Book 22 Chapter 1 - Shock at Every Step
Xu Ziling barely stepped out of his room when he immediately wanted to step back inside. It was not because he suddenly changed his mind, or perhaps he suddenly curbed his murderous intention, but because he suddenly sensed that he was facing an extreme danger.
In that split second, he knew that his secret identity has been penetrated, and that the enemy was laying out flawless ultimate troop disposition, to let him fall into the trap by himself.
The seven, eight zhang-long corridor was empty. By the time the door behind him was closing, all around him was closed doors, leaving only the decorated window on the east end of the corridor on his left, and the stairs leading down to the lower level at the west end of the corridor on his right.
The evening breeze was blowing gently into the corridor from the east window, so that the three palace lanterns hanging along the corridor were swaying. The sound of string and woodwind instruments, the laughter and voices of people chatting and clamoring faintly penetrated the doors of the other five rooms on their wing. Even from the room at the western end of their wing, where the enemy was, came the extremely graceful sound of Zheng [guzheng, long zither, with 13 to 16 strings].
On the surface, everything was so happy and moving, charming, gentle and romantic. But the 'Secret to Long Life' has triggered spirit of consciousness in Xu Ziling, enabling him to accurately grasp the layer upon layer of murderous intent set up with him as the target.
He put his saber on his back and slowed his movement down, while his mind was churning at lightning speed.
The biggest problem in front of him was that he must not avoid the problem by walking away from it. Apart from protecting Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong, he also had to protect Madame Yuling, who did not know martial art.
The first thing that came to his mind was how did his identity get exposed.
Lu Miaozi's mask could be said to be completely flawless, it could be absolutely passed off as genuine; otherwise, how could he deceive Zhu Yuyan?
Slowly he reached the middle of the corridor. Taking a deep breath, his gaze fell on the last room at the western end of the corridor.
Even if Li Zitong, Shao Lingzhou, and the others got suspicious because of his surreptitious conducts, they could not be 100% sure that he was Xu Ziling in disguise. Even if they had a sliver of suspicion, they would not dare to take risks by killing him in such an unusual time. Because supposing they killed the wrong person, they would suffer Kou Zhong and the real Xu Ziling's revenge.
Upon further contemplation, as far as Li Zitong was concerned, protecting Jiangdu was his top priority. Even if he knew for sure that he was Xu Ziling, he would not lightly and presumptuously use force, to avoid saving a little only to lose a lot, and to invert root and branch [i.e. to put the cart before the horse].
Ruling out Li Zitong, only Xiao Xian's side remained. Immediately Yun Yuzhen's lovely countenance appeared in his mind.
Many things, which were previously vague, immediately became clear.
When he stepped out of the door just now, he sensed five enemies were waiting in the dark, ready to deliver him a fatal blow.
Two men were lying in ambush behind the door on either side of the western wing room. The other two were separately hiding behind the door of two empty rooms.
But the most threatening enemy was hiding outside the decorative window on the eastern end of the corridor. This person's martial art skill was high; it should not be inferior in any aspects to Xu Ziling's. He was certain that this person was the 'Passionate Prince' Hou Xibai.
This was really not because he made associative connection with Yun Yuzhen's arrival, but it was purely his feeling; some kind of hard-to-explain feeling, a feeling he started to sense that Hou Xibai was lurking like a glaring tiger watching its prey somewhere outside the east window, just like outside Luoyang, when he closed his eyes, he could see in his mind that Hou Xibai and Ba Fenghan were facing off against each other.
As for the other four enemies, it was due to the fact that their bodies emitted invisible, yet real, true qi, which aroused his alertness.
He could even detect the strength and weakness of each individual enemy; he was even able completely grasp the subtle changes in their 'intention'.
As all these thoughts and perceptions were flashing through his mind at the speed of lightning, Xu Ziling had already taken steps toward the west wing.
The enemy's killing momentum immediately elevated and condensed one step further. Except for one person, they were all highly controlled and filled with subtle calculation, waiting for him to step into the deathly gate of the siege, at which point their power would just reach the peak, so that they would be able to deliver the most severe attack, and put him in the land of perdition.
The exception was, quite naturally, Mai Yunfei. Not only his skill had heaven-and-earth, cloud-and-mud difference with Hou Xibai, he was also far inferior to the Da Li Shen [Titan] Bao Rang, the Vicious Dog Qu Wuju and the Exiled Disciple Su Chuo, three men. He practically put his internal strength to its limit immediately, and was unable to remain in that state, so that he was revealing the fluctuation in his energy level.
Up to this point, Xu Ziling had not even seen the enemy's shadow, yet he was able to completely grasp the actual layout of the enemies, so much so that he could deduce that by the time he advanced five or six steps forward, the enemies would go all-out in attacking him.
And he was even more clear, knowing beyond the shadow of doubt, that he had no ability to deal with five enemies, where Hou Xibai was one of them.
Even if it were a face-to-face confrontation with Bao Rang, Qu Wuju and Su Chuo, he was completely without any odds of success either.
The only sliver of hope was to exploit Hou Xibai's 'must not be exposed' secret identity.
Unless Hou Xibai was 100% confident that he could 'kill people to shut his mouth', he would never show himself to Xu Ziling as an enemy.
Of course this was only is estimate. If he guessed wrong, Xu Ziling would have put his life to an end.
'Chi! Chi! Chi!'
Xu Ziling took three steps in succession, passing the first enemy hidden in the side room on the left.
From the emitted overbearing, well-trained true qi, he was positive that behind the door was the overbearing, well-trained 'Da Li Shen' Bao Rang.
Although the other party deliberately restrained his qi to hide, there was no way he would be able to evade Xu Ziling's close to magical induction and efficacious senses.
It should be noted that when martial art masters were having a face off, other than the substance of the physical exchange, the greater key was the invisible battle between the essence, qi and spirit, three aspects. To martial art master like Xu Ziling, whose senses were unusually supernatural, there was practically no such thing as sneak attack. As soon as the murderous intent arose in the opponent's heart, it would immediately generate reaction. Even Yang Xuyan, an expert in concealing his presence, was unable to hide from him. Much less Bao Rang and the others, who were not really experts, but temporary asassins.
This moment Xu Ziling was taking his fifth step, and was coming to the door where an enemy was hiding behind the door to his right.
The enemy's qi momentum immediately sped up and thickened, hence he knew exactly that based on his current speed, within two more steps he would reached the 'death point', where the enemy would attack in full force.
Xu Ziling sensed that behind this door ought to be the 'Exiled Discipe' Su Chuo, because his sawtooth saber's blade was exuding a cold qi. Quickly he focused his attention, and entered the 'no person no self' state, the realm where his spirit reached the extremely quiet boundary, before taking the next step forward.
Life or death, victory or defeat, would be decided within these two steps.
The sail boat turned around to return to Liangdu at full speed. Kou Zhong and Lup Fang were standing on the bow, discussing important matters. [Translator's note: the original did not have separator here.
Luo Fang said, "Xiao Xian appointed top rank great general under his command, Dong Jingzhen, and the Commander-in-Chief. He deployed nearly thirty thousand elite troops to enter Yiling. Also using civilian ships, they might cross the river to the north any moment."
Frowning, Kou Zhong said, "Then how come he has not crossed the river yet? Is it because he is afraid he might convenience Li Zitong?"
Evidently Luo Fang was unable to reply to his question. Shaking his head, he said, "I am not too clear about that. But other than having misgivings toward Du Fuwei, Xiao Xian still have to deal with Dong Ting's Lin Shihong. The longer he can't pacify the south, the longer he can't go up north with all his strength."
Pondering deeply, Kou Zhong said, "What exactly is the relationship between Xiao Xian, Zhu Can and the Three Bandits? Could it be that Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong did not know that if they let Xiao Xian gains stronghold north of the River, later on they need not come down to the arena?"
Luo Fang was much more familiar with this aspect; like an unceasing torrent he replied, "Currently the situation south and north of the River is unprecedentedly complex. After Du Fuwei taken over Jingling, he holds back his troops without moving. In turn, he joined Shen Faxing to attack Jiangdu violently. Those with discerning eyes can see that he wants to divide east and west, two routes of going north. Therefore, in case Jiangdu fell, by using Jingling as his base of operations, he ought to move his troops toward our Ranch and Zhu Can, Cao Yinglong, and the others, to stop Xiao Xian from crossing the River. Under this kind of circumstances, if Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong are willing to cooperate with Xiao Xian, it would not be surprising at all."