Chapter 9 - The Battle of Prancing Horse
Huang Gongcuo leaped out through the window; like a shooting star he flew through the air from Fu Ju Lou's third floor, traversing the nearly twenty-zhang distance, and landed on the western end of the Yue Ma Bridge. His body did not sway the slightest bit.
Ke Dazhi moved his chair to the window. Looking down, with eyes shooting sharp divine light like an eagle, he fixed his gaze on 'Yue Shan' without blinking at all.
Kou Zhong hurriedly followed Ke Dazhi's example, he pulled the chair to the window, so that he was now sitting between Ke Dazhi and Chang He - before the other people also leaving their tables to crowd around the windows on this side to watch the battle - and thus occupying advantageous position.
Seeing that one of the combatants who was about to fight was Huang Gongcuo, who was a celebrity of a grandmaster level in Chang'an, plus the high-ranking officials and the ministers upstairs did not say anything to stop the fight, the guards on duty at the bridge also did not dare to step forward to intervene.
At the time where the chaos of war reigned, the world's martial wind was blazing vigorously. Although Chang'an had prohibition against personal duel, using martial art to settle differences was still happening. Worse yet, the Chang Lin Army was going on the rampage without any scruple. Therefore, since Huang Gongcuo could be considered as an important figure belonging to the Princelings Faction, under normal situation, the city guards would not have the courage to be involved in their actions.
As if he was talking to himself, Ke Dazhi spoke heavily, "Yue Shan ought to have a higher chance of victory."
Kou Zhong greatly shivered inwardly, realizing that Ke Dazhi's superior eyesight was able to see Xu Ziling's formidability from his imposing manner.
It should be noted that after going through various battles everywhere around the world, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling have tempered themselves and have already risen above others, so that they were now worthy to face martial art masters of Ning Daoqi level and his contemporaries. Even top figureheads of demonic school like Zhu Yuyan, Wanwan, and the likes have wanted to kill them, but until now they have not been able to.
In the battle of the Virtuous Temple, the two boys fought against the Buddhist school's Four Great Holy Monks; although it was not a life and death battle, plus the four monks were leaving them some leeway, but the two boys' power was enough to match any one of those four monks. This was an undeniable fact. The moment the two boys stepped out of the Virtuous Temple gate was the exact same moment that they ascended into the rank of the world's top martial art masters; there was no need to be afraid of anybody anymore.
In using battle to raise battle, the two young martial art masters overflowing with talent finally reached the realm of great success.
Li Mi's voice was heard behind Kou Zhong, "How could Huang Gongcuo be someone who is easy to deal with? In my opinion, victory or defeat is still difficult to foresee."
Someone, unclear who, commented, "How's Huang Gongcuo compared to the 'Heavenly Lord' Xi Ying?"
Naturally nobody could answer this question.
This moment 'Yue Shan' let out another long laugh; the crowd stopped their whispered discussion to watch with concentrated attention.
The guards stopped the pedestrians, vehicles and horses that were about to enter the bridge. By the time Huang Gongcuo reached the top of the bridge and stood face-to-face some distance away from 'Yue Shan', the entire Yue Ma Bridge has become the dedicated arena for their battle.
Xu Ziling stopped his carrying-the-momentum-of-refraining-the-cloud-and-splitting-the-rock laughter, and spoke calmly and indifferently, "Didn't Huang Qi Sha want to send me, Yu Shan, returning to heaven [i.e. die] outside the Pass? Originally I did not have any intention to enter the Pass. But since you are intentionally trying to hinder me from entering the Pass, there must be a secret that you don't want others to find out, so I insist on entering the Pass to see what it is, to see whether these past few years you, Huang Qi Sha - were making any progress or not."
On the surface, Huang Gongcuo's expression looked normal, but inwardly his heart was burning with rage; he really did not understand how Yue Shan could completely evade Yang WenGan's extensive intelligence network and suddenly appear inside the city of Chang'an. But of course right now it was not the time to bother about such minor side issues [orig. branches and knots]. In fact, he had been caught in no-room-to-advance-or-to-retreat situation. Naturally he understood the relationship between Yue Shan and Li Yuan, which was precisely the main reason he tried to stop Yue Shan from entering the Pass. If he killed the opponent, Li Yuan's reaction would really be hard to predict; of course he must not let himself be heavily injured or even killed by the opponent either.
Immediately letting out a cold laugh, he said, "You, Yue Ba entering the Pass, what does it have to do with Laofu? But since you dare to stop by, I, Huang Gongcuo, have no problem in settling the old account of many years. Less chat, make your move!"
Xu Ziling was able to completely grasp the contradiction in Huang Gongcuo's heart; he calmly said, "In my life, I have experience countless people, but such a despicable, shameless man like you, Huang Gongcuo, is the first. You dare to do it but did not dare to admit it; which school's important figure are you? Today, even if you did not wish to fight, you simply have to fight. I, Yue Shan, am returning to the fray after a period of inactivity, is precisely to determine your destiny."
Huang Gongcuo no longer responding; taking a step forward, his eyes enveloped the opponent, he showed his deeply experienced bearing. He was indeed worthy to be considered a grandmaster level martial art master who made his name for more than sixty years.
Just as he was stepping forward, immediately a powerful momentum - like deep cold to the bones, like a wall or like the edge of a blade - icy cold energy violently flowing out, bursting to attack the opponent.
Xu Ziling secretly performed the Motionless Fundamental Image, while standing steadily like a mountain, and said with a long laugh, "This should be our third encounter; I hope you, Huang Qi Sha will not disappoint me!"
Although he was talking with big tone, but with the excessive prestige with which Yue Shan killed 'Heavenly Lord' Xi Ying, nobody thought that he was speaking conceited nonsense.
Letting out a cold humph, Huang Gongcuo took another step forward. The atmosphere was getting tenser. Even though there was no wind, his clothes swelled and fluttered; he even had enough power to blow Xu Ziling's clothes that it was also rustling in the wind.
When martial art masters were vying against one another, the imposing manner was indeed out of the ordinary. Any Wulin figures, either upstairs or by the bridge, with the exception of select number of people, all felt that if they were in Yue Shan's situation, perhaps they would already be scared out of his wits and run away in defeat.
With complete attention, Xu Ziling fixed his eyes on Huang Gongcuo, not daring to blink at all.
He deliberately provoked the opponent with words, because he wanted to force him to take the initiative by attacking first. His own mental state has entered the tranquil-without-any-ripple realm, all thought of life and death, victory or defeat, were already thrown outside the sphere of his consideration.
Just the instant before Huang Gongcuo's second step touched the ground, Xu Ziling, swift beyond human understanding - took a large stride forward, closing the distance between the two men to nearly eight chi.
Although there was a slight difference between the moment the two took their separate steps, but the moment their feet touch the ground was completely without any difference, as if they had rehearsed it many times before.
Watching upstairs, Kou Zhong cheered inwardly. Xu Ziling's move has forced Huang Gongcuo from taking the initiative into passive position; he would have no choice but to attack in order to equalize their stands.
Ke Dazhi let out a sigh of admiration. Li Mi and Wang Bodang also exclaimed, "Good!" in chorus, although it was unclear as to which side their cheer was directed to.
Sure enough, Huang Gongcuo let out a loud shout and sent out a punch, creating a sudden and powerful fist wind, carrying a collapsing-the-mountain, crushing-the-rock momentum, so that others would not dare to meet it head-on.
A smile escaped from the corner of Xu Ziling's mouth. But appearing on fake Yue Shan's face, it produced a grim-without-equal impression, which matched Yue Shan's character like seamless heavenly clothes.
Huang Gongcuo's Qi Sha Quan [seven-killing fist] actually only used sixty-, seventy-percent of his power, which was precisely the ideal outcome that Xu Ziling wanted to obtain using all kinds of tricks and schemes.
From the time he issued the challenge, Xu Ziling has already occupied the upper hand. Because Xu Ziling has publicly uncovered Huang Gongcuo's plot of obstructing him from entering the Pass, plus the contradiction in his heart, Huang Gongcuo had a lot of misgivings in whether he ought to go all-out against him or not. Under all kinds of adverse circumstances like this, naturally his power was greatly reduced.
On top of that, he still had one fatal weakness, which was: from Yue Shan's memoir, Xu Ziling had learned about Huang Gongcuo's Qi Sha Quan like the back of his own hand, while to Huang Gongcuo, the 'Yue Shan' in front of his eyes was absolutely unfathomably deep.
This side diminishing the other side growing, naturally Huang Gongcuo had to pay dearly.
Xu Ziling used his palm to seal the attack; without any fake move or fancy stance he met Huang Gongcuo's punch head-on. The two combatants swayed backward at the same time. Unexpectedly the two's power was on par with each other.
Inwardly Kou Zhong cried, 'Good kid!' He had the clearest understanding that in term of power maturity, Xu Ziling would not be able to match Huang Gongcuo, no matter what. If in just one punch Huang Gongcuo managed to strike him that he staggered backward, it would be strange indeed if people did not suspect whether he was the real Yue Shan or not. But Xu Ziling cleverly engineered this situation, where he was able to meet Huang Gongcuo's punch without being inferior in any respect. And then he would unleash his shenfa to avoid the important and dwell on the trivial, nobody would suspect that in term of power he was inferior to the opponent. This was certainly a sensible act.
The subtleties in this matter, although there were a thousand people stood in a circle and watch, only he, one person, would understand.
Sure enough, Xu Ziling swayed to the left to evade Huang Gongcuo's second punch. Like blooming flower, his two hands changed from fist to finger to palm, repeatedly, like Chang Jiang and Yellow River attacking Huang Gongcuo.
How could Huang Gongcuo think that Yue Shan, who had always been known to be overbearing, which fitted his title, would unleash such a set of unique, mysterious and amazingly meticulous, hidden-in-the-midst-of-open-wide-and-greatly-deceitful fist and palm skill? His anticipation missed, he could only counter every move, and was caught in the passive position.
However, his defense was impeccable; his meticulous fist technique was so tight that not a drop of the opponent's attack could get through, so he really did not fall into the disadvantageous situation.
Both sides' qi power was like surging-wave-rolling-billows, like a storm pounding the shore; extremely ruthless. As soon as one side revealed slight flaw, he would be bound to die violently on the bridge.
Xu Ziling attacked with a finger jab, which squarely hit Huang Gongcuo's fist. Borrowing the momentum, he floated toward the other end of the bridge to evade.
"Good Yue Shan!" Ke Dazhi, sitting next to Kou Zhong, shouted loudly.
Everybody, except Kou Zhong and a limited number of people, was at a loss. Why would Yue Shan, in such a close hand-to-hand combat, both-sides-trying-to-seize-the-opportunity-to-attack situation, only send a light finger jab, and then fly backward to evade, which would only foster the opponent's momentum, yet Ke Dazhi praised this unwise move instead?
Sure enough, Huang Gongcuo's entire body, from head to foot, shook severely. Unexpectedly, instead of advancing he retreated one step backward.
It was only then did the crowd realize that Yue Shan's finger was not only fierce and severe, it was also highly concentrated. Unexpectedly it broke Huang Gongcuo's Seven-Killing Fist power, and directly invaded his meridians, so that Huang Gongcuo has to quickly dissolve it and thus wasted a good opportunity to pursue and attack.
Furthermore, Kou Zhong was very clear that Xu Ziling had calculated the timing accurately. While flying backward, he simultaneously deflected the power and borrowed the power to break the impasse situation of balanced offense/defense, and to unfold the second round of offensive.
Beyond everybody's, including Ke Dazhi's expectation, during his flight backward, while Xu Ziling's potential had not been exhausted, unexpectedly, as if he was conjuring magic trick, suddenly he changed direction; like a shooting star and flashes of lightning he flew back in Huang Gongcuo's direction.
Even with his more than seventy years of martial art cultivation, Huang Gongcuo was shocked. His confidence lost, he had no choice but to retreat diagonally toward his right rear, until his back reached the railing of the bridge. Both fists punched out in tight defense; not seeking to attack, just seeking impenetrability. Once again he was caught in a passive, defensive situation.
Xu Ziling was well aware that success or failure would be decided this moment. It could be said that he was unleashing the entire treasured method [Buddhism: Buddha' teaching, Taoism: magic weapon; fig. a specially effective device] he had in him from head to foot; from the opponent's psychological, confidence, momentum, judgment, and so on, not-hole-is-not-penetrated, seeking Huang Gongcuo's flaw and fault, and only this moment he really occupied the upper hand position.
But Huang Gongcuo's more than sixty years of power was not ordinary at all; his qi meridians long-lasting, his power tenacious and ample. If Xu Ziling let this senior martial art master have a free hand in counterattack, the one defeated in the end might possibly be himself and not the opponent.
Xu Ziling swiftly flew high in the air; with his feet not touching the ground, he traversed the two-zhang distance over the bridge floor, while all ten fingers of his hands were bent inside the follow of his palm, his left and right's ten fingers crisscrossed, the thumb of his right hand pressed on the left hand's thumb, he performed the Inner Bind Image, and met Huang Gongcuo's explosive pair of punches head-on, while shouting at the same time, "Huan Ri Da Fa!"
These four words contained the xinfa of true statement [Sanskrit: Dharani] image incantation, released with Huang Gongcuo as the target. Each shout struck the bottom of Huang Gongcuo's heart like a giant hammer.
If Huang Gongcuo's qi was starting to get empty and his momentum weakened due to the contradiction in his mind, this 'four-character incantation' would, at most, become small disturbance to him. But this moment, because Huang Gongcuo could not grasp the opponent's offensive and inwardly started to panic, the effect of this 'four-character incantation' was no small matter. Instantly his fist potential weakened.
The fists and the image collided; unexpectedly the collision did not produce any sound of qi power clashing against each other.
Li Mi, standing behind Kou Zhong, exclaimed in low voice, "Oh, bad!"
He had not finished speaking, Huang Gongcuo already staggered and swayed sideways. Even those who did not know martial art could see that he had lost control over himself; the opponent had caused him to lose his balance.
Chang He, sitting next to Kou Zhong, gasped, "Formidable!"
Xu Ziling knew that he had succeeded. The Inner Bind Image inside his body, combined with his deflecting-force method, forcibly bound Huang Gongcuo's punch power, locked it up, and deflected it away. This sudden strike instantly made Huang Gongcuo felt like he was using his power in the wrong way; it was so uncomfortable that he nearly vomited blood.
From the Inner Bind Image, Xu Ziling changed to Outer Bind Image. His thumb bending outward, his qi power swiftly shot out. This moment both sides' hands were still interlocked; Huang Gongcuo had never thought that Xu Ziling's inner qi could follow his heart's desire and changed direction outward to attack. Immediately he met the image and sped up the momentum of his fall sideways.
Huang Gongcuo sighed inwardly and immediately let out a thunderous roar, while seizing the opportunity to soar into the air. Unable to bear losing face, he crossed over the bridge's railing and threw himself into the Yong An River.
The moment he was about to splash into the Canal, from among the crowd of spectators standing on the opposite bank suddenly a dark object shot out, crossing the seven, eight zhang of water surface, leaving later but arriving earlier, reaching under Huang Gongcuo's feet, accurately and unmistakably letting the tip of Huang Gongcuo's foot to use it as a stepping stone, and relying on this breather enabling him to soar and safely landed on the west bank of the Yong An Canal. It was only then did everybody see clearly that the dark object was unexpectedly a shoe.
Kou Zhong sensed that Ke Dazhi was casting his gaze toward the crowd of people from which the shoe was thrown. Suddenly his imposing body slightly shook; evidently he saw the person helping Huang Gongcuo and he was sure that he recognized this person; otherwise, it was impossible to distinguish this person from among the crowd this quickly.
Upon self-examination, Kou Zhong knew that he would not be able to do what he did.
Xu Ziling watched the shoe sinking into the water; he knew that it was a good opportunity for him to withdraw. Otherwise, if he continued fighting hand-to-hand against Huang Gongcuo while his temper was raging, Huang Gongcuo might throw away any misgivings about life or death, and then the one suffer losses most likely would be him, the Yue Shan whose prowess currently shook Chang'an.
Throwing his head back, he let out a long laugh and said, "Huang Qi Sha! Excuse me, I must leave!"
Flying out at an angle, he shot toward the other end of Yue Ma Bridge. With several ups and downs, he disappeared behind the wall of people standing around to watch.
Upstairs, the people returned to their respective banquet table. Li Mi and Wang Bodang took this opportunity to join Ke Dazhi to sit on Kou Zhong and Chang He's table. Ke Dazhi introduced the two to Chang He and Kou Zhong. Li Mi appeared to be slightly distracted; he did not pay particular attention to Kou Zhong.
Although the enmity between Li Mi and Kou Zhong was as deep as the sea, but the two were not well acquainted with each other at all; if it were Shen Luoyan, the chance of her seeing through Kou Zhong's disguise would increase substantially.
Ke Dazhi's mind was still on the dragon wars, the tiger battles just now; he sighed with regret, "I did not expect that after abandoning his overbearing saber, Yue Shan still has the prowess-reaches-the-world aggressiveness. Huan Ri Da Fa deserves to be called Tianzhu's [Indian subcontinent] consummate skill. It's strange and abstruse, making people gasping in amazement."
This moment, Huang Gongcuo, with normal expression, climbed the stairs to continue his unfinished lunch banquet. Even Kou Zhong had to admire his reservation. He mused inwardly that if it were him, he would definitely find a place where he could hide, since he would not have any face to meet other people.
Wang Bodang said with a laugh, "I wonder if Ke Xiong's hands are itching?"
Ke Dazhi's eyes lit up, he revealed a hint of smile brimming with confidence, but did not answer.
Li Mi looked out the window, toward the Yue Ma Bridge, which, once again, was filled with people and vehicles going back and forth. Sighing lightly, he said, "This time Yue Ba came to Chang'an, he will definitely raise the wind and turn the clouds upside down. If Ke Xiong can defeat Yue Ba, your name will shake the world."
Lowering his voice, Chang He said, "I heard Huangshang and Yue Ba Dao were intimate friends for many years. Ke Xiong must think three times before going."
Although he never liked Ke Dazhi, this moment seeing Li Mi and Wang Bodang pushing the wave and adding to the billows [idiom: add fuel to the fire], looking like they were wishing that the whole world would be in chaos, he could not help but speaking out a warning.
Under the table, Kou Zhong secretly gave Chang He's feet a kick, signaling him to look for an excuse to leave. Dealing with Li Mi and Wang Bodang, two men, was really an extremely exhausting matter. Especially when he thought about Wang Bodang's wicked conduct toward his Su Jie, which forced him to hold back, and it made his heart extremely unbearable.
Ke Dazhi smiled and said, "If Zaixia only look for Yue Ba to compare notes on martial art study, Huangshang can't possibly blame me, can he?"
Staring at Ke Dazhi, Li Mi spoke indifferently, "The person who tossed a shoe to help Huang Gongcuo out of trouble just now, is he Ke Xiong's acquaintance?"
Inwardly Kou Zhong cried, 'Formidable!' From Ke Dazhi's subtle reaction, the astute Li Mi arrived at the same conclusion as he did.
Ke Dazhi's appearance did not change, he glibly said, "If Mi Gong could not see who threw the shoe, how could Zaixia see it? It's just that since this person was extremely brilliant that I was amazed!"
Naturally Li Mi did not believe his lie; his gaze moved to Kou Zhong's ugly face, his eyes revealed refined light, as if he wanted to see through Kou Zhong. With a smile on his face, he said, "These days, the two most eye-catching matters in Chang'an are Yue Ba entering the city and Mo Xiansheng practicing medicine in here to help people. I wonder if Mo Xiansheng has the intention to put down roots and become Chang'an citizen?"
Kou Zhong did not dare to make the same nonsense he spouted toward Yin De Fei earlier, simply because it did not make any sense at all. He said, "Thank you very much for Mi Gong's kind attention. Xiaoren has not made any decision."
Chang He knew it was time to go, he stood up to take his leave and said, "Mo Xiong still has to go to Gongbu Daren's place to treat his beloved son's illness. We are asking gentlemen's forgiveness for not being able to accompany you."
Inwardly calling thank Heaven and thank the Earth, Kou Zhong hastily followed Chang He's lead by asking forgiveness and leave.