Because Kou Zhong was afraid that Ning Daoqi might stop him, he tried to minimize the time between he got out of the boat and into the water as much as possible. When he was still sitting at the stern, he already made the plan; what he wanted was the convenience of going into the water as soon as he threw his head back. Who would have thought that the moment he was falling backward, the boat suddenly sank? By the time he cried inwardly, ‘Not good!’ his head and shoulders were, surprisingly, still on the plank of the stern. Turned out in that instant the boat suddenly moved against the current several chi backward, accurately catching him back into the boat. Because the boat was sinking, his body was suddenly high up in the air, and thus he was unable to exert his strength, and ‘Bang!’ he fell headlong onto the aft of the boat, in an extremely sorry state.
His miserable plight did not stop there. The moment the boat was hit, it generated an abundant, unfathomable reaction force, shocking him so that he was seeing stars and unable to tell directions. He nearly fainted, except for lucky for him the newly-acquired primordial essence from the Relics was helping him so that his foundation was substantially deepened; otherwise, this miscalculation would be enough to make him failing and being wiped over the floor.
Kou Zhong ferociously clenched his teeth, both palms struck out fast as lightning to hit the stern. Immediately he shot out at an angle into the air, with his head down and feet up. Right this moment, like a beam of wind, Ning Daoqi’s gentle yet irresistible qi power blew over. Unable to evade at all, Kou Zhong had no choice but to activate the true qi protecting his body to take this attack head-on.
He was like a dead leaf being blown by a gale; refusing to obey its master, his body was spinning continuously in the air, as he was thrown far away into the distance.
Although Kou Zhong was dizzy and his body ached and felt numb from the strike, instead of scared, he was happy, thinking that as long as he could get into the water, even ten Ning Daoqi pursued into the water, he would still have a chance to escape. However, in just a blink of the eye, he discovered that his way of thinking was very wrong. Turned out although he was thrown far away from the small boat, he was actually being thrown onto the shore.
This was simply not possible. The small boat was coming from the west, facing east; he should have been thrown into the water, but the iron-clad truth before his eyes was that the skill with which Ning Daoqi controlled the boat, as well as his martial art, which had reached perfection, were really beyond his expectation, so that unexpectedly all his schemes were completely silent.
As Kou Zhong’s feet landed on the shore, his back happened to face the river, and qi power rolled up from behind.
This moment he was sore all over, so he did not dare to resist, promptly he raised his qi and in panic, without choosing where to go, he simply soared toward the slope in front of him, to evade this calamity first before thinking about his next scheme.
Who would have thought that Ning Daoqi’s qi power was like a maggot attached to the bones? No matter how he moved, flashed, or leaped, it always threatened his back, neither too close nor too far from him, straight out for nearly ten li, through the mountains and over the forests, the situation still did not change the slightest, he even lacked the opportunity to look back. This kind of useless, helpless feeling really did not need to be mentioned.
If he let this situation continued, his true energy would be wasted like a lantern with the oil drying up, and he would end up falling to the ground and would be taken prisoner.
Racking his brains, Kou Zhong suddenly increased his speed to rush toward a hill. Like stocks and chain attached to his body, Ning Daoqi’s qi power followed wherever he went. As soon as the true qi protecting his body weakened, or his speed slowed down, it would definitely attack to make him throwing up blood and falling to the ground, absolutely without any good luck.
When martial art masters were vying against one another, one move would make a difference. From the moment Kou Zhong threw his body backward into the water, he had made miscalculations everywhere, and thus had fallen into an absolute disadvantageous situation, to such an extent as to be trapped in the current difficult situation.
Kou Zhong mused that whether he was a dragon or a snake, it would soon be clear in the next moment. With both feet fiercely pushed the ground, he soared toward the top of the hill.
From behind, Ning Daoqi pursued like a shadow attached to the shape.
Kou Zhong pushed forward silently. Suddenly he exchanged a mouthful of true qi, and executed the technique to fly backward, miraculously flying toward the bend on his left.
His body suddenly lightened, finally he broke away from Ning Daoqi’s threat.
Kou Zhong was well aware that his success was due mostly to it has caught Ning Daoqi off guard, but it was just like the night-blooming cactus shows once [idiom: short-lived], hence he did not dare to slow down. His right hand pulled the Moon in the Well on his back, he hacked backhandedly toward Ning Daoqi.
Saber blade was everywhere, producing an explosion of qi power clashing against each other, like a muffled thunder.
‘Close call!’ Kou Zhong cried inwardly, knowing that he just happen to meet Ning Daoqi’s astonishing qi power that was changing direction. Although he was shocked by the impact that the numbness in his arm invaded straight toward his shoulder, he was still in ecstasy, just like encountering a drop of sweet dew after a long drought. Hastily he took advantage of the reaction force to fly back, and landed on the grassy land outside the slope of the hill.
Still appearing to be unhurried, Ning Daoqi descended down from the sky, looking exactly like an immortal.
Without waiting for him to steady his footing, Kou Zhong let out a loud shout, his person following his saber, he unleashed the ‘Striking Strange’ of the ‘Eight Methods of the Well’. The Moon in the Well turned into a streak of yellow light, fast as lightning it hacked down onto Ning Daoqi.
While still sweeping across the sky, the Moon in the Well drew a beautiful arc that was beyond any vulgar world could create, while also continuously made subtle changes; exquisite, splendid, brilliant and varied, it attacked the grandmaster, the chief in the Central Plains’ martial art study of this generation.
Blown by the concentrated saber wind, Ning Daoqi’s hair and beard fluttered, the sleeves of his robe danced in the wind, his face revealed a grave expression, his body suddenly generated subtle, mysterious, and amazing changes that no pen and ink would be able to describe. It appeared that his two sleeves were raising their head up, suddenly his sparkling-and-translucent-like-jade hand shot out of his left sleeve, his fingertips closed up casually, as it swept across the blade of Kou Zhong’s saber.
Instantly Kou Zhong’s offensive dissipated completely, while at the same time his body was sent spinning outward. He was only able to stop after three spins, about five zhang away from Ning Daoqi, where he stood holding the saber across his chest.
Ning Daoqi acted like what he had just done was not worth mentioning; stroking his beard, he revealed a smile on his face, and spoke slyly, “Shaoshuai has indeed received the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que’s instruction. The saber strike has obtained his spirit and marrow to the greatest extent. Rarer still, it could produce a different essential, which also presents Laofu with a difficulty.”
Kou Zhong seized the opportunity to circulate his qi and regulate his breathing. He said, “What difficulty might Ning Dashi possibly have? Are you afraid that after getting rid of me, Song Que might look for you to settle the account?”
Laughing involuntarily, Ning Daoqi said, “All along Song Que Xiong is unwilling to let Laofu off, too bad he does not have any excuse. This will certainly be one of the misgivings, but it’s still nothing that worries Laofu.”
Astonished, Kou Zhong said, “In that case, it’s hard to know what the problem is; I’d like to hear the details.”
With his hands behind his back, Ning Daoqi looked up at the bright moon in the sky; tranquil and calm, he said, “The problem is that Shaoshuai’s saber technique already reached the expert level where the skill enters The Way, able to transform complex into simple, appearing clumsy but actually skillful. Thinking back to Laofu in the past, it was also after I was forty years old that I started to reach this accomplishment. Even if Shaoshuai has no relationship with Taoist school, how could Laofu be without any compassion toward a talent? Shaoshuai’s mastery is indeed beyond Laofu’s estimation.”
A sublime respect toward this pinnacle among the martial art masters welled up in Kou Zhong’s heart; only this kind of broad-minded spirit was worthy to be called the number one figure in the Central Earth. Smiling ruefully, he said, “If Qianbei is still thinking about advising the kid to wash my hands and retire, it would be best to save your breath.”
Ning Daoqi smiled and said, “Shaoshuai already expressed your true feeling, how could Laofu nag endlessly? Laofu is nearly a hundred years old; over the past thirty years I already lost the desire to show off my might and strive for victory. This time I am undertaking this task, it is really not what I wished for. Shaoshuai’s flying-back technique, where did you learn it from? This was the first time that Laofu witness it.”
Kou Zhong modestly replied, “This technique, half was inspired by the Western Tujue Guoshi, the Persian Yun Shuai, half came from our own creation.”
Ning Daoqi shook his head and sighed lightly; he said, “The saying there is a person beyond a person is not erroneous at all; were it not for Shaoshuai understood this uncanny feat, perhaps you would have fallen and be captured early on, saving Laofu a lot of energy. Let’s speak less idle talk, Shaoshuai, please make your move!”
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, “I had better ask you, the Senior, to bestow instruction first! Frankly speaking, I had wanted to make my move all along, too bad I never found the opportunity; this is extremely difficult to bear.”
Ning Daoqi laughed aloud and said, “No wonder Feixuan has never been able to deal with you ruthlessly, all because your frankness really provokes other’s delight, makes changes in other people’s heart. Please forgive Laofu for being impolite then!”
The refined light in Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes flared greatly, his spine straightened, his shoulders opened up, displaying his formidable-without-equal confidence. From head to foot he emitted unyielding, focused, strong and solid momentum. “Qianbei, please,” he spoke heavily.
With his hands behind his back, Ning Daoqi took a large stride to the left.
Kou Zhong was greatly shocked.
It should be noted that from the beginning he had been using his momentum to lock Ning Daoqi tightly. This moment he even excited his saber qi to shoot out. If the opponent was making any movement, under the pulling force of the qi, he would immediately provoke Kou Zhong’s violent offensive. Who would have thought that Ning Daoqi’s simple step unexpectedly was able to shift the focus of the entire field of qi opposing him, so that even when Kou Zhong wanted to attack, he simply was unable to; furthermore, he was immediately falling into the inferior position.
Just like in a wrestling match, one person was suddenly twisted by the opponent that his body was askew to one side; he had the strength but was unable to use it.
Ning Daoqi smiled and said, “Shaoshuai, please be careful!”
One sleeve suddenly flicked out.
Right in front of Kou Zhong’s eyes, the sleeve flared out; unexpectedly he was unable to see Ning Daoqi’s figure and his footwork. Originally the robe and the sleeves were floating lightly, but suddenly it turned into a slender, sparkling and translucent immortal hand, but as for why it was divine, he could not describe it.
Kou Zhong had no other choice but to move sideways and brandish his saber to block.
The hand and the saber changed against each other, finally the edge of the palm and the blade of the saber, without any fancy move, without anything fake, met head-on.
Kou Zhong let out a stifled groan; he was jolted by the impact that he staggered backward, his qi and blood were churning, and he groaned inwardly. If he were forced to ferociously stake his all against Ning Daoqi just like this, with the opponent having nearly a hundred years of power, in less than a dozen moves he would end up throwing away his saber and admit defeat.
But Ning Daoqi pulled his attacking hand behind his back again, he did not follow up the victory and press home the attack. “Just now Laofu was not being lenient,” he spoke glibly, “Shaoshuai could still meet Laofu’s strike head on; it is indeed hard to believe.”
Suddenly, without warning, he stepped closer again, his left palm cut across Kou Zhong’s throat. It was obviously a plain, nothing-special, not-in-the-least-fancy style, but executed by this grandmaster, there was an indeterminate change, so that the opponent was overwhelmed by an unfathomably mind-blowing feeling.
But it was as if Kou Zhong already knew that he was going to attack like that; with adequate preparation, he used clumsiness to control clumsiness, the heavy saber blade appeared to be light, floating emptily like it was without any strength it swiftly moved forward in a poking movement.
Vortex of energy shot out. Caught off guard, unexpectedly Ning Daoqi was unable to unleash his full power, it was difficult for him to seize the opportunity to pursue and attack, and thus he let Kou Zhong evading away.
Kou Zhong slightly arched his back, his pair of eyes emitted fierce and severe gaze, with his saber blade he pointed at this terrifying big enemy. Like a leopard fixing his eyes on the enemy, he spoke heavily, “Please forgive this kid for being impolite.”
It was only this moment that he was barely able to level the playing field, how could he be willing to miss this golden opportunity to press in?
Yet with one hand behind his back, Ning Daoqi stretched out the other hand in front, with all the fingers together like he was greeting with one palm, he stood as steady as the lofty mountain, so that others would get a feeling that it was difficult to sway him the least bit. Immediate he broke Kou Zhong’s ‘No Attack’.
Kou Zhong let out a long whistle, the Moon in the Well hacked down into the thin air; it was precisely the ‘Chess Abundant’ of the ‘Eight Methods of the Well’, which he created based on Yijian Technique.
For the first time Ning Daoqi revealed an astonished look. Such a strange move, it was the first time that he encountered it. He pulled his palm back so that it was just in front of his chest, seemingly moving yet not exactly moving, mysterious and strange, profound to the extreme point.
Kou Zhong was totally unable to grasp his foundation. The ‘Chess Abundant’ could not continue, he immediately changed it to the sixth method, the ‘Battle Decision’. The saber momentum was launched, like Yangtze River, Yellow River, it rolled toward Ning Daoqi.
Ning Daoqi only used one hand to meet the attack. Confident and at ease, he casually pushed, swept, waved, hacked, without the slightest bit of fancy move, yet the defense line was so tight that it was hard for Kou Zhong’s thunder to cross over the pond even for half a step, rendering Kou Zhong’s mercury-flowing-out-swiftly-over-the-ground style offensive completely ineffective.
Inside the bubble of the saber light, two human figures, fast as lightning, moved their forms and exchanged their positions, advancing and retreating, rising and falling, in a dizzying speed.
Ning Daoqi’s palm chopped down heavily on the back of Kou Zhong’s saber, shocking him to retreat nearly ten steps back.
Looking up to the sky, Ning Daoqi sighed and said, “If Shaoshuai had Ziling traveling together with you, even Laofu would be unable to deal with the two of you.”
Wiping the bloodstain at the corner of his mouth, Kou Zhong’s fighting spirit soared as he said, “Why did Qianbei use only one hand?”
Raising his thumb, Ning Daoqi praised him, “Shaoshuai is indeed an exceptional hero; not only you dare to raise this issue, you even implied I am to blame for this. Laofu is not afraid to explain it clearly; this is the condition that Laofu agreed to Feixuan when she asked me to deal with you. If I had a choice, how could Laofu be willing to be enemies with you?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Thank you very much Qianbei for cherishing me. But please get rid of this condition that binds Qianbei’s hands and feet, so that this kid can experience Qianbei’s brilliant skill.”
Ning Daoqi cheerfully said, “One hand or two hands, for Laofu, the difference is really not much. In the battle tonight, the benefit Laofu gain is really not shallow, simply because we are of similar Way and of the same source, so that I can learn through experience the essence of the ‘Secret to Long Life’ from Shaoshuai.”
Astounded, Kou Zhong said, “I didn’t think Qianbei would learn anything from me? No wonder Qianbei did not seem to use all your strength.”
This time it was Ning Daoqi’s turn to reveal a bitter smile; he said, “Shaoshuai is wrong. I really already spared no effort. The problem is that I cannot thoroughly use killer moves against you, thereupon I have to leave some leeway everywhere. Shaoshuai’s will is very strong, your essence and qi are flourishing, that is something that Laofu rarely see in all my life.”
Kou Zhong spoke in delight, “If Qianbei cannot heartlessly kill me, I am afraid you will have to allow me to leave.”
Ning Daoqi was back to his immortal disposition, wonderful posture by putting his hands behind his back again; remaining calm and composed, he spoke indifferently, “Essence is the origin of the body, two essences fighting each other designate the spirit; following the spirit going back and forth is called the soul [hun, immortal soul, i.e. that can be detached from the body]. Furthermore, essence going in and out is the soul [po, mortal soul, i.e. attached to the body], the place where the heart is depending on is designated as the intention, the place where the intention is stored is designated as aspiration. At the top, the Martial Art Way is nothing more than the intersection where the Heaven and Man affecting each other, where yin and yang meet. Shaoshuai, go! Please bear in mind that the thought can be evil, but the thought can be good as well. The difference between good and evil is merely the difference in thought.”
Kou Zhong appeared to be thinking deeply; he realized that because Ning Daoqi understood the essence of the ‘Secret to Long Life’ from him, he gave this secret method back as a present to him. It was quite half a day later that he raised his cupped fist and flew away.
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling was rushing along for three days, day and night, and sneaked into Hongnong by leaping over the wall before daybreak. He left a secret mark at the appointed place, which led Gao Zhandao to meet him in a tea house by the south gate at the beginning of the yin hour [3-5 am].
After leaving Chang’an, this was their first meeting; they both were extremely happy with a feeling of meeting again after a calamity.
Xu Ziling explained Kou Zhong’s whereabouts first before asking, “Did Hongnong Bang people know that you are coming to see me?”
Gao Zhandao said, “Ling Ye’s secret mark indicated that we must act in secret; how could I be so muddleheaded? Is there any problem with Chen Shi?”
Nodding his head, Xu Ziling replied, “Chen Shi is standing on Heavenly Policy Mansion’s side, and they are conspiring to deal with us. They were riding the horse, while I was running; at most I would only be a few sichen faster than them.”
Even with Xu Ziling’s legs’ power, in a long distance race, he still could not run faster than strong horses. However, his advantage was that he could take a shortcut through the mountain, hence he was able to reach Hongnong one-step earlier.
Gao Zhandao’s countenance changed, “What do we do?” he asked.
If there was no gold and treasure, they would be able to immediately leave as soon as they say it, neat and tidy. But now, not only they were unable to move freely, they could not let others find out that they had obtained the hidden treasure, and thus leak the secret.
Xu Ziling said, “Amidst the bad news, there is good news as well: among our brothers, there should not be any traitor who had been bought by the enemy; therefore, the enemy still had not found out that we have the treasure with us.”
Exhaling slowly, Gao Zhandao’s entire body relaxed; he said, “Then it’s easy; as we leave this place, we go to a tributary of the River Yi, a bit over a hundred li to the east, and stop midway. There are about a dozen brothers running a waterborne transport business in there. From there, we could go to Luoyang, passing through the Great River, and going straight to Pengliang. That place is Wang Shichong’s territory; the Li Clan’s power cannot reach it.”
Xu Ziling said, “This over a hundred li road will not be easy, because we will still be within Hongnong County, it’s going to be very difficult to evade Hongnong Bang’s eyes and ears.”
Letting out a cold snort, Gao Zhandao said, “Unless it is the Heavenly Policy Mansion’s martial art master; otherwise, no one in Hongnong Bang is worthy in our Tong Xing She’s eyes. In vain that old codger Chen Shi putting on an act of being supremely honorable and righteous; opening his mouth he talks about benevolence and righteousness, closing his mouth he talks about virtue. His granny, before we leave, we might as well get rid of him in passing; white dagger in, red dagger out.”
Seeing how he was revealing his former natural color as a pirate, Xu Ziling laughed bitterly and said, “Little thing must not mess up big scheme. Chen Shi is a small matter, but the arrival of Heavenly Policy Mansion’s pursuing troops is big problem. Tell me first, how’s the situation with our brothers?”
Gao Zhandao said, “Currently we divided our people into three groups, with each one of us leading one group. My group has the smallest number of people, only twenty-five men; we stay in the city at the place that Chen Shi arranged for us. The other two groups are hiding in the mountain forest nearby.”
“Does Chen Shi know where the other two groups are?” Xu Ziling asked.
“Naturally we can’t let him know,” Gao Zhandao replied, “I told the other brothers to go to Pengliang first, while we, twenty-five men, stay here waiting for your news.”
“You did very well,” Xu Ziling said, “Now, you must return immediately, find an excuse to get out of the city, I’ll meet with you a bit later.”
His eyebrows deeply knitted, Gao Zhandao asked, “Why don’t Ling Ye leave with us?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “The Heavenly Policy Mansion enticed Hongnong Bang with benefit, my method is to threaten them with fear. As long as Hongnong Bang is having outward devotion but inner opposition [idiom], they won’t dare to go all-out to intervene, only then we will have the chance to safely reach River Yi transit station.”
Sucking in a mouthful of cold air, Gao Zhandao spoke in astonishment, “We don’t have much time, the Heavenly Policy Mansion people might arrive any moment, Ling Ye is taking too much risk!”
Xu Ziling laughed calmly and said, “Squaring up for a fight, with open saber and open spear in hard battle, I certainly should not come. But only breaking the siege and leave, I still have 80% confidence that I can do it. I just want Chen Shi to see clearly that the Heavenly Policy Mansion people are unable to stop me, and my, Xu Ziling’s intimidation can begin to take effect.”
Showing a look of respect, Gao Zhandao sighed and said, “From head to foot, Ling Ye is definitely full of guts.”
Xu Ziling said, “My method may not necessarily work. We don’t have much time; you must proceed according to plan immediately. I will take care of the traitor hanging behind you.”
After communicating the place of meeting and various details, Gao Zhandao hurriedly left.
Xu Ziling then swept the breakfast on the table. He was amused inwardly, thinking that he was originally most reluctant to run amuck relying on force, but toward a faithless person who betrayed his friend like Chen Shi, he did not have any better choice.
As long as Chen Shi obediently do what he was told, he did not need to open wide the Buddhist monastic discipline against killing and harming Hongnong Bang people.
Where could Kou Zhong be at this moment? How was his situation?
Even Ning Daoqi, who has not been paying attention to the affairs of life, was drawn into the vortex of contention over the world. So if he, Xu Ziling, was using a bit of means as an emergency measure, it could not be considered too much.
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