Book 27 Chapter 4 – Vindicating The True Feeling
The battle last night had the ‘inducing labor’ effect on the two boys.
Even for Song Que, Ning Daoqi, and the likes, in the process of cultivating their skill, they were unable to find ‘stalemate opponent’ like Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who could violently attack the opponent to test their moves, while at the same time able to tell the other every faulty stroke and erroneous move, and could accept the other’s advice with sincerity.
The battle last night was of incomparably importance and far-reaching significance to them.
When Xu Ziling arrived at the hall, Lin Lang and Gongliang Ji were ready with simple clothes and other items packed for traveling. They were sitting around the round table, enjoying breakfast in high spirit.
Kou Zhong was bare-chested, enjoying Lei Jiuzhi applying some ointment to relieve the muscle pain. The strong scent mixed with the aroma of the food permeated the entire hall, creating an odor brimming with life.
Seeing Xu Ziling appeared, Kou Zhong whined, “Looking at you, this kid, so calm-mouthed, cultured and refined, but last night you beat me up like a mad man; indeed it was more miserable than the battlefield.”
Hearing his big words, a warm, familiar feeling welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart. Sitting down next to him, he grabbed a mantou, put it inside his mouth, and then while chewing, he said, “This is very strange. I also feel my entire body ache like it is going to split open. Before, it did not matter how intense the fighting was, as long as I did not really sustain injuries, after a good night’s sleep, I would feel like nothing happened. But this time it is completely a different thing.”
While enjoying Lei Jiuzhi massaging his broad shoulders, Kou Zhong nodded and said, “I was just thinking about this. Could it be because our ‘true qi’ are of the same origin, hence it cannot bring out the efficacy of its self-healing innate qualities?”
Xu Ziling went silent. He waited until Lei Jiuzhi finished ‘waiting-on’ Kou Zhong, before suddenly he took out the oilcloth bundle containing the scroll that Lu Miaozi left behind from his bosom, and tossed it in front of Lei Jiuzhi, saying, “If Lei Dage do not go to compete in the Tian Jiu big meet tonight, the thing inside is yours.”
Kou Zhong could not help thinking about the similar bundle in his pocket containing Li Xiuning’s secret letter, which was delivered to him via Shang Xiuxun, which he had not torn open to read yet. From the time he was fleeing for his life in the ocean, he did dare to open the letter to go to the bottom of this matter; even he himself did not understand why he would have this attitude of the heart.
Stunned, Lei Jiuzhi asked, “What’s in it?”
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, “You are a grandmaster in gambling, this bundle is just like the bowl covering the dice. The stake is clear, do you or don’t you want to bet with me?”
Smiling wryly, Lei Jiuzhi said, “This soon, and you already challenge your Shifu? Ay! You don’t want me to go tonight! LaoGe naturally believes that you already gave thought to me.”
Kou Zhong slapped the table so hard that Lin Lang and Gongliang Ji jumped in fright; he laughed and said, “You are worthy to be called elite gambler; you win! Inside is Shi Gong’s [lit. master/teacher honorable gentleman; could also means ‘shifu’s shifu’] hand-written scrolls; I guarantee that once you see it, you’re going to love it too much to part with it.”
Severely shaken, Lei Jiuzhi revealed a disbelief look, while rapidly untied the package, and then appearing to be emotionally moved, he gently caressed the legacy scrolls, unable to say anything.
Xu Ziling said, “The time to part and scattering the goods has arrived!”
Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong, and Lei Jiuzhi sat inside a café [orig. dish/food shack] by the pier, watching Lin Lang and Gongliang Ji’s boat departing.
Xu and Kou, two boys have undergone transformation under Lei Jiuzhi’s hands, the disguise skill that he inherited from Lu Miaozi, and have become two rough-looking men. Mingling among the other men at the dock doing heavy manual work, this kind of men was commonly seen, hence it would not be conspicuous at all.
Actually, based on Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s current skill level, even if one could do it, to secretly follow them under the two boys’ increased vigilance level would be more difficult than ascending to the heavens.
Lei Jiuzhi was rather sad of the imminent parting; he drank his tea silently.
Kou Zhong, on the other hand, was in a very good mood; he did not stop cracking jokes on Xu Ziling. With his legs on the chair next to his, Xu Ziling adopted a boorish manner, while his eyes swept over Bai Qing’er’s official boat, which was moored not far from where they sat. He noticed more than a dozen men continuously loading crate after crate onto the ship.
“Can you guess what’s in those boxes that they are bringing back to Xiangyang?” he asked.
“Ought to be sea salt!’ Lei Jiuzhi immediately responded.
Kou Zhong was astonished, “How could you be so sure? If it’s sea salt, why do they have to be transported inside wooden crate? Won’t put them in baskets be enough?”
Lei Jiuzhi slyly replied, “Those wooden crates are made of the finest peach wood; using them to make boxes is like using a talented person in an insignificant position. It is thus clear that although they are transporting salt, the reality is that they are transporting the wood. Whether in besieging a city or defending a city, wood is a necessity. But if you do your best to do the trick, you could fool people’s eyes and ears.”
Xu Ziling nodded, “That is a very insightful remark. But the boxes can still be packed with other things and not necessarily salt.”
Lei Jiuzhi smiled and said, “I made that judgment based on two things: the first is the weight of the crate, the second is that this bunch of men are Hai Sha Bang people. Other than salt, what are they selling?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling focused their attention and sure enough, they saw the Hai Sha Bang insignia embroidered on everybody’s collar; they could not help blaming their own negligence, while feeling very strange inwardly.
Li Zitong has always been in cahoots with Xiao Xian. According to reason, Xiao Xian ought to be at odds with Shen Faxing; how could he allow Hai Sha Bang, Shen Faxing’s claws and teeth, to have free rein in his territory, buying and selling actively?
Seeing the two boys did not answer him, Lei Jiuzhi said in low voice, “LaoGe wants to go one step ahead of you; I’ll see you again in Guanzhong!”
Laughing aloud, he simply left.
Kou Zhong waited until Lei Jiuzhi’s shadow disappeared outside the tea shack before saying, “Even I could not imagine that you would casually give away Lu Dashi’s secret scrolls. Although this fellow surnamed Lei has had some relationship with Mr. Lu, we had just, after all, met him for the first time!”
Xu Ziling pondered for a moment; a bit emotional, he said, “I already know these books inside out [orig. ripe as a melon that rolls from its vine], therefore, I do not wish to keep them with me. Ay! Perhaps basically I just want to be alone in the world and do not wish to be encumbered with anything else. Don’t look at me like that; contrary to what you think, I do not wish to leave home to become a monk. Otherwise, when the Four Great Holy Monks come to capture me, that would be a good opportunity to put myself in the sandy gate [Sanskrit: Sramana, originally refers to north India) / Buddhist monk].”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “You, this kid, always worry me. Whether you have suffered emotional setback or big blow, compared to before, you seem to have even more negative and pessimistic view of life.”
Xu Ziling looked blankly at the boats scattered along the river course; he spoke slowly, “Perhaps on a lot of things, you and I are different from anybody else, yet in essence we cannot directly understand ourselves. Toward life, there is no way we know for sure what’s going on. What is life anyway? What will be the outcome of life? Everybody has to face reality of life, inside and outside. It doesn’t matter how much you, Zhong Shao possess great magical power, you can only find spider thread and horse’s hoof from the outside to capture my inner situation. But after obtaining it, you may realize that it is only a distorted view of the real thing. In particular, you can only understand other people’s life based on your own point of view. Everybody is unique and unmatched. Therefore, we are doomed to misunderstand others.”
In a daze, Kou Zhong thought for a moment with blank expression on his face. He nodded and said, “There’s indeed a profound truth in your remark. I really do not understand you; at least I never thought that you would have this kind of way of thinking. However, this kind of ability to see things through is a dangerous attribute of researching the height, which might push you into the abyss of loneliness, so that you won’t have any interest in surpassing the relationship between people.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Don’t worry; this is just momentarily sentiment. Actually, your assessment of me is very accurate. In Chengdu, Shi Qingxuan’s flute has evoked in me the feeling of adoration, and then she told me that she would spend her last years in solitary. That was like a bucket of cold water being poured down on my head, enough to be similar to that time when Song Yuzhi declined to be associated with you. I am telling this for your ears only. Ha! I feel a lot more comfortable after telling you this.”
Feeling the warmth in his heart, Kou Zhong said, “What women say out of her mouth may be different from the thought in her heart. As long as Ling Shao is willing to be a bit more active to win her over, I guarantee that Shi Qingxuan won’t be able to resist to the end. That one character in the Nine-character Incantation could give rise to the thought of love in people’s heart.”
Xu Ziling laughed. After cursing, “Go to your Niang!” he spoke in a tranquil and calm manner, “Toward the feeling between a man and a woman, I am a very inactive person. Life is fleeting; death will come in the blink of an eye! In itself it is already so inadequate, to say nothing of the people and things in it. Karma comes and karma goes, in the end it’s only like this.”
Suddenly getting excited, Kou Zhong patted his shoulder and cheerfully said, “Whatever the case, in the end there is a woman who could move your heart, then there is hope that you won’t need to live as honorable virtuous hermit leaving the world behind to pass your days in those bird-fading-out days. You and I are just the opposite. I think life is long and difficult to pass. The most depressing thing is that every day is just a repeat of what happened yesterday. Therefore, we must try to find some fresh plaything to relieve boredom.”
Xu Ziling suddenly asked, “Last night you said that the last three methods of the Eight Methods of the Well have not been thought well; is that true?”
“How can it be true?” Kou Zhong replied, “You ought to know that I am the kind of person who would say one and mean just that. But because on one hand, there were outsiders present, and on the other hand these three moves are emphasizing seeking victory in the midst of danger, it can only be carried out with determination to perish together with the enemy, how could I test it on you?”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Last night, when you and I tried your moves, we both had reservations everywhere, but it was more formidable compared to ‘Heavenly Lord’ Xi Ying. The meal that Song Que gave you was indeed very satisfying. I am really afraid that when you meet Shi Feixuan and the Four Monks you might accidentally injure them, and that would be really horrible.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Don’t worry! How could I be that bad mannered? Besides, this time we are going to fight a battle of wits and not battle of forces. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be sitting here waiting for the boat to set sail.”
And then he frowned and said, “Do you also have a feeling that something is not right here? Shi Feixuan wants to stop us from coming up north, and won’t leave us even for a moment, yet you did not feel her presence, and I did not feel anything unusual either, so what’s going on here? Does she really know that we are here?”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “I was wondering about that myself. Last night she demonstrated her skill by telling Du Fuwei to come to the casino to look for you. In my opinion, she must be personally following our track, and I am sure that she keeps a close watch on us. She is a very able person from a mysterious school, the sharpness of her senses must be more superior to mine. On top of that, her martial art skill is of out-of-the-ordinary, reaching the becoming-an-arhat level. And that is the reason why we look like idiots.”
Kou Zhong was distressed, “That is terrible,” he said, “If we dive into the water, and not long afterward Bai Qing’er’s official boat sets sail, anybody with a bit of brain would know that we must be hitching a ride on the boat.”
Xu Ziling calmly laughed and said, “Although Shi Feixuan is an immortal within the human world, she is not a real immortal. As long as she is a human, she could always fall into a trap, otherwise Shi Zhixuan would be able to go on the rampage without anybody can control him. There are still a couple of sichen before the boat departs; if we also swagger to buy tickets for passenger ship, I want to see how she is going to deal with us.”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “That matches with my intention! Let’s go!”
Kou Zhong dejectedly returned to Xu Ziling’s side, and spoke in low voice, “His mother’s! Practically no one is willing to sail. I heard that muddled-egg Zhu Can is sealing off the waterway to the north. To the south, Lin Shihong does not want to pay anybody any debt. On the east is Ol’ Die’s Jianghuai Army. Toward Sichuan there is only Lin Lang’s boat that has just left. Looks like we’ll have to spend a huge amount of money to buy our own boat.”
“We don’t necessarily have to ride the boat,” Xu Ziling pointed out, “We have hands and feet, going on foot will work just fine. We’ll compete our legs’ strength against Shi Feixuan. Halfway we’ll secretly board Bai Yaonu’s boat. This way we’ll escape people’s eyes and ears even more. Let’s go!”
The two walked along the Yangzte River to the west. They covered more than thirty li at a stretch, and reached the highest peak of a hill. You look at me I gaze at you, inwardly they felt incomparable shock, because they were completely unable to see or sense Shi Feixuan’s presence.
Kou Zhong swept his gaze all around as far as his eyes could see, as well as at the rolling water of the Great River to their right. He said, “I dare say that Shi Feixuan has not followed our tracks. I wonder what kind of trick she is playing against us?”
Shi Feixuan’s jade countenance with her intimidating aura floated in Xu Ziling’s mind. Taking a deep breath, he said, “At that time, before entering Shu [i.e. Sichuan], Shi Feixuan told me that in the past, the Four Great Holy Monks joined hands in pursuing Shi Zhixuan to kill him. They besieged him three times, they wounded him, but still he managed to flee. All along I have been thinking about that. Let’s sit down and talk.”
The two boys sat cross-legged with their backs against each other, so that the entire mountain, the woods, the grass, the plain, were inside their field of view. If anybody came near, he could forget about hiding from them.
Kou Zhong said, “I know what you are talking about. Shi Zhixuan’s whereabouts has always been hidden; like right now, nobody knows where he is hiding. But still the Four Great Baldheads besieged him three times. Evidently the Four Great Baldheads know some secret method of following someone’s tracks, so that even with his skill level, it was difficult for Shi Zhixuan to escape.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Although Buddhism has always been low-key, the fact is that they are actually the backbone of the ‘white way’ Wulin. Think about the many monks’ temples and the nuns’ monasteries; if only one in ten thousand of the monks and nuns knew martial art, it is already extremely terrifying. Plus with the number of schools, sects, gangs and societies, and the believers that are related to them, they could become an unparalleled intelligence network working for a common side. As soon as we show up in any big city or small village, it will be very difficult to evade their eyes and ears. Presently on the surface we are hiding in the dark while the enemy is in the open, but the fact is that the enemy is in hiding while we are out in the open.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “I really wish we could just have a ruthless and hard battle against them, but I know that you won’t agree to it.”
Xu Ziling said, “It seems that this battle cannot be avoided. But no matter how much I do not care, I definitely do not wish to be captured and imprisoned. The closer we get to Guanzhong, the more dangerous it will be for us, simply because there are still more to that Li kid. As far as I’m concerned, Li kid’s might and talent is roughly more difficult to deal with compared to the power of Buddhist and Taoist, two schools combined. We are charging into Guanzhong like this, I wonder if it is a sensible act?”
Kou Zhong was silent for half a day. Finally he spoke with resolution, “You only need to say the word, I will immediately cancel our trip to Guanzhong.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “I was just having a thought. All along, we are accustomed to doing things that to other people is utterly stupid; why not this one?”
Kou Zhong spoke in delight, “This is called heroes usually agree. The thing that is most unbearable to me is being regarded as the Wulin’s Mount Tai, or perhaps someone who came from a large and influential family with power for tyrannical abuse. After these two sides’ power are combined to become the supreme authority, I will be even more unpleasant to the eye. So I’d rather have us, two brothers challenge such authority. Current situation is created by ambitious and capable persons, only a man coming from the people will understand the plight of the people. Li kid is like Qin Shihuang [the first emperor] or Xiang Yu [the Conqueror]; they both came from the imperial family and responsible home, but Xiaodi is a bit like Han Gaozu Liu Bang [first Han emperor], we both are a hundred percent ruffians, without any noble mannerism. Ha! This is not a bad analogy!”
Xu Ziling stared blankly for half a moment before smiling ruefully and said, “You really have the interest to become the emperor? I am most afraid that after you become the emperor, you will be like Yang Guang, who did not feel contented with his position and went on to war on all sides, every day looking for new idea to be your weird plaything, and then the common people will only suffer through and through.”
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, “Honestly, becoming the emperor is certainly extremely boring. According to Lu Miaozi, Qin Shihuang wanted to personally adjudicate all affairs of the state, no matter how big or small. Every day he went so far as to use stone paperweight to fixed the paperwork on his desk; he would not rest unless he finished reading through to evaluate everything. Within the twelve years he was on the imperial throne, five years were spent in making his round on imperial tour.”
Xu Ziling said, “It’s hard for me to imagine that you would be that hardworking. And the problem is that even though you are willing to work hard, you may not benefit from it. It is one thing to conquer the world, but another thing to govern it. You are perhaps an unparalleled commander-in-chief in the world, but not necessarily a lord to rule the country. Have you ever considered this?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “You frequently reminded me, how could I forget? If I can really unify the world, I will give the throne to someone who is virtuous, talented and wise.”
Sneering, Xu Ziling said, “This kind of thing is easy to say, but actually cannot be done. If that is indeed the case, you might as well wash your hands in the golden bowl early on, return to the village and open up a restaurant!”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “In this matter, Ling Shao always love to cluck your tongue and force me to the corner; you always have the last words. All right! Let me be the emperor then. Everything else is out of the question, I still have two different ways of managing people. This kind of thing, you don’t know what you are doing until you are actually doing it. Fortunately I am somewhat familiar with history and geography, so I can obtain the good and the bad from successive generations’ prosperity and decline, to see whether another situation can be opened. Ay! Although this moment we have nothing to do and have to chat to relieve boredom, yet about entering the Pass [guan, referring to Guanzhong], success or failure is remain to be seen, and now we are talking about becoming the emperor; isn’t that a bit premature?”
Xu Ziling said, “Entering the Pass means no turning back. I really do not wish to see you in the future looking like it’s too late for regrets. Therefore, you must think through the consequences and the blame in all these things. Do not, because of momentary emotion, let fate lead you by the nose. Otherwise, there will come a day where you realize you make a mistake but by that time it will be difficult go back.”
Kou Zhong’s smiling expression disappeared; he appeared to be very deep in thought. He spoke slowly, word-by-word, “The things in this world that can really move me, Kou Zhong, can be counted on one’s fingers. Currently on the top of the list is how to overpower all the other competitors, to become the master of the world, because I am convinced that it will be beneficial to the common people, so that they will pass their days in happiness, peace and security. Perhaps I am not good material for ruling the country, plus I am careless. But this moment what the world really need is not a promising lord, rather, it’s the best method like our training of the ‘Secret to Long Life’, where the training occurs while we sleep. Precisely like Old Ba said, the Sui dynasty has laid an incomparably solid foundation for the new dynasty; letting things take their own course [orig. wuwei – the Daoist doctrine of inaction] is the best effective strategy to rule a country. As long as we could let the people recover, the country will grow strong.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Your remark is very insightful. I clearly understand your true intention. All right! Let’s see if the Duke Yang’s buried treasure can help you accomplish your dream.”
Kou Zhong reached out to put his hand on his shoulder, and said in low voice, “I owe you big time, ay!”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “Bai Qing’er’s official boat is here!”
The sun has just disappeared behind the mountain on the west. The two boys removed their outer clothing, revealing the waterproof clothing inside. Using the rocks of the cliff by the river as cover, they dove into the water to meet the boat Bai Qing’er was riding. Following their original plan, they took their position near the aft of the boat. They stuck their ears onto the hull to listen first, immediately all the sound on the boat entered their eardrums.
It was a rich world full of and made of layers of pure noise, so clear as if they were listening to it first-hand, so that the two boys jumped in fright, being well aware that the sparring exercise last night has given them considerable benefit, and has advanced their power into a deeper layer of maturity.
For some unknown reason, the security on the ship this moment was very tight. Bai Qing’er and the others were in a very high alert. They speculated this based on the fact that nobody said even half a word.
The two boys exchanged glances; they both felt very strange. Temporarily they abandoned their intention of hiding inside the hold of the ship.
Relying on their skill and superhuman senses, they would be able to evade Bai Qing’er, Wen Caiting, and other martial art masters their caliber’s detection to come and go on the boat unobstructed. But naturally this could be achieved only if the several dozen men on the boat were not in heightened level of vigilance.
Because Rong Fengxiang might participate in tonight’s big gambling meet in Jiujiang, and Zuo Youxian must help Fu Gongyou in dealing with Du Fuwei, it could be inferred that these two would not be on board.
It was also possible that Wen Caiting and the other Yin Gui Pai elder-level martial art masters were out to look for ‘Gong Chenchun’ to give him bad luck. Therefore, the men on board might be just ordinary hands; perhaps female demon Bai was the only one they had to deal with. If that’s the case, then it would be extremely perfect.
Xu Ziling saw Kou Zhong signaling him to rise up above the water; hastily he followed Kou Zhong climbing up along the cabin wall, and stuck their heads above the water. Unless someone was looking down and searching for them, nobody would be able to see them. Besides, they could always hide back into the water.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “To preserve our true qi, we must not hide underwater for a long period of time.”
Laughing in low voice, Xu Ziling said, “That experience in the ocean must have scared you really bad, so that even now you look like you still have lingering fear.”
Kou Zhong said, “It was definitely a case of ‘after seeing ghost afraid of the dark’. What I feel is really strange: why is Bai Yaonu so anxious to rush back to Xiangyang? If not, why would she sail at full speed at night? It’s too dangerous!”
At this moment Bai Qing’er’s voice was heard inside the cabin, the two immediately applied their power to eavesdrop.
Bai Qing’er was speaking in hushed voice as if she was afraid of being heard. From the muffled sound inside, the words that they were able to hear clearly seemed to be ‘I saw it’, and ‘no problem’.
And then Wen Caiting’s voice said, “If we can reach Anxia, there will be Pi Shishu providing support for us, then we shouldn’t be afraid of anything.”
The sound was very low; it ought to be transmitted using some kind of ‘binding sound into a thin line’ skill. Afterwards they could not even hear half a word.
The two boys were stunned. Bai Qing’er, Wen Caiting, and the other three elder-level martial art masters ought to be enough to deal with anybody; why were they in such fear and trepidation like this? What kind of shameful deed have they done?