Book 30 Chapter 5 – Encounter with Rival in Love
Li Xiuning’s clothes were simple and elegant, her jade countenance was without the slightest makeup at all, she was only wearing a cloak and padded gown to give her shelter from the wind and the snow, which made her extraordinary grandeur, personality traits and breathtaking beauty even more prominent.
To Kou Zhong, she was the unattainable bright moon in the sky; he would never be able to pick her, ever.
This Great Tang’s noblewoman dismounted her horse and beckoned Kou Zhong to come with her to the side. “Xiuning is here to see you off,” she spoke softly.
Kou Zhong’s gaze swept Li Jing, husband and wife, who were standing in the distance, holding the rein of Li Xiuning’s horse. Suddenly a strange feeling welled up in his heart, a feeling that made him feel dejected, as if everything that has happened in the past, as well as at this moment, has lost its meaning, while the future was vague. “Where’s Chai Shao?” he asked blankly.
Even he himself did not understand why he was so untactful as to even mention this man.
Hanging her head down, Li Xiuning spoke in low voice, “He didn’t know I was coming. Ay! Why didn’t you want to see me?”
Kou Zhong’s mind went blank. Smiling ruefully, he said, “Even if I did, what could possibly happen?”
Li Xiuning’s face suddenly turned pale; distressed, she said, “Why do you insist on setting yourself against Er Huang Xiong [second emperor brother]? Don’t you know that he really regards you and Xu Ziling as his good friends?”
Kou Zhong took a deep breath of the cold air, his mind was clearing up a bit. “Even brothers can obstruct the wall as well,” he said heavily, “Much less friends who are just strangers coming together by chance. Tell me, is Li Xiuning actually helping your Er Huang Xiong, or Li Jiancheng, Li Yuanji?”
Li Xiuning tightly bit her lower lip. Revealing a sad, tired look, she shook her head and said, “I don’t know! I really don’t know.”
Kou Zhong’s heart softened; he deeply felt the contradiction and depression from which she could not extricate herself. The fact that her very own brothers were fighting against each other ought to torment this touching princess like a heavy nightmare.
“Princess, set your heart at ease,” he spoke gently, “This time I am entering the Pass, perhaps it will be a good thing for Qin Wang. Ay! They are waiting for me; I must go!”
Li Xiuning also looked like she could not find anything else to say, she nodded and said, “Let Li Jing, husband and wife, come with you! If some mishaps happen to Khan, how could Xiuning answer Er Huang Xiong?”
Kou Zhong was shocked. Finally his mind was clearing up completely. He quietly pondered that if those two journeyed together with them, wouldn’t it be difficult to carry out the ‘secretly crossing the Wei River at Chencang’ stratagem?
“Absolutely not,” he hastily said, “Because …”
“Do you want Xiuning to talk directly with Khan?” Li Xiuning cut him off.
Kou Zhong thought that if he refused again, he would only be trying to hide it but made it more conspicuous. Defeated, he said, “We’ll do it according to Gongzhu’s [princess] order!”
Li Xiuning’s pair of elegant eyes emitted a complex, difficult-to-understand expression; gazing deeply at him, she said, “When you get to Chang’an, can Shao Shuai see Xiuning?”
Kou Zhong was stunned.
Three warships slowly steered away from Luoyang. They sailed to the east along the Luo River first, and then after reaching the Yellow River, they started to change direction inland.
Kou Zhong came to the main deck to look for Qin Shubao; he asked, “The Zheng troops on those two ships, are they under your, LaoGe’s control?”
Revealing a strange smile on his face, Qin Shubao replied, “Right now they are not, but very soon they will be!”
Pleased, Kou Zhong patted his shoulders and spoke in low voice, “Just expel the generals who don’t belong to our side off the boat; it’s not worthwhile to have them killed. Let them return and pass on the message to Wang Shichong. Making him so angry that he is half-dead will be more satisfying to everyone.”
Qin Shubao laughed and said, “In this matter your are still a bit more tenderhearted. I dare to bet my life that on the boat, there is one who thoroughly understands old thief Wang’s overall evil schemes, plus he must have a way to secretly communicate with Song JinGang on the other side. If we can catch this man, and then using heavy punishment to pry open his rotten mouth, we can beat them at their own game, to have Song JinGang fall head first in big tumble. Humph! Who the hell he thinks he is, to have the cheek to come and harm me?”
Slapping his forehead, Kou Zhong said, “Old Qin, you are still more capable than me.”
Inwardly he knew that it was due to the arrangement to meet with Li Xiuning that until this moment he had not recovered his clear-headedness, hence he was still in a daze.
Qin Shubao laughed and said, “Are you fooling around with Li Xiuning, that pretty girl, to such an extent as to be this hopelessly muddled? It’s not worth it. I, your LaoGe have personally experienced it. When the flame arrives, you’d better just go to low-grade brothel and use real gold and white silver to buy some laughter. If you close your eyes, you can think of the other side as the princess, that the other side was, in fact, the princess. Once you are done, just leave, clean and clear, happy and carefree. After the world is unified, you can talk about everything again; just be happy without any care. Thinking about whether you’ll live or dead on the battlefield is just like minding other people’s business. Ha! It’s straightforward, isn’t it?”
Kou Zhong remembered that Qin Shubao was secretly in love with Luliang Pai Sect Leader’s ‘thousand-jin of gold’ [i.e. daughter]; he inwardly thought that when Qin Shubao visited a prostitute, he must have fantasized that the other person on the bed was that Miss Zhu. Laughing involuntarily, he said, “This ought to be considered your, LaoGe’s healing panacea!”
While they were still discussing some more the details of their operation, Xu Ziling came. After chatting for a moment, Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong went to the stern for some private discussion.
The snowstorm had already stopped a while ago, but the mountains everywhere were blanketed in silver-colored layer of ice, while the treetops were still dressed in snowflakes. When the cold wind blew, the snow accumulated on the trees on both sides of the river fell, becoming clumps of snowflakes drifting away freely in the air, creating magnificently wonderful scenery.
The clouds in the sky were still very thick, hiding the sun setting behind the western hills; the heaven and the earth gradually turned hazy.
Kou Zhong asked, “What are Li Jing and our vicious Saozi [(older) sister-in-law] doing?”
Xu Ziling replied, “Our Li Dasao [first (older) sister-in-law] really isn’t a completely unreasonable person; it was just that the misunderstanding between us has overgrown that she is not too courteous toward us! They are talking with Wangzi and Khan about the foreign Tujue, Tiele, Gaoli [Korea], Tubo [Tibet], Dangxiang [Tangut branch of Qiang ethnic group], Tuyuhun, Huihe [modern day Uighur]; all the northern sides’ situation. They get along very well with each other.”
And then, knitting his brows, he said, “I am impersonating Yue Shan going into Guanzhong to look for Li Yuan, but with what kind of ghostly method are you going to sneak into Chang’an?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “I can only see the opportunity and act accordingly. Chang’an city defense is very long; inevitably there will be a flaw or a gap. After entering the city, we’ll use usual method of contacting each other. At that time we’ll think of how to put our hands to do the treasure hunt.”
“I am leaving tonight,” Xu Ziling said, “You must be a bit more careful, don’t forget that even with his strength, Li Shimin still suffered injury from the ambush. Currently it looks like our men are strong, our horses robust, but we still can’t compare with Li Shimin’s strength at that time.”
“Did you ask Li Jing about Li Shimin being ambushed and sustained injury?” Kou Zhong asked.
Xu Ziling replied, “With Li Dasao nearby, a lot of things are inconvenient to talk about.”
Kou Zhong expressed his understanding. Reaching out, he grabbed Xu Ziling’s shoulder and said heavily, “After dark, you leave the boat and go ashore. You must be very careful. If anybody doubted your identity, slip away immediately, don’t force yourself to do anything.”
Deeply concerned, Xu Ziling said, “You must be very careful as well.”
Closing his tiger-eyes, Kou Zhong’s mind already flew over to Chang’an’s Yue Ma [galloping/prancing horse] Bridge. After experiencing untold hardships, as well as layer upon layer of challenging twists and turns, finally the crucial moment that would determine the honor and disgrace in all his life was finally coming.
His thoughts wandering far away, he said, “I might set out three days after you leave; I should be arriving in Chang’an before the New Year. Remember to calculate the time accurately to meet me. Ha! What could possibly be more moving than a vast, unfathomable future?”
He could not stop Li Xiuning’s jade countenance from emerging in his heart, but it was quickly replaced by Song Yuzhi’s.
Disguised as Yue Shan, Xu Ziling traveled urgently for three days and night, nonstop. This day at dusk, he reached Taolin [lit. peach forest], located at the south bank of the Yellow River.
Since Li Shimin defeated Xue Ju, father and son’s Xi Qin Army [lit. Western Qin], his prestige flourished greatly. A lot of fortified cities in the vicinity of Tongguan, which were originally neutral, realigned their allegiance to the Li’s Tang, so that they became the highway for the Great Tang’s army out of the Pass. Taolin was precisely one of those cities; therefore, the banner hanging on the city wall was the Li Clan’s.
Upon entering the city, Xu Ziling stopped at a hotel to rest, to preserve and nurture his spirit before entering the Pass early the next day.
Chang’an was located on the plains on the Wei River region. The reason it was called Guanzhong was because on the east there was Tongguan, on the west was the Da San Guan [not sure if it is a place’s name, lit. greatly scattered pass], on the south was Wuguan [lit. martial/military pass], on the north was Xiaoguan [Chinese mugwort pass]. Located in the middle of these four Guan [passes], it was called Guanzhong [lit. the middle of the pass]. Tongguan was the chief among these four Guan. It was built by the Qin people during the Warring States period [475-221 BC].
On the north it overlooked the Yellow River, barely leaning against Dashan [lit. big mountain]. About a hundred li east and west were open paths, which were actually narrow slit of crushed mountain rocks where ‘carts could not be placed on the track, horses could not be ridden side-by-side’, where there was a ‘one man guarding the pass, ten-thousand men could not pass through’ rugged terrain feeling on it. The original name was HanGu Guan, but after the Eastern Han dynasty, the name was changed into Tongguan.
During the Warring States period, six states again and again forming the Vertical Alliance [clique of the School of Diplomacy] to attack west toward the Qin. But also time and again they ended up nursing a grievance at HanGu’s miserable stage.
The Twin Peaks towered by the Great River [i.e. Yellow River], since ancient times HanGu has always been a battlefield.
It was precisely this arduous ground that the military strategists simply must strive for that made Chang’an as steady as Mount Tai, that made it avoiding the fire beacon and chaos of war outside the Pass.
Xu Ziling took a bath in delight before putting on the Yue Shan mask. He also applied the cosmetics and dye that he bought en route using the disguising technique that he learned from Chen Laomou, so that the skin exposed outside his clothes would have approximately the same color as the mask, to avoid any flaw that could be seen through by attentive and astute people like Lei Jiuzhi.
The closer he got to Guanzhong, the more cautious and solemn he was. Whether walking, sitting, or lying on the bed, he also, relying on his outstanding memory, continuously reviewing the marvelous acupoint sealing technique that Shi Qingxuan taught her the last time he impersonated Yue Shan. He also repeatedly reviewed all affairs, big and small, that were recorded in the scroll that Yue Shan left behind.
A weird feeling even grew in him that he had, in fact, become the Yue Shan.
Returning to his room, he sat for half a sichen before going into the restaurant attached to the hotel to have his evening meals.
He had just stepped across the threshold when he immediately felt the unusual atmosphere inside the eatery. Right in the middle of the hall of the restaurant, which had capacity of about a dozen round tables, sat a tall man wearing gorgeous garment embroidered clothes, with a waiter standing respectfully by his side.
When the man saw him coming, upright and unafraid, he stood up to salute and said, “Wanbei [younger generation] Yang WenGan of Jingzhao Lian [see Book 29 Chapter 3], paying my respect to Yue Lao Qianbei [old senior]. I have especially prepared a table of food and drink for Qianbei to wash the dust off your feet.”
With a clap of his hands, the waiter immediately moved like running water, offering fine food and good wine that were spread all over the table.
Yang WenGan personally pulled a chair to invite Xu Ziling, disguised as Yue Shan, to take the seat.
Xu Ziling cast a glance toward the sumptuous banquet, which would be enough to feed at least ten men to eat and drink until they were satisfied and drunk, while inwardly he frantically searched his memory for any ‘Yang WenGan’. And then he remembered Li Jing mentioned Jingzhao Lian, which was the biggest gang in Guanzhong, and Yang WenGan was precisely Jingzhao Lian’s big boss.
This man had quite a wide ‘face’; both in Guanxi and Guandong [lit. west and east of the Pass, respectively] he was equally popular. Moreover, he was a man of Jiancheng and Yuanji, the princelings’ side, who was in charge of the Guanzhong-wide intelligence network, to prevent he and Kou Zhong from entering the capital.
Before entering the Pass, Xu Ziling was already intercepted, plus he was well informed of the ‘Yue Shan’ identity. It is thus clear that the manpower and physical resources working on the background was difficult to estimate; this man could be considered very capable.
Even though Yang WenGan was appointed the Chief Manager of Qingzhou, he still could not conceal the ambitions-and-ruthless-Jianghu-character-of-the-criminal-ways impression. His countenance was quite out of the ordinary, but in terms of appearance and bearing, there was some kind of thinking-too-much-of-himself, believed-firmly-that-he-could-produce-clouds-by-turning-his-hand-over, and-produced-rain-by-covering-his-hand, that-he-could-manipulate-other-people’s-destiny-at-his-whim attitude, as if Laotianye [God/Heaven] especially care about and doted on him.
Xu Ziling adopted an unconcerned expression consistent with Yue Shan’s appearance during his life; he asked indifferently, “How do you know Laofu is Yue Shan?”
Yang WenGan respectfully replied, “Yue Qianbei has just left the mountain, in Chengdu you killed the ‘Heavenly Lord’ Xi Ying. This matter, who in the world did not know?”
Throwing his head back in long laughter, Xu Ziling said, “You randomly fawn on me by preparing such a feast to entertain Laofu, what scheme are you playing? If you are babbling nonsense, don’t blame Ol’ Yue for being rude.”
Yang WenGan waved his hand to dismiss his attendants first, before calmly and leisurely moved to the seat across the table; smiling, he said, “Yue Lao is still so temperamental like this. Why don’t you sit down first, drink a cup of watery wine, and then let Wanbei tell you the details?”
Just by looking at his footwork and poise, Xu Ziling was able to affirm that Yang WenGan was absolutely a front ranking martial art master. Although he was still inferior to Xu Ziling, the difference should not be too far; he could not help feeling amazed, and thus speculated that under Li Jiancheng’s Crown Prince troops, there was definitely out-of-the-ordinary strength.
Letting out a cold snort, he said, “Laofu’s hands are itchy! If you are wasting Laofu’s time, I am afraid it would be too late for regrets.”
Instead of responding, Yang WenGan asked a question, while remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, “Is Yue Lao thinking of entering Guanzhong?”
Xu Ziling felt extremely uneasy. No matter how conceited Yang WenGan was, according to reason, he should not act like he was secure-in-the-knowledge-that-he-had-backing like this. Thinking about this point, his heart was moved. Taking his attention away from Yang WenGan, he scanned the surrounding area within ten zhang radius, and said with a cold laugh, “You have the impertinence to mind Laofu’s business, I am afraid you are already tired of living.”
“Wait!” Yang WenGan hastily said, “As soon as I show Yue Lao a certain item, Yue Lao will understand everything.” And then he reached into his bosom.
Xu Ziling let out a stifled snort and rose up; he dangerously dodged a fierce-and-severe-like-a-thunderbolt sword light shooting at him from behind. In a flash he already broke through the ceiling and landed on the roof slope. Without even looking, he knew that the sneak attack came from the ‘Shadow Assassin’ Yang Xuyan.
If he did not know that Yang WenGan was trying to confuse him, although Yang Xuyan might not necessarily be able to injure him, this moment he would be caught in inferior position of facing the enemy from the front and the rear.
On the roof, someone laughed aloud and said, “Yue Xiong is indeed old but brimming with strength; only your brains is still swallowing ancient learning without digesting it [idiom: being pedantic without having a mastery of the subject]. Unless you are wiling to promise that in this life you won’t enter Guanzhong even for half a step, next year today will be the anniversary of Yue Xiong’s death.”
This man’s beard and eyebrows had turned entirely white, with quite an immortal-elderly-descending-into-the-world bearing. Surprisingly, he was a figure of grandmaster level from the Hainan Pai, ‘Hainan Xian Weng’ Huang Gongcuo [immortal elderly man of the South Sea, see Book 12 Chapter 10].
Xu Ziling understood in his heart; because Yue Shan was very familiar with demonic school’s affair, Yang Xuyan would never allow him to enter the Pass to see Li Yuan, to avoid him spoiling the enterprise that Shi Zhixuan and Yang Xuyan have built through painstaking efforts.
Although looking through the hole he did not see any sign of activity in the hall below, Xu Ziling was well aware that he had fallen into a heavy siege, and perhaps Shi Zhixuan was among those lying in ambush.
Disregarding other people, merely Huang Gongcuo was already not easy to deal with. But he did not show the slightest sign of fear; concentrating his attention on Yue Shan’s xinfa, his eyes emitted natural divine light that was unique to Yue Shan when he was still alive. Without yielding the slightest bit, he met Huang Gongcuo’s fierce and severe gaze; with wooden expression he said, “Who could have thought that Huang Qi Sha [seven killing] is entering the age where you are ready to enter the coffin, yet your eyes fail to see clearly; you are willingly become other people’s hunting dog. Laughable! You are indeed laughable!”
Xu Ziling had followed the intonation and the appellation that Yue Shan used in his memoir; the words that contained disdain. Turned out Huang Gongcuo created ‘Qi Sha Quan’ [seven killing fist], with which he ran amuck all over the world, hence the reason those of the older generation like Yue Shan called him Huang Qi Sha.
Huang Gongcuo’s eyes emitted deep hatred, but the tone of his voice remained extraordinarily tranquil; a clear sign that he was about to make his move. Word by word, with heavy voice like ice and snow blowing out from the gaps between his teeth – he said, “Death is near at hand, unexpectedly your mouth still produces delirious utterances. Humph! How could I, Huang Gongcuo, be afraid of you, Yue Ba Dao [overbearing saber]? Didn’t you see Yuyan? Why didn’t she kill you?”
In the bottom of his heart, Xu Ziling was startled. He secretly thought that the tone of his voice contained jealous fire; perhaps there had been a period of passion between Huang Gongcuo and Zhu Yuyan. Therefore, he hated ‘him’, this rival in love, to the bone, because ‘he’ has had physical relationship with Zhu Yuyan and even fathered a daughter.
However, in his memoir Yue Shan did not mention this matter. In fact, in the scroll that he left behind, Yue Shan did not waste a lot of ink in mentioning Zhu Yuyan. It was quite possible that Yue Shan did not wish to remember this part of his past.
This moment he gained more understanding on why Huang Gongcuo appeared in this place. Copying Yue Shan’s style of mischievous laughter, he said, “The affair between she and I is none of your business.”
The murderous intent in Huang Gongcuo’s eyes was flaring greatly. Even without any wind, his beard and eyebrows were fluttering. The air all around him, with him as the center, was starting to spin around; slowly at first, but growing faster. His energy was storming out; icy cold and bone chilling. Its might was terrifying.
Xu Ziling knew that the time for him to make his move was imminent; presently it was only a prelude in which he was gathering his power. Promptly Xu Ziling focused his mind, while at the same time cried ‘Lucky!’ inwardly.
Just now his attention was focused on this big enemy. On one hand, the enemy was a senior grandmaster nearing Ning Daoqi’s level. The other reason was that Huang Gongcuo’s prowess in shaking Wang Shichong’s cavalcade at the Heavenly Street in Luoyang was still deeply embedded in his mind, as if it happened just last night; therefore, he did not dare to be careless in dividing his attention.
But this moment as he stood still and secretly performed the Motionless Fundamental Image, he was advancing into the moon in the well state, reaching the Buddhist realm of still-water-without-any-ripple. The clear and sharp lingtai acupoint on his body were as cold as the snow, while the lingjiao immediately expanded toward the space all around him. Instantly he detected that other than Yang WenGan and Yang Xuyan, two men, who were crouching in ambush on both sides behind him, there were no other enemies around. Immediately a plan started to form in his mind.
Huang Gongcuo condescendingly looked down on him; he let out a long laugh and said, “Yue Ba, you think Xiao Yan [little yan] really loves you? It was because she had enough dislike toward you that she picked you to be the man with whom she reproduced. The man she really liked was Shi Zhixuan and not you at all; let me take your dog life.”
Amidst his roar, the ‘Hainan Xian Weng’ Huang Gongcuo sent out a punch across the empty air.
His fist was like an explosion that created a hole on the dike withstanding crashing billows. All the qi power, which was originally whirling around him, was attached to his fist power like a swarm of bees, forming a narrow column of concentrated qi power, from slow to fast, which suddenly struck toward Xu Ziling.
The area around him, several zhang in diameter, with Huang Gongcuo as the center, suddenly became a void in which not a single drop of energy remained, being entirely pulled by his earth-shattering punch; it was terrifying to the extreme point.
Huang Gongcuo’s ‘Seven Killing Fist’ was one of the consummate skills that Yue Shan discussed in considerable detail in his memoir, there was even an additional note written by Bi Xiuxin attached to it. Therefore, although Xu Ziling has never experienced it first hand, he had quite a detailed knowledge about it and has already prepared a way to deal with it.
Letting out a cold laugh, he unleashed his deflecting force skill. First, he swayed to the left and right, while utilizing the true qi protecting his body to disperse the opponent’s first two waves of qi power, and then his finger shot out, using the Treasured Vase Image method, stabbing with the true qi that was more concentrated than the opponent’s fist power, flowing against the current and across the empty air to strike toward Huang Gongcuo.
The finger power was released but was immediately pulled back, and then both hands struck out, he sent out another burst of qi power to meet the main force of the opponent’s third wave of fist power head-on.
Qi power collided.
Xu Ziling was struck that his qi and blood were surging and he nearly vomited blood. Promptly, relying on his unique and unusual qi power, he pulled the opponent’s full of destructive power true qi from his meridians, which had been transformed by the treasured Jade Annulus of He Clan, and discharged it out of his system via the yongquan acupoints on his two feet. The roof tiles were immediately shattered into cun-size fragments.
Huang Gongcuo let out a muffled grunt as he staggered back, simply because when the finger energy attacked, the momentum was hard to withstand, so that it was difficult for him to continuously send out another wave of punch.
Xu Ziling dropped down following the shattered roof, while simultaneously circulating his true qi, so that by the time his feet gained steady footing on the floor, the injured meridians were recovered.
The key to life and death was precisely this moment.
Finger wind struck out, one after another the lanterns in the hall went out. Moving the positive and negative true qi within his body, fast as lightning Xu Ziling slipped under the banquet table, and then promptly restraint his refined qi, so that nothing leaked out.
There was a sudden gust of wind.
Huang Gongcuo was the first to leap down to the dining hall via the hole on the roof, followed by Yang Xuyan and Yang WenGan, who also stormed in.
Huang Gongcuo shouted coldly, “Let’s go! After him!”
Listening to the sound of the three men going far, Xu Ziling was amused inwardly. No wonder the three were this careless, because who would have thought that ‘Yue Shan’ would disregard his ‘face’ by hiding under the table, or even so much so that he would be such a coward by running away?
But Xu Ziling was not Yue Shan. Since he was no match for the enemy, he must slip away or hide; there was no need to cherish his reputation and status.
By the time he slipped out, he casually snatched several mantou [steamed buns] before leaving.
 Qi Sha, seven killing – Additional info, it is also name of a star, 七杀星南斗第六星 the sixth star of the south pitch, star of a general. (Courtesy of Akolaw)