Book 34 Chapter 4 – The Mystery of the Swap
Xu Ziling quietly left town, and when he returned, he was already wearing Yue Shan attire and appearance, and swaggered back toward the inn.
When he was sitting down and drinking his hot tea, You Niaojuan entered in through the window; he complained, “Where were you these past few days?”
Xu Ziling did not even give him half a gaze; he only snorted coldly.
You Niaojuan sat down next to him; lowering his voice and suppressing his anger, he said, “It’s not that I am blaming you, Senior, it’s just that the past few days the situation in Chang’an is tense, while I went everywhere to look for you, Senior, but could not find you, so in my heart I was a bit anxious, that’s all!”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “You knew Shi Zhixuan wanted to kill me.”
Displeased, You Niaojuan said, “Xiaodi already told you he wants to kill you; could it be that only this moment you, Laoge, believe that I am not lying to you?”
Inwardly Xu Ziling was amused; he actually wanted to see You Niaojuan more than You Niaojuan wanted to see him. Now that You Niaojuan voluntarily dropping by like this, naturally it was the best. Otherwise he would have to use the secret method to contact him.
Finally Xu Ziling turned around to face this big crafty ghost You Niaojuan, who was putting on an act like he was loyal and sincere – and spoke slowly, “I have had a battle against Shi Zhixuan.”
“What?” You Niaojuan blurted out.
Xu Ziling’s pair of eyes emitted deep murderous intent, but the tone of his voice remained tranquil; he said, “He intercepted me at the Yue Ma Bridge, thinking that I, ‘Ba Dao’ Yue Shan was still as useless as that year when I was defeated under Song Que’s hands. Humph! That fact proved that he practically does not have the qualifications to kill me, Yue Shan, at all.”
Stammering, You Niaojuan said, “You really fought Shi Zhixuan?”
Only by listening to the tone of his voice, he knew that he was extremely wary toward Shi Zhixuan. Xu Ziling smiled and said, “When did you ever hear me, Yue Shan, telling a lie? Shi Zhixuan thinks so highly of me, I, Yue Shan, definitely must reciprocate.”
You Niaojuan calmed down his spirit, he said, “LaoGe’s Huan Ri Da Fa is really growing more and more formidable. From the bat cave, Chengdu, and now in Chang’an, each time more formidable than the last time. Now even Xie Wang cannot do anything to you.”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “Less nonsense. You say I ought to return Shi Zhixuan’s compliment?”
With an evil grin You Niaojuan said, “Having enmity but not avenging it is not the conduct of a gentleman at all. A gentleman ought to take revenge. Let alone I, You Niaojuan, have never been a gentleman. It’s just that I really don’t know in which dog hole Shi Zhixuan is hiding. I’m afraid even An Long would not know.”
“Never mind!” Xu Ziling said, “I’ll take An Long first as a sacrificial offering!”
Stunned, You Niaojuan stuttered, “This … hey! This …”
“You may go,” Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “Hereby our cooperation will be two segments with a single cut.”
Smiling apologetically, You Niaojuan said, “You, Senior want to kill An Long, you kill An Long then! There is no need to lose your temper like this.”
The refined light in Xu Ziling’s pair of eyes flashed, he looked straight into You Niaojuan’s vicious eyeballs and said, “I did not lose my temper at all; rather, I’ve seen through that you are not a person to do big things, you are afraid of the head, terrified of the tail, how could you accomplish anything? Currently the situation is extremely clear; within the demonic school, you have become lone-momentum, weak-power. Were it not for Zhao Deyan seeing there is still something of value in you to be exploited, you have been slaughtered early on by either Shi Zhixuan or Zhu Yuyan. But unless you go as far away as possible, this matter will happen sooner or later.”
Hearing his remark, You Niaojuan was dumbstruck and unable to reply. He was right. Otherwise, You Niaojuan would not have to come to seek cooperation from Yue Shan, who was well known for being difficult to get along with; even more, he had to suffer enough from Yue Shan’s bird temper.
Finished playing with the hard, now Xu Ziling turned to soft. His voice softened as he sighed and said, “You clearly know why I am willing to help you. If you think that your eloquence could persuade me, or perhaps that I trust your personal character, then you are gravely mistaken.”
Embarrassed, You Niaojuan asked, “So there’s a special reason?”
A hint of strange smile escaped from the corner of Xu Ziling’s mouth; he said, “Because I want to cultivate another Xie Di [demonic emperor].”
You Niaojuan was shaken; he revealed an unbelieving expression.
Xu Ziling sighed again and said, “In order to master the Huan Ri Da Fa, I have overdrawn myself very badly. Very soon I will be ninety! Time is limited. Before I die, I am hoping to have another stake-it-all, disregarding-victory-or-defeat battle against Song Que. If you could be Xie Di, you could act on my, Yue Shan’s behalf to collect some old debt from the people that I detest the most. I, Yue Shan, have always been a man who, kindness must be repaid, enmity must be avenged.”
You Niaojuan spoke heavily, “Is Yue Lao referring to Zhu Yuyan?”
Xu Ziling muttered to himself irresolutely for half a day before asserting, “Now let’s settle it in one word; are you willing to disregard everything, by hook or by crook, to obtain the Sheng Sheli?”
His speech aroused the vicious nature inside You Niaojuan. He nodded and said, “LaoGe has completely seen through my, You Niaojuan’s situation. I will either grab the Sheng Sheli in my hands, or find a mountain cave and hide forever, never to come back out. There is no third option.”
And then he softly said, “It’s not that I am scared of Shi Zhixuan, but under current circumstances, what good will it bring us by getting rid of An Long? In that kind of situation, it will be very difficult for Zhao Deyan to speak to me.”
Xu Ziling calmly said, “Supposing we could frame the killing of An Long to Zhu Yuyan, do you think it will be worthwhile?”
You Niaojuan’s pair of vicious eyes lit up immediately. He said, “That is of course another matter altogether. But Shi Zhixuan is definitely not easy to be deceived. If he examined the injury, he would immediately know that it was not from Zhu Yuyan’s hands.”
“Can’t we make An Long disappear forever?” Xu Ziling asked.
Slapping his forehead, You Niaojuan nodded and said, “I am really stupid!”
And then his excitement rose as he said, “This kind of trick, no one is more expert than me. If we could make Zhu Yuyan and Shi Zhixuan ghost fighting ghost, naturally it would be most beneficial to us. Yue LaoGe, you are really formidable.”
“Where is An Pangzi now?” Xu Ziling asked.
Radiant with delight, You Niaojuan said, “This is even more marvelous. An Pangzi’s hiding place, only the people from Zhu Yuyan and Zhao Deyan, two sides, know. Shi Zhixuan would never suspect Zhao Deyan, but he never trust Zhu Yuyan.”
“Will he suspect you?” Xu Ziling asked.
You Niaojuan replied, “After I got to Chang’an, I had never been in contact with An Pangzi. I know where he is hiding, but I investigated it by relying on my own skill.”
“That is the best,” Xu Ziling replied, “Any news about those two boys?”
You Niaojuan said, “These two boys really possess great magical power; the gods did not know the ghosts did not perceive, they stole into Chang’an. But this morning that kid Kou Zhong nearly fell into the ambush; fortunately it was Ke Dazhi who was in charge of the general situation and he deliberately let him go, so that he did not suffer any mishaps.”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling was shivering inwardly. If Ke Dazhi really deliberately let Kou Zhong off, and Kou Zhong unexpectedly could not see it, then they had to reevaluate their assessment on Ke Dazhi.
Distressed, You Niaojuan said, “The strange thing is, what are those two boys waiting for? Why haven’t they unearthed the hidden treasure yet?”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling was shocked. But naturally on the surface he did not show anything. He asked in heavy voice, “Do you know their hiding place?”
You Niaojuan replied, “Yue LaoGe is willing to show such support on me, Niaojuan does not dare to conceal anything. Our school has a set of gongfa [reminder: skill (or power) method, as long as Xie Di Sheli is within a hundred li from us, we would sense it. LaoGe naturally would ask, wouldn’t it be possible for Xiaodi to rely on this method to find the hidden treasure location? It’s just too bad that how could Lu Miaozi, that crafty ghost, make things easy for me? I don’t know how he did it, but he made it difficult for me to rely on this gongfa to find the Relics location.”
Although Xu Ziling had one less thing to worry, there was another thing that made him worry. Frowning, he said, “Among your Shidi, Shimei of the same school, who else knew this gongfa? That day in the Xie Di Miao [demonic emperor temple], you guys did not seem to know that Qingxuan’s yellow crystal ball was a fake.”
With an evil grin You Niaojuan said, “Whether the crystal ball was real or fake, how could it deceive me? But who my target was, Yue LaoGe ought to know clearly more than any other people. Less incense burners, less ghosts, how could they overcome me, You Niaojuan?”
Recalling Jin Huanzhen, who was lying on Yang Xuyan’s boat with her acupoint sealed, Xu Ziling secretly paid close attention to the tone of You Niaojuan’s voice; it did seem that he was the only one understood this set of gongfa. But the stake was high; he must confirm it from You Niaojuan’s mouth. Otherwise, even if they unearthed the hidden treasure, it would still be difficult to escape the bad luck of Shi Zhixuan or Yang Xuyan intercepting them. He said, “Are you the only one with this ability? You must tell me clearly.”
Smiling wryly, You Niaojuan said, “Honestly, even I do not dare to be certain. But Ding Jiuzhong was killed by you, LaoGe. Zhou Laotan and Jin Huanzhen were heavily injured by Xiaodi; life or death are not on the cards. We shouldn’t be worried about them.”
Xu Ziling was dying to ask him how this gongfa work, but was afraid to arouse his suspicion; without any better option he suppressed this desire.
You Niaojuan suddenly asked, “How’s the relationship between Yue LaoGe and Li Yuan now?”
Xu Ziling knew that in the end You Niaojuan could not help bringing up this matter to him; smiling, he said, “Li Yuan is a formidable chess piece that I am using to deal with Shi Zhixuan. Do you understand?”
You Niaojuan did not dare to pursue this matter; obviously he did not care too much about this matter either. To him, the most important thing was to obtain the Demonic Emperor Relics; other things, even if the sky collapsed, he simply did not have the time to care about.
Xu Ziling asked, “Other than me, is there anyone else who knows that you understand this set of gongfa?”
You Niaojuan replied, “This is our school’s secret, we certainly will not reveal this information to anybody else.”
Xu Ziling did not think so; take Jin Huanzhen for example, if she knew that she had no hope of obtaining the Demonic Emperor Relics, because she hated You Niaojuan to the bones, she might reveal to Yang Xuyan that You Niaojuan had this kind of ability. And then Yang Xuyan only needed to keep a close watch on You Niaojuan, and he would be able to find the Xie Di Sheli.
Besides, Zhou Laotan might be lurking nearby, which would make the situation even more complicated.
“All right!” Xu Ziling said, “Let’s set others thing aside for now, we need to look into how to deal with An Pangzi first.”
You Niaojuan’s pair of eyes shot excited look; he nodded his head and said, “Not even in his dream would An Long think that there are the two of us scheming against him behind his back. This time he will be dead for sure!”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong and Chang He went to buy the gift that Li Yuanji wanted to send to Shang Xiufang. He randomly fabricated an excuse to return to the Sha Mansion first, and made appointment that Chang He would come to the Sha Mansion later to find him, and then together they would deliver the gift to the King of Qi Mansion.
When he reached the Sha Mansion, the guests paying the New Year call have already dispersed, the Old Master has returned to his room to rest. Although the Sha Mansion was still brimming with the holiday atmosphere, it was not like before, where it was so clamorous and so busy that everybody’s head was spinning.
The First Young Master Sha Chengjiu and the Third Young Master Sha Chengde, two men, were talking in the hall; they seemed to be discussing business. Kou Zhong only exchanged a greeting with them and went back to his room.
At the winding corridor of the garden he came across the Fifth Miss Sha Zhijing, who dressed up really meticulous today, whose bright countenance shone on others.
When this younger sister saw Kou Zhong, immediately she came over to him, full of smiling expression, and said, “This moment, in Chang’an, Xiansheng is definitely the most popular person. Feng Jie [older sister ‘phoenix’] even praises you without ceasing, saying that not only your medical expertise is brilliant, your character is witty, and you are a very good man!”
Making modest remarks, Kou Zhong responded, “Feng Guniang is really courteous.”
Sha Zhijing’s attitude toward him now was like the difference between heaven and earth compared to when they first met.
Leaning closer, she cordially said, “I hear even Shang Xiufang is showing particular appreciation toward Xiansheng, so that the men in the whole city are very envious of you.”
Kou Zhong had never expected that Sha Zhijing, who had always been guarded and serious, would speak out such witty remark; smiling wryly, he said, “But certainly no girl would be envious of Xiufang Xiaojie?”
“Pfft!” stifling a giggle, Sha Zhijing covered her mouth and said, “Xiansheng’s remarks are really interesting, no wonder Feng Jie commented on Xiansheng’s witty character. But anybody who has been in contact with Xiansheng for a bit longer period of time would naturally feel … hey … feel … ay … Zhijing does not know how to explain it!”
While speaking the last few sentences, unexpectedly red clouds appeared on this beauty’s jade cheeks, even the base of her ears turned red.
Watching this, however, Kou Zhong was panic-stricken; he mused inwardly that could it be that she found his ugly face adorable?
Unable to conceal her blunder, Sha Zhijing hung her head down to avoid his gaze, and then finding an excuse, she ran away to escape from his presence.
Totally confused, Kou Zhong returned to his room. But as soon as he stepped over the threshold, he generated a reaction. Sitting down dejectedly, he said, “Come out! What advice does Wan Dajie have for me this time?”
Like a clump of cloud, the barefooted Wanwan floated out from inside his bedroom, came over to him and knelt in front of him on one knee, putting both her hands on his thigh. Acting like a wife greeting her husband, she said, “Guanren [lit. government officer] worked hard! Fortunately you can still come back alive and see nujia.”
Kou Zhong impatiently said, “If you have something to say, say it quickly; with you here, I can’t even take a nap.”
With an enchanting smile, Wanwan said, “Shao Shuai please calm down, don’t get excited. Now some people outside are starting to suspect that you basically do not know the location of the treasure trove, we are also considering whether the cooperation should be canceled.”
Kou Zhong responded with cold snort, “If you don’t believe then just drop it. What kind of situation that I, Kou Zhong, have not seen?”
Wanwan spoke softly, “Can Shao Shuai say it one more time?”
Kou Zhong was immediately at a loss. Currently the situation was leaning to her advantage. Wanwan only needed to release the information that Divine Doctor Mo was Kou Zhong in disguise, and he would have to pack his food and leave before finish eating; he practically did not have any qualifications to show off.
Feeling awkward, his gaze was roaming around everywhere except Wanwan’s beautiful eyes with penetrating power. When his gaze swept past the Moon in the Well, which was as fake as his divine doctor guise, he blurted out without thinking, “When are you going to return the saber to me?”
Stunned, Wanwan asked, “Return what saber?”
Kou Zhong’s tiger body shook. He turned his gaze to Wanwan, the entire spine on his back felt like a bucket of iced water was poured over it, a chill penetrated his brain.
Wanwan’s pair of eyes emitted peculiar look, she turned to look at the fake Moon in the Well hanging on the wall.
This moment Kou Zhong could be a hundred-percent sure that Wanwan was not the one swapping the real Moon in the Well with a fake one.
But who did it then?
Sound of footsteps approaching, like a wisp of smoke Wanwan floated back into the bedroom.
The First Young Master Sha Chengjiu’s voice rang outside the room, saying, “Mo Xiansheng! May I come in to have a word with you?”
Helpless, Kou Zhong stood up and opened the door to let Sha Chengjiu come in.
As soon as he plopped his butt on the chair, Sha Chengjiu said dejectedly, “So disappointing! As soon as they say that the gambling party that has been scheduled well in advance is to be canceled, they canceled it.”
In his heart Kou Zhong was shocked, knowing that their guess did not miss the mark; the shipment of firearms that Yang Xuyan and Xiang Yushan were ganging up on has finally found its way in.
※ ※ ※
After You Niaojuan left, Li Yuan, wearing civilian clothes, arrived. While his escort of more than a dozen martial art masters was staying outside, he went in to pay a New Year Call to Xu Ziling.
Once they were seated properly, Li Yuan said, “Turns out these past two days Dage was not in Chang’an. Xiaodi was worried about Dage.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “How’s the situation?”
Letting out a cold laugh, Li Yuan said, “They want to deal with me, Li Yuan, how could it be that easy? Right now I am quietly holding back any movement, I want to see what Shi Zhixuan is going to do?”
Xu Ziling asked, “Have you told anybody about this matter, including your sons and concubines?”
Shaking his head, Li Yuan said, “The stakes are high, how can I leak any information? However, I have already deployed enough resources to deal with any sudden change.”
Xu Ziling said, “This is called pulling a snake from its hole [idiom: exposing a malefactor]. The most important thing is that everything must proceed as usual, you must not beat the grass to scare the snake by any means.”
Pondering deeply, Li Yuan said, “If Dage could investigate clearly Shi Zhixuan’s hiding place, I could mobilize my manpower to eliminate him in one fell swoop, to cut off future trouble.”
Xu Ziling suddenly had a strong urge in his heart, he nearly divulged Shi Zhixuan’s secret.
Chances are, from among the men under Li Yuan’s command, there was no one who could match the Four Great Holy Monks. But if they tried to seize victory by relying on many men, a great force, as long as they did it when least expected and heavily surrounded Wu Lou Si, perhaps even Shi Zhixuan could not rely on ‘Bu Si Yin Fa’ [Immortal Image Method] and ‘Huan Mo Shen Fa’ [Phantom Motion] to get away.
However, perhaps before they even maneuvered the men and horses, Shi Zhixuan already sniffed the wind and escaped. Or perhaps before the net surrounding the temple was completed, Shi Zhixuan would break the siege and escape.
Without any better option, he said, “I am still trying to figure it out.”
Li Yuan said, “Were it not for I still did not want to openly declare enmity against Xieli, the first one I want to kill is Zhao Deyan.”
“You must not act blindly without thinking,” Xu Ziling advised, “The biggest problem right now is that we practically do not know how many people from the demonic school have infiltrated your Great Tang dynasty. Therefore, we must wait for them to expose their own track, and then you could seize them all to remove the inside danger.”
Li Yuan said, “The day after tomorrow, as usual practice, I am going to lead a group of subjects to the Xing Gong [lit. temporary imperial residence] on Mount Zhongnan for spring hunting; would Dage be interested in joining us?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Xiao Dao, you have enough power to deal with any sudden change on your own; there is no need for me to be by your side. You can be sure that I will hold Shi Zhixuan back, so that it would be difficult for him to meddle in everything on your side.”
Astonished, Li Yuan said, “Looking at Yue Dage’s card-up-your-sleeve manner, I wonder if there is something that Xiao Dao does not know?”
Xu Ziling rose up to his full height and said, “There are some things that would be better if you don’t know. Right now I am going to kill somebody. Eliminating this man is akin to removing an arm from Shi Zhixuan. You just wait for my good news!”