Book 19 Chapter 9 – Capturing Xuanying Again
“Platform of sorrow in the lofty fortified wall, cooking gold preparing jade waiting for the toll of the bell, in the small hall silk curtain covering three thousand households, on the main street the twelve-story pleasure house …”
It was unclear whether the load on their mind was suddenly evoked, or perhaps the emotion on the verge of parting, or even because the claps of thunder and the torrential rain outside the palace hall have aroused their deep feelings, every note, every word was clearly spelled out from her fragrant mouth, but everybody, including Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who were drenched in rain outside, was overwhelmed in a singular feeling as if her singing voice has directly brought out the innermost emotion of their hearts.
Although she was performing her art in living color in the middle of the Palace Hall, yet all the audience seemed to feel like she was already packed, and was just dithering at the dock, and might at any moment climb the boat, raise the anchor and sail away.
Although her singing voice was moving up and down following the thunder rolls and the rumbling of the rain, charming and touching, the most touching thing was that after her extremely reserved singing, suddenly a feeling of the wind and frost [i.e. hardships] and a sense of loss of a wounded emotion burst open carelessly.
In terms of singing skill, facial expression and gracefulness, she had reached the great heights of achievement; even more so than her previous performances. Listening to her, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were staring blankly; they nearly missed the best opportunity to make their move.
Suddenly the crowd burst into thunderous applause, jerking the two boys awake from their stupor; they immediately made their move.
While everybody inside the Palace Hall was still intoxicated by Shang Xiufang’s lingering voice rising up in spirals to the beam, wood shavings fluttered down from the ceiling, two splashes of water filled the whole sky, a few suspected the rainstorm has shifted position and was wreaking havoc in the Palace Hall.
At the same time an ear-splitting clap of thunder was crashing outside the Hall, the echo reverberated across the hall, so that the crowd felt as if they were standing by the edge of a dangerous cliff, shaking them to the core.
While everyone was overwhelmed with shock, two shadows separately attacked Wang Shichong and Li Shimin.
Biting cold qi power and fierce and severe sound of cutting wind immediately crushed the tears, as well as the sorrowful atmosphere across ten-thousand emptiness that were awakened by Shang Xiufang earlier.
This moment, Shang Xiufang was still in the middle of the Hall; she has not returned to her seat yet. Seeing the assassin suddenly dropping in from the sky, she was so shocked that she could only stared blankly on the spot, with her white hands pressed against her heart. Although she lost her usual charm, she still looked surprisingly graceful and lovely.
The first to suffer the attack was Li Shimin.
As soon as he broke into the Hall, Kou Zhong immediately made a somersault; with his head down and feet up, he pounced vertically down, the Moon in the Well turned into yellow rays dazzling the eyes, like the most frightening nightmare hacking down on the top of Li Shimin’s head.
Sitting behind Li Shimin, about half a zhang away, although Pang Yu, Zhangsun Wuji and Yuchi Jingde wanted to help, because everything happened so suddenly, plus Kou Zhong’s speed was unbelievable, they were still one step too late.
But the fastest to react was Li Shimin.
Because he did not have enough time either to draw his sword to block or to evade, he sent all his strength into both arms, and lifted the mahogany table in front of him above his head to meet Kou Zhong’s earth-shattering saber strike.
The wine cup, wine pot, everything on the table toppled down and fall to the ground.
The mahogany table split in two.
Taking advantage of this buffer, Li Shimin rolled backward.
Kou Zhong made another somersault, the Moon in the Well turned into millions of saber rays, like shadows following shadows, sweeping toward Li Shimin, who was still rolling on the ground, without the least bit of mercy.
This moment Xu Ziling also leaped at an angle, traversing the more than three zhang of empty space above the Palace Hall’s floor, like a male eagle swooping a rabbit, toward Wang Shichong, and sent out a punch onto Wang Shichong’s face, who was still overcome by shock.
Although the imperial guards standing nearby quickly rushed over, they were too late to block the attack.
Most of the guests in the Hall either did not know martial art, or their martial art skill was mediocre; they all could only stare blankly, not knowing what to do.
One after another Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu, Wang Xuanying, and the others leaped from their seats, but still, distant water cannot put out a nearby fire.
The fastest to act was Rong Fengxiang, who was sitting on the next banquet table from Wang Xuanying. His left hand lightly pressed the table, like a clump of cloud he shot up to the air, across a zhang or so distance, and sent out a chain of palm strikes over empty air, attacking Xu Ziling’s left flank, who, by this time, was still in the air, revealing his exceptional skill, which was beyond expectation.
Wang Shichong was, after all, a first-class martial art master as well; as soon as his shock vanished, knowing that this was a life and death crisis, he abruptly regained his composure and pushed out both palms, level with his chest, to meet Xu Ziling’s overbearing punch head on.
Due to his old wound has not properly healed, new injury already invaded his body, although with all his strength he managed to block Xu Ziling’s capable-of-cutting-into-the-mountain, splitting-the-rock punch, his throat refused to follow his order, he spurted a mouthful of fresh blood.
Xu Ziling was also jolted by Wang Shichong’s thick and profound reaction force that his body froze for a moment, as Rong Fengxiang’s toppling-the-mountains-and-overturning-the-seas, forceful palm wind arrived.
In a flash-of-lightning or a spark-of-fire moment, Xu Ziling already knew that Rong Fengxiang’s real power was above his. Xu Ziling seized this opportunity to roll on the ground, and then threw himself forward; not only to evade Rong Fengxiang’s palm splitting the air, but before his chest made contact with the ground, like an artillery shell he shot toward Wang Xuanying, who was rushing over toward him. The change of his move was so fast that people sighed in admiration since they had never seen anything like this before.
Under the near-impossible circumstances, not only Li Shimin suddenly stopped rolling, he also shot up, pulled his sword, and swept it across to meet Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well.
Like the tide of Yangtze River Kou Zhong’s stored up spiraling energy surged into Li Shimin’s meridians. As if he was struck by lightning Li Shimin’s staggered back into Pang Yu and the others, three men, but this has also saved his life.
Kou Zhong dropped to the ground, while brandishing his Moon in the Well around, carrying the remnants of the attacking momentum, holding up Pang Yu and the others that they could not advance even for a single cun. Only then did he sweep back, hoping to join Xu Ziling.
Meanwhile Xu Ziling had just reached Wang Xuanying. Rong Fengxiang, who was pursuing closely behind him, was the biggest factor determining his success or failure. Because of Rong Jiaojiao’s superior skill, he and Kou Zhong already had high opinion of Rong Fengxiang, but he still did not expect that Rong Fengxiang was this kind of terrifying martial art master.
If Xu Ziling was unable to capture Wang Xuanying in this high-speed, face-to-face meeting, he would not have the second chance; because no matter how incompetent Wang Xuanying was, he could not be so inept that he was completely useless.
Able to think fast in an emergency, Xu Ziling’s eyes emitted fierce and severed mysterious light as he looked straight into Wang Xuanying’s eyes, who was brandishing his sword to attack Xu Ziling. The latter was intimidated by his imposing manner, plus remembering that he had suffered defeat under Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s hands, sure enough, as Xu Ziling expected, Wang Xuanying was scared and started to turn around, hoping that others would help him.
While Rong Fengxiang was groaning inwardly, Xu Ziling swiftly pounced forward, his two palms turned into layer upon layer palm shadows, as he slapped the blade of Wang Xuanying’s sword more than ten times in succession.
Wang Xuanying staggered continuously, blood was completely drained from his face. Suddenly his calf bumped onto a long table, plus being under wave after wave of Xu Ziling’s qi attack, he was unable to hold on. His long sword fell off, his body also stumbled onto the table, cups and pots overturned and fell to the ground.
From left and right more than a dozen imperial bodyguards rushed over, but it was too late to save their young lord.
Xu Ziling sent out a backhand palm strike to meet Rong Fengxiang’s severe blow, while at the same time he was borrowing the impact force to propel him forward. While soaring up to the air, he grabbed Wang Xuanying, sealed his acupoint, and carried him along like carrying a little chick.
Letting out a sharp whistle, Rong Fengxiang changed direction to meet Kou Zhong. By this time Kou Zhong had just reached Shang Xiufang, who was still standing in the middle of the Hall.
“Miss sang really well!” he spoke in low voice, while at the same time the Moon in the Well emitted a fantastical yellow ray, swiftly hacking down on Rong Fengxiang, who was charging toward him.
‘Bang!’ The two collided and kept moving forward.
While Kou Zhong was crying inwardly, ‘Formidable!’ Xu Ziling, carrying Wang Xuanying, escaped to the corner of the hall, and shouted sternly, “Everybody stop!”
While the entire Hall was taken by surprise, Kou Zhong, like a deity, landed by Xu Ziling’s side and pressed his saber on Wang Xuanying’s throat, who, by this time, was hanging his head dispiritedly. Laughing aloud, Kou Zhong said, “Baby Shichong, Shimin kid, this time you have to admit defeat!”
With the imperial bodyguards crowded around to protect him, although his face had not turned pale due to the loss of blood and his injury, Wang Shichong’s countenance was extremely unsightly. He was so angry that momentarily he was unable to say anything.
Up until now, nobody knew how the two boys were able to enter the Imperial Palace without anybody noticing it, and unleashed the surprise attack.
The nearly forgotten thunder reminded everybody in the Hall that the outside world was still under the control of the forces of nature.
Li Shimin took a step forward. Still as elegant as before, he smiled and said, “Zhong Xiong and Ziling Xiong’s ghost-and-deity-cannot-measure method indeed makes people have no choice but to submit.” And then, turning to Shang Xiufang, he spoke with tenderness, “Miss Shang is frightened, please return to your seat to calm down.”
Shang Xiufang acted as if she did not hear him; her eyes were fixed at Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. It was quite some time later that she walked over to Li Shimin’s side.
Rong Fengxiang appeared to be unable to curb his raging temper toward the two boys. Murderous intent flashing repeatedly in his eyes, he let out a cold snort and said, “How did you get in?” The rest of the people were absolutely silent, plus it was not their turn to speak anyway.
Astounded, Kou Zhong said, “Why speak so much nonsense?”
And then, turning to Wang Shichong he said, “I don’t need to tell Shengshang [your holiness/your majesty], you ought to know what to do! Xiaodi has always been an impatient man!”
Wang Shichong was so angry that he nearly vomited blood. “Get Xu Xingzhi in here!” he growled. The imperial guards acknowledge the order and left.
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Give Xiaodi a rather presentable fast boat. When we arrive at Yanshi, I will release him. No other conditions will be accepted. Understand?”
What could Wang Shichong say?
They sailed away from the Eastern Capital, downstream toward Yanshi. It was dusk. The sky cleared after the rain. The scenery was enchanting. Wang Xuanying had his acupoint sealed, he lay unconscious in the cabin. The three chatted leisurely about everything that happened after they parted, there was the joy of meeting again after a calamity.
Xu Xingzhi said, “When Wang Shichong bestowed grand titles to his relatives and subordinates, he left out Zhong Ye, so I knew that he intended to use evil scheme to harm two masters. Thereupon, while going on an official trip to Jinyong, I took the opportunity to slip away to Yanshi to look for you. Who would have thought that I could not escape his various linking arms?”
Xu Ziling was at the helm. Hearing what was said, he spoke up, “In my opinion, Wang Shichong still want to put Mr. Xu in an important position; otherwise, with his jackal and wolf [i.e. evil person] character, he would have you executed on the spot.”
Kou Zhong let out a cold snort and said, “In that case, his treasured crown prince will be done for as well.”
Xu Xingzhi looked back, a warship was tailing them. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Toward this kind of harsh and merciless man, I would rather die than working for him. Unlike Kou Ye and Xu Ye, whose righteousness reaches the clouds and the sky, heroes and towering figures who disregarded your own safety and danger for other people’s sake. Even if I, Xu Xingzhi, have to deliver my little life, I would do so most willingly.”
Kou Zhong still had lingering fear; he said, “This time it was just a bit too dangerous. Not only Rong Fengxiang’s martial art skill is so bizarrely high, it also has a weird heretical, secret feeling; definitely not of orthodox method. We nearly ruin the enterprise for the sake of one basketful because of him.
Astonished, Xu Ziling said, “I thought it was only my own perception; I did not know you had the same feeling. On the surface his technique was straightforward and open, but hidden within it was crafty, heretical move. I also felt that he was somewhat reserved, as if he was trying to hide something. There must be a dirty little secret somewhere.”
Kou Zhong appeared to be deep in thought, as if he was recalling a distant memory. It was quite a while later that he said, “When I fought with him, although only twice, I had a feeling that I have seen the expression showing in his eyes somewhere before. This is really strange; when I saw him before, why didn’t I have that kind of feeling?”
“That must be because normally he deliberately hid the radiance of his eyes,” Xu Xingzhi said, “Only when fighting did he apply his true qi, hence he was unable to conceal it. If that is the case, then Zhong Ye must have met him before, only he was not showing this face.”
Xu Ziling nodded, “Mr. Xu’s explanation makes a lot of sense,” he said, “Rong Fengxiang himself is a man without any position, whichever side has great power, he then attaches himself to that side; he must be harboring unfathomable motives.”
Thinking deeply, Kou Zhong said, “If that’s the case, Rong Fengxiang’s real identity should not be difficult to guess; who has close relationship with Zhu Yuyan or someone of similar position, and have fought with me? Oh!”
His entire body shook, he looked at Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling returned his gaze with a blank. “Who is it?” he asked.
Kou Zhong took a deep breath and said, “I remember! Oh, my Niang! Must be Pi Chen, that demon Taoist; really formidable.”
Xu Ziling was stunned, “How could it be him?” he asked, “But it also makes sense. Wang Shichong is in deep trouble this time.”
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, “Boy, oh boy! In this case, I am afraid Rong Jiaojiao is not his daughter at all. And Yang Xuyan’s origin is even more dubious, so much so that Dong Shuni is also not simple at all. Li kid might be falling into a trap without he realizing it.”
Xu Xingzhi was puzzled, “Who is Pi Chen?” he asked.
After explaining it to him, Kou Zhong said, “Yin Gui Pai wants to contend over the world; Pi Chen, that demon Taoist’s something or other Pai [Sect] also wants to fish in troubled water. Although his method is different, his intention is the same. If Pi Chen knew that as soon as he fought we were able to see through it, he would have regretted it deeply.”
Xu Xingzhi cast his gaze on the bright moon that has just risen from behind the mountain in the distance; he said, “After reaching Yanshi, I am going to go ashore and rush toward the Flying Horse Ranch. Two masters must be very careful; that man Li Zitong does not look like a good man. The men under his command, Bai Xin, Qin Wenchao and Zuo Xiaoyou, three men are all famous valiant military leaders.”
Recalling that they were about to deal with Du Fuwei and Shen Faxing’s coalition army, a nearly impossible task, the two boys could only look at each other dejectedly.
Xu Xingzhi mused, “Du Fuwei and Shen Faxing’s collaboration is only for mutual interests, there must be heavy conflicting views in it. If two masters could ingeniously exploit this, perhaps you would be able to break their coalition as easy as blowing off dust.”
His spirit greatly aroused, Kou Zhong said, “Mister’s proposal has a lot of merits; I will certainly keep it in mind. When the time comes, I will strive to carry it out.”
The sailboat rounded a sharp curve, and entered a wide, smooth section of the river course, where it was able to sail downstream at full speed. About ten miles pass Yanshi, the boat slowly pulled toward the shore. Because there were only a few of them, plus the boat was light, the warship trailing them from the Eastern Capital has been left far behind early on.
The sound of hoof beats rumbled along the shore. Their old friend Yang Gongqing, leading about a dozen riders, arrived; and then he went on board, alone.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Great General Yang indeed has guts and has knowledge; you have the impertinence to climb aboard alone.”
Yang Gongqing walked over toward Kou Zhong. After casting a glance at Wang Xuanying, who was still lying on the deck, unconscious, he greeted Xu Ziling and Xu Xingzhi, who were standing on the bridge, and then said with a sigh, “This time Shangshu Daren is at fault for courting disaster. I, Yang Gongqing, have nothing to say.”
Kou Zhong said, “While I am here, I might as well tell Dajiangjun [great general] two things. If Dajiangjun is happy, you may pass it on to that baby Wang Shichong.”
Yang Gongqing was puzzled, “What things?” he asked.
Thereupon Kou Zhong calmly told him about Li Shimin, who might be recruiting Li Mi’s former generals, and about Rong Fengxiang, who might be Pi Chen in disguise. And then he laughed and said, “If I don’t make them very scared and on edge, and make it difficult for them to have peaceful days, how could I vent this grudges?”
Yang Gongqing’s countenance changed; he said, “These two things are no small matter; I must immediately send the letter via flying pigeon to report to Wang Shichong.”
Just by hearing him calling Wang Shichong by name directly, Kou Zhong knew that his resentment toward Wang Shichong has reached the level that it was revealed in his speech.
Kou Zhong leaned over and spoke in low voice, “Dajiangjun may bring the hostage back, but you have to remember how Wang Shichong is treating me. Another day he may use the same method to treat Dajiangjun. Serving a tiger and wolf master cannot bring about good outcome.”
Smiling ruefully, Yang Gongqing replied, “I already knew it! Three gentlemen, take care!”
Picking up Wang Xuanying, he turned around and left.