Book 32 Chapter 6 – Reversal of Fortune
Xu Ziling, back to his Yue Shan disguise, casually strolled along a small alley. Only after estimating that Lei Jiuzhi should have been back at the Dong Lai Inn did he slowly walk back to the inn.
It was the middle of winter, the weather was bitterly cold, and it was very late at night, pedestrians, vehicles and horses on the streets were sparse. Yet luckily from time to time there was still the sound of firecrackers from deep within the lanes and alleys. On top of that, every household hung brightly colored lantern, so that the night did not feel so quiet, cold, and desolate.
Tomorrow morning he was going to see Li Yuan. But how on earth was he going to begin talking to him?
He could not but put himself in Yue Shan’s position, to think like Yue Shan, in accordance to Yue Shan’s character and style; Yue Shan would never be interested in the Li Clan’s family matters. His only interest was to chop Shi Zhixuan’s dead body into ten thousand pieces. Xu Ziling could only thoroughly lay out the advantages and the disadvantages to Li Yuan from this point of view.
Should he go see Li Yuan then?
This was actually an even bigger problem. Yue Shan would never ask for help. It was not until he knew that his internal injury was without any hope of recovery that he went to build his house outside Bi Xiuxin’s small valley and settled there.
In his memoir, each time Yue Shan mentioned Bi Xiuxin, the tone was nothing more than respect; there was not the slightest bit of hint that it involved the feeling between men and women.
In term of age, Yue Shan was old enough to be Bi Xiuxin’s father.
While still thinking, he already walked past the West Market, and reached the western end of the Yue Ma Bridge. The cold wind was blowing. On the stone bridge, a man was standing, leaning against the railing, looking down at the water of the Yong An Canal flowing under the bridge.
This man was wearing Confucian scholar attire, with brocade gown on the outside. His figure was tall and perfectly straight, confident and at ease, quite good looking. The hair on both his temples was grizzled. There was a hard-to-describe crafty, weird personality traits around him. But his eyes were as cold as ice and snow, as if they were devoid of any living human being’s emotion. His hands pressing on the bridge railing were sparkling and translucent, penetrating, like they were containing inexhaustible magical power.
Xu Ziling felt a chill crept up his back, but his steps were unaffected as he continued walking up the sloped of the Yue Ma Bridge.
He was hoping that the guards who were usually standing guard by the bridge were still there, so that he would not have to face this demonic school’s most terrifying demonic man.
At the first sight of this man, from where he stood, to certain degree, the man’s countenance had striking resemblance with Shi Qingxuan; hence Xu Ziling knew that this was the ‘Demonic King’ Shi Zhixuan.
The other side appeared so suddenly like this, it must be that he wanted to put him to death, because he did not want this Yue Shan to destroy his grand plan.
Xu Ziling suddenly stopped. The severe light in his pair of eyes flared out greatly, he shouted coldly, “Good! Since you are voluntarily willing to drop by, you have saved Laofu a lot of trouble.”
Shi Zhixuan’s gaze was still fixed on the water flowing unendingly under the bridge. He took a deep sigh; his grim eyes suddenly changed, showing a recalling-past-memory-fondly expression. The tone of his voice was extraordinarily tranquil, as if he was talking to himself, “How did Xiuxin die?”
‘Not good!’ Xu Ziling groaned inwardly; he only knew from Shi Feixuan that it was because she read Shi Zhixuan’s ‘Immortal Image Scroll’ that Bi Xiuxin had her life reduced and she died young, but as for the real cause of her death, even the real Yue Shan did not know, because Yue Shan was one step ahead of Bi Xiuxin.
Fortunately Xu Ziling was able to think fast in an emergency; he laughed coldly and said, “Why talk much nonsense? You should know clearly what you did. Make your move! Let Laofu see how formidable your Immortal Image Method is.”
Shi Zhixuan looked up to the bright moon in the sky. His eyes became incomparably cold and ruthless again, as he spoke indifferently, “In Ol’ Shi’s opinion, your Huan Ri Da Fa is nothing more than a child’s plaything. Yue Shan, you made a mistake by coming to Chang’an. Otherwise, you ought to have the opportunity to lose under the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que one more time.”
Xu Ziling had not had the chance to reply, a blur appeared in front of his eyes, Shi Zhixuan was suddenly only five chi away from him, with both hands carrying out hard-to-pin-down strange, mysterious moves, attacking directly toward him.
The speed was fast, the shenfa [Translator’s note: since it’s been a while, I thought a reminder might be useful; shenfa – pose or motion of one’s body in martial arts] was strange, even the Cloud Commander would have to yield one level below.
When the light went off, the bamboo curtain separating the inner bedroom and the outer hall was raised up.
If it were someone else, he would have thought that from the inner room, the enemy would bore through the curtain and come out, using something like a finger wind or palm power to extinguish the lantern first, and then launching the surprise attack.
But Kou Zhong knew that that was entirely the enemy’s trick to fool people’s eyes and ears, and that only this moment did he enter in through the window to mount a sneak attack on him.
To this moment, this day, Kou Zhong’s martial art has already reached the grandmaster level. If someone had wanted to mount a sneak attack on him without procuring alertness from him, it was practically an impossibility. Therefore, since this person was able to make Kou Zhong unable to detect his position, he was definitely extremely exceptional.
Kou Zhong did not have time to think about the problem that his identity has been uncovered. He swept backhandedly in the right rear direction. This move was purely to feel out and estimate the opponent’s weight [fig. importance].
Unexpectedly the tip of his palm swept across an object that was soft and limp, but hiding a deflecting-force power within it.
Kou Zhong was shocked. He cried, ‘Bad!’ inwardly, because he knew who was coming. This person was able to easily fend off his palm strike easily and leisurely using the sleeve of her garment; who could it be but Female Demon Wan?
All of a sudden, he knew that his good fortune has been declared dead of old age, and that in his struggle against Yin Gui Pai, he had completely fallen into the disadvantageous position.
Putting his positive and negative qi into motion, he suddenly traversed the ten chi or so distance to the left, until he nearly knocked down the small table leaning against the wall, and then sliding along the wall before he was able to narrowly miss two sleeves and one finger, which followed him in close pursuit.
The two sides seemed to have tacit understanding between them, which was, they must not alarm the Sha Family people. Therefore, all the hard fighting, where there was only a slight difference between life and death at every turn – was carried out in complete silence, only occasionally generating light noise of the qi power colliding against each other.
Kou Zhong bored through the curtain into the bedroom; one foot tapped the bedside, his entire body flew back to meet the rushing-into-the-room, wearing-all-white-from-head-to-toe, beautiful-like-a-fairy Wanwan.
In an instant, the two exchanged more than ten moves in hand-to-hand combat in close quarter.
A tender laughter was followed by her entire body flying outside the curtain.
Kou Zhong took a deep breath. Looking through the curtain, his eyes were fixed on Wanwan’s elegant figure. Because the outside hall was slightly brighter than the inner room, Kou Zhong was able to see Wanwan, but the other side could not see Kou Zhong.
This made Kou Zhong felt a little bit better.
Wanwan did not really want to kill him; she just wanted to test how much progress he had made in term of his martial art skill. Otherwise, by adding either Tian Mo Shuang Zhan or Tian Mo Piaodai [demonic double-beheading and streamer/ribbon, respectively], in such a limited space, she would definitely be able to push him into a more difficult situation.
Kou Zhong’s only consolation was that just now, under Wanwan’s pressure, he was still able to hold on his ground with enough leftover power, which, compared to the last time he ran away into the wilderness in desperation, could not be discussed in the same sentence.
Wanwan suddenly grabbed the curtain and lifted it up. Acting as if she did not know that Kou Zhong was waiting on the side with amassed momentum, she coquettishly said, “All this fighting made me tired! I wonder if I could borrow Shao Shuai’s bed for one night? Take off your ugly mask! Are you trying to scare people to death?”
Other than smiling wryly, what else could Kou Zhong say?
What did he do wrong? After deceiving pretty much everybody else, the Female Demon Wan, as easy as blowing off dust, was able to see through his fake identity.
In the battle against Shi Zhixuan last time, Xu Ziling still had slight favorable situation. Although at that time he was suffering from internal injuries, but the one Shi Zhixuan wanted to kill was not him but Yun Shuai; secondly, he was fighting together with Kou Zhong and Tuli to face this formidable opponent, plus at that time they were in the deep and long gateway. The three men joining hands disregarding life and death in counterattack, even a tyrannical man like Shi Zhixuan would have a lot of misgivings and would be difficult to prevail.
This time on the Yue Ma Bridge, however, the situation was different. This time Shi Zhixuan was making his move at full strength, with the sole intention of putting him to death.
To make it worse, this time he was in disguise as Yue Shan. Even if he knew perfectly well that he was no match for the enemy, he definitely could not escape cowardly.
Within that lightning-flash, flint-spark moment, Xu Ziling cast away all apprehensions and decided on a strategy; he put himself to death and then reborn, using aggressive offensives to deal with Shi Zhixuan’s aggressive offensives.
Based on Yue Shan’s temperament, this was the only proper response.
Shi Zhixuan’s speed has already exceeded and broken through the limit of human’s physical capability. He practically could not use eyes to see or ears to hear; he could only rely on his surpassing-ordinary-people’s efficacious and acute senses, to react intuitively relying on his instinct.
In that instant, suddenly there seemed to be countless Shi Zhixuan springing out in front of his eyes – which naturally was just an illusion, but this was also a clear demonstration of the fantastic speed of Shi Zhixuan’s shenfa and footwork – attacking toward him.
Finger wind split the air.
Letting out a cold humph, Xu Ziling secretly performed Wisdom Punch Image, while brandishing his fist to block.
The speed of Shi Zhixuan’s finger increased abruptly. Unexpectedly it was a tad faster that Xu Ziling’s anticipation, so that before his power reached its peak, the finger already stabbed his fist.
Being able to parry this one finger attack from Shi Zhixuan, he could be considered very capable already.
At the beginning, the finger seemed to have boring-the-wall, penetrating-the-rampart, sharp-like-blade true power, but when Xu Ziling hastily applied his power to resist it, the finger power disappeared like magic, it turned into a bottomless hollow abyss, so that no matter how much he sent out his true qi, it was like a clay ox entering the sea [idiom: disappear without any hope of returning], completely without any trace.
While Xu Ziling was feeling so uncomfortable that he nearly spurted out blood, Shi Zhixuan’s leg flew into a kick, fast like lightning, coming from an odd and obscure angle, aiming at the vital part under his abdomen.
Xu Ziling cried ‘Bad!’ knowing that the opponent has completely borrowed his entire finger power, so that this kick was like the combination of his and Shi Zhixuan’s power. If he was hit, how could he still be alive?
Moreover, it was practically irresistible.
He let out a cold shout. The Wisdom Fist Image turned into Motionless Fundamental Image, the jabbing finger of his left hand turned into a palm chop. Completely ignoring the opponent’s kick on the bottom, he directly attacked the pit of Shi Zhixuan’s stomach, a clear show that it was a move to perish together with the enemy.
Furthermore, he was well aware that relying on the amazing power of Shi Zhixuan’s Immortal Image, perhaps he could forcefully withstand this move and bring together the power of his entire body into this ‘palm chop’ so that even if he did not die, heavy injury could not be avoided.
Whether he would live or die, it would entire depend on whether Shi Zhixuan was willing to kill Yue Shan by sacrificing his own life.
Shi Zhixuan laughed and said, “All yours!”
Suddenly he came to Xu Ziling’s right side. Not only he evaded Xu Ziling’s palm chop, his left elbow was striking toward his lower flank. If he was hit, it would be guaranteed that his ribs would not stay intact.
Xu Ziling had no time to think about evading, but he was elated; making a spin, he dodged the elbow strike and flashed pass Shi Zhixuan, and flew to the bridge.
Shi Zhixuan laughed aloud and said, “Where did Laoxiong’s overbearing air go?”
While speaking, ‘Whoosh!’ from about a zhang away he sent out a palm strike over the empty air, generating a raging-wave, violent-storm-like and highly concentrated gust of wind forcing Xu Ziling to stake it all in meeting the attack head-on.
Inwardly Xu Ziling was well aware that between he and this Demonic King’s martial art skill, there was still an insurmountable distance. The opponent’s long distance attack and closed hand-to-hand combat were all free, unconstrained, and smooth, seizing the initiative entirely in his hands.
As this palm strike arrived, not only it contained the Immortal Print Power’s marvelous stroke, it also carried trick move behind it, forcing him lose his move, while the opponent’s offensive was rushing over like the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, which would not stop until Xu Ziling’s dead body lay across the end of the bridge.
Xu Ziling let out a long laugh and said, “Tonight, if you don’t die, then I perish.”
In that instant, he put life and death outside the sphere of his consideration; without yielding the slightest bit, he brandished his palm to meet the attack.
Not only Xu Ziling was not jolted back, he leaped one step forward instead.
Turned out when it came into contact, this powerful and ferocious looking qi power suddenly became gentle and reserved pulling force. However, Xu Ziling had already guarded against it; otherwise he would have vomited blood on the spot and made a fool of himself.
The palm wind suddenly changed: from yin and soft to yang and hard, from icy cold to burning hot. Such a weird change, it could only be started and accomplished by Shi Zhixuan’s able-to-blend-life-and-death, two extremes’ Immortal Image Method.
Life could change into death, death could change into life.
Xu Ziling felt as if he was struck by lightning. His body, from head to foot, was severely shaken.
In that instant, when the Immortal Image qi power within the palm strike, like wave upon wave – heavily crashing against Xu Ziling, alternating between hard-and-violent and gentle-and-reserved in abrupt manner, even though Xu Ziling has undergone Secret To Long Life refinement, plus his meridians have been transformed by the Jade Annulus of He Clan, he was still unable to endure it.
Xu Ziling staggered back in utter defeat.
Like a ghost, Shi Zhixuan floated over. His countenance became incomparably cold and grim, as he spoke indifferently, “Let Ol’ Shi send Yue Xiong to be on your way!”
Xu Ziling took a sudden intake of breath, completely suppressing the surging over blood and qi in his body. His back straightened up, he suddenly became mighty and rising high without equal. Brushing his sleeve away that it floated in the wind, he let out a long laugh and said, “Xie Wang [demonic king] fell into my trap!”
Raising up the Treasure Vase Image qi, he struck with all his might.
Wanwan acted as if she was returning to her fragrant chamber; she leisurely and comfortably walked over to the bed and lay down. Letting out a contented sigh, she cast her gaze on the top of the bed covering, and spoke in soft voice, “These beddings and quilt are freshly washed and dried in the sun, hence they still have the fresh, clean scent of the sun.”
His scalp went numb, Kou Zhong stood quietly by the bedside, his eyes scanned her shocking-the-eye-astonishing-the-heart captivating curves haphazardly lying down on the bed, until they finally stopped at her pair of pure white, flawless bare feet. Full of curiosity he asked, “You walk barefooted all day long, but how come your feet are still so clean?”
Closing her beautiful eyes, Wanwan said, “Don’t make a fuss! I am very tired; I want to sleep!”
Kou Zhong thought, ‘that’s not going to happen!’ If she lay here and slept until the dawn, how would he explain this to others? After all, just today he repeatedly bragged that he trained Tongzi Gong. Thereupon, smiling wryly, he said, “Dajie [big sister]! You win! Whatever it is that you want, just spit it out!”
Wanwan scooted her tender body a little. Her delicate hand patted the other half of the bed, she softly said, “Shao Shuai, please take a rest a moment; how about temporarily become my pillow mate [orig. the person who shares one’s bed] here?”
Kou Zhong was overwhelmed with some kind of get-trampled-on, defeated feeling; although he greatly racked his brains, he was still unable to come up with any effective strategy to deal with this blackmailing threat. Sighing, he said, “I, Kou Zhong, am a hero and a good man; I would never mount a sneak attack on good Dajie. But good Dajie has never tried to be a woman from a good family [or innocent people]. Such a dangerous thing like being your pillow mate, please forgive Xiaodi for it is difficult for me to keep you company.”
Wanwan’s beautiful eyes were twinkling like the bright star in the deep space of the night, as she opened her eyes and looked up at him. A hint of smile escaped from the corner of her mouth, her expression was so touching, as she spoke softly, “Shao Shuai and Ziling are so capable, you managed to swagger into Chang’an undetected; how could I have the heart to kill you? If I kill you, who’s going to fetch the treasure for us?”
Dejected, Kou Zhong sat down. But then he suddenly laughed aloud and lay down on the bed by her side. The more he thought, the more he felt amused, as he said, “To be honest with you, we aren’t even sure if we are going to get the treasure. As far as I’m concerned, this is no more than a treasure-hunt game, both to satisfy our curiosity, and to fulfill Niang’s cherished desire.”
Lying on her side, Wanwan propped her cheek with her hand, her beautiful eyes gazed deeply into his, smiling gracefully, she said, “Can Shao Shuai repeat what you just said one more time? Because Xiao Nuzi [little girl] could not hear it very clearly. Only when nujia is sure that you no longer have any interest in excavating the treasure will I send people to imitate Shao Shuai’s old skill, writing ‘Mo Shen Yi is Kou Zhong in disguise’, eight large characters [trust me, the original Chinese has eight characters] on all conspicuous places inside the city.”
Kou Zhong knew that his vital point has been hit. Turning his head toward the stunning beauty by his pillow, he changed the subject by saying, “I have a very strange feeling; Xiaodi and Dajie have known each other for quite some time, but I have never understood you. For example, what are you thinking in your heart? What is your pursuit? Other than killing, burning, fighting, revenge, do you have any other life? When you have free time, what do you do? Can you love someone? I really don’t understand you at all.”
Listening to that, Wanwan was slightly startled; her face revealed a contemplative expression.
Now it became Kou Zhong’s turn to be greatly amazed. Although his remark just now was quite passionate, his main purpose was still inventing crazy nonsense to stall for time, to see if he could find a way to strike back.
Wanwan’s gaze suddenly became as sharp as a blade; staring at him, she said, “The things we pursue, you will never understand.”
Sneering, Kou Zhong said, “If you don’t tell me, how do you know whether I will understand or not? Unless it is in violation of the Heaven’s law, for instance, to seek after the extermination of mankind under the heavens, in which case, it’s not that I don’t understand, but it is difficult to accept.”
The light in Wanwan’s eyes changed; she spoke indifferently, “Let’s speak less nonsense. Our condition is very simple: after you find the treasure, you must let us take away one thing from the storehouse.”
Laughing coldly, Kou Zhong said, “How do I know that you will hold your end of the deal? In this aspect, your evil reputation has preceded you. If, when the time comes and you go against our agreement by hogging the treasure for yourselves, I might as well leave now, lest the lady turns the troops around, and then it will be too late for regrets.”
Wanwan leaned a bit closer, with breath that smelled like orchid she said, “This is very simple. As long as Xu Ziling agrees to make personal guarantee to give a certain item from the treasure to me, we, Yin Gui Pai, will provide assistance to you with all our strength. Otherwise, just one obstacle, Shi Zhixuan, you definitely will not able to pass.”
‘Formidable’, Kou Zhong thought inwardly; she was able to see very accurately. Xu Ziling was precisely that kind of a-promise-worth-one-thousand-in-gold person. He sighed and said, “I will have to discuss it with Ling Shao first.”
Wanwan slightly raised her fragrant shoulders; seemingly unconcerned, she said, “But of course. Tomorrow night at the latest you must give me a definite answer; he will have to personally make the promise to me.”
Sniffing at her beautiful and secluded, healthy and bewitching body scent, Kou Zhong said with a frown, “How did you guess my identity?”
Pressing both hands on the mattress, Wanwan floated away from the narrow bed and landed by the bedside. With a smile on her face, she shook her head and said, “Shao Shuai is so smart, you will be able to guess it eventually.”
Kou Zhong sat cross-legged; his luminous tiger-eyes shot at Wanwan, he spoke heavily, “You still haven’t figured out Ling Shao’s disguise, have you? Do you want me to tell you?”
Wanwan slightly shrugged her shoulder blades, her pretty face revealed a cute, silly expression, which could bewitch and drive any man crazy; neither confirmed nor denied it, she said, “That is totally up to you.”
Kou Zhong revealed a playful, naughty expression; patted the pillow by his side, he said, “I thought you are going to share a passionate night with Xiaodi tonight; turns out it’s just a lie.”
Wanwan floated backward and suddenly disappeared behind the beads-curtain. Her voice came back from a distance, like a gentle breeze blowing into his ears. She said with a tender laugh, “Aren’t you training Tongzi Gong? How could nujia bear to break your virginity?”
Kou Zhong was so angry that he collapsed back into the bed, no longer had the willpower to stand up.