Chapter 8 - Facing Imminent Catastrophe
As Luo Changshou and the others left with anger in their heart, with a worried frown Ying Yu said, "Now that we have a fallout with Luo Changshou, the next step should be … ay!"
Kou Zhong gave him a kick under the table. Ying Yu immediately roused his spirit. Striving to assume an air of heroism, he continued, "Should be how are we going to gain the initiative by striking first?"
Tuli glibly said, "Tuan Jiang Pai, Chao Shui Bang, Hui Yi Bang, Yang Xing Hui, the two gangs, one society and one sect join together to become one faction. I wonder which side do the other two, Jing Shan Pai and Zhen Yang Bang, stand on?"
Lu Wuxia lithely moved her tender body to Ying Yu's side. "They are terrified of the power of Yang Xing Hui's growing expansion and of Ji Yinong's martial art; they are angry at him, but do not dare to speak out. This time after Die went out, we wanted to ask them to support justice, but they all avoided it," she spoke irately.
Kou Zhong said, "Although Da Longtou Yang Zhen is not here, but don't they have anybody else in charge of Nanyang Bang? He can't possibly watch Ji Yinong going on the rampage and do nothing?"
Ying Yu sighed and said, "The most famous martial art masters of Nanyang Bang are Meng Degong and Fan Naitang; but they went to Guanjun with Da Longtou. Da Longtou originally relied on Jia Shi to act on his behalf to be in charge, but Jia Shi was wounded, so now we are in a big mess. Ay! Oh!"
After secretly kicking him again, Kou Zhong asked, "You have so many gangs and sects governing Nanyang; how do you manage the city defense and financial matters?"
Lu Wuxia replied, "Finance is under Da Longtou's control; for other works, each gang or sect takes turn in assuming the responsibility. For example, this month's defense is the responsibility of Nanyang Bang, hence the reason Da Longtou did not feel at ease leaving for Guanjun."
Tuli said to Kou Zhong, "We should go straight to Yang Xing Hui and get rid of Ji Yinong; this matter will be completely resolved."
His countenance changed, Ying Yu said, "Absolutely not! Two gangs, one society, one sect altogether have more than twenty-thousand people. Moreover, massacring each other like this, definitely both sides will suffer. In the end, the one taking advantage will be Zhu Can, that old thief."
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Ying Xiongdi, don't worry, Khan is just joking. Since this matter cannot be resolved with force, we must outsmart them and not giving them any advantage. Let's divide the works; first, we must be in touch with Nanyang Bang, and then get a good grasp of the situation of the entire city, especially any activity of the hostile gang and sect to see if they are moving an army and sending a general. If my guess is correct, that fellow 'Yunyu Shuang Xiu' Pi Shouxuan is going to pay a visit really soon!"
Like flurries of snowflakes, intelligence was flying constantly into Tian Kui Pai dojo in the southern part of the city. As soon as Luo Changshou and the others left, they went straight to Yang Xing Hui to see Ji Yinong, so they knew that the enemy faction has begun mobilizing their troops, with their main force concentrated in Yang Xing Hui's headquarters in the northern part of the city.
Jing Shan Pai and Zhen Yang Bang, who were temporarily taking a neutral stance, were also consolidating their troops in order to protect themselves. Needless to say, Nanyang Bang was in full alert to guard against the coalition force under Ji Yinong's leadership's sudden and violent attack.
The situation of the whole city was as tense as a taut bow, a situation where difficulty could happen any moment.
According to Kou Zhong's estimate, Ji Yinong was, in fact, facing the same problem, that is, he also wanted to avoid having their strength suffering big injury, so much so that Zhu Can would have the opportunity to exploit this weakness. Otherwise, he might have already led his troops to attack Tian Kui Pai dojo.
Other than sending out spies all over the city, Tian Kui Pai also recalled their nearly two thousand disciples to guard their dojo, making a waiting-for-dawn-with-head-resting-on-the-spear [idiom: fully prepared and biding one's time before the battle] oath to protect their school.
Inside the room where Lu Zhong was recuperating, Xu Ziling took off his palms from Lu Zhong's back and stepped outside. Lu Wuxia stood up and came over to meet him and asked anxiously, "How's Die's condition?"
Xu Ziling smiled and replied, "Miss Lu, please don't worry; his condition is actually better than we thought. Your esteemed father is already able to circulate his qi and regulate his breathing without any help. One more sichen or so, he should be completely recovered."
Everybody heaved a sigh of relief; Lu Wuxia even shed tears of joy. She wanted to come inside, but Ying Yu gently reminded her not to disturb Lu Zhong circulating his energy.
Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Tuli withdrew to the rear courtyard. They sat down in the pavilion to discuss their plan.
Kou Zhong said, "Looks like Li Yuanji's party has not entered the city; at least they have not contacted Huo Qiu yet. As for Yun Shuai, this Persian fellow comes and goes like the wind; nobody can keep an eye on him. Whether he is already in the city or not, only God knows."
And then he told Xu Ziling what had just happened, as well as the tensed the-wind-and-the-rain-is-about-to-come situation in Nanyang.
Xu Ziling pondered a moment, and then asked, "What time is it now?"
Tuli calmly replied, "Very early, only the first watch of the night [7-9pm]."
In all his life, he has always been in the middle of the troops facing vicious battles; he grew up in the middle of struggles and internal strife, hence this kind of situation was nothing new to him, practically he did not think it as a big deal.
Xu Ziling said, "As long as the other side has not figured out our real identity, they are definitely going to lead their troops to attack tonight."
Kou Zhong said, "We have different view: within the enemy ranks, there must be some who are unwilling to let this current situation to evolve into both-sides-suffer situation. Their eyes are on Lu Zhong only. According to Ying Yu, in three days, they are going to hold the second Longtou [boss] election. Inflicting heavy injury to Lu Zhong is just a killing-the-chicken-to-warn-the-monkey method to force Jing Shan Pai and Zhen Yang Bang to abandon the 'Lying-down Moon Saber' Yang Zhen and to elect Ji Yinong. In which case, even if Lu Zhong is still standing on Yang Zhen's side, it will still be two against six, so that Ji Yinong will rise to Da Longtou position in a perfectly legitimate way, which far surpasses the stupid way of washing the city with blood."
"So that's how it is," Xu Ziling obtained sudden understanding, "No wonder Lu Zhong was injured, but did not die. However, his, the Senior's foundation was extremely profound, which is also the reason he became the thorn in Ji Yinong's side. If he is able to walk on the street like lively dragon and animated tiger tomorrow, Ji Yinong's prestige will suffer a serious blow."
Kou Zhong said, "If the currently neutral two sects are supporting Yang Zhen, plus the Tian Kui Pai, it will be an even four-against-four situation. According to the previous agreement, Yang Zhen will then be able to hold his current position for another year, until they are holding the third election. In Nanyang, whoever control the taxation and public finance will have the greatest power. Other than Ji Yinong, who is harboring evil intentions, the rest of the people will eventually succumb."
Greatly interested, Tuli said, "We should exercise our muscles and bones tonight. It Nanyang became our territory, Li Yuanji and his men could forget about leaving this place alive."
Kou Zhong said, "About that, if we say it's difficult, it is not difficult, but if we say it's easy, it is not easy either. Ling Shao, do you have any good suggestion?"
Xu Ziling said, "If we can be ourselves, naturally it will be the perfect solution where we can kill two birds with one stone. But currently Nanyang is like a ball of fire. One thing goes wrong, the entire city will be burned into crumbled wall and damaged roof tiles; disaster will reach the innocent civilians. After all, the three of us are outsiders, it's not a good idea to be directly involved. In my opinion, we ought to wait until Lu Zhong Laoshi recovers, and then with him, a person of virtue and prestige, appearing personally, we can settle this matter with no blood on the men's swords. Our heavy responsibility is to make sure that he is safe and sound."
Staring blankly, Tuli said, "I did not think this matter that thoroughly. Looks like what Ziling said makes sense."
There were light footsteps, Ying Yu came to report, "There is a ship that has just arrived at the dock north of the city. They reported that they have a business deal with Huo Qiu. Nanyang Bang men have boarded the ship to inquire; they came in contact with Khan's clansmen. Reportedly they will enter the city tomorrow."
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, "They are finally here!"
Ying Yu was stunned; he did not understand, the pursuing troops have arrived to attack, yet unexpectedly Kou Zhong's face lit up with delight.
Xu Ziling laughed and said, "Ying Xiong, please sit down. Is there any new development on Ji Yinong's side?"
After sitting down properly on the stone bench, Ying Yu said with a worried frown, "We have just received the information that Ji Yinong, along with the other two gangs and one sect's Longtou are heading toward Jing Shan Pai to see the Zhangmenren [sect leader] Ren Zhi. Obviously they want to persuade him to join their camp. Ay! If Ren Zhi is moved by Ji Yinong, the situation will turn from bad to worse."
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "I am not saying that Ying Xiong is wrong, but with Ying Xiong's expression and manner like this, how could you win your Xia Shimei's heart?"
Staring blankly, Ying Yu asked, "What's wrong with my manner?"
Putting on the air of a Junshi [military advisor], Kou Zhong analyzed, "The more critical the situation, the more girls want to have a strong man that they can rely on by their side. Now is the time Ying Xiong show your heroic, lofty quality. But if you are sighing in despair, acting like you are out of your wits, how could she possibly give her fragrant heart to you? The opportunity is fleeting, Ying Xiong must take a good grasp."
Displeased, Xu Ziling said, "They, martial brother and sister, have deep feeling, heavy friendship between them, why would they need you to meddle in their business?"
Ying Yu hastily said, "Shao Shuai is the spectator who sees more of the game, he observes down to the smallest detail. Although Jia Shi has the intention to play matchmaker between us, but Xia Shimei has many times hinted that I am not the one she admires. It seems that I have no choice but to resign to my fate."
Tuli joined in, "Have Ying Xiongdi felt that the more you are yielding to her, the more she will throw a fit and get angry at you?"
Shaken, Ying Yu said, "How did Khan do that? It was as if you witnessed it with your own eyes. The situation is indeed like what Khan has just described. What did I do wrong?"
Tuli laughed aloud and said, "Your mistake is that you don't understand that women are like wild horse; if you don't whip them a couple of times, you will never be able to tame them."
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, "Ying Xiong must not listen to him; that is Tujue people's way, if you apply it in the Central Earth, you may try to be clever and end up with egg on your face."
While Tuli was doubling-up in laughter, Kou Zhong, putting his heart and soul to give guidance, said, "To put it into perspective, the man your Shimei likes is not a yes-man, but a man brimming with heroic spirit and lofty quality, a man with guts to do great things, a hero who will stop at nothing. Why do you have to be terrified when you have us behind you in everything? Think about it! Whether you are strong and courageous or humble and low-key, the enemy won't change, right?"
"Ying Xiong ought to think about yourself!" Xu Ziling said, "In this kind of marriage-predestined-by-fate matter, if you are forced to do it, it will be meaningless. But there is one thing that Kou Zhong said it right. In this time of life and death, Ying Xiong simply must not afraid of the head, terrified of the tail. You need to stick out your chest to fight for your honorable sect's rise or fall, regardless of the consequences, success or failure. But you must not worry about whether admiration will grow in your esteemed Shimei's heart because of this or not."
Being inspired like that, Ying Yu's eyes lit up; nodding his head, he said, "What three Dage said were all gems of wisdom. I, Ying Yu …"
Hurried footsteps interrupted his speech. Carrying a gust of fragrant wind with her, with displeasure on her face, Lu Wuxia spoke with extreme anger, "This kid Xianting really didn't make any progress. In this critical moment, unexpectedly he slipped out secretly. It will be desperately serious if he came across Tuan Jiang Pai people."
Ying Yu was about to say, 'What should we do?' but noticing that the three were staring blankly at him, he came to his senses and spoke in heavy voice, "Xia Shimei must not get upset. Xianting must be going to Yue Lan She [moon orchid residence] to look for Xiao Wan."
Lu Wuxia crossly said, "Everybody knows about that. The problem is that he is the willing-target that Luo Changshou wants to get. Outside, their spies are everywhere. Xianting is acting recklessly for the sake of a woman who prostitutes herself, it will be terrible if he falls into Luo Changshou's hands!"
Ying Yu decisively said, "For now, we won't care about whether Xianting and pleasure house woman's intimate friendship is right or wrong. The most important thing right now is to get him back here. Otherwise, if Ji Yinong got hold of him, it will be greatly disadvantageous for us."
Lu Wuxia was slightly startled; she looked him up and down with full attention, her pretty eyes showed surprised expression.
Kou Zhong nodded in praise. Standing up, he said, "Just tell me where this Yue Lan She is, I will take him back. Let Khan and Ling Shao hold the fort here."
When only Tuli and Xu Ziling, two men remained in the pavilion, the latter suddenly swept his gaze around, his tiger-eyes flashed with peculiar light.
Tuli was startled; following his lead, he also looked around. After making sure that absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary, he asked in surprise, "Is the enemy coming?"
At first Xu Ziling shook his head, but then he nodded and said, "For some reason, suddenly my heart was disturbed just now, as if we are facing imminent catastrophe. It rarely happens to me; I am afraid this is not a good omen."
Tuli felt a chill creeping up from his spine all the way to his brain. After hanging around Xu Ziling for so long, naturally he knew about the sharpness of his spiritual nature, which far surpassed ordinary people. Exhaling a mouthful of cold air, he said, "Logically speaking, even if Ji Yinong received help from Pi Shouxuan, they still cannot do anything to us; Ziling, why did you have this ominous premonition?"
Xu Ziling's countenance turned even graver; he said, "The feeling of danger is getting stronger! Khan, please discuss with Ying Yu for ways that we could use to withdraw quickly, I am going to patrol the outer courtyard to see if there's anything wrong."
Unleashing his shenfa, Kou Zhong flew over the roofs and ridges of the buildings toward Yue Lan She, which was located on the main street at the northern part of the city.
The night wind was whistling, the weather was crisp and clear. Kou Zhong leaped down from the roof to enter a side alley. Turning to the left and curving to the right, he hurriedly ran along a section of the street. When he leaped up to the roof of another residential building, he saw someone standing on the rood ridge, shouting at him in low voice, "Come!"
Wearing white clothes, bare feet, appearing like a wisp of light smoke without any substance, she slowly rose up from the other end of the roof ridge and landed on the eaves.
Blown by the night breeze, her long robe, as white as the snow without any trace of contamination from the dust of the earth, was fluttering backward, putting her beautiful, marvelous figure and her touching outline, her beautiful dreary and fuzzy eyes, her hidden-bitterness-secret-grudge expression, which was unlike her previous confident attitude, which sent chill into people's heart - in full display.
Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. Even after a thousand thoughts and ten thousand considerations, he would never imagine that she would appear here. All the counting-one’s-chickens-before-they-are-hatched thought immediately vanished into the thin air.
Reaching up, he took his mask off, and slowly put it into bosom, while silently amassing his power at the same time, preparing himself to face the enemy.
Suddenly flying over for about a zhang, she stopped and stood still about six chi in front of Kou Zhong. Her purple-red mouth lightly opened, her breath smelling like orchid, she faintly said, "Is Shao Shuai well?"
Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong said, "Originally everything was according to plan, all my wishes have come true. But now that you, Beauty, are honoring me with your fragrant presence, it is extremely likely that this is the omen that will turn my extreme joy into sorrow. How could there be any well or unwell that we can talk about?"
Without answering him, she raised her cicada head, her eyes gazed deeply into the night sky resplendent in the moon and the stars light, she said with a sigh, "If Ziling is at Tian Kui dojo, tell him that I will never forget him."
A chill grew in Kou Zhong's heart; he nearly wanted to turn around and run back to the dojo. But he realized that this was her brilliant method of disturbing his mind. If he fell into it, he would end up as a corpse lying on the street. Thereupon he promptly steadied his heart and threw the thousand anxieties out of his mind.
"Didn't we have an agreement that after we obtain the Duke Yang's Treasure, you can take a certain item from the treasure?" he spoke heavily.
Her eyes returned to his face; she asked in tranquil voice, "Kou Zhong, how much confidence do you have that you will be able to evade Shi Feixuan and the Buddhist four monks' pursuit?"
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, "Your information is indeed fast and abundant."
Her jade countenance returning to still-water tranquility, she spoke indifferently, "Rather than letting you fall into Shi Feixuan's hands and will never reach Guanzhong, Chang'an, it would be better for us to catch you, to see whether after tasting the most cruel torture under the heavens your mouth will still be strong enough not to spit the secret of the treasure."
Kou Zhong pulled the Moon in the Well and said with a cold laugh, "Less idle chat! The talent under your hands is the truth on earth; the rest, just like you said a moment ago, is just nonsense."
Her pair of beautiful eyes emitted complicated, profound expression that was difficult to understand. With a sad smile she said, "You and Ziling are both heroic characters who could make me admire you wholeheartedly. Too bad that in the end I have to destroy you; this really brings sorrows to my heart. But we are compelled by circumstances. Nanyang is an important stronghold that we simply must obtain; we will absolutely not let you interfere. Now Kou Shao Shuai's usefulness and value has reached the end, it is time for us to send Shao Shuai off to be on your way!"
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, "Empty promises are meaningless. Watch for the saber!"
Launching the 'Sudden Strike' of the 'Eight Methods of the Well', the Moon in the Well turned into a long streak of light; like a streak of lightning it attacked this Yin Gui Pai's most outstanding new generation disciple.
A pair of sleeves rose up, they brushed heavily on the Moon in the Well's blade. Kou Zhong felt that the entire saber power was absorbed by her pair of Da Mo Xiu [great demonic sleeves]; instantly he could not continue his move, and had to retreat in shock.
But she did not seize this opportunity to pursue and attack, she spoke softly instead, "Kou Shao Shuai, you are a lot more fortunate than your brother, because we already decided to kill you ruthlessly. Ziling, on the other hand, may wish for death but won't obtain it, unless he could find the opportunity to kill himself."
Kou Zhong again gathered his power, and spoke coldly, "Don't toot your horn; capturing my good brother is no more than lunatic ravings."
She sighed and said, "Precisely because of your self-confidence and your accomplishments that tonight Shizun [revered master] is personally dealing with Ziling. I wonder if Shao Shuai wants to sit down and think about the outcome."
His mind severely shaken, Kou Zhong made his move with all his strength.
Xu Ziling rapidly flew around the vast perimeter of Tian Kui dojo, which was nearly one li long. Under the illumination of the moon and the stars, the streets and buildings outside the dojo were quiet, without any sign of anything unusual.
Finally he reached the roof ridge of the main hall, which towered above the rest of the buildings inside the compound. Standing alone facing the wind, he scanned the surrounding area with his eyes.
Suddenly on the roof of a building outside the perimeter wall, southwest of the compound, he saw more than a dozen human shadows, which looked exactly like numerous ghosts and evil spirits coming out of the dark netherworld, flying straight toward the dojo.
The one at the front had her beautiful, thick hair rolled up in a bun on top of her head, but her face was covered in thick muslin veil. Her figure was tall, elegant, and captivating.
Xu Ziling immediately sucked in a mouthful of cold air. Pulling off his mask, he raised his voice in a shout, "Unexpectedly it is Zhu Zongzhu [head of a clan/school] coming out in person, Zaixia feels really honored."
His voice reverberated throughout the dojo.
Immediately the sound of twanging bows rang out everywhere. Naturally the disciples waiting in ambush around that area did not know which divine entity Zhu Zongzhu was, hence they bent their bows to release the arrows toward the enemy entering the dojo area.
Xu Ziling cried, 'Not good!' inwardly, but he was too late to stop them.
He also knew that even if he could stop them, the result would not be much different.
[Translator's note: in this chapter, the name 'Wanwan' was never mentioned. I don't know whether it was the author's original intention (I checked several sources, and all are the same). I just want you to know that I took the liberty of adding 'she' and 'her' whenever necessary; otherwise the sentences would be incomplete.]