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Ysabel, Jaya, you are welcome. Sky ...

One more chapter to close Book 16.

Liao Kong was wearing grey monk robe, with dark brown outer robe hanging on his shoulders. The empty spacious hall was quiet and noiseless.

Xu Ziling stood with his hands behind his back, as if he had turned into another revered stone statue, aloof and detached from the mundane world, without the slightest hint of impatience.

Quite a while later, Liao Kong's gentle voice spoke softly, "Luoyang's temple, monastery and grotto, three famous scenic destinations, I wonder if Xu Shizhu has visited them?”

Xu Ziling was astonished inwardly. If Liao Kong had been speaking about anything else, even Buddhist terms and Buddhist allegory, he would not have been surprised. But he was referring to Luoyang's famous places, which has nothing to do with the current affair's wind, horse or ox. It really stumped him that he did not know how to respond.

For lack of better option, he modestly asked, "Would Dashi bestow me comprehensive revelation, please?”

Liao Kong glibly said, "'Temple' is the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in the Central Plains, built during the Eastern Han [25-220 AD] Yongping's tenth year. In those days, when the two senior monks She Moteng and Zhu Falan were returning back from India, Buddhist scripture and Buddhist images were brought back on white horses, hence the name White Horse. This became the start of Buddhism in the Central Earth; therefore, the Temple has the reputation as the ‘root of Buddhism' and the ‘ancestor hall'. For Buddha believer who does not visit this temple, it would be a matter of lifelong regret.”

"Thank you very much for Dashi's enlightenment,” Xu Ziling said, "But I do not know where the White Horse Temple is located.”

Liao Kong replied indifferently, "If Xu Shizhu is a person with aspirations, you will find out.”

Without waiting for Xu Ziling to respond, he continued, "'Monastery' is the Laojun Monastery [Laozi or Lao-tze (c. 500 BC), founder of Taoism], located on the apex of the Cui Yun [lit. bluish-green cloud] Peak on Mount Mang, several li north of the city. Legend has it that it is the sacred place where Laozi Li Er perfected his pellet [(?) not sure about this]. Unfortunately presently it is under the witches and demons' control; the sacred place becomes demonic cave.”

Greatly surprised, Xu Ziling asked, "How did that happen?”

Liao Kong calmly replied, "There are a lot of things, which are inconvenient for Lao Na [lit. old cassock, a term used by old Buddhist monk to call himself] to tell you in details. It's just that seeing that Xu Shizhu's learning came from the Taoist School's [one of the schools mentioned in footnote 1] founder Guangcheng Zi, I mentioned it in passing.”

Every word that he said was shrouded in profound theory, which was so deep that it was difficult to understand.

Liao Kong went on, "As for the ‘Grotto', it is the Longmen Grottoes, located south of our Temple about ten li away by the shore of Yi River. Due to the two mountains standing opposite to each other, which overlook it like imperial city watchtower, it is also known as the ‘Yi Watchtower'. On the cliffs along the shores on both sides of the river there are shrines and rock caves, big and small, extending continuously for several li. The scenery is stunning.”

And then he spoke in astonishment, "Ah yes! What is the purpose of Xu Shizhu's visit this time? Lao Na already forgot.”

Taken aback by his question, Xu Ziling said, "I have forgotten as well. Thank you Dashi for giving me directions.”

Finished speaking he floated away from the Hall.

※ ※ ※

A man, who, in terms of appearance and build, looked seventy, eighty-percent similar to Wang Shichong, entered the study room and prostrated himself to pay his respects, followed by Ouyang Xiyi, Linglong Jiao, Priest Ke Feng, Chen Changlin, the group of martial art masters, and then Wang Shichong's two sons, Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu, as well as the great generals Zhang Zhenzhou and Yang Gongqing.

Just by looking at this ensemble of people, Kou Zhong knew that they had something important to discuss.

After everybody was seated, with Kou Zhong occupying the head seat on the left, opposite to Ouyang Xiyi, who sat on the head seat on the right, and the lower seats started with Zhang Zhenzhou, and so on, Wang Shichong helped his body double standing up and proudly said to Kou Zhong, "What do you think?”

Kou Zhong nodded and said, "Definitely can pass off fish eyes for pearls [idiom: pass off fake products as genuine]. But under tomorrow night's circumstances, hey!”

Wang Shichong knew he wanted to speak his mind, hence he ordered his body double to leave first before speaking in delight, "Now everybody is our own people, whatever you want to say, you may speak freely!”

Wang Shichong's eldest son, Wang Xuanying, whose appearance looked like he indulged too much in wine and women, proudly said, "This is called ‘train an army for a thousand days to use it for an hour [idiom; fig. extensive preparation eventually pays off]'. Year before last Xuanying looked for and found this man from Guanzhou, and I personally trained and coached him. I guarantee no one will be able to see through.”

Just by looking at his expression, which showed that he was afraid others might not know his merit, people knew that this son cannot become a very capable person.

Frowning, Ouyang Xiyi said, "This man does not know martial art. Any expert who observes his every movement or watching him taking a couple of steps would immediately know that he is not Shichong Xiong himself.”

Planned in advance, Wang Shichong said, "If anyone wanted to assassinate me, the best time would be on the way to the meeting, or perhaps on the way back. So having him sitting on the carriage will be enough.”

At this point everybody knew that Wang Shichong was definitely unwilling risk this danger.

Priest Ke Feng frowned and said, "This time we want the enemy's assassination attempt to be successful, and that Shichong Xiong pretends to sustain injuries, only then will Li Mi be tempted to send his troops immediately. As soon as the so-called expert make his move, he would know the man has nothing in him. If he could be easily slaughtered, anybody would be suspicious instead; how could this scheme be successful?”

Wang Shichong happily said, "That the is key point; behind the fake hides the real. I am going to hide inside the carriage compartment. If the enemy is too powerful that he can break into the carriage to kill, I will make a sudden appearance. It would be best if the incoming is Huang Gongcuo or perhaps You Chuhong of someone their caliber, so that after I injure them, I could pretend to fight desperately and sustain injuries. This way we can convince the enemy even more. Naturally I will need all of you to work together with me.”

Turning to Kou Zhong, he said, "Kou Xiaoxiong, do you have anything else to say?”

Kou Zhong asked, "Why wouldn't the enemy make their move during the banquet?”

Wang Xuanying replied on behalf of his father, "The reason is very simple. This time Rong Fengxiang invited all celebrities from all parts of the country, who are currently in Luoyang, to the feast. At that time martial art masters will be as numerous as the cloud, and among them there is no lack of masters who have good relationship with us. Under this kind of circumstance, issuing public challenge will not be a problem, but assassination attempt? There will be too many variables; maybe they would fall until their head and face filthy with grime, and would have to bag the food before they could finish it.”

Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. "I have nothing more to say,” he spoke dejectedly.

He originally had a lot of brilliant schemes, but seeing Wang Shichong obviously refused to risk himself to brave the danger, he had nothing to say.

※ ※ ※

Stepping out of the main entrance of the Abbot's room, Xu Ziling took a deep breath of fresh and clear air.

A drizzle had just started falling from the sky, looking around, near and far, he did not see anybody.

Everywhere in Jing Nian Chanyuan, he could feel the hidden Buddhism subtleties and Buddhist spirit.

Take himself, for example, he was originally their enemy, but he did not sense the slightest degree of hostility.

As if nothing has ever happened between them.

He felt that his failure to meet Shi Feixuan was just proper and to be expected as a matter of course. If he was able to see Shi Feixuan, that would come as a surprise indeed.

But in order to find peace in his heart, he must still pursue this matter to the end!

What he wanted was to meet face to face with Shi Feixuan to resolve the problem of Jade Annulus of He Clan. Until this moment, he still believed that stealing the treasure was neither a bad thing nor a wrong thing. It was merely a strategy related to the power struggle to obtain the world.

For a divine object like the Jade Annulus of He Clan, it was merely fulfilling its destiny.

He slowly walked down the steps, and was just about to walk in the direction of the ‘Fo Dao' when he sensed a premonition in his heart.

Just like something was waiting for him.

Scanning the area around with his eyes, he noticed a bamboo forest on the left end of the Abbot Courtyard. After thinking for a moment, Xu Ziling decided to walk toward the forest.

When he came near, he saw another stone path winding among the bamboo, which seemed to be snaking into a secluded distant place. Under the continuous drizzle, it looked particularly enchanting.

Xu Ziling followed the path, turned around a corner, and was greeted by a wide-open space in front of him. Turned out the end of the path was the edge of a cliff. Not only it overlooked the mountain and wilderness, as well as cultivated fields far and near, it also offered a panoramic view of the City of Luoyang at the end of the eastern plain.

Under the fine rain filling the sky, in this poetic and picturesque beautiful scenery, Shi Feixuan, wearing men's scholar attire, was standing gracefully overlooking the cliff, which extended as far as the end of the earth, her thoughts wandering far away.

Xu Ziling respectfully saluted toward her jade back, and spoke sincerely, "Miss is willing to make an exception by seeing me, Xu Ziling can't thank you enough.”

Shi Feixuan sighed gently. Stretching out her delicate and beautiful jade finger, she pointed at the City of Luoyang in the distance, and with a sadness of the country being wounded, she said, "Since the time of Wei, Jin, and North-South dynasties, Luoyang has repeatedly become the battleground of various military forces; many times it was destroyed and collapsed, implicating common people and forced them into exile. The Central Plains' situation is bleak; there is no smoke for a thousand li, hunger and cold flowing to perish, only to fill bottomless gorge. Other than that, does Xu Xiong know what else we lost?”

Although Xu Ziling had enough intelligence and wisdom, this moment he could only stare blankly and shook his head.

As if she had eyes behind her head, Shi Feixuan seemed to see him shaking his head; she spoke indifferently, "Luoyang's name came from a document from the Warring States period [475-221 BC], ‘Strategies of the Warring States'. Inside there is a reference of ‘Su Qin going over Luoyang'. Since then it was repeatedly chosen as the ruler's city, and became our country's cultural and economic center. During Northern Wei Dynasty, just Buddhist temples alone numbered 1367.”

Speechless, Xu Ziling asked, "There are that many?”

Shi Feixuan continued, "Luoyang tends to become our country's cultural melting pot, just the library collection itself reaches seven thousand volumes. Moreover, it is a place derives reflected glory from an illustrious son [orig. illustrious hero, spirit of the place], renowned experts from successive generations come forth in large numbers. Cai Lun[1] produced his prototype ‘Cai Hou Paper' here; Zhang Heng created ‘Armillary Sphere', ‘Wind Observatory Instrument', and ‘Seismograph'; Ma Jun invented ‘Mechanical Compass'; Wang Chong wrote ‘Measurement Theory'; Ban Gu brother and sister wrote ‘History of the Former Han Dynasty'; Chen Shou compiled ‘History of the Three Kingdoms'. ‘Chronicles of Luoyang Galan' and ‘Straddling Water Commentary' were published here. Indeed the City of Luoyang's contribution to our country, no other place can match.”

Listening to her, Xu Ziling felt deep veneration. If he had not browsed through the short sketches Lu Miaozi handed down to him, listening to her this time, his mind would have been at a loss. This moment, although he still could not completely comprehend what she said, but at least he knew that Shi Feixuan was definitely an educated celestial being, conversant with things past and present.

To him and Kou Zhong, no matter how many times they looked at Luoyang City, they would not have emotional stirring and make an associative connection like Shi Feixuan.

She was grieved over Luoyang's more than a hundred years history.

Shi Feixuan's thoughts wandering far away as she said, "Have Xu Xiong been to the Xin Tan [lit. new pool] at the northern market [or city]?”

Xu Ziling mused inwardly that coming and going, all he ever visited were the Luo River, the Heavenly Street, and Tianjin Bridge; perhaps for one thing or another he also went to the streets and lanes at the southern part of the city, but he had never been to the northern market area. Smiling wryly, he replied, "I haven't!”

Shi Feixuan said, "In that case, Xu Xiong must see this place, which is known to be the largest collection of ships and boats in the world. At its peak, there were up to ten thousand ships and boats, large and small.”

And then she lowered her voice, "The rise and fall of everything then and now, we only need to look at Luoyang City.”

Listening to the tone of her voice, which sounded like nature itself, like heavenly sound, telling him about the rise and fall, flourish and decline of Luoyang, a picture of Luoyang appeared in Xu Ziling's mind, as if Luoyang's thousand-year history suddenly flashed through his mind. This feeling was both tragic and touching.

The gentle and soft raindrops were falling gracefully on them.

It was only the first time that Xu Ziling encounter this kind of person, who bemoaned the state of the universe and pity the fate of mankind like Shi Feixuan, an outstanding figure who had Bodhisattva's great compassion and great sorrow.

All of a sudden he thoroughly understood Shi Feixuan looking for the Son of Heaven ordained by heaven, it was due to her great compassion to save mankind from the abyss of suffering [orig. deep water and scorching fire].

[1] Cai Lun (-121), inventor of the papermaking process. Zhang Heng (78-139), great Han dynasty astronomer and mathematician. Wang Chong (27-97), rationalist and critical philosopher. Ban Gu (32-92), Eastern Han dynasty historian. Chen Shou compiled ‘24 Dynastic Histories' in 289 during Jin Dynasty, 65 scrolls.

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