Book 33 Chapter 8 – Hitting the Secondary Vehicle by Luck
The foreign guesthouse was located inside the Shizheng Li [lit. municipal administration neighborhood] west of the Imperial City, only separated by the An Hua Avenue from the Imperial City. Altogether there were ten building complexes; each one had its own detached courtyard, with more than a dozen buildings each, big and small, occupying a vast area.
Due to the several heavy snow recently, the roofs were covered in several cun of snow; the trees were covered in icicles even more. For nightwalkers who come and go on high places, this was extremely unfavorable, and tonight, there was another difficult problem, which was that all official residences and magnificent mansions in the entire complex, none was not decorated with lanterns and colored banners, the noise reached unto the heavens, light shone everywhere making it as bright as day. To sneak in so that the gods did not know, the ghosts did not perceive – would only be a wishful thinking.
The three men, Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai, who were transformed by Lei Jiuzhi’s miraculous hands into rough Jianghu men, circled the foreign guesthouse, where the East Tujue people stayed, twice, but still they were unable to find a way to sneak into the guesthouse.
Fortunately the streets were packed with people enjoying the festivities, so that they did not worry about raising anybody’s suspicion.
Finally the three sat down at the base of one of the ruishou [auspicious animal, such as the dragon, but my guest is Qilin (kirin)] stone statues standing on both sides of the guesthouse – looking at each other with wry smile on their faces.
Bursts of the beating of the drums and the sound of music of the Great Nuo Opera came from the direction of the Imperial Palace. It was already the hai hour [9-11pm], so the New Year’s Day was only half a sichen away. Fireworks and firecrackers were lit on the streets, people enjoying the noise and excitement were in high spirit, welcoming the arrival of the new year.
Some of the crowd were starting to make their way toward the river, where the Great Nuo Opera was chasing the ghosts down the path they must follow, so that the auspicious air would reign in order to obtain the coming year’s peace and security.
Taking out the scroll of the guesthouse map, Kou Zhong spread it out and said, “If we enter by stepping across the wall of the rear courtyard, we could use the garden on the northeast corner as a cover, but after the garden, we would be unable to move a single step, unless we want to do a big fight.”
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, “That should be our contingency plan, big fight will only be harmful to us without any benefit.”
Hou Xibai said, “But if we want to kill Zhao Deyan, this is certainly a hard-to-come-by opportunity. At least we know that Ke Dazhi, Kang Qiaoli, and other Tujue men with identity and rank are in the Imperial Palace attending the banquet.”
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, “This is called smart people speaking out, stupid people making the move. Right now Wan Yaonu is leading us along by the nose.”
Hou Xibai proposed, “We’d better go to the rear court gate again. If we can’t find the opportunity, we’ll go home and sleep.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had to agree; thereupon they circled to the rear court again.
The alley here was only one-fifth of the big street’s width, plus it was far less crowded than the big street; there were only a few passers-by taking the shortcut.
Suddenly the rear court gate opened a little, someone with the hat pressed down to his brows and eyes sneakily dodged out and squeezed himself into the stream of people.
Immediately Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were severely shaken. Staring at the man’s back, Hou Xibai asked, “Who’s that?”
Intense murderous aura flared in Kou Zhong’s eyes, he spoke heavily, “Xiang Yushan!”
※ ※ ※
From the eastern bank of the Yong An Canal, the three looked at the skiff taking Xiang Yuhan toward a large sailboat anchored in the middle of the river. At this time, the waterway was full of ships and boats; more than a thousand big and small boats were moored along the banks, all were decorated with lanterns and colored banners, shining on the river water, creating flickering and dazzling reflections, greatly increasing the difficulty of diving and climbing onto the enemy’s ship.
Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong said, “Whose boat is that? What is Xiang Yushan doing in Chang’an?”
Naturally the other two did not have the answer.
Sweeping the people enjoying the festivities on both sides of the canal with his eyes, Xu Ziling said, “Whatever the case, we must take risks. I want to spy who Xiang Yushan is going to see. If I could reach the bottom of the boat, I will have a way to hear every word that Xiang Yushan is saying.”
Stunned speechless, Hou Xibai said, “Ziling’s spying skill is very formidable. But if you rise to the surface to take a breath, it would be very easy for the people on the banks to see you.”
Kou Zhong’s eyes scanned the waterway upstream and downstream, until finally his gaze landed on the row of skiffs moored by the bank. He said, “If we steal a skiff, we could solve the problem of going back and forth.”
He reached out to put his hand on Hou Xibai’s shoulder, and said with a smile, “Unless that Little Thief Xiang is talking for three days and two nights, Ling Shao and I do not need to rise to the surface to take a breath. Let’s go!”
※ ※ ※
From the skiff, Xu Ziling slipped down into the water, and then swiftly, keeping close to the bottom of the canal, he swam across the nearly seven zhang distance toward the target ship’s keel, and then like a leech, he stuck himself up.
For fear of getting his clothes wet, he was only wearing inner garment. Although the water was icy and bone-penetratingly cold, his inner power was profound, hence he was unafraid of the cold.
When he stuck his ear to the hull and applied his power to listen, the sound from the hollow of the big ship, as well as the sound from different sources, immediately came alive in his mind. In the blink of an eye, he traced Xiang Yushan’s hateful voice to one of the cabins.
He heard him say, “We must consider this matter at length before making a decision. If Li Shimin had any opportunity to strike back, our former success will be wiped out completely.”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling was stunned; how did Xiang Yushan get involved in the conspiracy against Li Shimin?
A female voice spoke softly, “Ah, Xiang Gongzi, how could we still have time to consider this matter at length? Everything is well-prepared; we only need to execute it according to plan, I guarantee it would be difficult for Li Shimin to escape his allocated lifespan.”
Xu Ziling vaguely remembered hearing this voice before, but momentarily he could not remember who.
While inwardly he was distressed, another unfamiliar deep and low male voice said, “What is Xiang Xiong worried about?”
Xiang Yushan slightly muttered to himself irresolutely, before replying with a sigh, “For some reason I always feel a little restless, but as for why, I really cannot tell.”
The woman laughed and said, “Does Xiang Gongzi feel restless because of Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, those two kids?”
The man let out a cold snort and said, “Xiang Xiong, isn’t this anxiety a bit too excessive?”
The woman spoke softly, “These two kids are experts in causing trouble. But Chang’an is unlike Luoyang at all. They are too busy to go treasure hunting, they won’t have time to meddle in other people’s business.”
Xu Ziling was shaken inwardly. He was finally able to guess that the speaker must be Rong Jiaojiao, whose identity was dubious. In that case, the man must be the ‘Shadow Swordsman’ [sic] Yang Xuyan, who was as mysterious and sneaky-like-a-ghost as Shi Zhixuan.
Why would Wanwan lie to them? Yang Xuyan and Rong Jiaojiao were not out of town at all; they were practically in town. Were it not for them accidentally following Xiang Yushan, they would have been deceived by her.
But until this moment he still could not figure out the relationship between these three people. In the past, Yang Xuyan had tried to assassinate Xiang Yushan in Baling; it was entirely due to him and Kou Zhong that Xiang Yushan avoided calamities and dissolved the disaster, hence they ought to be enemies and not friends.
Xiang Yushan sighed and said, “The problem is that I understand them better than you do. I dare say that this moment they are already in Chang’an. But where the hell are they hiding? What are they doing now? We can’t even touch their shadows.”
Rong Jiaojiao hatefully said, “If we could touch their shadows, their corpses would have been torn apart to ten thousand pieces early on. There must be someone helping them in Chang’an, otherwise, they could not have hidden so secretive like this.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling was greatly astonished. If Rong Jiaojiao was one of Zhu Yuyan’s disciples, how could she not know about them? But listening to the tone of her voice, it sounded like she was being sincere. Could it be that Wanwan deliberately conceal it from her? Or perhaps her relationship with Yin Gui Pai was not like what he was thinking?
Yang Xuyan spoke heavily, “Toward these two kids, naturally we must not treat them lightly, but we need not worry excessively either. Li Yuanji is doing everything he can to find them. As soon as they are revealing their hiding place ever so slightly, I can guarantee that they will not leave Chang’an alive. Xiang Xiong can get rid of these two calamities within your bosom.”
Xu Ziling thought that if Yang Xuyan’s remark came from the bottom of his heart, then quite likely he did not know that the demonic school’s coveted treasure the Demonic Emperor Relics was along the treasure-trove.
But this matter was also reasonable and fair; based of Shi Zhixuan’s style, he could not possibly let his disciple know about this matter.
Xiang Yushan suddenly asked, “Has that batch of firearms arrived?”
Xu Ziling was shaken inwardly. He vaguely remembered something, but temporarily was unable to put his finger on it.
Rong Jiaojiao said, “The fourth day of the first month at the latest, we will hand over the firearms into your hands. Is there a problem?”
Xiang Yushan resolutely said, “The fourth is definitely not a problem, but we can’t be late even for a day. Otherwise we will have to abort the entire operation.”
“We understand completely,” Yang Xuyan said, “Hereafter, we will have to keep close contact with each other.”
Xu Ziling left the bottom of the boat and swam secretly toward Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai’s small boat.
Climbing aboard the skiff, which was parked between two large ships, Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Hou Xiong’s luck cannot be considered bad at all; at least half of that half piece of Immortal Image Scroll is already inside your pocket.”
Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, “Yang Xuyan is on board that ship?”
While circulating his power to vaporize the water from his body, Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Rong Yaonu is also on board. The most wonderful thing is that on the boat, other than they, there are more than a dozen men, but listening to their breathing, they are either ordinary martial art masters, or do not know martial arts at all, not enough to make us worry.”
Kou Zhong positioned the skiff at a place where they could watch Rong Jiaojiao’s ship from a distance. They saw Xiang Yushan boarding the small boat and returning to the bank.
At this time, the number of people strolling both banks of the canal has been greatly reduced. A lot of people were rushing toward the river to watch the Great Nuo Dancers performing the chasing of the ghosts into the river.
Hou Xibai excitedly said, “Yang Xuyan is still on board.”
Watching Xu Ziling putting on clothes, Kou Zhong smiled and said, “A single man and a single woman on board the ship, plus they are meeting after a long period of separation, and Yang Xuyan’s character is lecherous, in this festive day and beautiful night, I wonder what those two are going to do?”
Xu Ziling cheerfully said, “Why don’t you go listening if you want to know clearly?”
“Hold on!” Hou Xibai said, “This is probably one in a thousand years golden opportunity for me to snatch the Image Scroll back; shouldn’t we make meticulous plan first?”
“Ziling, what do you say?” Kou Zhong asked.
Xu Ziling replied, “I only have four words to say, ‘attack while the enemy is unprepared’ [gong qi wu bei]. Not even in his dream would Yang Xuyan expect that we would grasp his whereabouts, while there is no defense on board. If we could reach the ship undetected, advancing we can attack, retreating we can defend, changing according to the situation – we practically do not need any plan.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “The general idea is like that, but I do have a more brilliant proposal.”
With an exuberant interest, Hou Xibai asked, “What proposal?”
Curbing his immense pride in himself, Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Yang Xuyan always considers himself to be coming without a trace, going without a mark. This time we are going to use the opponent’s own methods to obtain retribution [from the dictionary: idiom, attributed to Song dynasty neo Confucianist Zhu Xi; so Kou Zhong was way ahead of his time?]; using no-shadow, no-trace to steal the half-piece of Image Scroll and leave. Gentlemen, what do you think?”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Let’s get on the boat first and talk about it later!”
Using the ships nearby as a cover, Kou Zhong quietly moved the boat toward their target, the big ship. Xu Ziling and Hou Xibai raised their vigilance to watch the enemy’s ship. If someone on the ship looked this direction, they would definitely be unable to hide from their eyes.
Lowering his voice, Hou Xibai said, “The ship is brightly lit; if we climb on board, it would be very easy for them to detect us.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Hou Gongzi has done too little of imitating-the-dog-and-steal-chicken things, while Ling Shao and I are great expert in this regard. Did you see those windows? Each one is an entrance. Do you understand?”
While speaking, the skiff made a large circle, from the bow they went directly toward the aft of the enemy ship, and then from this direction they sped up. Unless someone was standing at the stern, they would not be able to see them.
Xu Ziling suddenly muttered to himself with a sigh, “Why didn’t we think about killing Xiang Yushan? We didn’t even think about following him to find out where he is staying.”
Shaken, Kou Zhong said, “Now that you mentioned it, it does seem strange. Ay, although I am dying to chop him into mincemeat sauce, but honestly, I am scared of even confronting this problem. After all, he is little Lingzhong’s father; what should we do?”
Hou Xibai interrupted, “If we could smash his Xiang Family’s offending Heaven and reason human trafficking shady business, making Xiang Yushan losing his standing, won’t that give him more unbearable pain than simply killing him?”
Kou Zhong pulled back the pair of oars; purely using his inner power he made the boat glided silently over the more than ten zhang water surface of the river, toward the bank behind the enemy ship, where another big ship was moored, so that they would not have to worry about anybody on the shore catching sight of their movement.
Hou Xibai took out three black-cloth hoods and said in a low voice, “Lei LaoGe prepared these for us earlier; who could have thought that they would come in handy.”
Xu Ziling stretched out his palm and pressed it against the big ship’s hull; applying his power, he used sucking force to steady the skiff. A martial art master like Yang Xuyan might immediately be alerted if the skiff bumped onto the ship lightly.
Kou Zhong took the hood while pressing his ear against the hull. After listening for half a day, his brows greatly knitted, he said, “How come I did not hear that kid and Rong Yaonu’s voices?”
Xu Ziling also used his eavesdropping technique. Although occasionally he heard voices, but they had nothing to do with Yang Xuyan and Rong Jiaojiao. “This does not make any sense,” he said, puzzled, “Even if they did not murmur endearments to each other, they would at least talk about things pertaining to Xiang Yushan.”
Hou Xibai spoke in low voice, “I am thinking of a possibility.”
The two boys fixed their gaze on him, waiting for him to elaborate.
Hou Xibai said, “Since Laojun Temple became independent Sect, they have been practicing separate flows of men and women. No matter what kind of school of thought, all are perfecting the cultivation method where the yin and the yang are mutually transferred; that is, the ‘yang flow’ and the ‘yin flow’. Within the yin flow, there is something called ‘xuan pin cha nu shu’ [lit. mysterious female (of animal or plant) beautiful girl method], coming from Laozi’s [Lao-tze] Daodejing’s [the Book of Dao] Gu Shen Bu Si [harvest god not dead], which speaks about ‘xuan pin’. Xuan pin school is referring to transferring the root of the Heaven and Earth. This gongfa must be cultivated together by a man and a woman. During training, the breathing stops, only the inner qi is going back and forth. Under this kind of circumstances, it’s only natural that the sound of breathing can’t even be heard.”
Kou Zhong happily asked, “During training of this demonic skill, do they need to take off their clothes?”
Smiling wryly, Hou Xibai said, “I only heard Shi Shi talking about it, I am not too clear on the details.”
Xu Ziling said, “In that case, Rong Yaonu herself must be Laojun Temple’s person. The reason she became Zhu Yuyan’s disciple is merely some kind of business deal between the two sects, just like marriage arrangement between two countries.”
Kou Zhong asked, “Did Old Shi talk about anything else?”
Hou Xibai said, “Shi Shi only explained based on the theory of ‘xuan pin cha nu fa’ characteristic. He said, ‘Mystery is marvelous, the female (see above) bears and gives birth to living creature, which is the root of divine qi and the valley of nothingness, which must be sought within oneself – and not from him’.”
Kou Zhong pondered deeply for half a day; he said, “Since together men and women have something to do with ‘bearing’ and ‘giving birth’, quite possibly it refers to the sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. Ay! Thinking too much won’t do us any good, let’s just go on board and take a look.”
“What do we do with this skiff,” Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong replied, “With apology to its owner, we have to sink it to dispose of this matter.”
Xu Ziling applied his power to his feet. Sending out yin power, the place where he stepped on immediately caved in.
Stunned, Hou Xibai said, “Ziling’s power has made great progress, no wonder Huang Gongcuo had to suffer losses in your hands.”
Kou Zhong pressed his ear onto the hull again; suddenly he soared upward. By the time Hou Xibai looked at him, he already did his trick to open one of the windows and slipped in. His movements were quick and nimble like a ghost.
Water was starting to gush in from the rupture on the skiff’s hull.
Kou Zhong stuck his head out of the window and made a ‘safe’ signal.
“Hou Xiong, you go first,” Xu Ziling said.
Sticking himself onto the wall, Hou Xibai crawled up and slipped inside the cabin to rendezvous with Kou Zhong.
Kou Zhong pulled his head, which was craning outside the door to look around – back and closed the door. He spoke to Hou Xibai, who had just joined him, in low voice, “This ship’s main cabin is divided into three floors. The bottom cabin is the cargo hold, the upper two floors are sleeping rooms, the cabin hall is in the middle deck, only the top layer is gorgeously decorated. Yang kid and Rong Yaonu must be in one of the rooms on this deck. Looking at the structure, the largest cabin ought to be at the end of cabin’s corridor. Your Immortal Image Scroll must be in there.”
Astonished, Hou Xibai said, “You just got here not long after I did, how did you find out all these many things so quickly?”
Kou Zhong replied, “This is the benefit of riding too many ships. Coming and going, they are all nothing more than these several kind of layouts.”
This moment, someone was walking passed outside the door. Listening to their conversation, it sounded like they were some kind little maids or servant girls. One of them sighed and said, “Such a beautiful night of the holiday, we are trapped on the boat and can only watch other people enjoying the excitement. If we were in Luoyang, tonight would have been a fun night!”
The other maid replied, “If anybody heard that, you will be embarrassed. Let’s go see if Xie Shu [uncle Xie] has the ginseng soup ready! And then we could go to the deck to watch the fireworks.”
The footsteps going farther away, Xu Ziling came to the two men’s side, and said with knitted brows, “If they are training some ‘Cha Nu Da Fa’ [great method of beautiful girl], there is no reason for them to ask for any ginseng soup.”
Kou Zhong silently made plans in his head. Suddenly he opened the door and flashed outside.
While Hou Xibai was jumping in fright, Xu Ziling patted him and followed Kou Zhong flashing out the door.
Hou Xibai had no other choice but to follow them rushing out the door. All of a sudden he had a feeling that whether tonight would be a success or not, it all depended on those two boys’ imitating-the-dog-and-stealing-the-chicken method, whether it was as brilliant as Kou Zhong bragged it to be.