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After sending Xu Ziling off, the first thing Kou Zhong did was to re-separate the east-north and west-south zones, leaving the east wall as the only gateway connecting the two zones.
For safety measure, the moveable wall was still closed, but he did not engage the lock.
And then he walked toward the secret passage leading to the outside of the city. He opened the hidden door of the secret passage in accordance with the instructions left by Lu Miaozi. Sure enough, as he had guessed, there was another in-between secret room; the other side was the entrance to the real secret passage leading to outside the city.
Under the illumination of a fire stick, he saw inside this room, which was only about an eighth in size compared to the adjacent storehouse – a total of eight peach-wood chests, which greatly piqued Kou Zhong’s curiosity, which made him decide to take a look at the contents of the chests first before continuing his exploration to the other end of the secret passageway.
This was because he has had comparatively thorough understanding of the entire Duke Yang’s Treasure-trove; moreover, the more he understood the situation clearly, the more he sighed in admiration on the originality and ingenuity, the supernaturally fine craftsmanship of the construction of the entire underground vault.
However, were it not for the full support of Yang Su, whose authority at that time was enough to overturn the world, plus Chang’an was undergoing major construction within the city itself, building an underground treasure house while the gods did not know and the ghosts did not perceive, no one would have the ability to accomplish.
In his power struggle against Yang Jian, Yang Su has become the final victor, by borrowing Yang Guang’s hands to murder Yang Jian, and by having the Duke Yang’s Treasure ready just in case. But subsequently Yang Su’s son, Yang XuanGan died, and the Duke Yang’s Treasure became a riddle-like legend.
Somehow, the legend was passed on and finally reached Gaoli [Korea]; thereupon Fu Junchuo received her master’s order to come to the Central Plains. Very likely her mission was to be the vanguard to find a path into the Duke Yang’s Treasure, with the weapons, money and valuables as the target, to be secretly transported back into Gaoli. It’s a pity that Fu Junchuo could only enter the west-south axes of the underground storehouse. Witnessing the situation of the fake treasure-trove, naturally she was greatly disappointed, and only took away a handful of treasure, hoping that she could stir up chaos in Jianghu.
The twists and turns within this story was surely not something that Kou Zhong could guess out of thin air. For instance, Fu Junchuo’s Shimei [younger martial sister] Fu Junyu did not seem to have any knowledge of the Duke Yang’s Treasure. This was difficult for Kou Zhong to explain.
Kou Zhong opened the lid of the first chest. Inside were unexpectedly several sets of clothes, folded neatly. Picking up one to take a look, he noticed that it was just ordinary apparel that the traveling merchants used to wear; there was nothing special in either the handiwork or the material. Needless to say, it was prepared for Yang Su in case of emergency, to provide cover during his escape. This fellow was indeed very thoughtful.
Under the clothes, there were surprisingly two sets of mask. In just one glance Kou Zhong knew that it came from Lu Miaozi’s highly skilled hands. He was overjoyed at this unexpected discovery; the masks were exactly what he and Xu Ziling needed, one mask per person. He was happier than if he had found the entire chest to be filled with gold. Promptly he put the masks into his sack for safekeeping.
And then he opened the other chests one by one. Two chests contained genuinely invaluable rare treasure, glittering jewels to delight the eye, so that even with Kou Zhong’s mental cultivation, he was still dazzled and stunned, and was pleased beyond his expectation.
The other five chests contained all kinds of weapons; whether a saber or a shield, each one was a famed item. Evidently these were Yang Su’s collection of divine-arms-sharp-weapons from the past dynasties; any one of these was unusual treasure that martial art practitioners would yearn for even in their dreams.
Kou Zhong greatly felt that this trip has not been made in vain, thinking that if he let Gao Zhandao and the others to pick anything that their hearts desire, they would be wild with joy.
Continuing his steps toward the entrance to the secret passage leading to outside the city, he saw under the illumination of the fire stick two strips of rail extending far into the darkness. On the rails were parked more than a dozen iron cars, each cars had ten wheels; with the robust structure, the cars would be able to carry heavy loads.
He was about to raise his qi to swiftly run to the other end to take a look, when suddenly there was a loud ‘Dang!’ that made him jumped in fright. He was stunned, not knowing what happened.
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling left from the Yong An Canal exit. The passageway was ingeniously designed, the exit was located underwater on the canal’s wall, only the last section was sloping down into the water.
The most striking part of the entire Duke Yang’s Treasure was that before the main control was activated, all the secret passages were sealed off, so that it was as if the treasure-trove was invisible, unless the whole city of Chang’an was excavated, which, naturally no one would do that.
The treasure-trove’s entire ventilation system was integrated with the Wu Lou Si like seamless heavenly clothes. Last time Xu Ziling and Lei Jiuzhi were outside the Abbot’s chamber, although they examined the entire Wu Lou Si, they still failed to discover the slightest spider’s thread and horse track of this aspect.
Xu Ziling thought he might as well swim along the canal for a short section and only emerged out of the water at the place closest to Gao Zhandao and the others’ hideout.
There was still light snow falling down from the sky; it was still an ideal time in the dead of the night. Inwardly he mused that luckily they entered the treasure house immediately after dusk; otherwise by this time it would have been the full light of the day.
He was wearing the wetsuit [orig. water armor] that Gao Zhandao had a specialist in this trade made for him. The color was dark grey, so that in the dark night, combined with Xu Ziling’s demon-like movement as he soared and traversed in the night, it also function as camouflage.
Tonight, the security over the city was obviously growing in number as well as it was stricter than last night, although naturally it did not pose any problem for Xu Ziling, a top martial art master of the younger generation. He sprang high and lay low, suddenly stopped and suddenly moved. In less than the time needed to drink a cup of hot tea, and after evading several squads of patrolling troops, he already reached a place, from which he could see the roof ridge of the courtyard house where Gao Zhandao and the others’ went into hiding – from a distance.
The first thing that caught Xu Ziling’s attention was the ornamental rooster on the eaves tile above the main door of the main building. His heart was shocked; immediately he knew something was amiss.
This was the method of communication that he and Gao Zhandao agreed upon. If everything was all right, the rooster would face directly ahead, but if it was slanting to the right, it meant the situation was critical. Perhaps they did not even have time to escape. If it was slanting to the left, that meant they had time to get away from the underground passage.
The lantern was dark the fire black in the courtyard house; it actually did not have anything especially glaring compared to the neighboring houses, but Xu Ziling deeply felt the heavy crisis within it. The rooster on the roof slanting to the left [sic] simply put the ill omen clearly and concretely on display.
Who was actually the enemy? How could they act in this terrible moment, suppressing them down? The reason must be the Duke Yang’s Treasure.
Gao Zhandao and the others already received the two boys’ instruction in martial art, these last several years they had been training hard day and night; to capture all them in one net, perhaps only Shi Zhixuan, Zhu Yuyan, Wanwan, Zhao Deyan, Ke Dazhi, or martial art masters of their caliber could accomplish.
However, he immediately removed Zhao Deyan, Shi Zhixuan, two parties. The former, because he believed success was within his grasp – did not worry that they would not go through with their business deal; the latter, since he had not sensed the Demonic Emperor Relics’ coming up out of the ground, he would never act blindly without thinking.
Thinking to this point, he dared to guess that Gao Zhandao must have fallen into Zhu Yuyan’s hands. They [feminine] knew that they [masculine] would enter the treasure-trove tonight, plus they were unwilling to fight a you-die-I-live battle against Zhao Deyan with open saber, open spear; hence they were forced to gain the initiative by striking first, by forcing the two boys to hand over the Relics first, or even by forcing them to give up the way to enter the treasure-trove.
After figuring out this point, Xu Ziling took a deep breath and soared to the air. Traversing the more than ten zhang space, he landed directly in front of the courtyard house’s main gate. As if nothing had happened, he pushed the door and walked in.
A single lantern was lit. Wanwan’s sweet voice came from behind him, “Ziling, you worked hard! Sit down and have a cup of hot tea. Looking at how you are dripping wet really makes people feel sorry for you!”
Even though Xu Ziling had adequately prepared himself mentally, the scene catching his eyes still made his scalp went numb.
Gao Zhandao and the others, eighteen men in total – were sprawling at sixes and sevens [idiom: disorder] at one corner of the main hall; everybody was unconscious. Even if no one else was watching on the side, but relying on Xu Ziling, one person’s power, how many he could possibly rescue?
At the round table in the middle of the hall, sat Zhu Yuyan, whose face was covered in a layer of muslin, and then Bian Bufu, Pi Shouxuan, Wen Caiting, Xia Zhanglao [elder], five big shots of the Yin Gui Pai – leisurely enjoying fragrant tea, as if it was beneath them to consider Xu Ziling’s presence at all.
The way out was blocked by Wanwan behind him.
Zhu Yuyan looked at him from behind the veil, and spoke indifferently, “Where’s your Xiongdi [brother]?”
With a cold humph, Bian Bufu said, “One lie one life. It would be best for you to think clearly before answering.”
Wanwan floated behind him and spoke quietly, “Don’t blame us for not keeping our promise, it’s you who reap the consequences of your words first, so that we are forced to execute emergency measures.”
Xu Ziling inwardly performed Motionless Fundamental Image; assuming a pained expression, he nodded and said, “Very well! This time consider us failing and being wiped over the floor. Just state your condition for releasing these people!” He swept his gaze back and forth over Gao Zhandao and the others’ bodies. Only after confirming that they only had their acupoints sealed did he turn his eyes back.
The tone of Zhu Yuyan’s voice turned stern, she still asked the same question, “Where’s your Xiongdi?”
Xu Ziling laughed calmly and said, “It seems like we have not talked about the suitable conditions, am I right?”
The Cloud and Rain Double-Cultivation Pi Shouxuan raised his thumb and said, “You have guts!”
Wen Caiting spoke to Zhu Yuyan, “We’d better capture this kid first, so that we won’t have to look at his face.”
Xu Ziling sniggered inwardly, knowing that Wen Caiting was just bluffing to scare him. Not that Zhu Yuyan’s side did not have the power to do so, it’s just that once the fight broke, it would be extremely likely that they would alert the patrolling troops, which would not bring the least bit of benefit to either side.
Behind him, acting as the good guy Wanwan spoke softly, “Ziling is a smart guy, you ought to understand the current situation clearly; there can’t possibly be any second choice.”
Zhu Yuyan coldly said, “Just hand over the treasure-trove and the Relics obediently: otherwise there will only be dead end for you.”
Xu Ziling blurted out laughing and said, “Let’s fight then! Based on your, the Senior’s empty promises, you think I will obediently tell you everything? I am determined to fight to the death. Someday Kou Zhong will retrieve justice for me.”
Other than Zhu Yuyan, whose face he could not see, and Wanwan, who was standing behind him, Bian Bufu and the others’ expression remained wooden. But Xu Ziling intuitively knew that inwardly their hearts were shocked, knowing that his bluffing, the guest acted as the host – had stricken their vital point.
Behind him, Wanwan angrily said, “Everything can be discussed; why speak about fight or not fight, talk about life and death?”
Xu Ziling spoke resolutely, “I have neither the patience nor the time to bicker with you; if you cannot state the conditions to my satisfaction, I will have no choice but to burn both the jade and the common stone [idiom: to destroy indiscriminately], to see if you have the ability to retain me here. If you kill my men, Kou Zhong will destroy the Xiedi Sheli, so that you will never get it, ever.”
Letting out a burst of deep and low cold laugh, Zhu Yuyan nodded and said, “All right! You do have the qualifications to speak about conditions and negotiate the price. Is Kou Zhong still in the treasure house?”
Xu Ziling replied, “If Zongzhu [head of a clan/school] rush immediately, there is a fifty-percent chance that you might come across him.”
Zhu Yuyan spoke word-by-word, “Let’s do it this way: as the Master of Yin Gui Pai, I vow an incantation oath that as long as you agree to honestly tell me how to enter the treasure-trove, I guarantee that I won’t harm Kou Zhong, and all the eighteen men in here will be handed over to you. Their life and death, you may decide with one word.”
Xu Ziling said, “Since Zongzhu personally guarantees with an oath, naturally you won’t eat your own words. From here to the entrance to the treasure house is just the time needed to drink a cup of hot tea; therefore, if after the time needed to drink two cups of hot tea later we don’t see Zongzhu coming back, you ought to know that I am not lying; other people must leave immediately, and for the next two sichen, you must not disturb us at all.”
Elder Xia, who has been silent so far, suddenly said, “Since the distance is not far, we could send someone to check. After confirming that you, Xu Ziling did not lie, then we’ll release the men immediately.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “This is Zaixia’s condition for self-preservation; the ones going must be Zhu Zongzhu and Wan Xiaojie, two persons.”
Zhu Yuyan nodded and said, “This condition is acceptable.”
Turning to Pi Shouxuan, she said, “If we are not returning in two quarters of an hour, that means we are already entering the treasure house, you must leave at once and must not violate the agreement.”
Although Pi Shouxuan was Zhu Yuyan’s martial uncle, he could only nod his head to accept the order.
After demonstrating her good faith, she said to Xu Ziling, “Speak up!”
Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling said, “The entrance is inside the Dugu Clan’s Xi Ji Yuan’s north well.”
And then without concealing anything he explained the location of the entrance to the well, as well as the location of the button to pull, even the method of opening the steel gate.
Hearing that the entrance was at the bottom of the well, plus seeing the wetsuit that Xu Ziling was wearing was still wet, everybody believed him at least fifty-percent.
Bian Bufu spoke heavily, “What kind of trap and mechanism are still inside?”
Xu Ziling replied, “The mechanism has been broken by us, ladies and gentlemen need not be worried.”
Zhu Yuyan suddenly rose up and said, “The layout you are describing is certainly that Laobusi’s [lit. old not dead, i.e. old fart, old email protected] style; I hope you are not deceiving us!”
※ ※ ※
Only after focusing his attention did Kou Zhong realize that someone must have touched the storehouse’s alarm system. His first thought was that whoever it was must have entered the corridor with the different shade of colors leading into the main control room. Immediately shocked, he thought that if the person stole into the control room and close the mechanism, the consequences might be catastrophic.
This moment he had no time to worry how did such a dreadful thing happen, or what kind of person might possess such a great magical power? But he knew that he ought to immediately rush into the control room to prevent such thing from happening.
Unleashing his shenfa, in an instant he came to the only passable moveable wall, the one that shot arrows; he crashed against the wall and entered in.
The next moment he stood at the end of the corridor. The moveable wall was closing flawlessly. Behind him was the wall with the arrow holes, to his right was the entrance to the fake treasure house, and directly ahead was the steel gate.
The steel gate was just opened, and the light from fire stick was shining in.
It suddenly dawned on Kou Zhong that the alarm did not come from the corridor leading to the main control room; rather, it came from outside of the steel gate. Kou Zhong originally still had time to return to the other end of the moveable wall. But the sound of the moveable wall being activated would reveal the secret that he would absolutely not willing to reveal.
Without any better option, he braced himself to stand at the end of the corridor to meet the everything-bodes-ill, no-positive-signs [idiom: inauspicious] fate that he simply must face.
Under the illumination of the fire stick, three men flashed inside. Seeing Kou Zhong, not only they were not surprised, the one leading even laughed out loud and said, “Shao Shuai has never thought we’d make it, have you? I want to see where you can escape this time!”
The speaker was precisely the King of Qi, Li Yuanji. The two men behind him were, respectively, Yang Xuyan, who was wearing nightwalker outfit with a hood covering his face, and an old friend, the young Headmaster of Nan Hai Pai, Mei Xun. Based on these three men’s power, even if he, Kou Zhong, had Xu Ziling’s help, perhaps they would still have greater chance of losing than winning.
Until this moment Kou Zhong still could not figure out how the other side understood the location of the entrance to the secret passage. The problem must be in Xu Ziling and him; otherwise, Li Yuanji would have found the treasure-trove early on, at least he would have discovered the fake treasure-trove.
Feeling that he might not necessarily lose the overall situation, Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Nice to meet you, nice to meet you. This time we are certainly meeting face to face on a narrow path; there is no choice but to see the real skill of our hands, to see who can get out of this place alive.”
Yang Xuyan spoke heavily, “Where is Xu Ziling?”
Acting surprised, Kou Zhong replied, “So, it was not because you guys saw Xu Ziling climbing up from the entrance of the well that you found out the way in.”
Slightly stunned, Li Yuanji said, “Slaughtering you first shouldn’t be a bad thing either. No matter how crafty you are compared to a sly fox, you never thought that I might send my men working in shift to monitor the situation underground. Xi Ji Yuan has always been a place I suspected, especially the north well; it’s just that we could not find the entrance. This time Shao Shuai has done a big favor to this king.”
Listening to the tone of his voice, Kou Zhong’s heart was moved; he guessed that most likely Li Yuanji was concealing his movement from Li Yuan or even Li Jiancheng, because he wanted to obtain the Duke Yang’s Treasure for himself. Therefore, only the three of them came. Mei Xun probably sincerely wanted to help him, but Kou Zhong was sure that Yang Xuyan was harboring some evil intentions.
At the same time he blamed himself for being careless. Such a big city like Chang’an, there must be an arrangement to monitor the situation underground, in case the enemy dug a tunnel to attack the city; therefore, monitoring the two boys’ treasure-hunt activity was a readily available convenience.
Li Yuanji shook the Splitting Horse Spear in his hand; with heroism reaching to the clouds, he said, “Tonight is not an ordinary Jianghu vendetta, there is no rule to speak of. Kou Zhong, if you agree to kill yourself, I, Li Yuanji, will honor you as a real man, and will let you be buried with your body intact.”
Kou Zhong threw his head back and roared in laughter, “Rubbish!” he said, “It’s either you die or I live. I want to see if in this kind of environment, you can still use the Sudden Thrust [lit. returning horse spear, see Book 28 Chapter 5] style, to broaden my horizons.”
The Moon in the Well left its scabbard.
Yang Xuyan let out a low shout. Suddenly he rushed by Li Yuanji’s side; unleashing the full force of his Shadow Sword Technique, he attacked Kou Zhong.
Mei Xun was responsible for holding up the fire stick; he was standing at the back, bringing up the rear.
Limited by the narrow space of the corridor, Li Yuanji’s side could only use wheel tactic – to take turn in attacking the enemy, to see how long Kou Zhong would last.
Kou Zhong’s tiger back smashed onto the arrow wall.
The steel gate closed.
Kou Zhong thundered, “Now, whether it’s life or death, no one can get out.
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