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Xiaohu, I was just teasing you. Chances are, you are correct, since Jin Yong's 'Jiu Yin' was also divided into two parts: top and bottom. But honestly, I cannot imagine how the scroll of sheepskin can be broken into two. Akolaw, I don't care about your ranking system, but I agree that Xu Ziling is a grand master. Lance, my sentiment exactly. Kou Zhong's part is becoming more and more political and less wuxia. Shirak, Sky, that's not my impression though. Xu Ziling fell for Shi Feixuan, but she only regarded him no more than as casual acquaintance, and THAT hurt him. Ysabel, Jaya, you are welcome.

Looks like with all those 'captcha' thingy, spcnet can only make things difficult for us, legitimate member, but fails to stop spammers. If any spcnet administrator reads this, please listen to my plea: take that 'captcha' thing away. It is very, VERY annoying. Sometimes I just wanted to quit trying to post anything here.

Book 24 Chapter 12 - Free Talk About The World

Several plumes of thick smoke were rising from the distant mountaintop beside the riverbank, straight into the sky.

Since last night, before dawn, the Jianghuai Army, who had been marching urgently for nearly thirty li under Du Fuwei's personal command, has launched an onslaught against Shen Lun's army camp. But unfortunately at the same time his dozen or so warships that were moored on the Great River by the army camp were burned down by fiery arrows. Kou Zhong's large-scale plan of ambushing Shen Lun's retreating army on the river immediately came to nothing.

From his vantage point on elevated ground, he looked into the distance and saw that Shen Lun's main stronghold has not yet fallen; the destroyed area were just the sentry camps on its perimeter.

The blowing wind brought the battle cry into everybody's ears. Chen Changlin's pair of eyes was flashing with fierce and sharp lights; obviously he was very pleased that Shen Lun was being attacked.

Leaning over, Bu Tianzhi whispered in Kou Zhong's ear, "In my opinion, Shen Lun still have the ability to guard against Du Fuwei. Therefore, although on the surface Du Fuwei seems to be gaining the upper hand, even though Shen Lun suffers some damage, his foundation has not been injured at all, so momentarily he does not need to retreat in panic. Ay! Even if he is leaving, he must leave by land route, because if he wanted to leave by the waterway, there is no boat that he could use."

Although he did not say it explicitly, he was pointing out that to ambush Shen Lun - under current circumstances and current changes - was practically not feasible.

Kou Zhong was feeling discouraged as well; without any better option he consoled him, "Shen Lun is Old Du's well-matched adversary; quite possibly he will crumble soon."

Chen Changlin on his other side could not take his eyes from the development on the battlefield. Shaking his head, he said, "Shen Lun is resourceful and brave. In terms of positive outlook and experience, although he can't compare to Du Fuwei, his military strength is even farther behind, but he is occupying the stronghold, which is favorable for defense without the advantage of offense, plus he has the opportunity to preserve and nurture his spirit. Although in the beginning he was under attack with no time to deal with it, but very soon he was able to turn the table around and stand his ground. My guess is that Shen Lun will suffer a rather heavy loss, but Du Fuwei will not reap much benefit either."

Suddenly the retreating bugle horn was sounded. Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, "Changlin Xiong is indeed able to prophesy with supernatural accuracy. Old Du is going to retreat!"

Chen Changlin heaved a sigh, and said with a wry smile, "Supposing Shen Lun is dispatching his troops to pursue and attack Du Fuwei's retreating army, then our ambushing operation this time will have to be cancelled. But if Shen Lun can't even press on his advantage by pursuing and attacking, then we will still have a chance."

Kou Zhong praised him inwardly.

Not only Chen Changlin was a strong and courageous man with deep passion and heavy comradeship, he also knew how to separate public and private interest clearly. There was no way he would have everybody else take risks with him for his personal gratitude and grudges.

Comparing himself to Chen Changlin, Kou Zhong realized that he tend to act impetuously more than him.

Half a sichen later, Luo Qifei rushed back to give report on the latest situation on the battlefield. Shen Lun indeed sent his troops to pursue and attack the retreating Jiang Huai Army, but he was beaten back by the troops protecting the rear under Du Fuwei's personal command.

Contrary to everybody's expectation, Chen Changlin was not disappointed at all. He smiled and said, "Nobleman taking revenge, ten years is not too late. Shen Lun always gets whatever he wants, he has always ruled as a despot since he was young, his hometown always has fish and meat, he had never suffered any setback. This time we made him falling until his head and face filthy with grime, he had to return with his troops decrease his generals suffer loss. In the future he will still have to deal with Li Zitong's reprisal; I am very happy. Why would I have to be afraid that I won't have any more chance against them, father and son, in the future?"

Kou Zhong rose up to his full height from the underbrush where he had been hiding; he said, "Changlin Xiong is a hero with open-mind nature. While right now Shen Lun, Du Fuwei and Li Zitong, three sides are all too busy for anything else, this is best time to go all the way. When I get back from Lingnan, I will meet with Ling Shao, and together we are going to Guanzhong. As for our headquarters in Peng Liang and other places, I will have to trouble gentlemen!"

The crowd responded in chorus; they were such in a high spirit, as if they had just defeated Shen Lun.

Chengdu's great streets and small alleys were full of the vestiges of last night's festival. Fragments of paper from the firecrackers and remains of colored lanterns could be seen everywhere.

The pedestrians on the streets were sparse; compared to the vast crowd of last night, it was like a different world altogether.

It could be imagined that after having fun all night long, everybody was dragging their weary bodies home and climbing onto their beds like one that has achieved the Way [idiom: the emperor].

Along the street, nine out of ten shops did not open their door to do business. While Xu Ziling doubted in his heart whether the vegetarian emporium where Shi Feixuan was going to take him to dinner would be open for business, the beauty, who was dressed as a scholar, took him to the vegetarian shop on Orchard Lane at the west side of the city, which, beyond expectation, was just opening their main door to welcome the patrons.

It was obvious that this was not the first time Shi Feixuan visited the shop, since the shop owner personally came out to greet them, saying Qin Gongzi this and Qin Gongzi that, in a very respectful manner.

After Xu Ziling admitted that he was not a connoisseur of vegetarian dishes, Shi Feixuan promptly ordered several appetizers and personally poured him fragrant tea, making him feel overwhelmed [by favor from superior], because he had never expected that he would have the honor of sharing a table for lunch with her.

Such a big vegetarian shop, and they were the only patrons; it was quiet and comfortable.

No matter what the circumstances, Shi Feixuan was still the not-eating-the-food-of-common-mortals, indifferent-to-fame-or-gain - touching character.

After a bit of small talks, Shi Feixuan gratefully said, "Fortunately Xu Xiong informed me of Shi Zhixuan's other identity, otherwise even now we are still unaware that Pei Ju, who singlehandedly toppled the Great Sui, is actually Shi Zhixuan, and only he can go so deep undercover, so that others are completely unable to find spider's thread and horse track [i.e. tiny hints of a secret]."

Xu Ziling was still puzzled, "How could he, one person, have so much destructive power?" he asked.

Shi Feixuan replied, "The problem is that he obtained Yang Guang's deep favor and trust, he was the person within the Sui family clan who was the most familiar with the political affairs of the Western Region; other ministers simply lacked the qualifications to offer any suggestion."

After a short pause, she continued, "For example, in the seventh month of the tenth year of the great undertaking, Pei Ju, in his capacity as the You Guang Lu Daifu [Right Glorious Grand Master; honorific title during Tang to Qing times] at that time, was appointed the 'Hu Bei Fan Junshi' [lit. proliferating military counselor protector of the north]. He immediately put forward a suggestion to Yang Guang, pointing out that Tujue's Shibi Khan's power is increasing by the day, so a plan to weaken them must be devised. He further proposed to give the Sui dynasty's imperial clan's women to be married to Shibi's younger brother Chijimei, and grant him the title Nanmian Khan [lit. south side], and use him to split apart Tujue's clansman who held power. In the end, Chijimei did not dare to receive either the marriage or the title; on the contrary, he revealed everything [orig. to put everything out including the tray] to Shibi. After Shibi found out, he put the blame to Yang Chenming. This was precisely the beginning of Tujue and Sui becoming enemies."

Listening to her, Xu Ziling's scalp went numb; he said, "Speaking about scheming, I am afraid not many people are Shi Zhixuan's match. The most formidable thing was that he still appeared to be loyal to Yang Guang, and always appeared to have consideration for the Great Sui everywhere he went."

Shi Feixuan sighed and said, "One scheme failed, he put forth another scheme. Pei Ju again strongly advised Yang Guang to incite the easiest Tujue man to drive a wedge between the two nations. Now the alienating the court was not concerning marriage or granting a title; rather, it was a man from the west called Shishuhuxi. If he could entice Yang Guang to behead this man, Tujue could come back to embrace the Sui palace courtyard. While he was unclear of the fact, Yang Guang agreed to his proposal. Thereupon Pei Ju used the highly profitable commercial trade as the bait, swindling Shishuhuxi to Mayi [lit. horse city/village, not sure if this is a name] to be murdered. Afterwards, he let Shibi find out. Henceforth the Tujue no longer present tribute to the Sui court."

Again she sighed before continuing, "Yang Guang's successive generations' emperors are the emperors who lost their familial property the fastest. Although the Great Qin also ended their reign after only two emperors, but in the beginning of their reign, the world were already seething discontent, unlike Yang Guang, who, when he succeeded the throne, was still in the flourishing period. Now it could be assumed that it was all because Pei Ju correctly analyzed Yang Guang as a man rejoicing in grandiose deeds, desiring to propagate his power abroad, having the mentality of subduing the four non-Han peoples to align their allegiance to him. After he was enticed to kill Shishuhuxi, Yang Guang still wanted to subdue the Tujue, patrolling the frontier fortress of the north. After receiving the secret information, Shibi personally led several tens of thousands elite cavalry to go down south to launch surprise attack on Yang Guang's troops, forcing Yang Guang to flee into the Yanmen [wild goose gate] to take refuge. Shibi captured thirty-nine out of Yanmen County's forty-one cities, Yang Guang nearly lost his life. After this war, Tujue people no longer willing to acknowledge allegiance to the Sui; furthermore, they even had the intention to advance to the east. The main cause of this disaster is none other than Shi Zhixuan."

Xu Ziling said, "Perhaps it was Shi Zhixuan who sent someone in secret to notify Shibi, telling him to lead his troops to invade the south. Ay! I really don't understand, by doing that with the Tujue, he was showing the wolf into the house, what benefit would it bring Shi Zhixuan?"

Shi Feixuan gently said, "This is precisely the bane of ideological struggle. It makes people put the national righteousness above everything else, while turning a blind eye toward the suffering of the common people. The root of this disaster came from the demonic schools' supreme secret canon, the ten-volume Tianmo Ce [demonic manifesto]. The manifesto not only contains 'Tianmo Mi' [demonic secret], 'Dao Xin Zhong Mo Da Fa' [the heart of 'the Way' demonic great method] and many different kinds of deep and immeasurable pinnacle studies, it also records detailed theory on the mysterious relationship between the universe and the life, believing that human nature is inherently evil, and that the destruction and darkness is the most powerful force in the universe. At the beginning it was only one kind of theory, until Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty banned many schools or thought and revered Confucianism as sole orthodoxy. Whether it was on the political arena or martial arts social circles [Wulin], all the orthodox sects seized the opportunity to pursue relentlessly and strike the demonic schools. Thereupon the outstanding disciples of demonic schools separately brought the scrolls while they were fleeing the disaster, evolving into the Two Sects Six Ways of today. Shi Zhixuan's desire to unify the demonic way is precisely to bring Tianmo Ce back together again. Hatred was cultivated like that, and now, it's difficult to change."

Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "But that still did not explain why Shi Zhixuan wanted to lure the Tujue to enter the Central Plains?"

Shi Feixuan explained, "The demonic schools have already been established for a long time, all along they have gone through many changes. By the time of Emperor Wu of Han, several of the banned houses merged first; by the time Zhang Qian [c. 114 BC, Han dynasty explorer] went through the Western Regions, they also received foreign culture and religion's influence, emphasizing the use of military force to eliminate dissidents. By the time of Wei [220-265 AD] and Jin [265-420 AD] dynasties, the demonic schools people were actively growing their base to the west. Both Shi Zhixuan and Zhu Yuyan have blood relationship with Hu people [barbarians]. Therefore, our national righteousness has no effect whatsoever on them."

Xu Ziling blew out a mouthful of air, long and slow, and then said, "So that's what it is. If Miss Shi did not actively tell me, I am afraid for all my life I would never understand what crafty way the demonic school people are going to do next."

This moment the vegetarian dish arrived; steaming hot, emitting an aroma that was permeating the whole place, it was put on the table, smelling and looking like it would taste great.

Xu Ziling noticed that after sampling a couple of chopsticks, she put the chopsticks down, while he himself unreservedly gobbling the food with gusto. Feeling embarrassed, he asked, "Is my table manners too unsightly that you lose your appetite?"

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