Book 26 Chapter 3 - The Song Family's Mountain City
The outside appearance and the inside of the Song Family's mountain city would give people two completely different feeling. If in the former there was a reminiscence of offensive and defensive, killing and attacking, the latter could only make people associate it with peaceful, leisurely ambience.
Several hundred houses were scattered around within the city, connected to each other by more than a dozen neat and tidy bluestone-paved big streets. The most distinctive feature was that the houses were built in layers following the topography of the mountain. Each layer was connected to the next by stone steps and ramp to provide convenient access for the residents, as well as the vehicles and horses.
Trees, flowers and shrubberies were planted on the sides of the road. There was also irrigation system by diverting streams from the mountain springs. Interspersed among the gardens and residences, the streams became small bridges and running water, with endless ponds and pavilions, creating beautiful scenery. The open space was spacious but cozy, a garden design very specific to Jiangnan landscape. Standing in it, one would feel like he was in a big garden on the mountain.
The main building complex was situated on the very top, the ninth layer, on a flat plain about two li wide. The buildings were lofty and steep, the construction elegant, the main materials were wood and stone. From the ornamented eaves to the decorative windows, not a single one was not meticulously crafted. The design was brimming with some kind of vigorous, imposing style of southern cultural feel, giving other people the stronger feeling of the Song Clan's influential position in the south.
Kou Zhong followed behind Song Lu and Song Zhi, two men, weaving around the pavilions and gazebos, and garden of flowers and trees, until they reached the courtyard gate of the Mo Dao Tang [grinding saber hall], at the end of the mountain city.
Song Zhi stopped and said, "Shall the two of us accompany Shao Shuai to see Da Xiong?"
Song Lu heaved a sigh and said, "Listening to the tone of your voice, Da Xiong ought to have instructed you that he wants to see Xiao Zhong alone."
Song Zhi nodded with a wry smile.
Staring blankly, Kou Zhong said, "Lu Shu and Zhi Shu are afraid that Fazhu would want to test his saber on me?"
Worried over Kou Zhong's safety, Song Zhi said, "He will definitely test your saber technique; question is: will he kill you? Usually the person whose name he engraved on the whetstone ended up losing his life under his saber."
Puzzled, Kou Zhong asked, "Why would he suddenly want to kill me? What benefit would killing me bring to him, the Senior?"
Song Zhi replied, "Da Xiong conducts are always difficult to measure. He secretly went out of the mountain city for a while, and when he returned, he engraved your name on the grindstone. I tried sounding him out many times, but he refused to disclose even the slightest hint. Therefore, in this matter we can only bet on your luck. If Shao Shuai decided to leave the city immediately, we will definitely not blame you."
Laughing aloud, Kou Zhong said, "How can I, Kou Zhong, be someone who shrink back as the time for battle approaches? I am even more confident that I am going to get out alive and will look for two gentlemen for a drink."
Xu Ziling laughed indifferently and said, "Laolao, please do not misunderstand; I just want to see if I could borrow a saber."
Everybody was greatly astonished. To do a good job, an artisan needs the best tools [idiom]. Even sabers forged by the same blacksmith would differ in weight, sharpness and speed. That was the reason why martial art practitioners attached great importance to the weapon they carried on them. Because without spending a long period of time to master the characteristics of the weapon, one might be encumbered by it and would not be able to unleash their moves and skill to the highest realm.
Like Xu Ziling, for example; he wanted to defeat 'Mei Ji' Sina in three strokes, but whether or not he could unleash the weapon's characteristic would be the key influencing the outcome. Moreover, he urgently borrowed a weapon that his hand had not had a chance to adjust at the last moment, the biggest possibility was that before he had grasped clearly the weapon characteristic, and the three strokes would already be over.
Lin Lang untied the saber hanging on his waist and handed it over to Xu Ziling, saying, "Gong Ye, please take a look if this can be used."
Huo Jitong snorted coldly; apparently he was unhappy with Lin Lang's action.
Xu Ziling took the long saber, and slowly pulled it out of its scabbard. Holding the scabbard in his left hand and the saber in his right, his eyes shot fierce lightning light toward Huo Jitong, who was standing next to Xia Miaoying, as he spoke heavily, "No matter how this matter will develop, the affair between me and you has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with Wu Jiang Bang. If I, Gong Chenchun, suffer defeat and meet a misfortune of being captured, naturally I won't have any credibility to speak. But in the event that Ol' Gong is lucky and score a victory, and in the future you, Huo Jitong are giving trouble to Wu Jiang Bang, I, Gong Chenchun hereby vow that no matter the size of the trouble, I will definitely take your life."
The moment the saber left the scabbard completely, a burst of burning hot saber qi immediately emanated from the core of the long saber, like it was secretly rushing forth to attack the enemy. Combined with his threatening heroic aura and the determination in his voice, it was indeed full of extremely intimidating power.
'Mei Ji' Sina, who bore the brunt of this silent attack, has never even dreamed that unexpectedly there was someone who could exploit the momentum of a saber being pulled out so that it exuded such a formidable and fantastic qi power. Immediately, as if her body did not want to follow its master's will, she recoiled one step back, while brandishing her sword to block the opponent's invisible, yet so real, enormous saber qi.
Xia Miaoying's countenance was changed as well.
Huo Jitong has early on felt the chill creeping in his heart just from his gaze. When the saber qi - surging like the tide - arrived, unexpectedly he could not withstand and had to take two steps back; momentarily he did not even dare to say anything to retort.
The other people felt that Xu Ziling's words were quite fair and reasonable, simply because if in her capacity as the heir of Sichuan's He Yi Pai, plus her position as one of the four major chiefs of Ba Meng - she was defeated in just three moves, then in the entire Sichuan, quite possibly the 'Wulin Magistrate' Xie Hui was the only person with the ability to protect Huo Jitong's little life; other people could simply forget about it.
Besides, if Huo Jitong disregarded the rules of Jianghu like that and relied on his power to vent his anger on Wu Jiang Bang later on, with Xie Hui's ordinarily impartial style, he would never interfere or even care about it.
Knowing that he already intimidated Huo Jitong, Xu Ziling turned his gaze toward 'Mei Ji' Sina, while pointing the blade of his saber toward her.
Strange thing happened.
The surging, churning scorching saber qi suddenly vanished without any trace. In its place was a yin in nature, an intensely cold, qi.
Finally Xia Miaoying was overwhelmed with shock. "Na'er, back off!" she shouted sternly, while stretching out her whisk.
By this time, everybody knew the strength of 'Gong Chenchun's' martial art skill was far beyond Xia Miaoying's imagination, which made her completely lost confidence in Sina's ability to fight desperately in three moves.
By nature, Sina was obstinate, naturally she was unwilling to admit defeat before even fighting for one move. Clenching her teeth, she called out, "Shifu, don't worry!"
The sword in her hand created layer upon layer of fantastic sword shadows; turning from passive to active [lit. the guest acts as host (idiom)], she suddenly attacked, her sword rained down on Xu Ziling as if it was hiding the sky and covering the earth, while carrying abundant power.
Using the man to play the sword, using the sword to play the enemy.
Every action and every word of Xu Ziling were all in compliance with the law of the Yijian Technique, so finally Sina was forced to take the initiative by attacking first, which would save him not a few of effort.
If she had been on the defensive, quite possibly he would be the loser in this limited-to-three-strokes battle.
Actually, he had pulled a legitimate trick. When he was pulling the saber, he seized the opportunity to release the burning hot qi power from the 'Secret to Long Life', which he suddenly turned into a cold qi according to Kou Zhong's technique from the 'Secret to Long Life'. Therefore, although he did not move a single stroke, he had actually already made his move.
If Sina suffered defeat in this momentum face-off, then he would go all-out and make his move by drawing on this opportunity of qi advantage and use just one saber strike to seize victory.
Sina was already forced to take one step back by his saber qi. She has just steadied her footing and had never expected that the opponent was able to transform heat into cold. Immediately her mind was in great chaos. If she did not counterattack, her only way out was to retreat more; certainly it would be even more detrimental to her.
In this momentum face-off, she had been utterly defeated. Inwardly she clearly knew that she was definitely not Xu Ziling's match. Her only hope was that she could rely on her swordplay to pass the three moves.
When martial masters were vying against each other, if one's will was snatched away, one's confidence would suffer blow, one's power would naturally be greatly reduced. And Sina had definitely fallen into Xu Ziling's carefully laid trap.
Whether it was ability, wisdom, or martial art, the gap between the two was simply too far.
Xia Miaoying raised her whisk up, while pursuing closely behind Sina's back, intending to enter the battle arena, but she was still one step too late.
Xu Ziling took half a step back, the saber in his right hand drew a beautiful arc in the air, moving the heavy saber as if it was light, hacking down on the empty air.
Sina felt as if her sword qi was being sucked dry that not even half a drop remained. Her sword move became empty, like it was only a stance without any substance at all. Furthermore, she felt as if she was drawn toward his saber to receive her death. Her soul flew away and scattered, she no longer cared about the three strokes, and withdrew her sword and retreated in panic.
Xia Miaoying followed Sina advancing and retreating. Brushing past, her whisk, imbued with whistling true power - swept across toward Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling cried 'Lucky!' inwardly. Using his borrowed saber, he emulated the 'Tian Mo Da Fa' [demonic great method] to thirty-, forty-percent resemblance, so that without blood on the men's swords [idiom: effortless victory] he managed to scare this brimming-with-ethnic-bearing Miao beauty that she retreated.
This moment, seeing the arrival of the whisk, without even thinking Xu Ziling executed the 'Troops without Regular Power' from Li Jing's 'Bloody Battle Ten Styles', sweeping the strongest point of Xia Miaoying's 'escaping one'.
Xia Miaoying's whisk was met head-on by his seemingly random saber sweep. All the exquisite follow-up changes were immediately sealed, while a burst of abundant, unfathomable and irresistible saber qi penetrated her defense via the whisk. Letting out a stifled groan, although inwardly she really did not want to concede, she knew that she was completely unable to parry the hack, let alone to push him back.
Xu Ziling's saber momentum changed from 'Troops without Regular Power' to the tenth style, the 'Ruler Overlooking the World' stance, where it embodied both offense and defense, and was able to control the opponent remotely.
Even with Xia Miaoying's ability, she still felt that if she continued her attack in this disadvantageous position, she would only bring disgrace to herself. Unexpectedly, for a moment she was forced to retreat again, and thus she dispelled any idea of counterattack.