Book 7 Chapter 5 – Easy as Pie
The two boys arrived in front of Rain Bamboo Hall’s main gate. When the dozen or so doorkeepers noticed that they were Wind Bamboo Hall men, they immediately showed a hostile look, yet nobody really took these two boys seriously. Simply because among the Rain Bamboo Hall’s disciples guarding the door, the lowest rank was still above the two boys’ single bamboo level.
The number of bamboo determined their rank.
Bangzhu [Gang Leader] had ten bamboo sticks, Junshi [military counselor] nine, and below them were Tangzhu [Hall Leader], Fu Tangzhu [Deputy Hall Leader], Duozhu [Helmsman], Xiangzhu [Fragrant Master], in decreasing number of bamboo sticks.
Previously, when the two boys were with Yan Kuan, they did not even have half a stick of bamboo, but now for no reason at all they were promoted to one bamboo stick.
The two boys walked side by side toward the main gate. Someone immediately shouted, “Wind Bamboo Hall kids, stop right there!”
‘Qiang!’ Kou Zhong drew his ‘Moon in the Well’.
Xu Ziling pulled him aside and asked in surprise, “Why use blade?”
Kou Zhong’s eyes flashed with freezing cold sharp rays, the tone of his voice was even colder that it made people’s heart shivered as he spoke emotionlessly, “If I don’t kill these renegade Gang members, how could Xiliang obtain the Bangzhu position?”
Xu Ziling was shaken and let him go. A dozen or so guards also suddenly revealed their weapons and charged forward.
Right away miserable scream and painful grunt fell incessantly on the ear. Like a swimming fish Kou Zhong weaved in and out among the men, those who came in contact with his blade immediately had their blood splashed and they fell to the ground; unexpectedly no one was able to provide any resistance.
By the time Kou Zhong stepped over the gate into the courtyard behind the wall, the ground behind him was littered with fallen enemies; although their wound was serious, no one had a life-threatening injury, or even suffered any disaster of losing their limb or broken bones. It was awfully clear that his move was very well measured.
Xu Ziling could only stare blankly at him. Kou Zhong turned his head around and shrugged his shoulders, “If you don’t do this, who will fear you? Come! My Ling Shaoye!”
One in front of another, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling attacked their way into the Rain Bamboo Hall, those who tried to block them were swept by the wind, the disciples were beaten to a sorry state, and scampered off like wolves with their tails between their hind legs.
Although the two boys made their debut not too long ago, they were already battle-hardened, even hard fighting with magnificent army with thousands of men and horses did not deter them, much less these unprepared Rain Bamboo Hall disciples who came under sudden attack.
From the steps at the front of the hall they continued on to the main hall before finally met a martial art master.
‘Ding! Ding! Ding!’
Three clear ringing sounds were heard. Kou Zhong did not even stagger a single step as he blocked three spears in succession. Letting out a long laugh, he said, “Is it Rain Bamboo Hall’s Deputy Hall Master Bao Baiyou?”
The incoming person had not replied, he was already kicked by Kou Zhong on his lower abdomen, and was sent flying backward and fell to the floor; his mouth spurting out fresh blood, and was unable to crawl back up.
Xu Ziling struck with both hands, left and right, continuously sending four Zhuhua Bang disciples of deputy-fragrant-master rank.
While Bao Baiyou was being helped up, like a tide a hundred or so men flocked toward the other end of the main hall.
A dozen or so men of all kinds of shapes and sizes appeared from among the crowd toward Kou and Xu, two people.
Just by looking at the insignia on the lapel of their clothes, it was obvious that other than Wind Bamboo Hall, the other Clear Bamboo Hall, Rain Bamboo Hall and Dew Bamboo Hall’s Hall Masters and their deputies were gathered here.
Clear Bamboo Hall’s Hall Master Zuo Qiubi was the easiest to recognize; compared to average person, he was short and small, but very thick and solid like an ox. His eyebrows arched, his face sunken, and his shoulders were disproportionately very wide, so that he looked like a shrinking giant.
This moment his eyes were flashing with murderous intent; striding one step forward, he pointed his halberd and angrily shouted, “Who are you? You dare to display shockingly bad behavior in our Zhuhua Bang territory?”
Coming face to face with these numerous Zhuhua Bang’s martial art masters, Kou Zhong stayed calm without any sign of fear; he laughed aloud and said, “Colluding with outsiders, traitors who attempt in vain to ruin our Gang’s foundation, you are not qualified to talk to Yangzhou’s loyal martyr Yan Kuan’s disciples.”
Even though they were confronting this kind of swords-drawn-and-bows-bent situation, where life or death could easily be determined, Xu Ziling was greatly amused and had to struggle hard to keep himself from roaring in laughter. One of Kou Zhong’s strong points was that he was able to express any absurd thing in a bold and full of confidence, even lofty, manner.
Rain Bamboo Hall’s Hall Master Luo Xian roared, “I don’t care who you are, today the two of you came in alive but will leave lifeless.”
A saber flashed, a slim man charged at an oblique angle, drawing a cluster of saber flowers, swiftly attacking Kou Zhong from the left side.
Without even looking Kou Zhong casually swept his saber. ‘Dang!’ The attacking saber, along with the wielder, was jolted that the man staggered back and fell into the crowd.
The hall suddenly fell silent.
Kou Zhong returned his saber into its sheathe; his expression and bearing were not to be outdone by Ba Fenghan when burst into Wang Tong’s Mansion the other day.
Dew Bamboo Hall’s Hall Master Tong Changfeng let out a cold snort and said, “So you do have a little bit of asset; report your names to this Tangzhu first!”
Turned out the one launching a sneak attack just now was the Deputy Hall Master of the Dew Bamboo Hall, Yan He, whose skill level, as well as the depth of his power, was known very well by Tong Changfeng. He saw how Kou Zhong was able to push Yan He with ease, which he knew he would not be able to do, he became somewhat more polite.
Kou Zhong threw his head back and laughed aloud, “Walking, I have never changed my surname, sitting, I have never changed my given name. Kou Zhong is my name, and he is Xu Ziling; have you heard it clearly?”
Zuo Qiubi and the others looked at each other in dismay; no one did not have his countenance changed.
It should be noted that for the last few years, due to the ‘Duke Yang’s Treasure Trove’ affair, coupled with the fact that even Du Fuwei, Yuwen Clan, Dugu Clan, Li Mi, and the others were helpless to capture them, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s reputation soared; in fact, for the time being it was second to none.
During the battle at the coastal region recently, they managed to inflict serious damage to the coalition force of Shen Faxing and Haisha Bang; this news has spread far and wide all over the world, and has propelled their prestige to top ranking martial art master’s position.
Therefore, when they found out that these two were Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, everybody was overwhelmed with emotion.
Zuo Qiubi was a Jianghu veteran, he spoke solemnly, “Rising young heroes, our Gang has always had deep respect toward two gentlemen; why did you come to bully us today?”
Xu Ziling took a step forward and said coldly, “We are indeed loyal martyr Yan Kuan’s disciples, Gui Xiangzhu can bear witness for us in this matter; therefore, we are definitely entitled to care about Zhuhua Bang’s affair, and we simply cannot not care about it.”
Kou Zhong heroically and loftily said, “Where is Tieqi Hui’s Ren Shaoming? If he is sensible, he would have come out immediately, to let us cut his head off to be sacrificial offering to the late Bangzhu. If you still harbor any desire to betray our Gang, today you may forget about leaving this place alive.”
Zuo Qiubi’s countenance changed. “You went too far!” he said, “Charge!”
Everybody drew his weapon.
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, knowing that Kou Zhong had made up his mind to support Gui Xiliang for the Gang Leader position, so that through him he could exercise control over Zhuhua Bang, and thus expand his own power. For that reason he forced the other side to fight, to inflict heavy blow to the collusion forces with Ren Shaoming.
Kou Zhong suddenly withdrew toward Xu Ziling, and rapidly said in low voice, “After each of us kill a Tangzhu, we must slip away immediately. If we fail, we must escape even more. Just listen to my signal.”
At a moment like this, did Xu Ziling have a choice? He simply nodded.
Two spears, three swords and one saber attacked the two boys from different angles.
Kou Zhong roared, his body swayed, and somehow he has already entered the Clear Bamboo Hall crowd led by Zuo Qiubi; the saber in his hand whirled around, immediately two opponent sabers fell down.
Xu Ziling soared into the air, his target was the top of Rain Bamboo Hall’s Hall Master Luo Xian’s head. Both his palms pressed down, an enormous qi forced the people around Luo Xian to scatter around, leaving Luo Xian alone to face the attacker.
No matter how formidable Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were, they did not have the capability to kill the more than a hundred Zhuhua Bang martial art masters. Furthermore, if this hard fighting continued, they would fall into the disadvantageous position of the few against the multitude. Therefore, the two boys made up their minds to use the ten-thousand jun [unit of weight, 1 jun = 30 catties] thunderbolt force, while they were still in their peak condition, for each of them to kill one Hall Master. And then the remaining Hall Master would find it hard to clap with one hand, and it would be foolish not to run away immediately.
In the meantime, Kou Zhong already arrived in front of Zuo Qiubi; he sent out ten chops in rapid succession, and all of a sudden Zuo Qiubi realized that everybody around him was hacked down all around and just happened to block the other Gang members from coming up to help him.
Four palms, belonging to Xu Ziling and Luo Xian, who did not even have time to use his sword, collided. Luo Xian’s arms flexed slightly; as if in the power department he was a notch below Xu Ziling, while the fact was that they both shared the limelight. It was simply because Xu Ziling was high in the air pressing down, so he gained a lot of advantage.
Luo Xian was secretly delighted, thinking that Xu Ziling’s skill was only so-so. He estimated that if he could block Xu Ziling for a moment, then he would not have to worry because the other people would catch up and chop him into mincemeat.
Right this moment, tens of thousands streams of burning hot qi suddenly entered through his palms, penetrated his own true qi, no-hole-did-not-get-entered like the hot qi invaded his arteries and veins.
While Luo Xian felt his soul flew away and scattered, the pressure on his palms disappeared without any trace; however, an excruciating pain emerged in the pit of his stomach, and his ears heard the sound of disintegrating bones.
His last perception was that Xu Ziling’s left and right knees struck his chest in quick succession.
Zuo Qiubi’s martial art skill was superior to Luo Xian; he drew a couple of short copper stick and parried Kou Zhong’s three saber strikes.
‘Dang! Dang! Dang!’
Zuo Qiubi yelled angrily, the pair of sticks shot out at the chest level straight toward the pit of Kou Zhong’s stomach. Who would have thought that as he was clearly going to hit the enemy, he suddenly found out that he was hitting empty air?
Saber wind was cutting down from behind.
Zuo Qiubi turned around to parry. To his shock, behind him was also an empty air, not even the enemy’s shadow.
“Tangzhu, be careful!”
Zuo Qiubi felt stabbing pain on his lower back; a burst of cold qi invaded his body from the blade of the saber. Instantly his body froze, he was unable to move a single step.
From Zuo Qiubi’s right waist Kou Zhong pulled his saber out and in one fluid motion swept it across three enemies who attacked fiercely. Letting out a long whistle, he backed off immediately.
Xu Ziling was one step ahead of him; he already leaped up toward the ceiling, broke through the roof and fled away. Kou Zhong followed closely behind him; using the same home he also flew up and was gone.
Based on the two boys’ martial art skill and strategy, they had just accomplished something that was nearly impossible.
Like a whirlwind Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling rushed toward the big stone bridge in front of the Junshi Mansion. Mai Yunfei and the other disciples on guard shouted in a flurry, telling them to stop.
The two boys did not bother to explain, they simply used their fists and kicks to charged through the barricade, sending them into the river like a gale sweeping dead leaves, battered and exhausted.
Only Mai Yunfei seemed to be able to give a token resistance; he managed to block Kou Zhong’s two moves before being kicked by Xu Ziling, who has been waiting impatiently on the side, and was also sent to the river.
 Chapter title: orig. to feel in one’s pocket and take something out.
As the two boys were charging into the main hall like a hot knife through butter, Junshi Shao Lingzhou, Wind Bamboo Hall’s Hall Master and his deputy Shen Beichang and Luo Feng, and Song Yuzhi and her team, who were having a meeting in there, were stunned to see them.
Shao Ling zhou was slim, very tall, and on his delicate and handsome face there were five strands of long beard. His age was around forty, his overall appearance reminded them of a religious scholar or even a Taoist immortal.
When he saw the two boys charging in, his eyes flickered with cold rays as he shouted coldly, “Which mad disciples have the impertinence to disturb my Mansion?”
On the north end of the main hall two rows of imperial tutor chairs were arranged, Song Yuzhi occupied the seat of honor on the east, displaying how much respect Zhuhua Bang was showing to the representatives of the Song Clan. Next to her were three men who appeared to be her martial art masters.
Sitting on the west’s seat of honor was surprisingly the ‘thousand-loveable, a hundred-charm’ gorgeous woman, the famous courtesan who, back in Yangzhou, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling loved to peek from a distance, the most popular lady of Tianxian Lou, Miss Yu Ling.
Zhuhua Bang’s former Gang Leader Yin Kaizhan was executed by Yang Guang precisely because he refused to present her to him.
It was only at this point the two boys understood the reason Yin Haishan was braving death by having her sent away from Yangzhou was because Yu Ling has become Madame Yin Kaishan.
Sitting under Yu Ling were, in order, Shao Lingzhou, Shen Beichang and Luo Feng. Standing behind the imperial tutor chairs were a dozen or so Zhuhua Bang and the Song Clan’s people whose rank was rather low.
Standing behind Yu Ling were precisely Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong, two kids, who, as with eyes open wide they stared at Kou and Xu, two childhood friends of theirs, were at a loss on how to defend them.
Song Yuzhi was the first to speak up, “Shao Junshi, please calm down. These two must have very strong reason, please let them come in and speak up!”
Shal Lingzhou immediately shouted his order, “Let them in!”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling strode a few steps forward. The former laughed aloud and said, “We are here to propose a business deal. Based on the fact that we, two brothers, have just killed Zuo Qiubi and Luo Xian, perhaps we ought to have the qualifications to speak!”
When they heard this, other than Song Yuzhi, the others were completely taken by surprise.
Wind Bamboo Hall’s Hall Master Shen Beichang said in heavy voice, “Even Laofu has eyes but failed to see; who are you two?”
A gentle and soft, and very pleasant to hear, voice rang from Yu Ling’s fragrant lips, “These two are called Xiao Zhong and Xiao Ling; they have grown so tall that Qie [I, your servant (deprecatory self-reference for women)] nearly did not recognize them.”
After a short pause, she went on, “In the past they were the little bandits under Yangzhou’s loyal martyr Yan Kuan; they loved to steal a peek on Qie. One time they were caught Qie’s men, but seeing their extraordinary character, Qie decided to have my men let them go.”
Seeing Yu Ling still recognized them, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt both honored and greatly embarrassed at the same time, because what they did was not the most honorable thing.
Luo Xian was relieved, “So be it!” he said, “At least you did not really tell us lies.”
With a wry smile Kou Zhong said to Yu Ling, “Yu Ling Jie, do you have to go into such detail about our past?”
Yu Ling covered her mouth as she laughed coquettishly and said, “And you are still as shameless as before.”
This exchanged immediately eased up the tense atmosphere.
Knitting his brows, Shao Lingzhou said, “Since you are one of our own, plus you have trained quite a good martial art skill, we would be more than happy to receive you; why did you have to fight and force your way in?”
Xu Ziling cupped his fist and said, “Gui Xiangzhu has indeed led us to pay our respect to Shao Junshi, but we were stopped by Mai Xiangzhu outside the bridge. Right now the situation is urgent, we simply had to force our way in, would Shao Junshi please forgive us.”
His refined and gentle bearing immediately earned Shao Lingzhou’s favorable impression. Nodding in approval, he called, “Xiliang! Is that true?”
“It is indeed true,” Gui Xiliang hastily replied.
Kou Zhong interjected, “If Shao Junshi immediately dispatches the elite troops of our Gang, we should have enough time to intercept the renegades led by Dew Bamboo Hall’s Tong Changfeng, and annihilate them in one move, and thus avert our Gang from being split up in pieces.”
Shao Lingzhou, Shen Beichang, Luo Feng, and the others were visibly shaken; they were obviously quite tempted by Kou Zhong’s proposal.
Song Yuzhi and her uncle, his father’s cousin, Song Shuang, who was sitting next to her, exchanged a glance; they knew Kou Zhong’s courageous and ruthless style of cutting weeds and eliminating the roots.
Just by utilizing a simple strategy, the entire situation, as well as the initiative and powers, immediately fell into Kou Zhong’s hands. Therefore, it was clear that he was the kind of personality who could ‘create clouds by turning his palm up, create rain by turning his palm down’.
A Duozhu [helmsman], Ye Bingchen, standing behind Shao Lingzhou expressed his opinion, “This is a very important matter, how do we know that the two of you are not spies sent by the enemy to lure us into a trap?”
After glowering at Kou Zhong, Song Yuzhi said, “Although this person loves to babble nonsense, he is not the kind of person who loves to tell lies; even more, he is not the kind of person who could be easily bought by the enemy. Am I right, Kou Zhong, Hero Kou?”
Everybody was shocked; it was only now that they realized that the Xiao Zhong, Xiao Ling in front of them were actually the Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, whose names shook the Jianghu, on whose heads laid two separate hunt and kill orders, namely the ‘Duke of Pushan’s Decree’ and the ‘Dong Ming Dispatch’.
Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong’s shock was, quite naturally, no need to be mentioned.
Shen Beichang stood up abruptly; he said gruffly, “Mere Tong Changfeng, he is not worthy in Laofu’s eyes. Leave this matter to Laofu!”
From his bosom Shao Lingzhou took out the ‘Zhuhua Ling’ [Bamboo Flower Plaque, symbol of authority] and whisked it toward Shen Beichang, who, upon receiving it, immediately took his men out.
Song Yuzhi also made a hand signal, immediately two Song Clan martial art masters under Song Shuang’s command also left in a hurry.
The main hall fell silent.
Kou Zhong chuckled softly and said, “Many thanks Miss Song for vouching for me; is it possible for me to have a private chat with Miss?”
Song Yuzhi spoke in disdain, “There is nothing that can’t be said in front of others. Whatever it is, you may speak up here.”
Song Shuang was surprised inwardly, recalling that although this beautiful niece of him was rather strong-willed, it was very seldom that she butted head with other people with equal harshness. Moreover, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s names were among the Song Clan’s list of people whom they ought to try to win over. Therefore, determined to help to smooth things over, he said, “I am Song Shuang. Why don’t Kou and Xu, two Xiongdi, come over here and sit down first so we can talk it over?”
Shao Lingzhou also immediately ordered his disciples to serve tea; his manner was very polite.
Putting on an angry expression, with a forced laugh Kou Zhong said, “Since Miss Song refuses to do me the honor, is it possible for Xiaodi to have a private chat with Junshi?”
Shao Lingzhou was put on the spot; he looked awkwardly at Song Yuzhi, this beautiful representative of the Song Clan, his big supporter.
Song Yuzhi could not help glowering at this lofty, wild and free-spirited young man. “Why so sneaky anyway?” she said crossly, “If it is concerning Zhuhua Bang’s affair, naturally we should discuss it together.”
Xu Ziling spoke up nonchalantly, “Since we cannot discuss it with you, we, two brothers, will leave immediately. Only we would appreciate it very much if Shao Junshi could bestow four mule carts for our use.”
Realizing the deadlock, Song Shuang signaled Song Yuzhi with his eyes as he stood up and said, “Let us talk about it nicely. Kou Xiongdi, would you be willing to reveal a little bit of what you want to discuss, so that Yuzhi may consider whether she ought to talk to you privately?”
As if nothing had happened, Kou Zhong said, “It’s nothing. I was mistaken to think that Miss is still interested in the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’; who would have thought that there is no such thing? I really don’t have anything good to talk about!”
Everybody in the hall was emotionally moved.
Seething with rage, Song Yuzhi stood up and walked over toward the inner chamber. “Get your @$$ in here!” she said coldly.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud; he winked at Xu Ziling first before running after her.
A strange feeling rose up in everybody’s heart; they all had a vague feeling that Song Yuzhi was unusually blunt toward Kou Zhong. Could it be that it was because she had viewed him in a new light?