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DongBin, Xiaohu, Ysabel, HPC, you are welcome. Sky, shhh ... tap, tap, tap ... (patting your shoulder) please don't cry. Xu Xiong, you guess? But I don't know either, maybe you are right. Chowbeng, that was from the dictionary, but thanks anyway.

Jing Nian Chanyuan stood tall on the mountain; the ambience was dense and solemn.

Xu Ziling dismounted; wrapping one arm around the horse's neck, he spoke in gentle voice as if he was coaxing a child, and then left the horse grazing on its own, while he dashed toward the main entrance of the monastery.

After passing the memorial arch engraved with the characters ‘Jing Nian Chanyuan', he climbed the long and precipitous stone steps extended to the hilltop, giving the feeling of he was ascending into the heaven to ‘the other shore' [i.e. paramita in Buddhism].

Subconsciously Xu Ziling stroked the mask hidden in his pocket, as well as the scrolls pertaining to construction, astronomy, et cetera, which Lu Miaozi gave to him; he sighed inwardly.

After stealing the Jade Annulus of He Clan, they buried these things in a secret place, and only retrieved them just now.

Regaining his composure, Xu Ziling went up the stairs step by step.

‘Dang! Dang! Dang!'

The melodious sound of the bell from up the mountain floated down.

Xu Ziling's mind was calm; he lifted up his eyes to enjoy the amazing and elegant ridges and peaks, the dense forest and the beautiful mountain scenery all around him. He mused that this temple was built on top of this mountain, there must be a reason behind it.

Looking up into the distance, he could see the pagoda and bell tower appearing among the forest tree.

Because he had read Lu Miaozi's insight, he had a very good foundation in architecture, and was able to enjoy the beauty of the buildings from a pedestrian's eye view.

The pagoda was built of mostly large dark green granite blocks, the structure was complex, with nine layers of octagonal floor, opened doors on all sides, the carvings on the body of the tower was exceptionally magnificent, all around the roll up doors there were dragons, tigers, Buddha, Bodhisattva, warriors, craft music [? Not sure, 伎乐], flying Apsara, and other religious objects; all were glowing with health and vigor, vivid and lifelike.

Nevertheless, the tacha [from the dictionary: Buddhist ornamentation decorating the upper story of a pagoda] was made of iron, with eight separate chains securing it to the eight corners of the top of the pagoda. The stairs connecting the lower five floors were inside the structure, but starting from the fifth floor, the stairs were spiraling along the outer ledges, all the way to the top floor. This kind of configuration was rarely seen in pagoda architecture, particularly that tall and gorgeous iron tacha. It was elegant, tall and straight, protruding above the mountain forest, as if it was piercing the blue sky.

The reason Xu Ziling paid so much attention to Jing Nian Chanyuan's construction was simply because he wanted to verify the earlier impression he had on this monastery, because in all aspects, this temple did not comply with common practice; hidden within it was a unique imposing style.

The most amazing thing for him was that in the extremely ornate architecture, there was a sense of austere simplicity; just like a richly attired beautiful woman, although her dress was magnificent her clothes beautiful, but because she was not wearing any makeup, she was able to maintain her innate beauty and natural charm.

Reaching the end of the stone steps, Xu Ziling arrived at the second main gate of the monastery.

The inscribed tablet above the door had four characters carved on it, ‘ru zhe you yuan' [those who enter are brought together by fate]; on both sides of the doorway a rhyming couplet was engraved, ‘Evening drum and morning bell arouse the human world from pursuing fame and fortune; the sound of scripture and many names of Buddha call the charmed back from the dream of sea of bitterness'.

A rueful smile appeared on the corner of Xu Ziling's lips, thinking that if Kou Zhong was pursuing fame and fortune, then he was charmed by the dream. Both were struggling and drifting along in the sea of bitterness of this human world, without the freedom to act independently.

After heaving another sigh, he entered in.

※ ※ ※

On the plaza behind the towering gate of the first of the seven big halls, two old monks were sweeping the dead leaves. They were not in the least concerned over this guest who gate-crash into their temple.

Xu Ziling was acting strangely as well; he simply walked along the path, which acted as the central axis of the main part of this building complex, with his hands behind his back, as if he belonged there.

Fragrant smoke from the incense drifted out of the temple halls; from the three-legged incense burner in front of the three enshrined and worshipped Buddha images at the southern end, the smoke rose up in spirals.

He did not know much about Buddhism; he only knew the one in the middle, wearing golden crown, with benevolent and dignified expression, was Vairocana Buddha [毗卢遮那佛]; as for the other two Buddha on either side, he was not so sure. Even more attractive to him was along the inner wall of the Hall there were dozens of revered Luohan statues, in different poses and with different expressions, no two were alike.

The eight columns of pillar and the foundation of the Hall were finely engraved, which matched very well with the brightly painted, grand and majestic interlocking beams that spanned well toward the eaves. The horn-shaped corners of the eaves were rising high, in harmony with the profound and long-lasting, solemn and respectful atmosphere of temple complex, brimming with religious inspiration.

A voice calling one of the many names of Buddha came from behind, followed by a question, "Xu Shizhu [lit. benefactor (term used by a monk to address a layperson)] honors us with your presence, I wonder for what reason?”

Xu Ziling recognized the voice; without even looking back, he said, "Bu Chen Dashi, may I ask the Buddha on the left and right, which one are they?”

Bu Chen, who was the leader of the Four Great Protectors replied, "On the left is Medicine Buddha, on the right is Amitabha Buddha [see also Book 14 Chapter 1]. Since Xu Shizhu does not know Buddha, entering the Temple without worshiping is reasonable.”

Confident and at ease, Xu Ziling turned around and smiled toward Bu Chen, whose eyes were hung low, whose palms clasped together holding Buddhist beads; he said, "Although Zaixia does not know much about Buddhism, but I know that all [Buddhist] laws are in the heart. Kneeling to worship is but outward appearance, which cannot be used to judge one's sincerity toward Buddha!”

Bu Chen opened his eyes to look at him; an amazed expression flashed through his eyes. "Various inner thoughts have outer appearances. Buddha also have images of Buddha. What Shizhu said, perhaps only applicable to Shizhu! Shizhu must ask your own heart.”

Although he did not speak it out, the meaning behind his words was obvious, which referred to Xu Ziling's mouth was not in line with his heart, that he was using words to quibble, including, of course, the matter involving the Jade Annulus of He Clan.

Xu Ziling was open-minded; he was not concerned about it. Telling the reason of his visit, he said, "This time Zaixia pays a visit, the purpose is to see Miss Shi, there are some things I'd like to resolve.”

Bu Chen sharply sized him up for half a day; finally he said, "Shizhu, please!” and took the lead toward the Hall's gate.

Thinking that it would go smoothly, Xu Ziling quickly followed him.

※ ※ ※

Kou Zhong rode straight toward the Imperial City. It was not until he reached the Shangshu Mansion that he jumped down the horse, but before he reached the steps, Dong Shuni, wearing warrior outfit, rushed out of the Mansion's door, amidst a burst of fragrant wind. Her apricot eyes were wide open as she scolded tenderly, "Gutless ghost! Come with me!”

Noticing that all the warriors guarding the door were staring at them, Kou Zhong felt extremely awkward; helplessly he followed her into the Mansion.

Dong Shuni entered the western hall, drove all the maids and servants out, and then pointing to the chair by the window, she furiously said, "Sit over there!”

Kou Zhong was inwardly angry as well. "Am I your slave?” he spoke crossly, "Whatever it is, say it quickly, your Shaoye is very busy today.”

How could Dong Shuni ever think that Kou Zhong would dare to challenge her? Seething with anger, her eyes bulging, she pointed her finger like a halberd and cursed, "You, a man without conscience, you have the impertinence to use that kind of tone speaking with me?”

Frankly speaking, even though she looked like a tigress that had lost her mind, she was still so cute, charming and gorgeous; her posture alluring, exuding a different flavor of prettiness. Especially with her erect silky breasts and two lily-white hands on her small waist, she looked extremely attractive even more.

Seeing her eyes turned red from anger, with glistening beads of tear on them, the anger in Kou Zhong's heart disappeared for the most part. Plus he inwardly thought that as a grand, manly man, it was not worthwhile for him to bicker with her. Thereupon he laughed aloud and said, "You want me to sit then I'll sit! What's the big deal?”

Sitting down, he patted his lap and said, "Would Miss Dong like to sit on the most comfortable chair in the world?”

Dong Shuni glowered at him for half a day. Finally she stomped her feet in fury and said, "I'll settle an old score with you first: where the hell were you that night?”

Spreading out his hands, Kou Zhong said, "I hear Rong Fengxiang's big birthday feast is tomorrow night. Since I thought that in your hurry Miss must have mentioned the wrong day, plus I had a bit of business to attend, hee … you know how it is!”

He did not wish to argue with her much longer, so he hinted that he already saw through her wicked scheme, with the hope that she would sound out the difficulties and retreat to avoid defeat.

Like a whirlwind Dong Shuni stormed forward until her jade legs were almost hitting his knees before stopping before flaring out in tigress' style, "You, Kou Zhong, the big-headed ghost, his big birthday feast is set for seven days; otherwise, how can we call it ‘big birthday feast'?”

Kou Zhong was nearly tongue-tied; luckily as he knitted his brows, an idea came to his mind. Recalling how deceitful she was, he smiled wryly and said, "Xiao Nini, please don't mess with me! Xuyan Xiong and I had no discord, no concord [orig. don't fight, won't make friends], but now we became very friendly. He had already laid out everything on the plate. Ha! When we go to Rong Mansion later, I'd like to look for him; do you want to come with me?”

It was as if Dong Shuni was struck by thunder; she retreated three steps back, her pretty face turned white, and she stammered in disbelief, "He … he really …”

Inwardly Kou Zhong laughed; no matter how crafty you are, all along you are still inexperienced, all of a sudden you revealed the fox's tail and thus confirmed this purely speculative guess.

Patting his clothes, he rose up to his full height and said, "We'll make out later!”

And then he walked away with a chuckle, feeling immensely proud of himself.

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