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“How do you feel?” Xu Ziling asked.
Pondering over it, Kou Zhong replied, “The dragon pillars ought to be connected to steel rope, axle and wheel, or something like that. You should feel the vibration as it twisted and moved.”
Sweeping his gaze around, Xu Ziling still could not believe what had happened; he said, “If these six dragonheads could indeed open a secret pathway in a certain building over a hundred zhang away, this is not just a coincidental snatching-the-heaven skill; it is absolutely shocking. Lu Xiansheng’s ability really had the gods-and-demons-cannot-fathom ingenuity.”
Breathing hard, Kou Zhong said, “If I twist the other five dragon pillars like that, perhaps a secret entrance would appear inside the Xi Ji Yuan, and then wouldn’t we just present a great gift to Dugu Feng [peak] for nothing?”
Xu Ziling replied, “If that is the case, then you, Kou Shao Shuai is doomed to walk away in bad luck. But in my opinion, based on Lu Xiansheng’s conduct and style, that kind of scenario can’t possibly happen. The rumor that the Jade Annulus of the He Clan and the Duke Yang’s Treasure, whoever obtains one of them could obtain the world, ought to have some truth within it. The Jade Annulus of the He Clan need not be mentioned, because it was the seal of state that has been used since Qin Shihuang Ying Cheng. The Duke Yang’s Treasure is in fact the underground base to be used to overthrow the Sui dynasty. Although ‘obtaining the world’ seems to be an exaggeration, its real role shouldn’t be too far off.”
Kou Zhong nodded his head in agreement.
The Jade Annulus of the He Clan was the seal of state, the symbol of the imperial power. Furthermore, with its ‘invaluable’ status, which origin was heavy with legend and myth flavor, who would dare to doubt that only the Son of Heaven, ordained by heaven itself, would be worthy to obtain it?
The Duke Yang’s Treasure could make someone obtain the world; originally there was no basis behind it. But if one would stop to think about it, the current situation when Yang Su built the treasure-trove was that the world was the Yang Family’s world; Chang’an was the capital of the Yang Clan’s world. If there was a valiant military leader with his elite troops drawing out the weaponry from the underground treasure-trove and suddenly rising in revolt, he would have had a chance to force entrance into the imperial palace, and kill the then emperor of the Sui dynasty, Yang Jian.
It was extremely likely that the legend that the Duke Yang’s Treasure was the crucial point in obtaining the world was related to this fact.
One truth understood, a hundred reasons became clear. Because they figured out this point, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling started to understand the true meaning behind the three characters ‘Yue Ma Bridge’, they could see through the way to open the Duke Yang’s Treasure.
Ferociously clenching his teeth, Kou Zhong repeated the process with the other five dragonheads. After he finished with the last one, breathing heavily, he said, “I am very nervous; could you give me a bit of encouragement?”
Xu Ziling said, “Li Shimin has appointed Li Shiji to prepare an all-out effort to intercept your ‘wonder troops’ [troops appearing suddenly in ambush] transporting the treasure.”
“What?” Kou Zhong blurted out, “What kind of painful encouragement is that?”
Noticing that Xu Ziling only looked at him as if nothing had happened, he had no choice but to sigh and said, “This can be called another form of encouragement. Now, even I am convinced that Li Shimin has the qualifications to be the emperor. If one is not sinister enough, not ruthless enough, it’s impossible to assert the ‘follow me and you will prosper, oppose me and you will perish’ principle; I’d better just return home to coax the children and sleep peacefully.”
“If that is still not enough, there is still another present,” Xu Ziling continued, “Shi Feixuan is asking Ning Daoqi to, by all means, stop you from returning to Pengcheng, forever.”
This encouragement was obviously even more powerful. Severely shaken, Kou Zhong asked, “Did Shi Feixuan tell you personally?”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “I wished she would personally talk to me, it’s a pity that this is not the case. Her public and private affairs are clearly divided, making my heart cold.”
Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes emitted resolute and brimming-with-strong-self-confidence ‘divine light’ as he slowly held up the dragonhead, and spoke word-by-word in heavy voice, “Where did the information come from?”
Xu Ziling cast his gaze toward the flowing water under the stone bridge, he lightly said, “It was your first-love sweetheart borrowing Shen Luoyan’s mouth to warn you, hoping that Shao Shuai could rein the horse just before the precipice, to avoid you falling into the too-late-to-regret situation.”
Kou Zhong shook his head and laughed hoarsely; he responded by action, by slowly turning the dragonhead.
‘Clack!’ The dragonhead returned to its original position.
The entire bridge suddenly started to vibrate lightly, and did not stop until quite half a day later. Were it not for the two boys were concentrating their attention, plus by relying on their acute senses, they might not even sense it.
Kou Zhong craned his neck to look under the bridge; he said, “The vibration ought to come from the riverbed and was transmitted upward.”
He had not finished speaking, strange ripples appeared on the surface of the water under the bridge. Apparently there was a strange change on the riverbed. There were also bubbles floating up and popping.
Bewildered, Xu Ziling said, “That’s impossible; we searched the riverbed everywhere, if there is an entrance, how could we miss it?”
Kou Zhong replied in great delight, “The impossible matter has become the ironclad fact before our eyes. We’ll definitely have to go take a look. Don’t you have the slightest bit of curiosity about the Demonic Emperor Relics?”
Xu Ziling watched the flowing water carefully, which was like a stream pouring into an empty hole underground. Shaking his head, he said, “If after the secret path is opened the water of the canal is rushing into the storehouse, the treasure is going to be drown out. And then Lu Xiansheng would be the number one idiot in the world.”
Kou Zhong already removed his clothes, revealing the wet suit inside; laughing, he said, “It makes sense. But when I come back, I’ll tell you the actual facts.”
Kou Zhong climbed back to the canal’s bank, and came to sit down by the hiding-in-the-dark-under-the-bridge Xu Ziling’s side. Raising his thumb up, he said, “Ling Shao is indeed good, your assessment is more accurate than me, this little master in the study of mechanism. Unexpectedly there are more than a dozen square holes appearing on the riverbed, the water is flowing into those holes. After the space underneath is full of water, the holes closed up. The ingenuity is more than you dare to believe. Lu Dashi must have used the water power [same character as in ‘hydraulic’] to activate a mechanism somewhere, which will open the secret path.”
Xu Ziling said, “Therefore, we are only half-successful. Only if we could find the real entrance of the secret path will we have the chance to go in and explore. Ay! I am really worried that your mechanism knowledge is not up to par; if you implicated Xiaodi that I am trapped underground, and I have to beat the wall and tap the rampart to call people to rescue me, it will be the most ridiculous joke since the world began.”
Evidently Kou Zhong was in a very good mood; he laughed and said, “Heaven helps the worthy. Even if I am like Lu Dashi, an educated celestial being, I still need to look at Laotianye’s mood. Ay! I can’t wait even a moment longer; I’d better go to Xi Ji Yuan to grope around. The last insulting thing that Xiaodi have to do is to temporarily stop the asthma of You wupo [loathsome granny].”
“To want something in haste, but cannot get there [idiom from Analects: more haste, less speed],” Xu Ziling said, “The only thing you need to do now is to return to the Sha Mansion and have a good night sleep, to recover enough spirit, tomorrow disguise yourself as the divine doctor to serve You Pozi [old woman].”
Helpless, Kou Zhong asked, “Where are you going then? The secret nest is no longer a secret nest; wouldn’t it mean you have no home to return to?”
“I can go to Gao Zhandao’s place to pacify their heart,” Xu Ziling replied, “Also to guard against they becoming the enemy’s target.”
Reluctant to part, Kou Zhong stared resolutely at the water of the canal for a few moment before saying, “Tomorrow I am going to look for the secret passage’s real entrance. In the evening I am going to bring wine into the treasure-trove to drink to our heart’s content with you to celebrate.”
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, thinking that celebrating was really too early, because their real trouble has just begun.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong woke up at daybreak. The first thing in his mind was the Dugu Clan’s Xi Ji Yuan; promptly he climbed out of bed, freshened up and changed clothes. He was going to take advantage while Sha Tiannan and the rest have not woken up to sneak out of the Sha Mansion, but he ran into the Fifth Miss Sha Zhijing at the plaza of the outer courtyard.
With several bodyguards [orig. protector of the courtyard] waiting upon her, she was testing an extraordinarily spirited grey horse, but he did not see Chen Laiman and Mao Shichang, the two bodyguard chiefs. Chances are they went to escort the Second Young Master Sha Chenggong to check the receiving of the firearms.
Seeing Kou Zhong, Sha Zhijing cheerfully called out, “Mo Xiansheng, what do you think of my horse?”
This was the first time that Kou Zhong saw her wearing warrior outfit. Although her heroic spirit was still lacking, but her charm was abundant, her brightness dazzled others. Blurting out without thinking, he said, “Horse is good, the person is even better.”
Only after seeing that after hearing what he said Sha Zhijing’s pretty face was blushing did he remember his status as the ugly divine doctor; inwardly he cursed himself for being muddleheaded.
With the bodyguard holding the horse’s head down, Sha Zhijing, like a model, swung off the horse, and shyly came to him. Glowering at him, she said, “Turns out other than brilliant medical skill, Mo Xiansheng is also proficient in teasing others. Mo Xiansheng is about to leave on a long journey, there will be a lot of people in Chang’an that will be extremely disappointed.”
Averting her gaze, Kou Zhong looked at the clear sky after being washed with one full day of big snow; he said, “A year at the latest, half a year at the soonest, I may come back to Chang’an to visit Laoye and Xiaojie.”
Slightly displeased, Sha Zhijing said, “We have just celebrated the New Year; can’t you stay a bit longer? Zhijing has not had any chance to consult Xiansheng on problems related to the art of healing. I am your little disciple!”
The last sentence was brimming with withdrawn, tender feeling, which was coming from Sha Zhijing’s mouth for the first time since they met.
Kou Zhong had no doubt that just like Dugu Feng [phoenix], Sha Zhijing also fell for him, this ugly divine doctor. Changing the subject, he said, “This is an excellent horse; where did it come from?”
Sha Zhijing lightly moved her jade steps to come over to the horse. Full of affection she reached out her delicate hand to gently caress and stroke the horse’s head, creating a touching picture of a fine horse and a beauty. Laughing sweetly, she said, “This is a Tujue horse. I changed its name to ‘Xiao Fei’ [little flying], it was given by Ke Dage.”
“What?” Kou Zhong blurted out.
Taken aback, Sha Zhijing asked, “Is there any problem?”
Kou Zhong nearly held his head in his hands and cried for the pain, musing inwardly that could it be that Ke Dazhi was drooling over Sha Zhijing’s beauty? And then after recalling the Second Young Master Sha Chenggong might not spare anything, might not shy away from any method to destroy any wild schemes Ke Dazhi had toward Sha Zhijing, he felt a bit better. However, with his mouth he said, “There’s no problem, I just did not expect Wu Xiaojie to know Ke Dazhi; that’s all.”
Sha Zhijing said, “It was Dong Guifei [senior concubine/imperial consort] who introduces us. Ke Dage is an outstanding hero, his saber technique is formidable, before he came to the Central Plains he already beat everybody in Tujue and did not have any match.”
Kou Zhong mused that this inaccurate information must be from Dong Shuni, bragging to Sha Zhijing on behalf of Ke Dazhi; otherwise, no matter how arrogant Ke Dazhi was, he would not dare to say that he surpassed ‘Wu Zhun’ Bi Xuan, who ranked among the Three Great Grandmasters of the world.
What evil intentions might Dong Shuni have toward Sha Zhijing?
He was too busy to look after this matter; he neither had the time nor the leisurely mood to mind this kind of ‘other people’s business’, but not caring about it, his heart felt uneasy; the contradiction was heavy.
This kind of highest quality warhorse was more valuable than gold, so this was obviously a serious gift.
This moment the First Young Master Sha Chengjiu rushed over from inside the residence, saying, “Mo Xiansheng is going out?”
Seeing that everybody in the Sha Family, from top to bottom, was so tense over him leaving, inwardly Kou Zhong was not without any emotional stirring. Nodding his head, he said, “I am going to treat Dugu Lao Furen’s [old madam] asthma; we can talk when I get back.”
Sha Zhijing happily said, “I have not paid a New Year call to Lao Furen; why don’t Zhijing go together with Xiansheng?”
Again Kou Zhong cried ‘Headache!’ inwardly. Fortunately Sha Chengjiu spoke up, “Zhijing forgot that today you are supposed to go with Niang to Dong Da Si to burn incense and worship?”
Sha Zhijing pouted; she turned to apologize to Kou Zhong, “Zhijing cannot accompany Xiansheng!”
Kou Zhong cheered inwardly. Using the excuse that it was not too far, he also tactfully declined Sha Chengjiu’s offer to have him take the carriage. And then he stepped out of the Sha Family’s main gate.
The street was still lively with the New Year celebration atmosphere; there was the sound of cracking whips everywhere.
The sound of hoof beats came from behind; without even need to look back, Kou Zhong already knew who was coming.
Sure enough, under escort of several Tujue warriors, Ke Dazhi came to his side and said with a smile, “Wishing Mo Xiansheng all the best for the New Year, may every year is better than the previous ones.”
Kou Zhong turned around to look at the perched-high-on-the-horse-back, urging-his-horse-to-walk-slowly-by-his-side Tujue’s young martial art master. Pretending to be smiling bitterly, he said, “Ke Xiong, how are you? It’s just that Xiaodi’s situation is lacking in improvement, ample in staleness. Does Ke Xiong have any good advice to bestow?”
Seeing his expression, Ke Dazhi was sure that Lei Jiuzhi was still trapped in the supreme penalty of ‘Seven Needles Controlling the Mind’. Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, he said, “Shen Yi’s miserable plight is only temporary. We, Tujue people, have a saying, ‘after the wind and the snow, the grass grow especially robust’. Would Xiansheng have the time to come with Dazhi to see someone?”
Kou Zhong suddenly knitted his brows; pretending to be puzzled, he said, “Do you, Tujue people, have proverbs like ‘pleasure from helping others’? In vain you nurture an ultra martial art master of the demonic school, what benefit does it bring you?”
Ke Dazhi calmly laughed and said, “I admire people that are as candid as Xiansheng the most. Xiansheng may set your heart at ease, we have appropriate measure.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “I have done my duty to remind my friends. Ke Xiong, please lead the way.”
Ke Dazhi barked his order to get a horse for Kou Zhong to ride.
The group of riders turned the horses’ head around to gallop slowly in the direction of the Foreign Guesthouse.
Riding side-by-side with Ke Dazhi, Kou Zhong laughed and said, “If someone asked Xiaodi, why did I go to the Foreign Guesthouse with Ke Xiong, how should Xiaodi respond?”
Ke Dazhi laughed aloud and said, “Speaking about this kind of ability, Ol’ Ke is really seeing only the other rider’s dust and have no hope of catching up [idiom: to be far inferior]; but for the sake of consistency, naturally Xiansheng will say that you are going to the Foreign Guesthouse to treat someone by the name of Yan Chede. He fell ill only yesterday, and Taizi Dianxia is also aware of this matter.”
Inwardly Kou Zhong cried, ‘Formidable!’ Zhao Deyan’s attention to details certainly could not be underestimated. He himself was brilliant in terms of big things, but he was muddleheaded in small things, hence he was showing flaw by having his treasured saber letting out the secret.
Ke Dazhi looked at him and said, “Xiansheng has not thanked me?”
Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, “What did Ke Xiong do that benefited Xiaodi?”
Ke Dazhi slyly said, “Were it not for Ol’ Ke taking the lead yesterday, perhaps Xiansheng would never leave the Persian Holy Temple!”
Kou Zhong mused, so what if you want to be recognized as the first and I am recognized as the second; who was high and who was low, it would be seen clearly in the future. He smiled and said, “Ke Xiong was letting me win, naturally Xiaodi is very grateful. But Xiaodi is accustomed to keep my gratitude toward others hidden in my heart, hence it led to Ke Xiong having a misunderstanding.”
Ke Dazhi was unclear whether Kou Zhong was really grateful or was mocking him, he did not pursue this matter further.
Kou Zhong giving prominence to troops appearing suddenly, he said, “I wonder if each time Ke Xiong comes across a beautiful girl you love to present your distinguished country’s famous colt as a gift?”
Ke Dazhi was slightly caught off guard. The refined light in his pair of eyes flickering, he looked at him and spoke in heavy voice, “Ol’ Ke has an advice I’d like to give Xiansheng as a present, which is, ‘do not mind other people’s business’. Don’t say that Ol’ Ke did not state it in advance.”
Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, “It seems like Ke Xiong has not figure out who I am. The last statement, I wonder if in this matter Ke Xiong could do it for Xiaodi’s sake.”
Ke Dazhi turned his gaze ahead of the horse’s head, his eyes fell onto the end of the long street, where the neighborhood gate was in sight. He was silent for half a day, and then he shook his head and said, “I wonder if Xiansheng is also unclear what kind of man I, Ke Dazhi, am? Ke Dazhi does whatever Ke Dazhi wants to do, he will never be swayed by other people interfering his business.”
The two men’s gaze met, they both were able to see the intense murderous aura, which was flashing in the other’s eyes but quickly died out.
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling went to Yu He An but did not see Shi Feixuan; he was heaving a sigh of relief instead. Since finding out that Shi Feixuan had asked Ning Daoqi to undertake the task of dealing with Kou Zhong, so that he would never return to Peng Liang, in his heart he felt extremely uncomfortable. Although knowing that Shi Feixuan’s standpoint in this regard has never changed, it was still difficult for him to feel at ease.
And then there was also the hidden feeling of being betrayed. If Kou Zhong was defeated and killed on the battlefield in an open decisive battle, naturally for this reason he would feel a sense of loss and would be broken-hearted! But in no way would he seek revenge against Li Shimin.
Kou Zhong has made his own decision to strive for the world to become the emperor; he should have thought that this might be one of the possible endings. But Shi Feixuan, due to she had accurate grasp on the two boys’ information, was using this method to setup a plan to deal with Kou Zhong. He felt that it was very difficult to understand her.
This incident has caused an irreparable crack between he and Shi Feixuan.
Lei Jiuzhi was lying on a clean bed in a quiet room. His countenance was pale, but his spirit could be considered not bad.
Xu Ziling sat on the edge of the bed, he said, “Lei Dage feels better?”
Smiling wryly, Lei Jiuzhi replied, “I have been dead and came back to life. Yesterday’s experience was just too terrifying, unexpectedly there is such torture method in this world, stimulating the meridians in your entire body, yet you can’t even move half a finger, other than blinking your eyes, which you could barely accomplish. Honestly, if you did not rescue me back, I would have succumbed if only for the sake of seeking death.”
“Who did it?” Xu Ziling asked.
Shaking his head, Lei Jiuzhi said, “When the man was doing it, he had my eyes covered, I couldn’t see anything. This man’s technique both in using needles and applying power are extremely brilliant; he is a first-class master.”
Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling said, “We found the clue to the hidden treasure.”
“Really?” Lei Jiuzhi said in great delight.
After giving him brief explanation, Xu Ziling said, “Although we have not found the entrance, we are not as clueless as before.”
Lei Jiuzhi signaled Xu Ziling to help him to sit up. Muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, “Since it is activated by hydraulic power, it may be related to water. You could pay particular attention to the water itself or places with water. My guess is that the process of entering the treasure-trove might involve dangerous mechanism; definitely nothing that human power is capable of resisting. Only after reaching the treasure-trove’s mechanism room would you be able to gain access to the other safe passages. I am too aware of Lu Shi’s character.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Lu Xiansheng loves to take advantage of the power of nature the most, which is evident in his architectural style. Lei Dage’s suggestion is very useful.”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “Shi Guniang has just come to see me. This time it was entirely due to her upholding justice and undertaking this task, otherwise I would have dragged you down.”
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. He said, “This time I am coming here to take you out, and then immediately send you to a safe place, so that Lei Dage could have a good rest.”
Stunned, Lei Jiuzhi said, “Wasn’t Shi Guniang going to take me outside the Pass?”
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly again; shaking his head, he said, “Since we have the ability to do so, why would we want to trouble an outsider? After Lei Dage recovers, I will meet up with you, together we will root out the Xiang Family. This time, the criminal ringleader, the main offender who harmed you is precisely Xiang Yushan.”
Lei Jiuzhi’s pair of eyes emitted deep hatred, but then he weakly closed his eyes, and with a barely audible voice he said, “Even without this enmity, I would never let Xiang Gui, father and son, off. You guys be careful. After I am gone, if you feel it is beyond your reach and power, don’t force yourselves to do it. Tell Kou Zhong, with his drive and enthusiasm, powerful talent and great planning, even without Duke Yang’s Treasure he would still be able to accomplish it.”
Xu Ziling turned his gaze toward the serene garden outside the window, thinking to himself that that was exactly what Shi Feixuan feared would happen.
Especially that now Kou Zhong has obtained the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que’s full support; one old the other young, two men joined together, who in the world would not be afraid?
Suddenly, he empathized with the helplessness and contradiction in Shi Feixuan’s heart.
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