Book 24 Chapter 2 - Rescuing People Like Putting Out Fire
Xu Ziling went to the south market, which was brimming with holiday atmosphere. The streets were so crowded that not one drop could trickle through. Amidst the deafening sound of firecrackers, the Kongming Lanterns were rising to the sky one after another, in competition with the bright moon in the sky in term of splendor. For the first time in his life Xu Ziling saw such amazing lanterns with his own eyes, but he did not have time to conduct an in-depth investigation as to why the lanterns could float high into the sky like that. Right now he just wanted to find the old shop where An Long and Yang Xuyan agreed to meet after half a sichen, as soon as possible.
He had asked more than a dozen people; although no one did not know An Long, yet nobody could tell him among the three shops An Long owned at the south market, which one was his old shop, and this has caused him so much headache. All he could do was to try his luck.
Turning into another big street, this one was more lively than the last, the sound of gongs and drums warmed the world; along the carriages and horses lane of the street, people brandished their lanterns in the lantern dragon festival dance, while the pedestrian path was crowded to bursting point with onlookers. The atmosphere was very warm.
Focusing his attention, Xu Ziling saw that all the dragon dancers had quite extraordinary skill; they flew high and leaped low, displaying all kinds of difficult movements. They all wore the same uniform, hence they must be from the same local gang or society. This moment they all mingled together with the crowd enjoying the festivities.
The dragon dance was certainly brilliant, but Xu Ziling's heart was not here. With great difficulty he escaped the crowd and turned into a side alley. While he was thinking of leaving, someone blocked his way and said with a laugh, "Ziling Xiong, I trust you have been well since we last met?"
Surprisingly, it was the 'Passionate Prince' Hou Xibai; his hand was still holding a fan, his handsome face still had a smile on it, he looked like he was immensely pleased with himself. Inwardly Xu Ziling cried, 'Bad!' but on the surface he acted as if nothing had happened. "Leaving Sichuan, entering Sichuan, Hou Xiong's tendency is really impossible to unravel," he spoke indifferently.
Hou Xibai smiled and said, "Because Xiaodi is concerned over Xu Xiong, I could not help turning back to Sichuan. I just arrived in Chengdu, and I hear Xu Xiong is going all over the place to look for An Long's old shop, I couldn't bear not to show myself up to see if I could help a little; Xu Xiong please do not blame me."
Xu Ziling shivered inwardly, thinking that the reason Hou Xibai was dealing with him must not be that simple. Perhaps he was fighting against Yang Xuyan, his martial brother of the same master but of different schools - for the 'Immortal Print Scroll' in Shi Qingxuan's hands. His mind churning at the speed of light, he decided to harden his heart and said, "How could I dare to blame Hou Xiong? If Hou Xiong is willing to tell me frankly, why are you in Chengdu this time? Perhaps the two of us could sincerely cooperate with each other, each takes what he needs. Otherwise, would Hou Xiong please get out of my way, and do not hinder Xiaodi from doing a very important thing."
Hou Xibai's eyes were flashing with sharp light, but he quickly held it back. Nodding his head, he spoke in low voice, "We'd better talk while we walk."
Xu Ziling agreed, and then he followed him to the other end of the small alley, just as a group of seven or eight young girls were coming straight toward them. Noticing the two men's outstanding appearances, their eyes lit up brightly.
But the two were preoccupied, each one with the load in his mind, so that they turned a blind eye toward the coquettish glances and the smiling expressions being thrown at them.
Leaning a bit closer, Hou Xibai said, "To tell you the truth, Xiaodi has just come across Feixuan, so I started to understand that Xu Xiong came to Sichuan for the sake of Qingxuan, hence I was anxious to find Xu Xiong; I would never let Qingxuan receives any harm."
A bitter and astringent feeling welled up in Xu Ziling's heart, thinking that Shi Feixuan indeed gave her bare heart into Hou Xibai's keeping. But as he heard the last sentence, suspicions grew in his heart; he could not help asking, "Does Hou Xiong really have the intention to protect Miss Shi? I wonder if it was because of her relationship with your honorable master, or was it because of some other reason?"
Smiling wryly, Hou Xibai said, "If Shizun finds out that Xiaodi is meddling in his, the Senior's family matters, Xiaodi will have to bag my food leave before I finish eating. But Xiaodi was born to protect beautiful things. Something like Qingxuan's beauty and her incomparable-under-the-heavens flute art, which are both the gems of the human world, must have an intimate friend to treasure and protect them."
Xu Ziling was confused; the way Hou Xibai spoke those things carried some kind of a sincere sentiment, which evolved from the bottom of his heart. Immediately he felt at a loss in trying to figure out what kind of gentleman this man really was? But saving people was urgent; hence he asked, "Where is Hou Xiong taking Xiaodi now? I wonder if we are going to An Long's old shop?"
Hou Xibai nodded, "But of course," he said, "Just now Ziling Xiong only told me half of the story; I wonder if you could continue now?"
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, "I said each takes what he needs; I was referring to I am saving someone, while your objective is to prevent your honorable master's 'Immortal Print Scroll' from falling into Yang Xuyan's hands. However, Hou Xiong has not told me why did you appear in this place?"
Severely shaken, Hou Xibai halted his steps. Stunned, he said, "Yang Xuyan? Immortal Print Scroll … What are you talking about?"
Xu Ziling cried 'Bad!' inwardly; looking at Hou Xibai's appearance, it did not look like he was pretending. He started to realize that Shi Feixuan still had some reservations toward Hou Xibai, and yet he inadvertently divulged the secret to him. His scalp went numb, he said, "Turns out Hou Xiong did not know that Yang Xuyan is the other disciple of your honorable master. As for the 'Immortal Print Scroll', I am not completely clear either; I only know that Yang Xuyan and An Long are joining hands in cooperation to obtain the 'Immortal Print Scroll' from Shi Qingxuan. Hey! We don't have much time. Hou Xiong …"
While listening, Hou Xibai's countenance did not stop changing; finally his pair of eyes shot sharp light as he cut him off, "I understand! Tell me what's most important now, is it to find An Long?"
Xu Ziling had no idea which one he understood. But thinking about Cao Yinglong, he had no time to delve into it. Nodding his head, he said, "We must find Cao Yinglong first."
At a loss, Hou Xibai asked, "Isn't Cao Yinglong the big leader of the Four Big Roving Bandits? Has he also come to Chengdu?"
Xu Ziling briefed him using the simplest explanation. Finished listening, Hou Xibai exhaled a mouthful of cold air and said, "Fortunately Xu Xiong told me clearly, otherwise you will never find Cao Yinglong. Follow me quickly." Soaring up, he landed on the roof of the building to the left.
Xu Ziling followed closely behind him from house to house, until finally they came to a large residence at the west side of the city, where they crouched behind the roof ridge. Noticing that Hou Xibai was looking into the distance at a monastery across the street, he could not help asking in astonishment, "What place is that? What does it have to do with An Long?"
Hou Xibai replied in low voice, "This is one of Chengdu's scenic spots called Qingyang Si [qingyang is a district in Chengdu, si could simply mean 'shop']. It is rumored that in the past, Laojun [Lao-tze, founder of Taoism] agreed to meet with someone in here, hence Qingyang Si became famous near and far, and has been a well-known Taoist scenic spot ever since. Just now, when I was looking for Xu Xiong, I came across the two generals under An Long, the Tall and Short Generals, who were sneakily coming into this place, carrying someone. Since I had no plan of provoking An Long, I let them go and did not meddle in their business. But now, naturally it is a different matter."
Xu Ziling could not help asking, "Chengdu's streets are curving to the left and bending to the right; extremely confusing, yet like an old horse that knows the way home, Hou Xiong is able to look for people, to find a place without the least bit of difficulty?"
Hou Xibai sighed and replied, "Xu Xiong's curiosity is really big; I am certainly an old horse that knows the way home, just like your knowledge of Yangzhou. Chengdu's streets are well known to be confusing. In addition to the main streets from each gate of the Imperial City to the ten gates of the second wall built around the city wall, there are the east-west passage and the north-south passage. And then other local streets that are slanting and winding, tangled and complicated, built that way due to their potential. All right! Are we going to take the risk and knock on his door?"
He had not finished speaking, a shadow flitted by from a distant southeasterly direction. In one glance, they could see from his build that it was An Long himself. It was because An Long was not in Qingyang Si that Hou Xibai proposed to take the risk by charging inside, but now that An Long has arrived, albeit later than they thought, they were greatly surprised.
Hou Xibai made a prompt decision. He quickly said, "You go save him," while decisively flying out of their hiding place to meet this senior figure, a martial art master of demonic way, who had mastered the 'Tianxin Lian Huan' [Lotus Ring At The Center Of The Sky], the highest gongfa of the Tian Lian Zong [Heavenly Lotus School, see Book 22 Chapter 5].
Inwardly Xu Ziling had to admit that Hou Xibai was certainly decisive and daring. If he had told Xu Ziling to intercept An Long, while he himself rescued the person, due to Xu Ziling already doubted his intention, he might sit and waste a good opportunity since he would be hesitant. But now that he took it upon himself to deal with the most difficult part, he was displaying his sincere intention of cooperation. Naturally it could also be interpreted as his determination to obtain the 'Immortal Print Scroll', but at least he was proving that their cooperation would not end here.
Naturally Xu Ziling did not dare to be negligence; from the other direction he flew down the roof ridge and landed on the side alley, before sneaking away toward Qingyang Si.
An Long was able to stop as soon as he wished to stop. He stood on the roof ridge like a mountain, yet unexpectedly he was able to give out the impression that he was agile and quick-witted, thus it was clear that his demonic skill has reached the pinnacle.
This moment he had his eyes fixed, without blinking at all, at Hou Xibai soaring high in the sky from his left. He waited until Hou Xibai landed about a zhang away in front of him and stood steadily on the roof edge before laughing eerily and said, "I wonder if Xianzhi [worthy/virtuous nephew] is coming to have a drink with me, An Long. But I'll say that it would be best if you go find Wei Hong, Yi Cui of Taohua Yuan [lit. cuddling red, leaning on bluish-green, of Peach Blossom Spring (i.e. utopia)], so that you won't fail to live up the expectation of the first round of the full moon."