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Sky, I don't understand "BFH is an astute man. XZL just refused to see the truth all along”. IMHO, the two boys have always had high regards on BFH. Xiaohu, and you said you were speechless? You could be many things, but ‘speechless' is not one of those things. Jaya, HPC, Ysabel, you are welcome. Lao Qianbei, forgive me for being slow, but "eh foxs???” what and why did you ask me? Chowbeng, is that a spoiler? Akolaw, interesting thought. DongBin, got it; you were referring to your previous post. Xu Xiong, I did not remember that! And I still don't know who that shadow was. Could you enlighten me?

Book 16 Chapter 5 - Tiger Wind Dragon Cloud

Perhaps because the battle just now had scared the common people, but along the Heavenly Street, all residences, all stores and shops big and small, closed their doors and windows, and did not light their lanterns. Only Man Qing Yuan was brightly lit, illuminating the area around it as bright as day.

It was still a quarter before the zi hour; most of the people who were supposed to be there have arrived at the Ting Liu Pavilion. Not even half a human shadow was seen on the street, even the city guards who were supposed to be on patrol have hidden in who knows where.

The struggle between Yang Dong, Dugu Clan and Wang Shichong, the Luoyang City appeared to be in a power vacuum state. But the public security was even better instead, simply because the local gangs and societies were curbing their people as much as possible not to create trouble in this kind of situation.

Outsiders did not dare to make trouble even more, for fear of becoming the target of a multitude of arrows.

The three walked down the street toward Man Qing Yuan.

Kou Zhong suddenly heaved a deep sigh.

Ba Fenghan asked in surprise, "Even under such a vile circumstance just now you were able to get away without damaging half a strand of your hair; why still sighing long and short?”

Kou Zhong reached out to wrap his arm around Ba Fenghan's shoulder. "I am thinking that you, laoxiong, are going to go far away; in my heart I really hate to part with you,” he spoke with heartfelt sincerity.

Ba Fenghan's tough face melted a little; casting a glance toward the silently-walking-by-his-side Xu Ziling, he smiled and said, "This is called ‘there is no banquet in the world that does not end'. This time Ol' Ba came to the Central Plains and was able to encounter two Xiongtai, already this trip has not been made in vain. Much less in term of martial art cultivation I came across incomparably fortuitous meeting, and obtained a breakthrough that even in my dream I have never thought about. At this point in life, what more do I want?”

Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, "When would Fenghan Xiong start your journey?”

Ba Fenghan replied in heavy voice, "After getting rid of Qu Ao, I will immediately depart. Perhaps even tonight.”

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were stunned.

The former frowned and said, "Why are you especially insolent toward Qu Ao?”

A deep, cold murderous intent flashed in Ba Fenghan's eyes. He replied coldly, "This is the oath I swore when I was beaten by Qu Ao and threw myself into the river in serious injury to escape. Whoever wanted to take my life, Ol' Ba must pay him back.”

And then he smiled slightly and said, "Therefore, you two and I are special kindred spirits; plus there is another bitter experience in which we are similar.”

Kou Zhong, whose eyes were on the empty, desolate street ahead, was stunned, "What bitter experience?” he asked.

Ba Fenghan cheerfully replied, "In that our martial art skill was forced to advance by the people who were chasing and hunting us, that not a day of our lives was not fugitive days. Since you acquired the ‘Secret to Long Life', didn't you also have this kind of bitter experience?”

Xu Ziling suddenly said, "How confident you are in killing Qu Ao?”

"Originally, not even 50%,” Ba Fenghan replied, "But now I have full confidence.”

Pulling away his arm on Ba Fenghan's shoulder, Kou Zhong asked in great astonishment, "How could there be such a drastic change?”

Ba Fenghan calmly replied, "Because there is still a very big flaw in his mental self-cultivation, which fluctuate with his state of mind. Just now during the battle on the Tianjin Bridge, he already lost his confidence in defeating me. Therefore, if tonight I can enlarge this gap of his, I have no doubt that I will win.”

Finally he added one sentence, "If I can kill Qu Ao, even if I don't look for Bi Xuan, he might personally come to look for me; a match that is hard to find. It would be too late for Bi Xuan to guard against me!”

The two boys had a sudden inspiration.

Kou Zhong said, "I wonder if Old Man Qu and Fu Kid's duel has already started?”

Meanwhile Man Qing Yuan's front gate was only five zhang away; the gatekeepers were craning their necks to look at these three latecomers.

"I am afraid he might miss the appointment,” Ba Fenghan said.

※ ※ ※

The three have not even reached the gate, the dozen or so guards already welcomed them respectfully, greeting them Ye this and Ye [master, as in master/servant relationship] that; a totally different experience from last time they came.

"Has Qu Ao arrived?” Ba Fenghan asked.

Someone replied, "Qu Ye has just sent someone to notify us that he will be here by chou hour [1-3am].”

The three exchanged glances; they all revealed a knowing smile.

Frowning, Kou Zhong asked, "Is Man Qing Yuan still under Luoyang Bang's control?”

Another man replied, "Naturally. This is still considered our Luoyang Bang's business. Three Daye exposed that traitor, Shangguan Long's identity, our Gang, from top to bottom, are deeply grateful to three Daye!”

Kou Zhong wondered inwardly if that was true; he then casually asked a question, "So who's in charge of Luoyang Bang now?”

The first man replied solemnly, "To prevent our Gang from falling into disunity, Fu Bangzhu [vice gang leader] and various Tangzhu [hall master] asked Big Boss Rong Fengxiang to be our Bangzhu. With him on the helm, who dares not to comply?”

The three thought unexpectedly there was such a coincidence. From this they could tell that Rong Fengxiang was a figure who played a critical role in Luoyang.

All their questions answered, the three, with the throng of guards in front and behind them, proceeded toward the Tingliu Pavilion.

Tingliu Pavilion was livelier than two evenings ago; it was practically a banquet with no empty seats. Fortunately somehow Rong Fengxiang has personally ordered to have the chamber on the top floor of the north building, the same one they used last time, reserved from them, hence they did not need to crowd with other people.

※ ※ ※

After the beautiful servants served them food and drink, one called Cui'er, who appeared to be the lead-waitress, with amorous expression and enchanting smile addressed the three, "Rong Laopan [boss] especially ordered us to serve three gentlemen well. Our Man Qing Yuan's three flowers: Lian'er, Ju'er and Ping'er [lotus, chrysanthemum and duckweed, respectively] the other night witnessed the three gentlemen exhibiting your divine prowess, so they quite adore you. Do three Daye want them to come to sing a couple of Xiaodiao [Chinese folk song] for you?”

Kou Zhong asked in surprise, "With so many distinguished guests tonight, how could they have spare time to serve us?”

Cui'er threw him a coquettish glance and said, "It's useless for others to beg me, but three Daye are different! Cui'er made things difficult for others, it's all to make proper arrangements for you. Right now it is still more than half a sichen before the chou hour; with them coming to dispel Daye's boredom, I guarantee that time will flash like a white steed flits past a crack.”

Ba Fenghan casually stuffed half an ingot of glistening yellow gold into Cui'er's hand and spoke indifferently, "So this time it is not ‘Zhi Shi Lang' Wang Bo [see Book 1 Chapter 10] who gives the party? Looks like the expense is not a few?”

Cui'er took the gold, her smile was even brighter; with half her body leaning on Ba Fenghan's, she spoke intimately, "This time it's Rong Laoban who is giving the party; he has two simultaneous happy events in the family! He is ascending the Bangzhu throne, and celebrating his big birthday. Afterwards, his source of revenue will spread far and wide; how could he have time to bother about trivial expenditure? Very well! Just leave everything to nujia, I will have the three flowers come here in no time!”

Xu Ziling said with a frown, "We still have some important matters to discuss, it would be better …”

Cui'er cut him off, "In that case, nujia will arrange for them to come a bit later!”

With a peal of tender laughter she flew away like a butterfly.

Kou Zhong laughed toward Ba Fenghan, "You are so liberal with money; looks like your purse is fully loaded with gold.”

Ba Fenghan replied indifferently, "These past few years I earned a bit of money. In this chaotic world, everybody is striving to mint coins and make money, but only gold is most reliable, it can be used inside and outside the Central Plains. When I leave, I am going to leave you some so that you can use it.”

‘Knock! Knock!'

Although Kou Zhong did not hear any footsteps, he has already sensed that someone was outside the door. "Who is it?” he asked in low voice.

Outside, Xing Mofei's familiar voice replied, "Xiaodi received Wangzi's [King] order to invite three gentlemen to the main lobby downstairs for a chat; we will enjoy wine together.” [Translator's note: in Book 13 Chapter 10, it was Xing Yifei.]

The three had a rather good opinion toward this man, plus they really wanted to see what he looked like. "Xing Xiong, please come in!” Kou Zhong pursued.

Hearing that, Xing Mofei pushed the door and entered, and cupped his fist in salute.

The three were sure that this man was not among the men standing by Fu Qian the previous night, or else their eyes had deceived them.

This Tuyuhun martial art master was around twenty-five, twenty-six, tall and slim, had thick hair and eyebrows, and calm demeanor. He wore casual riding and shooting warrior attire complete with boots. His entire being was as sharp as an arrow leaving the bow; his eyes gleaming with spirited light, but he also gave up the impression that he was a very passionate person.

Although he could not be considered handsome, his facial features [orig. five senses] had strong character; hence he could be considered someone well worth a second look, and that the more one looked at him, the more one would feel that he was an interesting character.

The three immediately stood up to return the salute. After they sat down, Ba Fenghan asked, "Who else is in the hall downstairs?”

Meanwhile the sound of finger-guessing game, drinking game, warm music from string and woodwind instruments, came from the direction of the balcony.

Xing Mofei laughed leisurely and said, "Naturally we can't miss Wang Bo and Rong Da Laoban, two gentlemen.”

Astonished, Xu Ziling said, "Listening to the tone of Xing Xiong's voice, looks like you don't have any regards to even Wang Bo.”

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