Book 18 Chapter 2 – Initial Expectation Hard to Achieve
The fleet of carriages left the main gate.
Kou Zhong, along with the group of martial art masters, were riding in horses instead of taking carriages. Together with the more than a hundred imperial bodyguards, they rode in neat formation to protect Wang Shichong’s carriage. When they left, the Rong Mansion was still lively with the loud party.
When they entered another major street, Xu Ziling, who was driving Wang Shichong’s carriage, suddenly reined the horses to stop. While everybody was wondering, the curtain rose up, Wang Shichong stuck out his head and called out, “Xiyi Xiong, Daozhang [priest], Kou Xiaodi, please come in to talk.”
Other than Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, and Ouyang Xiyi, three men who were aware of actual situation, the rest of the people were baffled.
Linglong Jiao, Chen Changlin, and a dozen or so martial art masters quickly jumped to the roof of the buildings on both sides of the street, to guard against the enemy seizing this opportunity to ambush.
Inside the carriage, the real and the fake Wang Shichong were sitting side-by-side.
After Kou Zhong, three men, settled down on their seats, Wang Shichong spoke in low voice, “I want to change course.”
Priest Ke Feng was stunned, “Won’t that mean a lot of our arrangements cannot be used anymore?” he asked.
Wang Shichong said, “I suddenly remember in the past Zhang Liang and Bo Langsha dispatching their strong men to throw huge rocks to the Emperor’s carriage. If the enemy uses this tactic again, and the people throwing the boulders are Huang Gongcuo, You Chuhong, Dugu Feng, Wang Bodang, and the like, and I am hiding inside the secret compartment, it will be really dangerous.”
Kou Zhong pretended to blurt out, “In that case, won’t our tactic of showing-the-enemy-our-weakness go down the drain?”
Ke Feng also said, “If the enemy uses iron hammer, heavy rocks, and the like to attack us, we must anticipate our way back to the Imperial City first.”
But Ouyang Xiyi said, “Spy among us is difficult to guard against, what Shichong Xiong said makes sense; if anything bad should happen to Shichong Xiong, it won’t be showing-the-enemy-our-weakness, but it would give the enemy an opportunity to exploit.”
Wang Shichong smiled and said, “Our objective is clear; if the enemy wants to assassinate, they will find a way. We ought to take the Heavenly Street’s Imperial Road to go back to the Imperial City. Because of the trees separating the road, the enemy can only carry out their assassination using close range method. This is my decision!”
And then he called Xu Ziling, who was sitting on the driver seat, “Jieyuan, come inside, I have something to tell you.”
Kou Zhong, three men, left the carriage. Ouyang Xiyi deliberately pulled Ke Feng aside to talk to him, while blocking his line of sight so that he did not see Wang Shichong taking off his outer robe, exposing an attire similar to Xu Ziling’s, donning on the mask to turn himself to ‘Qin Jieyuan’, and climbing onto the driver seat.
The cavalcade moved again.
The originally quiet street was suddenly filled with hoof beats and the sound of wheels grinding the pavement. It brought up some kind of pressure-before-the-storm feeling, making everybody breath heavily.
Dark clouds hang low on the sky, another storm was brewing.
By this time Xu Ziling has already applied the disguising technique he learned from Zhuge Dewei. With the help of the fake Wang Shichong, he was able to achieve fo, 60% resemblance with the real Wang Shichong; it’s just that without the hair and the beard, plus with the aid of the darkness of the night, perhaps anybody would be able to see the flaw in just one glance.
The ‘original’ fake Wang Shichong whispered in trembling voice, “I don’t want to die, Daye …”
Xu Ziling patted his shoulder and said, “Don’t worry! I will do my best to protect you.”
Sighing inwardly, he hid inside the secret compartment.
※ ※ ※
The leading riders, a platoon of about twenty men, finally turned onto the Heavenly Street, and slowly entered the Imperial Highway.
Linglong Jiao urged her horse to catch up with Kou Zhong. Riding alongside him, she spoke in low voice, “Is this a wise choice? The assassins can easily hide among the trees.”
Inwardly, Kou Zhong was surprised; this woman seemed to undergo a huge change in her attitude these past couple of days, taking initiative to talk to him like this, it would have been unimaginable in the past. He laughed cheerfully and said, “I am most afraid that they won’t come!”
After a short pause, he asked, “Where is Qiuci anyway?”
Linglong Jiao lightly replied, “Why do you want to know?”
“A place derives reflected glory from an illustrious son,” Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, “Qiuci is able to produce matchless music and dance in the world, and beautiful women like Miss; certainly it is a beautiful land, hence the reason I, Kou Zhong, am tempted to inquire.”
He cleverly flattered Qiuci State and Linglong Jiao, and mentioned music and dancing and the people in the same breath; therefore, although it carried a hint of teasing, it was neither blatant nor condescending, so that this as-cold-as-ice-and-frost beauty would have to take it as face value and would not be able to reprimand him.
Linglong Jiao’s pretty face blushed slightly; under the illumination of the lanterns ahead and behind them, she looked even more beautiful and alluring.
After being quiet for half a day, she spoke in low voice, “Do you really think so?”
A tinge of regret grew in Kou Zhong’s heart; considering non-Han women were different from Central Plains women – they were more forthcoming and direct, if she misunderstood that he was falling in love with her, it might bring unintended consequences. But this moment he was riding a tiger, how could he explain that it was just a random talk and that he was just teasing her?
Without much choices he hardened his heart and replied, “Of course I do.”
Linglong Jiao shot him a coquettish glance. “Do you know where eastern Tujue is?” she asked.
Kou Zhong nodded, “Isn’t that north of the Great Wall?”
Linglong Jiao became like a little girl, she excitedly said, “Go figure! West of Eastern Tujue is precisely Western Tujue, Gaochang and Qiuci. From Luoyang, you must pass through Wuwei, Zhangye, Dunhuang, Shanshan. From there you still have to travel for two months to the northwest, across the Great Desert, and that is the grassland where my people live.”
Kou Zhong was dumbstruck, “It’s that far,” he said.
Suddenly they heard a horse neighing ahead; the cavalcade stopped immediately.
In the darkness, about twenty zhang ahead, they could vaguely see a tall figure standing in the middle of the road.
Momentarily everybody was stunned; how could the assassin be this brazen?
It should be noted that nearly all of the entire force of martial art masters under Wang Shichong’s command were concentrated here, not to mention more than a hundred elite guards. Unless the enemy had stronger force, perhaps before they were able to even touch Wang Shichong’s carriage, they would have to retreat with broken troops and damaged generals.
Without waiting for this side to shout the question, the man already let out an earsplitting long laughter and said, “Wang Shichong! You are going to die today!”
Surprisingly, it was the Dugu Clan’s leader, Dugu Feng’s voice.
Before anybody had time to respond, Dugu Feng roared and spun around several times with the speed that was difficult to see with naked eyes; and then he threw a large object that was spinning in the air. Like a black could it flew across the more than twenty zhang distance, cutting toward the vanguard troops.
A whistling noise, the sound of metal splitting the air, screamed along the Imperial Road. Under the illumination of the lanterns and the torches, they could see that the object thrown by Dugu Feng was actually a large piece of iron disk, about five chi in diameter; its edge was full of sharp teeth. Thrown using his special technique, it created a beautiful arc in the air, as like a spinning top it flew with astonishing speed toward its target.
Dugu Feng was the leader of a major clan, he has made his name in Jianghu for more than forty years. Being thrown with all his strength, plus the angular momentum amassed by spinning in place, combined with the circular disc’s rotational property, plus the sharp teeth along its edge, really carried an unbreakable and impossible-to-withstand momentum, which, even if Ning Daoqi personally came, perhaps he would not dare to meet the disc head on.
After throwing the circular disc, Dugu Feng immediately flew back, simply because he had used up all his strength in this one throw, and his true power suffered a very huge loss.
Ahead, lanterns were falling to the ground, because the guards jumped down of their horses and scattered away to evade. Panic spread out like a ripple. The rest of the people also jumped down from their horses and scattered in all direction.
※ ※ ※
The light was suddenly swallowed by the darkness. A dreadful feeling, worse than the danger of battlefield, descended upon the people.
Kou Zhong, Ouyang Xiyi, and the others had never thought that the enemy would gain the upper hand in just one move like this. Momentarily they could only watch in disbelief as the round disc from afar flying near, as it was going to cut the carriage in two.
By the time the spinning disc was about three zhang away from the horses, the troops were either jumping down to the ground or riding their horses away to evade, while they were utterly defeated, a dark shadow fell down from the sky. With astonishing speed and shocking accuracy it landed on the flying, spinning disc, the tip of the shadow’s toes was right at the axis of rotation, so that the shadow looked like an immortal soaring across the clouds, riding on the fog, as it flew along the spinning disc; an astonishing scene to behold.
“Assassin!” Ke Feng shouted.
Ouyang Xiyi already soared into the air, hoping to be one step ahead of the enemy to intercept him.
Kou Zhong was more anxious for Xu Ziling, this assassin’s martial art skill was really high, it was definitely above Xu Ziling’s and his. Because he did not know what the enemy was going to do next, and was fully aware that nobody would be able to stop the assassin before he reached the carriage, in his quick-thinking he threw himself down underneath the carriage and shouted, “Go down!”
Wang Shichong, sitting on the driver seat, became the main target. Wide-eyed he stared at the enemy approaching fast, riding on the disc, nearly flying over the horses’ head, while his subordinates while scrambling in all kinds of postures to evade. Looking at the curve of the flight path, he knew that the fast-spinning disc carrying the enemy was about to cut across his face.
If the enemy was coming at him in straight line, relying on his skill, he could leap into the air to intercept the enemy, without paying attention to the flying disc. But the curving attack path was the most difficult to grasp, plus the incoming enemy was Huang Gongcuo, one of the people with enough qualifications to be Ning Daoqi’s match. Therefore, at the last second he decided to give up the idea, sprang off the seat, and rolled down on the ground in an extremely sorry condition.
Under everybody’s blank stare, the spinning disc razed through the carriage as if it was made of dried, rotten wood, about half a chi below the roof. The disc carried the roof of the carriage along and dropped it to the ground, leaving the carriage looked like an ugly-shaped, a vicious-looking open cart.
The four horses pulling the carriage reared on their hind legs first, and then their necks broke and they fell down, died on the spot.
The assassin sprang up, made a flip in the air, and then with head below and feet above, he dove down into the carriage like a cannonball.
Without casting even half a glance toward the trembling fake Wang Shichong curling on the floor at the aft of the carriage, both his palms struck toward the secret compartment.
When Xu Ziling, who was hiding inside the secret compartment in place of Wang Shichong, suddenly heard the horses neighing, he knew something was wrong. He was just about to push the board open and get out when Kou Zhong’s warning shout rang in his ears.
If it were other people, he would have hesitated but for a moment. But he and Kou Zhong have been together since they were little, they lived and died together, so there was a fabulous tacit understanding between them; it could even be said that it was unparalleled in the world.
Kou Zhong’s shout was still ringing in his ears, he immediately used his power to shatter the bottom of the carriage, dropped to the stone slab pavement below, and rolled away from the carriage.
The entire floor of the vehicle shattered into small pieces, the fake Wang Shichong and the seats dropped down to the ground, but the wall of the compartment remained intact.
Xu Ziling cried ‘Lucky!’ inwardly. If he was a split second late, it would be strange indeed if he did not die like a minced meat with all the bones in his body split in pieces.
Before he had time to spring up, the dreadful assassin, who clearly knew that he had slipped away from the bottom of the carriage, simply crashed through the wall in Xu Ziling’s direction, and fiercely attacked him.
In the meantime, even after cutting the carriage in two, the spinning disc has not lost its momentum; it flew across the neck of two startling horses. Immediately their blood splashed, two poor innocent warhorses toppled down tragically, bringing the guards on their back along to the ground.
Other than scattering in all direction, Wang Shichong’s men behind the carriage were helpless against the disc, forget about dealing with the enemy.
Chapter 2 - Part 2
Lao Qianbei, Xiaohu, that was a bit more than half of the chapter. You guys have way too much imagination. Ysabel, Jaya, chua, HPC, Hungry, you are welcome. Xu Xiong, if someone was riding on it, it can’t be drone, can it? DongBin, nope, Wang Shichong is here to stay.
On the direction where Xu Ziling was rolling away, there were Chen Changlin and six, seven other martial art masters. They did not know that Wang Shichong had been substituted by Xu Ziling; they thought it was Wang Shichong who was rolling away from the bottom of the carriage. Seeing the assassin breaking the wall to pursue and attack, they leaped off their horses and charged forward to meet the enemy.
Who would have thought that when the man was charging forward, he intentionally diffuse the wood fragments and splashed the pieces over at them like a shower, each piece carried powerful qi, no different than shooting secret projectiles.
Because the lanterns were extinguished, and the night sky was dark without the stars, all the could see was that the enemy was a man wearing black tight-fitting warrior outfit; as for what he looked like, no one could see it clearly, hence increasing his mysterious, unfathomable and terrifying impression.
Meanwhile Kou Zhong, Ouyang Xiyi, Linglong Jiao, Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, and the other martial art masters were soaring near, but they were still a bit behind. By the time Chen Changlin and the others were blocking the raining wood fragments, the assassin already flew toward the rolling-around-on-the-ground Xu Ziling, with both palms striking down.
Violent qi power, like a storm, pressed down on Xu Ziling. He felt as if a wall was falling down on him. The momentum was extremely shocking.
In the blink of an eye, Xu Ziling, who was under heavy attack, was able to detect from the enemy’s speed, attacking power, and other aspects that he was still at least a level below the opponent.
Right now, the only counteroffensive he could think of was to face danger with danger, using strange method to control the enemy.
With a cold shout he flipped half of his body, relying on high-speed true qi rotation, and reversing the direction of his falling down momentum, while fast as lightning both his palms struck out, to meet the enemy’s palms head on.
He was finally able to see the opponent’s appearance and body shape.
This black assassin was tall and sturdy, bordering to fat; his belly slightly bulging, his head bald, his chin thick, his palms and fingers appeared thicker and more solid than ordinary men. But his supposedly murderous-looking fierce and harsh eyes were weakened by his snow-white, beautiful beard, and his long, grizzled eyebrows drooping down to the corners of his eyes. Were it not for his icy-cold eyes, which were so narrow that they looked like the blade of a knife, this man could be mistaken as an elderly immortal descending to the mortal world.
Qi power collided.
Xu Ziling did not use his spiraling qi. He appeared to be using all the natural qi power from the ‘Secret to Long Life’ and the Jade Annulus of He Clan; however, he actually retained half of his strength in dealing with this senior martial art master of grand master level, whose name shook the southern seas.
Xu Ziling spurted out a mouthful of fresh blood; he was jolted so hard that the back of his head bumped against the bluestone under his body.
Huang Gongcuo was also jarred by his reaction force, and was thrown backward. For the first time his face showed an amazed expression.
But his hands did not stay idle; his left hand repeatedly sent out long distance chops, so that Chen Changlin and the others, who were coming to help, were forced to step back; two of them were even hit and fell down, unable to crawl back up. He indeed possessed an insufferably arrogant attitude due to his overbearing prowess.
This moment Kou Zhong, Ouyang Xiyi, Ke Feng, Linglong Jiao, Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, and the group of other martial art masters were leaping above the destroyed carriage. But when they were pouncing down, whistling noise was heard overhead, followed by hundreds of leaves, like sharp blades filling the air, shooting down at them, so that all they could do was evading with sigh.
Faintly they saw four, five dark shadows followed the raining leaves, dropping down from the sky.
Those with comparably weaker skill had no choice but to form saber net and sword shield to block the attack with everything they had.
Only Kou Zhong, Ouyang Xiyi, Ke Feng and Linglong Jiao, four people were able to use their true qi to protect their bodies, while increasing their speed to charge toward Huang Gongcuo, well before he had a chance to use his killer hands to intercept them.
The blue stone shattered.
Xu Ziling’s back landed on the ground, and spurted another mouthful of blood.
Most of his injuries were fake.
Although Huang Gongcuo’s palm power was fierce and severe, Xu Ziling was not a weakling at all. When the opponent’s qi power invaded his meridians and burst in, he used his own true qi to carry the opponent’s qi power from his elbow, and transmitted it into the bluestone crashing against his back. Not only he neutralized the capable-of-severing-the-meridians, destroying-the-spirit palm power, he also used it to prop his weight so that he would not suffer the calamity of crashing against the stone.
It was an ingenious, as well as a profound mystery, technique, guaranteed that even Huang Gongcuo would find it hard to understand. Only he and Kou Zhong, who knew the ‘Secret to Long Life’ had this marvelous skill.
Huang Gongcuo suddenly floated toward Xu Ziling again.
The battle occurred in the dark. Under this kind of circumstance, they could not rely on their eyes very well, and was forced to rely on their senses, which, in their status as martial art masters, were keener than those of ordinary people; the level of danger need not be mentioned.
Only this moment did Wang Shichong, who was dressed as ‘Qin Jieyuan’, start to flee while keeping his body close to the ground, as he quietly tiptoed toward the back of Huang Gongcuo. It was only then did he remember his original intention in coming here.
The flying disc, which had been the main controller of this whole situation, finally fell to the ground.
Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well block a sword stabbing down from above; immediately he groaned inwardly, because the enemy’s power application was extremely ingenious, there was a twisting and pulling force hidden within the stab, so that he was pulled sideways, but it appeared that he wanted to change direction on his own accord, and thus missed the opportunity to intercept Huang Gongcuo.
This kind of sword technique was simply too sensational.
And then he heard loud sword wind; unexpectedly the enemy was able to change momentum high in the air and used the remainder to pursue him.
Dugu Feng’s [phoenix] tender voice rang in his ears, “Pay back my Er Shu’s [second uncle] life!”
Kou Zhong thundered, “Dugu Ba’s killer is Shen Luoyan. Watch the saber!”
Without even looking back, the Moon in the Well struck backhandedly, to hit the back of Dugu Feng’s sword stabbing at him. ‘Dang! The impact shook Dugu Feng, sent her floating backward, while he borrowed the same reaction force to accelerate his speed as he shot toward the Imperial Road.
Xu Ziling had already accomplished his goal in taking Wang Shichong’s place to ‘receive the injury’. Right now his only target was to protect his own life, in order to prevent the pretense from turning into reality.
The enemy’s assassination plan was very thorough. Huang Gongcuo was extremely formidable; although it was not totally unexpected, it has caused them to fall into passive situation and could only react to the enemy’s movement, even though they had already giving everything had.
And now, as long as Kou Zhong was able to hold Huang Gongcuo for a moment, to give their side the opportunity to regroup, it could be said that their mission was accomplished.
Thinking about it, Kou Zhong swung his arm to throw the Moon in the Well that it flew like a streak of lightning toward Huang Gongcuo.
The moment Dugu Feng [phoenix] intercepted Kou Zhong, Wang Bodang’s double-pointed flexible spear and You Chuhong’s jasper staff separately intercepted Linglong Jiao and Ouyang Xiyi coming down from the air.
Everybody knew that if they could kill Xu Ziling, who was impersonating Wang Shichong, then they could put a stop to this melee.
The Twin-Malevolent of Changbai, Fu Zhen and Fu Yan, two brothers, were charging toward Chen Changlin, so that Huang Gongcuo could focus all his attention to kill Xu Ziling, whom they believed to be Wang Shichong.
For a period of time, the sound of weapons clashing and battle cry shook the Imperial Road.
As soon as the guards recovered from shock, one after another they charged courageously with no thought of personal safety in the direction of Huang Gongcuo and Xu Ziling.
With a muffled explosion-like sound, Ouyang Xiyi, who was always a level below You Chuhong, was swept by her staff and fell backward. And then this number one martial art master of the Dugu Clan flashed around like a ghost or a demon, charging toward the front of the carriage like a shooting star, and each time her jasper staff swept by, one bodyguard had his flesh and blood flying. There was a continuous stream of people flying or falling down.
Linglong Jiao was unable to withstand Wang Bodang’s double-pointed flexible spear, which he moved in perfection; relying on her outstanding qinggong, she turned around and fled far away, giving Wang Bodang the opportunity to leisurely deal with the bodyguards charging at him from the rear of the carriage.
Ke Feng was the only one with no one giving him any trouble; he easily went over to Xu Ziling, who had just sprung up from the ground.
In this kind of darkness and chaotic situation, even he could not see clearly that this ‘Wang Shichong’ was a fake.
Huang Gongcuo was pressing in to within ten paces from Xu Ziling; his white beard perked up, both his hands turned into palm shadows filling the air, like howling wind and torrential rain attacking Xu Ziling.
Huang Gongcuo flashed; it was unclear what technique he was using, but the lightning fast Moon in the Well shooting at him not only changed direction, it continued shooting toward the real Wang Shichong’s chest, who was trying to ambush him from behind. There was no reduction in the momentum; he was worthy to be acclaimed as one of the top grandmasters of martial art in the world.
Xu Ziling groaned inwardly. Although currently his side had more men and the enemy had just a few, but he could only fight alone, since no one would be able to help him. To his side was the carriage with the destroyed top, to his other side were the big trees separating the horse path with the Imperial Road, while in front and behind him were enemies blocking his escape route, so that for the time being it was difficult for people from his side to come to his aid.
Huang Gongcuo’s violent and powerful palm wind, as cold as ice and snow, was completely enveloping him, practically rendering him unable to evade, thus the only way out was to fight with everything he had.
If the enemy was only Huang Gongcuo, one person, he would be able to hold his ground for some time; but the worst part was that Ke Feng was waiting on the side. Even if he had enough power, Xu Ziling simply could not strike first and gain the upper hand, because by doing so, he would ruin the enterprise for the sake of one
Even if his wisdom was higher than the sky, all he could do right now was sighing in frustration.
But Ke Feng suddenly flashed behind him and shouted loudly, “Shichong Xiong, back off!”
Instead of surprised, Xu Ziling was delighted. He swiftly backed off.