Chapter 5 - Live Together Die Together
Letting out a long laughter, Li Yuanji said, "How did the Sudden Thrust [lit. returning horse spear] style taste like?"
The spear swiftly swept across Kou Zhong.
This moment Kou Zhong almost wanted to pull Li Yuanji into his embrace and kiss him a few times, to express his deep gratitude and tears of love.
It could be said that Li Yuanji's divine-dragon-swings-its-tail Sudden Thrust battle tactic was the consummate skill that was Kou Zhong's natural nemesis, because the spear technique that relied mainly on the changes between hit and run was very difficult for Kou Zhong penetrate, so that he was at his wits' end. The worst thing was that this kind of battle substantially consumed his true power, forcing him to maintain strong offensive. He had no choice but to continue pursuing and attacking. After more than a dozen circles, he knew that he could not hold on much longer.
But now Li Yuanji, believing himself to be infallible, was sending out a full-strength counterattack. It was just like a sweet nectar after a long drought, so how could he not feel like he must express his gratitude for this huge favor.
Naturally he knew that Li Yuanji wanted to entangle him to the death, so that the rushing over reinforcement troops had enough time to come here.
Suddenly Xu Ziling and Tuli rose up. The men on Li Yuanji's side also drew near to the arena. The situation immediately tensed up like a taut bow. As soon as the two combatants gave the signal, it would become a free-for-all battle between the two sides.
Kou Zhong and Li Yuanji brushed past each other in a stake-it-all move. Sparks flew everywhere, the explosive sound shook the arena.
Cloud of dust arose on the official road, nearly twenty riders were coming at full speed, the momentum was terrifying the heart and the soul.
Kou Zhong's heroic laughter shook the heavens. Li Nantian and the others were stupefied. The saber light rose dramatically. With a spin of his body, at the speed that was hard to believe, Kou Zhong's saber hacked down on Li Yuanji, whose face revealed a shocked expression.
Except for Xu Ziling, nobody around the arena had any clue on how the change happened; even Li Yuanji himself was unclear. The moment the spear and the saber clashed, to his horror, Kou Zhong's originally a thousand-catty heavy saber force suddenly became empty and fluttering; practically there was no strength at all. By the time he wanted to pull the spear back, Kou Zhong's Moon in the Well already chopped down on his head, biting-cold saber qi assaulted his face.
It was basically an impossibility, yet it had become an unshakeable fact before his very eyes.
In this critical moment, Li Yuanji demonstrated his real skill. With the spear technique that had undergone numerous revisions [orig. a thousand hammers and a hundred refinements (as in smelting metal)], he simply raised the spear to meet the chop head-on, and thus blocked Kou Zhong's sure-kill saber strike.
A deep sound like a muffled thunder of the qi power colliding against each other reverberated across the entire relay station. Li Yuanji was jolted by the impact and fell sitting down on the ground, but he continued rolling away. It appeared to be an extremely cowardly act, but the fact was that it was the only way to neutralize Kou Zhong's irresistible saber power.
Kou Zhong cried 'what a pity' inwardly. Such a deflecting-force, borrowing-energy technique still failed to make the opponent spurting half a mouthful of blood. Fortunately, after suffering this saber strike, Li Yuanji shouldn't be able to show off and fight for several days, otherwise, it would be Kou Zhong's turn to worry whether he would be able to break the siege and flee for his life.
Li Nantian and the others immediately drew their weapons. Half of them pounced on him, while the other half rushed toward Li Yuanji to protect him, for fear that Kou Zhong would continue to kill him.
But this moment Kou Zhong was like an arrow at the end of its flight. Laughing aloud, he rose up and flew toward Xu Ziling and Tuli.
This moment the riders had just entered the relay station. While they had not fully understood the situation, Kou Zhong already met with Xu Ziling and Tuli, together they ran toward the forest behind the relay station and disappeared from sight.
The three stopped by a small stream in the jungle southwest of Hannan city; they sat down to rest, scooped the water and drank.
They were still undecided whether they should enter the city or not. Xu Ziling jumped down from the top of a tree and said, "The hawk is still not in sight. Shouldn't we immediately hasten on with our journey, to go up north to Luoyang?"
Kou Zhong, who was having his face immersed in the stream, mumbled, "Khan is quite familiar with the hawks, it would be best for him to decide."
Tuli was sitting against a tree trunk; he said, "If the hawk found us, our tracks would no longer be hidden; therefore, it is quite dangerous to go up north. Only by going into a highly populated big city like Hannan will we be able to easily throw off that eye in the sky."
Kou Zhong walked back to the other two and sat down. He said dejectedly, "I've never expected that Li Yuanji would be that formidable; he nearly took my little life."
Astonished, Tuli asked, "Didn't Shao Shuai beat him up that he was spinning on the ground? Why did you say such thing?"
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong replied, "Khan did not know it, but my success just now involved a great deal of luck. After this, after Li Yuanji has time to ponder over the painful experience, next time we meet again, I may not necessarily be able to obtain advantages like this time. No wonder people say that Li Yuanji is the Li Clan's number one martial art master. He absolutely does not have undeserved reputation."
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, "Khan is also an expert in using spear. What do you think of Li Yuanji's spear technique?"
Tuli stared blankly in deep thought for a moment before saying with a sigh, "Frankly speaking, I have never thought someone could use a spear with divine skill like Li Yuanji. Particularly the last Sudden Thrust style tactic; it gave me more headache. That is the highest realm of using defense for offense."
Xu Ziling said, "The length of the spear itself has the marvelous usage of restraining the saber. His tactic of dragging the spear and turning around the battle could even display this advantage to extreme saturation, but it is not without any flaw. If Zhong Shao was not eager to kill him, he would not have fallen into that kind of no-room-to-advance-or-to-retreat situation."
Kou Zhong revealed a look as if his being was deep in thought, and that he had deep understanding.
Xu Ziling asked again, "Does Khan know who were those people who rushed over later?"
Tuli replied, "I do not dare to say for certain, but the leader rather looked like the young Paizhu of Nanhai Pai, the 'Golden Spear' Mei Xun. Ha! All spear experts inside and outside Central Plains, north and south, suddenly come together here!"
Getting a big headache, Kou Zhong said, "Add Kang Qiaoli to that bunch, it could be said that our enemy's martial art masters are as numerous as the cloud. Meeting force with force, it will be a dead end for us; escaping, we are afraid of the hawk's sharp eyes. On top of that, there's Yun Shuai and Zhu Can's numerous troops. We are currently surrounded by the enemies, isolated and without help, everywhere we go, we are subjected to the enemy."
Xu Ziling asked Tuli, "Supposing Yun Shuai's falcon sees the men from Li Yuanji's side, will it be able to report to its master?"
Tuli replied, "Unless Li Yuanji's men are going around to intercept us, or perhaps they appear near us, the falcon will only treat them as passing traveling merchants."
"That will do!" Xu Ziling said, "Assuming the men on Yun Shuai's side do not know the existence of Li Yuanji's troops, we still have a chance to exploit them."
The two men's spirit greatly roused, they asked, "How will the plan be executed?"
Xu Ziling analyzed calmly, "Just now Li Yuanji was rushing over from Hannan, evidently currently this region has cities and towns that are neutral, and all of them must give his Li Family a little bit of face. Therefore, if we enter the city, we might walk right into the trap. But as soon as we are within any area that set itself against the Li Family, Li Yuanji can no longer going on the rampage without any scruple, presumptuously flaunting his might like he did today; even if he wanted to deal with things one by one, he must avoid other people's eyes and ears. One thing that I want to see the most right now is two eagles meeting in the sky."
The two men's eyes lit up at the same time.
Kou Zhong spoke heavily, "Are you suggesting that we go west to Zhu Can's old lair, Guanjun City?"
Xu Ziling nodded and said, "From Guanjun to Luoyang and from Xiangyang to Luoyang are not much different. This is called put someone on a field of death and he will fight to live [idiom, based on Sunzi's Art of War]. Only by doing this will we be able to avoid any spy, either directly or indirectly related to the Li Family. Plus we'll make the enemy unable to guess that our real destination is Luoyang."
Murderous intent flashing in his eyes, Kou Zhong said, "Perhaps we can even take advantage of this to get rid of Kang Qiaoli and Li Yuanji; that will be even more ideal."
Tuli said, "We absolutely must not overlook Zhao Deyan. I am convinced that he is rushing over from wherever he is to meet with Kang Qiaoli. Moreover, because of secret communication between Kang Qiaoli and An Long, two hawks may not necessarily be able to meet in the air."
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Supposing right now both hawks are looking for our shadow, while we are running straight toward Guanjun, what do you think will happen?"
Kou Zhong sprang up and said, "Why don't we see?"
From high elevation looking down, the three looked at the Han River winding over from the northwest, flowing in unceasing torrent in the gorge under the cliff. Under the moon and the stars, there was a medium sized, two-mast sailboat going upstream to the north.
After rushing over for nearly twenty li along the Han River, this was the first boat that traveled at double speed under cover of darkness. On the entire boat there was only a single wind lantern hanging on top of the mast, exuding a mysterious feeling.
Just from the way this boat was sailing, anybody who had wandered in Jianghu would be able to tell that the helmsman must be an expert, because he was able to steer the boat in the dark relying on his night eyes.
"Can two gentlemen guess what is the chance that this boat is carrying our enemies?" Tuli asked.
"At least fifty-percent," Kou Zhong replied, "Perhaps we'd better show ourselves on the shore to see how they will react. It would be best if they are the men on Yun Shuai's side, so that we can lead them to have intimate meeting with Yuanji Laoxiong."
Xu Ziling looked up at the night sky above; after searching for a while, he said, "If Yun Shuai is on board, he has not released the falcon yet. Zhong Shao's proposal can be considered."
Currently, they were more afraid that Li Yuanji did not pursue them, hence they were unafraid to expose their tracks.
Tuli laughed and said, "Zhong Shao's methods are always as wonderful as the heavens opening up. Come! Let us say hello to them."
The three went on their way, running down the high cliff, straight toward the low-lying spot by the shore.
The sailboat slowly went upstream to where they were.
Kou Zhong drew the Moon in the Well. Taking advantage of the bright moon in the sky, he reflected the light toward the boat.
Contrary to the three men's expectation, the boat actually changed its course toward the shore where they were standing. The mood immediately tensed up. Could it be that the enemy had a martial art master on board that they relied on? Otherwise, how could they dare to come directly to meet them?
While the three felt their scalp was going numb, unsure whether they ought to stay or to immediately slip away, from among the dense shadows on the boat came a tender shout, "It's great to see you here!"
The three were stunned. Focusing their eyes, they looked at the sailboat coming closer and closer. Finally they were able to recognize Tian Kui Pai's Ying Yu, Lu Wuxia, and the others, martial brothers and sister. Inwardly they thought, 'How could there be such a coincidence?'
Ying Yu called out, "Where are the three gentlemen heading? Can we give you a ride?"
Inwardly the three were extremely touched; the other party was fully aware that the enemy the three provoked was no small matter, yet they were still this courteous and warmhearted. It was indeed extremely rare.
Kou Zhong responded, "Xian Shi Xiong Mei [virtuous martial brother and sister], please continue with your journey, do not mind us. It was because we met by chance at Jiangzuo [lit. 'left of the river'; not sure if it is a name, or a typo], and got to know each other that we wanted to say hello!"
Lu Wuxia excitedly waved her hand and said, "Get aboard first, we'll talk later! We waited for you at Hannan for half a night, you don't know how anxious we were! It's so great to see you."
Xu Ziling calmly said, "It would be best if ladies and gentlemen do not get involved with us. Otherwise I am afraid there might be unexpected misfortune. If this time we can escape the disaster, we will meet again in the future."
This moment the sailboat was less than a zhang away from the shore, both sides were able to clearly see the other side. All the Tian Kui Pai disciples under Ying Yu's leadership showed an expression full of admiration, as they waved their hands good-bye.
Soon afterwards the three left the shore. They hurried along the Han River to the west for nearly a hundred li. It was not until the sun was high in the sky that the three could not continue and had to stop to take a rest. They spread out to collect wild fruits to allay their hunger.
Two sichen later, the three finished regulating their breathing and continued on their journey. The plains ended. By this time they had left Han River far behind. Ahead was a row of the marvelous peaks of the mountain range extending endlessly in both directions.
Having no other choices, they had to rely on their qinggong to scale the mountain range. When they reached one of the peaks, they saw the undulating mountain on the distance, the boundless ocean of clouds, as if they had just entered a fantastic world.
The three had forgotten the pursuing troops relentlessly coming after them, unwilling to let them go, so much so that they even forgot why they came here. Once they stop and looked around, they could not bear to leave.
His heard filled with emotional stirring, Tuli said, "I wonder what the most painful thing in life really is!"
Exhausted, being blown by the wind, the three men's sleeves were fluttering, making them looked like deities, as if at any moment they could step on the cloud and ride on the wind to leave this mortal world.
Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, "Victory is impermanence, defeat is also impermanence, whether suffering exists or not, we'll think about it when we have time."
Xu Ziling said, "Zhong Shao's remark is brimming with profound thoughts and feelings. It clearly shows that your fight against Li Yuanji has made you more mature in thought."
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, "I wonder if you are a worm in my belly? Because just before I said those works, I did suddenly remember the battle against Li Yuanji. At that time I had full confidence that I would be able to take his little life in a few strokes, but the result was that I nearly lost my life in his hands. Affairs of life are impermanence, nothing can pass this."
Greatly astonished, Tuli said, "I never thought the real Kou Zhong would be this modest and forthcoming, because indeed, when your dominance was exhausted, you were able to get away and escape. No one can deny this fact."
Pleased with himself, Kou Zhong laughed and said, "I am originally a modest and open-minded person [lit. receptive as an echoing canyon (idiom)], but inevitably there will be misunderstanding between one person and another. In the world, only Ling Shao is very clear about my character. My biggest wish right now is to lure Li Yuanji into Zhu Can's sphere of influence, so that I could beat him up really bad."
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "What does Khan think about the most painful thing in life?"
Tuli was pondering over Kou Zhong's remark. Hearing the question, he said, "Because Xiaodi is thinking about the future, whether we will be friends or foe, I feel an indescribable pain in my heart. That was the reason I asked that question."
Greatly astonished, Kou Zhong said, "When Khan is back in Tujue, you could brush your sleeve and no longer care about the Central Earth's affairs, won't we all live together in harmony, like river water does not interfere with well water, and then you won't have to worry about this matter?"
A dense fog covered Tuli's countenance; he spoke heavily, "The problem is Xiaodi's current strength is still some distance away from Xieli, hence I must rely on external forces to contend against his power. And presently, my only choice is Li Shimin, and not Shao Shuai at all, hence the contradiction in my heart. Ay! I have never been such a forthcoming person, but being subjected to two gentlemen's heroic passion and chivalrous feeling, unexpectedly I cannot but pour out what's on my mind."
Xu Ziling nodded and said, "This means Khan really regards us as friends who treat one another with absolute sincerity."
Strong emotion flashed through Tuli's eyes, but the tone of his voice remained calm without any ripple. Sighing, he said, "Not just friends, but one's own flesh and blood, good brothers who live and die together. Otherwise, based on my usual style of taking advantage of others, how could I feel the excruciating pain of contradiction in my heart?"
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and walked over to the space between the two men; reaching out to put his hands on both men's shoulders, he looked up to the blue sky, and spoke in loud and clear, welling up with heroic spirit - voice, "What Khan said is enough. No matter what will happen in the future, right this moment, we are good brothers who fight side by side. Heavens! My Niang! Does that flat-feathered beast belong to Yun Shuai, or was it raised by Kang Qiaoli?"
The other two men looked up, and saw a black dot circling and dancing in the wind high in the sky, drawing graceful circle upon circle in the air.