Chapter 6 - Treating One Another With Absolute Sincerity
Suppressing his surging blood and qi, Kou Zhong said with a wry smile, "Wangzi's [prince/son of a king] first meeting gift is not something that everybody could enjoy."
The visitor was surprisingly Tuyuhun prince Fu Qian. This time he came alone, and the clothes he wore was casual, everyday Han attire, it was completely different from the last time they met at the Eastern Capital, where he had people heralding his presence in front and thronging behind him.
With dragon-walk-and-tiger-step and imposing momentum Fu Qian walked into the front courtyard, his blazing eyes swept toward the direction of the main door, he spoke in astonishment, "Where are Ziling Xiong and Tuli Khan?"
Kou Zhong drew the Moon in the Well, launching the 'Chess Abundant' of the 'Eight Methods of the Well', he sent a saber chop across the empty air. Unexpectedly the air in the entire courtyard was pulled by the blade that it created a negative force field similar to the Tian Mo Da Fa; mysterious and unusual to the extreme.
Since receiving Song Que's teaching, which led him to understand the true essence of saber technique, and then along the way to Jiujiang he researched and pondered over the 'Eight Methods of the Well' for many days on the boat, plus he underwent repeated bloody battles, and during the escape he studied meticulously and improved upon it with Xu Ziling and Tuli as sparring partners, only this moment his 'Eight Methods of the Well' could be considered a big success, reaching the as-the-arm-moves-the-finger [idiom: freely and effortlessly] stage, not in such a way that he would not be able to use it against a powerful enemy.
Fu Qian's punch just now displayed this Tuyuhun's prince's tyrannical martial art skill, his profound training of the fundamentals. Immediately Kou Zhong's hands itched; how could he let this great opportunity to test his saber skill slip by?
Fu Qian previously said that he wanted to experience Kou Zhong's saber technique; although inwardly he did have this desire, it was always expressed as a joke, so he never really expected Kou Zhong to suddenly draw his saber. Not only that, the saber strike was so unfathomable, so that he did not know where the strange attack would hit.
A flexible steel whip, only about three chi long, each section was three cun long, consisted of thirteen round steel sections, which looked like buttons linked to each other, shot out from inside his cotton-padded jacket, straight against the wind.
Simultaneously Fu Qian was moving in strange footsteps; fast as lightning he moved sideways, while the steel whip swept across the blade of the saber. His reaction was fast and accurate, making people gasp in amazement.
Kou Zhong roared in laughter and said, "Good! Using attack in place of escaping, it was indeed brilliant."
Under the interaction of the positive and negative qi within his body, he spun around and flashed toward Fu Qian's left side - the spot where it would be difficult for Fu Qian's flexible steel whip to reach, using the 'Battle Decision' stroke. Immediately his saber surged like the wave, attacking this tyrannical opponent like quicksilver flowing out swiftly.
Fu Qian cried, 'Formidable!' inwardly. The flexible steel whip blocked the top and sealed off the bottom, it parried the left and deflected the right; combined with flashing and swaying footwork, he gave everything he had to deal with Kou Zhong's Great River's violent waterfall, unending torrential fierce and severe offensives.
The sound of weapons clashing was ringing constantly, blazing and dazzling, exquisite and brilliant beyond compare.
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Xu Ziling stepped out of the main door and stood on top of the stone steps to watch the battle; inwardly he was greatly astonished.
It should be noted that during their trip back to the Eastern Capital, both he and Kou Zhong had made repeated breakthrough in the martial art study, they had reached the level, which gave them the credibility to fight a stake-it-all battle against the pinnacle of martial art masters like Zhu Yuyan. Yet unexpectedly Fu Qian, under Kou Zhong's exceptional saber technique, still had the power to strike back. From this, the height of this man's skill could be easily inferred.
Kou Zhong's saber swept across, Fu Qian was forced to retreat three steps back. And then, using the move 'No Attack', he sealed the opponent's movements. Fu Qian wanted to attack but was unable to attack. Suddenly he heaved a long sigh and casually tossed the flexible steel whip aside. And then, laughing heartily, he said, "Delighted! Delighted! What was the name of the last move? Unexpectedly it made me feel that if I forced myself to attack, I would only fail?"
Kou Zhong laughed calmly and said, "Reporting to His Highness the Prince, this move was 'No Attack' style of Xiaodi's 'Eight Methods of the Well'."
At first, Fu Qian was stunned, and then he laughed to his heart's content and said, "Certainly not just in name only, but also in reality; indeed I was unable to attack."
Standing on the stone steps, Xu Ziling asked, "Why would Fu Qian Xiong want to relinquish such a divine weapon?"
Fu Qian calmly laughed and said, "If I was using two spear hatchets - the weapon that I am accustomed to use, just now I could have strong offense and strong defense, in trying to break Shao Shuai's marvelous move 'No Attack'. This steel whip already made me one notch inferior; even if I did not discard it, it has no use for me. This is precisely its punishment."
Kou Zhong was greatly puzzled by this nobleman's too-wonderful-for-words remark; he cheerfully said, "Wangzi, please don't lie to me; just now when Wangzi abandoned your whip, did you intend to use iron fist instead of iron whip, but then afterwards you dispelled this thought?"
Fu Qian's eyes were flashing like lightning; he nodded and said, "Shao Shuai's brilliance is indeed surpassing my expectation, no wonder you could safely reach this place and even call on Xiaodi to test your saber."
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, "Kou Zhong testing his saber on you, he has deep meaning behind it."
Stunned, Fu Qian cast a questioning look on Kou Zhong.
Kou Zhong nodded and said, "I wanted to see if Wangzi has the qualification to exact revenge against Pei Ju."
Severely shaken, Fu Qian blurted out, "What?"
This moment Tuli appeared on the door and said, "Why don't Your Highness come inside to have a drink and a chat?"
Fu Qian's gaze moved to Tuli; his eyes shot complicated, profound look toward this old enemy.
After they sat down properly, Kou Zhong was the first to ask, "How did Fu Qian Xiong know that we are here and come looking for us?"
He had asked the same question to Hong Funu, but did not get the answer. Theoretically, this secret nest should be known only to Wang Shichong and the men on his side.
However, Fu Qian did not have any choice but to answer, "The news that you took a boat from Yique to here - before you even entered the city - has already spread widely among the gangs and societies in Luoyang, big and small; it caused quite a sensation. But it was Rong Fengxiang of Luo Shui Bang [River Luo Gang] who sent someone to notify me just now the place where you are going to stay. He takes such a good care of me, Xiaodi feels it is rather unexpected."
Kou Zhong slapped the table and spoke angrily, "Must be Wang Xuanying that kid who leaked the information to Rong Fengxiang. Rong Fengxiang thought that Fu Qian Xiong and Khan are the two enemies who cannot exist together. Hey! Wangzi is not coming to settle the account with Khan, is he?"
Fu Qian shook his head and said with a smile, "In Eastern Tujue, my real enemy is Xieli and Zhao Deyan. But let's set this matter aside for now, where exactly is Pei Ju hiding? Who is sheltering him?"
Xu Ziling said, "Fu Qian Xiong misunderstood! Pei Ju is a fake name; your real enemy has different identity; he himself has enough power to deal with anybody."
Smiling wryly, Tuli said, "Were it not for us still having a bit of luck, I am afraid we would not talk with Wangzi here and now."
Fu Qian asked in heavy voice, "What is exactly Pei Ju's other identity?"
Kou Zhong replied word-by-word, "Within the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way, he ranks barely second to Zhu Yuyan; but his demonic power may have surpassed hers. He is the 'Demonic King' Shi Zhixuan."
Finally Fu Qian's countenance changed.
After listening to Kou Zhong's brief explanation, Fu Qian drew a mouthful of cold air and said, "If I didn't hear it from three gentlemen's mouth, I would have not believed it, because this matter is too bizarre and beyond belief. So the Sui Dynasty was destroyed by one man's hands?"
Xu Ziling laughed and said, "You ought to say it was destroyed by two men's hands, because even if there was Shi Zhixuan but there were no Yang Guang, that muddled ruler cooperating with him, the Sui Dynasty would not have followed in the Qin Court's trailing dust; just two generations and then ended."
Tuli said, "Frankly speaking, compared to Shi Zhixuan, any one of us still have some hard-to-cross distance from him. The worst thing is that he appears and disappears unpredictably [orig. gods appear and devils vanish]; he could come and go at any moment, we can't even touch his shadow."
Fu Qian had not personally experienced an encounter with him, hence he still had not had shaken-up feeling. But as Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling heard that, cold sweats appeared on their backs, because Tuli was spelling out the dread in their heart.
Although Zhu Yuyan had enough qualifications to terrify them, but there would always be spider's thread and horse track [idiom: tiny hints] that they could find about her. Not so with Shi Zhixuan, who had given the Buddhist and Taoist, two schools, a lot of headache for many years; who could suddenly appear completely without any warning.
They could not help remembering Yun Shuai, whose good or bad luck was still unknown. Immediately their mood became heavy; the relaxed feeling they were having when they had just arrived in Luoyang disappeared without any trace.
It was only this moment that they deeply felt that Bi Xiuxin, Shi Qingxuan's birth mother was truly worthy of the greatest admiration. She sacrificed many years of Buddhism practice to tightly bind that man, whose demonic power was unrivalled, using a strand of thread of passion, so that it would be difficult for his 'Immortal Image Method' to succeed completely and could not unify the demonic way. Otherwise, it would be hard to imagine what kind of disaster it would bring.
Thinking hard, Fu Qian said, "Since currently his disciple Yang Xuyan is leaning toward the Li Clan's princelings Jiancheng and Yuanji, it goes to show that Shi Zhixuan still need to go through Jiancheng and Yuanji to accomplish whatever grand conspiracy that he is plotting with utmost care. And Zhao Deyan is in an inseparably close cooperation with Shi Zhixuan's worshipper, showing that these two might obey Shi Zhixuan's order, which leads me to believe that the first person Shi Zhixuan wanted to kill ought to be Khan, and not Yun Shuai at all. But why did he unexpectedly abandon Khan to pursue and attack Yun Shuai?"
Amazed, Kou Zhong said, "You are the spectator outside the field who could see clearer than the person on the spot. We have not thought about this question. Could it be because of his encounter with Zhu Yuyan he was being held up and thus could not pursue us?"
Xu Ziling said, "I believe the first person Shi Zhixuan wanted to kill was not Khan, but Li Shimin. According to the information that we have, when Li Shimin was on his way back to Guanzhong from Luoyang, he was ambushed by a mysterious martial art master under Song JinGang's command, resulting in him suffering internal injury. At that time I already felt really strange. Based on Li Shimin's, as well as his escorting Heavenly Policy Mansion's martial art masters' power, what qualification did Song JinGang's side have to injure him? At first I thought maybe Wanwan personally made her move. But now that I thought about it, I have no doubt that it was Shi Zhixuan who injured him."
Kou Zhong exhaled a mouthful of cold air; he said, "Finally Shi Zhixuan is coming out again to stir up trouble!"
Noticing the trepidation on their faces, Fu Qian was aghast. "Are you saying that he is more formidable than Ning Daoqi and Zhu Yuyan?"
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "Only God knows. But if you knew that the Four Great Holy Monks acting together have fought against him three times, and yet he was still able to escape safely, and that this event happened more than twenty years ago, then he is definitely something."
Evidently Fu Qian did not know which divine figures the Four Great Holy Monks were. By the time Xu Ziling finished explaining, his anxiety was increased by one layer.
Talking about Shi Zhixuan, the four were no longer in the mood to drink wine. Tuli said, "At least we know that Yun Shuai may have escaped great catastrophe, which is rather comforting."
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Not necessarily. The reason Shi Zhixuan did not deal with you in Nanyang was that he did not worry that he would not have the opportunity to kill you; earlier or later, it does not make any difference for him. In my opinion, he let you off that time, it was because Xiao Ling and me."
And then he turned to Xu Ziling and said, "Did you sense that he did not go all-out that time?"
Xu Ziling smiled bitterly and said, "Basically I have no idea what would it be like if he went all-out. But at that time I sensed that his real target was Yun Shuai and was not Tuli at all. It's really strange."
Supposing Shi Zhixuan was standing on Jiancheng and Yuanji's side, he ought to deal with Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong ruthlessly, so that Jiancheng's side's momentum would grow over Li Shimin's, while also rendering great merit for Li Yuan. As for Tuli, since Shi Zhixuan was in collusion with Zhao Deyan, naturally he would not let Tuli get away.
Apart from Tuli, Li Shimin's momentum would be greatly affected as well. At that time, the three were weary from the battle; if Shi Zhixuan were tailing behind them, based on his exceptional demonic skill, he would have at least eighty-, ninety-percent chance that he would be able to annihilate all three in one move, yet he clearly did not do that, so it was very difficult to understand.
Remembering his dialogue with Li Jing, Kou Zhong thought of possible answer. He sighed and said, "If I'm guessing correctly, Shi Lao Mo [old devil] is hoping that we will be successful in unearthing the Duke Yang's Treasure, so that he could profit from it."
The other three looked at him in surprise.
Xu Ziling suddenly understood, "I got it!" he said, "He wanted to take possession of the Demonic Emperor's Relic, so that he could make another breakthrough."
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, "I was not thinking about the Demonic Emperor's Relic; I am just thinking about the rumor that whoever obtains either one of the Jade Annulus of He Clan and the Duke Yang's Treasure, he would become the Son of Heaven ordained by heaven. Therefore, if Li Jiancheng could snatch the Duke Yang's Treasure from us, he would be able to completely suppress Li Shimin's prestige. It was because Shi Zhixuan was thinking about this point that he let us get away, so much so that he would try to help us sneaking into Chang'an safely to dig the hidden treasure."
Fu Qian agreed, "Although I don't know what the Demonic Emperor's Relic is, but since it could help such figure like Shi Zhixuan to make another breakthrough, it must be a priceless treasure. Therefore, any one of those reasons is enough to justify Shao Shuai's theory. Question is, why would Shi Zhixuan help Li Jiancheng to obtain the world?"
Xu Ziling solemnly said, "This can be regarded as the continuation of Shi Zhixuan's struggle against the Buddhist and Taoist, two schools. There is a plot hidden within that we do not know; otherwise, why would Shi Zhixuan worry about trivial things?"
Fu Qian sighed and said, "Unexpectedly three gentlemen are willing to let Xiaodi hear such a secret matter; Fu Qian is ten-thousand times grateful."
Kou Zhong slapped his forehead and said with a laugh, "I never thought about whether we ought to let you know about this matter, because early on, I already considered you as my close friend; also because we might have the same anger against a common enemy. However, if you betray us, you won't have much to betray anyway."
Tuli smiled and said, "That thought did cross my mind; but when I think about the fact that if Wangzi and I cooperate, we will both gain benefit, whatever doubt that I had immediately disappeared."
Xu Ziling said, "Relying on my intuition, I feel that Wangzi is a towering figure, a true hero. If the fact is not so, I have only myself to blame for having eyes without the eyeballs."
Fu Qian raised his cup and laughed heartily, "Let Fu Qian toast three gentlemen a cup. After drinking this cup, we will become good brothers."
The four men toasted each other loudly; their morale soared high. Their dread of Shi Zhixuan was swept clean.
Tuli threw the cup to the ground; it smashed into smithereens. Slapping the table, he said, "I decided not to go!"
Startled, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other.
Tuli leaned forward and spoke in low voice, "Shi Zhixuan is definitely not going to let me return to the Khanate Court alive. Why don't we beat them at their own game? Let's make a plan to kill him."
The other three knew him very well; they immediately understand Tuli's plan.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had no choice but to agree; they could not possibly watch Tuli being slaughter by Shi Zhixuan without doing anything.
After discussing the details, Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Such a fine evening, is there any interesting and fun thing that we can play?"
Xu Ziling was most clear of his nature and style; exposing Kou Zhong's real intention, he said, "Why don't you be a bit more forthcoming?"
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, "I want to take Rong Fengxiang's dog life, to kill the demonic school - particularly Yin Gui Pai's - arrogance."
Stunned, Fu Qian asked, "Rong Fengxiang is Yin Gui Pai man?"
After giving him brief explanation, Kou Zhong said, "Rong Fengxiang was able to take over Shangguan Long's position as the Da Longtou of Luo Shui Bang, it must be because there are still Yin Gui Pai people hiding inside Luo Shui Bang giving him support. This is called different broth but the same old medicine [idiom: a change in form but not in substance]. At present, the demonic school is clearly divided into two major factions, separately headed by Shi Zhixuan and Zhu Yuyan. If we could kill Rong Fengxiang, Wang Shichong might seize the opportunity to put Luo Shui Bang under his control, and thus significantly weaken the power of Zhu Yuyan's side, plus we could also vent out a big bird anger and let it go to his mother's!"
Fu Qian cheerfully said, "I don't know whether it is your luck is good, or Rong Fengxiang's luck is bad, but tonight Rong Fengxiang is at the Ting Liu Pavilion of the Man Qing Yuan, holding a great banquet to entertain …" He turned to Tuli and continued, "Your honorable side's trade delegation led by Mo He'er Ci She [see Book 28 Chapter 3]."
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, "Ling Shao, what do you think?"
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, "Whenever we go to a pleasure house, other than causing trouble and fighting, killing and burning, it seems like we never did anything else."
The murderous intent in Fu Qian's eyes flashed suddenly; he spoke heavily, "First of all, we must understand clearly the situation of the banquet site. On this, I'll take care of it. Khan, do you have any thought?"
Tuli resolutely said, "Assassinating Rong Fengxiang is a must. But it would be best if we do not harm anybody from Mo He'er's side; otherwise, it would be very difficult for me to answer Mo He'er."
Having a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, "Khan, don't worry. Our target is Rong Laoyao [old demon], one person."
Fu Qian stood up abruptly. He said with a laugh, "Let Xiaodi play the host. Would three Dage please come to Man Qing Yuan to listen to music and drink wine, to avoid frittering away this fine evening? What do three gentlemen think?"
Tuli blew out a mouthful of cold air, saying, "Absolutely not. These two kids' brothel misfortune might drag us down."
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling could only look at each other with wry smile.