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Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling left the palace riding on a carriage. Afraid that the driver might hear their conversation, Kou Zhong applied his power to focus his voice into a beam and spoke in low voice, “Were it not for everybody in the demonic school has sinister design in their bosom, Yang WenGan might know from Zhao Deyan that you are Xu Ziling, and Mo Yixin is me. Furthermore, he might guess that there is the possibility that we already discovered the secret of the firearms. By comparison, in the fight over the Demonic Emperor Relics, Shi Zhixuan occupies the most unfavorable position.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Quite the contrary, he ought to be the one with the best chance to snatch the Demonic Emperor Relics. Why didn’t you ask me whether I have gotten rid of An Long or not?”
Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, “What happened?”
Xu Ziling whispered in his ear, “You Niaojuan was killed on the spot, by pure luck Yue Shan escaped alive from a hard battle.” And then he briefly narrated the course of events.
Speechless, Kou Zhong said, “I wonder if You Niaojuan was just bragging. Unexpectedly there is such a formidable demonic method of detecting the Demonic Emperor Relics existence within a hundred li radius?”
Xu Ziling said, “In itself, the Demonic Emperor Relics is a mysterious and inexplicable object. What benefit would You Niaojuan get from deceiving me? It would be better if we believe that it exists rather than it does not.”
Kou Zhong’s scalp went numb, he softly said, “According to your estimate, can the two of us together beat back Shi Zhixuan?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Why do you suddenly have no confidence in yourself like this? As long as we join hands and fit the wall together, I don’t think there is anybody in the world who could put us in order all by himself. Problem is perhaps Shi Zhixuan would mount sneak attack, plotting against us in secret, or some other tricks like that. Or perhaps Pangzi An Long or Yang Xuyan would be holding one of us down, so that the other one would end up very unlucky.”
Kou Zhong said, “In that case, we need to find a way to get rid of Shi Zhixuan first, and then the sky will be bright, the air clear; no wind, no rain.”
“Basically there is no way,” Xu Ziling replied, “When I fought with Shi Zhixuan, I created ‘being and nothing’ method; suddenly it’s there, suddenly it’s gone, from nothing to being, from being to nothing, to make it difficult for him to borrow, use, and transform, as well as to see through what is true and what is false of me, only then was I barely able to emulate a number of tricks, without losing Yue Shan, the Senior’s prestige. But all along this was not the effective strategy to break his ‘Immortal Image Method’.”
Listening to that, Kou Zhong was having a big headache; he asked, “What do you mean there’s being and there’s nothing? What are you talking about?”
Xu Ziling said, “When we have a chance I’ll show you a couple of moves, and you’ll understand. Quickly go back to the Sha House! How’s the operation tonight? I want to go see Zhandao and the others to make sure they are all right. I also need to tell them the latest situation.”
Kou Zhong said, “I’ll return to the Sha House first, at the beginning of chou hour tonight [1-3am] we’ll meet at the bottom of Yue Ma Bridge. By that time your tryst and touching emotions with the Beautiful Junshi should be over!”
Xu Ziling already forgot his date with Shen Luoyan. Smiling ruefully, he said, “Do I really have to see her?”
Kou Zhong said, “I don’t care if you keep her as a friend, or just see her perfunctorily, but when women throw a temper, they could be more ruthless than men. However, you must be a bit more careful; don’t let that Li Shiji kid catch the two of you in bed. If there is conclusive evidence, even I, the other dragon of the Yangzhou Twin Dragons – will be shamed.”
Xu Ziling said, “Fancy that you are still in the mood to joke around. Ay! Somehow, although You Niaojuan’s death has nothing to do with me, but I always feel sorry for his tragic death.”
Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes darkened, he said, “Probably Xie Xianting and his sweetheart were murdered by Shi Zhixuan’s hands. Between the various heretics of the demonic school and us, the two cannot exist together. Therefore, we must work hard not to fall short, so that our martial art skill will rise to the upper level; otherwise we would only become other people’s fish and meat.”
The carriage stopped. They have arrived outside the Sha House’s main entrance.
Kou Zhong actually still had thousands of words and ten thousand speeches he’d like to pour out toward Xu Ziling. But hindered by the circumstances, he had no choice but patting Xu Ziling’s shoulder and helplessly got off the carriage.
The carriage rapidly took Xu Ziling away. Kou Zhong calmed himself down before returning to the Sha Mansion.
Sha Fu intercepted him at the winding corridor by the main hall. With a strange expression, he said, “Did Mo Ye go to the Qin Wang Mansion?”
Acting surprised, Kou Zhong asked, “What’s the problem?”
Sha Fu hastily replied, “Naturally I don’t have any problem. But Laoyezi is not too happy. Could it be that Mo Ye did not know that Taizi Mansion and Qin Wang Mansion are arch-enemy?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “I never care about that kind of thing. Others showing earnest desire, are you saying I ought to drive people a thousand li away? Who’s looking for me tonight?”
Sha Fu replied, “Both Qi Wang Mansion and Taizi Mansion were sending their men to look for Mo Ye. Laoyezi did not dare to tell them that you went to see Qin Wang; therefore, he claimed as an excuse that because Mo Ye did not sleep last night, you went to bed early.”
Kou Zhong cried, ‘Wonderful!’ inwardly. He said, “I am really tired. When I am asleep, please don’t let anybody disturb me.”
Sha Fu busily said, “Mo Ye please go see Laoye first; he wanted to talk to you.”
Kou Zhong nodded. As if nothing had happened, he said, “That’s good too! It’s time to say goodbye to Laoye anyway.”
Sha Fu’s countenance changed. “What?” he blurted out.
Kou Zhong put his hand on Sha Fu’s shoulder. While walking together toward Sha Tiannan’s dwelling place in the inner courtyard, he said, “In this world, there is no banquet that did not end; the life in the capital does not suit me very well. Besides, I am decreed by fate that before I turn thirty, I must be constantly on the move all over the place to be of help of mankind. I have been here for too long, it’s time to leave!”
Sha Fu was puzzled, “Before the age of thirty? How old is Mo Ye this year?”
Kou Zhong was nearly dumbstruck and unable to reply; he started to remember that the impression that others perceived was that this ugly mask made him look like thirty-four, thirty-five years old. Without any better option, he said, “Because I charged to the south and wandered to the north, I ate enough wind and frost [fig. hardships], hence I appear this old. In fact, I am only twenty-eight years old; I have to toil for another two years before I pass the barrier.”
Hearing about his life experience, Sha Fu did not have anything good to say.
Thinking about leaving, Kou Zhong’s entire body felt relax. As a result of being in contact with the Sha Family day and night these past few days, he felt affection with everybody here, from top to bottom. If he could ‘publicly retire’, instead of having his real identity uncovered and thus dragging down the Sha Family, or even his old friend Chang He, he would definitely feel much better.
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling went to see Gao Zhandao and the others. He told them the too-good-of-a-news about the rescue of Lei Jiuzhi; everybody felt deeply relieved, their morale was greatly aroused.
Xu Ziling said, “Our current situation is still heavily dangerous and difficult, it is extremely delicate. If tonight Shao Shuai and I still cannot find the treasure’s location, tomorrow all of us are leaving Chang’an.”
When the three men, Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi, and Zha Jie heard that, they you-look-at-me-I-gaze-at-you, it was difficult for them to cover their shock and disappointment.
More than two years ago they took the long and difficult trek from far away Yuhang to come to Chang’an. They built up an enterprise through painstaking efforts, from not-having-anything-at-all, struggling and striving until they reached their current status in Chang’an. The gains and losses, the rise and fall, along the way were certainly hard to explain in a few words. Now suddenly they found out that everything that has been done in the past came to nothing. Their feeling right now could be very easy to imagine.
For the first time Xu Ziling felt the pressure that Kou Zhong was experiencing. The name Shao Shuai has already blown and spread across the world. In this time of chaos, who did not want to follow the bright master who would unify the world, who would establish eternal endeavor, whose name would be passed on for all eternity?
Kou Zhong was imposing, highly capable, and broad-minded, plus he was affectionate and true; naturally he possessed outstanding charisma that would make people willing to throw their life in to follow him. But at the end of the day everybody would have their own plan, or be at the mercy of their own emotions.
The aspirations and goals of the followers might, in turn, also control the person leading them. Like Xu Ziling at this moment, for example, for the first time he really wish that they could find the treasure-trove, although it was merely because he did not want Gao Zhandao, three men, to be disappointed.
Zha Jie said, “I am sure two Ye’er will be able to find the treasure-trove.”
Niu Fengyi said, “What exactly is the clue? Is it possible for Xu Ye to tell us? We have, after all, lived here for several years. Who knows? Perhaps we could help Shao Shuai and Xu Ye to collate and examine critically, and thus make our contributions.”
This was the first time that he directly inquired about the treasure-trove.
Xu Ziling knew that if he still kept the secret and refuse to tell them, it would be akin to he did not completely trust them. After considering the pros and cons, he made up his mind and said, “The clue is ‘Yue Ma Bridge’, three words. At first we thought it was the riverbed at the bottom of Yue Ma Bridge, but now we think that the secret has something to do with the bridge itself.”
Gao Zhandao and the others originally thought that the two were in possession of some treasure map; turned out they were looking for the treasure-trove by looking for a fine horse using only a picture [idiom]. Hearing that the truth was simply like this, they were stunned speechless.
Even Xu Ziling did not understand himself. This moment he really wanted to convince the three that he had more grasp of the clues and that he had more confidence in finding the treasure-trove to appease them.
His mind went to Xuan Yong, Xu Xingzhi, Chen Changlin, Ren Meimei, Jiao Hongjin, and their men in Pengcheng. Even if Kou Zhong’s treasure hunt failed, to retire as soon as he said he would retire, to wash his hand over the golden bowl – would be very difficult, because they had to take these people’s safety and state of mind into consideration.
Xu Ziling has never given Kou Zhong’s side of the equation an in-depth consideration; but this moment he suddenly gained deep understanding.
Xu Ziling had nothing else to say. This moment he only wanted to leave as soon as possible. Compared to confronting these three men, suddenly his date with Shen Luoyan did not feel too complicated anymore.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong returned to his room. Old Master and Old Madame’s words urging him to stay still lingered in his ears, the Fifth Miss Sha Zhijing’s emotion showing in her eyes was still fresh in his mind.
Compared to his resignation, his visit to the Qin Wang Mansion became insignificant.
With meaningful and heartfelt words, he also advised Sha Tiannan to do everything he could not to be involved and drawn into the vortex of political power struggle, to use the ‘wise man looks after his own hide’ method to keep himself as neutral as much as possible. Although it might not be the easiest thing to accomplish, it was the smartest thing to do.
Kou Zhong casually stepped into his room, a beauty was lying ocean-cherry-apple-spring [Translator’s note: no idea :D] down on his bed. He already guessed that tonight, Wanwan could not possibly let him off; therefore, not the slightest bit surprised, he sat down by the bedside. And then, without the slightest bit of misgivings, he lightly slapped her erect, brimming with elasticity – buttocks, saying, “It’s daybreak! Niangzi [(dialect) form of address for one’s wife], quickly get up.”
Wanwan moaned tenderly, she turned her tender body to face the other direction, lightly gasping for breath, she spoke in light and gentle whisper, “Don’t fuss! Quickly take off your clothes and shed your shoes, and come to bed!”
Astonished, Kou Zhong said, “You don’t serve me taking off my clothes, could it be that you want me to undress you?”
Wanwan crossly said, “This is my first time; of course I want you to serve me.”
Kou Zhong whistled; he casually stood up, removed his outer robe, and tossed it haphazardly onto the chair, while saying with a laugh, “In that case, as the husband, I won’t be polite! But by all means, you must not, after Laozi get on the bed, pushing three and warding off four, so that I would be like an arrow on the bow, ready to be released but there’s no target!”
Wanwan laughed tenderly and said, “Too much warning is superfluous. If you have enough guts, just get on the bed! Such a strong-in-appearance-but-weak-in-reality kid.”
Kou Zhong stopped his stripping action; he said dejectedly, “Whatever you say! Why did you come here tonight?”
Seizing the total victory, Wanwan giggled, and then turned around to face him. With one hand propping her cheek, her pair of eyes brimming with smile, she stared at him and said, “Who was so kind to swap your saber for you?”
Kou Zhong retreated to the imperial tutor chair leaning against the window; plopping his butts down, he spoke in displeasure, “Could be Shi Zhixuan, could be Zhao Deyan, even Ning Daoqi, Li Yuan, Li Shimin … Tell me, how do you want me to answer your question?”
Astonished, Wanwan said, “Looking at your demeanor, your expression, you seem to know who did it?”
Kou Zhong mused inwardly that Wanwan was too familiar with his words and action, with his character; just by looking at his eyebrows, eyes and forehead, she easily saw through what was in Kou Zhong’s mind. This was definitely not a good thing. Frowning, he said, “Enough chitchat. I have more or less grasped who’s the spy that you implanted in the Sha Family. If Wan Dajie does not make arrangement for her to disappear on her own, there won’t be any good outcome.”
He was purely inventing crazy nonsense and was bluffing; he wanted to spend a bit of effort on the Sha Family’s behalf. The fact was that he neither had a way nor the time to investigate which member of the Sha Family belonged to Yin Gui Pai.
Wanwan suddenly sat up straight. Her jet-black eyebrows showing fiendish air, she said, “You are powerless to defend yourself, yet you have the guts to mind our business.”
The divine light in Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes greatly brightened, without yielding at all he met her gaze and coldly said, “I am reminding you out of kindness; as for whatever Wanwan Dajie wants to do, Wan Dajie has absolute freedom to decide it yourself.”
Wanwan returned to her usual calm and unhurried, quiet and cold, apathetic demeanor. Sighing lightly, she said, “Ay! You, this kid, death is really near at hand, you still don’t want to repent. Who exactly swapped your saber?”
Kou Zhong did not dare to offend her since she was too formidable; joining her in sighing, he said, “The most likely culprit is naturally Shi Zhixuan. Who did Wan Dajie think it was?”
Wanwan fixed her eyes on him with full attention for a moment before saying, “This is a matter of great importance, why do you look like you don’t care much?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “How could one person knowing be better than two persons knowing? Because there is a little bit of competition between the two of you, Ziling and I become a bit more valuable; am I right?”
Wanwan’s deep beautiful eyes flickered with bright and shiny light, but the tone of her voice remained calm; she said, “Basically you guys do not have the sincerity to cooperate with us.”
Kou Zhong casually countered, “Does your honorable Sect have the sincerity?”
Wanwan had never expected that Kou Zhong would dare to contradict her; slightly surprised, her pretty eyebrows lightly knitted as she said, “What upset you today? Do you want to break up this business partnership? It won’t bring either side any benefit. From our standpoint, since we cannot obtain the Holy Relics, we have no choice but to get rid of you by any means; it would be better than nothing.”
Now Kou Zhong dared to be one-hundred-percent sure that under these circumstances, Wanwan could not possibly reveal their tracks; the reason did not lie on the Demonic Emperor Relics, not because they have any pity toward the two boys even more, but because she was afraid of a new branch growing out of a knot [idiom: complications], destroying their conspiracy to overturn the Great Tang.
Compared with the strife for supremacy over the world, the Demonic Emperor Relics could be considered nothing. If the hidden-treasure could not be found, then the fine balance among various demonic schools would remain the same.
With a slight smile, he said, “I figured it out! If the turns of events is not too encouraging, I will escape out of Chang’an immediately, Wan Dajie ought to know that other things we may not be able to speak about, but our ability to escape is definitely not inferior to Shi Zhixuan. As long as the treasure-trove is still there, we could always come back some day to retrieve the treasure.”
Wanwan calmly-without-any-ripple, sketching-in-light-shades – said, “If you leave, I will kill Sha Tiannan’s family, without leaving a chicken or a dog, without leaving a single mouth alive.”
Kou Zhong was amused inwardly; if she really had that intention, she could not possibly announce it publicly. In Jianghu, unless one was a desperate criminal, nobody would be willing to commit such a devoid-of-all-humanity crime, for fear of provoking public anger.
Even if Yin Gui Pai was confident of their own formidability, but if they provoked Ning Daoqi or the Four Great Holy Monks’ level of martial art masters to come out and intervene, Zhu Yuyan would have to pack her food and leave before finished eating.
If they really wanted to do it, they would do it in secret, and afterwards they would not leave the slightest bit of clue that other people could trace back to them.
Laughing coldly, Kou Zhong said, “In that case, Ziling and I will, when we see one Yin Gui Pai person – kill one Yin Gui Pai person, we see two we’ll kill a pair. Let’s see how many you could provide for us.”
The murderous intent in Wanwan’s pair of eyes flaring greatly, she spoke heavily, “Do you really want to set yourselves against us?”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Now, this is you being overly sensitive. I just said those few words, you believe me. Just don’t look at me like you are watching your prisoner. When we obtained the Holy Relics, and I am sure that you won’t ‘after crossing the bridge, pull the plank away’, naturally I will hand over the Holy Relics into your hand.”
Wanwan softened down; she sighed and said, “What I am most afraid of is that before you hand it over to our hands, Shi Zhixuan already snatch it away.”
Kou Zhong said, “This is even easier to solve; after we get the hidden treasure out, we can leave the Holy Relics wherever it is, so that you, Wan Dajie could retrieve it yourself; won’t it be to everyone’s delight and satisfaction?”
Wanwan shook her head and said, “Nowadays the city is flooded with spies; you want to transport the hidden treasure out of Chang’an, that is just a vain attempt. Let’s do it this way: I will go with you into the treasure-trove, after obtaining the Holy Relics, I will no longer care about your business.”
Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, “You don’t seem to understand, now that you trust us, we don’t trust you. Even if you give it to us, for us, Holy Relics has no use. All right! Let’s go back one step. We’ll move the contents of the treasure-trove somewhere safe in the city, then we’ll notify you to get the treasure. We’ll establish this oath by clapping our hands, to guarantee that we won’t eat our words to each other. But from this moment on, you can no longer follow behind me at night like diao xue gui [hanging-boots ghost], like gods appear and devils vanish.”
Wanwan spoke softly, “You really don’t want our help? If you have Shizun [revered master] and me holding the troops disposition, even if Shi Zhixuan makes his move to seize by force, you won’t need to be afraid.”
“That’s good,” Kou Zhong replied, “It is because both you and Shi Zhixuan are equally terrifying that I come up with this compromise to satisfy rival demands. In case we break our promise, by carrying that much stuff, how far can we run?”
Wanwan said, “I can take the responsibility for making the decision in response to Shao Shuai’s proposal. The only condition is that you must notify me which day, which time you are entering the treasure-trove. This request shouldn’t be too much to ask!”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Very reasonable and fair. But I can’t tell you until tomorrow.”
Wanwan stared at his ugly face for quite half a day. On the pretty face suddenly bloomed a sweet, enchanting smile; she said, “Wan’er suddenly got a feeling that previously you did not lie at all, because until this very moment, you, Kou Shao Shuai, still don’t know where the treasure is. Am I correct?”
In his heart Kou Zhong shivered greatly. Not because Wanwan could see through the cards in his hand, but how did Wanwan suddenly come to this conclusion? What he just said shouldn’t be the problem; therefore, Wanwan must knew something concerning the treasure-trove that even he did not know, hence under his ignorance he divulged this profound mystery, which enabled Wanwan to grasp what was actually happening.
Otherwise, even if he was going to tell her tomorrow, it did not imply that he did not know where the treasure was. So where was the hiccup?
On the surface however, naturally he would not show such emotional surge in his heart; smiling mysteriously, he slyly said, “Your insight is so penetrating, because that is indeed the actual situation! All right, I have something important to do tonight, whether battle or harmony, let’s settle it with one palm.”
With a smile on her face, Wanwan raised her sparkling and translucent, spotlessly white jade palm. With deep feeling she spoke leisurely, “Wan’er is establishing an oath with you, Kou Zhong, with a clap of our palms; let whoever violates this oath will have bad luck overlooking him, and let him not die a good death.”
Kou Zhong also raised his palm up.
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