Book 35 Chapter 11 – Dual Personality
Xu Ziling and Ji Qian went down the steps outside the restaurant’s main gate and into the street.
It was just past noon; this most flourishing avenue of Bei Li was crowded with endless stream of horse and carriages, and with bustling pedestrians coming and going; it was extremely lively.
Xu Ziling walked in large strides along the street with his hands behind his back, while Ji Qian was half-walking, half-running, trying to keep up with him. Taking the credit for their success, she said, “You see? Were it not for this Guniang by your side, I am afraid you would never be able to get out of that door.”
Xu Ziling blurted out laughing, but he did not say anything.
Ji Qian suddenly stopped and put her hands on her hips, while shouting tenderly, “You don’t believe me? Stop!”
Xu Ziling finally came to a stand, but he was already about a zhang away from her.
The people on the street, both men and women, all stole glances toward Ji Qian, whose beauty radiated all around, while the Dengtu Zi-type men even unable to take their eyes off her, feasting on her beauty.
Ignoring the bystanders’ eyes, Xu Ziling turned around slowly and said, “So what if I don’t believe?”
Ji Qian crossly said, “If you don’t believe me then I’ll let you emerge and perish on your own; if you want to play ghost then I’ll let you be a regretting ghost.”
Xu Ziling walked back to her; laughing indifferently, he said, “Whether you are by my side or not, they are not going to let me off. If you believe me then give it a try.”
Ji Qian acted as if she had just known him for the first time; she looked at him from top to bottom and back, pouted her mouth, and said, “What do you mean ‘try’?”
Xu Ziling threw his head back and laughed a loud, saying, “Guniang, please come with me.”
He then led the way moving forward, and specifically picked a narrow alley. When they were on the alley where there were not many pedestrians, he suddenly stopped and said, “They are coming.”
Ji Qian looked back, she laughed and said, “Nonsense! There’s not even half a shadow behind us. Even if you want to step down, there’s no need for you to lie!”
Meeting her gaze, Xu Ziling slyly said, “Why don’t you look again?”
Half-believing, half-doubting, Ji Qian looked back again. Her countenance changed, she said, “Du Weizi [son of a rabbit, a cuss word (Courtesy of Akolaw)]! They have the cheek not to have any regard for me, Ji Qian.”
Four big men rushed over from behind.
Ji Qian stood in front of Xu Ziling and crossly said, “Do you know who I am?”
One of the men respectfully said, “The fame of Ji Qian Xiaojie’s beauty spread far and wide, who does not know you?”
Although on the surface he was reverent and respectful, there were thorns in his words, insinuating that Ji Qian was a famous prostitute.
The other party was such a blunt old Jianghu man, Ji Qian, this young Jianghu person – was immediately at a loss for words.
The previous man said, “Naturally we respect Ji Xiaojie, just as we respect Mo Ye even more. This time we receive Die Furen’s order to invite Mo Ye’s good self to meet with her.” [Note: I don’t recall these people knew Xu Ziling as Mo Wei, plus IIRC, Xu Ziling was wearing his Yong Qin disguise. Also, like I noted last chapter, Madame Butterfly used to be Madame Rainbow.]
The other two men separated to the left and right. Just by looking at their momentum, it was clear that these men were Jianghu veterans who were ready to deal with any situation.
Ji Qian finally found her voice back; she spoke heavily, “If you only want to invite Mo Ye over to see Die Furen, why such battle formation? Do you think I don’t know who you are?”
The first man laughed calmly and said, “Xiaoren is Zuo Jinlong, a mere little foot in Jingzhao Lian, only because of Lianzhu’s [alliance master] promotion, I have the opportunity to do some work by Lianzhuí’s side, so it’s unusual that Ji Xiaojie knows a lowly character like me.”
And then he pointed to man speaking sarcastically earlier and said, “He is Li Ba, also another little foot playing small role within the Jingzhao Lian. The rough and heavy works within our Alliance are our responsibility. Specifically inviting Mo Ye to see Furen, what battle formation can be said? Xiaojie overpraised us!”
Li Ba laughed evilly and said, “Ji Xiaojie enjoys benefit from your fame, you are accustomed to quiet life and good fortune; how would you understand the suffering of people like us, who are constantly on the move, licking the blood on our saber’s blade?”
Finally Ji Qian’s countenance changed slightly; she knew that these bullies and gangsters would definitely not spare her feelings and face.
While she was at a loss of what to do, Xu Ziling smoothly turned around and stood by Ji Qian’s side. Smiling, he said, “This is the second time we met!”
It was precisely these two men who mounted sneak attack from behind the door the other day, and placed their blade on Xu Ziling’s neck.
Zuo Jinlong cupped his fist and said, “Mo Ye, how are you? Furen has an urgent matter to be discussed with Mo Ye.”
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Xu Ziling cast Ji Qian a glance first, before he turned toward Zuo Jinlong and said, “Tell Furen, these next couple of days Xiaodi happen to be very busy; I’ll see what I can do after two days!”
Li Ba’s countenance sank, he laughed coldly and said, “You seem not to know who you are talking with.”
The refined light in Xu Ziling’s eyes flared out, he shouted in deep voice, “Zhao!” and lifted his right hand.
Including Ji Qian, all five people were suddenly overcome with a hard-to-describe feeling. They saw the movement of him lifting his hand appeared to be slow, yet it appeared to be fast as well, so that it was indeed hard to fathom.
The most shocking thing was that although the movement appeared so fast that it ought to be completed within a snap of the fingers, yet it also appeared to be free and endlessly drawn-out. By the time Xu Ziling’s hand reached the height of the pit of his stomach, suddenly all five fingers moved, producing myriad of changes, until finally only his thumb was sticking out, pressing toward Li Ba’s forehead.
It was only this moment that Li Ba realized that Xu Ziling was attacking him; he moved back hastily. But when everybody was thinking that Li Ba had successfully dodged the attack of this slow, clumsy finger, Li Ba already fell into the trap; like a kite with cut string he flew backward, and fell flat on his back.
The passers-by around them cried out in alarm and scattered away.
Zuo Jinlong and the other two men looked at Li Ba in disbelief. Perhaps they were scared, but unexpectedly they could only stare blankly without fighting back.
Ji Qian moved her gaze from Li Ba to Xu Ziling; she was stunned speechless.
Xu Ziling responded with a smile.
Zuo Jinlong came to his senses. Shouting angrily, he pulled the saber hanging on his waist, and shouted, “Kid, you are using sorcery!”
The other two men also drew their weapons; together with Zuo Jinlong, they surrounded Xu Ziling and Ji Qian in the middle, while striking a posture and shouting and yelling.
Xu Ziling shook his head and said with a laugh, “Knowing that I know how to use sorcery, you still dare to provoke me; aren’t you tired of living?” Lifting his foot, he kicked Zuo Jinlong.
Zuo Jinlong saw that this kick was actually half a zhang away from him; how could the kick reach him? However, he was extremely careful. He shouted first, “Brothers, attack!” One of them actually brandished his saber to chop Ji Qian’s head, with the intention of dividing Xu Ziling’s attention, so that he could not perform his sorcery.
Ji Qian cried out in alarm. Naturally she ran toward Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling’s left hand lightly grabbed Ji Qian’s slim waist, the two men’s attack from behind fell on empty space. They could only look on helplessly as, somehow, Xu Ziling effortlessly flashed past Zuo Jinlong’s chopping saber, while his leg continued without changing style, kicking Zuo Jinlong’s lower abdomen.
Hit by the kick, Zuo Jinlong flew more than a zhang away, and was unable to crawl back up.
Xu Ziling had mischievous idea; while letting Ji Qian go, he pushed lightly, sending Ji Qian’s body spinning. Although it could not compare with when she was wearing full dancing regalia, with her hair and sleeves fluttering around, but such a beauty, performing an amazing display, which was growing without restraint in the middle of the street – in living color, was still very fascinating.
On her first spin, Ji Qian caught the sight of Xu Ziling dodging the two men’s blade; if the blade chopped a bit lower, Xu Ziling’s little life would be difficult to protect.
On her second spin, which she had no control over her own movement, she saw the two men’s saber flew off their hands, while they staggered and fell backward in an utterly sorry state.
Freely and easily Xu Ziling also spun around, his finger stretched out and lightly touched Ji Qian’s delicate waist. The angular momentum carrying Ji Qian, who was still feeling like she was soaring above the clouds, riding on the mist – suddenly disappeared, just as sudden as when it started to send her body spinning.
Her beautiful eyes flickering with strange light, she stared and Xu Ziling and asked, “Who are you, actually?”
Xu Ziling retreated backward. He did not seem to be changing his footwork, neither did he increase his speed, yet in an instant he was already two zhang away from her. He smiled and said, “Guniang, please quickly leave this danger zone.”
Unable to run after him, Ji Qian stamped her foot and angrily said, “I want to do obeisance to you to learn your skill!”
Xu Ziling turned around and swiftly went away, but his voice came back, “The trick to deceive people, even if used without malice, learning it would only bring harm without any benefit; please forgive Zaixia for being unable to comply with your request.”
Ji Qian watched as Xu Ziling disappeared into another side alley; the two men knocked down by him were struggling to crawl up. Knowing that it was not advisable for her to stay, she stomped her feet and left.
※ ※ ※
Leaving Feng Ya Ge, Kou Zhong was still thinking about what Qingqing told him that Li Yuanji was secretly returning to Chang’an to plot against them.
Logically speaking, compared to other people, Li Yuanji was more certain that Kou Zhong was escaping via the underground river cave. Even if he did not die in the great disaster, and managed to escape with another lease on life, the exit must be in in the bottom of a river far away outside the city, and could not possibly return into the city within a short period of time, or perhaps he was even seriously injured.
If Li Yuanji had his men secretly monitoring the people coming into the city gate, ordering the guards around the city and the sentries on the watchtowers to increase their vigilance, Kou Zhong could forget about returning into the city in broad daylight without being detected.
Therefore, Li Yuanji’s target ought to be Xu Ziling.
Kou Zhong remembered that only last night he told Xu Ziling to make appearances all around the city, to let the people who knew them believe that the Demonic Emperor Relics was in their hands, because at that time they still did not know the real situation inside the treasure house.
Thinking to this point, he no longer had any interest in returning to the Sha Mansion.
Where could Xu Ziling possibly be at this moment?
※ ※ ※
Leaving the fight scene and Ji Qian, Xu Ziling cursed himself for displaying himself too ostentatiously. However, although those four Jingzhao Lian’s martial art masters whom he knocked down appeared to be seriously injured, the fact was that he only sealed their acupoints, so that within the next few sichen they would be only half conscious, hence it would be hard for them to relate the particulars of what actually happened. By the time they sobered up, the ‘Yong Qin’ would already disappear, without leaving the least bit of trace that people could track down.
Suddenly a feeling of homelessness welled up in his heart. In Chang’an these days, he always had a place to stay. For instance, as Yue Shan he could come back to the Dong Lai Inn, or else went to Hou Xibai’s Duoqing Wo, or to Lei Jiuzhi’s ‘Xing Gong’ [temporary imperial residence] at Chong Xian Li [reminder: ‘li’ is neighborhood (district)], or even to Gao Zhandao’s hideout. Each place gave him the feeling of ‘home’. But now those ‘homes’ were not home anymore, there was no place for him that he would feel safe.
They could only go into the treasure house after dark. The huge city of Chang’an was still bustling with the atmosphere of the beginning of Spring, yet he was feeling the other side of this atmosphere, i.e. danger lurks on every side. Compared to the other people on the street, he seemed to live in another world altogether, a world where there was only animosity, killing, strife, and violence.
‘Storehouse within a storehouse’ was a misunderstanding, which made him and Kou Zhong temporarily lost the advantage. The enemies who believed that the Demonic Emperor Relics was not in their hands, naturally no one was willing to let the tiger returns to its mountain, to release the dragon back into the sea.
Zhu Yuyan and Zhao Deyan still have not made their move, only because they still could not figure out how Kou Zhong could easily return to the ground surface level of the city of Chang’an; therefore, they still needed a bit of time to find out and think it over.
Where could he go to momentarily lie low waiting for the intensity of fire to die down?
Without realizing it, his own inertia brought him to the Yong An Canal; he smiled bitterly in his heart. Letting his feet carried him, he walked slowly along the bank.
On the water, boats were going back and forth. It was slowly returning to the busyness of before the beginning of spring. A big clump of dark clouds were hanging low on the horizon, evidently another heavy snow was brewing, soon it would blanket the famous city in another layer of white coat like this morning.
It was at this point that a familiar voice was calling from the water behind him, “Xiao Xiongdi! Could you get on the boat to have a chat with me?”
Xu Ziling’s soul nearly flew away and scattered. Turning his head to look, he saw the demonic school’s big evil man, Shi Zhixuan, wearing Confucian attire, dressed as if he was a Taoist immortal, was sitting peacefully on a small skiff, leisurely operating the boat along the water by a single oar on its stern. His pair of eyes was flickering with unusual rays of light.
Xu Ziling was groaning inwardly. If they fought, in less than three moves Shi Zhixuan would immediately discover that Yue Shan was actually Xu Ziling’s other incarnation. This was the identity Xu Ziling was most unwilling to reveal.
Only after clenching the pair of cast arm protectors inside his sleeves from which he got the name ‘Yong Qin’ did Xu Ziling’s heart calm down somewhat. Bracing himself, he jumped onto Shi Zhixuan’s boat, which was docking onto the bank, and sat down on the bow.
Shi Zhixuan looked at him deeply, sizing him up, with a hint of indiscernible smile at the corner of his mouth. The wooden oar went back into the water, the skiff slowly moved away from the shore.
※ ※ ※
The sound of horses’ hoof thundered.
Kou Zhong sighed inwardly, and halted his steps.
Ke Dazhi, along with more than a dozen Tujue warriors, galloped toward him and reined their horses by his side. Smiling, he said, “Shen Yi [divine doctor], please get on the horse.”
Displeased, Kou Zhong said, “Laozi don’t have time right now; whatever it is, let’s wait until tonight!”
He was shivering inwardly; Ke Dazhi seemed to be able to find him any moment, he must have his men watching him in secret, plus they must have a special method of communication in the city, hence he was able to intercept Kou Zhong on the street like right now.
Ke Dazhi jumped down the horse. Maintaining the polite smile on his face, he said, “Mo Xiansheng, please don’t misunderstand, Ol’ Ke only wanted to understand where did Xiansheng find the Sheng Sheli? Supposing Xiansheng is unwilling to explain to Yan Shuai, we could find a place to talk; one’s selling the other’s buying, we just want to talk about fair dealing, Xiansheng needs to dispel our doubts.”
Of course Kou Zhong knew that fighting this moment would not bring any benefit to him, while it could also implicate Chang He and the Sha Family. Having no other option, he replied, “Actually, Xiaodi is hungry; I wonder if Ke Xiong has a good suggestion.”
Ke Dazhi said, “Fu Ju Lou is open for business today, Ol’ Ke especially reserves a table in there, so that I could drink wine and have a heart-to-heart chat with Xiansheng. Xiansheng, please!”
Kou Zhong had a feeling like he was a serious criminal being sent away under escort. Helpless, he got on the horse.
※ ※ ※
Part of Xu Ziling’s scalp went numb.
After a bout of uncomfortable silence, Shi Zhixuan moved his gaze from the water. Looking up to the sky, he sighed and said, “Very soon there will be another blizzard.”
Xu Ziling did not know how to answer him.
Shi Zhixuan turned his gaze toward him. Trying to break the ice, he asked, “Why didn’t Ziling stay in Bashu [Sichuan]?
Xu Ziling already guessed that Shi Zhixuan already saw through his real identity, but listening to him saying so, he was still shocked inwardly. Taking a deep breath, he said, “I still don’t have any plan on settling down in a certain place.”
Shi Zhixuan nodded. He spoke seriously, “Good answer! Good answer! Do you know who I am?”
“I did not, but now I do,” Xu Ziling replied.
Shi Zhixuan looked up to heaven and exhaled really slowly; his eyes turned gentle, he spoke softly, as if he was muttering to himself, “Is Qingxuan well?”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling replied, “I don’t know, I really don’t know.”
Shi Zhixuan’s eyes suddenly become incomparably sharp, as if he was able to look straight into the bottom of Xu Ziling’s heart. But his voice remained tranquil, “Have you listened to her flute art? What’s it like?”
The icy-cold river breeze blew against the bow of the boat. Xu Ziling felt the cold wind whistling against his back, but his heart actually warmed up, recalling the touching scene that day at the Duzun Bao, where he was listening to Shi Qingxuan playing her flute by the window. Momentarily he unexpectedly forgot that sitting across him was devil incarnate, whom no one in the Wulin under the heavens did not fear, the ‘Demonic King’ Shi Zhixuan. He spoke softly, “Her flute is like some kind of rebellion against the fate.”
Severely shaken, Shi Zhixuan blurted out, “What?”
Greatly surprised, Xu Ziling looked at Shi Zhixuan.
In this moment, Shi Zhixuan no longer exuded the slightest amount of evil and treacherous impression; he was like someone who wandered far from home, feeling frustrated all his life, and then by chance he happened to hear precious information about his hometown, which he had long forgotten, and thus he could not get rid of the melancholy in his heart.
Shi Zhixuan’s eyes welled up with deep and complex emotion, which he was unable to cut. Profound light floated up, he chanted, “Mountains have no mound, river water exhausted, thunderbolt in the winter, snowstorm in the summer, the heaven and the earth coming together, only then the gentleman will give up his feeling.”
Whatever Xu Ziling thought about what Shi Zhixuan’s reaction would be, he would never have guessed that his mood would be stirred up to the extent that it created a sad melody in his heart.
His singing voice was exhausted and desolate, expressing the pain hidden deep within his heart in some kind of a way, almost like releasing the self-pity and wallowing-in-suffering feeling – out in the open, like a love letter filled with regret, which was announced all over the world, brimming with gray, hopeless pain. Who could possibly resist from being emotionally moved?
These few lines of the poem was talking about how the mountains have become flat land, how the river water dried up, the rainstorm in the winter and the snowstorm in the summer, the heaven and the earth closing down, and only then would the love be broken.
Such deep emotion emerging from a great evil man who personally engineered his own tender wife’s death, which made other people feel the contradiction and remorse in his heart.
Xu Ziling was unable to relate the man in front of him, whose spirit hurting and his soul broken, who was proud above the crowd, yet brimming with talent and passion, refined in manner – with the vicious and merciless opponent he faced when he was disguised as Yue Shan. Momentarily he was unable to say anything.
For the first time he understood what Hou Xibai said about Shi Zhixuan having a dual personality.
※ ※ ※
Sitting close to the window, Kou Zhong looked down; surprisingly he saw Xu Ziling’s Yong Qin was riding a boat with a middle-aged Confucian scholar. The shock in his heart was not something that any language could describe.
He intuitively felt that this man was Shi Zhixuan, because he had heard from Xu Ziling’s mouth the description of Shi Zhixuan’s clothes and outward appearance.
Fortunately, from where he sat, Ke Dazhi could not see the situation on the river, plus he was in the middle of ordering the dishes, so that he did not know that Kou Zhong was so scared that his entire body was drenched in cold sweats, his soul flew away and scattered.
The skiff stopped at the bottom of the bridge.
For fear of attracting too much attention, Ke Dazhi’s men were scattered outside the door and did not come with them to the second floor.
Upstairs was very noisy, packed with diners; on one of the tables were Li Mi and Huang Gongcuo. Just by seeing how Li Mi was not invited to participate in the spring hunting, his status in the eyes of the Li Clan could be easily imagined.
After dismissing the waiter, Ke Dazhi turned to Kou Zhong and said, “What can Xiansheng say about Ol’ Ke’s question earlier?”
By this time Kou Zhong decided that Shi Zhixuan had no malice toward Xu Ziling. Although he was still at a loss, his heart has calmed down somewhat, his brains turned toward Ke Dazhi, he knew that if he said that he did not know about the storehouse within a storehouse, even if he told about dragon and phoenix in the sky, he could forget about Ke Dazhi believing that he had the Relics in his hand.
He only regretted the fact that if he said that he knew about the storehouse within a storehouse, it was still improper because the people on the Li Clan’s side have long decided that he and Xu Ziling never entered the lower-level storehouse, which was also the fact.
Ke Dazhi clearly indicated that one wrong word, and he would immediately uncovered Kou Zhong’s identity, to remove his chance of ever leaving Chang’an alive.
Kou Zhong laughed calmly, and spoke in low voice, “May I ask Ke Xiong, if I really escaped via the river cave, how could I sit here with you to have a drink and chat right now? Uh, it’s snowing heavily again!”
Ke Dazhi looked out the window, pieces of snowflakes were falling down from the sky, the momentum was fiercer and more severe than the last heavy snow.