Book 35 Chapter 2 – The Study of Psychological Warfare
The sun finally disappeared behind the western mountains. Since the afternoon, the clouds filling the sky was thickening, the sunny and cloudless weather was merely the night-blooming cactus shows once [idiom: short-lived].
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong sat in a corner of the restaurant; they ordered some steamed buns and small side dishes, in a heroic undertaking of filling their tummy to its capacity before entering the well on the treasure hunt adventure.
Today was the second day of the lunar New Year, there were not too many shops open for business, and since this was one of those, it was crowded to bursting point with diners.
Diagonally opposite was precisely the rear wall of the Dugu Family’s Xi Ji Yuan.
Although shops and big restaurants were concentrated in East and West, two Markets, responding to demand, these kinds of restaurants were spread out within the neighborhood and blocks within the city, while most inns were located on major thoroughfares and big streets like Vermillion Bird Boulevard.
Kou Zhong looked at the well-wrapped Moon in the Well laying on the side, along with a sack filled up with tools for their treasure hunt exploration; he laughed and said, “The letter I left behind, I put it under the pillow. This kind of pleasant and uncomplicated departure is greatly beneficial without any harm for both the Sha Family and me. In addition, I also wrote two letters; one is addressed to Li Yuan, the other to Li Jiancheng, so that Chang He would not have to waste his lips and tongue to explain. Writing three letters in one sitting, it took me the entire sichen; it was really hard.”
Biting a mouthful of mantou [steamed bun], he said, “Zhu Yuyan, Shi Zhixuan and Zhao Deyan are definitely not benevolent people [orig. lay practitioners of Buddhism], on the surface their style of work is very close to each other, they always love to use trick, and the way they handle their affairs is very ruthless and without mercy. But I always think that there are some great differences between them; Ling Shao, what do you think?”
Xu Ziling said, “I am not familiar with Zhao Deyan at all; but by looking at his move in suddenly kidnapped Lei LaoGe to blackmail us, also using the ‘Seven Needles to Control the Mind’ on him, his method is straightforward, yet there is a two-armies-facing-off-against-each-other, doing-his-utmost-to-seize-victory feeling. It is thus clear that this man has both the guts and the drive to take risks, to stake-it-all. When we fight with him, we must pay particular attention to this kind of style and character.”
“How’s Zhu Yuyan compared to the other two?” Kou Zhong asked.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling replied, “Zhu Yuyan appears to be not as ruthless she is showing on the outside; in fact, she is a person rich in affection, at least toward Yue Shan and Shi Zhixuan she became too irrational. It’s just that for someone in her position, she simply has to hide her real emotion well, and has to assume a callous, heartless appearance. Speaking about cold-heartedness, Shi Zhixuan is the one. However, even Shi Zhixuan still cannot cross over the barrier of the affection between a father and his daughter.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “I completely agree with you. Just by looking at how Zhu Yuyan putting his heart and soul to cultivate Wanwan, while Shi Zhixuan guards against his two disciples left and right, but also make his two disciples fight until you die, I live, for the sake of ‘Immortal Image Scroll’, it is clear that Shi Zhixuan is a person who only care about himself. As for Zhao Deyan, he is another kind of person; treacherous and cunning, more than Zhu and Shi, two persons. In no way will he lose self-control due to momentary impulse or anger. For the sake of his ambition, he completely ignores other people’s life or death; otherwise, he could not possibly help cruel and tyrannical Xieli to invade the Central Plains.”
Xu Ziling poured some tea for him; he laughed and said, “Why are you suddenly so interested in discussing the differences of their characters?”
Kou Zhong’s eyes flickered, he lowered his voice and replied, “I am looking for any weak point in their characters to see if there is anything that can be exploited. Shi Zhixuan is the most unclear for me; you have fought him hand to hand three times, you ought to be a bit clearer than me.”
“He does not talk much,” Xu Ziling said, “My intuition is that he sees himself extremely high, proud and aloof above the crowd, despises everybody else. As a matter of fact, those with qualifications to be his opponent are really not many.”
Kou Zhong pondered, “Even though we know the differences in their character, but in planning a meticulous operation, we still cannot use it too much. Do you understand what I mean?”
Xu Ziling nodded to express his understanding; because when one was making a plan based on reason, he might do his utmost not to be held back by emotion and his own character, plus he must have the open mind to consider someone else’s opinion, and thus would have suppress individual subjectivity to its lowest degree.”
Having a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, “However, by the time they find out that all their originally prepared plans are not going to be applicable, the situation will be another matter altogether. Therefore, I specifically want to create such situation, so that when sudden change happens, the enemy from all parties will not have time to go through careful deliberations before they will have to spring into action, and thus we will have an opportunity to be seized.”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Let’s talk less nonsense; we go down first to see the situation and then we’ll decide what we are going to do.”
※ ※ ※
One after another the two boys jumped over the courtyard wall and hide in a pile of undergrowth. About two zhang beyond that was their target, the north well.
Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, “I am really worried that there is no entrance down there, then what are we going to do?”
Xu Ziling understood his frame of mind; he was worried about personal gains and losses. Trying to comfort him, he said, “That possibility is very little, but one thing I am sure: it will be a real test whether you really have the skill as a scholar in mechanics and mechanisms. Go!”
The two boys flitted across the two-zhang distance and dove into the well.
The water in the well is bone-chillingly icy cold. They stopped up their breathing and sank down to the bottom of the well, where the light did not penetrate, not to mention deep under water, late at night, their vision was totally useless and thus they could only proceed by relying on their feeling.
The bottom of the well suddenly opened up; it was indeed as expected, the bottom of the well was connected to a stream of underground river.
If it were the men that Li Jiancheng sent, this moment they would not have any clear idea which side they had to grope about along the underground river; however, the two boys were positive that the treasure-trove ought to be under the Wu Lou Si. The direction was clear, thereupon they dove toward that direction.
After swimming and groping about for nearly ten zhang in the narrow, rugged, and pitch-dark [orig. stretching a hand and cannot see five fingers] river course, Xu Ziling lightly pulled Kou Zhong, indicating that something was not right.
Kou Zhong understood immediately, because not everybody could be like them, able to stay under water for a long period of time, by only relying to the ability to breathe inwardly; therefore, it did not make sense if the entrance was too far from the bottom of the well. Moreover, this underground river was continuously slanting down and penetrating deeply, wouldn’t it be farther and farther away from the ground?
A moment later the two resurfaced from the bottom of the well. Kou Zhong said, “Definitely not at the bottom of the river, because the underground river might change due to the changes in the soil. That is also the reason why some wells might suddenly dry up. The entrance must be somewhere on the wall of the bottom of the well.”
Reconciling his breathing, Xu Ziling said, “From now on, I will no longer rely on your pain-in-the-butt mechanism knowledge, because the place that Xiaodi’s left foot kicked was certainly the mechanism of the entrance.”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Don’t move!”
Flipping over, he bored back into the bottom of the well, toward one side of the rock, which, according to Xu Ziling, was the problem area that his foot felt. Indeed it was protruding about a cun from the well wall. Just now, were it not for their attention was completely on the underground river, it should not be easily missed.
Inwardly Kou Zhong cried, ‘Heavens bless me’, while exerting his strength to push the rock, which was about half a chi square.
Under the two boys’ expectant gaze, ‘Creak!’ the sound of machinery from the long and narrow space at the bottom of the well entered their ears.
Above the floating-above-the-water-surface Xu Ziling’s head, the well wall slowly caved in, revealing an entrance that could barely accommodate one person to squeeze through.
Floating up to the surface, Kou Zhong happily said, “My Niang, we finally succeed!”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “I have no confidence.”
Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, “Why do you need confidence? The entrance is right before your eyes, as long as you do not lack any hands and feet, you can always crawl in.”
Sneering, Xu Ziling said, “It’s not that I don’t have confidence in the treasure-trove, but I don’t have confidence in your knowledge about mechanism.”
Kou Zhong was in a very good mood, he did not have time to be bothered by his teasing; he laughed and said, “The Heaven helps the worthy; just now I only did not have the opportunity to show it. Ling Shaoye, let Xiaodi take the lead.”
Taking the lead, he crawled up the wall and squeezed into the small square hole.
The passageway was extending upward at an angle for about five zhang first, before slanting rather steeply downward. Quite surprisingly, all four walls of the passageway were clean of any moss, fungi, or the like, any vegetation that thrives in the dark and moist area. The air was stuffy and turbid to the extent of suffocating; luckily the two boys had already turned the external breathing into internal breathing, their consummate skill of ‘fetal breathing, so that it was as if they were traveling under water.
After crawling on their knees like this for more than ten zhang, Kou Zhong suddenly stopped. Immensely proud of himself, he said, “There is another button to press. Xiongdi! This time I am not disappointing, am I?”
Xu Ziling knew that he had learned from experience, and thus did not dare to miss any peculiar situation. Behind Kou Zhong, he nodded and said, “You are the expert, everything is up to you, no need to consult my, this layman’s opinion.”
Remaining calm and unruffled in critical moment, Kou Zhong started his lecture, “Merely the use of granite in the construction of this secret passage is already demonstrating the ingenuity of the skill [orig. seizing the heaven]. I don’t know how much manpower and physical resources were used that year. The hardest thing to come by was that it involved, as well as utilized – that many people, unexpectedly they were able to conceal it from Yang Jian? From this, it can be seen that at that time Yang Su must have power that could overturn the land under heaven.”
While speaking, he exerted his strength to push the button protruding on the left wall, while controlling his force carefully to react accordingly.
With another ‘Creak!’ the passage where the two boys were suddenly moved, taking the two sliding down the line.
This change was greatly beyond the two boys’ expectation. While inwardly they cried, ‘Not good!’, the bottom of the wall was producing unpleasant-to-the-ears squeaking noise like grinding wheel on millstone. Moreover, because the narrow passageway, which was barely enough for them to fit their body in – greatly restricted their ability to move to meet a contingency, while they were thinking of retreating, while they were shocked, this section of the passageway suddenly moved again, taking the two without-the-freedom-to-act-independently boys sliding further down, faster and faster.
The two cried inwardly, ‘Hereby my life thus endeth!’
After dropping fast for nearly twenty zhang, the moving passageway suddenly crashed against some sort of hard stop and came to a halt.
Unfortunately for the two boys, they did not have anything to stop their fall; carried by the strong momentum of the fall, they fell into another boundless and dark space. Falling down from the height, ‘Bang! Bang!’ they separately plunged inside something that felt like fishnet.
They bounced up and fell down again, jolting the two great young martial art masters that their entire body was aching and felt numb, they were confused and disoriented, and did not know either the human world or the life.
Their nightmare was not over; the net suddenly fell down. After falling swiftly for nearly a zhang, following the momentum of the fall, the net closed up, so that the moment they stopped falling, the net tightly caught the two boys inside so that they were unable to move a single step, your head stuck close to my head.
Since their debut, they had never been in such sorry state as this one.
The sound of flowing water could be heard from the absolute darkness under their feet, producing a gurgling noise.
The net was swaying, turning to the left and spinning to the right, seemingly would never stop.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Now I understand what Lu Dashi wrote in his book about ‘the science of mechanism attach most importance to psychological warfare, with random changes as the secondary character; other things going down from there to lower grades’. Following this logic, the first button was safe, so that people would never think that the second button was unexpectedly some his mother’s trap.”
His voice echoed, a clear sign that this underground cave was quite wide.
“Don’t breathe,” Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “This place is full of marsh gas [methane], you breathe half a mouth more will give you trouble.”
The net was on its end of travel and was swinging to the other direction, and was picking up speed.
Being suspended mid-air in the pitch-dark [see note above] underground cave, even a great master of martial art study unmatched in his generation would also lose his sense of direction.
“Have you breathed the air?” Kou Zhong asked, “How else did you know?”
Xu Ziling replied with bitter smile, “I was thinking of testing whether this space has any ventilation. Ay! If I am guessing correctly, just now we were thrown down like garbage being dumped down the garbage chute; if that is the case, then the tunnel ought to be full of marsh gas.”
Earlier, although the passageway was stuffy, there was no marsh gas that could fatally poison a human.
Kou Zhong said, “The only good luck for us is that this net is not like Beautiful Junshi’s net, which was woven out of heavenly natural silk, but it is made of thick refined ox tendon. However, after so many years, it is showing some sign of decay. If I exert my divine power, I guarantee that it will disintegrate into cun-size pieces. It’s just that under this kind of situation, how could we dare to act blindly without thinking? Ling Shao, what do you say?”
Xu Ziling said, “Our only hope now is seeking a way back into our previous path. Haven’t you read through the book Lu Xiansheng left behind repeatedly for more than a dozen times? Why don’t you use your small brains to think of something?”
“What can a small brain accomplish?” Kou Zhong said, “But small eyes definitely can see a lot of things. I have with me more than a dozen fire sticks, all tightly wrapped inside waterproof oilcloth, not afraid of … Ay! Do you want to take this risk? Our divine skill of shutting our breathing may not last too long.”
Xu Ziling understood what he meant; shaking his head, he said, “In a cave full of marsh gas, fire is absolutely a no. Your fire stick may be used later when we are ready to kill ourselves! This time it looks like we are fulfilling the prophecy, the difference is that even if we have a gong or a drum that we can beat, calling the Heaven, the Heaven would not respond, calling the Earth, the Earth would not hear.”
Kou Zhong randomly cast his gaze into the darkness above; he laughed and said, “If we could return to the surface, we could tell the people who are walking back and forth along the Vermillion Bird Boulevard that there is another world below, I guarantee that nobody would believe us. Come! Let’s get out of here first.”
The net finally stopped.
‘Chi! Chi!’ In one breath Kou Zhong sent out several dozen streams of finger wind, sharply shooting to all four directions, striking the cave walls, sending sand and stones splashing everywhere.
Suddenly there was a ‘Dang!’ sound.
“Success!” Kou Zhong happily said.
Xu Ziling could also hear that one of the finger winds generated different sound; there was a very high possibility that it hit the steel plate sealing up the tunnel entrance; otherwise, it would not have created a clear ringing noise like the sound of clashing gold or iron.
The two boys’ senses were very sharp, they were able to instantly grasp the position of the steel plate.
The net started to move again.
Xu Ziling swiftly released Treasured Vase Image Qi, using the rebound force to swing the net in the direction of the steel plate.
The two boys applied their power at the same time. Sure enough, just like Kou Zhong predicted, the net disintegrated into cun-size pieces.
Raising their qi midair, they borrowed momentum of the swing, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were like birds escaping from their cage, they deftly pounced toward the steel plate, and successfully attaching themselves onto uneven surface of the rocky cave wall on either side of the steel plate.
Xu Ziling reached out and tapped the steel plate; he said, “Kou Dashi [great master], how do we open the door?”
Kou Zhong replied, “In the book on mechanism, Lu Dashi declared at the outset that building construction and mechanism is the study of hidden damage [not sure]; in order to amass the heaven’s virtue, one must seize a sliver of opportunity at the end of the rope. According to his style, there must be a way to activate the mechanism in this cave; question is whether we can find it or not!”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, “To find a push button in such a wide, unfathomable underground cave like this, before we find it, we would already be unable to hold our breath and give up the ghost. Therefore, if Lu Xiansheng really left behind a way to survive, this push button must be located in a place that we could think about. Hey? D@mn it!”
Kou Zhong’s tiger body shook; he looked up at the pitch-black space above. Nodding his head, he said, “Right! Must be at the top of the wall where the rope is hanging. Ay! It would be much better if we did not shatter the rope of the net.
Xu Ziling freed up his right hand and shot a finger wind. It was quite half a day later that it knocked against the top wall, creating a ‘Thud!’ sound.
The two were stunned. Listening to the sound, the top of the cave must be at least ten zhang from here.
Without a word Kou Zhong started to climb up, but a moment later he was back at his original spot, and said with a wry smile, “The higher it is, the smoother the wall is, plus it is dripping wet; I am afraid my gecko skill will be insufficient to reach the middle of the top of the cave. The worst part is that applying power like that is extremely taxing to the real energy, so that I cannot hold my breath even more. Fortunately Laozi still have the last trick. Ha!”
Xu Ziling did not need him to explain, he already reached out to the bag tied to Kou Zhong’s back and took out a long rope. Smiling wryly, he said, “I don’t believe your rope is ten zhang long. My Niang! It’s only two zhang or so; what’s the use?”
With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, “Please grope a bit better, I still have another one. I, Kou Lao [old] Zhong, am very fair; how could I not prepare one for you, Ling Shao as well?”
Xu Ziling reached out again to grope around. Sure enough, he found another roll of ox tendon rope. Sneering, he said, “If it is your business, of course you must prepare everything inside for us.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Does it matter who prepared it? One rope tied on my waist, the other end you hold in your hand, without me telling you, Ling Shao should know what to do! Let’s start the ‘Xianren Tanlu’ [immortal finding the way].”
Turning upward, he repeatedly sent out finger wind.
Luckily both of them were able to use finger wind to act as a probe; if it were other people, under this kind of circumstances, they would have been at wits’ end.
“I found it!” Kou Zhong exclaimed, “The feeling of finger wind striking up is completely different. Come on!”
The two boys exerted their power simultaneously. Power shot out of the hollow of their palms, they sprang off the wall of the cave backwards, toward the air behind and above them.
As they reached the middle of the cave, Kou Zhong took a breath midair, and soared straight up, the two-zhang long rope in his hand became perfectly straight, it shot toward the target, and suddenly stab it head-on.
If someone was watching on the side, certainly they would gasp in amazement that in such a stretching-a-hand-and-cannot-see-five-fingers darkness after repeatedly moving and shifting position, they were still able to find the target without missing a fraction.
For Xu Ziling, however, he felt that it was proper and to be expected as a matter of course. He abruptly changed a mouthful of true qi, and threw himself toward the cave wall next to the steel plate.
Kou Zhong then borrowed the pulling force of the rope, and successfully pounced back to his original spot.
‘Creak!’ there was the sound of machinery again.
The iron panel has finally been opened again.
The two boys felt muscle-weary-strength-exhausted. One after another they climbed back into the hole. Perhaps it was because their weight activated the mechanism at the bottom of the wall, unexpectedly the steel plate fell down to seal the cave mouth again.
Kou Zhong proposed, “Very soon I cannot hold my breath anymore! We’d better return to the bottom of the well first to catch our breath before coming back to look for the entrance!”
Xu Ziling’s condition was not much better than his, naturally he agreed.
Quickly, one in front of the other, they both crawled along the path they were coming from.
They climbed down first, and slid down, finally they were back at the entrance at the bottom of the well. Immediately they were shocked and horrified, simply because the exit at the bottom of the well was sealed tight.
Without saying a word Xu Ziling turned around and climbed back inside. If they could not find the entrance, they would never be able to leave this place.