Treading on the wild grass and using the trees as cover, from his hiding place on the seaside Kou Zhong stealthily moved toward the Li Liao village where the raging flames were soaring to the sky.
There were two ships moored by the sea; by his estimation, each ship ought to carry more than a hundred of these Lin Shihong's men - who disguised themselves as pirates - to bring the total between three to four hundred men. Although Kou Zhong was quite confident in himself, he was not one who overestimated his own capabilities. In direct confrontation, plus the opposite side must be under some martial art masters' leadership, although escaping alive should not be a problem, he definitely could not gain any advantage either.
His best bet would be to carry out a guerilla tactic [orig. using dark to confront bright], with hit-and-run style. Therefore, his action must be extremely careful.
Obviously Lin Shihong's maneuver this time was to shift the blame to the Eastern Wu [idiom from the Three Kingdom], a stratagem to kill two birds with one stone: both to loot the grains, cattle and sheep, and horses of the ethnic groups inhabiting the coastal area of the southern Yue [Canton (Guangdong)], and to destroy Shen Faxing's relationship with various Li Liao ethnic groups. Perhaps he could even provoke the Song Clan to have direct confrontation against Shen Faxing, because everybody in the world already knew that Hai Sha Bang was Shen Faxing's pawn.
In term of area, this Li Liao village, which was facing imminent catastrophe, was at least twice as big as the village where Kou Zhong slept. By this time, most of the several hundred houses in the entire village have turned into ashes, and the fire was making its way toward the dense mountain forest surrounding the village, producing loud crackling noise.
Kou Zhong was completely unable to understand the perpetrators' mentality; how could they callously commit such crime that made others' hair stand up in anger like this?
As soon as he entered the village limit, he sensed the unusual situation. Hiding behind a building, which could be considered quite intact, he peeked out to see, and saw in the clearing at the heart of the village there were two groups of a hundred to two hundred each - armed men facing each other in hostility.
One side was Li Shihong's men disguised as pirates in black tight warrior outfits, the leader was Cui Jixiu, Lin Shihong's Guoshi [teacher of the state] with whom he had met once during the assassination of the 'Green Dragon' Ren Shaoming. Standing behind him, tall and short, were more than a dozen characters, which in just one glance, he knew to be martial art masters. The rest of his men were spread in fan formation on the northern end of the Liao village. The dead bodies of the Li Liao village victims were strewn on the ground; a spectacle too horrible to endure.
Cui Jixiu and the others must have come so very suddenly that the poor innocent villagers did not have time to flee the misfortune.
The other side had smaller number of people, there were only about a hundred of them, wearing the bright colorful clothes of Li Liao martial outfits. The most eye-catching was that the leader was unexpectedly a sweet, fair, and graceful, slim, with beautiful shoulder length hair - Liao beauty. Draped over her tender body was, impressively, tiger skin, so that amidst her delicate appearance, there was a hint of awe-inspiring heroic spirit.
All Li Liao warriors revealed grief and indignation on their faces. The battle could happen at any moment.
Kou Zhong suddenly relaxed, thinking that visiting the mountain, Cui Jixiu has encountered the tiger; the Li Liao warriors have assembled and rushed over to fight back.
At the same time, he felt something strange. No matter what, Cui Jixiu was Lin Shihong's Guoshi, how could he playact as twisted senior, subdued nobility, and came disguising himself as a lowly raping and pillaging pirate?
He heard a long laugh, followed by Cui Jixiu's unhurried voice saying, "Unexpectedly it is the 'Hu Yi Hong Fen' [lit. tiger-skinned rouge and powder (fig. the fairer sex)] Ouyang Qian Da Xiaojie who graces us with her fragrant presence."
Kou Zhong thought that Ouyang Qian's name sounded so familiar, but immediately remembered that either Chen Changlin or Bu Tianzhi had mentioned that she was one of the three major leaders of the Li Liao; the other two being Wang Zhongxuan and Chen Zhifei. Who would have thought that he would run into her here by chance? And she looked so pretty.
Obviously Ouyang Qian had just arrived here. Her gaze slowly scanned the disaster area where the people were in a terrible situation; her beautiful eyes emitted grief and indignation. She spoke slowly, word-by-word, "Report your name to me," with very articulate pronunciation and vocalizing, totally unlike the Li Liao girl he met earlier.
Putting his saber back into its scabbard, Kou Zhong laughed aloud while leaving his hiding place and walking over toward the crowd. He responded on behalf of Cui Jixiu, "I am Cui Jixiu, the Guoshi under Lin Shihong's command. This time coming here to kill and burn, other than because of my savage character, also to shift the blame onto Shen Faxing. Ha! Cui Xiong! Was my answer on your behalf wrong?"
All several hundreds pair of eyes around the battlefield immediately fell on him. As soon as Cui Jixiu saw Kou Zhong, the blood was drained from his face, his eyes revealed a panic-stricken look.
Xu Ziling's mind was churning at the speed of light; he quickly pretended that he had planned in advance, saying, "How could Xi Ying conceal his trick from Laofu's [this old man] eyes? Since hearing the news about this dog-thief Xi Ying, Laofu knew there is something else in it; Xianzhi [worthy/virtuous nephew] needs not worry about Laofu. Does Xianzhi by any chance know where Xi Ying is staying?"
Still concerned, Zheng Shiru replied, "Yue Lao must not take this lightly. They want to deal not only with Song Que, but also with you, Senior. Were it not for the fact that Zhu Yuyan was unwilling to personally kill her daughter's father, how could Yue Lao escape so easily that day? After the fact, they scoured the entire Luoyang, only they failed to find Yue Lao!"
Xu Ziling mused inwardly that Yue Shan practically did not exist; naturally they could not find him.
His eyes flashing with sharp light, he spoke in heavy voice, "When we first met that day, Xianzhi's voice carried an inquiring overtone; what did you mean by that?"
After years of encountering cheating tricks in each color and each form, he has learned from experience.
Zheng Shiru replied in low voice, "Yue Lao appeared so suddenly; it was not until Zhu Yuyan confirmed Yue Lao's identity that Xiaozhi was willing to believe. But by that time I could not find Yue Lao."
Xu Ziling nonchalantly said, "Yin Gui Pai has never allowed outsiders to share their secrets, how did you know so many things?"
Zheng Shiru replied with a sigh, "If I were in Yue Lao's shoes, I would have the same doubt. Problem is, although I am absolutely not a Yin Gui Pai disciple, I am not an outsider at all. For the last ten years I did not show the slightest bit of suspicion on my humble father's violent death, while deliberately pretending to be infatuated with Zhu Yuyan's disciple Bai Qing'er, plus they wanted to draw support from Xiaozhi's talent in politics and economy to govern Xiangyang, this important fortified city, for them; therefore, Zhu Yuyan was willing to put me in an important position."
Xu Ziling finally began to believe Zheng Shiru; muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, "Why did Xianzhi come to Chengdu this time?"
Smiling wryly, Zheng Shiru replied, "This matter is hard to explain in a few words. The simple explanation is that I finally met the love of my heart, also because I felt that avenging my father's enmity is a hopeless case; therefore, I have the heart of withdrawing from Jianghu, and just happened to encountered Xi Ying's affair. It would be best if Yue Lao immediately keep him at a distance, and try to find Xi Ying to settle the account in the future. I might report Yue Lao's appearance here later, but naturally I would word it differently."
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, "Xianzhi may set your heart at ease. If Laofu does not have any confidence, I would never come here to take risks. Xianzhi needs not worry about anything, just tell them tonight at the third watch of the night [11pm to 1am], I will wait for Xi Ying at the Da Shi Temple."
Shocked, Zheng Shiru said, "Yue Lao must not do so. This moment the Four Great Elders of Yin Gui Pai are all in Chengdu. And then there is Wanwan, the proud disciple of Zhu Yuyan. It would be difficult for Yue Lao to get the desired outcome."
Xu Ziling felt a big headache. Whether it was spoken to Xu Ziling or Yue Shan, Zheng Shiru was giving a word of advice; it's a pity that no matter how much danger he had to risk, he simply must lure Xi Ying out of his hiding place. At best, when the time came, he could keep a close watch from a secret place to see if he could follow Xi Ying back to his hiding place, and then find a way to deal with him alone.
Reaching out to grab Zheng Shiru's shoulder, he leaned closer and spoke with determination, "Laofu has a sense of propriety. It's crucial that Xianzhi pass on Laofu's words as things really are to Bian Bufu; otherwise you'll make a botch of things."
Zheng Shiru's eyes flitted over his palm; severely shaken, he said, "Yue Lao has indeed mastered the 'Huan Ri Da Fa'; no wonder you have such confidence."
Following his gaze, Xu Ziling looked over, and was so frightened that his heart was shaken. His usually fair-skinned, slender hand looked as if it has shed its mortal body and exchanged its bones, like its muscle was scraped from the bones and its marrow was washed, to become sparkling and translucent, as glossy and bright as a jade, with some kind of transcending-the-world, shedding-the-dust-of-the-mortal-world luster.
Zheng Shiru spoke in low voice, "But Yue Lao must be careful. I hear that Xi Ying has been greatly successful in amassing skill from various Western Regions' schools, and created the so-called 'Zi Qi Tian Luo' [lit. Purple Cloud (or 'qi') Heavenly Gauze], an overbearing demonic skill. After testing it, Zhu Yuyan did not stop praising him, commending it as the most brilliant self-created gongfa of the demonic school after Shi Zhixuan's 'Immortal Image'."
Xu Ziling vigorously patted him on the shoulder and said, "Go and act according to plan; you must not hold things up."
Zheng Shiru wanted to talk, but in the end he held his peace. Seeing his resolute expression, which was beyond persuasion, he sighed helplessly before steeling himself to turn and continue on his way.