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Xiaohu, no worries, as I said, I am not mad at you. Hungry, true; hence I don't like politics. Ysabel, HPC, Anh, DongBin, Jaya, you are welcome. Akolaw, no offense, I am leaning toward Xu Xiong here. Your ranking system is based on your own subjective opinion. But I disagree with Xu Xiong's last comment, especially since 'beauty' is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. Sometimes I saw a girl, who can't be considered the 'most beautiful woman I've ever seen', but for some reason she was very attractive to me. Remember that Xu Ziling saw Shi Qingxuan with her grotesque nose, yet somehow he felt that she was beautiful. Also, sometimes media decided that this woman or that woman won the title 'the most beautiful woman of the year', but somehow, I don't fully agree with that decision. I am not saying that that certain woman was not beautiful, but the 'most' beautiful? Meh … BTW, this also applies to any other ranking system; martial art skill rank, even in modern sports, where there is competition everywhere to determine the ranking of each team, like you guys noted, sometimes the 'underdog' won against higher rank team/individual.

Although the nightwalker flying over toward him was wearing hood over his head, but even if he turned into ashes, Kou Zhong would still recognize him, the unstoppable 'Shadow Assassin' Yang Xuyan, who, everybody who heard his name would have their countenance change.

This moment Kou Zhong did not have time to think whether he would be the first person ever who tried to assassinate Yang Xuyan. Hurriedly he restrained everything that could incite the opponent's alertness: stopping his breathing from mouth and nose, and sealing his pores, and opening his eyes only a slit, as he watched through the gaps among the thick leaves and branches, to calculate where and when Yang Xuyan would land his feet.

Because this tree was about seventeen, eighteen zhang tall, no matter how brilliant Yang Xuyan's qinggong was, if he soared from the rooftop of a building only two zhang tall, plus he had to traverse the nearly four zhang of distance, he would have to land on a horizontal branch somewhere in the middle of the tree, and then climbed to the treetop in order to be able to observe the situation inside the Zongguan Mansion.

In that split second, countless ways to launch surprise attack flashed through his mind, but in the end he decided to quietly wait for the opponent to climb up, and then he would attack with all his strength from his hiding place, to kill him while he had no time to deal with it.

Suddenly he heard strange noise, Yang Xuyan's left hand produced an upside down sharp awl, which, fast as lightning, was shooting toward the sole of his feet. By the time Kou Zhong saw it and was shocked, the sharp awl was separated from his feet by only about five chi of tree trunk, with the rope at the tail of the awl, which was only a bit thicker than natural silk, completely taut.

Yang Xuyan changed direction; he soared at an angle toward Kou Zhong's feet.

Without even thinking, the Moon in the Well, which has been at the ready by his side, swiftly chopped down; the blade contacted the tail of the awl.


As if he was struck by lightning, Yang Xuyan was hit by Kou Zhong's spiraling energy, transmitted via the rope, straight into the pit of his stomach that he spurted a mouthful of blood, and was thrown outward.

The rope disintegrated into cun­-long fragments.

Seeing his sneak attack succeeded, Kou Zhong was not willing to let this one-in-a-thousand golden opportunity off. Abruptly raising a mouthful of true qi, he glided down from the top of the tree like a swimming fish, to pursue Yang Xuyan, who was continuously rolling down in the air.

But Yang Xuyan was indeed worthy to be called a martial art master whose name was feared all around the world. When he was still about two ­zhang away from the dark pavement of the street, he already regained his balance, and applied his qi to accelerate his fall, hence he dodged Kou Zhong's saber, which ought to kill him, by only a hairbreadth.


One after another the two landed on the quiet, deserted long street by the Zongguan Mansion, while the saber and the sword collided.

Yang Xuyan raised his sleeve to wipe the blood from the corner of his lips, revealing a pair of flashing eyes from behind the hood. "Kou Xiong's move this time is really clever; unexpectedly this is the first time that Ol' Yang sustain an injury in action. You can be very proud of yourself!" he said hatefully.

Kou Zhong giggled and said, "Yang Xiong is the extraordinary one; receiving Xiaodi's full-strength strike, you are still able to stand as steady as Mount Tai, with no gap to be exploited. But if you don't look for a secret place that no one can find to heal your injury, quite possibly your power will be drastically reduced, and the next time you are doing your assassination job, it might not be as glorious."

Yang Xuyan laughed involuntarily and said, "Thank you for Kou Xiong's concern, but Xiaodi thinks that Kou Xiong is only displaying a shadow; how could you be willing to let this golden opportunity slip by? I have no choice but to accompany Kou Xiong. En garde!"

Finished speaking, he pressed on three steps with raised sword; a thick and strong sword qi rushed forth violently.

Kou Zhong did not expect that after receiving such injury, he would still be this dauntless.

He wanted to gain the initiative by striking first, but inwardly he could not help praising him, knowing that this dreadful adversary was hoping to gain control of the situation before his injury flared out. Naturally it would be ideal if he could do this in the shortest possible time, and then when necessary, getting away would be relatively easier.

With raised eyebrows, Kou Zhong lifted the Moon in the Well, without even blinking his tiger-eyes stared at the opponent, and he said with a cold laugh, "If Yang Xiong forced yourself to attack and suffered defeat, next year tonight will be the anniversary of your death."

Yang Xuyan replied indifferently, "Kou Xiong overestimates yourself too much."

With a low shout, his sword stabbed swiftly forward.


Kou Zhong moved his saber to block, while mockingly said, "Turns out Yang Xiong's injury is more serious than I thought; unexpectedly you failed to display your signature shadow sword technique."

Yang Xuyan parried the wave after wave of spiraling energy coming from the blade of Kou Zhong's saber; smiling, he said, "Not shadow sword technique, its Phantom Sword Technique. Look closely!"

Sweeping the sword across, he pushed the saber, jolting Kou Zhong three steps back. And then his sword momentum flared out, turning into sword shadows and dots of sharp light filling the air, and suffocating energy and qi, carrying overbearing might with the power of thunder strike and lightning bolt, rolling wildly straight toward Kou Zhong.

The instant he was shaken and was pushed back, Kou Zhong knew the situation was very bad; this man had a very strong foundation, he had indeed reached the beyond-belief stage, unexpectedly he was able to suppress his injury and still had enough power to launch a storming offensive. Once Kou Zhong made the slightest mistake, he might have his boat capsize in the sewer [fig. meet with unexpected failure], even losing his life.

With no strategy left to try, Kou Zhong could only rely on his real skill to save his life; he slammed into the opponent's sword rays, by meeting attack with attack, unleashing the desperate move of staking everything in that one attack, to trigger the opponent's injury to flare out and kill the enemy in one stroke, to engage the enemy and seal his escape route.

Momentarily aura of death filled the atmosphere, saber rays and sword shadows completely shrouded the two combatants, not a single move was not extremely ruthless, blood might splash at every turn.

The sound of saber and sword and power and qi clashing against each other was like the sound of a string of firecrackers exploded continuously.

The moment saber and sword clashed, sparks flew. Each one dodging the enemy only by a hairsbreadth. Speed against speed. There was not the least bit of cheap trick.

Noises started to rise from the Zongguan Mansion, evidently Kou Zhong's men had heard the sound of the hard fighting and were rushing over.

From the nearby buildings came the continuous sound of windows being pushed open. The fighting has awakened the sleeping inhabitants.


The situation suddenly changed.

Even though he was going all out, Kou Zhong was still unable to evade Yang Xuyan's divine strokes; he was forced to withdraw five steps back by his thunderbolt, lightning-flashed sword.

While inwardly crying, 'Bad!' Yang Xuyan suddenly flashed backward, let out a long laugh, and said, "Today Kou Xiong has shown favor; someday Xiaodi will definitely repay."

Looking at the speed he was retreating, Kou Zhong knew he was unable to pursue, hence he returned the saber to its scabbard, cupped his fist, and said, "Please send my greetings to Xiao Nini, toward her, Xiaodi has undying gratitude [orig. hard to forget even after one's teeth fall out."

Yang Xuyan suddenly spurted another mouthful of blood, and disappeared into an alley crossing the big street.

Xuan Yong and the others rushed over one after another.

Kou Zhong raised his arms to stop them from running after Yang Xuyan. He spoke nonchalantly, "We have at least several months before we have to worry about that fellow!"

※ ※ ※

Flute sound rose up, sharp, shrill, extremely loud, and kept climbing higher and higher, echoing around all the caves, big and small.

Millions of bats responded to the noise by flapping their wings in confusion and flew swiftly, so that together, the noise grew even louder, like a rumbling thunder, like surging tide rushing forth from every cave, with terrifying momentum that startling the heaven and splitting the earth.

Although Xu Ziling already knew that Shi Qingxuan could drive the bats using her flute, he still could not think that it would be this terrifying. Everywhere he saw, the caves were packed with shadows, coming straight toward his face. Hastily he ran out of the cave, and hid by the exit.

Craning his head, he saw You Niaojuan, three people were running away for their lives, while waving their hands like crazy to smack the bats attacking them. These three demons' power was overbearing, a large number of bats met their palms and fell down to the ground. They were mainly protecting their eyes, ears, mouth, nose and neck, the rather sensitive body parts. To the bats charging toward their bodies, they simply applied their inner power to shake their clothes and jolt the bats to their death.

However, there were so many bats, almost endless, so that no matter how many they killed, the bats still continuously attacked them wildly, like clump after clump of black clouds descending upon them, forcing the three to cover their head and sneak away like a rat, retreating back toward where they were coming from.

This was the first time that Xu Ziling found out that bats could attack living persons, and that they could be this vicious; it was only now did he understand the effectiveness of the talcum powder Shi Qingxuan smeared on his head.

From what he heard, bats are said to be nocturnal, and they suck blood, but their targets are usually other animal or domestic fowls; he never heard that they attacked people.

Probably the bats inside this maze of caves were special species, or perhaps because of Shi Qingxuan's flute, they deviated from their usual nature.

Once the bats in the entire huge cave were provoked, like a powerful torrent they swarmed into the cave where the three were fleeing. Those who had not flown into that cave converged with the bats from the other caves, forming a great army of bats, flying around the huge cave, while emitting ear-splitting squeaking noise. Only no bats were flying within three chi of Xu Ziling.

But no matter how they flew or circled in the jam-packed space of the cave, no matter how fast they moved, not two bats were colliding with each other. Watching their flight path, Xu Ziling could not help clicking his tongue in wonder, while also feeling dread in his heart.

Powerful qi rushed out violently, a large number of bats, with their flesh and blood separated, were thrown out of the cave.

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