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The same instant Kou Zhong was pulling the saber out of its scabbard, Xu Ziling spun his body and rose up, his sleeves swept around, carrying roll after roll of strong wind, blowing the snow accumulated on the trees that it splashed everywhere, creating a man-made snowstorm. Moreover, this snow was different from that other snow, because this snow contained his true power. Anybody who was unfortunate to have his acupoint hit, if the true qi protecting his body was rather weak, he would certainly suffer some losses.
Kou Zhong’s saber fiercely chopped on Li Yuanji’s attacking swift-like-the-wind Splitting Horse Spearhead. Li Yuanji’s entire body was severely shaken; unexpectedly he was forced to move back by Kou Zhong’s chop, the entire follow-up moves could not be carried out at all.
Facing the same spear attack, in the past, Kou Zhong would have been sweating profusely. But today he was able to break it without extra trouble. Even though Kou Zhong did not understand the Demonic Emperor Relics’ benefit to him, he knew that his power had progressed greatly. If at this time he followed up the victory and pressed home the attack, he would definitely gain the upper hand.
Mei Xun’s spear, Ke Dazhi’s saber, and Qiu Wensheng’s sword simultaneously attacked from three sides.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud. Borrowing the impact force from Li Yuanji’s spear attack, he flashed under Xu Ziling, who was soaring into the air.
Stifled groan sprang up everywhere; most of more than a dozen torches around the battle arena were extinguished, the few that remained were also splashed by the flying snow that they flickered indeterminately. The snowy forest became like a ghost domain.
The accumulated snow was still shooting continuously, following Xu Ziling, who was rising into the air; puff after puff of snowflakes was splashing to attack the enemy.
The hunting dogs were barking furiously, the warhorses were neighing sharply.
Kou Zhong attacked left and right, separately meeting Ke Dazhi’s saber and Mei Xun’s Golden Spear head-on. He also used the tip of his foot to kick Qiu Wensheng’s attacking sword.
His momentum appeared like a rainbow, but actually the blood and qi in his body was rolling over and over. He had no choice but to use the momentum to increase his speed – starting later but arriving sooner – to flash past Xu Ziling.
Ke Dazhi, three men were jolted back to the ground; they were shocked inwardly, feeling that Kou Zhong’s power was really deep and immeasurable.
Because Xu Ziling released his power while he was high up in the sky, this moment he was already out of breath; moreover, he was incapable of taking a breath. Fortunately, Kou Zhong’s big hand reached out, two hands grabbed each other, he carried him to continue climbing upward, and suddenly they reached a horizontal leafless branch of a large tree.
Li Yuanji was regrouping his battle array; he was about to soar upward only to see the forest was full of fluttering snow drops. Unexpectedly he lost the two boys’ trace. Crying inwardly, ‘Not good!’ he continued leaping up, purely relying on his intuition to attack upward.
One after another the rest of his men also charged upward.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were secretly happy that they had passed the most difficult moment, and were not entangled by the enemy to the death. The former waved forcefully, spinning Xu Ziling around. And then it was Xu Ziling’s turn to send out his strength, just before Li Yuanji’s Splitting Horse Spear attack arrived, they escaped by a hair’s breadth, the two boys became a windmill spinning rapidly, flying horizontally away, carrying with them a sweeping violent gale.
As if being blown by a big storm, the snow accumulation on the tree scattered and shot out in all directions. Momentarily the air was filled with flying snow, like thick smoke providing them with the best cover to escape.
The snow rained down on the torches, putting them out; mixed with the barking dogs and neighing horses, people crying out in alarm and confused shouts, no one could see anything clearly, the situation was chaotic to the extreme.
The two boys let go of their hands. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling leaped from the top of the tree to the next; they flew over the totally-in-chaos enemy’s troop disposition surrounding them, and escaped to the depth of the snowy forest.
Those with comparatively higher martial art skill from the enemy ranks leaped up to intercept them, but the two boys countered every move and shocked them back to the ground. Meeting the interceptors, they used the ‘true qi protecting the body’ that they had just mastered, coupled with their ability to borrow-strength-and-deflect-force, staking everything and receiving a few more skin and flesh injuries along the way, while choosing only the area clear of any obstruction ahead, since they were unwilling to be entangled by the enemy even for a moment. Otherwise, if Li Yuanji, Ke Dazhi, and a large number of men and horses, who were pursuing them relentlessly – were unwilling to let them off, they could forget about any chance of escaping.
The height variation of the top of the trees was greatly advantageous to their leaping and escaping. Under this kind of circumstances, their unique skill of taking a breath while high up in the air was displaying its divine efficacy even more.
Two Tujue martial art masters suddenly sprang out of their hiding place on a tree branch to mount a sneak attack. Like two streaks of lightning their lances struck the lower part of Xu Ziling’s body, while Xu Ziling was busy dealing with three saber strikes.
From behind, seeing the turn of events was not too encouraging, Kou Zhong abruptly took a mouthful of true qi, and fell headlong, so that his legs were up and his head down, the Moon in the Well ferociously chopped two sabers. In turn, the sabers accurately hit the two lances.
Hit by the chop, the two Tujue martial art masters’ lances broke and the people injured, they fell down to the ground.
Kou Zhong used this opportunity to reverse his force, he easily grabbed the clothes on Xu Ziling’s back, and borrowed the force to soar higher, and thus both the two enemies’ left and right attack hit empty air.
Reaching the height of about two zhang above the treetop, it was Xu Ziling’s turn to take a breath, and so he took Kou Zhong flying across the air, and successfully broke through the siege net. They jumped back to the ground, passed the trees through the forest, and slipped away, free and easy.
The two boys stepped into a stream and ran swiftly to the east for nearly five li. Ahead was a mountain range extending forever into the distance. Following the mountain, the snowy forest was also extending up, higher and steeper.
Instead of alarmed, the two boys were delighted. They climbed up, and a short moment later they reached a dangerous cliff. Looking down, they only saw several fiery dragons flickering, flashing on and off – rushing toward their location high up in the mountain. The dogs’ bark and the horses’ neigh destroyed the tranquility of the snowy forest and wild mountain range.
Using the forest as a cover, the two boys looked up to examine the night sky first, looking for any trail of the falcon. Kou Zhong laughed and said, “That flat-feathered beast must be extremely tired! It does not have any strength to fly around in the sky.”
Xu Ziling said, “You are probably only half right. The eagle ought to be resting on its master’s shoulder; when needed, it would be dispatched.”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said with a sigh, “If I were Li Yuanji, I would have beaten the gong to recall the troops early on and come back to Chang’an to sleep. Under the circumstances just now, he still let us break the siege and escape, not to mention the current terrain?”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “Li Yuanji is eager to win and loves to render meritorious service, how could he be willing to give up? Ke Dazhi is accustomed to difficult combat environment, he can’t possibly concede that easily. Unless we can leave Guanzhong, these diao xue gui [lit. hanging-boots ghost] definitely will not let us off.”
Feeling big headache, Kou Zhong said, “What can we do to get rid of that pesky flat-feathered beast?”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, “There is only one way, which is also the most dangerous way.”
Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes lit up, he said, “You mean the Great River?”
Xu Ziling resolutely said, “Only by using the water to escape will we have the hope to avoid the falcon’s sharp eyes. Otherwise, once we are out of the mountain forest, the eagle would immediately find us. Come on!”
Before the sky brightened, the two boys crossed over seven, eight hills, big and small, and reached the area at the edge of the woods, where the trees were sparse and green. Outside, as far as the eye could see, was the vast expanse of snowy plain.
According to Kou Zhong’s estimate, if they turned north, they would reach the Yellow River by that afternoon, but on this road, it would be difficult to conceal their track. Under the full light of day, it would be even more difficult evade the falcon’s eyes. Plus they were certain that the coastal area of the Yellow River would be teeming with the enemy’s massive military force, because it would be the most direct and most convenient path to leave Guanzhong. If they went downstream from there, in two days they would be leaving Tongguan.
Although Tongguan was a natural stronghold, it was only with regard to the enemies coming from the east; if they were coming from the west, going swiftly down the river, as long as they could withstand arrows and rocks, they would be able to get through the Pass in a short moment.
Xu Ziling withdrew his gaze from the sky; he spoke in low voice, “How’s your condition?”
Kou Zhong was still looking for any trace of the eagle; he replied, “My strength is much better than before! After traveling that long, I still unconsciously gasping for breath. Ling Shao has any good idea?”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “I am a lazy person, I can only have lazy person’s idea. Do you have any confidence that you will be able to rely on inner breathing and close your qi to hide inside the snow for one or two sichen? After the enemy leave, we can sleep to our heart’s content, and then proceed after dark to go to the Great River.”
“That’s all I can think of as well,” Kou Zhong said, “In here, or on the outside?”
Xu Ziling said, “Under here perhaps the tree roots are intertwining. Come!”
The two spotted an area about a dozen zhang outside the forest with an especially thick snow between two small hills. Unleashing their ‘treading on the snow without leaving a trace’ skill, they flashed over as fast as lightning, and then lying flat on the snow. After making sure that there was no eagle in the sky, they applied their power to sink into the snow.
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “I still remember that day we left Yingyang, I only wanted to have fun and sank into the snow, yet as a result we beat back Yuwen Chengdu.”
Kou Zhong was circulating his power to force heat out to dissolve the ice and snow he was lying on. Thinking about what happened that day, he could not help emotional stirring from filling his heart. There were six of them that day; Cui Dong was killed on the spot, although Susu escaped great catastrophe, in the end she fell ill due to the distress caused by Xiang Yushan, which led her to her death. The former dust [in Buddhism: impurity contracted previously (in the sentient world)] and past events were flashing by one by one in his mind.
In the blink of an eye the two boys disappeared under a layer of snow. For fear of the dogs sniffing the reeking of blood on their clothes, they sank down to the depth of nearly five chi, straight to the solid ground under the snow accumulation, before they stopped.
It was so quiet under the snow; only their heartbeat and the sound of blood circulating through their arteries were dotting this wonderful world.
Actually, it was because they had no other way that they had to take this risk. If the enemy came above them, there was a great chance that they would see the traces of the melting snow. Or perhaps martial art masters of Ke Dazhi’s caliber would sense their presence.
They applied their power to seal the pores on their whole body, so that the body heat would not be emitted outside, while also to prevent the cold air from invading inside. The breathing from the mouth and nose was cutoff, the inner breathing was circulating endlessly, and they were entering the fetal breathing state.
The two boys’ mind was in a haze; it was as if they were returning to some kind of inborn realm like being back inside their mother’s womb as a fetus.
It was an unprecedented feeling.
Suddenly a loud noise brought them back to their senses.
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong focused their power into their ears. Immediately the voices became clear.
Ke Dazhi’s voice said, “They are running away toward the snowy plain west of the Pass; Kana must be able to find them.”
Mei Xun’s voice said, “How can there be not the least bit of trace on the snow?”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong shivered greatly. They had just hid themselves in the snow, and the enemy already pursued them here. Evidently there must be an expert in following a trail within the enemy ranks, so that all along they were following behind the two boys without losing their track. Listening to the tone of their voice, there was no doubt that the expert must be Ke Dazhi.
Even stranger yet, they were under five chi of snow, yet they were still able to hear the enemy’s conversation, which happened on the ground, more than a dozen zhang away – very clearly.
Gnashing his teeth, Li Yuanji said, “These two kids are crafty with a hundred changes, luckily we have Dazhi leading the way; otherwise, I am afraid we already lost their track early on.”
Letting out a cold snort, Ke Dazhi said, “To escape my, Ke Dazhi’s tracking, they do not have enough skill [acquired through religious practice] yet.”
Qiu Wensheng said, “Their footprints extends straight from the mountain top to here; could it be that they are carrying out the deploying-troops-to-mislead-the-enemy tactic, to make us believe that they are running toward the snowy plain, while in fact leaving from the treetops, and hence there’s no footprint on the snow?”
Mei Xun agreed; he said, “Qiu Dangjia’s [chief] question is not without reason.”
Ke Dazhi said, “Not leaving any footprints on the snow, if it is for a short distance, we can do it as well. Huh? Unexpectedly Kana cannot find them.”
It was only this moment that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling realized that ‘Kana’ was the falcon’s name.
Even Li Yuanjii’s confidence was swayed; he said, “We must not be fooled by those two email protected kids.”
Ke Dazhi spoke with determination, “I dare say they are running away to the snowy plain. Otherwise, the smell of blood can’t possibly disappear here. Even if they left from the treetop, they would certainly leave the scent. Only by rushing to the snowy plain will the reek of blood gradually dissipating in the direction of the snowy plain.”
Under the layer of snow, hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling drew out a mouthful of cold air. Perhaps Ke Dazhi’s nose was more formidable than the dogs’.
The sound of footsteps was rushing in as a large number of enemies, who were falling behind – finally caught up.
“You go into the forest and search everywhere,” Li Yuanji ordered.
The footsteps scattered.
And then there were footsteps approaching from afar; evidently Li Yuanji and the others were leaving the forest and came to this place.
Other than praying to God and worshipping Buddha, the two boys could not do anything.
Li Yuanji said, “This place is open as far as the eye can see; unless they bury themselves in the snow, where can they hide?”
Ke Dazhi said, “Since they can go into the water without coming out, naturally they have the ability to close their breathing for a long time. It is extremely possible that they are hiding under the snow.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling groaned inwardly. This time they definitely brought the disaster upon themselves.
Their inner breathing was extremely taxing to the real energy; if the enemy was guarding above, their only choice was to rush out to the ground earlier and fight to the death with the enemy.
Mei Xun said, “People who train qigong from internal school are able to prolong their qi inside the meridians. Closing qi while doing nothing for a quarter hour definitely won’t be a problem, much less it was in the middle of a snowstorm, visibility was very low. If they dived underwater, they could exploit the situation at the Yong An Canal to come to the surface at any time to take a breath. But if they buried themselves in the snow, no matter how profound their power is, holding up for half a sichen is already extremely remarkable.”
Qiu Wensheng also said, “I hear that martial art masters who are proficient in water skill can breathe through the pores on their skin; therefore, they are able to stay underwater for a long time. Perhaps those two kids are proficient in this technique.”
Mei Xun said, “Not that Xiaodi want to sing on the same stage as Ke Xiong, but I am afraid we just sit and waste a good opportunity; we are painstakingly searching in here, but they already calmly run away outside the Pass.”
Ke Dazhi sighed and said, “Dazhi is only expressing my opinion! Naturally it would be up to Qi Wang to decide.”
Li Yuanji resolutely said, “We will divide our troops into two groups. Dazhi will lead one team to stay here and wait for one sichen; if you can’t find them, then we’ll link up again. If I were they, I would hide in the mountain forest, waiting for dark. Ay! It’s snowing again!”
Under the layer of snow, the two boys heaved a sigh of relief. First of all, they really could not hold up for one sichen; secondly, the snow would eliminate the barely-remaining traces on the ground, so that they could hide without any worries.
Two snow heads appeared from within the snow. The heaven and earth were completely filled with boundless floating snow.
Kou Zhong greedily took two deep breaths, turned to Xu Ziling, and said, “Now what do we do?”
Xu Ziling looked like a snowman. Looking up to the sky, he said, “Do you think when we are looking like we are right now, would Kana recognize us from high in the sky?”
Kou Zhong replied, “As long as you don’t look up to the sky, divine eagles won’t be able to see you. Are we going to wait for the night like this?”
Xu Ziling said, “My gut feeling is that Ke Dazhi is definitely not someone who would easily give up his conviction. Therefore, he would pretend to be leaving, while in fact he is still waiting nearby, to see if we would show ourselves.”
Kou Zhong turned his gaze in the direction of the mountain forest, which had just hidden from sight by a newly formed snow accumulation. If Ke Dazhi was hiding inside the forest, quite likely he would not be able to see them. But if they climb up to the ground, they might immediately expose their whereabouts.
Kou Zhong said, “Your intuition can’t be wrong. Ke Dazhi is indeed that kind of person. Just now the danger was coming really close to us. Were it not for Mei Xun wanted to share the limelight with Ke Dazhi, a large number of men would defend their property to the death in here, everything would definitely bode ill, with no positive signs for us.”
Snowflakes were constantly falling on their head; all around them the snow accumulation was slowly rising.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “I have a daring idea. How about we jump out just like that, to lure that kid to pursue us. Our legs are faster, so that after we throw off the rest of his men, we turn around and kill that kid. Without Ke Dazhi, our chance of leaving successfully will increase considerably.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling replied, “How can killing that Ke kid be as effortless and easy as you said? Worst thing is that if they found out about our great method of closing the qi, then the gains would not make up for the losses.”
Frowning, Kou Zhong said, “What do we do then?”
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, “Right now the enemies are tired of constantly running for their life, their mind is confused their heart anxious, while we are actually calmly holding up our movements. It would be better to preserve and nurture our spirit well, to restore our exhausted true energy. And then when the sky turns dark, that will be our world!”
Kou Zhong cheerfully said, “I have a better idea. Just now our training was only halfway before we were interrupted by those people. While we don’t have anything else to do now, how about we continue?”
Xu Ziling jumped in fright, “You still dare to try?” he asked.
Sneering, Kou Zhong replied, “Why not? The heretical qi of the Relics has been given as a present to those bunch of idiots, only the orthodox qi remains. Plus this time we already take precautions against it, nothing can go wrong.”
Under the snow, Xu Ziling’s hands were holding Kou Zhong’s hands firmly; a powerful confidence welled up in his heart, he said, “We will take a gradual approach; if something does not feel proper, we’ll stop immediately.”
Kou Zhong slowly transmitted his true qi out; he laughed and said, “Don’t worry! Whether it’s a dragon or a snake, we’ll see soon.”
Even Kou Zhong did not realize that his casual remark, which he meant as a joke, was actually the real situation.
The reason they were able to become the top grandmaster of martial art study without equal throughout the world in their generation later on – was precisely due to this training in the snow, where they completely stabilized the Relics’ primordial essence, and transformed it into their own primordial essence, so that in the future they were able to make breakthrough after breakthrough, climbing to the top of the martial art world.
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