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Ysabel, HPC, Lao Qianbei, you are welcome. Akolaw, DongBin, if you can come up with better English term, why not? I know that I still reserve the right either to use it or not. Xiaohu, I don't understand, why must Akolaw cultivate the silent one? Kowloon, thanks. Xu Xiong, I was hoping I could use it too … oh well … Sky, what about Shen Luoyan? She would be heartbroken.

Kou Zhong told him about Zhai Jiao looking for him last night, and then he said, "Li Mi's days must be numbered, hence the reason Zhai Jiao, which is his unexpected archenemy, emerged. Zhai Jiao has a subordinate named Xuan Yong, absolutely a talent.”

Xu Ziling nodded, "Killing Zhai Rang was Li Mi's grave mistake. If it were you, Zhong Shao, you'd have put Zhai Rang on pedestal, let him have a false reputation, while the real power is in your hands. By the time you really obtain the world, you would ask Zhai Rang to abdicate, then it would not appear as if there is a big gap to cover. And now how are you going to take advantage of it?”

Having a plan up in his sleeve, Kou Zhong replied, "Know yourself and know your enemy, and you will never be defeated. I have already made arrangement with Zhai Jiao, she will supply me with intelligence data on Li Mi's activities. Humph! This time I am going to have Li Mi's highest intelligence capability and hidden troops in my disposal. As long as he fell into my luring-the-enemy strategy, this world will be out of his reach.”

Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "If because of this Wang Shichong grew big, wouldn't that bring you no good at all?”

Kou Zhong laughed and said, "That happens to be the most exciting point. Right now everybody thinks that Wang Shichong cannot beat Li Mi, hence the reason Dugu Feng dared to publicly stand against him. Better yet, even Wang Shichong himself has no confidence, hence he secretly established friendly relations with Li Yuan so that together they might fight Li Mi. This is the reason that Li Shimin kid dared to come to Luoyang to flaunt his might and glorious martial power. Ha! But once Wang Shichong inflicted big damage on Li Mi, this Wang - Li alliance will collapse. At that time, the only thing Wang Shichong could do would be blocking Li kid; he would not let him prevail. Then we can carry the treasure back to the south and retrieve Jingling back from Ol' Die's hands. At that time we can go to the north or the south, the world will be mine, Kou Zhong's!”

With a rueful smile Xu Ziling said, "Actually, what you have here is just a wishful thinking. And don't forget that we basically don't know where the ‘Duke Yang Treasure' is.”

Disappointed, Kou Zhong said, "There are a lot of things that won't happen like ‘if we think about it in details, we will accomplish it'. The so-called ‘success is heaven's responsibility', for us the mortals, other than doing our utmost, what else can we do?”

Changing the topic, he said, "I am going to see Wang Shichong later today; do you two have any plan?”

Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling said, "Today no matter what I am going to stay close to Old Ba, because there is great chance that Tuli will choose the moment he is left alone to make his move.”

Kou Zhong sighed and said, "You seem to forget that we are their big foe for killing Qu Ao's son. Last night he did not come looking for revenge, he had me scratching my head.”

Staring into the boundless drizzle hiding the sky and covering the earth, the water droplets blown by the wind floating down to the ground, Xu Ziling slyly said, "Your memory is really bad. Fu Qian and Qu Ao are going to ‘decide male and female' at Man Qing Yuan tonight. This battle relates to Qu Ao's lifetime honor and disgrace and Tielie people's reputation, so Qu Ao must preserve and nurture his spirit, everything else must be cast aside to deal with tonight's duel.”

Nodding, Kou Zhong said, "What you said makes a lot of sense. Only I don't know how's Tuli's temperament? I hear that he and Li kid have a very good friendship. Quite possibly Li kid will lend him a helping hand.”

Heaving a deep sigh, Xu Ziling said, "I don't know whether it was because we have always had good relationship with Li Shimin that unconsciously we always underestimate his formidability. The fact is that after raising his troops at Taiyuan, he always triumphed in every battle. Without any shocking-the-heaven method, I don't know how he accomplished it. Supposing he is certain that the Jade Annulus of He Clan is in our hands, maybe he'll deal with us using thunderbolt means.”

Kou Zhong dismissively said, "Who'd dare to be certain that the Jade Annulus of He Clan was stolen by us? At least Wang Bo, that old kid, would believe us.”

Xu Ziling's countenance dropped; he coldly said, "Li Jing ought to believe that we stole it. Because he had seen my appearance after I put on the mask; therefore, he knew that I have the ability to change my appearance for other purposes.”

Kou Zhong's eyes flashed with cold rays; he said, "Therefore, if Li Shimin pursues us to demand the Jade Annulus of He Clan from us, that means Li Jing has forgotten the old friendships and betrayed us. In that case, we won't have any brotherhood love to speak about with him.”

Xu Ziling sighed. He said, "Although Li Jing turned his back on Su Jie, he is not a man who would sell his friends for glory; I might be worrying in vain. But Shi Feixuan once pointed out that martial art masters under Li kid are as numerous as the cloud, plus he has established such a heavenly-policy government. Therefore, we must not ignore him lightly.”

Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day. Suddenly he said, "Do you think nobody knew we are hiding in here?”

After pondering for a moment, Xu Ziling replied confidently, "I am sure nobody does. After absorbing the special power of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, the most prominent advancement is in the raising of qi in lightness skill aspect; taking a breath while being high up in the sky is as easy as a hand's turn. In this case, even though it was Ning Daoqi who followed our track, it would not be that easy.”

Kou Zhong was suddenly shaken, "We are so stupid,” he said, "Why didn't we exploit this strong point? If we can bring out this strong point as much as we like, even if the enemy has many men, great force, they won't be able to hem us in.”

Xu Ziling's tiger-eyes lit up; they were glistening brightly, but he did not say anything.

Ba Fenghan voice was suddenly heard, "Two Xiongdi, are you interested in going to Dongjia Restaurant for a cup of hot tea?”

※ ※ ※

House of Dong [‘Dong Family'] Restaurant was crowded and noisy. The three sat around a table on the corner, they all had a ‘from hell and back' feeling.

After the waiters delivered fragrant tea, cups and chopsticks, Kou Zhong pricked his ears to listen carefully; he laughed and said, "Out of ten tables, eight are talking about what happened last night; the martial law was definitely issued by Wang Shichong. I don't know what malicious intention this guy is harboring, he seemed to resent that our enemies did not have enough convenience.”

Ba Fenghan was silent without saying anything, he seemed to hear without listening.

Ever since he woke up this morning, he seemed to be full of thoughts, but did not want to talk about it.

Knowing his temperament, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling did not dare to provoke him.

Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling said, "I am guessing one possibility that might explain why Wang Shichong did what he did.”

This moment the waiter came with some pastries. After he left, Kou Zhong leaned over and said, "Tell me quickly!”

Xu Ziling sighed and replied, "Wang Shichong may do so upon Li kid's request.”

Severely shaken, Kou Zhong said, "In that case, wouldn't that mean Li Jing really betrayed us?”

It was indeed the most logical inference.

Li Shimin was definitely not someone who is particular about friendship, only after knowing for sure that they wrecked his good relationship with Shi Feixuan, he might initiate drastic action to deal with them.

Moreover, looking at major forces around Luoyang nowadays, only Li Shimin had the capability to move Wang Shichong, because presently Wang Shichong did not wish to offend the Li Clan, no matter what; otherwise, he would be caught up in the vile situation of facing enemies on the east and the west.

Perhaps because Li Shimin still remembered old friendship he did not want to openly confront them, but it was quite understandable if he made the arrangement on behalf of Shi Feixuan, to let her have a free hand in dealing with the three.

Xu Ziling sighed and said, "This is just a guess; I hope the actual situation is not like that!”

Ba Fenghan suddenly spoke up, "Kou Zhong, when you see Wang Shichong later, it won't hurt if you just ask him bluntly, see how he answers it.”

His face darkened, Kou Zhong stood up and spoke in heavy voice, "In this world, other than you, I won't trust anybody easily anymore.”

Finished speaking, he left, full of joy and expectations.

※ ※ ※

As soon as Kou Zhong's shadow disappeared outside the restaurant's main door, Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, "Today we'll do our separate business: you are responsible to scout Yin Gui Pai people's activity, I am going to see Shan Wanjing.”

Stunned, Xu Ziling said, "How am I going to do that?”

Ba Fenghan replied, "Yin Gui Pai must have a secret nest in here, and that's where Shangguan Long is hiding to recuperate. To investigate that, there are two indirect ways. Because Yin Gui Pai always have more yin than yang, and plus most of them are beautiful women, and women by nature love beauty, if you pay attention to several stores along the Heavenly Street that are well-known as specializing in cosmetics and perfumes, you may obtain unexpected gain.”

Xu Ziling nodded and said, "That is indeed a wonderful idea! And what is the other one?”

Ba Fenghan said, "Although Zhu Yuyan have the capacity to treat the internal injury in Shangguan Long's meridians, but afterwards, to regulate and make up for it, they can't avoid drawing support from primary medication to restore his original strength. Therefore, as long as you pick the most upscale herbal medicine shop and guard a tree-stump, waiting for rabbits [idiom, meaning waiting idly for opportunities], you might see someone suspicious.”

"Since I have nothing to do anyway, I might as well try my luck by doing what Fenghan Xiong said,” Xu Ziling glibly said.

And then his scimitar-shaped eyebrows lightly knitted in confusion, "But didn't you just have a fallout with Princess Dong Ming?” he asked, "Why are you seeing her again?”

A complicated expression flashed through Ba Fenghan's eyes; he replied in low voice, "I'll tell you after I see her! I'm off!”

Xu Ziling did not answer him, but inwardly he knew that the one Ba Fenghan wanted to see was not Shan Wanjing, but the old flame who came with Tuli to the Central Plains, the one with whom his gratitude and grudges were tangled up.

It was an extremely dangerous thing to do, how was he going to handle it?

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