Chapter 12 – Blood Stained Wasteland
Chapter 12 – Blood Stained Wasteland
Kou Zhong sped along the prairie. The drizzle had just stopped.
All around him were sword shadows and saber lights, with voices boiling over, while more and more torches appeared to illuminate the dark, just-before-dawn sky.
He succeeded in routing and destroying several groups of Li Family’s warriors’ sneak attacks, ambushes, and circuitous fighting style, and he was ruthless and showed no mercy, killing and injuring a large number of the opponent’s fighters. His clothes and his treasured saber were soaked with the enemies’, as well as his own, blood.
The worst thing was a spear that pierced him from behind on his right shoulder. Were it not at the last moment he applied his power to withstand it, the spear might have pierced through to his chest cavity. But even though he was able to dodge in time, the spear managed to enter about three cun into his body, injuring his muscle, so that he was forced to use his left hand to brandish the saber.
By this time he had already circulated his power to stop the bleeding, but it still gave him dull pain, hence the reason he decided that he had to run away to save his life. However, looking at the current situation, he knew that it was no more than a wishful thinking.
He could not help but reassess Li Yuanji’s ability and wisdom. Supposing the current movement of the Li Can’s warriors was under Li Yuanji’s command, then this man’s capability absolutely cannot be underestimated.
Without Kou Zhong anticipating it, he had laid out heavenly mesh, earthly net [i.e. inescapable net], planning on putting Xu Ziling and him to death at all cost. For this reason, Kou Zhong’s murderous intent flared out greatly, but his mind was as cool as usual, as he was constantly trying to save his strength, ready to dash out the siege to escape. Until now, he was still able to utilize the shenfa he had just mastered, repeatedly making the enemy unable to get a good grasp on how to surround him.
The moment he fell into the siege would be the moment of his death.
Suddenly there was a gust of wind ahead, a group of more than a dozen Li Family warriors flashed out from behind the tall grass, which was taller than ordinary people – and came face to face with him. Without making any sound Kou Zhong launched the ‘Striking Strange’ move first. His saber turned into a long rainbow, the person moved together with the saber.
It brushed past the man at the head of the opponent’s line. The man did not even have any chance to block. He only felt the saber light flashed and disappeared in an instant like a lightning, his vision turned black and he breathed his last, without even knowing where the saber has hit him.
This sliver of difference in term of reaction has decided the fate of this group of Li Clan’s martial art masters. By the time they strived to fight back, Kou Zhong, relying on the ingenious movement of positive and negative qi power within his body, using unfathomable shenfa, already flashed through their formation. Each step carried him into a gap in their formation, with fantastic layer upon layer of saber strike waves, which rendered them unable to neither defend nor attack. Each time they were going to attack, Kou Zhong already changed position, so that they attacked their own comrades instead.
A man, along with his ax, was hacked by Kou Zhong; he was lifted from the ground and was thrown nearly a zhang away. By the time he landed face down on the ground, he had turned into a dead body.
But this had affected the wound on Kou Zhong’s right shoulder. Feeling a sharp pain, Kou Zhong could not help slowing down. And this slight fault cost him another saber cut on his left thigh. From this, it was clear how intense the battle was.
Kou Zhong’s murderous intent flared out even higher. Taking a deep breath, the saber light increased sharply, immediately two men were hit; their weapons fell, they dropped to the ground, heavily injured and were unable to rise, greatly reducing the pressure on Kou Zhong.
Seeing how in the blink of an eye Kou Zhong killed four men in succession, so easily like snapping dried branch or pulling rotten stump, none of the enemies did not lose their courage. Three of them even separated themselves to evade his sharp blade, while releasing fireworks, hoping to summon help.
Inwardly Kou Zhong was well aware that he was just like an empty crossbow. On the surface he appeared to be occupying the advantageous position, but the fact was that he was unable to annihilate the remaining eleven men. Therefore, after sweeping his saber to chop on another man, he swiftly ran away. Several flashes and turns later, he left the pursuers far behind.
Sweeping his gaze around, he saw all four directions were full of torchlights, a clear sign that he had fallen deep inside the enemy’s net. The worst thing was that he did not know which direction would give him the most advantage.
If the morning light came, he would be without luck even more.
All of a sudden, from not too far ahead, more than a dozen torches were lit at the same time, so that his whereabouts was fully exposed.
Kou Zhong was shocked. Squinting his eyes, he looked toward the dazzling torchlight, and saw that the surrounding tall grass, covering as much as approximately twenty zhang area, was cut down, so that it became an open space with unobstructed view of the wilderness.
The place where the torches were raised high was actually the top of a small hill, which was full of shadows. The leader was wearing silver-colored warrior outfit. Standing among the Li Family warriors crowding around him, he looked especially prominent and eye-catching. Kou Zhong noticed that there was a thirty-, forty-percent resemblance between his face and Li Shimin; therefore, without needing to guess, he knew that the other party was Li Yuanji.
Compared to Li Shimin, his build was even more ferocious and tall and sturdy. But on his face, there was a sinister, frightening, malicious aura, which Li Shimin did not have. Therefore, although he could be considered heroic and mighty, in the end, he incurred other people’s dislike. He stood with a grave bearing, without-any-flaw-to-attack, holding his spear across his chest, with the elegance of a genuine martial art master.
As Kou Zhong was staring at him, his lightning-like gaze was also looking at Kou Zhong across the twenty-zhang open space. Laughing aloud, he said, “Kou Xiong is indeed out of the ordinary; Yuanji admires you very much. Watch for the arrows!”
As soon as the last sentence was out of his mouth, the more-than-a-hundred archers waiting in ambush inside the underbrush on Kou Zhong’s left and right swarmed out, the crossbows in their hands released the arrows at the same time.
‘Swish! Swish!’ Momentarily the sound of arrows piercing the air filled the heaven and the earth.
Kou Zhong unleashed his rapid shadow-shifting and breath-taking skill to the fullest. Suddenly he traversed nearly a zhang sideways to dodge the arrows.
The crossbows sounded again. There was another group of nearly a hundred archers hiding in the direction Kou Zhong was flashing to, who immediately shot their arrows toward him.
Inwardly Kou Zhong cried for his Niang, knowing that if he dodged again, he would sink into the gradually tightening enemy’s heavy siege. But no matter how outstanding his martial art skill was, how formidable his saber technique was, it would be very difficult to block hundreds of powerful arrows being shot from the crossbows.
In pressing danger, a man could be quick witted. First, he dropped to the ground, but about a cun before he touched the ground, he braced himself using both feet, and then staying close to the ground like that he flew forward, shooting like a cannonball toward the crowd of archers.
The arrows flitted above him like flying locusts; it was extremely terrifying.
The bugle horn sounded. The crowd of archers responded with a shout. After releasing the first round of arrows, they immediately scattered backward. From the tall grass behind them, more than twenty Li Family warriors swarmed out. With torrential momentum they met Kou Zhong head-on.
Suddenly on all four sides, eight directions were Li Yuanji’s family warriors and martial art masters; from the small hill and their hiding places they all closed in on Kou Zhong, while Li Yuanji himself remained calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, as he adopted the watching-the-fires-burning-across-the-river attitude.
By this time Kou Zhong already flew nearly five zhang away. Just before the group of more than twenty warriors, fully armed for hand-to-hand combat, swarming in, he pressed the ground with his hand and shot out.
Sweeping his gaze around, he saw that there were at least thirty, forty martial art masters heading toward him. The momentum disparity between he and the enemy was simply too wide; no matter how strong his fighting-will, he knew that he could not lightly test his skill with this battle.
Now was the only time to escape. If he got entangled, he would only end up dead.
The question was: where should he run?
His heart was moved, he pulled up his body, and unexpectedly he pounced toward the hill where Li Yuanji was standing.
The enemies were caught by surprise; they were all shouting and cursing repeatedly.
Li Yuanji’s countenance changed as well; shouting his order, more than a dozen warriors on his left and right moved together to attack downhill.
This has not only demonstrated Kou Zhong’s outstanding guts, it also showed his astonishing facing-death-did-not-get-confused intelligence.
Just because nobody, Li Yuanji included, would expect that he had the guts to attack the commander-in-chief position, which also happened to be the weakest point of the net hemming him in.
The strongest point is also the weakest point. It deeply corresponds with the Yijian Technique.
As long as he could pass through Li Yuanji, he would be able to escape from the gap on the net.
In the chaotic battle, the enemies’ originally the most threatening archers became completely useless.
As soon as Kou Zhong’s two feet touched the ground, he crashed his way through the gap between two enemy’s martial art masters. The enemies’ two men immediately spun around, their blood splashed, they fell to the ground. His Moon in the Well turned into yellow light again, it accurately pierced the space between another man’s eyebrows.
By the time that man took his last breath and fell, Kou Zhong did his utmost to reach out with his right hand and grabbed the pit of the man’s stomach, and hurled him up. The already-burning wound on the right side of his back immediately burst open, his blood gushed out. But Kou Zhong did not have time to worry about it. Pulling up his body, he flew past the enemies’ weapons.
Although he started later, he caught up with the enemy that he threw earlier, which was flying about five zhang in the air. Quick as lightning he grabbed the enemy’s ankle to use him as a stepping-stone and used this moment to raise his qi to give him power to change direction. Traversing the more-than-ten-zhang distance, he flew about four zhang above the ground over the heads of more than a dozen martial art masters pouncing down the hill, straight toward Li Yuanji, who was standing on top of the hill.
Li Yuanji let out a wild roar. The long spear in his hand turned into millions of shadows as he attacked with all his might.
‘Lucky!’ Kou Zhong cried inwardly.
If Li Yuanji disregarded his own safety and leaped up into the air to meet the attack head-on, he would be in the position of amassing-momentum-while-waiting, while Kou Zhong would be in the position of weary-after-the-prolonged-battle. The several feats he performed just now had nearly exhausted his true power, without having the opportunity to take a breather to restore his strength. The outcome of the battle would inevitably be he would be forced to fall back into the enemy’s heavy siege, and then he would be declared finished.
But Li Yuanji, although his spear technique was swift and fierce, showing his astonishing power – was evidently unwilling to take this risk.
Actually, it would be very difficult to blame him, because under normal circumstances, by staying on the ground in stable defensive position like this, he should have enough power to seal Kou Zhong’s way out. Who would have thought that Kou Zhong possessed the unique ability to rapidly shifting-shadow and taking-a-breath?
Kou Zhong abruptly took a breath, stretched out both hands to shock the air. While Li Yuanji could only stare blankly, Kou Zhong, like a big bat, appearing to be flying straight but was actually making a turn, flew around Li Yuanji, toward the slope behind him.
Tuli stumbled and fell; he rolled on the ground and was no longer able to crawl up.
Xu Ziling carried him out of the sparse forest to a more secluded part and helped him sit up properly. He then pressed his palm onto Tuli’s back and transferred whatever little true qi he had remaining in his body to help Tuli treating his injury.
After his qi had recovered somewhat, Tuli sighed and said, “Ziling, just go away!”
Xu Ziling pulled his palm back and spoke resolutely, “Don’t say such words.”
Tuli looked up to the sky. Just below the sun, there was a black dot circling in the air in such a peculiar way. Smiling ruefully, he said, “We have absolutely no way to break away from the enemy’s hawk following our trail from high altitude. In the end it will be difficult for us to escape and we’ll both die; it would be better if I lure the hawk away, in the future Ziling can still avenge me.”
Xu Ziling could feel that Tuli’s heroic spirit was broken and he was desperate. Shaking his head, he said with a smile, “It’s not that we have no way to deal with that thing, it’s just that the fortunate timing has not arrived yet. In fact, we already succeeded in leaving the enemy behind. Our top priority at present should be going into Xiangyang City and meet with Kou Zhong, there’s no point in talking about anything else.”
Tuli said, “In my current state, I don’t think we can reach Xiangyang in less than a day and half the night. The enemy will certainly catch up with us before then. Ay! Why don’t you just leave me here?”
Xu Ziling suddenly changed the subject, “Why would Kang Qiaoli join hands with Li Yuanji?”
Tuli was silent for a moment before replying, “This must be Xieli and Zhao Deyan’s malicious scheme to deal with the Li Family.”
Xu Ziling was taken aback.
Tuli went on, “Seeing the Li Clan’s power is gradually increasing, Xieli is worried, hence Zhao Deyan offered the tactic to split the Li Family apart; he changed his support to the Li Family’s crown prince Li Jiancheng, by helping him to resist Li Shimin. If they can remove Li Shimin, who is the Li Family’s most formidable and whose prestige is the grandest, the Li Clan’s power will crumble, the chaos in the Central Earth will continue, and then we will receive the fisherman’s benefit.”
Xu Ziling suddenly understood. But then, frowning, he said, “But it still does not explain why Li Yuanji dares to confront you openly.”
Smiling wryly, Tuli said, “Because I am the only opponent of this malicious scheme. I have deep friendship with Shimin Xiong, how could I turn my spear around to deal with him? Plus I am hoping that Shimin Xiong would win, so that he could help me contending against Xieli’s oppression. Inevitably Li Yuanji sees me as a thorn on his side.”
Xu Ziling actually only wanted to divert Tuli’s attention; who would have thought that he would hear such matter with far-reaching influence? It was quite half a day later that he said, “Come! We must be on our way.”
Tuli asked him instead, “Didn’t Ziling Xiong say that you have a way to deal with that beast in the sky? But did you say that the fortunate timing has not arrived yet?”
Xu Ziling whispered something in his ear. Immediately Tuli’s spirit was greatly aroused. Rising to his full height, he said, “If I can not die, why would I want to die? The enemies are still pursuing relentlessly anyway. I have an idea, perhaps we could even rendezvous with Kou Zhong earlier. At that time we can try Ziling Xiong’s ingenious plan.”
Kou Zhong was hiding in the mountain forest. Pushing the ten-thousand thoughts out of his mind, he strived to regulate his breathing as much as possible to recover his strength.
After escaping the enemy’s siege, he ran close to a hundred li nonstop, his legs were rushing intensely for two continuous sichen, in his deliberate attempt to deplete his true power until nothing was left.
It was a calculated risk. He estimated that if Li Yuanji’s men wanted to find him, who was an expert in running for his life, they would never be able to accomplish it in a short period of time; they might even lose track of him.
Broken and then standing, defeated and then succeeded.
The ‘Secret to Long Life’ combined with the Jade Annulus of He Clan have given him a fantastic innate true qi, precisely with this kind of astonishing characteristic.
He remembered the mortal-danger, escape-alive situation in the ocean, and then the hard battle against Song Que. In each occurrence, his power recovered faster than the previous time, which made him more determined to take this risk.
After sitting down for less than half a sichen, he already knew which correct method to use.
A stream of true qi rapidly coalesced. At first it was just a barely discernible gossamer, but it quickly converged into a flow, oscillating and agitating within his meridians, which made him pleasantly surprise at this new recovery.
And now, after nearly two sichen of regulating his breathing, he quickly found that the result was satisfactory. All the wounds on his body, big and small, were healing. Only his shoulder injury was too heavy, so it still gave him dull pain.
The sun already hovered above the western hills, and the temperature was gradually cooling down.
One more night of traveling, and tomorrow morning he would reach Xiangyang.
But hey! How about those two kids? How’s their luck?
Right this moment, he heard Tuli’s whistle coming from somewhere about seven, eight li to his left.