Shan Wanjing sighed gently, her frosty jade-countenance thawed, replaced by extremely bitter expression, as she spoke softly, "Would you accompany Wanjing walking for a couple of steps?”
Ba Fenghan nodded slightly; he took the lead by stepping out first, and said, "Did you come across me here by chance? Or did you hear the news and come here?”
"Who has the ability to follow you and does not get detected by you?” Shan Wanjing replied, "It's just a coincidence! I was going to no longer care about your affair, but Laotianye [Heaven/God] loves to play jokes on people, and had me here to come across you.”
Ba Fenghan cast a sideways glance toward Shan Wanjing, who was walking on his right, and then quickly turned his eyes forward. Raindrops were sliding down her umbrella, dripping onto his bamboo rain hat and his already-drenched broad shoulder, making him feel that there was some kind of strange but subtle relationship between the two of them.
Shan Wanjing spoke in low voice, "I've just seen Shimin. He wanted to have a nice talk with you, looking at the possibility of peaceful settlement of the problem between you and him.” [Translator's note: so far, the ‘you' Shan Wanjing was referring to was plural.]
Ba Fenghan smiled and said, "I, Ba Fenghan, have never conducted myself by looking at somebody else's face. If he wants to talk, we will have to see whether Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling are interested to talk!”
Shan Wanjing sighed and said, "I don't want to argue with you; once is enough. But I want to remind you one thing: Shimin has martial art masters under his command like a cloud, it's just he always maintains a low-profile, he can't possibly let others find out his real strength for no reason!”
Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, "I have just met Li Shentong; can he be considered one of those masters?”
Shan Wanjing said, "What do you think about Zhangsun Wuji and Yuchi Jingde? You should have heard their names?”
Ba Fenghan shivered slightly in his heart; these two were of the new generation of martial art masters, they had outstanding reputation in the north. Although they could not be compared to him, who was the focus of ten-thousand people's attention, yet they could be considered powerful young martial art masters. Unexpectedly they realigned their allegiance to Li Shimin.
Shan Wanjing went on, "And then there is a man named Pang Yu; perhaps you have never heard of him. But this man, whether in terms of ability and wisdom or martial art skill, can's be inferior to you guys.”
Ba Fenghan knew that she had just seen this man, that's why the impression was especially profound.
With Shan Wanjing's insight, she could not possibly misjudge this person. Judging from her character, she was not someone who would intimidate others with empty words.
Laughing involuntarily, he said, "Looks like it's getting more and more interesting. Have you met Li Jing, then?”
Shan Wanjing was astonished, "Who's Li Jing?” she asked.
Now it was Ba Fenghan who was shocked; Shan Wanjing apparently did not know the full extent of Li Shimin's forces that he brought along to Luoyang, yet she was already worried for them.
Changing the subject, Ba Fenghan asked, "Do you have any news about Yin Gui Pai?”
Shan Wanjing replied, "According to the information I received, Yin Gui Pai already considers the three of you their biggest enemy after Shi Feixuan; as soon as they finish the business at hand, their next move will be to crush you. Ay! Fenghan, don't you think you'd better leave the Central Plains? Why would you wade through the muddy water with those two kids who do not know the immensity of heaven and earth? You make enemies on all sides, and now even Niang and I feel it is difficult either to intervene or to mediate on your behalf.”
Ba Fenghan happily said, "With what Wanjing has just said, it is enough! There is one thing I want you to be clear: Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling are my, Ba Fenghan's true friends [orig. liver and gall bladder]; I have gone through fire and water for many days with them, and I will never forget that. After Junyu's affair is completely resolved, without anybody pushing me, I will return to the prairie. That is the place where I was born, and that will be the place where I die.”
Her tender body slightly trembled, Shan Wanjing leaned a bit closer, so that their shoulders nearly touched. She spoke softly, "Yin Gui Pai still has several more senior martial art masters; they will respond to the call for reinforcement. Not only Zhu Yuyan wanted to destroy Shi Feixuan, she would also kill anybody who stands the way. The reason she was willing to offend Fu Cailin by dealing with Fu Junyu is because she believe she also knew the secret of ‘Duke Yang Treasure'.”
Ba Fenghan was listening in silence. He was able to sense the deep concern in the beauty by his side's voice.
Quite possibly their walk in the rain this time would be their last meeting.
"When are you going to return to Ryukyu?” he asked in heavy voice.
Shan Wanjing was silent for quite a while before answering, "Should be today. Afterwards, we will try to minimize our visit to the Central Plains.”
Ba Fenghan suddenly stopped. Shan Wanjing continued walking three more steps before she also stopped and turned around. She held the plain yellow umbrella in her hand with the pole resting against her shoulder, and thus exposing her lake-water-green rain cloak; her jade bones and icy flesh stood erect, in a beautiful posture that was kind of endearing and moving, which made it impossible to think that she has always been stubborn and strong-willed.
Composing himself, Ba Fenghan scrutinized her rarely seen posture and facial expression. After exhaling a mouthful of air, he said, "Have a pleasant journey!”
Hardening his heart, he turned around and walked away.
He had only been walking for five steps when Shan Wanjing called tenderly from behind, "Fenghan.”
Ba Fenghan did neither stop nor turn back; only raising his hand, he said, "Please don't!” And he continued walking away.
※ ※ ※
It was with great difficulty that Ba Fenghan was finally able to find the entrance to Cheng Fu Lane. A horse-drawn carriage was coming directly at him, the driver was a man who looked unfamiliar, yet he called out to him, "Ba Ye, please come aboard!”
While Ba Fenghan was greatly surprised, Kou Zhong's big head appeared from the carriage's window and winked at him, "Ba kid, where do you think you are going? Still not getting in?”
Ba Fenghan immediately cast the sadness of parting away from his heart; laughing aloud, he got into the carriage, and only then did he find out that aside from Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, there was also Song Shidao. No wonder they had the carriage, the driver, and everything else readily available.
After briefly explaining the whole sequence of events, Kou Zhong said, "And now we are on our way there to make a kill, but we must study clearly the layout of the courtyard first, and then using the before-the-thunderbolt-reaches-the-ear method we burst through the door and break the window to get inside. As long as Wanwan or perhaps Zhu Yuyan is not there, and Yu Yi is hidden there, we will have a much greater chance of success.”
Song Shidao quickly added, "But we must make sure that this is going to be foolproof. Therefore, we must move only after a well-laid plan; once the opportunity lost, we'll never get it back.”
Ba Fenghan snorted coldly and said, "Shen Luoyan is too crafty; she had the impertinence to harm me. Were it not for I do not like to kill women, I would have her try my sword and have her as a sacrificial offering.”
Kou Zhong said, "In the struggle against Li Mi, we can't simply sit from dawn to dusk; slight delay would mean she will gain the upper hand.”
By this time Song Shidao was already clear on the whole story; he suggested, "Why not broadcasting Dugu Ba's assassination by Shen Luoyan? This way we'll destroy the relationship between Dugu Feng and Li Mi. At least we'll make Shen Luoyan spend quite a bit of lips and tongue to explain herself.”
Kou Zhong said with a laugh, "We must never do that! Otherwise my magic trick won't work. Right now my move is called ‘to exploit the other man's ambition to the fullest, while reducing our own power and prestige'. Even toward that Huang Gongcuo, we must carefully respect him, the Senior, and not to disturb even half a strand of his hair.”
Knowing his tricks and crafty schemes, Ba Fenghan did not want to waste his time to mind him; turning his attention to Song Shidao, he asked, "Er Gongzi, is there a way to find out whether Qu Ao is hiding in there?”
Nodding his head, Song Shidao said, "That's easy. Our driver is a local Qing She Bang [green snake gang] man. I have shown favor and a bit of kindness toward their Bangzhu [gang leader] in the past. As soon as I say the words, they would do everything in their power to accomplish it, and would not shirk without dishonor. Everything that is happening in Luoyang will not easily escape these local snakes' attention.”
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, "They are Luoyang Bang's arch-rival; by toppling Shangguan Long, we have put Luoyang Bang in the whole-bunch-of-uglies-without-the-head situation, so that they are falling apart. And thus we have indirectly done them a huge favor. I don't know how grateful they are toward us.”
Xu Ziling took a glance out of the window. "The rain stops!” he said.
The driver called out, "Four Daye, we have arrived!”
 Zhangsun Wuji (c. 594-659), politician and historian of early Tang.