Book 34 Chapter 7 – Detour
Riding on fast horses, Kou Zhong, Li Jing, and Hong Funu took the shortcut via the mountain road. When they could no longer take the horse, they abandoned the horses and unleashed their legs’ power, so that in just a short period of time of less than a sichen they already rushed over nearly a hundred li, reaching the upper reaches of the Jin River, another tributary of the Yellow River. About ten li north of here was another big city, Jingyang, located north of Chang’an. This place was a small ferry crossing point outside the city of Jingyang.
Relying on the Heavenly Policy Mansion’s vast intelligence network inside and outside of Chang’an, Li Jing did not miss any movement related to Chi Shengchun, and he was sure that Chi Shengchun was taking Lei Jiuzhi away.
Li Jing made a judgment; he determined that Chi Shengchun must have transported Lei Jiuzhi to Jingyang, based on three reasons.
First of all, the cargo and passenger ship going back and forth between Jingyang and Chang’an was operated by Jin Shui Bang, a small gang based in Chang’an. Other people did not know the relationship between this small gang and Chi Shengchun, but the Heavenly Policy Mansion discovered that from time to time, Chi Shengchun gave financial support to the Jin Shui Bang, in order to help them expanding their power.
Secondly, the spy assigned to watching Chi Shengchun saw two of Ke Dazhi’s very capable men escorting a horse-drawn carriage into Chi Shengchun’s magnificent residence in Bei Li. When the carriage was leaving the mansion, the wheel track left on the snow was definitely lighter than when it arrived.
The third reason was that the cargo ship’s departure to Jingyang was delayed for nearly half an hour. It was not until a batch of cargo, which Chi Shengchun declared to be bolts of silk – was delivered on board that the ship departed. Two of Chi Shengchun’s men even came on board to escort the goods.
Under normal circumstances, this kind of operation would not attract anyone’s attention. But during the time when the Heavenly Policy Mansion was going all-out to trace the whereabouts of the firearms, naturally no goods coming into and leaving from the Chi Mansion would be missed.
Kou Zhong cast his gaze toward the lower reaches of the Jin River; anxious, he said, “Could we miss it by accident?”
Hong Funu was strangely cordial toward him; she spoke gently, “No need to worry; we already sent a letter via pigeon post to notify our men in Jingyang, telling them that as soon as the ship docks, they are to go on board to search.”
Li Jing calmly said, “Although we did not start pursuing the boat until half a sichen after they departed, we were taking the shortcut, plus the boat is sailing upstream, so how could we not able to overtake it? What I am afraid of is that they are playing a trick: they would unload Lei Xiansheng before reaching this place, which is the only ferry crossing point between Jingyang and Chang’an.”
Kou Zhong hatefully said, “Zhao Deyan is really crafty; he really moved our man away immediately. Fortunately I had a sudden impulse not to go to the Qi Wang Mansion, but returned to our safe house and saw the letter and the outer robe; otherwise I would not find out until later tonight, and that would be thoroughly terrible.”
Hong Funu said, “If this time we succeed in rescuing our man, and then later on Zhao Deyan came to see you to negotiate the terms, that would be really interesting!”
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, “I have not thought about that; Saozi [sister-in-law, older brother’s wife] is really attentive.”
Receiving his praise, Hong Funu responded with a smile; she said, “You must be deeply concerned over your good friend? Hong Funu is the onlooker who sees clear while the person on the spot is baffled.”
Seeing how, for the first time, the relationship between these two was showing signs of improvement, Li Jing was greatly relieved. He seized this opportunity to say, “You don’t know how much your Saozi cares about you; from time to time she asked me about you, only I did not dare to tell her!”
Slightly displeased, Hong Funu said, “Still saying good things? Basically you are concealing everything from me.”
Feeling the tender side of Hong Funu, Kou Zhong sighed inwardly, thinking that if in the future he met this elder brother and his wife couple on the battlefield, how would he feel?
Although he has had this thought before, he had never given it a serious consideration. But now that his relationship with Li Jing was easing up, plus they were fighting side-by-side, naturally his feeling was a lot deeper.
Kou Zhong suddenly spoke happily, “They are here!”
Li Jing and Hong Funu quickly looked downstream. But all they could see was darkness and the constantly sprinkling down snowflakes.
Kou Zhong cried in low voice, “Listen!”
Sound of hoof beats came from the direction of Jingyang.
Kou Zhong said, “Let’s hide in the woods next to the ferry crossing. The incoming must be the vehicle to pick up the goods. This move is really formidable. Were it not for Li Dage knew that there is a ferry crossing point in here, we would only send people to Jingyang to wait, and then we would have fallen into the enemy’s crafty scheme.”
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Xu Ziling changed back into his Yong Qin disguise and returned to the secret nest. Waiting for him was Gao Zhandao.
Before leaving the city, Kou Zhong contacted him and instructed him to notify Xu Ziling.
Listening to Gao Zhandao, Xu Ziling’s heart sank. Just like Kou Zhong, he immediately thought that Xiang Yushan was playing ghost.
Gao Zhandao explained, “Kou Ye said that if Xiang Yushan did not work together with the Tujue ghosts, how could Zhao Deyan speculate his identity from the treasured saber? Therefore, he is following this trail to pursue and intercept Lei Ye, hoping that Heaven helps the worthy, so that Lei Ye and Kou Ye could come back safely together.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling was smiling bitterly.
It could be said that each of the three big shots of the demonic school had strange-scheming-magic-weapon. If not because all three sides were staying quiet and holding up their troops, hoping that the two boys would unearth the hidden treasure, the two boys would have been packing their food and leaving before they finished eating.
Zhu Yuyan was controlling them via Wanwan. Shi Zhixuan was resorting to secret method, trying to detect the Demonic Emperor Relics’ location before it was unearthed. Although it was a mystery within a mystery, but demonic school’s bizarre skill and strange technique more and more emerged; no one dared to deny that such weird method existed. Zhao Deyan was using the most direct approach; he simply captured their man and used him to blackmail them; he was not worried that they would not give in.
Zhao Deyan’s method must be designed by Xiang Yushan; only he knew clearly the two boys’ weakness in that regard.
It could be said that presently they had fallen into the absolute disadvantageous position. No matter how they calculated it, even if they really found the treasure, to carry the treasure away safely was really a vain attempt.
Turning to Gao Zhandao, he asked, “How’s the situation on your side?”
Gao Zhandao replied, “Most of our men have already left Chang’an. Now, other than me, Fengyi, Xiao Jie, and about a dozen most capable brothers, we have no one else in the city. Xu Ye, please don’t worry. After this matter with Lei Ye happened, we are redeploying our men; I guarantee that the enemy won’t be able to find us.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “By coming here to wait for me, you have already exposed your track.”
Gao Zhandao said, “I have already thought about that. Therefore, right now Fengyi and Xiao Jie are hiding outside, watching for any suspicious people. If they found any, we wait for Xu Ye to return, and then we’ll grab some to swap our appearances.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Unless they knew that we are successful in snatching Lei Dage back, they should not launch another operation. Ay!”
Gao Zhandao tried to console him, “Xu Ye need not worry, Kou Ye has the Heavenly Policy Mansion people helping him, he should be able to rescue Lei Ye back.”
Rising up to his full height, Xu Ziling said, “Staying here with a blank stare is not an option. I want to see someone. You must, by all means, be careful; one mistake is enough, we must not make another mistake. I am going to follow you guys in secret, to make sure that nobody is following you.”
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The passenger and cargo ship finally arrived. The boat gradually slowed down, and finally it docked at the ferry crossing point.
Under Kou Zhong, three persons’ tiger-watching-its-prey gaze, two big men brought a long wooden chest off the boat and loaded it onto the waiting carriage.
The four big men receiving the cargo did not wait for the ship to depart; together with the two men from the ship, forming a party of six, they escorted the leaving carriage.
Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, “We must capture all of them alive; we must not let anybody escape.”
Li Jing and Hong Funu nodded to express their understanding.
The three retreated back and out of the woods toward a slope before charging toward the muddy road where the carriage was galloping.
All around was the wilderness with no one in sight, they did not need to cover their track, they wanted to do everything within their power to launch a ten-thousand-jun-thunderbolt momentum to put the enemy in order in one fell swoop.
In an instant they were already speeding along the snow-covered muddy road, about a hundred paces behind the rapidly rushing out carriage.
The two riders at the very end heard the sound of gusting wind; looking back, one of them unexpectedly shouted loudly, “Break off!”
Five riders immediately scattered in all directions, running away to the wilderness. The driver of the carriage leaped onto a spare horse, while also giving the horse pulling the carriage a heavy kick before escaping away.
Kou Zhong and the others cried ‘Bad!’ inwardly. This moment, although they knew perfectly well that the carriage was loaded with fake goods, they still had no choice but to overtake the pulled-by-the-horse, leaning-to-the-east-and-tilting-to-the-west, scampering-along-the-road carriage first, and let the six men urging-their-horses, scattering-like-birds-and-beasts got away.
For the first time Kou Zhong resented himself for not killing Xiang Yushan. Only he could come up with such a shady, damaging malicious scheme.
This time he failed and was wiped over the floor; it would be difficult to even up the situation.
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Xu Ziling went to Yu He An. After reporting the purpose of his visit, a moment later, in the same reception hall from the last visit, he saw Shi Feixuan, who was still wearing men’s clothes. It appeared that she had just got back from the outside.
Xu Ziling opened the door and saw the mountain [i.e. get right to the point], he said, “Xiaodi wants to ask Xiaojie to recite the Immortal Image Method one time for me.”
Shi Feixuan looked at him with full attention for half a day; she spoke softly, “Has Ziling received internal injury?”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling replied, “I, as Yue Shan, have fought hand to hand against Shi Zhixuan. Xiaojie’s discerning eye did not miss anything, your insight is very accurate.”
Shi Feixuan calmly said, “I heard about that. But looking at the expression showing in your eyes, Ziling seems to have heavy load on your mind, the usual clarity, brightness, limpid, without-obstruction, is not there.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Lei Dage has been captured by Zhao Deyan and Xiang Yushan conspiring together. This moment Kou Zhong’s all-out rescue operation is underway; how could I possibly be in good mood?”
Remaining indifferent, Shi Feixuan calmly asked, “When did this happen?”
Xu Ziling replied, “It happened some time between noon and dusk today.”
Shi Feixuan rose up gracefully, still with that kind of simple-and-elegant-like-an-immortal, relaxed and cool-headed demeanor, she spoke softly, “Ziling, please come with Feixuan; perhaps Feixuan can help you bring Lei Xiansheng back.”
※ ※ ※
The crate was opened.
Sure enough, it was a box of brocade merchandise, genuine goods at fair prices, children were not subjected to deceit.
Other than Kou Zhong, whose facial expression, because he was wearing a mask, could not be seen, Li Jing and Hong Funu’s countenance became more unsightly than unsightly.
Something was lost but then regained, something regained but then lost again, hope suddenly turned into despair, this kind of psychological process of change was the most difficult to bear.
Grabbing the edge of the crate with both hands, Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “How did Chi Shengchun know how to play this trick?”
With astonished look on her face, Hong Funu cast Kou Zhong a glance; she never expected that after being deceived that sent him going round and round, he was still this cool-headed, calm and collected, and asking this question, which had profound meaning behind it.
Chi Shengchun was able to pull such a great trick, it was greatly beyond their expectation. Unless he was certain that Kou Zhong would pursue this clue, hence he was able to plan everything in advance.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Li Jing said, “He wanted to test your relationship with the Heavenly Policy Mansion.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “This is perhaps the only explanation. Because all along Zhao Deyan and Xiang Yushan have been unable to understand the relationship between the Heavenly Policy Mansion and us, whether we are deceiving you, or we work together in secret; they simply had to find the answer. And then suddenly the Heavenly Policy Mansion sent men to closely monitor Chi Shengchun, hence it aroused Xiang Yushan’s vigilance even more. Therefore, they carried out this move; one, as a military show of force to me, two, to understand clearly the relationship between us. Killing two birds with one stone, fancy that Xiang Yushan, that stinky kid – could come up with.”
Were it not for Hong Funu’s presence, he would have used vulgar language to rain curses on Xiang Yushan.
Li Jing sighed and said, “It seems like it would be best for us to return to Chang’an first. On one hand, to wait for Zhao Deyan to come to you to negotiate the terms of agreement, and then we could change according to the situation; on the other hand, we will exhaust our resources to look for other clues.”
Hong Funu chimed in, “Is it possible that Lei Xiansheng might still be on board the ship?”
Li Jing said, “If he is, then our people, who are waiting respectfully at Jingyang, would have good news for us. Xiao Zhong, what do you think?”
Kou Zhong decisively said, “I should not be away from Chang’an for too long; we rush back immediately. Xiao Ling might have other ideas.”
※ ※ ※
Shi Feixuan took Xu Ziling out of the city, flying at full speed on the snow-covered ground.
Since today was the New Year’s Day, the city gate was extended so that it would not be closed until the end of the hai hour [9-11pm], to facilitate access for the people from the surrounding urban and rural areas.
This was the first time that Xu Ziling and Shi Feixuan fighting and doing something together side by side. With this jade person [i.e. a beauty] alongside, their clothes fluttering as they were speeding along, the heaven and earth felt like an endless night and a boundless great snow, separate from the feeling of mere traveling over a distance.
Until this moment, he was still unclear where Shi Feixuan was taking him, as well as why she thought she had the confidence to rescue Lei Jiuzhi back. He only had a faint idea that perhaps in the process of tracking down the firearms – the task that he entrusted her with, she inadvertently found the secondary vehicle, and suspected that it might be related to the kidnaping of Lei Jiuzhi.
This was a quite reasonable conjecture. If he were Zhao Deyan, after capturing Lei Jiuzhi, this kind of important figure, the first business on the table ought to be forcing out from his mouth the secret of the Duke Yang’s Treasure. If he had him transported out of the area, the travel going back and forth already took time, not to mention it might mess things up.
Expecting Lei Jiuzhi to betray Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling was naturally not easy at all. The main thing was to use an expert in torture, a master who knew psychological and physical, both aspects of human body, to destroy Lei Jiuzhi’s willpower. Only then would they succeed.
The two climbed the mountain over the forest, rushing along for nearly more than half a sichen, toward a large-scale fishing town located at the west bank of the Zi River southeast of Chang’an, from which came the sound of barking dogs, interspersed with bursts of firecrackers.
Shi Feixuan halted her steps at the top of a hill overlooking the entire town, and said, “Today, in compliance with Ziling’s request, Feixuan separately investigated some people who are related to Yin Gui Pai and the Tujue side. Just before dusk I saw Du Yan of the Heavenly Policy Mansion unexpectedly he climbed onto Ke Dazhi’s carriage in the city. But the strangest thing was that later on, getting off the carriage was only Ke Dazhi and not Du Yan. Thereupon Feixuan decided to follow the carriage to see where Du Yan was going.”
“Who was driving the carriage?” Xu Ziling asked.
Shi Feixuan replied, “Let’s not talk about that first. The reason Ke Dazhi was attracting my attention was because after he left the foreign guest house, he appeared to be cautious and solemn, acting as if he was afraid someone might follow him. He went to an ordinary house in the Qing Long Li [green dragon neighborhood] south of the city, when he left, he abandoned the horse and took the carriage. It was when he was near the city gate that he handed over the carriage to Du Yan and two of his men. I followed them here, and saw with my own eyes en route they changed into a fishing boat, sneakily taking a chest under cover of darkness and sent it to that house on the south side of the village. Although I felt strange, for fear that I might beat the grass to scare the snake, I returned to Chang’an first, thinking that I wanted to discuss it with you guys, and then you came.”
Xu Ziling said, “I hope they haven’t sent Lei Xiansheng someplace else.”
Shi Feixuan smiled and said, “I feel that Lei Xiansheng is still inside the house. We’d better come in to take a look, to confirm whether Feixuan’s intuition is really brilliant or not.”
Suppressing his nervous mind due to his worry over personal gains and losses, Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Xiaojie, please show the way!”
※ ※ ※
The three people return to Chang’an via the same route; along the way they looked for the horses that they abandoned earlier, and then braving the snow, they rushed back.
Just like when they came, they were hastening on with their journey in silence, but their mood was in a totally different state.
This moment the thought in Kou Zhong’s mind was not the Duke Yang’s Treasure at all, but Xiang Yushan, the crafty villain.
Beginning from the moment they met him on the street, he and Xu Ziling were doomed to meet with bad luck one after another.
This kid was profoundly shrewd and scheming. His deceiving skill was even more superb; once they did not guard against him, he would take advantage of them.
Kou Zhong made a firm resolution; as soon as he had a chance, he must chop him with a saber and kill him, no longer would he be softhearted because of Su Jie or Little Lingzhong. Based on Yang Xuyan and Bai Qing’er’s style of work, they could not possibly tell Xiang Yushan about them secretly getting on the boat. Therefore, Xiang Yushan should not be aware that they knew that he, Xiang Gongzi, was in Chang’an, moreover, that he was involved in the conspiracy to overturn the Great Tang.
He and Xu Ziling still had the capital to make a stand and fight against him.
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling and Shi Feixuan separately sneaked in from the southeast and northwest corners of the courtyard house. When they met on snow-covered roof tiles of the main building, they already grasped clearly what is true and what is false of the opposite side.
This courtyard house was not too big. The front, middle, and rear, three structures – were connected by two open-air courtyards. Inside the house, there were only four big men on guard duty. Looking at their appearance, these men must be from some gang or society; they were also certain that neither Du Yan nor his men were among these four.
Shi Feixuan leaned over and whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “Lei Xiansheng must be held in an underground secret room or something like that, hence I did not hear any sound. Feixuan rescue him, Ziling go beat those men up; what do you think?”
Xu Ziling’s mood turned for the better; listening to her, he found it interesting and weird at the same time. Nodding his head, he smiled and said, “If Xiaojie wants to save people, you need to beat up people. How about Xiaojie keep watch here for Xiaodi, the rough and heavy task, let me take care of it all by myself, all right?”
Shi Feixuan rolled her eyes at him; slightly displeased, she said, “Go then!”
Xu Ziling pulled back his soul, which was almost hooked away by her. Abruptly raising a mouthful of true qi, he somersaulted and landed on the courtyard. Without even thinking he pushed the door and bolted into the main hall of the front section.
The two men inside the hall were playing Pai Jiu; they were gambling in high spirits. Thinking that the newcomer was their companion, one of the men, without even looking, called out, “Lao Li [Old Li], come here and take a look. The set in my hand is very strong.”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Then you must let me broaden my horizons.”
Hearing the wrong voice, the two men turned to look in shock. Suddenly they saw a blur, Xu Ziling was already in front of the table. Completely powerless to block, the two men were jabbed by his finger and collapsed. But before they fell to the floor, Xu Ziling held them up to avoid making any noise.
Xu Ziling swaggered through the room and over the residence. He was just going to enter the middle section, a man was pushing the door the get into the front hall, and came face to face with Xu Ziling.
The man’s reaction could be considered quick; even when he was startled, he promptly pulled his saber. Xu Ziling’s right hand reached out, seemingly slow, but that man acted as if he was trapped inside a nightmare, and was unable to evade at all. He could only stare blankly and let Xu Ziling poke the space between his eyebrows, and immediately passed out.
Xu Ziling set him down by the door, across the threshold.
Standing quietly inside the small hall, Shi Feixuan smiled and said, “Feixuan can share a bit of the rough and heavy task as well. As for looking for secret room, this kind of skillful, meticulous work, naturally you, Lu Dashi’s brilliant student – can take full responsibility.”
Xu Ziling suddenly felt that the distance between he and Shi Feixuan has been pulled closer. But as soon as he remembered her appearance when she was wearing nun attire, he did not dare to have any vain thought. He said cheerfully, “The one learning mechanism and building construction is Kou Zhong, I am only an admirer of building architecture. But since Xiaojie shows clearly that you want to test Xiaodi, I, this Liao Hua have no choice but to become the vanguard.” [Translator’s note: the only reference to Liao Hua that I can find is a general under Guan Yu of the Romance of the Three Kingdom; not sure why Xu Ziling likened himself to Liao Hua.]
With his hands behind his back, he stepped into the rear section.
He could not help feeling nervous.
Supposing he stepped across the entire house and still could not find the secret room, what should he do?
He would have no choice but to ask Shi Feixuan to temporarily get far away from him, while he used cruel methods to force confession from these men’s mouth. No matter what, he must not commit this kind of repulsive thing of the secular world in the presence of this fairy-like beauty.