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Entering the Six-Happiness Casino’s main hall, Xu Ziling immediately understood why Lei Jiuzhi was able to recognize from the layout and style of the casino that this casino belonged to the Xiang Family.
At first glance, this casino did not look like the Xiang Family’s famous brothel-and-casino-in-one in Pengcheng; but although the form was not there, the spirit was there.
First of all, the gambling tables and gambling equipment, down to the furniture and the other furnishing, were all equally gorgeous and carefully selected for quality.
Secondly, in the main hall of the Six-happiness Casino, the number of gambling tables was also arranged according to the Five Phases of Chinese Philosophy [i.e. five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, water], i.e. exactly twenty-five tables, which was identical to the Pengcheng’s Xiang Family Casino.
Thirdly, which was also the most obvious, was that all the waitresses [orig. lotus palace maid] were young, beautiful women with jade countenance; although their clothes were relatively conservative, but they have been carefully designed to show their moving figures on full display, even more captivating than baring their breasts and revealing their arms.
The four fireplaces in the main hall were blazing, so that the main hall felt like it was another world, a warm one, which was entirely different from the heaven and earth outside. On top of that, the main hall was crowded to bursting point with guests, it was bustling with noise and excitement, the clamor reached the sky; even more, it was brimming with the mood of drunken dreams.
Xu Ziling stood still for a moment. Still did not feel anybody was watching him, he then strolled casually into the main hall, and placed a bet in one of the five dice games. Four wins and one loss later, because the bet he put down was rather heavy, very quickly he won nearly a hundred taels of gambling chips.
Recalling Lei Jiuzhi’s instruction, and seeing that the main game in the main hall was not dice but Pan Tan, he proceeded inside.
This hall was comparatively smaller, only half the size of the main hall, but there was a side hall connected to it. These two halls combined, the total area was comparable to the main hall. On the other end there was an entrance to another room, with a plaque over the entrance, ‘Honored Guest Hall’. There was also a big man guarding the door. Obviously it was not a place where anybody could enter casually.
The game in the middle of the middle-inner hall was Pai Jiu; it also had twenty-five tables, with either four, six, or eight seats per table. The tables were about half the size of the bigger tables in the main hall. The gamblers with no seat could place their bets following the outcome of the seated gamblers against the bankers; therefore, each table was surrounded full of people.
Xu Ziling chose a table that was so crowded that not one drop can trickle through to enjoy the excitement. It was not until he squeezed himself in that he understood why this table was so popular. The reason was that seated on one of the chairs was a thousand-tender, a hundred-charm female gambler. Although the banker was also a young and pretty woman, but by comparison, she was eclipsed hand down, just like a small star in the sky accompanied by the bright moon.
This woman was as delicate as flower, as refined as precious jade, her amorous light was quite overwhelming; it could be said that she was one notch superior to Madame Hong, but just like Madame Hong, she did not appear to be a woman from a respectable family. Her manner loose, her eyes brazen, the way she fetched the tiles and spread the tiles was quite practiced, her bets were heavy and fierce, from time to time she exuded silver-bell like tender laughter, adding quite a warmth to the already intense gambling game.
With the exception of the female banker, the other five seats were occupied by four youthful pampered sons of wealthy families and a middle-aged fat man. The other people could only place their bets from the periphery.
From time to time the beauty’s eyes scanned the people standing in the circle and watching. When her gaze swept over Xu Ziling, who was half a head taller than other people, it lingered a moment, but then it was as if she did not care anymore.
Xu Ziling only had to look at the gambling chips in front of her to know that she was a big winner. Besides, the female banker’s fragrant forehead was glistening with sweats, a clear sign that she was losing and was in panic.
The cards were dealt.
As if she was performing conjuring tricks, the banker shuffled the Pai Jiu tiles into two groups, and then tossed the dice to decide who would pick the cards first.
Pai Jiu has Straight, Big, and Small, three kinds of gambling method. In Straight Pai Jiu, there could be from two to four players, each receiving six tiles. The dealer then groped seven tiles and took the lead to play. After putting forth the tile, the next player drew a tile in succession; either to discard a tile or to capture the tile. If the tiles at hand formed two sets of suit plus one barbarian [yi] tile, then it was a ‘hu’, in which he would push the tiles and triumph over the opponent.
In Big Pai Jiu, four tiles became a set, which were divided further into two suits to determine victory or defeat. Win or lose was decided whether the tiles form a pair or by counting the dots. The pairs were heaven, earth, man, and ‘civil’ and ‘military’ suits.
The Small Pai Jiu was the most common in the casino, because more people could play together. Victory or defeat was decided only using two tiles forming a set. The calculation method was identical to the Big Pai Jiu, only it was short one set.
The game currently being played was the Big Pai Jiu, hence each player picked up four tiles.
This time apparently the cards that the beauty picked were not good, she picked the cards and took a look, immediately she lightly knitted her brows, but her expression was still beautiful and enchanting, brimming with intoxicating flirtatious expression.
She suddenly laughed aloud, like a trembling stem of flower. Those who looked at her, none did not have their mind thrown into disorder and their spirit bewitched. With a flip of her jade hand, she revealed her tiles; unexpectedly it was a man-six suit combined with man-five.
When the dealer flipped the tiles, none of the gamblers surrounding the table did not break into rowdy jeering. Turned out the cards did not form any pair at all; it was a total defeat of the army.
Xu Ziling secretly mused that if he wanted to show his edge, this moment he ought to take over the banker’s position. But this kind of high-profile practice certainly did not fit his identity as a professional gambler; thereupon he moved to another table.
This table was playing the Small Pai Jiu; the wind of banker’s hands was very strong, there was an unending stream of defeated gamblers [orig. crippled feather] leaving their seats. Xu Ziling seized the opportunity to take a seat. He lost a couple of rounds first, losing more than twenty taels. But in the third round he placed a five hundred taels worth of gambling chips. Immediately everyone raised their eyebrows.
The female dealer was nervous as well. Such a big bet, even in such a big casino in big city of Chang’an like this – was not commonly seen.
After looking at three consecutive hands, Xu Ziling applied the secret method that Lei Jiuzhi imparted on him; relying on his outstanding memory and his sight, which was a hundred times sharper than ordinary people, and his unusual skill, no matter how the tiles were shuffled, he was able to track the position of several most important tiles. As long as he could affect where the points would land, he had seventy-, eighty-percent confidence of winning.
Right this moment, he felt a pair of sharp eyes was staring at him. It belonged to a short and small middle-aged man. He also noticed that the female banker repeatedly cast a glance at him, as if she was asking him for instructions; hence Xu Ziling knew that this man must be from the casino.
The men surrounding the gambling table to watch suddenly burst into an uproar; unexpectedly the beautiful gambler from the neighboring table squeezed her way in to join the excitement on this table. Such a beautiful woman exuding a lot of sparkling color and lively fragrance immediately made the mood differ.
The beauty’s eyes landed on his bet first, and then moved away toward his face. But Xu Ziling deliberately did not pay her any attention; he acted as if he had zero interest in her.
The female banker waved her slender hand; three diced fell into a copper dish. The dice spun very fast at first before gradually slowing down, becoming three separate spinning dice.
Xu Ziling sent out a stream of his Secret to Long Life true qi, going out from the yongquan acupoint, flowing through the ground, along the table leg, and toward the copper dish. In all the world, it was not that no one had deeper true qi than he, but being able to control true qi remotely to this shocking level, perhaps only Kou Zhong could compare with him.
Even if there were any expert nearby, he could forget about being able to see through that he was playing trick in the dark.
The dice finally stopped spinning.
The dealer dealt the tiles according to the number of dots on the dice.
Xu Ziling’s pair of eyes emitted sharp and cold light; he only stared fixedly on the tiles in front of him. He neither took the tiles to see, nor, like some gamblers, used his finger to feel the bottom of the tiles, as if he was able to see through what is true and what is false of the row of Pai Jiu tiles in front of him.
The dealer apparently got big cards; her spirit was aroused, she cried out tenderly, “Open the cards!”
One after another the gamblers laid their cards on the table; they were all small cards like earth-eight, man-six, red-four, and so on, so the dealer’s heaven-eight ate them all.
When everybody’s eyes fell on Xu Ziling, Xu Ziling calmly flipped the tiles for everybody to see. None of the crowd standing around to watch did not exclaim in admiration. Turned out it was a pair of supreme; which, according to the rule, the banker must pay double.
The banker cast an imploring glance toward the middle-aged man. The man spoke in low voice, “Pay him according to the rule!”
While Xu Ziling was collecting his winnings, the beauty suddenly said, “Let me be the banker this next round.”
It was as if the banker has received the Emperor’s amnesty; she hurriedly gave up her seat to her. If a guest became the banker, the casino only took a percentage of the winning as commission; however, if the stake was big enough, it could be quite profitable.
Xu Ziling rose up to his full height while the beauty had just sat on the dealer’s chair. Stunned, she asked, “Not playing anymore?”
Xu Ziling met her gaze. With a smile on his face he shook his head and simply left. The crowd was in uproar.
The beauty swore in low voice, “Gutless ghost!”
Xu Ziling was indifferent. He exchanged his gambling chips into cash and then left the casino. But he had just stepped over the main hall’s threshold, a big man came to him and respectfully said, “This Daye, our family’s Gongzi is asking to speak a few words with you.”
Xu Ziling was greatly astonished. Looking at the direction the man was pointing at, he saw one of the horse-drawn carriages parked at the public square in front of the casino’s main entrance had its curtain being raised, revealing the face of the person sitting inside the carriage.
Xu Ziling’s tiger body shook; he secretly heaved a sigh of relief. Obediently walking over to the carriage, he spoke in low voice, “Gongzhu [princess], I trust you have been well since we last met.”
Inside the carriage, dressed in men’s clothes, the Dongming Princess Shan Wanjing spoke heavily, “If you don’t want to fight in the middle of the street, the middle of the alley, just get on.”
While looking at the files, Kou Zhong casually pried more information from the mouth of the two ‘assistants’. They received the assignment from Liu Zhenghui, plus they also knew that Kou Zhong was the favored-person whom the Emperor and the Imperial Concubines held in high regard; therefore, they knew that nothing was off-limit.
Kou Zhong was asking them about the former Sui dynasty’s affairs, and they did not conceal anything [orig. not hiding anything he knows, not stopping before he has said it through (idiom)], so that Kou Zhong’s understanding of Yang Su’s situation at that time progressed one step further.
Sui’s Emperor Wen, Yang Jian, was extraordinarily capable and experienced, plus he was a founding monarch with finesse in politics, his track record was remarkable. It’s a pity that he had a serious shortcoming, which was highly suspicious and jealous of everybody else.
Perhaps it was due to his fear that others would repeat his achievement of snatching the country from someone else’s hands. Consequently, many of the founding cabinet ministers who were convicted did not end well. Even ministers who had given outstanding service like Liu Fang, Zheng Yu, Liang Shiyan, and so on were put to death one after another.
Yang Jian was also temperamental, his method was severe; therefore, all the ministers felt that being close to the sovereign can be as perilous as lying with a tiger [idiom], they were terrified and were unable to carry on even for a single day.
Yang Su knew that as a chancellor of the Sui dynasty, it would be unusual for him to end well. With all his strength he helped Yang Guang to depose the Crown Prince Yang Yong and to ascend onto the imperial throne. More likely than not, it was also he who instigated Yang Guang to kill his Father Emperor Yang Jian by poisoning him, precisely as a means to seek self-preservation.
The problem was that supposing Yang Su’s secret treasure was designed and built by Lu Miaozi during Yang Jian’s reign, this matter must be kept under extreme secrecy to evade Yang Jian’s eyes and ears.
Under this kind of circumstances, Yang Su could not possibly use his own name to start the construction of the secret passage and the treasure trove inside the mansion. Because if Yang Jian ever found out, even if Yang Su’s tongue were as splendid as lotus flower, a hundred words would not be able to deny.
Kou Zhong was certain that Yang Su would only build the treasure trove at a place that on the surface had nothing to do with himself.
Yang Jian appointed Yuwen Kai in the second year of his reign to start the construction of the new capital. Less than two years after moving to the new capital, he proclaimed amnesty throughout the world. Hereafter the city saw unceasing large-scale constructions, which still continued until today.
According to reason, it would be the easiest to fool the people’s eyes and ears if the construction of underground treasure trove was carried out when the new city was being built and the canal was excavated, because at that time the situation must be chaotic.
Only Yang Jian murdering his ministers began early in the sixth year of his reign by killing Liu Fang, which provoked vigilance in Yang Su’s heart, and gave birth to the intention of building a treasure trove. It ought to be after the sixth year of Yang Jian’s reign until the four Renshou years [601-604AD], when Yang Jian died, a period of eighteen years.
Most likely it was the upper half, i.e. the first nine years. During this period, the outstanding founding ministers [a title given to reward loyal general or vassal of new dynasty or state] were murdered for minor mistakes until practically nothing left; it would be strange indeed if Yang Su was not afraid.
The biggest headache for Kou Zhong was that during that time period, the number of courtyard houses built within a li radius of the Yue Ma Bridge was more than a hundred, not including extension to the existing buildings. Could it be that he had to go to each home, each household in open enquiries and secret search?
While his head was spinning, Liu Zhenghui returned with grave expression on his face, and sat by his side without saying a word.
Very scared and on edge, Kou Zhong asked, “What’s the matter?”
Liu Zhenghui spoke heavily, “You two get out of the room for me.”
Seeing his ill expression, the two men promptly retreated outside. They even closed the door behind them.
Inwardly Kou Zhong said, ‘Here we go!’ Taking an indirect approach, he said, “Does Huangshang know that I am here?”
Liu Zhenghui shook his head and heaved a deep sigh.
Kou Zhong was a bit relieved. But then he got worried for him. “What’s the matter?” he asked, “Liu Daren, please feel free to tell me, perhaps I could ask Niangniang to think of a way to help you.”
Liu Zhenghui was slightly startled; he appeared to be surprised and touched. “Xiansheng misunderstood. I am not worried about myself.”
Kou Zhong relaxed. “That’s good,” he said.
Liu Zhenghui sighed again. With a worried frown he said, “New Year’s Eve is coming again. [This part has missing characters, I cannot figure out what he said: 年晚才来这么一件事，真不?呛谜淄贰?]
Kou Zhong’s curiosity was piqued; using retreat-to-advance strategy, he said, “If it is not convenient, Liu Daren does not need to tell me.”
“It’s not a secret,” Liu Zhenghui replied, “Very soon the news might spread widely in Chang’an. When Huangshang issued the decree, Taizi Dianxia, Qin Wang, Qi Wang, and Pei Ji, Feng Deyi, Chen Wanfu, and so on were all in the audience.”
Kou Zhong nearly wanted to give him a kick, to make him speak quicker. “What is it?” he asked.
Liu Zhenghui spoke word-by-word, “Huangshang is ordering me to close Tong Xun Gate, Tong Ming Gate, and Jia Gate, three passageways.”
Kou Zhong was baffled, “Huangshang wants to close three passageways; it’s not a big deal!” he said.
Liu Zhenghui said, “But these three gates are no small matter. Tong Xun Gate is the only passageway connecting the East Palace with the Taiji Gate. Jia and Tong Ming, two gates connect Ye Ting and Taiji middle palaces. Hereafter, when Taizi Dianxia wants to go Taiji Palace, he could only take Cheng Tian Gate or Xuanwu Gate to get into the Palace.”
If Xu Ziling were here, he would immediately understand Li Yuan’s intention. By restricting access into the Palace to these two gates, naturally it would be much stable in terms of security and defense. Kou Zhong was still momentarily unable to understand Li Yuan’s motivation. Staring blankly, he said, “Huangshang wants to increase control over the traffic in and out of the Palace, he must have his own reason; why is Liu Daren this deeply worried and sick at heart?”
Liu Zhenghui replied with a wry smile, “I should not have told Xiansheng about this matter.”
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, “Xiaoren heard about the struggle between Taizi Dianxia and Qin Wang in the Palace; therefore, there is no problem about whether I ought to know something or not.”
Smiling bitterly, Liu Zhenghui said, “Huangshang’s action makes us feel that the crisis is even more imminent [orig. pressing in on one’s eyelashes (idiom)]. When Huangshang issued the decree, no one dared to speak even half a word. And now please excuse me, Xiaodi must leave, because I have to immediately make arrangement. Otherwise the construction cannot start after the New Year as scheduled. Xiansheng, please forgive me.”
Kou Zhong took the copied information and put it into his pocket. Rising to his full height, he said, “Liu Daren, no need to see me off. I am an old horse who knows the way home, I know my way out.”
Liu Zhenghui apologetically said, “After completing Huangshang’s order, Xiaodi will raise my cup to Xiansheng and discuss in details the development in architecture from ancient times to today.”
Kou Zhong secretly thought, ‘I appreciate your kindness, but no, thank you’, while hurriedly left.
The snow was still falling endlessly. Kou Zhong’s enthusiasm and hope in the treasure hunt was just like the ice and the snow; cold and bone chilling. He no longer had even half a point of confidence and certainty.
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