Book 30 Chapter 1 – White Snow in the Morning
The simple and elegant, clear and romantic Shi Feixuan leisurely and calmly sat down across the table from the two boys; as usual, she was still wearing men’s clothing. Her bright and beautiful, pretty eyes radiated divine light onto the flabbergasted Kou Zhong’s face. As calm as still water, she gently said, “Feixuan has a new proposal for Shao Shuai’s consideration.”
Kou Zhong cast Xu Ziling a glance first. After seeing that from being shocked, Xu Ziling has completely recovered, his mind was slightly enlightened. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Just now we were being very careful when talking, Xianzi’s walls that have ears simply scared us witless; you must be joking? Am I right?”
Shi Feixuan’s gaze shifted to Xu Ziling. Noticing him sizing her up with full attention, she responded with a smile, and spoke gently, “Ziling Xiong’s ability is greatly beyond Feixuan’s estimate, which forced Feixuan to alter the original plan for redeployment.”
Xu Ziling smiled and replied, “We are all old friends! Whatever it is that Miss Shi wants to say, just speak forthrightly.”
Shi Feixuan slightly shrugged her fragrant shoulders. With relaxed demeanor she said, “Previously Feixuan asked Du Zongguan to pass on the information that we want to capture two gentlemen alive; that was really to scare you, so that you would dispel your intention of entering Guanzhong. Who would have thought that we have aroused your fighting spirit instead? That was really unexpected. Therefore, I now have another proposal: I want to have the four Dashi and you fight hand to hand at Shan Si [the virtuous temple] one more time. If two gentlemen can still get away safely, later on we will tuck our hands inside the sleeves and no longer care about you entering the Pass [reminder: Guan, short for Guanzhong, middle/central pass]; otherwise, you will have to cancel your treasure hunt trip. Gentlemen, what do you think?”
Stunned, the two looked at each other; they both thought, ‘Formidable!’ Remaining tranquil and even-tempered, with these few words Shi Feixuan had first taken away their willingness to stake everything for fear of being captured alive and living the rest of their lives in prison, while in fact Shi Feixuan would achieve the same goal. Secondly, at this time the struggle between Li Clan’s factions was intense, with neither side was willing to concede. For now, having free rein in dealing with the two boys really did not give them any benefit. Presently, it was more important to escort Tuli Khan back to his country, to considerably weaken Xieli’s power to invade the Central Plains. In the long run, they wanted to establish two hard-to-defeat, formidable opponents for the demonic school.
After all, the Four Great Holy Monks, Shi Feixuan, Liao Kong, and so on were people out-of-this world, they were unwilling to be directly drawn into Jianghu struggle for an extended period of time.
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “If Xiaodi declines Xianzi’s proposal, I will fall away from your grace. But may I request that this battle will be held one sichen later? Because only after eating will we have enough strength to fight!”
Shi Feixuan nodded and said, “Shao Shuai did not disappoint Feixuan. Let’s do it at Shao Shuai’s appointed time. Ay! If Feixuan could have other choices, how could I be willing to stand in opposition against you?”
She admired Kou Zhong for his frank and straightforward acceptance of this battle; furthermore, he did not even protest against the unfairness of the Four Great Holy Monks joining hands, and he did not request to change the venue, which would allow the four monks to exert greatest strength due to their familiarity with the environment. It should be noted that if the two had the intention of fleeing, intercepting them would not be an easy matter at all.
The four monks’ condition was that they would not fight on the street; therefore, Kou Zhong’s nod of approval to Shi Feixuan’s proposal indeed deserved praise for his guts.
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “Miss Shi did not intend to take part personally, you are indeed our true friend!”
Thinking about tomorrow Xu Ziling would become Yue Shan, Kou Zhong hurriedly said, “We have never regarded Xianzi as the enemy, moreover, you are our best friend.”
Listening to that, even Xu Ziling was blushing slightly, understanding that Kou Zhong was harboring evil intentions.
Slightly displeased, Shi Feixuan said, “Since you regarded Feixuan as a good friend, you should not call me Xianzi this and Xianzi that. Feixuan is just an ordinary young woman.”
Kou Zhong spoke in delight, “Xianzi’s expression when your are mad is really touching; no wonder Ling Shao … ow!”
Naturally he was kicked by Xu Ziling under the table.
Naturally Shi Feixuan already knew that Kou Zhong’s mouth could not be bridled; she had no choice but to swallow her anger. A slight rosy red cloud, which had never happened before, appeared on her pretty face, as she glowered at Kou Zhong before standing up and leaving. In the blink of an eye, her demeanor was back to its usual clear, cold, and composed.
The two boys promptly stood up to see her off. Shi Feixuan looked deeply into Kou Zhong’s eyes, she spoke gently, “That very night Zhu Yuyan left Luoyang, but she will never be willing to give up Sheng Di Sheli [holy emperor relic] in order to prevent it from falling into Shi Zhixuan’s hands. Two gentlemen ought to be a bit more careful in this matter.”
Cupping his fist, Kou Zhong giggled and said, “Thank you very much for Xianzi’s concern.”
Shi Feixuan crossly glared at him before calmly, elegantly and leisurely left.
After sitting back, Kou Zhong reached out to grab Xu Ziling’s shoulder; he laughed quietly and said, “Brother, you are very lucky! In my opinion, her heart has really been moved by you. Otherwise, how could she reveal such a bashful, shy young girl’s expression toward you?”
Before Xu Ziling had any chance to scold him, Yang Gongqing and Zhang Zhenzhou arrived. Beyond expectation, the old fox Wang Shichong also came; the atmosphere suddenly felt very strange.
Kou Zhong poured tea for the graved-expression Wang Shichong; he laughed and said, “Why does Shengshang need to wear plain clothes to go on an inspection tour? Won’t it be enough to send your honorable general to see us and pass on a message to have us coming to the Palace to have an audience with your honorable self?”
With dark countenance and heavy voice Wang Shichong said, “Shao Shuai evidently know the reckless act you committed, and the disaster that has come out of it?”
One after another, taking advantage while Wang Shichong was not paying attention, Yang Gongqing and Zhang Zhenzhou signaled Kou Zhong with their eyes, telling him to be careful in dealing with this matter. Evidently Wang Shichong had thrown a temper tantrum in front of them.
Kou Zhong struggled hard to suppress the urge to curse Wang Shichong. Leaning back into his chair, he stretched his limbs, before remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos he said, “Did Shengshang feel strange why Luo Shui Bang men still have not come looking for us to give us trouble?”
Suddenly exploding in anger, Wang Shichong said, “Of course I do; were it not for Guaren [I (first person pronoun used by royalty or nobility)] spent so much lips and tongue to persuade Rong Fengxiang, the entire Luoyang would be turned upside down.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cursed inwardly; Wang Shichong did indeed persuade Rong Fengxiang, but only persuaded him to make his move a bit later, in order to avoid any plot against dealing with Tuli.
Resting his left wrist on the table, Kou Zhong lightly tapped the teacup with his middle finger, his eyes were fixed on the continuously rippling green tea inside the cup being excited by the jolt. Shaking his head, he sighed and said, “Shengshang, you only know one but do not know two. The one you know is that we have already gotten rid of the Rong Fengxiang that was actually Ke Feng in disguise; the second thing that you do not know is that the Rong Laoyao that is actually Pi Chen in disguise is reportedly seriously injured, and now only has half of his life remaining; it is still unknown whether he could pass tonight.”
Immediately Wang Shichong, Yang Gongqing and Zhang Zhenzhou were emotionally moved.
Kou Zhong exchanged a glance with Xu Ziling before continuing with a smile, “When the couch is inclined, it won’t allow people to snore while they sleep. Presently Rong Yaonu is alone, and it is difficult for her to keep everything under control. If Shengshang could grab this opportunity, you could send your man to Luo Shui Bang, perhaps you would be able to seize the control over it back. In this kind of strategy, Shengshang is definitely more adept than me, there is no need for this kid to give you direction.”
This last remark was brimming with frigid irony and scorching satire, but Wang Shichong’s mind already flew elsewhere, he simply regarded it as the wind past his ear. But he still could not help shaking as he said, “Rong Fengxiang is really injured that heavily? Don’t deceive Guaren.”
Kou Zhong smiled and replied, “When did I, Kou Zhong, ever deceive Shengshang?”
Finally Wang Shichong’s face turned slightly red. Awkwardly he cleared his throat, and then said, “This matter is extremely important, Guaren must first investigate this clearly before starting to make decision.”
And then, rolling his eyes, he said, “About tonight, we are escorting Khan back to the north, is there any changes?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “Everything will be done according to Shengshang’s instruction. But to be on the safe side, Ling Shao and I might have to accompany them, directly going to Beijiang [i.e. northern territory], before making a turn toward Guanzhong. I hope Shengshang does not have any objection?”
Wang Shichong wanted to say something, but then hesitated; in the end he did not say anything. Suddenly he stood up, which caused everybody else to also stand up according to the protocol.
Wang Shichong ferociously said, “It would be best if in Luoyang, two gentlemen quietly defend yourself; don’t create any more trouble.”
Kou Zhong shrugged his shoulders and said, “If nobody is coming to give us trouble, even if we don’t want to quietly defend ourselves, we simply can’t.”
Wang Shichong’s countenance slightly changed, but then he quickly suppressed his anger. “Where is Khan’s honorable self now?” he asked.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Naturally he is hiding to lie low, lest he is creating more trouble for Shengshang. Shengshang, please!”
Wang Shichong was so furious that his countenance changed again, but eventually his anger did not flare up. Brushing his sleeves, he stormed toward the door. Zhang Zhenzhou scrambled to escort him out of the door. More than a dozen Imperial Bodyguards standing outside the door stood respectfully to salute, full of pomp.
Yang Gongqing fell half a step back; he whispered in Kou Zhong’s ear, “Li Xiuning wants to see you.”
Kou Zhong’s tiger-body shook, but he did not make any noise.
Seeing his demeanor and reaction, Yang Gongqing gave him an understanding nod; patting Kou Zhong’s shoulder, he said, “I’ll tell you the details later.”
Only then did he hurry up to catch up with Wang Shichong’s party.
Two cups clinked against each other. After drinking this toast of tea, Kou Zhong asked, “Do you have any premonition?”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling replied, “You think I can predict the future without being a clairvoyant? But according to Ol’ Xu’s judgment, after last night, the four monks ought to have clear understanding of my foundation, no more chance of taking the risk relying on good luck, we must rely on our real skill to get away. Just like Fu Old Qian said, we can only take the exam by handing in our examination script, but we can’t look for loopholes to cheat.”
Nodding his head, Kou Zhong said, “You have just comprehended that xinfa is extremely important. Since they don’t want to kill us anyway, we could use this opportunity to display what we are good at. If we lose, we could go looking for Yuwen Huaji to settle the account; but you must not lose deliberately.”
Xu Ziling blurted out laughing; he said, “If I did that, how could I be fit to become Kou Shao Shuai’s brother? Besides, now I really want to go to Guanzhong to broaden my horizon.”
Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, “What horizon can you possibly broaden?”
Xu Ziling smiled and replied, “You are the one who is not being good. You came up with the idea of me becoming Yue Shan to visit an old friend Li Yuan, making me not only feel excited, but there is also the possibility I might destroy Shi Zhixuan’s plot.”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said with a sigh, “In the end you are still convinced that I am not going to unearth the treasure, yet you still speak about some deep felling between brothers.”
Evidently Xu Ziling was in a very good mood; he simply laughed and said, “Shao Shuai, please calm down. Objective facts absolutely cannot shift people’s subjective determination. Let’s forget about the fact that the chance of us finding the treasure is very slim, even if we did find it, it will still be difficult to transport. You’d better accept misfortunes as decreed by fate, I have nothing against it.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud. But then he lowered his voice and said, “Is it because Xianzi’s heart is moved and she is reluctant to leave this world that you kid are bursting with joy?”
Xu Ziling sneered and said, “You can think whatever you like, it’s almost time! Come to think about it, being besieged by the four top martial art masters of the Buddhist school is some kind of honor.”
Tapping the Moon in the Well on his back, Kou Zhong rose up suddenly. Tossing his head back and laughed, he said, “Whether it’s a dragon or a snake, we’ll find out this morning. Oh, Moon in the Well, you should not disappoint me, Kou Zhong!”
As soon as the two boys stepped out of the House of Dong Restaurant, they looked up to the sky, to see specks of snowflake gently drifting down, filling the whole sky. Instantly the previous world was turned into another heaven and earth.
Each snowflake drifted in indeterminate nature, yet in the diversity, one could see the incomparable unity.
The Heavenly Street was still busy with people coming and going, with endless stream of horse and carriages creating a lively scene. Looking left and right, they saw further down the street the earth was covered entirely in white, hazy, floating cloud, adding a layer of color to this number one street in Luoyang, just like a picture scroll brimming with poetic flavor, painting everything in the pure color of white snow.
Luoyang residents were overjoyed; they cheered and smiled to greet the timely arrival of the snow.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “We just barely left the door when the snow falls; what kind of omen is this?”
Xu Ziling was turning his head to look at the other end of the Tianjin bridge, which was disappearing in the boundless rain of snow; he cheerfully said, “Why do you care about his Niang’s ill omen or lucky omen? In short, I now feel my heart is free, my spirit relaxed, and that’s what important.”
Without further ado, together the two boys joined the Heavenly Street crowd, walking toward the Tianjin Bridge.
Their exceptional build and bearing immediately attracted not a few passersby’s attention. Walking side-by-side with Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong said, “Who would have thought that we are going to the Virtuous Temple to have a duel versus the Buddhist school’s most formidable four monks? And that this battle will most probably be related to the rise and fall of the world?”
Overwhelmed by emotions, Xu Ziling was thinking of life’s dream-like characteristic; nodding his head, he said, “When we were wandering the streets of Yangzhou, have you ever thought that a day like today would come?”
Patting his shoulder, Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Well said! At that time we were just two nobodies without a penny to our names; everyday we were only thinking about how to satisfy our hunger tomorrow, plus we had to rack our brains on how to deal with Yan Laoda [see Book 1 Chapter 1]. Thinking about that, I feel like reality is just a dream-like pretense. I am afraid of falling down and waking up, only to discover that we are still sleeping in the doghouse inside the abandoned garden in Yangzhou.”
The two boys stepped onto the Tianjin Bridge; the snowflakes were falling even bigger and denser. Luo River and the long bridge were covered entirely by the dense, impenetrable, pure white winter snow. It was a vast and hazy expanse.
Xu Ziling stopped at the top of the bridge. His gaze following a sailboat disappearing inside the depth of the snow rain, he suddenly asked, “Why are you unwilling to see Li Xiuning?”
Kou Zhong’s tiger body slightly shook; he grabbed the railings with both hands and looked down into the Luo River, at the snowflakes floating into the constantly flowing river water, where the snow was absorbed by water, leaving no trace at all. Everything was so natural and casual. Smiling wryly, he said, “Tell me, how should I answer your question? Seeing her is not as good as not seeing her, I will only disappoint her.”
Xu Ziling said, “Supposing when you met her, the flower has no master yet, would your fate be different?”
Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, “Who would know the answer? At that time, there was a large disparity between our statuses. If at that time we simply follow Li kid, today, at most we will only be two divine generals or celestial soldiers within the Heaven Policy Mansion; it would be difficult for us to have the current opportunity, in which we are very proud of ourselves. Disaster and happiness have no door, relying on one or the other, the outcome is difficult to anticipate.”
Changing the subject, he said, “Hey! Shi Feixuan finally can blush!”
Xu Ziling blurted out laughing, “You, this kid, even if you died, your character would not change; you will never let this kind of subject off,” he said, “Shi Feixuan, is, after all, still a mortal, naturally she has a mortal’s seven emotional states and six desires, one of those is blushing; what’s so rare about it? Besides, your remark was so brazen and rude.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “She is not a mortal at all; rather, since childhood she has been practicing Buddhism to have the lake of her heart trained to the ancient-well-without-any-ripple stage, becoming an abandoning-passion-and-cutting-short-her-desire fairy in the secular world. She would blush for you, evidently it was because it has reached the emotion-difficult-to-endure level. Let me tell you this: you, this kid, are really too proud; even when in your heart you like a girl, you still hide it in the depth of your heart.”
Xu Ziling could not help thinking about Shi Qingxuan. He sighed and said, “As far as karma goes, how could one make a demand? Everybody has his own pursuit of ideal and goals, if you forcefully wanted to change it, you won’t get any good result. Perhaps there will be a day where I want to settle down and get married; my way of thinking might change by then.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “You, Xu Ziling, how could you settle down and get married? The way I see it, you will only be a leisure-cloud-wild-crane, always seeking, but will have nothing lacking and no demand for the rest of this cruel life. Ha! For the rest of this cruel life.”
Recalling Susu, an indescribable ache welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart.
Kou Zhong reached out to wrap his arm around Xu Ziling’s shoulder, together they stepped down the Tianjin Bridge. Looking pensive, he said, “Really strange! It seems like this falling snow is touching a certain realm in our spirit, evoking certain things and distant memories that have been long forgotten. Although our feet are stepping on Luoyang’s Heavenly Street, but it feels like I am back to our childhood in Yangzhou city, being replaced by another kind of more-able-to-affect-the-innermost-being manner with which we discuss the beautiful Niang’er [lady] who could make our spirit and soul upside down, with which we discuss our future dream.”
Xu Ziling nodded his head in agreement and said, “In the past, certainly there was nothing that we did not talk about; moreover, we never stopped looking forward to the future. But now we seem to have obtained many things, yet it feels like we don’t have anything at all. In the end, is there really such thing as destiny?”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Kou Zhong said, “You knew that before, I never really believe in destiny; good luck or bad luck is just what you call it. But after going through so many mishaps, I no longer dare to jump to conclusion. No matter where we are going, karma seems to entangle us tightly. For example, just before Niang died, why did she tell us the location of the buried Duke Yang’s Treasure? Why did we meet Lu Miaozi, who designed the place of the buried treasure? Even more coincidental, the buried treasure happens to be in Guanzhong, involving the struggle for the emperor’s throne and the battle between the orthodox and heretical sects. Everything is linked in countless ways; nevertheless, you and I are somehow being sucked into it. If this is not karma, I don’t know what it is.”
With just a burst of dense snow, the Eastern Capital Luoyang was covered in the new clothes of white snow, all the buildings were covered in snow, no roof was visible, the long street was covered in thin layer of snow; the barely-left footprint and vehicles’ track were hidden in the blink of an eye. This process was continuously repeated.
The two boys casually turned into the street that led to the Virtuous Temple. The pure, clean and simple snow scenery overwhelmed their hearts that they were beside themselves.
Snowflakes became snowballs, drops of water started to form into pure and limpid icicles, becoming clump after clump of blossoming flowers, a beauty that enchanted their hearts.
Suddenly they stopped; the wide-open gate of Virtuous Temple was before their eyes.
Burst after burst of Buddhist chant, drawn out and melodious, were coming from the Hall of Great Strength. Combined with this snow white, boundless heaven and earth, it made people think about hidden feeling and sigh with sorrow, their spirit galloped outside the material world.
Kou Zhong’s tiger-body was shaken, he said, “How come just now I completely forgot that we came here to face the most important battle in our life?”
An incomparably fantastic feeling also welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart.
Kou Zhong patted the Moon in the Well on his back; his heroic spirit soared wildly, he laughed aloud and strode ahead over the temple gate. Xu Ziling followed closely behind. In this moment, he has completely forgotten about victory or defeat, honor and disgrace. Just like the timely snow falling down from the sky.
The vast sky has been around for ten thousand ancients. The white snow in the morning.