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Ysabel, Jaya, HPC, DongBin, you are welcome. Xiaohu, in that case, I have to retract my statement later, you are not as an avid fan as I thought. But don't worry, I won't hold it against you. I realize that this story is dragging for so long that some of you maybe losing interest already. Anyway, here's the rest of Chapter 2, still in Luoyang.

When Dong Fang left the southern hall to greet other honored guests, there were only four people remained in the hall. Kou Zhong said, "How much does Lu Shu know about this man, Rong Fengxiang?”

Song Yuzhi finally turned around to face Kou Zhong; she spoke calmly, yet icily, "In himself, Rong Fengxiang's origin is a mystery; although no one has ever seen him fighting, but no one does not think that his martial art skill is outstanding. On top of that, he is slick and sly, and is getting on well with people of both black and white ways. Why do you care about him?”

Casting a sidelong glance toward Kou Zhong, Liu Jing scolded him tenderly, "Xiao Zhong, what exactly did you do to offend Zhizhi, so that all of us have to suffer her sarcastic comments?”

"Jing Yi [auntie]!” Song Yuzhi cried out crossly.

Song Lu chuckled and said, "Girls love to throw temper tantrum to have fun, this is normal. Right! Whether Rong Fengxiang will have a good show for us to watch today, what does it have to do with us?”

Kou Zhong turned toward the pouting, puffing-her-fragrant-cheeks Song Yuzhi first and bowed to apologize while giggling; and only after seeing that she still did not want to look at him did he turn toward Song Lu and Liu Jing, who had been trying to help him so much. "This fellow Rong Fengxiang ought to be somewhat related to Li Shimin,” he said, "This time they are entertaining Fu Qian and Wang Bo in this place, I am sure it is not as simple as it appears. Just by looking at how Li kid was trying to reserve the hall right after Rong Fengxiang did, it is not difficult to see that Li Shimin and Tuli, two kids, are scrambling to get Fu Qian and Wang Bo to their side.”

"Pfft!” Liu Jing giggled tenderly and said, "Xiao Zhong has not grown out of your childish nature; what big fellow, little kid? Isn't that hilarious?”

Song Lu nodded and said, "In that case, Li Shimin and Tuli's target must be Fu Qian. This man has not established his foundation in the Central Plains yet; therefore, if they can somehow disgrace him, he would end up retreating in grief.”

This moment Xu Ziling came in. Song Lu happily welcomed him and directed him to his seat, which was between Song Yuzhi and Liu Jing, across the table from Kou Zhong.

Liu Jing could not take her eyes off Xu Ziling; sizing him up, her fawning manner grew without restraint as she said, "Xiao Ling's appearance is more awesome than Xiao Zhong; inside the delicate and pretty shell, there is an outstanding, above-the-crowd heroic air. Which girl would not fall in love with you?”

Her coquettish, charming to the bones manner stirred up a warm, intimate and familiar feeling in Xu Ziling's heart, while also evoking the painful memory of Fu Junchuo's death, which felt like a distant dream. Recalling the transformations of the world [orig. the blue sea turned into mulberry fields], the human affairs that are constantly changing, how that year they met on board a huge ship on the Yangtze River; everything felt as if it was just happening yesterday. He could not help reciprocating, "Jing Yi is also getting more beautiful and alluring than ever.”

Flattered by him, Liu Jing's eyebrows blossomed, her eyes laughed. Song Lu cheerfully said, "Surprisingly this kind of pleasant-to-hear and amusing words came from Xiao Ling's mouth; it's really hard to believe. But it is clear that he spoke out of what he feels.”

Song Yuzhi shot a glance toward Kou Zhong, as if indicating that if it was Kou Zhong who said it, then it should not be believed.

Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong met Song Yuzhi eyes with the same expression she was showing him. Turning to Xu Ziling, he asked, "Where did you go? How dare you arrived late!”

Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders and nonchalantly replied, "Nowhere in particular; I just made a detour to Jing Nian Chanyuan, to talk with Shi Feixuan a little bit. Ha! Why are you staring at me like that?”

In fact, as they were listening to him, the other three people's eyes were growing bigger and bigger, while their faces showed a disbelieving expression.

"Did you lay everything out in the open?” Kou Zhong blurted.

Calmly Xu Ziling spread his arms and said, "Even an ugly woman will have to meet her father and mother-in-law sooner or later. Dragging this matter over just between you and I, what good would it bring?”

Kou Zhong was at a loss. Carefully looking at him up and down, he said, "Although on the surface you look all right, but you are suffering a serious internal injury and may fall dead any moment?”

Song Lu and Liu Jing booed and roared in laughter. Song Yuzhi's jade countenance also thawed; she even hung her head down and laughed in her sleeve, revealing her amused tender and naïve demeanor, which, on this stubborn and arrogant noble woman of heroic family's face, appeared extremely touching.

Liu Jing laughed and swore, "Get out of here! How can you say such an ominous words?”

When the laughter stopped, Xu Ziling angrily said, "That's why I often said that you have the heart of a Xiaoren [lowly one/person of low social status], but taking other people's noble belly, seeing outsiders readily spoke about fighting and shout about killing. The truth is that Wang Bo is hatching a plot; just now I bumped into Yun Bangzhu, who confirmed that Wang Bo is really drawing close to our archenemy Yuwen Huaji, so …”

Kou Zhong did not show the least bit of interest toward Wang Bo; he cut him off, "What did Shi Feixuan say? Did she threaten you?”

Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself; he said, "When will you ever get rid of your Xiaoren habit? She is cultivating Dhyana [i.e. Zen] Buddhist teaching, which pays particular attention to karma and destiny; how could she be like us, common people, who always seek revenge for any hatred we have? Ay! I really wish we can immediately cut Yuwen Huaji's stinky head and have it to accompany our wine.”

Song Lu said, "What's wrong with differentiating gratitude and grudges? Buddhism also has methods to get rid of demons and subdue devils. If someone like Yuwen Huaji ascends the throne to become the emperor, the damage he'd do will be no less than Yang Guang. Right! How could Liao Kong let you see Shi Feixuan that easily?”

Xu Ziling said, "I also thought I would not be able to see Shi Feixuan, so I was ready to leave, who would have thought that Shi Feixuan personally appeared?”

Astounded, Liu Jing said, "Perhaps she took a fancy to you?”

Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, "I was going to say the same thing.”

Xu Zuling smiled ruefully and said, "This way of thinking can be said ‘showering affection on an uninterested party'. Shi Feixuan is an out-of-this-world spiritual person, her only concern is the well-being of the people.”

Song Yuzhi did not understand, "But she still has no reason to let you get away?” she said, "Did you return the Jade Annulus of He Clan to her?”

Kou Zhong seized this opportunity to look at her and said, "The Jade Annulus of He Clan is gone, just like the food we ate. Where could we find a treasure to be returned to her?”

Finally Song Yuzhi was looking at him. Four eyes met, and she snapped, "Not one decent word. I wasn't talking to you.”

Kou Zhong cried out ‘injustice!'; he said, "If I, Kou Zhong, say just one empty word, let me be punished by not obtaining San Xiaojie's good graces for the rest of my life. If you don't believe me, just ask Ling kid, who you think is honest and reliable.”

Immediately red clouds burned Song Yuzhi's jade cheeks; she was so angry that she nearly bestowed Kou Zhong a big slap on the face.

Song Lu tried to diffuse the situation, "Xiao Ling, there's no harm in telling us what this is all about.”

Xu Ziling briefly explained everything. In the meantime, the food and drink arrived; everybody stopped talking.

After the waiter left, Song Lu sighed and said, "Unusual treasure is indeed an unusual treasure; unexpectedly such thing happened, which is hard for people to imagine.”

"You two lucky kids,” Liu Jing said with envy.

Kou Zhong politely refilled everybody's cups. When he got to Song Yuzhi, the beauty put her hand on the cup and coldly said, "I don't drink wine today.”

With this put-down, Kou Zhong set down the wine pot and wanted to pour tea for her, but Song Yuzhi's other hand reached out toward the tea pot, and then with a rather strained smile she said, "I can pour it myself, no need to trouble your honorable hand.”

Kou Zhong knew that she was merely ‘looked impressive but is worthless'; greatly delighted, he returned to his seat, barely able to hide his smile; he even pretended to sit back and relax, and even stretched his limbs as if relieved from a burden.

Song Yuzhi could only ‘returned to her previous condition' and no longer pay attention to him.

Analyzing the situation, Song Lu said, "Since the Jade Annulus of He Clan, which was well known throughout the ages, has already vanished, and you have become big enemy of Yin Gui Pai, Shi Feixuan letting you go was a sensible act.”

"How's the current situation of the south?” Kou Zhong asked.

Knitting her jet-black eyebrows, Liu Jing said, "You still dare to ask us? After turning the sky and the earth upside down in the south, the two of you just walked away and leave a terrible mess for us to tidy up.”

Song Lu interjected, "Fortunately this terrible mess brought us advantages without any harm. However, the fly in the ointment is that due to Lin Shihong is weakening considerably, Shen Faxing and Du Fuwei pose direct threat to the alliance of our Song Family of Lingnan with Baling Bang.”

Kou Zhong's interest was greatly piqued, "How's Old Xiao's current situation?” he asked.

Song Lu smiled wryly and replied, "That is the other headache. After Tieqi Hui [first mention Book 7 Chapter 3, Qu Ao's son] vanished like smoke in thin air, he went all-out in controlling the south, his territory expanded substantially, his military strength reaches forty-thousand men. Although currently they are still polite toward us, but nobody knows if he'd change his mind tomorrow.”

Snorting coldly, Kou Zhong said, "Vying over the land under the heavens, from the beginning it has always been whether one can control the land outside the Pass. How's my xiongdi [brothers] of the Zhuhua Bang [bamboo flower gang, see Book 6 Chapter 4]?”

Song Lu thought for a moment before answering, "Zhizhi knows more about this.”

Song Yuzhi glowered at him first before saying, "Do you really concern about your xiongdi, or are you afraid Zhuhua Bang might fly away from the palm of your hands?”

Kou Zhong giggled and said, "If it were still our Yangzhou days, where Xiao Ling and I played with rocks and mud, of course I would concern over my friends. But now we are all grown up, naturally my concern is for my own undertaking and my own future, where friends actually play a major part. Am I frank enough?”

Song Yuzhi stared deep into his eyes for a moment; a bit grudgingly, she said, "Your childhood playmate Gui Xiliang has become the new Bangzhu of Zhuhua Bang, and soon will be Shao Lingzhou's son-in-law. So you have the power in your palms. Are you satisfied?”

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other; they were both stunned.

Liu Jing said with a laugh, "Why haven't you thanked Zhizhi? In this matter, she spent a lot of effort on your behalf!”

Before Kou Zhong had any chance to respond, there was a loud rumbling noise from somewhere on the top floor, followed by Fu Jian's long laughter. He said, "With this kind of skill, you dare to display your meager skill before me? Extremely ridiculous!”

Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, "The good show finally starts. Do we want to stay here and eat, or go out to join the fun?”

Before he even finished, Liu Jing was the first to leave her chair and spoke crossly, "Do you even have to think about it?”

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