Book 34 Chapter 5 – Bad Luck All Over
After Sha Chengjiu left, Kou Zhong went back inside the room to look. Wanwan already left via the back window.
Who actually swapped his Moon in the Well? This person must be suspicious of him, hence taking advantage while he was not home to come into his apartment to investigate, and from the Moon in the Well discovered the clue that he was Kou Zhong.
Because he did not want others to find out that he was Kou Zhong, he quietly substitute one thing for another [orig. the plum tree withers in place of peach tree], by swapping the Moon in the Well, so that later on Kou Zhong evaded Mei Xun’s suspicion.
Kou Zhong was hard-pressed and upset at the one loophole in a perfect plan [idiom (Courtesy of Akolaw)], but at that time he practically did not plan to pretend to be a divine doctor. Only because the situation developed in such a way that he did not have the freedom to act independently and had to assume this identity. Moreover, as soon as he arrived in Chang’an, he was already very busy treating Zhang Jieyu’s strange illness until the earth hazy and the sky turned dark. Plus he also had to deal with all kinds of people so that momentarily he became careless and forgot that it would expose the flaw of his identity, and thus the bitter fruit before his eyes.
Which ‘enemy’ would ‘protect’ him like this? Needless to say, this gentleman must be hoping that he could, without any alarm, without any danger – enter the treasure trove. And that, other than Wanwan, the possibility that the person was either Shi Zhixuan or Zhao Deyan was equally great.
Thinking to this point, Kou Zhong felt the tip of his fingers and the tip of his toes grew icy-cold.
This moment Chang He arrived as previously arranged. Together they were going to deliver the goods to the King of Qi Mansion.
Kou Zhong really wished that he could immediately go to warn Xu Ziling not to continue his plan to assassinate An Long, but he was fully aware that right now he did not have any way of finding him.
Suddenly, Kou Zhong knew that in his struggle against the three big shots of the demonic school, he had fallen into the absolutely disadvantageous situation, and that he found about it too late.
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The first evening of the New Year, the city of Chang’an finally quieted down. On the streets, there were only sporadic burst of firecrackers. The snow was getting heavier and heavier, the number of pedestrians on the street was obviously declining.
Xu Ziling pressed down his snow hat to his eyes, and he wore thick cotton gown. He also turned up his collar to cover the lower half of his face. However, merely his curved eagle nose was enough to make people who use their heads to recognize that he was the ‘Overbearing Saber’ Yue Shan.
When he was certain that nobody was following him, immediately he unleashed his shenfa, weaving swiftly in and out of the small streets and alleys.
If they were not particularly attentive, an average person might think that he was just a bit faster than other people, but actually he was particularly fast in going round the curves and skirting the corners [idiom]; his speed was more than ten times faster than average person. In just the time needed to drink a cup of hot tea, he already reached the Yong Yang Li at the southwest part of the city.
Here, warehouses stood in great numbers, with only a small number of residential buildings. Ordinarily there would be an unending stream of people and carriages delivering goods and transporting goods, but since nobody worked today, in contrast to the rest of the city, it was colder and more cheerless compared to normal times.
An Long was the biggest wine distributor in Bashu, his territory was mainly the southwest region, but he also supplied a small number of wine retailers in the northern metropolis, with Chang’an being one of them.
An Long’s hiding place was a wine warehouse in the Neighborhood [reminder: Li means neighborhood]. This warehouse was located in the middle of Yong Yang Li; it consisted of four buildings, big and small, surrounded by high walls all around.
An Long knew that he had enemies everywhere; selecting such a place to stay and live temporarily, it would not be easy for the enemy to find him; whether he decided to fight or to slip away, either way it would be very convenient.
Snowflakes were swirling in the air. This warehouse district was devoid of any pedestrian. Fortunately in most of the warehouse the lantern was dark, the fire black; to cover one’s track was not difficult at all.
Under cover of darkness, Xu Ziling scurried along the wall. Watching the ground, he soared high into the air; setting his foot on the courtyard wall first, he continued leaping up and landed on the roof of another warehouse building across the street from the wine warehouse.
Seeing his arrival, You Niaojuan, who had been crouching on the roof ridge earlier, signaled him to come over to meet him. With Xu Ziling crouching next to him, You Niaojuan pointed to the distance and said, “Do you see that? There is a weak light coming from inside the warehouse on the left. Half a sichen ago, I saw with my own eyes An Long went in, and I am sure that he is alone. The strange thing is, there is no guard or even dogs to protect the warehouse.”
Xu Ziling thought to himself that could it be that An Long’s misfortune has already arrived that it would be difficult for him to flee?
Based on his usual style, he ought to have several of his men to accompany him. Of course, there was also the possibility that You Niaojuan was lying to him; but this possibility was very low, unless You Niaojuan disdained the Demonic Emperor Relics as beneath contempt.
Even so, it would still be not worthwhile for You Niaojuan to conspire with Fatty An to harm him. Previously when You Niaojuan suggested that they come to this place to kill An Long, he was hesitating. But thinking that An Long might not visit the bathhouse today, plus this warehouse was not an easy place for idle person to accidentally stumble upon, hence it would be easier to frame Zhu Yuyan. Naturally it was a comparatively ideal place to carryout the assassination operation.
“Did An Long come back from the street?” he asked in heavy voice.
Shaking his head, You Niaojuan replied, “He just walked from one building to the next.”
Stunned, Xu Ziling said, “That’s not right!”
You Niaojuan was a Jianghu veteran; hearing that, he said, “Are you saying that there’s secret passage in the warehouse, and that An Long has already left from the secret passage?”
“There’s a good chance of that,” Xu Ziling replied.
He recalled the secret room at the Tianyang Gong in Chengdu [in Book 24 Chapter 2, it was Qingyang Si]. Based on An Long’s character, he simply must guard against Zhu Yuyan and Zhao Deyan.
You Niaojuan laughed grimly, “If there is a secret passage, it will be more ideal. It’s also reasonable and fair. Xie Wang [Demonic King] is the most should-not-be-exposed-to-light person of the demonic school. If there is a secret passage, it will be a lot more convenient for him to see An Pangzi.”
And then, lowering his voice, he spoke hoarsely, “I might as well go into the warehouse to look around. Yue LaoGe, you be on the lookout for me. If An Long is still inside the warehouse, I’ll stall him by trying to talk to him. If Yue LaoGe hear my laughter, you can immediately get in and make your move. Ha! Even if An Long think until his brain split he would never guess that I would kill him, that I would dare to kill him.”
Finished speaking, he stuck out his tongue to lick his lips, revealing a sinister look of taking utmost pleasure in killing. Even though was now fighting alongside him, Xu Ziling still could not help having his hair standing on its end.
Struggling hard to refocus his mind, Xu Ziling nodded and said, “We go together!”
The two soared at an angle, traversing the long street, and landed on top of the wall outside the wine warehouse. And then they soared again and landed on top of the wine warehouse, all without creating the least bit of noise.
You Niaojuan’s pair of eyes flickered with ominous glint. Signaling Xu Ziling, he swept along the roof ridge toward the warehouse gate until the end, before leaping down to the ground, and then disappeared from sight.
Xu Ziling pressed his ear onto the roof tile, letting the cold snowflakes floating onto his face.
There was no sound at all inside the warehouse; it appeared that even the mice ceased all activities due to the bitterly cold weather.
After quite half a day later, there was still no sound.
Xu Ziling greatly felt that something was amiss. Just now You Niaojuan clearly indicated that he was going to enter via the main gate; at least there ought to be the sound of door being pushed open.
The only noise he heard was the snowflakes falling on the roof tiles; never-ending, continuous, as if it would go on forever.
Aghast, Xu Ziling sat his tiger-body up straight; an intense ominous feeling welled up in his heart.
※ ※ ※
Looking out the carriage window, Kou Zhong was staring blankly at the streetscape moving backward, under the spring snow, which, the more it fell, the denser it grew.
Sitting by his side, Chang He asked in surprise, “Why does Mo Xiong look like you are having your heart filled with thoughts?”
Kou Zhong blurted out without thinking, “I want to leave this place.”
“What?” Chang He blurted out.
Kou Zhong came to his senses. Being a quick-witted person, he recovered quickly; he said with a sigh, “I am the kind of person who is not accustomed to social niceties. These past few days not only physically draining, it was also emotionally draining.”
Chang He understood. “I understand,” he said, “Actually, my biggest dream right now is to go to bed immediately, to have a good night sleep, without worrying about what time I have to get up to do public business. How about this: I’ll deliver this stuff to the Qi Wang Mansion for you, you could go back earlier and take a rest.”
Kou Zhong acted as if he had just obtained imperial kindness, amnesty from the emperor; he busily said, “Chang Daren is indeed a true friend who understand Xiaodi’s distress. Just let Xiaodi get off the carriage here; it should be all right.”
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Xu Ziling somersaulted over the wall and landed in front of the wine warehouse’s main door. The open space in front of the warehouse was covered in snow, but he did not even see half a shadow. Unexpectedly You Niaojuan, one of the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way – has disappeared without any trace.
At first Xu Ziling thought that it was the trap laid out by You Niaojuan, in collaboration with An Long – to deal with him. But then he quickly discarded this thought. Because just now he focused all his attention to the movement inside the warehouse, yet he did not hear any noticeable noise.
However, supposing You Niaojuan suddenly fell into people conspiring against him, perhaps there was a faint noise of something falling to the ground, which could be easily missed, let alone amidst the sound of falling snow, it might be comparatively easy for him to overlook.
But if You Niaojuan was suddenly ambushed, with his level of ability to meet a contingency, he ought to have time to call for help.
Who on earth was so formidable that You Niaojuan did not even have time to cry for help?
Shi Zhixuan appeared in Xu Ziling’s mind; his delicate and pretty face seemed to be brimming with emotions, but also seemed to be cold-hearted.
Reaching out, Xu Ziling pushed the door.
One side of the warehouse’s double-door gave in and opened, letting a faint lantern light from the inside of the warehouse to pass through.
Raising his vigilance to its highest level, Xu Ziling looked inside. From his point of view, he could see that one end of this vast warehouse was covered in bamboo baskets.
Xu Ziling pushed the door a little more; most of the warehouse came into view.
The scene that entered his eyes, even though he was usually cool-headed, was enough to make his heart and guts trembling; he was shocked and heartbroken.
※ ※ ※
Since he was a bit free and had nowhere in particular to go to, Kou Zhong rushed back into their secret nest. In his heart he simply did not know why he wanted to go back. Xu Ziling’s great endeavor in assassinating An Long ought to be in progress. Lei Jiuzhi was making arrangement for the Cloud Commander to see Li Shimin. Coming back to the secret nest, he could only stare blankly at the wall, alone. It would be easier for his mind to indulge in flights of fancy and be restless.
But he did not want to go back to the Sha Mansion and stare blankly at the wall.
In this kind of situation, no matter how optimistic he was, it would still be very hard to, like Chang He said – not be concerned with the sky’s falling, and sleep to his heart’s content.
He jumped over the wall to get in. Immediately attracting his attention was an everything-steady-and-stable, lying-on-the-round-table-in-the-middle-of-the-hall brocade case.
Inwardly Kou Zhong was severely shaken. With sudden big stride forward he rushed to the table.
A while ago Xu Ziling was the first to leave, and afterwards he and Lei Jiuzhi were leaving separately. Unless either Xu Ziling or Lei Jiuzhi came back, this delicate brocade case seemed to be appearing absolutely without any reason.
Kou Zhong felt his heart was rapidly leaping and moving. Uneasy feeling spread all over his body without him being able to control it.
Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to calm down. Reaching out, he uncovered the lid of the case.
Inside the box, there was a set of neatly folded outer clothing. Lying on top of the clothes was a note, saying, ‘Shao Shuai, please kindly accept Zhao Deyan’s sincere offering’, nine shaking-to-the-core characters; the penmanship was firm and powerful.
Kou Zhong roared wildly. He pulled the clothes from the case. It was precisely the cotton gown that Lei Jiuzhi wore when he left a moment ago.
※ ※ ※
Inside the wine warehouse, near the main door, set in the middle of the otherwise empty area, there was a square table with three chairs around it. There was a small oil lamp on the table, the faint light only illuminating the narrow space with the table at the center, everything farther down was still engulfed in the darkness.
This scene was strange enough as it was. But the most frightening thing was that on one of the chairs sat someone, with his back toward the main door.
In just one glance, Xu Ziling immediately recognized this man to be You Niaojuan, who had just gone missing.
This utterly vicious, extremely evil man did not show the least bit of liveliness at all, his head was skewed unnaturally to one side, hanging against his left shoulder, both of hands were hanging limply on his sides.
Seeing this, Xu Ziling calmed down instead; inwardly he felt sorry for him.
No matter what, You Niaojuan’s death was somehow related to him.
It could be considered that he had erred.
Previously he did not think through why Jin Huanzhen would be on Yang Xuyan’s boat. It was indeed a very big miscalculation.
Now he dared to say with a hundred-percent confidence that Shi Zhixuan already obtained the secret method of detecting the Demonic Emperor Relics’ presence from Jin Huanzhen. Hence he determined to attack murderously to kill You Niaojuan, so that in the world, only Jin Huanzhen and her lover Shixiong Zhou Laotan would have this ability.
This moment Jin Huanzhen was still in Yang Xuyan’s hands, while Zhou Laotan’s life and death was still unknown.
If Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling successfully unearth the hidden treasure, based on Shi Zhixuan’s unrivalled demonic skill, plus this unique school’s ability, it could be said that the Demonic Emperor Relics was already inside his, Demonic King’s pocket. It was also highly likely that from the time You Niaojuan left the ‘Demonic Commander’ Zhao Deyan’s secret residence to go to the Donglai Inn to look for him, Shi Zhixuan has been following close behind You Niaojuan’s back.
Shi Zhixuan was willing to wait until this moment before he dealt with You Niaojuan, naturally it was because of him, ‘Yue Shan’.
Shi Zhixuan took advantage while Yue Shan’s attention was focused on the inside of the warehouse, using the thunderbolt-barely-reaching-the-ear technique to kill You Niaojuan outside the warehouse. By the time Xu Ziling realized something was amiss and went down to the front door to investigate, he took You Niaojuan’s dead body via another entrance into the warehouse and sat him down on the chair.
Such skill, ability and wisdom, it was greatly beyond Xu Ziling’s expectation.
Was Shi Zhixuan still inside the warehouse?
Xu Ziling slowly turned around. The ‘Demonic King’ Shi Zhixuan, with his hands behind his back, was standing in the rain and snow, barely two zhang away from him. His white clothes were as white as the snow. If he did not have any hair, plus he wore monk robe, no one could deny that his appearance was like an out-of-the-world holy monk who had obtained the Way.
Shi Zhixuan’s pair of eyes was sparkling with deep, unfathomable refined light. His penetrating gaze was watching attentively at his every movement. Shaking his head, he said with a light sigh, “I can’t believe it! I really cannot believe it; the grandiose ‘Ba Dao’ Yue Shan unexpectedly cooperated with a third class, despicable disciple. It can clearly be seen that your destiny has come to its end, you won’t have either qualifications or hope for a decisive battle against the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que.”
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. This was the critical moment that would decide whether he could continue to excel as Yue Shan or not.
Because if it were the real Yue Shan, there was no way he would slip away to escape.
But since it was Xu Ziling, other than the last move of the thirty-six stratagems, what brilliant scheme would he use to deal with this situation? In just the twinkling of an eye, he made up his mind and decided to fight to the death.
Not because he wanted to show off, but because he was fully aware that he could not surpass Shi Zhixuan’s Huan Mo Shenfa anyway; if he bolted away, it would only expedite his defeat.
Throwing his head back, he laughed and said, “I, Yue Shan, only have one rotten life remain. If you have the ability, come and get it!”
A shadow flashed, Shi Zhixuan appeared nearby on his left, sending out an elbow strike toward him.
※ ※ ※
If he could go back in time to the beginning, Kou Zhong definitely would not overlook Zhao Deyan.
After arriving in Chang’an, there were simply too many things happening at the same time. Every moment he had to deal with new problem, which was appearing one after another.
Although he had not had any direct confrontation against Zhao Deyan, but because Zhao Deyan had not demonstrated any astonishing skill, his actions were very much low-key, Kou Zhong therefore did not pay attention to him, so much so that he had a little contempt toward him.
However, if he would really give it a serious thought, based on the Eastern Tujue’s strength, Xieli’s powerful aptitude and grand scheming ability, plus he was vicious and merciless, yet he was willing to use this Han person as his Guoshi [teacher of the state], how could Zhao Deyan be someone who was easy to deal with?
Apart from this point, merely the fact that Zhao Deyan ranked among the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Way second only to Zhu Yuyan and Shi Zhixuan, this person’s strength ought to be easily inferred.
The person who swapped the Moon in the Well could very well be Zhao Deyan. It should have given Kou Zhong a warning. Pity that he mistakenly thought that it was Wanwan, and thus he overlooked him.
It appeared that Zhao Deyan was able to see through his identity from the beginning, and has been holding his troops, only silently watching from the side like a tiger watching its prey, waiting for them to reveal their flaws and weak points.
Zhao Deyan finally succeeded.
Based on Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s character, it did not matter if they had to sacrifice their life, they would definitely want to get Lei Jiuzhi’s life back.
But why did he choose this very moment to capture Lei Jiuzhi?
Quite possibly it had something to do with ‘Mo Wei’ leaving a letter and running away out of Chang’an.
It gave others the impression that they were going to enter the treasure trove soon. Therefore, Zhao Deyan must strike first and gain the upper hand, and had their throat pinched.
Where would Zhao Deyan hide Lei Jiuzhi?
After the initial shock, Kou Zhong gradually calmed down. He immediately considered ways to remedy the situation and to strike back. He had a vague feeling that it was because he slipped away midway toward the King of Qi’s Mansion that he was able to discover this matter sooner than planned. Perhaps this would be the crucial point to turn defeat into victory.
With Zhao Deyan’s craftiness, he would not detain Lei Jiuzhi in the foreign guesthouse complex. Aside from the fact that he was afraid of Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, it was not worthwhile to station massive military force at the foreign guesthouse to act as guards.
The scene of Xiang Yushan leaving foreign guesthouse emerged in Kou Zhong’s mind. His heart was moved, thinking that were it not for Xiang Yushan’s assistance, Zhao Deyan would never be able to affirm Kou Zhong’s identity from the saber that he carried along.
Thinking to this point, he stood up suddenly.
He wanted to go see Li Jing immediately; he ought to be the only hope Kou Zhong had to quickly rescue Lei Jiuzhi back.
Otherwise, his trip to Chang’an this time would fail and he would be wiped over the floor.