Book 5 Chapter 3 – The Shadow Assassin
Returning to the beautiful, secluded, elegant and calm Shen residence, the three of them had a feeling like they had just escaped alive from a mortal danger. Also, recalling that tomorrow they were going to find Peipei, they felt that their situation was not as hopeless, without any way out, as before; therefore, their mood was greatly improved. Giggling and laughing the two boys narrated to Susu their nearly two years of experience. The more the listener was engrossed in the story, the more the story tellers were getting excited. In the blink of an eye it was already evening.
The Shen Mansion was bright with palace lanterns everywhere, the front and rear courtyards were as bright as daylight.
After eating their dinner, Kou Zhong lazed around on a chair and contentedly said, “Jiejie really loves cleanliness, you even swept this room, inside and out, clean. If it were us, we would not do that.”
Susu stared at him blankly, “How could I have spare time to think of such thing?” she said, “It was those people this morning who came here to clean up!”
Kou Zhong suddenly sat up with a start. “Oh, no!” his voice broke.
Stunned, Xu Ziling and Susu looked at him.
Kou Zhong said, “When we got here yesterday, the room was full of dust, obviously it hasn’t been occupied for a long time. Now all of a sudden somebody came in to clean up, evidently there will be guest who is going to stay here!”
Xu Ziling cursed his own negligence inwardly; he sprang up and said, “Must be Shen Poniang is going to entertain that beauty whom she accompanied just now. No wonder it is so bright outside. Come! We must quickly tidy up and sneak out.”
While the three people were busy tidying up the room, they heard faint hoof beats and voices from the front courtyard. Shen Luoyan and her guest have arrived.
Not daring to tarry any longer, while Shen Luoyan was still at the front yard, the three of them hastily hid themselves in another firewood shed behind their building.
Sure enough, a moment later they saw people entered the guest house; occasionally they even heard voices and the sound of movements.
All the lanterns in the four rooms of the guest house were lit. The three people no longer felt safe. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling took turn monitoring the activity outside. In the meantime, the snow stopped. Apparently the guests have settled down, because they did not hear as much activity as before.
Kou Zhong, who was peeking out through a small window, suddenly signaled a warning. Xu Ziling and Susu hastily crowded next to him in front of the window. The three of them looked out together.
They saw Shen Luoyan leading the energetic-looking, alluring and youthful girl, walking toward the small garden right outside the firewood shed. The former started the conversation, “Luoyan loves to see the scene of prodigious abundance of fruit the most, hence I planted mostly fruit trees.”
“Yan Jie is very thoughtful,” the woman praised, “Who would have thought that unexpectedly there is such a world-class scenic spot deep in these alleys?”
Shen Luoyan modestly replied, “Yuzhi please don’t laugh at me, your Song Family’s Huai [Chinese scholar tree/Japanese pagoda tree/Sophora Japonica] Garden is ranked among the top ten gardens of the Wulin; how can my tiny nest be compared to that?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were shaken; it was only now did they realize that this charming and independent beauty belonged to the Song Clan. They were wondering what her relation to Song Shidao was.
The two women stopped to enjoy the icicles hanging from the tree branches.
Song Yuzhi nonchalantly said, “This time Yuzhi pays a visit, based on Yan Jie’s ability and wisdom, you ought to be able to guess one or two reasons?”
Shen Luoyan muttered to herself irresolutely, “I wonder if it has something to do with Yuwen Huaji start rumors and create trouble in front of that muddleheaded ruler?”
Song Yuzhi laughed and said, “I knew we can’t hide it from Yan Jie; but that is only one of the reasons.”
Shen Luoyan slyly said, “In that case the other reason must be related to Du Fuwei. I heard that after capturing Liyang, he cut the Yangtze River’s water traffic, by wantonly and indiscriminately looting the sailing vessels. According to our information, they even confiscated three of your salt ships! Is that true?”
Song Yuzhi was indifferent. “Yan Jie is indeed very well informed,” she said, “No wonder Duke Mi relies heavily on you!”
Shen Luoyan shook her head and sighed, “I really don’t understand what’s inside Du Fuwei’s head; while Yang Guang’s main force is establishing their presence east of the River, he still has the audacity to provoke such a powerful enemy such as your precious Clan. Perhaps he is tired of living?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling suddenly understood. Yangtze River was the Song Clan’s lifeline in transporting the salt. By cutting off the salt ship traffic, Du Fuwei has greatly threatened the reputation, as well as the livelihood of the Song Clan. Therefore, the Song Clan sent Song Yuzhi with special mission to link with Li Mi, so that with north and south’s joint forces they could attack Liyang’s Jianghuai [River Huai] Army, headed by Du Fuwei and his lieutenant Fu Gongshi, from two fronts.
But presently Wagang Army was suffering from internal strife, plus they were facing Sui Army’s counteroffensive, therefore, chances are Li Mi would not have time to take care Du Fuwei.
Song Yuzhi smiled and said, “Du Fuwei thinks he is forced by circumstances, but he shouldn’t have provoked our Song Family. We have time and again negotiated with Du and Fu, two men, all failed to grasp the main points. My father is extremely furious over this matter, he determined not to spare anything in giving a good lesson to Du Fuwei. However, because he does not know Duke Mi’s intention, he sent Yuszhi to have an audience with Duke Mi.”
Shen Luoyan sighed and said, “Yuzhi should be aware that we always have mutual apprehension toward Jianghuai Army …?”
Song Yuzhi cut her off, “According to our latest information, after the Jianghuai Army captured Liyang, unexpectedly they hold back their troops without moving, simply constantly consolidating their foothold of the area. Indeed their motive is unpredictable. Did Yan Jie hear about it?”
Shen Luoyan said, “Is Yuzhi referring to Du Fuwei’s desire to wait for Yang Guang to be impatient and turn his attention to deal with us?”
Song Yuzhi was still indifferent, “Only this matter is not enough to make Yang Guang deal with you.”
And then abruptly she changed the topic, “I wonder if Yan Jie has ever heard of certain Qu Ao [lit. proud/arrogant song], a Tiele man?”
Shen Luoyan was surprised, “Is Yuzhi talking about Qu Ao, the Da Kui [lit. big helmet], who run amuck on the western border? This man’s fame is resounding; very soon he will catch up to Tujue’s Wu Zun Bi Xuan. I am afraid that Du Fuwei’s invitation cannot even move him. I wonder why Yuzhi suddenly mention this person.”
Song Yuzhi seriously said, “That was then, now it is different. Tiele people have always been mortal enemy of the Tujue people; seeing the Tujue’s influence in the Central Plains is growing deeper has sprouted their ambition to get a share of the cup of soup. Qu Ao has received Tiele King’s secret mission to connect with new rising powers of the Central Plains, with the hope of fishing in troubled water, and acquire a little bit of profit.”
Knitting her brows, Shen Luoyan asked, “Qu Ao really has any regards toward Du Fuwei?”
Calmly and confidently Song Yuzhi replied, “Not only that, they even conspire to assassinate Duke Mi. If they succeeded, Yang Guang would definitely take advantage while Wagang Army is in chaos, to go all out to attack you. At that time Du Fuwei would also seize that opportunity to absorb the scattering Wagang Army’s troops, and then expand his influence to the north. Otherwise, the longer your Wagang Army exists, the more difficult it will be for Du Fuwei to expand northward.”
Just by looking at Shen Luoyan’s expression, Kou Zhong and the others knew that this Qu Ao was no trivial matter.
Meanwhile, someone hurriedly came to report that Xu Shiji has arrived. Thereupon the two women went toward the front courtyard.
Kou Zhong followed the two women with his eyes as they disappeared into the woods, dyed white by the snow and the frost. Breathing a mouthful of cold air he said, “We might as well change profession to become assassins; it is the most profitable business. At least it will be a clean job, not as messy [orig. wading in mud and water] as stealing people’s belonging to blackmail them.”
Recalling Shen Luoyan’s secret roster, Xu Ziling was anxious. “If Shen Poniang found out that her roster is gone, it would be extremely bad,” he said, “We can forget about escaping out of town.”
“Looks like stealing that ghost thing not worth the risk we’ll have to take,” Kou Zhong admitted, “Hee …! But how could she guess that it was us who took it?”
Xu Ziling thought Kou Zhong was right. He laughed and said, “This is called empty evil intention.”
But Susu was anxious endlessly; she said, “We’d better secretly put that roster back where it came from! The most urgent matter right now is sneaking out of the city; it’s always better to have one less thing to worry!”
Listening to her, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly moved.
When Xu Ziling stole the roster, his first intention was only for fun and perhaps to exact revenge on Shen Luoyan; essentially he had never thought about any benefit from extorting her with this roster. Better yet, right now both Shen Luoyan and Xu Shiji were in the main building’s hall; considering it was an easy trip on a familiar path for Xu Ziling, returning the roster to its original place should not be a difficult task.
Kou Zhong said, “Su Jie’s order, we should follow.”
Susu’s mind was filled with conflicting thoughts, “But there are so many people out there,” she said hesitantly, “If you walk around in the courtyard, people might see you!”
Xu Ziling also expressed his lack of confidence in himself, “What should we do then?” he asked.
Kou Zhong patted his chest, “This is called ‘intention can be regarded as unintentional’. There is benefit in many people present: it is comparatively easier to fish in troubled waters. Su Jie can stay here, we will be back soon.”
The two boys slipped out of the firewood shed. Under cover of the trees, they swiftly walked toward Shen Luoyan’s private chamber.
 Tiele is the ancient name of people living to the north of China and in Central Asia. Other names include Chi’le, Gaoche, Dingling and Tele (or Teleg).
Chapter 3, Part 2
George, Sky, DongBin, and the others ... let me clarify: I understand what you are saying, and I am sure historically what you say was what actually happened. But the start of our 'discussion' was SLY, and I said one of the reasons I don't like her was because she was Li Mi's woman, and then I mentioned those things about Li Mi ... My assumption is that I don't know Li Mi, except what the author told me, and from what I read, I don't like what he did. So ... we are in disagreement in this matter, which is all right.
Jaya, Ysabel, HPC, Laoren, Komeng, Chua, you are welcome. Kids, welcome to the thread (officially ... since your post number is only 2), and thanks for your response on the poll. Anh!! I swear, I was just thinking about you the other day. Not that I expect you to post, but I have not seen your post for quite some time, and I thought 'is Anh all right?' But I am glad you reappear. Xu Xiong, we are in agreement ... (at least I also hope to see Shan Wanjing again, don't know about Shi Qingxuan, because 'officially' she did not make appearance.)
End of chapter 3.
Unleashing the full potential of the true qi within their body, in an instant their spirit and mind reached the highest boundary. Not only their eyes, ears, nose and other senses were several times sharper, rarer still was that they had some kind of perception, which transcended physical senses.
This was exactly the mystery of the ‘Secret to Long Life’, which was beyond the context of the general martial art study. Not only it surpassed the self-sufficient treasure trove hidden deep within oneself mentioned by Yi Jian Dashi [see Book 1 Chapter 3] Fu Cailin, it even reached the ‘oneness of heaven and humanity’ realm, which people who practiced martial art spent their lifetime striving to achieve.
Since time immemorial, people whose innate talent surpassed others like Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were extremely rare. By coincidence, they had the opportunity to train the ‘knowledge’ from the ‘Secret to Long Life’, which has long been called a scam, and made a breakthrough into the extreme boundary of first-class martial art skill, attainable only by Ning Daoqi, Bi Xuan, and the like, people who were able to understand the realm of ‘divine truth’.
Therefore, in just two short years, each of them doggedly trained their respective method and achieved unique mental cultivation in martial art, which has time and again helped them avoid great catastrophe.
This moment, for instance, even though there were numerous martial art experts surrounding them like a cloud, relying on their unique senses, they were able to ‘sniff’ danger one step ahead, and their hearts automatically guided them another way to evade the enemy’s detection. Not even for an instant did they ever stir up the alertness of the martial art masters in the house.
Naturally at this point in time the two boys did not have such a clear understanding of what was going on. They only thought that their own qinggong was so superb that they were this formidable.
They swiftly crossed the rear courtyard, along the side of the guesthouse, and straight toward the main garden in front of Shen Luoyan’s private chamber.
Crouching in a cluster of underbrush, they focused all their power into their ears to listen carefully, and immediately ascertained that there was no one inside the second floor of the building.
Although there was not a trace of noise inside, they saw faint lantern light coming from downstairs.
Xu Ziling said, “I’ll go upstairs to return the folder, you stay here and be on the lookout for me.”
Kou Zhong nodded.
Xu Ziling looked around, and after he was sure that there was nobody around, fast as a ghost he leaped out of the underbrush and flitted toward the main door of the small building; pushing the door open, he slipped in.
Just as expected, the hall was quite with no one in sight; coupled with light from the palace lanterns, the room exuded some kind of tranquil sensation. But Xu Ziling did not dare to hesitate; he swiftly flew upstairs.
At this moment there was only emptiness in his heart and mind, no thought no reasoning. It was not a deliberate state of mind on his part, but it simply arose spontaneously.
He had just stepped into the small hall in front of Shen Luoyan’s private chamber, when a hard-to-describe feeling suddenly burst forth in his heart.
He could not explain what he felt, just that it was very uncomfortable, as if there was an invisible pressure disturbing his clear-water-reflecting-the-moon state of mind.
Xu Ziling’s consciousness suddenly arose to its upper limit, his true qi flooded his meridians; without the slightest hesitation he drew his short halberd.
The hall brightened instantly.
It was not because someone lighted the lantern at all, but because of the true qi at work in his body, his eyesight sharpened considerably. As he scanned the room down, even the dust particle remained on the floor after being swept could not escape his sharp eyes.
It was a new level that Xu Ziling has never been able to reach before.
Previously, although frequently he was able to multiply his reaction speed due to applying the entire power within his body, he has never been able to reach the clarity like he did this time.
It was not only because this time he had reached the extremely-still state of mind, but most importantly it was because he sensed an enormous danger.
The most frightening thing was that this sense of danger flashed across his heart, and then immediately vanished. Like right now, he suddenly felt the situation was no longer threatening.
After scanning the floor back and forth several times, Xu Ziling’s eyes faintly saw some kind of clues; thereupon he scanned the floor again very carefully.
Immediately his heart shivered in fear.
Turned out in several places on the floor he caught a glimpse of a pair of dust traces, so tiny that it was nearly invisible. It appeared that someone was using the tip of his toes flitted over out of Shen Luoyan’s private chamber and stopped at the top of the stairs.
Thinking to this point, a dark shadow suddenly flashed out of the room.
Xu Ziling was not someone who had never seen a battle, but he had never thought that there was such a terrifying martial art skill in the world.
By the time he realized that he was under attack, his entire body had already fallen into some kind of whirlpool with nearly irresistible power. Hundreds, thousands of strands of forces; some pulled him forward, some pressed him back, still some acting laterally and rotationally. It just felt like falling into a vortex in the midst of a raging sea, where it was impossible for anybody to have any control of anything.
Fortunately Xu Ziling was one step ahead since before the attack came he was already on guard; otherwise perhaps by this time he was already swaying indeterminately from side to side, and was unable to stand steadily. Knowing that this was the critical moment, without even thinking Xu Ziling transferred all his strength into the short halberd in his hand. Leaning over, he assumed a horse stance, while at the same time he stabbed at the incoming person and looked up at him.
Momentarily, all he could see was a dark shadow.
And one dot of the tip of the sword, which was growing fast in front of his eyes.
A sword qi, which no stronghold can overcome, burst out of the sword, making his breathing stop, and his whole body felt like it was cut in two.
From the moment Xu Ziling climbed the stairs to get here and detected that something was wrong to the time this dreadful adversary mounted a sneak attack on him, it was only two blinks of an eyelid, yet it already caused Xu Ziling to fall into dangerous situation that he had never encountered in his whole life.
When the blade of the short halberd in his hand was about to block the enemy’s weapon, the opponent’s sword suddenly changed direction; unexpectedly Xu Ziling’s short halberd struck empty air.
This kind of situation, where he used incorrect amount of force that the momentum was out of his control, was very uncomfortable that Xu Ziling almost vomited blood.
The enemy was out of his line of vision.
Fortunately, utilizing his crystal clear senses he knew that by some strange and inscrutable footwork, the opponent has moved to the blind spot on his left.
The strangest thing was that his eyes were still seeing a little bit of the sword tip, which was flashing continuously so that although his eyes were open yet he felt as if he was blind, and was only able to react relying purely on his feeling.
A stream of tapering sword qi seemed to be moving to stab the small of his back from the left side.
Such a formidable body movement and sword stance was definitely terrifying to the extreme. How could Xu Ziling take his time to think? Withdrawing his short halberd that was striking empty air, he twisted his body and hacked; while at the same time he turned his head around to look at this frightening enemy.
A shadow flashed. For the second time in a row Xu Ziling’s short halberd struck empty air.
This time Xu Ziling was a bit smarter. Before the force reached its limit, he immediately changed his stance, while swiftly moved back.
He did not have any intention to run away at all; rather, he wanted to stabilize his footings.
Although it was only two moves, he had done everything he could, staking his little life to fight bravely to the end.
Suddenly the sword tip seemed to swell; four sides eight directions seemed to be full of howling and flashing sword rays, what is true and what is false was hard to fathom.
But Xu Ziling was able to clearly grasp that not only the opponent was right in front of him, the frightening sword was also moving at lightning speed toward his lower abdomen.
The opponent’s speed was clearly several notches above his, so that even if he retreated swiftly, the initiative was still in the opponent’s hands. In this life-and-death border, Xu Ziling moved the short halberd to bring out the short halberd’s rotational characteristic, by twisting it and striking at the blade of the opponent’s stabbing sword.
Since the battle began, it was the first time that he came in contact with the opponent’s weapon in a tangible way. Due to the short halberd’s unique structure, supposedly it was the best way to lock the enemy’s weapon.
Who could have thought that as the halberd and sword clashed, none of his expectation happened?
First of all, Xu Ziling felt that his true qi, which was concentrated on the body of the halberd, was very quickly sucked dry by the enemy’s sword; afterwards the sucking force of the enemy’s sword grew so that he was unable to yank his halberd back, even if he tried.
At this critical moment Xu Ziling did not panic; he was about to abandon his halberd and flee for his life when the opponent’s sword, with the halberd still attached to it, like a viper rose up and stabbed toward his lower abdomen.