Book 15 Chapter 9 - Charging Into The Tiger's Den
Under the fine droplets of the drizzle, the small boat glided slowly on the surface of the water.
With serene expression Xu Ziling steered the boat using the oar that he took from the other boat. His scimitar-shaped eyebrows were deeply knitted.
Sitting on the bow, wearing bamboo hat and woven rush raincoat, Ba Fenghan swept his gaze across the residential buildings lining up the stream on both sides, and then he said, "What's on your mind? Are you wondering why Shen Luoyan wanted to kill Dugu Ba?”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, "Shen Luoyan has always regarded Li Mi's business more important than her own; therefore, she should not have harmed Dugu Clan's man when Li Mi's just about to join hands with the Dugu Clan. But this is just one among other things that I don't understand.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Ba Fenghan said, "If we could figure out clearly how Shen Luoyan followed Dugu Ba to this place, or perhaps how she gathered intelligence beforehand that she lay an ambush here, so that her revenge happened easily, then we can make a rough guess of what's going on.”
Without even thinking, Xu Ziling replied, "Without a doubt she must be lying in ambush earlier; otherwise, how did she know that Qu Ao is not inside?”
Ba Fenghan said, "Shen Luoyan must have monitored that house for some time; it's possible that she saw Qu Ao leaving, and perhaps she even followed him to the address she gave us, moreover, she even knew for certain that that is Yin Gui Pai's secret nest, hence she was able to offer us this information. But how could she have such a bad intention that she wanted to borrow our hands to deal with Qu Ao?”
After a short pause, he went on, "She took advantage of the situation to kill Dugu Ba, probably it was for two reasons: business and private. Just for the fact that Dugu Ba was secretly coming to meet with the Tieles, it is obvious that the Dugu Clan has a deep apprehension toward Li Mi, so their cooperation with Li Mi to deal with Wang Shichong is just temporary expedient. Ideally, they ought to kill Wang Shichong and his cronies, then they could take over the power over the military. Otherwise, if they let Li Mi acquire the Eastern Capital, their Dugu Clan won't have good days to pass.”
Xu Ziling asked, "Since Qu Ao was out, whom did Dugu Ba want to see?”
Ba Fenghan replied, "Maybe he did not know Qu Ao was out. Or perhaps Chang Shumou or other important figures are inside, waiting for him. But my guess is that currently the house is empty, at most there are only people with low-level martial art skill staying behind to take care of things. Even the last two people with superior martial art skill, Hua Lingzi and Genggehu'er had just left. Otherwise the sound of our fighting would have alerted the martial art masters inside the house.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, "Things are really complicated, making people unable to figure out why Shen Luoyan was following Qu Ao and why he did not detect it. Ah! I understand now; it must be the Two Malevolent of Changbai brothers. Their martial art skill is high, and they are experts in tracking.”
The two men's four eyes met each other.
"What do you think?” Ba Fenghan said, "Qu Ao is having a secret meeting with Zhu Yuyan. We have two choices: one is waiting for Qu Ao to leave and we have a fierce battle with him, the other choice is quietly ascertain the strength and foundation of Yin Gui Pai's secret nest, and then think of a way to find out news about your Yu Yi.”
Xu Ziling suddenly asked, "What kind of relationship is there between you and Shen Luoyan?”
Slightly startled, Ba Fenghan said, "What does it have to do with our current situation?”
Nonchalantly, Xu Ziling said, "I am just considering whether this is another trap Shen Luoyan is laying before us.”
Fully alert, Ba Fenghan looked carefully at the medium sized cargo boat sailing ahead of them; he replied, "One time she invited me to join Li Mi, to become secret assassin for them, naturally with generous rewards. But I flatly refused. Afterwards we still spent a whole day traveling together. I can't deny that she is indeed a quite attractive woman.”
Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, "But her loyalty to Li Mi certainly prevails over other things, which is why I do not trust her at all. Li Mi's Duke of Pushan Decree to hunt and kill Zhong Shao and me is definitely not a joke. Now we have become a thorn by Li Mi's side.”
"What you said is not without a reason,” Ba Fenghan said, "Therefore, we have to split up; you go to rendezvous with Kou Zhong, I will step onto the plate to see if it really is a trap.”
Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "Aren't you taking too much risk? Provoking Zhu Yuyan and perhaps Wanwan, plus Tiele people, I am afraid even Ning Daoqi would find it hard to escape.”
Ba Fenghan smiled and said, "I am going to adopt the ‘watching-the-fires-burning-across-the-river' style to watch from a distance; I won't foolishly charge in to throw away my life. As long as Shen Luoyan is not deceiving us, I am sure I will find clues [orig. spider's thread and horse track].”
And then, laughing, he said, "Let's go ashore!”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong rushed toward the Luo River dike opposite the Tianjian Bridge. By the time he arrived, Xu Ziling had been waiting for about half a sichen.
As soon as he jumped onto the boat, Xu Ziling immediately pulled the oar.
Looking around, Kou Zhong said, "I've done everything to throw off anybody who wanted to follow me. Uh! Where did you steal this boat from?”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, "Originally it was stolen, but later on it will turn into an ingot of gold business profit. With our title of Double Dragons, and this boat as our means of transportation, anybody could forget about following us.”
Receiving the bamboo rain hat and woven rush raincoat Xu Ziling handed him, Kou Zhong spoke happily, "You are well prepared! Where did Old Ba go? Ay! Dong Shuni, that poniang [reminder: b!tch, derogatory term for woman], is really lying to me.”
He was about to explain, someone flew from the riverbank toward their boat.
The two boys jumped in fright; who'd dare to be this reckless, using only two fists to deal with the two boys' four?
Even Zhu Yuyan, she would think again and again before attacking them on such a wide river and on a small boat like this.
Upon closer look, they saw that the incoming was unexpectedly Song Shidao, who, according to Song Yuzhi, has returned to the south. Only because he was wearing bamboo rain hat that they did not immediately recognize him.
Carrying the wind and the rain with him, this passionate young master landed in the middle of the boat, and said happily, "It's so difficult to find you, plus I was afraid somebody might see me making contact with you, so I followed Xiao Zhong from the Imperial City all the way here, and only then did I dare to meet with you.”
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, "Your tracking skill is indeed not bad.”
Astounded, Xu Ziling asked, "Didn't Er Gongzi return to the south?”
Song Shidao replied indifferently, "Junchuo's Shimei is in trouble, how could I keep my hands inside my sleeve and do nothing?”
Swinging the oar, Xu Ziling turned the boat to the left and sped up along the road.
Song Shidao went on, "About Junyu, I have a bit of clue.”
The two boys were amazed; they conducted open inquiries and secret search, yet still failed to find the least bit of information. Song Shidao only found out about this matter last night, how could he succeed so quickly?
Song Shidao was an astute man; seeing the two boys' incredulous expression, he explained, "Our Song Clan has already had close relationship with several comparably smaller gangs and societies around here. One of them has a fire-and-water relationship with Luoyang Bang; hence they watch closely Shangguan Long's activities all the time. It was precisely because they followed Shangguan Long's trail that I was able to gain this precious information.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling's spirit was greatly aroused.
Song Shidao exhaled slowly, as if he was sorting out the information in his brain. After half a day, he slowly said, "Five days ago, Shangguan Long rode out of town, unaccompanied. It was already dark when he was spotted going back into the city. Behind him was a dust-strewn carriage with its curtain down. Among the four riders accompanying the carriage, two were women, both with gauzed cloth covering their faces; looks like they were traveling furtively. The carriage finally stopped inside a courtyard at Yong Tong Lane by the Yi River in the southeast corner of the city. Shangguan Long stayed there overnight and only left the following morning.”
Moving the oar to steer the boat, Xu Ziling spoke heavily, "We must find Ba Fenghan immediately. I am so sure that inside the house that Shen Luoyan pointed out, the one waiting is not Qu Ao, but that fellow Nanhai Xian Weng [immortal elderly man of the South Sea, first mention was Book 12 Chapter 10] Huang Gongcuo.”
It was the first time that Kou Zhong heard about this. He was confused, but he understood that Song Shidao has indirectly uncovered another plot of Shen Luoyan's.
※ ※ ※
Stepping out of an alley into the main street, Ba Fenghan pulled his hat lower and walked swiftly with his head hung low.
Although there was no lack of pedestrians on the street, due to the increasing intensity of the rain, everybody was hurrying along; rarely would anybody pay any attention to another passer-by.
The address Shen Luoyan gave them was Cheng Fu Lane, north of Xinzhong Bridge, but he deliberately made a long detour to see if anybody was trailing him.
Trailing other people in this kind of weather was not easy at all, but the difficulty in detecting whether some people were trailing him also increased significantly.
Although his innate character was proud and conceited, he actually held Xu Ziling's ability and wisdom in very high regard.
If Xu Ziling said that Shen Luoyan was having a bad intention, he must have a very strong reason.
Although Ba Fenghan knew that it might be a trap, he did not have the slightest fear in his heart.
After the group of horse thieves with whom he trained to maturity was wiped out, he became a lone wolf, with foes all over the place; hence he was used to deal with all sorts of ‘crafty plots and machinations'.
Right this moment, he suddenly stopped.
The pitter-patter of the rain falling continuously on his bamboo hat was crisp, resounding, and rhythmic.
Dong Ming Princess Shan Wanjing, in men's clothing, stepped down from a carriage, and, holding an umbrella in her hand, she coldly looked at him from about twenty paces ahead.
Ba Fenghan nearly turned around and walked away, but after a moment's hesitation, he walked toward this beauty.
Very soon he was standing face-to-face with her. The familiar scent emanated from her body brought forth myriads of memories in him.