Book 33 Chapter 9 – Skillful Pickpocket
When the three men, wearing black hood over their heads, exposing only their eyes, moving like ghosts, came to the corridor on the main deck, footsteps were heard on the deck from outside the door coming in, fast approaching.
This moment Kou Zhong was flitting across the left and right doors, and was still seven, eight paces to the end of the room. Already too late to go back to the cabin where he came from, without any choice he pushed open the door on his left closest to him, and flashed inside. He made up his mind that whether the occupant of the room was Tianwang Laozi [lit. old man king of Heaven], or perhaps Xian Fo Shengseng [lit. immortal Buddha holy monk], he would use the thunderbolt-fall-short-of-the-ears technique, to subdue the person inside the room before the other side figured out the noise.
One after another Hou Xibai and Xu Ziling flashed into the room as well. The latter closed the door in passing, right when the outside cabin door was pushed open.
The cabin was pitch-black, the window was tightly closed.
Kou Zhong stood by the bedside. He faintly saw someone sleeping on the bed, wrapped inside the quilt. The other two simply assumed that Kou Zhong already took care of whoever it was inside the room before they entered.
Xu Ziling and Hou Xibai positioned themselves on either side of the door. If anybody came in, he would have to crash his way through their joint ambush.
The footsteps passed outside the door and stopped in front of the cabin at the end of the corridor. An old voice spoke, “Shaoye, An Ye is here!”
It was half a day later that Yang Xuyan’s voice was heard from inside the room, “Ask him to wait in the cabin hall and drink a cup of ginseng tea; I will see him shortly.”
The old man received the order and left.
Xu Ziling and Hou Xibai exchanged a glance; they were both greatly astonished. Previously they thought that this was Rong Jiaojiao’s personal boat, but now it seemed like the ship belonged to Yang Xuyan, otherwise the old man should have asked female demon Rong for instructions.
Kou Zhong came to Xu Ziling, two men’s side; the three of them listened with rapt attention. Sure enough, they heard the rustling noise of someone putting on clothes. They were all greatly amused, because in the past, since Yang Xuyan has always come without a warning and gone without a trace, he was known in Jianghu as the ‘Shadow Assassin’, and everybody who heard his name had their countenance changed.
But this time, not only the three accidentally discovered his track, they also spied on him on the side, and to some extent, were plotting against him. Thinking about it, they wanted to shout that this was immensely enjoyable.
And then they heard the female demon Rong’s voice said, “Really a mood killer; he did not come late, he did not come early, but he came exactly at this annoying time.”
Yang Xuyan’s heavy voice replied, “Without anything urgent, An Pangzi would not have come to see me. I have to see what he has to say.”
The door was pushed open, the two exited the room and turned left, took the spiral stairs going down and proceeded toward the cabin hall.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “There’s a woman on the bed, someone must have fed her some kind of knockout drug that she remains unconscious. You go take a look.”
Xu Ziling was greatly surprised; he walked over toward the bed. Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai came over to his side. They saw Xu Ziling’s tiger-body shook and he exclaimed in low voice, “Isn’t this Jin Huanzhen?”
Together, You Niaojuan, Ding Jiuzhong, Zhou Laotan and Jin Huanzhen were the ‘Demonic Emperor’ Xiang Yutian’s disciples, who were involved in internal strife, fighting over that Emperor’s relics [see Book 20 starting in Chapter 5]. That day at the bat cave labyrinth, Shi Qingxuan lured the four of them into the cave, and then she used the flute sound to stir up the bat to attack the four. Ding Jiuzhong was killed by Xu Ziling; one after another Jin Huanzhen and Zhou Laotan were hit by You Niaojuan’s despicable method, which inflicted serious damage on them so that they had to flee in defeat. Who could have thought that this moment Jin Huazhen was unexpectedly on board Yang Xuyan’s ship, and looked like someone had beaten her, causing others to sigh with regret for her.
Jin Huanzhen was precisely one of a few people who knew how to use the Demonic Emperor Relics. The fact that she was here indicated that Yang Xuyan might have learned about this method.
“Do you want to take her away?” Kou Zhong asked in low voice.
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, “This is kind of like taking someone whose death is not enough to arouse pity; we do not want a new branch grows out of a knot. You and Xiao Hou [little Hou] go to their room to search, I will go to eavesdrop their meeting.”
Kou Zhong acknowledged the order. With Hou Xibai on tow, he flashed out of the door. Xu Ziling then threw himself on the floor and pressed his ear to eavesdrop.
An Long’s voice came from the direction of the cabin hall, “Yun Shuai has come to Chang’an.”
Xu Ziling was completely unprepared to receive such good news, to learn that the Cloud Commander has escaped Shi Zhixuan’s treacherous assault and was still in the world of the living. He could not refrain from feeling overjoyed at the unexpected good news.
Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai flashed into Yang Xuyan and Rong Jiaojiao’s luxurious cabin in succession; from the big bed to the small side table, from the decoration to the layout, everything was designed extremely well. Without saying anything further, the two immediately got down to the task of searching every cun of the room until they were certain that Yang Xuyan did not leave the Image Scroll in the room, before they reconvened to discuss this matter.
Kou Zhong said, “It is obvious that at a glance, in this room, only the bottom of the couch can hide someone. Let me hide under the couch. As long as you two can lure him away at the right time, I will make my move to steal that thing.”
Shaking his head, Hou Xibai said, “Too close! You will definitely induce Yang Xuyan’s reaction.”
Full of confidence, Kou Zhong said, “Not only I can close my breathing for a long period of time, I can also apply my power to seal my pores so that my body will not emit heat; I guarantee that he will not sense it at all.”
Hou Xibai shook his head and said, “Unless you can sever your life force, otherwise, merely the heartbeat is enough to arouse Yang Xuyan’s alertness. This plan will not work.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “You are very thorough, but other than this, what can we do?”
Hou Xibai said, “Let’s go back to the previous room and talk about it. Currently we already grasp what is true and what is false in Yang Xuyan’s situation, we also have enough power to beat him comfortably. If necessary, we’ll use force on him.”
Frowning, Kou Zhong said, “Precisely because we have the upper hand that we must snatch that thing beautifully, so that afterwards he would suspect everybody because he is unclear who robbed him of his things. This is called ‘superior troops boasting about the scheme’. Ha! What’s in the next room?”
“Ought to be two other cabins,” Hou Xibai replied, “Remember that before we came in, there were doors to the left and right?”
Kou Zhong quickly moved to the left and right walls and pressed his ear down. Holding out a hand, he said, “Do you have a dagger or something sharp?”
Hou Xibai took out the Fan of Beauty and said, “This thing can be used as a dagger. Are you thinking of opening a hole on the wall?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “As expected, I mentioned the head and you caught the tail. We are going to make a mouse hole on the corner. When the time comes, just let Laozi show off my skill to grab things over the distance, to bring the Image Scroll into my hand.”
Hou Xibai’s pair of eyes lit up, he said, “Since we started, we must carry it through whatever happens. We might as well open up three holes each on left and right, two walls. At that time we can look at the situation and decide to make our move from which hole. But can you really use your internal energy to fetch something more than two zhang away?”
“I was just pulling your leg,” Kou Zhong replied, “But if there is cloth belt or something like that, it would be like the extension of my hand. Come! Let’s do it quickly. The cut must be neat in order to patch the wall. I will poke some peep holes.”
The two carried out their tasks separately, and were done soon afterwards, right on time as Xu Ziling came and said, “An Long is leaving!”
Yang Xuyan and Rong Jiaojiao entered the room, completely oblivious that big enemies were spying on them from both sides, watching for an opportunity to make their move.
In the room on the left, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were sitting on the floor in the pitch-black cabin, closing their breathing and restraining their power to wait quietly.
Kou Zhong even used his hand to cover the hole, which he created by jabbing his finger into the wall, so that there would not be any difference in luminosity and thus raised Yang Xuyan’s vigilance.
On the other side of the wall, this little peephole was located under a small table, hence it was extremely hidden.
The two you look at me I look at you, not daring to say anything.
And then came the sound of a couple in affectionate embrace; evidently those two were carrying on intimately and were unwilling to waste any time.
Gasping for breath, Rong Jiaojiao said, “The child inside Shuni’s belly, is it yours?”
“Of course,” Yang Xuyan replied, “Fancy that Li Yuan always believed himself infallible, an old hand among the flowers, but he could not see that Shuni is not a whole jade annulus anymore.”
Rong Jiaojiao laughed and said, “How can you thank nujia? If I had not passed on her the secret method, how could she conceal it from Li Yuan?”
Yang Xuyan laughed evilly and said, “There is only one way to thank you, this little loose woman.”
What followed was the sound of clothes being removed.
Kou Zhong winked at Xu Ziling, removed his palm, and crouched down to peek.
Xu Ziling could not stop the image of Rong Jiaojiao’s beautiful, seductive figure, her ten-thousand-kind amorous jade countenance – from floating into his mind; he was sexually aroused as well.
While peeking, Kou Zhong made some signals, indicating that the couple was undressing each other, and was letting the clothes to drop on the floor.
Xu Ziling could imagine that inside the room on the other side, Hou Xibai must be watching from behind the wall as well.
The sound of the couple falling into the bed was heard. Kou Zhong straightened up his body to sit; he leaned over and whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “Success!”
He moved to the square hole right in the middle of the foot of the wall, pressed his palm and applied his power; silently the broken wall was sucked away.
Xu Ziling bent down to look; to his surprise he saw the Immortal Image Scroll, wrapped in layer upon layer of oilcloth, along with the abandoned clothes, lying on the deck floor, only about a zhang and a half away from the hole.
‘Pop! Pop! Bang! Bang!
Finally the zi hour [11pm-1am, or simply midnight] came. The two firecrackers towers at the Imperial Palace were lighted to welcome the arrival of the New Year. The noise spread widely inside the city.
‘Wonderful!’ Kou Zhong cried inwardly. The strip of cloth in his hand became alive like a spirited snake, driven by his inner power, poking out its head from the hole, and slithered toward the target.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong woke up from his sleep in the midst of jubilant explosion of the fireworks. Outside the window he saw fluffy spring snow floating down in the air.
Recalling Hou Xibai’s joyous expression last night when he put the two pieces of Image Scroll together, there was a great sense of relief in his heart.
Now, although they still could not do anything to Shi Zhixuan, but they could launch all kinds of imaginable and profound and long-lasting strike to this terrifying big enemy from the other aspects.
The next target would be the ‘Fat Merchant of Sichuan’ An Long.
If they could kill this man, Shi Zhixuan would lose his connection with all parties in the other places.
Kou Zhong sprang up from the bed. After freshening up and changing his clothes, he grabbed the fake Moon in the Well, which someone had swapped in the stealing-dragon-and-turning-it-into-a-phoenix manner – in passing. He pulled a short section and started blankly at it for half a day, before heaving a sigh.
Although he had profound emotional attachment to the Moon in the Well, but there was contradiction in his heart as well. It was, after all, a gift from his archenemy Xiao Xian. Holding that thing in his hand, he always had a little uneasiness.
Ay! He might as well ignore Wanwan and let the Moon in the Well die peacefully. Based on his current skill, any saber in his hand could be turned into a divine arm, sharp weapon.
Coming to the hall, he found festive atmosphere filling the entire hall. The entire Sha Family, from top to bottom, big and small, were gathered inside congratulating each other, expressing good wishes for the coming year.
When Kou Zhong’s good self arrived in the hall, the entire hall erupted in good cheers, everybody was scrambling to wish him a happy new year.
After receiving the Old Master’s particularly big red packet [hongbao], Chang He pulled him to the side. Taking him to sit down to talk, he said, “Taizi Dianxia was very appreciative of what you did last night. It was certainly brilliant. This way, everybody knew that the loser was that Heavenly Policy Mansion’s Mo Wei. Has he recovered from his injury?”
Kou Zhong has not thought about this at all. Recalling his date with Shang Xiufang, he said, “I was just thinking as a doctor. After Xiaodi treated his injury with needles, he shouldn’t have any problem. Give him about ten days, he should be fully restored.”
The First Young Master Sha Chenggong [sic] came and said, “Let’s go to Ming Tang Wo to play a few rounds, just to welcome the Spring Festival.”
Chang He replied, “Later on I need to go with Mo Xiong to see Taizi [Crown Prince] to pay a New Year call, we could go a bit later in the evening.”
And then he asked Kou Zhong, “Does Mo Xiong love to go to the casino?”
While groaning inwardly, Kou Zhong replied, “Just in my free time, I would gamble a hand or two, nothing more. Since we have to go to the Taizi Mansion to pay a New Year call, we’d better leave early. I still need to go to Shang Lin Yuan to treat Shang Xiaojie’s illness; the appointment was agreed last night.”
“We have a guest!”
The three stopped talking and looked at the main entrance, only to see the tender, pretty, and charming Dugu Feng [phoenix], smiling gracefully, full of passion – walking in. Her beautiful eyes swept the entire hall. When her gaze fell on Kou Zhong, it suddenly lit up, and she revealed a sweet, sweet smile first, before walking over toward Old Master Sha and Madame Sha, who were sitting on the host seats at the northern end of the hall.
A peculiar feeling rose up in Kou Zhong’s heart. Could it be that Dugu Feng, who has always loved to look at handsome men, unexpectedly took a fancy on him, this ugly Divine Doctor?
※ ※ ※
In the lodge at the Chong Xian Li where they stayed, Xu Ziling and Lei Jiuzhi were leisurely drinking tea while enjoying the snow; their heart felt relaxed and peaceful.
Lei Jiuzhi said, “According to what you said, when you stole that batch of firearms from Yin Gui Pai, you indeed threw their troop disposition into disarray, hence they had to immediately replenish the firearms from someplace else. But time is pressing, where could they find it from?”
Sipping his hot tea, Xu Ziling said, “I am afraid that if we want to find out, we would have to talk to Wanwan. But now at least we know that whatever it is, they would only carryout their plot after the fourth of the first month, and the target is Li Shimin.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Lei Jiuzhi said, “If we could take the advantage of the confusion while they are launching their raid to transport the treasure out, it would be absolutely safe.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “The problem is that right now we cannot touch even half the edge of the shadow of the treasure. Supposing the entrance to the treasure is really inside the Wu Lou Si, the situation would be even worse. Frankly speaking, even if I join hands with Kou Zhong, I am afraid we will still be unable to overcome Shi Zhixuan. His Immortal Image Method practically is not afraid of the opposite side having many men.”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “We must think of a way to lure him away.”
Someone was knocking the brass ring against the door.
The two looked at each other.
Early morning of the Beginning of Spring holiday, who could have come looking for them?