Chapter 9 – Shaking Hands in Agreement
Book 5 Chapter 9 – Shaking Hands in Agreement
By nightfall, heavy snow started to fall again. After hastening on their journey, Kou Zhong and the others, six people, managed to cover more than forty li that day. Afraid that Susu would not be able to withstand the cold, plus coincidentally they came across an abandoned manor due to the chaos of war, they all decided to stop for the night, occupying one broken-down room, burning firewood, and sitting in circle to warm themselves.
Liu Heita took out his provision and fresh water, and politely offered it first to Susu, who was sitting between Kou and Xu, two boys. His demeanor looked like someone who was infatuated or intoxicated by beautiful face, but Susu did not seem to think anything.
Recalling about the sound of hoof beats against the snowy ground the other night, Kou Zhong asked, “Did Liu Xiong follow our trail last night?”
“You could say that,” Liu Heita replied, “Li Mi’s underlings would do anything, by hook or by crook, to get what they want, no one is willing to abide by Jianghu rules. Therefore, we have already guessed that they would not give up on the three of you.”
Xu Ziling was staring at the dancing sparks of the firewood; hearing him, he asked, “Then who were those riders? It seems to me they are not from the Wagang Army!”
“We are not sure either,” Cui Dong replied, “Two gentlemen’s legs were very, very fast, even with Miss Susu on your back, you still covered quite a lot of distance.”
Kou Zhong laughed, “Fleeing for our lives, naturally we were running a bit faster than usual.”
Zhuge Dewei said, “Tomorrow we will reach Yangwu, where are the three of you heading?”
Susu said softly, “We will go back to Yangzhou first, and then make other plans.”
Liu Heita knitted his brows, “Yang Guang and Yuwen Huaji are in Jiangdu; if you reveal your track, I am afraid disaster will immediately come.”
“We will be careful,” Xu Ziling replied nonchalantly.
Looking at his determined expression, Liu Heita had no choice but to shut his mouth.
Kou Zhong changed the subject, “Your precious army occupies Leshou, which is in the north. I wonder if there is any new development lately?”
Zhuge Dewei replied, “The three most sensational news recently are the revival of the Tuyuhun [nomadic people of Xianbei], the Li Clan occupying Taiyuan in rebellion to the Sui, and Li Mi sent Zu Junyan to promulgate the ten major charges against Yang Guang to the world.”
Kou Zhong happily said, “Finally Li Yuan is willing to revolt!” His face showed a very proud look.
“Li Yuan can’t be considered anything,” Cui Dong said in disdain, “Unexpectedly he has the audacity to submit himself to the rule of Shibi Khan of the Tujue people, promising him to send the boys and girls, jade and silk, obtained from his conquest to Tujue people, so that he gained the ridicule of other people.”
Hearing this, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other, completely speechless.
Zhuge Dewei said, “According to the latest intelligence we acquired, Li Yuan proclaimed himself as the Great General, appointed Pei Ji as the Chief Historian, Liu Wenjing as the Minister of War, his oldest son Jiancheng, his second son Shimin, and the Commander-in-chief and the Second-in-command of their three armies, ready to advance to Guanzhong.”
Giving a cold shoulder, Liu Heita said, “Li Clan is simply counting their chicken before they are hatched, they do not know what’s in Liu Wuzhou’s mind. As soon as Taiyuan is empty, it would be strange indeed if Liu Wuzhou did not seize that opportunity to attack Taiyuan. Moreover, along the route to Guanzhong, there are fierce generals of the Sui, Song Laosheng and Qu Tutong, along with their respective large army, separately guarding the pass. Li Clan’s prospect, nobody dares to be optimistic.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly embarrassed; turned out the real situation out there was this discouraging.
Susu did not understand; she asked, “Don’t the Li Clan know that submitting themselves to the Tujue is akin to leading the wolf into the sheep pen?”
Liu Heita smiled and said, “They are wolves themselves, so what’s the problem with other wolves? Li Yuan’s wife is a Xianbei woman; although they are not like Yuwen Clan who are barbarians per se, but they are hardly any better. Furthermore, the Li Clan are deeply influenced by barbarian customs, hence they are no different from the barbarians.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling recalled during the welcoming dinner that day Li Xiuning was wearing barbarian clothes; they had nothing to say even more.
It was half a day later that Kou Zhong finally asked about the Tuyuhun revival.
Liu Heita replied, “Tuyuhun are archenemies of the Tiele, its king, Fu Yun’s ambition has always been very big, from time to time he sends martial art experts to the Central Plains to gather information. One time Yang Guang sent Wang Yangxiong and Yuwen Shu, two generals to assassinate Fu Yun; they killed thousand of people, captured countless prisoners, but relying on his superior martial art skill, he led his brutal troops to kill their way out of the siege, and ran away to Dangxiang. These last couple of years, taking advantage while the Central Plains is in chaos, to send his entire army to recover lost territory, and to conspire on a large scale, becoming our Central Earth’s major disaster outside of Tujue and Tiele, two ethnic groups.”
Zhuge Dewei joined the discussion, “The most disconcerting thing is that Fu Jun’s son, Fu Qian is a talent of this age; not only his martial art skill has reached perfection, his strategy skill is outstanding, and his ambition is not inferior to his father’s.”
Cui Dong laughed and said, ““They say that when he was born, he already had horned-dragon whiskers, hence since he was young he grew horned-dragon beard. Such a preposterous matter, only barbarian dogs can think of it.”
‘Chi!’ Susu giggled tenderly. “A baby with horned-dragon whiskers, his appearance must be ridiculously weird,” she muttered.
Looking at her cute and tender expression, and listening to her naiveté, Liu Heita could not help staring blankly at her.
Zhuge Dewei was wired up from the conversation; he laughed and said, “Do you want to listen to the ten charges Li Mi brought to Yang Guang?”
Kou Zhong was delighted, “Please, tell us quickly!” he said.
As if he was enumerating his family valuables, Zhuge Dewei listed in one breath, “One: patricide. Two: incest. Three: excessive drinking. Four: building palaces and pagodas, extravagant and wasteful. Five: exorbitant taxation, crushing common people. Six: cruising the world [tian xia], building great walls. Seven: sending punitive expedition to Korea, engaging in wars of aggression at will. Eight: refusing sound advice, killing the frank scholars. Nine: rampant bribery; persons of noble character are out of power, lowly people rise to important positions. Ten: going back on his own words. Ha!”
Xu Ziling shook his head and sighed, “No matter how we count it, we can’t enumerate all criminal charges against this fatuous ruler. Speaking about the deep disaster our country is in, this fellow can be considered unprecedented and never will be duplicated.”
Kou Zhong said, “He promoted his own family behind closed doors, sooner or later the imperial court will be dominated by him. The most terrifying thing is attracting foreign invasion, making our country’s territory all split up and in pieces, and the people are in a terrible situation. Yang Guang is the greatest sinner.”
Liu Heita slapped his thigh and said, “Well spoken. In today’s world, with the exception of Duke Jiande, who does not collude with foreign power and helping out each other? Since the two gentlemen already have ambition to be of help of the world, other than joining our army, is there any other alternative?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “Liu Xiong seems to think too highly of us, two brothers!”
Zhuge Dewei said with a laugh, “Jianghu has never been bustling with excitement like it was recently, probably the heaven’s good fortune has arrived, because outstanding heroes of the younger generation are rising. Other than Heita, the ones in the limelight most recently, from the men: Yang Xuyan, Ba Fenghan, the two Xiongdi, and one who called himself ‘Passionate Prince’, Hou Xibai. But speaking about sensation, no one surpasses you, two gentlemen.”
Susu happily said, “Turns out my two Didi have become celebrities!”
Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, “Our most formidable ability is to escape; I couldn’t believe it has made us this famous.”
Liu Heita burst out laughing and said, “Kou Xiong is too modest, not a genuine article and without good material, how could you have any qualification to escape? Furthermore, not only you were able to snatch the account book from Yuwen Chengdu’s hands, you also beat Yuwen Wudi, who considers himself unexcelled in the world, whose arrogance soared into the sky, that he escaped with his tail between his legs; how could we say that you have false reputation?”
Xu Ziling asked, “Just now Mr. Zhuge mentioned that these people are from among the men! What about the women?”
Liu Heita was about to speak, Kou Zhong’s countenance changed as he hissed, “Someone’s coming!”
Everybody scrambled to extinguish the fire. Cui Dong, who has just darted out to scout, flitted back inside the room, and spoke in heavy voice, “Too late! The enemy has already surrounded us heavily.”
“How many?” Zhuge Dewei asked, “Who are they?”
“Ought to be more than a dozen,” Cui Dong replied in low voice, “It’s hard to see in the dark.”
This moment, a nondescript, soft, androgynous voice came from the outside, “I am Tuoba Yu, under the order of my master [here, the word is ‘shi’, as in master-disciple relationship], Bi Xuan, to come with a specific purpose in mind to greet Kou Gongzi, Xu Gongzi, two gentlemen, and to inquire about your well-being.”
Everybody’s countenance changed; they did not expect that the visitor were Tujue martial art masters, even more surprising, Bi Xuan’s disciple was the one on charge.
Liu Heita spoke in low voice, “He does not seem to know that we are mingling in here. Who has heard about this man?”
Both Zhuge Dewei and Cui Dong drew a blank and shook their heads.
To stall for time, so that Xu Ziling could tie Susu behind his back, Kou Zhong responded loudly, “We, two brothers are still as lively dragon and animated tiger, Tuo Xiong, no! It should be Tuoba Xiong, thank you very much for your concerns. This late at night, you still have us surrounded like this, afraid that we might escape. What is exactly your purpose?”
Seeing Kou Zhong had no weapon, Cui Dong took out his pair of weapons [orig. iron, but it could mean hard object or weapon in general] and stuffed one into Kou Zhong’s hand.
Liu Heita himself was using a single cane as his weapon, but inside his overcoat, he hid a long dagger, almost a chi and a half in length, which he handed to Xu Ziling.
 ‘Prince’ is machine translator’s result, orig. ‘gongzi’ (young master), but I thought ‘prince’ will go well with ‘passionate’.
Chapter 9, Part 2
Tuoba Yu laughed aloud and said, “Your precious country has a saying, ‘one does not visit a temple without a cause’ [fig. to visit with an ulterior motive (esp. to ask for something)]. Xiaodi [younger brother, referring to self] this time came from a thousand li, on my master’s order to borrow from the two gentlemen the Taoist treasure, the ‘Secret to Long Life’. The journey was hard, so please two Xiongtai, do not disappoint Xiaodi!”
After a short pause, he laughed and continued, “I don’t know the three renxiong [friend, honorific address, see also Book 3 Chapter 6] are which heroes? Why don’t you let Xiaodi get acquainted as well?”
Everybody was shocked. Just from the keenness of this man’s ears, it was obvious what kind of first-class master the opposite party was.
Liu Heita replied, “Just nameless soldiers, not worth Tuoba Xiong’s hearing.”
Tuoba Yu laughed three times.
The first laugh, he was still some distance away from the building. The second laugh, he was already at the door. By the third laugh, Tuoba Yu has already stepped over the threshold of the door to their room; calmly and leisurely as if he was exploring a friend’s house. His left hand carried a lantern.
This man looked around twenty-five, twenty-six years old, his hair was tied in a warrior bun, he was dressed in warrior outfit with a leather vest on top of it. His appearance was attractive and intelligent, on his shoulders hung a pair of flying hooks. He looked a bit like a pampered son of a wealthy family; at first glance it looked as if he was too weak to stand up to the wind.
Everybody’s eyes fell onto the flying hooks on his shoulders. In Jianghu, this type of weapon was rarely used; the two hooks were shaped like eagle talon, with a thin rope about a zhang long; with just one look people would know that this weapon was extremely hard to control.
When Tuoba Yu’s eyes were sweeping across everybody’s face, no one did not feel strange feeling. It felt like the opposite party’s eyes carried some kind of formless, yet plain, unusual power.
Liu Heita took a step forward, laughed aloud, and said, “Let me get acquainted with Tuoba Xiong first.” His right hand reached behind, the iron cane left his back and rose up; immediately a cold ray radiated all around, a dense cold air swamped everybody, but the target was Tuoba Yu’s chest, the momentum was swift and powerful, it was indeed the air of a great general.
Kou Zhong and the others did not expect Liu Heita to make his move as soon as he saw the opponent; they were all delighted. Except for Susu who cried out in alarm and closed her beautiful eyes.
Tuoba Yu laughed aloud as he traversed sideways as fast as lightning, while his right palm shot out.
‘Whoosh!’ The edge of Tuoba Yu’s palm sliced down on the cane’s head. Liu Heita’s earth-shattering move vanished instantly. It appeared he suffered loss; fast as lightning he changed style, and retreated backward.
Tuoba Yu’s handsome face turned cold, as he sneered and said, “We have not gotten acquainted yet!” While speaking, fast like a whirlwind he suddenly moved to the blind spot on Liu Heita’s left. It was unclear what kind of technique he was using, one of the flying hooks on his shoulder took off from the shoulder and flew like an eagle talon, creating a whistling noise as it split the air; swift like lightning bolt it circled around toward Liu Heita’s groin. A very sinister technique indeed.
These two exchanges happened like lightning flashes, dazzling the eyes of those who watched the fight.
Liu Heita was an outstanding character as well. In the critical situation, he did not panic. Knowing that the opponent did not give him the opportunity to take a breath, he spun his body around toward the door, and then brandishing his cane, it followed the flying hook like its shadow.
‘Dang!’ Following the clear ringing sound Liu Heita let a stifled grunt as he was pushed back half a step and crashed against the broken wall by the door.
Tuoba Yu let out a cold snort of contempt. His right hand reached toward the middle of the rope connecting the flying hooks; with a slight shake, the eagle talons on both ends immediately turned into thousands of dots of light, which, like a splash of mercury, stormed toward Liu Heita, who was leaning against the wall. At the same time, his left hand tossed the lantern, and it landed neatly on the horizontal beam above, not missing a single fen [1 fen is approx. 1/3 of cm or 1/8”].
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling watched with mouth agape.
Liu Heita’s cane skill was brilliant; the technique, the vigor, the proficiency, all have reached first class level. Rarest of all, he had guts, bold and daring spirit, and did not have much regard for life and death; once he took out his cane, a ‘sweeping thousand army’ might took shape immediately. Who would have thought that this disciple of Bi Xuan was able to break through his defense and counterattack? In just a few moves he had him brought to a disadvantageous position; surely it was extremely shocking.
From this fact, it could be clearly seen that Bi Xuan was able to gain fame, to rise among the three top martial art masters inside and outside the Great Wall, everything was not for nothing.
Liu Heita let out a sudden roar; his cane withdrew and became a circle of rays of light, protecting all vital points on his body, from top to bottom, as he shifted sideways while still sticking close to the wall. The body followed the cane, just waiting to mount an offensive.
Suddenly the cane ray was muted; turned out the iron cane was caught by the eagle claw’s ‘five fingers open wide’ from one of the two Tuoba Yu’s flying hooks, while the other eagle claw shot toward Liu Heita.
Nobody had ever expected that the opponent’s eagle claw had this kind of freedom of action; they were all shocked by this extremely weird phenomenon. As Susu was screaming, like howling wind and torrential rain Zhuge Dewei and Cui Dong stormed toward Tuoba Yu. Seeing the critical situation, they disregarded Jianghu’s rule and threw themselves into the battle.
Tuoba Yu laughed grimly; his left hand waved slightly, the eagle claw at the other end of the rope immediately turned into dots of sharp rays, like a tidal wave storming toward the two men. At the same time his leg flew up to kick Liu Heita’s lower body; all his movements were calm and smooth, making the observers gasped in amazement.
Liu Heita unleashed his hidden ability; below he met the leg with his leg, above he seized the opportunity while the claw intertwined with the cane, to meet Tuoba Yu’s internal energy head-on, trying to engage the opponent so that Zhuge Dewei and Cui Dong would have a chance they could exploit.
Amidst the sound of internal power collided and the continuous ringing on weapons clashing, Tuoba Yu did not hesitate to let the iron cane off, and released the full potential of the flying hooks, rolling up the three martial art masters inside the dots of sharp rays of the eagle claws. Every single move was an exquisite, beyond compare, consummate skill.
Although the battle inside was fierce, the enemy outside did not make the slightest noise; which was quite baffling.
With his right hand on the handle of the iron [see my note above], Kou Zhong stood outside the edge of the circle, watching Tuoba Yu’s hooks with rapt attention.
Xu Ziling also focused his attention to the hard fighting of the four people; the astonishment in his heart was hard to describe.
Speaking about martial art skill, Liu Heita was definitely a level above Shen Luoyan. Even if he came across Du Fuwei, he would still have a chance to give a strong resistance. Zhuge Dewei and Cui Dong were also first class masters. Yet right now with the three’s combined power, they were barely able to fight Tuoba Yu evenly. It is thus clear that one random disciple of Bi Xuan was already about the same level of martial art experts of Du Fuwei’s caliber; how could Xu Ziling not be shocked?
Right this moment, Tuoba Yu suddenly let out a long laugh, and retracted his claws. It looked like a defensive move, yet it engaged the three men so that they all felt there was a formidable killing move within his move; unexpectedly, as if by prior agreement all four men leaped backward in four directions.
Merely based on this one move, where he was able to make the three opponents feel the threat of the flying hooks at the same time, it was clear that he had reached the ‘using one move to communicate intention’ level, a state of mind in which he relied purely on his qi power to control the enemy’s mind.
Tuoba Yu’s eyes shone with cold light, the flying hooks intersect; it turned into a column of rays, shooting in full power toward retreating Liu Heita. Shockingly, it was even a tad faster than the retreating opponent.
Zhuge Wude and Cui Dong cried out in alarm. [Translator’s note: at the beginning, it was Zhuge Dewei, but somewhere in the middle it changed into Zhuge Wude. At first I thought it was a typo, but after several ‘Zhuge Wude’, I decided to follow the text.] But because they had withdrawn some distance away from each other, plus they were still being carried away by their retreating momentum, there was no way they would be able to render any assistance.
Tuoba Yu’s battle strategy was indeed ingenious, his method was very ruthless, and his technique fantastic and mysterious; everything about him wowed the onlookers that their throat could not even cry out.
While it appeared that Liu Heita was about to injured by this full-powered attack, Kou Zhong suddenly shouted, followed by his body moved sideways to the left to bump into Tuoba Yu.
For the very first time that night Tuoba Yu revealed an astonished look on his face, and was forced to abandon his attack toward Liu Heita. His flying hooks, one held back the other released, changed course to meet Kou Zhong’s attack.
Against all expectation, like a fish Kou Zhong suddenly traversed diagonally for three chi, so that he was face to face with Tuoba Yu, and thus he was right in between Tuoba Yu and Liu Heita; proximity transformed complexity into simplicity, with just his head he struck toward Tuoba Yu.
Again for the first time that night Tuoba Yu revealed a serious look on his face; his hook became thousand shadows, he blocked Kou Zhong’s simple, nothing-out-of-ordinary move.
‘Pow!’ The hook shadows dispersed, Kou Zhong let out a stifled groan, and was pushed three steps back.
On the other side, Tuoba Yu’s entire body shook, he was also pushed half a step backward, his eyes were shooting deep murderous look as he stood face-to-face with Kou Zhong, who by this time was standing with his back bent down slightly like a crouching tiger who was unwilling to back off.
Everybody else stopped; nobody made any noise. The only thing audible was Susu’s nervous breathing.
Among these people, Xu Ziling was the only one who understood that Tuoba Yu has incited Kou Zhong’s fighting spirit that he forgot about life and death, and has entered the ‘moon in the well’ realm, which was far higher than his normal level of achievement. Combining the shenfa [pose or motion in martial arts] he learned from the swimming fish with the fantastic internal energy from the ‘Secret to Long Life’, he challenged Tuoba Yu’s ferocity.
“That martial art was from the ‘Secret to Long Life’, right?” Tuoba Yu asked in heavy voice.
Kou Zhong smiled slightly, “How did it feel? Not bad, huh?”
Xu Ziling shouted, “The ‘Secret to Long Life’ is not in our possession. If Tuoba Xiong insists on getting it, we will rather die than submit. If that happens, not only Tuoba Xiong will not obtain the ‘Secret to Long Life’, people might get hurt. Would Tuoba Xiong please think it over?”