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On Helian Hill, dead bodies were strewn everywhere in open s.p.a.ce, blood flowed like a river.
Their arrows exhausted, their bullets depleted, the three were no longer able to utilize the most advantageous darkness and the favorable location of the top of the hill to resist the enemy outside the fort.
The enemy’s arrows flew like a plague of locusts, forcing Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong to retreat and defend the wall and platform on the second floor. Xu Ziling defended the south gate alone, which was the only access to the fort. As long as he could closely guard this pa.s.s, the only way the enemy could attack the second floor’s wall and platform was by darting through the rocks and climbing over the wall.
The Helian Fort, which was so st.u.r.dy that iron hammer could not break it, has become their lifesaver before their blood ran dry and their strength exhausted. The Helian Fort became like the honey where the Golden Wolf Army rapidly swarmed over like bees; one fell, the next followed, searching for a crack, looking for a gap – that they could exploit to attack.
The Treasured-Vase Qi flared out, how could two Tujue warriors be able to withstand? Their bodies were thrown backward, they crashed onto the other warriors charging up the hill, suffering a crushing defeat. However, Xu Ziling also felt that his strength suffered sudden drain. Reaching backhandedly, he s.n.a.t.c.hed an enemy’s saber, while kicking another enemy at the same time, sending him flying backwards while spurting blood and landed outside the door.
Saber light flashed again, he hacked down an iron shield. The spiraling energy sent the man spinning and tumbling out the door, and disappeared from Xu Ziling’s line of sight.
The torches bathed the Helian Fort red. No one could tell the difference between the red from the blaze and the red of the blood. The battle was desperate to the extreme point.
Suddenly a palm strike arrived, carrying with it a very strong gust of wind, forcing the other Tujue warriors to scatter around like dead leaves. The speed, the timing, and the angle were flawless, so that the only option left for Xu Ziling was to stake everything to meet the strike head-on.
Xu Ziling forgot about all the wounds, big and small, on his body; he knew that if he failed to block this ten-thousand-jun-thunderbolt palm strike, the south gate would be lost.
Taking a deep breath, he concentrated the hidden power generated by Huan Ri Da Fa, while his mouth spat up an incantation, like a sudden rumble of thunder on the plains, ‘Zhao!’ His right palm collided head-to-head with the opponent’s palm power.
Xu Ziling spurted out a mouthful of fresh blood, as he staggered half a step backward. But the shooting out toppling-the-mountains-and-overturning-the-seas, as well as highly-concentrated – Treasured-Vase Qi and the spiraling energy also made the invader spurting out blood and tumbling back, revealing Tonyukuk’s clear and strange, as well as br.i.m.m.i.n.g with astonishment – expression; evidently he refused to believe the outcome of this head-on, stake-it-all move.
Two cavalry sabers immediately swooped in to fill the gap left by Tonyukuk, separately attacking Xu Ziling’s face and the vital points between his chest and abdomen. The attack was fierce and severe, unlike ordinary Golden Wolf warriors at all.
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, knowing that he did not have much time; how much longer would he be able to hold on?
His short shout of incantation completely overwhelmed the sound of battle and the shouting of the enemies attacking the fort, intimidating the entire battlefield. But at the same time it boosted the spirit of the blood-soaked and fighting-hard-battle Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong on the second floor; at least they knew that Xu Ziling downstairs was still alive, and was still defending the south gate steadily.
Kou Zhong’s chasing-the-spirit-and-s.n.a.t.c.hing-the-soul Moon in the Well’s yellow light was flashing everywhere across the watchtower. Unleashing his saber technique, he gave everything he had, using the newly comprehended amazing power to protect his body, staking it all, enduring the enemy’s blade and shedding his blood, each move was aimed to s.n.a.t.c.h victory amidst danger, using his life to gamble for survival.
After killing more than a dozen men, unexpectedly no one was fit to meet his saber; he had killed all the Golden Wolf Army’s martial art masters leaping up to him, they all fell outside the castle wall with snapping neck and broken bones, their dead bodies were piling up at the foot of the wall.
Powerful counter force shocked his arm that it went numb. This was the first time anybody was able to, not only parry his Moon in the Well, but fight back as well. The tip of his toes tapped the top of the wall, the person soared into the air, the long cavalry saber stabbed down on the top of Kou Zhong’s head.
The shenfa [body movement] and daofa [saber technique] fused into one, the style was exquisite beyond compare. The powerful-without-equal saber qi enveloped Kou Zhong tightly.
At the same time, another man rose up to the top of the wall, Water Caltrop Spear shot out of his sleeve, fast as lightning it flew toward the pit of Kou Zhong’s stomach.
Kou Zhong’s left palm swept the top of the Water Caltrop Spear, while his saber swept upward. Laughing heartily, he said, “Great Khan is too courteous; even if you want to send off the guests, you don’t need to accompany the guests to the nether world.”
Naturally the saber wielder was the Eastern Tujue’s Great Khan, the overlord of the prairie, Xieli. The master of the Water Caltrop Spear was Zhao Deyan, who ranked third among the ‘Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way’. The two have already agreed on a plan to go all out to get rid of Kou Zhong first before dealing with Ba Fenghan on the other side.
This moment more than a dozen Tujue martial art masters appeared on the top of the wall. Their only mission on the battlefield was, even if they had to sacrifice their life – to protect Xieli at all cost, not to let any harm coming upon him; at any time, they must be as inseparable as form and shadow with Xieli. It’s just that just now, in his raging temper, Xieli was impatient to kill Kou Zhong, hence he rushed ahead of them to charge up the wall and onto the platform.
The Moon in the Well, sweeping upward, displayed a subtle change that was difficult to believe, so that no matter how Xieli changed his offensive, the saber blade was still sweeping it up. Xieli’s entire body shook, being swept up by Kou Zhong that he soared up, and momentarily was unable to pose any threat to Kou Zhong.
One was standing on the ground, the other side hanging in midair, naturally the latter suffered losses.
The tip of the palm swept the tip of the Water Caltrop, forcing it to sweep away. Kou Zhong abruptly twisted his bear-waist, like a canopy in front of him, the Moon in the Well went straight to stab the pit of Zhao Deyan’s stomach. If he could not force Zhao Deyan down the wall, tonight next year would be the anniversary of his death.
Three spears and two sabers, several people attacked him from left and right, but they were still a tad too slow.
Zhao Deyan showed a look of disdain. The Water Caltrop Spear slithered back into his sleeve like a viper, his left hand swiftly chopped, he met the saber blade head on.
Kou Zhong cheered inwardly; just now he borrowed Xieli’s true qi, guaranteed to make Zhao Deyan suffer a big loss.
He was not worried that Zhao Deyan would not fall into the trap, because Zhao Deyan still thought that Kou Zhong was still like the Kou Zhong in Chang’an, how could he be afraid to meet Kou Zhong’s saber head-on?
Zhao Deyan hit the blade of the saber; instantly his countenance changed greatly.
Vortex of energy shot out; like a violent wind, angry wave it rolled into Zhao Deyan, so that even Zhao Deyan was unable to stand. He spun backward and fell outside the wall. If it were a second cla.s.s martial art master, it could be guaranteed that before he hit the ground, he would have spurted out blood and died.
Kou Zhong swiftly retreated backward, so that the enemy was now attacking him from the front. Laughing aloud, he said, “Fenghan Xiong, it’s time to protect the stairs!”
His voice spread out far and wide.
The entire Helian Fort was designed in such a way that its main role was defense. The wall was as strong as iron, it need not be mentioned further. To guard against the enemy attacking up to the second floor of the city gate tower, this level was divided into inner and outer, two layers of defensive line. On top of the city wall, there was still square-shaped city gate tower. The third level’s watchtower platform could accommodate twenty people with the roof of the building as the cornerstone, majestically towering over the Fort. The city gate tower had two exits, east and west.
The stone steps were precisely in the middle of the city gate tower, leading into the lower level. Seeing the situation was not too encouraging, Kou Zhong hurriedly informed Ba Fenghan to retreat to the city gate tower, which he called protecting the stairs, but actually it was to save their own life.
Ba Fenghan’s shout came from the air, as he roared in Tujue language, “Xieli, keep your life for now!”
The tacit understanding between Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan was second only to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling; he understood Ba Fenghan’s strategy immediately. Accelerating his retreat, he pa.s.sed through the west door of the city gate tower, and after entering the city tower, he turned around and brandished his saber to meet the Golden Wolf Army flocking in from the east door, without paying attention to the enemy on the other side at all.
On the city gate tower itself, the sound of sword blade splitting the air filled the atmosphere. Valiant like the G.o.d of War, Ba Fenghan soared close to the pillar of the highest watchtower. The Beheading Mystery Sword turned into a long streak of light, it slashed down at full force on wearing-golden-robe Xieli’s bald head.
On the other side, Xieli’s group of martial art masters, his personal guards, everyone was shocked, how could they have the mind to chase and kill Kou Zhong? One after another they pulled their body up to block Ba Fenghan.
Xieli was so angry that he nearly vomited blood. This moment his mouthful of true qi has been used up, he has not recovered the true qi he lost from staking-it-all against Kou Zhong earlier. Facing Ba Fenghan’s br.i.m.m.i.n.g with once-released-would-not-withdrawn, using-life-to-win-life sword strike, although fully aware that as long as he was willing to stake it all with a both-sides-suffer move, parrying Ba Fenghan a move for a move, his men would definitely have time to put Ba Fenghan in order. However, it was clear that he did not dare to take this big risk. He stretched out his leg to tap on the column of the watchtower, and changed his direction to fall straight down, to fly outside the city wall.
Seeing his tactic succeeded and he forced Xieli to run away, Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, “Great Khan is scared!”
Suddenly he sunk his qi so that he fell straight down to avoid all attacks and landed outside the city gate tower’s west door, before retreating back into the city gate tower. The Beheading Mystery Sword flew left and right, two Golden Wolf troops met the sword, their blood splashed and they fell down.
Leaping up the city gate tower again, Zhao Deyan launched his school’s unique skill, the most formidable killer move of the ‘Eighteen Claws Returning the Soul’, the ‘Green Dragon Jealous Lord’, his hands coiled around while changing constantly to attack Ba Fenghan.
Letting out a cold laugh, Ba Fenghan did not care about the subtle changes of his claw technique at all, the Beheading Mystery Sword swiftly stabbed his face, showing clearly that he was ready to perish together with Zhao Deyan.
Without any choice, Zhao Deyan changed his move; the chain of the Water Caltrop Spear shot out from inside both sleeves, forming a cross with which he scrambled to parry the enemy’s sword.
Zhao Deyan recoiled from the impact, while the other men hurriedly filled the gap he had just vacated, launching another round of attack toward Ba Fenghan.
On the other side, Kou Zhong was driving the enemies forcing their entrance into the city gate tower outside the door. His defense was as steady as copper wall, iron bastion, not a splash of water can come through. However, he was well aware that just now the wear and tear to his true qi was extremely severe, very soon he would reach the sun-sets-over-the-western-hills situation, and then how long would he be able to stand?
Xieli jumped back on the city wall platform and landed by Zhao Deyan’s side. He was about to speak when warning signals came from outside the fort. The two looked in shock, only to see the flame was blazing on the prairie’s northeast horizon, thick smoke rolled in like black clouds toward them, and the noise of people shouting and fighting was faintly heard; they wondered inwardly whether Tuli was coming?
The city wall platform was crowded to bursting point with Golden Wolf Army; one fell, the next followed, they attacked Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan guarding the gate with everything they had, yet it was still difficult to leap over the thunder pond even for half a step. It was a clear display of the two’s astonishing tenacity, power and determination.
Zhao Deyan said, “Resist foreign aggression first before pacifying the inside. Even if they grew wings, these three kids will be difficult to fly.”
Xieli hesitated for half a day, only then did he accept Zhao Deyan’s proposal and issued the order to temporary withdraw.
The Golden Wolf Army withdrawing back to the ground floor of the castle, Xu Ziling returned to the city wall platform. The three looked at each other with bitter smile.
Fighting with all their might, their entire body, from head to foot, was covered in blood, and they were on the brink of collapsing from exhaustion. If Xieli ignored the outside enemy and continued his a.s.sault, perhaps this moment they would have to nurse a grievance and lie on the ground as corpses.
The smoke from the fire on the northeast covered a wide expanse of the prairie. The Golden Wolf Army changed formation. Although the Helian Fort was still heavily surrounded in the middle, they maneuvered the troops strongly defending the northeast position, away from the area where the intensity of the fire was the highest.
Due to the heavy moisture content in the air in the spring, while it was possible to use fire-arms and kerosene to increase the fire intensity, it was difficult for the fire to gain momentum to spread. Therefore, Xieli’s countermeasure was extremely proper.
Gazing at the thick smoke covering a large area on the northeast, while gasping for breath, Ba Fenghan said, “I wonder who’s helping us?”
He had not finished speaking, a group of riders rushed out from inside the thick smoke, breaking through a group of Golden Wolf troops who had not steadied their footings yet, like a hot knife through b.u.t.ter they killed their way toward the castle.
Like a cruel dragon the leader’s long-handled axe spun around, those who tried to block were swept by the wind. To their surprise, it was none other than the Hui tribe warrior Pusa, who had been exiled by his own father. Following closely behind him were his men, which by this time had increased in number to more than seventy men. All were staking their life to fight to the death; all were unstoppably brave. Although their number was pathetically small compared to the opponent, their power was concentrated, plus they were taking advantage of the golden opportunity while the Golden Wolf Army was being maneuvered in haste. Under cover of the thick smoke, they succeeded in cutting a gap, and in the blink of an eye they reached the bottom of the northeast slope.
The three men’s spirit was greatly aroused. By his own initiative, Xu Ziling checked and collected the arrows on the ground and handed them over to Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan, to be shot out by the Extinguished Sun, Perished Moon, two bows, to support the a.s.sisting troops.
Bugle horn sounded again, the Golden Wolf Army strived to block them, but they were one step too late.
Pusa’s troops showed exquisite equestrianism, they simply rode their horses flying up the rugged and precipitous slope and came to the top of the hill.
Laughing aloud, Kou Zhong said, “Pusa Xiong did not bring any wine?”
From the back of his horse, Pusa leaped onto the top of the wall and landed nearby the three. Letting out a long laugh, he said, “After killing the Golden Wolf thieves, I will certainly drink my fill until daybreak with three gentlemen.”
None of his men was not a martial art master, veteran of a hundred battles. Without needing any instruction, each one occupied a strategic point, and immediately shot the Golden Wolf Army back down the slope, successfully establishing defensive line.
Toward Pusa’s supremely honorable and righteous action, all three men’s heart was intensely strengthened, as well as extremely grateful.
Grabbing Pusa’s solid shoulders, Ba Fenghan said, “I, Ba Fenghan make you a friend. No! A brother.”
Casting his gaze in the direction of the fluttering Golden Wolf banner, Pusa said with a sigh, “Frankly, I was really struggling whether I should come to throw away my life together with you. But I know my own affair; if I let three gentlemen fighting to the death in here, although I, Pusa, can live alone, I will definitely not pa.s.s my days in happiness later on.”
And then he shouted loudly at Xieli’s direction, “Xieli baby, I, Pusa, do not consider you worthy in my eyes; I want to see what are you going to do to me?”
Xiely angrily shouted back, “Ignorant baby, you want to die with them, I’ll help you accomplishing your aim.”
The fire on the northeast subsided. Although it still emitted a bit of smoke, it no longer posed any threat.
Pusa’s men brought the horses into the ground level, but the men spread out across the top of the hill in tight formation, waiting and ready.
With the addition of this batch of fresh force troops, Kou Zhong, three men’s fighting spirit received big boost. Using the fastest method they picked up the arrows and darts that the Golden Wolf Army had shot up, ready to be shot back at the enemy’s face.
Amidst the sound of bugle horn, the Golden Wolf Army was advancing slowly, deploying the third round of the big attack.
Pusa said in praise, “I really don’t understand, relying on your, three men’s strength, how did you keep the lid on Xieli for that long?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “You will understand very soon.”
The sound of battle cry sprang up everywhere. Like a tide, the Golden Wolf Army charged up the hill. This time, they were employing different tactic; using a clear style of shield and saber wielder infantry, they attack upward along the slopes on all four sides. Evidently they wanted to consume their arrows first.
Ba Fenghan said, “Kou Zhong and I will defend the high platform.”
Kou Zhong already leaped up and shouted loudly, “Those who are not afraid of death, come!”
The attack and defense battle was in full swing on all sides.
Under the shroud of the Extinguished Sun, Perished Moon, two bows’ terrifying formidable power, the arrows shot at the enemy attacking up like flying locusts so that the dead and injured were piled in a heap, but their supply of arrows was used up rapidly as well.
Standing on top of the slope, Xu Ziling shot the last arrow, shattering the shield and penetrating the enemy’s chest, sending him flying down the hill. “Retreat to the city gate tower!” he shouted loudly.
Everybody hurriedly withdrew to the city gate tower. Who would have thought that the Golden Wolf Army also retreated down the slope? Naturally they knew that it was not out of Xieli’s kindness to give them a bit of rest, but he wanted to use fresh force army to replace the injured and weary warriors, to launch another round of violent attack on them.
Xu Ziling defended the south gate alone, while the others set up their defense on the city wall platform.
Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan leaped back onto the city wall platform, but they saw inside and outside the Helian Fort lying corpses were everywhere; the scene was tragic, a silent display of the cruelty of war in its most terrifying form.
His heroism reaching to the clouds, Pusa shouted, “Brothers, to be able to fight to the death at Helian Fort with Ba Fenghan, Kou Zhong, and Xu Ziling, whose names shook the world, there is no regret.”
The speech was made in Hui tribe language. The crowd of Hui warriors responded thunderously, their fighting spirit reached its highest level.
Bugle horn suddenly sounded again.
Concentrated at the bottom of the south slope, the five-hundred-man army shouted together and charged up the hill.
Astonished, Kou Zhong said, “Fully aware that they are coming to throw away their life, yet they are still rushing that quickly? It’s really strange.”
Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, “Not only Shaoshuai views death as a return home, you also view deadly battle as a game. My admiration, my admiration.”
All of a sudden the fort was surrounded by the Tujue cavalry. Arrows and darts were sprinkling up like torrential rain, everybody hid behind the thick wall, quietly waiting for the moment where the enemy would leap up to attack.
※ ※ ※
The first line of dawn appeared at the northeastern horizon of the prairie, the Golden Wolf Army, which had suffered disastrous dead and wounded, withdrew to the plains. Yet n.o.body had any sense of victory at all, simply because everybody knew that it would be difficult to withstand the enemy’s next round of attack.
Without the cover of the night, their defeat might come faster and more disastrous.
Including Kou Zhong, three men, they only had thirty-eight men left, five of whom were seriously injured that they were unable to continue fighting.
Everybody was unbearable exhausted, and large amount of blood loss had made them close to collapsing.
The Golden Wolf banner was gradually approaching. The offensive this time would be under Xieli’s personal command, utilizing the most elite of his personal guards, to end the bitter battle that has been continuing the whole night.
Returning to the city wall platform, Xu Ziling said with a bitter smile, “I hope Xieli would fight at the head of his troops, taking the lead to charge up; perhaps we could call on him to accompany us in the burial.”
Shaking his head, Pusa said, “That is not Xieli’s style. His greatest enemy is Tuli; therefore, he can’t possibly risk his life for us.”
Ba Fenghan’s gaze swept past the distant place of the prairie, and then back to the charred mountain top all around and the dead bodies scattered everywhere. He said, “The enemy’s casualty is over five hundred. Although it has no effect on Xieli’s military strength, but it definitely renders a big blow on the Golden Wolf Army’s acute spirit. If Tuli could rush over in time, perhaps he could score a ferocious victory, so that in short term, Xieli won’t dare to invade to the east.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Listening to the tone of Old Ba’s voice, it appears that there is no more hatred toward Tuli.”
And then he spoke heavily, “I hope Tuli could take revenge and wipe out a grudge for us. Come!”
Everybody looked down the south slope, only to see the Golden Wolf Army divided itself into three groups, waiting for action after having acc.u.mulated their energy.
Kou Zhong’s eyes fell on Xiang Yushan mingling among Xieli’s group of men. “Xiang Yushan,” he roared, “If I, Kou Zhong, do not die this time, I will definitely take thy life as a sacrifice for Su Jie’s spirit.”
Tonyukuk shouted back, “Death is near at hand, you still dare to speak conceited nonsense.”
Xieli was about to give an order, sound of hoof beats suddenly came from the northeast, from afar but coming near. By listening to the sound of the hoof beats, the incoming riders must be in the thousands.
None on Xieli’s side did not have his countenance changed.
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