Chapter 5 - Strange Change Occurred Suddenly
Aghast, Kou Zhong said, "Who can be called Pi Shishu by Wen Caiting?"
Xu Ziling replied, "It's an old fellow whose nickname is 'yunyu shuang xiu' [cloud and rain dual-cultivation] called Pi Shouxuan. It was when I was disguised as Yue Shan that I heard it from You Niaojuan and An Long. Lin Shihong is his disciple. This man ought to have an important position within the demonic schools."
Delighted, Kou Zhong said, "Finally there's the affirmation that Lin Shihong is Yin Gui Pai man. His conduct and methods are extremely despicable. Later on I will have to find an opportunity to strike him ruthlessly."
"Let's plan on that later," Xu Ziling said, "Right now, what are we going to do? Sticking ourselves to the hull of the boat like this is very straining. In less than a few sichen, we will be done for."
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Now everybody is opening his eyes wide to look at me. I don't have any idea what to do either. Ha! We'd better open up one his mother's hole on the hull. After slipping in, we'll see what kind of insidious trick they are doing. There must be something that will shed a light on this, perhaps we'll even see somebody."
Recalling those several dozen peach wood crate, Xu Ziling nodded and said, "Your speculation ought to be eighty-, ninety-percent accurate. Since we cannot climb up the ship anyway, we might as well make a hole to get in. You choose the place."
Kou Zhong had not had any chance to select the position where they were going to enter the ship, the ship suddenly slowed down. Stunned, the two boys looked up, and saw bright lights on the Great River ahead. There were at least four warships in a row across the River. Although they still could not seal off the vast Great River, they posed a very big threat to any ship trying to go through.
And the water of the Great River was flowing swiftly. Although on this section the river was relatively calm, maintaining this kind of battle array on the surface of the river, plus doing it in the night, was absolutely not easy. From this, it was clear that the fleet of ships blocking the river was under the control of experts steering the boats, men who were not easy to deal with.
This moment, because they were still more than half a li away, plus the bright light was dazzling their eyes, the two boys were unable to see the banner of these four ships.
Kou Zhong spoke in astonishment, "In her capacity as either Yin Gui Pai personnel or Qian Duguan's beloved concubine, Bai yaonu is not someone who could be easily provoked, but who dares to come to provoke her?"
Xu Ziling was somewhat familiar with naval battle; he said, "The opposite side has the advantage of going with the flow; furthermore, they have been storing up momentum in waiting. In desperate, stake-it-all battle, the one suffer losses will undoubtedly be Bai Yaonu's side. Hey! How about we take advantage while the enemy's attention is focused on the situation ahead to sneak in from the aft?"
Frowning, Kou Zhong said, "It's impossible to enter the middle cabin; entering into the aft shouldn't pose any problem for us. Come on! While doing that, we'll take a look whether those several dozen crates really contain sea salt."
The two boys promptly went into action.
Earlier that day, when they were at the dock, they saw Bai Qing'er's men loaded the wooden crates delivered by Hai Sha Bang into the aft; naturally it would be much easier to sneak in from the aft compared to the front or the middle cabins.
From the stern, the two boys somersaulted onto the deck. All the men of the ship were gathered at the bow and the bridge. Even the men working on the deck also had their eyes on the ships blocking the river ahead. On top of that, the two boys' skill was superior, so that the gods did not know, the ghosts did not perceive, they lifted the hatch into the aft hold and disappeared inside like a wisp of smoke. By the time they just sat down on top of the stacked-high wooden crates, the official ship was slowly coming to a halt.
A gentle and deep male voice came from the distant enemy's ship, saying, "The Right Prime Minister under Garuda King Sun Huacheng pays his respect to Madam Qing'er."
Bai Qing'er's tender laughter rang out; she said, "Turns out it is Sun Xiang [minister]. You arranged your boat in the middle of the river to pay your respect, this is the first time that I, Bai Qing'er see. I wonder if Garuda King is starting a new trend on how to greet his guests?"
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glances; they both felt strange.
Garuda King was the savage Zhu Can. Logically speaking, he should be at war with Xiao Xian, as well as having a deep enmity with the Flying Horse Ranch. As for his relationship with the Jianghuai Army, it better not be mentioned. It could be said that he had enemies on all three sides. If he were a bit smarter, he should not offend Qian Duguan of the strategic city Xiangyang, who had good grip on the passage to the north. Therefore, blocking Bai Qing'er's official ship like this was completely defying any logic.
Although the aft hold was pitch-black, it did not pose any problem for their sharp eyes. Just by relying on their hearing, they knew that there was definitely nobody inside the crate, otherwise they would have heard the sound of their breathing.
Sun Huacheng replied indifferently, "Madame's reproach is indeed reasonable. The fact is, Huacheng has another difficulty. Simply because someone entrusted something to me, I have no choice but to ask Madame a question."
Bai Qing'er quizzically asked, "I wonder what it is that Sun Xiang wanted to know?"
Sun Huacheng replied, "I just want to ask Madame one question: is Princess Lian Rou on Madame's boat?"
Kou Zhong sensed that Xu Ziling's tiger-body was slightly shaken; he asked in astonishment, "Do you have any idea who this Princess is?"
On the deck, Bai Qing'er, who was standing near the bow, let out a silver-bell like tender laughter, before responding with a mocking tone, "That's really strange! I only know that your distinguished country has Mei Gongzhu [princess], but I have never heard about Lian Rou Gongzhu. Why would Sun Xiang look for her on nujia's boat? I wonder who entrusted this matter to you?"
"Since that is the case," Sun Huacheng replied, "Madame, please forgive Huacheng for being rude. As for who entrusted this matter to us, please forgive Huacheng for it is inconvenient for me to disclose it. Madame, please do as you wish!"
Listening to this exchange, Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong inside the aft hold looked at each other. They really did not understand, with momentum like torrential rush Sun Huacheng opened his mouth to demand a person, unexpectedly Bai Qing'er only had to deny one time, and he obediently beat the return drum. This did not make any sense at all, even more so than their action of blocking the river.
Xu Ziling spoke in low voice, "Lain Rou is the only daughter of Yun Shuai [cloud commander], the Persian who is the Guoshi [teacher of the state] of the Western Tujue, Tong Xiehu's adopted daughter. I have had the opportunity to fight her in Chengdu. Her martial art skill is outstanding, her qinggong is especially exceptional. At that time she was in cahoots with An Long and Zhu Mei; unexpectedly she was captured and being held prisoner by Yin Gui Pai."
The official boat continued to sail, but the two boys felt the peculiar atmosphere; there were more than a hundred men on board, yet nobody talked, the mood was heavy and tense.
Although they pricked up their ears, they were unable to hear Bai Qing'er and Wen Caiting's conversation.
Frowning, Kou Zhong said, "I dare say that this moment Lian Rou is in the main cabin. It was only because Sun Huacheng refrained from shooting at the rat for fear of breaking the vases that he did not dare to move his warship in frontal attack and just using empty words to threaten. It would be best if Bai Qing'er is trying to transport the prisoner by land, so that they could intercept."
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, "If they want to snatch the prisoner away, it would be best if they do it on the river, the target is simple and clear-cut. The most formidable point of Sun Huacheng's move is that it is unfathomably deep, even us, the two spectators, cannot grasp what his next step be. If the plan was thought by him, then this man's ability and wisdom really cannot be despised."
Thinking hard, Kou Zhong said, "A Persian beauty being captured in Chengdu, how did she appear on a boat from Jiujiang sailing toward Xiangyang? On the surface, these two do not seem to have anything to do with each other. How did Sun Huacheng obtain a very accurate intelligence? Can you tell me the circumstances surrounding your encounter with Lian Rou?"
After listening to Xu Ziling's brief explanation, Kou Zhong, as if he was jolted up from a dream, exclaimed, "Yin Gui Pai must be colluding with the Eastern Tujue!"
At first Xu Ziling was startled, and then he thought that Kou Zhong's inference was very reasonable. Both the Eastern and Western Tujue had aggressive ambition to invade the Central Earth, but their real enemy was actually the other Tujue, and not any hegemon who proclaimed themselves king in the distant Central Earth.
During the time when chaos reigned in the Central Plains, Liu Wuzhou, Liang Shidou, and the likes aligned themselves with the Tujue. Even those who were stronger like Li Yuan, Dou Jiande, Du Fuwei, and the others, also did not dare to openly butt-head with the Tujue; they all adopted 'showing respect from a distance' strategy. Yin Gui Pai has always been carrying out a 'collaboration with outsiders' policy. In the past it was Tiele people, which ended when Qu Ao was defeated under Ba Fenghan's hands. So if Yin Gui Pai now collaborated with the Eastern Tujue, it was the most natural thing.
Only under this kind of situation would Yin Gui Pai take the risk of offending Tong Xiehu and Yun Shuai, by capturing Lian Rou, who was sneaking into Bashu, and transporting her to Xiangyang, to be handed over to Tuli Khan of Eastern Tujue.
By doing this, they pushed the blame to An Long and Zhu Can, so that their relationship with the Western Tujue would fall apart, hence the reason Sun Huacheng blocked the river to look for her.
The sinister struggle was underway, because of An Long's involvement, who had deep knowledge of Yin Gui Pai's secret, Yin Gui Pai was no longer able to maintain secrecy like before. Although Bai Qing'er had the person in question, clearly they had the upper hand. If they want to snatch the prisoner back, they must use the ten-thousand jun [1 jun = 30 catties] thunderbolt momentum; although other than Bai Qing'er there were still the three elder-level martial art masters on board, they would not be able to withstand.
Therefore, they need 'Yunyu Shuang Xiu' Pi Shouxuan to provide support along the way. Only they did not anticipate that Sun Huacheng might appear on the water in the territory under Xiao Xian's control. Furthermore, they seemed to have Bai Qing'er's movement within the palm of their hands.
Within that speed-of-lightning, spark-of-flint instant, these myriads of thought flashed through the two boys' mind, putting a lot of previously unclear matters into light.
Xu Ziling said, "This Yin Gui Pai and the Eastern Tujue's alliance was most likely brokered by the 'Mo Shi' [demon master] Zhao Deyan."
Kou Zhong said, "Why would they need Zhao Deyan? Remember that day in Luoyang, the lecherous look in Tuli's eyes when he saw that yaonu? These dog man and woman [i.e. couple engaged in an illicit love affair] were together from the first beat."
Xu Ziling said, "Yin Gui Pai is able to transport Lian Rou here, it must have involved a lot of effort. Too bad in the end the enterprise is ruined for the sake of one basketful, by being intercepted in this place. They must have not anticipated this. Although An Long is an old fox, I'm afraid he does not have this kind of ability. Where exactly is the problem? Could it be that there is a spy within Yin Gui Pai's ranks?"
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "We must be feeling nervous that we wasted so much energy thinking about all these things. Why not become the heroes who rescue the beauty, while trying to harm Qing'er yaonu?"
Pondering deeply, Xu Ziling said, "I wonder if we should just wait and see for any changes? I am so sure that Sun Huacheng will have his next move. We cannot have direct confrontation against Zhu Can's troops."
The sound of footsteps rang overhead; obviously someone was walking toward the hatch in the cabin above.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling's ear, "As soon as the hatch is open, we'll move together; we'll grab him first, talk later."
Xu Ziling found this to be highly amusing. With their combined force, if caught off guard, perhaps even Zhu Yuyan herself would have to pay dearly.
The footsteps stopped overhead. Bai Qing'er's voice was heard, "This batch of fireworks and firearms cost us a lot of money; it will be a great pity if they are destroyed."
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were shocked. If that's the case, then they were sitting inside a gunpowder storehouse. High in the sky, these things looked brilliant and pretty, but exploded inside a closed enclosure, it was not a laughing matter at all. Even if they trained a hundred more years, they would not be able to withstand it.
Jiangnan's fireworks and rockets have been well known throughout the country, and Hai Sha Bang has always moved about in Jiangnan; therefore, to have them buy these fireworks and firearms, which the two boys did not know what they were going to do with it - for Bai Qing'er was quite reasonable.
But this matter still came as a surprise. No wonder Lei Jiuzhi guessed incorrectly.
A muffled old woman's voice was heard, "These firearms have tremendous power, I think they are more important than Lian Rou. Now that our track has been exposed, we can only choose one between the two. These firearms would be my first choice. Ting Zhanglao [elder], what do you think?"
Another unfamiliar female voice responded, "I agree with Xia Zhanglao's opinion. But based on our strength, maybe we can have both. As long as we could lead the enemy away, these firearms could be brought safely back to Xiangyang."
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance. They both could see the astonishment in the other's heart.
Weapons like these firearms could be used only in certain circumstances to bring about its formidable destructive power, for example to burn the provision in the enemy's camp. But in the case that the two armies are standing opposite each other, it had limited usefulness. But now Bai Qing'er's side viewed these firearms to be more important than Lian Rou as their hostage; naturally it did not make much sense.
Wen Caiting's voice was heard, "Yun Zhanglao's view is the same as mine. Because of this batch of firearms, we should not fight in the river. The only way is we split into two groups. The three of us will take Lian Rou to go by land route, luring the enemy's main force away from you. And Madame Qing'er takes the boat to rush back to Xiangyang. Perhaps both sides can be saved."
They were still speaking using the focusing-sound-into-thread skill, but because the distance was close, Kou and Xu, two boys were still able to hear it without missing a single word.
Bai Qing'er said, "If we lose the firearms, we could always buy them again, but if the hostage is lost, it would be very difficult to recover, if would also be very difficult for us to exchange prisoners, plus Shizun [venerable master] might blame me. To make this tactic completely foolproof, let Qing'er come with three Zhanglao to take the prisoner via land route. Perhaps this could be one move, two gains; we'll make the enemy not to pay attention to this boat anymore. No matter what, Zhu Can must give a bit of face to Duguan."
Wen Caiting said, "This could be considered a good plan. Let's do it!"
The footsteps went far away.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling's ear, "What should we do?"
Noticing Kou Zhong's eyes were gleaming with sharp light, Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Are you thinking of becoming little thief who steal the firearms?"
Kou Zhong excitedly replied, "It's better than competing against other people to save a Persian beauty."
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, "Added together, these firearms weigh more than ten thousand catties; how are we going to transport it?"
Kou Zhong replied, "After this group of yaufu, yaonu leave, we seize control over everybody on board, blindfold their eyes and stuff their ears, and take the boat to a secluded location, move the goods ashore, and find a good place to hide them well. We'll go someplace else, drive the men out of the boat, and then set sail to the north. We'll go as far as we can, and then we'll decide what to do next."
Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "Is it worth spending so much effort for this batch of firearms?"
"I don't know," Kou Zhong replied, "But looking at how much those yaufu, yaonu value the goods, there must be a very good reason. People always look for convenience, am I right?"
The hull suddenly shook, and the ship slowed down considerably. They must have reached the section of the river where the water was flowing rapidly.
Suddenly there was a loud and miserable scream breaking the tranquil atmosphere, followed by a series of tender shouts and angry cries.
The two boys looked at each other in shock. No longer worry about anything, they raised the hatch and stuck out their heads to look.
They saw that the official ship has indeed reached the gorge where both sides were steep cliffs and rugged shoals; the water was surging forth, the terrain was dangerous.
Under the illumination of the lanterns, shadows were swaying back and forth on the deck, saber light and sword shadows in confusion, you chase me, I pursue you, momentarily they could not estimate how many enemies were coming.
Kou Zhong took the lead by jumping out of the hold, and said, "How about we go to the top of the mast to enjoy the excitement?"
Xu Ziling nodded his agreement. No longer said anything, they unleashed their shenfa, and a moment later they already reached the crow's nest perched high on top of the main mast. They were shocked to discover that the dead body of the man on lookout duty was sprawling over the rope railing. The fatal wound was on his throat, coming from a sleeve arrow.
Kou Zhong lifted his corpse and threw it into the Great River. Speechless, he said, "Even if the arrow was released from the top of the cabin, the distance to here is at least five zhang, and the arrow he used was a short arrow that rely completely on the strength of the hand; he is indeed formidable."
Xu Ziling was scanning the situation below with his eyes; unexpectedly he was unable to find the shadow of the invader. He only saw that everybody on the boat was swarming toward the hold. But he could not hear any noise of weapons clashing against each other from the inside. It was indeed intriguing.
Kou Zhong went on, "This dead body is already cold, apparently he had been killed for a while. Hey …"
A loud crash drew their attention completely away. Upon focusing their attention to look down, they saw a shadow flew out of the cabin by smashing the wall by the cabin door, and ran toward the long and narrow passageway on the port side of the ship, between the cabin wall and the edge of the boat, and then soared and somersaulted toward the bridge. The four men guarding that area were struck to the left and thrown to the right by heavy technique, as if they were sending themselves up for him to practice his punch and kick.
Three shadows pursued him from the smashed wall. One of them was Bai Qing'er. The other two women were wearing gauze veil covering their faces; they were Yin Gui Pai elder martial art masters, but it wasn't clear which two of Wen Caiting, Xia Zhanglao, or Yun Zhanglao were they.
The two boys were even more shocked. Turned out the invader was only one person, yet he was able to kill or injure one of the elder martial art masters. Upon closer look, this man was tall and sturdy, exuding unlimited power. He wore golden-colored long cape, which glittered like a clump of golden cloud following him everywhere as he leaped and moved around. It was extremely pleasing to the eye.
From their high vantage point looking down, they could not see his face, but they got the impression that his outline was outstanding, unlike people from the Central Earth.
Two more screams, and two men fell down under his thunder-and-lightning-like swift and severe palm technique. The third man was kicked on his lower abdomen. The entire person shot several zhang up in the air just like a rock being shot by a trebuchet, before disappearing under the foaming white waves on the surface of the river.
Kou and Xu, two boys, who were separated by up to eight-zhang distance from the bridge, could even faintly hear the sound of breaking bones and splitting flesh. Clearly this man's power was tyrannical.
He seemed to be intentionally teasing Bai Qing'er, three persons. Moving to the left and flashing to the right, he was particularly looking for a place where there was a crowd to make his move. And each time he made a move, someone would lose his life. He forced Bai Qing'er, three women, to miss him by a fraction of a second. His brilliance was indeed very hard to believe.
Kou Zhong stared blankly at him weaving in and out on the deck, from the bow killing his way to the stern, suddenly he broke into a cabin and disappeared, only to reappear an instant later from another smashed hole on the other side, while Bai Qing'er and the others were still unable to touch the edge of his garment, and dead bodies were strewn everywhere on the ship.
When he was heading toward a group of men huddled together because their courage was gone, suddenly, nobody knew who started it, everybody screamed and threw themselves into the river; unexpectedly nobody dared to face the attack head on.
Letting out a tender shout, Bai Qing'er soared into the air.
The two elders also launched pincer attack from left and right; apparently they have been moved to extreme anger.
The man let out a long laugh and soared into the air. Unexpectedly he was able to spin in the air and thus evaded Bai Qing'er's intercept, and flew toward another group of men.
This group of men also immediately obediently threw themselves into the river to save their lives.
Exhaling a mouthful of cold air, Kou Zhong said, "This man's qinggong is superior; it could be considered the top in the world."
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, "I recognize his shenfa; it is similar to Lian Rou's. This man must be the Western Tujue's Guoshi, the Cloud Commander."
Before Kou Zhong had any chance to respond, 'Boom!' the official ship smashed into a rock formation by the bank. The mast immediately broke, bringing the two boys down onto the deck.
All the lights went out.