Book 35 Chapter 1 – Everything is Ready
Xu Ziling met Kou Zhong in an ordinary residence that Gao Zhandao arranged for them. Both were extremely careful, they made sure that they were not being followed, while also fully used all kinds of methods to confuse the enemy, before quietly entered the house.
Kou Zhong arrived a bit later. When he entered the living room, Xu Ziling was standing upright in front of the window, gazing at the clear sky after the big snow.
Burst of firecrackers and the sound of children’s laughter were still coming from the lanes and alleys, brimming with the ushering-out-the-old, greeting-the-new Spring Festival’s atmosphere.
Kou Zhong came behind Xu Ziling. Afraid to disturb him, he spoke in soft voice, “Are you thinking about Shi Qingxuan? Is she really pretty? How is she compared to Shi Feixuan?”
Heaving a sigh, Xu Ziling spoke slowly, “I was not thinking of either one of them. My mind is a blank space.”
Kou Zhong said, “Sometimes I feel that Laotianye is too unfair; why is it that some people are tall and handsome, while some others are completely unattractive?”
Xu Ziling nodded his head and said, “As soon as people are born, it is already not fair; not only there’s the difference between beautiful and ugly, furthermore, there’s the difference between intelligent and stupid. Take Li Shimin for example: he is blessed by heaven; moreover, he is coming from an influential and noble family. His fate is to become the future hegemon. If you, Zhong Shao and he swapped identity, the one Shi Feixuan supports would not be Li Shimin at all, but you, Zhong Shao!”
“Well said!” Kou Zhong said, “I, Kou Zhong, just don’t believe in evil anyway. Besides, Laotianye’s decree is hard to fathom, who can tell the outcome in the future? All right! How’s the progress on your side?”
“Everything is progressing according to plan,” Xu Ziling replied.
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Is Yun Shuai willing to give us a nod?”
Xu Ziling replied, “If we could kill Zhao Deyan, it will be the biggest unexpected gain in his trip to the Central Plains this time, what can you have against it? A man like Yun Shuai, telling him anything is useless; only by using pros and cons will we be able to move his heart. How about you try to persuade him to deal with Shi Zhixuan, to indulge his as-deep-as-the-ocean blood debt?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Ling Shao’s insight is very penetrating; how was Shi Xianzi’s [fairy] reaction?”
“She felt that we are very much not ready,” Xu Ziling replied, “But I think she has not guessed yet that we already got the wind that she is asking Ning Daoqi to come to deal with us.”
Kou Zhong said, “Just to deal with me, Little Kou Zhong! She is still reluctant to deal with her Ziling Xiongdi [brother].”
Xu Ziling crossly said, “You still say this kind of senseless talk? If I have a choice, I would definitely not plan to deal with her.”
“Problem is, she is planning on dealing with us,” Kou Zhong replied, “In Shi Feixuan’s position, she would never let Demonic Emperor Relics to fall into anybody on the demonic school’s side, simply because the consequences will be hard to fathom. Honestly, I would also prefer for the Demonic Emperor Relics to fall into Shi Feixuan or Ning Daoqi’s hands; otherwise, we won’t have good days ahead of us.”
Xu Ziling said, “Listening to the tone of your voice, it seems to me that you already found the entrance!”
Kou Zhong replied happily, “Fortunately I did not bring disgrace to the order given to me. I dare say that it is the north well of the Xi Ji Yuan. Last night not only the water level suddenly surged up, the depth reaches five zhang, which is two zhang deeper than the other water wells. This matter has already provoked suspicions.”
“When are we going to get in?” Xu Ziling asked.
“That depends on An Long destiny,” Kou Zhong replied, “If he goes to the public baths before dusk, then we’ll kill him before entering the treasure-trove.”
“Aren’t you afraid a new branch might grow out of a knot?” Xu Ziling asked.
“This is not a new branch growing out of a knot at all,” Kou Zhong replied, “Rather, it is a stratagem to confuse the enemy. We might as well showing our true identity openly, and then we kill An Long in a public place with numerous people. Nobody would think that we would immediately enter the treasure-trove, right?”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “Your plan seems to be too far-fetched; besides, your Mo Shen Yi suddenly disappears, aren’t you afraid people might be suspicious?”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “I just wanted to vent your anger for you, while also to show a bit of countenance for Shi Zhixuan to see. As for Mo Shen Yi, you don’t have to worry even more, because Li Yuan wants to officially appoint me as the Imperial Physician; therefore, I ought to leave a letter and go, to make clear of my aspiration of wandering around the world to be of aid to the people. Ha!”
Smiling bitterly, Xu Ziling said, “If you leave a letter and go, and then tonight, after exhausting our strength we still cannot enter the treasure-trove, wouldn’t it be trying to be clever but end up with egg on our face?”
Kou Zhong spoke seriously, “If we cannot enter the treasure-trove, we will leave immediately. Xiaodi will return to Peng Liang and disband the Shao Shuai Army, respectfully asking Li kid to receive it. If Laotianye treats me like this, what can I possibly say?”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong returned to the Sha Mansion. Sha Fu met him and said, “Qingqing Furen over there sent a messenger, asking you, whenever you have spare time, to come over and pay her a visit.”
Actually, on the Lunar New Year’s Eve, Xi’er already passed him the message that Qingqing wanted to see her; it’s just that these past two days he simply did not have time to get away.
While he was still thinking, Sha Fu continued, “I heard from Da Guye [first son-in-law] that Huangshang has the intention to appoint Xiansheng to be the Imperial Physician. Hey! The Emperor’s Decree is difficult to disobey; I wonder if Xiansheng can cancel your plan to wander the four oceans?”
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, “Tell me, which is more important, your little life, or the Emperor’s Decree?” [Translator’s note: little life – Xiao Ming, Emperor’s Decree – Huang Ming, same ‘Ming’ character.]
Sha Fu was stunned speechless.
Kou Zhong patted him on the shoulder and went back to his room without saying anything anymore.
Before crossing the doorstep, he already mentally prepared himself to deal with Wanwan. Based on Yin Gui Pai’s style so far, naturally they would not be easy to deal with, they would not easily follow Kou Zhong’s arrangements.
In Kou Zhong’s estimates, either Zhu Yuyan or Zhao Deyan, their wild schemes could not possibly stop only at the acquisition of the Demonic Emperor Relics; rather, they would not let both the persons and the stuffs off. Not only they wanted to seize all the weapons and the riches in the treasure-trove, they would also want to put him and Xu Ziling to death.
He, Kou Zhong, and Xu Ziling, two boys have become the demonic school’s greatest threat. Because with every passing day they were progressing in martial art way at the speed that surpassed anybody’s comprehension; in light of this, it would be natural to predict that one day even Zhu Yuyan, Shi Zhixuan, or the like – would bow under their hands. One might as well ask the demonic school people; no one wished that the affair would develop into this stage.
Sure enough, Wanwan’s jade body was lying haphazardly on the bed inside his room, waiting for his honored-self; with earnest smiling expression, she said, “Zhu Shi is asking that you hand him over to her; she guarantee that she can neutralize the ‘Seven Needles to Control the Mind’. You guys can feel reassured that you don’t have to be under Zhao Deyan’s threat anymore.”
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong sat down directly in front of her, and said with a smile, “Wan Dajie, are you kidding? Why don’t we do it like this: you invite your honorable master to come over, Xiao Ling and I will supervise on the side. This way it will be absolutely fair and reasonable; Wan Dajie, what do you think?”
Wanwan’s jet-black eyebrows lightly knitted, she acted as if she was in difficulty and said, “To neutralize this kind of unusual method to control the mind, one’s heart must have no side interference, there can’t be anybody else present; even more, there must be a trusted aide protecting on the side. Now you want Shizun [revered master] to come to your designated place, plus you want to supervise nearby; it won’t work that way.”
Sneering, Kou Zhong said, “We suffered untold hardships to rescue our man back, and you think we’d be stupid enough to just send him out with you? A compromise would be you tell us the method to remove the needles, let us do it ourselves. Don’t forget that since Xiaodi is able to impersonate a divine doctor, I must have a hand or two in meridians and acupuncture points!”
Remaining tranquil and even-tempered Wanwan said, “Shizun must examine Lei Xiansheng’s condition first before setting about saving him. There are a lot of abstruse points within it; to tell you the truth, it is inexhaustible. Supposing we simply provide you with one method of solving it, and his medical condition takes turn for the worse, it will generate misunderstanding between us for nothing.”
Kou Zhong firmly shook his head and said, “You guys have had the criminal record of not scrupulously abiding by your commitment, teaching me not to trust you unreservedly, especially in matters where human life is at stake.”
Wanwan sat her tender body at the edge of the bed, her pretty face returned to its usual calm and unhurried, still-water-without-any-ripple – expression, while also carrying some kind of cool-headedness, which made people’s heart cold. She spoke indifferently, “You are not going to keep your promise?”
Being familiar with her, Kou Zhong knew that she was moved to be really angry, and could make her move any moment; while amassing his power, he laughed coldly and said, “Anything that I, Kou Zhong, promised, I will never renege. The oath that you and I made is simply to hand over the Sheng Sheli into your, Wan Dajie’s hand. As long as you are willing to follow my arrangement, I, Kou Zhong can guarantee that the Sheng Sheli will be delivered into your hand. As for whether you can keep the Sheng Sheli in your hands, it will depend on your own skill.”
The sharp light in Wanwan’s pair of beautiful eyes flickered, she and he stared at each other for a moment, and then she said, “You clearly know that you are setting foot, step by step, into Zhao Deyan’s trap. No one knows Zhao Deyan’s style better than we do. Not only he can’t possibly save your man, he will also kill you, these two ignorant kids, while hogging the Sheng Sheli and the treasure for himself.”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said with a sigh, “At the end of the day, you guys are still afraid of Zhao Deyan. Just consider me making an error of judgment! All right! Just so you won’t say that I, Kou Zhong, don’t have any mouth and teeth, regardless of whether you are taking part in my plan or not, I will still hand the Sheng Sheli over to you.”
Wanwan’s countenance softened, she sighed quietly and said, “Overconfidence might kill people. Zhao Deyan is well known within the demonic school to be a difficult person, how could he let himself being manipulated by you? How about this: in our possession, there is a fake-that-can-pass-off-as-genuine yellow crystal stone. You may use it to steal-something-valuable-and-substitute-it-with-a-smiliar-looking-but-worthless-item, to let you guys make a business deal with Zhao Deyan. And then, even if Zhao Deyan goes back on his words, you won’t let him occupy the advantageous position, while still fulfilling your promise to us.”
‘Formidable!’ Kou Zhong inwardly cried. He mused that if he let Wanwan entering the treasure-trove together with them, perhaps she would take this counterfeit article to swap the genuine Relics. Based on her skill, plus taking advantage while they did not pay attention, there was a real chance that she would be successful.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, “Xiedi Sheli is unusual treasure of the demonic school; perhaps you guys, demonic school people might have special reaction toward it. To be completely safe, I say we must use the real Sheli to make the deal, and then use another good scheme to protect the treasure and get away. Otherwise, when the time comes, not only we will have to find a way to break the siege, we would still have to protect Lei Laoge; who would have a pity on us? That plan is absolutely out of question.”
Wanwan angrily said, “Left won’t work, right is out of question, what devious trick your brains is cooking?”
Kou Zhong leaned forward slightly, he spoke solemnly, “My plan is not only bold, it is also feasible. The inspiration came from Lin Xiangru [dates unknown, ca. 3rd century BC, famous statesman of Zhao] of the past, carrying the Jade Annulus of He Clan to see Qin Shihuang [259-210 BC, the first emperor] Ying Zheng. Compared to Ying Zheng, Zhao Deyan is, at least, inferior by a large chunk. As long as the Sheli is in my hands, Zhao Deyan must obediently save my man. Otherwise, we’ll break up the business deal, and we’ll burn both jade and common stone [idiom: destroy indiscriminately], replacement guaranteed if not genuine. As long as Dajie and your team showing yourselves at the appropriate fortunate timing, you can take the Sheli away. At that time we will do everything we can to snatch the person away, while you guys attempt to protect the treasure, and pin Zhao Deyan down at the same time; wouldn’t it satisfy rival demands then? Naturally, the most ideal is if we could get rid of Zhao Deyan, which will depend on the Old Zhao’s luck!”
Knitting her brows, Wanwan said, “Your thought is too naïve; it looks like Lei Jiuzhi is screwed!”
Assuming having-a-card-up-his-sleeve air, Kou Zhong said, “Maybe not! Otherwise, even if we use the real Sheli to make the deal, Lei Dage’s life cannot be guaranteed either. One hand delivers the person, the other hand delivers the goods, crisp and neat; does Wan Dajie understand?”
Sighing gently, Wanwan said, “When are you going to do the transaction with Zhao Deyan?”
Without the slightest hesitation, Kou Zhong replied, “Tomorrow night at the beginning of Shu hour, in the rear courtyard of Tujue Foreign Guesthouse at the Bu Zheng Lane. Now we can start discussing the details, to decide on all kinds of secret signals, so that both sides can work together like seamless heavenly clothes, to everyone’s delight and satisfaction.”
“Is it smart to do the business transaction at the opposite side’s place?” Wanwan asked, “Currently the initiative is firmly in your hands; conducting the business deal in another place might only bring benefit to you without any harm.”
Now Kou Zhong was positive that having no other choice, Yin Gui Pai could only forcibly seize their target before conducting the business deal with Zhao Deyan. At that time, because the two boys would have to take care of Lei Jiuzhi, they would be in the inferior position of only taking the beating, so that not only the opposite site could easily snatch the Relics away, they could easily get rid of the two boys as well.
Whether it was Zhu Yuyan, Zhao Deyan, or Shi Zhixuan, no one would be willing to only acquire the Demonic Emperor Relics while sitting and watching Kou Zhong transporting a large quantity of weapons and treasure out of Chang’an, which, in the end it would be extremely possible that these stuffs would fall into the Li Clan’s hands.
If they had to follow Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s track, perhaps even their top martial art masters might not necessarily be able to accomplish it. But to keep a close watch over Gao Zhandao and his men in a the-gods-did-not-know-the-ghosts-did-not-perceive manner, they had ample, with plenty leftovers – means.
Currently the three big shots of the demonic school were in a delicate state of equilibrium. On the surface, it seemed that Zhao Deyan was the weakest; his rank was under Zhu Yuyan and Shi Zhixuan as well. But since there were the Tujue people supporting him from behind, plus with Kang Qiaoli, Ke Dazhi, and a large number of Tujue martial art masters cheering for him, even Yin Gui Pai, which had the strongest power within the demonic school – would not dare to consider them lightly.
And the most important point was that under current circumstances, even the most powerful hegemon, Li Yuan, would not dare to offend the Tujue Great Khan, to say nothing of Zhu Yuyan and Shi Zhixuan.
All these things have been considered carefully by Kou Zhong; therefore, Wanwan’s reaction was naturally not beyond Kou Zhong’z expectation either.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Tomorrow morning, Li Yuan is going to lead civil and military officials for the annual hunting trip to the foot of Mount Zhongnan. The City of Chang’an will be under Li Jiancheng’s full responsibility. At that time the City of Chang’an will be like the Chang Lin Army’s world, there is no place where Ke Dazhi does not have a full control over it. Therefore, as far as I can see, there is no need to have a new branch growing out of a knot, let’s do the deal with Zhao Deyan at the Foreign Guesthouse. I dare say that even if he has three heads and six arms, we will play with him in the palm of our hand.”
Having no alternative, Wanwan said, “Very well! You want to play with fire, we are going to accompany you for the time being. But don’t you dare playing any trick, otherwise, we will, by hook or by crook, retaliate to anybody who has had any relationship with you; all of them will be the target, which our merciless hands will deal with.”
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling examined the entrance to the secret passage. Upon returning to the hall, he discussed it with Gao Zhandao, three men, saying, “Transporting the stuffs from the water way is the most convenient and fastest method, but it is also the easiest for the enemy to discover it, hence it becomes the most dangerous method.”
Smiling wryly, Gao Zhandao said, “When we made that plan, we thought that everything could be carried out quietly; who would have thought that it might develop into the-wind-and-the-rain-through-the-town [fig. big scandal], everybody-glaring-like-a-tiger-watching-its-prey situation like today?”
Xu Ziling said, “We could underestimate Li Yuanji, or even Li Jiancheng, but we must not underestimate the Heavenly Policy Mansion, with imperial strategic advisors like Du Ruhui and the like, although their martial art skill is only so-so, their ability and wisdom are extremely high. Without even thinking, Li Shimin readily agreed to make his move only after we transport the treasure out of the city, it must be because he has a card up his sleeve, not afraid that we are going to fly anywhere.”
Brimming with confidence, Niu Fengyi said, “We still have a contingency plan of using land route; if necessary, we could take the meandering and circuitous path, while laying out diversions in timely manner. As long as we can get out of the House of Tang’s sphere of influence, we will be able to return to Peng Liang safely.”
“Supposing there is someone within our brothers who was bought by the enemy, what would the outcome be?” Xu Ziling asked.
The three you-look-at-me, I-gaze-at-you, Gao Zhandao said, “It’s not possible, is it? All of us brothers have gone through life and death together, how could there be this kind of unrighteous disciple?”
“It’s hard to fathom a person’s mind,” Xu Ziling said, “Besides, you have lived in Chang’an for a long time, you see with your own eyes the House of Tang’s prestige is like the sun in the middle of the sky; to have a change of idea is not unusual at all.”
Zha Jie said, “The Heavenly Policy Mansion found out our Tong Xing She’s relationship with Kou Ye, Xu Ye, only within the past few days. Plus we quickly pulled our people out of town. Even if Li Shimin wanted to bribe our men, there’s not enough time to administer it.”
Niu Fengyi nodded and said, “We have been extremely careful. The fifteen brothers remaining in Chang’an are all trustworthy. The more crucial point is that during the operation we are looking after each other; no one had the opportunity to see some people from certain side alone.”
Xu Ziling spoke seriously, “Perhaps I am just being paranoid; brothers who remain in Chang’an should not have any problem, but about the brothers who have withdrawn out of the city, it’s certainly very hard to say. Li Shimin is the best in winning the people’s heart, plus he always pays attention to the local gangs and societies, he knows whom he could set his hand to. Under the lure of high officialdom and generous reward, change of heart is just a common thing. Therefore, we can’t stop him from making his move, so much so that we, in turn, could exploit this gap.”
“What is Xu Ye’s instruction concerning this matter?” Gao Zhandao asked.
Xu Ziling said, “Only after entering the treasure-trove will we be able to completely grasp the scale of the quantity of the goods that we have to transport, and then we can begin to determine the grand plan of transporting the treasure out. But the brothers who are scattered outside the city, we must deploy them first; before the enemy has the chance to carry out any action, we seize the opportunity to assign their task appropriately.”
Hearing that, Gao Zhandao, three men were confused. Xu Ziling had just said that he was afraid some brothers of their gang were bought by the enemy, but now he said to assign their task appropriately; wouldn’t it mean they were one step ahead of leaking the secret of their deployment to the enemy?
However, after considering it more thoroughly, everybody agreed that Xu Ziling’s remark was not shooting without aiming at all.
Li Shimin was a readily available hegemon; taking refuge in him meant obtaining great benefits immediately. The outcome of vowing loyalty and devotion to Kou Zhong was still unknown. Supposing Li Shimin intentionally trying to bribe them, perhaps some of their gang brothers with weak willpower would really be moved.
The way the situation developed, no one dared to say that all brothers were still under their full control.
Remaining tranquil and calm, Xu Ziling said, “Perhaps my worry is not necessary. But one thing for sure: withdrawing three groups of men out of the city, partially or in entirety – we will be under the enemy’s close surveillance; therefore, we could use their deployment to carry out the scheme to confuse the enemy, so that the enemy would grasp the wrong door and pathway.”
Niu Fengyi’s countenance changed slightly, he said, “In that case, won’t they be trapped in danger zone?”
Xu Ziling replied, “In short term, there won’t be any danger. For Shao Shuai and me, our brothers’ safety is more important than the treasure-trove. As long we can determine how to proceed, they could always break up the whole into pieces, all of them dispersing and immediately withdrawing from Guanzhong, to assemble again in Guanwai [outside the Pass].”
Gao Zhandao and the others could only return a blank stare.
Even with the addition of Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, they only had twenty men; even if each man grew three heads and six arms, transporting a huge amount of wealth and weapons out was still beyond either their reach or power.
Xu Ziling smiled slightly and said, “What we want to determine is the situation inside the treasure-trove, to see Yang Su’s rigorous schemes and deep foresight, whether there is any sound plan to transport the weapons out of the city. Moreover, we do not need to transport everything at once. As long as we could transfer all things into another place, we could wait until the sound of wind dies down and then think of a way to ship it out. This will be greatly outside the enemy’s expectation.”
This was precisely the trick that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling came up with after being reminded by Shen Luoyan.
Gao Zhandao, three men suddenly saw the light. Their original hard thought, which they thought would not work, had become practical and feasible.
They could not help having their morale receiving great boost. Furthermore, they felt that their decision to follow Kou Zhong, two boys, was the right choice.
Only, they had to confuse the enemy from all sides first before they would have the hope of returning to Peng Liang alive; there was simply no other way.