Book 16 Chapter 9 - Unfinished Aftermath
The tree turned their gaze toward the direction of the voice, and saw Fu Qian walked like a dragon stepped like a tiger out of the crowd, toward the middle of the imperial road, looking at the three with a smile on his face, carrying with him a whiff of not anger, but prowess, and the momentum pressing down on other people.
There were several hundred people crowding along the pedestrian lane, all their eyes were focused on him.
Nobody was unaware that he was the real actor on the duel with Qu Ao that was supposed to happen tonight, but now Ba Fenghan had stuck his head into his business and crossed his path, and taken the first taste of the broth. This was hard for anybody to swallow; therefore, everybody was guessing that a good drama has yet to come.
Kou Zhong took a quick glance, and saw Tuli mingling among the crowd watching the battle. Laughing aloud, he said, "Fu Xiong must not get angry over this matter. It's all because earlier old man Qu joined hands with others on the Tianjin Bridge to surround and attack us; hence we came to return a big propriety to him. Tuli Khan can be our witness in this, because he also took part in the afore-mentioned battle.”
After a short pause, he went on, "Much less we have already asked your honorable subordinate Xing Xiong to inform you on our behalf. It's just as time is pressing, we did not have time to wait for Fu Xiong's reply!”
These remarks were enough to give Fu Qian some ‘face', giving him enough reason to step out of an awkward situation.
Kou Zhong was certainly an expert in eloquence, and he seized that opportunity to deride Tuli.
Tuli's eyes glittered like frost and snow, and yet he felt a bit not to know whether to laugh or cry. Taking two steps forward, with heroism reaching to the clouds, he tapped the Crouching Eagle Spear on his back, and said with a cold laugh, "As soon as Kou Xiong brought up the former matter, immediately it jogged up my memory. It's a pity that at that time before I had time to fight hand to hand with Kou Xiong, Kou Xiong has already slipped away. And now the bright moon is up in the sky, this is an auspicious time, how could I miss it? It would be best if I am asking advice of Kou Xiong's marvelous beyond measure saber technique!”
All of a sudden Tuli took the matter upon himself, taking up the initiative to issue the challenge. The road circled about, the peak revolved, immediately he stirred up a burst of murmur among the crowd.
Most spectators did not know who he was; one after another they asked somebody next to them, so that momentarily the noise and the excitement filled the air.
"Wait a moment!” Fu Qian shouted.
He did not shout loudly, but his voice rose above the clamor of several hundred people talking together, shaking them severely that their eardrums were buzzing. Immediately the street became as if crow and peacock made no sound.
Tuli turned his gaze toward Fu Qian in displeasure; frowning, he said, "Wangzi [king/prince] has an advice?”
Fu Qian let out a peal of laughter, his eyes flashed spirited light; ignoring Tuli, he cupped his fist toward Kou Zhong, three men, and said, "Three gentlemen misunderstood. Just now Ol' Fu just want to invite gentlemen back to Man Qing Yuan for a drink to congratulate you on your victory. I have no other intention.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other; they did not expect him to be this friendly, hence they felt a bit lost instead.
Ba Fenghan was still standing quietly like a mountain, secretly circulating his breathing.
Just now his victory carried grave danger, the internal injury he suffered was not light either. Therefore, he had to seize every moment to strive for healing.
Xu Ziling whispered to Kou Zhong, "I do not see Li Shimin and his men.”
Kou Zhong was very surprised inwardly, because according to reason, Li Shimin should miss this battle. Unless the moment Qu Ao swallowed his hatred and retreated, he also quietly withdrew. Since at that time everybody's attention was focused on Ba Fenghan and Qu Ao, nobody took notice if there was anybody else leaving the arena.
By doing this, Li Shimin must have his reasons. If it happened before their fallout, Kou Zhong would not be this worried. But now he simply had to advance gradually and entrench himself at every step. Plus Li Jing's warning was still ringing in his ears; he cannot be careless.
On the other side, Tuli noticed that after Xu Ziling whispered in his ear, Kou Zhong appeared to be deep in thought, while his eyes scanned the crowd. Obviously what they were talking about had nothing to do with him. Facing such contempt, naturally he could not help feeling enraged, while in his heart he shivered in fear.
If it were someone else being singled out and challenged by him like that, if that person was not scared to death, he would definitely be in full alert; how could there be people like these two, who still gave attention to other things? It was thus clear that both their guts and their capability were not something that ordinary martial art masters could match.
But this moment he already rode a tiger and could not get off. Thereupon he passed through the trees separating the imperial road and the pedestrian lane, toward the middle of the imperial road to face the three and issue his challenge again, "Whatever Fu Xiong's original intention was, it has nothing to do with me. Kou Zhong, if you are willing to kowtow and admit defeat, I'll let you go with Fu Xiong to drink and chat. How about that?”
Kou Zhong acted as if he had just realized what Tuli was talking about. Beaming into big smile, he said, "Turns out you, Khan, love to crack jokes so much. You are willing to drop by, this is something that I seek but fail to get. Even if you immediately kneel down to admit your error and beg for forgiveness, I will never let you off.”
Finished speaking, he stepped forward in large strides, pressing on toward Tuli.
He has not even made his move, a burst of biting cold murderous spirit already rushed forth toward Tuli, so that even with his ferocious, heroic and superior character, he had no choice but to immediately draw his Crouching Eagle Spear and strike a waiting posture.
Hundreds of people crowding the pedestrian lane craned their necks in anticipation; the clamor died down.
Kou Zhong's feature that left the deepest impression in other people's mind was his heroic and bravery, which appeared to be natural, his spontaneity and unconcerned character, which already brought about some kind of insufferably-arrogant momentum.
Tuli, who issued the challenge, appeared to be passive instead.
Tuli's challenge was exactly what Kou Zhong has been looking for.
Under different circumstances, because Tuli had a large number of Tujue martial art masters accompanying him, killing him would be easier said than done.
But now, as required by Jianghu rules about impartial duel, if Tuli wanted to save his life, he could only look at how much weight he carried in his own hands.
Ba Fenghan's departure was at hand. If Kou Zhong was able to exterminate this person, it would be greatly advantageous to this old friend's future. Under the eyes of several hundred spectators, about three zhang away from Tuli, ‘Qiang!' Kou Zhong drew the Moon in the Well, his strong wrist shook, immediately yellow glow flared out and shot toward the enemy.
Cold and powerful saber qi pervaded the air of the imperial road.
Although Tuli has seen with his own eyes how Kou Zhong killed and injured his men, and he had quite an idea of the foundation of his strength, he did not expect Kou Zhong would start the offensive while he was still three zhang away.
His thought was actually in accordance with theory. When martial art masters were in a face-off, oftentimes they were able to differentiate the opponent's depth from this kind of crucial point, thereby they could decide the best way to deal with it.
Tuli's original estimation was that if Kou Zhong wanted to maintain the initiative and continuation of the flow of his power, he should pull the saber from two-zhang distance and start the offensive. This way his momentum would not weaken midway, while at the same time he would be able to unleash the strongest attack potential. This assessment was based on the opponent's speed, steps, and momentum. For a martial art master of Tuli's caliber, as soon as the opponent took the first few steps, he ought to be able to grasp how the opponent would launch the offensive first, precisely, with no error in judgment.
But this time he was clearly wrong.
Tuli cried inwardly, ‘Not good!' while took a step forward simultaneously, to regain the lost initiative momentum due to his incorrect estimation.
Kou Zhong's long saber streaked across the empty air, with sweeping-a-thousand-army astonishing aggressiveness, with no fancy move at all, hacking down on Tuli, brimming with fluidity that came from his total-control and that resembled nature itself.
His pair of big eagle or falcon-like eyes was fixed on the opponent, not missing the tiniest movement of the opponent. He even knew the movement of the opponent's muscle under his clothes as it transmitted power like the back of his hand.
He was looking for ‘the escaping one' that Lu Miaozi was talking about, which was the key trick he needed to control the enemy and score a victory.
Since obtaining the extraordinary power of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, he knew that his power had advanced by leaps and bounds, but he did not know to which stage he would be able to push the boundary.
Now the fact was laid out in front of him. Qu Ao's defeat at Ba Fenghan's hands has boosted Kou Zhong's morale; it was indeed no small matter.
While wishing to find someone to test his saber skill, unexpectedly Tuli was surrendering himself voluntarily. In such state of mind and given circumstances, both Kou Zhong's confidence and momentum had climbed to the highest height.
In an instant the two had closed the short distance where their short weapons could come into contact with each other. Tuli met the saber qi coming with the pouncing opponent head-on, brandishing his spear in sweeping motion.
His grasp of the moment was exquisite and accurate. If Kou Zhong did not change his move, he would be swept by the spear. Unless both sides' power differed substantially, the Moon in the Well would be knocked over by the spear; Kou Zhong was revealing too much of ‘empty gate tactic'.
Unexpectedly, Kou Zhong did not change his move. Just as the short spear, which was only four chi long, which handle was cast in the shape of a bald eagle, was about a cun away from sweeping the treasured saber, the Moon in the Well suddenly changed. Not only it did not continue hacking down, it poked slightly upwards, just enough to evade the Crouching Eagle Spear's sweep.
Simultaneously Kou Zhong altered his movement from charging forward to traversing across.
This movement was fundamentally impossible. It represented the transformation of true qi within Kou Zhong's body, which must be identical to the changes and speed of his saber technique and momentum of his step.
Tuli's Crouching Eagle Spear technique was created based on the natural way of yin and yang, what is true and what is false. Under this nasty situation, it exhibited its real strength.
Although startled, he did not get confused. The tip of the Crouching Eagle Spear swept about three cun below the saber, and then just before Kou Zhong retracted his saber and chopped down again from a different angle, he suddenly retreated swiftly.
This retreat was a test of his skill. The tip of the spear produced ‘Chi! Chi!' noise, fantastically it turned into countless spear shadow, which was difficult to differentiate what is true and what is false, so that it was very difficult for the opponent to pursue and attack.
Although there was no lack of martial art masters among the crowd, none did not gasp in amazement. Even more at Kou Zhong, who was able to exploit a tiny change to force the opponent to withdraw in surprise.
Kou Zhong's eyebrows rose up, amidst the long laughter and momentum like a rainbow he swung his saber so fast that no one could see it clearly.
As if it was a divine object able to get rid of any illusion, the Moon in the Well hacked into the spear shadow, and instantly Tuli's Crouching Eagle Spear materialized back into a tangible object, forcing him to meet the saber head-on.
It was only this moment that Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan, who were watching the battle from behind Kou Zhong, felt relieved, knowing that after undergoing repeated fierce battle these past few days, Kou Zhong's saber technique has finally achieved great success and reached the following-his-heart's-desires level. Otherwise, he could not possibly unleash this kind of saber technique.
From among the crowd, some were secretly apprehensive for Kou Zhong's enemy, while having new regard toward him.
Seeing Kou Zhong's saber technique, which was as if he was receiving God's help, Song Yuzhi, who was standing quietly among the Song Family's martial art masters, under the leadership of Song Lu, could not help feeling dazzled and stunned as well, which she found it difficult to admit to herself.
Although Tuli felt his arm went numb from Kou Zhong's chop with spiraling powerful qi, he was, by nature, valiant. On the contrary, he was excited to give it everything he had. Laughing aloud, he said, "Good saber!”
Spear momentum suddenly rose up in violent counterattack, the Crouching Eagle Spear moved like huge waves of the angry sea, as it stormed toward Kou Zhong.
Kou Zhong heard the whizzing of the spear in his ears, while his skin felt each one of the cyclones, which felt like cutting his body and inducing pain, brought by the Crouching Eagle Spear, and his eyes saw spear shadow everywhere. In his heart he was delighted. While he was about to press on to go all-out and try to take care the opponent as quickly as possible, the spear shadow in front of him suddenly vanished, but the tip of the Crouching Eagle Spear remained in the shape of a dot of cold light, shooting swiftly toward his throat.
Such an exquisite beyond compare spear technique, from void became solid, it was the first time that Kou Zhong had ever seen.
Without thinking, actually, he did not have time to think, Kou Zhong chopped his saber onto the tip of the spear.
Powerful qi as sharp as arrow followed the spear.
Kou Zhong swiftly moved back.
Tuli did not seem to have the intention to continue; he pulled his spear back.
On one side a cold saber was held across, on the other side a spear pointed to the opponent at a distance, they both stood still facing each other.