Book 6 Chapter 10 – Revealing True Feelings
Xu Ziling ran over a small hill, and saw Kou Zhong at the foot of the hill. That guy only wore pants, he was bare-chested, with a steel saber of unknown origin between his teeth, and was immersing himself in a small creek, washing the bloodstains all over his body.
Under the moonlight, his skin looked shiny and glistening, his perfect physique looked like a leopard that has just reached adulthood, brimming with power from head to toes, and some kind of extraordinary, yet conforming to the law of heaven, beauty.
He looked focused and did not seem to realize Xu Ziling’s arrival. But suddenly he looked up at him and broke into wide grin. His smile was as brilliant as the shining sun, and it was full of captivating charms. The saber in his mouth dropped into his hand, with a casually flick of his hand the saber flew and embedded itself on the thick bough of a large tree by the creek.
With several jumps Xu Ziling wend down the hill, and sat on a large rock protruding out of the water in the middle of the creek. He quietly stared at the still trembling saber hilt without saying anything.
Kou Zhong dipped his whole head into the ice-cold water of the creek, drank several mouthfuls of cold water, pulled his head out the water, wiped the water from his face, and said with a sigh, “I killed a lot of people, but also received injuries. The most serious one is a punch on the pit of my stomach, but I beat that guy up that his bones shattered. Humph! They wanted my life, naturally I took enough of theirs.”
A burst of emotion bubbled up in Xu Ziling’s heart; for the first time he realized that Kou Zhong and he had become important figures who were able to assume personal responsibilities.
Kou Zhong immersed his entire body into the water. Giggling, he said, “Fortunately, we have miraculous internal energy, any injury will be healed naturally without leaving any scar. Otherwise, it would be awful when we have to take off our clothes; our bodies will be covered with scars, how could we let others see that? Hey, why don’t you take a dip in here? The water will clear up your brain a lot.”
Xu Ziling shook his head to decline, “Who attacked you?” he asked.
“It was Haisha Bang people,” Kou Zhong nonchalantly replied, “They were under the leadership of that flirtatious Taoist Priestess, trying to catch me with ropes and nets like I was a wild dog. Several hundred people against me, one man; I really don’t know why they committed such a shameless act. Fortunately I was fighting and fleeing at the same time, and in the end I slipped into the water to escape. You Qiuyan [(sic) it was ‘the Mermaid’ You Qiufeng in Book 2 Chapter 7] still thought that I was the useless kid of the past, she went underwater to give chase, and fell under Laozi’s control. Fortunately I, Kou Zhong, have always had tender, protective feelings for the fairer sex; I only pinched her breasts a couple of times and then I let her go. This time I’m telling you honestly, you, Ling Shao, should not suspect that I am lying to you.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “You are such a loose guy; a Taoist Priestess, and an enemy in this matter, you still refused to let her off.”
“This is called ‘confusing the enemy’s heart’,” Kou Zhong lightly said, “When that s1ut saw me, her eyes lit up; I was merely comforting her while we were at it. Who knows? Perhaps in the future there will be other benefits too.”
Xu Ziling remained silent.
Kou Zhong rose up from the water with a splash, the creek water came to his waist. Stretching, he said, “Oh, my good brother! It seems to me that recently you disagree with my conduct a lot, is that right?”
Xu Ziling sneered and said, “Marrying a woman is every man’s dream; as your brother, how could I blame you? It’s just that you are basically only teasing them verbally and causing mischief driven by your carnal desire, you view everything only from a utilitarian consideration. That is what made me a little uncomfortable!”
Kou Zhong nodded, “That is precisely the difference between intentionally seeking and without any desire to seek. We are pursuing different goals; hence we appear to have different opinion. This is the effect of training the ‘Secret to Long Life’; you are hot, I am cold. Not only it changed our temperament, it even changed our character. When I kill people, unexpectedly I don’t have any stirring or surging emotion. Even now I don’t feel like it was a big deal. Otherwise I would have been slaughtered by others by now.”
“What’s your plan now?” Xu Ziling suddenly asked.
Kou Zhong sat on the bank of the creek, leisurely watching his feet kicking and playing in the water. He smiled and said, “Didn’t we agree to proceed with our salt business? When people no longer dare to mess with us, we will succeed.”
“That’s not what I am asking,” Xu Ziling said, “I want to ask you: how are you going to fight for the world?”
Kou Zhong looked at him. There was an unprecedented glint in his eyes. Without answering the question he said, “If I really want to vie over the world, I must ask you to do something for me: to kill someone.”
Xu Ziling was visibly shaken. “That Li kid!” he exclaimed.
Kou Zhong threw his head back and roared in laughter; he looked so heroic and majestic. Slapping his thigh, he praised, “This is called ‘great minds think alike’ [orig. heroes usually agree]. Among the people worth our considerations, in terms of bearing and charisma, who could surpass him? Plus his predecessors have been involved in politics and government affairs, he is acutely aware of the way to govern the people, and he is still young, so I say that he is my, Kou Zhong’s biggest rival.”
“You are not afraid Xiuning will be grieved?” Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong’s eyes flashed coldly; he said, “How can one woman affect my grand plan and great undertaking?”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly and asked, “But why did you ask me?”
A faint smile escaped from the corner of Kou Zhong’s mouth. “I am not afraid of anybody,” he said, “Except you, one person. And I know that you have a very good impression toward that Li kid. As long as you don’t stop me, and that Li kid agrees to work for me, there will come a day when he will die under my, Kou Zhong’s hands. I am ruthless to anybody; you and Su Jie are the only exception.”
Xu Ziling’s razor-sharp gaze was fixed on him as he said, “If one day after you obtain the world you find it necessary to have me eliminated, will you personally make your move?”
Kou Zhong slapped the water surface with his palms, a column of water rose. Turning his head and his eyes to look at the drenched Xu Ziling, he roared in laughter and said, “That’s not going to happen. Quickly apologize to me!”
Xu Ziling leaped high into the air and pounced on Kou Zhong, pulling him down into the water. The two boys wrestled and fought just like when they were little kids, totally without any martial art master’s style.
When Kou Zhong had Xu Ziling’s head locked in the crook of his arm, gasping and laughing he said, “Kid, do you know that there is another decree to hunt and kill us?”
Xu Ziling stared at him blankly, “What kind of ghost decree?” he asked.
Xu Ziling smiled bitterly and said, “That stinky Princess is not worth the trouble. It’s just a useless account book! Hey, don’t put my mouth into the water!”
Kou Zhong raised his head a few cun and said with a giggle, “It’s hard to fathom someone’s mind; girls’ mind is even harder to understand. Ha! Hatred caused by love. Do you surrender now?”
Xu Ziling suddenly lifted up Kou Zhong’s entire body and threw him backwards. Without looking at Kou Zhong fell flat on his back into the water, he cursed, “Hatred caused by love my @$$. From beginning to end, the one she looked up to was that Li kid, or perhaps even Ba Fenghan, never the two of us.”
Kou Zhong pretended to be crawling up in such a sorry state; wiping his face, he said, “Since we are already wet anyway, we might as well go steal a boat. I will settle the score with you later.”
The two boys returned to the past where there was no load in their minds. Hee hee ha ha they chased each other toward the sea.
When the two boys had their heads out of the water in the sea, they saw moored at the pier hundreds of ships and boats, big and small, none of them was not brightly lit, and all of them were chained together to each other. Not only there were men on sentry duty on the boats, there were also patrolling boats going back and forth, and a lot of Haisha Bang men equipped with bows and arrows and other long range attack weapons.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “We created enough disturbances that Haisha Bang people will not have a good sleep tonight! Han Gaitian himself is an arrogant idiot. His subordinates, those ‘Fat Assassin’ You Gui, ‘Charging General’ Ling Zhigao [see Book 2 Chapter 7], and the others are nothing; this is such a counter-productive deployment. If I were in charge, I would have ordered all boats to steer away from the dock, so that even if we have the power, it would be difficult to carry out.”
“Are all these dozen or so piers belonged to Haisha Bang?” Xu Ziling asked.
“Ought to be so,” Kou Zhong replied, “Because of Yuhang’s prime location, plus Han Gaitian tied brotherhood with Shen Faxing, Haisha Bang’s navy vessels are concentrated at Kunling and Yuhang, two locations, with the main responsibility to transport army provisions and supplies for the Jiangnan Army. If we burn all these ships, Jiangnan Army will fall into predicament. Let’s consider it a payback for their treatment to us. Come on!”
The two boys dove into the bottom of the sea and swam toward the enemy’s battleship.
By the time they reappeared on the surface, they were already in the middle of the enemy’s ships. Avoiding the patrolling boat, the two boys hid in the dark side of a ship, discussing the next step.
Kou Zhong said, “These ships are at least one zhang apart from each other. Even if we burn one or two of them, it would still be difficult for the fire to spread to other ships.”
“That’s easy,” Xu Ziling said, “We only need to scuttle one or two particularly big ships. When the ships sink, because they are chained to each other, the sinking ship will pull the other boats along. Burning them will be a lot easier then.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “That is a good plan indeed. I’ll go find tinder, you go bore holes on the ships. Remember to use your ‘Jade Cutter’, don’t dig by hand. Ha!”
Third watch of the night [11pm – 1am]. Haisha Bang piers were suddenly thrown into confusion. The two biggest ships suddenly sank at the same time, pulling the other ships along with them.
Looking at the speed those ships were sinking, those with discerning eyes knew immediately that someone was playing a trick on the bottom of the ships.
You Qiuyan, You Gui and Ling Zhigao, three people led a large quantity of Haisha Bang martial art masters to rush out. The former shouted with her tender voice, “Quickly untie the chain!”
Kou Zhong appeared at the bow of one of the ships. Naked from the waist up, he had a saber in his right hand and lifted high a torch in his left, as he laughed aloud and said, “Too late!”
You Qiuyan and the others were still scared of him from their earlier battle, plus You Gui and Ling Zhigao were hacked by him, and their wounds were still burning. Seeing him coming with such an awe-inspiring might, momentarily they panicked.
Flames soared to the sky.
Just by looking at the speed at with the blaze spread, one would know that kerosene must have been poured out onto the ship, thereupon the situation quickly got out of hand.
You Qiuyan screamed, “Kill him!”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and jumped onto another ship. With a saber in his right hand and a torch in his left, he beat the swarming in Haisha Bang people that they would whine on for days; one after another they were thrown into the sea.
When You Qiuyan and the others were rushing toward Kou Zhong, they suddenly saw from another ship some distance away one fiery arrow after another were shot in succession toward the other ships. Flames immediately rose up from all around.
Meanwhile Kou Zhong had disappeared. You Qiuyan focused her attention to look, turned out it was Xu Ziling who released the arrows, the Haisha Bang people who were guarding the ship had already driven to the sea by him.
You Qiuyan shouted, “Quickly put out the fire!”
By this time, cutting the ropes was already useless, all the ships were entangled in a heap. The flame from the ship Kou Zhong burned had already spread onto nearby ships.
The shouts from the ships shook the heavens. The Haisha Bang people whether they should put out the fire first or to chase and intercept the enemy; it was a total chaos.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling jumped from one ship to the other, setting everything in their path on fire, creating havoc wantonly, but always avoiding the enemy’s main force.
You Qiuyan and the others knew they should have split up to intercept the enemy, but recalling how formidable these two boys were, they were scared to face the enemy alone and thus could not guarantee their little lives. With no other choice they had to hunt down only Kou Zhong.
Night breeze blew, the fire was getting bigger.
More than ten ships were trapped in the sea of fire.
Suddenly Kou Zhong turned back to meet You Qiuyan and the others. The Hall Master of Yuhang Division, Leng Qiu bore the brunt. Hastily he brandished his staff to attack.
Kou Zhong’s tiger-eyes flickered continuously, brandishing his saber he hacked backward; suddenly he broke through Leng Qiu’ staff’s line of defense. With one step forward he chopped at his left shoulder. Fortunately Leng Qiu could keep up with the helmsman, plus he really had real skill, so in his shock he swept the tail of his staff up to block, and took a step back at the same time.
Two sabers chopped down on Kou Zhong in an attempt to rescue Leng Qiu from danger.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud, but his saber continued to strike the tail of Leng Qiu’s staff, and swiped through Leng Qiu’s left arm before he retreated to the aft of the ship. Leng Qiu grunted in pain, his blood splashed and he pulled back.
A chill crept into everybody’s heart, why did Kou Zhong seem to be more formidable than the last time they fought?
Kou Zhong parried the two sabers at the same time, lightning fast both his legs executed chain kicks, two Haisha Bang martial art masters, who normally went on the rampage in Yuhang, immediately spurted blood as they flew face-up backwards, so that You Qiuyan and the others panicked.
Holding the saber across his chest, Kou Zhong shouted, “All right! Today I do not wish to kill anymore. You want to kill us, we brothers burned your ships, we are even. Tell Han Gaitian and Shen Faxing to come to us! If you dare to pursue us, don’t blame Laozi’s saber for not showing mercy.”
The crowd was intimidated by his display of power, momentarily they only dared to make a show of charging, but nobody really dared to move forward.
In the battle a moment ago, the dead and wounded on their side numbered more than thirty men, a considerable loss; this moment the opponent had the addition of Xu Ziling. While their own strength was substantially reduced, who would dare to step forward to strike the tiger’s whiskers?
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and soared into the sky. With two somersaults, he landed on a medium sized sailboat that Xu Ziling brought over.
Looking at the sailboat sailing away, You Qiuyan suddenly stomped her foot and pouted, “Still not putting out the fire? I am annoyed to death!”
The sailboat went full speed ahead, the two boys took turns singing loudly. They were extremely happy, as if all the unhappy incidents recently have been purged completely.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Haisha Bang is one of the eight-gang ten-societies. It ranks above Beautiful Shifu’s Jukun Bang, yet we managed to put their face in a bag and slap their big mouth, we even burned a dozen of their ships.”
“Don’t be so smug,” Xu Ziling said, “We had just tied a deep enmity with Jiangnan Army; we are going to see some hard days ahead in transporting our goods.”
Kou Zhong sat at the edge of the boat, watching Xu Ziling at the helms; he cheerfully said, “Isn’t that our original intention? I dare say that since ancient times there never be martial art masters who fought day and night like us. Three months’ experience worth more than other people’s three years. If this continues, in ten months we will gain ten years’ worth of skill. Ha! What a great deal!”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “You, this kid, seem to be more excited the more you fight. But you are right, only from real combat experience we will learn good stuffs; at least seeing sabers and spears flying around we don’t feel it is such a big deal.”
Kou Zhong just smiled but kept his opinion for himself. Unexpectedly he fell asleep. Without any option Xu Ziling had to prop his eyelids open, while steering the sailboat toward the brightening horizon where the sky and the water met.
Three days later, the two boys returned to their former haunts. Gently and cautiously they brought the boat to the shore and moored it well. Sitting on the beach, all sorts of feeling welled up in their hearts. The two boys were lost in their own respective thought; they both felt their excitement was driving them mad.
By the time the sun was about to sink into the ocean, Kou Zhong picked up a handful of sand. Watching the grain of sand trickling down from his fingers, he sighed and said, “Xiao Ling! Have you ever thought that we would have days like today? In the past we often boasted that we are martial art masters, while in fact we are well aware what kind of nine-schools-of-thought character we are. Now we have truly become martial art masters, but so what? We are still unable to do anything to Yuwen Huaji.”
Xu Ziling laughed involuntarily, “Zhong Shao really knows how to talk that kind of talks,” he said, “There must be something else behind it. Say it!”
Kou Zhong shook his head and sighed, “Seems like in this world, you are the only one I can’t fool,” he said, “All right! You want me to say it then I’ll say it. What I mean is that the world is like a big pie [orig. flat bread], whoever has the ability, that person will get a slice. That ability represents strength and power. Once we have these two distinct things, we will be qualified to do the things that we like, whether it is for the benefit of thousands of people, or to settle gratitude and grudges; in short, without these things, there is no law. Even if I became Bi Xuan, and you became Ning Daoqi, killing Yuwen Huaji is still not an easy thing, perhaps we even have to pay it with our own little lives. Do you understand what I am talking about?”
Xu Ziling somberly said, “I was just thinking about how we spent every moving moment here in the past, yet you are thinking about vying over the world; aren’t you afraid you will miss many wonderful things in life? Every day you are thinking about either killing other people or guarding against being killed by other people.”
Kou Zhong’s big eyes lit up, “But those are the stimulating things, those are the exciting things. If I have nothing to do all day long, won’t I suffocate myself to death? Previously I also thought about putting up with you a little bit, only doing conscientious thing and making profit unscrupulously, but the more I think about it, the more I feel it’s not worth it. If you don’t do the most exciting things, how could you live with yourself? Presently what the people all over the world need is one true master and liberator; if you have aspirations, how could you miss anything?”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, “When all is said and done, what you want is for me to help you.”
Kou Zhong moved in front of him, dropping down on one knee, he reached out with both hands to grab Xu Ziling’s shoulders. With eyes projecting deep emotions and passionate expression, he solemnly said, “No one in the world understands your ability, wisdom and spirit better than I do. With you, my good brother, helping me, other people can only retreat for three days’ march [i.e. giving way in the face of superior strength].”
Xu Ziling reciprocated by reaching out to grab his broad shoulders; he spoke heavily, “Well said! No one in the world understands you better than I do as well. Only you, one person, can turn the entire world upside down. Basically you don’t need my help.”
Kou Zhong dejectedly let his hands go and sat down on the sandy beach. He sighed and said, “How can I see you go?”
Xu Ziling reached out to wrap his arm around him tightly; he said in a low voice, “We’ve grown up. Each one of us have our own vision and goal in life, we are no longer Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling of the past. In the future you don’t need to take the responsibility of avenging Niang, just go do what you need to do! The day you and I go our own ways will be the day I set out on my journey to assassinate Yuwen Huagu. If I cannot put my hand on the blade that will enter that wretched body, I can never find true peace in my heart.”
Nine schools of thought, philosophical schools of the Spring and Autumn, and Warring States periods (770-220 BC): Confucians, Taoists, Yin and Yang, Legalists, Logicians, Mohists, Diplomats, Miscellaneous, Agriculturalists. Figuratively: mainstream, abysmal.