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Book 23 Chapter 5 – Four Holy Monks

Kou Zhong took Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong with him, while Li Zitong, Zuo Xiaoyou and the others personally were sending them off the Zongguan Mansion. Compared to the treatment when he came, it was like heaven and earth.

At the Mansion’s gate, Shen Beichang, Luo Feng and Madame Yuling were waiting for them; everybody showed disbelief expression on their faces.

Shen Beichang said, “This place is not suitable to talk; follow me.”

Half a day later, they reached a shop, which had connection with their Gang, nearby. More than a dozen Zhu Hua Bang leaders of Xiangzhu [fragrant master] level were already waiting inside, most were younger than thirty, but everybody had grave expression on their faces

Finished listening to Kou Zhong’s narrative, Madame Yuling let out a tender snort and said, “Whatever problem we have within the Gang, we ought to resolve it internally. Shao Lingzhou is borrowing outside force to deal with our Gang brothers, he is already violating the Gang’s rules; what a despicable, shameless man.”

Evidently Madame Yuling still had strong influence within the Gang. Listening to her, nobody present did not show indignation. Only Shen Beichang remained expressionless; nodding his head slightly, he said, “However, this is not a good time for internal strife. It was only because Li Zitong needs Shao Shuai’s support that he agreed to release Gui Tangzhu [hall master] and Xing Fu Tangzhu [deputy], two men. Once the siege is relieved, this lowly man might turn his face around, so much so that he might deploy his troops to intercept Shao Shuai; therefore, we must think thrice before making our move.”

Luo Feng agreed. He said, “The only way right now is to leave the city immediately. We will settle the account with Shao Lingzhou later. Shao Shuai, what do you think?”

Kou Zhong nodded and said, “I cannot think of a better idea. Taking advantage while Li Zitong does not dare to give us any difficulty, we must leave as soon as possible. You’d better pretend that you are going to help me dealing with Du Fuwei. Although Li Zitong is well aware of what’s going on, it will make it easier for him to step down the stage [fig. to disentangle himself].”

Shen Beichang made the decision, “So be it!”

Everybody chorused their agreement.

※ ※ ※

Shi Feixuan turned her tender body around to face Xu Ziling. Her jet-black eyebrows knitted lightly, she said, “Listening to the tone of Ziling Xiong’s voice, you seems to be somewhat resentful toward Feixuan?”

Laughing calmly, Xu Ziling said, “Miss Shi does not touch the dust of the world; you can come and go freely without anything or anybody controlling you. But I, Xu Ziling, am only a mortal, I still have questions I’d like to ask about, but it seems to me that Miss won’t answer my question!”

Smiling, Shi Feixuan replied, “The misunderstanding is too big. Just now Feixuan was asking Ziling Xiong, where you are heading, yet you evaded the question and did not answer. Not only Feixuan is an ordinary person, I am also a woman who loves a tooth for a tooth, hence I am forced to have some reservations, yet you dared to blame me?”

Hearing this kind of little-girlish talk coming from the mouth of a woman, who, although she could not be considered ‘sanctimonious’ yet, but she had at least ‘the solemn demeanor of the immortals’, Xu Ziling could only return a blank stare; he felt even more unsure. This kind of formidable verbal attack has caused his heart to be in turmoil.

Shi Feixuan tried not to laugh; opening her eyes wide, she said, “What? Suddenly you became a mute? From here, you can only go to Sichuan. What’s so important that you are abandoning your Shao Shuaibrother and rushing for thousands of li to go to Bashu?”

Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “If Miss Shi wants to know, why can’t you just ask me directly? Why did you use a roundabout way to tease me?”

Shi Feixuan returned to her usual calm and composed manner; she spoke gently, “Because until this moment, Feixuan still cannot grasp what kind of person you are; therefore, I am using all kinds of indirect approach to feel you out.”

Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, “Am I that difficult to understand?”

Nodding her head, Shi Feixuan replied, “If I may say so, Feixuan is good at judging a person’s character, yet I find it difficult to understand you and Kou Zhong, two persons. Because Kou Zhong has some pursuits, he is comparatively easier to fathom. But you are like a well that is difficult to tell whether it’s deep or shallow. On the surface you look simple, but I cannot get to the bottom, hence I am curious; I want to know where have you learned so much about the secret of the demonic school’s Two Sects and Six Ways. This time you are entering Sichuan, what noble errand brings you here?”

Xu Ziling calmly replied, “Actually, I do not have any intention to conceal anything. I am going to Sichuan this time is to look for Shi Qingxuan, concerning something of a huge importance to Miss Shi.”

Shi Feixuan’s jade countenance slightly moved, she asked, “What is it?”

※ ※ ※

Kou Zhong followed Shen Beichang, Luo Feng, Gui Xiliang, Xing Rong, and the others, various Zhu Hua Bang brothers, with his eyes as they were leaving via land route, before he himself rushed toward the dock outside the city, where he climbed on board a fishing boat that came to his rescue, and then quickly went far away.

The boat was manned by Chen Changlin. To his pleasant surprise, other than him, Bu Tianzhi and Luo Qifei were also coming. Meeting again after a long period of separation, they were very happy.

Kou Zhong used the simplest way to present the situation at Li Zitong’s side. He said, “Li Zitong was willing to lower his voice and suppress his anger, to look the other way while letting me, his big personal enemy, walking away, clearly he is well aware that he is powerless to resist Old Du’s new round of attack. Therefore, we must win and must not lose. If we let Old Du to capture Jiangdu, we will have no choice but to pack and quit and go someplace else. Jianghuai Army is not a laughing matter.”

Luo Qifei said, “That is precisely the reason Shao Shuai is seeing Qifei here this time. Three times have I sneaked into Qingliu in disguise, eventually I discovered a young general under Du Fuwei’s command by the name of Chen Sheng; this man is bold and powerful, an expert in battle, and Du Fuwei relied heavily on him. If we could pose as Shen Lun’s men and kill this man, in his grief and indignation, Du Fuwei might disregard everything to attack Shen Lun.”

Bu Tianzhi joined in, “Based on Qifei’s observation, Chen Sheng’s five-thousand-strong troops ought to leave Liuhe tomorrow night to provide support to the land-based vanguard troops coming to Jiangdu.”

“What kind of place is Liuhe?” Kou Zhong asked.

Luo Qifei replied, “Liuhe is a county town linking Yangtze River waterways, located by the Chu River east of Qingliu. From there, with tailwind and clear passage, they could reach Jiangdu in only one day. Chen Sheng is in charge of Jianghuai Navy stationed in Liuhe, his fleet consists of more than seventy ships, big and small.”

His countenance changed, Kou Zhong said, “Such a short water travel, mounting a sneak attack will be more difficult than ascending the heavens.”

Chen Changlin shook his head and said, “Actually we must not mount sneak attack either. The route from Liuhe to Jiangdu is entirely under Du Fuwei’s tight control. We can only use thunderbolt-reaching-the-ear method to hit Chen Sheng’s command ship, and then board the boat to kill him. Because a man who is adept in naval warfare poses greater threat toward Shen Faxing, Du Fuwei will believe firmly without any doubt that it was Shen Lun’s men who did this.”

Luo Qifei nodded and said, “Under Shen Lun’s command, there is a martial art master adept in using spear called the ‘Chang Qiang Lang’ [lit. long spear youth] Gu Jun. He has imposing stature, somewhat similar to Shao Shuai. If instead of using saber Shao Shuai uses a spear and assassinates Chen Sheng, even if Shen Lun jumped into the Yangtze River, he would not be able wash the suspicion clean.”

Bu Tianzhi added excitedly, “I have transferred seven fast ships most suitable for this kind of ambushing attack to the nearby waterway especially for this mission, and I also have them disguised as Haisha Bangwarships. When the time comes, we’ll use Haisha Bang’s usual military strategy to carry out the surprise attack. I guarantee no one can see the flaw.”

Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Gentlemen, uncles and brothers, whatever instruction you have, just let Xiaodi knows, and I’ll do it!”

Hearing that, the crowd roared into laughter.

Kou Zhong suddenly sighed. Turning his eyes on the night sky brightened by Jiangdu city light, he shook his head and said, “If I can spare some time for a separate task, Yun Yuzhen can forget about slipping back to Baling alive.”

※ ※ ※

Emotionally moved, Shi Feixuan said, “Yang Xuyan is Shi Zhixuan’s disciple!”

Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Not only he is Shi Zhixuan’s disciple, he is also the son of the former Sui dynasty’s deposed crown prince Yang Yong. Because Shi Zhixuan’s other identity was Pei Ju, the author of ‘Maps and Notes on the Western Regions’, can Miss Shi make an associative connection on this matter?”

Shi Feixuan appeared to be pondering deeply. It was quite a while later that she nodded and said, “Thank you very much Ziling Xiong, your remark has brought many suspense surrounding Shi Zhixuan to light. This is indeed a matter of great importance; I wonder where did you get it from?”

After recounting his encounter with Cao Yinglong, Xu Ziling said, “Kou Zhong and I guessed that Shi Qingxuan did not know who the Hua Jian Pai disciple of this generation is. Therefore, Yang Xuyan will, using some deceit, attempt to gain Shi Qingxuan’s trust, in order to get the manuals that Shi Zhixuan handed over to his daughter for safekeeping.”

Shi Feixuan said, “Actually, Shi Qingxuan is not the custodian of the Hua Jian Pai’s ancient books and records. If I am guessing correctly, Yang Xuyan is looking for the ‘Bu Si Yin Juan’ [lit. not dead (immortal) printed scroll] hidden in the small valley of the hidden forest. If this printed scroll fell into anybody else’s hands, it would be absolutely useless; only in the hands of Yang Xuyan or Hou Xibei, these two direct disciples of Shi Zhixuan, will it bring huge benefit.”

The more Xu Ziling listened, the more confused he was, “Shi Zhixuan and ‘Immortal Printed Scroll’, what is it?”

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