Book 22 Chapter 5 – The Lotus Ring at The Center of The Sky
Kou Zhong leaned over to Xu Ziling’s ear and whispered, “Shi Feixuan falls in love with you. Because she fell in love with you, both times she avoided you by coming to Xiaodi’s side.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “On the contrary, that was the way she hinted that there is a formless, yet impassable chasm between the two of us. When she took her leave, she made a point of saying goodbye to me, hence her feeling is even more self-evident.”
Kou Zhong was dumbstruck. After being left speechless for half a day, suddenly wrapped his arm around Xu Ziling’s shoulder and hugged him fiercely, while speaking in distress, “We, two brothers, both have broken heart within our bosom! If not separation in life, then it is parted by death. But one more day we did not die, we can still find something to do. My choice is the ever onward, no return; the path of the contending for hegemony over the world. These past couple of days I have thought about a lot of things, finally I realized that only by facing difficulties and challenges one by one, and setting my eyes on the great undertaking of unifying the world will my spirit have somewhat of a hope. Xiongdi, whether we can find the Duke Yang Treasure or not, I will let you leave, and I will be glad that you leave. If one day I die in battle, you will take a good care of Little Lingzhong for me.”
Xu Ziling suddenly felt like crying; all kinds of emotion bubbled up in his heart.
They were both orphans; they were mutually dependent for their survival since they were little. Growing up in the you-hoodwink-me-and-I-cheat-you, power-is-everything kind of environment, other than complete trust toward each other, they had always had skeptical attitude toward other people. Fu Junchuo was the first person who won their genuine affection, next to her was Susu. But both of them died one after another, so the cruel blow toward the two boys was hard to accept.
On the road of love, the two boys experienced layer upon layer of twists and turns.
Kou Zhong suffered heartache from Li Xiuning and Song Yuzhi in succession, which made him focusing all his energy on the great undertaking of contending over the world. If this goal were to be taken away from him, he would have nothing at all. At least, at this stage, this was the situation he was facing.
Due to heartless hint from Shi Feixuan just now, Xu Ziling was emotionally hurt as well. In that instant, he suddenly understand completely Kou Zhong’s complicated frame of mind.
If he said that he did not have the slightest admiration toward Shi Feixuan, this fresh and elegant, exquisite peerless beauty, he would only deceive others and deceive himself.
He remembered Shi Feixuan’s tale of the ‘boy who watches the concoction of pills of immortality’, thinking that by telling this story, not only Shi Feixuan was straightening him out, the fact was that she was appearing to be praising others while actually praising herself, expressing that she would never let herself falling into any kind of emotion in this world, which was only illusory.
Kou Zhong suddenly pulled his mask and stuffed it into his bosom, but his mouth said, “Ay! I forgot to mention to Shi Feixuan that that Hou Xibai might be a big muddled egg [i.e. a jerk/scoundrel].”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling asked, “Why must you reveal your face?”
Kou Zhong pulled his hand from around Xu Ziling’s shoulder; exposing his white, shiny teeth, he laughed and said, “Because my heart is suddenly very painful, hence I want to go all out, to find several people to test my saber; it would be best if we can find Rong Fengxiang himself.”
Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, “You are not afraid of revealing our trace, and let the enemy knows?”
Kou Zhong’s eyes were flashing with murderous intent; he spoke in heavy voice, “If others really find out about it, perhaps there will be strange effect instead. In the case of Du Fuwei, if he learned that I am here, he would not suspect that Chen Changlin and his men might catch him off guard and mount a sneak attack against him. If the Three Big Bandits and Zhu Can knew that I came here, they might setup a trap, tighten their troop formation to wait for me. Who would ever have thought that I am actually going to deal with Xiao Xian?”
Xu Ziling remained silent.
Kou Zhong pushed him away, and looked intently at him; he said, “I have spoken so reasonably, why haven’t you taken off your mask?”
Xu Ziling gazed at him, he met Kou Zhong’s stare, his eyes carried a deep, strong feeling, as he spoke gently, “Is it because I am encountering and feeling pain in my heart?”
Kou Zhong’s entire body, from head to toe, shook. Burying his face on the roof tile, he spoke in distress, “Quite possibly Shi Feixuan is the only woman in the world who can move your heart, yet unexpectedly she treated you like this. The heaven above is really unfair. Whenever I think that I am going to go through fire and water in the battlefield, and you will travel alone along the lonely journey, I just want to cry, to vent the resentment in my heart. Ay! It is actually better that Su Jie died.”
Xu Ziling slowly took off his mask, and spoke heavily, “Go! You might as well kill Rong Fengxiang, once the main problem is solved, all troubles are solved [or, death ends all one’s troubles]. Don’t forget to bring the paint and the brush.”
The two boys leaped over the high wall. Very soon they reached the flower garden of the rear courtyard. The security at Hefei’s Zongguan Mansion was very sloppy; as soon as they passed the sentry guarding the multi-story buildings on the outer ring, it was as if they were entering a no-man’s land.
Of course, they would not treat it lightly. Out of the ‘Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic School’, at least two were here, and the two boys were fully aware how formidable Rong Fengxiang was. Merely Rong Fengxiang’s craftiness would not be easy to deal with. But now all they needed to do was to make commotion and expose their whereabouts.
Giggling, Kou Zhong was looking for a wall facing the garden, and painted red characters ‘Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were here’. Whispering in Xu Ziling’s ear, he said, “What do you think of these two lines?”
“Really strange,” Xu Ziling answered, “That kind of power is a lot more understated, but I feel more tension instead. I like these few characters.”
Kou Zhong was so happy that he felt like roaring in laughter; he said, “This is called progress. People are constantly changing; calligraphy must also constantly be changing. If calligraphy never change, then it stands for stagnation.”
After a short pause, he said, “All right, that should do it. Now, where are we going to find Pi Chen, that yaodao?”
Xu Ziling was about to answer, suddenly an alarm went off in his heart. Quickly he pulled Kou Zhong to hide under a small bridge across the small stream from the garden rockery.
A man, as fat as a wine barrel, jumped down from the eaves, lithe like a cat; the tip of his toes slightly tapped the grass, in the blink of an eye he already flew into the pavilion, which was connected to the small bridge, only separated by approximately a ten-step long gravel path.
The garden covered an area with perimeter of more than twenty zhang, the trees, flowers and plants were tastefully chosen. But since Kou Zhong’s calligraphic masterpiece was on the wall behind a row of bamboo grove, it was not visible from the pavilion.
Kou Zhong pulled his craning neck back, and said with astonishment, “It’s An Long. We really did not make any error of judgment.”
Xu Ziling signaled him not to make any noise.
There was a sound of fluttering sleeve, followed by a majestic voice said, “What is it? What is so urgent that it cannot wait till tomorrow?”
Kou Zhong thought it was Zuo Youxian, but then he noticed Xu Ziling’s bewildered expression, hence he knew Xu Ziling did not recognize the voice.
And then the man shouted, “It’s none of your business in here, get lost far away for me. Without my order, don’t come into the garden.”
Seven, eight men acknowledged the order and withdrew out of the garden.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glances; they had a vague guess as who the speaker was.
An Long sat down on the stone bench inside the pavilion; he sighed and said, “You and I are, after all, martial brothers; how could you not cherish old affection the slightest bit?”
The man sneered coldly and said, “The one who did not remember old affection is you, not me, Fu Gongyou. Fifteen years ago I broke away from Tian Lian Zong [lit. heavenly lotus school/sect], that moment I was already not your Shidi, let alone now; you and I have nothing to do with each other. I do whatever I want to do, it’s none of your business to interfere.”
As expected, he was Du Fuwei’s sworn brother, the Jiang Huai Army’s second in command, Fu Gongyou. What was unexpected was that he came from a demonic school, and was An Long’s younger martial brother.
The stone table was smashed and crumpled to the ground.
“How dare you!” An Long angrily said, “After entering our Tian Lian Men, how could as soon as you say you want to withdraw and you withdraw just like that? In the past, I put up with you just because I remembered the old affection between martial brothers, plus I saw that your accomplishment did not come easy. And now you are colluding with Laojun Temple and their direct disciples to deal with me, openly treating me as your enemy. You must be tired of living!”
Inwardly Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cried how lucky they were.
An Long’s palm strike was yin and soft in nature; merely by listening to the sound, they knew that it seemed to be light, floating, without any strength; yet it was able to crush a solid stone table into powder. Just this kind of skill, not many in Jianghu would be able to accomplish. If they had not arrived at the garden one step earlier, or they had not hidden in time, there was no way they would be able to hide from this demonic school martial art master.
Fu Gongyou was a preeminent hegemon over certain territory, just from the fact that he shouted his men to withdraw, and came without any attendants, it was clear that he was not afraid of An Long, so this time he was not intimidated by him at all.
They heard him laughing coldly and said, “In all my life I have had bad temper, I am never willing to owe anybody any debt, but if anybody ever owes me anything, it must be repaid. For the last fifteen years, I have not chased after you to ask for Shizun’s [revered master] debt of blood, but now the time has come.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had a sudden understanding; they just realized that Fu Gongyou was using this Bai Ye General Assembly to force An Long out of his hiding.