With his hands behind his back, Xu Ziling stepped onto the path leading up the mountain. By unleashing his footwork, very soon he reached the middle of the mountain, where under the horizontal branch of a strange-looking pine tree, there was a small octagonal pavilion. On the side closer to the mountain, there was a stream of small spring, from where the clear water trickled down. On the other side was the edge of a cliff, from where he could see the boundless, empty and hazy sky under the setting sun, a multifarious beautiful scenery that changed irregularly.
It was when Xu Ziling was stopping to watch the scenery that a shrill whistle came from the foot of the mountain, followed by another whistle responding. The latter sounded so much closer to him than the previous whistle.
Intuitively he felt that these two whistling voices were full of ruthless, murderous sense that made his heart uncomfortable.
Xu Ziling's heart was moved; he soared to hide among the thick branches of a nearby tree, crouching quietly, motionless.
※ ※ ※
Gui Xiliang spoke excitedly, "After you and Xiao Ling assassinated Ren Shaoming, our Zhuhua Bang's reputation is also flourishing greatly. Not only there is a constant stream of newcomers wanted to join our gang, there are local small gangs and societies who, by their own initiative, wanted to merge with us. Perhaps you won't believe me, but nowadays no one in the Yangtze River area does not give us a little bit of face. Even Li Zitong wanted to win us over."
Kou Zhong was dumbstruck. "Li Zitong?" he asked.
Xing Rong said, "Shao Junshi has a very good relationship with Li Zitong, but our request to have you be our Bangzhu has nothing to do with Li Zitong, rather, it was our Gang's brothers' unanimous decision."
"Hold on!" Kou Zhong hissed.
The two were stunned. "What's the matter?" they asked in chorus.
Kou Zhong's eyes flickered with sharp flashes; he swept the two man with his gaze several times. Seeing their heart was on edge, he resumed his usual full-of-mischievous-smile demeanor and spoke in heavy voice, "Do you trust me, or do you trust Shao Lingzhou more?"
Gui Xiliang spoke awkwardly, "This … hey!"
Xing Rong responded with conviction, "Of course we trust you, Kou Zhong, more. Ever since I was young, I knew you and Xiao Ling have the most yiqi [reminder: spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice]."
Kou Zhong's gaze fell on Gui Xiliang's face; he spoke slowly, "Whatever you say in here, will never leak out even half a word; what his mother's are you afraid of?"
Gui Xiliang helplessly said, "He has shown kindness to me by promoting me, also gave his consent for his daughter to marry me. I … ay! Of course I trust you a bit more than him."
Joyfully satisfied, Kou Zhong said, "Finally you two guys understand the difference between close and distant relatives. Now we can start the amusing game of question and answer; I ask the question, you give me the answer. If you conceal anything from me, the last loser will undoubtedly be you."
The two men jumped in fright; they were also dubious, hence they had no choice but to wait for him to shoot the questions.
※ ※ ※
The sound of sleeves fluttering in the wind had just come from the mountain road, the man already reached the pavilion. His breathing was still calm, even and drawn-out, a proof that he was a first-class martial art master with deep cultivation in both inner and outer power.
In this kind of wilderness of a desolate mountain, seeing this kind of martial art master ought to be surprising for anybody, but Xu Ziling was already amazed at the emergence of the flute sound earlier that no other person or object could move his heart. He understood that the flute was deliberately telling the incoming person that she was waiting somewhere nearby.
Although the man in the pavilion had fast and nimble shenfa, he still could not hide from Xu Ziling's sharp eyes. It was a big man wearing tight warrior outfit; there was an unusually big iron X on his back [Note: I have 3 different web sources, but all don't have this character]. His nose crooked, his eyes deep; there was some kind of hard-to-describe sinister aura around him. In just one glance, Xu Ziling knew this was not a good guy. The weirdest thing was that he was wearing Tongtian Crown [通天冠 () - in Chinese], a crown in the form of a horizontal board with all kinds of tassel hanging from it, like the one worn by an emperor.
While he was still thinking about it, another shadow flashed with extremely fast momentum and stopped outside the pavilion. The newcomer let out a cold snort and said, "Ding Jiuzhong, you are finally willing to crawl out of your burrow? I hope in that thirty-six-move [the following two sentences several characters missing, I can't figure out what he was saying]."
Xu Ziling mused inwardly that turned out these two were old enemies, hence as soon as they met, they both put on an act 'with swords drawn and bows bent', giving the impression that the fight might start any moment.
Ding Jiuzhong inside the pavilion laughed eerily and calmly replied, "I haven't seen Zhou Laotan Xiong for twenty years, who would have thought that your temper is still as bad, no wonder all along your Scarlet Hand Something [again, missing character] cannot reach the pinnacle of perfection. I heard that s1ut's daughter has received the handed-down teachings from her mother, I hope you don't still harbor a grudge against Qi Yun Monastery!"
This Zhou Laotan's appearance was even less flattering that that of Ding Jiuzhong. His face was as wide as a basin, his chin bulging and protruding outward, his thick lips stuck out like a bird's beak, his two big eyes clear, like a pair of will-o'-the-wisp. His build was short and stout, but his two arms are thick and solid like tree trunks. Although he was wearing monk's cassock, there was not the slightest bit of impression that he was a man outside the secular world; on the contrary, he gave up the impression of a devil king who killed people like scything flax. On his head he wore a string of blood red beads, which felt even more out of place.
From their exchange, Xu Ziling knew that they were full of hostility toward the flute player, Shi Qingxuan.
Standing outside, Zhou Laotan blew off his breath, emitting a frog-like croaking noise, his left foot stepped forward, his right hand shot out from inside his sleeve.
Terrifying thing happened.
His originally already thick and solid arm suddenly swelled nearly half, the skin color turned red; he sent a palm strike over empty air toward the pavilion.
The surrounding air seemed to be completely sucked in by his swelling, blood-red huge hand, and then turned into a hot wave of air, carrying a stench like stinky fish, which, with a toppling-the-mountains-and-overturning-the-seas momentum, rolled in toward the pavilion.
Xu Ziling already had high estimate on his ability, but he still did not expect his Scarlet Hand Something could be this demonical and overbearing; he could not help feeling anxious for Shi Qingxuan, thinking that no matter what, he must not sit and watch and remain indifferent.
Ding Jiuzhong inside the pavilion let out a stifled groan, while Zhou Laotan only shook a little; obviously, in this palm exchange, Ding Jiuzhong suffered a slight loss.
Zhou Laotan withdrew his scarlet hand, and let out a 'He! He!' harsh-sounding laugh, "Funny! It's really hilarious! The magnificent Gu Zhu [valley master] of 'Diwang Gu' [Monarch Valley] Ding Jiuzhong, Ding Da Di [lit. the Great Emperor Ding], unexpectedly fell with just a light pressure from me, that even your egg was nearly squeezed out. Really funny!"
There was a strong gust of wind.
Xu Ziling only saw a shadow flashed, the person inside the pavilion rushed out, the giant iron X [and then there were some gibberish, I can't make any sense out of it], stormed straight toward the opponent. But in Xu Ziling's eyes, this attack was not simple at all. Not only the technique was profound, the ever-changing, thick and broad X [and some gibberish] … [Just to give you an idea, here is the original: 宽厚的x?聿蛔"诙??婢⒌?性龀ぃ?俣纫嘣诘萆??鋢?ㄒ训匠錾袢牖?木?界。Two of my sources are the same, the third one simply skip this part altogether and go straight to the following paragraph. Any help will be appreciated.]
Although Zhou Laotan appeared relaxed, his expression was extremely grave; his two swelling and blood-red arms struck out from inside his sleeves and turned into scarlet palm shadows like fire filling the sky, to meet the giant X head-on.
Powerful qi collided; all around them the tree where shaken the flowers were snapped, the branches broke and the leaves fell.
When Zhou Laotan was staggering to the left, Ding Jiuzhong retreated to the pavilion. Laughing nastily, he said, "I, Ding Da Di had just broken through the thirty-seventh style of the 'Five Emperors XX', the 'King of Xiang's dream'. How did it feel?"
It was only this moment that the exhausted Zhou Laotan managed to steady his footing. His face alternated between red and white, but it was unclear whether the changes were due to him circulating his internal energy, or because he was ashamed.
Xu Ziling was secretly alarmed.
Any one of these two men could go anywhere in Jianghu, and would become an overbearing figure who was able to go on the rampage unhindered, and now there were two of them; naturally he was quite amazed.
Based on his current skill, dealing with one of them would entail strenuous effort on his part, forget about dealing with the two of them at the same time.
Before Zhou Laotan had any chance to respond, a burst of tender laughter came from the mountain road, a tender and coy, like cotton and honey, female voice spoke up, "My Da Di Gege, Laotan Xiaodi [big brother and little brother, respectively], it's been twenty years! Yet you are still like before, as soon as you see each other you fight like dogs fighting over a bone; aren't you afraid I, Jin Huanzhen, would twist your ears?"
Xu Ziling nearly called for his Niang in his heart! Where did these devil heads, who had been in hiding for the last twenty years, come from? They must have had old complicated relation like intertwined melon and vine plants with Shi Qingxuan's mother Bi Xiuxin, and the enmity must be extremely deep. Would she be able to deal with them? Would he have the ability to help her cross this difficulty safely?
Fortunately he was a free and easy person; he would not be troubled because of this matter, he could not possibly be bothered about success and failure, gains and losses even more. He only made up his mind to strive for the charming beauty, who he had not met.
A shadow flashed; a thousand-tender a hundred-charm woman in splendid colorful attire appeared next to Zhou Laotan, and acted as if she was going to come closer to Zhou Laotan.
It was as if Zhou Laotan was evading a snake; he darted off two zhang to the side and only after reaching the intersection to the road leading up the mountain did he stop and spoke in horror, "You want to find someone to show your affection, just go to your Ding Da Di!"
Ding Jiuzhong gave out a hollow laugh and said, "Thank you for Laotan Xiong's nice introduction, but I'd rather defer to you!"
Listening to that, Xu Ziling was confused; suddenly Zhou Laotan and Ding Jiuzhong became like old friends who were chatting and joking amiably, without the least bit sign of the fire of war.
Jin Huanzhen was wearing palace-style brightly colored clothes, at first glance her age seemed to be in her twenties, but after careful examination, it was clear that the years she has lived were not a few; a faint trace of crow's feet could be seen radiating from the tip of her brows and the corner of her eyes toward the hair on her temples, like a cobweb. But her eyebrows were like distant mountains, her eyes like the limpid autumn waters, the true measure of beauties; it's just that her face was pale without the least bit sign of blood on it, making her looked like a beautiful apparition from the underworld.
She stomped her feet and spoke angrily, "Who do you think you are? You have the impertinence to push me, the 'Mei Niangzi' [Charming Lady] Jin Huanzhen, away like that? One day I will make you kneel in front of me to lick Laoniang's [I, this old woman] toes."
A long laughter shaking the heavens came from the distance but approaching fast; a voice, which was originally strong and straightforward, deliberately spoke slowly in soft, gentle manner, "If they don't dare to have you, let me, the 'Dao Xing Ni Shi' [lit. going against the tide, a perverse way of doing things] You Niaojuan accept you without question!
Even Xu Ziling's countenance finally changed.