Book 1 Chapter 1 – Depending on each other for survival
Yuwen Huaji stood straight up on the command deck of a warship, his eyes scanned both sides of the canal. It was not dawn yet. The lantern light of these five huge warship overshadowed the moon and the stars in the sky. Just like under the rising of his Yuwen Clan, the landlords of the South had also lost the glory of their former days.
Yuwen Huaji was in his thirties; tall, thin, with long arms and legs, but his face looked old with repressed emotion, looked cold and detached. His pair of eyes was immeasurably deep, giving others the impression that he was a very cold and ruthless man, while striking fear in their hearts with his domineering air.
These five warships were built under the personal supervision of late Chancellor Yang Su during the founding of the Sui Dynasty; they were called the Five-Fang Battleships. Each ship had five decks, with total height reached twelve zhang [unit of length, 1 zhang approx. 3m or 10ft]. Each ship could accommodate eight hundred soldiers.
The five main sails were fully open, the ships glided on the water as fast as runaway horses, heading toward Jiangdu [county level city in Yangzhou, Jiangsu] further downstream of the canal.
Yuwen Huaji’s eyes caught sight of the top of the palace towering beyond the treetops lining the bank; it was one of more than forty palaces built by Yang Guang, the Emperor Yang of Sui [569-618, reigned 604-618], along the river to be his imperial residences.
When Emperor Yang of Sui ascended the throne, to link the North and the South, he commissioned the people to dig the canal. Whether it was for military or economic purposes, there was indeed a practical need in linking the North and the South. However, carrying out large-scale construction, building imperial residences, and planting willow trees along the river, were a major waste of manpower and resources.
Zhang Shihe, his trusted aide, who was standing behind him, leaned forward and respectfully said, “We will arrive at Jiangdu before daybreak. If in this trip Zongguan [lit. chief manager] manage to obtain ‘The Secret to Long Life’ and present it to His Majesty, it would indeed be a great merit.”
A mysterious smile escaped from the corner of Yuwen Huaji’s mouth; he said indifferently, “His Holiness is fascinated with immortality technique concocted by the Daoist School; it is indeed ludicrous. If there really is this pill of immortality, there ought to be immortals long ago, but looking at former sages of the Daoist School, which one did not avoid death? If it were not that this book is woven out of black [or mysterious] gold thread, impervious of water and fire, we can randomly find someone to make a fake one and muddle our way through.”
Zhang Shihe said with a laugh, “After more than ten years of open enquiries and secret search His Holiness has discovered that this book has fallen into the hand of ‘Mountain-Pushing Hand’ Shi Long, who is regarded as the number one expert of Yangzhou. Funny thing is, that Shi Long obtained the book with an extravagant hope that he wouldn’t die, yet he will definitely die. It is indeed extremely ironic.”
Yuwen Huaji let out a cold snort and muttered Shi Long’s name under his breath. Immediately the blood in his body was boiling.
Over the years, due to his high position, he rarely fought hand to hand with anybody. Now the opportunity has finally come.
Great General Jiao Xie, under the ‘Sky King’ [orig. ‘fill the sky’ king] Wang Xuba, leading a dozen highly-skilled martial art experts under his command, was speeding along the Yangtze River, destroying the tranquility of the river banks. Wang Xuba was one of the militia leaders who wished to topple Sui Emperor from his rule over the land under the heaves [i.e. the whole China]; he had considerable fame and power.
Since Yang Guang assumed the title ‘Emperor’, because he always strived to achieve extraordinary things, he repeatedly conducted military expeditions abroad. Furthermore, he indulged in a life of luxury, building numerous palaces and gardens, and went on inspection tour everywhere; hence he indiscriminately levied heavy taxes and made the people endured unspeakable hardship. As a result, robbers sprang up everywhere, those with power rose up to declare themselves ‘kings’. Sui Dynasty could no longer return to the grandiose of its founding days.
In that darkest hour just before dawn, outside the city of Yangzhou, which was established as the capital of Jiangdu County by the Sui Dynasty, lots of ships and boats, big and small, were moored on the dock upstream of the Great River. Specks of lantern lights filled the air, carrying with it some kind of unspeakable desolation in the midst of bustling atmosphere!
Yet Jiao Xie’s mind was loaded with the antique jade piece in his bosom, a jade piece carved with two characters ‘wan sui’ [lit. ten-thousand years, long live!]
It was the well-known treasured jade belonging to the Great General Shi Wansui of the founding of the Sui Dynasty. In those days, because he listened to slanderous report, the first Sui emperor Yang Jian [541-604, reigned 581-604] deposed Yang Yong as the Crown Prince and set up Yang Guang in his stead. Shi Wansui was implicated and died of injustice. The minister who searched and confiscated his house was Yang Su.
This Yang Su was perhaps the most influential minister at that time. He went to war left and right, and triumphed in every battle; his merit was even more earth shattering than his Lord, hence he was at the receiving end of considerable suspicion and jealousy of the Emperor Wen Di [regnal name of Yang Jian].
Actually, Yang Su himself was unlike his contemporaries; he did not take part in conspiracy of rebellion, in amassing weapons, army provisions, wealth and riches; therefore, when not long afterwards Yang Su fell ill and died, and Emperor Wen Di wiped out his clansmen in one night, the Emperor failed to find Yang Su's treasure-trove.
Henceforth there was a rumor that whoever could find the ‘Duke Yang’s Hidden Treasure’ would be able to unify the world [again, i.e. China].
And now the treasured jade has appeared, it has become an important trail in tracking down the treasure trove.
Seven days ago, somebody found this piece of jade in a pawnshop in Danyang [county, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu]. As soon as Wang Xuba received the news, he sent out his men everywhere to track it down for hundreds of li [1 li is approx. 1/2km or 1/3 of a mile] before he was able to zero in on his target.
What’s hard to understand was that if the pawnshop did indeed obtain the treasure, where were the other articles? Why was it that only this lightweight and well-known piece of jade managed to get out and thus revealed the secret of the treasure?
Right this moment, Jiao Xie’s wandering mind abruptly came back to reality, for just beyond the place where the Great River met the canal, he saw the dark shadow of the sail, as well as the lantern lights of the five large ‘Five-Fang Battleships’.
Jiao Xie’s heart was shaken; immediately he waved his hand, signaling his men to leave the riverbank and entered the forest next to the shore.
Just east of Yangzhou city wall, there was a manor abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. For the most part the structure had already been worn down by years of disrepair. Eroded by the wind and the rain, invaded by termites, it was practically ready to collapse. Only one small brick room on the corner, under roof tiles full of holes, covered by wooden board, could barely be used for shelter.
From inside the dark room came the noise of someone moaning in pain, followed by the sound of a body rolling against the floor.
A voice that sounded like it belonged to a child called out softly, “Xiao Ling! Xiao Ling! [Little Ling] Is it still painful?”
After more groaning, another young voice replied, “That damn Yan Laoda [boss, leader of a (usually criminal) gang], it’s really awful. Ay! Next time we have the goods, we must not go to that dead grass to do business. Not only he is mean and depressed prices, he still have to tell that dog-thief Yan Laoda. I just wanted to keep half a word hidden from him, and had to suffer extreme beating.”
The speakers were two street urchins who lived at that broken-down house. Their parents and family were fleeing the war and were killed by robbers, hence they became orphans. Two young boys met by chance and hit if off immediately, henceforth they depended on each other for survival, their relationship was closer than real siblings.
The slightly older one, Kou Zhong, turned seventeen that year, the younger one was called Xu Ziling, he was barely sixteen.
Kou Zhong crawled over on the woven mat on the floor in the dark toward Xu Ziling, trying to comfort him, “It’s alright as long as you are not beaten till your hands and feet are maimed. Even if he, Yan Laoda is as crafty as a ghost, he will suffer our wrath. Hey, once he drank the water to wash our, two Yangzhou dragons, feet, as soon as we can grab hold of two more piece of silver, we will have enough travel expenses to renounce the dark and seek the light; we can join the militia.”
Disappointed, Xu Ziling lay down on the floor, while stroking his still burning jaw. “Actually, how much more do we need?” he asked, “I really don’t want to see that Yan Laoda’s crafty face anymore.”
A bit awkward, Kou Zhong replied, “Hey, we still need two taels [unit weight, approx. 50g (modern) or 1/16 of a catty (old)] and a half, a total of twenty-five qian [unit weight, 1/10 of a tael] to go.”
Xu Ziling sat up in shock, his voice breaking, “Didn’t you say a tael and a half? How come now it is two taels and a half?”
With a deep sigh Kou Zhong said, “Actually, how much more money we still need is not a big deal, the most disappointing thing is that Peng Xiaocai who failed to live up to expectations; only two, three times, and he is already fixed by the authority.”
And then he got excited as he grabbed Xu Ziling’s shoulders and said, “But don’t worry, when I went to Chun Feng Lou [Spring Breeze Inn, ‘lou’ refers to two-story building] to steal something to eat last night, I heard people say that nowadays the most powerful one is Li Zitong. The valiant generals under him are as numerous as the cloud, such as Bai Xin and Qin Chaowen, who are top experts of the Wulin [martial art] world. Recently they subdued another militia army led by Zuo Xiaoyou; their fame and power are flourishing even more.”
Doubtful, Xu Ziling asked, “Didn’t you say earlier that the most formidable is Peng Xiaocai? And after him it was Yang Gongqing, who once defeated Yang Guang’s army in a surprise attack? How come now it is suddenly Li Zitong? Other than he, you also mentioned some Li Hongzhi, Hu Liumiao, Wang Deren, and so on; what roles are they playing?”
Obviously Kou Zhong was unable to answer his question. He hummed and hawed, and then with a sheepish smile he said, “In this whole wide world we only have each other, brothers; if you don’t believe me, whom would you believe? How can I point out a ‘black’ road for you to take? Based on my insight, I am sure we will be able to pick the most promising militia army. When we gain the whole world, based on our, two boys, vision and competence, I, Kou Zhong, will become, at least, the Prime Minister, and you will definitely be a great general.”
With a bitter smile Xu Ziling said, “Merely Yan Laoda is able to beat us that we cannot crawl up; how can I have the competence to be a great general?”
Puffing his chest, Kou Zhong said, “That’s why I force you to eavesdrop Bai Lao Fuzi’s [old master/teacher] lecture every day; also go to peek and steal martial art skill from under the large tree by Shi Long’s training field. Vision and competence must be fostered; we will definitely be a pinnacle of virtue and ability. At least we can go back to become a state official in Yangzhou. When that time comes, Yan Laoda will be in big trouble.”
With a deep frowned Xu Ziling said, “Right now I am hurting really bad, Bai Lao Fuzi is as boring as watching bird hatching eggs. How about early in the morning tomorrow?”
After thinking about it for a while, Kou Zhong yielded, “I’ll let you go tomorrow, but you must take care of the early morning meal first. I want to eat the veggie steamed bun from Zhen Sao’s [sister-in-law] graceful hands.”
Xu Ziling groaned and lay back down on the mat.
 From the dictionary: land-owning class, esp. during Wei, Jin and North-South dynasties.
 From the dictionary: Daoist School of the Warring States Period (475-221BC), based on the teachings of Laozi (c. 500BC) and Zhuangzi (369-286BC).
Weed, Zlack, Anh, Yan, you are welcome. Grundle, from what I read, you are doing pretty well. I like your sentences better than mine. Honest. I guess it's true that oftentimes we are our own worst critic. Sirius, what weed said. Weed, thanks for 'getting it'. Dragonsense, I didn't say it was the entire chapter, did I? My plan is to do regular updates, every 2-3 days (or so ), the pace I am comfortable with. This is marathon, not a sprint, so I don't want to burn out too early in the game. DongBin, you said it yourself, it's sensible , so the hard work part is a risk I am willing to take. Here's some more of Chapter 1. Expect another update in 2-3 days.
Because the whole world was in chaos, thieves and robbers sprang up everywhere, everybody felt insecure; the first to prosper was naturally the dozen or so martial art schools and Taoist monasteries in the city. [Translator’s note: in this book, the term tian xia - ‘land under heavens’ or ‘the whole world’ refers to China.]
Speaking about prestige, the one regarded as the foremost was Shi Long Martial Arena [actually literal translation would be ‘field’], which was personally founded by Yangzhou’s number one martial expert, the ‘Mountain-Pushing Hand’ Shi Long. For the last ten years or so Shi Long rarely managed the affair of the training field, everything was taken care of by his disciples. But since the martial school still bore his name, people were still coming in unending stream from far and near, attracted by the school’s reputation.
Both in internal and external skills, Shi Long had already reached first-class master level; otherwise, how could his famous reputation not see decline for the last several decades? This man had a good character, did not marry, and lived alone in a small village courtyard at the outskirt of the city. Without having to set a foot outside, his disciples regularly delivered daily necessities. All day long he spent his time racking his brain to decipher the Taoist’s book of treasured wisdom, ‘The Secret to Long Life’.
According to the ancient legend passed on orally from one generation to the next, this book originated from Huangdi’s [Yellow Emperor, mythological emperor of China, c. 2697-2597BC] master, Guang Chengzi; it was written in oracle bone script, very deep and difficult to understand. Among former sages who have reviewed the book, although there was no lack of talents who understood the heavens, yet no one has ever able to master the subject or decipher the secret.
There were a total of 7,400 characters in the book, but only about 3,000 or so characters could be considered understandable. The book was densely packed with annotations made by the people who have reviewed it, but more often than not, these notes were even more confusing than the original text.
Fortunately, there were seven diagrams of human figure, all with different postures, and all were annotated with symbols, for example, red dots, arrows, et cetera. These symbols seemed to be telling some kind of Taoist cultivation method; but without understanding it, one must not practice it. If one hastened to circulate his inner qi [chi, vital energy] according to some of these symbols, immediately his qi and blood would boil, followed by fire deviation. It was extremely dangerous.
Shi Long has been sitting in front of this book day and night for three full years, but he gained nothing still; just like having a treasure chest in front of him, but there was no key to open the door.
This particular day he was meditating, when suddenly warning signal was flaring out in his mind. No matter what he could not focus his attention to the book. While he was deep in thought, a dry cough was heard from the main hall outside his room.
Shi Long hurriedly put the treasured book in his bosom, while myriads of thought flashed through his mind. He sighed and then said, “Noble guest honors me with your presence, please come in and drink a cup of hot tea!”
But the other party did not respond until he arrived just outside the door. It was only then did Shi Long realize that the visitor was also a first class martial art master.
By this time Jiao Xie has arrived at a forest just due north of the city; accompanied by his men, they jumped down their mounts and unleashing their martial art skills they entered the forest. Going over a small hill, they saw a broken-down temple down below.
Two of his men appeared, one of them came near and whispered in Jiao Xie’s ear, “The target tarried in the temple the whole night, he did not even step out of the temple gate; apparently he is waiting for someone else.”
Jiao Xie thought for a moment, and then he gave his orders. His men spread out to surround the temple. Only then did Jiao Xie fly down. Reaching the gate, he said in a loud voice, “Life-Snatching Saber Jiao Xie, serving under the Sky King’s banner, received the Sky King’s order to ask Miss for guidance.”
‘Bang!’ The already dilapidated temple gate suddenly shattered into pieces that flew everywhere, while at the same time a woman’s figure appeared at the door.
Jiao Xie did not expect the opposite party’s response was both swift and fierce; his heart was shaken. His hand immediately reached the hilt of his ‘life-snatching saber’, which has helped him kill the enemy and gain victory over and over again.
The woman was wearing snow-white warrior outfit. With her outstanding good looks she stood with a sword in her hand. There was a bamboo rain hat on her head, tied under her chin with a strip of cotton cloth, covering her charming face above her fragrant lips, yet from the exposed part of her lower jaw, people could tell that she was indeed a rare beauty.
This woman was rather tall, with some a-crane-among-a-flock-of-chicken kind of proud and arrogant attitude. The exquisiteness and well-proportioned features, and the beauty of her physique were almost indescribable.
Especially impressive was a small mole, like a speck of paint, on the corner of her mouth, making her beauty even more mysterious.
Jiao Xie was dumbstruck for half a day before regaining his composure. He was about to speak when a voice more beautiful than the immortal’s lai [musical pipe with three reeds] came out of that woman’s cherry lips, “You are finally here.”
Jiao Xie jumped in fright; for a moment he forgot about Duke Yang’s treasure. “Miss is waiting for us?” he asked in astonishment.
An incomparably touching smile floated out of the corner of the woman in white’s mouth. In a gentle voice she said, “I am waiting for anybody to come to try my sword!”
‘Ring!’ The woman’s blade left its sheathe. A thick cold sword aura engulfed Jiao Xie.
Jiao Xie has roamed the Jianghu for more than half of his life, he was extremely experienced; just by looking at how the woman pulled the sword, he knew right away that he had met the most fearful swordsman in his life. Not daring to be negligence, he let out a wild roar while stepping back and pulling his saber, while shouting his order for his men to show themselves.
There was neither hatred nor enmity between them, but as soon as they met they already used fierce and ruthless method to deal with each other. It was the first time he encountered such situation.
The woman’s sleeve fluttered, the tip of her sword rose up suddenly and sharply. Biting cold killing aura immediately permeated the air.
Jiao Xie knew he must never let the opponent gain the upper hand. With another wild roar both his body and his saber rushed forward together to become a blur of saber shadow, surging toward the opponent like a tide.
By this time his men had rushed over to cheer him up.
The woman in white let out a tender shout while rushing diagonally and leaped above Jiao Xie’s head. Like a lightning the sword struck down.
‘Dang!’ Sword and saber collided.
An irresistibly huge force swept pass through the saber, Jiao Xie felt as if a thunder has stricken the pit of his stomach. Unexpectedly he was unable to hold his stance and was forced to tumble back.
Just a brief encounter like that and he had already suffered a big loss, it was also the first time Jiao Xie had ever experienced it. But he could also see that the strength behind the woman in white’s sword was indeed overbearing.
The woman in white did a somersault in the air and landed between two men standing at the edge of the battlefield. Her body spun, her sword flew, those two men were thrown out and were no longer able to get up.
These men were used to have blades on their heads and lick blood from their bodies, they were brave and fierce in battle; this situation has roused their vicious spirit instead, hence with no thought of personal safety they charged forward bravely.
The woman in white let out a cold snort, the sword in her hand turned into hundreds and thousands sword shadows, like a ghost or a demon it easily penetrated the men’s ferocious attack. Wherever the blade reached, a man would fall down and die. No matter which part of the body was hit by the sword, the victim always dropped dead. As soon as the five viscera [i.e. heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys] were shocked by the sword aura and shattered, the person died.
By the time Jiao Xie managed to regulate his qi back, only four of his men remained, strenuously fighting to defend themselves; he could not refrain his blood from boiling as he threw himself to join the fray.
Finally the last man fell. The tip of the sword rose up again to meet Jiao Xie’s Life-Snatching Saber head on.
Jiao Xie gave everything he had. By the time he took the sixth sword strike, unexpectedly the refined steel of his Life-Snatching Saber was cut into two by the opponent’s sword.
Jiao Xie was shocked. He threw the remaining saber in his hand toward the opponent as if it was a secret projectile, while at the same time raised his qi to push himself backward.
With a tender laughter the woman spin her body around. Not only she evaded the shooting broken saber, she also threw her sword away.
Jiao Xie could see very clearly the sword was flying toward him, and he still had time to think about different ways he could evade the sword, but by the time the sword passed through his body, he was still unable to come up with any response that might save his life.
The woman in white casually pulled her sword from Jiao Xie’s body, as if what had just happened was nothing, and then she simply floated away.
“Those who attain can also aid the country, those who are poor can only support himself; Shi Xiong [brother, generic term] really aims to idealism. This kind of ‘advancing opens the possibility of offense, retreating opens the possibility of defense’ thinking will enable one to conduct oneself with clear conscience. I, Yuwen Huaji, am full of admiration.”
Shi Long knew that the opposite party was reading his own inscription hanging on the main hall’s wall, and used it to mock him. However, his self-cultivation was profound; hence he did not take any offense. Still sitting calmly in his chair, he said flatly, “Turns out it is the preeminent martial art expert from Yuwen Clan, one of the four powerful clans of the current age. Isn’t Yuwen Xiong busy serving His Holiness? How could you have time to leisurely visit an outsider, a rural commoner like me?”
With his hands behind his back Yuwen Huaji strolled into the hall. He swept his gaze around the room first before finally he fixed his eyes on Shi Long’s face, who was sitting as steady as a mountain. He sighed and said, “I have Shi Xiong to blame, the trouble you are giving me is not trivial. You obtained the treasured wisdom that can prolong life, which is the envy of every scholar who practice Taoism, yet you did not even offer it to His Holiness, causing his dragon heart to be displeased. I receive official salary as a small pawn to run errands; I came here to see if Shi Xiong is a discreet person who understands the situation.”
Shi Long groaned in his heart that the situation was indeed serious.
It was the first time that he ever dealt with someone from the Yuwen Clan. The master of the Yuwen family was Yuwen Shang, whose reputation was most resounding. Under him were precisely the four martial art masters; one of them was precisely this Yuwen Huaji, who was serving as the Imperial Bodyguard Zongguan of Emperor Yang of Sui, who was also the most well acquainted with Jianghu people. Rumor has it that after Yuwen Shang, he was the first person who mastered the secret family skill, ‘Black [or Mysterious] Ice Energy’. It’s just that Shi Long has never expected that he looked this young, he seemed to be no more than thirty.
Chapter 1, Part 3
ycb, anh, it's good to see familiar names. weed, I just don't recall seeing your name during my other translation projects. episode, you know, I don't know ... I tried wikipedia, no result. I tried googled it, only the TV adaptations appear. I think it was in the 1990s. Any help, anybody? Anyway, here is the end of Chapter 1.
Since Wei, Jin and North-South dynasties, one distinguishing feature of influential families was what these families develop from generation to generation. The so-called ‘high house’ or ‘powerful house’ was entirely different [orig. ‘as rivers Jing and Wei separate clearly’] from the common populace. There was a saying, ‘there is no poor and humble family in the upper class, there is no influential family in the lower class’. Whether it was in economics or politics, the land-owning class always enjoyed enormous privileges.
By the time the founding emperor of Sui Dynasty unified the world, they started to use imperial examination to select government officials; it was only then did the dominance of ‘powerful houses’ become somewhat broken. But powerful houses had not disappeared.
The four powerful clans whose name shook the Jianghu were Yuwen Clan, Li Clan, Dugu Clan, and Song Clan. They had tremendous influence in economics, politics, as well as in Wulin. Among these four clans, only Song Clan belonged to the southern part of the country, having blood relationship with Han people, dealing with orthodox schools. The other three clans were in the north, their ties with non-Han people were rather close.
Yuwen Clan itself was a non-Han family, but they already embraced the Central Plains’ culture, hence they were not considered foreigners anymore.
Although Shi Long’s mind was racing at the speed of lightning, on the surface he was still unruffled; he slyly said, “This Ol’ Shi has always been wild and uncouth; he has never understood how to fawn. Moreover, he is a man that is amenable to coaxing but not coercion [lit. eats soft food but refuses hard food]. I can’t say for sure, but perhaps when hard-pressed he might disregard everything and burn both jade and common stone, and destroy the book altogether. Wouldn’t Yuwen Xiong be at a loss on how to report to your master then?”
The two of them started fighting a battle of words, no more politeness, the atmosphere became very tense.
After staring at Shi Long for quite some time, he said in astonishment, “If Shi Xiong could destroy the treasured book, then that book must not be Guang Chengzi’s ‘Secret to Long Life’. Besides, destroying it is not a big deal, only with that kind of attitude, Shi Xiong would do more harm than good toward all scholars of the Taoist way. Perhaps disaster might even reach their parents and children. Aren’t two schools Taoism and Buddhism both emphasizing accumulation of merit and being merciful? Shi Xiong is apparently going against these decrees!”
Shi Long could hear the threatening tone, clearly it was not an empty threat. Finally his countenance changed slightly. Right this split second when his attention was divided, Yuwen Huaji made his move; his punch split the air.
The day before yesterday was the beginning of the Great Heat, the weather was blistering hot. But as soon as Yuwen Huaji made his move, the air in the hall immediately became incomparably strange cold. If not for the fact that Shi Long’s internal energy was refined and pure, perhaps his teeth would have been chattering.
But it was not easy for him either.
To counter a punch by this kind of master, one must distinguish clearly the gust of wind created by the fist and then break the enemy’s strike. But Yuwen Huaji’s cold strike seemed to be there yet it was not quite there. It seemed like the air all around was stirred up by him, it pressed on Shi Long from top, bottom, left, right, front and back. This kind of attack, where the target was not obvious, brought up the most annoying feeling: that he was helpless to counterattack.
Yet Shi Long was still calmly sitting in his chair; his clothes, from top to bottom, began to swell.
Two streams of qi collided, forming a vortex surging everywhere and all directions with Shi Long at its center. Table, chairs and other furniture were swept away like dead leaves, flipped over and broke down, and rolled away in all directions. Finally only Shi Long was left in the middle of the hall, still sitting in his chair.
Astonishment appeared on Yuwen Huaji’s face as he held back his fist.
Color like a wisp of red clouds appeared on Shi Long’s old face, a sign that he was restraining himself.
Yuwen Huaji roared in laughter as he said, “You deserve the title Yangzhou’s number one. Unexpectedly you are able to resist my fist relying on your pure qi to protect your body. Just based on this point, let me, Yuwen Huaji, advise you nicely. If Shi Xiong hand over the treasured book in good faith and from now on you go into hiding and live incognito, I would do my part according to Jianghu’s principle, to let Shi Xiong have a horse and leave. I am saying this with good intention, without any malice whatsoever. Whether you will live in honor or die in disgrace, Shi Xiong may decide in just one word.”
Shi Long felt this was extremely ridiculous. After obtaining the Taoist’s ‘Secret to Long Life’, he thought about it so hard that his brain almost burst, yet he did not gain anything. In fact, his mind was more free and peaceful before he got the book. Now because of this book he has offended the current emperor, so much so that the Emperor seized this opportunity have his disciples killed. As if that was not enough, he also had all local martial art schools disbanded, to have this region’s armed force annihilated. Wasn’t this precisely ‘the disaster of cherishing treasure’?
Of course he was not stupid enough to believe that just because he handed over ‘The Secret to Long Life’, Yuwen Huaji would simply let him go on a horse. Based on Yang Guang’s ruthlessness, how could he ever let him go free?
Just now he had exchange one move with Yuwen Huaji. He could see very clearly that the opponent’s ‘Mysterious Ice Energy’ was indeed some kind of fantastic, matchless swirling, cyclone-like force. Compared to common straight [orig. ‘there and back without delay’] force, it was a lot more difficult to fathom, a lot more difficult to defend. But even though he knew that he knew, he still could not think of a way to break it.
Shi Long was a well-known character in Jianghu. In this instant he suddenly hardened his heart, determined that even if he had to lose his life, he would not let this treasured book fall into Yang Guang’s hand. Otherwise, due to the horde of talents under Yang Guang’s command, he might really be able to decipher the oracle bone script in the book and grasp the secret to long life, and then he would become an immortal tyrant. If that really happened, even ten thousand deaths would not absolve Shi Long from the blame.
Shi Long threw his head back and laughed aloud. After laughing twice, he shook his head and said with a sigh, “This book is not brought together by karma, obtaining it only bring bad luck and harm. If Yuwen Xiong has the ability, you may take the book back to that muddled ruler and let him read. If he died from reading it, don’t blame me, Shi Long, for not giving you a fair warning.”
While speaking, he circulated and gathered all the strength in his body. Immediately his ears could hear all faint noises within ten zhang circumference around him, even the sound of ants walking could not escape his hearing. Right away he could also hear the long, slow breathing of a dozen of people. Evidently the martial art experts surrounding him had deep cultivation both internally and externally.
Yuwen Huaji looked up at the main beam in the middle of the hall; he sighed grimly and said, “Not only Shi Xiong is not a discreet person who understands the situation, you are pigheaded as well. Only, remembering that it was not easy for Shi Xiong to make your name, I, Yuwen Huaji, am willing to let you gather your power, so that you can strike with all your strength, Shi Xiong may die with your eyes closed.”
Shi Long suddenly flew up from his seat; without his feet even touching the ground, he flitted across about a zhang of empty space, and in a blink of an eye he was already in front of Yuwen Huaji. Both palms pushed forward, like a typhoon his qi shot forward, immediately a tidal wave force surged toward the opponent.
At the same instant, the chair he was sitting in a moment ago suddenly disintegrated and crumbled to the floor, a proof that when the two of them exchanged blows just now, Shi Long had already suffered defeat; he was unable to block Yuwen Huaji’s ‘Mysterious Ice Energy’ so that the chair bore the consequences instead.
Yuwen Huaji’s eyes shot lightning, but at the same time he was greatly stunned. Shi Long knew perfectly well that the strength of his own qi could not match the opponent’s ‘Mysterious Ice Energy’; why did he strike with such a direct force without leaving any leeway for himself?
But right now he had no time to ponder about this question. When martial art experts exchange blows, victory and defeat were only a hair’s breadth apart. Although he had confidence in himself that he could beat Shi Long easily, but if he lose this decisive opportunity, turning the table around would still be extremely difficult; on the contrary, he would face the danger of losing or even dying.
Not daring to hesitate, he floated back three steps first, and then pushed forward again. His two fists separately shot toward the hollow of Shi Long’s palms.
‘Bang!’ Two streams of qi collided again; this time the resultant force shot upward, sending the tiles flying away, opening up a large hole on the roof.
With Yuwen Huaji’s ability, he was still forced to floated backward and thus neutralized the incredible pressure from Shi Long’s ‘Mountain-Pushing Palm’ with which he criss-crossed the Jianghu unhindered.
Shi Long’s situation was even worse; he was jolted backward.
Without his feet touching the ground, Yuwen Huaji spun around in a small circle, abruptly and swiftly, he suddenly arrived in front of the wall where Shi Long’s back was crashing onto; like a bolt of lightning clapped in an empty space a burst of energy wrapped around Shi Long’s body, aiming toward his back. It came from a very clever angle that one could not help but gasped in amazement.
Shi Long opened his mouth and a stream of blood shot out like an arrow toward the pit of Yuwen Huaji’s stomach; while at the same time he arched his back to receive Yuwen Huaji’s Mysterious Ice Energy strike directly.
Yuwen Huaji was surprised that Shi Long would resort to such a strange tactic of destroying himself to launch an attack; hurriedly he stopped his body and bent his waist backward, dangerously missed the blood arrow by a hair’s width.
Shi Long groaned inwardly for the missed attack, but his whole body was jolted severely, the qi protecting his body was shattered, dozens of extremely cold Mysterious Ice Energy entered his back and invaded his inner core.
Shi Long knew that it was the decisive moment whether he would be able to protect ‘The Secret to Long Life’ or not; giving everything he had, he roared wildly while resolutely resist the powerful qi that was pulling him forward, and then rapidly he withdrew toward the wall behind him.
As soon as Yuwen Huaji saw this, he knew something was amiss; quickly he straightened up his body. Gathering up all his strength, he sent out a punch through the air.
But he was still one step too late.
As soon as Shi Long’s back bumped against the wall, a revolving trapdoor opened, carrying him into the other side.
‘Crash!’ The trapdoor disintegrated, revealing another small room behind it, but there was no trace of Shi Long.
Yuwen Huaji stayed calm; throwing himself to the floor, he pressed his ear against the ground. The sound of Shi Long’s wild escape in the underground tunnel, which was also quickly fading away, entered his ear.
 Between Han and Sui, c. 220-589.
 The 12th of the 24 solar terms, 23rd of July to 6th of August. Check out Wikipedia if you want to know more, keyword ‘solar term’.