Book 31 Chapter 10 – Past Events Like Fleeting Smoke
The sound of hoof beats hiding the sky and covering the earth was approaching, but it stopped in front of the Dong Lai Inn’s door.
Xu Ziling was standing with his hands behind his back in front of the window, gazing at the beautiful scenery of the inn’s rear garden after the big snow.
After the sound of horses stomping their feet stopped, the entire inn suddenly grew quiet. In itself, this sudden silence was some kind of heavy pressure, telling people that something unusual was happening.
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Come in! The door is not locked at all.”
Outside the door, Li Yuan was slightly startled. He first ordered his men to drive away all the other guests from the neighboring rooms before pushing the door and entering. Coming behind Xu Ziling, he cupped his fist and said, “Li Yuan had just learned about Dage honoring us with your presence; I came with a specific purpose in mind to pay my respect and say hello.”
Xu Ziling replied with a cold laugh, “Li Yuan, you are the Great Tang Emperor set up on high, and are in the middle of unifying the world. It should be Xiaomin [commoner] Yue Shan who ought to follow the protocol by kowtowing to you and wishing you good health.”
He suddenly turned around. Concentrating Yue Shan’s xinfa, the spirited light in his eyes was flashing as he met Li Yuan’s gaze.
Throwing his head back, Li Yuan let out a long laugh and said, “Yue Dage, please stop teasing me. No matter what Li Yuan has become, my feeling toward Yue Dage has never changed. Dage has mastered the Huan Ri Da Fa, this time returning to the fray after a period of inactivity, you struck and killed the Heavenly Lord Xi Ying first, and then today you defeated Old Huang at the Yue Ma Bridge, you already accomplished immortal fame for your fighting prowess. Xiaodi wholeheartedly applauds and congratulates you, Yue Dage.”
Heaving a sigh, Xu Ziling shook his head and said with a wry smile, “Jianghu’s false reputation is just flowers in a mirror and the moon reflected in the lake [idiom: an unrealistic rosy view]; why mentioned it? Yue Shan now is not the same as the Yue Shan then. Past events are like fleeting smoke; I do not wish to remember old affairs even more. Xiaodao [little saber/blade], go back and do your emperor thing! This time Yue Shan came to Chang’an was only to settle the account with Huang Qi Sha; perhaps I’ll even depart tonight. That’s all!”
‘Xiaodao’ was the term of endearment that Yue Shan used for Li Yuan, which was mentioned twice in his memoir. Due to Xu Ziling did not have any idea what actually happened between Yue Shan and Li Yuan, he gained the initiative by striking first by putting on an act that he could not bear to look back on past events, and was unwilling to discuss it.
Actually, just like Zhu Yuyan, Li Yuan has never doubted that Yue Shan could also be an impostor. The most crucial point was, naturally, that ‘Huan Ri Da Fa’ could change Yue Shan like he was shedding his mortal body and exchanging his bones. This moment, as soon as Yue Shan mentioned ‘Xiaodao’, it immediately stirred up Li Yuan’s memory of the past [orig. former dust, in Buddhism: impurity contracted previously (in the sentient world)]. In a hundred and one ways all kinds of emotions surged in his heart; severely shaken, he said, “Yue Dage no longer blame Xiaodao for the old affair of the past?”
Like a whirlwind Xu Ziling turned around again; with his back against this Emperor of the Great Tang, he spoke in heavy voice, “My greatest desire now is to compare who’s superior and who’s inferior against the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que. But before it happens, I want to find one person to settle the account.”
Staring blankly, Li Yuan asked, “Who is this person?”
Xu Ziling replied word-by-word, “The “Demonic King’ Shi Zhixuan. Were it not for his despicable means, how could Xiuxin die with resentment in her heart?”
Li Yuan’s eyes flashed with murderous intent. Snorting coldly, he said, “Shi Zhixuan is not dead yet?”
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, “Not only he is not dead yet, he is gazing intently like a tiger by your side. Were it not for this reason, how could you, Xiaodao, see me here?”
Finally Li Yuan’s countenance changed.
Patting the child’s cheek, Kou Zhong assumed a modest attitude and said, “It really is not because of Xiaoren’s skill, but Liu Daren’s esteemed son only suffered minor illness, so two needles immediately yield results. Look! Baby darling’s fever is gone!”
Madame Liu was faster than Liu Zhenghui in stretching out her hand to feel her son’s forehead; greatly delighted, she said, “Mo Shen Yi’s medical skill is indeed divine. Xiao Nan is not burning anymore!”
Liu Zhenghui was pleased beyond his expectation; he expressed his thank with a thousand kindness and ten thousand gratitude.
Returning to the outer hall, Chang He said with a laugh, “For the time being, I will have to hand over the heavy responsibility of taking care of Mo Xiong into Liu Daren’s hands; Mo Jiang has not been back to the Palace Courtyard Guard Office for three days.”
After agreeing with Kou Zhong to meet again at the Sha Family’s mansion that evening, he hurriedly left.
After the two were seated properly in the main hall, Liu Zhenghui cheerfully said, “I heard from Chang Jiangjun that Mo Xiansheng has original insight about courtyard construction; I wonder if you have some valuable opinion about Xiaodi’s mansion house?”
Kou Zhong mused that you must have mistaken me for Ling Shao, how could I have any opinion? Avoiding the important and dwelling on the trivial, he gave him a cheerful talk, “The design of Liu Daren’s mansion house is distinct; from the gate spanning the courtyard, Xiaoren get a feeling that the master of the mansion must be a figure with out of the ordinary air, with far-reaching aspiration in his bosom.”
Thousand times bore through, ten thousand times bore through; horse’s fart does not bore through [‘Anything gets through me except horse fart’ (Courtesy of Sunnysnow during Eagle Shooting Hero translation project)]. Although Kou Zhong’s flattering words felt a bit excessive, Liu Zhenghui was still happy and elated. “How could I dare to accept [the compliment]? How could I dare to accept?” he remarked modestly.
Having successfully avoided a sticky situation, Kou Zhong blurted out, “Although other than medical book Xiaoren did not read other books, hey! Actually, the medical books that I read are not many either; mostly I was relying on Jiashu’s oral teaching. But since I was little I love to see beautiful things. Ha! Perhaps it’s because Xiaoren’s natural appearance is ugly!”
Inwardly Liu Zhenghui agreed with him, but of course outwardly he expressed his disagreement; he spoke with a laugh, “The most important thing for a man is skill and accomplishment. Mo Xiansheng appears this lofty and dignified, ha …”
Kou Zhong interrupted him with a laugh, “Thank you very much for Liu Daren’s praise. The reason Xiaoren is obsessed with buildings is simply because other than buildings are pleasant to look at, they also have practical function, which give them different pleasure from watching painting and calligraphy. Hey! Just like beautiful women. Ha!”
Liu Zhenghui busily accompanied him with a warm laughter.
Knowing that it was time, Kou Zhong switched to the real subject he wanted to talk about, “These past two days Xiaoren was dining on the third floor of Fu Ju Lou; looking around from there, I noticed that the buildings around Yue Ma Bridge are most distinctive. I wonder if Liu Daren pays any particular attention to the buildings in that area?”
Liu Zhenghui cheerfully said, “All buildings in Chang’an, big and small, must go through our Gongbu [Ministry of Works] for approval; therefore, I know these buildings like the back of my hand. I wonder what aspect of these buildings that Mo Xiansheng is interested in.”
Kou Zhong replied with a laugh, “I have a peculiar character; when I like certain thing, I want to know everything about it, I would research it relentlessly to the bottom. If Liu Daren have resources pertaining to this matter, that would be the most ideal.”
Liu Zhenghui laughed and said, “That’s easy. Whenever Mo Xiansheng have some free time, please grace the office where Xiaodi work with your presence. In there, you can find complete resources – nothing left to be desired – that Mo Xiansheng can look over.”
Inwardly Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, yet he knew that he must not appear too eager. Struggling to suppress the excitement in his heart, he said, “Please forgive Xiaoren for being blunt; how about tomorrow morning after treating Niangniang’s illness I will find the time to pay a visit to Liu Daren at the Ministry of Works?”
While speaking the last two sentences, he felt as if half of the Duke Yang’s Treasure has already fallen into his pocket.
Emotionally moved, Li Yuan said, “Pei Ju is Shi Zhixuan?”
Xu Ziling said, “I have investigated this matter for many years in secret; I am positive that I do not accuse him wrongly.”
Li Yuan apologetically said, “Yue Dage must not blame Xiaodi for having a bit of doubt. Only because this matter is of great importance that it is too hard to believe.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling cried, ‘Close call!’ Just now he acted as if he was afraid Li Yuan might not believe him. This was definitely not the Overbearing Saber Yue Shan’s style. If it were the real Yue Shan, he would say, ‘Laozi say whatever Laozi wants to say, why would I give a damn whether you believe me or not’.
Inwardly he scolded himself to be more on alert; otherwise, this kind of details would reveal – just like Kou Zhong’s Divine Doctor Mo, that he was an impostor.
Stepping to his side, Li Yuan stood side-by-side with Xu Ziling, together they gazed at the beautiful snowscape in the garden. Muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, “I worked with Pei Ju for many years on Yang Guang’s business. In retrospect, this man was indeed a bit deep and unfathomable, and he was very shrewd. But after the Great Sui was defeated, he disappeared and I don’t have any contact with him. However, why did he do that? Inciting the whole country in rebellion, what benefit would it bring him?”
Laughing coldly, Xu Ziling responded “I see that you are already accustomed to live like a prince, unexpectedly you forgot that as long as demonic school people could bring harm to others, they practically don’t care about personal benefit, plus they are obstinately clinging to their own course. If I am guessing correctly, he ought to have two purposes. The first is that he wanted to unify the demonic school; next, he wanted to unify the world. At that time the Way will diminish, the demonic will flourish; he would be able to do anything he wishes. In the end, only by doing this will he be able to eliminate all his enemies, both from orthodox and demonic ways.”
Shaken, Li Yuan said, “As long as I, Li Yuan, am alive, I will never let Shi Zhixuan going on the rampage without any scruple. Where is Shi Zhixuan now?”
Xu Ziling coldly replied, “This time I am making a comeback, I deliberately pulled up a relationship with demonic school people, precisely because I want to find out in which hole Shi Zhixuan is hiding himself.”
Li Yuan suddenly understood, “No wonder when dealing with Xi Ying in Chengdu, Yue Dage unexpectedly had An Pangzi [fatty] and You Niaojuan, two men, cheering you on. I was puzzled at first, turns out there is this reason.”
Feeling that he had spent enough effort to remedy the flaw, Xu Ziling came back to the main topic, “Nobody knows where the Old Demon Shi is at this moment, or even what he is disguising himself into. But I dare say that I know his next target is, which is your Great Tang’s imperial court.”
Stunned, Li Yuan asked, “What makes Yue Dage so sure?”
Meeting the spirited-light, shooting-lightning gaze with which Li Yuan was looking at him, Xu Ziling replied word-by-word, “Does Xiaodao know Yang Xuyan’s true past history?”
Li Yuan’s face did not show the slightest bit of emotional fluctuation; apparently he was prepared for the worst. “Whose son is he?” he asked in heavy voice.
Calm and indifferent, Xu Ziling replied, “Whose son he is, is still not the most crucial point, but Yang Xuyan is definitely the evil seed that the ‘Demonic King’ Shi Zhixuan painstakingly cultivated, the successor of Bu Tian Ge [Translator’s note: original text says Tian Xie Dao (lit. heavenly demonic/heretic way), but both Xiaohu and Akolaw confirmed that most probably it was a typo. See also Book 23 Chapter 1] of this generation. This time I was passing by Guan Wai, I ran across Huang Gongcuo, Yang WenGan and Yang Xuyan, who intended to put me to death, precisely because they were afraid I would enter the Pass and tell all these things to you. Originally I had no intention to enter the Pass, but after thinking it thrice, in the end I still came.”
Li Yuan revealed a look of gratitude, but quickly his eyes were flashing with murderous intent. He said with a cold humph, “Now that I know these things, they think they can still live?”
Xu Ziling revealed Yue Shan’s signature smile, taught by Shi Qingxuan, which was brimming with grim, profound overtone; he said, “Only by using long string will we be able to catch the big fish. To kill these three is absolutely not easy. One thing goes wrong, they might disappear without any trace instead. Not to mention that in my opinion, Huang Gongcuo has no idea about the relationship between Yang Xuyan and Shi Zhixuan; his motive is purely personal grudge.”
Frowning, Li Yuan asked, “Who actually is Yang Xuyan?”
Xu Ziling replied, “Yang Xuyan is actually Yang Yong’s young son.”
“What?” Li Yuan blurted out.
Xu Ziling said, “Yang Xuyan still does not know that his real identity has been uncovered by me. Last time when he dealt with me outside the Pass, together with Huang Gongcuo and Yang WenGan, he did not reveal his identity. Therefore, as long as you summon Yang WenGan and scold him, they won’t suspect a thing. As for the next step, we must take our time in making a decision, we absolutely must not act blindly without thinking.”
Heaving a deep sigh, Li Yuan said, “Yue Dage still have deep passion, heavy friendship toward me, Li Yuan; you really make Li Yuan …”
Xu Ziling cut him off, “I, Yue Shan, am not doing this for you, Li Yuan, but for Bi Xiuxin. The biggest regret in her life was that she could not see the world in peace and prosperity, a situation where the war stops and the troops rest. Only by getting rid of Shi Zhixuan, the root of all this calamity and chaos, will your Great Tang Dynasty have the hope to bring unification to the Central Plains; everything else is pure rubbish. Go back! I will find a way to see you at the Palace.”
After Li Yuan left, Xu Ziling immediately left Dong Lai Inn; he turned to the left and bore through the right through the side alleys to make sure that nobody was following him. Only then did he turn toward Hou Xibai’s small courtyard to meet Kou Zhong and Lei Jiuzhi.
Kou Zhong praised, “Ling Shao’s performance at the Yue Ma Bridge this morning was really brilliant beyond compare. Clearly Old Freak Huang’s power maturity is above yours, yet from the beginning he had his hands and feet bound and you had him in the palms of your hands. He was so angry that he nearly spit blood. Were it not for someone throwing a stinky shoe to him, he would have become the drowning duck. Ha! Who actually threw that stinking shoe?”
Xu Ziling replied in heavy voice, “Zhao Deyan.”
“What?” Kou Zhong blurted out.
At the same time, he recalled Ke Dazhi’s weird reaction. Inwardly he was ninety-percent convinced.
Xu Ziling said, “This means that Zhao Deyan has abandoned his plan to hunt and kill Tuli, so much so that he could guess that either we are already in Chang’an, or we are about to enter Chang’an.”
This moment Lei Jiuzhi arrived. Sitting down, he said, “You, this Yue Shan who is returning to the fray after a period of inactivity, has become another Ning Daoqi. Practically no one dares to follow you. I made several rounds outside, and did not see anything.”
Xu Ziling said, “Currently the two biggest power in Chang’an are the Heavenly Policy Mansion and the Princelings Faction, but because they are afraid to offend Li Yuan, who would dare to provoke me?”
And then he recounted his meeting with Li Yuan without omitting anything.
Kou Zhong said, “This is indeed the best move of the guest acting as the host; via Yue Shan, we could pursue relentlessly and strike the demonic school. Otherwise, even if we could unearth the treasure, in the end we would only benefit Shi Zhixuan or perhaps Zhu Yaofu for nothing, plus we might become the target of scorn that everybody who come across us would yell and beat us …”
“How’s the progress on your side?” Xu Ziling asked.
Immensely proud of himself, Kou Zhong replied, “Relying on my, Mo Shen Yi’s tricks and recognition, what could possibly go wrong? You’d better teach me a couple moves of architectural flowery fist with fancy footwork [idiom: highly embellished but ineffectual] for my self-protection. Tomorrow morning I might swagger into the Ministry of Works to look up information about the buildings around the Yue Ma Bridge, perhaps by tomorrow night we will be able to drink wine inside the treasure trove. Ha! I did not expect that after entering the Pass, things will go smoothly like this. Quite possibly our luck has turned!”
Lei Jiuzhi spoke seriously, “Shao Shuai must not underestimate the situation. Since Shi Zhixuan and Zhu Yuyan, two persons took leadership of the demonic school, the Way has been declining while the demonic is flourishing. The demonic school’s Two-Sect and Six-Way’s power is like the sun in the middle of the sky, talents come forth in large number. It could be said that those two single-handedly facilitated the current situation. They have ample combat experience, which, I dare say, unrivalled in the world. Plus they deal with their business by fair means or foul; crafty plots and machinations more and more emerge. Once you are not careful, they could immediately take advantage of that. Although presently they are holding their flag and stopping their drums, quite possibly they are acting like the fisherman sitting to watch the crane and the mussel vying against one another, so that they could reap where they had not sown, waiting until we get the treasure before making their move.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Lei LaoGe’s lesson is well-received. I don’t know how many times we have experienced extreme joy turns to sorrow [idiom: don’t celebrate too soon, things could still go wrong] situation; we will definitely advance gradually and entrench ourselves at every step [idiom: to consolidate at every step].”
Xu Ziling knew Kou Zhong’s temperament the best; he knew that although Kou Zhong was ‘proud of himself’, yet he could not possibly ‘forgetting himself’. “What will our next step be?” he asked.
After muttering to himself irresolutely for half a day, Kou Zhong said, “I already left special secret mark to notify Shuang Long Bang [Twin-dragon Gang, see Book 6 Chapter 11] brothers that the two of us are here. After this, I have to go back to the Sha Family to continue being a divine doctor. I will have to hand over the task of contacting Gao Zhandao and the others to you.”
Shuang Long Bang was established by Kou Zhong many years ago. Originally they were pirates, Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi, Zha Jie, and a group of their men became the initial members of the Gang. They received Kou Zhong’s order to sneak into Chang’an, to make preparation for transporting the treasure after they obtained it.
At first Kou Zhong did not intend to contact them this soon, but he changed his mind, naturally because he had greater confidence in finding the Duke Yang’s Treasure.
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “This is not a problem. As Yue Shan, I could disappear any moment, even the Emperor would not dare to get involved.”
Turning toward Lei Jiuzhi, Kou Zhong said, “Now LaoGe has become the bridge linking me, Ling Shao and Hou Gongzi, three sides. You need to draw up a flexible method so that you won’t hold things up or perhaps letting us sit and waste a good opportunity.”
After further discussion, they agreed on setting up a way to contact and communicate with each other, and then they went their separate ways.
Disguising himself as the yellow-faced man again, Xu Ziling went to the south city gate to look for the secret mark Kou Zhong left there. Sure enough he saw new markings on the side. Xu Ziling was happy. After erasing all markings, he headed toward the An Ding Li [lit. stable neighborhood] on the northwest part of the city.
An Ding Li was the last gate of the Yong An Canal before it joined the Wei River outside the city; it was also a wharf area in the city, where the shops that engaged in waterborne transport businesses were concentrated.
Upon entering the Yong An Avenue, Xu Ziling headed north along the Yong An Canal’s west bank. When he walked pass the Yue Ma Bridge, he could not help paying special attention to the buildings on both sides of the Canal. The one catching his attention the most was a monastery with ‘Wu Lou Si’ [lit. no-reveal temple] engraved on the plaque hanging above its gate.
In term of scale it was not too big, but it was elaborate and unique; the main hall, the library [orig. ‘Zang Jing Dian’ (scripture storage hall)], and the lecture hall [orig. ‘Jiang Jing Tang’ (teaching/talking-about scripture hall)] stood in a row. On east and west sides were ‘Puti Dian’ [Bodhi (enlightenment) Hall], the wings, and the lateral court. Inside the courtyard the flowers and trees were sparse; it was tranquil and elegant.
Were it not he had task to do, he definitely would enter to take a look around; who knows? Perhaps he would find some clues to enter the Duke Yang’s Treasure Trove.
Passing the West Market, Xu Ziling picked up his speed, only in the time needed to drink a small cup of hot tea later he reached the wharf area of the An Ding Li.
This section of the canal was twice as wide as the other part of the canal; several dozen docks were full of boats, big and small. There were also several hundreds of laborers busy at work, loading and unloading goods in unending stream.
Xu Ziling turned into An Ding Li, where all the shops along the entire street were doing business related to waterborne transport. Some of the shops had armed men, who looked like they belong to some gangs or societies – crowding around the door, revealing some kind of tense, unusual atmosphere.
Naturally Xu Ziling did not have time to pay attention. He went to the eighth shop from the mouth of the street on the north side, and looked inside. He saw Gao Zhandao, whom he had not seen for a very long time, talking with someone inside the store.
Noticing that Xu Ziling was staring at him, Gao Zhandao revealed an on-alert expression. Xu Ziling smiled and strode inside.