Book 35 Chapter 8 – Real or Fake Difficult to Tell
After staring fixedly at Kou Zhong for half a day, Li Jing asked, “What exactly happened last night?”
Kou Zhong replied, “Our luck was lacking; Li Yuanji’s men heard the activities in the underground treasure house, so …”
Cutting him off, Li Jing said, “What you are telling me is already widely-known in the city; what I am asking you is that since you were forced to escape by going into the underground river cave, how could you be here, relaxing? This is more surprising than not seeing you.”
Kou Zhong replied, “This is called Heaven never bars one’s way. Although my divine ability to close my breathing is not bad, but I still cannot continue forever without stopping; I had to swim desperately along the underground river. Ha! Who would have thought that unexpectedly I got out at a small lake outside the city?”
Li Jing stared at him without blinking. He still could not tell whether Kou Zhong was telling the truth or not. Moreover, the relationship between the two was delicate; if he forced Kou Zhong too hard, there was a higher chance that Kou Zhong might become hostile.
After a spell of silence, Li Jing sighed and said, “Why is it that you, Xiao Zhong, do not seem to be the least bit disappointed by the loss of the treasure-trove?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “If I am not obtaining it, then I am losing it. Frankly, the contents of the treasure-trove, other than those several boxes of jewels, which can be sold for a few pennies, even if you give me those rusty weapons, I will have a hard time finding a place for them. Unexpectedly his granny’s Duke Yang’s Treasure is just like that.”
Li Jing said, “Before dawn, Huangshang personally led Qin Wang, Qi Wang, and a dozen of martial art masters into the treasure house, their intention was to capture you guys alive; who would have thought that you have escaped via the underground river cave? Marsh gas was also constantly pouring into the storehouse. Huangshang immediately ordered the men to search everywhere inside the treasure house, finally under a box of treasure they discovered the mechanism to open the real treasure house in the lower level. They found a batch of weapons and armors enough to fit a thousand-man army.”
Only then did Kou Zhong heave a sigh of relief, while crying ‘Close call!’ inwardly. Just like Xu Ziling, he thought that if they were the ones finding the lower-level storehouse first, they would also be fooled by Lu Miaozi and Yang Su.
Li Jing went on, “Now the situation in the treasure house is classified as top secret. After sealing the entrance leading to the river cave and draining the marsh gas, we might send men down there to search, to see if we can find the Xiedi Sheli, which we will hand over to Shi Xiaojie to be sent back to Jingzhai, to avoid the calamity later if it was left there.”
Only now did Kou Zhong know that Shi Feixuan already told Li Shimin about the Xiedi Sheli. Under current circumstances, naturally Li Shimin had to report everything truthfully to Li Yuan.
Kou Zhong cried ‘Bad!’ inwardly. If Zhao Deyan and Ke Dazhi decided that the boys did not have the Demonic Emperor Relics in their hands, how would the operation ‘assassinating the fragrance [Xiang]’ tonight proceed? The enemy might try to beat them at their own game, by making an all-out arrangement to strike and kill them.
That kid Ke Dazhi was really treacherous; he pretended to be in the dark, while luring Kou Zhong to deceive him.
This moment Li Jing believed firmly without any doubt that Kou Zhong had not entered the real treasure house. Seeing his dazed appearance, he felt sorry for him, and said, “The Buddhists have a saying, everybody in himself is a treasure-trove [reminder: figuratively it is book of treasured wisdom]. As long as he knows how to use it, it could bring endless benefit throughout his life. The number of days is fixed; it is not something that man can control. Xiao Zhong, what is your future plan?”
Kou Zhong came to his senses; forcing a defeated, pained smile, he pretended to be disheartened, dispirited and listless. Sighing, he said, “Right now I just want to leave Chang’an quickly, and won’t ever come back.”
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Xu Ziling was sitting alone in the room. His thoughts surging in his mind, after pondering deeply, he understood why Shi Feixuan appeared to be so disappointed at him.
Actually, it was a misunderstanding.
He was telling her the truth, but Shi Feixuan believed he was lying to him.
It was no wonder that she would think so, because if Lu Miaozi wanted to store the Demonic Emperor Relics, the most logical course of action would be to hide it in the most secret place. To Shi Feixuan, the most secret place within the treasure house was naturally the lower-level treasure house. And since he and Kou Zhong were completely oblivious of the existence of the lower-level treasure house, how could they possibly find the Demonic Emperor Relics?
Under this kind of situation, things had become extremely critical. Supposing Xu Ziling, with his eyes opened wide, told the blatant lie claiming that the Relics was in their hands, wouldn’t it be the same as deceiving Shi Feixuan to enter the fray, implicating her in the desperate fight against Zhao Deyan and Zhu Yuyan?
No wonder when she left she revealed such an unbearably sad expression.
Xu Ziling had no desire to explain this to her at all; he looked into his heart and saw no shame, whatever she thought of him, let her think so.
She was disappointed at him, but it was not that he did not disappointed at her either.
Someone was behind the window, he still had no idea. But then his heart was moved, he coldly said, “I already guessed that you would come. Come in, then!”
The window opened, a human figure flashed inside; her face covered in a layer of muslin, Zhu Yuyan appeared in the flesh inside the room. She spoke softly, “What made you guess that I would come? Today’s Yue Shan is no longer the Yue Shan of the past; early in the morning, the Great Tang Emperor and the most outstanding direct disciple of Jingzhai for the last several hundred years came to pay their respect to you.”
Xu Ziling laughed coldly and said, “Xiao Yan, if you want to extract any information from my mouth, I am afraid not only you are at the wrong place, but you are looking for the wrong person as well.”
Zhu Yuyan stepped over and stood in front of him; the tone of her voice turned frigid, she said, “When did your not-amenable-to-reason character ever change? Trust me, I would kill Ming Yue’s daughter just to see how unbearably grieved you are.”
Xu Ziling’s pair of eyes shot Yue Shan’s style of fierce and severe light; he stared at Zhu Yuyan without even half a blink, without even saying half a sentence, but he made the opposite side felt pressured more than if he said anything.
Zhu Yuyan suddenly turned around and walked over toward the window, as if she was about to leave, but then changed her mind. Sighing quietly, she said, “I said those words in the moment of anger. I hear you have had a battle against Shi Zhixuan, is that right?”
Keeping Yue Shan’s gloomy and cold, heavy and hard-hearted expression, Xu Ziling spoke in heavy voice, “If I were unable to fight Shi Zhixuan, perhaps you would not have come?”
Zhu Yuyan spun around like a whirlwind and angrily said, “I came here today not to ask you to do me a favor at all; I, Zhu Yuyan, am able to move unhindered across the world, who can do anything to me?”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Well said. If you throw these words on the ground, it will make the sound of metal hitting the rock [idiom (Courtesy of Akolaw)], but if Shi Zhixuan obtained the Holy Relics, the one who could unify the demonic school will no longer be you, Zhu Yuyan, but Shi Zhixuan. And you are coming to ask me, Yue Shan, for this matter, am I right?”
Zhu Yuyan shook her head and laughed tenderly, “You are still this believing-yourself-to-be-infallible; didn’t Li Yuan tell you that currently the treasure house is full of marsh gas? Who’d dare to take the risk to enter it? Therefore, this is not my top priority at all.”
Inwardly, Xu Ziling scolded himself for being muddleheaded; he originally thought that Zhu Yuyan came to beg him to speak to Li Yuan, asking him to search for the hidden Demonic Emperor Relics inside the treasure house, but he momentarily forgot that Yang WenGan was plotting to assassinate Li Yuan and Li Shimin. If he was successful, Chang’an would be in great mess; at that time, to whom the Relics would belong to, would be decided by whose ability [orig. skills acquired through religious practice] was the highest. Of course, this was assuming the Demonic Emperor Relics was really still inside the treasure house.
Frowning, he said, “Since it is not for Xiedi Sheli at all, then why are you looking for me?”
Zhu Yuyan was silent for half a day. “I came looking for you,” she started softly, “because I remember one night as a husband and wife means a hundred nights of kindness. I am asking you to immediately leave Chang’an, otherwise you will never have the opportunity to battle Song Que.”
After a short pause, she added, “Would you listen to me this one time? The fact is, I have never done anything to let you down.”
Xu Ziling did not know the real meaning behind her remark; he had no choice but to dismiss it vaguely, “Who wants to kill me, Yue Shan?”
After letting out a silver-bell like laughter, Zhu Yuyan continued with ice-and-snow like intonation as she spoke slowly, word-by-word, “Yue Shan, you listen to me: there are a lot of people who want to kill you! Shi Zhixuan, Zhao Deyan, and then there is Huang Gongcuo. Due to the treasure house affair, Li Yuan is delaying his spring hunting trip for two sichen. After he leaves, the City of Chang’an will fall into the Chang Lin Army’s control; at that time, you will have enemies on all sides. If you only know how to show off an ignorant person’s bravery, you ought to understand what the consequences will be. That’s all I have to say, you are on your own!”
Finished speaking, she went out via the window and disappeared from sight.
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Not only Kou Zhong was now a Chang’an celebrity, he was also a frequent visitor to the Imperial Palace. This was the first time he went to the Imperial Palace alone; without needing to report his distinguished name, the imperial guard already recognized him, and even reported it to the military officer of the general rank, who was in charge of the Vermillion Gate, to come and greet Kou Zhong personally, so that he felt overwhelmed by the favor from superior.
Across the public square, the spring hunting troops were ready to go. Except for occasional neighs and snorts of the steeds, the several-thousand men did not create any noise at all; also, no one showed impatience or undisciplined expression as they were waiting. It was a clear display of excellent training, worthy to be called the Great Tang’s mighty army.
Compared to the so-called Peng Liang’s mob, which had undergone a few days of training, it was certainly a heaven and earth difference. Within the Shao Shuai Army, only Xuan Yong’s troops could be considered elite. He was hoping that after his departure, Xu Xingzhi, Xuan Yong, and the others, could take advantage of short period of peace and security, to improve the Shao Shuai Army’s inner quality and combat ability.
If he could immediately bring back the large quantity of wealth and weaponry to Peng Liang, his Shao Shuai Army’s strength would definitely increase greatly. In the chaotic world, nothing was more practical than gold and highest quality weapons and armors.
While his thought was turning over in his mind, following the protocol, the outer city guard who took him here handed him over to General Lang of the Cheng Tian Gate. General Lang knew that not only he was Chang He’s old friend, he was also the Emperor and the Second Imperial Consort’s favorite person; naturally he showed utmost respect, and personally led him into the inner courtyard to seek audience with Zhang Jieyu.
Suddenly a group of men with great momentum was coming directly toward him; before Kou Zhong realized what was going on, General Lang hurriedly pulled him aside and said, “Huangshang is here, quickly kneel down.”
According to the Imperial Palace protocol: all the imperial guards on duty at the city gates and city towers, even though they see the Emperor, they only needed to salute without needing to kneel down. But when the encounter was on the road, not only they had to step aside, they also had to kneel on the ground with head hung low; they were not allowed to look straight.
After the dignified vanguard troops, Li Yuan’s voice rang out in front of Kou Zhong, “Stop!”
Someone immediately accepted the order and shouted the command to stop. From the troops striding ferociously coming to a sudden stop, they all moved uniformly.
“Isn’t this Mo Xiansheng?” Li Yuan asked in surprise, “Please rise immediately. Xiansheng is our Great Tang’s honored guest; there is no need to follow the etiquette between a ruler and his ministers.”
Kou Zhong pretended to stand up in panic. Sweeping his gaze around, he saw Li Jiancheng, Li Shimin, and Li Yuanji, were standing to Li Yuan’s left and right; behind him was a group of cabinet ministers, including his old friend Liu Zhenghui, and then there were also Pei Ji, Liu Jing, Xiao Yu, Chen Shuda, Feng Deyi, and other members of the monarch’s inner ministerial circle. Apparently they had just had an emergency meeting, and this moment were on their way to the public square to rendezvous with the spring hunting troops, to set off toward the Zhongnan Bie Gong [lit. the other palace; not sure if this is a name].
He could not help cheering inwardly. His appearance happened to coincide with such a meeting, apart from Li Shimin, who was familiar with the situation, nobody would suspect that he was Kou Zhong’s incarnation. Because in Li Yuan and the others’ mind, even if he was able to escape alive from the river cave, it was simply impossible to be back that quickly.
Li Jiancheng regarded him as a man who already had relationship with him, he opened his mouth to help him speak, “These days Mo Xiansheng is running around everywhere, busy with helping people, you are working too hard.”
Beating the snake following the stick, Kou Zhong bowed and said, “Thank you Huangshang and Taizi Dianxia for your concerns. This time Xiaoren enters the Palace is to see Zhang Furen’s condition as she is recuperating, while also to say goodbye.”
Li Yuan was stunned, “Xiansheng is about to travel?” he asked.
Kou Zhong hurriedly pulled Li Jiancheng down the water, saying, “Xiaoren has reported it to Taizi Dianxia, because of the bane in Xiaoren’s fate, before turning thirty, it is not suitable for me to stay in a certain place for a long time; therefore, one of these days I will leave Chang’an to go elsewhere to learn through experience. This is my Jiashu’s [(polite) father’s younger brother] instruction, Xiaoren does not dare to disobey.”
Li Yuan cast Li Jiancheng a questioning look; Li Jiancheng was startled, but it indeed happened just like Kou Zhong said, thereupon he replied helplessly, “Mo Xiansheng indeed mentioned this matter to Wang’er [king son], it’s just that I did not think Xiansheng would leave so soon, hence I did not report it to Wangfu [king father].”
Li Yuan could not do anything to him; he simply asked, “How old is Xiansheng this year?”
Bracing himself, Kou Zhong replied, “Xiaoren is twenty-eight this year.”
If there were no Li Yuan around, the crowd of ministers and soldiers would have burst into uproar, because his appearance, whether you look at it from left to right, from top to bottom, would look more than thirty-five years old.
Li Yuan said, “Turns out Mo Xiansheng is still so young. In that case, there are still two years that you have to wander around to be of help to the world. Lingshu [your honorable uncle] is an unusual master and scholar, since he had this strict order, there must be a deep meaning behind it. Two years later, after Xiansheng finish your wandering and come back, Zhen [I, imperial use] definitely will not treat you meagerly. Let’s go!”
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Xu Ziling’s Yue Shan hurriedly left Chang’an, but then he turned around and reentered the city in his Yong Qin identity. Because Lei Jiuzhi already prepared adequate documentation to enter the city, he did not have any problem at the gate.
Although it was the time of the chaos of war, Guanzhong could still be considered peaceful. In order to promote strong economic and commercial trade, Chang’an kept the area outside the city gate open. As long as they followed the rules and the proper procedures to enter the city, paid the taxes and duties, people from outside the region would not have any difficulties in entering Chang’an.
After entering the city, he found the secret mark at the place where he and Li Jing agreed on whenever he urgently needed to see him, and hurriedly went to Li Jing’s General Mansion.
Li Jing was about to go out. Seeing Xu Ziling coming, Li Jing changed his ride to the carriage, saying, “I originally thought Qin Wang was going to leave me here, to get in touch with you, who would have thought that Qin Wang suddenly changed his mind and ordered us, husband and wife, to come with him to Mount Zhongnan? This thing makes me feel very uncomfortable.”
Xu Ziling sympathetically said, “Li Dage has made great sacrifice for our sake; I hope it won’t affect Li Dage’s relationship with Shimin Xiong.”
Inwardly he mused that there was a great possibility that because Shi Feixuan already talked to Li Shimin, now Li Shimin was more determined than ever to deal with the two boys, hence he had Li Jing, husband and wife, transferred out of Chang’an to avoid him helping the outsiders.
Occasionally from the depth of the lanes and alleys came the sound of firecrackers, only it was not as frequent and as lively as the previous two days.
Li Jing resolutely said, “We are all brothers, no need to say such thing. This time, were it not for you guys upholding justice and helping us, the consequences would be too horrible to contemplate.”
“How’s the progress?” Xu Ziling asked.
Having a card up his sleeve, Li Jing replied, “Everything is under control. Now we only need to wait for Yang WenGan to steal that batch of firearms from the Sha Family. When the delivery is received, we’ll catch both the men and the stolen goods, and so we can sweep away Jingzhao Lian in one move, and arrest anybody who is implicated in this.”
Li Jing proudly said, “In our territory, how could such a trivial matter overthrow us? Ay! It is precisely for this reason that I am still worried over you two. Now that the Duke Yang’s Treasure has become froth and shadows, why does Xiao Zhong still show no sign of stopping at all?”
Xu Ziling had no idea how to answer this question; he had no choice but to say, “For the time being, it is very difficult for him to accept this fact. Let him calm down in a few days, maybe he’ll have different ideas.”
Smiling wryly, Li Jing said, “However, in my opinion, Qin Wang still thinks that Xiao Zhong is not going to give up. Once it becomes direct conflict, the development of this matter itself might change people’s perception and aspiration; by the time it escalates to only hatred without any friendship, everything might fall beyond our control.”
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. Since Kou Zhong had determined to contend for hegemony over the world, everything has been moving in this direction.
Li Jing dejectedly said, “In the beginning, when Qin Wang thought so highly of you, most of the Heavenly Policy Mansion people did not accept it as proper. However, the facts continuously prove that Qin Wang’s view on you is correct. As a result, you now have become the persons that the Heavenly Policy Mansion’s generals have the most misgivings. They know that once they let you establish a foothold, you will become the most terrifying enemy.”
Smiling bitterly, Xu Ziling said, “They don’t include me in this, I hope?”
Li Jing said, “They don’t know your relationship with Kou Zhong at all, but even if they did, so what? Who’s not afraid that if they killed Kou Zhong, they would suffer your revenge in the future! Now, both inside and outside the imperial court, the two of you are believed to be – after Ning Daoqi and Song Que – the most outstanding martial art masters for the last several generations. In the future, it will be even more so.”
Stunned, Xu Ziling said, “We are being held too high.”
The carriage stopped in front of the city gate. Li Jing’s pair of eyes emitted deep emotion, the rim of his eyes turned red, he spoke mournfully, “I already lost a good Meizi [younger sister], I don’t want to lose two good Xiongdi. Thinking that in the future we might stand face-to-face on the battleground, it makes my spirit hurting and my soul broken; I hope that that day will never come. Ziling, take care of yourself.”
Resisting the hero’s hot tears with great difficulty, he got off the carriage and changed into a warhorse, and rode out of the city.