Book 36 Chapter 6 – Escaping Out Of Chang’an
The Moon in the Well left its scabbard. It pointed at the more than a dozen men headed by Rong Jiaojiao and Qiao Gongshan across the distance. A biting cold saber qi, like a piece of wall, was pressing down on them. Caught off guard, everybody felt as if they had fallen into an icehouse; no one dared to move, afraid that even a simple nod of the head or snap of their fingers might provoke Kou Zhong’s extremely focused attack.
Four big men appeared from behind Kou Zhong; yelling sternly together, sabers and swords attacked Kou Zhong’s broad back at the same time. Who would have thought that a shadow flashed, appearing in front of their eyes was not Kou Zhong’s back, but the sneaking-in-calmly Xu Ziling.
Because the timing of Xu Ziling’s appearance was so abstruse and subtle, the two attackers at the front unexpectedly did not have the opportunity to change their move; suddenly they found that the weapon in their hands completely lost its power, and fell into Xu Ziling’s sparkling-and-translucent-like-jade, flawless, slender-yet-powerful hands.
Laughing calmly, Xu Ziling said, “Daren [big man, a term commonly used to address government official] is speaking, little kid have the temerity to cause a commotion; he is asking for a beating!”
Although the attackers were Jianghu veterans, they did not know that the qi power concentrated on the saber and sword’s blade has been deflected completely by Xu Ziling, so that as they were overwhelmed with shock and wanted to apply their power to pull the saber and sword back, suddenly the pit of their stomach was like being struck by lightning. They were jolted backwards and crashed onto their two companions; four men grunted miserably and rolled together into a heap, no one was able to climb back up.
Xu Ziling casually tossed the weapons he seized aside, so that two of Rong Jiaojiao’s men, who had just appeared from the lower deck, who did not know exactly what was going on here, had the jian jing acupoint on their shoulders hit by the sword hilt, internal energy attacked their body, they collapsed onto the floor.
All of a sudden the threat from behind was cleared clean by Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling’s trick and his remark were the favorite game they loved to play when he and Kou Zhong were little pickpockets back in Yangzhou. Hearing that, Kou Zhong’s naughty heart was greatly aroused, the little rascal nature buried deep in his heart rose up to the surface, intensifying the saber qi he projected forward. Letting out a long laugh, he said, “Xiaojie, please forgive Kou Zhong for violating the Mandate of Heaven. Although you told Xiaodi to hide, but how can I, Kou Zhong, be someone who hides in the east and conceals myself in the west? Even if I want to leave, I will have to leave openly with my head held high.”
Rong Jiaojiao was so angry that she nearly threw up blood; she said furiously, “Don’t make false accusations against others.”
Not only she was caught off guard, she did not carry any weapon with her, plus Kou Zhong already seized the initiative, so that even though she was burning with rage, she did not dare to counterattack to express her heart’s desire.
Kou Zhong chuckled gently and said, “Xiaojie need not say that; as long as I kill all the men that Old Qiao brought up here to shut their mouth, who would know our relationship?”
And then he shouted, “Qiao Gongshan, tell your men on board not to act blindly without thinking; otherwise, the first to suffer will be you.”
The vicious light in Qiao Gongshan’s eyes flared out, he thundered, “Charge!”
Yet although his mouth said, ‘Charge’, his feet were retreating backward.
Propelled by his qi, Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well turned into surging saber light, rolling the enemy inside it.
With a tender shout Rong Jiaojiao crashed onto the wall on her left and escaped into the cabin. Two Chang Lin soldiers bore the brunt; they struggled hard to raise their saber to block. As for the rest of the men, if they were not rolling into the cabin on either side, then just like Qiao Gongshan, they retreated in sorry state, hoping to withdraw to the ship’s main deck. At that time, whether they would fight or escape, they would have the liberty to decide for themselves.
The corridor was as chaotic as the doomsday’s approaching, brimming with panic and fear.
Saber light was everywhere; men and horses suffered a crushing defeat. Luckily Kou Zhong was not someone who killed indiscriminately; although on the surface he appeared aggressive, his hands were very measured. He only used his inner power to hit and seal acupoints, which was actually much more difficult than simply killing the enemy.
There was a series of loud crash of shattering windows; apparently people were breaking the windows and jumping into the Canal to save their life.
All of a sudden the enemies in the corridor were either knocked by the saber to the floor, or fleeing into the cabins on either side and crashing through the window to escape, leaving only Qiao Gongshan, one person, trying to escape into an open wide cabin door.
Kou Zhong let out a long laugh. The Moon in the Well transformed into the ‘Striking Strange’. The person following the saber, he shot toward Qiao Gongshan.
Qiao Gongshan felt that Kou Zhong’s saber qi was locking him from the distance; although he was only two steps away from being able to get out of the cabin, these two steps felt like so close, yet worlds apart, so that it was difficult to cross the mine field. Without any choice, he pulled the saber hanging on his waist and raised his spirit to parry with everything he had.
This moment Jin Huanzhen leaped from the bed. She was going to look for Rong Jiaojiao to give her bad luck, but Xu Ziling stopped her at the door and said, “Jin Dajie, if you don’t leave now, you will never leave!”
Jin Huanzhen understood what he meant. This was still the Great Tang’s territory. Once they attracted the Great Tang Army to flock over, their only way to survive would be to flee as far away from the city as possible, and potentially she would not be able to rescue Zhou Laotan.
“You guys be careful,” she spoke in low voice. And then she slipped out through the window.
Sparks flew everywhere.
Meeting the saber, Qiao Gongshan was thrown outside the door like a kite with cut string, and fell face up on the deck. The momentum was enough to send him rolling seven, eight times and only stopped when he hit the base of the sail mast.
Up to this moment, the six or seven Chang Lin troops guarding the deck were still unclear of what happened under the deck. Seeing Qiao Gongshan fell and rolled like a gourd, aghast, they swarmed toward the confused and disoriented Qiao Gongshan and took their position in front of him to shield him.
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong stepped across the cabin door with the saber in his hand, and swept his gaze around. On both sides of the Canal, gongs and drums were struck, horses were rushing and the people running, battle could happen at any moment.
After jumping down into the canal to flee for her life and swimming desperately toward the shore, this moment Rong Jiaojiao appeared on the west bank.
Naturally the sailors and boatmen of the ship, not even half remained on board. As far as the eyes could see, Chang Lin troops were lining the banks with bows and arrows at the ready, aimed at the big ship; anybody would know that this was a dangerous place where it was not advisable to stay for long.
Xu Ziling used his back to crash against the cabin’s ceiling and appeared in front of the bridge on the upper deck. Looking at the direction of the bow, he saw that there was still more than fifty zhang before they could pass through the gate at the mouth of the canal. But this was certainly a crisis that was impossible to skip.
On both sides of the mouth of the canal, built along the city wall were two stone forts, equipped with a winch on top to control the rising and lowering of the iron gate to seal the canal. This moment the iron gate was slowly falling; it would definitely seal the canal before the ship was out of the gate.
On top of the stone forts, there were also trebuchets, with rocks ready to be launched. Moreover, both sides of the gate were covered densely with archers in tight formation, waiting for action.
A team of riders was galloping along the canal from the east. The leader was surprisingly Li Yuanji, accompanied by Ke Dazhi and Mei Xun. Merely these three major martial art masters would be enough to deal with the two boys.
With no one at the helm, the big ship floated with the current toward the gate, carrying a succeed-or-die-trying heroic momentum.
The sound of whizzing arrows rang out; hundreds of powerful arrows were shot from both banks, attacking Kou Zhong on the main deck, and Xu Ziling on the upper deck.
Kou Zhong’s saber light flared out, lightly and easily he struck down all the arrows and darts shooting at him. His advantage was that there was the hold of the ship behind him acting as a shield, so that dealing with the arrows and darts coming from two sides was comparatively easy.
Xu Ziling did not have this advantage; hence he became the target of multitude of arrows. Immediately he slipped back into the cabin below to evade the arrows and darts.
Seven Chang Lin soldiers shouted at the same time and charged toward Kou Zhong. With blood on the corner of his mouth, Qiao Gongshan struggled to crawl up. Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well slashed out, creating an arc of saber light, the enemy soldiers were struck and scattered in utter defeat.
And then Kou Zhong made a sudden stride forward, the Moon in the Well slashed left and right, two Chang Lin troops were struck and fell down. He then lifted his leg to kick another man.
Li Yuanji’s angry bellow came from afar, “Leave the ship immediately.”
The soldiers were earnestly hoping that Li Yuanji would issue this most welcome order; immediately they dispersed in confusion, leaped off of the big ship and ran for their life.
Kou Zhong did not pay any attention to them at all. His long saber swung to hack Qiao Gongshan’s, who was just crawling up – head. Qiao Gongshan desperately raised his saber to parry.
The broadsword was forcibly chopped off by Kou Zhong. He was sighing inwardly, ready to die. Who knew that suddenly Kou Zhong’s saber momentum turned? It disappeared leaving no trace as it was pressed against his throat, as if this was what he was planning all along.
The saber technique was so amazing that it was very hard to believe.
Revealing his tough guy natural qualities, Qiao Gongshan hatefully said, “Just kill me! Is your hand turning soft?”
Completely ignoring the tense situation on both banks, Kou Zhong smiled and said, “You and I have no grievance in the past, no animosity in the present; why would I want to kill you?”
His leg flew, Qiao Gongshan was kicked over the side of the boat and fell into the water of the canal; he was feeling useless to the extreme point.
The three men whom he had stricken earlier were crawling and rolling as fast as they could toward the edge of the boat, and threw themselves into the water to escape.
Without any worry, arrows and darts from both banks immediately flew over like locusts. Kou Zhong retreated straight toward the door of the cabin. While striking the arrows down, he laughed heartily and said, “Qi Wang is really polite; there’s no need to send us off!”
Li Yuanji’s group just happened to arrive at this exact moment, galloping along the canal, parallel to the big ship, which was still more than twenty zhang away from the gate.
Li Yuanji shouted sternly, “Well said! This king certainly came to see you off, but to see you off to the nether world.”
Kou Zhong shouted back, “Is it the Western Bliss, or eighteen layers of Ceaseless Pain [Sanskrit: Avici, one of the Buddhist hells]? We’ll wait and see who is right!”
Finished speaking, he withdrew back into the cabin.
Xu Ziling had just unsealed the Chang Lin troops’ acupoint, which were sealed by Kou Zhong earlier, and forced them to jump out of the window to save their own life. This moment he met up with Kou Zhong and said, “The waterway is not accessible; we could only leave only via the top of the water gate. Even if we are not afraid of arrows and darts, but it won’t be easy to pass Li Yuanji, Ke Dazhi, Mei Xun, and the other martial art masters’ barrier.”
Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, “Although we cannot order Laotianye for snow, but we could set fire, right?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Good plan!”
Li Yuanji and the others leaped off their horses and soared into the air. They landed on the stone platform of the fort on the east bank; everybody drew his weapon, stored up his energy and waited.
The city guards defending the Yong An Canal’s north gate, plus the reinforcement from the Chang Lin Army, everybody had the bow and arrow at the ready, taking aim at the continuously approaching double-mast sail boat.
All the trebuchets, crossbows machines, were ready; they were only waiting for Li Yuanji’s order.
The water gate was slowly entering the water. The winch was producing ‘Creak! Creak!’ unpleasant-to-hear sharp grinding noise, so that the already strained, a-thousand-pounds-hanging-by-a-thread atmosphere was even more tensed.
Thirty zhang, twenty-eight zhang …
Suddenly two of the cabins caught fire and emitted thick smoke, followed by two other rooms.
Li Yuanji had never thought they would execute this move. The thick smoke spread to all directions. Presumably the two boys must have used some pillows, mattresses, quilts, beddings, and so on, flammable articles to start the fire, otherwise the smoke and fire would not rise this densely and rapidly. Without any other choice, Li Yuanji shouted, “Attack!”
The bugle horn sounded; huge rocks, crossbow arrows, powerful arrows, sprinkled toward the target like rain.
That moment the mast snapped, sparks of fire splashed; the water was rising, debris was flying, the entire canal gate area was engulfed in thick smoke.
The sail crashed heavily against the water gate, the bow was immediately crushed, the two masts broke at the same time, falling toward the place where Li Yuanji and the others were standing, while also sending out a cloud of burning debris mixed with thick smoke.
Everybody scattered in all directions to evade. The situation was a total chaos.
The collision between the canal’s water and the broken mast created a sink in the water, which brought the hull spinning. The stern fiercely knocked against the water gate, so that even the people on the shore were able to feel the shock from the impact.
The solid hull finally gave up and started to lean to one side.
The archers blindly shot their arrows toward the thick smoke; no one really knew what they were shooting at.
The fire intensity was rising.
Right this moment, suddenly they saw Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling soared from the smoke and fire into the sky. In the blink of an eye four feet tapped the top of the water gate at the same time, which sent them flying even higher, before sending them plunging into the water outside the canal’s gate, and disappeared from sight.
It did not matter how many men and great force, how powerful and overbearing they were, Li Yuanji and his men could only stare blankly at the two boys escaping without any trace, and could only sigh without being able to do anything.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling lay on their back on a snowy slope, looking at the blue sky and white clouds above, while panting continuously.
With exhausted laughter, Kou Zhong said, “I am sure that kid Li Yuanji won’t be able to sleep tonight.”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “It’s not that he cannot sleep, but he won’t want to sleep. We will still need at least two days before we can leave Guanzhong; how could he be willing to let us go? Without any better option, he would have to sacrifice his sleep.”
Kou Zhong said, “Do you also feel that our power is getting deeper? If it were before, after swimming underwater for nearly half a sichen, once we went ashore we rushed for over fifty li in one breath, we would have had our body weary, our strength exhausted. But now I feel like I still have enough strength to spare.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “We ought to have gained the Xiedi Sheli’s advantage. Running away for our lives seemed to give us quick results [orig. set up a pole and see the shadow].”
Kou Zhong sat up and said, “We are still not out of danger yet; the next step ought to be how.”
Xu Ziling was still leisurely lying down on the snowy slope, enjoying the icy-cold snow on his back. He said, “If we simply escape with our heart and soul, we must leave immediately, this instant. But presently our mission is to attract the pursuing troops, so we must seize this opportunity to catch our breath, to preserve and nurture our spirit, to see who will find us first.”
Kou Zhong swept his gaze around. The entire vast and boundless Guanzhong plain was covered in heavy snow, to become a vast expanse of whiteness. The footprints they were leaving on the snow seemed to be coming from the infinite distance, extending toward this place; it was shocking the eye, astonishing the heart. Kou Zhong could not help smiling bitterly said, “I wonder if there is some kind of qinggong in the world that is called ‘treading on the snow without leaving a trace’? Although our qinggong is not too extraordinary, but compared to the number one qinggong martial art master in the world Yun Shuai, we shouldn’t be that far below; why do we still leave footprints on the snow?”
Aghast, Xu Ziling sat up. Frowning, he looked at the although-it-was-light-but-still-clearly-visible footprints. He sighed and said, “How’s Yun Shuai’s qinggong compared to the birds in the air? Even the eastern bean geese still leave their footprints on the dirty snow, much less people? Ay! This time TianGong [Lord of Heaven] is not pleased with us. If there is no more floating snow, or perhaps a bit stronger wind blowing, certainly anybody would be able to find us.”
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, “Although we want to draw the enemy to us, but definitely not in following-the-path-to-our-own-doom way like this. Presently it seems like the only way is to flee in defeat.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “Running away until our strength exhausted and our muscles weary definitely won’t do us any good. All along this is Li Yuanji, Pang Yu and those other people’s territory. They can change horses along the way, while running here and there, we are still relying on these four legs.”
Pointing to the southeast direction, Kou Zhong said, “Over there is precisely the Guang Tong Canal connecting Chang’an with the Great River. In the middle are two big cities Xinfeng and Weinan. This section of road from here to Weinan will be the most dangerous, because the enemy could use the waterway to catch up and cut in front of us, and then laying out inescapable net to wait for us to fall into it ourselves.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, “Only by reaching the Great River will we have the opportunity to escape. When we get there, we could buy a boat and sail downstream to the east, and then in one day we will leave the Pass. How could intercepting us in such a big river be an easy matter? Plus if necessary, we could abandon the ship and go ashore; whether we will fight or run away, it will be very convenient.”
“In that case, let’s go straight to the north,” Kou Zhong said, “In my estimation, we should reach the Great River tonight.”
Xu Ziling suddenly sprang up and said with a laugh, “Watch this!”
He flew up at an angle toward the top of the hill. The tip of his feet went everywhere, but it only left a light, barely-noticeable footprints. Although this moment the breeze blowing over the snow was not strong, it was enough to sweep the footprints in a short period of time.
Copying his action exactly, Kou Zhong also flew to his side. Slapping Xu Ziling’s shoulder, he said, “Ling Shao, you are indeed very smart. Although we cannot travel a thousand li without leaving any trace, but we could travel ten or five li without leaving any trace. Working hard for a short duration, but in exchange we get half a lifetime of being well-off; nothing is more advantageous than this.”
“But by doing this we are taking a bit of risk,” Xu Ziling warned, “Because it will cause wear and tear to our true energy. If within this short period of time Ning Daoqi intercepts us, we, two brothers, will have to pack our food and leave before we finish eating.”
Sucking in a mouthful of cold air, Kou Zhong said, “Do you think this old kid is so brilliant that he would drink wine and admire the full moon at the south bank of the Great River, waiting respectfully for us?”
“This is very difficult to say,” Xu Ziling replied, “It could be said that we know nothing about him at all. What trick he is going to use against us, only Laotianye knows. Under famous reputation, there is no empty scholar; much less the Old Ning, who is acclaimed to be the number one in the Central Plains.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “I have an ominous premonition that no matter how the two of us, experts in running for our life – exhausting our magic weapon, in the end we still cannot escape his immortal palm.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Are you scared?”
The divine light in Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes flaring out brightly, a smile full of confidence escaped from the corner of his mouth, as he spoke indifferently, “Not scared, just deep respect. But thinking about it, we unexpectedly can disturb him, the Senior, it is enough to make us proud.”
And then he went on, “Do you think Shi Xianzi [fairy] would be willing to make her move against you, Ling Shao?”
Revealing a pained expression, Xu Ziling said, “Our conduct and deeds have made her thoroughly disappointed at us. With her impartial nature, she can’t possibly talk about any friendly relations with us; don’t you think?”
Gazing into the end of the snowy plains in the distance, Kou Zhong nodded and said, “I am sure she will have to be forced to make her move, because no matter how formidable Ning Daoqi is, he will still be unable to kill me, Kou Zhong, when we, two brothers, join hands. But I still don’t understand, why would she be completely disappointed? The Relics falling into Shi Zhixuan’s hands, that is certainly our unwise move, but we achieved our goal of splitting up each sect of the demonic way, so there is meritorious deed in there.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “You seem to forget that in her eyes, I became the person who go back on his word. You, Kou Shaoshuai could not obtain the hidden treasure, I still did not advise you to give up, also I did not keep my promise to part ways and divide the goods with you. Tell me, how should she look at me, this person?”
Kou Zhong sighed together with him. Reaching out, he put his arm on his shoulder and pulled him in tight comforting embrace, and said with a bitter laugh, “Relationship between people is just like this, simply because everybody can only understand the actual facts based on his own position and point of view. Even though Xianzi still cannot see the full picture and misunderstandings are growing as a thicket, in the end, it is me who is harming you.”
Xu Ziling laughed calmly and said, “We are brothers, why do we talk about such things? I wonder if Shaoshuai is in the mood to compete in foot strength, to see who will arrive at the Great River first?”
Releasing his embrace, Kou Zhong abruptly raised up a mouthful of true qi, and flew down the hill. He laughed and said, “The one who move first will control others, the one moving later will fall under others’ control. This is the logic of the School of the Military.”
Letting his arms go, Xu Ziling chased behind him.
The two boys left shallow marks in the snow. The breeze was blowing, in the twinkling of an eye the footprints were covered up in snowflakes.