Book 27 Chapter 11 – Sudden Change
Xu Ziling stopped at the top of a hill at the edge of the forest. From behind a pile of rocks and underbrush he craned his neck to look at the grassland and mountain and fields covered in sparse forest outside the jungle, under the fine drizzle. It was pitch-black and he did not see anything unusual.
Tuli and Kou Zhong looked to the left and right, respectively, and only after ascertaining that there was no enemy did they come to Xu Ziling’s sides.
These three were outstanding Wulin masters inside and outside the Central Plains, their eyes and ears were a hundred times sharper than ordinary men, plus they were very familiar with the way of the Jianghu, so the enemies could forget about hiding nearby without them detecting it.
“What do you think?” Kou Zhong asked.
Xu Ziling replied, “They must be nearby, but I can’t ascertain their position.”
Kou Zhong said, “If even you cannot ascertain, it is clear to me that they are quite far.”
Reaching out, he wrapped his arm around Tuli’s shoulders and pulled him toward himself, while saying with a laugh, “The time has come to blow your conch!”
Tuli did not expect Kou Zhong would be this cordial and treated him like an old friend. He was a bit overwhelmed [by the favor from a superior], but was also a bit at a loss whether he ought to laugh or cry. Feeling uneasy, he said, “If Yun Shuai’s side fail to live up to our expectations and practically did not hear the whistle, wouldn’t we only expose our whereabouts? And then we will be forced to engage Zhao Deyan’s side in hard fighting, or else, we will be pursued until we are unable to breathe.”
Kou Zhong almost wanted to tell him that even Xi Ying was slaughtered by Xu Ziling; hence Zhao Deyan, who ranked slightly lower than Xi Ying, would not be that terrifying anymore. Fortunately he managed to stop himself in time. Lowering his voice, he said, “The place you will blow the conch must be carefully researched. Khan, you go back about one li, and then blow the whistle. Ling Shao and I will be waiting around here to ambush the enemy. After giving them a good beating, we will rendezvous with you.”
Inwardly Tuli was full of admiration. If Kou Zhong were not this daring, the fate of the world would not change because of him.
Xu Ziling spoke in low voice, “After Khan blows the whistle, there will be three possibilities. The first possibility is that there will be no movement at all; that is, Zhao Deyan’s side still holds back their troops without moving, and that Yun Shuai did not pursue nearby. Second possibility, Zhao Deyan is watching the fires burning across the river [idiom: to delay entering the fray until all others have been exhausted by fighting amongst themselves], and Yun Shuai’s men will blow their own whistle to attack Khan. The third possibility is the most ideal, which is the two sides’ men and horses blow their whistle at the same time to attack each other. We must first decide what action we should take under each circumstance. It is also advisable to decide on a number of whistle signals to be used to communicate in case we lose touch with each other.”
Kou Zhong said, “Ling Shao, why don’t you decide. Time is running out, after dawn, everything will not work anymore!”
So Xu Ziling briefly laid out the plan. The other two nodded their heads indicating their approval. Finally, after they also agreed on the location to rendezvous in case they were separated, Tuli quietly slipped away.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “In my opinion, the two sides’ men and horses are waiting outside the forest for dawn. Since Zhao Deyan is aware that Yun Shuai’s men are nearby, he certainly won’t act blindly without thinking. We’d better take the initiative to find them to play. After perfecting the Jing Zhong Ba Fa [Eight Methods of the Well], I have not had the opportunity to use it in real fight, making laozi’s [I, your father] hands unbearably itchy.”
Xu Ziling warned him, “We basically do not have any capital to take risks. Once we are injured, or if our true power suffers too much wear and tear, it would be tantamount to abandoning our martial art and letting us get trampled on. You need to think about the consequences.”
Kou Zhong turned his gaze at the misty horizon and wilderness, in which the night rain blended into one entity. Changing the subject, he said, “The situation I am most afraid of is like just now, when we were under attack at the Han River, sudden change that happened when you completely did not expect to happen. It was as terrifying as a nightmare. How did Zhu Can suddenly become that formidable?”
Xu Ziling said, “I have the same doubt as you do, which is to say his power could be considered of Ol’ Die’s level. Zhu Can has had irreconcilable adversaries against Xiao Xian, doing a favor to Yun Shuai shouldn’t be any problem, but to move his army here, he has to have a very strong reason. The one thing that I am most suspicious of is that with Yun Shuai’s qinggong, it should not be that easy to cast him off that he loses our track. Judging from his guts when he was fighting female demon Bai and Yin Gui Pai’s three elders martial art masters, he shouldn’t be following on our heels to try our weight [fig. importance].”
Kou Zhong’s countenance changed, he said, “If not Zhu Can and Yun Shuai, and not Zhao Deyan and Kang Qiaoli, then it must be Li Yuanji? My Niang! How did they arrive this quickly?
Before Xu Ziling had any chance to respond, a mournful whistle like an owl cry rang out from about a li or so behind them, scaring them that their guts nearly jump out of their throat. But it was already too late to stop now, if it was wrong, then it was wrong.
If there was no Yun Shuai’s men in the vicinity, then the whistle was akin to summoning the martial art masters from Li Yuanji and Zhao Deyan, two sides. The latter even had the capability of pursuing the enemy from high in the sky using psychic sparrow hawks. This whistle was not much different to the call of death.
The two looked at each other, their scalp went numb.
There was a sound of something splitting the wind, followed by several fireworks exploding high in the air above the two boys’ head, turning into thousands of dots of light illuminating mountain forest with their golden yellow brilliant light. It was very pleasing to watch.
The enemy’s reaction was completely beyond the two boys’ expectation. They were unclear whether the enemy was using this firework to signal their own side to make their move, or just use the light to illuminate the area. Momentarily they were unsure whether they ought to turn around and rendezvous with Tuli, or proceed with their ambushing plan. They had fallen into a dilemma where there was no room to advance or to retreat.
Xu Ziling spoke in low voice, “Let’s go!”
Kou Zhong pulled him back, “Absolutely not,” he said, “Chances are, nobody will be able to slip away. No matter how powerful the enemy is, the only way to escape alive from mortal danger is to obtain it from within the danger itself. Come!”
Xu Ziling stared at him. Although he had not seen the enemy’s track or shadow, his eardrums already caught the sound of fluttering sleeves as the enemies were flitting across swiftly from about half a li away.
Aghast, Kou Zhong said, “There are at least a hundred people.”
More than a hundred dots of light were lighted at the same time. Under the drizzle, the rays of light from the torches danced together with the water droplets, creating an extremely strange scene.
About a dozen of torch lights formed a group, the groups scattered among various high points of the hills as far as the two boys’ eyes could see, forming a vast net closing in on them. It could be inferred that there must be more enemy formations keeping a close watch over the plain beyond their field of view, the number of men ought to be no less than a thousand.
The light from the fireworks in the sky disappeared, the heaven and earth returned to its pitch-black condition.
At first the two boys were at a loss, because they thought that the sparrow hawk was released by Zhao Deyan’s side; therefore, up to a few moments ago, they still thought that the troops coming at them were the Eastern Tujue people. But this moment they knew that they had guessed wrong.
Blowing out a mouthful of cold air, Kou Zhong said, “Zhao Deyan and Li Yuanji have formed a coalition army. My Niang!”
Xu Ziling pulled off his mask; his eyes flickered with bright light, he spoke heavily, “There should be no more hesitation in this matter. We simply must go all-out and open wide the prohibition against taking lives, taking advantage of the darkness before dawn and the favorable terrain, trying to break the siege, to see what kind of ability they are relying on to intercept us.”
Following his example, Kou Zhong also pulled off his mask. This moment they could already see about a hundred enemies divided into seven or eight groups in fan-shaped formation, filling the mountain and swarming all over the wilderness to attack in their direction; the momentum was astonishing.
Xu Ziling lightly elbowed Kou Zhong, looked up to the sky, and said, “Look! The hawk is out!”
Kou Zhong also looked up, and happened to catch the small black dot, which ought to be the hawk. Murderous intent flashed through his tiger-eyes; calmly, almost without emotion, he said, “Leave the killing to me. You are in charge of protecting Tuli kid. When this abominable sparrow hawk is locked on him, he will become the target of a multitude of arrows. We can’t let him be killed; things will be even more complicated than we thought.”
Xu Ziling understood what he meant, because logically speaking, Li Yuanji would not, under any circumstances, cooperate with Zhao Deyan, especially in anything involving the internal power struggle within the Eastern Tujue. Yet it was exactly what was happening currently; therefore, there must be something else.
In the dark of about more than half a sichen before dawn, one of the three groups headed toward the peak, while the other two separated themselves to flit across the left and right slopes.
The two boys held their breath as they hid inside a low thicket by the pile of rocks, watching the dozen or so enemies rushing up the slope at top speed from among the branches and leaves.
This group of men were exclusively wearing nightwalker warrior outfit; their weapons ranged from saber, sword, to heavy lance, spear, hatchets, and all kinds of other assault weapons. Their shenfa and speed were unusual. They must be the Han martial art masters under Li Yuanji’s command. Anyone of them put in Jianghu would have enough qualification to be included in the circle of renowned masters.
The dozen or so men swept past like a tornado only about a zhang away from the two boys. Kou Zhong pulled Xu Ziling down. The two silently leaped out of their hiding place to run after the enemy’s tail.
By the time the enemy already passed the slope, Kou Zhong rose up, drew the Moon in the Well from his back, and let out a long whistle shaking the mountain and forest, far and near. The Moon in the Well turned into a yellow light, it hacked down on the two enemies bringing up the rear.
The two men turned around in shock; their eyes were dazzled by the yellow light. The saber qi covering-the-heaven coming down on their face made the two men felt like their heart and gall bladder were about to split.
One side was the saber striking, brimming with stored-up, all-out momentum, the other side was blocking desperately at the death’s door; the difference between the two sides was simply too far, it was simply beyond reasoning.
One of the men’s lance was chopped by Kou Zhong, the remaining power was enough to jolt him that he violently spurted out a mouthful of blood and was sent rolling down the slope. After breaking the lance, Kou Zhong continued by hacking down on the other man’s head. This man could be considered out-of-the-ordinary master. Although he was barely able to block the Moon in the Well by relying on his heavy hatchet, he was unable to withstand Kou Zhong’s surging-tide, violent-wave-like saber qi and irresistible true qi. His hatchet, along with his body, was hacked and thrown about a zhang sideways, into a pile of shrubberies by the slope. Even if he did not die on the spot, perhaps he would blow more air out than suck the air in.
The reaction of the other eleven men at the front could be considered fast as well; just as Kou Zhong was letting out the long whistle, they already turned around to meet the attack.
Momentarily saber light and sword shadow filled the air, the bloody battle has begun.
Three of the men were about to surround Kou Zhong, Kou Zhong tapped the ground with the tip of his toes, and once again he soared at an angle, like a giant roc he flew over the three men, and landed in front of the enemy at the very front of the line.
While the three men’s attention was focused on Kou Zhong’s soaring-with-astonishing-momentum, Xu Ziling unleashed the shenfa that they had just learned. Fast as lightning he entered into the gap between the three and brandished his fists to strike the enemy’s weapons as easy as if he was entering a no man’s land. In just one breath one after another all three men were struck by his heavy technique. The enemy did not have a chance to launch even half a move, they fell to the left and tumbled to the right like dried branches, heavily injured and were unable to get up.
This was the easiest part of the assault. The next part would be the most difficult since they had to deal with the few enemies in a group battle. Although the situation was greatly chaotic, from the remaining eight Li Clan martial art masters, five separated themselves to deal with Kou Zhong, while the other three continued their attack on Xu Ziling.
The enemies from the two flanks also shouted repeatedly while rushing over to help their comrades.
The bugle horn sounded.
Kou Zhong adopted killing-the-enemy-one-by-one strategy. Before landing on the ground, he unleashed his rapid shadow-shifting and taking-a-breath skill; suddenly changing position, all the enemy’s weapons hit an empty space.
As soon as he touched the ground, he spun around and traversed the empty space – about a zhang wide – on the slope. His saber light flashed, it swept the enemy’s spear and sword coming to attack him.
The man was originally brandishing his sword in a stabbing motion, but Kou Zhong’s saber strike carried inescapably swift and fierce saber qi, which changed indeterminately. His shenfa was also so fast that he was unable to grasp its direction, so that he felt that Kou Zhong’s murderous intent was focused on him alone. Although he had many companions all around him, he still felt frightened and lost his guts. Helplessly he pulled his sword back, trying to save his life and no longer dared to show off.
The palm of that man’s hand cracked, his sword fell off. Kou Zhong, freely and easily, kicked his lower abdomen, sending the man flying backward, knocking one of his companions so that the two became one rolling gourd, falling down the slope, both suffered heavy injury. If Kou Zhong were not being lenient with his kick, it would be very difficult for the man to save his life.
Two out of five were gone, Kou Zhong’s divine might was in full display, the Moon in the Well sprinkled several dozen yellow light, rolling the already timid enemies completely inside the saber shadow. For a period of time the sound of clashing weapons lingered on faintly.
On the other side, naturally Xu Ziling understood Kou Zhong’s intention; he knew that Kou Zhong wanted to take advantage of favorable situation of the surprise attack to rout this group of martial art masters using thunderbolt-fall-short-of-reaching-the-ears technique, and then before the enemy’s reinforcement or perhaps martial art masters of Li Yuanji’s caliber arrived, they would escape into the depths of the jungle. This guerilla tactic was the only advantageous strategy to fight the enemy.
While still thinking, he swayed to the left to dodge the enemy’s spear coming to attack with ample momentum, while at the same time unleashing his skill, fast as lightning he grabbed the opponent’s long spear, slightly and skillfully exerting his strength, the long spear immediately snapped off.
Xu Ziling carried out his marvelous footwork; his left hand broke the spear and swiftly swept, he struck a broadsword hacking down toward his head near the hilt. His right hand formed a palm chop, it cut another man’s heavy iron truncheon sweeping across his waist.
In that instant, all three men fought a desperate fight against Xu Ziling, and were struck by his spiraling energy so that they could not maintain their previous battle formation where they were able to help each other.
This moment the enemies from two flanks swarmed in like a tide.
Ahead, there was a scream, the three men who were fighting Kou Zhong were struck by his unfathomably crafty, full of qi power and absolutely powerful saber technique; they were thrown outside in an extremely desperate situation.
By the time Kou Zhong pulled back, the three men fighting Xu Ziling were unable to hold on any longer; they were hit in a close range combat by his swift and fierce technique that they fell down the slope in heavy injury.
Xu Ziling suddenly moved three zhang sideways toward the top of the hill, before soaring like a big bird toward the depths of the forest, evading the enemy’s reinforcement, which was fast closing in.
Starting from this moment, he and Kou Zhong had to fight separate battles.
Xu Ziling put his whole head into the ice-cold stream; his spirit was greatly aroused.
More than a dozen wounds on his body have stopped bleeding, but he felt like a lantern that was running out of oil, making him think that if he could just lie down and rest well, that would be Laotianye’s greatest gift for him.
Even in the middle of fierce fighting, he remained lenient; those who were beaten by him were injured, but did not die. Only they could not expect to recover in a short period of time. After fighting fiercely for the entire sichen, the coming of dawn brought them the extremely disadvantageous sunlight.
Be able to slip through the gaps and came to this stand-aloof-from-worldly-affair, quietly trickling streamlet in the forest to enjoy for a moment was an extremely precious thing. At this moment, he was again thinking about the battle and the enemies out to kill them, which was precisely what has been happening around him.
Mouthful by mouthful of fresh water entered his belly. His strength also seemed to be greatly restored.
An incomparably lonely feeling welled up from deep within his breast.
The enemy was strong, a lot more powerful than he expected.
When he was thinking of rushing over to meet Tuli, it was a group of about thirty Tujue martial art masters that was waiting for him. He was forced to fight them for close to ten li, and struck and injured nearly half of them before he succeeded in breaking away from them and came to this place to recover his strength somewhat.
He forced himself to think about Kou Zhong and Tuli’s fate; he even thought about his own fate in the future.
Right this moment, from about three li away to his left came the shrill sound of a whistle; it was the secret signal they agreed on when Tuli was ready to meet with them.
Xu Ziling abruptly lifted his head from the water. Drops of water dripped down like a broken string of pearls from his hair and face, drenching the upper part of his lapel.
He knew that Tuli had fallen into a heavy siege; otherwise, he would never tell the enemy his position like this.
Taking a deep breath, Xu Ziling pulled himself up and swiftly ran through the jungle. After rushing over for two li or so, the sound of clashing weapons could be clearly heard from the grassland outside the forest.
Unleashing the power of his feet, suddenly a blazing rage welled up in his heart; it was some kind of righteous indignation that was evoked by seeing others using their strength to bully the weak.
Very quickly he approached the scene of the battle. He saw on the grassland outside the forest, on the wilderness by a small lake – Tuli, blood-soaked from head to foot, was fighting bravely, alone, dealing with four Tujue martial art masters attacking him from all sides. Dead bodies were scattered on the ground, as a clear sign of how desperate the battle was.
More than twenty men were spread around the battlefield, forming a siege. Evidently they were still very much afraid of Tuli, and were taking turn in wheel battle strategy to exhaust his strength.
What attracted Xu Ziling’s attention the most were seven, eight Tujue men, standing on the side with their hands inside their sleeves. One of them was thin and hard like an iron stick, his face green, his body was straight like a spear. In his right hand was a sharp cavalry sword that the Tujue loved to use; in his left hand was a shield. He had quite a special-grade martial art master bearing like a crane in a flock of chicken.
As soon as Xu Ziling was rushing out of the forest, the man’s lightning-like gaze turned toward him, while at the same time he issued some orders using Tujue language. Immediately the seven, eight Tujue martial art masters turned around to meet him like wolves and tigers, full of murderous intent.
One of the men who had been in fight against Tuli was hit on his lower abdomen, and was immediately thrown away and died on the spot, but another saber cut also appeared on Tuli’s body.
The thin-and-hard-like-iron-stick Tujue man issued another order, and three more men entered the battlefield, with he himself leading the assault against Tuli. Obviously he wanted to seize the opportunity before Xu Ziling caught up to finish up Tuli first.
Xu Ziling let out a long whistle and leaped at an angle.
The group of martial art masters intercepting him seemed to already guess that he was going to do this. Three of them also leaped into the air to intercept, while the other four split up to four directions. As soon as Xu Ziling landed on the ground, he would fall into the heavy siege. Their reaction was indeed remarkable, a clear indicator that they possessed rich combat experience.
The tall and thin Tujue man suddenly threw himself into the battle. Using the shield on his left hand he blocked Tuli’s Subduing Eagle Spear. While the other men were pinning Tuli down, the cavalry sword in his right hand attacked Tuli like a howling wind and torrential rain. Immediately the battle situation was reversed.
Under attack, Tuli was battered and exhausted; he shouted angrily, “Kang Qiaoli, today, it’s either you die or I perish.” He spoke these words using Han Chinese, evidently he wanted to tell Xu Ziling who killed him.
By this time even he was not too optimistic about Xu Ziling’s help.
Xu Ziling let out another long whistle, while unleashing his consummate skill of shifting-shadow and taking-a-breath in the air; unexpectedly from leaping at an angle he soared vertically up, and then, like a big bird he flew toward Tuli in the middle of the siege. The Tujue men who tried to intercept him could only block an empty space.
Kang Qiaoli took the time to cast him a glance; his expression turned ugly as he barked another order.
All the remaining dozen or so Tujue martial art masters standing around them immediately made their move to pounce on Xu Ziling.
After going through the violent battle just now, Xu Ziling already figured out their vicious, disregarding-their-own-life battle style. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he let out a roar, “Duo!”
As soon he released this incantation, none of the more than a dozen men on the battlefield did not have his eardrums shaken. Their hands immediately felt sluggish.
Fast as lightning Xu Ziling flashed forward; seizing this golden opportunity, he lashed out a left palm strike and a right punch to two of the enemies stepping out of the battlefield to attack him.
The fist wind and palm shadow suddenly grew, faster than lightning and spark of the flint. Those two men’s fighting-will had already been snatched away by the incantation, plus they were weary from the prolonged battle against Tuli, immediately they were hit and thrown down.
This time it was difficult for Xu Ziling to be lenient; the two men already breathed their last even before their bodies touched the ground.
Watching this, Tuli’s spirit was greatly aroused, plus the pressure on him was easing up; therefore, he roused whatever left of his courage, and made thousands of fantastical spear shadows dancing around like a cyclone, forcing everybody, including Kang Qiaoli, to step back.
But the two men’s situation was still not too optimistic; as soon as the enemies closed in, they would fall into a bitter fight.
Using shenfa that was as fast as a ghost, Xu Ziling flashed into the battlefield. Kang Qiaoli was about to press the attack on Tuli, but standing in front of him was no longer Tuli, but Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling’s leg flew in a sideways kick, throwing the enemy, mounting a sneak attack from the side, flying, while spurting out a mouthful of blood, followed by an explosive punch hitting Kang Qiaoli’s shield.
Originally the cavalry sword in Kang Qiaoli’s right hand was about to release a swift and fierce saber technique, who would have thought that a burning-hot true qi, violent-and-powerful-like-angry-billows burst through his shield, so that even with his ability, he still felt that it was greatly unbearable? The cavalry sword could not even make half a move.
‘Swish! Swish! Swish!’
He was forced to take three steps back; his heart was extremely shaken.
He has had high estimate on Xu Ziling’s power, but he had never expected that he would be this formidable.
Xu Ziling came to Tuli’s side. Applying his power to his palm he released more than a dozen palm strikes. Momentarily qi power filled the air. The pouncing enemies let out miserable grunts and retreated in desperation, one of them even got hit and fell to the ground.
But Xu Ziling knew the difficult situation they were in. Continuous palm strikes like this would consume a lot of true power, it was very difficult to maintain for a long period of time. Fortunately his attack has opened up a flash of escape opportunity.
Grabbing Tuli’s arm with his right hand, he shouted, “Come on!”
The two, one in front the other at the back, ran in the direction of the small lake. They gave it everything they had, so that momentarily no one was able to block them.
In a few breaths they already reached the lake bank. It appeared that they were about to throw themselves into the lake, but suddenly they changed direction and ran along the lake into the wilderness.
Kang Qiaoli and his men pursued relentlessly, but they were one step too late.