Chapter 2 – The Fish in the Net
Book 8 Chapter 2 – The Fish in the Net
By dusk, darkness gradually descended upon the sky.
From behind the high wall of Chun Zai Lou came the melodious sound of birdsong. After looking to the left and right and saw no one, Kou Zhong hurriedly responded with birdsong.
Xu Ziling looked down over the wall, and then together they ran to an alley some distance away. Halting his steps, Xu Ziling reported, “Everything is in order and ready. According to plan, I put five strings of heavenly silkworm fishing line on the designated treetops inside the courtyard. How’s the situation at your side?”
“Naturally there is no problem,” Kou Zhong replied proudly, “We are going back to the restaurant this morning, eat a little something, and then we’ll proceed according to plan.”
In the noisy restaurant, most customers were Jianghu people, the topic of the conversation did not depart from Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s feud with Dongming Princess at the Chun Zai Lou the previous night.
Kou Zhong perked up his ears to eavesdrop for a moment; radiant with delight, he said, “Turns out our reputation in Jianghu is so resounding!”
Xu Ziling replied in very low voice, “We’ll talk about it after tonight!”
Kou Zhong nodded. “This is my weakness,” he admitted, “I am very easy to be so pleased that I lose my sense of measure. Right! I wonder where are Fengshi Han and the stinky princess hiding? If they are hiding in a small room together, the stinky princess’ chastity cannot be guaranteed.”
Xu Ziling nonchalantly said, “You still have time to think about such thing? I am more worried about Song Yuzhi did not have the opportunity to leave town!”
Kou Zhong was speechless for half a day. Finally he sighed and said, “It seems like you really don’t care about Shan Wanjing; otherwise, after hearing me saying that, how can your expression be as natural as before.”
Xu Ziling laughed and swore at him, “Good kid! Unexpectedly you are harboring the intention to sound me out. Time is running out, let’s go!”
The two boys paid their bill and went down the stairs. As they stepped out into the street, their countenance changed.
Because they saw the big and round moon was just showing its immortal beauty at the eastern horizon, and for tens of thousands li above the sky was without a cloud. The moon bathed Jiujiang with its radiant light. It was a completely different night to the cloudy and dark night of the previous day.
“Damn it!” Kou Zhong blurted out, “In this kind of bright moon night, as soon as someone looks up to admire the full moon, we are finished!”
“Too many ears,” Xu Ziling hissed, “Let’s go someplace else and talk.”
A moment later the two boys jumped over the wall into the courtyard of a large residential building. They shed off their outer disguise clothes and scraped the powder and paste off of their faces to reveal their real identity. Inside, they were wearing black skintight night walker suit.
Kou Zhong fetched his broadsword and whip, which he had hidden in this place earlier. After putting it on, he smiled wryly and said, “This is called ‘man proposes but God disposes’. How would we know the moon would come out so quickly?”
“No use complaining,” Xu Ziling said, “We’ll look at the situation first, if it is impossible, we’ll have no choice but to slip away via the waterway.”
Jumping high and crouching low, the two boys returned to the roof of the restaurant they had just left, and cast their gaze toward Chun Zai Lou in the distance, to observe the situation carefully.
Kou Zhong was greatly surprised, “That’s strange! How come I don’t see anything like ‘both covert and undercover officers keeping watch’? Could it be that Ren Shaoming is afraid of death and did not show up? Xiao Ling, what’s your feeling?”
The rear courtyard of Chun Zai Lou was dedicated to serve VIPs only. All ten buildings in this courtyard were brightly lit, with a faint sound of strings and woodwind instruments coming through. Because it was still early, only maids and servants were occasionally seen moving about.
Xu Ziling took a deep breath and replied, “I have an uneasy feeling.”
Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day; finally he said in low voice, “Shall we beat the gong to recall the troops?”
Xu Ziling slowly shook his head. His tiger eyes shot sharp gleam that Kou Zhong has never seen before. He said calmly, “If we shrink back on approaching the battlefield without knowing what is true and what is false, this matter will stay as a scar in our heart and mind that will be difficult to mend! It will prevent us from ever reaching the pinnacle of the martial art realm, it will also represent our fear of death.”
Kou Zhong heaved a heavy sigh, breathing out the heroic pride that was surging wildly in his heart. “Well said!” he said huskily, “Even if the enemy is spreading out the net waiting for us brothers to fall into it, we still want to penetrate deep into the tiger cave to stroke Ren Shaoming’s tiger whisker. This is called treading various deathly places to come back to life later.”
Looking at the brook flowing toward the Chun Zai Lou, Xu Ziling said, “This river runs through Chun Zai Lou’s rear courtyard. Anybody with discerning eyes would know that this is a shortcut to sneak into Chun Zai Lou, hence we must not use water route to get in.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Question is: will Ren Shaoming come? If he is coming, the Chun Yuan and its surrounding area will be packed with martial art masters, so we cannot enter from the air either. It leaves us only the land route, and this way it will be very difficult to avoid falling into a heavy siege, which will force us to fight will all our might and will have death as the conclusion.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Can you see the fishing like installed horizontally between those two trees?”
Kou Zhong turned his gaze twenty zhang away toward the empty space spanning the top of two old banyan trees outside Chun Zai Lou’s rear courtyard. Due to the trees reflecting the moonlight, even after sending enough qi to his eyes, he still found it difficult to see the fishing line that he has personally tied on there. Thereupon he shook his head in satisfaction.
Xu Ziling said, “I have conducted an experiment: as long as you jump straight up and reach any spot approximately one zhang away from the line, you could barely see the line reflecting the light, and thus you can accurately grasp the line’s position.”
Delighted, Kou Zhong said, “If we were using pitch-black rope, under this kind of moonlight, it would be difficult to hide it from other people’s eyes.”
Calmly Xu Ziling said, “We must change our plan; we must be sure that Ren Shaoming has arrived at the Chun Yuan before we break through Chun Yuan with ten-thousand jun [1 jun ~ 30 catties] lightning bolt force. If with one strike we fail to hit the target, we will have to leave immediately by means of the fishing lines installed in many places. This act will definitely be outside the enemy’s expectation, so that they can’t even touch the corner of our garment.”
The two of them carefully studied the route and method to break through into the garden, before they finally hid themselves and took turn in surveying the Chun Yuan’s situation, while waiting quietly for the ‘Green Dragon’ Ren Shaoming’s honored self to make his appearance.
While watching the Chun Zai Lou from afar, which was gradually staring to get busier, Kou Zhong said softly, “Ever since we started, we always wanted to go to Luoyang, but until today we haven’t been able to go. This time, after returning to Baling, we must immediately go north, I wonder if we can make a detour to Luoyang?”
Xu Ziling was lying down on the side of the roof opposite to Chun Zai Lou, where the moonlight could not reach, and was counting the stars in the sky. Hearing Kou Zhong, he sighed and said, “Don’t overestimate our luck too much; moreover, He Clan’s jade annulus involves martial art masters Buddhist nuns of the Ci Hang Jing Zhai [see Book 1 Chapter 7]. If you are not careful, you may have to bag your food before you finish eating. At that time please do not implicate me, your little brother.”
Kou Zhong said in distress, “You guessed it again. Can’t you pretend you are a bit dumber?”
And then he sighed and went on, “I’ll say Song Yuzhi’s impression on you is much better than her impression on me. Hey! Are you interested? She is in no way inferior to Shan Wanjing or Shen Luoyan.”
Xu Ziling irately replied, “Don’t you remember her Die already betroth her to someone else?”
Kou Zhong sneered and said, “Laozi don’t believe it a bit, everything under the heavens can be changed, much less mere verbal engagement? Strange thing is, she must be over eighteen already, why hasn’t she passed through the doorway [i.e. getting married]? There must be a problem somewhere.”
Xu Ziling said indifferently, “You can do whatever you want to do, why make so many excuses?”
“My Niang!” Kou Zhong suddenly exclaimed softly, “Ren Shaoming is here.”
Chapter 2, Part 2
Xu Ziling turned around and crawled to Kou Zhong’s side. Looking over the top of the roof ridge, he fixed his gaze on the direction of Chun Zai Lou’s Chun Yuan. He saw a flurry of activity. Although he could not see clearly who was coming, yet he was able to tell that a VIP has arrived; otherwise, that person would not have such a large number of entourage.
More than a dozen people filed into the Chun Yuan, leaving only four men, who looked like bodyguards, to stay outside the door.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in dismay.
Could it be that Ren Shaoming was not afraid of assassination at all?
“Is this a trap?” Kou Zhong wondered aloud, “But perhaps he really thinks we have slipped away.”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, “Now we can only ask Laotianye’s blessing and protection. Let’s move!”
The two flipped over the rooftop and fast as demon and ghost they flew over another building, and then hiding along the trees lining up the riverbank they headed toward the external wall of Chun Zai Lou. Since they could not use the waterway, they jumped over the high wall, and landed at a flowerbed in Chun Zailou’s backyard. Without the slightest pause they flew toward a lush tree nearby, to hide and look down to survey the surroundings.
From all ten buildings in the complex came the sound of laughter mixed with the sound of music. The complex across the courtyard from the Chun Yuan was even more bustling with noise.
Other than the four bodyguards at the door, they did not see any other guards around the Chun Yuan.
Xu Ziling pointed to the fishing line again and said, “We’ll split to see if Ren Shaoming has his men hidden somewhere around here, and then we’ll meet again on that big tree behind the Chun Yuan. We’ll decide how to proceed then.”
Kou Zhong nodded his agreement. The two immediately split up.
A moment later, one after another they were back on the big elm tree behind the Chun Yuan, which was about a zhang or so taller than the other courtyard.
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “It doesn’t make any sense. Even if Ren Shaoming is not worried, his men would not be so negligent like this.”
Kou Zhong looked down at the Chun Yuan roof below him, he said with a wry smile, “I also feel that something is definitely not right. But it is also possible that Ren Shaoming is not afraid of us or any other people. If we withdrew just like this, there is a chance that we missed an extremely rare good opportunity. I really want to take a peek inside, but perhaps we won’t escape Ren Shaoming’s eyes and ears.”
Xu Ziling said heavily, “We’ll separately crash into Chun Yuan from left and right. When we see a big man with pock-marked face and a tattoo of green dragon on his forehead, strike immediately. If it is a trap, break out of siege from the front door, remember that the seventh life-saving fishing line is between the two big tree fifteen zhang from the front door.”
Once they made up their mind, they swept down noiselessly and landed on the roof below. And then separated to the left and right they flipped over the eaves and charged inside.
The wooden window shattered, the two boys broke into the main hall of the Chun Yuan. Quickly their eyes scanned the room and immediately they knew that they had fallen into a trap.
Sitting around the two sets of table across the hall from the main gate were more than a dozen men. Not only they did not see anybody that looked like the ‘Green Dragon’ Rhen Shaoming, they did not see even half person of the pleasure house’s misses and maids. There were no food and drink on the table, on the contrary, there were all kinds of weapons in tight formation.
As soon as the two boys’ feet landed on the ground and they sprang back up, the enemy was swarming toward them.
The two boys met in the middle of the hall. While they were about to charge toward the main gate before the enemy arrived, they heard the sound of wind as a clump of rosy clouds suddenly descended from the beam toward the top of their heads, so that even if they wanted to jump up, they simply could not.
At the same time countless torches lit up the area surrounding the Chun Yuan, so that outside was as bright as day; however, they did not hear a single shout.
In just a short moment, the two boys have turned from ‘gods appear and devils vanish’ assassins into ‘the fish in the net’, as they discovered that they had been heavily surrounded.
A sharp, intense, ominous and cold qi was pressing down above their heads. With a loud shout Kou Zhong thrust his broadsword up. Meanwhile Xu Ziling raised both palms up; his right palm looked like it was lifting up a thousand-jin rock, but his left palm was light and floating indeterminately, giving a weird feeling those who watched him.
A bald, beautiful head suddenly appeared from the rosy clouds, it was precisely the ‘Amorous Nun’ Chang Zhen.
Her big eyes that could hook souls and melt spirits were black and bright, her delicate face was radiant with healthy glow, the corners of her thin, beautiful eyebrows arched upward, her cheek bones high, her nose straight, her pink lips matched perfectly with her straight, snow white teeth, so that her alluring aura was shining down on the two boys like the sun.
The jade face faded, the rosy clouds swiftly pressed down.
Kou Zhong felt his long saber was hitting a soft, pliable material that he was unable to continue pushing the saber farther. In his shock he withdrew his saber and retreated toward the main gate.
The force from Xu Ziling’s heavy, overbearing right palm was also neutralized by the brightly setting-sun-red-clouds colored long robe, while surprisingly enough the yin-force of his left palm was met head-on by the opponent. A strange, demonic true qi, which was so gentle and reserved as if it did not exist, but so powerful as if it was capable of seizing his soul, penetrated his palm. In his shock Xu Ziling rolled away on the ground, so that borrowing the rolling momentum he was able to dispel the opponent’s qi.
‘Amorous Nun’ Chang Zhen did not get it easy either.
Basically she was looking down upon these two boys; she was thinking of subduing them with just one strike. Who would have thought that the two boys’ true qi was vastly different from each other? One cold the other hot; it was extremely strenuous for her to dissolve them.
Although her school’s unique skill ‘Melting-Soul Colored Clothes’ [the dictionary gave me this definition: Ravishing Technicolor Dream Coat] was not only able to execute countless changes but was also very good at dissolving internal energy expert’s true qi, she was still struggling not sustain injuries on the spot.
But when she clashed with Xu Ziling’s left palm, which carried similar gentle and reserved character as hers, she was helpless to dissolve it, so that she had no choice but to meet it head-on.
Letting out a tender grunt, Chang Zhen’s entire body bounced back upwards.
By this time Kou Zhong had already rushed toward the closed main gate. Lifting up his foot, he kicked hard.
By the time the wooden door succumbed to his leg and broke, four spears swiftly stabbed him. Blurs of shadows outside filled his eyes. Moreover, because of the torches, it was difficult to tell how many people were out there.
Suddenly there was a warning sign in his heart, something was attacking him from behind.
Chapter 2, Part 3
It was the barely audible sound of secret projectile splitting the air.
In that instant, Kou Zhong had to make a decision; he could only deal with either the attack from behind the door he was about to break through, or with the secret projectile threatening his back. If he evaded the projectiles, these four spears would arrive, and most probably he would lose the only chance of escaping by means of the seventh fishing line.
This moment, not only he had forgotten about his desire to contend for the world, he even forgot his own survival. His only thought was that even if he was struck by the secret projectile and died, before his death he could still cut a bloody path out of a battlefield, so that his good brother would have a path to escape alive.
Letting out a wild roar, Kou Zhong brandished the long saber in his hand to create hundreds and thousands of sharp rays, the saber and the person had fused into one entity, with a sudden increase in speed he shot like an arrow toward the four spear-wielders, who by this time were almost climbing over the steps leading into the hall.
Meanwhile Xu Ziling rolled behind Kou Zhong’s back. From his angle of view, he saw the ‘Amorous Nun’ Chang Zhen, while bouncing back into the air, while she was still high in the air, was shooting a handful of fine needles the size of cow’s hair, which, like a swarm of angry bees, were flying toward the back of Kou Zhong’s head.
By this time, the thirteen men who were originally sitting around the table, were also charging toward them and were already less than a zhang away from where he and Kou Zhong were. If he delayed even for an instant, the two of them would immediately be engaged in a hard battle.
Their situation was deteriorating rapidly, and it was about to get worse.
From the windows to their left and right more people were charging in; if they stayed in the hall, they would definitely die without any chance of survival.
This was definitely a carefully laid out trap. The enemy seemed to know their plan like the back of their hands. First they were posing as all kinds of brothel visitors, and went to the other courtyard next to the Chun Yuan. Therefore, although the two boys did not see any ambush around Chun Yuan, there were actually hidden troops everywhere, which, in the end, gave rise to the current situation, where the boys were heavily surrounded.
Xu Ziling sprang up, his palms made a circle in the air as if he was holding a ball, like magic the fine cow’s hair needles Chang Zhen shot were caught inside the qi generated by his palms, and then making another circle the needles were whirled out violently.
The cow’s hair needles became a rain of sparkling dots, completely shrouding the twelve men charging at the two boys.
Amidst the miserable scream, the men scrambled away in panic. In the flurry five men were hit by the needles.
Xu Ziling himself did not know since when he became this formidable, and this moment he had no time to think. He swiftly backed off until his back was nearly touching Kou Zhong’s back, who by this time was starting to fight his way out the door. Lightning fast Xu Ziling’s left and right hands reached out to snatch a saber and a sword, which were threatening Kou Zhong’s back. Exerting his internal strength, he sent the two attackers flying backwards while spurting blood from their mouths. And then with a backhand swing, he sent the saber and swords in his hands out, each weapon lodged itself into the incoming enemy’s chest.
Finally the two boys reached the yard in front of Chun Yuan’s main gate. The distance to the seventh fishing line was only about thirteen zhang away.
But it felt like a journey through ten thousand crags and torrents.
From the main gate the enemy flocked out, blocking the two boys’ retreat path.
Under the dancing flame of the countless torches, they saw all around them were hundreds of enemies. They were trapped inside layer upon layer of heavy siege. Even to make one step progress they had to exert ‘moving mountain and draining sea’ kind of effort.
With every single chop of his saber Kou Zhong exerted enough power that as his saber was drawing a sharp rainbow, either the enemy blocking his saber was thrown back, or the enemy was shaken and was forced to retreat.
Suddenly a spear and a saber attacked together from left and right, both were full of power; obviously these two attackers were outstanding martial art experts among the enemy’s ranks.
Not only Kou Zhong already forgot about life and death, his mind was as calm as the moon in the water, which could reflect clearly every trace of change in this battlefield.
He quickly figured out that it was impossible for him to block these two different weapons coming from two different angles of attack before the weapons made contact with his body.
In normal times, he would be able to deal with the attacks by changing his position. But under the circumstances, even moving one step would entail withstanding very heavy pressure from the siege, plus if he evaded, Xu Ziling behind him was bound to suffer a calamity.
With an angry snort his long saber slashed diagonally down, faster than lightning, to pare the enemy’s saber. His right shoulder also exerted powerful force, it shrank and immediately pushed out. ‘Qiang!’ the saber-wielding enemy splashed blood and tumbled backward. At the same time blood also spattered from Kou Zhong’s right shoulder.
The enemy’s spear slipped off his shoulder, but when he wanted to follow-up with another thrust, Kou Zhong’s shoulder continued on to crash against him that he was thrown back with blood spurting out of his mouth.
The enemy’s ranks were immediately thrown into confusion. Wasting no time at all, Kou Zhong’s saber and body moved as one, he swiftly charged forward.
Xu Ziling took all attacks behind Kou Zhong, so that Kou Zhong did not need to worry about any trouble in the rear.
The most formidable benefit was that whenever they were shaken by enemy that their qi and blood were churning, or perhaps they were out of strength at the end of a move, as long as Xu Ziling bumped his back against Kou Zhong’s, the two boys’ qi would complement each other, so that they were able to maintain their power throughout the battle.
Xu Ziling concentrated his true qi on his four limbs. With each clash of his limbs with the enemy’s weapon, he transmitted his power via the weapon, shaking the enemy that they were thrown back with depleted strength and fell to the ground.
This moment two spears attacked together from left and right, carrying with it a tornado-like wind, so that their breathing was somewhat restricted. Apparently the attackers were not ordinary warriors.
Xu Ziling stayed calm without the slightest sign of fear. Ignoring the many wounds on his body, his left hand swept backward, his right hand slapped straight on, meeting the opponent’s tidal-wave like surging spear rays; his technique was exquisite beyond imagination.
His right hand met the tip of the spear. The spear wielder staggered to the left and bumped into another spear wielder.
Xu Ziling had already snatched the man’s spear and thrust it to the man’s lower abdomen.
By the time the two men screamed miserably and fell to the ground, with the spear in his hand Xu Ziling walked backward behind Kou Zhong, creating millions of spear shadows, forcing the enemies to stagger, exposing a large area of empty space.
The seventh fishing line was still ten zhang away.
A crisp sound shook everybody present. At the same time, Xu Ziling felt Kou Zhong was slamming onto his back, and his internal energy penetrating Xu Ziling’s body.
Like a tidal wave the enemies surrounding them retreated. ‘On behalf’ of Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling used his internal energy to neutralize the enemy’s qi entering their bodies. And then turning around, he used the spear in his hand to attack the enemy who forced Kou Zhong back.
The enemy used his staff to sweep at the spear, parrying Xu Ziling’s attack. The staff’s momentum continued exerting heavy pressure on Xu Ziling, forcing both sides to take half a step back.
Both men were shocked. Surprisingly, the terrifying enemy did not seize this opportunity to press on; he withdrew three steps back instead, and then stood up holding his staff horizontally across his chest. Turned out it was a tall, ferocious bald monk wearing red Buddhist robe, with steel hoop around his forehead.
The ‘Evil Monk’ Fa Nan.
With him guarding the escape route, there was no way Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling would be able to reach the seventh fishing line.
Meanwhile more than a dozen layers of enemies already surrounded them. They had become the bird in a cage, the fish in the net, completely without any way out.
A cold snort followed by tender laughter came from behind.
And extremely seductive female’s voice said, “Fa Nan Bro [orig. ge er – brothers/boys, very informal]! You are glaring like a tiger watching his prey as if you want to swallow these two boys whole, how can they turn their heads around to admire nujia?”
Fa Nan’s huge eyes twinkled with laughter. He raised his heavy iron staff and put it on his shoulder. From one side he walked around to the other side, keeping his eyes on Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, sizing them up.
The two boys also slowly turned around, following Fa Nan with their eyes, there was no time to admire the ‘Amorous Nun’, until finally they came face to face with the one whose prestige shook the southern part of the country, whose reputation was second only to the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que, who was equally famous with Lin Shihong, the ‘Green Dragon’ Ren Shaoming, the target of their assassination mission.