Chapter 10 – Verbal Sparring at the Pleasure House
Book 13 Chapter 10 – Verbal Sparring at the Pleasure House
Following the taut-faced Song Yuzhi, Kou Zhong went to the corridor on the third floor on the side opposite to the garden in the middle. The Song Clan beauty was standing leaning against the railing, as she spoke coldly, “You knew perfectly well that I was in the next room, yet you did not come to see me?”
Kou Zhong waited for a group of constantly-sizing-the-two-of-them-up Jianghu figures to pass by before sighing and said, “I was afraid to provoke you to anger, so I wanted to see the way the wind blows and the intensity of the fire first! Hey! Yu … hey! Miss Song, please calm down.”
Song Yuzhi cast her gaze far beyond Man Qing Yuan, toward Luoyang nightscape, which was ablaze with lights. Her beautiful hair fluttered in the night breeze; she looked as beautiful as the statue of a revered goddess. Moreover, from her perfectly straight and luxuriant hair, down to the bridge of her nose, people could feel her firm, strong and unyielding character, which also intensified her delicate and pretty, and haughty temperament.
With his flank leaning against the railing, Kou Zhong enjoyed the silhouette of her face from the side. Suddenly he remembered Li Xiuning, and his heart was burning with a feeling of guilt.
Song Yuzhi spoke indifferently, “These days my mood is not too good. But it has nothing to do with you, Kou Zhong. Ay! Why is it that bad people live longer than good people? At least you, Kou Zhong, is not dead yet!”
At first Kou Zhong was stunned, and then he laughed involuntarily and said, “With so many people want me dead, why aren’t Miss Song afraid people would push you over, and still come here to beat up the excitement? If Song San Xiaojie [third young lady] really loathes me, it is enough if you tell me so. Although my face cannot be considered thin, but it still has a certain thickness.”
A hint of smile escaped from Song Yuzhi’s small mouth; turning her pretty face around, she stared at him ferociously and said, “I do not loathe you; I hate you! I hate you for without any reason you came to disturb my heart. Now that it is clear that sooner or later Luoyang will fall into Li Mi’s hands, and according to the agreement I am going to marry into the Li family, was it for this reason that you did not dare to come to see me?”
Kou Zhong scooted over closer to her until he nearly bumped into Song Yuzhi’s tender body before he came to a halt. Giggling, he said, “One day Luoyang has not fallen into Luoyang’s hands, this matter has not been decided yet. What worries me is your honorable father, the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que, the Senior. Due to my humble origins, even if I found the treasure, he might refuse to accept me as his son-in-law.”
Song Yuzhi shifted her gaze back to where it was before; she said with a faint sigh, “After the battle of Jingling, who did not have a whole new level of respect for you and Xu Ziling? Even with Du Fuwei’s ability, plus his superior number of troops, the disabled troops under your command were still able to hold him off outside the broken city wall for more than ten days. The problem is not on my Die, rather, I basically do not want to marry you.”
Kou Zhong was stunned, “From your remark earlier, it was obvious that you had great affection for me. Could it be that it was fake?”
Song Yuzhi turned her pretty face toward him, her beautiful eyes stared deeply into his as she spoke with a cold sneer, “You are just a typical man; you don’t seem to get a straight understanding of a woman, or just always negligent, or presumptuous. If I did not care about you, I would have no wish to speak to you even half a word more. Do you know why I called you out?”
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, “Right! What is it?”
Stretching out her jade hand, Song Yuzhi poked his cheek lightly with the tip of her finger, and then said with a gentle smile, “Because I want to see whether you are more mature than before. But more importantly I do not wish for you to mess with Li Mi. It would be best if you hide far away. Because according to our secret information, the senior figure, martial art master from Nan Hai Pai, Huang Gongcuo is responding to Li Mi’s invitation, and is on his way to Luoyang. At that time, the first to suffer calamity will be you, two brothers. Li Mi has already guaranteed to my Die that he would not let you two leave Luoyang alive.”
Puzzled, Kou Zhong asked, “What kind of guy or thing is Huang Gongcuo?”
Unhappy, Song Yuzhi replied, “If you pick ten people from the Central Plains with the most overbearing martial art skill, Huang Gongcuo will definitely be one; I dare say that he is probably in the top five. Do you know now?”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “The world can’t possibly be always the same. Dynasties will change, much less the ranking of martial art masters? In the past, you can randomly pick anybody and he would be able to beat us, one falling down on our face, the other falling flat on our back. But those days are gone. Don’t you see that we are still alive and well? This old man Huang can’t possibly be more formidable than Yin Gui Pai, can he?
Her countenance changed, Song Yuzhi asked, “You have messed with Yin Gui Pai?”
Kou Zhong laughed calmly and said, “Not messing up with them, just fighting to the bitter end [orig. you die, I live] with them. Otherwise, I can’t possibly see you tonight. Hee …! Can you say some good things for me? Then even when I die, I could bring some beautiful and happy memory to the netherworld to become a ghost there.”
Song Yuzhi reached out with her fingers and vigorously jabbed his chest twice. With a slight anger in her voice she said, “Your Miss here will never say anything untrue to my convictions. My warning, you did not want to listen. So be it! I am leaving!”
Kou Zhong deftly grabbed her jade arm and pulled her to his side.
Song Yuzhi struggled slightly and spoke crossly, “Don’t pull my hand or my leg, turn around and leave, Die might send someone to kill you.”
Kou Zhong whispered in her ear, “Believe it or not, you are going to marry me!”
Song Yuzhi protested coquettishly, “You are boasting shamelessly and acting recklessly!”
Kou Zhong smiled and left.
He was still perhaps four doors away from his own door when the door of the room just ahead was suddenly flung open, and two shadows flashed out of the room, blocking Kou Zhong’s path.
These two men looked alike, only their heights were different, their ages were about forty, and both had the same ugly nose. Some kind of weird ashen color emanated from their skin, giving the impression that the martial art they trained must be of some strange, demonic school.
Even when they were still about a zhang away, Kou Zhong already felt their murderous spirit pressing down on him.
Slightly shivering inwardly, Kou Zhong halted his steps.
The tall one’s eyes shot a deep, cold murderous intent, while putting up a ridiculous self-importance air on his face. Casting a sidelong glance at Kou Zhong, he said, “This is called there is a path to paradise you didn’t take, there is no door to the netherworld you insist on breaking through. Kid, you did not look for a rat hole to hide, but swaggered over like this; you must be tired of living.”
As soon as he opened his mouth, Kou Zhong recognized the voice as the laoda [first, oldest] of the ‘Two Malevolent of Changbai’, Fu Zhen.
The other man, the short one, must be Fu Yan.
Although Kou Zhong knew that these two men’s power was close to Li Mi, he remained calm and was not afraid at all. Pretending to be surprised, he said, “Don’t you know Wang Bo is here tonight? If you don’t tuck your tail and flee to the wilderness as soon as you can, I am afraid even Li Mi will find it hard to protect you!”
Fu Zhen did not show the slightest bit of anger; he was surprised and said, “Good kid! Unexpectedly you know who we are. Since that be the case, you ought to also know that we fear nobody, why still spoke such nonsense?”
Seeing he could not get them to lose their temper, Kou Zhong pressed one step forward, laughed aloud and said, “Since you fear nobody, then there is no need to run away all the way from Changbai to here. Let Ol’ Kou see whether the skill of your hands is as strong as your glib tongue!”
Together Fu Zhen, Fu Yan let out a ‘hey hey’ cold laugh, while their eyes shot ominous glint.
By having a face off at the corridor like this, they had practically blocked the traffic; on either side behind them immediately piled up maids and the incoming guests who could neither advance nor retreat. The situation was rather chaotic.
This moment a man stepped out from Fu Zhen, Fu Yan’s room. Glowering at Kou Zhong, he thundered, “Just now, what did you and the Ol’ Li’s fiancée [orig. wife who has not pass through the door] talk about?”
Surprisingly, it was Li Mi’s son, Li Tianfan.
Kou Zhong swept him with his gaze; laughing heartily, he said, “All the Jiejie and Meimei in this place are my, Kou Zhong’s fiancée [see above]. I wonder which one was Li Xiong talking about?”
Everybody, no exception, was stunned and rose into an uproar.
“Rubbish!” a female voice protested coquettishly, “Who’s your wife? Who’d want to marry a man like you?”
Kou Zhong took a closer look; his eyes lit up at once.
The speaker was a young woman wearing a very elegant tight black warrior outfit, with black belt and black trimming, but with red silk overalls on the outside. While speaking, she revealed a neat row of snow-white teeth. Her stature petite and nimble, her jade countenance carried some kind of as-cold-as-ice-and-frost beautiful lines, yet although she was calm, her face appeared vivid and lively; her overall demeanor was very charming. Something that when one saw her for the first time, the impression was youthful beauty, but the longer he looked the more he saw her strange and fascinating character.
Kou Zhong immediately recognized her voice; roaring in laughter, he said, “Miss Dugu Feng said it well. If those who have not passed through the door can be considered wife, wouldn’t the land under the heavens be thrown into big confusion?”
When the crowd, including Li Tianfan and the Two Malevolent of Changbai, suddenly heard the name Dugu Feng [reminder: this is the ‘phoenix’ Feng], they all craned their neck to look at Dugu Feng, who was standing behind the crowd of people.
Dugu Feng actually came to give the three some problem, but unexpectedly in just a few words Kou Zhong already recognized her and announced her name to the world. Moreover, she realized that under this kind of circumstances it would be hard to make her move. Thereupon she only smiled, turned around, and left.
A majestic voice rang out from behind Kou Zong, “Li Gongzi and two Fu Laoshi [teacher], please give us, Man Qing Yuan, a bit of face. If you have anything, please go outside the Courtyard to deal with it!”
Obviously this man had been observing them for a while, hence he knew that it was Li Tianfan and the others who created the disturbance first, and thus spoke up to advise them.
Li Tianfan also knew that this was not a good time to fight. Throwing his head back in loud laughter, he led Fu Zhen and Fu Yan back to their room.
When Kou Zhong was back in his room, Ba Fenghan was sitting in silence, while Xu Ziling was standing in front of the balcony’s railing, looking up to the heavens. With the sleeve of his robe fluttered in the wind, there was an indescribably proud, above-the-crowd aura surrounding him.
Chapter 10 - Part 2
Seeing him coming back, Ba Fenghan laughed and said, “Let me see your face, I want to know if there is an additional palm print from Song San Xiaojie.”
Kou Zhong sat down across the table from Ba Fenghan; as if he was a tired and weary soldier he stared at Ba Fenghan first, and then turned his gaze at Xu Ziling’s back before whining, “Just now I was in trouble outside that even Man Qing Yuan nearly collapsed, yet the two of you did not come out to lend a hand; so much for one lifetime two brothers. Ay! This is called ‘human feeling changes daily like the weather’, the hypocrisy of the world.”
Ba Fenghan cackled and said, “Zhong Shao, did you really fight with your hands? If it was only duel of words, why must you need anybody else’s help?”
With his back still facing Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling spoke coldly, “We were hoping they would make their move, so we deliberately did not go out, so that they would have no apprehension.”
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “I was just kidding. Uh! Where were we? Beauties are really no good, it’s so easy for them to make us forget things.”
“Don’t play dumb,” Ba Fenghan said, “Have you thought about the brilliant scheme to deal with Shangguan Long yet?”
Slapping his forehead, Kou Zhong put on an act, “Ah! Now I remembered!”
Suddenly sitting up straight, he thundered, “Shangguan Long, where are you? Zhu Yuyan chose you to be Yin Gui Pai’s undercover agent in Luoyang, you ought to know a thing or two. If you dare, come out to fight to the death immediately!”
These words were pushed out by his spiraling energy, and immediately spread out to every nook and corner of the four three-story buildings of the Tingliu Pavilion.
Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling also acted strange; it was as if they did not hear Kou Zhong’s beyond-all-expectations words at all, they both maintained their original posture and facial expression.
Around the Tingliu Pavilion, all noises gradually died down. By the time Kou Zhong finished speaking the third sentence, it was ‘the crow and peacock made no sound’, ‘they could hear the pin drop’ kind of quietness.
Hundreds and thousands of eyes from all the rooms on the left and right, as well as the building across the garden, were looking at the direction of their room.
After a keyed-up and suffocating silence, a dignified, but with matchless gentleness and reservation, male voice came up from the floor beneath them, “Just for your super-annoying remark that made me want to throw up blood, I, Shangguan Long, will never let you off.”
Xu Ziling coldly spoke up, “There are three of us here, you can pick any one you wish. But this preferential treatment is only given to Yin Gui Pai demon, because each and every one of you is guilty and worthy of death.”
His voice spread far and wide without being overbearing, it was resounding but not sharp, and was clearly heard by each meeting participant’s ear.
Kou Zhong’s plan was indeed very brilliant; he exposed Shangguan Long’s identity on the spot, so that nobody dared to interfere.
In this ‘riding a tiger and unable to get off’ situation, Shangguan Long could only straighten his back and get out to fight.
Furthermore, Xu Ziling’s words were as sharp as a sword. If he could not control himself and flare out in anger, it would be tantamount to indirect admission that everybody was Yin Gui Pai demon who was guilty and worthy of death.
Qu Ao’s voice rang out from the same place. It was an ear-splitting laughter first, followed by a shout, “This is called traveling far and wide looking for you, only to find it easily here. Kou kid and Xu kid, come down together! It will save me from making my move twice, plus I could use some warming up before the actual battle.”
Qu Ao was worthy to be an old fox; just with a few words he managed to suppress the momentum they created earlier completely down.
Ba Fenghan cackled and said, “Qu Ao, you are mine, Ba Fenghan’s. But don’t you wish for preferential treatment like Shangguan Bangzhu, you won’t get it!”
This remark was extremely harsh; a roar of laughter rose up from the four multi-storied buildings all around, greatly diluting the tense atmosphere [orig. with swords drawn and bows bent].
Even with his level of cultivation, Qu Ao still unable to curb his temper; he shouted angrily, “Ba Fenghan, if you leave Man Qing Yuan alive tonight, I, Qu Ao, will start writing my name backward.”
Again the crowd fell silent.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “This is really strange. Last time you, Old Qu, fighting one-on-one, did not have enough power to fix Fenghan Xiong, why now you suddenly have the power? Is it because writing your name backward will give you a fresh feeling? But now is still not your, laoxiong’s turn to fight, because just now in a finger-guessing game I beat Ba Fenghan. Therefore, Shangguan Bangzhu ought to draw the straw first.”
Qu Ao was speechless, which made other people aware that the rumor that Qu Ao has indeed never won against Ba Fenghan was confirmed to be true. Therefore, without anybody needed to mention it, the shock in his heart was conceivable.
It should be noted that although Qu Ao’s prestige was still below that of ‘Wu Zun’ [Revered Martial Art] Bi Xuan, whose name dominated the area outside the country, but the difference was very little.
On the other hand, although Ba Fenghan was an outstanding figure whose name soared like a comet within the Wulin world inside and outside the Central Plains in recent years, he was, after all, only an up-and coming youngster.
It would be difficult to compare him with Qu Ao, a figure of great-scholar-respected-for-learning-and-integrity level, who had made his name for several decades.
Therefore, when Kou Zhong said that while fighting one-on-one he was going all-out yet still failed to put Ba Fenghan in order, the sensation he created would set the world on fire.
This moment Qu Ao was compelled to suffer in silence; if he denied it, he would be speaking big, but if he did not deny it, he did not know where to hang his face.
Fu Zhen’s grating voice came from the neighboring room on the same third floor, “Qu Laoshi pities you being young and inexperienced; therefore, he let the three of you off, yet you don’t know how to be grateful. It is extremely ridiculous.”
Astounded, Kou Zhong replied, “Fu Laoshi, your invisibility skill must be ten thousand times more superior than your tracking-of-missing-people skill; otherwise, how come with Old Qu and Old Ba, two men’s level of cultivation, they still did not know that you were spying upon them nearby? Even such a subtle situation like ‘being young and inexperience’, you were able to see clearly to the finest detail [orig. seeing clearly the downy feather of autumn, an idiom from Mencius]. Whoever dares not to submit to you?”
The sound circled around the vast empty space surrounding the four multi-storied buildings and the empty air above the fishpond garden area, which immediately triggered another wave of roaring laughter.
Naturally there were also people who worried for Kou Zhong, three people, who were offending many different powers all at once, which was definitely not a fun thing to do.
Bu Fu Zhen was immediately silenced.
He could not say that he was really spying on them, could he? But if he said ‘no’, he had no qualification whatsoever to make the remark he had just said.
A burst on intense applause came from the room on the opposite end of the building, and then Liu Heita’s voice was heard, “Well said. I, Liu Heita, have a question, however, which is why did Kou Xiong believe that Shangguan Bangzhu’s other secret identity was to be Yin Gui Pai demon?”
The Tingliu Pavilion fell silent again.
Before Kou Zhong had the chance to answer, Shangguan Long interjected, “Clear is clear; if hereby someone came to slander me, don’t blame me, Shangguan Long, for not showing mercy.”
From a room on the third floor of the building to the left came a cold snort, followed by someone said with a sneer, “Since ‘clear is clear’, why afraid someone will say it?”
Kou Zhong clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “Now that is indeed well said. May I ask this friend’s honorable surname and great given name? I want to see if Shangguan Bangzhu will dare to look for you to give you a hard time.”
The man laughed aloud and said, “I am Xing Yifei, Fu Qian Wangzi’s [prince/son of a king] Captain of the Vanguard Regimen. I have arrived one step ahead of him. Shangguan Bangzhu, please do not forget.”
The crowd immediately booed.
A buzzing noise arose, just like tidal waves going up and down.
Just by looking at the heroic spirit of Fu Qian’s subordinate, his own power and prestige could be clearly seen.
While Shangguan Long was put on the spot, Kou Zhong issued another challenge, “Before Miss Shang’s performing troupe beat the gong to open their show, would Shangguan Bangzhu be interested in playing one round with Xiaodi, to relieve the noble guests on the four sides’ boredom?”
A tender and sweet female voice cheerfully said, “That was very pleasant to listen to. Kou Zhong, you are the best at stirring up my delight!”
The crowd rose up in another uproar.
In this era, although the barbarian’s wind was blowing to the east and the general mood was much more open, but a girl blatantly reveal her affection under public event where several hundred people gathered, was still universally shocking.
Chapter 10 - Part 3
Stranger still, when this girl was flaunting her skill, her voice, carried by her internal energy, moved indeterminately to the east and to the west, floating without any fixed pattern, so that it was difficult to determine her position.
Ba Fenghan rolled his eyes; muttering under his breath, he said, “Here we go again!”
Naturally Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew what he meant, because that voice belonged to Chunyu Wei.
No need to mention, Tuoba Yu must have arrived as well.
Just like a hanging-boots ghost, they were always following Ba Fenghan.
From the lower level of the building to their right, an old-sounding voice said, “I am Qi Bazhou of the ‘Luoyang Eight Scholars’, this time knowing that Shi Lang [Minister Shi, not sure who that is] is holding a hero feast at Tingliu Pavilion, it was laofu who is in charge of making arrangement in everything. Since Wanggong has not arrived, laofu ought to be entitled to say a few words.”
This man spoke with pride of his old age and experience, and relying only on his age. Listening to him, the crowd felt that it was a time-wasting nuisance.
Kou Zhong sprang up and shouted, “There’s not much time. Shangguan Long, do you still want to be the turtle who shrinks its head?”
Sweeping over to Xu Ziling’s side, he leaped up and made three somersaults in succession, over the more than ten zhang empty space, and landed on the pool wall on the other edge of the pond in the middle.
There was a thunderous applause and cheer.
Kou Zhong stood proudly, lifting his head high, and raising his cupped fist to salute, which immediately provoked another wave of cheers.
Xu Ziling swept his gaze around; he saw the several hundred people in all the rooms stood up one after another and moved toward the railings of their respective balcony to have a better look at Kou Zhong’s elegant manner. Turning toward Ba Fenghan, he said with a laugh, “This kid is so impressive. Unexpectedly he snatched away Fenghan Xiong’s leading style.”
Ba Fenghan’s eyes shone with spirited flashes; he looked at Kou Zhong in the middle of the garden, shook his head and said with a sigh, “If I were Shangguan Long, I won’t meet the enemy head-on, no matter what.”
Xu Ziling nodded in agreement.
This moment, a sudden shout like a thunder scorching flat ground rang out, followed by a shadow flashing. Shangguan Long finally showed himself on the arena, landed on the gravel path about three zhang away from the fishpond. He stood opposite Kou Zhong, separated by the pond, with a steel staff with dragonhead in his hand, in such an imposing manner.
This Luoyang Gang Leader appeared to be around fifty years of age, he had a pair of protruding ears, his stature was not tall, yet he exuded an overbearing and tough impression. He was gorgeously attired, but his face looked pale, with puffy eyes, so that those with discerning eye could easily see that he had been indulging himself in wine and women for a long time.
This moment his eyes shot vicious look as he spoke with a cold snort, “You say I am Yin Gui Pai man, what evidence do you have?”
Voices gradually subsided.
Everybody was holding their breath, waiting to hear Kou Zhong’s answer.
Although there were a thousand Sects [pai] and ten thousand schools [men] in Jianghu, in term of evil reputation, nobody surpassed Yin Gui Pai.
Not only because their members were sinister and were used to savage method, but also because the way they trained was heretical, which was very different from the internal energy cultivation method and the xinfa of orthodox schools. Therefore, Jianghu people disdained them, it’s just that they were incapable to deal with them!
If Kou Zhong was able to confirm Shangguan Long’s true identity, he could forget to have his subordinates’ support as the Gang Leader.
Kou Zhong drew the Moon in the Well, and laughed aloud, “You want evidence? That is easy. If within ten moves I am unable to force Shangguan Bangzhu to reveal the cloven foot [i.e. unmask one’s true nature], the Ol’ Kou will pour a cup of tea to admit my mistake to Bangzhu.”
Shangguan Long immediately breathed a sigh of relief.
He thought that even though Kou Zhong’s move was extremely brilliant, it definitely would not work on him.
In order to conceal his devilish skill, these past ten years or so he had painstakingly trained new martial art, creating ‘Ying Feng Zhang Fa’ [Facing-The-Wind Staff Technique], which had 102 styles. If Kou Zhong thought that within ten moves he could force him to expose his tail, it was no more than lunatic ravings.
From Bian Bufu and Wanwan’s lips he already had a clear idea of the depth of Kou Zhong’s skill. Upon self-inspection, he was confident he would be able to withstand about a hundred of Kou Zhong’s moves, and even had a chance of victory.
Shangguan Long stomped his dragonhead staff to the ground, creating a shockwave like a muffled thunder, so that the entire garden seemed to be shaking a little bit.
Nobody ever expected that his power was this profound; they could not help feeling worry for Kou Zhong.
In the room upstairs, Ba Fenghan spoke in astonishment, “Zhong Shao seems to be too full of himself.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “Our skill will be forced out, Zhong Shao must have his way.”
Shangguan Long’s laugh filled the sky above the garden; after repeatedly saying “Good!” he said, “Kou Zhong, don’t you renege on your own words. Do it!”
Finally verbal sparring has turned into decisive battle.