Book 24 Chapter 6 - Simply Must Go
The two sat in a noodle shop at the south market, cattycorner from An Long's old shop Long He Xing, specializing in wine.
The noodle shop was not on business; it merely opened its middle door, while providing cakes spread over the table, free of charge for the crowd enjoying the Lantern Festival. At this time, the Lantern Festival was in full swing. A large group of Yi people, more than a hundred men and women, wearing full traditional ethnic apparel, were performing their singing and dancing on the street. The sound of drums and happy music warmed the air, attracting the people who were originally taking a rest inside the shop to go out to watch, cramming the wide street so that not one drop could trickle through, and thus making it more convenient for Xu Ziling and Hou Xibai, these two men, to sneak in from the courtyard through the back door.
In passing, Hou Xibai picked up a piece of mooncake, which he bit and chewed a mouthful, and said, "Tonight's Lantern Festival is jointly hosted by Duzun Bao, Chuan Bang, and Ba Meng, three parties. On the surface it is for everybody to have fun together, but it is actually a show of their unity to the outsiders! This is a yun tui [lit. cloud leg] mooncake, very authentic; would Ziling Xiong like to try it?"
Xu Ziling picked a piece to sample it; sure enough, as it entered his mouth, it was crisp and crumbly, sweet and salty, the taste of ham was prominent, moist, but not greasy, it could be rated as best quality product. After nodding his head approvingly, he casually asked, "But internally, are they really united?"
Staring at the crowd on the street, Hou Xibai replied, "I am afraid only Feixuan would be able to tell for sure. But at the very least, the alliance of three powers benefits the people of Chengdu, the law and order here is the best in the Central Plains. Like tonight, nine out of ten houses are empty, yet there are no scoundrels committing a crime, because they knew that they will lose their lives afterwards for sure."
More and more Xu Ziling felt that this man Hou Xibai was an enigma. He was dying to ask him why he wanted to kill Xu Ziling, yet although the words have arrived at his throat, in the end he could not spit it out, and had to stuff it back into his belly.
Hou Xibai's eyes seemed to be able to penetrate the heavy wall of people, straight into An Xing Long [sic, it was Long He Xing above]; spirited light shone from his eyes, he said, "Tonight I was lucky to come across Ziling Xiong, otherwise I, Hou Xibai, lose my life in other people's hands without knowing what's going on."
Xu Ziling did not understand, "How did it happen?" he asked, "Does your honorable master particularly care about and dote on Yang Xuyan?"
Smiling bitterly, Hou Xibai said, "I wish I knew. Ziling Xiong, please do not blame Xiaodi for attempting to take your life twice in succession, simply because master's order is difficult to disobey. But now I started to guess that it must be Yang Xuyan using our school's token to falsely passing on Shi Shi's order, and using the same method he tricked Qingxuan into coming to Chengdu, scheming to snatch the scroll and to murder. However, this matter has been leaked, so that even if he had gargantuan guts, he would not dare to touch Qingxuan."
Although Xu Ziling still could not believe him completely, but since Hou Xibai was willing to explain, plus he admitted frankly that he did indeed try to kill him twice in a row, he felt a bit more comfortable; nodding his head, he said, "Hou Xiong nearly took my life."
Shaken, Hou Xibai said, "That time at Yangzhou, turns out you really sensed I was hiding in ambush. This is really unbelievable."
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Hou Xiong is indeed brilliant; you guessed this fact based on my response. But we don't have much time! How are we going to do this?"
Hou Xibai replied, "The agreed time to leave is still about half an hour away, Xiaodi is thinking of affirming one thing first, does Ziling really have the intention of killing Yang Xuyan?"
Murderous intent flashed through Xu Ziling's eyes, "I can't find any reason not to kill him," he replied.
Delighted, Hou Xibai said, "That's great. But it still depends on our luck, whether he is fated to lose his life or not. Toward Yang Xuyan, I knew nothing at all. But toward An Long, I have deep knowledge of his temperament. If he wanted to see you at certain time, you could only show up at that time, neither early nor late. Therefore, as long as we lie in wait for them in time, taking advantage the moment before Yang Xuyan come in to enter the shop, we might be able to kill him."
Casting his glance outside the door, Xu Ziling saw the crowd cheering and applauding, the sound surging inside like tidal waves, yet in his heart he only saw Shi Qingxuan's bright-moon-like jade countenance. He said, "That will depend whether he is one of the crowd enjoying the bustling scenery."
They could only wait in ambush for Yang Xuyan on the roof of the old shop. If Yang Xuyan entered the shop from the street, they might be waiting in vain.
Shaken, Hou Xibai said, "That's not right! There are so many good places to meet, why would he pick a place bustling with noise and excitement where people are piling up? There must be a reason."
Pondering deeply, Xu Ziling said, "Could it be that that is the place where Yang Xuyan is going to meet Miss Shi?"
Hou Xibai stood up abruptly and said, "Let's step outside to test the water, and then we'll decide on the countermeasure for dealing with this situation."
Xu Ziling came to the threshold to peer outside. Hou Xibai came to a halt next to him and said in a low voice, "A bit later we will probably meet Ba Meng people, Ziling Xiong may pretend to be someone named Chang Fei. This lord calls himself Da Ba Shan Ren [a man of great Mount Ba]. He has always been coming and going alone, but is actually well-known to be a handsome man, and just like Ziling, he does not like to use weapon. You are posing as him, it should be like a seamless heavenly clothes."
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Than you for Hou Xiong's reminder. But I actually feel safer to disguise myself as a scar faced mountain man [or hermit]. Otherwise, when we meet Lian Rou, it will be a joke."
Finished speaking, he turned his back, with an easy-drive-on-a-familiar-part he changed-shape-in-a-single-shake to become the scar faced hero.
Watching this, Hou Xibai was dumbstruck. "Turns out Ziling have this face-changing ability. I wonder how should I dress Ziling Xiong now?" he asked.
Xu Ziling responded indifferently, "How about I follow your respected opinion?"
Hou Xibai cheerfully said, "This mask has no flaw at all; it could be rated as best quality product of the present age, even the scar on your face looks amazingly real, it makes me remember a certain figure who had once gone on the rampage in the Yun Gui region [i.e. Yunnan and Guangxi]. In Jianghu, he was known as the Daoba Ke [lit. scar (from a knife would) guest/visitor], a character with resounding name about a dozen of years ago. He would not let off anybody who had a debt on him. Afterwards he seemed to be angering local schools and sects, and henceforth went into hiding and disappeared. How about Ziling Xiong become him, returning to Jianghu after a period of inactivity?"
The more he came in contact with Hou Xibai, the more Xu Ziling felt his outstanding charisma as he was talking cheerfully and wittily. Xu Ziling also could not stop his interest from being aroused. Astonished, he said, "Hou Xiong seems to have extensive knowledge; I am full of admiration. I wonder what is this Daoba Xiong's surname and given name, and what kind of weapon he is good at?"
Hou Xibai said, "Our Hua Jian Pai puts emphasis on roaming across the four seas, we go to a lot of places, hear a lot of hearsay and comeback stories. This is in answer to the aforementioned praise of having extensive knowledge. As for Daoba Ke's name, it is very strange; he is called Gong Chenchun. Reportedly, he is adept in using more than a dozen different weapons with distinct characteristics. As for the actual fact, unless we encounter him in person and fight with him, there is no way we can verify it for sure."
Xu Ziling mused that among Lu Miaozi's wonderfully made masks, one was definitely made based on Yue Shan's real appearance; who could say for sure that the others were not made based on actual person? Therefore, he said cheerfully, "In that case, let Xiaodi temporarily become Gong Chenchun then. Ha! We should take advantage of this festive time!"
Chen Changlin entered the cabin. After he was seated properly, Kou Zhong asked, "I want to know more about the Song Clan's situation in Lingnan."
Chen Changlin had just learned from Bu Tianzhi, who was just on his way out of the cabin, that Kou Zhong has made up his mind to visit the Song Family. Originally he wanted to persuade him to dispel the idea, but as he saw Kou Zhong's expression this moment, he knew that Kou Zhong's mind has been made up. He had no choice but to ask, "Which aspect does Shao Shuai want to know?"
Leaning back into his chair, Kou Zhong stretched his limbs and said with a sigh, "Since sleep seems to elude me, Changlin Xiong might as well tell me whatever you want to tell me, if something interests me, I may just inquire further."
Chen Changlin sorted out the information he had in his head. After muttering to himself irresolutely for half a day, he began, "I believe Shao Shuai wants to know the Song Family's standing in local politics and their position in Wulin?"
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Their position in Wulin ought to be clearly and easy to see. Southern martial art master whose name shakes the whole nation, other than the Heavenly Saber Song Que, who else will there be? Although Huang Gongcuo is brilliant, he had suffered defeat under Ning Daoqi's hands. But until today, Song Que has not met his match. Tell me something else!"
Inwardly, naturally he was thinking the Ba Dao [overbearing saber] Yue Shan, who lost his lifetime fame for fighting prowess under Song Que's hands. And from Yue Shan his mind went to Xu Ziling. His days without Ling Shao by his side have been particularly difficult to bear; whenever he had a load in his mind, there was no one to confide to.