Book 33 Chapter 7 – Bound Hands and Feet
The wind from the river blew in their face, carrying the smell of fireworks and fire fragments; blowing the peerless beauty Wanwan’s beautiful hair, brushing on the two boys’ fake faces.
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “Wan Dajie certainly possesses great magical power; all along you were following behind us, uncle and nephew?”
‘Pfft!’ Wanwan giggled tenderly and said, “Uncle and nephew, fancy that you guys have such big guts; one is called Mo Wei, one is called Mo Yixin. I want to see when the Li Family are going to lock you up in the prison.”
Pulling his attention away from her fragrant, flexible, tender and soft body, Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “What trick are you going to play this time?”
Wanwan’s beautiful eyes floated over to him; slightly angry, she said, “You have not seen me for such a long time, can’t you be a bit more polite? Answer my question first.”
Kou Zhong said, “Just now we went to the temple to implore the gods and worship Buddha, asking for good luck. Right now we are leaning on the railings is to wait for the good luck to arrive. Is it clear enough?”
Wanwan pointed to fireworks exploding in the sky, saying, “Look! How beautiful!”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong looked at each other; they were at a loss on how to deal with her. They were groaning inwardly even more, because if she entangled them endlessly like this, how were they going to carryout their grand plan tonight?
Wanwan suddenly turned her gaze to the river again. Her lucid-and-elegant, free-from-vulgarity jade countenance revealed deep thought expression, she spoke unhurriedly, “Since the news spread out that you two are coming to Guanzhong for a treasure hunt, Li Jiancheng sent out his men all over Chang’an to investigate a total of twenty-eight buildings related to Yang Su, big and small, nearly having the buildings flipped over, but still could not find any trace of any treasure-trove, before he finally gave up. If the treasure-trove is inside Wu Lou Si, that is indeed beyond anybody’s expectation. Didn’t Shao Shuai say that tonight is the best propitious day for treasure hunting?”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong was nearly dumbstruck and unable to reply. Revealing another bitter smile, he said, “I wonder who is Wan Dajie’s spy and informer in the Palace? It seems like there is nothing happening in the Palace that Dajie does not know.”
Wanwan leaned half of her tender body against Xu Ziling, and whispered softly in his ear, “Ziling is a bit more honest. Oh, Ziling! Persuade your good brother, without my cooperation, you obtaining the buried treasure might only convenience Shi Zhixuan in vain.”
Resisting her intimate nuzzling, Xu Ziling said, “Who would dare not to cooperate with you? The problem is that we have another important matter tonight; the treasure hunt will have to be left for another day.”
Hardening his heart, Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “What I, Kou Zhong said has never been something that you cannot count on. In short, the hidden treasure that we are trying to find, you will have a share. But if you so disturb the plan by muddying the water, at most we break up the partnership, we are going to copy the Li Clan’s government and military system, from then on we will remove our armor and return to the farm, each one will take his separate way.”
Wanwan leaned into his bosom; looking up to him, she laughed in spite of herself and said, “Shao Shuai, please calm down. I just want to help you. I thought you were going to appreciate it. But I am afraid it will be difficult for your threat to be effective. Shao Shuai has so many brothers in Chang’an, you want to remove your armor and return to the farm, it won’t be that easy!”
Having his weak-point hit by her, he sighed bitterly and said, “Luckily I have Wan Dajie reminding me, otherwise I would have certainly forgotten about this point. Xiaodi can guarantee that when the treasure is found, we will send crimson bridal sedan chair to take you to share the booty.”
Wanwan totally occupied the upper hand.
Straightening up her tender body, her bright eyes flickered brightly, her bearing returned to her usual confident and calm demeanor, as she softly said, “Now, that’s not bad. What you said is pleasant to hear. However, nice words are usually not honest. I want to know your plan clearly. This is your last chance to express your sincerity in cooperation.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance. They both felt that they were helpless against her. Xu Ziling spoke with serious expression, “Basically we do not have any plan. If you don’t believe me, there’s nothing that I can do.”
Wanwan calmly said, “In that case, let Wanwan know the current situation. This is not an excessive request.”
Kou Zhong leaned over to her small ear. He played the ghost by blowing a breath of air into her ear first before saying, “The truth is that we, two brothers are still groping about to find the location of the entrance to the treasure-trove. If you could provide the list of those twenty-eight buildings that Li Jiancheng investigated, it would definitely be great help to our work. Huh? How come your little cheeks are turning bright red?”
Red clouds descending on her jade cheeks, Wanwan hatefully glowered at him, and said, “When I want to kill someone, my face will turn red. If you are not lying to me, then you basically don’t know where the treasure-trove is. Xiaomei [little sister, counterpart of Xiaodi] is thinking, should I continue cooperating with you, or should I uncover your identity, so that Li Yuanji, who hates you to the bones, could redeem his lost face.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Please don’t scare us. As long as there’s still a thread of possibility, your honorable Sect definitely will not be willing to give up the opportunity to acquire the Demonic Emperor Relics, which is also the only way to defeat Shi Zhixuan.”
Kou Zhong joined in, “We might as well cooperate in other things; for example, joining hands to kill Shi Zhixuan. As long as you can find out his hiding place, we could help you getting rid of him.”
Xu Ziling knew that Kou Zhong was sounding out Wanwan, to see whether she knew that Wu Lou Si’s manager was Shi Zhixuan.
Wanwan shook her head and said, “Even if we know where he is, we have no way to kill him. Otherwise, he would have lost his life under the Four Monks’ hands that year. Unless there’s a way to force him to fight to the death, otherwise, based on his Immortal Image Method and Huan Mo Shenfa [lit. fantasy demonic pose/motion (of the body in martial arts)], even if Zhu Shi [master] and Ning Daoqi join hands, they would still be unable to hold him down.”
Hearing that, the two were shocked in their hearts. No wonder both orthodox and demonic ways were so afraid of Shi Zhixuan, who was indeed the practically-invincible-and-unrivalled demonic lord.
On the other hand, it was also clear that at least at this stage, Wanwan had the sincerity to cooperate with them, otherwise she could not possibly be this forthcoming toward them.
Kou Zhong said, “Leaving Shi Zhixuan aside, his subordinates do not know Immortal Image Method; at least we could find a few to be offered as sacrifice, to weaken the Old Shi’s power.”
Wanwan sighed and said, “Currently, between us and Shi Zhixuan, we maintain a certain delicate balance, both sides have misgivings about each other. Once the balance is destroyed, the consequences will be unbearable to imagine. Therefore, at least before obtaining the Demonic Emperor Relics, we do not wish to act blindly without thinking.”
“You don’t have to make your move,” Xu Ziling said, “We’ll take charge of distinguishing everything. As long as you provide accurate information, we will carry thing through.”
“Who do you want to kill?” Wanwan asked heavily.
“How about Yang Xuyan?” Kou Zhong sounded her out.
Wanwan said, “Yang Xuyan received Shi Zhixuan’s handed down teachings in Huan Mo Shenfa, killing him will be more difficult than difficult. You’d better set your goal a bit more realistic. An Long would be a very good choice. Losing him would be a very serious blow for Shi Zhixuan. He is also the link between Yang Xuyan and Shi Zhixuan, while also the only one that Shi Zhixuan trusts.”
“Where is An Long hiding at?” Xu Ziling asked.
Wanwan replied, “An Pangzi is an old fox, but to look for him, there will still be traces that we could find. Leave this matter to nujia. All right. What’s your plan tonight?”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong exchanged a glance. Kou Zhong resolutely said, “We want to try whether Yang Xuyan really cannot be killed?”
Frowning, Wanwan said, “Practically Yang Xuyan is not in town tonight; how are you going to kill him?”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were stunned. They were skeptical at the same time. How did Wanwan know so clearly about the Shadow Assassin’s, whose secretive trace was renown throughout the world – whereabouts?
Wanwan smiled and said, “I just happened to know his whereabouts tonight. He left Chang’an to pick up his other lover Rong Jiaojiao. Do you understand?”
Kou Zhong seized the opportunity to ask, “What’s the relationship between Rong Jiaojiao and you?”
Wanwan replied, “On this, please forgive Xiao Wan [little Wan] for not able to reveal to you. Since you don’t have anything else to do tonight, I have a proposal that I want you to consider.”
Kou Zhong only wished that she would not follow them; for lack of better option he said, “What good presentation do you have?”
Wanwan’s eyes were flashing with murderous intent; she took out a picture scroll from her bosom, the tone of her voice tranquil, she said, “This is the map of the foreign guesthouse where the Tujue emissary minister is staying. If we are not mistaken, Zhao Deyan ought to be hiding in the embassy building. If you could kill him, it would be the most serious blow to Shi Zhixuan. Naturally Zhao Deyan is not an easy person, plus among the Tujue people, there is no lack of top quality martial art masters. Why don’t you consider it first?”
Kou Zhong took the picture scroll. Laughing tenderly, Wanwan said, “If nujia finds out that tonight you sneakily go treasure hunting, I will definitely make you bag your food before you finish eating. Are we clear?”
With another tender laughter, still barefoot, she disappeared like a ghost into the western end of the bridge, among the stream of happy and excited people celebrating the Lunar New Year’s Eve.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other with wry smile on their faces; they were both left speechless.
※ ※ ※
Inside Tong Xing She’s secret nest, Gao Zhandao was listening to the news that Yang Xuyan was not in town. “So what are we going to do now?” he asked.
Xu Ziling spoke to Hou Xibai, who was pondering silently, “Hou Xiong, do you think Wan Yaonu’s words are credible?”
Hou Xibai sighed, a bit losing interest, he said, “Before obtaining the Sacred Relics, her words can be trusted up to 90%, simply because if we make mistake due to erroneous intelligence, it would bring them [feminine] more harm than good.”
Kou Zhong decisively spoke to Gao Zhandao, “Cancel tonight’s New Year’s Eve family dinner. Since the one coming tonight is not Yang Xuyan at all, other assassins still lack even the qualifications to be killed by us.”
Niu Fengyi accepted the order and left.
Xu Ziling said, “Another headache is that Wan Yaonu has already figured out our relationship with Tong Xing She. Zhandao, do you have a way to deal with it?”
With a card up his sleeve, Gao Zhandao said, “That’s easy. These past few years, we have focused on all kinds possible situations, repeatedly worked out various ways of dealing with contingencies. As soon as two Dangjia [manager/chief] give us a nod, the entire Tong Xing She can be the sound vanishes, the trace-hidden; we won’t let the enemy find even half a shadow.”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “That will do! But now is not the time yet. Otherwise we will only alert those yaonu, yaofu.”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “Listening to the tone of Xibai’s voice just now, Yin Gui Pai won’t be satisfied only by obtaining the Sacred Relics; is that correct?”
Hou Xibai snorted coldly and said, “On this, I can make a universal affirmation. The reason Yin Gui Pai was able to become the sect with the strongest power within the demonic school is entirely dependent upon by fair means or foul, by committing all manner of crimes. Zhu Yuyan is even more a heartless, faithless person. If they [feminine] are willing to share the result with others, the sun will rise from the west.”
Kou Zhong agreed, “I don’t have any delusion toward them either,” he said, “But they do possess great magical power, omniscience like immortals. I wonder who’s their informer within the Tang Palace? This person’s status cannot be low.”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “The answer to this question ought to come from you. No one here is more familiar about the situation inside the Palace than you.”
Kou Zhong muttered to himself irresolutely for half a day. He said, “In the Palace, no one has greater power than Zhang Jieyu and Yin De Fei, two women. But which one is the yaonu, I really don’t have any clue.”
Hou Xibai nodded and said, “It will be extremely unwise for us to assume that Zhang Jieyu is not a yaonu simply because she was hit by Fen Jing San.”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “If there is a chance we could try to feel it out. Whoever is willing to cover up for you, Mo Shen Yi, that would be the biggest suspect. But you must be especially careful, otherwise you might try to be clever and end up with egg on your face, and would expose your identity instead.”
Kou Zhong turned toward Zha Jie, who, all along, was silent, “You are taking a fancy to Xi’er Guniang, aren’t you?”
Nobody expected that he would suddenly change subject, and even get right to the point [orig. to open the door and see the mountain].
Zha Jie was immediately put on the spot; extremely embarrassed, he said, “Shuxia [subordinate] … ay … shuxia …”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Everybody here is our own people, you can say whatever you want to say. I am only concerned about the major turning point in your life.”
Zha Jie’s face turned beet-red; hanging his head down, he said, “Zhong Ye, please note clearly, in no way would Xiao Jie [little Jie] harm common goal for selfish reason.”
Relying on his wisdom as an older man, Lei Jiuzhi laughed and said, “That is a deep love toward Xi’er!”
Kou Zhong asked, “But how’s Xi’er toward you?”
Distressed, Zha Jie said, “She treats me better than she treats others, but … ay, I really don’t know how to explain it.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “This is no problem. I could feel her pulse to see her love to you, to find out clearly.”
Hou Xibai was baffled, “Please forgive Zaixia for being slow, Zhong Shao, are you thinking of meddling in this matter?”
Upright and unafraid, Kou Zhong said, “Xiao Jie is my brother, his problem is my problem; naturally I must strive for him.”
Zha Jie was so touched that he did not know what to say. But he still did not understand what he could do to help in this matter.
Kou Zhong went on, “Tonight, should we go home to sleep, or should we listen to Wan Yaonu and go find Zhao Deyan to give him bad luck?”
Hou Xibai said, “Merely Zhao Deyan one person is enough to give us headache, much less there are also other Tujue martial art masters. Ziling, what do you think?”
Xu Ziling said, “The first priority right now should be to snatch the half Immortal Image Scroll back from Yang Xuyan.”
Hou Xibai’s eyes emitted grateful expression, but then he spoke dejectedly, “I’m afraid it would be very difficult for us to accomplish. Sometimes I really want to destroy the half Image Scroll in my hands, so that Yang Xuyan will never get the complete Image Scroll.”
Xu Ziling said, “Snatching back the half Image Scroll from Yang Xuyan’s hands is certainly more difficult than ascending the Heaven; but to get a glimpse of the full picture is not an impossible thing either. Shi Feixuan is the person who had reviewed the Image Scroll, if we …”
Hou Xibai resolutely and decisively [orig. chop the nail and slice the iron] said, “According my humble school’s compass and set-square, I definitely cannot learn the Immortal Image Method from an outsider.”
Raising his thumb in praise, Kou Zhong said, “You have ambition, but there will always be a way. For example, supposing we could bribe Rong yaonu to deceive him so that he would undress and climb onto the bed, he can’t possible have the Immortal Image Scroll hanging on his neck while he is doing that thing!”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling’s heart was moved; he asked, “Is there any hot spring public bath or something like that in Chang’an?”
Slapping his thigh, Kou Zhong said, “Really formidable, you even thought about that.”
While Gao Zhandao, Zha Jie and Lei Jiuzhi were still confused, Hou Xibai exclaimed, “Ah!” His face revealing a happy expression, he said, “I nearly forget. An Pangzi loves to train qigong in warm water. It is both comfortable and particularly beneficial to the cultivation of his school’s internal energy.”
The last fact was completely unknown to Kou and Xu, two boys. They both thought, ‘So that’s what it is.’
Zha Jie said, “Chang’an has more than a hundred such halls, big and small. The three most famous establishments are the East Market’s Qingfeng Quan [cool breeze (water) spring], the West Market’s Ning Cui Tang [concentrated green jade hall], and the Bei Li’s Le Quan Guan [happy/cheerful spring establishment]; they all use hot spring water.”
Gao Zhandao said, “If I know what An Pangzi look like, to find out which public bath he is going to should be extremely easy.”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong’s eyes fell on Hou Xibai at the same time.
Hou Xibai said, “Drawing his portrait is just the effort of lifting a brush. Question is: how are we going to extract from his mouth the information on how to deal with Yang Xuyan?”
Kou Zhong signaled Xu Ziling with his eyes. Xu Ziling understood his intention implicitly. He said, “There is something I want to talk privately with Hou Xiong.”
Kou Zhong stood up and said, “Since it has nothing to do with us, let us get out of here for a moment!”
Hou Xibai smiled and said, “Shao Shuai, please stay.”
Overwhelmed by favor from superior, Kou Zhong sat back down. After Lei Jiuzhi and the others left, only the three of them remained in the small hall.
The sound of fireworks and firecrackers was still crackling happily; it was still coming continuously from the street outside.
Xu Ziling still found it a little difficult to speak. He was silent for half a day, before finally said, “According to Wan Yaonu, your esteemed master’s most formidable skill, apart from the Immortal Image Method, is the Huan Mo Shenfa; therefore, no matter how the enemy has many men and strong momentum, he would still be able to break the siege and leave. Is that true?”
Hou Xibai nodded and said, “Exactly so. Wanwan did not deceive you. These two gongfa were both created by Shi Shi, plus there is a very close relationship between the two.”
“Does Hou Xiong know Huan Mo Shenfa?” Kou Zhong asked in heavy voice.
Hou Xibai shook his head and said, “This is one of Shi Shi’s housekeeping skill. Unless I can surpass Yang Xuyan, Shi Shi would never pass this kind of secret manual on to me.”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong looked at each other. The mentioning of Huan Mo Shenfa was just an opening remark, so that they could gauge Hou Xibai’s real intention toward Shi Zhixuan; who would have thought that the answer brought up another matter?
Noticing the odd expression on the two boys’ faces, an ominous feeling welled up in Hou Xibai’s heart. Stunned, he asked, “Is there a problem?”
Kou Zhong replied, “I don’t know whether Wan Yaonu is simply babbling nonsense, but she said Yang Xuyan has obtained your esteemed master’s Huan Mo Shenfa’s real teaching. To defeat him is easy, but to kill him is difficult beyond difficult.”
Hou Xibai’s tiger-body severely shook, the blood on his face was drained. “What?” he blurted out.
But then he shook his head and said, “It can’t be, can it? Ay, it’s really hard to say.”
Xu Ziling understood. He said, “Hou Xiong’s judgment must be because when you were fighting over the Image Scroll in Sichuan that day, Yang Xuyan did not fully use the Huan Mo Shenfa, hence you believed that he had not obtained your esteemed master’s secret manual. But it is also possible that he deliberately concealed the truth, so momentarily it is difficult to tell. But let’s leave this all aside; if that day Hou Xiong did not come across me, would it be save to assume that Hou Xiong practically did not know about the existence of the Image Scroll?”
Kou Zhong slapped his thigh and said, “I got it!”
Hou Xibai turned toward him with blank expression on his face. Smiling wryly, he said, “Speak up then! Right not I am in a mess, I need someone to show me how to get to the right path.”
Kou Zhong said, “Shi Zhixuan wants to kill his own daughter.”
Even Xu Ziling could not help blurting out, “What?”
Kou Zhong said, “This is called the person on the spot is baffled, the onlooker sees clear. Perhaps Shi Zhixuan did not personally order anybody to kill his daughter, but he leaked out the existence of the Image Scroll via An Long, and so those two can do the other things. Ay, cruel tiger won’t eat its own cub, Shi Zhixuan is too heartless!”
Hou Xibai nodded and said, “Shi Shi is certainly a man with an iron and stone heart. Ay!”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong could only look blankly at him.
Hou Xibai’s handsome face alternated between cloudy and clear indeterminately. It was quite a while later that he finally spoke dejectedly, “It’s too unfair. Shi Shi is clearly leaning toward Yang Xuyan; he even wanted to send him to get rid of me.”
Xu Ziling said, “This is because Yang Xuyan’s natural disposition is similar to his, hence he is a lot more useful to him.”
Kou Zhong did not understand, “If I were Shi Zhixuan, I would definitely not waste a talent like Hou Xiong,” he commented, “Why didn’t he simply order Hou Xiong and Yang Xuyan to cooperate? Why would he want to borrow Yang Xuyan’s hand to kill you?”
“It is our tradition,” Hou Xibai replied, “It’s very difficult for outsiders to comprehend and understand. Shi Shi’s original intention was to groom me specifically to deal with Ci Hang Jing Zhai’s direct disciple, but I turned my back on the matter he entrusted to me. Perhaps because of this he decided to give up on me.”
“What’s Hou Xiong’s plan for the future?” Xu Ziling asked.
Hou Xibai struggled to rouse his spirit, he said, “Fortunately I have two gentlemen supporting Xiaodi; otherwise, I, Hou Xibai, would stumble and unable to rise, and could only flee as far away as I can.”
Kou Zhong happily said, “Indeed a strong and courageous person. Now, are you going to change your mind by pleading Shi Feixuan to recite the Immortal Image Method for you to listen to?”
Hou Xibai recovered his usual free and at ease demeanor; laughing involuntarily, he said, “An ingrained thought, how could it suddenly change? According to our humble school’s statute, under current circumstances, either me or Yang Xuyan, we could only combine the two pieces of Immortal Image Scroll into one, before we could learn the Image Method from it.”
Xu Ziling said, “Supposing your esteemed master violated the rules by privately passing on the Immortal Image Method to Yang Xuyan just like he did with the Huan Mo Shenfa, wouldn’t Hou Xiong suffer a serious loss?”
Hou Xibai said, “Ziling is having this thought simply because you do not understand our demonic school’s compass and set-square. Shi Shi recorded the secret method in the scroll, it was to be the ‘Legislative Scroll’ for us to fight over it, while we are bound by the oath that we must not use any other way to pass it on to anybody. Only if he does not enact the law-scroll would the limit be removed.”
Kou Zhong decisively said, “All right, I, Kou Zhong, will also make an oath that by using whatever method, I am going to get the other half of the Image Scroll from Yang Xuyan for Hou Xiong.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Our aspiration must be on the Image Scroll, not on Yang Xuyan. But if we carefully exploit these two aspects, plus we have An Pangzi as the bait, perhaps we could achieve both.”
Kou Zhong spoke with serious expression, “According to your honorable school’s compass and set-square, Shifu wants to kill his disciple, how should the disciple react?”
A hint of icy-cold smile floated out of the corner of Hou Xibai’s mouth; he spoke indifferently, “Resist with all my strength, of course. Could it be that I should just sit and wait for death?”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “That will do. It’s so beautiful tonight, while we have nothing else to do, how about looking for a fine horse using only a picture [idiom: to try and find something with the help of a clue] by going to the foreign guesthouse and step on the tray? Perhaps there might be an unexpected gain.”
Xu Ziling and Hou Xibai cheerfully agreed.