The strange thing was that this place was An Long's territory, how could he not know that Xu Ziling has arrived in Chengdu? But then he relaxed, because except for Yang Xuyan, An Long and his men did not know what Xu Ziling looked like.
But how did Yang and An, two men, know that Xu Ziling was going to Sichuan? They must have a spy among the Yangtze River Alliance's men; hence also the reason they were able to promptly capture Cao Yinglong back.
Lowering his voice, An Long said, "How much confidence does Xuyan have that Shi Qingxuan would be fooled?"
Undisturbed, Yang Xuyan replied, "One-hundred-percent confidence. Because since she understood the ways of the world [dictionary also says that it is an euphemism for 'sexuality'], she only saw Shizun's face; that was when she was no more than ten years old."
Xu Ziling's heart was greatly shaken. He understood what kind of trick Yang Xuyan was going to play against Shi Qingxuan. Although she was exceptionally intelligent, she might still fall into Yang Xuyan's evil scheme.
An Long sighed and said, "If at that time Shi Dage hardened his heart and struck his palm to finish her off, he would have reached the 'untouched emotion' realm, 'Immortal Print' method would then be mastered to perfection; who would have thought that one move could make such a difference? Ay!"
Yang Xuyan coldly said, "Shizhang [teacher] has something on his mind, the disciple will toil for him. But Shizun must never know about this matter. Therefore, we must find out from this traitor's mouth first how much secret he revealed to Xu Ziling. If necessary, we have to change our plan, or perhaps kill Xu Ziling first; otherwise, you and I can forget about living."
Xu Ziling's whole body relaxed. Although, if the two of them acted separately to deal with Shi Qingxuan and Cao Yinglong, how would he separate himself? Anyway, presently Shi Qingxuan's situation was not too urgent; if he managed to rescue Cao Yinglong, while the two already had some misgivings, maybe they would not dare to act blindly without thinking to do anything to Shi Qingxuan.
At the same time, he had a feeling that Yang Xuyan and An Long were afraid of Shi Zhixuan, thus he could surmise that Shi Zhixuan's natural character was demonic and terrifying. However, Shi Zhixuan obviously could not obliterate the father-daughter sentiment toward Shi Qingxuan.
"Don't worry!" An Long said nonchalantly, "Based on his current level, as long as I use the 'li hun gong fa' [lit. departing soul skill method], I guarantee that he won't be able to hide even half a bit of secret. Let's meet in half a sichen at my old shop at the southern market."
"That's settled then," Yang Xuyan agreed, "Let Xiaozhi [little nephew] open up a path for Old Long."
Hiding outside, Xu Ziling knew Yang Xuyan was about to go out, hence he hurriedly fled far away.
Kou Zhong woke up suddenly; he had a splitting headache, his throat was parched, his body was drenched in cold sweats.
He had just had a terrifying nightmare. In his dream, he came into a huge hall, where the light was unusually glorious, as bright as day, while a band of musicians were playing like demons staking their lives, yet there was not the slightest sound of music. They looked like males, yet not quite males, females, yet not quite females. But when he got a closer look, he found out that their faces were full of deep wrinkles, as if they already had one foot in the grave.
The hall looked like the palace hall where Emperor Yang of Sui was murdered, it could hold several hundred people, and it was full of guests gathered in clumps, chatting and laughing in loud clamor. When he looked closer, in his astonishment he saw Li Shimin, Tuli, Fu Qian, Wang Shichong, Li Mi, Xiao Xian, Xiang Yushan, and the others. He knew them all, yet they did not seem to see him; they just continued drinking and being merry.
Suddenly someone spoke with laugh by his ear, "You finally came!"
Kou Zhong turned his head around to look; unexpectedly it was Li Xiuning. He wanted to talk, but nothing came out. And then Li Xiuning suddenly morphed into Song Yuzhi, who was staring closely at him with resentment in her eyes.
He wanted to throw himself at her, but the scenery changed. The magnificent hall became a battlefield with thousands of men and tens of thousand horses, where everybody was fighting hand-to-hand in desperate battle. He and his comrade-in-arms were in disadvantageous position, and were trying to get away. The people around him seemed to be Xuan Yong, Chen Changlin, Xu Ziling, and the others. One by one their blood splashed and they fell from their horses.
He wanted to pull his Moon in the Well, but there was only half the Moon in the Well remained. And then he woke up with a start and was breathing hard.
The moon sprinkled its light onto the windowsill and the entire courtyard, the autumn cicada's cry was flourishing and still in the ascendant; he also heard the faint gurgling noise of the creek in the middle of the forest not far outside the courtyard wall. His headache gradually diminished, Kou Zhong sat up on the bed, only to find out that he was still holding the unopened letter written by Li Xiuning, which she passed on to him via Shang Xiuxun. He could not help shaking his head while smiling ruefully, and put the letter back into the bundle of waterproof cloth in which he kept the stuff Lu Miaozi left behind for him, and hid it well inside his clothes.
He was about to get up when Luo Qifei hurriedly came over and said, "Just received the news: Du Fuwei's light cavalry has just crossed the Yangtze River, and are advancing toward Shen Lun's camp; we must set out immediately. Would Shao Shuai please make your decision?"
Recalling his nightmare, Kou Zhong pulled the treasured and heavy Moon in the Well from under his pillow. Nodding, he said, "We will set out immediately."
After waiting for half a day, Xu Ziling knew that something was amiss, because contrary to his expectation, Yang Xuyan did not come out to look around.
Xu Ziling soared at an angle; with two jumps, up and down, he was back to the place where he was eavesdropping just now. As expected, inside the house, not a soul was in sight.
Xu Ziling leaped onto the roof, and looked around as far as his eyes could see.
If the opposite party left via some secret way, the exit ought to be in one of the dozen or so houses nearby; it could not be in a very distant place. And the house where the exit was must have a carriage and a horse prepared in it, in order to facilitate transporting Cao Yinglong away from 'the danger zone', so that An Long could fully use his demonic method on him in peace.
He has just had this thought, when a horse-drawn carriage was starting out of the gate of the courtyard house several hundred paces to the south. The horse was clip-clopping its way to the street, and then turned and continued to the east.
Xu Ziling crouched down hurriedly and focused his attention to watch.
Two figures leaped up from the courtyard at the same time; it was An Long and Yang Xuyan, two men, they were as fast as a ghost, and separately landed on the roof of the houses to the left and right, and then disappeared into the shadow. If someone were following the carriage, he would not have escaped their eyes and ears.
Xu Ziling laughed coldly inwardly. He memorized what the carriage looked like, and then he jumped back down to the ground. Taking a roundabout route, he chased after the carriage to intercept it.
Kou Zhong was standing on the stern; his clothes were fluttering in the river breeze, yet he himself was absolutely still like a stone statue. If Li Shimin was allowed to capture Bashu, his potential would become like another Qin Shihuang Ying Zheng [260-210 BC, first emperor of China], and the situation would be like the Great Qin reappearing before the Warring States period. With Guanzhong's territory encompassing rugged terrain, the troops and horses of the northwest, Guanzhong's riches and Bashu's copper and iron, who in the world could strive against them? This would make the Duke Yang's treasure become more important.
Kou Zhong was indeed too careless; unexpectedly he had not thought about the strategic significance of Bashu. Ay! But even if he had known earlier, what could he do?
His only hope was that the 'Wulin PanGuan' Xie Hui would be an ambitious man that he would not be willing to submit himself under the Li Clan, or perhaps the Song Family's influence could persuade him to remain neutral, or at least to take a wait-and-see stance.
However, if Shi Feixuan personally made her move, the Li Clan's chance of success was really extraordinarily big.
He began to understand a little bit why he was having such a terrifying nightmare just now.
The carriage was getting closer.
There was no other way to do it. Xu Ziling was ready to go all-out to break the carriage and rescue the person inside. He dared to be certain that An Long and Yang Xuyan were not coming. As long as these two, one old one young, were not here, he had full confidence that he would be able to snatch Cao Yinglong back.
The driver was a big man. Although the Taiyang acupoints on his temples were high and protruding, he could only be considered as an ordinary martial art master of Jianghu, if he could block three strikes from Xu Ziling's hands, it would be greatly surprising indeed.
The risky thing was the person inside the carriage. No matter how he applied his power to listen, he could not hear any other unusual noise except for Cao Yinglong's irregular breathing. But he was so sure that there was someone else inside, because the big man, the driver, repeatedly turned his head around to make reports toward the person inside the carriage.
Since An Long had enough confidence to have this person escorting the prisoner, this person definitely had enough capability to accomplish it.
He had not had much chance to think; if he did not take the opportunity to make his move while An Long was not here, he might not have any opportunity at all. At first he was a little curious as to why An Long did not simply do his trick where they were, but then he relaxed after thinking that people of the demonic way were always suspicious of each other, plus by doing it An Long might have to consume considerable power, hence he did not want Yang Xuyan to be by his side; moreover, he would definitely not want to fight with anybody before his strength was recovered. Hence it was necessary that he found some other secret place to do it.
The carriage was about three zhang away from the street it was heading to. On the roof, Xu Ziling was ready to make his move. Suddenly a shadow flashed. Someone suddenly appeared from nowhere and blocked in front of the carriage.
Shocked, the driver promptly pulled the rein.
The person looked to be twenty-four, twenty-five years old, with the back of a tiger and the waist of a bear [i.e. tough and stocky], extremely bold and powerful. Although he could not be considered handsome, his facial features were quite proportional, his slightly upturned lower lip showed his conceited and extremely strong personality. He stood with strong presence, leaving deep impressions on others.
The big man driving the carriage was about to rain curses on him, but as soon as he stopped to look, his face showed recognition. Immediately swallowing the foul language back into his belly, he called out in surprise, "Xie Shaoye [young master]!"
Inside the carriage, Cao Yinglong's uneven breathing suddenly stopped, followed by someone pulling the carriage curtain open, and then she spoke tenderly and softly toward the man who was blocking the carriage, who, by this time, was walking toward the side of the carriage, "Qie is Ruhua [lit. like flower], young concubine of An Ye. Gentleman ought to be Xie Wenlong, Xie Shaoye. I wonder why did you stop Qie's carriage?"
Xu Ziling's scalp immediately went numb; he knew that he had been fooled.