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Chai Shao stormed in like a whirlwind.
Knowing his position, Kou Zhong stepped aside. His heart was overwhelmed with bitter, humbling feeling of being wronged. Indeed it was like drinking snow water in chilly weather; only those who had drunk it would know the taste.
Li Xiuning had never expected that Chai Shao would suddenly barge in; she understood Kou Zhong’s feeling from experience. Knitting her brows, she said, “Didn’t you go to the Heavenly Policy Mansion to see Qin Wang?”
Deeply concerned, Chai Shao exhibited his feelings in his speech, saying, “I heard Gongzhu’s noble body is sick, Chai Shao …”
Li Xiuning was afraid he might see through Kou Zhong’s disguise, she cut him off by speaking to Kou Zhong, “Mo Xiansheng is a very busy person, Xiuning does not dare to waste Xiansheng’s precious time. Guards! See Mo Xiansheng off for me.”
Chai Shao’s handsome eyes shot toward Kou Zhong, he said, “Let me see Mo Xiansheng off!”
Kou Zhong hastily said, “Fuma Ye need not be polite; Ning Gongzhu’s illness is due to excessive anxiety, plus she is constantly on the move, hence she caught a little bit of cold. If Fuma Ye could ease up Gongzhu’s emotional issue, she would recover without any medicine.”
Kou Zhong’s mind could move very fast; he guessed correctly that Chai Shao volunteering to see him off was to inquire in private about Li Xiuning’s illness. This aspect he and Li Xiuning had not had common agreement. If later on Chai Shao bring it up and compare it Li Xiuning’s response, they would surely reveal the cloven foot.
Therefore, he specifically mentioned the patient’s condition in Li Xiuning’s presence, so that they would not reveal any flaw.
Chai Shao naturally knew that Li Xiuning was upset about her three elder brothers’ struggle, hence Kou Zhong’s casually grasped cause of her illness was absolutely impeccable.
Although Kou Zhong did not like Chai Shao’s arrogance, but he knew that Chai Shao’s deep love toward Li Xiuning was sincere.
Chai Shao cordially said, “Let Chai Shao see Xiansheng off to the Palace gate!”
Kou Zhong had no choice but to agree.
Actually, he ought to thank Chai Shao for interrupting his talk with Li Xiuning, because he did not wish to see her unhappy. But the other pain in his heart was that Li Yuan already formally decided the engagement between the two.
He, Kou Zhong, could simply put his heart to death.
Today might be an extremely busy day for him.
Last night, he and Xu Ziling have already plotted good deployment plan in response to the latest development. They would split up today to execute their separate tasks, and then they would join hands again to launch the attack.
Before seeing Shang Xiufang, he still needed to find someone. If this person was willing to cooperate with them, their momentum would grow tremendously.
※ ※ ※
Finished listening, Shi Feixuan pondered silently. Her beautiful eyes were radiating intelligent rays of light.
Xu Ziling suddenly asked, “Would Shi Xiaojie make your move to deal with the enemy?”
Astonished, Shi Feixuan asked, “Why did Ziling ask such a strange question?”
Because Shi Feixuan’s heartless hint rendered a heavy blow, which wound he had to bury deep inside his heart – Xu Ziling recovered his usual calm, confident and at ease manner.
Toward Shi Feixuan, he had never had more than wild schemes and wild fantasy, but between the two, they have always maintained some kind of seeming-neither-close-nor-distant subtle relation. But Shi Feixuan’s action has skillfully smashed this wonderful, hard-to-describe relationship.
Smiling, he said, “Other than stabbing Xiaodi a few times with the sword due to the Jade Annulus of He Clan affair, Shi Xiaojie has only fought a desperate battle against Wanwan; hence Xiaodi’s question.”
Shi Feixuan smiled and said, “Learning the sword is to be used to subdue the demon and defend traditional values, how could it not be used to fight with others? It was because Feixuan has my school’s support behind my back, and those of the same principle in Jianghu give Feixuan enough face that Feixuan has not been involved in situation where weapons of war are being used in a big way. The most subtle thing is that between the demonic school and the side that Feixuan is representing there is an unwritten tacit understanding, which is Wanwan is Feixuan’s match. Supposing someone destroys this balance, it would stir up the huge waves between the Buddhist and Taoist, two schools, against the demonic school.”
Xu Ziling said, “So to speak, is it inappropriate for Shi Xiaojie to personally deal with demonic school people?”
Shi Feixuan’s beautiful eyes staring deeply into his eyes, she said, “Who do you want to deal with?”
Xu Ziling nonchalantly replied, “Shi Zhixuan!”
Even with Shi Feixuan’s level of self-cultivation, her tender body still shook slightly. “Do you know where he is?” she asked.
Xu Ziling replied, “I could tell you, but Xiaojie must keep this secret for us.”
Staring fixedly at him, Shi Feixuan lightly shook her small cicada head and said, “Why is it that the two of you always can do what others cannot do? Feixuan already used all the bargaining chips in my hand, yet Shi Zhixuan’s whereabouts is still a mystery, but you, as easy as blowing off dust, can show him to me.”
Xu Ziling said, “This is perhaps the Will of Heaven. Wu Lou Si’s Zhuchi is precisely Shi Zhixuan’s embodiment.”
Stunned, Shi Feixuan said, “Unexpectedly there is such thing. Wu Lou Si’s Zhuchi, Dazhi Shengseng [lit. great wisdom holy monk] is a well-known virtuous person. Most of the time he lives in seclusion in Buddhist meditation, he rarely has any contact with outsiders. Ay! This is certainly a marvelous way to conceal his track. How did you find out?”
It was only after listening to Xu Ziling’s explanation did Shi Feixuan find out that when disguised as Yue Shan, Xu Ziling has exchanged blows against Shi Zhixuan. Puzzled, she asked, “After knowing Shi Zhixuan’s strength, the two of you still have the confidence to deal with him?”
Xu Ziling responded indifferently, “This matter will happen sooner or later. The question is which side would take the initiative to move first. I originally wanted to ask Xiaojie to join us, but after listening to what Xiaojie just said, obviously it is not appropriate at all.”
Shi Feixuan’s jade countenance returned to its tranquil state. Casting her gaze toward the dense snowflakes outside the window, she spoke softly, “When the road exhausted there will be change, with change there will be communication. Buddhism seeks purification of defiling illusion, the demonic school emphasizes going to the extreme. Shi Zhixuan put two kinds of thought, philosophy, theory, which like acting in a way that defeats his purpose, and merge them together to develop the Immortal Image Method, where life and death are being swapped and substituting one another. No matter how outstanding the opponent is, he can always transform either total or partial power of the opponent to become his own power; benefiting self while harming others, hence he appears to be able to occupy the invincible position. To this day, although we exhausted our thought and drained our consideration, we still cannot find an effective way to restrain him. I hope you two can create another miracle and get rid of evil for the sake of the people.”
Xu Ziling thought that he and Kou Zhong have also, from previous combat experiences, comprehended and obtained the gongfa to borrow force and deflect power. However, it was insignificant compared to Shi Zhixuan. He asked, “Because of your honorable Zhai’s Bi Xiuxin Qianbei [senior], Shi Zhixuan has revealed a flaw. What exactly is the flaw? And how did you find out about it?”
Shi Feixuan replied with serious expression, “What I am going to say has always been a highly confidential information. For three times in succession ‘San Zhenren’ Ning Daoqi fought with Shi Zhixuan. The first two times neither side won, but the last time they fought happened after Shi Zhixuan had intimate relationship with Xiuxin Shishu [martial uncle]. Shi Zhixuan was defeated and fled to the wilderness. It was after he returned that he wrote the Immortal Image Scroll, indirectly killing Xiuxin Shishu. Henceforth Shi Zhixuan vanished without any trace, and only now he is revealing his demonic footprint.”
Xu Ziling obtained sudden understanding. “So that’s how it is,” he said, “It is actually your speculation.”
Shi Feixuan sighed and said, “It’s not that I want to consider Shi Zhixuan’s backbone too much, but you two decide to deal with Shi Zhixuan, you must think three times before going. Shi Zhixuan’s character is eccentric; once his demonic character is aroused, he might disregard everything to put you to death.”
Letting out a cold snort, Xu Ziling said, “And vice versa! And vice versa! As long as he is human, there is the possibility of being killed. Now I still need to see Qin Wang. May I ask Shi Xiaojie to take the responsibility for investigating everything about that batch of firearms? Compared to Qin Wang, Xiaojie must be more resourceful in dealing with Yin Gui Pai.”
Shi Feixuan sighed. Her pretty eyes emitted profound emotion, which was difficult for Xu Ziling to understand, plus looking at it, it made his heart sad and increased his heart rate. She nodded and said, “Leave this matter to me. Ziling must be a bit more careful!”
※ ※ ※
Bosi Hu Si [lit. Persian Barbarian/Foreign Temple, first mention Book 32 Chapter 10] was located west of the Vermillion Bird Boulevard, inside the Chong De Li east of Qing Ming Canal. Due to its unique shape, the mushroom-shaped big round spire of the Hu Si could be seen towering above the neighboring private houses.
The layout of the Chong De Li was not the same as the other neighborhood blocks [reminder: ‘li’ means neighborhood]. The streets crisscrossing the block, forming a checked pattern network of streets and alleys, which did not change, but on the intersection of the two major streets linking the east-west and north-south block gates, there was an open-air circular plaza. The Bosi Hu Si was exactly due north of this plaza, becoming the focal point of the entire block, while also increasing the international flavor of the city of Chang’an.
Braving the fluttering rain and snow, Kou Zhong, wearing a mask with full beard on the face, and a special brocade gown, which he wore inside out – was rushing directly into the Persian Temple.
The previous night Xu Ziling eavesdropped An Long and Yang Xuyan’s secret talk, and gained a lot of valuable intelligence.
One of them pertained to the Cloud Commander. This Western Tujue’s martial art master Teacher of the State, mingling among a group of foreign merchants, sneaked into Chang’an, but afterwards his trace disappeared. Because Yun Shuai has become Shi Zhixuan’s archenemy, An Long was greatly nervous; he was more afraid that Yun Shuai might come to him to give him bad luck. Therefore, he immediately notified Shi Zhixuan. In turn, Shi Zhixuan told An Long to find Yang Xuyan, to tell him to use Li Jiancheng’s power to get rid of Yun Shuai.
Facing this unstable situation and dangerous autumn [not sure], naturally the Demonic Emperor Relics was even more important than Yun Shuai’s life or death. Shi Zhixuan was unwilling to show his face, it was completely understandable.
The plaza was full of playing children, the rain and snow failed to dampen their mood, the sound of firecrackers was unending. Everybody was wearing new clothes, whenever they ran into each other, everybody was wishing the other a happy new year. It was a jubilant New Year’s Day atmosphere.
The middle gate of the Hu Si was wide open. There was an unending stream of people with high nose and deep eyes; in just one glance he knew that these were barbarians coming into the temple to worship.
Arriving at the stone steps, Kou Zhong called in his heart, ‘Laotianye bless and protect’. He took off his mask first before climbing the steps into the temple hall. In front of the main entrance to the temple hall, there was a reception room, which was filled with boots and shoes. Everybody who came to the temple to worship must be barefoot.
Kou Zhong was about to follow the customs [orig. when you enter a village, follow the local customs], a foreigner came out to meet him, asking, “This Renxiong, is this your first visit?”
His Han language was very articulate, obviously he had settled here for a long time.
Kou Zhong’s gaze swept the inside of the hall; he saw four rows of a total of twelve big columns on the left and right supporting the towering space of the temple hall, yet with nearly a hundred Persian foreigners lying prostrate inside in worship, the space appeared extremely small.
Bracing himself, Kou Zhong tugged the man aside and spoke in low voice, “It is indeed my first visit, for the purpose of finding a friend. After he and I got separated in Nanyang, we lost contact.”
The man revealed a wary look; he asked, “And your friend’s honorable surname and great given name?”
Kou Zhong lowered his voice even more, he said, “He is your clansman, also the Western Tujue’s Guoshi.”
The man suddenly shook, the refined light in his eyes flared out, he stared at Kou Zhong.
Kou Zhong heaved a sigh of relief instead, because the way he reacted showed that he knew Yun Shuai. Smiling, he said, “I have to trouble you to tell Yun Guoshi that Kou Zhong has an urgent matter and requesting an audience with him!”
He had no choice but to report his identity, because there was simply not enough time to look for him any other way, hence he opted to open the door and see the mountain [fig. to get right to the point] to ask to see him.
If his bet was wrong, regardless of the situation, as long as he could get away, he could still change shape in a single shake to become the ugly divine doctor, and nobody could seize him and expose him half a bit.
The man hesitated for half a day. Finally he nodded and said, “You wait here for a moment; you must not leave without any reason.”
Finished speaking, he went inside the temple.
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling went to see Li Jing first, who then made the arrangement to have him enter the Palace to see Li Shimin.
Inside the secret chamber, when Li Shimin and Li Jing finished listening to Xu Ziling’s report, they both showed grave expression.
Xu Ziling said, “Under normal circumstances, these three big shots of the demonic school would never join hands to work together. It is thus clear than Shimin Xiong made them extremely wary; they are afraid that once you obtain the world, the demonic school would not see the day, they would sink and unable to rise again. To them, the more chaotic the world is the better.”
Li Shimin nodded and said, “I am the person who gain the support of the Buddhists and Taoists, two schools; naturally they are unwilling to see me gain ground.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, “In Ziling’s opinion, are my two brothers involved in this operation?”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “There should be no direct relationship, but whether they are in favor secretly, it is difficult to say. After all, Yang WenGan is their man, no matter what, they cannot escape from the guilt of harboring rebels.”
Li Jing spoke in heavy voice, “I don’t believe Taizi Dianxia knows nothing about this matter.”
Turning to Xu Ziling, he said, “That little thief Xiang Yushan voluntarily stopping by our door, we must make him able to come but unable to leave.”
Xu Ziling said, “In this matter, we still have to take our time in making a decision; Kou Zhong and I thought that chopping him down with one saber strike would be too easy for him. Toward an evil family who does offending-Heaven-and-reason shady business to the fullest like this, we must pull them by the roots, so that they cannot do evil anymore.”
Li Shimin gladly said, “It ought to be so.”
And then he added, “I wonder if Mo Shen Yi is Kou Zhong?”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “In the end we cannot conceal it from Qin Wang.”
Li Shimin laughed and said, “If I can’t even see that, I, Li Shimin, would have fallen head first really bad. Kou Zhong is surely a good man, although Wang Xiong [brother king] pressed him to frame me up, wanted him to accuse falsely that I poisoned Zhang Jieyu, he still was not willing to submit. Please tell him that I, Li Shimin, am extremely grateful.”
Amazed, Xu Ziling said, “Unexpectedly Qin Wang is aware of even this matter.”
Li Shimin replied indifferently, “They planted a mole in my Heavenly Policy Mansion, I, Li Shimin, naturally know how to reciprocate. Ay! I never thought that Guan Wai [outside the Pass] is a battlefield, Guan Nei [inside the Pass] is another battlefield. Military intelligence is number one, nobody can blame anybody.”
“Since we know that the traitors are going to launch an attack during the Mount Zhongnan hunting trip, how are we going to deal with it?” Li Jing asked.
Li Shimin replied, “We don’t need to do anything, lest we beat the grass to scare the snake. We only need to make every effort to find that batch of firearms, and then capture both the men and the stolen goods, so that we can present a memorial to ask Fu Huang to dispatch the troops to root out the rebels once for all.”
Xu Ziling praised him inwardly. This was indeed the best policy.
Li Shimin suddenly revealed an emotional expression; he sighed and said, “To be able to receive Ziling and Zhong Shao’s cooperation, it is indeed life’s pleasure. You have given me both kindness and friendship. Thinking that this must be difficult days for him, how can I not feel regret?”
Xu Ziling said, “Oftentimes the development of the affairs of life exceeds all expectations. Qin Wang’s current top priority is the matter at hand; other things, let’s think about it another day!”
※ ※ ※
The man returned to Kou Zhong’s side and said in low voice, “Shao Shuai, please come with me.”
Kou Zhong followed him from a side door around the temple hall toward the courtyard at the back. The man fell back a little and said, “These past two days, from time to time there were strangers coming to stick their head out and look around, hence we are being particularly careful. Fortunate Shi Ye [master (as in teacher) master (as in superior/subordinate)] instructed us that he only wants to see Shao Shuai and Xu Ye, two men; otherwise how could I dare to report to him on your behalf?”
Inwardly Kou Zhong praised Yun Shuai for not only having divine martial art skill, but brilliant as well. He asked, “Laoxiong, may I ask your honorable surname and great given name?”
The man replied, “My name is very long; simply call me Tana! Shi Ye is my Zhuzi [Master (term used by servant)].”
After passing through a long corridor, Tana took Kou Zhong to a small, brimming-with-exotic-flavor, its-floor-was-covered-in-Persian-rug-made-of-felt – hall to sit down. He said, “Shi Ye will be here shortly, I need to go outside to take care of things!”
Kou Zhong promptly expressed his thanks.
While leaving, Tana closed the door behind him.
Kou Zhong swept his gaze around. Other than the door, this small hall unexpectedly did not have even half a window, yet it did not feel stuffy for lack of ventilation. Turned out on the wall, about two zhang from the ground, there was a row of three ventilation holes.
All the four walls and the ceiling were extremely strong. Even with Kou Zhong’s power, he had to admit that he would not be capable of breaking the walls and charging out, so that the impression was that he was inside a prison cell.
Suddenly he had a feeling that something was very wrong here. Logically, Yun Shuai should not use this this kind of room, which, if people were guarding outside the door, it would be difficult to flee even if they grew wings – to see him.
It should be noted that due to their relationship with Li Jiancheng, the Eastern Tujue people had enormous power in Chang’an. Yun Shuai’s situation was similar to his and Xu Ziling’s; once they were not careful, they would have to pack their food and leave before they finished eating.
Another suspicious thing arose from his heart; logically, it was only yesterday that An Long notified Yang Xuyan, yet Tana said that these past two days there were people coming to stick their head out and look around, so it did not make sense.
Thinking to this point, Kou Zhong came to his senses. He sprang up from his seat and charged toward the door.
The sound of people falling from the air and landed on the ground was heard outside the door.
Kou Zhong knew he had fallen into a trap. Both fists struck together, he hit the door. The wooden door was shattered, wood splinters splashed everywhere. Kou Zhong flew out, only to fall in the enemy’s heavy siege.
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