Shi Feixuan smiled and shook her head, "These vegetarian dishes have been going through many layers of refinement, the flavor is too strong, not as good as the natural taste of cucumber and Chinese cabbage; it has nothing to do with you. Just now I am taking two mouthfuls is already an exception. Furthermore, your table manners and your personality are like that, you are merely acting naturally; how could it be unsightly?"
Xu Ziling's old face turned slightly red; embarrassed, he said, "You really know how to speak, ha! 'Acting naturally', isn't that an elegant way of saying 'wolfing down one's food'?"
Slightly shrugging her shoulders, Shi Feixuan helplessly said, "If you are so paranoid, Feixuan can't do anything about it."
Two persons' four eyes met, a wonderful feeling grew in their hearts, as if this meal of vegetarian dish has pulled the two closer, unlike previously where there was an impassable distance, or a dividing chasm - between them. Naturally Xu Ziling did not have any improper thought, although in his heart he warned himself not to have such an idea. He reminded himself that it was because they had a common big enemy that their relationship grew a bit closer.
Whether it was intentional or not, Shi Feixuan averted his penetrating gaze; she looked at the street resplendent in the bright sunshine. There were more people around, but still far from the usual hustle and bustle of the city.
Remembering something, Xu Ziling asked, "What is the actual reason that the Da Shi Temple's monks slipped away that not a single one remains?"
Shi Feixuan broke into a giggle and said, "They are not slipping away; they are just staying temporarily at the neighboring monastery. That big pile of broken mud and shattered stones of last night, some people might have already come and swept them away even today."
Xu Ziling could only stare blankly at her rare display of charming demeanor. Tongue-tied, he said, "In that case, they must be utterly broken-hearted because the Luohan statues were destroyed."
As if nothing had happened, Shi Feixuan said, "All mortal matters have the beginning and the end, those who entered the gate of emptiness ought to have penetrating view on this. If they cannot see death from life, see rebirth from destruction, then they do not have the qualifications to speak about Buddhism; why should we worry about it?"
Revealing a thoughtful look, Xu Ziling's tiger-eyes flashed with deep, unfathomable brilliant rays of wisdom. Nodding his head, he said, "Miss' remark provides food for thought. Last night Hou Xiong told Xiaodi that the monks of the temple flee their monastery to avoid a formidable figure of the demonic school. I wonder a divine character of which side would this person be?"
Shi Feixuan replied, "It was only after entering Sichuan that I learned from Chuan Bang's Bangzhu Fan Zhuo about this matter. This person ranks among the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way, has always been extraordinarily low-key, his conducts secretive, and is the mortal enemy of the previous generation Zhuchi Da De shengseng [senior/holy monk Great Virtue]. Recently, it was unclear whether it was because he enjoyed great success in his demonic skill, he rushed back from the Western Region to challenge Da De; who would have thought that Da De had just passed away ten days earlier and had been cremated? Unexpectedly he vented his resentment on the disciples who do not know martial art, saying that if anybody stays in the temple, he will kill all living persons within ten li radius. In order to avoid calamity to the innocent villagers in the vicinity, the monks had no choice but to abandon the temple."
Furious, Xu Ziling said, "This man is too insolent and overbearing! How could Bashu's Wulin sit and watch, but remain indifferent?"
Shi Feixuan sighed and said, "It's not that they are indifferent, but it's difficult to interfere. Nobody is able to find and eliminate him, hence nobody can do anything about it. Oh! Perhaps Xu Xiong could lend me a hand."
It was only then did Xu Ziling realize that he had walked straight into her trap. Previously he had just stated that he was not any hero who would save the world and be of help of common people. And now that he had righteous indignation filling his breast, it appeared that he was swearing that he would uphold righteousness. The contradiction in his heart was maddening. Smiling bitterly, he said, "You seem to be unwilling to let me off. If Miss Shi is willing to personally make your move, you would be able to catch any vicious, demonic people."
A bit skeptical, Shi Feixuan said, "Since this person can be ranked among the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way, how could it be that easy to take care of him? Were it not for him suffering defeat under the 'Heavenly Saber' Song Que's hands and thus fleeing to the Western Regions, I don't know how many more people in the Central Plains would be mutilated by him. This time he dared to return in a swirl of dust [idiom: to make a comeback], naturally he has enough confidence that he would surpass Song Que."
Xu Ziling asked in heavy voice, "Is this person the 'Mo Shi' [demonic master] Zhao Deyan?"
Slightly startled, Shi Feixuan said, "You also knew that Zhao Deyan is a martial art master of the demonic school. But this person is not Zhao Deyan at all; rather, he is the 'Tian Jun' [heavenly lord] Xi Ying. It was because of this character 'Tian' [sky/heaven] that he violated Song Que's taboo, and thus was chased by him for a thousand li, and nearly lost his life. It was probably a case of an evil man grinding an evil man!"
Xu Ziling blurted out laughing. "Looking at it this way, Song Que ought to be more overbearing than Xi Ying," he said.
Shi Feixuan smiled and said, "Song Que is the older generation's most famous handsome man in Wulin; he has always been arrogant, proud, considered everyone else beneath him, but he had never presumptuously killed the innocents. He is seductive in outward appearance, but burning hot in the inside. Moreover, he has enormous intimidating power toward the demonic schools; even Zhu Yuyan, Shi Zhixuan, and the likes would not easily provoke him. Were it not for his not-so-good predestined affinity, his reputation could not be below Ning Daoqi's. Since his debut, Song Que has never been utterly defeated. Just by looking at how in the last twenty years no one dared to challenge him, we could infer his weight in Jianghu."
Xu Ziling nodded and said, "No wonder you think so highly of Song Shidao; turned out his background is that strong."
He was eating and talking at the same time, like a rolling wind destroying the clouds he single-handedly swept away all the vegetarian dishes on the table. Shi Feixuan happily topped off his teacup; she said, "Feixuan still have something I'd like to ask you, but it's a bit difficult to say."
Xu Ziling asked in surprise, "Do you want me to persuade Kou Zhong to wash his hands over the golden tray, and from now on retreat to the mountain?"
Stifling her laughter, Shi Feixuan said, "That ought to be the biggest barrier between us. But what I would like to say is not directly related to that; rather, I'd like to offer an advice. If you heed this advice, you won't miss anything."
Xu Ziling groaned inwardly, 'Here we go again,' but remaining indifferent, he said, "Right now, even if Xiaodi tell Miss that I do not wish to listen, Miss would still speak bluntly; am I right?"
Shi Feixuan sighed and said, "Can't you not be so defensive? Feixuan only wish that the two of you would dispel your idea of entering Guanzhong to fetch the treasure. I don't know how, but for some reason Li Shimin received the intelligence that very soon you are going to enter the pass. That is his territory. The Heavenly Policy Mansion has martial art masters as numerous as the clouds. If they ever discover your whereabouts, you can forget about leaving with your life intact. And it would be very difficult for Feixuan to intervene."
Xu Ziling laughed calmly and said, "Thank you very much for Miss' concerns. But toward life and death, Kou Zhong and I have never cared too much."
Shi Feixuan calmly said, "Since that's the case, Feixuan won't say anything anymore."
The originally harmonious atmosphere immediately vanished like scattering clouds, dispersing smoke.
Shi Feixuan spoke softly, "Miss Qingxuan currently stays at the Duzun Bao; would you let Feixuan keep you company for a while?"
How could Xu Ziling have the heart to firmly decline her softly spoken request? He had no choice but to agree.
Inwardly he thought that after seeing Shi Qingxuan, he would leave Sichuan immediately, and would not linger any longer.
"The first month [of the lunar year] Lichun [the Beginning of Spring, 1st of the 24 solar terms] Yushui [Rain Water, 2nd solar term] festival, the second month Jingzhe [Insects Awake, 3rd solar term] Chunfen [Spring Equinox, 4th solar term] first; the third month Qingming [Pure Brightness, Tomb Sweeping Day, 5th solar term] Guyu [Grain Rain, 6th solar term] arrives, the fourth month Lixia [Start of Summer, 7th solar term] and Xiaoman [Lesser Full Grain, 8th solar term].
The eleventh month Daxue [Great Snow, 21st solar term] and Dongzhi [Winter Solstice, 22nd solar term] Festival, the twelfth month Xiaohan [Lesser Cold, 23rd solar term] and Dahan [Great Cold, 24th solar term]; to the twelfth month the singing ends, the last year gone, the New Year comes."
The melodious singing voice came from a fishing boat flitting pass; listening to it Kou Zhong was radiant with delight. Turning to Bu Tianzhi standing next to him, he said, "No wonder people always say that we need to snatch a moment of leisure in the midst of busyness. In the past few days, even though I heard someone singing, I rarely paid attention to the lyrics of the song, but now I listened without missing a word. It can clearly be seen that the heart could select and filter what the person hears and sees to fulfill his desire."
It was originally a battleship, which, by removing all the battle equipment it carried, was transformed in a single shake to become a merchant ship traveling along the Great River.
Bu Tianzhi spoke in low voice, "Could it be that Shao Shuai still cannot forget your love toward the Song Family's lady?"
Kou Zhong had never expected that he would ask such a direct question like that; his old face turning red, he cleared his throat and replied, "That is more or less one of the motivations behind this trip, but it is definitely not the only reason. Ha! Did you see those seabirds flying in such a neat formation? Hey! Is it near the ocean already?"
Bu Tianzhi took a deep breath and said, "I do smell the ocean. If we have tail wind, the day after tomorrow we ought to go ashore, and then after rushing for one more day, we could reach the Song Family."
Kou Zhong said, "After going ashore, I might continue the journey alone, Zhi Shu need not wait for me. With Zhi Shu in Liangdou taking care of our headquarters, I will feel a bit more at ease."
Bu Tianzhi knew he could not defy him, without any better option he simply agreed.
Kou Zhong asked, "Other than the Song Family, is there any local power in Lingnan?"
Bu Tianzhi replied, "Locally, other than the Song Family, there are three influential people, which are Panyu County's Wang Zhongxuan, Longshui County's Chen Zhifu, and Shi'an County's Ouyang Qian. They are not chief of any gang or society, just the head of large and influential family for generations."
Staring blankly, Kou Zhong said, "Ouyang Qian is a woman?"
Bu Tianzhi laughed and said, "She is a young and pretty, beautiful woman; a daughter who undertakes her father's line of business. Within the Lingnan Wulin, her colorful name is rather outstanding, her hands really have real skill, I hear that she is not one to be trifled with."
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Our country indeed occupies a vast territory; if I did not travel so far down to the southern border, I am afraid for the rest of my life I would not know that there is such woman not to be trifled with. To govern the whole country is really not easy."
Bu Tianzhi said, "If Song Que is willing to stand on Shao Shuai's side, as long as he is willing to nod his head, I guarantee that all southern imperial leaders would surrender and pay their allegiance to Shao Shuai."
Delighted, Kou Zhong said, "That is the reason I wanted to pay a visit to Song Que."
Smiling wryly, Bu Tianzhi said, "The problem is that Song Que is a man who loves martial art above everything else. As luck would have it, Shao Shuai, your reputation as saber expert is also spread all over the world. You are dropping in just like this, the situation is highly unoptimistic."
Shocked, Kou Zhong said, "I am not dropping in to challenge him; he, the Senior, can't possibly use this style to receive me as his guest! Besides, I always have a good relationship with the Song Family."
Bu Tianzhi sighed and said, "In Jianghu, Song Que is well-known as one who is not amenable to reason, someone who is difficult to get along with; moreover, he is not someone who would buy anybody else's account. We are reaching the ocean! Would Shao Shuai like to go to the left, or do you want to go to the right?"
To the left was turning back into the East China Sea.
To the right was the direction to Lingnan.
In the end Bu Tianzhi could not help speaking out the burden in his heart, hoping that Kou Zhong would be willing to change his mind.
The Great River continuously widening up. A flock of water birds flew in V-formation over the ship's bow. The wind and the waves clearly grew in intensity.
Kou Zhong had his gaze fixed on the junction between the ocean and the river ahead. Suddenly he reached out to grab Bu Tianzhi's shoulder, and said with a wry smile, "Nobody knew me better than Zhi Shu. If I do not go to Lingnan, even if I die in battle in the future, I will not close my eyes contentedly."
What else could Bu Tianzhi say?
Without any better option, he issued his order, instructing the ship, under full sail, to turn to the south, to sail speedily into the vast, boundless ocean.