must be joking!

    Kou Zhong sighed dejectedly and said, It must be because of the Jade Annulus of He Clan. I dont know what ill luck I encountered today, but no matter where I go, I always have this black pot on my back! But right now I have some urgent work to do, plus I do not wish to deliver a lamb into a tigers den, so after I figure out a few problems, I am going to pay a visit to Wang Gong. How about that?

    Frowning, Jing Zhaoning said, Gongzi really puts me in a tight spot. If I fail to invite Kou Gongzi, when I go back, how am I going to explain it to Zhi Shilang?

    Kou Zhong was fired up; he said, Right now I am already on edge that my brain is smoking; if I had to take care of how you are going to explain to others, arent you forcing me to my death?

    Jing Shaoning burst out laughing and said, Kou Xiong please do not take offence, I just wanted Kou Xiong to see Zhi Shilang, or let Zhi Shilang come to see Kou Xiong. Whatever problem you have, you may discuss it with him face to face. As long as the two of you are candid with each other and adhere by Jianghu rules, what is there worth to be worried over, or cannot be solved?

    Seeing he did not get angry, and his words contained hard within soft, on the surface he remained polite and maintained etiquette, yet inside hidden sharpness like a knife blade, Kou Zhong cried, How formidable! inwardly. He laughed calmly and said, Based on Wang Gongs prestige, it is only proper that this Xiaozi pay a visit to him. But since Jing Xiong mentioned Wulin rules, you also ought to know that without any reliable evidence, you cant adamantly point finger saying that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is in Xiaodis possession.

    Jing Zhaoning laughed aloud and said, Kou Xiong is indeed very interesting and is an outspoken person. But I, Jing Zhaoning, am not someone who goes round the curves and skirts the corners; we do have more than two hundred witnesses. As long as the three of you appear together, there will be someone who can tell the truth from the lies. Buddhism does not do deceit, you ought to be able to trust Jing Nian Chanyuans Dashi [great master, generic term to refer to Buddhist monks]?

    Kou Zhong groaned inwardly, but on the surface he pretended to be greatly delighted. Laughing, he said, Nothing can be better than that, as the water recedes, the rocks will appear, the truth will come to light. Before dusk today, the three of us will pay an official visit to Wang Gong; may I ask at which pier does Wang Gongs boat cast its anchor?

    After receiving direction from Jing Zhaoning and crying inwardly calling out for his Niang, Kou Zhong walked away like a wisp of smoke.


    [1] Chapter title: Fig. Surrounded by enemies, isolated and without help.

  3. #163
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 6

    Book 14 Chapter 6 Taking a Break From Danger

    Sitting down by Xu Zilings side, Ba Fenghan asked, Whos that man just now? Both in terms of build and poise he showed a lot of lofty quality. Although he was walking away furiously, I was standing behind the willow tree yet still could not hide from him. Indeed he is a rare martial art master.

    He is Li Jing, Xu Ziling replied, During our debut, it was from him that we learned our Ten-Style Saber Technique.

    Ba Fenghan has had discussion about martial art with him on the mountain, so of course he knew the Bloody Battle Ten Styles. Emotionally moved, he said, If a few years ago he has already been able to create such a powerful, overbearing saber technique, he must be even more out of the ordinary now. I really wish for an opportunity to try the Bloody Battle Ten Styles directly from his hands.

    Smiling bitterly, Xu Ziling said, We have had life and death friendship with him; it would be best if Fenghan Xiong did not look for him for a fight.

    Sneering, Ba Fenghan said, Right now it is not that I want to look for him for a fight, rather, he wont let us off; a soft way [orig. wen, literature, civil] will not accomplish as much as a hard way [orig. wu, martial art, military]. I hear Li Jings wife has an outstanding martial art, an expert in using red brush[?], her origin is a mystery. Hey! How come I havent seen Kou Zhong?

    Frowning, Xu Ziling asked, What news did you get? Why did you say that Li Jing want to fight with us?

    With a cold humph Ba Fenghan replied, If that kid Li Shimin is still unclear that we are against him, do we still need to come out to announce that we are contending over the world? From the tone of Dong Ming Princess voice, that Li kid is very afraid of the three of us. If he could not use us, he will disregard everything to have us killed to nip the problem in the bud.

    Xu Ziling noticed that when he mentioned Shan Wanjing, the tone of his voice was cold, unlike before, where he used to call her Wanjing or Princess with intimacy. Astonished, he asked, Is there something wrong between you and Shan Wanjing?

    Ba Fenghan fixed his gaze on a speedily passing boat, his eyes flashed with cold rays as he sighed and said, I had a big fight with her.

    Xu Ziling was stunned, Why did you fight?

    With a rueful smile Ba Fenghan said, Of course it was because of the Jade Annulus of He Clan. But when all is said and done, it was because of that Li kid. At first she was very nice; she blamed me for hanging around with you, and thus was drawn into this tight knot that cannot be untied. She also said that Li kid is destined to be the Son of Heaven ordained by heaven itself, and wanted me to hand the Jade Annulus of He Clan to him. Humph! Who did she think she is to talk to me like that?

    Blurting out laughing, Xu Ziling said, Treasure of the heart is a sin, this saying is surely not an empty words. Suddenly friends become enemies; really interesting.

    Ba Fenghan smiled and said, Just like the Jade Annulus of He Clan, that kind of treasure, only the virtuous can obtain it, it never belonged to anyone. I will never surrender to the authority, who have the ability may give me all he got, right now I am terribly itchy.

    And then he sneered and said, I thought that after parting company with you this morning there would be someone coming to get even with me; at least there should be people like Tuoba Yu and his pretty Shimei, or perhaps Dugu Feng and the likes who would love to try their luck. Who would have thought that I did not encounter even half a shadow? Its so disappointing.

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, You, Lao Ge, fully displayed your capabilities last night by forcing back Qu Ao; whoever wanted to mess with you would have to figure out their own weight first.

    Shaking his head, Ba Fenghan said, In my opinion, that was not the case. Rather, it was because Wang Bo has already issued a decree in Jianghu, and he has Ci Hang Jing Zhai and Jing Nian Chanyuan behind him, hence everybody wanted to give him face, by letting him figuring out a way to get the Jade Annulus of He Clan back. Pushing toward the deadline of zi hour [11pm-1am] tonight, we may feel nervous because nothing is happening.

    Xu Ziling said, Dont forget that Wanwan cant possibly be subject to any restriction; perhaps shell come first to give us bad luck, while conveniently see whether she could force the Jade Annulus of He Clan out from us.

    Ba Fenghan delightedly said, That is exactly what Ive been looking for. As long as we can capture one of her men, we will have a way to find out Junyus whereabouts. What I am afraid the most is that Yin Gui Pai would want to reap the fishermans benefit by waiting until the zi hour tonight before taking any action against us.

    Thinking hard, Xu Ziling said, Right now people on the street are our enemies. With multitude of enemies and few friends, our only strategy is to deal with them using martial art power; does Fenghan Xiong have any clever move?

    Ba Fenghan calmly said, If my expectation is correct, Shi Feixuan is the mastermind behind all these. Her objective is to make us a thief lacking in confidence, and bring the stolen goods far away from the city. But we will definitely not give her what she wished for; we will remain here and deal with her to the end. Ha! Who would have guessed that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is practically not in our hands? Afterwards, it will not be in anybodys hands either.

    Xu Ziling was baffled, In this kind of situation, plus you just had a fallout with Shan Wanjing, how come your mood seems to be better than before?

    Ba Fenghan smiled and said, Quite possibly you and Kou Zhong are not aware yet how much benefit we gained from the Jade Annulus of He Clan; it has never happened in the history of Wulin inside and outside the Central Plains. Currently the three of us, each one is a living miracle, as well as a witness to this matter. Dont you feel the wonderful feeling of shedding ones mortal body and exchanging ones bones?

    Astonished, Xu Ziling asked, Is it as amazing as you described it?

    Ba Fenghan took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It was quite awhile later that he opened his eyes and said, What I said was very modest. As the legend says: the Jade Annulus of He Clan is a divine object from the outer space, with terrifying mysterious power hidden inside, but this power is now owned by the three of us. Not only it expands and strengthens the meridians and acupoints throughout our entire body, it also enables us to extract some kind of power and the essence of the universe. As long as we strive untiringly, there will be a day when we will surpass anybody else. Because in itself the power inside the Jade Annulus of He Clan already surpasses martial arts model and resources. That I am able to obtain this amazing opportunity, how could I not be in good mood?

    And then he added, As for my disagreement with Shan Wanjing, its a trivial thing. Having a fall out with her is actually a kind of painful pleasure. As long as we can get Junyu back, I, Ba Fenghan, will no longer care about it. At that time Kou Zhong will fight for his world, and you will roam the four seas to seek after the joy of life, I will return to Tujue to challenge Bi Xuan. Each one of us will pursue our respective goal and aspirations. Life at this point, a man should return to his quest. Thinking about our dreams all of a sudden become palpable reality, how could my mood be bad?

    Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, Let us see whether we can survive after the zi hour tonight to talk about it!

    Ba Fenghan let out a smile brimming with air of arrogance; he spoke nonchalantly, Tonight at zi hour the three of us will find a place to drink and be merry. Whoever has the ability, let him come to take my, Ba Fenghans life away. But bear in mind that no matter what, we must not admit that it was us who stole the Jade Annulus of He Clan, because then both sides, the enemy and us, will have no wiggle room to turn away.

    With deep frown on his face, Xu Ziling said, I am not afraid of anyone, but I do not wish this matter to turn into rivers of blood.

    Sighing, Ba Fenghan said, Do you think I really like to kill people? But you dont want to kill people, people want to take your life. All we could do is to act according to the circumstances! What I can promise you is that unless I absolutely have no other alternative, I will not randomly cause anybodys death.

    Xu Ziling was deeply touched.

    Ba Fenghan was coming from horse thieves background; he has always been vicious and merciless. He was able to speak those words, it was purely for Xu Zilings sake; what else could he say?

    This moment Kou Zhong arrived. Squeezing himself in the middle of the two, he sat down and laughed aloud and said, Arent you going to look for a place you can hide your Niang for a while, to lie low until the fuss dies down?

    ※ ※ ※

    The three wandered around Luoyangs most prosperous Heaven Street in a triangular formation [orig. 品 (pin) character].

    Xu Ziling was in front, Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan walked side-by-side behind him.

    The shops along the Heaven Street were meticulously decorated, the ledges and the room blended well, with magnificent screen and canopy spread over the treasures, utensils, and all kinds of goods. The shop attendants dressed in bright, colorful and splendid uniforms were busy hawking their merchandise.

    The most attractive thing was that among these sales people, there was no lack of gorgeously dressed young girls [orig. lovely scene of blossoming plants swaying in the breeze], so that the eyes cannot take it all.

    Even the street vendors also displayed their wares on dragon-themed carts; uniform and aristocratic looking.

    Each of the three men had distinctive appearance. Xu Ziling was casual and elegant, Ba Fenghan was stalwart, magnificent, unusual yet grand, Kou Zhong had an overbearing air around him. Walking together, naturally the passers-by could not help casting an admiring glance toward them.

    While talking and laughing, the three were also pointing and gesticulating toward things that attracted their attention. Sometimes they even stopped to look at certain things. From the outside, nobody would have guessed that they were racking their brains on how to deal with the disproportionately powerful enemies.

    Smiling at a young upper-class lady passing-by on a sedan chair, making her blushed, Kou Zhong laughed and said, Luoyang is indeed a good place. The most wonderful thing is that no matter where you look, you will see beautiful girls. Ha! What is it?

    The last sentence was spoken in a low voice, which he focused using his internal energy, then sent it toward Xu Zilings ears.

    Sidestepping a bunch of children chasing each other, Xu Ziling replied in soft voice, There are at least five groups of people following us; they dress as all kinds of people, and are constantly moving around to avoid our suspicion.

    Ba Fenghan praised, I only know that we are being followed by a lot of people, but I cannot tell that they belong to five different forces; how did you do it? And what puzzles me most is that unlike me and Kou Zhong, you did not look around at all, yet nothing seems to escape your attention.

    Xu Ziling stopped at a booth selling ginseng. Turning to Kou Zhong, he asked, Do you want to buy some ginseng and go back to make some ginseng tea?

    The hawker was a fat barbarian man from outside the area; hearing Xu Ziling, he crossly said, My ginseng is authentic first grade wild ginseng transported over ten thousand crags and torrents; it is most effective to improve blood circulation and relax the tendon, this product will extend your life. Steeping it in wine will bring about its efficacy. Making a tea is just too wasteful.

    Giggling, Kou Zhong said, Please forgive our ignorance; which one is the best? Tonight we are going to steep it into wine to drink.

    His countenance changed, the peddler angrily said, I wont sell! I wont sell! These ginsengs have to be steeped into wine for a year or so, and have to be stored in underground cellar. How can you just dip it and drink right away?

    Pulling Kou Zhong away, Ba Fenghan laughed involuntarily and said, That man is so stubborn, I guarantee that he wont strike it rich, but he does win our respect. So in the end, do the gains male up for the losses?

    And then he quickly added, Ziling has not answered me.

    Xu Zilings sharp gaze swept the pedestrians walking to and fro on the street like a school of crucian carps; he laughed calmly and said, Using undivided aspiration, and focused mind. When I focus all my senses, my perception thus extends to the surrounding crowd, so much so that I can feel it when someone was casting me a glance. The most wonderful thing is the footsteps of those people following us. Each time we stopped, their speed also changed accordingly; sometimes they intentionally walked pass us and then somewhere in front someone else would replace them. Therefore, you will be able to quickly grasp the style and pattern with which they are trailing us, and also deduce clearly that they belong to five different groups.

    Kou Zhong took a step forward to walk side-by-side with Xu Ziling. Ziling is indeed exceptional, he praised, But why did you say that there are at least five groups of people? Does it mean that outside those five groups, there are others who secretly follow us but you are not able to grasp their exact position?

    Exactly right, Xu Ziling replied, This is purely my feeling. This man is our real formidable opponent. Unless we can throw him off our track, we can forget about waiting happily for the zi hour to arrive.

    Ba Fenghan smiled and said, The one in charge must be Shi Feixuan, Ning Daoqis caliber. I did not expect Ziling to have this kind of outstanding ability; therefore, our plan will definitely succeed. Can we make our move now?

    Xu Ziling laughed aloud and replied, Yes, certainly!

    Traversing sideways, they entered Fengdu Township, one of the three major markets of the City of Luoyang.

    The entire city district east of the Imperial Palace and south of the Luo River encompassed an area one hundred and three li square.

    Inside this area, the streets were interconnected by lanes and alleys. Playing hide-and-seek in this area crowded with residential buildings was definitely very exciting.

    Fengdu Township was the top among the three major markets of the City of Luoyang. It was bigger in scale compared to the other two townships, Datong and Tongyuan. Food stalls and peddlers stalls lining the crowded street, the clamor shook the heavens.

    Xu Ziling led the other two passing through the left and slipping to the right. It appeared that their speed was only so-so, just because their upper body did not move much, but their lower part was unleashing their footwork, as they glided like a loach slipping through the gap among the crowd.

    At this time Xu Zilings senses were at their peak. Abruptly turning left or right, suddenly slowing down or speeding up, going sideways or straight ahead, every move was a response to the changes in the trailing enemies movement; it was no different than fighting hand to hand. Sometimes he even turned back the same way, to make it difficult for the enemy to predict their move.

    In the blink of an eye they already slipped out of the marketplace via the northern gate; crossing the vehicles and horses road, they entered someones house from the front door and slipped away from the back door, despite the occupants protest and attempt to block them. Finally they reached a small alley and leaped over the wall to escape.

    Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan followed closely behind Xu Ziling, climbing over the wall, slipping through the house and jumping over the building, sometimes running fast along a small alley, until they reached the southeast corner of the city, where a river wound its way from the east, with dancing trees and layer upon layer of residential buildings along both banks.

    Proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, According to the map, this is the Yi River.

    And then, pointing to the stream on the right, he said, And that is Jixian lane, where the Yi River split into two, from Changxia Gate flowing left and right to the southern suburb, and continue toward Liao Kongs old nest!

    Lowering his voice, he asked, Have we thrown them off?

    Xu Ziling pondered quietly for half a day. He shook his head and said, We have thrown off only those with mediocre skill. I just mentioned the formidable opponents; they are still following closely behind us like maggot sticking to the bone. Right now my feeling is even more intense.

    Aghast, Kou Zhong said, We still cant throw them off; could it be Shi Feixuan or even Ning Daoqi?

    With his hands behind his back, Ba Fenghan replied indifferently, Of course not them. With their status, how can they bother to do such trivial thing? If I am guessing correctly, the tracker ought to be Dugu Feng, because when we were passing through the marketplace, I seemed to sniff her scent.

    Recalling how the Passionate Prince Hou Xibai tracking her down by her scent, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling nodded in agreement.

    Upset, Kou Zhong said, This is called ruining the enterprise for the sake of one basketful. Without any marketplace to play hide-and-seek, it is more difficult to avoid her tracking.

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, Do you see the River is bustling with boats storming back and forth? How about sticking ourselves to them?

    Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, If only sticking ourselves to the bottom of the boat, Xiaodi is willing to play along.

    That is a brilliant plan indeed! Kou Zhong happily said.

    He was the first to run through the sparse wooded area by the river bank and threw himself into the water.

    The three left the water and went ashore unnoticed [lit. the gods did not know, the ghosts did not realize] under a small bridge at the citys southwest.

    Using their internal energy, they incited their bodies to generate heat, so that by the time they passed through the decorated archway of the city square, their clothes were dry, just like magic.

    The square was an open space with flagstone floor in random arrangement, resulting in rich texture, making their heart thoroughly refreshed and relaxed.

    There was a well in the middle of the square. Two women were drawing water from the well; a picture perfect depiction of ordinary peoples life. It was so moving that it seemed to be in a painting and not in real life.

    With a rueful smile Xu Ziling said, Our misfortune is that we had never experienced and enjoyed the fun of ordinary life. Like right now, for example, my mind can only think about whether we can escape people tracking and following us, everything else have to be put aside. Dont you say we are so helpless?

    Ba Fenghan took the lead toward an alley to their left. He had to step aside to let a bunch of you chase me, I run after you little kids who were rushing toward the flagstone plaza.

    Listening to the childrens laughter going farther away, Kou Zhong turned to Xu Ziling and said with a sigh, When we were those childrens age, other than fighting and trying to survive, we never seemed to play until the sky darkened the earth turned black like those children. Does it mean that we have lost a real childhood?

    The three continued deep into the alley. Ba Fenghan continuously scanned the buildings on both sides of the alley.

    Xu Ziling reached out to pat Kou Zhongs shoulder; with a wry smile he said, That is precisely the price you have to pay if you want to stand out among your peers. Were it not for you wanted to imitate the dog and steal the chicken, also wanted to study and train martial art, how could our precious childhood years be this empty? And now we wouldnt be like three rats crossing the street while everybody else is shouting and yelling to beat and kill us.

    Ba Fenghan burst out laughing. He said, Wont it be a bit better if you said three tigers crossing the street? At least no one is not afraid. Everything has a price, and now is the time to settle the debt. Come! This way.

    The three turned right into another alley, a flagstone-paved alley, suggesting an endless relaxed atmosphere, standing aloof from worldly affairs. A teenage girl was washing clothes in front of the door. Suddenly seeing the three, immediately her eyes grew wide as she stared blankly at them.

    Unexpectedly there were such heroes in this world; not only one, but three appeared at the same time.

    Ba Fenghan was in a very good mood; he turned his head around and gave her a smile. Catching up with the other two, he said, If someone mobilized Luoyangs local ruffians and gangsters to investigate all over the city, before the zi hour they would have discovered that we have been here. Because we are so easily recognizable; once they saw us, they would never forget.

    Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, Arent you going the wrong way? Is this a diversion?

    Ba Fenghan smiled and said, I call this surveying the terrain first. Come on!

    Suddenly he somersaulted over the roof of the building to their left, leading the two boys leaping onto the roofs and vaulting over the walls. It was quite a while later that they finally landed into a small courtyard of one of the many single-story houses.

    Above the main door was a plaque with three big letters House of Contemplation [Si Shi Ju, si think/consider, shi life/age/era, ju residence]; the strokes were free yet powerful, like a dragon flying into the sky.

    Laughing aloud, Kou Zhong said, Mr. Xus penmanship is indeed extremely outstanding.

    The piece of paper Xu Xingzhi handed over to Xu Ziling [See Book 10 Chapter 11] was actually a map giving direction to this Si Shi Ju, which was also the place where he was supposed to meet Kou Zhong.

    The house was divided into front and rear sections, with a courtyard in the middle.

    Xu Ziling laughed and called out, Mr. Xu, we are here!

    No response from the house.

    Ba Fenghan was surprised, Could it be that he is not back yet? he asked.

    Kou Zhong took the lead toward the door. With one push the door was opened.

    As he stepped into the house, his tiger-body was severely shaken. Its you again! he called out in shock.

  4. #164
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 7

    Book 14 Chapter 7 Marquis Wu Reincarnated[1]

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling stepped over the threshold and stood on either side of Kou Zhong; they were stunned as well.

    The furnishing of the reception hall was simple. There were only a table and a few chairs, and some other essential things.

    Leaning against the large window on the south side was a long bench where Xu Xingzhi was sitting motionless with his eyes closed.

    His long hair was undone, and Wanwan, in her plain white clothes, was standing behind the chair, with a comb in her hand, and a gentle and soft expression on her face, combing his hair with utmost care. It was an extremely weird scene.

    With a thousand ways and a hundred plans the three were able to break away from their pursuers; who would have thought that in this place, which they thought would be the Peach Blossom Spring [i.e. utopia, a hidden land of peace and prosperity] in the midst of chaotic world, and the Holy Land where they could retreat in peace, they were welcomed by their terrifying archenemy?

    Wanwans deep gaze was fixed on Xu Xingzhis hair. With breathy voice that came out of her purple-red lips, she said, What took you so long? I have been waiting here anxiously!

    The three looked at each other; they all felt that they had fallen into an absolutely disadvantageous position.

    Unable to think of any way to deal with the distressing situation in front of their eyes, Kou Zhong stretched out his limbs, and sat down on a chair on the opposite corner from where Wanwan was standing; he said, You really have some ability. How did you find this place?

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling separately sat down on the chairs left and right of the main door; they have regained their composure.

    Wanwan still did not look up; her eyes were following the movement of her comb along Xu Xingzhis hair. Since you are smart, she said tenderly, If you think it through, you ought to know the answer. But enough chitchat, I want you to look at something interesting.

    Ah! Nobody knew what kind of trick Wanwan was playing, but Xu Xingzhi suddenly opened his eyes and regained his consciousness. But he was still unable to move a single step.

    Wanwan hung her small cicada head low; looking at Xu Xingzhis profile from the side, she chuckled and said, Whatever you say now, Mr. Xu will be able to hear every single word without missing anything. Let us play am imteresting little game now.

    Xu Xingzhi seemed to understand what kind of game Wanwan was talking about; his eyes revealed a pained and helpless expression.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, You seem to have a bad habit of breaking into others warm homes. Spit it out! [orig. you have a fart, let it out]

    Wanwan still did not look at them; she calmly said, How could you be so foul-mouthed toward a girl? I just want to ask you one thing: which one is more important: the Jade Annulus of He Clan, or Mr. Xus life?

    Immediately the three felt big headache.

    Currently, Wanwans manner and movement were graceful and elegant, extremely touching. Her white clothes and black hair matched very well with her bare feet and exceptional countenance. She was the epitome of feminine charm, beauty and tenderness. But the three knew that she could make her move any time, and when she killed, she would not be tenderhearted at all.

    And the most formidable part of her plan was to let Xu Xingzhi hear Kou Zhongs answer with his own ears, so Kou Zhong could not play any trick.

    Holding his head in his hands, Kou Zhong painfully said, The Jade Annulus of He Clan is really not in my hands, how am I supposed to hand it over to you?

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling also looked at each other with wry smile on their faces.

    Hearing Kou Zhongs response, Wanwan was stunned; raising her beautiful face, she looked at the three men, and then her tender body shook severely. Her beautiful eyes, which appeared to be eternally shrouded in dense fog, shot a look of disbelief, and her combing movement stopped.

    On the other hand, Xu Xingzhis eyes revealed a hopeful look.

    Ba Fenghan interjected, Not in our hands means not in our hands. For the sake of Mr. Xus life, I, Ba Fenghan, will make an exception of swearing an oath that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is really not in our hands. If you still insist on taking Mr. Xus life, I, Ba Fenghan, vow that I will kill every single person of Yin Gui Pai.

    Wanwan appeared to regain her composure; her beautiful eyebrows knitted together, she asked, What happened to you? How come your expressions look like you have shed your mortal body and exchanged your bones?

    The three shivered inwardly at the superiority of Wanwans eyesight; at a single glance, she was able to see that in mental cultivation, they had made a comprehensive breakthrough.

    Tranquil and calm, Xu Ziling responded, Even if we tell you, you wont believe it. Last night we went to Jing Nian Chanyuan to steal the treasure; its a pity that before we even see the Jade Annulus of He Clans shadow, Liao Kong already detected our hiding place that without any better option we sounded out the difficulties and retreated to avoid defeat. Afterwards, with nothing else to do, we trained together following the Secret to Long Lifes technique. Totally unexpected, we actually made a breakthrough. But the Jade Annulus of He Clan is really not in our hands.

    In their hearts, Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong cried Wonderful! Coming from Xu Ziling, who had never lied, these words were more convincing than if it was Kou Zhong who said it.

    Wanwan seemed to be deep in thought, a facial expression that was enough to make others lost in wild and fanciful thoughts. With a faint sigh she put away the comb, and spoke softly, You may not believe this, but I really believe that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is not in your hands, because I know listening to the sound to distinguish emotion technique. Just now Kou Zhong was sincere, but Ziling Xiongs remark has a not completely dishonest nuance. But since it has nothing to do with the Jade Annulus of He Clan, nujia naturally has no time to think about it. Anyway, who stole the Jade Annulus of He Clan? Of course you did not have this ability.

    The three heaved a sigh of relief, but at the same time their heart was overwhelmed with horror.

    Secret consummate skill of the demonic school emerged more and more, turning their hearts cold.

    Kou Zhong spoke in distress, If Shi Feixuan had the same ability as you to tell the truth from the lies, we would not need to carry this black pot on our backs!

    Pow!

    Wanwans palm slapped Xu Xingzhis back. The latter immediately regained his speech and movement ability. Naturally he understood the gravity of the situation that he did not dare to act blindly without thinking.

    Wanwan turned her tender body around, so that her milky white back was facing four men. Looking at the small garden in front of the wall, she said softly, This time even if you wash yourself in water you cant be clean. However, according to what I heard, I still feel it strange: how come the thief was only one person and not three? Yet Liao Kong was adamant that it was the three of you who did it. He must have his reasons.

    Ba Fenghan coldly said, And now, what do you want?

    Wanwan shrugged her fragrant shoulders slightly. Laughing tenderly, she said, If you are willing to tell me the secret of Duke Yangs Treasure, I can help you get out of here safely. Currently, other than us, who dares to offend those women from the Jing Zhai?

    With a bitter smile Kou Zhong said, Ill say your listening to the sound to distinguish emotion technique is not always effective. That time our Niang did not have time to tell us the secret of the treasure before she passed away. And now what do we have as an exchange to your help?

    Pfft! Wanwan laughed tenderly, and turned her tender body around. Full of tender feelings, she looked at Kou Zhong and said, You are still lying! Dont forget that we obtained all information about your Shuang Long Bang [double-dragon gang] from your subordinate!

    Xu Ziling let out a cold humph; his tiger-eyes flashed with sharp rays.

    Were it not for Xu Xingzhi was still under her control, hence he refrained from shooting at the rat for fear of breaking the vase, he would have made his move immediately.

    Wanwan cast her gaze on Xu Zilings out-of-the-ordinarily outstanding handsome face. Sighing gently, she said, Two sides fighting each other, if you didnt kill me, I would kill you. However, due to changing circumstances and vital interest, cant we temporarily work together?

    Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, I wonder if Miss dares to have a one-on-one duel with me, other things can be discussed after victory and defeat is decided.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in surprise; they did not expect Ba Fenghan would make this move.

    Although in term of power they had enjoyed tremendous advancement due to the Jade Annulus of He Clan, yet they still needed to digest and train diligently. At that time they might have enough power to fight one-on-one against Wanwan. But right now their chance of victory was really very little.

    Wanwan laughed calmly, Either you were born with self-destructive character, or you were born an idiot, she said.

    Ba Fenghan revealed a smile full of confidence; he responded indifferently, You are free to say anything you want to say. The Ol Ba just wants to know if you have enough guts to accept the challenge.

    Frowning, Wanwan stared at him for half a day. Finally she nodded and said, It was because you have seen right through me that I cant possibly fight with you right now that you spoke conceited nonsense like that. But be careful since I might suddenly change my mind, and take Shi Feixuans place in taking care of you.

    Ba Fenghans eyes were gleaming with sharper-than-saber-blade rays as he stared deeply into Wanwans beautiful eyes. Shaking his head, he spoke heavily, I also know that not only you cant possibly fight with us, you do not dare to do so. The most subtle reason is because your decisive battle against Shi Feixuan is near at hand; therefore, both sides want to save your energy. Under this situation, do you dare to fight to the death against me, Ba Fenghan?

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had a sudden understanding; they were both crying wonderful! inwardly.

    The biggest problem right now was that the initiative lay entirely in Wanwans hands.

    She could both throw stones at somebody who fell down a well, by announcing the location of their hideout, or make her move by killing Xu Xingzhi, to vent her resentment for their refusal to cooperate with her.

    But Ba Fenghan had pointed out her only weak spot, which was afraid to have a hard battle and suffer damage of her strength, which Shi Feixuan could exploit to her advantage.

    If it were another place another time, this threat might not be effective. But now that they were in the middle of the city where Shi Feixuan might appear anytime, how could Wanwan not have any apprehension?

    Therefore, as soon as she harmed Xu Xingzhi, the three would not hesitate to immediately stake everything they had to fight her, and would definitely not be lenient to her.

    Pfft! Wanwan burst out in giggles and spoke tenderly, I am afraid Ba Xiong misunderstood me. I did not have any intention to kill anybody. I just had nothing to do, so I wanted to chat a little with you to relieve boredom!

    Kou Zhong rose up to his full height and laughed aloud, Nothing can be better than that! he said, Come! Let us drink a cup of fragrant tea! After all, you are our guest! While speaking, he walked over to the table in the middle of the hall.

    Xu Xingzhi seized this opportunity to leave the bench. He said with a laugh, As the host, Zaixia should be the one pouring out tea.

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling had their eyes on Wanwan, while storing up their power to deal with her.

    Wanwan floated out of the window and landed on the courtyard. Laughing tenderly, she said, I wish you good luck!

    Finished speaking, she disappeared in a flash.

    Xu Xingzhi heaved a sigh of relief and sat down. Still palpitating with fear he said, That demoness has a really good memory. Previously at Jingling she had seen me from a distance, so she knew who I am. This morning when I made contact with Xu Ye, she must be nearby, so as soon as she saw us, she knew whats going on.

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan asked, So did she have you in her control just this morning?

    Nodding, Xu Xingzhi said, She followed me to this place, and then I lost consciousness. Really strange, why didnt she use some dirty tricks to force some confession out of me?

    Ba Fenghan spoke heavily, You might have already done that. All Demon Cult people know some kind of evil bewitching, soul-altering skill that can make you reveal all kinds of secret while you are sleeping or in some dream-like condition, and will not have any recollection of it afterwards.

    Xu Xingzhi said, No wonder my head still feel unbearably weird.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, Because she saw great increase in our power, female demon Wan momentarily had no choice but to relent and withdraw. But since Yin Gui Pai has been known to always exact revenge, there must be some other tricks with which she will deal with us. This place does not seem to be appropriate to stay for a long time, but where can we go to hide?

    Letting out a long laughter, Ba Fenghan said, Our biggest barrier right now is that we feel that we are in the wrong, hence we always look for a hiding place to take shelter from the wind. While in fact, as long as we can overcome this barrier, we can just wait here for the zi hour with large bowl of wine and large bowl of meat, to see if anybody will be able to take one of lifes great pleasures from us.

    Puzzled, Xu Xingzhi asked, What exactly happened?

    Putting his hand on Xu Xingzhis shoulder, Kou Zhong asked, Do you have any wine?

    Xu Xingzhi laughed and replied, How can a house be without wine? Let me go to the back to get some wine.

    Kou Zhong accompanied him to the back and explained to him what happened.

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling sat quietly for half a day, and then as if by prior agreement they both moved to the chairs in front of the table. The former spoke coldly, If I am guessing correctly, next time we come across Wanwan, it will be a hard fighting.

    Xu Ziling nodded in agreement, but he knitted his brows.

    Because of the great advancement of their skill, they have become a serious threat to Yin Gui Pai.

    Wanwan did not make her move immediately, it was because she was hoping they would fight a hard battle against Shi Feixuan until both sides suffer, and then Wanwan could reap the fishermans benefit.

    Noticing Xu Zilings pensive look, Ba Fenghan wondered, Are you thinking about something unusual?

    Returning to his senses, Xu Ziling replied thoughtfully, Just now Zhu Yuyan must be at the rear courtyard somewhere. If she had confirmed that the Jade Annulus of He Clan was in our possession, she would immediately snatch it away. Fortunately the Jade Annulus of He Clan is really not in our hands.

    Taking a deep breath, Ba Fenghan said, That makes sense. Just before we made a breakthrough, Wanwan already had no capability to deal with the three of us fighting together. Therefore, she must have another backup that she dared to wait for us in here.

    Sucking a mouthful of cold air, Xu Ziling said, Only one Wanwan is enough to give us headache, if there was Zhu Yuyan waiting on the side glaring like a tiger watching its prey, wont our days become a lot more difficult?

    Laughing heartily, Ba Fenghan said, Tomorrows sun will be the one thing we are most eager to see. Only by living like this will life be interesting. Only in the face of death will we appreciate that life is precious. And in martial art way, only by defying death will we gain life. Only by not being afraid of death will we overcome death and wont be conquered by death.

    Xu Ziling gladly said, What a heroic remark and powerful speech! We must use wine to liven things up.

    Bang! Slapping the table with his palm, he called out, Wheres the wine?

    Kou Zhong scampered over holding a pot of wine in his hands, Coming! Coming! Two Daye please be patient.

    Xu Zingzhi set the cups for everybody. Kou Zhong was in charge of pouring the wine.

    Ding!

    Four cups clinked against each other, and then they were drained in one gulp.

    Looking at the bottom of the cup, where not a single drop remained, Ba Fenghan praised, Good wine!

    Kou Zhong pretended to be unable to hold alcohol; slumping on the table, he moaned, What kind of person is Wanwan? Can she still be considered a human being? Does she have human beings seven emotional states and eight desires? How come I always feel that she is not a human being with flesh and blood?

    Surprisingly, it was Xu Xingzhi who responded, Devil Schools people have been trained since they were young, and rarely left their homes halfway. Therefore, every three years they have selection process, where martial art masters of Elder-level went out everywhere to abduct small children who did not understand human affairs to be their disciples. Merely this cruel act has made God knows how many fathers and mothers have their hearts shattered and their souls broken.

    After a short pause, he continued, Therefore, all Yin Gui Pai people whose instinct is dead; but in order to achieve their goal, they would do anything, by hook or by crook.

    Xu Ziling looked at Ba Fenghan, who was slowly raising the wine pot and pouring the wine into his cup; he said, Instinct cant be dead, but it can be replaced and suppressed. From time to time Wanwans eyes revealed an indescribably complex emotion, but her hands are definitely not lenient.

    Putting down his cup, Ba Fenghan turned toward Xu Xingzhi and asked in astonishment, Mr. Xus remark must be a secret that Yin Gui Pai would be afraid if others would know; I wonder how did you obtain it?

    Xu Xingzhi took a quick glance at Kou Zhong, who was still crouching on the table. A sad expression flitted through his eyes as he spoke in heavy voice, Old affair needs not be raised again. Suffice it to say that there is a very deep enmity between me and Yin Gui Pai; hence with thousand ways, a hundred plans I investigated everything related to them.

    Kou Zhong sat up straight and spoke in earnestness, In that case, Mr. Xu and us are kindred-spirit.

    Xu Xingzhi smiled and said, Just based on the fact that Kou Ye is willing to confide in the Ol Xu with entire sincerity, so much so that you did not conceal anything pertaining to the Jade Annulus of He Clan, I, Xu Xingzhi, will not fail to live up to Kou Yes deep affection.

    And then, revealing a vehement expression, he laughed and said, For the past many years, I, Xu Xingzhi, have roamed the world, but have never seen heroes like the three gentlemen. Even if I had to deliver my life in Luoyang together with three gentlemen, I will have no regret.

    Raising his cup in a toast, Ba Fenghan said, Isnt Mr. Xu also an outstanding hero? Otherwise, how could you speak with such heroic passion? We salute you with a toast.

    After draining another cup, two red clouds appeared on Xu Xingzhis face, his eyes were flashing with the radiance of wisdom as he said, This time it could be said that we are caught in the passive, take-a-beating, the lowest possible position. If we only rely on courage and strength, ultimately we might end up fighting with all our might and perish. Have three Daye thought about any plan on how to deal with it?

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, Of course we have. But other than taking up the challenge or escape, two ways, I really cant think of the third way. Hiding in here cannot be considered a solution.

    Xu Xingzhi laughed calmly and said, The complicated situation in Luoyang nowadays is unprecedented. For instance, Yin Gui Pai is willing to watch with folded arms, simply because the situation dictates it to be so. If we are able to take advantage of it, perhaps we can find a way to survive.

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong asked, What should we do?

    Fiddling with his moustache, Xu Xingzhi smiled and said, Let me analyze the situation first. The most important factor is naturally the triangular relationship between Wang Shichong, Yang Dong and Li Mi. Although they do not seem to have direct relationship with the Jade Annulus of He Clan, but if they knew that after getting the Jade Annulus of He Clan Shi Feixuan was going to bestow it to Li Yuans second son, Li Shimin, they would definitely wish for the Jade Annulus of He Clan to fall into other peoples hands rather than letting Li Shimin have the advantage.

    Pondering deeply, Ba Fenghan said, Mr. Xus remark is very logical. Presently the people from three sides are most afraid of Li Yuan, whose fame and power grow more flourishing by the day, whose occupation of Guanzhong, overlooking Hudou, is table. And the most outstanding among the Li Clan is precisely Li Shimin. In such situation, they would never allow Shi Feixuan to obtain the Jade Annulus of He Clan and hand it over to Li Shimin.

    A short pause later, he went on, But the problem is that the three sides are pinning down each other that they are in deadlocked situation; who would dare to take the risk of offending Ci Hang Jing Zhai by thwarting Shi Feixuans effort to retrieve the Jade Annulus of He Clan? Plus lets not forget that Shi Feixuan also has Ning Daoqi on her back, the great master of martial art that no one dares to mess with.

    Having a plan up his sleeve, Xu Xingzhi said, Perhaps they wont dare to directly intervene this dispute, but they might mobilize their own men and the Sects, Schools, Gangs and Societies who have some ties with them to indirectly meddle with this matter, or perhaps trying to bluff their way to thwart Shi Feixuans operation. If that happens, wont we have to face so many different battle fronts?

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, In theory, that is certainly something that can be exploited. But the biggest problem is that we wont admit that the Jade Annulus of He Clan has fallen into our hands, while we want others to believe that Shi Feixuan recovered this ghost thing from us. Wont these two situations be in contradiction with each other?

    Letting out a deep sigh Xu Xingzhi said, Have three gentlemen ever thought that Shangguan Long might have great value to us?

    By this moment, the threes confidence toward this advisor [orig. zhi shi, wisdom scholar], who retained five strands of long beard, with a somewhat immortal air, and a highly educated flavor, has been boosted considerably. Hearing what was said, they all listened with rapt attention.

    Xu Xingzhi was quite satisfied with their reaction; he slyly said, To resolve the difficulty raised by Kou Ye, we certainly have to go all out. As long as we can separately broadcast two separate information, we will be able to achieve the effect of deploying troops to mislead the enemy, so that it would be difficult for them to distinguish true from false.

    The three were men with high intelligence; it was just because they were right in the middle of this situation that Xu Xingzhi had the advantage of spectator sees more of the game. Hearing that, they immediately understood.

    Xu Xingzhis eyes lit up as he continued indifferently, The first information is to make people believe that you knew the Jade Annulus of He Clan was hidden in Jing Nian Chanyuan from forced confession out of Shangguan Longs mouth. This way, Yin Gui Pai will be directly drawn into this circle!

    The three could not help slapping the table and shouting with praise.

    It should be noted that last night, in front of several hundred witnesses, they abducted Shangguan Long, and afterwards immediately went to Jing Nian Chanyuan to steal the treasure. Despite the fact that these two matters had nothing to do with each other, outsiders were not aware of it.

    As for Shangguan Long was immediately rescued by Zhu Yuyan, even if someone knew about it, who would dare to be sure that in such a short period of time they did not manage to get some secret out of his mouth?

    The most wonderful thing that no one knew that they did not kill Shangguan Long on the spot, but took the effort to kidnap him away, was simply to find out about Fu Junyus whereabouts.

    Therefore, if they could broadcast such information, any party would grow suspicious of the other ones, because Yin Gui Pai has always been known for their diversion tactics and was notorious for their strategy of framing other parties.

    If Shangguan Long knew where the Jade Annulus of He Clan was, naturally Yin Gui Pai also had people who were qualified to steal the treasure.

    In the Devil Cult, capable people were numerous; finding someone to impersonate Xu Ziling was definitely a highly possible matter.

    Therefore, the release of this information would certainly trigger all parties to make associative connection of the different parts of the puzzle.

    And then the attention focused on the three would be divided; both the three and Yin Gui Pai would be equally suspected.

    Ba Fenghan praised, Mr. Xus wisdom, even if Zhuge Liang is reincarnated, he would be nothing more than this. I wonder if the other information is that Shi Feixuan has selected Li Shimin as the true master of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, and thus all others who are not selected will become discontented?

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, That seems to be a bit too unscrupulous!

    Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Xu Xingzhi said, Since Xu Ye has this misgivings, we can make slight adjustment: lets just say that Shi Feixuan has already selected the recipient of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, but lets not be specific on who. That should be enough.

    Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, This move is even better. But how are we going to broadcast these two information so that the entire Luoyang will hear it before the zi hour?

    Xu Xingzhi was about to answer when they heard Knock! Knock! Knock! It sounded like wooden staff striking the ground.

    The first knock came from an unattainable distant place. The second one sounded like it came from outside the wall of the rear courtyard. By the time the third knock was heard it definitely came from just outside the door.

    When the four mens countenance changed, Bang! the sound of the courtyard door shattering into pieces pierced the four mens ears.

    Just this momentum alone was enough to snatch anybodys soul.

    Could it be that Ning Daoqi himself has arrived in person?


    [1] Marquis of Wu (Wu Hou) or Marquis of Zhongwu is another name of Liang (181 234), courtesy name Kongming, was a chancellor (or prime minister) of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period. He is recognized as the most accomplished strategist of his era. (Wikipedia)

  5. #165
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 8

    Book 14 Chapter 8 Cloak Staff Technique

    Crack! The door bolt[1] snapped.

    The four men inside the hall saw that without any wind, the door just opened by itself.

    Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan could be considered veterans of a hundred battles, world-class martial art masters, yet they could not help shivering inwardly.

    Upon self-inspection, although they were able to send out forward force across empty air to push the door open, but definitely not the suction force to pull the door and break the door bolt.

    Just from this skill alone, they knew that the incoming person was of Ning Daoqis caliber.

    Four pairs of eyes were able to see through the door without any barrier, toward the courtyard, which was covered in door debris.

    Beautiful woman with white hair entered their vision, in stark contrast to the scene outside, creating an unforgettable impression in their mind.

    The exquisite and dainty Dugu Feng entered the courtyard, holding the arm of a stooping old lady, whose white hair was speckled with gray, whose eyes were half-covered by her eyelids as if she already lost her eyesight, whose face was filled with deep wrinkles, yet it was brimming with a noble air.

    The old lady was wearing black gown with white silk outer garment, her forehead was high and protruded, her cheeks were deep. The strangest thing was that her pale skin emitted some kind of pink color, which did not belong with her age.

    This old lady, whose age was perhaps more than a hundred years, was quite tall; even when stooping, she was still half a head taller than the attractive and charming Dugu Feng. If her back was straight, perhaps her height would differ very little from Kou Zhong and the others.

    The eyeballs inside her eye sockets appeared to be looking down at the ground, but the four men could feel her grim gaze was silently scrutinizing them.

    A feeling that brought chill into their hearts.

    Dugu Fengs full-of-vitality face was still very charming, but her mouth was curled in anger; with disdain in her voice and head held up high, she said, Do you think you can throw me off just like that? Your skill is still far too inferior.

    Kou Zhong called out in low voice, Its You Chuhong!

    Although he made his voice as low as possible, it still could not escape the senile-looking granny. Like a pair of arrows her eyes bore into Kou Zhong. Her high-pitched feminine voice cursed, You dared to call laosens [lit. old self] name? You are asking for a beating!

    Naturally the four mens eyes were focused on the crutch in her right hand, with which she walked step-by-step, which body was translucent like the luster of gems, because it was made of jasper, which length was approximately five chi, which shape was like bamboo cane.

    This moment You Chuhong shook Dugu Fengs hand off, as she stepped into the room. The speed of her movement would make any young, strong and agile boys to lag far behind.

    Qiang! Qiang!

    Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong drew their sword and saber, respectively, out of their scabbards.

    The incoming person was the number one grand master of the Dugu Clan. If they were knocked by that jasper stick, which looked like a piece of antique rod, Kou Zhong and the others may forget about going anywhere.

    Like a miracle You Chuhongs stooping body suddenly straightened up. Without any wind her thick white hair suddenly fluttered, every wrinkle on her face seemed to radiate unusual pink ray, her half-closed eyes shot arrow-sharp light; all in all, her appearance looked extremely weird.

    Among the four men, Xu Ziling was sitting facing the front door. Back off! he cried out in low voice. His palms struck on the edge of the table, while his body rapidly flew backward.

    As Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong were also flying backward from left and right, the table spun like a big wheel as it flew toward You Chuhong.

    The strangest thing was that the wine cups and wine pot on the table also spun along the rotating table, but not a single drop of wine was spilled; certainly the cups and pot would not topple down.

    A look of surprise flashed across You Chuhongs eyes. Like a spirit she flew vertically up. By the time the table arrived under her, her right foot appeared from her black gown; fast beyond human comprehension her toes touched the surface of the table.

    It was only this moment that the four men saw that she was wearing red embroidered shoe on her right foot, but a green one on her left.

    Crack!

    The four solid wood table legs shattered into cun long pieces, but the tabletop was left intact. It dropped to the ground, also without a single drop of wine spilled, as if an invisible hand had carefully lay it down on the ground.

    This skill was definitely better than Xu Ziling.

    Kou Zhong knew that if they let her to gain the initiative, the outcome would be desperately serious. Thereupon he let out a long laughter while he flew forward, and lightning fast, the Moon in the Well swept across You Chuhong, who was still in the air.

    Intense qi power immediately filled the hall.

    Although Xu Xingzhi could also be considered a martial art master, but compared to the three, he was still far behind.

    When Kou Zhong was making his move, he felt a burst of explosive cyclone forming all around Kou Zhong, which cut through his body. Shocked, Xu Xingzhi knew that he had to retreat.

    Obviously You Chuhong had never estimated that these three could be so overbearing; yet she remained calm without any fear. Letting out a night-owl-like harsh laughter, her body flashed in the air; not only to evade Kou Zhongs swift and fierce blade, she even charged toward the three men.

    Like an eagle claw the long pointy nails of her withered hands swept across; immediately a burst of bluish green shadow of the staff, like the luster of gems, filled the hall, enveloping the three men in the middle.

    In terms of speed, power and accuracy, she has reached the shocking level.

    The most formidable thing was that each sweep of the staff carried razor-sharp qi power that was capable of cutting their body, making it very difficult to counter.

    For a period of time there was continuous string of Swish! Swish! noise like beads of pearl dropping down on a tray.

    Xu Xingzhis inner power was lacking. Merely the sound of the wind generated by her jasper staff was enough to cause pain in his ear; with no other choice he had to retreat outside the back door.

    Ba Fenghan was standing motionless; he suddenly shouted, Cloak Staff Technique indeed enjoys a well-deserved reputation.

    Like magic the Beheading Mystery Sword in his hand turned into a sheet of sword shadow, creating an air-tight defense.

    Even with his dauntless character and his power, which had progressed tremendously, he still had to adopt defensive position and did not dare to advance recklessly; thus You Chuhongs prowess was quite clear.

    On the other hand, Kou Zhongs murderous intent flared up; adopting close hand-to-hand combat style, he charged straight into You Chuhongs staff shadow in total abandon, as if he was staking his life against her.

    With the tip of his finger Xu Ziling stabbed the tip of You Chuhongs staff sweeping toward him. He felt a stream of razor-sharp true qi, with copious amount of irresistible force behind it, penetrating his fingers and entered straight into his system. As if he was struck by lightning he was jolted two steps back, while inwardly he was extremely shocked.

    It should be noted that this moment You Chuhong was facing three martial art masters simultaneously. In term of internal power, there was no way she would be able to beat the three mens combined power. But she was able to utilize an extremely profound footwork with exceptional qinggong, so that each time she was able to move to an unexpected position, so that even Yijian Technique could not be put to good use on her.

    Were it not for the fact that his power and the strength of his meridians had enjoyed great advancement, just this one staff would be enough to make him vomit blood and sustain serious injury.

    Ding! Ding! Ding! the sound lingered on faintly, increasing the sinister atmosphere this battle has generated.

    Xu Ziling charged forward again to enter the battle arena.

    Saber light and sword shadow, mixed with Xu Zilings hands and feet, attacked You Chuhong from four sides, eight directions. After their defense was steady, Ba Fenghan also changed his defensive stance into offensive.

    Surprisingly this old womans every single move was hard in nature, relying on powerful inner and outer energy, crushing wave after wave of the three mens offensive. The bluish green rays flashed, as the green jade staff in her hands rolled the three inside its circle.

    The sound of staff stopped abruptly.

    You Chuhong flashed three consecutive times to break away from the battle arena and retreated toward the front door, while continuously gasping for breath.

    Dugu Feng quickly came over and reached out to rub her back. Her apricot eyes grew big as she said, Its all your fault; if you exhaust laolao [maternal grandmother] that she is sick, I will kill you.

    The three men simply stared blankly, not knowing whether to laugh or to cry, but at the same time they were aghast.

    This old lady with ample panaches Cloak Staff Technique has reached perfection; it could even be said that it has reached divine stage.

    In her withered hands that look like eagle talons, the jasper staff was transformed into a no-name-could-describe-it weapon. Not only it could be stiff or flexible, the stiff and flexible existed together, and it could display the characteristic of a whip, a sword, a saber, a truncheon, a spear, and all kinds of other weapon; and the changes were infinite, in innumerable succession, so that the three were unable to grasp its essence.

    With such formidable moves, she was not inferior to Zhu Yuyan in any respect.

    Her internal energy was deep and unmeasurable; even after the three had their power greatly enhanced, they could not gain advantage over her at all.

    Were it not for world famous asthma attack, the three would more or less suffer injuries as well.

    Its just that right now they had obtained inadvertent benefit.

    By going at the three men with all her strength, You Chuhong had actually helped them completing the process of strengthening their meridians, which was started by the Jade Annulus of He Clan.

    Under the extreme situation of life and death combat like this, the only thing they could do was going all-out, pushing their strength to its limit, so that the meridians in their body move forward a step to join together, to achieve the perfect stage.

    While the three men were severely shaken, they did not know that You Chuhongs astonishment was in no way less than theirs.

    Actually, her Cloak Staff Technique did not fear tangled battle; the more the enemies, the more she could unleash the effectiveness of the staff in borrowing force to strike the enemy. On top of that, her footwork was profound, so that facing more than one opponent was no different than fighting one-on-one; she would not have any problem.

    Therefore, when she saw that the three were joining hands, she thought there would be no problem compared to if she was only facing one of them. Never once had she doubted her confidence that they would definitely suffer defeat.

    In other words, with You Chuhongs attitude of considering everyone else beneath her, she should have no problem in taking care of one of them before her asthma flared out.

    But then again, dealing with three men at once, her power consumption doubled, the time between asthma attacks shortened. Therefore, compared to dealing with just one person, her chance of victory was greatly reduced.

    You Chuhong suddenly took a deep breath, a blush appeared on her old face, but it quickly disappeared, and then she stopped gasping.

    Taking the position of a junior, Kou Zhong saluted You Chuhong and said with a smile, Wed better sit down and drink some hot tea. If there is any problem, lets talk about it slowly. If Juniors did something wrong, well accept your instruction.

    Naturally Xu Xingzhi and the others knew very well that Kou Zhong wanted to borrow their mouth to broadcast the information they had just drafted.

    Dugu Feng crossly said, Stop talking nonsense. Seeing that you do have a bit of skill, well spare your four persons lives. Just hand over the Jade Annulus of He Clan, and you can go!

    Among the four, only Xu Xingzhi was at a loss; he did not understand why even after You Chuhong lost her strength and retreated, Dugu Feng was still shamelessly boasting like that.

    But Kou Zhong and the others knew that she was not simply talking big.

    One time Ba Fenghan had his saber broken off by her, which was a solid proof that she was indeed very formidable.

    From You Chuhongs brilliance, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling could speculate that Dugu Fengs skill was no small matter.

    In the past, Hou Xibai inferred that within the Dugu Clan, Dugu Feng was the most formidable figure next to You Chuhong. If her achievement was closer to You Chuhongs, and she did not suffer from asthma attack, then she was definitely not a laughing matter.

    Pretending to be surprised, Kou Zhong said, If we really have the Jade Annulus of He Clan in our hands, I guarantee that we will offer it immediately, to avoid being in such a miserable situation as the target of a multitude of arrows. I really dont understand why the two of you are willing to touch such an inauspicious object?

    Taking several steps forward, Xu Xingzhi came to Xu Zilings side and said in all earnestness, I am willing to make a heavy oath on their behalf with the head above my neck as a stake that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is practically not in their hands, hence it is impossible for them to hand it over to you.

    You Chuhong and Dugu Feng exchanged a few glances; they were both stunned.

    Letting out a cold snort, You Chuhong said, Who the hell are you? What makes you think you can speak on their behalf?

    Twisting his moustache, Xu Xingzhi smiled and said, Wanbei [junior/younger generation] Xu Xingzhi, I used to work under Fang Zetao of Jingling.

    Dugu Feng turned her gaze to Ba Fenghan; exceptionally polite, she said, I wonder if Ba Xiong dares to personally swear an oath?

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan said, In all my life the Ol Ba has never sworn an oath, simply because I feel that this kind of action is senseless and ridiculous. But the Jade Annulus of He Clan is really not in our hands. If you dont believe me, then I can do nothing.

    Kou Zhong and the others cheered inwardly; what he said in his unique way was actually more convincing than any vows.

    With a cold laugh You Chuhong said, The why did that bald donkey [derogatory term to call a Buddhist monk] Liao Kong insist that it was you who stole it?

    With a rueful smile Kou Zhong replied, Because we had walked straight into great misfortune. We were one step ahead in going to the Chanyuan to steal the treasure, but before we even touched the Jade Annulus of He Clans shadow, we were compelled to leave. We had just left, someone else succeeded in stealing the treasure. Without any choice we are forced to take the bitter herbs and had to bear this black pot on his behalf. Humph! The army came, we will fight. We are not scared of anybody.

    You Chuhongs eyes narrowed that they became a pair of slits, but her eyeballs shot terrifyingly sharp rays as she stared at Kou Zhong and spoke sternly, Was it Wang Shichong who prompted you to go there?

    Kou Zhong and the others understood whats going on.

    The purpose of these twos visit was not to get the Jade Annulus of He Clan, but it was an action against Wang Shichong.

    Supposing they were successful in recovering the Jade Annulus of He Clan, they would publicly return the treasure to Jing Nian Chanyuan. In this way Dugu Clans prestige would soar, plus they would win goodwill and support from Shi Feixuans side.

    But more importantly, they would ascertain the relationship between Kou Zhong and Wang Shichong, with the hope that they could use this fact as the proof that Wang Shichong was the mastermind behind all these things.

    It was the key point that all major powers who were involved in this power struggle wanted to exploit.

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, What does it have to do with Shangshu Daren?

    You Chuhong took a step forward. A very dense murderous aura immediately enveloped the four men. Still playing dumb? she scolded harshly, If it wasnt Wang Shichong, how could you, a bunch of rookies, know that the Jade Annulus of He Clan was hidden at Liao Kongs place?

    Xu Xingzhi was the first one unable to withstand her enormous momentum and had to take two steps back. Xu Ziling quickly moved in front of him to shield him.

    In that moment the murderous spirit permeated the hall.

    Kou Zhong putting an act by sighing dramatically and said, Its a misunderstanding! The one who told us the Jade Annulus of He Clans whereabouts is Yin Gui Pais Shangguan Long, not Wang Shichong. At that time we thought he only wanted to use this information in exchange of his dear life; who would have thought that the dirty scoundrel was laying up a trap for us? This time the boat really capsized in the gutter, so that we had to take his mothers tumble.

    You Chuhong stared blankly for a moment. The murderous aura was greatly reduced.

    At this point, a long laugh came from the roof of a building some distance away from the courtyard, If thats the case, why did you hide and do not dare to see me, Wang Bo? a voice asked.

    Hearing Wang Bos name, everybody, including You Chuhong, was emotionally moved.


    [1] Door bolt in those days was a horizontal bar across the width of the door, made of wood or metal.

  6. #166
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 9

    Book 14 Chapter 9 Meeting Again After a Long Period of Separation

    Under everybodys gaze, somebody appeared outside the window, looking inside the hall with a smile on his face.

    This man looked about fifty, tall and thin, his waist and back perfectly straight, with short moustache that looked like a brush above his lips, his clear and handsome face carried harsh lines of someone who experienced long and arduous years in tempering himself; perhaps it was due to the melancholy wrinkles appeared on his face and around his eyes, which strengthen his appeal. His eyes were bright and shiny, as well as deep and solemn, inciting fear on those whom he was staring at. However, the perpetual smile hanging on his mouth seemed particularly out of place, making his overall appearance seemed extremely odd.

    This expert composer, whose name was well known nationwide, the one acclaimed as the Number One Martial Art Master of Liaodong, Wang Bo, has come in person.

    Kou Zhong and the others groaned inwardly. Not only because they felt that he totally did not believe them, but also because they knew he was not easy to be deceived.

    His eyes looked like they could see through lies.

    With a cold snort, You Chuhong said, What the hell are you doing in Luoyang?

    Nodding slightly, Wang Bo said, First of all, Wang Bo pays his respect to Hong Jie [older sister]. This time Shaodi [younger brother] came to Luoyang, at least half of the reasons pertain to Hong Jie.

    It was only then did everybody else know that not only these two knew each other, the relationship between them was not shallow either.

    Giggling, Kou Zhong said, While two Qianbei [senior, older generation] are having heart-to-heart chat talking about the past, why not allowing us, the younger generations, to go out to handle some private affairs, and come back later for advice?

    Wang Bo looked at Kou Zhong with astonishment, You ought to be Kou Zhong! he said, Didnt others say that you are both shrewd and cunning? Why is it that disaster is looming over your head and you still dont know it?

    Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, Less bullsh!t! If you want to fight then fight! The Jade Annulus of He Clan was stolen by us; if you want to stick your head out for Liao Kong, come and get it!

    Combined with earlier denial, which also came out of Ba Fenghans mouth, this truth sounded more like it was spoken in anger, which was more effective than any apology.

    Dugu Feng seemed to have a slightly better impression on Ba Fenghan; she scolded tenderly, If you didnt do it, dont talk nonsense.

    Calmly Wang Bo sized up Ba Fenghan. It was half a day later that he finally said, I dont care if you steal the treasure or not, but just based on what you said just now, Ol Wang has to teach you a lesson.

    With repeated sneers, You Chuhong said, In that case, this Old Woman has to see how much you progressed these past several years. Youd better not disappoint me.

    Wang Bo was surprised, Have you fought with him? he asked.

    You Chuhong stomped her jasper staff on the ground, creating a deep, gloomy sound like a muffled thunder, shaking up the sole of everybodys feet.

    Kou Zhong, three men, were secretly dumbstruck; they were glad that while going all-out in battling her, they did not injure her by mistake.

    After scanning the crowd with her eyes, the old woman nodded and said, I believe the Jade Annulus of He Clan is not in your possession. First of all, based on your combined power, you dont have the capability of stealing the treasure, hence it is more presumptuous to think that just one of you could do it. Secondly, you dont look like fools, so you knew that stealing the Jade Annulus of He Clan must be useless; it will bring you more harm than good.

    Then her eyes opened; she looked up, revealing a pair of brightly lit pearl-like pupils. With a laugh that sounded like a screeching owl, she addressed the crowd, Youd better leave Luoyang. Otherwise, next time you run into me, I am not going to be lenient for the sake of the Jade Annulus of He Clan like this time. Do you understand? Lets go!

    Naturally the four men did not expect her to be this understanding, as soon as she said it, she was willing to put this matter down. They watched quietly as Dugu Feng helped You Chuhong disappeared beyond the shattered courtyard door.

    Then four pair of eyes turned toward Wang Bo.

    All they heard was a fluttering noise, and Wang Bos shadow had disappeared.

    Coming and going without neither trace nor vestige, he was worthy to be called a martial art master whose name spread far and wide around the world.

    The sun had moved above the western hill, casting its slanting light on the City of Luoyang.

    Upright and unafraid, Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan wandered side-by-side along the street, among the gradually thinning pedestrians.

    The latter burst out laughing and said, With Wang Bos ego, why did he slip away before fighting? According to reason, he cant be afraid.

    Of course not, Xu Ziling replied, This mans prestige in Wulin has always been above Li Mi and Du Fuwei; although he cant defeat the three of us fighting together, he surely has enough power to hold his ground or run away. In my opinion, it was because he heard that Yin Gui Pai might be involved that he hurried back to deal with it.

    Lowering his voice, Ba Fenghan said, Yin Gui Pai definitely has to bear this black pot on their back! It would be more wonderful if we could find Yin Hui Pai people and confront them. And the best part is that Yin Gui Pai has all the reason to thwart Shi Feixuans good deeds. This Xu Xingzhi is indeed a genius; just with one word he is able to overturn the universe.

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, Lying with my eyes open wide is really unbearable! This kind of thing, once is enough, I dont care to have the next time.

    Tranquil and calm, Ba Fenghan replied, Two armies facing each other, how could one prevail over the other without resorting to some misleading the enemy tactic? Are we going to admit straight out that we stole the treasure? It was not the first time that you told a lie anyway.

    Muttering irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, Of course not for the first time, but previously the target of our lies was evil people and scoundrels. This time the target of our lies are martial art experts representing two righteous ways; hence I feel so uncomfortable.

    With a cold humph Ba Fenghan said, Rules are made by men; so why cant it be up to us to decide? Being led by the nose, how it make a good man under current situation?

    Shrugging, Xu Ziling said, Things have come to this, the only thing we can do is not to do anything that will result in death, otherwise we would tie deep enmity that cannot be resolved.

    Ba Fenghan smiled and took the lead to cross a long street; he said, Hence the reason this tactic of misleading the enemy can only be used for goodwill and not for evil intention. The goal is to reduce the likelihood of deadly battle.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Just think about it that way then.

    Ba Fenghan pointed to a signboard hanging in front of a restaurant that said River Luo Tavern; he said, This is it!

    He pushed the door and walked in.

    At this time the tavern has not started dinner rush yet. Two waiters were wiping seventeen, eighteen tables inside the shop.

    Pow!

    Ba Fenghan tossed an ingot of gold onto the table and shouted, I reserve this shop tonight!

    ※ ※ ※

    Shangshu Mansion.

    Inside the secret chamber.

    Wang Shichong slapped the table and shouted with praise, Lucky that you thought about it. Just now I painstakingly thought but could not come up with any good plan. Because the more we are trying to hide it, the more it would appear conspicuous.

    Inwardly Kou Zhong cursed him as selfish and lacking yiqi, but on his face he put on a smiling expression, continued with laughing aloud and said, Naturally my first consideration is for Wang Gong. Now, pushing the blame to Shangguan Long is ideal; this black pot ought to be put on Yin Gui Pais devil back, considering they are more veteran than we are. It is just right to ease the pain of us, three pure an innocent people.

    Among the three, Kou Zhong was not afraid of lying. Ba Fenghan disdained lying, but Xu Ziling simply did not want to lie. Just by looking at this respect, the character differences between the three were obvious.

    Wang Shichong cast him a couple of glances and said with a nod, Xiyi Xiong and I have reflected on this matter, and both of us agreed that if it was stolen by you, there will be many things that do not make sense. For example, after you were discovered and were driven away, how could you immediately turn back and eager to snatch it away? Plus where did the confidence come from that you let only one person to brave the danger? Moreover, you did not apply your inner power to alter your body shape, to such an extent that someone recognized you? And things like that.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Its all because Wang Gong understands reason. Even if we took that ghost jade, what can we use it for? Even if it were delivered to me, I would reject it. Besides, I would have to gamble my little life away. Ay! I wonder if Wang Gong has some information on Liao Kong or Shi Feixuan that you can pass on to me?

    Wang Shichong shook his head, No news, he said, But Wang Bo came to talk to me. Although on the surface he was very polite, he pleaded me to urge you to hand over the Jade Annulus of He Clan, the fact is that he indirectly threatened me. Humph! What kind of person he thinks I, Wang Shichong, am? How could I be so easily intimidated?

    Inwardly, Kou Zhong was amused; he said, Right now Wang Gong has no time to do other things, you might as well not get involved in this. I only have one favor Id like to ask, is that Wang Gong would protect a friend of mine.

    Nodding his head, Wang Shichong said, Are you referring to that man who came with you, Xu Xingzhi? Thats not a problem. If I cant even do such a trivial thing, I, Wang Shichong, need not go out to see other people.

    Kou Zhong delightedly said, In that case I am relieved!

    And then, lowering his voice he said, Is it possible for Wang Gong to give him a part-time job in your government? This man is indeed a rare talent; in term of wisdom and scheming, he is even better than I am. After he becomes your staff, when others come to ask for him, you can give him sh!tty argument not to hand him over.

    Wang Shichong was skeptical, I can talk with him, he said, If he is indeed a talent, I will retain him in my employment.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, He is a man you can trust. And with him dealing with Li Mi, I guarantee Wang Gong will win this battle. All right! I have to go. If I am still alive, I will come again tomorrow to pay a visit to Wang Gong!

    ※ ※ ※

    Clink!

    After a toast, the two drained their cups.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, If this continues, we may turn into drunkards who only have passion for the wine.

    Ba Fenghan leaned back on his chair, his eyes scanned the not-a-soul-in-sight shop and the closed main door; he said, We should not be drunk tonight. But while we dont have anything to do, we can try to guess who will push the door and enter in next.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, There are too many possibilities, can you really guess?

    Smiling, Ba Fenghan replied, The highest possibility would be Zhong Shao. He ought to find a place for Xu Xingzhi, this very important chess piece!

    Before he finished speaking, the door was pushed open.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong had just left the Imperial City and turned into the main street. Two men, who have been following him, ran up to overtake him.

    He was wondering why the other side could be this reckless and not afraid to reveal their own track when one of the shouted, Dead Kou Zhong, you still havent stopped!

    Kou Zhong turned around in shock, and cried out involuntarily, Miss!

    Turned out the two men were Zhai Rangs daughter, Zhai Jiao, and Tu Shufang, who escorted her out of Xingyang in the past.

    Zhai Jiao was dressed as a man, but she was definitely androgynous, making it hard to tell whether she was a male or a female. On the other hand, Tu Shufang was his old self, only there was some sign of wind and frost [i.e. hardship] on his face.

    Without any trace of politeness, Zhai Jiao grabbed his arm and pulled him scrambling into a side street. You, two kids, are quite famous! she cursed, No need to listen to my commands anymore.

    Perhaps it was because of Susu, but in Kou Zhongs heart welled up a meeting-again-after-a-calamity and a hard-to-describe intimate feeling. Smiling wryly, he said, How could your servant dare? Miss must be training hard day and night these past years, your grab nearly broke my arm bone.

    He also raised his hand in greeting toward Tu Shufang, who was watching on guard on the other side.

    With a cold humph Zhai Jiao said, Do I need you to tell me that? Without any real skill, how to get that traitor Li Mi, the renegade leader, onto the blade in my hand? Come this way!

    Letting him go, she slipped into a small alley to their left.

    By this time the sky was gradually darkening, every house has started lighting their lanterns. But the alley was cold and cheerless, like an uninhabited place.

    Unleashing their footwork, Kou Zhong and Tu Shufang followed closely behind her.

    Zhai Jiao really did not brag, her skill now was clearly superior to before; although her lower back was thick and solid just like before, she was really nimble, she was able to jump vertically with ease.

    Suddenly she leaped over a tall wall, and then passed through a house, leaped over a building, flying high and crouching low, and after rushing over for a time needed to drink a cup of hot tea, they reach a private house located at a scenic pedestrian lane by the canal on the northeast side of the city.

    The three entered the reception hall and sat down. A pretty maid came out to serve fragrant tea.

    Kou Zhong took a glance, and called out in delight, Arent you Chuchu?

    The beautiful maids eyes turned red; with her small cicada head hanging down, she spoke faintly, Its hard to believe Kou Gongzi still remembers me!

    Kou Zhong recalled the happy memory of throwing snowballs with her at the Big Boss Mansion. Naturally he could not forget even more the sweet memory of that night when she came to his quarter and the intimacy that ensued [see Book 4 Chapters 10 & 11], which invoked in him the distant and fuzzy feeling that he had already forgotten.

    He was about to reply, when Zhai Jiao rudely cut him off, What I fear the most is seeing people cry. Chuchu, get lost! You are not allowed to set foot in the hall anymore!

    Chuchu jumped in fright; after casting a very sad look toward Kou Zhong, she hurriedly scampered into the inner hall.

    Tu Shufang has been sizing up Kou Zhong with rapt attention; this moment he sighed and said, Old acquaintance must not be forgotten. Xiao Zhong, you are now more understated, and did not flaunt yourself at all; no wonder your name shakes the eight points of the compass and you are able to criss-cross the world undefeated.

    Kou Zhong wanted to make some modest remarks when Zhai Jiao slapped her palm on the table, creating a loud Bang!.

    The two men were startled; they turned their eyes at her.

    Zhai Jiaos huge, round and bulging eyes shot deep hatred; gnashing her teeth, she said, I want to kill Li Mi to avenge Die; Kou Zhong, you must help me!

    Kou Zhong really wanted to tell her that whether he could survive the night was still a big question mark, but being swept by her brass-bell like eyes, his heart softened. Striking his chest, he said, Of course, how could we be people without yiqi?

    Finished speaking, he was amused.

    That day Zhai Rang bit the hand that feeds him, he did not withhold yiqi at all. But now, under the big yiqi banner, he, Kou Zhong, would have to avenge his death.

    Sound of rustling wind.

    While Kou Zhong was startled, a young man of about twenty-seven, twenty-eight, came in through the window. Standing in front of Zhai Jiao, he saluted and said, Reporting to Miss: we have thrown off the pursuers.

    Zhai Jiao let out a stifled snort; she stood up first before saying, This is Kou Zhong!

    The man smiled and said, I have seen Kou Gongzi. I am Xuan Yong, Zhai Yes no-name disciple.

    Kou Zhong examined him carefully; this man looked imposing and dignified, there was a strange looking weapon hanging on his back, his build was like a fierce general who could take the head of the enemys chief in the middle of magnificent army with thousands of men and horses as easy as feeling ones pocket and taking it out. Delighted, Kou Zhong promptly returned the propriety.

    Noticing Kou Zhongs curious look at the weapon on his back, Xuan Yong took it and handed it over to him, saying, I got the inspiration for this weapon from a pitchfork. Originally pitchforks are used to defend the city; its length may reach up to five chi, specifically design to deal with the enemy who use cloud ladders to climb into the city. This one has horizontal steel blade mounted at the top of the pole, it can press against the enemys weapon, but can also be used to peck or pierce. Therefore, I named it Bird Beak Strike.

    Tu Shufang rose up to his full height; walking over toward the two men, he said, Not only has Xuan Yong received Zhai Yes personal instruction, he has also created the thirty-six moves Bird Beak Strike technique. That day, were it not for him, we would not be able to fight off the pursuing troops sent by Li Mi.

    Kou Zhong was about to speak when Zhai Jiao scolded, The situation is urgent, you are still in the mood for chitchatting?

    The three helplessly sat down around the table.

    Zhai Jiao pointed to the tip of Kou Zhongs ear; she said, You are well-known for being cunning; quickly tell me how we are going to kill Li Mi.

    Hearing that, Tu Shufang and Xuan Yong frowned deeply, but they did not dare to many any noise.

    Kou Zhong did not know whether he should laugh or cry, but on the surface he put on serious expression as he said, First of all, I want to understand the situation on Miss side.

    What is there to tell you? Zhai Jiao replied impatiently, That day Die sent me to Dongping County to rely on help from Tai Shu [uncle]. Li Mi sent his troops to attack the city several times, but Xuan Yong beat him back every time. Until recently the old thief Li scored big victory over Yuwen Huaji, but on the contrary, Xuan Yong said that the opportunity to assassinate the old thief has arrived. Thereupon he selected a group of martial art expert and came to Luoyang to try our luck. Perhaps the old thief would sneakily come to Luoyang for the sake of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, and so I must make him leave without his life.

    Kou Zhong immediately had a whole new level of respect for Xuan Yong; he asked, How did Xuan Xiong know that this time Li Mis victory was so tragic that it was tantamount to defeat?

    Although Xuan Yong could not be considered good-looking, he had appropriate outline and was pleasing to the eye, giving the impression that he had unswerving determination and he stood above the masses.

    This moment he had his attention fixed at Kou Zhong; his eyes bright and lively, his thick eyebrows slightly slanting upwards, in contrast with his rather long nose and slightly higher cheekbones, and his wide mouth, which revealed a calm smile. All in all he made people feel that he had the air of a great general.

    He methodically explained, That old traitor Li Mi has never been able to wipe out all the people who have had connection with Zhai Ye from Wagang Army; therefore, I always know what happened to him like the back of my hands.

    Kou Zhong slapped the table and laughed aloud, This time Li Mi will surely die! he said.

    Hearing that, the other three looked at each other with bewilderment; they were completely at a loss as why Kou Zhong said so.

  7. #167
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 10

    Book 14 Chapter 10 Various Strong Hoops

    Liu Heita walked into the shop in large strides, straight toward the last table from the main door where the two men were sitting. Without any trace of politeness he pulled a chair and sat down, and nodded slightly at Ba Fenghan as his only acknowledgement and greeting, and then his eyes became like sharp and fierce like a hawk, as he stared at Xu Ziling without blinking and asked, Did you do it?

    Xu Xiling felt there was absolutely no way he could lie to him; therefore, he smiled and said, Smashed it!

    Liu Heitas countenance dropped first, and then, against the two mens expectation, a leisure smile appeared on the corner of his lips, just like sunshine suddenly appeared from behind a dark cloud to illuminate the earth, which very soon turned into a bright smile. Raising his thumb in praise, he laughed aloud and said, Youve got guts! I, Liu Heita, surrender to you!

    Bang!

    Liu Heita shouted, Why havent Xiongdi poured me a cup of wine to send me off?

    Before Xu Ziling could move, Ba Fenghan already raised the wine pot and poured a cup full to the brim; he cheerfully said, Liu Heita is indeed a good man, I, Ba Fenghan, toast you a cup.

    Filled with heroic spirit, the three raised their cups high and toasted each other in ardent mood.

    Xu Ziling put down his empty cup and asked in astonishment, Where is Liu Dage going?

    Liu Heita leaned comfortably onto the back of his chair, wiped the drips of wine from the corner of his mouth with his sleeve, and said in a low voice, I have a military order with me; since the Jade Annulus of He Clan is already gone, I must immediately hasten back to Shoule to report to King of Xia. If you want to leave Luoyang, I can arrange everything.

    Ba Fenghan said, Ziling only tell the truth to Liu Xiong; we still deny everything to outsiders, so I hope Liu Xiong would bear with us for a moment or two. Besides, now is not the time for us to leave Luoyang yet. Only after tonight will we be able to think about this problem.

    It was the case of a hero admiring another hero, hence the reason the proud and arrogant Ba Fenghan was showing no formalities toward Liu Heita.

    Liu Heita expressed his understanding. He reached out to stop Xu Ziling pouring another cup for him. After a moment of hesitation he took out an antique and elegant looking jade pendant. Handing it over to Xu Ziling, he said, I always meant to give this to your virtuous sister, just consider it a late congratulatory gift!

    Xu Ziling felt a stab of pain in his heart; he silently received the gift.

    Liu Heita let out a long laughter, then turned around and left.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong arrived at the wine shops door and bumped into Liu Heita head-on.

    Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong pulled him aside and said in a low voice, I was trying to find you.

    Liu Heita looked at Kou Zhong up and down, and asked in surprise, How come while facing vicious wind and cloud your face still look like a spring breeze, and you look immensely pleased with yourself?

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, The sky is falling we put to quilt over our head, when the boat gets to the pier-head, it will go straight with the current [i.e. everything will be all right]. Worrying will not do us his mothers birds use. Hey! Do you want Li Mi to suffer big defeat or not?

    His heart moved, Liu Heita said, Of course I want it very much. Our route south was cutoff by him. As long as we can inflict damage on him, we will spare no effort.

    Kou Zhong looked around. After the two passers-by walked away, he leaned over to whisper on Liu Heitas ear, If you can bluff by pretending to go down south to join hands with Wang Shichong, it will force Li Mi to deploy his troops to Yanshi. I am sure Li Mi will be done for.

    Liu Heita was already clear about this situation, plus he was proficient in the art of war, hence he understood immediately. After repeatedly expressed his admiration, he frowned and said, The problem lies in Wang Shichong; I am afraid he cannot grasp this golden opportunity and thus miss the whole point.

    Striking his chest, Kou Zhong guaranteed, Liu Dage may set your heart at ease; I will guarantee it.

    Liu Heita nodded and said, To us, this matter will only bring benefit without any harm, but you must be careful too. Li Mis intelligent is outstanding; one bad thing, and you will fall into his trap instead.

    With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, A wise person reflecting a thousand times can still make a mistake. Li Mi cant be the only one on earth who has all the luck.

    Liu Heita wanted to say anything, but then hesitated. Finally he patted Kou Zhongs shoulder vigorously and swaggered away.

    Kou Zhong was about to enter the wine shop to rendezvous with the other two when someone was calling his name from behind. Recognizing Song Yuzhis voice, he turned around.

    Song Yuzhi was still a dozen of zhang away. Naturally she was afraid he might slip away, hence she used her inner power to focus her voice into a thread and sent it to Kou Zhongs ears.

    Surprisingly, she did not wear her usual attire of tight warrior outfit; instead, she wore light gauzed dress and silk trousers typical of southern women of noble families. Her hair was rolled up in a bun, hanging low at the back of her head, fixed by a hairpin that looked like a comb. Her manner of dressing was simple and elegant, grandeur and charming.

    Kou Zhong suddenly realized that he had never for a moment taken any notice of her expression and the way she dressed up, like right now.

    Concealed in her masculine charm was a lovely graceful bearing, which brought up her outstanding, as well as unique, beauty. In fact, she was not inferior in any respect to Li Xiuning.

    But why was it when he had difficulty falling asleep deep in the night, the one in his mind was Li Xiuning rather than Song Yuzhi?

    For a moment Kou Zhongs mind was a jumble of emotions.

    Fragrant scent assailed his nostrils. Song Yuzhi already arrived in front of him; her beautiful eyes shot an incomparably complex expression. Slightly angry, she said, Kou Zhong, you are really muddleheaded. You went so far as to rush down this disaster filling the entire sky.

    Noticing that everybody on the street was looking at them, Kou Zhong pulled her sleeve and took her to a side alley, where he said with a laugh, Turns out San Xiaojie [Third Miss] is so concerned about me!

    Song Yuzhi sighed. She gently shook his hand off, and looking deep into his eyes she said, The one concerned about you is not me, but Er Ge [second older brother].

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, That being the case, Song Er Gongzi ought to come looking for me; why would he trouble Song San Xiaojies honorable self?

    Song Yuzhi crossly cast a glance his direction, and then spoke in low voice, You dont know how much trouble you have caused. Lu Shu [uncle] is afraid Er Ge would be draw into your maelstrom and thus bring disaster into our Song Family, hence he strictly prohibited him from seeing you. Our house rule is strict, Er Ge had no choice but to return south. But on leaving he implored me to warn you.

    Facing a jade-beauty, listening to her talk, which sounded passionate, but heartless at the same time, smelling the delicate fragrant from her hair and neck, which penetrated deeply into his heart, Kou Zhong spoke softly, Yuzhi, dont worry! I have a way to deal with the danger facing me. I can use it to achieve great endeavor, I know that not everything will be smooth sailing [orig. breeze is still, waves are quiet].

    Song Yuzhi showed a contradictory expression; after giving him a stern look, she lowered her small cicada head and said, I really dont know whether I should admire you or reprimand you severely. Although nobody said it yet, but everybody admires you from the bottom of their heart that you managed to achieve these impossible feats. But these are also the most unwise moves on your part. Are you really thinking of not handing out the treasured jade annulus no matter what?

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, How could Yuzhi be sure that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is in our hands?

    Looking up, Song Yuzhi stared at him hatefully and said, Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, plus that Ba Fenghan, is there anything you guys do not dare to do? But this time your opponent is too strong! Even though Lu Shu has a very favorable impression toward you, he dares not interfering. Also, I have two things I want to warn you.

    Kou Zhong happily said, Yuzhi must like me very much in your heart, isnt that so?

    Song Yuzhi knitted her umber-black dyed eyebrows lightly and said in displeasure, I am speaking about serious matters concerning your life or death, dont try to change the subject into such a senseless thing, all right?

    Kou Zhong raised his arms as if he was surrendering; he said, Yuzhi said it well, Zaixia is listening with respectful attention.

    Song Yuzhi rolled her eyes at him. Pressing her jade hand on his chest, her eyes suddenly shot razor-sharp look, as she calmly said, As soon as I exert all my strength into the hollow of my palm, I guarantee your, Kou Zhongs little life, will be gone. Arent you afraid?

    Kou Zhong replied nonchalantly, If I have to die, I have to die! What is there to be afraid of?

    Astonished, Song Yuzhi said, Do you think I cant possibly kill you? Our Song Family has always had close relationship with Li Mi; maybe Ill kill you for real.

    Kou Zhong looked down on her jade-palm pressed against the vital acupoint on his chest, her slender scallion-like jade-fingers; he was overwhelmed with a hard-to-describe emotion that felt as if it was going to melt his heart. He spoke tenderly, Because other than Niang and Su Jie, you are the only woman that I, Kou Zhong, absolutely trust. Enough said!

    Song Yuzhis eyes changed. And then she sighed and leaned closer to him; her palm pressed onto his chest turned into the support she needed as her tender body nearly collapsed onto his. Whispering on his ear, she said, Qu Ao already formed an alliance with Tujues martial art master; they vowed to kill the three of you. I just dont know whether they are going to make their move before or after the zi hour.

    Kou Zhong looked down at her slender, milky-white jade-neck appearing from her collar; he had a strong urge to bite her, but because he was afraid to offend her, he fought hard not to recklessly rush into action. He spoke in heavy voice, Are you referring to Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister?

    Song Yuzhi replied, Apart from them, there are also the Tornado, Tu Li, and a large number of martial art masters accompanying him, who have just arrived in Luoyang. Although Ba Fenghan is their primary target, they do not have any good opinion toward you either. Ay! What do you have that you can use to deal with them? The difference in strength is just too much.

    After racking his brains, Kou Zhong remembered Ba Fenghan had mentioned this person; he was a preeminent martial art master among the Tujue Kings clan, who had helped the Li Clan attack Kaizhong, and had good relationship with Li Shimin.

    Letting out a cold snort, he said, He cant be coming across a thousand mountains and ten thousand rivers to Luoyang just for Ba Fenghan. In my opinion, he came to the Central Plains to disturb the wind and stirred up the rain.

    I dont care the reason, Song Yuzhi said, The thing I am most afraid of is that he is going to use you to establish his might. Presently the Tujue is very powerful, nobody wanted to have this kind of enemy. And dont think that Wang Shichong is willing to protect you. He is actually a barbarian who came from Tujue. Do you understand me?

    Kou Zhongs heart turned cold; he was speechless.

    Song Yuzhi spoke softly, The other man to watch for is Fu Qian. This man is both smart and brave, with a lofty quality of considering himself unexcelled in the world. This time he came to Central Plains definitely not to do some good deeds. He and Wang Bo must have close relationship; perhaps he will be dispatched to deal with you.

    It was only then did Kou Zhong remember the duel of the previous night; he asked in surprise, Listening to the tone of your voice, it looks like last night that Fu kid and old man Qu Ao did not have any duel at all; what happened?

    Song Yuzhi replied, When you were displaying your might last night, Fu Qian was already there. After you left, he took the initiative to change the stage; they agreed to have a decisive duel at Man Qing Yuan tomorrow night. Ay! With only a few words this man has established his status in the Central Plains and gained the upper hand by a show of strength; his method is out of the ordinary.

    Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong said, Now my head starts to hurt! Can Yuzhi give me a kiss to encourage my morale?

    Song Yuzhi moved away in shock, her pretty face blushed. Angrily she said, Stop being carried away by your wishful thinking; it was because of my regard to Er Ge that I came to warn you, this shameful fellow.

    Giggling, Kou Zhong said, Whatever. San Xiaojies kindness to me is as heavy as the mountain. I guarantee that after we are married, I will make you happy all day long.

    Song Yuzhis flowery countenance turned cold; she said indifferently, Well talk later if you are still alive after tonight! Ay! I really dont know whether you are a genius or an idiot, in just a short period of time you managed to offend so many overbearing enemies. Thats it! Yuzhi has nothing else to say, you do your best!

    Kou Zhong followed her with his eyes, and then he somersaulted over the roof to land in the courtyard of the wine shop.

    He did not want to be stopped anymore.

    ※ ※ ※

    Ba Fenghan sat on the table alone; he closed his eyes and sat still and did nothing.

    Xu Ziling was in another corner; arranging a few chairs to make a temporary bed, he lay on his back and went to sleep. His breathing was deep and even.

    Tonights fierce battle was inevitable. The two were trying hard to cultivate their power to maintain their optimal condition.

    The main door opened a little, a shadow flashed; swift like a demon it stopped in front of Ba Fenghans chair.

    Ba Fenghan opened his eyes. Chunyu Wei, he said in surprise, What are you doing here alone? [See Book 5 Chapter 9 for Chunyu Weis first appearance.]

    The charming and wild Chunyu Wei flashed a glance toward Xu Ziling, who was sleeping on the side. Knitting her brows, she asked, Wheres Kou Zhong?

    Not to know whether to laugh or to cry, Ba Fenghan said, You dont seem to remember that we are big enemies.

    Standing akimbo, Chunyu Wei revealed an enchantingly sweet smile and said, You are a hero! Could it be that as soon as you saw me coming alone you would seize this opportunity to make your move? Besides, I simply am not afraid of you. Oh! You have wine; give me a cup.

    Plopping her buttocks on the chair opposite him, she grabbed the wine cup, and pushed it toward Ba Fenghan, hinting that he should pour the wine and serve her.

    Ba Fenghan was helpless against her; he poured one cup full to the brim.

    Chunyu Wei glanced left and right, and without the slightest care said, Your rival in love is coming.

    Ba Fenghan remained cold and detached; he said in heavy voice, So Tu Li has finally come!

    Chunyu Wei turned her attention back to his ancient-well-without-any-ripple like handsome face, and asked innocently, Back in Tujue, didnt you like to tie a red scarf around your head? How come you changed your habit? I like it better when you were wearing red scarf; you looked very attractive.

    Ba Fenghan put down his cup; laughing involuntarily, he said, Back in Tujue, when did you ever see me? How do you know what I looked like? Whether I was attractive or terrifying?

    Chunyu Wei did not answer. Without saying anything she put the cup by her lips and sipped lightly. Staring at Xu Ziling, she asked, Is he pretending to sleep? Or is he eavesdropping our secret talk?

    Ba Fenghan had a big headache dealing with this little sister; hence he simply ignored her.

    Receiving no response, Chunyu Weis gaze returned to Ba Fenghans face, Have you suddenly become a mute? she asked in astonishment.

    Ba Fenghan shrugged his shoulders with a wry smile on his face.

    Chunyu Wei also put down her cup. Leaning forward to make a show of being very much in earnest, she said, Your old flame is also coming to the south with Tu Li. Rumor has it that she hates you to the bones; she wanted to see Tu Li cutting off your head with her own eyes.

    A sad look flitted through Ba Fenghans eyes. He sighed, but did not say anything.

    Chunyu Wei angrily said, If you dont talk, I am going to carryout Masters order, Ill fight with you!

    Ba Fenghans eyes flashed with sharp light; he said coldly, Youd better come back later for Kou Zhong.

    Chunyu Wei suddenly smiled sweetly and said, How could I fight you alone? I just wanted to scare you off! How about if I apologize? Hee! Have Kou Zhong ever mentioned me in front of you?

    Displeased, Ba Fenghan said, Kou Zhong has never talked about women with me.

    Chunyu Wei looked disappointed; standing up, she said hatefully, Tell Kou Zhong, that heartless guy, for me that he ought to run as far away as possible from you. Otherwise, dont blame me for turning my face against him and show no mercy.

    Furiously stomping her little feet, she stormed out like a tornado.

    Ba Fenghan pushed his palm forward; the opened door closed up.

    Right this moment, he heard Kou Zhongs voice.

  8. #168
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 11

    Book 14 Chapter 11 The Passionate Prince

    Kou Zhong landed on the roof of the building at the wine shops back garden; he was just about to jumped down into the courtyard below with the intention of entering the wine shop from the back door, he saw the silhouette of someones back was leaping up from the courtyard, and happened to block his path.

    Looking at the mans back, he had at least 70, 80% similarity with Du Fuwei: tall and thin. Only he did not wear tall hat, and dressed in Taoist robe, with antique-style sandalwood sword hanging on his back.

    His posture when he jumped was extremely bizarre; his arms and legs did not bend at all, instead, he flew straight vertically like a floating zombie.

    Inwardly Kou Zhong cried, Heretical skill! and abruptly halted his step. Ning Daoqi? he called out in low voice.

    The Taoist looked up at the bright moon that had just risen from the eastern mountain. Ning Dao Xiong has long ago paid no attention to the things of the world, he replied indifferently, You dont have that kind of qualification.

    Kou Zhong was relieved, but he still did not dare to be negligence the slightest bit. Hearing this man casually used Xiong and Di [elder and younger brother, respectively] appellation toward Ning Daoqi, Kou Zhong knew that he must be a senior Wulin master of Ning Daoqis generation.

    Kou Zhong calmly laughed and asked, How must I address Daozhang [Taoist Priest]? You have honored me with your presence; do you have any advice for me?

    The Taoist spoke softly, Pindao [impoverished Taoist] Bi Chen [his name literally means flee from the dust (or earth)]. My visit this time is to spend a bit of effort for the sake of our Taoist School. As long as you are willing to hand that thing over, Pindao is willing to resolve the enmity between you and Ci Hang Jing Zhai and Jing Nian Chanyuan. I guarantee they will not investigate this matter further.

    Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, If I really had the stolen treasure, I would personally send it back, why would I want to waste Daozhangs time arguing over it?

    Taoist Priest Bi Chen laughed aloud and said, It was precisely because I knew you are not willing to return the treasure that I came to take care of this matter.

    Kou Zhong sneered and said, Since Daozhang calls yourself Bi Chen, why suddenly bother to meddle in the affair of this mundane world?

    Although being mocked and ridiculed with frigid irony and scorching satire, Bi Chen was not offended; he simply sighed lightly and said, Good question. This time Pindaos heart is moved by the dust (of the earth), simply because I cannot bear to see two amazing flowers, who are the only ones who could see through the Secret to Long Life since time immemorial, being destroyed in one evening just for the sake of struggle over power and position.

    Feeling deep veneration toward him, Kou Zhong said, Turns out Daozhang has this breadth of mind. Please forgive me, Kou Zhong, for being young and inexperienced; but supposing I insist on not handing the treasure over, would Daozhang personally destroy me?

    Chuckling, Bi Chen replied, Your brain is indeed fast. How about this: Ill have my back against you, if you cant force me down the courtyard within ten moves, you will obediently hand the Jade Annulus of He Clan to me, let Pindao return it to its rightful owner on your behalf, then this matter will be settled satisfactorily.

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, Please forgive me for not agreeing. Not at all because I did not have confidence, but because even if Daozhang wins, I cannot produce the Jade Annulus of He Clan. This is not an empty word, I dont know if Daozhang is willing to believe me or not.

    Astonished Bi Chen turned around to face Kou Zhong.

    Taoist Priest Bi Chens facial features were high, ancient, clear and amazing; he had a lofty quality that was above ordinary men. Just by looking at his sparkling and translucent, ivory-white skin color, one would know that his innate qigong has reached the transforming stage.

    His pair of eyeballs appeared to be in perpetually unfathomable serenity, a fantastic feeling that transcended the flesh and blood and physical appearance.

    While Kou Zhong was sizing him up, he also focused his attention to examine Kou Zhong; there was a shocked look on his eyes that was difficult to conceal.

    For some unknown reason, Kou Zhong felt kindness and intimacy from the opposite party, and firm belief in his heart that he really intervene in this dispute in good faith.

    Bi Chen turned his gaze toward the starry sky above the roof; shaking his head and heaving a deep sigh, he said, Kou Zhong, you did not know that in your cultivation you have reached the stage of empty-harmony way of the Daoist School training. The only one you lack is maturity!

    Puzzled, Kou Zhong asked, What do you mean by empty-harmony way?

    Bi Chen looked straight at Kou Zhong; with solemn and respectful expression, he spoke slowly, word-by-word, Our Taoist School cultivation is divided into four stages: training essence and transform it into qi, training qi and transform it into shen [soul/spirit/mind], training shen and transform it into emptiness, and training emptiness and harmonize it into the way [Dao/Tao]. The course of events in all these stages cannot be explained clearly, like the person who drinks it knows best whether the water is hot or cold [i.e. self-awareness comes from within (Zen proverb)]. You must understand that no matter how huge the human potential is, there will be limit. The first two stages refer to corporeal body cultivation. Only the last two stages of training will interlink the practitioner to the abundant appearance of the way in the universe; hence it can transcend the flesh, and reach into the sacred harmony way of transforming stage. [My apology, having no familiarity with Taoist concept, I translated it as best as I understand it.]

    Delighted, Kou Zhong said, When we trained the Secret to Long Life, it seems to me from the beginning we have been training the last two stages as Daozhang explained it.

    Smiling wryly, Bi Chen shook his head and said, This is something that Pindao is unable to understand. Now, how can this matter be resolved? Under present situation, once we are not careful, it will develop into Buddhist, Taoist, Heretics; three-school dispute.

    Kou Zhong smiled and said, To be honest, even if I had the Jade Annulus of He Clan in my hands, I would not hand it out. Such a treasure like the Jade Annulus of He Clan, only the virtuous can obtain it. Whoever has the ability, he ought to be the owner. Whoever wants to take the treasure, he ought to use real skill to obtain it!

    Bi Chen laughed aloud and said, Your character is very similar to Pindaos youthful temper. Very well! I wont care about this matter anymore! You do your best!

    With a long laugh, he turned around and disappeared in the blink of an eye.

    Kou Zhong jumped down into the courtyard. Ba Fenghan, who was already waiting, promptly opened the door.

    As soon as he walked into the wine shop, the first thing caught his attention was Xu Ziling, who was lying on the corner like a statue of reclining Buddha. Shaking his head, Kou Zhong laughed involuntarily and said, This kid is really a happy-go-lucky person; I cant remember when the last time I had some sleep was!

    Putting his hand on Kou Zhongs shoulder, Ba Fenghan spoke with serious expression, Sit down first, lets talk.

    After sitting down, Kou Zhong swept his gaze around. Where are the waiters? he asked in surprise.

    Ba Fenghan replied, A tael of gold can make people willing to do a lot of things.

    It was only then did Kou Zhong notice Ba Fenghans expression, Why does your countenance look this heavy? he asked in surprise, Did you hear what that Bi Chen said? In one glance I could tell he is a virtuous qianbei [senior] of the Daoist School!

    Ba Fenghan replied with a cold laugh, This time your eyes have really left you. That man is called Demon Taoist Pi Chen [repel/refute dust], not Bi Chen. Thirty years ago he ran amuck in the north, never shrink from any crime, a Demon Cult martial art master that can be reckoned as the first or second best. His prestige is second only to Empress Yin Zhu Yuyan. Fortunately the Jade Annulus of He Clan is really not in your hands; otherwise just now he would have found out the truth from you.

    Exhaling sharply, Kou Zhong asked in surprise, How did you know his background that clearly? How come Ive never heard his name?

    A pained smile appeared on Ba Fenghans face; he said, Do you know who told me everything about the Demon Cult? Although both Pi Chen and Zhu Yuyan are Demon Cult people, they belong to different factions. In normal times they fight and scheme against each other, only when dealing with outsiders they are rather united.

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day. Frowning, he said, That Demon Taoist is really formidable; he did not leak even half a bit of demonic air.

    Ba Fenghan said, If I didnt know that the Demon School had such character, I would have been fooled, just like you. Just from this fact we know that this mans cultivation is very high; he has reached the pinnacle of accomplishment.

    Can he really take my ten saber moves with his back? Kou Zhong mused.

    Shaking his head, Ba Fenghan replied, That is not possible. Even Ning Daoqi cannot. He just wanted to bluff to see if the Jade Annulus of He Clan is really in your hands or not, but he ended up deceived by you instead. On the surface his last remark was pleasant to the ear, but beneath the surface he was actually pushing the wave and adding to the billows [i.e. adding fuel to the fire]; hoping that we will fight against Liao Kongs side until both sides suffer. It was extremely despicable.

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, If there are other martial art masters his caliber around, youd better tell me about them now, so that I can be ready.

    Ba Fenghan smiled wryly with him; he said, Wed better not scare ourselves. At least before the zi hour he wont come to bother us again. If we are still alive by then, well continue this talk!

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, I have someone giving me information; rumor has it that Qu Ao and Tujues Tornado Tu Li are allying themselves to deal with us. It will be a hard battle that wont be easy to fight. Must we change our heroic plan and investigate how we can escape into the wilderness tonight?

    Laughing involuntarily, Ba Fenghan said, Do you think that under present circumstances we can still easily ride a boat or take a cart to leave the city? Listen carefully, outside is as quiet as a ghost domain, where have all the people gone?

    Do you think they blocked the street? Kou Zhong asked in surprise.

    Ba Fenghan slyly replied, Although not quite, its not too far from the truth.

    After taking a quick glance at Xu Ziling, he smiled and went on, Do you think we need to copy Ziling and have a good nights rest?

    That proposal suits Zhens idea the best [Translators note: zhen is how an emperor refers to himself]. Ay! A rider is coming our way! Dont you think its a bit too early?

    Ba Fenghan replied, Those who come before the zi hour are our friends, those who come after are our enemies. See if my guess is accurate.

    Kou Zhong rose up to his full height and walked over to the other corner about three zhang away from Xu Ziling. Stretching his limbs, he said, Friends who disturb my sleep are considered enemies. Whatever it is, Ill let you deal with it,

    Watching Kou Zhong moving the table and arranging the chairs, Ba Fenghan smiled ruefully and said, You are such a true friend.

    The hoof beats were coming nearer, the rumble reverberated along the street.

    By the time Kou Zhong was lying down two tables that he made into a bed, the hoof beats stopped in front of the door.

    A young, sweet-sounding male voice rang outside the door, The three of you, get out! Although he spoke without any trace of politeness, the tone of his voice was gentle and pleasant to listen to, refined and calm, in total contrast to what he said.

    A cold, deep murderous aura flitted through Ba Fenghans eyes; he coldly said, Whos there? Tonight I, Ba Fenghan, will not kill an unnamed nobody.

    The man was silent for half a day before he finally spoke in soft voice, Ba Xiong, please forgive Zaixia for speaking harshly in the urgency of this situation. If Ba Xiong is willing to exchange weapons of war for gifts of jade and silk by handing over the Jade Annulus of He Clan so that Zaixia may return it Miss Feixuan, Zaixia wishes to apologize over a toast for provoking Ba Xiong just now.

    The voice penetrated the tightly closed door; it was loud enough to be heard, but not overbearing, each word was spoken clearly, but imbued with power, so that others would not date to take it lightly.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhongs even breathing rose and fell continuously, causing a strange rhythm that seemed to reveal some kind of unspeakable truth.

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan said, The thing I loathe the most is people who strolled in and talk out of turn. Who exactly is Sire? Are you really representing Shi Feixuan?

    The man let out a long laughter and then said, Listening to the tone of Ba Xiongs voice, the handing over of the Jade Annulus of He Clan has not been discussed yet! In that case, lets exchange some palm strikes first.

    Even after racking his brains, Ba Fenghan still could not think of the identity of the young martial art master on the street, hence he decided not to answer but closed his eyes and sat quietly instead.

    Bang!

    The shop door shattered into wooden debris filling the air inside the wine shop.

    Even with Ba Fenghans unperturbed, the-Mount-Tai-collapsed-in-front-of-his-eyes-his-countenance-would-not-change cool-headedness, he could not help being emotionally moved.

    It should be noted that the double-leaf door was hollow on the inside; it could not take impact force at all. But the opposite party was unexpectedly able to send a punch over empty air and shatter the two doors at once; merely this kind of skill has reached a universally shocking level.

    An unspeakably outstanding and elegant, refined in manner, like the jade tree facing the wind, young and handsome man, appeared from behind the shattered door, his hand holding a folding fan with painting of beautiful women on it, swaying gently into the room. His relaxed and well-composed manner did not look like he was an evil guest who came to seek bad luck.

    Ba Fenghans pair of tiger-eyes burst with sharp light; staring intently at the incoming man, he suddenly said, Turns out its the Passionate Prince Hou Xibai; no wonder you are such a protector of the flowers [i.e. beautiful women]. Please forgive me for failing to salute you.

    He spoke those words with an extremely cold and indifferent tone, implying that his remark was brimming with frigid irony and scorching satire.

    Hou Xibai revealed a helpless look on his face; sighing, he said, To be quite honest, Zaixia has always longed to see three gentlemen with a heart full of admiration, but has never wished that we would meet under such circumstances. Huh! Are Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling injured? Or are they sleeping?

    Ba Fenghan replied indifferently, Hou Xiong needs not pay them any attention. Since this is our first meeting, wed better drink two cups first before fighting. What do you say?

    Hou Xibai silently sized up Ba Fenghan. It was quite a moment later that he replied, This is called peaceful measures before using force, not just in name only, but also in reality. Let Zaixia toast Ba Xiong first then.

    Striding over, he sat down across from Ba Fenghan.

    Ba Fenghan sat motionless in full concentration. Without blinking he watched as Hou Xibai put his folding fan into his sleeve pocket before reaching out to pour wine for him as well as for himself.

    Hou Xibai was completely unfazed by the opposite partys sharp eyes, which seemed able to penetrate into the bottom of his heart; his movements remained confident and at ease, worthy of his romantic reputation that could make beautiful women all over the world fell in love with him.

    Holding his cup with both hands, Hou Xibai saluted and said, Knowing someone by their reputation can't compare to meeting them in person. Ba Xiong did not disappoint Zaixia.

    Ba Fenghan did not show any indication that he was going to return the propriety; instead, he spoke indifferently, Hou Xiongs folding fan has refined-steel as its skeleton, but I wonder what kind of material is the fan itself made of?

    Hou Xibai smiled and replied, This is the first time anybody ever asked me this question. Ba Xiong eyesight is indeed very keen. My humble fan is made of heavenly spider silk, incomparably strong and tough; unafraid of any blade.

    Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, Good weapon. I was just wondering: do you have Shi Feixuans portrait painted on it?

    Hou Xibai lowered his head; staring at the good wine in his cup, he said with a wry smile, The only thing this fan lacks is Miss Feixuan. Can Ba Xiong guess why?

    Ba Fenghan calmly laughed and said, That is not difficult to guess. One reason would be her unique personality traits, which Hou Xiong found it difficult to capture; or perhaps Hou Xiongs passion runs too deep, you worry about personal gains and losses instead, and thus was unable to describe it with ink.

    Hou Xibai dejectedly said, Those two reasons Ba Xiong mentioned are both logical. For me, I do not know which posture of hers ought to be put into the painting to show off her beautiful form; hence I am always hesitant and do not dare to move my brush.

    Touched, Ba Fenghan said, That remark is more touching than any praise. Hou Xiong might as well paint a dozen or so Shi Feixuan on the fan, each one depicting one of her postures, charm or grace; wont that solve the problem?

    Sighing, Hou Xibai said, In that case, I am afraid I will have to paint endlessly, and thus I will be too disrespectful to her.

    Ba Fenghan was stunned for half a day. Finally he raised his cup and said, That was a brilliant remark. Let Ol Ba respect Hou Xiong with a toast.

    Clinking their cups, the two drained the wine until not even half a drop remained.

    After putting his cup down, Hou Xibais eyes suddenly became as sharp as a blade as he stared straight into Ba Fenghans eyes; his voice became cold, Can this matter find a peaceful solution?

    Ba Fenghan flatly shook his head and replied, Hou Xiong, lets not talk nonsense.

    Hou Xibai wondered, Ba Xiong has never shown any interest in our countrys affairs, why be involved in this pointless dispute? By obtaining the treasured jade annulus, what good would that bring Ba Xiong?

    Ba Fenghan replied impatiently, Didnt Hou Xiong want to fight? Ol Ba wants to get a firsthand experience of Hou Xiongs fan art, which has shaken the world. This is called chance encounter is better than asking to meet. Hou Xiong, please!

    Both mens eyes suddenly brightened up, neither one willing to concede as they stared at each other.

    A strong stream of murderous aura emanated from Hou Xibais body straight toward Ba Fenghan.

    Without any breeze, the scholar attire he was wearing suddenly fluttered like a flag, increasing his already-strong momentum.

    On the other hand, Ba Fenghan remained as calm as an abyss and ocean, or like towering mountains and precipitous ridges; even though the wind and the waves crashed against it, they failed to sway him the least bit.

    The wine pot and wine cups on the table started to shake; it was a very strange spectacle.

    The two stared at each other for half a day; they both know that in term of momentum, it would be difficult to overwhelm each other. In the end, they had to exchange blows to seek each others weaknesses and flaws.

    Swish!

    The fan appeared in Hou Xibais hand and opened up. The side facing Ba Fenghan had the paintings of eight beautiful women, each with different pose, showing off the beauty and disposition of each woman to the fullest.

    Taken aback, Ba Fenghan said, Isnt that Shen Luoyan in the corner? I have never seen her with that kind of expression, and I have never thought she would be that fascinating.

    Hou Xibais momentum grew without restraint, but his face showed a tender expression as he spoke gently, Luoyan is a very lonely girl. When I picked a white chrysanthemum that day and inserted it on her hair, she revealed that pleasantly-surprised and forlorn expression. At that time she must be remembering someone else. I was not jealous at all, on the contrary, I captured that moment in the painting. Only this expression can represent her best.

    Qiang! Ba Fenghans sword left its sheath and sliced across Hou Xibai sitting on the other side of the table.

    Zip! the fan closed, with casual ease and freedom of action it parried Ba Fenghans swift-and-fierce-without-equal sword strike.

    Both were shaken.

    Both sides shivered inwardly.

    Ba Fenghans seemingly simple sword strike was actually extremely difficult to block. While moving at lightning speed, it subsequently changed direction three times; his estimate was that no matter how brilliant Hou Xibai was, it would be quite awkward for him to evade or withdraw. Who would have thought that the sword was doomed to be blocked by the opponent?

    A feeling of disbelief also appeared in Hou Xibais heart.

    Since his debut, no matter how brilliant, illustrious, or overbearing opponent he encounter, no one has ever able to block ten strikes of his fan. But to deal with Ba Fenghans fantastically-changing-without-direction sword strike, he was forced to give it all he had.

    Although on the surface he seemed relaxed, inwardly he had to waste tremendous strength on just this one move.

    His natural disposition was free-and-easy and aloof-above-the-crowd; his display of martial art skill was also like that. Even if he got killed, on the surface he would still appear free-and-easy, unlike other people who would appear in great distress.

    Two soaring stars of Wulins younger generation martial art masters finally had a face off.

    The sword and the fan stopped in the air above the table.

    Hou Xibai continuously blocked wave after wave of powerful five-way true qi streaming out of Ba Fenghans sword. Emotionally moved, he said, Ba Xiong is more formidable than I thought.

    Inwardly, Ba Fenghan was actually shocked as well. He had never imagined Hou Xibai would be this brilliant. If his meridians had not been transformed by the Jade Annulus of He Clan the previous night, quite possibly by this time his internal energy he would have entered fire-deviation stage, and perhaps he would have suffered serious internal injury.

    Laughing indifferently, he said, Same here! Same here!

    The Beheading Mystery Sword retracted and extended, leaving Hou Xibais Fan of Beauty, and in succession cut and stabbed across the table five times.

    Hou Xibais Fan of Beauty opened and closed at random, but it was always able to parry Ba Fenghans flowing-mercury like wild attack and ferocious strike in such an extremely ingenious way.

    The most amazing thing was that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were still sleeping like they were dead, seemingly oblivious that a life-and-death battle was happening between the two men.

    Yawn!

    Kou Zhong sat up from his makeshift bed; looking around, he asked in surprise, Hou Xibai, what are you doing here? The Jade Annulus of He Clan is practically not in our hands. Even if it was, we could always disregard his mothers Jianghu rules and team up to kill you first.

    Qiang!

    The Beheading Mystery Sword returned to its scabbard.

  9. #169
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 14 Chapter 12

    Book 14 Chapter 12 Falling From the Sky

    Zip!

    The Passionate Prince Hou Xibais Fan of Beauty drew a semicircle in front of Ba Fenghan with a gesture that warmed the heart and delighted the eye, before it was closed and held horizontally across his chest.

    Staring at Ba Fenghan, he asked, Is that true?

    Ba Fenghan coldly replied, Jade Annulus of He Clan is not in our hands.

    Frowning, Hou Xibai asked, Why didnt you tell me earlier?

    With pained expression on his face, Ba Fenghan replied, Did you ask me?

    The two stared at each other for a moment, and then they suddenly burst out laughing together.

    Kou Zhong was about to go back to sleep, Hou Xibai held his Fan of Beauty high and opened it, showing the side that only had Wanwans portrait on it to Kou Zhong and asked, May I ask Kou Xiong, who is this beauty?

    Squinting his sleepy eyes, Kou Zhongs voice was emotional as he replied, It is indeed life-like and vivid, preserving the resemblance and maintaining the wonder, as if it came alive on the surface of the fan.

    Ba Fenghan leaned sideways to take a look; with heartfelt praise he said, Hou Xiongs most admirable skill is your ability to grasp her hard-to-explain, mysterious and hazy characteristics. If your martial art skill is as good as your painting brush, I am afraid everybody would have to step down gracefully.

    Kou Zhong was still staring blankly at the picture of Wanwan on the fan; greatly puzzled, he asked, Your painting of female demon Wan is only in black and white, two colors, but how come I feel like it is in full color? Really weird.

    Hou Xibai shook the Fan of Beauty closed; stunned, he asked, Female demon Wan?

    Kou Zhong lay back on the table; he moaned, That was the number one formidable opponent of your dream lover Shi Feixuan, the female demon Wan; the best and the brightest martial art expert of the Demon Cult after Zhu Yuyan. Fortunately she does not like to gather essence for her cultivation, or else she would suck your passionate seed until not a drop of juice remains.

    A wistful and faraway look appeared on Hou Xibais face; shaking his head, he sighed in admiration and said, Turns out it is her. No wonder there is this unique and unmatched personality trait on her; charming scents seem to keep erupting from her tender body.

    And then he added in astonishment, Kou Xiong does not seem to be too polite to me!

    Kou Zhong sighed, Because I am jealous! he replied.

    Hearing that, Ba Fenghan and Hou Xibai looked at each other in confusion.

    With his eyes closed, Kou Zhong mumbled as if he was in a dream, Shi Feixuan is willing to take you as her confidante, but she is instigating people to persecute me. Two kinds of treatment differ like heaven and earth, cloud and mud; how can I not be jealous?

    Hou Xibai burst out laughing, Its just a misunderstanding, he said, Ill stay with you until the zi hour in here. Anyway, I have not seen her immortal countenance for more than three months.

    Shaking his head, Ba Fenghan said, It is not that simple. Hou Xiong, it would be best if you do not get involved in this, otherwise in the future you wont have good days either.

    Kou Zhong also asked, Do you believe us simply based on what we said?

    Sneering, Hou Xibai said, What rule says we cannot believe somebody based on what he said? Dont think that it is easy to lie to me, rather, from the nature of Ba Xiongs sword, I knew that he is someone who will stop at nothing; he will never care what other people think of him. This kind of people, they will never be afraid to admit what they did. Kou Zhong, do you understand?

    Astounded, Ba Fenghan said, Based on this skill alone, Hou Xiong could be considered top expert in the art of war."

    Noticing that Kou Zhong acted as if he was going back to sleep, Hou Xibai turned toward Ba Fenghan and asked with a smile, In Ba Xiongs heart, who is the most beautiful woman?

    He picked up the wine pot to pour a cup for Ba Fenghan.

    Ba Fenghan replied in displeasure, Hou Xiong did not seem to hear what I say; I just wanted to sit quietly, waiting for the zi hour.

    Hou Xibai laughed aloud and said, Zaixia appreciates Ba Xiongs good intention. However, I am the kind of man whod do what he thinks, willful and never had any regard of the consequences. Unless Ba Xiong asks me to leave, I really want to enjoy this excitement. In any case, in Luoyang right now, there is no place more interesting than here.

    Ba Fenghan coldly stared at Hou Xibais fine, slender and white hand that was pouring the wine, a hand that looked like it belonged to a woman; he spoke heavily, The three of us are of one heart; we can work together without any gap. But if an unknown variable like Hou Xiong joined in, it might disrupt our formation instead. Lets just consider this one cup a send-off wine.

    Hou Xibai raised his cup and made a toast, Ba Xiong is definitely my friend. Cheers!

    The two roared in laughter and drained their cups in one gulp.

    Hou Xibai rose up to his full height; after casting a deep glance toward the unmoving, sleeping-like-a-Dali-stone-statue Xu Ziling, he leisurely walked away.

    Kou Zhong sat up and said, Quarrelling with that kid, my sleep is driven away. I really wish I could beat him up to vent my anger.

    Ba Fenghan waited until Kou Zhong sat himself next to him before speaking with a hint of smile, He is definitely an outstanding character that will make people admire him wholeheartedly; his skill is even more shocking. But why you dont like him?

    I dont understand it either, Kou Zhong muttered, But his paintings are undeniably unparalleled in the world. Hey! Basically I am not qualified to say that, unless I have seen all famous, ancient masterpieces of the world. But its hard to imagine someone will be able to paint more vivid than he does. Ha! If this kid is to paint pillow-side paintings, I guarantee he will attract perverts from all over the world.

    Smiling ruefully, Ba Fenghan said, Youd better not say those words in front of his face; otherwise, it would be strange indeed if he didnt want to stake everything against you.

    Kou Zhong suddenly turned serious; he said, In Ba Xiongs opinion, who is the most beautiful woman in the world? If it is female demon Wan, youd better not say it.

    Realizing Kou Zhong was imitating Hou Xibai, Ba Fenghan wanted to laugh, but his countenance abruptly turned dark as he slowly shook his head and turned his gaze toward the wine shop door, which had become a gaping hole. Sighing gloomily, he said, Perhaps it is Shi Qingxuan! Just by listening to her flute and her sweet voice, it is enough to make me wanted to see her face. But seeing her is just as good as not seeing her. Seeing her only by imagination might be the best.

    Kou Zhong leaned over to scrutinize Ba Fenghans facial expression. Noticing that he was looking through the doorway at the dark and deserted street outside, Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, Your mouth says Shi Qingxuan, but your expression looks like you are thinking of another woman. Too bad I do not have Hou Xibais painting brush, otherwise I would have captured this rare expression of yours, like that time when Shen Luoyan let Hou Xibai stuck a flower on her hair, but in her heart she was thinking of Xiao Ling.

    Kou Zhong, shut your dog mouth!

    Xu Zilings angry voice rang out.

    Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan were stunned, and then both howled in laughter until a few drops of tears escaped from their eyes.

    Kou Zhong sprang up from his chair, and then in three and two steps he bounced toward Xu Zilings makeshift bed and got down on one knee and said, Ling Shao, please calm down. I thought you were sleeping like a dead pig as usual; who would have thought that you heard everything? Sin, sin!

    Xu Ziling suddenly opened his tiger-eyes wide. They were gleaming with unusual light that even Kou Zhong, who was very familiar with him, was terrified. He spoke heavily, Which martial art master is coming? There is an open front door you did not take, but you linger on the roof instead?

    Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong jumped in fright.

    Although their minds were someplace else just now, but this person was able to hide from their eyes and ears; merely from this skill, they knew the incoming person was no small matter.

    An ear-splitting long laughter rang out from the roof.

    Boom!

    The roof shattered.

    Following the dust, crumbs and wood fragments, a magnificent shadow fell from the sky, and landed on a table in the middle of the wine shop.

    Drawing the Moon in the Well, Kou Zhong shouted angrily and went all-out without showing any leniency.

    It was still one sichen before the zi hour.


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  10. #170
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 1

    Book 15 Chapter 1 Seeking Life In Death
    Translated by Foxs

    The man was wearing tight nightwalker outfit, his face was wearing multi-color, garish, but with sinister and terrifying expression, wooden mask. His hair was loose, and from the edges of the mask it was clear that he had thick dragon beard on his face; his overall appearance was extremely dreadful.

    Although his Mt. Lu true appearance could not be seen, under the skintight outfit it looked like his build had some kind of terrifying beauty. His height was comparable to Kou Zhong, three men, and he looked extremely sturdy, with the back of a tiger and waist of a bear, and broad shoulders, with thick and solid neck, as well as extra-large palms visible under his clothes.

    Every single part of his body taken separately gave out the impression of rough, boorish in nature, yet combined together the whole entity shouted a healthy and beautiful, well-proportioned physique, exuding agility, strength and flexibility; an immaculately perfect posture.

    The weapon in his hands was a rough, jet-black, but shiny staff, a bit more than a zhang long, about the size of a babys arm in diameter, yet it was unclear what kind of wood it was made of.

    By the time his feet landed on the table, Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well already turned into bright light, swiftly slicing across his lower part.

    Qi power filled the hall.

    An amazed look flitted through Ba Fenghans eyes, but he was still sitting motionless, while watching the fight unfolding before his eyes with the cool eye of a bystander.

    Xu Ziling, however, closed his eyes, as if he had no interest whatsoever to watch.

    Qiang! The attacker raised the end of his long staff to block Kou Zhongs saber. Its accuracy and speed were unbelievable.

    That hed used his ebony staff to meet Kou Zhongs Moon in the Well head-on, Kou Zhong was not surprised at all; since he had the guts to break down alone, he ought to have the ability, and his ebony staff must be a strange weapon from unorthodox school that was unafraid of any blade.

    But that the opponent was able to neutralize all follow-up changes of his Moon in the Well was like someone was hitting the vital acupoint on his throat; he could not help feeling greatly shaken and his acute spirit fell.

    The rarely-matched and shocking qi power burst out of the end of the staff into the blade of his saber like a torrential flood, dashing against Kou Zhongs powerful spiraling qi power that everything was broken and in disorder; he barely had the strength left to prevent the Moon in the Well from being thrown off of his hand.

    Naturally Kou Zhong had never imagined that the attacker would be this overbearing. Fortunately his meridians had undergone the shedding-of-ones-mortal-body-and-exchanging-ones-bones transformation the previous night, so that his true qi capacity had increased rapidly, and he was able to replenish it quickly.

    The old power disappeared, the new force arrived.

    Urgently raising a mouthful of true qi, he immediately neutralized the opponents true qi invading his hand, followed by Swish! Swish! Swish! three saber strikes in succession like a rainstorm.

    The man was strange as well; silently he blocked two saber strikes and then somersaulted above Kou Zhongs head, the ebony staff turned into a shaft of black light, shooting toward Ba Fenghan, who was sitting quietly behind a table at the end of the wine shop.

    Ba Fenghan sat motionless with fixed gaze, so that he looked like a stone statue, until the ebony staff was only about five chi away from his face, and then while his left hand was pressing the edge of the table, fast as lightning his right hand drew the Beheading Mystery Sword, and Pow! it hacked the head of the ebony staff.

    The table did not move, even the pot and cups on the tabletop were not overturned, but the chair that Hou Xibai was sitting on just now suddenly had its four feet snapped and crumbled onto the floor.

    Powerful energy flowed freely.

    The upper part of Ba Fenghans body swayed, his face turned into a slice of red cloud.

    Borrowing the reaction force, the man rose up and somersaulted backward, the long staff in his hand moved at the speed of sparks from a flint stone to block Kou Zhongs two attacks in succession: the first was an upward motion, the last was a sweeping motion, both struck against the tip of Kou Zhongs blade with incredible accuracy, making Kou Zhong felt helpless; even though he had the power, he was unable to use it.

    This mans martial art skill was very high; perhaps it was comparable to Wanwans.

    The ebony staff in his hand, which weigh was estimated at approximately a hundred catty, was able to move nimbly like a blade of grass; lightweight and freely. From this, the level of his strength could be clearly deduced.

    This moment his toes pushed the ground, the ebony staff turned into black shadow filling the air, completely surrounding Kou Zhong, who was charging over toward him. The two shadows advanced and retreated in succession, the sound of saber and staff colliding against each other was ringing continuously.

    The faster they fought, the more the clashing noise became stringed together like the sound of the rain pattering against the roof tiles; so clear and beautiful.

    Qiang!

    Ba Fenghans sword returned to its sheath. Is it Tuyuhuns Fu Yuns son Fu Qian? he shouted coldly.

    The man gave out an ear-splitting long laugh, parried another strike of Kou Zhongs saber, and then borrowing the reaction force he leaped up, and Zoom! he disappeared into the hole on the roof.

    His voice came back, Thanks for the experience!

    By the time the last word arrived, he was already over a hundred zhang away; his speed was as fast as a shooting star.

    Qiang!

    Kou Zhong also returned his saber to its scabbard, and looked at Ba Fenghan with shock.

    Ba Fenghan inhaled sharply and said, I did not expect him to be this formidable. Even if the three of us joined hands, I am afraid we still could not hold him down.

    After his mind calmed down, Kou Zhong looked up at the night sky above the hole on the roof. Frowning, he said, What did that bearded kid want? Did he want to show off his strength, or he just wanted to damage the wine shop owners livelihood a little bit?

    Xu Zilings voice came, He is not Fu Qian, but the Shadow Assassin Yang Xuyan. Only he was using a stick, hoping that we would not guess that it was him!

    Stunned, Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong looked at each other; they were relieved instead.

    Yang Xuyans best skill was his ability to hide his track and avoid the targets eyes and ears until he was very close.

    Kou Zhong stepped aside to sit on a low wall. Looking and the chaos and the wood-fragments-strewn floor after the calamity, he cursed, Must be that Li kid who sent him to assassinate me.

    Ba Fenghan exhaled a mouthful of air and said, His martial art skill is more formidable than what I thought; the most formidable aspect is his ability to move indefinitely, like he seemed to move forward but actually backward, making it difficult to grasp.

    And then, turning toward Xu Ziling, he asked, How did Ziling guess that he was Yang Xuyan?

    Xu Ziling sat up, he looked at Kou Zhongs face, across the floor filled with debris and overturned and skewed and broken tables and chairs; smiling, he said, Although he was using all kinds of method to hide his identity, both by altering his shenfa [body motion/posture] and footwork, and abandoned his consummate skill of using sword flash to confuse the enemy and used matte, non-reflective ebony staff, he still could not hide his dense, cold, and intense true qi; therefore, as soon as he made his move, I knew he was Yang Xuyan.

    Kou Zhong had a sudden revelation. No wonder he did not mess with you, he said, He was afraid you might recognize him.

    And then he frowned and said, But he created havoc in here, what good would that bring him? If by doing this and that he think he can frame others, its just a joke.

    Xu Ziling stared at Kou Zhong for a long time before finally he spoke slowly, He came here to kill you.

    Kou Zhong was stunned, Kill me? he asked.

    Ba Fenghan was puzzled as well, If he was trying to kill Zhong Shao, he ought to use the weapon that he is good at, he said.

    Xu Ziling raised his head to look at the hole on the roof. Heaving a deep sigh, he spoke indifferently and calmly, Because he was afraid Li Shimin might know that he disobeyed his order against getting involved in tonights dispute over the Jade Annulus of He Clan; hence he hid the head and showed the tail like that. Once he realized that he was unable to kill Zhong Shao using the ebony staff, he attacked Fenghan Xiong in passing to confuse others eyes and ears.

    The three grew silent; there was neither the least bit of noise nor movement.

    Time slowly passed; it was less than a sichen from the zi hour.

    A long while later, Kou Zhong, who was still sitting on the low wall, untied the Moon in the Well, along with its scabbard, and laid it flat on his lap. Shaking his head, he said, I nearly split my brains, but I still cannot think of any reason why Yang Xuyan would go against Li Shimins order, and why he might want to kill me so urgently.

    Ba Fenghan spoke heavily, But you cant help but agree with Zilings speculation, because when he crossed hands with you, the murderous aura was so thick, but when he attacked me, the staff was purely to test me out. It had killer power, but no killer intention.

    Kou Zhong swayed his head, as if he wanted to drive everything that has been bugging him out of his mind. He said, I dont care his mothers reason, but next time we meet, Ill cut his egg and eat it to accompany wine. Ha!

    Ba Fenghan smiled and said, If we did not die tonight, it is definitely a lifetimes unforgettable experience; especially since in one night we become the target of multitude of arrows of various hegemons from all sides, as well as people from both the black and the white ways. I am afraid there has never such a grand occasion throughout history.

    Xu Ziling slyly said, After this matter is over, what is Fenghan Xiong going to do?

    Ba Fenghan pondered for half a day; finally he spoke with indifferent smile, I am going to part ways with you two gentlemen, going back to the prairie and great desert beyond the Great Wall, to start another stage on the road of spiritual cultivation. After I have fully digested all the benefits I reaped in the present days, I am going to return to Tujue to challenge Bi Xuan, irrespective of victory or defeat, life or death.

    Xu Ziling looked at Kou Zhong, and then turned his eyes back at Ba Fenghan as he said wholeheartedly, I really envy you.

    Ba Fenghan threw his head back and let out a long laugh before saying, By nature I am a loner; I never had any friends. You two are the only exceptions.

    The two boys were emotionally moved.

    To have Ba Fenghan spoke those words, how rare would that be?

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, You want to leave, naturally we must respect your wishes. But dont you care about Yu Yi anymore?

    Ba Fenghan rose up to his full height and calmly said, This, of course, is one of the unfinished businesses. Zhong Shao, dont worry. How can Ol Ba be a quitter?

    Kou Zhong sprang up; lightly gripping the Moon in the Well still in its scabbard with his right hand, he said in delight, I am bored just by sitting in here; perhaps taking a stroll down the street is a good idea.

    Ba Fenghan proudly said, Before the battle, it would be best if we make a vow: tonight, either the three of us die in battle, or walk away safely together. There will be no third possibility.

    With his heroism reaching the clouds, Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, Let us use wine to settle the vow then; we will drink three his mothers cups, and then go out and kill to our hearts content.

    Calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Xu Ziling stared at Kou Zhong and coldly said, Zhong Shao seems to be confusing yourself. Tonight we must not kill anybody. If we are involved in an inextricable enmity against Ci Hang Jing Zhai, it wont bring any good to your dream great undertaking.

    Kou Zhong was stunned. He said, Two armies facing each other, if we are being lenient everywhere, wont that be the same as having our hands and feet tied?

    Smiling, Xu Ziling said, That was precisely why I went to sleep.

    Finished speaking, he stood up and walked over to the table where Ba Fenghan was sitting. Picking up three cups, he arranged them in a triangular formation [orig. 品 (pin) character].

    Kou Zhong has already come over. Grabbing his head, he said, What is this?

    Xu Ziling did not know that in the spur of the moment earlier, Kou Zhong was forced to use too much of his brain power. Looking at Ba Fenghan, he asked, Fenghan Xiong, what do you think?

    Ba Fenghan fixed his attention on the tree cups. His eyes flickered with terrifying light as he spoke heavily, Theoretically speaking, the most perfect shape in the world is a circle; it has no beginning, it has no end. Coming and going, it has defensive advantage, but no offensive advantage, simply because there is no particularly sharp point.

    After a short pause, he went on, A triangle has both defensive and offensive advantages, simply because each side has blade edge and sharp corner, but with the underlying characteristics of a circle. Does Ziling have this kind of troop disposition in mind?

    It is exactly that, Xu Ziling replied, If the three of us fight alone tonight, there is no doubt that we will die. Only by relying on a counter-intuitive strategy will we be able to have an opportunity to live.

    And then he pointed to the three cups and said, We are these cups. Because we have been through many life and death situation together, in term of coordination, we are not the least bit inferior to those who have trained battle formation for many years. Moreover, we do not confine ourselves to certain technique, we can change according to the situation; the variation is endless. The only thing we need to discuss right now is the heart of the problem.

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan asked, What problem?

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, I understand! Xiao Ling is referring to our complementary true qi, just like last night when we were training. Old Ba, you become the Tianjin Bridge connecting the two of us, connecting the north and south parts of the City of Luoyang separated by the Luo River, so that the entire city becomes one solid city that no one can capture.

    Shaken, Ba Fenghan said, I understand now!

    Kou Zhong lifted the wine pot and poured wine into the cups, saying, The Battle of Luoyang Street tonight will be our biggest test. If we can stay alive, we will immediately enter the rank of top martial art masters of the world. Thinking about it makes me feel excited.

    Xu Ziling was the first to raise his cup; proposing a toast, he said, But we must not get excited later. Drink it up!

    The other two raised their cups and drained them in one gulp.

    Afterwards they all smashed the cup on the floor, creating a loud, clear sound.

    Looking at each other, they all laughed.

    The zi hour has finally come.

    ※ ※ ※

    Crossing the threshold, they went down the steps in front of the wine shop. Kou Zhong leaned close to Xu Ziling and whispered, Thank you!

    Xu Ziling was puzzled, Why thank me all of a sudden? he asked.

    Walking in front, Ba Fenghan already reached the end of the stone steps. Stopping, he laughed and said, Zhong Shao is rarely this courteous!

    Kou Zhong heaved a deep sigh; continuing his stride out of the door, he walked over to Ba Fenghans side, and after looking left and right, he said, The shops in Luoyang have their front door higher than elsewhere. I wonder if they are afraid that during heavy rain the Luo River would overflow and flood the street?

    Ba Fenghans attention was piqued; he mused, If I were Li Mi, I would take advantage before the rainy season is over to lead my troops to attack Luoyang. It can work wonders.

    This moment Xu Ziling finally reached Ba Fenghans other side; he looked up and down the long street.

    This most prosperous street in Luoyang was as still as a ghost domain, not even half a shadow on anybody was to be seen, all shops and buildings had their doors and windows tightly shut, leaving only the lanterns hanging underneath the eaves casting their slanting light along the street.

    About a thousand paces to their left, the Luo River was flowing; it was such an overwhelming, magnificent sight. With the Milky Way as its meteorological guide, the magnificent Tianjin Bridge spanned across the river, connecting the number one main street of Luoyang, which width reached a hundred paces and which length exceeded eight li, which both sides were lined with trees.

    Laughing heartily, Kou Zhong said, If Fenghan Xiong agrees to help me conquering the world, why would I worry that the great undertaking will not succeed?

    A terrifyingly sharp light flitted across Ba Fenghans eyes; his gaze moved from the stone steps toward the middle of the street, the imperial highway, which was constructed of hundreds of white stone slabs and separated by rows of pomegranate and elm trees on either side. Smiling, he said, When all is said and done, I am not a Central Plains man, so I have my ambitions elsewhere. Besides, based on your, Zhong Shaos intelligence and wisdom, you have more than enough in you; you dont need an insignificant Ba Fenghan.

    That moment, Kou Zhong was scanning the surrounding area for any trace of the enemy; he calmly said, I just have a feeling. But Old Ba, although you are a foreigner, you seem to be more familiar with our countrys affairs and cultures than the two of us; which I found it to be extremely weird.

    Ba Fenghans eyes softened; he seemed to be hiding a sad, painful feeling in his heart. He sighed, but did not answer Kou Zhongs question.

    Taking the lead, he stepped down the stone steps, crossed the pedestrian pathway and the vehicles and horses road, and onto the imperial highway. Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong followed behind him.

    Myriads of thoughts filling his heart, Kou Zhong said, During Yang Guangs days in the past, if anybody dared to travel leisurely along the imperial highway, he would be executed for the crime by the authority. This imperial highway is a symbol of separation between the Emperor and all the people. One who has never personally bowed to the pain and difficulties of common people, how could he be a good emperor?

    Xu Ziling remained silent. He was just staring at the majestic silhouette of Ba Fenghans back.

    Entering the imperial highway, Ba Fenghan turned left toward the Tianjin Bridge.

    Kou Zhong leaned over to Xu Ziling and said, The reason I thanked you just now is because if you, Ling Shao, did not help me these past few days, I would have been finished. And what I appreciate more is that if not for my sake, you would never have done anything you have done today.

    A hint of smile appeared on the corners of Xu Zilings mouth; he said indifferently, Life is like a big net blocking a river; none of the fish that are trying to swim through will be able to slip past it. Since I already promised you that I will help you dig the Duke Yangs Treasure, I knew that this kind of situation may appear and I must deal with it with all my strength.

    After a short pause, he sighed and went on, But I never thought that we might provoke Shi Feixuan, Ning Daoqi, that kind of dreadful enemies. And now, what else can I say?

    Walking in front, Ba Fenghan seemed to turn a deaf ear to the two boys conversation; he kept walking with his hands behind his back toward the Tianjin Bridge.

    Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, You ought to anticipate this kind of consequences early on, yet you are still actively helping me. Other than your brotherly yiqi toward me, I dont think there is any other reason.

    Xu Ziling kept staring at Ba Fenghans majestic back, which seemed that it could never be knocked down, while continuing to walk silently. It was quite a while later that he finally spoke, Of all kinds of reasons, one of them might be my desire to vent Su Jies anger toward Li Jing, that completely-lacking-any-sense-of-justice [email protected], so that he wont have good days.

    Taken aback, Kou Zhong shot a couple glances toward him; momentarily he was speechless. Of all the reasons he could think of, he had never thought that Xu Ziling would fight for the Jade Annulus of He Clan for this one.

    Ba Fenghan suddenly stopped. His eyes flashing bright, he had his gaze fixed on the Tianjin Bridge.

    One slender and elegant man in scholar attire was standing on the apex of the bridge with his hands behind his back, leaning against the railing to look down on the Luo River flowing under the bridge.

    A barge happened to float by.

  11. #171
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 2

    Book 15 Chapter 2 The Immortal By The Bank Of River Luo

    Xu Zilings tiger-body shook. Qin Chuan? he called out in low voice.

    Actually, without he mentioning the other partys name, Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan also instinctively knew that the person ahead was Shi Feixuan, who was using the name Qin Chuan as an alias, gracing their presence with her fragrant self.

    When they were stepping out of the wine shop door earlier, the three had naturally thought about whom they might encounter first.

    The biggest possibility was of course Reverend Liao Kong, accompanied by the Four Great Protector Vajra and a bunch of Buddhist monks, big and small, who emptied their temple to come here looking to give them bad luck.

    Next would be the whip-bearer old friend, Wang Bo.

    And then schools and sects who had good relationship with Ci Hang Jing Zhai, or perhaps the dragon-bearded Prince Fu Qian who had just arrived in the Central Plains. [Translators note: the word dragon here is 虬 (qiu), young dragon with horns.]

    But they had never imagined that their first encounter would be with the most esteemed martial art master after Ning Daoqi, unmatched in her generation, Shi Feixuan.

    She was so young.

    Caressed by the night breeze of the Luo River, dressed in light greenish blue gown fluttering in the wind, in indescribably relaxed and graceful manner, leaning forward to gaze into the clear water down below, so calm and natural. An antique-looking, elegant sword was hanging on her back, increasing her heroic aura to some degree, while also reminding others that she possessed matchless swordsmanship in the world.

    From the three mens angle of view, looking up at the highest point of the center of the Tianjin Bridge arch, they saw the half-moon in the night sky happened to appear right next to her face, bathing her in the gentle and soft moonlight, emphasizing her beautiful as if it was born of, and received spiritual influence from, the heaven and the earth, silhouette against the outside world, just like distinct undulating contours of the river against the mountain.

    Even though the three were accustomed to see rare beauties, they could not refrain the overwhelming feeling that took their breath away.

    But her beauty was different from Wanwans. It was some kind of clear water out of cotton rose [hibiscus mutabilis], carved out of the Heaven kind of natural. The innate, natural beauty that was incomparably pure and simple.

    Like the beautiful goddess that has been resided in the River Luo forever suddenly made her appearance by the riverbank.

    Even in the middle of this bustling metropolis, her arrival immediately turned everything else into a superior land of empty mountain and spirit rain, as if it was really a fantasy, an extremely moving place.

    Although she appeared mortal, there seemed to be no way that she would place herself in the midst of dusty, vulgar earth, which did not match her identity.

    Her beautiful, lucid and elegant eyes looked like the sun appearing from behind the red clouds, and yet able to always maintain some mysterious, immeasurable serenity.

    It was only this moment that the three men realized that Hou Xibais praise of her was not an exaggeration at all.

    Shi Feixuans extraordinary beauty, the kind of beauty that takes ones breath away, was not something that an ordinary brush of the mundane earth could capture and control.

    The three were staring blankly at her. Not only they have completely lost their will to fight, they could not even squeak any noise.

    The very moment that their heartstrings were being shaken, the bright and beautiful, the beauty standing proudly like lotus in the middle of clear water, spoke softly using her completely-free-from-impurity, sweet voice, Feixuan really did not wish to meet three gentlemen under this circumstance.

    Due to her appearance, the entire heaven and earth seemed to be shrouded by layer upon layer of intensely sweet-smelling immortal fragrance, which surrounded them and rendered them unable to get away, neither did they want to get away.

    Beneath the calm and cold outward appearance, her eyes revealed strong determination like fresh flowers blooming in a dark place, far above the passion of love and secular pursuits.

    Compared to Wanwan, with her exotic appearance and devious gorgeousness, demonic tenderness and slinky beauty, who looked like the faintly discernible bright moon that was hiding behind light cloud, she looked like a burst of sunshine splitting the empty valley and secluded forest, sprinkling the mother earth with its light, brilliant, bright and graceful. Even with Kou Zhongs cynicism, Xu Zilings indifference of life, and Ba Fenghans callousness, in an instant they were awed by her beyond-the-world immortal beauty and elegant appearance, so that they nearly forgot that He who comes is surely ill-intentioned, no-one well-meaning will come [i.e. Be careful not to trust strangers].

    The Heavenly Street was as quiet as a ghost domain; only the rustling noise of gentle waves lapping the dike of the river and the foot of the bridge was heard.

    Under the slanting moonlight, the four buildings towering on either side of the River forming a square with the Bridge in the middle, cast their magnificent shadows on the street and the surface of the water, adding the intensity of the already dreadful atmosphere.

    Ba Fenghan was the first to come to his senses; taking a deep breath, he said, Miss Shi has graced us with your immortal good self, naturally it is for the Jade Annulus of He Clan. I was wondering: what are you going to do?

    Shi Feixuan basically did not even look at them; a thin, indifferent smile floated on the corner of her cinnabar red lips, her sandalwood-colored mouth opened slightly as she said, After Feixuan left the Monastery [orig. zhai from Ci Hang Jing Zhai], I have never fought with anybody, but tonight, quite possibly because of three reasons, I will have no choice but to break this oath [orig. Buddhist monastic discipline]. Do you want to hear it?

    Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, To be able to make you, Miss Shi, violate your religious precept and make your move, it is our, three mens greatest honor. But Xiaodi [little brother] is untalented; even after thinking until my brains split I can only think about the Jade Annulus of He Clan, one reason for you to make your move. I wonder what the other two are.

    Shi Feixuans voice turned cold, as she spoke icily, One of the reasons is that the three of you have stirred up the alertness in Feixuans heart.

    Even with the three mens intelligence and wisdom, they still failed to understand; their brains went blank.

    Ever since Shi Feixuan made her appearance, Xu Ziling remained silent and did not say a single word.

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan said, Could Miss Shi speak more clearly?

    Shi Feixuan did not wear the least bit of cosmetics, but her brilliance was like the glow of the sun rising over the red clouds, as a helpless smile flitted across her jade countenance. Sighing lightly, she said, How could Feixuan be one who loves to use weapons of war? Only because the opportunity to unify the world, to cross over the suffering of all the people, that in fear and trepidation, not daring to be negligent, I bear the mandate that my Master entrusted in me.

    Kou Zhong shivered inwardly, but on the surface he pretended to be surprised as he probed further, What does it have to do with whether Miss is going to deal with us or not?

    Shi Feixuan lightly twisted her long, beautiful and elegant neck, turning to face the three men for the first time. Her beautiful eyes rippled, she looked extremely enchanting.

    And then she even turned her tender body around to face them.

    Obtaining the full view of her was like she threw a stone in the lake of their hearts; it created countless undulating ripples.

    Under her long and naturally curved eyebrows, her bright and deep eyes appeared even more beautiful, in perfect harmony with the dimples embedded onto her jade cheeks, which seemed to carry perpetually smiling expression. Her shoulders were like they were carved with blade, her twisting waist so fine, delicate, yet full, so that others could not help having their soul snatched away. Under the illumination of the moon, her skin was sparkling and translucent like jade, so that her figure appeared even more lithe, her posture extremely exquisite, free from the vulgarity of the dust of the earth.

    This moment, her beautiful eyes, which had turned the three mens spirit and soul upside down, were shooting sharp light that seemed to be able to penetrate the bottom of other peoples heart. After sweeping the three mens faces with her gaze several times, her eyes stopped at Kou Zhong, and then with a tranquil, indifferent tone she said, If Kou Xiong agrees to immediately hand over the Jade Annulus of He Clan, and possibly from now on withdraw from Jianghu, everything between us may be written off in one stroke, and hereafter we have nothing to do with each other.

    Kou Zhong did not expect she would suddenly become so direct and plainspoken like this, without any trace of politeness at all. Stunned, he said, Did I hear it correctly? Did Miss say that if I agree to withdraw from Jianghu, the Jade Annulus of He Clan does not even need to be handed out?

    Ignoring him, Shi Feixuans gaze turned toward Ba Fenghan. She sighed faintly and said, Is the Central Plains not chaotic enough? Why dont Ba Xiong return to the outside?

    Ba Fenghans eyes shot sharp, flashing light, as he returned her gaze unyieldingly. Without blinking the least bit, he spoke heavily, Miss is wrong. Wherever Ol Ba wants to go, I have never let anybody tell me whether I should turn left or right.

    A hint of pained smiled escaped from the corner of Shi Feixuans lips, but her voice turned gentle, This is precisely the reason you are stirring up the alertness in Feixuans heart. All three of you are extremely daring, nobodys willing to submit easily. Since the moment you set foot in Luoyang, you immediately broke the balance of forces in the Eastern Capital. Just from this point alone, nobody dares to lightly neglect you.

    And then her gaze turned toward the standing silently Xu Ziling; she said indifferently, May I ask why did Xu Xiong steal the Jade Annulus of He Clan?

    All three cried out, Formidable! in their heart.

    Ever since her appearance on the Bridge, she had all initiatives in the palm of her hands. They could only be in the disadvantageous position of reacting to her every move. Her speech was deeper than the way of the sword; it was like a heavenly steed soaring across the skies, totally hard to pin down, impossible to defend effectively.

    After silently staring at each other for half a day, Xu Ziling calmly laughed and said, Listening to the tone of Miss Shis voice, it seems to me that even though the Jade Annulus of He Clan is not in our hands, you would still refuse to let us off!

    Both Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan silently heaved a sigh of relief. They felt that Xu Ziling was launching his counterattack; moreover, it struck the only weak point in Shi Feixuans words.

    Ever since encountering Shi Feixuan, they felt as if they were half their original height and were overwhelmed with thief-lacking-in-confidence feeling. But if Shi Feixuan felt that even though the Jade Annulus of He Clan was not in their hands she still wanted to deal with them, it would put them in a completely different set of frame of mind.

    Focusing her attention, Shi Feixuan sized Xu Ziling up and down for a while before sighing lightly and said, Using the sword to rule the world is, of course, must not be allowed. But using the sword to obtain the world seems to be the only way since times immemorial. Feixuan has no choice but to ask for advice of Xu Xiongs consummate art. I want to see whats so mysterious about the amazing skill from the Secret to Long Life.

    The three did not expect she would take this abrupt turn and chose Xu Ziling to be their representative.

    Throwing his head back, Ba Fenghan gave out a long laughter; his heroism reaching the clouds, he spoke boldly, Who would want to experience Miss Shis swordsmanship more than the Ol Ba? Miss, please enlighten me first!

    Dang!

    A sharp and clear ring of the bell came from behind, resonated along the desolate, illuminated by the moonlight, street. The sound lingered in their ears for a very long time.

    And then a gentle, thick and deep male voice invoking the names of Buddha spoke in tranquil tone, Pinseng [impoverished monk] Liao Kong, wishing to represent Feixuan in fighting Ba Shizhu [benefactor].

    Hearing that, the three looked at each other. Reverend Liao Kong unexpectedly opened his golden mouth to speak.

    Shi Feixuan sighed and said, And this is the third reason Feixuan has no choice but to make my move. Because of the theft of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, Dashi [great master/reverend, common term to address Buddhist monks] had to break his vow of silent meditation that he had already cultivated for many years. Feixuan fells even more guilty, and had to make exception by personally making my move.

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, Even if the Jade Annulus of He Clan was not taken by us, the battle tonight is still inevitable, isnt it? In that case, which sacred self would be my, Zhong Shaos opponent?

    Remaining calm in the midst of chaos, Shi Feixuan said, As long as Kou Xiong and Ba Xiong do not strive to make your move, how could Feixuan offend you? I just want to confirm whether Xu Xiongs xinfa [Translators note: so far I translated this as mental cultivation; I am starting to think that I need a better translation] from the Secret to Long Life is drawn from the unusual power of the treasured jade annulus imperial seal!

    Kou and Ba immediately cursed their own stupidity for neglecting the fact that Shi Feixuans swordsmanship also came from the highest art of their mysterious school, Ci Hang Jian Dian [lit. sword canon of Ci Hang]; perhaps she really could see through whether Xu Ziling had the capability to steal the treasure. In which case, they still could not dispute it even if they had a hundred arguments. The only way would be to escape as far as possible, and unless they knew for sure that they could defeat Shi Feixuan, they might as well not to show themselves in Jianghu.

    At the same time, they both felt lucky. After absorbing the energy from the Jade Annulus of He Clan, perhaps Xu Zilings power xinfa became so superior that even Shi Feixuan would fail to recognize it?

    However, the other possibility would be that as soon as they fought, Shi Feixuan would immediately see through that Xu Ziling indeed possessed the unusual energy from the Jade Annulus of He Clan. This would be disastrous.

    The two flipped back and forth between these two contradicting thoughts; advancing or retreating, they would lose. Should the refuse, or accept gladly?

    The first attitude would show clearly that they were thieves lacking in confidence; the second attitude was a trap, with even more worrying consequences.

    Shi Feixuans personality was just like her sword: difficult to ward off. And she has hit their weak point.

    On the surface, the two were, naturally, as calm and composed as usual, without disclosing the storm in their heart.

    On the contrary, the person involved, i.e. Xu Ziling, remained confident and at ease; he smiled and said, Miss has this kind of validation art, it is indeed what Zaixia wanted to seek but failed to get. Please!

    Shi Feixuan took two seemingly very casual, steps forward; immediately a burst of dense, fierce without equal, momentum enveloped all three men.

    The three shivered inwardly.

    Her two seemingly simple steps were like moving clouds and flowing water that gave out a fantastic feeling of a dam cutting off the flow of water; clearly it was some kind of first-class, profound and esoteric footwork style. Otherwise, how could mere two steps express movement and talent strung together, and express her prowess as well?

    They could also feel her essence and qi power was closing in tightly; as soon as one of them revealed any gap, she would immediately draw her sword to attack. And the attack must be of a ten-thousand-catty-thunder strong, which was impossible to withstand.

    In that instant, she already grasped the advantageous offensive position.

    Shi Feixuans pretty face radiated a pure and holy glow, making others did not dare to have any morbid and sacrilegious thought, and were deeply ashamed.

    Xu Zilings tiger-eyes suddenly burst an unprecedented strange light as he took a stride forward.

    In response, Shi Feixuans generated fierce sword qi was immediately concentrated on him.

    While using all his power to resist Shi Feixuan, who was standing proudly about eight paces away at the head of the Bridge, Xu Ziling spoke coldly, Zhong Shao and Fenghan Xiong, please move aside slightly, let Xiaodi have a taste of Sword Canon of Ci Hang, the matchless sword technique in the world.

    Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong took the opportunity to move separately to the left and right, leaving the two combatants standing face-to-face amassing their power.

    Night breeze was blowing from the River Luo, but the two combatants sleeves were not affected at all.

    The man was casual and elegant; the woman was graceful like a fairy. Watching them was like watching a pair of matching jade annulus made in Heaven; who would have imagined that they were about to fight, so much so that it would be a life and death battle?

    Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong were standing on either side of the long street. Although they had great confidence at Xu Zilings martial art skill and his intelligence, but his opponent this time was the preeminent swordswoman who came from the number one holy land under the heavens; plus the two were worried about their personal gains and losses, hence their hearts were burning with anxiety.

    Far away, on the street at the other end of the bridge, Reverend Liao Kong, holding the copper bell in his hand, stood quietly, acting as Shi Feixuans backup.

    As for how many people were lurking in the dark, perhaps nobody knew for sure.

    The barge that was sailing under the bridge a moment ago came back, and even stopped under the bridge. A faint silhouette of someone sitting on the deck was seen, giving out a mysterious flavor.

    To Xu Ziling, who was in a standoff against Shi Feixuan, it was a totally different flavor.

    It was only this moment that he finally understood why Wanwan, with all her brilliance, was still afraid of Shi Feixuan and did not dare to make her move so easily. Because from head to toe, this woman could really reached the extraordinary qi controls the momentum stage, where without the sword leaving its sheath, she could already injure the enemy using the sword qi.

    The most terrifying thing was that under her without-any-distracting-thought, deep, clear and bright beautiful gaze, it was so easy for the opponent to lose his will to fight, and thus would greatly reduce his originally unyielding, focused, matchless momentum.

    Her bearing, movements, every frown and every smile, not only left deep, unforgettable impression on others, her graceful, flawless, leaving-nothing-to-be-desired personality did not have the least bit of blemish at all.

    It should be noted that with Xu Zilings eyesight, tempered over many years of battle all over the world, coupled with his unique innate talent, he has already reached the Grand Master level.

    Even against superior masters of Qu Aos caliber, he was able to tell the depths of their skill in just one glance, hence he was able to decide whether to stake it all or to escape.

    But facing this immortal-and-sage-like, otherworldly beauty, he was completely unable to grasp the depth of her skill, or even the strength or weakness of her true character, and as a result, he was unable to develop any strategy.

    Shi Feixuan was also sizing up the opponent with full concentration.

    Even in this time of two strong opponents facing each other, her mood remained transparent and ethereal, without the slightest desire to kill or to boast.

    Strictly speaking, although she received mandate from her Master and has not shaven her head to take the oath as a nun, she could definitely be considered an outside-person who spread out the religious practice of Buddhism.

    Other than Hou Xibai, there has never been any young man who leaves the least bit of impression in her heart. But the young martial art master in front of her eyes had a kind of hard-to-describe personality, so that a feeling of tenderness and sympathy grew in her heart. Plus his martial art skill was much higher than she imagined. Since her debut, rarely had she encountered such opponent.

    These were all the perceptions that grew in her heart during the standoff. They would not affect her mood at all, much less her swordsmanship.

    By the time her sword leaves its sheath, all distracting thoughts would vanish like smoke in thin air, without leaving any trace at all.

    Thinking to this point, Shi Feixuan sighed inwardly, and then refocused her mind.

    Qiang!

    The treasured sword left its sheath.

    One stream of no-stronghold-one-cannot-overcome sword qi shot out from the tip of the sword, piercing the air, straight toward Xu Ziling.

    Xu Ziling stretched out his right hand, drawing a flawless small circle.

    Peng!

    Sword qi and palm power collided. Xu Zilings was severely shaken; he staggered half a step back.

    Shi Feixuan was still as graceful and serene as ever.

    In the midst of this vicious-weapons-dangerous-battle moment, she still gave out the impression that she was hiding in a cluster of dense, fragrant orchids, pacing back and forth in a deep valley on a remote mountain.

    Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan had never imagined that her sword qi was this formidable; it has practically reached the splitting-the-air-to-attack-the-enemy, freely-according-to-her-wishes stage. But worrying right now would be useless.

    The former called out, Miss, have you tested it out?

    Shi Feixuans pretty eyebrows were slightly knitted; toward Kou Zhongs cry, that was an obvious attempt to distract her mind, she simply regarded it as a bad smell, but toward Xu Zilings move, her fragrant heart was actually greatly astonished.

    Her sword technique was the highest xinfa of the mysterious school; as soon as she made contact with the opponent, she would be able to detect the others actual depth; thereby she could determine whether Xu Ziling had the ability to harness the special power of the Jade Annulus of He Clan.

    However, when their true qi clashed just now, Xu Ziling was sending out a fantastic vortex of energy, which completely sealed and blocked her exploration, so that her true qi failed to penetrate his meridians to incite proper reaction.

    Xu Ziling was finally relieved, albeit only slightly.

    Before the zi hour, he intentionally spent two sichen in sleep-meditation, it was precisely to deal with this situation. Under normal circumstances, he could not surpass Kou Zhongs hundred-tactic acumen. But it was not because his talent was inferior; rather, it was due to his character who did not like to contend against others. However, in critical junctures like this, he would always come up with amazing idea that even Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong would have to prostrate themselves in admiration. From this, it was clear that his ability and wisdom was actually very superior.

    Although Xu Xingzhis tactics were brilliant, Xu Ziling had already realized that he stole the treasure would be the only flaw.

    Because although outward appearance could be imitated, martial art would not lie.

    His original target was Liao Kong, because Liao Kong used to sit facing the wall studying the Jade Annulus of He Clan, hence he was deeply familiar with its characteristic, and should be qualified to determine whether Xu Ziling had the ability to control and resist the Jade Annulus of He Clan.

    Supposing Xu Ziling did not absorb the Jade Annulus of He Clans special power, this moment not only he did not need to be afraid, he would be happy to let the opponent test him. It was because he was basically unable to control the Jade Annulus of He Clan that Bu Chis staff, with its ten-thousand-catty-thunder-power, coincidentally dissolved him from critical circumstances and brought him greatest fortune instead.

    But now that his meridians had been flushed open by the treasured jade annulus extraordinary power, he could not erase the evidence that he had come in contact with the treasure. Therefore, his two sichen of sleep was not in vain at all; rather, he made use of that time to take the blending of the Jade Annulus of He Clans special power and his own true qi one step further, to a different from of qi power, that even Liao Kong, or perhaps Shi Feixuan, would find it hard to identify.

    Presently, although they were still at an early stage, even a brilliant master like Shi Feixuan felt it difficult to affirm.

    Although admittedly luck also played an important role here.

    Were it not for the fact that Shi Feixuan had never fought with him in the past, this moment she would have been able to sense the difference in his true qi.

    Staring at him without blinking, she spoke softly, The sword in Feixuans hand is called Color Empty [色空], specializing in defending the heart. Xu Xiong, watch out!

    Xu Ziling smiled and said, Miss Shi, please enlighten me!

    The moment two great martial art masters contended against each other in terms of real talent and solid skill has finally arrived.

    Xu Zilings clothes suddenly looked like he was facing a gale; it stuck closed to front part of his body, while the corner of his sleeves fluttered backward as if blown away by violent storm, creating an extremely weird scene.

    Shi Feixuan remained calm as ever, but her pretty eyes were growing brighter and brighter; even the Color Empty Sword seemed to be glowing with brilliant light.

    Overwhelmed with amazement, Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghans countenance changed; they knew that in term of imposing manner, Xu Ziling had already fallen into an absolutely disadvantageous position.

    The Color Empty Sword finally made its move.

  12. #172
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 3

    Book 15 Chapter 3 Major Enemy Waiting For The Opportunity

    Lightning flashed, sword qi filled the air.

    Shi Feixuans Color Empty Sword filled the air with light and shadow, which completely enveloped Xu Ziling.

    She was like a fairy dancing lightly and gracefully. Her shadow was barely discernible amidst the flashes of her sword, like the bright moon hidden behind hazy cloud. The densely cold sword qi spread far and wide that Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong, who were standing three zhang away, could also feel it. The momentum swaying back and forth was like swirling flakes of snow in the middle of a storm.

    Xu Ziling had already stored up his momentum as he was waiting quietly, and was in full alert. But he still could not anticipate that this seemingly gentle, tender and graceful, touching, engaging and charming beautys delicate hand, which was whiter than frost and softer than snow, would be able to unleash such a terrifying sword moves, which were swifter than a rainstorm.

    He knew that this was a critical moment. As soon as he failed to block, her sword qi would invade his meridians, it might immediately spur reaction, and then she would know that the Jade Annulus of He Clans special power has entered his system.

    Xu Zilings body turned into shadow, which swiftly advanced and retreated in the midst of sword shadow. With the fingers closed together his left hand formed a saber, brimming with his true power, moving so fast that ordinary people would not be able to see it, as it chopped to the left and parried to the right, each palm strike accurately hitting the body of Shi Feixuans Color Empty Swords blade.

    Still, everybody knew that Shi Feixuan held the initiatives in her hand, while the opponent was stuck in passive position and could only react to her move.

    Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong stared tongue-tied, and felt so helpless.

    Xu Ziling has always been able to utilize his acute sense of touch to grasp key moment, but this time, this advantage was completely lost on Shi Feixuan.

    With mystical and abstruse style, and graceful-like-an-immortal shenfa, every single sword strike of Shi Feixuan seemed to be able to grab the key moment and thus completely nullify Xu Zilings counter-offensive.

    No more than twenty moves later, Xu Ziling was completely under the swords control; without the freedom to act independently he was falling under the opponents like-a-heavenly-steed-soaring-across-the-sky swords sphere of influence. His range of motion diminished. The moment he was unable to evade would be the moment he suffered utter defeat.

    Even in this precarious situation, Xu Zilings heart was still free of distraction, his mind was as still as the moon in the well.

    Although he was in the worst predicament possible, this situation has actually stirred up his overbearing, unyielding determination. With heart and soul he met Shi Feixuans floating-freely, fantastically-changing, ever-increasing-in-power, sword technique.

    Using the heart to control the sword.

    Shi Feixuans sword technique did not follow any established rules, but each strike of the sword was designed to hit the opponents weak point. Every sword strike carried the power of a thousand hammers, a hundred (scale) weights, which seized away the heaven and the earths good luck.

    The most formidable thing was the sword qi shooting out of the blade of her sword, which flowed swiftly into every gap, no-hole-left-uninvaded, which was very difficult to guard against.

    Xu Ziling suddenly closed his eyes; pulling back his left hand, he sent out a right punch.

    Peng!

    The body of the Color Empty Sword was hit by Xu Zilings fist.

    Powerful qi swept across horizontally, kicking up the dust in the street.

    Ever since the start of the battle, this was the first time Xu Ziling was able to attack the blade of Shi Feixuans Color Empty Sword.

    Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan could not refrain from shouting out, Good!

    Sword shadow dissipated.

    Xu Ziling breathed a sigh of relief. He was about to seize this opportunity to attack, when suddenly a bright light flashed in front of his eyes; like a lightning that suddenly struck from the outer sky and broke through the dark cloud of the night, the Color Empty Sword suddenly appeared in front of his chest.

    It was the very first time that the idea that the enemy was not someone he could defeat appeared in his mind; his heart was shaken even more. He knew that under the opponents powerful offensive, he had lost his confidence. If he let this condition continued, his defeat was decided. Then in his pursue of martial art cultivation later on, this blow would become a setback that he could not remedy. It might also prevent him from reaching the peak of perfection all his life.

    It was a distracting thought. But just before Shi Feixuans penetrating-the-universe sword momentum, who could resist such dejected feeling?

    Such a simple sword, yet it contained incomparably profound xinfa and sword logic. It looked slow, but it also looked fast. Just in term of speed alone, it was already difficult to comprehend; plus the blade was vibrating, like a vipers tongue, which gave up the impression that it could change direction at any time.

    In this instant where victory and defeat would be decided, Xu Ziling took a deep breath and pushed away all distracting thoughts out of his mind. His eyes flashed with lightning, both palms closed together like a lotus, and then like a blooming flower all ten fingers opened up in front of the blade like countless finger shadows.

    Pow!

    Xu Zilings left thumb knocked horizontally against the body of the blade, but his entire body was jolted back as if he was struck by lightning.

    Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong were shocked.

    Shi Feixuans sword strike was undoubtedly unparalleled in the world, but Xu Zilings weird move was exquisite and brilliant beyond compare; it has practically sealed off all attack routes she could possibly take, while also met this one strike head-on.

    The problem was that all along, Xu Zilings true qi was still a level below Shi Feixuans the incomparably refined and pure enigmatic sect and orthodox schools sword qi, which she cultivated since childhood. In addition, the opponent has always been occupying the superior position of offensive initiative. Therefore, not suffering any setback would be a marvel indeed.

    Wah!

    While his body was spiraling in the air as he was thrown back, Xu Ziling spewed a mouthful of blood.

    Shi Feixuans sword momentum congealed; unexpectedly she did not follow up her victory and press home the attack.

    Xu Zilings martial art cultivation was far beyond her expectation. Not only his tenacity was outstanding, he was able to produce strange moves one after another, so that although she maintained the offensive for a long time, she failed to defeat him. The last sword strike just now looked like it would hit his acupoint and thus render him incapable to continue the fight, but unexpectedly it was neutralized by his top-notch amazing technique. She was able to injure him until he vomited blood, but it was not her hearts desire.

    Qiang! Qiang!

    Finally Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong were unable to hold on anymore. Saber and sword left their scabbards.

    Dang!

    Again Liao Kong rang the copper bell as a warning.

    Right this moment, a shadow shot down like an arrow from the building to their left, straight toward Shi Feixuan.

    The air around them seemed to implode, so that they all felt extremely uncomfortable.

    Such a dreadful martial art, except for the Tian Mo Gong, there was no other.

    The plain-clothed, barefooted Wanwan suddenly appeared like a specter coming out of the deepest black hole of the dream; before the person arrived, a thin stream of ribbon already flew out of her right hand sleeve, like a snake it rolled toward Shi Feixuan, whose mind was still distracted by Xu Zilings profoundness. Its momentum was swift and fierce to the extreme.

    It was absolutely comparable to Shi Feixuans sword a moment ago.

    Only it did not generate any noise or even the whistling sound of qi power splitting the air.

    When her body was still high in the air, her other hand lightly waved her gauzed sleeve in such an amazingly graceful manner, shooting three streams of white light, attacking Xu Ziling, who was still staggering, and Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan, who were in ready-to-pounce stance. Nobody knew how she did it, but it was very fast and accurate.

    Following the sound of yelling and angry scream, four different shadows shot down from the top of two opposite buildings nearest this side of the bridge. Surprisingly they were Bu Chen, Bu Ju, Bu Tan, and Bu Chi, the Four Great Protector Vajra of Jing Nian Chanyuan.

    Under the moonlight, especially because the light was behind them, their Buddhist staffs appeared even darker; carrying thunderous whistling, their might was awe-inspiring.

    Apparently they were stationed around the battle ground to guard against other people rushing to intervene; but obviously they could not stop Wanwan, this special grade martial art master.

    Reverend Liao Kong invoked the many names of Buddha, and like a meteor catching up with the moon he flew over at top speed.

    In spite all these, Shi Feixuan, who was the target of the sneak attack, remained calm as usual. The Color Empty Sword rose up, while her body floated diagonally up to meet Wanwan.

    However, everybody knew that Wanwan chose this exact moment to make her move, because she knew that after fighting a hard battle with a formidable opponent, and moreover because she accidentally injured Xu Ziling, her mind was distracted and her acute spirit was discharged. Hence for Wanwan, who had been amassing her momentum for a long time in waiting, this moment was precisely the one-in-a-thousand golden opportunity to strike the enemy.

    At this point, the one closest to Wanwan was Xu Ziling.

    But he simply had no time. Plus he had to deal with the secret projectile shot by Wanwan; hence even if he wanted to help, he was simply powerless.

    Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong were, first of all, comparatively farther away, and secondly, they were also busy blocking the secret projectile, hence no matter what, they were a hair slower. Other people need not be mentioned; they were like water from afar quenches no fire.

    In the blink of an eye, these two illustrious successors representing orthodox and heretic, two separate ways, were engaged in a confrontation against each other.

    The tip of the sword hit the end of the ribbon.

    Shi Feixuans tender body was slightly shaken; she flew horizontally toward the Tianjin Bridge.

    Jolted by the impact, the three-zhang long ribbon was bended first, and then the force flowed along the length of the ribbon, making a wave, which, in turn, became a dozen or so rotating rings; like a shadow it followed Wanwan as she soared into the air to pursue Shi Feixuan, who was flying away in the opposite direction.

    One after another Kou Zhong, three men, dodged the flying blades thrown by Wanwan. Meanwhile the two women already crossed sword and ribbon in the air above the bridge, like numerous strings [of musical instrument] being plucked together at the same time, in an instant they already exchanged more than ten moves.

    Although it happened in such a short period of time, the battle was incomparably intense. Each move carried full power; ruthless, swift and fierce, speed against speed. Amidst the flashes of the sword and the shadows of the ribbon, the two women fought in the air, and down onto the bridge. Their figures advancing and retreating abruptly, like a rabbit evading the falcons hunt. Since the spectators could not even see their face and figure clearly, they could forget about trying to intervene. They only know that at any time the conclusion would come, in the form of splashing blood and a dead body lying on the ground.

    Ba Fenghan was the first to rush toward the head of the bridge. He was about to act when Wanwan and Shi Feixuan suddenly separated.

    Shi Feixuan floated toward the railing of the bridge, the Color Empty Sword was pointing toward Wanwan; an unusual redness appeared on her pretty face.

    In an extremely graceful posture, Wanwan soared up and landed down on the head of the bridge on the opposite side.

    Before her feet touched the ground, Bu Tan and Bu Jus more than a hundred catty Buddhist staffs swept down from the sky, bringing with them the pressure of a storm, blowing her clothes that it was pressed up against her body, emphasizing her beautiful body lines.

    Kou Zhong and the others cried Bad! inwardly; they were the only ones who knew best the level of Wanwans formidability. How could these two monks be her match?

    Wanwans sparkling-and-translucent-like-jade bare feet lightly pushed on the flagstone of the bridgehead, propelling herself at an angle, and in an instant she broke through the two monks staff shadows.

    Amidst her tender laughter, Bu Tan and Bu Ju staggered and fell to the side. Wanwan continued to rise, and then changed direction toward the Luo River. Glancing back, she laughed and said, Meizis [younger sister] is indeed out of the ordinary; thank you for letting Wanwan experience it!

    Right this moment, strange light suddenly flashed; a burst of rays of light shot up at an angle from the small barge parked under the bridge, fast like a thunderbolt it struck Wanwan, who was still flying in the air.

    Again Wanwan let out her sweet-sounding, silver-bell like tender laughter. Her right sleeve brushed away, she swept the tip of the folding fan to the side, and said with a laugh, Hou Xiong is no longer a man who cherishes flowers?

    The interceptor was none other than the Passionate Prince Hou Xibai.

    His folding fans momentum being blocked, Hou Xibai let out a stifled groan as he was jolted back onto the ground, and was thrown about a zhang until he was stopped by the embankment.

    Borrowing the reaction force, Wanwan flew up at an angle and disappeared behind the multi-story building some distance away from the River.

    Came and went like the wind, or like a demon or a specter, making people unsure whether it was real, or they were simply having a nightmare.

    In the meantime Bu Tan and Bu Ju had just landed on the ground. Although they were no longer staggering, their footsteps were heavy; a clear sign that they had suffered injury.

    Liao Kong swept past Ba Fenghan, three men, who were stopping at the head of the bridge, toward Shi Feixuan, and put his palms together in greeting.

    Bu Chi and Bu Chen stood behind the three, quietly taking their position to surround them.

    Shi Feixuan floated over the bridge; her expression was as calm as ever, with some kind of gracefulness, free and easy, beautiful appearance of a fairy.

    Her deep gaze was fixed on the distance, where Wanwan was disappearing in the dark.

    Hou Xibai scrambled toward the bridge. Deeply concerned, he asked, Feixuan, is your honorable self well?

    All eyes were on this as-simple-and-elegant-as-a-fairy beauty.

    Shi Feixuan gave a slight smile; she said glibly, Tian Mo Gong is indeed worthy to be called the Demon Cults consummate skill; its countless changes emerge in endless succession.

    And then her gaze fell on Xu Ziling. Hows Xu Xiongs injury? she asked tenderly.

    Xu Ziling did not expect that, under this circumstance, she still cared about the injury of this enemy; an extremely odd feeling emerged in his heart. Shouldnt be a problem, he replied seriously, Thank you, Miss, for your concern.

    Pfft! Shi Feixuan burst out in tender laughter. It was me who injure you, she said, Why did you thank me?

    Her rarely-came-out burst of laughter was like a blooming flower, or the sunrise from the eastern mountain; so brilliant that it dazzled everybody else. Except for Liao Kong, who still looked like an old monk in deep meditation, even the Four Great Protector Vajra were also staring blankly at her. Kou Zhong, Hou Xibai, and the others need not be mentioned.

    The smile subsided, Shi Feixuan returned to her still-water-without-any-ripple expression. Sweeping Xu Ziling, three men, with her gaze, she spoke indifferently, For the time being, well set the Jade Annulus of He Clan matter aside. I will decide how to pursue this matter later.

    And then turning her attention to Hou Xibai, she said, Feixuan will momentarily stay at the Dhyana Temple to recover. If theres karma between us, I will see Hou Xiong later.

    Finished speaking, she turned around and left.

    Liao Kong and the others, five monks, immediately put their palms together in salute toward Xu, Kou and Ba; they were very polite that it did not look like they consider the three as their enemy. And then they left to escort Shi Feixuan.

    Ba Fenghan and the others looked at each other; they all did not expect that this matter would end like this, so they were not sure if they should thank Wanwan, or they should hate her.

    Hou Xibai appeared to be in daze; he mumbled repeatedly, Feixuan is injured, Feixuan is injured

    Kou Zhong made an eye signal toward Ba Fenghan. The latter turned to Hou Xibai, Hou Xiong

    He had just started, Hou Xibai, who was still on the bridge, suddenly turned around to look at them. His eyes turned cold as he said, Next time if the three gentlemen are dealing with Yin Gui Pai, please do not forget to leave me a share.

    With a leap he landed on the small barge under the bridge, and let the current bring the boat downstream.

    All around them the street has returned to its cold and quiet atmosphere.

    Ba Fenghan sighed involuntarily; turning toward Xu Ziling, he asked, Is Ziling all right?

    Xu Ziling looked up at the moon above; heaving a deep, heavy sigh, he shook his head and said, Just now my heart was slightly tight, but now I feel much better!

    Kou Zhong walked over toward Xu Ziling; with an arm around his shoulder, he raised the other hands thumb and praised, Xiao Ling is really all right! This is called glorious defeat. Over time, we need not be afraid of anybody.

    And then he added, What are we going to do now? Shall we go back to that wine shop and drink until morning, or find a quiet place and have his mothers good sleep for a while?

    Looking around, Xu Ziling wondered aloud, How come along the Heavenly Street all stores and shops have their doors and windows closed? We dont even see half a pedestrian on the street either. Dont you think this is strange?

    Kou Zhong speculated, Perhaps that a$$h01e Wang Shichong is afraid bystanders might be injured accidentally, hence he issued an order prohibiting anybody to step out even half a pace after certain hours certain time. Or something like that. Maybe?

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan said, That is one possibility, but I still feel like something is wrong.

    Kou Zhong pulled the arm with which he embraced Xu Zilings shoulders, Standing foolishly waiting for people to challenge us for battle like this is not the way to deal with this matter; wed better go someplace else.

    Sneering, Xu Ziling said, Who would put us up for the night now? Including your old friend Wang Shichong, whod welcome us in Luoyang?

    It was not clear whether Ba Fenghan was thinking about Princess Dong Ming; he sighed and said, How about Mr. Xus little nest?

    Kou Zhongs heart was moved; he laughed and said, How about going to the casinos big boss Rong Fengxiangs magnificent residence to hide for the night? Doing a bit of harm to this fellow is not a bad thing either.

    The other two looked at him, stunned.

    Kou Zhong explained, Tonight Dong Shuni was going to the Rong Mansion to join Rong Fengxiangs birthday feast; she even told me to wait at the back door, shed slip out and wed elope together, so Hey! Why are you two looking at me with such a dreadful and dubious expression like that?

    Ba Fenghan coldly said, If Dong Shuni had wanted to elope, she would have eloped for a hundred times. Why does she show you, Zhong Shao, a special favor? Dont you find it suspicious?

    Kou Zhong was stunned. You think thats impossible? he said, I did not treat her too shabbily either! You think she is setting a trap to harm me?

    Xu Ziling said, What relationship does she have with you? Why did she pick you? Why does she want to elope with you?

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Actually, she and I had a bit of relationship; but now that you mentioned it, I also feel that theres something not quite right. I hope she was just joking! Otherwise there must be a bit of problem here; like, she is a woman who adores glory, splendor, wealth and rank, how could she be willing to abandon all those, and come with me, a lone wanderer, to the other end of the world?

    And then he clapped his hands and said, All right! Enough chitchat! Where are we going now?

    Suddenly all three mens eyes lit up.

    Actually, the entire Tianjin Bridge lit up.

    Turning their heads around, they saw a huge, brightly lit ship, was sailing upstream toward the Tianjin Bridge.

    This ship originally had no light, but suddenly it became this bright; they definitely had a team of well-trained lamplighters.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, Old Ba, you win! I am afraid tonight we really have to bear it until dawn. I hope two gentlemen still remember that Triangular Formation.

  13. #173
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 4

    Book 15 Chapter 4 Bearded Visitor From The East

    The glorious lantern lights illuminated the entire river bend and both banks of the river around the huge ship as it sailed speedily toward the Tianjin Bridge.

    The sails have been lowered, the ship was relying entirely on the eighteen oars on each side, pushing the water to move it forward.

    Wind lanterns were hanging along the side of the ship at one step intervals, so close together so that the lanterns practically outlined the contours of the whole ship, creating a surreptitious, indescribable impression.

    Above the main deck was a two-story bridge; the top level had the helm and the observation platform, on which more than a dozen men and women were standing at random. But Kou Zhong and the others, three men, only saw one person.

    Because this man was like a crane in a flock of chicken, all at once he attracted their attention so that they had no time to take notice of the other people.

    This lordly gentleman looked to be around thirty, wearing barbarian attire, with long bushy beard on his face, tall and majestic; compared to the people around him, he was at least half a head taller, he was perhaps of the same height with Kou Zhong, three men.

    Although he was standing with his hands behind his back, he was able to make people feel that he had a lofty mountain, high peak, outstanding, out of the ordinary, spirit, a heroic, overbearingly imposing style.

    His face, surrounded by the bushy beard, was actually clear, amazing, and heroic. Although his cheekbones were high, his nose was big, grand and powerful. His eyes were surprisingly thin, but the pupils inside them were bright and flashing with clear, deep, and intelligent radiance, as he was sizing up Xu and the others, three men, from a distance.

    Both on his left and right stood two beautiful women, but in the eyes of the three men, they were not as attractive as this dragon-bearded man brimming with masculine charm.

    Facing the huge boat that was still twenty zhang away but fast approaching them, Kou Zhong shouted, Whos there? If you come for us, report your name. I, Kou Zhong, am not interested in killing an unnamed nobody.

    The last sentence was, naturally, the bold, visionary words that Ba Fenghan spoke toward Hou Xibai, and indeed it showed aggressiveness.

    Ba Fenghan smiled.

    Xu Ziling was silent, but he was circulating his breathing to treat his injury.

    Shi Feixuans sword qi was a rare, innate qi. If not for the fact that his foundation came from Taoist Schools secret treasure, the Secret to Long Life, plus his meridians have undergone transformation by the Jade Annulus of He Clans special power, perhaps he could not fully recover for the rest of his life.

    At that time he felt that at the last moment Shi Feixuan withdrew some of her true qi; supposing it were not so, perhaps he would have to suffer for several days.

    Since the engagement began, although Shi Feixuan appeared to send swift and severe offensive, the fact was that the attacks were well-measured, purely to test him out, without any intention to harm him.

    This woman had a not-eating-the-food-of-common-mortals kind of noble character. Compared to Princess Dong Ming, Shang Xiuxun, women of high position and status, she had different noble air, making her towering above those other women, making her extremely unique.

    A long laugh awakened Xu Ziling from his deep contemplation, so that he could not help shivering inwardly.

    He had never given any woman this much thought.

    The dragon-bearded mans voice rose up, Kou Zhong must be joking! Xiaodi Fu Qian; coming with specific purpose of making friends with three gentlemen and paying my respect!

    He spoke perfect Chinese with very articulate pronunciation and vocalization, paying particular attention to the tone of each word, so that he could be considered half a notch above Ba Fenghan, who had left home to make his way in the world for many years.

    From his appearance and his dragon-beard trademark, the three had already guessed who he was, hence hearing his response, they were not surprised at all. The only thing they did not expect was that he would look this formidable and overbearing, his heroic aura covering the sky.

    The huge ships speed was decreasing, otherwise the mast, which came out to two zhang above the bridge, would shake and break the bridge, and even the lid of the top level of the bridge would not survive.

    His deep, manly, and sweet-sounding voice vanished, Ba Fenghan smiled and said, Fu Xiongs great name is like thunder piercing the ear, ol Ba admires it very much. But there is one thing I am not clear; I want to ask for guidance!

    Hai!

    Thunderous shout boomed from the belly of the ship. At precisely the same time, thirty-six men cried out as if it came from one persons mouth.

    Thirty-six oars reversed direction at the same time; the giant ship miraculously stopped on the surface of the River, maintaining about three zhang distance between the bow and the bridgehead. Fu Qian and the other dozen or so people happened to stand at the same elevation as the bridgehead, so that as they spoke, neither side was put in an awkward position of one was higher or lower than the other.

    On the surrounding area, the lanterns were dim; only this section by the Tianjin Bridge the Luo River was ablaze with light, even the moon and the stars in the sky were eclipsed.

    Due to the movement of the giant ship, bigger waves slapped the embankments, creating louder rustling noise.

    Other than that, everything else was so quiet and harmonious.

    The oars kept moving in such an ingenious way that the huge ship stayed unmoving in the middle of the river.

    Fu Qian calmly replied, Ba Xiong need not be hesitant to ask, Xiaodi wont hide anything I know, I wont stop before I have said it through.

    Ba Fenghans eyes flashed with cold rays; he spoke coldly, Fu Xiong hid the ship nearby, and suddenly appeared. Your timing is accurate, I wonder what do you intend to do?

    These words bore no trace of politeness, but Ba Fenghan could not be blamed. Because Fu Qian and Wang Bo were intimately related, it would be easy to make an associative connection that Fu Qian came with malicious motive.

    The people standing around Fu Qian revealed a displeased expression on their faces. The two Tuyuhun women by Fu Qians sides even showed disdain, as if they were blaming Ba Fenghan for failing to appreciate their kindness.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were accustomed to Ba Fenghans no nonsense attitude toward anybody; they did not feel it strange at all.

    Surprisingly, Fu Qian did not take offense as well; laughing aloud, he said, There are three reasons: one, Xiaodi loves to join in the fun. This time I came to the Central Plains, this is the main reason.

    The three did not expect him to be this forthcoming. He said clearly that while the Central Plains was in chaos, he came to take this advantage of fishing in troubled water.

    Kou Zhong scanned the entourage standing by his side, the oldest looked no more than forty years old, every single one of them had bulging taiyang acupoints [on the temples], their eyes were flickering brightly; obviously Fu Qians martial art masters were as numerous as the clouds, his strength must not be scorned. Only Kou Zhong did not know whether Xing Mofei, who spoke in public at the Man Qing Yuan the other night, was one of them. Thereupon he said with a cold snort, Joining the fun sometimes requires that you pay the price. I wish Fu Xiong to have propitious wind throughout your journey!

    From Song Yuzhi, he knew that Fu Qian had special interest toward them. And with Song Yuzhis shrewdness, if she said so, she must have strong reason, and not something that she shot without aiming.

    A young man standing behind Fu Qian was about to open his mouth in retort, but this martial art master from the Tuyuhun Kings Clan signaled him to stop, and then, remaining tranquil and calm, he laughed and said, Xiaodi came to the Central Plains, from the beginning I havent had the enjoyment of roaming the mountains and playing in the waters; many thanks for Kou Xiongs concern. As for the second reason, Xiaodi wants to destroy Tiele peoples conspiracy; I dont want Qu Ao, Tulis crafty scheme to prevail. And the last reason: I want to see if three gentlemen have time to spare to have your honorable selves onto my humble boat to drink and chat until daybreak?

    Ba Fenghan threw his head back and laughed aloud; he said, Fu Xiongs two good intentions, we appreciate very much! Right now we only want to find a place to stay for the night and have a good sleep. Please!

    A thin smile appeared on the corner of Fu Qians mouth; nodding, he said, Three gentlemen are indeed exceptional heroes, ol Fu admires you.

    The oars moved, the huge ship went in reverse.

    And then the lanterns went off, as the ship disappeared in the dark river bend.

    ※ ※ ※

    The sound of turning wheels against the flagstone, mixed with the hoof beats of the mules, came from the street down below.

    Kou Zhong stretched his limbs before opening his eyes and sat up. Xu Ziling had already waken up; he was standing against the railing of a bell and drum tower located on the northern bank of the Luo River, gazing into the distance at the Tianjin Bridge spanning across the River. It was not clear whether he was thinking about his encounter with Shi Feixuan the previous night.

    Ba Fenghan was sitting cross-legged in meditation, closing himself out of anything that was happening around him. The Beheading Mystery Sword was lying flat across his legs.

    Kou Zhong sprang up and walked over to Xu Zilings side.

    Outside the tower, the drizzle continued; it was as if the entire Luo River had fallen into a vast expanse of mist whiteness.

    Kou Zhong took a deep breath of the early morning air mixed with the fog. Looking far into the distance, across the misty rain, he sighed and said, Its really nice! We are still alive, and had just had a great nights sleep.

    Xu Ziling noticed that Kou Zhongs left hand was fiddling with the pendant on his chest, at the end of the chain hanging from his neck. He asked in surprise, Why this sudden interest of the pendant?

    Kou Zhong replied in delight, I forgot to tell you, I met its original owner last night.

    Xu Ziling was stunned, You met Chuchu? he asked.

    Kou Zhong got this pendant when they were at Zhai Rangs Big Boss Mansion. Chuchu went with Zhai Jiao to take refuge. Just before they left, she had Susu hand the pendant to Kou Zhong [See Book 4 Chapter 12].

    Recalling this matter, he really felt as if it all happened a lifetime ago.

    Kou Zhong told him about Zhai Jiao looking for him last night, and then he said, Li Mis days must be numbered, hence the reason Zhai Jiao, which is his unexpected archenemy, emerged. Zhai Jiao has a subordinate named Xuan Yong, absolutely a talent.

    Xu Ziling nodded, Killing Zhai Rang was Li Mis grave mistake. If it were you, Zhong Shao, youd have put Zhai Rang on pedestal, let him have a false reputation, while the real power is in your hands. By the time you really obtain the world, you would ask Zhai Rang to abdicate, then it would not appear as if there is a big gap to cover. And now how are you going to take advantage of it?

    Having a plan up in his sleeve, Kou Zhong replied, Know yourself and know your enemy, and you will never be defeated. I have already made arrangement with Zhai Jiao, she will supply me with intelligence data on Li Mis activities. Humph! This time I am going to have Li Mis highest intelligence capability and hidden troops in my disposal. As long as he fell into my luring-the-enemy strategy, this world will be out of his reach.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, If because of this Wang Shichong grew big, wouldnt that bring you no good at all?

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, That happens to be the most exciting point. Right now everybody thinks that Wang Shichong cannot beat Li Mi, hence the reason Dugu Feng dared to publicly stand against him. Better yet, even Wang Shichong himself has no confidence, hence he secretly established friendly relations with Li Yuan so that together they might fight Li Mi. This is the reason that Li Shimin kid dared to come to Luoyang to flaunt his might and glorious martial power. Ha! But once Wang Shichong inflicted big damage on Li Mi, this Wang Li alliance will collapse. At that time, the only thing Wang Shichong could do would be blocking Li kid; he would not let him prevail. Then we can carry the treasure back to the south and retrieve Jingling back from Ol Dies hands. At that time we can go to the north or the south, the world will be mine, Kou Zhongs!

    With a rueful smile Xu Ziling said, Actually, what you have here is just a wishful thinking. And dont forget that we basically dont know where the Duke Yang Treasure is.

    Disappointed, Kou Zhong said, There are a lot of things that wont happen like if we think about it in details, we will accomplish it. The so-called success is heavens responsibility, for us the mortals, other than doing our utmost, what else can we do?

    Changing the topic, he said, I am going to see Wang Shichong later today; do you two have any plan?

    Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling said, Today no matter what I am going to stay close to Old Ba, because there is great chance that Tuli will choose the moment he is left alone to make his move.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, You seem to forget that we are their big foe for killing Qu Aos son. Last night he did not come looking for revenge, he had me scratching my head.

    Staring into the boundless drizzle hiding the sky and covering the earth, the water droplets blown by the wind floating down to the ground, Xu Ziling slyly said, Your memory is really bad. Fu Qian and Qu Ao are going to decide male and female at Man Qing Yuan tonight. This battle relates to Qu Aos lifetime honor and disgrace and Tielie peoples reputation, so Qu Ao must preserve and nurture his spirit, everything else must be cast aside to deal with tonights duel.

    Nodding, Kou Zhong said, What you said makes a lot of sense. Only I dont know hows Tulis temperament? I hear that he and Li kid have a very good friendship. Quite possibly Li kid will lend him a helping hand.

    Heaving a deep sigh, Xu Ziling said, I dont know whether it was because we have always had good relationship with Li Shimin that unconsciously we always underestimate his formidability. The fact is that after raising his troops at Taiyuan, he always triumphed in every battle. Without any shocking-the-heaven method, I dont know how he accomplished it. Supposing he is certain that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is in our hands, maybe hell deal with us using thunderbolt means.

    Kou Zhong dismissively said, Whod dare to be certain that the Jade Annulus of He Clan was stolen by us? At least Wang Bo, that old kid, would believe us.

    Xu Zilings countenance dropped; he coldly said, Li Jing ought to believe that we stole it. Because he had seen my appearance after I put on the mask; therefore, he knew that I have the ability to change my appearance for other purposes.

    Kou Zhongs eyes flashed with cold rays; he said, Therefore, if Li Shimin pursues us to demand the Jade Annulus of He Clan from us, that means Li Jing has forgotten the old friendships and betrayed us. In that case, we wont have any brotherhood love to speak about with him.

    Xu Ziling sighed. He said, Although Li Jing turned his back on Su Jie, he is not a man who would sell his friends for glory; I might be worrying in vain. But Shi Feixuan once pointed out that martial art masters under Li kid are as numerous as the cloud, plus he has established such a heavenly-policy government. Therefore, we must not ignore him lightly.

    Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day. Suddenly he said, Do you think nobody knew we are hiding in here?

    After pondering for a moment, Xu Ziling replied confidently, I am sure nobody does. After absorbing the special power of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, the most prominent advancement is in the raising of qi in lightness skill aspect; taking a breath while being high up in the sky is as easy as a hands turn. In this case, even though it was Ning Daoqi who followed our track, it would not be that easy.

    Kou Zhong was suddenly shaken, We are so stupid, he said, Why didnt we exploit this strong point? If we can bring out this strong point as much as we like, even if the enemy has many men, great force, they wont be able to hem us in.

    Xu Zilings tiger-eyes lit up; they were glistening brightly, but he did not say anything.

    Ba Fenghan voice was suddenly heard, Two Xiongdi, are you interested in going to Dongjia Restaurant for a cup of hot tea?

    ※ ※ ※

    House of Dong [Dong Family] Restaurant was crowded and noisy. The three sat around a table on the corner, they all had a from hell and back feeling.

    After the waiters delivered fragrant tea, cups and chopsticks, Kou Zhong pricked his ears to listen carefully; he laughed and said, Out of ten tables, eight are talking about what happened last night; the martial law was definitely issued by Wang Shichong. I dont know what malicious intention this guy is harboring, he seemed to resent that our enemies did not have enough convenience.

    Ba Fenghan was silent without saying anything, he seemed to hear without listening.

    Ever since he woke up this morning, he seemed to be full of thoughts, but did not want to talk about it.

    Knowing his temperament, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling did not dare to provoke him.

    Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling said, I am guessing one possibility that might explain why Wang Shichong did what he did.

    This moment the waiter came with some pastries. After he left, Kou Zhong leaned over and said, Tell me quickly!

    Xu Ziling sighed and replied, Wang Shichong may do so upon Li kids request.

    Severely shaken, Kou Zhong said, In that case, wouldnt that mean Li Jing really betrayed us?

    It was indeed the most logical inference.

    Li Shimin was definitely not someone who is particular about friendship, only after knowing for sure that they wrecked his good relationship with Shi Feixuan, he might initiate drastic action to deal with them.

    Moreover, looking at major forces around Luoyang nowadays, only Li Shimin had the capability to move Wang Shichong, because presently Wang Shichong did not wish to offend the Li Clan, no matter what; otherwise, he would be caught up in the vile situation of facing enemies on the east and the west.

    Perhaps because Li Shimin still remembered old friendship he did not want to openly confront them, but it was quite understandable if he made the arrangement on behalf of Shi Feixuan, to let her have a free hand in dealing with the three.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, This is just a guess; I hope the actual situation is not like that!

    Ba Fenghan suddenly spoke up, Kou Zhong, when you see Wang Shichong later, it wont hurt if you just ask him bluntly, see how he answers it.

    His face darkened, Kou Zhong stood up and spoke in heavy voice, In this world, other than you, I wont trust anybody easily anymore.

    Finished speaking, he left, full of joy and expectations.

    ※ ※ ※

    As soon as Kou Zhongs shadow disappeared outside the restaurants main door, Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, Today well do our separate business: you are responsible to scout Yin Gui Pai peoples activity, I am going to see Shan Wanjing.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling said, How am I going to do that?

    Ba Fenghan replied, Yin Gui Pai must have a secret nest in here, and thats where Shangguan Long is hiding to recuperate. To investigate that, there are two indirect ways. Because Yin Gui Pai always have more yin than yang, and plus most of them are beautiful women, and women by nature love beauty, if you pay attention to several stores along the Heavenly Street that are well-known as specializing in cosmetics and perfumes, you may obtain unexpected gain.

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, That is indeed a wonderful idea! And what is the other one?

    Ba Fenghan said, Although Zhu Yuyan have the capacity to treat the internal injury in Shangguan Longs meridians, but afterwards, to regulate and make up for it, they cant avoid drawing support from primary medication to restore his original strength. Therefore, as long as you pick the most upscale herbal medicine shop and guard a tree-stump, waiting for rabbits [idiom, meaning waiting idly for opportunities], you might see someone suspicious.

    Since I have nothing to do anyway, I might as well try my luck by doing what Fenghan Xiong said, Xu Ziling glibly said.

    And then his scimitar-shaped eyebrows lightly knitted in confusion, But didnt you just have a fallout with Princess Dong Ming? he asked, Why are you seeing her again?

    A complicated expression flashed through Ba Fenghans eyes; he replied in low voice, Ill tell you after I see her! Im off!

    Xu Ziling did not answer him, but inwardly he knew that the one Ba Fenghan wanted to see was not Shan Wanjing, but the old flame who came with Tuli to the Central Plains, the one with whom his gratitude and grudges were tangled up.

    It was an extremely dangerous thing to do, how was he going to handle it?

  14. #174
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 5

    Book 15 Chapter 5 Misty Rain

    Kou Zhong had just stepped out of the House of Dong Restaurants main door when a carriage arrived; the driver saluted and said, Kou YeYe, please get in the carriage.

    The voice sounded familiar; as Kou Zhong looked up in surprise, turned out the driver was the Deputy Gang Leader of Jukun Bang, Bu Tianzhi, an old acquaintance.

    He was well aware of who was inside the carriage, but recalling that Beautiful Shifu Yun Yuzhen was Dugu Ces girlfriend, this womans position was dubious. Thereupon he took one step closer to the window, with its screen hung low, and knocked three times and said with a laugh, Shifu, would you let Xiaotu [small/lowly disciple] take a look at Seniors flowery countenance to comfort the pain of my yearning heart?

    The corner of the screen rose up, revealing Yun Yuzhens delighted and angry jade countenance. Her jet-black eyebrows slightly knitted, she pouted playfully, You, this low-grade disciple who loves to defy his superior, why havent you jumped in? Do you want Shifu to expel you from my school?

    Putting on an act as if he was extremely terrified, Kou Zhong stole a glance inside, and after making sure that there was no one else in the carriage, he pushed the door and got inside the compartment.

    He barely closed the door, not even seated properly yet, Yun Yuzhen already threw herself in his bosom.

    The gentle, fragrant scent assaulted his nostrils, Kou Zhong struggled to sit down on the seat and immediately looked down to look for her fragrant lips.

    The carriage started to move.

    After the extremely dangerous, intense situation of last night, his heart was moved by this romantic situation.

    By the time Kou Zhongs mouth left her lips, this Gang Leader of a big gang was panting, her face turned fiery red.

    Smiling, Kou Zhong asked, When did Beautiful Shifu arrive? Why didnt you send word, so that Xiaotu could act as the host?

    Burying her pretty face in his chest, her starry eyes were half closed as she spoke crossly, Are you Luoyangs landlord?

    Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, Just that restaurant, the House of Dong. Why did you stay outside and did not come in? Didnt you know that your other disciple was inside, drinking wine?

    Yun Yuzhen struggled to free her tender, charming and soft body from his embrace; looking up, she cast him a glance, and then pressed her jade cheek back onto his chest. Wrapping her arms around his sturdy back and waist, she spoke tenderly, I just arrived yesterday; you dont know how difficult it was to find you!

    Kou Zhong looked out from behind the screen.

    On the street, pedestrians, horses and carriages braved the rain, coming and going in a hurry; looked like it was going to be another busy day.

    Kou Zhong asked casually, Beautiful Shifu, where are you staying? Has Su Jies baby born yet?

    Yun Yuzhen happily replied, Your Su Jie and Yushans baby is fair-skinned and chubby; he is very active and cute.

    Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, In that case I really have to thank the Heaven and thank the Earth! he said, Hey! Let me go back and tell Xiao Ling!

    Displeased, Yun Yuzhen said, Theres no rush, it wont be too late to tell him later. I have something important to discuss with you.

    Kou Zhong took another glance outside. Frowning, he said, Tell me where we are going first.

    Unconcerned, Yun Yuzhen replied, Are you afraid I might kidnap and sell you?

    Giggling, Kou Zhong replied, Of course I am; very much. Currently I, Kou Zhong, worth a few pennies.

    Sneering, Yun Yuzhen said, Kou Ye, your value nowadays has risen dramatically; you worth far more than a few pennies. Ay! Cant you seriously listen to Yuzhen for a moment?

    Hearing her soft, beseeching words, Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and said, As long as you dont ask me to surrender to Dugu Ce, that stinky kid, other matters can be discussed slowly.

    Yun Yuzhens tender body suddenly bolted up from his lap; she spoke angrily, Where do you think you are going? My, Yun Yuzhens real feeling toward you, you, this ungrateful man, still do not believe it?

    How could Kou Zhong believe her that easily? However, on the surface he smiled apologetically and said, Beautiful Shifu, please calm down, I was just joking. Ha! You have not answered my question: where does the horse pull this carriage to?

    Yun Yuzhen went from anger to happiness; she said, Seeing that you still know how to sweet-talk people, Ill let you off this time! But just this once.

    After meeting Kou Zhongs expectant eyes, Yun Yuzhen revealed a deeply meaningful smile, leaned over and whispered in his ear, I am taking you to see someone.

    Kou Zhong was stunned.

    ※ ※ ※

    Xu Ziling slipped quietly into an alley. Raising his qi, he unleashed his qinggong, like an arrow he sprinted over approximately ten zhang distance; suddenly taking a breath, unexpectedly he changed direction just like that, and leaped over a tall wall on his left. After passing nobody knows how many backyards drenched in the endless rain, he leaped out of the wall on the other side of a courtyard, jumped over buildings and passed through several roofs, and finally turned back into the Heavenly Street from a small alley.

    Flashing into a ready-made clothing store, with the fastest speed possible he bought a hat and an outer robe. And then by the time he was back into the Heavenly Street and walked long the Luo River, he had become an old man with stooping back, who, unable to bear the beating rain and blowing wind, had the hat pushed low toward his eyes.

    Ba Fenghan was still more than ten zhang ahead, walking briskly; he did not seem to notice, nor was he interested in finding out, whether someone was following him.

    That was, quite naturally, not the case.

    Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were still inferior to Ba Fenghan.

    Ba Fenghan was looking for his prey.

    Tulis target was Ba Fenghan; surely he would dispatch his men to closely watch Ba Fenghan. It would be quite likely that as soon as Ba Fenghan was alone, Tuli would personally seize the opportunity to make his move.

    Ba Fenghans false statement that he was going to see Shan Wanjing was just a ruse to get Xu Ziling off his back, so that the people who hated him would be lured out.

    Ba Fenghan suddenly turned to the west, wandering along the Luo River under the wind and the rain; his majestic figure looked proud, but alone.

    On this segment of the street, other than the trees on either side, there was nothing protecting the passers-by from the rain, hence there were very few pedestrians, only horses and carriages passing by.

    Xu Ziling was not afraid Ba Fenghan might detect his presence; rather, he was afraid the people following Ba Fenghan might detect his presence.

    Sweeping his gaze around, an idea popped up in his heart; hastily he jumped down the dike, and climbed into an unmanned small boat moored to the riverside. An easy drive on a familiar path; he sailed west along the river, shadowing Ba Fenghan, who was walking alone, from a distance.

    In the boundless drizzle, the buildings along the river loomed high on his left and right; ships and boats were moored on the piers along the river. Xu Ziling was suddenly overwhelmed by snapping-the-soul, depressing feeling.

    One Secret to Long Life book has completely changed his and Kou Zhongs fate.

    If he could go back in time, would he snatch that thing away for himself?

    He really did not know!

    If it were the time of peace and prosperity, they could not possibly meet Susu, Li Jing, and the others, so much so that they were now in the difficult situation where it was difficult to distinguish gratitude and grudges. Sister-in-law Zhen would still sell meat buns on the street of Yangzhou, rather than her whereabouts was unknown.

    And then the lucid and elegant jade countenance of Shi Feixuan appeared in his mind!

    Was her injury serious?

    After she recovered, would she look for him to settle their account?

    Heaving a deep sigh, the small boat has entered the gate of the famous Luoyangs Western Park.

    ※ ※ ※

    Frowning, Kou Zhong asked, Who do you want me to see?

    Dodging his question, Yun Yuzhen laughed and said, After the City of Jingling fell, you and Ziling, two guys, slipped away safe and sound, while leaving such a huge mess behind. And then you came to Luoyang stirring up the wind and the rain through the town, so that everybody wanted to beat the hell out of you, two boys.

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Your Big Boss Xiao ought to thank me. Although in the Battle of Jingling I lost the city, but Ol Die only got a tragic victory; otherwise his Jianghuai Army today would have been moving to the Eastern Capital, and then how could you and I have some intimate time inside the carriage like this?

    Yun Yuzhens pretty eyes blushed slightly; casting a sidelong glance at him, she said, Do you or do you not want to listen to me?

    Kou Zhong has not heard any news pertaining to Du Fuwei for a long time; he would be lying if he said that he did not care about Shang Xiuxun and those officers and soldiers who have fought alongside him, who have escaped from Jingling.

    Thereupon, suppressing his anger, he spoke in low voice, Beautiful Shifu, please continue.

    Yun Yuzhen appeared to be a bit unable to restrain her emotion; falling into his arms again, she spoke dreamily, When I first met you, you were still ignorant kids whose smell of mothers milk has not yet dried. Who would have thought in merely a few years you became influential figures who, opening up your hand you create the cloud, closing in your hand you create the rain.

    After a short pause, she continued slyly, Although Du Fuwei gained victory, it was definitely a defeat; what he obtained was just an empty city, making him temporarily unable to move north, and had to change his plan into attacking the southeast.

    Kou Zhong asked impatiently, Hows the situation between the Flying Horse Ranch and the Four Big Bandits? Ah! I should have said Three Big Bandits, because the one called something like scorched rice for a thousand bowls Mao Zao was killed by Xiao Ling.

    In his embrace, Yun Yuzhen let out a silver-bell like tender laughter; she angrily cursed for a moment, and then said, What do you have to do with Shang Xiuxun? Did you seduce her and have your hands on her? Quickly confess!

    Kou Zhong inwardly thought, Women will be women; unexpectedly under these circumstances they still did not forget to drink vinegar [i.e. jealous]. Smiling wryly, he said, You consider me a sex-hungry ghost? Seducing women everywhere? Quickly report the military situation to me, otherwise, if I punish you, I guarantee your white butt will bloom like a flower.

    Yun Yuzhen raised her flower-like jade countenance with coquettish glance and spoke in an alluring voice, The Three Big Bandits suffered defeat in their first battle, plus Flying Horse Ranch has the advantage of dangerous terrain, so after going on the offensive for only a month or so, their provision depleted and they withdrew their troops. More important reason was that the Three Big Bandits might grow in power, hence he did not want to deploy this troops to help. Also, Xiao Bangzhu is setting up his forts at the upper reaches of the Great River, dragging their hind legs, so that your Ol Die does not dare to act blindly without thinking. Otherwise, perhaps the Flying Horse Ranch was already finished early on!

    Breathing out a sigh of relief, Kou Zhong said, You nearly scared me to death. Turns out the situation in the south is still good.

    Yun Yuzhen sighed and said, Exactly the opposite. The situation in the south is currently quite critical; otherwise I wouldnt be here asking you a big favor.

    Kou Zhong was startled, What happened? he asked.

    ※ ※ ※

    The Western Park was located in the middle of Jicui Pond, and was filled with landscape garden of all kinds of architectural style.

    By the time Ba Fenghan entered the Western Park, the drizzle was getting heavier, bringing in the spring chill, so that the tourists disappeared.

    The Jicui Pond, with more than ten li perimeter, mixed with the misty rain, it was as boundless as the heaven and earth.

    The piles of stones in the lake looked like mountains; some of them were more than a hundred chi above the water surface. In the vast and hazy drizzle, they were faintly discernible, like the fabled mountains of the immortals in the Eastern sea: Penglai, Fangzhang and Yingzhou.

    The thing that cause people to daydream the most was that there were pavilions built on all three stone mountains, connected to each other by nine-bend bridges, and this strongly increasing the profound sense of far-reaching and empty-space feeling.

    North of the lake, there was a channel leading into the lake. On either side of the lake, residential buildings stood in great numbers; halls, mansions and pavilions, none was not extremely gorgeous.

    The river channel was about twenty paces wide, with a flying bridge spanning above it.

    With grim expression, Ba Fenghan was stepping onto the flying bridge. Ahead was a landscape garden full of willow trees interspersed with tall bamboo trees. In the middle of the garden was a small pavilion. The drizzling rain blurred its beauty, so that it looked even more bleak and cold.

    Ba Fenghan set foot on the gravel path, walking slowly toward the pavilion.

    Right this moment, a woman flashed out of the pavilion.

    He was not surprised at all; he keep walking toward the pavilion, neither slowing down nor speeding up.

    The woman was tall, willowy, and elegant; she was wearing beige gown with narrow sleeves, her waist was tied by a dual-color broad belt, red and white, making her slender waist appear even slimmer.

    She was wearing a rain cloak. But because her tender back was facing Ba Fenghan, he could not see her face. However, anybody could tell from her beautiful figure that she must be the most beautiful thing.

    The woman was speaking in Tujue. Her voice was deep, melancholy, and moving.

    Ba Fenghan stopped when he was about ten paces away from the pavilion. He sighed and replied in Chinese, And what is the reason for all of these?

    The woman turned around like a whirlwind; her left hand rose up, a flash of golden ray like a thunderbolt shot toward the pit of Ba Fenghans stomach.

    ※ ※ ※

    Yun Yuzhen spoke softly, Presently Du Fuwei is forming an alliance with Shen Faxing in preparation of big war. The one bearing the brunt will be Li Zitong.

    Kou Zhongs worried heart wound down; breathing a sigh of relief, he said, I thought it was a serious matter. Li Zitong is not a good person. Letting them ghost beating ghost is the most ideal thing.

    Amidst the sound of the rain, the clippity-clop of the hooves continued along the street.

    Kou Zhongs impression of Li Zitong was a bit vague. It happened many years ago, when they, the two brothers plus Susu, were onboard the ship to Jiangdu, arranged by Xiang Yushan, with the intention of stealing the Dong Ming Pais account book to implicate Yuwen Huaji, but they were intercepted by Li Zitong on the Big Stream. They even fought with him. Its just that Li Zitong had quite an elegant demeanor; even when he did not achieve what he wanted to do, he retreated politely [see Book 6 Chapters 1 & 2].

    Yun Yuzhen sat her tender body up; she spoke in disdain, I thought you are a somebody, turns out you are this shortsighted.

    Reaching out, Kou Zhong pinched her cheek and said with a sneer, Your reverse psychology is ineffective against me, Zhong Shao. Hey, since when did Li Zitong become your relative? How come you are so concerned about him?

    Yun Yuzhen angrily said, Get out of here! In the future, I dont want to talk with you, this ignorant disciple.

    Kou Zhong giggled and said, Again I am asking Beautiful Shifu to calm down. Li Zitong is certainly a key character. In himself, he is nothing, but the Jiangdu in his hands controls the hub of the north-south traffic, plus he has the convenience of marching to the north via the waterway. Hmm! That is indeed a problem.

    Naturally Yun Yuzhen knew that he was only speaking half-heartedly; astonished, she said, Do you really understand, or just pretend to understand? If Du Fuwei took Jiangdu, your Ol Die would want the entire Jiangdong and Huainan territory, and then he would seize the signal path from the Great River out to the sea. You are from Jiangdu, you ought to know how important that place is, and how you can make a fortune out of that place.

    Kou Zhong sat back comfortably on the seat; stretching out his limbs, he said, This situation only occurs if Jiangdu fell. Presently Ol Die strength has taken a big beating; otherwise he would not need to suck up to Shen Faxing. And Shen Faxing has had a clash with Xiaodi; no matter how you look at him, he is not a good material. Although Li Zitong is also not a good thing, but supporting him for a year or a half shouldnt be a problem. Right now I have enough to worry about, how could I have time to care about something that is happening so far away? Besides, it is not my place to care about that; since Xiao Xian is currently doing nothing anyway, let him handle this matter!

    Yun Yuzhen took a glance out of the window; snorted coldly, she said, This is called since you dont know yourself, naturally you dont know others. In himself, Shen Faxing is not trying to save oil lamp; on the contrary, he put forth his brilliant, a divine talent in military, son, Shen Lun, a fine scholar and soldier, so that his prestige enjoys great boost. Your Ol Dies partner Fu Gongyou is enlisting large number of new army recruits, he appears to secretly strike his gongs and beat his drums, gearing up for war. If we let them attack Jiang Jun [county], Li Zitong will be finished. Your Shang Changzhu [ranch master], Shang Meiren [beauty] will immediately become the second target. Why dont you think about that?

    Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong said, This, at most, can be considered as not knowing others. What do you mean I do not know myself?

    Yun Yuzhen let out a stifled snort and said, Were here! Ill let him talk to you!

    The carriage drove into a side street, and turned into a courtyard.

    ※ ※ ※

    Ba Fenghan reached out unhurriedly; his movement seemed slow, but without missing a fraction he caught the golden light shot by the Tujue young woman right between his fore and middle fingers. The golden light turned out to be a gold hairpin.

    With voice as cold as ice and snow, the woman spoke in fluent Chinese, This gold hairpin is hereby returned to its rightful owner. From now on, Ba Daier no longer has anything to do with you, Ba Fenghan. [Translators note: just so you know, these two Ba characters are not the same.]

    Ba Fenghan stared blankly at the gold hairpin in his fingers, all sorts of feelings welled up in his heart. Sighing, he said, Did Daier come here to return this gold hairpin to me?

    Compared to before, Ba Daier was clearly thinner, although she still possessed the same beauty that made him fall in love with her at first sight.

    She was only fifteen then, the young betrothed wife of Tuli Khan. When Tuli and the martial art masters under his command were out to the desert to hunt and kill Ba Fenghan, they were caught in a big sandstorm, which caused her to lose her way. It was when she was wandering alone that she was captured by Ba Fenghan.

    Her slender and fully developed, beautiful naked body, her seductive, as if they could speak to him, big eyes, her unyielding and brimming with challenge expression, were intensely attractive to Ba Fenghan, and has awakened the sensual desire hidden deep within him. And thus the most intimate relationship arose between the two.

    Afterwards, Ba Daier was hell-bent on falling in love with him; she even followed him roaming around the desert and the prairie for some time.

    Nowadays Ba Daier has become Tujue King, Xieli Khans military counselor Zhao Deyans disciple, receiving direct martial art instruction from him. Ba Fenghan actually learned to speak Chinese from her, which also brought up in him the yearning for the Central Plains wide-ranging and profound culture, and thus made him decided to come to the south.

    In his pursuit of the martial art way, in a dispirited, soul-wrenching night, he finally quietly left her.

    Ba Daier was the only woman who could make him remorseful.

    Every single cun of her tender, smooth, ivory-colored skin currently wrapped inside the cloak was able to evoke his sweetest memory!

    This pretty girl was so attractive to him not only because of her captivating beauty, but for her talent, her open-mindedness, her straightforward character or even her naivet, which, combined, formed an incomparably magical power of attraction, making him unable to stop himself from falling into the snare of love.

    And the beauty he was madly attracted to was originally the enemy.

    But now everything has changed.

    Ba Daier has become Tulis woman. And now there was only hatred in her eyes, not love.

    From the speed and the force with which the golden hairpin was shot, he knew very well that within the five years after he left, Ba Daier has been diligently training her martial art skill. With her outstanding innate ability and intelligent, she has become his terrifyingly formidable opponent.

    Ba Daiers jade countenance quickly returned to its calm and composed condition. After staring deeply into his eyes, her pair of big eyes underneath her thick eyelashes was burning with hatred and fury, as she spoke word by word, I want to kill you with my own hands!

  15. #175
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 6

    Book 15 Chapter 6 Love and Hate, Passion and Enmity

    Kou Zhong barely stepped out of the carriage, a burly man in tight-fitting warrior outfit came out to meet him; he saluted and said, Vanguard General under Ding Yang Khans command, Song Jingang pays his respect to Kou Xiong.

    Hearing that, Kou Zhong was confused. This man did not look like a Tujue. Although he spoke with heavy northern accent, yet with a very articulate pronunciation and vocalizing; clearly he was a local, Central Earth man. Moreover, the four heroic-looking men accompanying him also did not look like Tujue people at all. Yet he called his master his mothers Khan something. Astonished, Kou Zhong asked, I have heard Shibi Khan, Chuluo Khan, Xielie Khan, even Tuli Khan who had just arrived in Luoyang; but I have never heard of Ding Yang Khan. Song Xiong did not change these Tujue peoples name into Han name, did you?

    He could speak without any trace of politeness, because he thought that he had fallen into Yun Yuzhens deception, or entered into the Tujue peoples carefully-laid trap.

    Who would have thought that Song Jingang was not offended at all? He simply smiled and said, Kou Xiong misunderstood! My humble master Liu Wuzhou was granted the title Khan from Tujue people, but he is not a Tujue.

    Kou Zhong thought, Yet he has become Tujue peoples hunting dog. Yet at the same time he was greatly astonished.

    Based on Yun Yuzhens speculation just now, even if he met Li Zitong here, he would not be surprised. Yet the one he met now was a character that he had nothing to do with, which made him unable to make any sense of it.

    One after another Yun Yuzhen and Bu Tianzhi came to his side; the former said, Its raining here. Wed better go inside to chat!

    Song Jingang respectfully stepped aside to let him pass. Kou Zhongs curiosity was greatly piqued, plus he felt that the other party did not have any evil intention; hence he gladly walked toward the door.

    ※ ※ ※

    Ba Daier has grown up; she now had the mature charm that she did not have before, but she also lost the sincere, innocence characteristic that she had before.

    Hearing that Ba Daier wanted to kill him, Ba Fenghans face was as calm as a rock, without the slightest sign of emotion. Daier, please go home! he spoke indifferently, This is not a place for you. Ba Daier belongs to the prairie with its snowcapped peaks.

    Ba Daier spoke softly, The day I have your head inside my luggage will be the day I go back.

    After staring at her for a moment, Ba Fenghan suddenly shouted, Tuli, you dont dare to show yourself?

    A cold snort came from the depth of the bamboo forest on the left. And then a man, wearing Han attire, around thirty years old, with well-built physique, strolled leisurely out of the forest, and stopped about twenty paces to Ba Fenghans left. He put the short-handled lance in his hand back onto his back, the head of the lance protruded at an angle from behind his left shoulder. He looked extremely powerful; his elegant attitude gave out the impression that he was a flawless man.

    Without even looking, Ba Fenghan knew that the handle of his lance was made of cast metal in the shape of a condor, the craftsmanship of a Persian master artisan. The entire lance weighed about sixty catties, and the body was made of refined steel. In Tujue, this lance has become a symbol of his martial prowess, the Crouching Eagle Spear, his family unique skill, which was passed on from generation to generation. When the enemy heard the name, they would lose their guts.

    In the past, when Ba Fenghan was overtaken by him in the desert, he suffered quite a bit from this Crouching Eagle Spear. Luckily a sandstorm reversed the entire situation, which made Ba Fenghan not only Tulis mortal enemy, but earned him a status as a rival in love as well.

    If Ba Daier was not Chuluo Khans relative, plus she was Zhao Deyans beloved disciple, considering how deep Tulis loss was, perhaps Ba Daier would have been executed early on to wipe out this most unbearable shame and humiliation a Tujue man could suffer.

    The two mens gaze met. It was like two lightning clashed against each other in the sky, neither side was willing to yield.

    Just like Ba Fenghan, Tuli was a typical thick-and-strong Tujue man. Although he could not be compared to Ba Fenghan in the looks department, his outline was tough, his hair looked like iron wire, yet he had some kind or robust, powerful masculine charisma.

    He was not too old, yet his face had rough, dark skin and a long scar on his left cheek, a sign that he had already undergone arduous years and dangerous blades and arrowheads. His eyes were sharp and ice-cold, yet there was no hatred seeping through; evidently it was the result of hidden-deep-without-revealing, and martial-skills self-cultivation.

    After staring at each other for half a day, Tuli revealed a hint of deep, cold smile, as he spoke indifferently, Unexpectedly a mere little horse thief is able to make us toil-our-master and mobilize-our-crowd. Ba Fenghan, you should be proud of yourself.

    He was speaking in Tujue language, but Ba Fenghan replied in Chinese, with a smile, The reason we became little horse thieves was actually to salute your, a bunch of big horse thieves charity. The strong will be the King; this is the unchanging truth throughout all ages. And now let the Ol Ba to experience your Crouching Eagle Spear technique, so we can conclude our unfinished battle last time.

    Tuli laughed aloud. He changed to using Chinese when he spoke heavily, Death is near at hand, still dares to speak conceited nonsense.

    Turning to Ba Daier, he said, Daier, didnt you endure may years of waiting in heartache for this day? I am going to deploy my troops for you today, so that you

    Ba Daier coldly cut him off, You promised me that you would not come.

    For the first time anger flashed through Tulis eyes, but it disappeared just as quickly. He spoke gently, which was in stark contrast with his temperament, I care about you.

    Ba Daier replied hatefully, With you present, I am not going to fight.

    Without even casting half a glance toward the two men, she turned around and left.

    The two men were taken aback by this sudden change. First, they looked at each other, and then they both remembered that the other party was his sworn enemy.

    Qiang!

    Ba Fenghans Beheading Mystery Sword left its sheath. Tulis Crouching Eagle Spear also returned to the front of his chest. Holding the spear with one hand, he pointed the weapon to Ba Fenghan, while his left hand went behind his back. His stance was relaxed and beautiful to behold.

    Ba Fenghan took a step forward, the sword moved to his left hand, a stream of biting cold sword qi suddenly blew toward Tuli like a storm.

    Tuli threw his head back and let out a long laugh. The Crouching Eagle Spear in his hand vibrated continuously, generating a Chi! Chi! noise of spear power, which clashed against Ba Fenghans sword qi, deflecting it sideways in wild-flowing stream.

    The drizzling rain collided with the two streams of qi power, which turned it into gusts of mist spreading in all directions, enveloping the two men in the middle, creating a marvelous spectacle.

    Ba Fenghans sword returned to his right hand. Taking the initiative, he launched the first attack.

    ※ ※ ※

    It was only after Kou Zhong, Yun Yuzhen, Bu Tianzhi and Song Jingang were seated in the hall that Kou Zhong had the opportunity to look closely at this great general serving under Liu Wuzhou.

    Although Song Jingangs physique was valiant and stalwart, his face was slender and delicate, so that sitting on top his broad shoulders, it looked comparatively small, yet at the same time it was enough to emphasis his extraordinary build.

    On his face were a pair of intelligent and alert, but slightly sullen, eyes and an affectionate and sentimental-looking mouth.

    Presently his expression looked relaxed and well-composed, giving the impression that he was a man who guarded his mouth like a closed bottle, and would not easily divulge inside information, a scholar that was both wise and courageous. Kou Zhong could not help having a favorable impression toward him.

    Song Jingang signaled with his hand, ordering his subordinates serving tea to immediately leave, so that no one remained, and left only the four of them in the hall, which had a temporary feel around it.

    The atmosphere turned solemn.

    Even the always-smiling and passionate Yun Yuzhen also refrained from smiling.

    After staring fixatedly on Kou Zhong for quite a while, Song Jingang laughed aloud and said, Kou Xiong is worthy to be called a hero of the present age. With just a few tricks, the situation in the north suddenly changed. Now I know that the words of praise of Kou Xiong in Jianghu are not exaggeration.

    Smiling, Kou Zhong replied, I was just at the right place at the right time. Does Song Xiong have an important matter youd like to discuss? Why dont you speak forthrightly?

    Revealing an amiable smile, Bu Tianzhi praised him, Kou Yes eloquence grows more and more formidable!

    Kou Zhong was emotionally moved, recalling Bu Tianzhi used to think that he and Xu Ziling were just two dumb kids that they could exploit, and now he kept calling him Kou Ye this and Kou Ye that [reminder: ye means master as in master-servant relation], giving him a bit of surreal feeling.

    Song Jingang calmly said, Before discussing the important matter, please allow Zaixia to clarify one thing: what relation does Kou Xiong have with Wang Shichong? Please forgive Zaixia for speaking forthrightly.

    Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong said, You are indeed very forthcoming. I dont even know what kind of relationship I have with Wang Shichong? Perhaps the correct answer would be mutual exploitation; nothing more than that.

    Yun Yuzhens jet-black eyebrows slightly knitted; she said, Wang Shichong is an old fox. You, this little fox, must be careful, or else you will get eaten by him.

    Song Jingang laughed and said, Talking with Kou Xiong is truly a delight. I do not wish to beat around the bush either. Speaking about the warlords vying for supremacy over the world today, in term of fame and power, the one triumph in every battle, Li Mi is the leader. Yet in term of strength, Dou Jiande and Du Fuwei are equally matched. I wonder if Kou Xiong agrees with my misconception.

    Yun Yuzhen was astonished. Li Mi had just scored big victory over Yuwen Huajis hundred-thousand elite troops, how come in term of strength he fall behind Dou Jiande and Du Fuwei?

    Casting a glance toward Kou Zhong, Song Jingang smiled and said, Looking at Kou Xiongs expression, I know that he is quite clear of this situation. Id better let Kou Xiong explain it!

    More and more Kou Zhong felt that Song Jingang was not a simple man, because he obviously had not been in Luoyang for long, yet he was able to accurately grasp Li Mis military situation, and from this he was able to deduce other things.

    The reason is very simple, Kou Zhong replied indifferently, From the fact that Wang Shichong dared to establish his presence in Yanshi with only twenty-thousand troops, and deployed his force to flank Hulaos high altitude, we can infer that although Li Mi defeated Yuwen Huaji, it was a tragic victory where his strength is greatly weakened. But when he attacked Jingling, Old Du also suffered damaged troops and broken generals; how could you compare him with Dou Jiande on equal terms?

    Song Jingang replied, The difference between Li Mi and Du Fuwei is that one bought the peoples heart, while the other seeks victory by fair means or foul. Hence the former adopted mercenary system to recruit soldiers, while from the start the latter forced ordinary people to enlist in the army. As a result, Du Fuwei is always able to bring up his military force to full strength in a short period of time, as long as his supply of weaponry, grains, and horses can keep up with it. The disadvantage of this method is that his soldiers are mixed and not refined, their morale is undisciplined. However, under Du Fuweis harsh repression, under normal circumstances, nothing can go wrong.

    Every word he said penetrated deep into the bottom of Kou Zhongs heart. It was precisely because Du Fuweis men were forcing the inhabitants of a rural village to enlist in their army that he came across Susu and Li Jing.

    Song Jingang then added, Although Du Fuweis momentum is flourishing, all I can see is that he is a man with no ambition.

    Hearing that, while Kou Zhongs heart was shivering in fear, Bu Tianzhi asked in astonishment, Why did General Song have such a view?

    With a cold snort, Song Jingang replied, If he was a man with ambition, how come his vision is so narrow and shallow, that he is solely preoccupied with present benefit?

    Yun Yuzhen joined in, In that case, Li Mi can be considered a man with ambition; just by looking at how he bought the heart of the people, we can tell one or two things about him.

    Song Jingang laughed aloud and said, Li Mi is certainly a man with magnificent aspiration in his heart, its just that he is too narrow-minded: just one Zhai Rang, he could not tolerate; he issued the Duke of Pushan Decree to hunt and kill Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong. In the end, failing to capture the stealing chicken, he has his rice [grain] nibbled instead, his prestige suffered considerable damage, his biggest shortcoming is that he gained two formidable opponents instead.

    Kou Zhong promptly declined modestly; in his heart his appraisal of Song Jingangs exquisite insight and judgment grew even higher. He could not help asking casually, In that case, your honorable master, hey! Something Khan must be the man with the highest aspiration! But why did he take refuge in Tujue? How could that be a long-term solution?

    Song Jingang sighed and said, Even though Li Yuan occupies Guanzhong, he still calls himself a vassal to Tujue, let alone have the Tujue as our neighbor. This is a quick fix. There is no other way.

    And then, changing the subject, he said, As far as I know, Li Shimins top strategy is the modification of Sui Dynastys old system. The new policy is a tax system to be known as land tax reconciliation method; roughly two dan [dry volume, approx. 100 liters] for every ding of land, two ya of silk, three tael of cotton, twenty days of military service, for non-military service, three chi of silk for every day; simple and easy to be executed [Translators note: not sure about this part], to get rid of the previous dynastys fraudulent government. This is called far-reaching aspiration, not having his eyes only at the present time.

    Kou Zhong was in high alert.

    Building the correct political system was his biggest weakness. It seemed like he needed to copy that Li kid in establishing some his mothers seat of government, setting up the political law, or at least give the people far-reaching aspiration impression.

    No wonder Shi Feixuan chose the Li kid. His resentment was that he was too late to start, and his knowledge and experience was somewhat lacking.

    If Song Jingangs martial art skill was as brilliant as his insight, he must be a first class martial art master.

    At the same time, he was puzzled as to why did Song Jingang use Yun Yuzhen to make contact with him? He could not help frowning as he asked, Song Xiong still has not explained why you are looking for me, Kou Zhong. What exactly is going on?

    Song Jingang calmly replied his question with a question, Does Kou Xiong wish to regain Jingling?

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong replied, Of course I want it so badly. But on one hand, there are several other more pressing things to do, plus the situation does not permit me to do so. I have no choice but to wait for some other his mothers day to think about it.

    Song Jingang spoke heavily, Military battles demand immediate action; how could you wait for long? Right now the situation is clear, Li Mi and Wang Shichongs decisive battle is imminent, no matter who win who lose, inevitably it will ruin their strength. In this case, if Du Fuwei defeated Li Zitong and acquired Jiangdu, he would be able to follow Yuwen Huajis old route of going up north along the canal. The only difference is that since Du Fuwei has the entire Jianghuai as his backup, he need not worry about the provision would not reach him. At that time, who in the world will be strong enough to contend against Jianghuais elite troops?

    Stunned, Kou Zhong said, You seem to be divulging the affair between the Li Family of Guanzhong and the King of Xia Dou Jiande!

    As if he was holding the pearl of wisdom in his hand, Song Jingang calmly said, Last time the New Qins Overlord Xue Ju was defeated by Li Shimin, he was seriously considering to rebel, and secretly struck the gong and beat the drums in preparation of a large scale counterattack, but Li Yuan had no time to care about him, he did not even have time to care about whats going on outside the pass, so he had no other choice but to sit and watch Du Fuwei showing off his military strength. As for Dou Jiande, one day he cannot defeat Yuwen Huaji and Xu Yuanlang, one more day he does not dare to recklessly go down south, so he would not lead his troops to attack the Eastern Capital any time soon.

    Hearing Yuwen Huajis name, Kou Zhongs eyes flashed with deep, cold murderous intent. Snorted coldly, he said, If Xue Ju attacked Changan, what would Song Xiong do?

    Song Jingangs eyes flashed with mysterious light; he smiled and said, Naturally we are going to storm Li Yuans old nest, to break him at his foundation.

    Taiyuan! Yun Yuzhen and Bu Tianzhi blurted out at the same time.

    Kou Zhong was shaken inwardly; he completely understood Song Jingangs strategy, and gained even more understanding on Song Jingangs out-of-the-ordinary tactics.

    This time that Li kid would be in trouble.

    ※ ※ ※

    The sword and the spear collided, Qiang! a sharp and clear noise rang out; the two men suddenly separated.

    The rain did not show any sign that it would stop; fine droplets of water floated down continuously above the bamboo forest reaching high to the sky.

    Although it appeared that Ba Fenghan was making an all-out effort, the fact was that it was purely to test the water.

    Both men were secretly shocked.

    Originally, Tuli had confidence that he would be able to beat this rival in love easily, simply because previously he was a notch above Ba Fenghan, plus in recent years he had received quite a bit of pointers from both Bi Xuan and Zhao Deyan, and time and again he made some breakthrough, while he himself never slacked off in his training, so much so that he was even disinterested in women. But when they clashed just now, unexpectedly he was unable to launch a follow-up attack; in just one move, he knew that Ba Fenghan had already completely overtaken him.

    Ba Fenghan was also shivering inwardly.

    He thought that without the help of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, today he could in no way achieve the desired outcome.

    However, right now victory or defeat was still unknown.

    Facing the wind, the Beheading Mystery Sword quivered. A strong confidence to press forward welled up in Ba Fenghans heart; immediately a swift and fierce sword qi pervaded the air of the forest within ten zhang of him.

    But the tip of Tulis Crouching Eagle Spear swayed, indistinctly sealing off all of his attack route, so that momentarily he did not dare to cross Tulis defense line even for half a step.

    Tuli was a rare martial art talent within the Tujue imperial family. He learned the Crouching Eagle Spear Technique after he had mastered the military strategy and tactics, where he developed some kind of extraordinary concept of yin and yang, what is true and what is false, real and imaginary, as well as the mixing and blending of nature and reason.

    During the battle in the desert in the past, because Ba Fenghan failed to grasp his spear path, he was stabbed by his spear three times and fell into a blood-soaked and hard-fought-struggle situation.

    Tuli showed a faint smile brimming with disdain and mockingly said, Are you scared yet?

    Ba Fenghan was unable to conceal his imposing manner as he sneered and said, You, Tuli, have come across then thousand crags and torrents to come to this place, is it just to brandish your spear and play your stick from a distance like that? Its so hilarious that you might kill people from laughing.

    Naturally Tuli would not impetuously attack just because of this kind of talk. He laughed coldly and said, Ba Fenghan, you are not an amateur, yet you spoke such an amateurish talk; now whod being hilarious?

    The drizzle floated on their faces and their hands, soaking them cold. Ba Fenghan put away his fear and forced himself to step forward; his feet created splotching noise, carrying a strong momentum pressing down toward Tuli.

    Tuli roused his qi and slightly moved to the left half a step, the Crouching Eagle Spear in his hands turned into a stream of bright light; fast as lightning he stabbed at an angle. The angle was so ingenious that his stab was one step ahead of Ba Fenghans attack path.

    The Crouching Eagle Spear carried a roll of raindrops, increasing his momentum several folds.

    Even with Ba Fenghans ability, he was stull unable to anticipate the changes in Tulis move, where he attacked precisely at the moment where he was supposed to defend, and his counterattack was this swift and severe, the spears momentum resembled the nature itself.

    Ba Fenghan was forced to adopt a defensive position; he sidestepped and swung his sword to hack on the spears head.

    Clang!

    Tuli let out a long laughter, while unleashing his spears momentum. In the blink of an eye his spear struck three times in rapid succession, each spear strike was in response to Ba Fenghans attack as well as the changes of his attack path; it was violent without equal.

    Ba Fenghan did not yield even for a single step. Qiang! Qiang! Qiang! he successively took the spear strikes head-on, and then the Beheading Mystery Sword turned into a net of light, taking advantage of the precise moment when Tulis hiding-the-sky-and-covering-the-earth violent attack had just passed by.

    For a moment the sword light and spear shadow shrouded the two combatants.

    The falling rain was aroused by the qi power that water droplets splashed everywhere like a fountain.

    Dang!

    The tip of the spear struck the blade of the sword.

    Both men were unable to continue with their next move; they suddenly separated.

    Suddenly there was a clapping.

    The two were still staring at the opponent; they did not dare to be distracted.

    A man appeared in the pavilion, sitting on the pavilions railing. With a free and leisure laugh he said, Khans breaking-sword spear technique is indeed outstanding, victory is definitely within your grasp. However, in order to save time, why not let me, Li Shentong, join the party? After taking care of this little thief, we can drink together. Wouldnt it be more fun?

    Ba Fenghan shivered inwardly.

    Li Shentong was Li Yuans younger brother, but in Jianghu, his prestige surpassed that of his elder brother. He was an expert in using the three-pronged halberd, with its myriad of hook, peck, chop, and stab, changes; his name shook the north.

    If he ignored Jianghu rules and joined hands with Tuli, Ba Fenghans only way out was to break the siege and run away.

    Tuli threw his head backwards and let out a long laugh, To drink together, its not that easy; not today!

    Ba Fenghan and Li Shentong were both stunned.

  16. #176
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 7

    Book 15 Chapter 7 Looking At The Present

    Fixing his gaze at Kou Zhong, Song Jingang said, Does Kou Xiong know that you are trapped in dangerous situation?

    Kou Zhong inwardly thought that this question was extremely unnecessary, but on the surface he appeared modest and ready to receive instruction, Song Xiong, please advise, he said.

    Song Jingang spoke heavily, Without Zaixia saying it clearly, Kou Xiong ought to know that we have close relationship with the Tujues, hence we can also obtain valuable information from them.

    More and more Kou Zhong felt Song Jingangs persuasive charm.

    In fact, until now, Song Jingang was still skirting around without speaking to the point. But by adding all these leaves and branches, he already generated powerful sense of pressure so that Kou Zhong would feel the need to get close to and cooperate with him.

    Obviously the opposite party could see through his intention to contend for hegemony over the world, hence each sentence was able to hit the bulls eye, so that Kou Zhong could not help being moved.

    Frowning, he said, Theres one thing Ive always wondered; I heard that the relationship between the Li Clan and the Tujues has always been good, supposing you and the Li Clan fought each other, which side do you think the Tujues will help?

    Song Jingang calmly replied, The weak side will receive the help. Does Kou Xiong understand?

    The two looked at each others eyes, and both burst out in a knowing laughter.

    Holding back his smile, Song Jingang solemnly said, For the sake of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, Kou Xiong has offended Li Shimin. Based on his decisive, steadfast character, he definitely will not let this matter off so easily.

    Sneering, Kou Zhong said, What makes him think that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is in my hand? You should know that even the person implicated, Shi Feixuan herself does not dare to ascertain.

    That is really strange, Song Jingang said, But Li Shimin indicated to Tuli that he is certain that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is in your hands. And he is extremely wary toward you, Kou Xiong; he stated explicitly that if he could not employ you, two brothers, he had no choice but to cut off feelings of gratitude and loyalty, and have you destroyed. Others may not know the power he holds in his hands, but definitely he cannot conceal it from me. Therefore, I know that Kou Xiong is currently at an extremely dangerous situation.

    Kou Zhong was well aware that Song Jingang was telling the truth, because he could not possibly weave this kind of tale.

    He thought Li Jing must have really betrayed them; otherwise, how could Li Shimin dare to allege that the Jade Annulus of He Clan was in their hands? Kou Zhongs eyes suddenly shone with murderous intent as he spoke heavily, Do you think the number of people who want to take the head above my, Kou Zhongs neck is lacking? There is no harm in adding him, one person, to that number.

    Song Jingang spoke indifferently, I have no doubt that Kou Xiong is a talented man, but how much do you really know about this person, Li Shimin?

    Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, I was just about to ask Song Xiong for guidance.

    Admiring look appeared Yun Yuzhen and Bu Tianzhis faces; to be willing to modestly ask for advice was definitely a big advantage for this kid.

    Song Jingang said, I have never met Li Shimin, but I have spent some time in making some inquiries and doing some research on his coming and going since he raised in rebellion at Taiyuan; my conclusion is that this man is decisive and progressive, his determination is far-reaching, and because of his extremely unswerving determination and his expertise in deploying his troops, he is able to use his weakness to eliminate the strong, to seek victory in the midst of danger. He is indeed a rare talent in military affairs.

    And then, after looking deep into Kou Zhongs eyes, he said, He never made mistakes; his opinion toward Kou Xiong this time cant be an exception.

    His countenance changed, Bu Tianzhi said, Li Shimin came to Luoyang this time, hows his strength?

    Kou Zhong cast Bu Tianzhi a surprised look; it appeared that his concern about Kou Zhong was not a fake.

    Song Jingang said, As for how many attendants Li Shimin brought to Luoyang, I am not clear. But with him establishing the Heavenly Policy Government, the number of valiant military leaders he obtained is like a cloud; it could be said that his strategic experts are as thick as rain. Clearly this man has a very persuasive charm, he can make the heart of the people turn to him.

    After a short pause, he went on, In term of literary aspect, Id say he has the most influential person under his employment, which is Fang Xuanling[1]. This man does not know martial art, but has outstanding knowledge and experience. When Li Shimin was leading his troops to enter Guanzhong, Fang Xuanling happened to go north of Wei River to visit his son, hence he was invited to join the army by Li Shimin. All memorials to the Emperor, military orders, and so on, are being taken care by him single-handedly. Moreover, this man is most adept in drafting a policy, planning military operations, equipment, as well as military provision and weaponry financing; everything are clear and in good order. Although he cannot attack the enemy and achieve victory in the battlefield, he plays a crucial role for either success or failure. If I were to start a war against Li Shimin, I would make a plan to assassinate this man first.

    Kou Zhong mused that if another day he was going to go to war against Song Jingang, he must protect Xu Xingzhi; otherwise, if Xu Xingzhi was assassinated by Song Jingang, he would suffer a great loss.

    Although until now Song Jingang did not explain why he wanted to see Kou Zhong, but Kou Zhong had more or less guessed the reason.

    Song Jingang wanted to exploit Kou Zhongs intimate knowledge of Du Fuweis real situation to help Li Zitong in dealing with Du Fuwei, and so he would easily swing his troops to Taiyuan and advance to Guanzhong.

    Naturally Song Jingang also knew that Kou Zhong was not someone who would be easily manipulated by anybody; otherwise he would not waste so much energy in persuading him.

    Bu Tianzhi asked, How about the military aspect?

    Smiling bitterly, Song Jingang replied, Even if I used up all the fingers on my hands and the toes on my feet, I wont be able to list them all. Within the Li Clan themselves, Li Shentong and Li Shimin, three brothers are the most brilliant. But their real strength actually comes from martial art masters from all sides who attach themselves to the Li Family. Among those, more than a dozen, who, no matter how you look at them, are first class masters, who are known in Jianghu as the Policy Government Upper-class Generals. The leader of these upper-class-general level people is, unexpectedly, a woman. Nobody knows her name. But because her weapon is a red brush, she is known as the Red Brush Lady, without any name.

    Kou Zhong was astonished, Is she more formidable than Yang Xuyan? he asked, How come she occupy the leadership position?

    Clearly Song Jingang did not know that Yang Xuyan was Li Shimins man; emotionally moved, he asked, How did Kou Xiong know that Yang Xuyan has entered Guanzhong Army?

    Kou Zhong mused, Turns out you are not omniscient at all. After explaining briefly, he said, I was wondering if Song Xiong would agree to meet later for further deliberation of this important matter. Right now I must immediately go to the Palace to see Wang Shichong; otherwise he might grow suspicious.

    Song Jingang knew he had hooked Kou Zhongs interest; no longer insisted on persuading him, he let him go after they made an appointment to meet at a later date.

    ※ ※ ※

    Ba Fenghan leaped high into the air, and lightly landed on Xu Zilings small boat. Sitting at the bow, he said indifferently, Its time to return the boat to its owner.

    A bit embarrassed, Xu Ziling asked, How did you know I was following behind you? Clearly you have never looked back.

    Ba Fenghan opened up his hand; turned out he had a small round mirror in his palm.

    Only then did Xu Ziling understand. Ba Fenghan asked, Did you hear everything?

    Xu Zilings handsome face blushed slightly; while his hand was busy rowing, he replied, I thought you were going to converse in your native language, who would have thought that you were speaking Chinese. Hey! I am sorry!

    Ba Fenghan nodded, I was speaking Chinese for your sake, he replied, Sometimes womens hatred caused by love is more terrifying than severe floods and fierce beasts; the biggest problem is that no matter what, you wont have the heart to deal with her ruthlessly. I originally thought that she was so young, so she ought not to take everything so seriously. Now I know I was terribly wrong. Oh! Watch out!

    Xu Ziling already heard the sound of a boat cutting the waves; hastily he rowed the small boat to the side.

    ※ ※ ※

    A boat rapidly sailed past; the man handling the boat did not look significantly different from any local Luoyang man.

    The two mens eyes lit up at the same time.

    Did you smell it? Ba Fenghan asked.

    Xu Ziling replied confidently, Herbal medicines smell.

    Both men remembered Shangguan Long immediately.

    Xu Ziling put the oar into the water, while in his heart he apologized to the original boat owner, because he needed to borrow the boat a bit longer.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong and Yun Yuzhen were back inside the carriage, Bu Tianzhi was still responsible for driving it; they were heading back toward the Imperial City.

    Yun Yuzhen spoke in low voice, What do you think of this man, Song Jingang?

    Frowning, Kou Zhong said, You were the one who introduced us, yet you are asking me?

    Yun Yuzhen crossly said, I was only following Xiao Dangjias order!

    Kou Zhong laughed and said, Beautiful Shifu needs not take it seriously; in my opinion, in the future this Song Jingang will become a formidable opponent to Li Shimin. This game of contending over the world is becoming more and more interesting. Humph! Liu Wuzhou certainly has too much commitment toward the Tujues, otherwise they would not have abandoned the Li kid and help them instead.

    Yun Yuzhen said, This is perhaps the faraway relative resulted in distant relation logic. Liu Wuzhou and the others are sustaining the militia north of Xinjiang; they all received nobility title from the Tujue, and have become their vassals. Li Yuan, on the other hand, has always been a bit far from them, hence the Tujues do not trust him too much.

    Pondering deeply, Kou Zhong said, Why didnt Song Jingang mention Liang Shi at all? He is Liu Wuzhous martial brother; both are martial art masters and leading figures of Ying Yang Pai. According to reason, they should share the same interests and advance or retreat together.

    Sneering, Yun Yuzhen said, Even brothers can turned against each other and become enemies. Werent Du Fuwei and Fu Gongyou at each other throat? And now they are still suspicious and jealous of each other. I hear Li Shimin and the Crown Prince Li Jiancheng are also estranged brothers. Anything involving the imperial throne, all proper human relationships are not worth a penny.

    Kou Zhong reminisced about the time Du Fuwei wanted to make him his son, yet he did not mention Fu Gongyou at all. It appeared that he did not have any regard of him.

    Recalling that Yun Yuzhen was widely known as intelligence expert, he smiled and said, If in the future I stage an uprising, would Beautiful Shifu be willing to throw your full support at me?

    Casting him a sidelong glance, Yun Yuzhen sighed and said, How about we talk when the time comes? You dont know how much troubles are in my heart nowadays!

    Intuitively Kou Zhong knew that she was troubled over a man-woman relationship, hence he did not dare to continue asking. Without thinking, he said, There are several martial art masters from the Dugu Family who have not made their appearance at all. For example, that Dugu Ba seems to disappear without any trace. I wonder if you knew where they are?

    Dispirited and downcast, Yun Yuzhen replied, How do I know? Were here! Get off the carriage!

    ※ ※ ※

    The boat carrying Xu and Ba, two men, was moored under a small bridged. Shrouded by the misty rain, unless someone was on a boat passing through under the bridge, or perhaps was intentionally looking, no one would find them there.

    If this were a principal waterway like the Luo River, their small boat would definitely be an eyesore. But they were currently at a small tributary leading to the Luo Canal, located along the Pleasant Lane at the southwestern part of the city.

    The boat they saw earlier was moored at a small pier behind a courtyard right at the edge of the stream. On the pier, there were three other canopied fast boats.

    In Luoyang, waterways connected the entire city; traveling by water was more convenient, not to mention faster, than traveling by carts and horses or walking on land.

    Ba Fenghan peered at the back door of the courtyard, which, at this time, was tightly closed. He said in heavy voice, I have confidence that I will be able to kill Tuli.

    Stunned, Xu Ziling said, How can you say that? Based on what Ive seen just now, at best you two are evenly matched, both men share the limelight.

    Shaking his head, Ba Fenghan said, Thats how it appeared. Didnt you feel that when you were facing Shi Feixuan last night, you gave out far beyond your usual level of performance?

    Shaken, Xu Ziling said, I have never really thought about it. But now that you mention it, it seemed to be the case.

    Ba Fenghans eyes were flashing with spirited light. His voice brimming with yearning, he said, This is precisely the wonderful usage of the Jade Annulus of He Clan; it enables us to break through and beyond the limitation of our former physical capability. Now all we need is a challenge and an opportunity to temper ourselves, and then we will be able to start bringing out our hidden capability, and turn it into reality. Right now Luoyang is teeming with crouching tigers, hidden dragons, plus we are surrounded by the enemies on all sides; is there any place under the heavens better than here to train our martial art skill?

    Xu Ziling looked down at the raindrops falling into the river and became part of the river itself. Nodding his head, he said, We are like an open river; each time we fought, it was like a blowing storm that made the river water even richer. Thinking about it, my heart is moved.

    Someones out! Ba Fenghan said.

    Actually, Xu Ziling was already alerted; hastily he hid his body while keeping his eyes on the rear wall of the courtyard.

    Two figured leaped over the wall and landed on one of the fast boats, quickly untied the rope, and sped away in the other direction.

    It was Xu Zilings careful thinking; he moored the small boat at the other end of the stream leading toward the Luo River, otherwise this moment they would have been found by the enemy. The possibility that the enemy would go to the city center was, of course, the highest.

    Following the boat sailing far away with his eyes, Ba Fenghan laughed cheerfully, This time we are lucky that without even trying we found Qu Aos temporary hideout. No wonder the smell of snow lotus herb was very strong; it is the Tiele peoples panacea of treating any injury.

    Xu Ziling also recognized the man and woman just now as Qu Aos second disciple Hua Lingzi and third disciple Genggehuer; he also thought that it was such a coincidence. I wonder which of them was injured? he asked in surprise.

    They can always buy the medicine without anybody sustaining any injury! Ba Fenghan replied, This is called before it rains, bind around with silk [idiom from Book of Songs]; one must make adequate preparation.

    Seeing Ba Fenghans eyes were flashing with spirited light, Xu Ziling asked, Is Fenghan Xiong thinking of charging inside and making a big kill?

    Smiling, Ba Fenghan said, Ziling really know how to read my mind. Just think: who are the people inside, actually? Hows their strength? We have no idea at all. This kind of charging inside the dragon pool or tiger den is extremely stimulating; it is sending my excitement to the roof! Whether we can become martial art master of Ning Daoqi, Bi Xuan, Fu Cailin, or the likes, we only have to look at the present!

    The two suddenly had warning signs in their hearts, so they turned around to look at the stream leading toward the Luo River.

    Amidst the drizzling rain, a fast boat was rapidly approaching; other than one person sitting at the stern steering the boat, a man with his long hair draped over his shoulders, was standing on the bow. His face and eyes looked sinister; he had broad shoulders, slim waist, and long legs. His outward appearance was powerful and ferocious, bordering to terrifying.

    Xu Ziling quickly withdrew his internal energy to dim his eyes. Although they were nearly thirty zhang away, he was afraid his eyes might arouse the other partys alertness. Lowering his voice, he said, Its Dugu Ba; Dugu Clans first-class master, Dugu Fengs younger brother.

    Astonished, Ba Fenghan said, Isnt the Dugu Clan in cahoots with Li Mi? How could they collude with Tiele people in secret? Lets go!

    Xu Ziling was thinking about the time when they were leaving Xingyang, Dugu Ba was taking advantage when Shen Luoyans mind was in turmoil by hiding inside a pile of snow and launching a sneak attack, which succeeded, and then he sexually assaulted Shen Luoyan, until finally Xu Ziling also launched a sneak attack and succeeded in injuring him. Hearing Ba Fenghan, he was awakened from his reverie, What? he asked.

    Ba Fenghan already struck his palm against the surface of the river, creating a splash of water, which sprayed everywhere.

    Like an arrow the small boat cut through the water surface, slipped out from under the bridge, and sped forward to meet Dugu Bas fast boat.

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong jumped off the carriage. When he looked back and waved to take his leave from Bu Tianzhi, the latter flicked a crumpled ball of paper toward him.

    Kou Zhong continued on in astonishment, while the carriage turned around and left.

    While walking toward the middle gate of the Imperial City, he examined the paper Bu Tianzhi gave him. Other than the place and time of their secret meeting, there was nothing else. He could not help feeling apprehensive.

    Bu Tianzhi clearly wanted to conceal the fact that he had secret communication with him from Yun Yuzhen. What exactly was going on?

    But deep in his heart he knew that Bu Tianzhi did not mean him any harm.

    Upon entering the Imperial City, the Captain of the Guards took him to the Shangshu Mansion. He had to wait a long time before someone brought him to the main hall. As soon as he stepped inside, he was stunned.

    He saw Wang Shichong was sitting at the host position on an elevated platform at the southern end of the hall, while about a dozen seats, which were distributed equally on both sides, were full. [Translators note: the character I translated as seat could also mean banquet table; therefore, it is possible that these people were sitting on separate tables, one person per banquet table.]

    Among the six people sitting on the right side, Kou Zhong recognized the Beautiful Barbarian Lady Ling Longjiao, (Taoist) Priest Ke Feng, the Iron Hook Chen Changlin, and the one sitting on the head seat of Wang Shichongs right hand side was Ouyang Xiyi, while Lang Feng and Song Mengqiu were sitting at the end seats.

    The six people sitting on the other side, it was the first time that Kou Zhong saw them. The two men sitting at the end seats resembled Wang Shichong; so his guess was that the two were his sons.

    While Kou Zhong was momentarily stupefied from suddenly encountering this kind of formation, Wang Shichong rose up to his full height and laughed aloud, Kou Zhong, you arrived just in time; we are discussing the grand plan. Come! Sit down and have some hot tea, and then well talk.

    One after another the people raised their cupped fist to salute him. Only that as-cold-as-ice-and-frost Beautiful Barbarian Lady Ling Longjiao looked cold and indifferent toward him; she only nodded slightly as a greeting to him.

    Ouyang Xiyi appeared to have an especially favorable impression toward Kou Zhong; beckoning him to come over, he said, No need to add a seat [or table, see note above], come sit with laofu [old man] here!

    The attendant quickly added an imperial-tutor chair [太师椅] next to this senior martial art masters table and asked Kou Zhong to sit down, and served fragrant tea.

    After the commotion died down, Wang Shichong introduced two men in high-ranking military officer attire sitting on the first two seats to his left to Kou Zhong. One was called Zhang Zhenzhou, the other was Yang Gongqing, both were great generals Wang Shichong heavily relied on like his left and right arms; their status was higher than Lang Feng and Song Mengqiu. They have been stationed outside, to defend against militias who rise up against Wang Shichong.

    Kou Zhong knew that these two were the real players in Wang Shichongs team; hence he paid particular attention as he scrutinized the two men.

    Zhang Zhenzhou was tall and slim, his slender face appeared to be shrewd and full of self-confidence, his demeanor was calm and composed, rarely smiling, his forehead was high and slightly bulging, giving the impression that it contained inexhaustible intelligence. His age appeared to be between thirty-five, thirty-six, and appeared to be a meticulous [orig. not one thread loose] man.

    Yang Gongqing was slightly older, medium build, a gentle smile seemed to be eternally etched on his face. His thin eyes gave Kou Zhong impression that he was a shrewd and an extremely deep man. His voice was sharp, and he spoke unhurriedly, yet people felt as if his words sounded continuous and intermittent at the same time.

    The two men sitting at the end seats were Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu, they were Wang Shichongs first and second son, respectively. The former had a scar on his face, his bearing and the way he spoke showed that he was a boorish and reckless man; his eyes carried some kind of vicious overtone, so that others were not too impressed. His body build was rather short and stocky, leaning toward slightly fat, making Kou Zhong to guess that he was a man who indulged himself in wine and women; otherwise, given his age, which was still around mid-twenty, he would not have this kind of appearance. It appeared that even if he received Wang Shichongs personal instruction, he would still become like that.

    On the other hand, his younger brother had solid build, his face glowing, full of heroic spirit. Although he was not as tall as Kou Zhong, he could still be considered tall like a standing jade. Its just that his childish nature still remained; he needed some more experience before he was able to assume personal responsibility.

    The other two persons were Wang Honglie and Wang Xingben; both were Wang Shichongs close relatives. Their outward appearance did not show anything extraordinary.

    Therefore, among the people seated, eight were core figures of Wang Shichongs army. Half of those standing were related in one way or another with Wang Shichong. With the exception of Wang Xuanshu, the rest were not people of talent. With nepotism like this, certainly there would be impact, to a certain degree, on the troops morale.

    After tea, Wang Shichong turned to Kou Zhong and said with a laugh, To be able to see Xiao Xiongdi returned safe and sound, all of us are overjoyed.

    Kou Zhong cursed inwardly; not a word was mentioned about the curfew last night. He laughed and said, What actually happened that it alarmed Shangshu Daren and ladies and gentlemen here to have a discussion of the grand plan?

    Wang Shichong said, Huang Gongcuo has just arrived. We are preparing a preemptive attack to inflict total defeat of the Nanhai Pai, so that they would never recover.

    Aghast, Kou Zhong said, Absolutely not!

    Everybody, including Wang Shichong, was stunned.


    [1] Fang Xuanling (579-648), Tang Dynasty historian, compiler of History of Jin Dynasty.

  17. #177
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 8

    Book 15 Chapter 8 Lover of Flowers

    When Xu Ziling was about to apply his power to row the boat, Ba Fenghan spoke in heavy voice, As much as possible, we must not arouse his attention. This is an assassination operation, not a decisive battle following Jianghus rules.

    Xu Ziling hung his head low to prevent Dugu Ba from seeing his appearance. His oar paddled the water slowly, seemingly without a lot of strength, giving the impression of relaxed, easy and comfortable rowing.

    Like an arrow Dugu Bas gaze shot at the two men.

    Because Ba Fenghan, who was sitting on the bow, had his back against him, plus the continuous drizzle floating in the air, he was unable to see his particularly magnificent build. Xu Zilings face was obscured by the wide bamboo rain hat, plus he was stooping his back, hence he looked like an ordinary boatman.

    Dugu Ba only shot one look, and then his mind turned to many other things.

    If the two mens boat were coming from behind, his vigilance would have been raised considerably; moreover, he had just come across Hua Lingzi, two martial sister and brother, naturally he did not have any concern even more.

    If even Ba and Xu, two men, had never thought that by strange coincidence [lit. the gods pull, the ghosts push] they would run into Dugu Ba, much less Dugu Ba himself.

    This moment Dugu Bas fast boat was only about twenty zhang away from the small pier, while Xu and Ba, two mens small boat was approaching from the opposite direction approximately thirty zhang away. With regard to Luoyangs busy waterways, it was a totally common scenario.

    Ba Fenghan had already put the Beheading Mystery Sword, still in its sheath, on the bottom of the boat near his feet, so that Dugu Ba did not have the slightest suspicion.

    Dugu Bas small boat reached the pier first. Evidently this man was impetuous and ruthless; even the patience to wait until the boat was moored properly onto the pier was lacking. His feet kicked lightly, he leaped over the two zhang of water and landed on the pier.

    Without waiting for Ba Fenghans order, Xu Ziling suddenly applied his power, propelling the small boat three zhang forward, bringing it to only about five zhang away from the dock.

    The man rowing Dugu Bas boat looked at them in shock, and shouted, Ba Ye, be careful!

    Ba Fenghan already hooked the Beheading Mystery Sword with his foot, and somersaulted backward.

    Dugu Ba turned around abruptly. The pair of thin, grim and ferocious-looking eyes on his long and narrow face revealed a startled, strange look.

    Qiang!

    The Beheading Mystery Sword left its sheath.

    Dugu Bas reactions speed was also first-class; while Ba Fenghan was still two zhang away in the air above the water, he twisted his waist and lowered his body, taking a horse stance, sending out a punch over the empty air, so it would be difficult for the opponent to get close to him.

    At the same time, Xu Ziling pulled the oar from the water, and tossed it away, while shouting, Watch this!

    The oar was one step ahead of Ba Fenghans feet. Ba Fenghan has been through fire and water several times with Xu Ziling; he knew exactly his intention. One foot pushed on the oar, he soared again. Not only to avoid the opponents heart-destroying, lung-splitting fist power, it was also to cover the rest of the distance, bringing him flying above Dugu Bas head.

    After throwing the oar, without wasting any time, Xu Ziling flew behind Ba Fenghan toward the dock.

    Dugu Bas boatman also shouted, pulled the saber hanging on his waist, and leaped toward the dock.

    As soon as his punch missed, Dugu Ba knew he was in a bad situation. Worse yet, the oar was originally used to help Ba Fenghan alter the momentum of his movement, but due to the push from Ba Fenghans toes, not only did it chang direction, it was shooting straight toward Dugu Ba, plus Ba Fenghan added his own power to Xu Zilings original throwing force, so that the speed increased rapidly, just like a lightning striking Dugu Ba.

    If Dugu Ba blocked the incoming oar, he would not be able to block Ba Fenghans sword chopping down on his head; but if he sidestepped, he would lose the momentum of his initiative earlier.

    After considering the pros and cons, he chose the latter. Fast as lightning he moved sideways.

    Letting out a cold laugh, Ba Fenghan turned his Beheading Mystery Sword into sword qi and sword shadow filling the air, as if he already knew which direction Dugu Ba would move, and thus shrouded the area completely. As his feet touched the ground, his left palm, accurately and at the precise moment, tapped on the oar, brilliantly executing two of the consummate skills from his unique school.

    This moment Xu Ziling landed at the edge of the dock. Remembering this mans misdeeds, he decided not to be lenient. From the other side, he charged toward Dugu Bas back, and launched both fists in succession.

    Dugu Bas attendant was still in the air. The oar, which flew faster and stronger, was shooting toward his chest.

    Ignorant of the fierceness of this oar, he used his saber to chop down.

    Ding! Ding! Dang! Dang!

    A series of clear ringing noise of metals clashing against each other rang out from the direction of Ba Fenghan and Dugu Ba. Turned out Dugu Ba was wearing a pair of arm guards under his sleeves, which he used to strenuously block Ba Fenghans sword strike upon sword strike, which strength grew with each strike, a terrifying sword technique that attacked like surging tide or breaking waves. The most difficult thing to grasp was Ba Fenghans mysterious footwork, which changed the angle of his sword attack indeterminately, almost to the point of strange beyond human comprehension.

    The swift and fierce wind from Xu Zilings fists came from behind.

    Pow!

    Although the attendants saber hit the oar, it was like a dragonfly trying to move a stone pillar; the oar was not swayed the least bit. He could only look helplessly as the top of the oar struck the pit of his stomach, sending him flying backward. By the time he entered the river, he already perished with broken sternum.

    Under the pincher attack from two major martial art masters, Dugu Ba reached the critical moment between life and death. In this most dangerous moment, this Dugu Clans martial art master, whose prestige in Jianghu was second only to You Chuhong and Dugu Feng [peak, not phoenix], showed his real strength and his survival ability, which he honed over the vicissitudes if life [lit. a thousand hammer and a hundred refinement (as in smelting metals)].

    Just before he was pressed from front and back in a narrow space, his body swiftly, beyond human understanding, swayed to the left and right several times. His right hand rose up at an oblique angle to block Ba Fenghans killer sword strike toward his chest, while his left hand picked the arm guard from his flank and shot it toward Xu Ziling.

    Dang!

    Ba Fenghan changed his sword from stabbing to chopping, but it was still blocked by the arm guard on Dugu Bas right arm, although Dugu Ba was jolted by the impact that he staggered two steps sideways.

    Xu Ziling swiveled around; the arm guard missed him by a hairsbreadth. His right palm swept toward Dugu Bas left arm, which was losing his footing.

    The sound of shattering arm bones against the palm was heard.

    Dugu Ba staggered. Ba Fenghans Beheading Mystery Sword came again.

    Xu Ziling was jolted by Dugu Bas true qi protecting his body that he recoiled half a step back.

    Dugu Ba had no choice but to throw his remaining arm guard toward Ba Fenghan, while at the same time he soared toward the small boat, which by this time was still drifting three zhang away from the dock, splashing away the fine droplets of the rain.

    The two men did not expect he would be this formidable, under this kind of disadvantageous condition he was still able to break through the siege and landed on the boat to run for his life.

    Qiang!

    Ba Fenghan struck the shooting arm guard down. He was just about to pursue and attack, Dugu Bas scream was heard from the water surface.

    The two turned to look, and could not believe their eyes.

    ※ ※ ※

    Why not? Wang Shichong asked in surprise.

    Kou Zhong sighed and said, The only thing we need to do now is to show our weakness to the enemy; the more Li Mi underestimate us, the more he look down upon us, the better it will be for us.

    Ouyang Xiyi, who was sitting at the same table with him, was puzzled. Battlefield is battlefield, he said, By dealing with Huang Gongcuo, we determine victory in the contention for supremacy in Jianghu; otherwise, if we let him and Dugu Clan join hands and wait for an opportunity to assassinate Shichong Xiong, this problem will make us nervous and keep us on edge all day long. If that happens, wont we have time to do other things?

    Most people in the hall nodded their heads in agreement.

    Only Priest Ke Feng raised the whisk in his hand and said with a smile, Kou Xiongdi must have special insight; why not tell us?

    Kou Zhong calmly said, First, I want to know hows Li Mis situation?

    Zhenzhou! Wang Shichong singled him out, Li Mis situation, I want you to explain!

    Zhang Zhenzhou said, As soon as we began constructing the bridge and building the granary in Yanshi, Li Mi immediately amassed army provisions and troops and horses; he also ordered his big general Bing Yuanzhen to lead the troops to establish their presence at the mouth of River Luo, Cheng Zhijie to enter and garrison Jinyong city, Shan Xiongxin to guard Heyang. At first glance it appeared that they were going to march to Yanshi, but it is also possible that Li Mi is thinking to use the Yellow River in the south as a barrier, to guard Taixing in the north, to join Liyang in the east, and thus taking the stance of defense as a means to offense, hence we do not dare to send troops to advance.

    Just by listening to his explanation, Kou Zhong knew he was military strategist who was full of resourcefulness and insight, and thought that Wang Shichong was able to occupy Luoyang, the center of the Central Plains, was not by fluke at all.

    Seeing everybodys eyes were focused on him, Kou Zhong cleared his throat and said, I have heard about Wang Bodang and Pei Renji, or perhaps Shen Luoyan, Xu Shiji, Zu Junyan; but I have never heard about his mothers Shan Xiongxin, Bing Yuanzhen, and Cheng Zhijie. Within Li Mis army, what kind of characters are these people?

    Hearing vulgar language in the midst of his talk, everybody could not help smiling. Only Ling Longjiao showed look of disdain; she snorted coldly, expressing her displeasure.

    Yang Gongqing said, There are certainly a horde of talents under Li Mis command, Kou Xiongdi only mentioned five of them just now, because they are comparatively well-known in Jianghu, hence their names are widely known. But among the other civil and military officers, there is no lack of figures with decent name. Cheng Zhijie, Shan Xiongxin and Bing Yuanzhen are all famous generals; among them, Cheng Zhijie is the bravest and fiercest and the most outstanding. This mans original name was Cheng Yaojin[1]; after establishing his reputation, because he did not like his name, he asked Li Mis chief imperial strategic adviser Wei Zheng[2] for a new name and thus changed his name to this elegant one.

    Wang Shichongs eldest son, whose appearance was not impressive, Wang Xuanying, joined in, Li Mi also have two other valiant military leaders, Luo Shixin and Qin Shubao; both mens martial art skill is out of the ordinary, experts in the art of war. When we meet them, we must not inattentive.

    Kou Zhong nodded and said, Thank you for the pointers. What I want to know is, among this group of generals, which one used to be Zhai Rangs subordinate?

    Everyone was startled; they were all emotionally moved.

    Those who originally showed contempt toward him were also forced to restrain their despising heart.

    Wang Shichong stared at Kou Zhong for half a day, before finally exhaling and said, Shan Xiongxin and Bing Yuanzhen are veteran generals who followed Zhai Rang battling the land under heaven before Li Mi rose abruptly to this towering position. All along they do not have too harmonious relationship with Li Mis bunch of other trusted aides. But if you are thinking of inciting them to betray Li Mi, it wont be an easy thing.

    Kou Zhong spoke leisurely, Shangshu Daren, please forgive me for being blunt. Nowadays outstanding heroes are rising all over the world and joining volunteer armies of all sides, their motivation is either to achieve glory, riches and honor, or to the benefit of thousands of people. Previously, the reason why there are so many people willing to attach themselves to Li Mi, was perhaps after Zhai Rang was assassinated, they had no choice but to throw their lot with this fellow; if nothing else, they wanted to openly follow this supposedly future Son of Heaven, ordained by Heaven. Therefore, as long as we can show these people that the Son of Heaven, ordained by Heaven, is not Li Mi, their seemingly solid, unbreakable Wagang kingdoms power will be all split up and pieces, simply because of these flaws will create insecurity in peoples heart.

    And then, continuing word by word, he spoke powerful and resonating words [lit. if thrown on the floor, it will make a sound], Currently the situation can be clearly distinguished: whoever make his move first will have to suffer defeat. But supposing the confrontation continued, by the time Li Mi recovered his strength, Shangshu Daren will be in danger.

    There was silence in the hall, even the sound of breathing seemed to be stopped.

    Chen Changlin, whose body looked like a puma, said, Listening to Kou Xiong, it appears that you have determined to force Li Mi to make his move first; why dont you explain to us and let us discuss it at length?

    All eyes were fixed on Kou Zhong; even Ling Longjiao, who appeared to hold Kou Zhong in contempt, was not an exception.

    Kou Zhong was very pleased with himself; he knew that he had established his position among this group of Wang Shichongs military advisors. Laughing calmly, he said, Therefore, not only we must not deal with Nanhai Pais people, we must use them to our advantage.

    ※ ※ ※

    The moment Dugu Ba was about to land on the fast boat, it was as if the boat was moved by invisible hands under the boat; it suddenly moved sideways three chi.

    It was precisely these three chi difference that decided this vicious mans fate.

    A golden light shot out from the water.

    After suffering a heavy injury, and his feet landed on empty air, Dugu Ba was totally at a loss, his face showed a horror stricken expression.

    The assassin, who was hiding under water, also knew that it was the perfect time to strike, the moment where Dugu Bas throat was hit with piercing blow was precisely when more than half of his body has already entered the water. He died without even able to cry out, and then his body disappeared under water.

    It was only then did the two men see clearly that what killed him was a golden needle in a beautiful, lily-white hand.

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling had never expected this change; they stared blankly at the river water, which, under the floating droplets of rain, was returning to its tranquil state.

    Shen Luoyans beautiful face appeared from under the water; smiling sweetly at the two, she said, Thank you very much for two gentlemens assistance, otherwise it would be difficult to wipe away this disgrace and hatred. But you must never tell anybody that it was my doing. Qu Ao is not here; he is in one of Yin Gui Pais secret nests. If you agree to promise me to keep this secret, I will tell you where it is. Just consider it as a reward.

    ※ ※ ※

    Having a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong slyly said, If Shangshu Daren can pretend that you are suffering injuries from assassination attempt, I guarantee that Li Mi would immediately launch a large scale attack; then our chance will come.

    Wang Shichong revealed a pained look on his face. Right now we are on guard as if there is fear all around. If we intentionally give opportunity to others, it would be bad; suffering a major loss would be counter-productive [orig. to try to be clever and end up with egg on one's face].

    It was unclear whether Zhang Zhenzhou was afraid of Li Mi, but he said, Li Mi always triumph in every battle; even during the battle of Mount Tong he suffered heavy loss, his strength remains. How could Kou Xiongdi be sure that we can defeat Li Mi?

    Kou Zhong knew that if he did not strengthen these peoples confidence first, Wang Shichong, this everything-for-self-and-selfish-profit man, would never take this big risk. With resounding words full of assurance and composure, he said, In the scheme of troop deployment, even in Sun Tzus the Art of War, there is also a point about knowing your enemy. Gentlemen Daren ought to understand thoroughly that I have the inside information. I have been in contact with Zhai Rangs daughter; through her network, Li Mi spurting a sneer will not escape my attention. As long as Li Mi fell into the trap and sent out his troops, we will lure him and launch sneak attack, using ambush tactic to burst the myth that he triumphs in every battle.

    After a short pause, he continued, I am also in contact with King of Xia Dou Jiandes chief general Liu Heita, asking him to bluff in our aid. Therefore, as long as Shangshu Daren is willing to brave this danger, it would be strange indeed if Li Mi does not fall into the trap.

    Everybody was emotionally moved.

    Wang Shichongs spirit greatly aroused, he asked, May I meet Zhai Jiaos men?

    Slapping his chest, Kou Zhong said, Even meeting Zhai Jiao is not a problem. How about today?

    This time, any doubt that Wang Shichong had vanished.

    But Yang Gongqing said, But the assassination ruse has to be meticulously planned, to ensure that it is absolutely safe. After meeting Miss Zhai, we will take our time making the decision. Shangshu Daren, what do you think?

    Slapping the table, Wang Shichong said, Lets do it.

    Inwardly, Kou Zhong was very pleased, thinking that if this time you, Li Mi, is able to escape this calamity, I, will write my personal name, Kou Zhong, which shakes the Jianghu, backward.

    At the same time, he also recalled his mask, which he buried in a secret place outside the city; that thing should be very useful.

    Without Ba Fenghan and Xu Zilings help, he would never dare to let Wang Shichong brave the danger of fake assassination.

    Because the opponent was really too tough.


    [1] Cheng Yaojin (589-665), real historical character, a general of the Tang Dynasty.

    [2] Wei Zheng (580-643), also real historical character, Tang politician and historian, notorious as a critic, editor of History of the Sui Dynasty.

  18. #178
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 9

    Book 15 Chapter 9 Charging Into The Tigers Den

    Under the fine droplets of the drizzle, the small boat glided slowly on the surface of the water.

    With serene expression Xu Ziling steered the boat using the oar that he took from the other boat. His scimitar-shaped eyebrows were deeply knitted.

    Sitting on the bow, wearing bamboo hat and woven rush raincoat, Ba Fenghan swept his gaze across the residential buildings lining up the stream on both sides, and then he said, Whats on your mind? Are you wondering why Shen Luoyan wanted to kill Dugu Ba?

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, Shen Luoyan has always regarded Li Mis business more important than her own; therefore, she should not have harmed Dugu Clans man when Li Mis just about to join hands with the Dugu Clan. But this is just one among other things that I dont understand.

    Muttering to himself irresolutely, Ba Fenghan said, If we could figure out clearly how Shen Luoyan followed Dugu Ba to this place, or perhaps how she gathered intelligence beforehand that she lay an ambush here, so that her revenge happened easily, then we can make a rough guess of whats going on.

    Without even thinking, Xu Ziling replied, Without a doubt she must be lying in ambush earlier; otherwise, how did she know that Qu Ao is not inside?

    Ba Fenghan said, Shen Luoyan must have monitored that house for some time; its possible that she saw Qu Ao leaving, and perhaps she even followed him to the address she gave us, moreover, she even knew for certain that that is Yin Gui Pais secret nest, hence she was able to offer us this information. But how could she have such a bad intention that she wanted to borrow our hands to deal with Qu Ao?

    After a short pause, he went on, She took advantage of the situation to kill Dugu Ba, probably it was for two reasons: business and private. Just for the fact that Dugu Ba was secretly coming to meet with the Tieles, it is obvious that the Dugu Clan has a deep apprehension toward Li Mi, so their cooperation with Li Mi to deal with Wang Shichong is just temporary expedient. Ideally, they ought to kill Wang Shichong and his cronies, then they could take over the power over the military. Otherwise, if they let Li Mi acquire the Eastern Capital, their Dugu Clan wont have good days to pass.

    Xu Ziling asked, Since Qu Ao was out, whom did Dugu Ba want to see?

    Ba Fenghan replied, Maybe he did not know Qu Ao was out. Or perhaps Chang Shumou or other important figures are inside, waiting for him. But my guess is that currently the house is empty, at most there are only people with low-level martial art skill staying behind to take care of things. Even the last two people with superior martial art skill, Hua Lingzi and Genggehuer had just left. Otherwise the sound of our fighting would have alerted the martial art masters inside the house.

    Xu Ziling sighed and said, Things are really complicated, making people unable to figure out why Shen Luoyan was following Qu Ao and why he did not detect it. Ah! I understand now; it must be the Two Malevolent of Changbai brothers. Their martial art skill is high, and they are experts in tracking.

    The two mens four eyes met each other.

    What do you think? Ba Fenghan said, Qu Ao is having a secret meeting with Zhu Yuyan. We have two choices: one is waiting for Qu Ao to leave and we have a fierce battle with him, the other choice is quietly ascertain the strength and foundation of Yin Gui Pais secret nest, and then think of a way to find out news about your Yu Yi.

    Xu Ziling suddenly asked, What kind of relationship is there between you and Shen Luoyan?

    Slightly startled, Ba Fenghan said, What does it have to do with our current situation?

    Nonchalantly, Xu Ziling said, I am just considering whether this is another trap Shen Luoyan is laying before us.

    Fully alert, Ba Fenghan looked carefully at the medium sized cargo boat sailing ahead of them; he replied, One time she invited me to join Li Mi, to become secret assassin for them, naturally with generous rewards. But I flatly refused. Afterwards we still spent a whole day traveling together. I cant deny that she is indeed a quite attractive woman.

    Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, But her loyalty to Li Mi certainly prevails over other things, which is why I do not trust her at all. Li Mis Duke of Pushan Decree to hunt and kill Zhong Shao and me is definitely not a joke. Now we have become a thorn by Li Mis side.

    What you said is not without a reason, Ba Fenghan said, Therefore, we have to split up; you go to rendezvous with Kou Zhong, I will step onto the plate to see if it really is a trap.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, Arent you taking too much risk? Provoking Zhu Yuyan and perhaps Wanwan, plus Tiele people, I am afraid even Ning Daoqi would find it hard to escape.

    Ba Fenghan smiled and said, I am going to adopt the watching-the-fires-burning-across-the-river style to watch from a distance; I wont foolishly charge in to throw away my life. As long as Shen Luoyan is not deceiving us, I am sure I will find clues [orig. spiders thread and horse track].

    And then, laughing, he said, Lets go ashore!

    ※ ※ ※

    Kou Zhong rushed toward the Luo River dike opposite the Tianjian Bridge. By the time he arrived, Xu Ziling had been waiting for about half a sichen.

    As soon as he jumped onto the boat, Xu Ziling immediately pulled the oar.

    Looking around, Kou Zhong said, Ive done everything to throw off anybody who wanted to follow me. Uh! Where did you steal this boat from?

    Xu Ziling laughed and said, Originally it was stolen, but later on it will turn into an ingot of gold business profit. With our title of Double Dragons, and this boat as our means of transportation, anybody could forget about following us.

    Receiving the bamboo rain hat and woven rush raincoat Xu Ziling handed him, Kou Zhong spoke happily, You are well prepared! Where did Old Ba go? Ay! Dong Shuni, that poniang [reminder: b!tch, derogatory term for woman], is really lying to me.

    He was about to explain, someone flew from the riverbank toward their boat.

    The two boys jumped in fright; whod dare to be this reckless, using only two fists to deal with the two boys four?

    Even Zhu Yuyan, she would think again and again before attacking them on such a wide river and on a small boat like this.

    Upon closer look, they saw that the incoming was unexpectedly Song Shidao, who, according to Song Yuzhi, has returned to the south. Only because he was wearing bamboo rain hat that they did not immediately recognize him.

    Carrying the wind and the rain with him, this passionate young master landed in the middle of the boat, and said happily, Its so difficult to find you, plus I was afraid somebody might see me making contact with you, so I followed Xiao Zhong from the Imperial City all the way here, and only then did I dare to meet with you.

    Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, Your tracking skill is indeed not bad.

    Astounded, Xu Ziling asked, Didnt Er Gongzi return to the south?

    Song Shidao replied indifferently, Junchuos Shimei is in trouble, how could I keep my hands inside my sleeve and do nothing?

    Swinging the oar, Xu Ziling turned the boat to the left and sped up along the road.

    Song Shidao went on, About Junyu, I have a bit of clue.

    The two boys were amazed; they conducted open inquiries and secret search, yet still failed to find the least bit of information. Song Shidao only found out about this matter last night, how could he succeed so quickly?

    Song Shidao was an astute man; seeing the two boys incredulous expression, he explained, Our Song Clan has already had close relationship with several comparably smaller gangs and societies around here. One of them has a fire-and-water relationship with Luoyang Bang; hence they watch closely Shangguan Longs activities all the time. It was precisely because they followed Shangguan Longs trail that I was able to gain this precious information.

    Kou Zhong and Xu Zilings spirit was greatly aroused.

    Song Shidao exhaled slowly, as if he was sorting out the information in his brain. After half a day, he slowly said, Five days ago, Shangguan Long rode out of town, unaccompanied. It was already dark when he was spotted going back into the city. Behind him was a dust-strewn carriage with its curtain down. Among the four riders accompanying the carriage, two were women, both with gauzed cloth covering their faces; looks like they were traveling furtively. The carriage finally stopped inside a courtyard at Yong Tong Lane by the Yi River in the southeast corner of the city. Shangguan Long stayed there overnight and only left the following morning.

    Moving the oar to steer the boat, Xu Ziling spoke heavily, We must find Ba Fenghan immediately. I am so sure that inside the house that Shen Luoyan pointed out, the one waiting is not Qu Ao, but that fellow Nanhai Xian Weng [immortal elderly man of the South Sea, first mention was Book 12 Chapter 10] Huang Gongcuo.

    It was the first time that Kou Zhong heard about this. He was confused, but he understood that Song Shidao has indirectly uncovered another plot of Shen Luoyans.

    ※ ※ ※

    Stepping out of an alley into the main street, Ba Fenghan pulled his hat lower and walked swiftly with his head hung low.

    Although there was no lack of pedestrians on the street, due to the increasing intensity of the rain, everybody was hurrying along; rarely would anybody pay any attention to another passer-by.

    The address Shen Luoyan gave them was Cheng Fu Lane, north of Xinzhong Bridge, but he deliberately made a long detour to see if anybody was trailing him.

    Trailing other people in this kind of weather was not easy at all, but the difficulty in detecting whether some people were trailing him also increased significantly.

    Although his innate character was proud and conceited, he actually held Xu Zilings ability and wisdom in very high regard.

    If Xu Ziling said that Shen Luoyan was having a bad intention, he must have a very strong reason.

    Although Ba Fenghan knew that it might be a trap, he did not have the slightest fear in his heart.

    After the group of horse thieves with whom he trained to maturity was wiped out, he became a lone wolf, with foes all over the place; hence he was used to deal with all sorts of crafty plots and machinations.

    Right this moment, he suddenly stopped.

    The pitter-patter of the rain falling continuously on his bamboo hat was crisp, resounding, and rhythmic.

    Dong Ming Princess Shan Wanjing, in mens clothing, stepped down from a carriage, and, holding an umbrella in her hand, she coldly looked at him from about twenty paces ahead.

    Ba Fenghan nearly turned around and walked away, but after a moments hesitation, he walked toward this beauty.

    Very soon he was standing face-to-face with her. The familiar scent emanated from her body brought forth myriads of memories in him.

    Shan Wanjing sighed gently, her frosty jade-countenance thawed, replaced by extremely bitter expression, as she spoke softly, Would you accompany Wanjing walking for a couple of steps?

    Ba Fenghan nodded slightly; he took the lead by stepping out first, and said, Did you come across me here by chance? Or did you hear the news and come here?

    Who has the ability to follow you and does not get detected by you? Shan Wanjing replied, Its just a coincidence! I was going to no longer care about your affair, but Laotianye [Heaven/God] loves to play jokes on people, and had me here to come across you.

    Ba Fenghan cast a sideways glance toward Shan Wanjing, who was walking on his right, and then quickly turned his eyes forward. Raindrops were sliding down her umbrella, dripping onto his bamboo rain hat and his already-drenched broad shoulder, making him feel that there was some kind of strange but subtle relationship between the two of them.

    Shan Wanjing spoke in low voice, Ive just seen Shimin. He wanted to have a nice talk with you, looking at the possibility of peaceful settlement of the problem between you and him. [Translators note: so far, the you Shan Wanjing was referring to was plural.]

    Ba Fenghan smiled and said, I, Ba Fenghan, have never conducted myself by looking at somebody elses face. If he wants to talk, we will have to see whether Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling are interested to talk!

    Shan Wanjing sighed and said, I dont want to argue with you; once is enough. But I want to remind you one thing: Shimin has martial art masters under his command like a cloud, its just he always maintains a low-profile, he cant possibly let others find out his real strength for no reason!

    Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, I have just met Li Shentong; can he be considered one of those masters?

    Shan Wanjing said, What do you think about Zhangsun Wuji[1] and Yuchi Jingde? You should have heard their names?

    Ba Fenghan shivered slightly in his heart; these two were of the new generation of martial art masters, they had outstanding reputation in the north. Although they could not be compared to him, who was the focus of ten-thousand peoples attention, yet they could be considered powerful young martial art masters. Unexpectedly they realigned their allegiance to Li Shimin.

    Shan Wanjing went on, And then there is a man named Pang Yu; perhaps you have never heard of him. But this man, whether in terms of ability and wisdom or martial art skill, cans be inferior to you guys.

    Ba Fenghan knew that she had just seen this man, thats why the impression was especially profound.

    With Shan Wanjings insight, she could not possibly misjudge this person. Judging from her character, she was not someone who would intimidate others with empty words.

    Laughing involuntarily, he said, Looks like its getting more and more interesting. Have you met Li Jing, then?

    Shan Wanjing was astonished, Whos Li Jing? she asked.

    Now it was Ba Fenghan who was shocked; Shan Wanjing apparently did not know the full extent of Li Shimins forces that he brought along to Luoyang, yet she was already worried for them.

    Changing the subject, Ba Fenghan asked, Do you have any news about Yin Gui Pai?

    Shan Wanjing replied, According to the information I received, Yin Gui Pai already considers the three of you their biggest enemy after Shi Feixuan; as soon as they finish the business at hand, their next move will be to crush you. Ay! Fenghan, dont you think youd better leave the Central Plains? Why would you wade through the muddy water with those two kids who do not know the immensity of heaven and earth? You make enemies on all sides, and now even Niang and I feel it is difficult either to intervene or to mediate on your behalf.

    Ba Fenghan happily said, With what Wanjing has just said, it is enough! There is one thing I want you to be clear: Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling are my, Ba Fenghans true friends [orig. liver and gall bladder]; I have gone through fire and water for many days with them, and I will never forget that. After Junyus affair is completely resolved, without anybody pushing me, I will return to the prairie. That is the place where I was born, and that will be the place where I die.

    Her tender body slightly trembled, Shan Wanjing leaned a bit closer, so that their shoulders nearly touched. She spoke softly, Yin Gui Pai still has several more senior martial art masters; they will respond to the call for reinforcement. Not only Zhu Yuyan wanted to destroy Shi Feixuan, she would also kill anybody who stands the way. The reason she was willing to offend Fu Cailin by dealing with Fu Junyu is because she believe she also knew the secret of Duke Yang Treasure.

    Ba Fenghan was listening in silence. He was able to sense the deep concern in the beauty by his sides voice.

    Quite possibly their walk in the rain this time would be their last meeting.

    When are you going to return to Ryukyu? he asked in heavy voice.

    Shan Wanjing was silent for quite a while before answering, Should be today. Afterwards, we will try to minimize our visit to the Central Plains.

    Ba Fenghan suddenly stopped. Shan Wanjing continued walking three more steps before she also stopped and turned around. She held the plain yellow umbrella in her hand with the pole resting against her shoulder, and thus exposing her lake-water-green rain cloak; her jade bones and icy flesh stood erect, in a beautiful posture that was kind of endearing and moving, which made it impossible to think that she has always been stubborn and strong-willed.

    Composing himself, Ba Fenghan scrutinized her rarely seen posture and facial expression. After exhaling a mouthful of air, he said, Have a pleasant journey!

    Hardening his heart, he turned around and walked away.

    He had only been walking for five steps when Shan Wanjing called tenderly from behind, Fenghan.

    Ba Fenghan did neither stop nor turn back; only raising his hand, he said, Please dont! And he continued walking away.

    ※ ※ ※

    It was with great difficulty that Ba Fenghan was finally able to find the entrance to Cheng Fu Lane. A horse-drawn carriage was coming directly at him, the driver was a man who looked unfamiliar, yet he called out to him, Ba Ye, please come aboard!

    While Ba Fenghan was greatly surprised, Kou Zhongs big head appeared from the carriages window and winked at him, Ba kid, where do you think you are going? Still not getting in?

    Ba Fenghan immediately cast the sadness of parting away from his heart; laughing aloud, he got into the carriage, and only then did he find out that aside from Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, there was also Song Shidao. No wonder they had the carriage, the driver, and everything else readily available.

    After briefly explaining the whole sequence of events, Kou Zhong said, And now we are on our way there to make a kill, but we must study clearly the layout of the courtyard first, and then using the before-the-thunderbolt-reaches-the-ear method we burst through the door and break the window to get inside. As long as Wanwan or perhaps Zhu Yuyan is not there, and Yu Yi is hidden there, we will have a much greater chance of success.

    Song Shidao quickly added, But we must make sure that this is going to be foolproof. Therefore, we must move only after a well-laid plan; once the opportunity lost, well never get it back.

    Ba Fenghan snorted coldly and said, Shen Luoyan is too crafty; she had the impertinence to harm me. Were it not for I do not like to kill women, I would have her try my sword and have her as a sacrificial offering.

    Kou Zhong said, In the struggle against Li Mi, we cant simply sit from dawn to dusk; slight delay would mean she will gain the upper hand.

    By this time Song Shidao was already clear on the whole story; he suggested, Why not broadcasting Dugu Bas assassination by Shen Luoyan? This way well destroy the relationship between Dugu Feng and Li Mi. At least well make Shen Luoyan spend quite a bit of lips and tongue to explain herself.

    Kou Zhong said with a laugh, We must never do that! Otherwise my magic trick wont work. Right now my move is called to exploit the other mans ambition to the fullest, while reducing our own power and prestige. Even toward that Huang Gongcuo, we must carefully respect him, the Senior, and not to disturb even half a strand of his hair.

    Knowing his tricks and crafty schemes, Ba Fenghan did not want to waste his time to mind him; turning his attention to Song Shidao, he asked, Er Gongzi, is there a way to find out whether Qu Ao is hiding in there?

    Nodding his head, Song Shidao said, Thats easy. Our driver is a local Qing She Bang [green snake gang] man. I have shown favor and a bit of kindness toward their Bangzhu [gang leader] in the past. As soon as I say the words, they would do everything in their power to accomplish it, and would not shirk without dishonor. Everything that is happening in Luoyang will not easily escape these local snakes attention.

    Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, They are Luoyang Bangs arch-rival; by toppling Shangguan Long, we have put Luoyang Bang in the whole-bunch-of-uglies-without-the-head situation, so that they are falling apart. And thus we have indirectly done them a huge favor. I dont know how grateful they are toward us.

    Xu Ziling took a glance out of the window. The rain stops! he said.

    The driver called out, Four Daye, we have arrived!


    [1] Zhangsun Wuji (c. 594-659), politician and historian of early Tang.

  19. #179
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 10

    Book 15 Chapter 10 Clues[1]

    The four men got off the carriage outside the gate of a building. After looking around to make sure the place was secure, they flipped over the front of the roof, and after scurrying past several buildings, soon afterwards their target, the courtyard, appeared in front of them, across a small alley ahead.

    As soon as they saw it, they knew the situation was not good.

    Although there was a horse-drawn carriage at the open space in front of the house, there was no horse to pull it.

    The complex consisted of three sections, with two courtyards connecting them, but the doors and windows were tightly shut. It looked like there was not a single soul living in it.

    Oh no! Kou Zhong said dejectedly, All the witches, warlocks and female demons [yao fu, yao gong, yao nu] are scared of us and ran away.

    Song Shidao was surprisingly quiet; he spoke in low voice, Lets go in and take a look, maybe well find something.

    Ba Fenghan said with a sigh, I say its just a waste of energy; Yin Gui Pai has always been known for their secrecy, they cant possibly leave any clues to be found, otherwise other people would have caught up with their old nest. [Translators note: here, and in subsequent paragraphs, the word they was feminine.]

    Shaking his head, Song Shidao said, This time its different. I am almost certain that it was only after Shangguan Longs identity was uncovered last night that they moved out in a hurry, for fear that others might find their whereabouts. Granted that they must be very careful and took necessary safety measures, but anything can be easily overlooked. With this thinking, it was hard to avoid an oversight. This is what we are looking for.

    All three men were emotionally moved. Suddenly they had a whole new level of respect toward Song Shidao, this Second Young Master.

    With a Come on! Song Shidao took the lead by jumping down into the courtyard.

    The hall was exquisitely arranged, there were even paintings and calligraphy hanging on the walls, but just as Ba Fenghan anticipated, everything was neat and clean; other than ordinary household utensils, nothing was left behind.

    Yet Song Shidao was unwilling to neglect even one cun square. When the other three lost interest, he picked up pieces of tealeaves from the floor and brought it to his nose. Taking a sniff, he said, If I am not mistaken, this ought to be yellow sprout leaf, the shape is straight, in terms of color and luster, there is green within yellow, as delicate as a brush, similar in shape and appearance as duck tongue; it is a gourmet tea.

    Listening to that, the three were dumbfounded, thinking that only children and disciples of large and influential family like him would be able to tell that much from a single tealeaf.

    Frowning, Xu Ziling said, Even if we know what kind of tea this is, what can we do about it?

    Kou Zhong joined in, In my opinion, Yin Gui Pais female demon cant possibly carry these tealeaves around, it must be Shangguan Long who prepared the tea to show filial respect to them.

    Song Shidao happily said, That possibility is very high. The Heavenly Street has several tea stores, three of those carry yellow sprout tea, but only Shan Jing Ju [House of Mountain Scenery] sells first-class yellow sprout tealeaves from Jin Gang Tai [lit. diamond plateau]. I have been hanging around their boss quite often these days, it would be very easy to find out if Shangguan Long is addicted to this kind of tea. If that is the case, we have one more trail to pursue.

    Listening to him, the three were sincerely convinced and ready to concede.

    Tea can be addictive as well; when one is used to drink some kind of tea, although occasionally they can substitute their personal preference, but in the end it would be difficult to completely change their taste in such a short period of time.

    This time, Shangguan Long must be recuperating; if he happened to send someone to buy tea, then they would have a chance to find him.

    Song Shidao went another round, but did not find any new discovery, so he walked toward the inner hall.

    Since the three already regarded his investigation ability like a deity, they hurriedly followed behind him.

    Song Shidao entered one of the bedrooms. The gauze bed screen was down, inside, the bedding was in disarray, which corresponded with their expectation: not only the people left in a hurry, they left in the middle of the night. If it were during the day, the bedding would be tidied up.

    Copying Song Shidao earlier, the three examined everything carefully. But Song Shidao lifted up the screen and sat on the bed. Picking up the pillow, he sniffed at it with full concentration.

    The three followed him blindly; they waited patiently for him to speak.

    Seeing the three were staring at him blankly, Song Shidao put the pillow down and said with a smile, Actually, theres nothing serious about it. Its just that I always pay particular attention about families livelihood, and as luck has it, in this aspect, Yin Gui Pai people are also rather particular, hence I am able to pick up some things out of it.

    Emotionally moved, Ba Fenghan said, What Er Gongzi said is extremely useful. All along Jianghu people always thought that Yin Gui Pai is hiding deep in the mountains or some remote valley. But now it looks like their old nest might be in the heart of bustling downtown area of the Big Capital, which is outside other peoples expectation. Otherwise, they would not pay particular attention to these kinds of thing.

    Kou Zhong also humbly asked, What exactly are they paying particular attention to?

    Song Shidao replied, This bed screen and the beddings are scented with certain perfume, but the pillow smells of different fragrance, and that must be the perfume this particular woman like to use.

    In that case, Ba Fenghan said, The woman sleeping here cant be Junyu, because she has never used perfume.

    Song Shidao said, The scent from the bed curtain is taken from the Masson pine rosin [Pinus massoniana, Chinese red pine, horsetail pine]. Dont think that this is merely for pleasure, in fact, the rosin added moisture proof, rot proof, and bug-repellant characteristic to the fabric.

    He added, As for the pillow, the perfume is derived from the extract of best quality orange osmanthus flower; ordinary people cannot afford it. Although there are more than a dozen perfume stores in Luoyang, only Ping Fu Lao Dian [lit. peaceful happiness old store] sells this kind of expensive goods.

    Ba Fenghan asked in surprise, Er Gongzi really knows Luoyang businesses like the back of your hand.

    Smiling, Song Shidao said, I have been to Luoyang five times. Whenever I have time to spare, I always stroll along the street, while also helping Luoyangs economic development; you know what I mean?

    Xu Ziling said, Now that we have tealeaf and perfume, these two clues, what do we do next?

    Song Shidao said, Lets look around everywhere else first, then well talk! But Ba Xiong was right, anything that can be carried, they cant possibly leave it behind.

    ※ ※ ※

    The carriage moved out speedily toward the Heavenly Street.

    In this pursuit of Fu Junyu, Song Shidao has changed shape in a single shake, and has become their de facto leader.

    I still dont understand, Kou Zhong wondered aloud, How come several times we fought against Wanwan, she has never used Yu Yi to threaten us?

    Song Shidao said, That is indeed a proof that Junyu has really fallen into their hands; they are afraid others might know about it. Even if Zhu Yuyan is without the slightest scruple, she still inevitably has misgivings toward Fu Cailin. Unless she is really forced into a corner, she would never use Junyu to bargain with you to get the Secret to Duke Yangs Treasure.

    The afternoon sun penetrated the clouds. After raining for more than half of the day, people felt the outdoor was bright, fresh and clean.

    Song Shidao took this opportunity to close his eyes to restore his spirit. The three did not dare to disturb him; they simply sat quietly, while taking a peek at the scenery along the way.

    Arriving at the Heavenly Street, Song Shidao slipped off the carriage, while the driver pulled the carriage to wait in a side street.

    Ba Fenghan took the opportunity to ask the driver for a favor to find the lodging of the Tiele people.

    The driver proudly said, Ba Ye, rest assured. This kind of trivial thing, Xiaoren [the lowly one] will definitely handle it properly for you.

    Finished speaking, he jumped down the carriage and left.

    The three stayed at the carriage to wait.

    Recalling the unfinished conversation with Kou Zhong earlier, Xu Ziling asked, You said Dong Shuni was deceiving you, whats going on?

    Kou Zhong hatefully replied, This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly.

    And then he explained the full story around Wang Shichongs fake assassination scheme. When he was done, he said, In order to maintain and reinforce Wang Shichongs confidence, I brought Zhai Jiao and Tu Shufang to see him. This old fox was immediately full of smile, and discussed with me the assassination plot. Humph! His mother! Do you know what he proposed?

    Naturally the two could only scratch their heads to indicate that they had no idea.

    Imitating the tone of Wang Shichongs voice, Kou Zhong said, The day after tomorrow Rong Fengxiang is going to have his birthday party at his mansion. Anybody in Luoyang who has head and face would join the fun. Originally I was thinking of not going, but now I simply have to go, otherwise that old man Huang wont have the opportunity to assassinate me.

    Hearing that, Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan looked at each other. The latter said, Whats going on? Didnt Rong Fengxiang have his birthday party last night?

    Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong said, Thats why I said that lass was deceiving me. But I really dont know why she harbored evil intentions toward me.

    Xu Ziling spoke heavily, She was laying out a trap to kill you, but this matter has nothing to do with Wang Shichong.

    Staring blankly, Kou Zhong said, But why does she want to kill me? It could be that she is merely trying to get away from here, but by doing this, what good would it bring her? Wont she be afraid Wang Shichong would be angry at her?

    Ba Fenghan laughed in spite of himself; he said, Other than Dong Shuni herself, I am afraid only Laotianye would be able to answer your questions. What kind of utterly heartless thing did you, this kid, do to other familys Miss?

    Kou Zhong cried out to Heaven for the wrong he received; he said, Whats that supposed to mean? Besides, it was she who took the initiative. Dont look at her young age, she has more experience than the three of us combined.

    Seeing the two mens burning gaze at him, Kou Zhong spread out his hands and said, What? I am a man! Taking advantage of an opportunity is just a human nature; right?

    Xu Ziling said, Based on Dong Shunis character, this matter must have something to do with man-woman relationship.

    Ba Fenghan laughed and said, Its possible that you came across a jealous husband. Dong Shuni happened to be carrying out her natural instincts, which is always regarding romantic love as a game, and believe it or not, you came.

    Kou Zhong was about to speak, when Song Shidao returned with excitement on his face. We finally see the light! he said.

    ※ ※ ※

    The small boat sailed speedily toward the confluence of the Luo River and the Yun Canal. To their west was the pontoon bridge, one of the three big bridges crossing the Luo River.

    Several dozen docks, big and small, lined both sides of the river, where approximately three hundreds ships and boats of all shapes and sizes were moored, while on the river itself ships and boats were coming and going. It was a very busy waterway traffic.

    The small boat stopped between two cargo ships.

    Due to limited space, plus the waterway had to remain open for the traffic, the ships and boats were moored very close to the dock; therefore, their movement would not attract unduly attention.

    Looking at the bustling scene of cargo ships loading and unloading activities, Kou Zhong asked in astonishment, Just by looking at the bustling scene before our eyes, who would have thought that there are people proclaiming themselves king everywhere, and there is unending fire of war?

    Song Shidao said, This kind of trade can bring the locals huge revenues, while meeting the balance between supply and demand; therefore, everybody try to facilitate it as much as they can. Supposing someone is not tactful and block the waterway, or perhaps confiscate the goods, the traveling merchants will simply go elsewhere to do their business. In the end they themselves would be the one suffering the loss.

    Ba Fenghan slowly swept his gaze across the multitude of boats; feeling a big headache, he said, Which boat is it?

    Just now, he inquired Ren En, the Gang Leader of the Qingshe Bang, about the tea store and fragrance store. As expected, early morning the previous day, someone was placing an order for certain perfume and tealeaves. Song Shidaos guess that the tea and fragrance were yellow sprout tea and orange osmanthus perfume was right on.

    The best thing was that because Ping Fu Lao Dian did not have enough orange osmanthus perfume in stock, they had to get it from their warehouse at the eastern part of the city. The man placing the order asked them to have the goods delivered to a certain dock, to be brought to its final destination by boat, hence the reason they followed the trail to this place.

    Kou Zhong spoke up, Although they might receive the goods on this dock, they could transfer it to any boat on this vast river area. Ay, this is indeed a stratagem to trap us by using the boats. Yin Gui Pai really know how to pick a good place.

    But Song Shidao has already anticipated this situation; he said, My family has always been in waterborne transportation business, we are most familiar with this kind of situation. The boats here can be categorized as merchant ships, passenger ships, and fishing boats, three types. Due to the fear of enemy infiltration, inspection of people and goods in and out of the boats is very strict, it is well documented. I have already asked favor to the authority to check which boat, in term of scale, is rather big, which has been mooring here for at least two days, but without any loading/unloading activity. This way, although we might not hit bulls eye, it wont be too far.

    Kou Zhong conceded willingly. No wonder before coming here Shi Feixuan looked for Er Gongzi, he said, This is the first time that I ever met a man whose thought is as thorough and precise like you.

    Smiling wryly, Song Shidao said, I, Song Shidao, cant be considered anything. I cant even protect my beloved.

    Afraid that under grief Song Shidao might mess up their mission, Xu Ziling hurriedly said, I have a thought: this boat, just like ours, must be moored at the outermost dock, so it will be ready to sail any moment.

    Ba Fenghans tiger body slightly shook, his eyes quickly turned toward the three-mast ship that attracted his attention earlier. He said, That boat is particularly suspicious; it seems to be moored in the middle of two big ships, but not even half a shadow of people is seen on all three ships. It is completely different from the busy situation of the other ships.

    The other three followed his gaze.

    On one of the docks on the opposite bank, there were three ships moored side-by-side. The one in the middle looked twice as big as the other two. It had two-tiered deck. And as Ba Fenghan noted, they did not see any activity on all three ships.

    Song Shidao said, Looks like we dont need to waste time. I am going to ask Ren En to check these three ships immediately; I am sure we will get something soon.

    ※ ※ ※

    The four men sat on the second floor of a multi-story building by the river. From the window they were able to watch the loading/unloading activities on the docks below, not far to their left were the three suspicious ships.

    Downstairs was the store specializing in salt business, own by the Qingshe Bang. In fact, all gangs and societies throughout Luoyang ran big waterborne transportation business.

    All along, each gang or society had their own specialized business, monopoly and profit center; each one had their own sphere of influence.

    The reason Luoyang Bang was provoking outrage among the gangs and societies was precisely because it often stepped into other gangs business, relying on their power to demand other gangs and societies to respectfully offer presents to them every month, and thus destroying the rules which say that these organizations would have nothing to do with each other.

    Ren Ens business was salt; naturally he was linked in countless ways with the Song Clan.

    Kou Zhong suddenly asked, If Zhu Yuyan and Wanwan are on the ship, what are we going to do?

    Well scuttle their ship first, Xu Ziling replied, And then, in the ensuing chaos, we grab her.

    Ba Fenghan said, In that case, we must draft a good escape plan: how and which route to take; otherwise, if any of us is left alone and overtaken by the enemy, things would be bad, not only wed fail to rescue Junyu, perhaps wed lose our little lives as well.

    Based on Ba Fenghans haughty and conceited character, unexpectedly he expressed some concerns, evidently his confidence in meeting Zhu Yuyan and Wanwan and still being able to escape alive was quite lacking.

    Song Shidao smiled and said, Under this kind of situation, it can be said that you are in confusion because of the concern in your heart. Assuming Zhu Yuyan and Wanwan are the upper class thoroughbred, we are at most only middle-class thoroughbred. Using middle-class thoroughbred against first-class thoroughbred, defeat is guaranteed[2].

    Kou Zhong said, Its not that I did not think of this issue, but we practically do not know whether those two women are on the ship, and we do not dare to investigate recklessly. Therefore, we have no choice but to use the strategy of using middle-class thoroughbred to deal with first-class thoroughbred.

    Remaining tranquil and calm, Song Shidao said, That was the reason I said that you are in confusion because of the concern in your heart. At Man Qing Yuan tonight, Qu Ao and Fu Qian are going to continue their unfinished battle. Even if Zhu Yuyan and the others do not support any side, they cant possibly miss this kind of rare opportunity to see what Fu Qian was made of. That will be our opportunity!

    Nodding, Kou Zhong said, This is the only feasible way. Ay! I have no choice but to miss my appointment!

    Frowning, Xu Ziling asked, Appointment with whom?

    Kou Zhong replied, Just by listening to his name, we know that this person has some ambitions. He is called Song Jingang. Will you concede to him? [Translators note: JinGang literally means diamond, also Vajra, a thunderbolt or mythical weapon/guardian deity (in Buddhist iconography).]

    Song Shidao and Ba Fenghan were emotionally moved.

    The former said, Not only this man is a rare martial art master of the northern Wulin, he is also both intelligent and brave. He is the first rate fierce general under Liu Wuzhou.

    Ba Fenghan said, I have heard his name as well. In the north, he and Liu Heita are on par; both are famous generals whose name shakes their respective region, and both have never tasted defeat.

    After a short pause, he continued contemplatively, He must be coming here with Tu Li. What did he look for you for?

    Kou Zhong said with a laugh, He did not mention anything good. Although he did not say it out loud, I can assume that he is going to ask me to assassinate Du Fuwei; you think he was going to ask me to lead the troops to war?

    Although the four of them were talking, they were all sitting facing the window; never for one moment had their eyes left the suspicious ship.

    Song Shidao said, How could Song Jingang use a talented person like you in an insignificant position? Besides, if Du Fuwei is that easy to be assassinated, he would have died a hundred times over; even Yang Xuyan also returned without any achievement. In my opinion, he must have some other meticulous plan; he would definitely not let a figure like you go to waste.

    Ba Fenghans heart was moved; he asked, Did Er Gongzi know that Yang Xuyan is Li Shimins man? He is also coming here with him, and we have had some exchange with him.

    Song Shidao was stunned. I did not know that he is related to Li Shimin, he said, I only know that he is infatuated with the big personage of local casino Rong Fenxiangs daughter, Rong Jiaojiao. This information is highly classified; we have spent considerable effort just to obtain it.

    Kou Zhong was shaken; he said, Dong Shuni did mention that Rong Jiaojiao is her bosom friend. Could it be hey

    Ba Fenghan nodded and said, Based on Dong Shunis wantonness, two women serving one man is hardly unusual. The Eastern Capital has always been the place where the old Sui imperial family resides, and Yang Xuyan is one of those; hooking up with those two women is an easy matter that only require a lifting of his finger.

    Slapping his thigh, Xu Ziling said, Only after seeing that you did not fall into the trap did that fellow Yang Xuyan come to look for you to fight.

    Listening to this, Song Shidao was baffled, What are you guys talking about? he asked.

    Fortunately, this moment Ren En, with happy expression on his face, walked in. He sat down and said, Fortunately I did not disgrace your trust; I guarantee weve found the correct ship!

    Song Shidao was delighted; he said, Ren Xiong is that confident; it must be quite a finding.

    Ren En looked to be around forty, short in stature, his outward appearance was like real businessman, but he looked fully capable to be the leader of a gang.

    Showing a sincere smile, he nodded and said, Indeed it was. Because there have been people who witness women, wearing gauzed face covering, came down from the ship, and it only happened last night. Although they had seen it only once, but due to the young women have extremely fine figure, it has left a very deep impression.

    Ba Fenghan said, But I can be sure that they are not Zhu Yuyan or Wanwan. With their skill, how could they easily let others see them?

    Song Shidao spoke calmly, Ren Xiong, please arrange some vegetables and meat dishes for us, but please skip the wine; we are going to compete against Yin Gui Pais witch and female demon [yaofu, yaonu] in patience!

    After acknowledging the request, Ren En turned to Ba Fenghan and said, I also have information on Tiele people: the place Qu Ao is staying is a house at Xing Yi Lane at the northeast part of the city. The place belongs to Du Ganmu of Lliang Pai. And Du Ganmu is King Dong of Yues subordinate.

    Ba Fenghan sighed and said, Thank you for your honorable Gangs trouble! But right now I cannot be in two places at once. I hope Qu Ao can defeat Fu Qian, otherwise, I have no interest to pick a fight with the defeated army in the future.

    Ren Ens eyes showed deep veneration; he withdrew downstairs.

    All along the four mens eyes have never left those three ships.


    [1] Clues orig. Spiders thread and horse track.

    [2] I might misunderstand the text, but I think Song Shidao was referring to the story of Sun Bin helping Tian Ji in a horse race against the King of Qi. In Divine Eagle Gallant Knight (aka Return of Condor Heroes) Huang Rong related this story to Guo Jing in Chapter 12 (The Heroes Feast). The story can also be found here: http://chinese-story-collection.blog...ji-sai-ma.html

  20. #180
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    Default Book 15 Chapter 11

    Book 15 Chapter 11 Beating the Enemy at Their Own Game

    The suns last twilight disappeared on the western horizon. The city of Luoyang was ablaze with light. The ships and boats moored along the river looked like a coiling dragon of lights stretching continuously along the banks.

    Perhaps it was because of the rain earlier, but the night sky was especially clear that the light appeared particularly bright, and the air was fresh and clean.

    Although there were still people unloading cargo under the lantern light, most of the waterfront area was blanketed in tranquility that came after the busyness of the day.

    The sound of hoof beats broke the quietness of the night. Several horses and one carriage were speeding along the river. Arriving at one of the piers, the riders reined their horses.

    One of them pursed his lips to let out a whistle; obviously he was calling the friends on the boat moored at that dock.

    Kou Zhong, who was closely watching this particular area, spoke cheerfully, Xiao Ling, our old friend is here! Unexpectedly in time like this we still bump into acquaintances.

    Xu Ziling took a glance, and was stunned, Isnt that Dugu Ce? he asked.

    Song Shidao said, The man on his left is known as the Mad Scholar of Henan, Zheng Shiru, who has quite a reputation. The rest are descendants and disciples of local famous schools and influential families.

    Kou Zhong was dumbstruck. Turns out its him, he said, I knew his voice well, but this is the first time I see his appearance.

    That day he was hiding inside the painting cabinet, eavesdropping the discussion between Li Mi and his men, and Qian Duguan, who was reaching out to him [see Book 12 Chapter 1]; unexpectedly today he was finally able to see his real Mount Lus face and eyes.

    This martial art master, who was known for both his madness and wisdom, wore a rather out-of-place attire; outside his scholar attire, he wore a set of warrior overalls complete with a cape.

    His age seemed to be around thirty, with square-ish, bulky and wild appearance. On the looks department, he was not bad. Except for his goatee, the hair on his head was unkempt, exuding some kind of dont-care-about-appearance charm.

    Why would he hang around Dugu Ce? Ba Fenghan wondered.

    Xu Ziling commented, Looking at Dugu Ces expression, he does not seem to know that his uncle was murdered.

    While the four men, from their higher vantage point, were discussing and pointing at the people below, like a spiraling wisp of smoke an outstanding beauty [orig. national grace, divine fragrance] appeared from the ships cabin; merely her looks and gait were enough to move and weakened the mens heart.

    Two pretty maids followed behind her walking off the ship.

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling looked at each other, and then both men blurted out together, Bai Qinger! [ibid.]

    Surprisingly it was Qian Duguans beloved concubine Bai Qinger. Earlier, from her disposition, which was similar to Wanwans, Ba Fenghan made a deduction that she was a Yin Gui Pais female demon.

    As soon as Bai Qinger entered the carriage, Dugu Ce, Zheng Shiru, and the others immediately thronged around the carriage, and then with a mighty roar they left.

    Seeing the maids returning to the ship, Ba Fenghan was shaken, What a close call! We nearly made the mistake of jumping into the wrong vehicle.

    Kou Zhong and Song Shidao looked at him in bewilderment.

    Xu Ziling nodded and said, This ship is the real thing [orig. the Son of Heaven receiving true command; but I dont think in this context it refers to the Emperor].

    Bai Qingers ship was several hundred paces apart from the three suspicious ships, with more than a dozen ships and boats moored in between. Supposing Bai Qinger was indeed Yin Gui Pais female demon, this arrangement could not possibly be coincidental.

    Ba Fenghan briefly explained, As a matter of fact, all along my heart has been uneasy, because those three ships moored together like that is indeed too conspicuous, so unlike Yin Gui Pais usual style. Now I am certain that those three ships are empty. They must be Yin Gui Pais carefully laid out trap, to see whether someone would actually fall into it. Or perhaps the trap is set up for us.

    Song Shidaos heart was moved; he said, We might as well try to beat them at their own game; perhaps it will be wonderfully effective instead.

    Ba Fenghan laughed and said, If Yin Gui Pai found out that we can infer so many things from Bai Qinger, they would surely be very upset. Brothers! Its action time! Maybe well even have enough time to catch a good show as well.

    ※ ※ ※

    Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling sat on a fast boat that was nimbly weaving across the water in between the boats; they seemed to know exactly where they were going.

    These days, in order to push Wang Shichong to act against Li Mi, Kou Zhong was so busy that he did not have time to spare. The remaining two would need to act as circumstances dictate; so now only two men went into action, which would not provoke the enemys vigilance.

    Moreover, without Kou Zhong, their strength weakened, which would make it easier to lure the enemy into making their move at them.

    Frowning, Ba Fenghan said, Yin Gui Pai people are surely as cunning as a fox; they have avoided the river, and still playing this kind of trick? If we were not lucky, we would definitely fall into their trap.

    Are we going to charge aboard? Xu Ziling asked, All three ships are without any light. Simply this fact is enough to make it so noticeable. At least it will attract thieves; now is not the time of peace and prosperity.

    Ba Fenghan laughed and said, If we charged randomly anywhere in Luoyang, there is a possibility we might come across a martial art master. The tactful people are all lying low until the fuss dies down, nobody dares to make any move at this time. Uh, we are here! Just straight ahead. Lets proceed, while acting cautious and solemn!

    Suddenly lowering his voice, Xu Ziling said, Someone is watching us over there.

    Pressing down the urge to move toward Bai Qingers luxurious ship, Ba Fenghan said delightedly, That is the best! Lets go up and smash around the ship a bit, see if they react. If no Yin Gui Pai people make appearance, that would mean they do not have enough strength in their ship to fight against us. As long as Junyu is really on board, we will rescue her immediately.

    Finished speaking, he rose up to his full height.

    The three-mast ship ahead was looming larger and larger.

    Pulling the oar, Xu Ziling also stood up.

    Ba Fenghan gave the signal. Both men soared up at the same time, leaving the small boat behind, and as light as floating feather they landed on the deck on the bow, in front of the cabin.

    The two pretended to act quickly; they broke the door and entered in, and then rushed into one of the cabins, just in time to look at Ba Qingers big ship through the window.

    They saw shadows flashing on the ship; about seven or eight people soared and leaped from ship to ship, coming swiftly in their direction. As the shadows were coming nearer, from their shape it appeared that the majority of them were women. The two men smirked inwardly, since their tactic of luring the tigers out of their mountain seemed to be working.

    From the incoming people, Xu Ziling recognized one of them as the Yin Fa Yan Mei Silver-haired Amorous Demon Dan Mei [in Book 9 Chapter 1, it was Yin Fa Mo Nu (Silver-haired Demoness)]. He spoke heavily, Although there is no Zhu Yuyan or Wanwan, even Bian Bufu is not one of them, they are still coming with torrential momentum as if they are determined to destroy us. There must be two or three senior-level martial art masters from Yin Gui Pai, who arrived here just recently.

    Murderous aura was flashing continuously in Ba Fenghans eyes; he spoke calmly, We are absolutely not going to be lenient. One less Yin Gui Pai demon on the earth means less people will be harmed by them. Lets have them taste the hidden capability of the Jade Annulus of He Clan!

    ※ ※ ※

    Six women and two men, with ghost-like shenfa [motion in martial art], landed on the deck. One of the women was particularly tall; her long, luscious hair was draped loosely on her back, its length reached her butt, jet-black and shiny, extremely captivating.

    Her beauty was not far behind Wanwan, her skin was fairer than the snow, her eyebrows deep black, her eyes bluish-green, her cheeks like a pair of peaches in the springtime. No matter how you look at her, she could not be more than twenty-five years old.

    The pupils of her eye were like rippling water full of unbounded affection, her gaze hooked the spirit and absorbed the soul, with a hundred charms and a thousand enchantments.

    Among the incoming people, this womans rank was obviously the highest, because as soon as she signaled with her hand, the other five women, including Dan Mei, spread out immediately. Some leaped onto the cabins roof, while others moved toward the stern, to guard all strategic points.

    The two men remained standing behind the woman, one on her left the other on her right; both looked dignified and handsome, their age could not be more than thirty. Both had a long saber hanging on their backs; they looked quite imposing.

    From inside the pitch-black cabin, Ba Fenghan stepped out, upright and unafraid. With his hands behind his back, he spoke coldly, Wheres Zhu Yuyan? Why did she only send some minions to throw away their lives?

    A look of surprise, which quickly went away, flitted across the womans face. Evidently her intelligence was extraordinary; from Ba Fenghans cold and calm appearance, she knew the situation was not at all ordinary. Also, even though Ba Fenghan was looking down at her, she was not angry; instead, she smiled sweetly. After showing off her seductive appearance, from her slightly opened vermillion lips her soft voice came out, When I made my debut in Jianghu, I am afraid you were still learning how to talk. Therefore, you not knowing that I am Wen Caiting would make more sense.

    Ba Fenghan smiled slightly, his eyes swept the two men standing behind her; he saw the jealous expression on their faces. His heart moved, he said, Since you have your gigolos following you to serve you left and right, your position in Yin Gui Pai must not be low. Therefore, before we fight, there is favor Ol Ba wants to ask you; would you, Senior, please tell it to Zhu Zongzhu [head of a clan]?

    Although Wen Caiting was a crafty, hundred-scheme, person, she was caught off guard by his switch of demeanor from arrogance to deference; she was even at a loss of trying to guess what he wanted to say.

    The Mo Gong [devil skill] cultivation path she took was different from Zhu Yuyan and Wanwan; she was specializing in mei gong huan shu [lit. charming skill fantasy method]. Usually, when men looked at her, they would be enchanted by her that they would forget everything, and than she would seize that opportunity to ruthlessly take the opponents life. It has never failed.

    But Ba Fenghans will was as strong and solid as a rock; he was not in the least bit falling under the influence of her charm.

    Wen Caiting lightly hook her hair; the movement was subtle, but her posture was very pleasing to the eye, making people felt that her charm was increasing infinitely, so that they could not refrain themselves from pulling her into their embrace, and showing her their unrestraint affection.

    Very faintly she let out a sigh, and then said, Why cant we just sit down together and talk about it?

    The tone of her voice revealed some kind of pure, seemingly evolved from heartfelt, sincere feeling; it was so gentle and considerate to others need. Her demeanor was so suave and pleasant. Unless the opposite party was a man with the heart of stone, how could he not be moved by her?

    The two men behind her already showed signs that their jealousy has grown beyond their control.

    Ba Fenghan was still completely unmoved by her; he spoke word-byword, Please tell Zhu Zongzhu, we already rescued Fu Junyu; you have fallen into the trap!

    Even with her level of cultivation, Wen Caiting still could not stop her countenance from changing.

    Qiang!

    Right the moment her mind differed from its usual state, Ba Fenghan pulled his sword from its sheath, turning it into a long rainbow lashing toward this senior-level Mei Gong [charming skill/power] martial art master of Yin Gui Pai.

    Actually, from the moment Ba Fenghan stepped out of the cabin door, the two have formally started the battle.

    It could be said that Ba Fenghan grew up in the battlefield; in terms of insight and experience, he was incomparably rich. Just in one glance he was able to tell that this seemingly young woman with jade appearance was actually the Devil School senior figure martial art master of Zhu Yuyans generation; her Mo Gong [devil skill/power] was very deep.

    Fighting under normal circumstances, victory and defeat would be difficult to guess. Whats more, the opponent still had seven martial art masters accompanying her; although their martial art skill was under Wen Caitings level, they should not be underestimated. Especially under Wen Caiting, this kind of cunning, sinister and deceitful female demon heads leadership, it would be difficult for him plus Xu Ziling to get the desired outcome. Therefore, he must inflict serious damage to Wen Caiting first using the ten-thousand-catty-thunderbolt momentum, so that the many-men-with-great-force enemies could not unleash their true power.

    From the two mens jealous look, he was able to infer that Wen Caiting has not fought with anybody for quite a long time; if they frequently saw it, they would not be irritated and displeased in seeing Wen Caiting was unleashing her Mei Gong against him.

    Hence the reason he resorted to everything he could think of to make her showing off her unfathomable interest, and then mentioned Fu Junyu to disturb her mind, before making the first move.

    The two men roared in anger, drew their sabers and charged forward to meet Ba Fenghans attack head-on. But they were a fraction of a second too late.

    It was the first time that Wen Caiting came across a man without the slightest amount of tender, protective feelings for the fairer sex, who was able to act in such a vicious manner to attack her. The worst part was that it suddenly dawned on her that she has changed from being the hunter to become the prey. This kind of sudden change, plus the feeling of uselessness, made her heart even more scattered and her mind slackened, it made it more difficult to her to unleash her usual level of power.

    Ba Fenghans hacking sword appeared deceptively simple, but it has, actually, reached the highly-skillful-appeared-to-be-clumsy realm; it has completely sealed her counterattack, as well as her retreat, paths. The changes hidden within it has made her unable to see and understood its head or tail.

    However, on the surface she was still smiling coyly, without revealing the horror in her heart the least bit. Her delicate hand slightly waved, she revealed a dagger, resplendent in golden light. Her body floated, the golden blade appeared to be attacking, yet it was not really attacking, making the opponent completely unable to fathom whether she was going to strike hard at the opponent with the sharp tip of her blade, or she was going flash back to evade.

    Bang!

    At the same time, crashed through the ceiling of the cabin roof, and flew above the four women guarding the top of the cabin. In an instant his palms struck four times, separately attacked the four enemies.

    On two different fronts, the two battles have begun.

    Ding!

    Wen Caitings golden dagger poked the edge of Ba Fenghans sword. Her tender body was severely shaken; she pulled back abruptly.

    This move has already been anticipated by Ba Fenghan.

    He had seen through Wen Caiting, this kind of female devil head; her natural disposition was everything for self and selfish profit, she would gladly sacrifice others for her own success.

    But she was more brilliant than he thought. Just now, her amazing lower body shenfa has already reached perfection; even he felt it hard to pin down, so that although he had gained the upper hand, it was difficult to carry out the momentum, hence he lost the good fortune of making her suffer losses.

    Two streaks of blade separately came from his left and right, blocking the path of his attack toward Wen Caiting.

    On the cabins roof, the four women were all Yin Gui Pais new generation of martial art masters; each one was beautiful and captivating.

    They were just about to go down to besiege Ba Fenghan, when suddenly they were stuck inside Xu Zilings powerfully dense cold, incomparably bizarre, spiraling palm wind. They could not even take care of themselves, so they could forget about paying attention to the battle situation on the deck.

    This moment Dan Mei was rushing forward from the stern.

    Enemies met, it was beyond furious; without saying a word she simply joined the melee, attacking Xu Ziling with killer move.

    On the deck below, Ba Fenghan suddenly withdrew.

    By the time the two mens saber qi rose up dramatically, Ba Fenghan suddenly dashed forward, charging toward the gap between the two blades.

    This kind of change, aside from magical footwork, it also required the perfect match of the true qi and the changes of the blade path; it absolutely defied common sense.

    Before obtaining the extraordinary capability of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, perhaps by exerting himself Ba Fenghan would be able to accomplish. But there was no way he could do it in such a natural and rapid way like he did just now. The two men were immediately caught in dangerous situation.

    When martial art masters exchanged blows, they put emphasis on judgment.

    The two sabers hit empty air.

    Letting out a cold snort, Ba Fenghan moved his Beheading Mystery Sword at lightning speed, chopping down on the devil man on the right, while his shoulder crashed onto the man on the lefts chest and flank.

    In the eyes of outsiders, his body only moved a little, but his shenfa was fast and nimble beyond believe.

    The devil man on the left screamed; bumped by his shoulder he fell headlong about a zhang forward, dropped out of the deck and down into the river below.

    The other man screamed. Under the flash of the sword, he dropped down tragically and was no longer able to budge.

    Ba Fenghan seemed like he never stopped; the Beheading Mystery Sword in his hand turned into a ball of sword shadow, following his mysterious, strange and profound footwork, pursuing and attacking Wen Caiting.

    Wen Caiting had never expected that her two men could not even block one move from Ba Fenghan, while the opponent still had enough power to seize the victory, and it kept increasing without letup. Even from a distance of ten paces, his astonishing sword qi assaulted her that she felt as if she was inside an icehouse, so cold that it felt as if her blood was freezing.

    She was well aware that in the qi and momentum contest, she already failed and was wiped over the floor; hence she did not dare to show off. Letting out a shrill whistle, she met Ba Fenghan three feigned stabs, before floating backward and in graceful posture she landed on the deck of the neighboring ship.

    Their shout, as well as the sound of battle, had already alarmed the people on the adjacent ships, but everybody was only peeking out their cabins window, some even managed to extinguish their lantern, for fear of getting implicated [orig. bringing disaster to the fish in the moat].

    Ba Fenghan brandished his sword to block the three sword qi being shot by her. Inwardly he was quite astonished. Letting out a long laugh, he said, Please forgive Wanbei [junior, younger generation] for not sending you off!

    Wen Caiting let out a tender humph, her eyes shot incomparably venomous sharp look; without a word she turned around and flashed away toward Bai Qingers ship.

    Returning the sword into its sheath, Ba Fenghan turned his gaze toward the cabins roof.

    With his hands folded in front of his chest, Xu Ziling smiled and said, Hows the battle this time?

    When Dan Mei and the bunch of female demons heard Wen Caitings sharp whistle, they immediately dispersed and ran away. In his cheerful mood, Xu Ziling did not wish to give them trouble. The fact was that, with multitude enemies, few friends [this is actually an idiom from Mencius], Xu Ziling did not stand too much of a chance.

    Shaking his head, Ba Fenghan replied, Not delightful enough. I hope Qu Ao will not let me down!

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