Book 16 Chapter 3 - Inescapable Net
The sound of bowstring.
At first it sounded like the whistle of just one powerful bow, but it was actually four bows shooting together. Because they were shooting simultaneously, it sounded as if it was only one bow.
From the top of four multistory buildings towering on both sides of the bridgeheads, like flashes of lightning four powerful arrows shot down at an angle over a distance of more than a hundred zhang, the moment Wanwan's tender shout was still lingering in their ears, toward the two men's backs and chests, so that they were practically surrounded by the arrows.
‘Dang! Dang! Dang! Dang!'
Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan brandished their saber waving their sword, while standing back-to-back, knocking down the four flying arrows attacking them from the front and behind.
The saber and sword clashed with the arrows, creating sharp ringing noise reverberating along the more than a hundred thirty steps long Tianjin Bridge spanning across the Luo River.
The four arrows ricocheted and flew down into River Luo.
Kou Zhong felt the palm of his hand went numb; in shock, he said to Ba Fenghan, whose back was sticking to his back, "Who are these people? How come their archery skill is this formidable? And there are four of them.”
With grave expression Ba Fenghan kept his gaze fixed on Wanwan's face, whose jade countenance hid a delighted expression; he replied in low voice, "If I am not mistaken, they ought to be the ‘Iron Arrow Guardian' under Tiele King, considered top martial art masters of Tiele. I never thought that they would come to the Central Plains.”
Kou Zhong shivered in fear inwardly. The two blocked the arrows while standing on the ground, and it was already very hard; wouldn't it be a lot more dangerous if they were shot while soaring high in the air? If the opponent only had one person, they could evade the arrow by rapidly taking a breath in the air, the skill bestowed by the Jade Annulus of He Clan. But under four arrows shot together, and the opponents were top-level experts, whether they could block all four, was certainly a big question mark.
Laughing tenderly, Wanwan said, "These four arrows were just a greeting, a gift to you for your first meeting. The real show is coming.”
A long laughter came from some distance away, from the other side of the bridgehead where Wanwan was standing.
Kou Zhong turned his head to look at that direction, and saw one man and one woman flashed by from across the bridgehead. The first one had flying hook hanging on his waist, a bit eccentric; he was Bi Xuan's direct disciple Tuoba Yu.
Standing by his side was the pretty Chunyu Wei; on her waist hung a slightly curved saber, which Tujue people love to use, most suitable to attack the enemy from horseback. The expression on her face looked like she was angry, yet she was not exactly angry, it was more like a helpless look, as she gazed faintly at Kou Zhong.
Tuoba Yu bowed respectfully with clasped hands toward Kou Zhong first; he smiled and said, "This time we join hands with others in dealing with Kou Xiong, it is really because we have no alternative. Last time in Xiangyang Xiaodi was trying to persuade kindly: do not go with this thief Ba Fenghan; too bad Kou Xiong turned a deaf ear. But Xiaodi still think fondly of our friendship, and to this day I have not interfered. If Kou Xiong leaves immediately now, Xiaodi and Shimei are definitely not going to stop you.”
Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. Although this Tuoba Yu's appearance was weird, he was definitely not a scoundrel [orig. bad egg]; on the contrary, he was quite charming. Now that they had no choice but to face each other in life or death battle, thinking about it made his heart ached. Dejectedly he said, "Tuoba Xiong joins hands with Yin Gui Pai, whose evil reputation spread far and wide, aren't you afraid of harming your revered master's name?”
Chunyu Wei's pretty eyebrows knitted tightly; displeased, she reproached him, "How could you swallow ancient learning without digesting it? We came to the Central Plains, our main purpose is to capture this Ba thief and bring him back to Tujue; whether we want to do anything else, it depends on our mood. Ba thief is most repulsive, each time we intercept him, he desperately escaped, nearly infuriate me to death!”
What else could Kou Zhong say? With him and Xu Ziling as companions, Tuoba Yu's party basically could not anything to Ba Fenghan. The only way was to join hands with powerful sect like Yin Gui Pai, only then would they have the chance to accomplish their mission.
Standing behind Kou Zhong, Ba Fenghan softly said, "I was mistaken! The archers on top of the four multistory buildings are not Tiele's ‘Iron Arrow Guardian', but Tujue martial art masters who have received Bi Xuan's personal instruction.”
Immediately Kou Zhong's countenance changed. "How many are they?” he asked in heavy voice.
This time, accompanying Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister to the Central Plains were the ‘Eighteen White Horse Riders', who were trained personally by Bi Xuan, specializing in group-war siege technique; every one of them was dauntless beyond human comprehension. Therefore, even with his overbearing character, each time Ba Fenghan came across them, there was only one method he could use: flee to the wilderness.
But after repeated battle, Ba Fenghan managed to kill and injure some of the Eighteen White Horse Riders, hence Kou Zhong's question.
Smiling ruefully, Ba Fenghan replied, "Should be twelve master archers, rather than four.”
Kou Zhong's tiger body shook. Now he understood why Wanwan was confident that they could not slip away.
If the other archers were as formidable as the four that just shot the arrows, as soon as they flew to the air, they would become the fat goose, the target of these hunters' arrow. He could not help regretting running up to the Tianjin Bridge.
This was definitely a carefully laid trap.
From their angle of view looking up, they could not see the situation on top of the buildings, while they were plainly visible to the enemies. The advantages and the disadvantages of their situation need not be mentioned.
Moreover, they also saw two big ships moored along the embankments on the left and right of the Bridge, and these ships did not seem to have any good intention.
Ba Fenghan continued, "Why do they seem to stall for time?”
Kou Zhong's countenance changed again. He had a faint feeling in his heart that the situation at hand was not as simple as it appeared on the surface; i.e. the enemy did not simply want to kill them for some kind of revenge.
On both sides of the Bridge, the lanterns were suddenly lighted; the originally dark ships suddenly had more than a dozen lanterns on their bows lighted at the same time.
As the two men glanced down, they could not help sucking in a mouthful of cold air. They knew that this time, unless the gods and spirits were looking down on them, or perhaps Ning Daoqi, Shi Feixuan and the others appeared together to help them, they could forget about leaving this place alive.
Both ships started to leave the bank, moving toward the middle of the River. These ships, along with Tuoba Yu, martial brother and sister, and Wanwan, separately standing on the north and south bridgeheads, plus the twelve White Horse Riders on top of the four multistory buildings around the Bridge, formed an inescapable net with the two men right in the middle.
※ ※ ※
By this time Xu Ziling was hiding near River Luo dike west of Tianjin Bridge, watching a dozen or so strong men on the shore pulling ship's mooring rope to bring the ship to the middle of the river.
As an ‘outsider', he was able to see the situation more clearly than Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan. Looking at the enemy's arrangement, he knew that their main purpose was to prevent the two from escaping by way of the river.
But it was also the only escape route.
Thinking to this point, without hesitation he quietly slipped into the river.
※ ※ ※
On the lookout deck of both ships there were more than a dozen people, either standing or sitting, all their eyes were staring coldly at Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong, who were fully illuminated by the lanterns on the ships, just like they were watching a monkey show.
On the bow, other than men raising high the lanterns in their hands, there were also more than a dozen strong men with bows and arrows, adopting a stance that showed that they would never let the two men escape.
Under similar situation, even with the addition of Tujue master archers on top of the buildings, perhaps they still could not do much to Ba and Kou, two men.
But since there were other martial art masters like Wanwan on the side, if they wanted to break the siege and escape, these archers on top of four buildings all around plus the ones on the ships on either side of the Bridge would pose a deadly threat to them.
No matter which way they choose, the only ‘barely available' escape route was either the north or south bridgehead.
From the lookout deck of the big ship on the west came the dull thud of a staff striking down the floor; everybody's ears were immediately buzzing.
You Chuhong, who was acclaimed as the number one martial art master of the Dugu Clan, was sitting on an imperial tutor chair on the deck. The bright rays of light from her eyes shot across the approximately six zhang of river toward the two men standing on the Bridge. Knocking the jasper staff in her right hand on the floor, she let out a shrill, filled with thick guttural laugh like a screeching owl, first, let out a dry cough, and finally spoke in her hoarse, cold voice, "Where's Xiao Ba [i.e. Dugu Ba]? Did you two play a trick on him?”
Behind her stood more than a dozen people, men and women, tall and short; the most eye-catching was the beautiful Dugu Feng [phoenix]. The only other one that Kou Zhong knew was Dugu Ce. They were all smartly dressed; apparently these were the top martial art masters of the Dugu Clan.
Merely these people would be more than enough to deal with the two.
On the other ship opposite the Dugu Clan's ship were Tujue people under the leadership of Tuli. Their number was no more than ten. But every single one of them had eyes like lightning. Evidently they were all martial art masters. But not a single one was woman. Naturally Ba Dai'er was not among them.
Ever since Tuoba Yu and Chunyu Wei made their appearance, the two already guessed that the ‘Tornado' Tuli could not be too far behind.
Among the men with him, there were two that Kou Zhong recognized: the ‘Twin Spears General' Yan Lihui and the ‘Dauntless Lion' Mu Tiexiong. In the past these two conspired with Li Mi and Zu Junyan by kidnapping Zhai Jiao, and then in an abandoned village they plotted against Zhai Rang, which resulted in Zhai Rang suffering disaster, which eventually killed him. [See Book 3 Chapter 2]