Chapter 8 – Familiarity at First Sight
Book 5 Chapter 8 – Familiarity at First Sight
Xu Ziling ran at full speed toward the jungle indicated by the marking Kou Zhong left behind.
After leaving Shen Luoyan, he immediately threw her to the back of his mind.
In fact, up to this time, when he was flying over the snowy ground, he had encountered not a few beautiful women, yet none ever occupied any place in his heart.
He was content just by practicing the energy cultivation of the ‘Secret to Long Life’; his mind was focused solely on the martial art training. It was not because he was after fame or fortune, but a personal pursuit; he wanted to surpass his own previous achievement.
Lying in bed every night, he immediately entered the state of mind where he trained his qi, the state of ‘forgetting object, forgetting self’ that fascinated the heaven and the earth.
Although during his waking hours he occasionally remembered Shan Wanjing, Yun Yuzhen, Shen Luoyan, and other beauties, but there were only vexation and loathing feelings in his heart, not the longing feeling between men and women.
Only martial art cultivation brought him the greatest satisfaction; in everything else he was satisfied with himself, and nothing he wanted to seek.
However, Kou Zhong’s ambition was clearly much bigger than his, so that he started to feel that their differences continue to widen with each passing day. Other than that, speaking about deep affection for each other, naturally they were still the best brothers and the best of friends.
Right this moment, from a distant place ahead and to his left came the sound of hoof beats. It was the sound of horses’ hooves kicking against the snow.
Xu Ziling was startled, but also felt strange.
The hoof beats came so suddenly, the only explanation would be that these people were already there, but were only showing themselves up this moment. Judging from the sound of it, there should be no less than thirty riders, yet previously he did not even hear any horse whinnying, so obviously these horses must be well-trained war-horses.
He rapidly eliminated the possibility that these people were from Wagang Army. Because Xu Shiji simply did not have time to make such arrangement.
Could it be that these people were related to Dugu Ba?
The hoof beats stopped abruptly, as abrupt as they appeared.
Xu Ziling found these mysterious riders unfathomable. Stretching his true qi to its limit, he darted toward the forest.
Kou Zhong’s voice suddenly rang out, “Hurry up! Someone’s coming!”
Knowing that Kou Zhong and Susu were still safe and sound, Xu Ziling immediately felt relieved, and bolted toward the voice.
Kou Zhong, with Susu on his back, jumped down from a big tree, and then side-by-side they ran deeper into the forest. Kou Zhong called out, “Let’s see between they and us, who will have longer breath.”
Xu Ziling relaxed his tensed body.
It should be noted that in this dense forest, which extended for hundreds of li, even using strong horses one could not travel easily. When it comes to leg muscles, the number of Jianghu people who could catch up with them in a short distance was not lacking, but other than people of Du Fuwei caliber, who would be able to compete with them in generating continuous internal breathing obtained from the ‘Secret to Long Life’, without feeling exhaustion at all?
Therefore, finished speaking that last sentence, they did not talk anymore. From external breathing they switched to internal, concentrating their mind and spirit on fleeing, fast like a meteor they weaved to the left and slipped to the right, leaped high and crouched low, in that dense forest, only trying to get as far away as they could.
On the other hand, Susu, who was crouching on Kou Zhong’s back, was overcome with safe and warm feeling. These two boys were merely strangers coming together by chance, yet to her they had suddenly become brothers closer than flesh and blood siblings.
They always put her first in everything. No matter how bad the situation, they would never hesitate; even more, they would never cower. Currently they were sharing trials and tribulations together; hence the feeling in her heart was understandable.
They ran all through the night until daybreak, when they were finally out of the jungle. By this time the snowstorm has stopped, the heaven and the earth were blanketed in white, sparkling snow.
In the still, pure white open plains, the three of them were suddenly overwhelmed with ‘what next?’ feeling.
Although the two boys’ inner breathing was still vigorous, their flesh and blood four legs were dead tired; hence they took this opportunity to rest on a small hill full of towering spruce.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Finally! We escaped!”
“Who are those people last night?” Susu asked.
Xu Ziling replied, “I don’t care what kind of saints those people are, I am sure they are not people of the good way; most probably they are Dugu Ba’s men.”
Kou Zhong and Susu were stunned. After listening to Xu Ziling narrating what happened the previous night, Kou Zhong frowned and said, “If that guy were not lecherous, perhaps we would have suffered a calamity. I did not expect Dugu Clan has such a formidable figure; I thought all of them were good-for-nothing characters like Dugu Ce.”
Xu Ziling commented, “If they don’t have a trick or two, how could Dugu Clan obtain the same fame in Jianghu as the other three Clans? All right! Tell me, are we going to Luoyang? Or going back to our old home Yangzhou?”
With head down, Susu resolutely said, “Go back to Yangzhou!”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance. They said in low voice to Susu, “We want to go to the Eastern Capital, the purpose is to try our luck in finding the Jade Annulus of the He Clan. Hey! Not necessarily to look for Li Dage.”
Susu shook her head and adamantly said, “If you want to go, the two of you can go on your own!”
Supporting Susu, Xu Ziling said, “Of course we should listen to Su Jie.” Turning to Kou Zhong, he reproached him, “What could be more important than causing harm to Yuwen Huagu? The night is long, the dreams are many; if we miss this golden opportunity, are you going to assume the responsibility?”
Kou Zhong gave up. “I was wrong!” he said, “Hey! Which way to Yangzhou?”
Xu Ziling was stunned. “Didn’t you already calculate the direction before leaving? How could you be this muddleheaded? Didn’t you say you are proficient in mountains and rivers geography?”
“Stop arguing!” Susu said, “From here go to the northeast, sooner or later we will reach Tongji Canal. From there as long as we can find a boat going south, passing Junyi, Chenliu, Yongqiu, Xiangyi, Songcheng, Yongcheng, Xiaqiu, we will reach Yutai. From there going east, we can enter Kangou, and then go south to Jiangdu. That simple.”
Red-faced, Kou Zhong said, “Turns out the most formidable one is Su Jie.”
‘Chi!’ Susu giggled and said, “It’s not that Jiejie is formidable, but that was the route we took that year when Jiejie followed Miss to the south.”
Xu Ziling asked in amazement, “How come Su Jie suddenly become bursting with joy?”
Susu’s jade cheeks turned as red as the sunset clouds, “Don’t talk nonsense,” she said, “I am not bursting with joy.”
The two boys were baffled.
Kou Zhong rubbed his tummy as he stood up and said, “Let’s find a town first to find a cure for serious illness of hungry stomach, and then we’ll make a plan.”
Xu Ziling helped Susu up and cheerfully said, “This time let Xiaodi [little brother] be Susu’s mount.”
Kou Zhong protested, “You always know how to fight over my enjoyment.”
Susu’s pretty face went beet-red as she said, “Turns out both my Didi are bad-eggs.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling laughed aloud as they pushed and shoved each other, very proud of themselves, and were brimming with sincere affection toward each other.
It was only this moment that the three of them felt the joy of free and easy life.
Susu was about to speak, the two boys suddenly froze up, and turned their gaze to the west.
They saw three men on the snowy ground, like an arrow coming toward them. The distance between them was less than two li.
Susu jumped in fright, “Hurry up! Let’s go!”
Kou Zhong took a deep breath and said, “It’s too late!”
Chapter 8, Part 2
Drak, you are right on this, i.e. SLY is the only other women who has a lot of screen time. Komeng, Ysabel, HPC, Jaya, Anh, you are welcome. George, Sky, I know you guys dislike Susu, but I did not realize it was that bad ... Well, since I have not read the book myself, you could be right. Akolaw, good analysis, but I am leaning toward Xu Xiong; think SLY is not as 'innocent' as you think. I don't know, perhaps I am more used to 'traditional' wuxia, where the female protagonists are usually not so loose like Huang Yi's description of SLY. But again, we will see together how the story unfolds. Here is the end of Chapter 8.
It was not clear which side did those three men belong to, but in the blink of an eye they were already ascending the small hill, and suddenly stopped in front of the three. The men cupped their fists in greeting; their manner was very polite.
The one in the middle was a man about twenty-seven, twenty-eight, wearing grey clothes. There was a cane strapped onto his back, there was a gentle, cultured manners in the midst of his heroic-looking features; a tough and stocky build man [orig. ‘back of a tiger and waist of a bear’], but there was something in his outer appearance that broke people’s heart.
From the other two men, one was a forty-something short and stout man, while the other was a middle-aged man dressed like a Confucian scholar. Both were extraordinary-looking men.
Just from the fact that even after running at full speed like that, the men were still calm and composed, it was clear that these men were top quality martial art masters.
The man in grey laughed aloud and said, “Finally we are able to catch up with two Xiongdi, we are indeed very pleased. I am Liu Heita, the Cavalry Commander under the banner of King of Xia.”
And then he proceeded to introduce the Confucian Scholar on his left, “This gentleman is known in Jianghu as the ‘Iron Fan’, Zhuge Dewei; he is also Ol’ Liu’s sworn brother.”
Zhuge Dewei waved his left hand, like magic a [folding] fan suddenly appeared. ‘Cha!’ the fan opened, and he lightly fanned himself a couple times; his manner was full of confidence.
Liu Heita pointed to the short and stout man and said, “Dong Shu [uncle, younger than one’s father] is known as the ‘Door God’. His skill is equally famous with the newly acquired general under Li Mi’s command, Qin Shubao, their fearlessness is without a rival.”
This ‘Door God’ was surprisingly modest. “Gongzi must not paste gold on my face,” he declined, “I am Cui Dong, only an errant-boy serving under Gongzi!”
Kou Zhong was bewildered, “Who is this King of Xia?” he asked.
Liu Heita replied, “No wonder the three of you did not know, our humble master Dou Jiande has founded a kingdom named Xia; it has not been announced to the world yet.”
The three people looked at each other; it was only then did they know that these men were on Dou Jiande’s side.
Liu Heita suddenly said, “Would Miss turn your back around? Because Ol’ Liu has a first meeting gift I’d like to present to these two Xiongdi, but I am afraid it will be frightening to Miss.”
Xu Ziling was astonished, “What first meeting gift?” he asked.
Susu apprehensively turned her tender body around.
Liu Heita smiled calmly; he gave a hand signal, the ‘Door God’ Cui Dong immediately untied a cloth bag, with some unknown object inside, hanging from his waist, and casually tossed it toward Kou Zhong.
Puzzled, Kou Zhong caught it, but very soon his countenance changed greatly. Immediately he tossed the cloth bundle back to Liu Heita and cried out in terror, “My Niang! Whose head is this?”
Amidst Susu’s shrill scream, Liu Heita caught the bundle, calmly reached into it, and grabbed the head by the hair and took it out. Holding it in front of the two boys’ eyes, he said, “Let Ol’ Liu introduces him to you. This man surnamed Zheng, given name Zong, known as the ‘Flying Feather’. If he did not lose his head and thus could not walk, I am afraid the three of you would have fallen into Wagang Army’s hands.”
Inwardly Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were scared and very nervous, but seeing the opposite party’s men did not show any changes in their countenance, they suppressed their fear of this dead man’s head. The former let out a dry cough and said, “Hey! Would Liu Xiong take this away first? We don’t want to scare our Jiejie.”
Although Liu Heita had no problem with that, Zhuge Dewei and Cui Dong’s faces flashed a mocking look; obviously they looked down on these boys for being scared by a human head like that.
Liu Heita handed the head over to Cui Dong and said, “Hang this head on a prominent place as a way for us to greet Xu Shiji.”
Cui Dong accepted the order and left.
With normal expression Liu Heita cupped his fist and said, “Now that two Xiongtai have become characters that everybody in the world wants to obtain, I wonder what your future plan may be?”
After exchanging a glance with Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong cleared his throat and said, “We don’t know what kind of luck we have walked into that everybody believes we know the whereabouts of the Duke Yang Treasure, while the fact is …”
Liu Heita showed his displeasure as he cut him off, “Kou Xiong, do you think I, the Ol’ Liu, am also looking for you for the treasure? You are gravely mistaken!”
After a short pause, he continued, “This time we hit the road, is because we received King of Xia’s order to confer with Da Longtou, to advise him to gain the initiative by striking first by eliminating Li Mi. Who would have thought that we were one step too late, Zhai Mansion has become ashes. We investigated for many days before discovering that only the three of you escaped the great catastrophe. Not only that, you also turned the City of Xingyang upside down. You gain Ol’ Liu’s utmost admiration.”
With her back still facing them, Susu asked, “Has the human head been removed?”
“Miss Susu, please set your heart at ease,” Liu Heita apologetically said, “Human head is gone!”
Still with fear and trepidation Susu turned around. Looking at her moving expression, frightened and timid, as if she was asking for pity, Liu Heita could only stare blankly.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling did not care, but Susu asked, “One day earlier Miss was sent off by Laoye, she left under the protection of Tu Guanjia [housekeeper/manager]. I wonder if General Liu has heard any news about her.”
Liu Heita replied, “With a martial art master of Tu Shufang’s caliber protecting Miss Jiao, she should have no problem. I will dispatch my men to make inquiries on their whereabouts.”
Susu laughed cheerfully and said, “With Gongzi giving your promise, Susu is relieved!”
Seeing her blooming-flower-like smile, once again Liu Heita could only stare wide-eyed on her. This time Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling noticed something different about him; all their eyes were on him.
Zhuge Dewei let out a dry cough and said, “Er Di [second (younger) brother], this place has danger lurks on every side, we’d better rush to Yangwu first, and then we can have a heart-to-heart chat over wine much more comfortably.”
As if he was just awakened from a dream, Liu Heita noticed Kou and Xu, two boys’ peculiar look; his old face turned red from embarrassment as he said, “As soon as Dong Shu is back from his task, we will set out immediately. To tell you the truth, I feel instant connection with the two gentlemen [orig. people of talent appreciate one another (idiom)/to sympathize with one another]. This is the time the world’s outstanding heroes rise up, a great time for those who are able to be kings. In sincerity I’d like to invite two gentlemen to join our army. In the future riches and honor we will enjoy together. If there is any fake word in me, let me, Liu Heita, not have a good ending.”
Toward this young martial art master who was full of heroic spirit, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had quite a favorable impression; but joining his group was another matter altogether.
Kou Zhong let out a dry cough and said, “I also will tell you the truth; right now we have something important to do, about joining your precious side, let’s talk about it a bit later.”
Liu Heita looked disappointed; he said, “I hope the two gentlemen are really tied and not just finding excuses to decline the Ol’ Liu’s invitation.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling did not expect him to be this vain; they found it a bit hard to explain.
Susu interjected, “They really did not deceive Liu Gongzi, I can be their witness.”
Liu Heita laughed aloud and said, “Since Miss says so, naturally I have no doubt. It’s just that I was wondering if in this matter the Ol’ Liu can be of any help?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Liu Xiong seems to have too much time in your hands, plus you are showing undeserved favor toward us, so we thank you in advance. However, this is a very delicate matter, involving our deep enmity with Yuwen Huaji; therefore, we simply cannot involve other people.”
Liu Heita shrugged, “Turns out the widespread rumor in Jianghu that you have obtained evidence that Li Clan and Yuwen Clan are about to rebel is indeed not a wind from an empty cave.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other. It should be noted that only a few people were privy about this account book matter; who might have leaked it?
Xiang Yushan came to look for them, the two boys still did not think much about it; but now Liu Heita also said the same thing, the two boys started to be afraid.
Just one ‘Duke Yang Treasure-trove’ already made them jumpy and jittery, now the account book matter was piled on top of that; would they still have days of peace and happiness? Yuwen Clan alone was enough to give them a pounding headache.
In the meantime, Ciu Dong came back, Liu Heita stopped talking, he urged everybody to hasten.
Kou Zhong and the others also knew it was unwise to tarry, plus they had a good opinion on Liu Heita, hence they decided to travel together with them, so they set out toward Yangwu.