Book 20 Chapter 8 – Place of Charm and Beauty
‘Knock! Knock! Knock!’
Holding the treasured book on mechanism in his hand, Kou Zhong said, “Ren Dajie, please come in!”
The door to the study room was pushed open, like a puff of smoke the glamorous looking Ren Meimei entered in. She walked over with flair, and plopped herself down in a chair next to him. “How did Shao Shuai know that it was me?” she asked affectionately.
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Anybody’s footstep, as long as I memorize it firmly, I will never forget.”
Astonished, Ren Meimei asked, “Has my footstep been unchanging? When I was coming in just now, I did my best to lighten my footsteps, with the intention to scare you off!”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “People’s footsteps, other than fast and slow, light and heavy, can also change according to his mood; however, no matter how much it changes, it always retains some unchanged rhyme and rhythm, just like everybody’s gait in walking is different, only ordinary people normally don’t pay attention to it. Therefore, when Xiao Ling and I changed our appearance and disguised ourselves as someone else, we must also alter our posture and gait in walking, sitting, lying, so that we won’t reveal any flaw. It is easy to say, but it is very difficult and entails strenuous effort to do.”
Revealing an admiring look, Ren Meimei spoke with great interest, “Aiyo! Who would think that this matter would involve so much learning? Where did you learn it from?”
Pointing to his own head, Kou Zhong laughed and said, “This guy learned it himself. This is called ‘to eat off one’s own strength’ [i.e. to stand on one’s own feet].”
Ren Meimei coyly shot him a sidelong glance and said, “When we first met at the casino many years ago, the two of you were just kids with yellow hair, your hands were trembling your legs were shaking, and looked like one overcome with fear and trepidation. Who would know that in just a few years you changed shape in a single shake, and have become handsome young men with control over the wind and the clouds? Even Jiejie becomes your pawn. At that time, who could have imagined?”
Kou Zhong casually asked, “Does Baling Bang still have power in this region?”
Ren Meimei replied, “Officially, everything they owned were plucked off by Xu Yuanlang; unofficially, they still owned three, four brothels. Just say the word, I wil pull them up by the roots for you.”
Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, “The time has not come yet. Hee hee …! Ren Dajie came to see Xiaodi, is there any special reason?”
Her seductive appearance in full force, this blooming-flower-like beauty cast him a ten-thousand-flirtatious glance and spoke coyly, “Must I have a reason to see you?”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and reached out to caress her cheek; he said, “I thought after going through such turmoil, Ren Dajie would have curbed your desire and engaged in spiritual cultivation; turns out you still retain your former romantic nature.”
Pouting playfully, Ren Meimei said, “I like you! Plus you are just in the prime of your life. If you want women to wait upon you on the bed, you might as well let Jiejie serve you with great care. Gentleman’s satisfaction guaranteed.”
Kou Zhong’s hand moved toward the back of her neck; pulling her over, he kissed her on the lips, and said with a smile, “I know Dajie will definitely make me very satisfied, but I am afraid I would be too satisfied and happy that I would forget to come back. Because my training came from the Taoist’s Secret to Long Life, it is inadvisable to indulge in debauchery. Furthermore, we are in the initial stage of our great undertaking, I must exercise restraint even more.”
Like a spoiled child Ren Meimei did not want to give up, “Accompanying you for one night shouldn’t be a problem, should it?”
It was not that Kou Zhong did not want sex, or not that he was not tempted by Ren Meimei, but due to painful experience with Yun Yuzhen and Dong Shuni, he developed resistance and wariness toward licentious women; he did not want to cause mischief because of carnal desire and deeply engrossed in the pleasure of close intimacy between man and woman [orig. happiness of fish in the water].
Hearing Ren Meimei, he whispered softly in her ear, “Dajie underestimate your attractive power toward me too much. If there is one night, there will be second night and third night. I’d better kiss your sweet lips only!”
Ren Meimei said crossly, “Are you trying to attract dead person? But even if you decline my offer, I am still very happy in my heart. Before, it was precisely because he indulged in women excessively that Da Dangjia’s [first chief] power was declining. Otherwise he wouldn’t have died because he failed to recover from his internal injury. Therefore, although I hate you a little, in my heart I admire you very much. It is a really contradictory feeling.”
Kou Zhong lightly kissed her cheek and said, “Don’t hate me, just maintain the affectionate feeling between sister and brother; the joy is more long-lasting and touching than man-woman physical relationship.”
Ren Meimei returned his kiss by planting a kiss on his mouth; gently nodding his head, he said, “It was only now that Jiejie understood that those who are doing great things must be like that. No wonder you can rise that fast! All right! I won’t disturb you anymore.”
Kou Zhong walked her off to the door. Ren Meimei threw herself into his bosom and spoke tenderly, “Accompanying you for the night does not necessarily mean we are having sex; I am sure sleeping in your arms will be very comfortable!”
Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, “With a ball of fire in my arms, how can I sleep? Almost forget to tell you, when I sleep, I am training my inner power.”
Ren Meimei bit him hatefully on his shoulder that he yelped in pain before she laughed tenderly and walked away.
Kou Zhong shut the door, sighed, and thought about several reasons to persuade himself.
He was about to take out the treasured book and study diligently when he heard footsteps again. He was a thousand times sure and ten thousand times certain that it was Ren Meimei’s footstep. But he felt something was very, very wrong.
Because the sound was exactly the same as Ren Meimei’s footsteps before.
It was impossible.
One was Ren Meimei thinking of throwing herself into his arms, the other was Ren Meimei who had just been rejected by him. How could two kinds of totally different mood produce the same light and quick steps?
‘Knock! Knock! Knock!’
Kou Zhong’s hand grabbed the Moon in the Well lying on the small table next to his chair. “Come in!” he spoke indifferently.
※ ※ ※
At last Shi Qingxuan turned her tender body around to face these people.
After seeing her real Mount Lu appearance, everybody, including Xu Ziling, sighed inwardly, ‘What a pity!’
This beauty, who ought to be flawless, was ruthlessly destroyed by high and bulging, out-of-proportion, nasal bone and ugly nose, making people unbearably depressed to see it! If this ugly nose could be removed, her other features were comparable to beauties of Wanwan, Shi Feixuan’s caliber. Especially the glistening, bright like gemstone, pupil of her pair of eyes, which carried some kind of eternal mystery elegance that made people admiring it greatly. But all the perfection was maliciously wrecked by the repulsive nose. No wonder she was ashamed to show herself to others.
After You Niaojuan, Ding Jiuzhong, Zhou Laotan, Jin Huanzhen, four people, cast their harsh glance toward her, from her face, their gaze moved toward the glittering, golden, small crystal ball resting on her slender, delicate and beautiful jade palm.
The four of them were severely shaken.
And then You Niaojuan, Ding Jiuzhong, Zhou Laotan, Jin Huanzhen rushed forward at the same time, trying to pounce on Shi Qingxuan. Shi Qingxuan waved her hand, the golden crystal ball shot out of her hand, through the hole on the roof, and up to the sky above the temple’s roof.
The four soared and broke through the roof to pursue the crystal ball. The sound of palm wind and punches clashing against each other rang incessantly like the sound of firecrackers during New Year’s celebration.
Shi Qingxuan beckoned Xu Ziling with a faint smile on her face. And then she circled around toward the back of the Buddha image.
Xu Ziling was taken aback by Shi Qingxuan’s friendly attitude. But this moment he had no time to think too much, hastily he followed behind her.
Shi Qingxuan pushed open the revolving wall behind the Buddha image, while at the same time lighted up a wind lantern in her hand, illuminating a set of stone steps leading deep underground. Turning toward Xu Ziling, who, by this time, had caught up by her side, she said, “Come with Qingxuan! But you must follow Qingxuan step by step, or else you might suffer fatal disaster.”
※ ※ ※
The study room door opened wide.
Millions of sharp dots, followed by powerful and suffocating, fierce true qi arrived, blowing into the room like a sand storm, rolling Kou Zhong, who sitting steadily in his chair, like raging waves crashing against the shore.
If it were someone else, facing this sudden startling-the-heaven-and-earth, sobbing-ghosts-and-deities, terrifying offensive, he would have tried to evade the sharp front with thousand ways, a hundred plans first, before attempting to steady his footing, while striving to reverse his disadvantageous situation.
But clearly Kou Zhong knew that that would simply be a dead end.
Because this was not the first time that he and this assassin fought hand to hand. He clearly knew that if he lost the key moment and gave the opponent a chance to unleash his sword momentum unrestrained, he could forget about gaining the opportunity to strike back.
The Moon in the Well separated from its scabbard; the scabbard in his right hand, the saber in his left.
At the same time the true qi went straight toward his eyelids was losing its pressure, the sharp dots immediately disappeared without any trace.
Wearing black hood, black nightwalker attire Yang Xuyan appeared; the tip of the sword in his hand turned into a dot of sharp ray, making a fantastic arc it traversed the zhang or so distance from the door to Kou Zhong’s face. It shot right toward him with the speed that was indiscernible by naked eye.
This was the first time that Kou Zhong saw such a fast and fierce sword technique. But he was still sitting steadily as if mounting on a great horse, wielding a golden saber, without moving at all. The scabbard in his right hand swiftly poked the tip of the opponent’s sword.
It was like two streaks of raging inferno crashing against each other.
Yang Xuyan was like being struck by lightning. All four chi of the greenish black sword blade changed into seven, eight streaks of sword rays, seemingly able to attack every single one of vital points on Kou Zhong’s body.
The solid mahogany chair disintegrated into cun-size wood fragments.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud, while struggling hard to resist the numbness on his right hand. Pulling back his scabbard, he fiercely braced his legs to stand up proudly, and then lowering his waist into a horse stand, the Moon in the Well swept the opponent.
Like magic, Yang Xuyan’s seven, eight streaks of sword rays disappeared and changed back into a four-chi long greenish black sword blade, meeting Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well head on.
Evidently Kou Zhong’s power was slightly inferior; he was pushed half a step aside.
Yang Xuyang did not say a single word, but his momentum was unforgiving either. Unleashing his swordsmanship, his skillful moves looked clumsy, like a shadow following a shadow his sword slashed down.
But Kou Zhong felt that the opponent’s seemingly ordinary, nothing-amazing sword move not only carried vicious momentum, it also felt like an enormous vacuum sucking him in, so that even if he wanted to evade, he was helpless to do so. Although fully aware that the opponent was forcing him to meet force with force, he had no choice but to raise his saber across his chest to block the sword.
‘Qiang! Qiang! Qiang! Qiang! Qiang!’
Amidst five clear ringing, Yang Xuyan unexpectedly let out a stifled groan and retreated backward.
Letting out a long laugh, Kou Zhong said, “Kid, you know when it is too formidable for you!”
Turned out in his raising the saber to block, he has hidden an extremely abstruse technique and an ingenious application of true qi. When the saber and sword met, with indeterminate changes, he consecutively blocked five sword strikes, forcing Yang Xuyan to exhaust his moves, unable to continue, and was forced to back off.
One side was disappearing, the other side was still going strong, Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well shot its yellow rays, like a storm or crashing waves it rolled Yang Xuyan inside its power.
The fight and the shouting have alarmed the people nearby; sound of men and footsteps came from all around.
Fast like lightning Yang Xuyan withdrew from the room. Letting out a cold snort he said, “Just consider yourself lucky today!”
By the time Kou Zhong pursued him out of the door, he had already soared, first to the top of the building opposite the study room, and then disappeared into the darkness.
Kou Zhong just stood there, staring blankly for half a day, and then ‘Wah!’ he spurted out a mouthful of blood. Shaking his head, he smiled ruefully and said, “Good kid, you almost succeeded this time.”
※ ※ ※
The wind lantern in Shi Qingxuan’s hand was like a fairy, brimming with life, in the dark tunnel, swiftly dashing, flashing, leaping, ahead of Xu Ziling, turning to the left and rounding to the right, but continuously going down.
More than a hundred stone steps passed under their feet in the blink of an eye.
Shi Qingxuan stopped in a circular cave that evidently has been dug by human. Raising her wind lantern to illuminate Xu Ziling running after her, she said, “Welcome to Fu Mo Dong [Subduing Demon Cave]!”
Xu Ziling looked at the entrance to the cave. Under the flickering light of the lantern, to his surprise he found characters carved into the stone on both sides of the cave mouth. On the left, it said, ‘Spirited and Elegant As If Made By Heaven’, on the right it said, ‘Opened By Divine Skill Cave Dwelling’. Unable to restrain his surprise, he asked, “What is this?”
Shi Qingxuan smiled and said, “Originally I was thinking of taking care those four vicious demons relying on my own strength. But now with you helping me, naturally I have more confidence. Are you Xu Ziling or Kou Zhong?”
“What?” Xu Ziling blurted out.
Shrugging her shoulders, Shi Qingxuan said, “If I had not guessed who you are by the Yue Shan mask you are wearing, I would not have taken you here.”
Hundreds of questions filling his mind, Xu Ziling asked, “Even if you could see that this is Yue Shan mask, how did you guess that I am Xu Ziling?”
Remaining tranquil and calm, Shi Qingxuan replied, “Very simple. Because I received the secret letter Mr. Lu sent to me before he became an immortal [fig. to die], so I know your relationship with Mr. Lu. Moreover, I have witnessed Yue Shan’s death with my own eyes; therefore, I can’t possibly believe that you are the real Yue Shan, and thus I know that if you are not Xu, then you must be Kou.”
Xu Ziling reached up to take off his mask and put it inside his pocket. Smiling wryly, he said, “Turns out being unmasked by other people can make you feel so embarrassed and helpless.”
Without showing any emotion on her face, Shi Qingxuan scrutinized him for half a day, before nodding her head and said, “Now I am totally relieved!”
The more Xu Ziling tried to understand her, the more he felt that she was unfathomable. Stunned, he said, “You have never seen me before, why do you feel totally relieved just by looking at me a few glances. It is still possible that I am not Xu Ziling.”
Shi Qingxuan seemed to listen carefully to any movement at the entrance upstairs; she replied casually, “I am an expert in reading people’s face, hence I know you are not a wicked or presumptuous man, you can be assured of that. Even if you are not Xu Ziling, you are absolutely not a bad person.”
Suddenly You Niaojuan’s loathsome voice came down from the entrance, “Miss Shi, great aunt, little s1ut, if you don’t come out here but trouble me to come down for you, I will make you unable to seek life, and cannot beg for death.”
And then Zhou Laotan’s voice roared, “Little s1ut has the impertinence to deceive us using fake Relic. Where is the real Relic?”
His roar reverberated throughout the cave, the momentum was terrifying.
Shi Qingxuan’s soft voice replied, “The real Demonic Emperor Relic is naturally with me here. If you have the ability, come and get it! I am leaving!”
Beckoning Xu Ziling, she floated into the more unfathomable empty space inside the cave.
※ ※ ※
The crowd rushed toward Kou Zhong, who was standing quietly, regulating his breathing in silence.
Seeing him coming out unscathed, Ren Meimei breathed a sigh of relief and asked, “Who was it?”
It was quite a while later, after taking deep breath three times in succession, that Kou Zhong replied nonchalantly, “It’s that kid Yang Xuyan!”
Everybody gasped in horror.
Xuan Yong, who had been leading his men in wild goose chase, hurried back. After finding out the identity of the assassin, he said, “We must reinforce the defense of the Zongguan Mansion.”
Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, “This man has endless assassination approach, plus he is able to carry out his mission anywhere. There is no need to waste our mind and manpower just for him, one man, alone.”
Chen Jiafeng anxiously asked, “What should we do then?”
Kou Zhong smiled and replied, “I am not scared of him at all; what I am afraid of is that after having a clear understanding of our foundation, he would shift the assassination target to you, in order to strike our morale and confidence, and to weaken our strength.”
Xuan Yong said, “This is indeed a very tricky problem, the only way is to try to find him out, at least to drive him out of Liangdu. Otherwise, it will be difficult for everybody to get a good night sleep.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Although this is not an easy matter, it is not impossible to achieve; because of his special build, he is easy to recognize. Therefore, if we announce it to the army and citizens of the whole city, telling everybody to pay particular attention to such figure, it will be difficult for him to hide.”
Ren Meimei said, “Could it be that he is still inside the Zongguan Mansion, waiting for the opportunity?”
Being reminded by her, Kou Zhong spoke in agreement, “Let’s spend a little bit of effort to search the Zongguan Mansion. After we are certain that he is not in here, we’ll set up secret alarm inside the Mansion, and formulate an effective warning method. At least the enemy cannot go in and out as if this was an uninhabited place.”
Lowering his voice, Xuan Yong said, “Supposing he is indeed still in the Mansion, we …”
Kou Zhong’s heart was moved; he cut him off by saying, “If that is the case, it is my turn to assassinate him! Ha!”
Everybody was stunned.
※ ※ ※
Under the illumination of the wind lantern, Xu Ziling felt as if he had been transported into a fantastic world that looked like a beehive magnified ten million times. In front of this giant cave, there were seven cave mouths at random intervals. The main branch of each cave was linked together. In between, each cave extended deep down, bending to the left and turning to the right, winding in a bizarre way. There were caves within the caves, big caves enveloped smaller caves, the caves were interlinked, as if one was entering a labyrinth.
Following behind Shi Qingxuan, Xu Ziling entered a cave that was about a zhang wide. He was about to speak, but Shi Qingxuan whispered in his ear, “Don’t speak loudly, below live tens of millions bats. Once they are alarmed, the scene might frighten people to their death.”
Hearing that, all the hair on Xu Ziling’s body stood up, thinking that since that was the case, why would she want to go down?”
This moment nearly half of Shi Qingxuan’s tender body was leaning into his bosom; as if she was able to see the load on his mind, she said, “Do you know why the path we took just now did not have any bat in it?”
Xu Ziling shook his head with a blank stare, while his nose was full of the sweet, faint fragrant emanating from her body.
With breath smelling like orchid, Shi Qingxuan whispered in his ear, “Because there are some kind of strange rock that is the bane of the bats. Therefore, they do not dare to go there.”
Strange noises came from the direction of the entrance; apparently You Niaojuan and the others were groping their way down the cave, but they were walking very slowly, cautiously and solemnly.
Shi Qingxuan suddenly turned around and pulled his neck down.
Xu Ziling jumped in fright, thinking that this was not the fortunate timing for her to throw herself into his arms.
Shi Qingxuan still maintained a cun or so distance between her body and his, her right hand groped his hair, and she spoke in low voice, “I ground some of those rocks into powder and apply it onto your hair, so that the bats won’t dare to come within three chi from you. It will be greatly advantageous when we fight later.”
Xu Ziling began to get a bit of understanding, while at the same time he was somewhat embarrassed for misunderstanding her.
Shi Qingxuan continued, “We are going to lure them into the cave where the bat concentration is the highest. That will be the time of their death. You are going to fight them, I am going to provoke the bats using the undulation of the flute sound. Do you understand?”
Regaining his composure, Xu Ziling said, “Everything will be done according to your instruction.”
“I am going to blow out the light!” Shi Qingxuan said.
Before she even finished speaking, the light was already out.
At first Xu Ziling’s vision went black, and then the ground in front of him gradually brightened; not only that, it was multi-colored too. The color white was dominant, followed by light yellow, pale brown, desert tan, rocky green, and much more variety of colors. Although the luster was murky, but when he focused his inner power into his eyes, he was able to see everything clearly, which made him feel relieved immediately.
Shi Qingxuan led the way forward, toward the place where the bats were indeed startled by their presence, but not even half a bat dared to fly near them.
They went through layer upon layer of caves, going deeper and deeper; the cave wall was full of milky-colored rock domes, stalagmites and stalactites, stone pillars, flower rocks. Some were hanging from the roof down, some grew up from the cave bed, some were leaning against the cave wall, in endless variation, thousands of shapes and sizes, glittering and shiny, glistening and dazzling.
Xu Ziling felt as if he was entering the monstrous and multicolored, sumptuous mansion, imaginary Temple in Heaven, the world of mythology.
The most amazing thing was that the cave did not feel especially stuffy; obviously there were ventilation holes to the outside, this cave was not a sealed, dead cave.
You Niaojuan’s strange cries was heard from above; Shi Qingxuan seemed to be acting presumptuously, she went deeper in. Because of the noise the bats were making as they flew about, they need not worry that the enemy would pursue in the wrong direction.
The two stooped down to enter a small cave. They suddenly came to a wide clearing; an open space as spacious as the temple hall upstairs. The roof was dark and fuzzy, but upon closer look, it was actually full of bats hanging upside down. Seeing this, Xu Ziling’s scalp went numb.
Everything in this cave was proportionately bigger than the other caves; the thick stone pillars, hundreds of bamboo shoots [?], stone curtain [?], composing a tangled and complicated terrain.
The walls all around were densely covered in hundreds of different shapes and sizes texture, from needle-shaped to round, in bunches and clusters, randomly scattered along the stone walls, flowery like embroidered work, magnificent and multifarious.
Shi Qingxuan leaned over and whispered in his ear, “You may choose the location of the ambush yourself; those four people are treacherous villains whose death cannot wipe out their crimes. If you manage to kill one, the people around the world will be able to live a bit more peaceful and happy. When you fight, you must not show any mercy. If you are unfortunate and die in battle, I will activate the secret mechanism to seal all the exits, and die together with them to avenge you. Remember, I will try to create a chance for you to launch sneak attack.”
Xu Ziling shivered inwardly, and turned his eyes on her.
Shi Qingxuan’s beautiful eyes twinkled with unusual rays, emitting divine light that made people feel deep veneration toward her.
In that moment, Xu Ziling suddenly completely forgot about her grotesque nose; he said in low voice, “Miss is really beautiful, Zaixia will definitely not turn my back on what you are entrusting to me.”
Hearing these two sentences, which appeared unrelated to each other, Shi Qingxuan showed a slightly startled look. After gazing deeply into his eyes, she turned around and floated toward another cave.
Xu Ziling did not have time to ponder the rich meaning in her eyes; focusing his attention, he hid behind a giant stone pillar growing up from the bed of the cave.
The sound of bats flapping their wings as they glided was heard from afar, but it was coming nearer and nearer, clearly indicating the path and the speed at which the enemy was coming.
Xu Ziling took a deep breath, his true qi immediately circulated through the meridians in his whole body. His spirit and mind became one. He quietly waited for the optimum opportunity to mount a sneak attack.