Chapter 6 - Pivotal Breakthrough
Because they were intimidated by Yun Shuai's alarming-the-heaven-moving-the-earth qinggong skill, the two boys were completely unaware that after it lost control, the official ship was crashing to the shore. By the time they realized what happened, they were falling down following the mast, seemingly into the bottomless abyss, or straight down into the nether world.
Things had happened so suddenly that even with their current skill, they lost their balance and rolled upside down on the deck and could only hold on to the railing ropes. The wind was screaming by their ears, suddenly they were high in the air, while underneath their feet was the surging, turbulent river. And then suddenly they found that the lower half of their body was already submerged in the water. The next moment the two boys were rising on the cloud, riding the fog, more than ten zhang in the air. It is thus clear how bad the hull was jolted left and right.
Other than the sound of shattering hull against the rocks and the terrifying sound of the water wreaking havoc, they could not hear the battle between Yun Shuai and Bai Qing'er and the others. All around was so dark that they could not even see the fingers in front of their face.
With a loud, crisp snap, the mast finally broke away from the hull. The two boys fell into the water together.
Naturally the two boys did not have time to worry about Yun Shuai and the others' victory or defeat; they struggled with everything they had to swim toward the opposite bank. By the time they crawled up on a rock on the beach and looked across the river, they saw the silhouette of the broken ship stranded among the rocks, and could only look at each other with wry smile on their faces.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "This time it could be said that our troop deployment is unfavorable. We wanted to take advantage of riding the boat, who would have thought that we caught a shipwreck? We wanted to steal something, yet the firearms caught water; it's useless to fish it up the water."
Xu Ziling said, "Exactly because the firearms might catch water that they used material like peach wood to seal it up; moreover, they must have taken measure to waterproof it. It's just that Bai Qing'er already lost the hostage, she won't be willing to give up this batch of firearms; snatching it away does not seem to be very prudent. Therefore, I'll say you'd better forget your intention."
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, "Whatever you say. Ay! If we could train qinggong skill like Yun Shuai, it would greatly benefit our trip to Guanzhong. What do you think about this idea?"
Xu Ziling stared fixedly at the opposite bank, where the dark shadow of the shipwreck blended with the dark clouds overhead. Knitting his pair of delicate and slender eyebrows, he pondered silently for a moment before saying, "This matter, if we say it's difficult, it's not difficult at all; if we say it's easy, it's not easy at all. Problem is: after leaving the Xueyi Tan [lit. beach to learn a skill (or art), see Book 2 Chapter 9], we have never focused on how to improve our lightness skill method. What idea do you have inside your belly?"
Wiping a drop of water hanging on his eyebrow, Kou Zhong said, "Just now when Bai Yaonu pounced on Yun Shuai, it looked as if Yun Shuai was also going to leap high to meet the enemy head-on; who would have thought that just like a bat, he spun around to evade, giving the impression of some 'man between the heaven and the earth' principle. The fact is, when you throw a stone or shoot an arrow, it will fly toward the target following a certain natural curvature. Evidently this is the law of physics. Based on the shape of the object and the method of exerting the force, if we speak about the force application itself, naturally straight line is the quickest, but saber strike in an arc is the most difficult to guard, as well as the fiercest."
Xu Ziling was shaken. He said, "Your remark made me think about when Yun Shuai was spinning in the air, his outer garment swelled. This is similar to when you pick a flat rock and toss it out following its shape, naturally it will acquire a certain trajectory."
Kou Zhong looked at Xu Ziling's skintight water armor, and then he looked at his own, and said with a wry smile, "Your deduction is eighty-, ninety-percent, not far from a hundred-percent - accurate. Too bad we have no way of testing it immediately. However, we have grasped a little bit of trick. Combined with our ability to take a breath and change direction midair, it shouldn't be difficult to surpass Yun Shuai in term of spinning-while-flying technique. It's just that in term of vertical lift, it is still difficult to compare with him."
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "That's just because we did not meticulously pursue it! Based on our internal qi power. If we could make efforts in both force-exertion and raising qi to lighten the body, two aspects, we will definitely make a breakthrough. Did you feel that although that fellow Yun Shuai was being surrounded and attacked from all directions, he still maintained some kind of calm and composed feeling? In my opinion, it was because he was using some kind of strange way to breathe, hence he can run fast and jump high, while we are just the opposite. You also know that when we are being entangled in battle, our footsteps might be slow and heavy."
Emotionally moved, Kou Zhong said, "Good kid; indeed your power of observation surpass others. From this, it is clear that previously we did not understand how to properly utilize the treasured qi power within our body to the finest detail. If we can pass this crucial point, our martial art skill will be fully upgraded. As our meridians have been transformed by the Jade Annulus of He Clan, the intensity of our qi power has already surpassed a lot of people. Question is, how are we going to use and display it to the fullest extent?"
Xu Ziling pondered for a moment. Suddenly he said with lowered voice, "Do you remember Yun Yuzhen's Niao Du Shu [Bird-Crossing Technique]? The secret is positive and negative forces [or inside and outside], but her positive and negative forces also refer to external force; obviously it belongs to lower Buddhist sect. Our true qi, which originated from Taoist school, emphasizes inner breathing, which can be turned into the positive and negative forces within the body. The reason Yun Shuai's shenfa can surpass ours is precisely for this principle."
Kou Zhong stood up suddenly and said excitedly, "How about competing in foot power?"
Xu Ziling followed him up. His eyes shooting mysterious lightning light, he said, "Our understanding tonight is no small matter; how can we stop only at foot power competition? We have to compete in martial art skill. How's the condition of the qi power within your body?"
Patting his belly, Kou Zhong replied, "It is circulating around in the Dantian's ocean of qi. The feeling is like a burst of motive power is going to move my body at any moment; it could be used to attack the enemy or raising the qi, totally different from before. Turns out devoting our thought is so important."
Xu Ziling said, "I agree that spirit and mind are the most important. The so-called uniting essence, qi, and spirit is precisely this kind of realm. When our qi is impure, we will fall, just because the true qi within our body does not continue. But as long as when unleashing our shenfa we could utilize the pulling and mutually striking positive and negative qi within our body, we would get unexpected result. But like what you are doing now, you concentrate the true qi into one place where you have control over it, compared to before, the difference is not much."
Severely shaken, Kou Zhong said, "I understand! It's done, I now divide the qi into two; one circling to the left, the other turning to the right. It should be like what you said, positive and negative qi!"
Stunned, Xu Ziling said, "Unexpectedly it is that easy?"
Kou Zhong theatrically replied, "This is called qi turning as one wishes. If you don't believe me, try it yourself."
Xu Ziling was silent for a moment, quietly circulating his divine power. Suddenly, like dead leaves being blown by the wind, he floated away, and said with a long laugh, "Good kid! Come on!"
Kou Zhong shot out like a stone bullet; drawing the Moon in the Well from his back, he called out, "Even if I have to chase after you to the end of the heavens, I will catch up with you."
Before his feet touched the ground, Xu Ziling suddenly changed direction; he disappeared into the woods.
Fast as lightning Kou Zhong flew to the shore and kneeled on the ground. Gasping for breath, he said, "Nearly exhausted to death, but very happy; I have never been this happy before."
Inserting his saber into the ground, he used it to prop himself up.
Xu Ziling came to his side and plopped his butt onto the ground. From the cliff edge he looked down, and saw, under the light of the dawn - the ship that ran aground on the rocky beach still had its hull mostly intact, yet he did not see any trace of human. Displeased, he said, "You, this kid, still won't give up on that batch of firearms; after making a long detour you brought me back to this place. You want to transport those things as soon as possible? You will let people come back and see us looting a burning house, and that will be extremely embarrassing."
Gasping for breath, Kou Zhong laughed and said, "That is precisely my only intention."
The two boys rushed over for one day and one night before reaching Jiangxia, another big city by the Great River, west of Jiujiang. Taking the boat going north from here, they would reach Jingling in just one day.
Before Jingling fell, this city already fell into Jianghuai Army's hands, and remained under their control until today. Upon entering the city, they looked for an inn to stay for the night. After settling down, they went to the restaurant next door to eat lunch.
After their tummy was full, Kou Zhong muttered irresolutely, "Until now we are still unclear whether Yun Shuai have rescued Lian Rou or not?"
Xu Ziling said, "Of course he succeeded in rescuing Lian Rou. Otherwise Yun Shuai would not dare to open monastic discipline against killing. This man is extremely skilled in scheming, using Sun Huacheng blocking the river and interrogating them, attracting Bai Yaonu and the others' attention, he utilized his reaching-pinnacle lightness skill to infiltrate the ship; the-gods-did-not-know, the ghosts-did-not-perceive he rescued his daughter out."
Kou Zhong continued his analysis, "This fellow was even able to guess that the enemy might transport his daughter away by land route, thereupon disguising himself as his daughter he seized the opportunity to mount a sneak attack. This time Yin Gui Pai certainly have given away the bride, but lost his army on top of it [idiom: suffering a double loss after trying to trick the enemy]. No wonder the Western Tujue could hold the Eastern Tujue in a stalemate, simply because Tong Xiehu has a capable person helping him."
Xu Ziling laughed and said, "But the one obtaining the real advantage is us. Were it not for receiving Yun Shuai's enlightenment, how could me make a breakthrough in the shenfa department?"
Kou Zhong patted his shoulder vigorously; nodding his head, he said, "We are certainly the benefiting party. But back to the topic, our plan of hitching a ride on the boat fizzled out, now that the world does not know our real face, we could just swagger into the city. Naturally we could also invite endless trouble. Perhaps even tonight Shi Xianzi [fairy] plus the Four Great Baldheads might besiege us. Tell me, what should our next step be?"
Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "Calling them Four Great Baldheads is too harsh! How about showing some respect to those men who had reached the holy monk status?"
Readily following good advice, Kou Zhong smiled and said, "I forgot you have predestined affinity with Buddhist school; Ling Shao, please forgive me. Oh, nearly forget to tell you, your Luoyan Jiejie [elder sister] has arrived in Guanzhong."
Emotionally moved, Xu Ziling said, "Li Mi has really surrendered to Li Shimin?"
Kou Zhong nodded in affirmative. He explained, "It was Ol' Die who told me. But how could Li Mi be someone who live out of someone else's resources? No matter how courteous the Li Family treated him, it is useless. But Li Mi's skill is certainly no small matter, plus he hates us to the bones. To him, we are the enemy that he simply must guard against. Before, defeating him was just pure luck, not because our ability and wisdom could really surpass his or even Shen Luoyan's."
Amazed, Xu Ziling said, "It's rare that you are so modest. From this, it is clear that in our trip to Guanzhong, you are not as confident as what you are showing on the outside."
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "Even though I am so brassy, I also know that the difference in power between the enemy and us is simply too far; if we revealed our track, I am positive that we will lose our lives in Chang'an. The worst thing is that until now, I still don't have a foolproof plan to enter Chang'an. I could only think of like right now, take it one step at a time. Naturally I feel so useless."
Xu Ziling agreed; he said, "My usual practice is that if it is not good, then don't think too much. In the past, things were not as pessimistic as you said. As long as we could get inside the city, there will be Gao Liang and the others providing support. At that time, we make open enquiries and secret search, holding on to our disregard of gains and losses, esteeming the treasure. We'll bet on your, LaoGe's luck; I want to see if you will scrupulously abide by your promise of if we fail to find the treasure, you will obediently remove your armor and return to the farm."
Gao Liang, Niu Fengyi, Xing Jie [sic. Previously, it was Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi and Zha Jie, Book 6 Chapter 11] and the others were Shuang Long Bang men. Following Kou Zhong's master plan, they have already entered Chang'an for many years to make preparations, so that after the treasure was found, they could transport the large quantities of money and valuables, as well as weapons, out of Chang'an.
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "Ling Shao, don't worry. I can break promise to anybody in the world, but I will never dare to break my promise to you. As for Gao Liang and the others, unless we can really find the Duke Yang Treasure, I am not planning on making contact with them."
Surprised, Xu Ziling asked, "Why did you make that decision?"
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Whether I can find Duke Yang Treasure or not, I do not have the least bit confidence. If we can't find it, everything ceases; in which case, why not let them put down their roots in Chang'an, passing their days in peace and happiness. Otherwise, if they are being implicated because of us, they might nurse a grievance in Chang'an."
Xu Ziling spoke in delight, "Zhong Ye [master] is definitely not an 'everything for self and selfish profit' fellow; otherwise, you wouldn't have consideration for other people first like this."
Suddenly his eyes flickered brightly, Kou Zhong looked intently at Xu Ziling, and then said with a wry smile, "The fact is that Ling Shao is proactively willing to come with me to the north on a treasure hunt, but you are hoping that I won't find anything, and thus put my desire to strive over the world to death. Isn't that right?"
Xu Ziling nodded and said, "This might be the last time I am doing worldly affairs for you. From a brother's point of view, naturally I wish that you could accomplish your grand plan and beautiful dream of becoming the emperor, your great undertaking. But from a common people's point of view, I just hope that a promising person would quickly unify the world, bring peace and happiness back to us. I hope you can understand."
Kou Zhong smiled and said, "You obviously believe that Li kid is more suitable to be the emperor than me?"
Xu Ziling shook his head, "This matter, who can be sure?" he said, "Even Shi Feixuan is no more than making some kind of choice. Besides, the factor influencing Shi Feixuan's decision the most is Li Shimin's military successes, his political achievements and his prestige. Other than his broad-minded and open aspiration, which pleased Shi Feixuan the most, among the current warlords vying for supremacy, he has the greatest chance of pacifying the world. And you, Shao Shuai, because you started too late, you are falling too far behind. It's not that Shi Feixuan did not admire you, but she never did want to choose you. This logic should be clear and easy to see."
The divine light in Kou Zhong's eyes burst forth, but the tone of his voice was surprisingly very calm. He spoke indifferently, "I want to see clearly for myself that her view is wrong. Plus this is also the most entertaining aspect of the striving over the world game. I know you don't like me considering the striving over the world as a game. But to me, life itself is no more than a game; there has never been any question whether it is valuable or not. Only by considering it as a game would I be able play it with sound and color."
Shrugging his shoulders, Xu Ziling said, "I understand that. In short, if you can't find the treasure, you will obediently dissolve Shao Shuai Army, either you return to Lingnan to Yuzhi to escort the bride to the wedding ceremony, or you come with me outside the Pass to look for Old Ba to have a drink together."
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "I am really afraid you would deliberately not let me find the treasure."
Xu Ziling laughed and said, "How could I be such a person? Plus I won't want you to blame me for the rest of your life. Ha! Do you want to go someplace else to drink?"
Surprised, Kou Zhong asked, "Ling Shao has never taken the initiative to go for a drink; why suddenly have this kind of mood?"
Shrugging his shoulders, Xu Ziling said, "I'm afraid anybody who has lost his love would fall in love with that thing!"
Kou Zhong roared in laughter, attracting the other guests in the restaurant's eyes. But upon seeing the two boys' dignified, tall and straight figure, although Kou Zhong's Moon in the Well looked like a rusty, broken saber, still, nobody dared to say anything.
A good while later Kou Zhong was finally able to hold back his laughter. Gasping for breath, he said, "Unexpectedly you, this kid, are teasing me. But as you told me before, your love life has never started; how could you lose your love? Ha! You made me die of laughing!"
Smiling playfully, Xu Ziling said, "You answer my question first: is love life happy or painful?
Stunned, Kou Zhong turned it over in his mind for half a moment before answering, "Your question actually appears to be easy to answer; for example, sometimes it is happy, sometimes it is painful, or perhaps bittersweet. But using my own situation to think one layer deeper, this thing is not so simple. It's the first time that you, this kid, are willing to talk to me about this matter. Obviously you have really been moved by Shi Qingxuan!"
Xu Ziling philosophically replied, "That feeling is like the long wind blowing of the Great River, or like the long wind blowing and circling around, but leaving a scar in my heart. Did you say it is painful? Indeed it is deeply painful; yet in certain aspect it enriched my life, making me feel the meaning of life. Does it sound very contradictory? Yet it is some kind of strange feeling that is different than any feeling I had in the past."
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "True love is definitely painful, just like you removing the true qi protecting your body, completely removing your defense, letting your frail heart to receive injury or comfort, no longer penetrable by saber or spear. When you throw yourself into that profound feeling, the most wonderful thing is that whether it was injury or comfort, both is irresistibly intense, penetrating straight into the deepest part of your heart, incomparably moving, making you feel like even pain is as sweet as syrup [idiom from Book of Songs]. Ha! What do you think about my analysis?"
"It did indeed penetrate fairly deeply," Xu Ziling said, "At that time Shi Qingxuan hurt me really bad. You know that I always bury everything in the deepest part of my heart, but now unexpectedly I made exception by telling you, hence you ought to know how I really feel. But listening to your comment just now, I feel a lot better."
"One lifetime, two brothers," Kou Zhong said, "What can't possibly be talked about between us? In my opinion, to grab Shi Qingxuan's fragrant heart really is not a difficult matter. It's just that your natural disposition is proud, you disdain to do this."
Pondering over it, Xu Ziling said, "This matter has nothing to do with pride; I just feel that something that we have to entreat piteously before we could obtain it will not mean much. Moreover, everybody has his own ambition; if, because of my longing, she would have to lose her peaceful-and-quiet, seeking-nothing way of life, I would feel that I am sinning against her. Shi Qingxuan has become my past; this may be the last time that I am thinking of her."
Kou Zhong took out some money to pay the bill; letting out a long laugh, he said, "Come, let's go drinking; we won't go back before we're drunk."
The two boys stepped out of the shop's door. Pedestrians on the street were thinly spread, far below Jiujiang's prosperous and bustling atmosphere.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Ol' Die is a first-class commander-in-chief, yet he is only ninth on the list of potential emperors. When common people hear him coming, they have to tidy up their valuables and run away as far as possible. No wonder he toiled for half of his life in vain, and ends up disheartened."
Xu Ziling remained silent without saying anything.
Astonished, Kou Zhong said, "Why do you look like you suddenly lose any interest in talking?"
Xu Ziling looked up at the sky. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Luoyang is finished!"
Shaken, Kou Zhong said, "Although Wang Shichong fails to live up to expectations, but after his newest victory, he obtained large tracts of land. Although Ol' Die surrendered to Li kid, Wang Shichong ought to be able to stay on top for a while!"
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, "The problem is still Li Shimin. Based on his current prestige, plus with Ci Hang Jing Zhai behind him, to split apart Wang Shichong's strength, who already lost the people's heart, will be as easy as feeling in his pocket and take it out. And Xiangyang is precisely the key. You know what I mean?"
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "Of course I do. Xiangyang is just like Luoyang's Yanshi on the east, or like Yingyang's Hulao. But it is actually a hundred times stronger that these two places. If Xiangyang is willing to support Luoyang, Li Shimin could forget about attacking Luoyang. But now Ol' Die has surrendered to Li kid; as long as he stations massive military force in Jingling, Qian Duguan's forces won't be able to move a single step. Ay! I finally understand what that batch of firearms is for; it is going to be used to deal with Li kid."
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, "If Luoyang fell, Bashu might realign their allegiance to Guanzhong. If they also acquire Xiangyang, half of the Rivers and Mountains will be falling into the Li Family's hands. At that time, based on Li kid's talent, passion and military strength, it would be strange indeed if he would not pacify all warlords vying for supremacy, including you, like the wind scattering the clouds."
Kou Zhong's eyes flickered brightly, he said, "No matter what, I won't allow Li kid to capture Luoyang that easily. Do you remember what Xu Xingzhi said? As long as they have mutual interest, people can cooperate with even the enemies who kill his father. Contention over the world has always been by hook or by crook. Compared to a lot of people, I already have more principle and scrupulously abide by morality."
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, "What crafty idea are you thinking?"
A horse drawn carriage stopped in front of the two boys. The window curtain was lifted up, revealing a familiar, tender and pretty beyond human's comprehension face; her cherry lips lightly opened, she scolded, "You, these two kids, really don't know how to spell the word 'dead'. Why haven't you scramble up here?"
Feeling overwhelmed by favor from superior, the two boys took a glance toward the driver, and found out that it was actually their old friend Luo Fang. Greatly delighted, they quickly climbed into the carriage.
The whip flew up to the sky, it tapped the horse's buttocks, the carriage immediately galloped away.