A hard to describe feeling appeared in Xu Ziling's heart; perhaps it was because the relationship between them has grown closer that there was a big change in Shi Feixuan's attitude toward him compared to when they first met. Previously, she had never tried this kind of half tender-beyond-reach stare, half rebuking attitude and voice, in talking with him, which was kind of touching, so that Xu Ziling was pleasantly surprised.
Laughing aloud, Xu Ziling stepped forward to take his position on her left. With a bit of losing-his-footwork feeling, he said, "It was just a misunderstanding. Xiaodi thought that because of Miss Shi's special status, you must be strictly maintaining the distance between men and women; therefore … hey! I was just trying to show respect from a distance. Oh! That came out wrong! I was just respecting Miss' outstanding, proper identity. Ay! You ought to understand what I am trying to say."
Shi Feixuan smiled and said, "What does walking side by side have to do with maintaining the distance between men and women? On the contrary, by intentionally falling back, how did you show respect from a distance? Even more, it proves that you are appraising the harmonious limp and the swing of my hips."
Finished speaking, she continued walking forward, her jade countenance returned to her still-water-without-any-ripple serene expression. This time Xu Ziling leisurely, taking-it-easy, walked by her side, quietly waiting for her to continue.
After a good while, Shi Feixuan spoke seriously, "Shi Zhixuan left a copy of Immortal Print Method, his intention was for Xiuxin Shibo to look at it. It was related to the struggle between the demonic schools and Jingzhai, which details can be easily imagined. Were it not for studying the scroll attentively, Xiuxin Shibo could not possibly be giving up and departing this mortal life at the prime of her life."
A chill crept up in Xu Ziling's heart. He said, "Shi Zhixuan accomplished his intention by doing such thing, no wonder Miss Shi is unwilling to recognize him as her father."
And then he anxiously said, "Didn't Miss Shi just say that you examined the 'Immortal Print Scroll' carefully? Are you not just repeating your esteemed Shibo's disastrous policy?"
"You can say that," Shi Feixuan nonchalantly replied, "Plus this is exactly Shi Zhixuan's intention in completing the writing of the scroll. To Jingzhai, it was a blatant drowning battle. One day Feixuan might suddenly walk away from this, but in every case, I cannot simply pay no heed to it."
Listening to that, Xu Ziling did not know how to respond; worse yet, he did not know how to share her burden. It was quite half a day later that he finally said, "Why did An Long want to obtain the Print Scroll? What benefit would that bring him?"
By this time they had reached the end of the forest, where there was a clearing next to the Luohan Hall. Shi Feixuan slowly turned around to face Xu Ziling. Her voice was tranquil as she said, "Toward Shi Zhixuan, An Long has some kind of near-crazy adoration, which has not changed for the last several decades. All along he wishes that Shi Zhixuan would unify the demonic schools. To him, the former obstacle was Xiuxin Shibo, and now the obstacle is Miss Qingxuan. As for between Yang Xuyan and Hou Xibai, he chose the former, because he believes that Yang Xuyan might become another Shi Zhixuan."
Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, "Yang Xuyan is that kind of person, why does Li Shimin still want to put him in such an important position?"
Shi Feixuan replied, "Actually, it could be considered that Yang Xuyan is connected to the crown prince Li Jiancheng's men and horses. Even more, it was because Yang Xuyan and Li Yuan's close relationship that he receives Li Yuan's special favor. Plus recently Yang Xuyan played a critical role in Dong Shuni becoming Li Yuan's concubine that his status is even more consolidated. Unless Li Shimin wants to break off his relations with his father and elder brother, what can he do to this officer [orig. chen, state official/subject in dynastic China] who, time and again, establishes marvelous merits, the most recent being assassinating Xue Ju?"
Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "Previously, Miss Shi has always been unwilling to talk about the demonic schools, but now suddenly you want to talk to no end; is there any particular reason behind it?"
Shi Feixuan smiled and said, "Since we parted on the Great Ba Mountain, Feixuan had rushed to the secluded forest in the small valley by waterway to notify Miss Qingxuan about this matter. It was only then did I find out that just before his death, Lu Miaozi had sent a letter via pigeon post to Miss Qingxuan. In his letter he wrote about many things, he had an extremely high esteem toward you and Kou Zhong; one of things he mentioned was that you might be the only one in the world, the unusual talent who precisely must learn the Hua Jian, or perhaps Bu Tian's demonic skills, who could also understand the 'Immortal Print Scroll'. Hence the reason she decided to hand over the Print Scroll to you. If you are unable to rush over in time, then she would destroy the Print Scroll in front of An Long and Yang Xuyan, so that once the main problem is solved, all troubles are solved."
Xu Ziling could not stop a burst of disappointment from bubbling up in his heart. Turned out the reason Shi Feixuan treated him so favorably now was not because of her impression on him had changed, but because of Lu Miaozi's letter, or perhaps because Shi Qingxuan trusted him. He could not help feeling disappointed inwardly, the kind of feeling that was very unpleasant. From this, he realized that quite possibly he had fallen in love with this simple-and-elegant-like-a-fairy beauty; otherwise, how could he be so dispirited?
Thinking to this point, Xu Ziling suppressed all disturbing mood in his heart; acting as if nothing had happened, he said, "So that's how it is. If I had known earlier, Xiaodi did not need to rush over a thousand mountains and ten thousand rivers to come here."
Astounded, Shi Feixuan said, "Not being able to take a peek at the Print Scroll, you don't feel that it was a pity?"
Xu Ziling emotionally said, "Gains and losses, success and failure, how can we mind it too much? Otherwise, won't life be so excruciating? Besides, it is very likely that Mr. Lu was wrong, or perhaps he overestimated me, Xu Ziling. Suffering fire deviation is really not worth it. If you want to study martial art, the five hundred revered statues in the Luohan Hall, none did not imply profound mystery principles. The flying bird and sinking fish in nature, none cannot be my master; who would have time to collate and examine critically the book created by demonic school, heretical people?"
Shi Feixuan's beautiful eyes were deeply fixed on him, her pretty eyeballs were flickering with brilliant lights; she sighed and said, "Only now do Feixuan understand why Lu Dashi admired you, Xu Ziling, so much! Evidently Xu Xiong knew that all of this temple's Luohan are crafted personally by Senior Monk Kumarajiva [c. 334-413, Buddhist monk and translator of Zen texts] of the Later Qin [of the Sixteen Kingdoms, 384-417]."
Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, "Who is Kumarajiva? How come his name is so strange?"
Shi Feixuan solemnly replied, "Kumarajiva was a Senior Monk from Tianzhu [India, esp. in Tang or Buddhist context] with great virtue and great wisdom, who passed on Buddhist doctrines to the Central Earth, who had extensive study of Mahayana Dharma and especially proficient in Prajna and the essence of emptiness. His martial art skill was even more out of the ordinary, bordering the arhat realm, yet he never taught martial art; he was only talking about Dharma. After arriving in the Central Earth, he immediately started the work on translating the Buddhist scripture at the Xiaoyao [lit. free and unfettered] Garden in Chang'an. I am afraid even he himself had never thought that unexpectedly someone is able to see the profound mystery from the statue he designed; not only that, this person is not a Buddhist disciple at all. It is indeed unusual."
And then she cast him a sidelong glance and said, "Fancy that you, this person, still think that Lu Miaozi was wrong in his judgment on you; are you afraid of bearing the responsibility yourself?"
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, "After listening to you, I nearly wanted to come into the hall to take a couple more thorough look. Ay! Now this place no longer has any need of an idle person like me, Sichuan Alliance people are looking for me everywhere for Li Shimin's sake. It is really not suitable for Xiaodi to tarry much longer; Miss Shi, please! Forgive Xiaodi for failing to accompany you."
Even with Shi Feixuan's indifferent-to-fame-or-gain, seeking-nothing character, she could not help knitting her pretty eyebrows and spoke in displeasure, "Why do you want to slip away so quickly? Could it be that you cannot see the suffering of the people everywhere? Even Bashu [Sichuan] - that can avoid the fire of war in the Central Plains and the changes in political circumstances outside - is also affected by the rising winds, scudding clouds [idiom: turbulent times]. Since Zhu Yuyan, Shi Zhixuan came into beings, all along we have been in the situation where the Way is diminishing while the Demonic is rising; otherwise the world would not have turned chaotic like this. Those with ambition ought to work a bit for the people."
Xu Ziling's rueful smile went deeper; sighing, he said, "The one with ambition is Kou Zhong and not Xu Ziling at all. I wonder if Miss Shi's expectation on me is not too high?"
Shi Feixuan returned to her usual calm and composed manner; she said, "Does Xu Xiong know why I wanted to impersonate Shi Zhixuan to scare An Long away?"
Thinking deeply, Xu Ziling said, "Was it to see whether Shi Zhixuan is implicated in this matter? If An Long has received Shi Zhixuan's instruction, naturally he would not have been that scared."
Glowering at him, Shi Feixuan said, "And you want to leave without blurting it out to make everybody knows?"
Embarrassed, Xu Ziling said, "Turns out Miss Shi also know how to tease people."
Shi Feixuan let out a light sigh, and spoke gently, "You, this person, are so difficult to wait upon. If Xu Xiong does not mind, would you allow Feixuan to be a small host, to invite you to try Chengdu's famous authentic vegetarian dishes? Miss Qingxuan still has something she'd like to entrust to you!"
Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "Miss Shi [Feixuan] does not need to waste your precious time for me; you only need to tell me where I can see Miss Shi [Qingxuan], Xiaodi can always go on my own to find her."
It was as if Shi Feixuan was able to see through him. A barely discernible smile escaped from the corner of her cherry lips; without any care at all, she spoke glibly, "Here we go again! Once we part here, I don't know when we are going to see each other; can't you stay a bit longer to keep Feixuan company?"
This was the first time that Shi Feixuan spoke gently to him to implore him. Thinking about how he destroyed her Jade Annulus of He Clan and she did not even take that into account and did not dispute it, his heart softened and he had no choice but to nod his head in agreement.