Chapter 6 - Upholding Justice
Xu Ziling slyly replied, "That is Yun Shuai's falcon."
Kou Zhong was aghast, "I only see a small black dot, yet unexpectedly you can see the bird's appearance clearly?" he said.
Tuli said, "Ling Shao looks at the hawk's flight pattern to identify who this bird belongs to. People who raise hawks have this kind of ability, but Ling Shao only see them several times and he is already able to distinguish them. I guarantee that nobody in the entire Tujue would believe it."
"Of course Ling Shao's judgement can't possibly be wrong," Kou Zhong dejectedly said, "But aren't we too lucky? Unexpectedly we managed to throw off Li Yuanji's side."
Greatly astonished, Tuli said, "It seems that you wholeheartedly want Li Yuanji to catch up and fight a hard fight with you. I wonder if Shao Shuai has enough confidence to score a victory?"
The divine light in Kou Zhong's eyes glowed brightly, he said with a smile, "I have just said that victory and defeat are impermanence, they are difficult to foresee, how could I dare to brag that I will certainly win? When we were kids, there was this Bai Lao Fuzi [see Book 1 Chapter 1] who oftentimes taught us about the teachings of Confucius and Mencius; he said something about learning and then not knowing enough, telling us to work hard to find it out afterwards. Li Yuanji made me know what my shortcomings are; such an opponent is hard to find, hard to come by. Therefore, I thirst to have another battle against him."
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Shao Shuai may rest your heart at ease. With An Long threading the needle, playing ghost in the dark, I am sure you will have your wish come true. You can't even avoid it even if you don't want to."
The three were chatting and joking as if they did not care that Yun Shuai was closely following them.
Turning his head to face the wind, Tuli took a deep breath and said, "Yun Shuai could be considered extremely skillful, unexpectedly after just one day and one night he can quickly catch up with us."
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "He is moving real fire, he wants to wipe off the former disgrace by all means. In my opinion, he should be coming after us alone, he has left the others far behind. Were it not for he is able to slip away faster than any of us, I really wish I could turn back and beat him to such a sorry state. But now we have to find a crowded place to hide his mother's a while, so that we can carry out our grand plan of striking back."
Xu Ziling said indifferently, "You have such a rich mountain-and-stream geographical knowledge, please tell me, which way should we go?"
Kou Zhong pointed to the distant northwest extremities of Anhai, floating-under-their-feet. Full of confidence, he said, "We are going in that direction until we reach a big river flowing from the west, which ought to be Chao River. North of Chao River, there is a big city called Shunyang. About two hundred li north of Shunyang is precisely Zhu Can's old nest, Guanjun, situated south of Tuan River. There's a saying, how do you catch the tiger cub without entering the tiger’s lair? We might as well charge into Zhu Can's base camp, stirring him up until the sky and the earth turning upside down. Two Laoxiong, what do you think?"
Tuli laughed heartily and said, "I might feel sorry for Li Yuanji. Although his strength far surpasses ours, but all along he has been led by the nose by us."
He has become accustomed to Kou Zhong's style of speaking, his ability to turn the sky and earth upside down with only slightly exaggerated words, so he knew that the three of them were not going to rely just on their own strength to enter Guanjun, Zhu Can's tiger whiskers.
Xu Ziling said, "After reaching Shunyang, we'd better change our appearance and assume other identities. If the hawk relies on external appearance to recognize people, there is a great chance that we will be able to trick it."
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "I am afraid we will have to disguise ourselves as hunchbacked old men and change our walking gait, otherwise, even if we change into a small black dot, we can't hide from its acute eyes."
Amidst their laughter, the three climbed the mountain and rushed in the northwest direction.
About a sichen later, the three left the mountain area. Sure enough, just like Kou Zhong said, they saw a big river flowing from the west, but they did not see any boat sailing on the river. They only saw three fishing boats with fishermen throwing their net to catch fish. On the opposite site, they faintly saw a village behind a forest.
After searching the sky for a moment, Kou Zhong said, "There's no hawk in sight!"
Tuli said, "In term of breathing endurance, how could it match us? Perhaps it is returning to Yun Shuai to eat and rest."
Kou Zhong happily said, "If we don't take this opportunity to cross the river, what are we waiting for?"
Raising their spirit, the three ran at full speed toward the riverbank. Selecting a place where the river course was rather narrow, with the help of thick branches that they tossed into the river, they effortlessly cross the more than ten zhang wide river.
As they were slipping into a dense forest by the riverbank, Tuli spoke a bit awkwardly, "Xiaodi has another proposal, I hope Shao Shuai won't take offense."
Blurting out laughing, Kou Zhong said, "If Khan has an even better suggestion, Xiaodi can't thank you enough; how could I take offense?"
Smiling, Xu Ziling said, "It's because just now you were displaying your rich knowledge that Khan is hesitant to show that he is more adept than you are in this aspect. Ay! You are a kid who loves to toot your horn."
Tuli laughed in delight and said, "In that case I won't be shy! Frankly speaking, if we want to sneak into Guanjun, it would be more advantageous if we go via Nanyang compared to Shunyang."
Kou Zhong wanted to say something, but then he stopped.
Xu Ziling teased him, "Are you going to ask where Nanyang is?"
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, "Can you not think that I am that disappointing? It's not that I do not have any interest in Zhu Can's territory, therefore, I made painstaking effort to study it. Nanyang is located downstream from Guanjun. If you sail following the current, it will take you only one day. Only because Nanyang is a big city - it is the most prosperous, as well as the most populous and affluent within Zhu Can's sphere of influence, which surpasses even Guanjun, and this kind of place has many men and various eyes - that I did not choose this city!"
Astonished, Tuli said, "I thought Shao Shuai overlooked Nanyang. Turns out you have different way of thinking. However, inside Nanyang, we have our Tujue clansmen, running our regional big sheepskin business. I thought we would be able to take advantage of him, to make arrangement to deal with Kang Qiaoli and Li Yuanji."
Seizing the opportunity to get out of embarrassment, Kou Zhong vigorously slapped Tuli's shoulder and said with a laugh, "Why didn't you say so earlier? We'll go immediately; Khan, please lead the way."
The last sentence finally exposed the fox's tail.
Pulling the two men back, Xu Ziling said, "Look!"
A falcon was riding on the wind high in the sky. After making a large circle, it flew to the west.
The three 'you look at me I look at you', Kou Zhong was the first to come to himself; he said, "Old flat-feathered beast must have lost our tracks due to the ocean of clouds covering the mountain peak. This is even better; if Kang Qiaoli is following us here, he must be taking Li Yuanji along, to rely on help from the clansman doing big business in Nanyang, then we will turn from being in the open to being hidden, so we can teach evil people, who bullied us, a lesson."
The three looked at the sky, which was clearing up from the earlier haze; very carefully they hid themselves toward the north.
Guanjin and Nanyang were located west and south of Tuan River, one upstream, the other downstream, as close as lips and teeth [idiom: interdependent], controlling a vast mountainous area and the traffic of the lower reaches of the Tuan River. In term of geographical location, they are very strategic. If one of the cities fell under attack, it would be difficult for the other city to maintain its momentum alone.
The reason Nanyang's economy was more prosperous than Guanjun was simply because since ancient time, it has been the trade and commerce distribution hub connecting numerous official roads, the largest relay station within several hundred li area, while also an important military base of the Garuda Army outside Guanjun.
Nanyang city walls on all four sides were connected by gates joined together to multi-storied buildings; strong and magnificent. The walls were constructed of bricks sealed tight with mortar. Along the inside of the wall was a road to provide rapid movement of the troops. Along the side of the road were trees and bushes. Leaning close to the north side of the city was the turbulent Tuan River, which was diverted into aqueduct around the outside of the city walls to act as a moat.
On the inside, the city was prosperous, with rows upon rows of buildings, divided by cross-shaped main streets. On the north side, the street was not straight but followed the contour of the river. All the houses facing the streets had veranda with eaves. The eaves rose up, the windows on the upper floor were adorned with ornamental engraving, enhancing the city's distinguishing feature.
The north street along the river was where the businesses were concentrated, shops were lining up the street on both sides, men and horses traveled back and forth in unending stream.
It was just after dawn. Dressed as fishermen, Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Tuli disembarked from the dock north of the city, and paid the tax to enter the city. Leaving the main street, they turned into a narrow alley.
Greatly astonished, Kou Zhong said, "People say that Zhu Can is cruel and oppressive, so much so that there are miserable things like people eating people in the area under his jurisdiction, but this city does not have the slightest reflection of that kind of situation, so what exactly is going on?"
Tuli replied, "The reason is very simple: because the real control over the big city is not under Zhu Can at all, but under the coalition government of Nanyang's three sects, four gangs, and one society. It's just that every month they have to pay tribute to Zhu Can, so that Zhu Can no longer care about Nanyang's internal affairs."
Both Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were surprised.
Tuli went on, "This has been done by Zhu Can's own hands. Because of excessive suppression and exploitation, three years ago Nanyang's gangs, societies, schools and sects joined hands with the citizens of the city to rise vigorously and rebel against him, driving all Garuda troops out of the city. Zhu Can led his army to attack, but after attacking for a long time without success, he had no choice but to accept the reality, and came to an agreement with the three sects, four gangs, and one society. The fact is that this actually brings benefit to Zhu Can without any harm, simply because thirty-percent of the revenue of Zhu Can's state treasury came from Nanyang. Also, only through Nanyang would Zhu Can be able to purchase large quantities of daily necessities, because nobody wants to do business with this credulous person."
Greatly interested, Kou Zhong said, "Unexpectedly there is such thing. Zhu Can is not a trustworthy person, how could he be willing to accept this humiliation?"
"Naturally he is unwilling," Tuli said, "Therefore, with a hundred and thousand schemes he tries to split apart the three sects, four gangs, and one society's union. But these schools, sects, gangs and societies elected Yang Zhen to preside over the general situation. Not only he is highly virtuous, his method is smooth and evasive; he is a slick and sly person. At least until now, Zhu Can still fails to regain control of Nanyang."
Kou Zhong was full of praise, "Khan is really formidable, you know about Central Earth's affairs more clearly than I do; evidently your intelligence network is highly efficient."
He halted his steps and said, "How about this inn?"
The other two nodded their approval. Just by looking at the shop front, it was clear that this was the cheapest kind of inn, very appropriate for their now destitute, low-class identity.
The three opened their room. Disregarding everything, they collapsed down and slept soundly. When they awoke, the sky has turned black.
After taking turn going to the bathroom to freshen up and change their clothes, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling turned themselves into an ugly and boorish man and Gong Chenchun, respectively. They also had Tuli wearing Kou Zhong's full-bearded, deep-eyed and hawk-nosed mask.
Tuli exclaimed in admiration, "This mask is indeed the result of skillful, snatching-the-heaven hands; but if we walk out the street like this, those who are intentionally watching us will still be able to recognize us in one glance."
Kou Zhong said, "We want to deceive those who are unintentional. Besides, who could have guessed that we are coming to Nanyang? Let's not worry about his mother's; we need to find a place nearby to cure our hungry belly. While doing that, we'll discuss the next step of our counterattack strategy."
The three men swaggered to the north main street connecting the north and south city gates. The oppressive liveliness and the crowd startled the three men; compared to the early morning Nanyang, it was like a different place, the prosperity was not inferior to Luoyang at all.
Part of the crowd was even Wulin characters, the Three Religions and Nine Schools [fig. people from all trades], all kinds of people, but everybody was following the law, nobody was trying to confront anybody else, making Xu Ziling think of Chengdu.
The three selected a rather large restaurant to sit down. When they ordered their food and wine, they noticed that the whole restaurant was full. There were nearly fifty tables in both the inside and outside sections, all were occupied. Bustling, noisy, warm, and bright, clamorous and vibrant.
The table they sat on was in the inside section, toward the side. As soon as they sat down, Kou Zhong tipped the waiter, telling him to remove the remaining chairs away, so that they could monopolize the table.
All of a sudden Tuli was overwhelmed with emotion; he said, "In all my life I rarely have such a moment to enjoy life, to have vivid experience of how precious life really is. Previously, even after defeating a powerful enemy, I did not have such deep satisfaction and peace of mind like right now."
Kou Zhong nodded and said, "I understand Khan's feeling. To Khan, the experience of the past few days must be fresh and extremely stimulating. But back to the main point, Khan's clansman who is running sheepskin business in here, what's his surname and given name, and where does he live?"
Laughing involuntarily, Tuli said, "I am not formidable enough to remember his address, but this man's original name is Ke'erpo, he also goes by his Han name Huo Qiu. He should be a figure that nobody in Nanyang did not know, he has good relationship with local Wulin dignitaries."
Xu Ziling asked, "The three sects that Khan mentioned, could it be that one of those happen to be Tian Kui Pai?"
"Exactly," Tuli replied, "But speaking about power, Nanyang Bang, which is ranked among the Jianghu's Eight Gangs and Ten Societies, ought to be at the top of the list. The 'Yan Yue Dao' [lying-down moon saber] Yang Zhen is the Da Longtou [big boss] of Nanyang Bang."
Right this moment, from the outer section suddenly came the noise of cups and dishes being smashed to pieces, followed by the sound of people cursing. While the three were stunned, a human shadow flew directly in, and fell face up on one of the tables. Immediately everybody scattered in all direction to escape. Cups, plates, and bowls fell to the floor and smashed to pieces; rice, vegetables and meat splashed all over the table, chairs overturned, tables collapsed, the situation was unbearably chaotic.
The man rolled down along the table and fell to the ground. Looking at his appearance, he could not be more than twenty years. Moaning and groaning, unexpectedly he was unable to get up.
Noticing his clear eyebrows and handsome eyes, Xu Ziling knew that he was not an evil man; although well aware that he should not meddle in other people's business, still inwardly he could not bear to watch without doing anything. First, he grabbed him and helped him up, and then he pressed his palm onto his back to transmit his true qi, saying, "Don't talk."
The young man slightly opened his eyes, revealing a grateful expression; following Xu Ziling's instruction, he closed his eyes again.
Kou Zhong and Tuli were still sitting on their original position. With eyes burning they fixed their gaze on the passageway connecting the inner and outer sections, wanting to see who would be this tyrannical and overbearing, dare to destroy this city's peaceful and harmonious atmosphere, openly commit a violent act inside this restaurant.
A man, looking like a young master of an influential family, his eyes emitted vicious look, his face suffused with iron-blue color, under escort of five armed big men – was coming to the inside court, and berated Xu Ziling angrily without any trace of politeness.
Evidently the other diners knew this gentleman; everybody's countenance changed, they all kept quiet out of fear.
Some people wanted to slip away, but the gentleman, sweeping his gaze around, said, "No one is allowed to leave. I want all of you to watch me, Luo Rongtai, teaching a lesson to this Tian Kui Pai dog who's overestimating his capabilities. Humph! Knowing perfectly well that Xiao Wan is mine, unexpectedly still want to be the toad eating the swan's meat. Even Lu Zhong is nothing in my eyes, much less you, an insignificant small bandit Xie Xianting."
A man to Luo Rongtai's left shouted angrily, "Are you deaf? You haven't crawled away, do you want to meddle in our Tuan Jiang Pai's [River Tuan Sect] business?"
Hearing that, the three thought that it was an outrage. Even if it did not involve Tian Kui Pai, such use-of-strength-to-bully-others was already enough for them not to stand by idly and watch, much less it concerned Tian Kui Pai, who had won the three men's favorable impression.
Tuli was about to burst in anger, Kou Zhong smiled and pulled him back, asking, "Is it one of the three sects?"
After Tuli nodded, Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, "Let Ling Shao handle this!"
By this time Xu Ziling's true qi has circulated inside Xie Xianting's body one full cycle, opening up his stopped up meridians due to the hit.
Xie Xianting struggled to stand up and said, "No words can express my gratitude for your great kindness. A man did it, a man take responsibility for it. EnGong [benefactor] need not mind me."
Xu Ziling helped him up and sat him on a chair nearby that has not been knocked down, as if he did not even see Luo Rongtai and his bunch of vicious men; he smiled and said, "Me and your honorable sect's Ying Yu Xiong are friends. Xie Xiong may set your heart at ease and rest, I have a way to deal with this."
Hearing that, the ominous glint in Luo Rongtai's eyes shot out; signaling with his hand, the man who had just cursed angrily immediately scrambled forward, came behind Xu Ziling, gathered his fingers into a palm chop, and swiftly chopped on the back of Xu Ziling's neck in full power.
Xu Ziling suddenly moved backward; the man clearly saw Xu Ziling seemed to be delivering his own body to be a target for his palm chop; who would have thought that he saw a blur, and his palm chop fell on empty air?
When he pulled his palm back, Xu Ziling reappeared before his eyes. Before he realized what was going on, Xu Ziling already bumped into his chest. Immediately his spine arched like a spring, his body doubled over, with a miserable scream he was jolted by an irresistible inner power; his feet left the ground, he flew toward Luo Rongtai.
The nearly a hundred diners nearby, some were standing, some were sitting - had never expected Xu Ziling to be this superior; they nearly broke into cheers. Everybody has felt that Tuan Jiang Pai's overbearing style was unpleasant to the eye.
Luo Rongtai was outstanding as well; taking a step forward, he reached out to catch the falling man. To neutralize Xu Ziling's true power, he needed to take two steps back before he was able to stand firm. And then he ordered his men to help the big man.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud as he rose to his full height. After all eyes were fixed on him, he glibly said, "Seeing that you, Rongtai Shao still have a little bit of martial art skill, let Laozi slaughter you. I guarantee that I can chop you off to eighteen pieces, and each piece's weight will be precise to the finest detail."
Tuli stomped the Subduing Eagle Spear heavily on the floor, producing a rumbling-thunder-like noise that shook the entire restaurant and terrified everybody's heart. With dissatisfaction in his voice, he said, "Laoxiong, you are not really a friend! Just now you stopped Xiaodi from making my move, turns out you want to take him for yourself. This fight ought to be mine."
'Wah!' The big man that Xu Ziling threw nearly dropped down on his knees to the floor if his comrades did not hold him up, increasing the three men's prestige.
Assuming a panic-stricken look on his face, Kou Zhong cupped his fist to apologize to Tuli, saying, "Dage, please calm down. I'll let Dage have this fellow to satisfy your spear's craving. Eighteen holes and eighteen pieces are not much different. The worst thing is that this kid reminded me of another man, so that I could not help wanting to eat this head and making him into soup. Dage, please don't blame me."
Of all the people around, only Xu Ziling knew that the other man Kou Zhong was referring to was Xiang Yushan. Luo Rongtai had a striking resemblance to Xiang Yushan. Naturally with Xiang Yushan's outward appearance, it was a bit easier to deceive people.
Inwardly all the spectators were greatly delighted; they were happy that the evil person has met the evil person's fate.
Luo Rongtai's countenance turned from green to white. Spreading his arms to stop his men from charging forward to stake their lives, he shouted coldly, "Since you dare to meddle in other people's business, do you dare to report your names?"
Even somebody who had just made his debut in Jianghu would know that he was showing strength while being weak inside, and was just trying to find a way to step down from the stage.
Who would have thought that Tuli was uncooperative? He simply stood valiantly with spear lifted up; suddenly he moved in front of Luo Rongtai, his spear thrust forward.
Shocked, Luo Rongtai pulled his sword to block. The other men, who were helping the injured man, were forced to stagger back by the Subduing Eagle Spear's powerful gust of wind, so that they lost all their might.
'Dang! Dang! Dang!'
Luo Rongtai did have the ability to run amuck; giving everything he had, he blocked three spear strikes in succession.
Tuli laughed aloud. The spear's momentum changed; just like the Great River and the Yellow River, the spear shadow filled the air, rolling Luo Rongtai inside it.
Before anybody could see clearly, Luo Rongtai let out a miserable grunt as the tail of Tuli's spear swept the side of his leg, while his long sword fell off his hand, and Luo Rongtai himself was thrown sideways, knocking down another table full of food and wine, meeting the same fate as Xie Xianting just a moment ago.
Kou Zhong put down some silvers and spoke in low voice, "Brothers, let's go!"
 The Three Religions:Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Nine Schools: Confucians, Daoists, Yin-Yang, Legalists, Logicians, Mohists, Political Strategists, Eclectics, Agriculturists.