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Ysabel, DongBin, HPC, Jaya, you are welcome. Xiaohu, seems like I don't need to answer your question. Akolaw, Shirak, good analysis, I really did not expect you guys to have such an intimate knowledge of this story. BTW, it was 'Dao' (Tao). I usually translate both 'Zong' and 'Men' as school, 'Pai' - sect, 'Hui' - society, 'Bang' - gang (except Gai Bang - Beggar Clan, for no other reason than just because it has been like that since the Condor Trilogy days).

Without they realizing it, it was only about half a sichen before daybreak. Xu Ziling's mind has been fully absorbed in this Jianghu politics, which exceeded his expectation, but which was also closely related to the current struggle.

Cao Yinglong looked at the sky again, and then hurriedly replied, "The Four Sects are Tiantai Zong [lit. heaven's platform, school of Buddhism], Sanlun Zong [Three Treatise], Huayan Zong [from dictionary: Chinese Buddhist school founded on the Buddhavatamsaka-mahavaipulya Sutra (Garland sutra)], and Chan Zong [Zen Buddhism]. The Abbotts [orig. Zhuchi, manager] are all senior [or holy] monks whose martial art skill has transcended beyond the mundane, arhat-like, and possess deep, rich cultivation through religious practice, who have never been drawn into any dispute in Wulin, as well as the vulgar world [Buddhist concept]. It is only natural that no one dares to provoke them. The only exception is Shi Zhixuan. He had paid respect [i.e. take discipleship] to Sanlun Zong's Jiaxiang [county, in Jining, Shandong] Dashi, Ji Zang, and Chan Zong Four Ancestors Daoxin Dashi [not sure about this], one after another, stealing their skills. In the demonic schools, he also held two posts simultaneously as the Chief of two schools. Were it not for Jingzhai producing Bi Xiuxin, I am afraid that even if Ning Daoqi personally make his move, he might not be able to subdue him."

Seeing Cao Yinglong was so cooperative, not hiding anything he knows, not stopping before he has said it through, Xu Ziling began to believe his sincerity that he has washed his heart and renewed his face, and so he started to be a bit anxious about his safety as well. Although his belly was full of questions, he did not dare to stray from the subject too far; hence he asked hastily, "So what does Yang Xuyan have to do with Shi Qingxuan? Why does he want to harm Shi Zhixuan's daughter?"

Cao Yinglong replied, "Strictly speaking, Yang Xuyan cannot be considered a demonic school man at all. His only relationship with the demonic school came from Shi Zhixuan."

He paused a moment, as if he suddenly made up his mind, and then said, "Yang Xuyan is Yang Jian's grandchild, the son of Yang Yong, the nephew of Yang Guang."

Emotionally moved, Xu Ziling said, "So that's how it is!"

Until now, they had never been able to unravel the mystery of Yang Xuyan's identity, since he seemed to take orders from Yang Guang, yet he also seemed to help outsiders in dealing with Yang Guang. But if he was indeed Yang Yong's son, then Yang Guang, who was guilty of murdering his elder brother, the Crown Prince Yang Yong, and set himself up on the throne, was his personal, father-murderer, enemy.

Cao Yinglong continued, "Shi Zhixuan secretly rescued Yang Xuyan, by using another child's dead body as his substitute. Originally it was out of bad intention; he intended to disrupt the Sui politics by restoring Yang Xuyan to the throne. Who would have thought that things kind of got out of hand? Unexpectedly he discovered that whether in terms of character and aptitude, Yang Xuyan actually has the qualifications to inherit his ultimate skill; hence he accepted him as his disciple, and taught him martial art. This matter, other than me, no one in the world knows; therefore, I shamelessly use this as my bargaining chip to Xu Xiong."

And then he closed his eyes, his countenance turned white, the joints within his body produced faint crackling noises.

This was the first time that Xu Ziling witnessed the secret technique of the demonic school to disperse one's power; inwardly he was sorrowful, but he knew he should not stop it from happening.

Cao Yinglong slowly said, "When Shi Zhixuan realized that the chaos in the world has escaped from his control, also for some other reason that neither Yang Xuyan nor myself understood, he suddenly vanished without any trace. Originally I was unwilling to join hands with Zhu Can and Xiao Xian, but Yang Xuyan personally came to see me, persuading me to lay a trap against you, he also divulged the fact that Shi Qingxuan has joined hands with you to deal with You Niaojuan and the others. If we did not immediately take care of you, perhaps Shi Zhixuan might hide Shi Qingxuan in secret, and implicate that she had handed over the demonic school's manuals to you. Therefore, we must resolve this matter in the shortest time possible, using the two-pronged approach: I would deal with you, and he would go to Sichuan to cheat the manuals from her hands. As for the details, even I am not too clear about it. All I know is that Yang Xuyan, this man's innate tendency is evil just like Shi Zhixuan, and he firmly believed that only by getting rid of Shi Qingxuan will Shi Zhixuan recover his 'natural instinct' to come out and help him obtain the world."

While speaking the last sentence, all trace of blood has disappeared from his face, and he was gasping for breath constantly.

Xu Ziling was overwhelmed with grief; he reached out to pull this once tyrannizing, killing people like scything flax, extremely vicious man's hands. On one hand, he was checking whether the dispersing-power process was real, on the other hand, he wanted to stop the process from continuing. Aghast, he said, "Yang Xuyan informed you about this crafty scheme many days ago, how could I still have time to stop him?"

Having obtained Xu Ziling's true qi, Cao Yinglong's face recovered its color. Sighing, he said, "Shi Zhixuan's only favor to me was that he imparted to me his demonic power. Now I have returned his power back to him, I do not owe him anything."

Only after gasping for another breath did he address the question that Xu Ziling was dying to know, "For some reason, that kid has unexpectedly suffered internal injury, and has to hide for some time to recover before he could go to Sichuan to find Shi Qingxuan. Therefore, if Xu Xiong leave immediately, there is a very good chance that you might be ahead of him and help Shi Qingxuan neutralizing this problem."

By this time any suspicion in Xu Ziling's heart has vanished; letting go of his hands, he said, "Cao Xiong, what exactly is your unfulfilled wish?"

Smiling bitterly, Cao Yinglong replied, "Xu Xiong is indeed very smart, knowing that after dispersing my power, I can barely live for only about a year. But this wish, I can only rely on myself to fulfill it. Ay! This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly. The short version is that I have secretly betrayed my school by having a relationship with a woman and have a daughter with her. This time I am throwing everything away, I want to go back and see them, mother and daughter, for one more time, to tell them that I had other difficulties, and did not have any intention to abandon them."

Hearing that, Xu Ziling was dumbstruck. If previously someone had told him that Cao Yinglong, who committed murder without batting an eye, unexpectedly harbored this kind of profound love toward his wife and daughter, he would not have believed it even if he was to be killed.

Xu Ziling knew there was not much time; pursing his lips, he whistled to call his mount, while asking, "What actually are Two Sects and Six Ways? What's their relationship? Shi Zhixuan held the chief positions of which two sects?"

Cao Yinglong gratefully took the horsewhip; he replied, "There are altogether six volumes of 'Tianmo Mi' [The Demon's Secret], which spread out and grew into Two Sects and Six Ways. Each Sect has a style of their own, of which the Tianmo Shu [demonic method/technique] is the most formidable, and Dao Xin Zhong Mo Da Fa [demonic big method cultivated from the way of the heart] is the most weird. But after Shi Zhixuan fused the highest xinfa of Hua Jian Pai and Bu Tian Ge [lit. mending-the-heaven pavilion] and founded the amazing power of 'Bu Si Yin' [lit. not dead (immortal) print/seal/mark], he raised his banner among the demonic schools that even Zhu Yuyan and Xiang Yutian must gasp with admiration."

And then he added, "The Two Sects are Yin Gui Pai and Hua Jian Pai, the Six Ways are Xie Ji [extreme evil], Mie Qing [wiping-out feeling], Zhen Chuan [authentic tradition], Bu Tian [mending the heaven], Tian Lian [heavenly lotus], and Mo Xiang [devil appearance]. Among which, Zhen Chuan split out into two, which are Zu Zhen Chuan [authentic tradition of the ancestors] and Laojun Guan [Lao-tze (Taoist) Monastery]."

Cao Yinglong flipped over to mount the horse, and called out, "We part here; if we do not have time to meet again, Xu Xiong must, by all means, be careful of Yang Xuyan. In the future, he might become another Shi Zhixuan."

And then he leaned over and took a bamboo tube from his bosom, which he stuffed into Xu Ziling's hand, before clamping the horse and left. The Shaoshuai Army separated to let him out of the encirclement.

Led by Kou Zhong and Shang Xiuxun, nearly a thousand Ranch's warriors swarmed in like a clump of swift cloud, just as they caught sight of Cao Yinglong, who appeared to be a small dot on the prairie under the light of the beginning of dawn.

Shang Xiuxun looked suspiciously at the lone rider in the distance. When she got to Xu Ziling's side, she asked, "Isn't that Cao Yinglong?"

"It is indeed him!" Xu Ziling calmly replied.

"What?" Shang Xiuxun blurted out.

By this time Kou Zhong had urged his horse to ride by Xu Ziling's other side. Reining the horse, his gaze moved from Cao Yinglong to the dead body on the ground, Fang Jianding, who still had the pomegranate stick sticking out of his back, but he did not say anything.

Shang Xiuxun's countenance sank; she stared at Xu Ziling hatefully and said, "Why did you let him go?"

Xu Ziling looked down at the bamboo tube in his hand, he spoke indifferently, "He used secret pertaining to Yang Xuyan in exchange for half a year of his life, so that he can fulfill the wish of the past many years."

Shang Xiuxun's countenance changed, she said, "What kind of 'thing' Yang Xuyan is, that unexpectedly in Xu Ye's eyes he is more important than the blood debt of thousands of our Ranch warriors?"

Kou Zhong hastily tried to smooth things over, he said, "Changzhu, please calm down. Ziling must have his own reasons."

Shang Xiuxun's face turned as cold as ice as she said, "Of course you are helping him! I am not mad, I just need a satisfactory explanation."

By this time the sky gradually brightened. Although more than a thousand warriors gathered on the grassland, everybody was quiet out of fear, holding their breath and calming their qi.

Xu Ziling's eyes met the round, open-wide apricot-eyes of Shang Xiuxun, whose face was deathly white. Smiling ruefully, he said, "I originally determined not to let Cao Yinglong leave this place alive, but because he exchanged information involving Xiaodi's friend's life or death, I just had to …"

"What friend?" Shang Xiuxun cut him off.

Xu Ziling answered honestly, "It's Shi Qingxuan. Have Changzhu ever heard her name?"

Shang Xiuxun was stunned; she stared blankly for a moment, and then the color started to disappear from her pretty face. Inwardly Kou Zhong cried, 'Bad!', but while he was at a loss of what to say, this beautiful Ranch Master screamed, "Turns out it is Shi Qingxuan. No wonder Xu Ziling, you unexpectedly disregard our Ranch's blood debt, and let this evil thief, who deserves to be cut a thousand times, to enter the ocean, to return to the mountain, and let him continue slaughtering ten thousand people. Just consider me misjudging you."

And then she turned to Kou Zhong and fiercely said, "I am going after Cao Yinglong now, are you coming or not?"

Kou Zhong responded with difficulty, "Just now Ling Shao said that fellow Cao Yinglong only have half of his life, and that he won't last more than half a year, hey!"

Shang Xiuxun spoke word-by-word, "I only asked you, are you coming or not?"

Kou Zhong dejectedly replied, "Whatever Ling Shao said is the same as what I, Kou kid, would say. Changzhu, please forgive me."

Shang Xiuxun rushed her horse forward for a dozen or so paces, but then she turned back, swept her gaze around, her phoenix eyes contained a complicated expression as she nodded and said, "Good!" three times, before calling out tenderly, "All gratitude and grudges between me and you, two boys, are hereby broken into two segments with a single cut. Hereafter we have nothing to do with each other. Brothers! Follow me, let's go!"

Unexpectedly she no longer going after Cao Yinglong, instead, her horse flew back the way she came. All Ranch warriors had no choice but to follow behind her; they came like a tornado, they left like a tornado. In the blink of an eye they disappeared, leaving Xu and Kou, two boys, and more than a hundred Shaoshuai Army, who looked at each other without being able to say anything.

Kou Zhong leaped down from his horse, smiled wryly, and shook his head, "Jealous woman," he said.

Xu Ziling helplessly said, "I'm sorry!"

Wrapping his arm around Xu Ziling's shoulders, Kou Zhong said, "One lifetime, two brothers; why say such thing? We don't have Flying Horse Ranch, then we don't have Flying Horse Ranch. It's not the end of the world."

A warm feeling burst inside Xu Ziling's heard. Stuffing the bamboo tube into Kou Zhong's hand, he said in low voice, "Inside ought to be the map to the stolen goods that that thief has hidden; he was going to give it to Yang Xuyan. If you have time, you ought to take a look!"

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