Chapter 1 – Two Lords of the Yangtze River
Book 7 Chapter 1 – Two Lords of the Yangtze River
The salt boat left the ocean to enter Yangtze River against the stream.
‘Knock! Knock! Knock!’
Following the knocking on the door, Xu Ziling’s voice replied from the inside, “Come in!”
Kou Zhong pushed the door and entered. Seeing Xu Ziling sitting cross-legged on a chair by the window, he laughed and said, “You, this kid, are really diligent.”
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, “I have a very bad feeling; there will be trouble tonight.”
Kou Zhong sat down across from him; nodding his head, he said, “I came here to tell you exactly that, the enemy has caught up with us, two ships are hanging on our tail. I really wish I could turn around and have fun killing them.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Fighting power is at the bottom of our list. What crafty idea do you have this time?”
Kou Zhong shook his head and swayed his noggin as if he was reciting something, “Knowing me, Kou Zhong, am not like Xu Ziling. We can never sit quietly on a boat without inviting others to look for bad luck. But if there are that kind of shameless people around, if we don’t have the guts to fight, then we have the guts to burn their ship or drill their boat. Otherwise our salt goods will be in jeopardy.”
Xu Ziling said, “Kou Bangzhu must give considerations to Duan Yucheng, those four kids; otherwise, even in lifting or other menial jobs, Kou Bangzhu will have to toil your precious hands.”
Kou Zhong let out a bitter laugh and said, “I am begging you! Please stop speaking using that kind of sarcasm to make fun of me! Naturally I will give them consideration. As the Bangzhu, if I don’t cherish my underlings, who would want to throw their lives in for me?”
Xu Ziling also felt that his tone was a bit too excessive. “Just consider me in the wrong!” he said apologetically, “What brilliant scheme are you thinking?”
Kou Zhong made himself comfortable, leaning back on his chair he stretched out his legs, and said, “After dark, we will make our first move by getting rid of those two ships following behind us …”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “You are not thinking of scuttling other people’s ships, are you?”
Kou Zhong was upset. “You guessed it again,” he said, “Speaking about underwater skill, who could surpass us? Those four guys are making preparations as we speak. When we get out of the back of the cabin later, they will release a great amount to thick smoke to interfere with the enemy’s line of sight, and then we’ll seize that chance to go underwater, we’ll take care of the enemy’s ships, one per person. This time we are going to use the real tool to bore a boat. Based on our Two-Dragon of Yangzhou’s divine skill, with two, three strikes we should be able to … huh?”
Rapid footsteps were approaching, flustered and exasperated, the short, small, but highly capable Bao Zhifu blurted out outside the door, “Two Bangzhu, the situation does not look good, the enemy’s catching up with us.”
The two three-mast ships behind them were only about forty zhang away, and were closing in really fast; evidently their speed was a lot faster than their boat.
Presently the river course was deep, and the stream rapid; both banks were dangerous towering precipice, with the water closer to the edge full of dangerous reef, very steep. Obviously the enemy had already picked this exact place to launch their attack early on.
That night the moon was really beautiful, the turbulence reflected the moon and the stars’ splendor, like millions of slivery snakes dancing on the surface of the water; it was extremely wild and enchanting.
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong stood at the aft, focusing their eyes to look, and saw that the observation platform on each ship were packed with dozens of people, all were also looking at and pointing at them.
When the two boys’ gaze fell on the decks of the enemy’s ships, they could not help sucking a mouthful of cold air, because each ship had at least several men with drawn bow pointing at them, as well as several catapults.
How could they fight this battle?
Kou Zhong’s eyes flashed a cold murderous look. “I wonder whose ships are they?” he asked no one in particular in a heavy voice.
The slender and handsome Duan Yucheng, who was in charge of the helm, heard him and called out, “They should be Dajiang Hui’s [Great River Society] warships. Their best trick is that they are able to turn fast, which other helmsmen are not able to do.”
Dajiang Hui was one of the Eight Gangs Ten Societies; they achieved their fame in Jianghu early, which was by no mean an easy feat. Their Gang Leader and his deputy were the ‘Dragon Lord’ Pei Yue and ‘Tiger Lord’ Pei Yan, two brothers, famous to be vicious and merciless. Even as early as they were still in Yangzhou, the two boys had already heard about their notoriety; it’s just that they did not expect that as soon as they entered the Yangtze River they already came across these vicious people.
Kou Zhong nudged Xu Ziling and muttered, “His granny’s Niang, we can’t beat them fair and square, what can we do this time?”
Although ever since their debut they had already anticipated encounter with enemies who wanted to invade their territory, but they only thought about little clowns in groups of three or squads of five, or perhaps one or two martial art masters who wanted to curry Li Mi’s favor, never this kind of big troop formation.
The enemy basically did not give them any chance to have a close combat.
Xu Ziling spoke nonchalantly, “Abandon ship!”
Kou Zhong was staring at the enemy ships, which were about twenty zhang away by now; stunned, he asked, “Won’t that mean this batch of salt will come to naught?”
Xu Ziling said in amazement, “Zhong Shao, why does your brain suddenly become so slow? The one abandoning the ship is the two of us. Don’t you see that every one of the enemies is equipped with wet suit and harpoons? Apparently after sinking our ships they are going to go underwater to capture us. Then why don’t we jump into the river one step ahead, so that the enemy won’t need to waste arrows, sling stones, and the burning oil?”
Kou Zhong slapped his forehead; applying his internal energy he shouted toward the enemy’s ship, “Pei Yue, Pei Yan, are you, a snake and a cat, going to poo or pee here?”
A cold snort came from the enemy’s ship.
The two boys shivered in fear; the opponent’s snort was loud and clear, but not excessively shrill, evidently he had a deep internal strength, definitely not someone they want to mess around with. If on top of that there were also other martial art masters plus more than two hundred warriors with deep water skill, equipped with net, bows and arrows, their chance of getting capture was a hundred percent.
Another dull, stuffy voice from the enemy’s ship on the left said, “The two of you must be tired of living; death is near at hand and still dare to blurt out offending remarks. If you are a bit smarter you’d immediately stop your boat. Do you think that our Dajiang Hui is as friendly as those Haisha Bang people?”
The two boys focused their power into their eyes, and saw the speaker to be a tall and sturdy man, with baldhead, broad face, and thick lower jaw, wearing black robe, looked rather lofty, and only around forty years old.
But the one really attracting the two boys’ attention was a twenty-something man in purple clothes standing to the left of the baldhead. This kid was tall and thin, but sturdy, the bridge of his nose was high, but rather flat. His look was actually not bad, it’s a pity that his eyes were unusually small and narrow that they seemed to pull his face together, so they did not match his overall appearance, which gave people a very uncomfortable feeling.
The reason the two boys paid a particular attention to him was because inside this man’s narrow eyes, the pupils were gleaming with unusual shine, evidently it was because his internal energy was a notch above the man who has just spoken; definitely a rival difficult to deal with.
This moment, Ma Gui, whose face was full of pimples came behind the two boys to report, “We are ready to release the smokescreen anytime!”
Kou Zhong was greatly delighted. “Watch for my signal!” he said.
Ma Gui received the order and left.
To divide the opponent’s attention, Xu Ziling laughed aloud and said, “Stopping the boat so that everybody can be intimate with each other is a must, but I wonder which Dajiang Hui’s Dangjia [the one in charge] is speaking?”
The baldhead shouted coldly, “I am Pei Yan. If you are tactful, immediately lower your sail and stop the boat, otherwise we will attack. If that happens, don’t blame our Dajiang Hui for not showing any mercy.”
The young man in purple clothing let out a shrill laughter before saying, “Currently Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong are very valuable; otherwise, how could you move Pei Er Dangjia to toil for ten days and ten nights to follow your trail? However, unlike other people, we don’t capture you to be presented as a gift, we only hope to collaborate with two gentlemen, to start a great undertaking.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance; they understood now that the opponents were after the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’.
Noticing the enemies had been closing in for ten more zhang, Kou Zhong shouted, “Sire, who are you?”
Pei Yan answered for him, “You guys really have eyes without eyeballs, that even Changbai [mountain] number one martial art master Wang Baogong’s only Gongzi, the ‘Thunder Saber’ Wang Kuijie Gongzi you don’t recognize. How could you roam the Jianghu?”
Pretending to be greatly astonished, Kou Zhong responded, “I wonder if Bi Xuan and Ning Daoqi recognize Wang Gongzi? Won’t that mean that they should not have roamed the Jianghu?”
Pei Yan’s original intention was to flatter Wang Kuijie, but hearing Kou Zhong’s remark, he was stumped.
Worse yet, Wang Kuijie was embarrassed.
Realizing that the opponent might turn embarrassment into anger, Kou Zhong hurriedly issued an order to release the smokescreen.
Sure enough, the sound of drums arose from one of the enemy’s ships; everybody bent their bows with arrows at the ready; as soon as the ships were getting closer, they would shoot.
With continuous creaking noise, more than a dozen stone, about a chi-square each, were shot first from the trebuchet, and flew high up in the sky toward them. At the same moment, four windows closest to the water at the aft of their boat suddenly opened, four streams of black smoke erupted out.
Chapter 1 - Part 2
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling immediately soared into the air, their fists and feet worked together, diverting the stones that looked like they might hit the boat away.
Before the enemy’s ships had the chance to launch the second round of stones, the thick smoke was blown by the wind so that they were trapped inside the smoke.
Black smoke was continuously blown from the bellows operated by Bao Zhifu and Shi Jie, two persons. In the blink of an eye the air behind the boat was covered in thick, dark smoke.
On the deck, Ma Gui, Duan Yucheng, along with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, four people, who, after all, were still young at heart, cheered excitedly.
Suddenly there was a loud gust of wind; someone was breaking the smokescreen, like a big bird swooping toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, with the vigor of a gigantic hawk catching a rabbit, as a ball of saber ray pounced on them.
Kou Zhong stayed calm without the slightest sign of fear; he shouted, “Good move!”
Lightning fast he drew his long saber and turned it into cold light. ‘Ding!’ it hacked onto the saber ray protecting the opponent’s body.
The man and Kou Zhong exchanged an all-out saber attack; in horror he found out that Kou Zhong’s saber not only carried an incomparably amazing cold true qi, which broke through his own saber qi and even forced it back, but also the cold qi continued to seal his saber momentum so tight that he was unable to continue his attack. In his great shock, he borrowed the opponent’s force to catapult himself back, made a somersault in the air, with the intention to land on the platform on top of the cabin.
On the other hand, Kou Zhong was also jolted by the opponent that his qi and blood surged up in his chest. While he was secretly shocked by the opponent’s formidability, Xu Ziling already soared into the air like an angry eagle, to intercept the dreadful opponent by one step, so that the two of them exchanged several moves in the air.
Xu Ziling’s weapon was his body.
In addition to his hands and feet, no part of his body could not be used as an offensive weapon against the enemy. Obviously that person has never encountered such moves; three times in succession his saber attack were neutralized by Xu Ziling’s saber-breaking technique, so that his leap could not continue and he was forced to alter direction toward the side of the boat.
Xu Ziling also felt his strength was exhausted, so he safely landed on the platform to take a breather.
Only then did he see clearly that this person was precisely Wang Bao’s son, Wang Kuijie.
Meanwhile, Kou Zhong had anticipated the point where the opponent would land, hence he already flashed over and waited with the saber held horizontally across his chest. Laughing aloud, he said, “This time it is indeed a good move!”
Wang Kuijie groaned inwardly; he saw Kou Zhong was waiting down there with tight defense, while he himself was still unable to dissolve completely Xu Ziling’s qi invading his body. Falling rapidly like this would not be any different than suicide.
Nobody knew where the arrow came from, but it swiftly flew toward his back.
Wang Kuijie was also an outstanding talent; abruptly raising his qi, he miraculously rose up by a chi or so to evade the powerful arrow, and then with a flip he leaped over Kou Zhong and plunged into the water.
Carrying his big bow Ma Gui rushed over to the edge of the boat and ferociously shot an arrow to the spot where Wang Kuijie disappeared into the water.
By this time the surface of the river behind the boat was completely shrouded in black smoke. Kou Zhong breathed a sigh of relief.
Xu Ziling leaped down beside him and said, “That guy’s saber technique was swift and fierce, I was nearly fooled.”
Kou Zhong nodded, “His qinggong is not bad either,” he said.
Fixing his gaze at the black fog behind the boat, Xu Ziling said heavily, “If you have to fight him fair and square, how confident you are in scoring a victory?”
Kou Zhong smiled wryly and replied, “At most only fity-fifty.”
Both were feeling heavy; they no longer had the same confidence as when they first started.
The days ahead would not be easy.
The morning sun was rising, a new day has begun.
Avoiding the Yangtze River, the salt boat entered a tributary and cast anchor in a river bend hidden underneath thick lush trees.
After rushing all night long, Duan Yucheng and the others, four men, needed a good rest. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys were on guard duty.
Xu Ziling noticed that Kou Zhong was looking for a small sharp chisel, and when he found it, he diligently carved something on the blade of his saber. Squatting next to him, Xu Ziling asked, “What are you doing?”
“I want to give my treasured saber a proper name,” Kou Zhong replied proudly.
Xu Ziling burst out laughing; he said, “If you consider this saber a treasured saber, then all sabers under the heavens, with the exception of some especially inferior quality goods, can also be considered treasured sabers.”
Kou Zhong solemnly said, “That is precisely the reason it can display my, Kou Zhong’s prowess. This is originally an ordinary saber, but because of me it will become world-famous tool, this is the saber that will let me strike everywhere all over the world. Ha!”
Xu Ziling sat down on the deck, close to the boat’s railings. Taking a deep breath of early morning air, watching a flock of birds flying in the sky, he stretched and asked, “What ghost name are you carving there?”
Kou Zhong’s thick face turned slightly red; he said softly, “Moon in the Well!”
At first Xu Ziling was startled, but then he could not stop smiling, “Good kid!” he said, “You have the cheek to enjoy this good name alone!”
Kou Zhong smiled apologetically and said, “How about yielding to me a little bit? One lifetime two brothers, why argue over such thing too much?”
Xu Ziling was lost in thought for half a day. He finally said, “Duan Yucheng, these four guys’ natural talent is not bad. After checking out their channel and meridians, I designed a set of qi cultivation method for each of them. If they are successful, they are going to be your biggest help.”
Kou Zhong gratefully said, “Fortunately you had time to think about those kinds of thing, currently day in and day out my time is spent in thinking about future plan, I don’t have time to think about that kind of water-mill effort.”
Xu Ziling said, “Speaking about intelligence, Duan Yucheng is at the top of the list. But in terms of martial art skill, Bao Zhifu will be the most accomplished in the future. Above all, this man is unbelievably dauntless, with firm and persistent fighting spirit; he is the most suitable candidate to practice a hard-bridge, hard-horse skill like Li Dage’s saber technique.”
Kou Zhong nodded his agreement; he said, “Shi Jie excels in light, nimble skill. Just wait till I finish teaching him a set of saber technique I developed based on my comprehension of the swimming fish, I guarantee that his future accomplishment will not be inferior to the others.”
Xu Ziling said, “Ma Gui is most adept at archery and secret projectiles, only his internal energy is lacking. If we can make up for this deficiency, his future accomplishment will also be immeasurable.”
If these two boys’ dialog fell into the ears of great scholars and grandmasters such as Bi Xuan or Ning Daoqi, those people would be so amazed that their jaw would drop. The reason was not only because of their brilliant and original insight, but also because of their ability in measuring talents and designing teaching materials accordingly, with suitable internal energy cultivation method for each one, demonstrating the fact that the two boys have reached the level of accomplished founder of a sect.
Their fantastic martial art skill, first inspired by Fu Junchuo and the ‘Secret to Long Life’, enriched by Li Jing’s ‘Bloody Battle Ten-Style’, their Beautiful Gang Leader’s ‘Bird-Crossing Technique’ and Tu Shufang’s ‘Meridian-Severing Technique’, has by this time evolved into a unique, complete set of martial art skill, which was totally their own.
It was precisely because they had never received any rigid set of technique that they were relying on their own hard work and groping about, but the result was a more flexible change and variation, a set of technique of their own.
Kou Zhong suddenly had his heart filled with emotional stirring; he said, “Listening to the tone of your voice, it seems like you are ready to leave me anytime. Ay! I am so not used to not having you around.”
Xu Ziling smiled; he said, “The most important thing for a real man is to keep his words. You, Zhong Shao, have already promised that after we find the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’, you will let me go freely; therefore, you can’t casually renege on your promise.”
Kou Zhong sighed helplessly.
This moment they heard the sound of oars hitting the water, a group of five fishing boats that were strung together was sailing not too far from the river bend; it was such a calm, peaceful and relaxing scene that anybody would be hard-pressed to think that they were in the world that was all split up and in pieces, with war continuing everywhere.
Xu Ziling said, “Are we going to break through Li Zitong’s Jianghu Army’s barricade tonight?”
Kou Zhong mused, “Li Zitong can’t totally close the Great River, so he will still have to send his warship to check all vessels going back and forth. As long as we can grasp the right moment, we definitely will have a chance of breaking through.
Xu Ziling was about to speak when suddenly the alarm went off in his heart.
Kou Zhong also reacted; both he and Xu Ziling turned their gaze toward the shore. But the shore remained dark and quiet with no human shadow in sight.
The two exchanged glances; they both felt very strange.
If it were only one of them felt it, they could dismiss it as mere misperception. But the current situation was simply too weird. Who could have hidden inside the two boys’ perception range? Not only that, who could have beaten their vision by one step faster?
By dusk, the salt boat departed the river bend where they have been hiding.
Transporting the salt to Guanzhong had nothing to do with making profit; rather, it represented the two boys’ cherished wish. It could be viewed as a severe test in their martial art cultivation. If they were able to complete this task successfully, it would confirm their ability to resist any enemy.