Book 17 Chapter 5 - Numerous Crafty and Fantastical Changes
Kou Zhong untied his horse from the nearby tree and rode speedily toward the appointed meeting place with Song Jingang.
The situation on the street did not change, but he felt his interest was slightly waning.
In the end Wang Shichong could not become a very capable man, all he could be was a local hegemon, unlike Li Mi, Li Shimin, and the likes, men who had qualifications to vie for the world. Even compared to Du Fuwei, he was still far behind. Although he could be considered a man full of scheming, but due to his stupid and cowardly attitude, it would be difficult for him to unleash his aspiration.
Currently Li Mi had hundreds, if not thousands, reasons to attack Luoyang, but with his amazing self-restraint, as long as he knew Wang Shichong was still in control of Luoyang's general situation, he would not be willing to risk the danger.
Otherwise, even if he prevailed, Li Shimin's main force would come from Guanxi in surprise attack, and it would be the moment Li Mi sounded the mourning bell. Li Mi would rather let Wang Shichong enjoy his power for a while longer, and used him to block Li Shimin, while giving his troops and generals the time to recuperate as much as possible, while also recruit new soldiers and recover their strength.
Could it be that the plan to deal with Li Mi would fail through lack of a final effort? This kind of 'losing what one has just obtained' feeling was like knowing that the card in hand would definitely win, but the opponent suddenly threw his cards away indicating all bets are off; an extremely disappointing feeling.
Current situation in Luoyang might change any moment, and nobody knew what would happen the next time such fantastical change occurred.
Tiele people retreated, Dugu Ba was killed; would the Dugu Clan bring about new deployment?
In that instant, a divine light flashed in Kou Zhong's mind; suddenly he understood everything clearly.
Based on Shen Luoyan's loyalty and devotion to Li Mi, she could not possibly kill Dugu Ba for personal vendetta.
Just from the fact that Dugu Ba personally came to Tiele people's hideout, it was clear that within the Dugu Clan, Dugu Ba was not the one with close relationship with the Tieles. At most he was only in charge of threading a needle [fig. acting as a go-between].
Shen Luoyan killed him, it was precisely to disrupt the relationship between the Dugu Clan and the Tieles.
Ba Fenghan forced Qu Ao to leave, actually he was doing Li Mi a big favor.
Supposing he could tell the Dugu Clan who the real culprit that killed Dugu Ba was, what might happen?
Thinking to this point, he was dejected, because he knew the Dugu Clan would never believe him.
This moment his horse already reached the highest point on the Tianjian Bridge, and was starting to stroll down.
Although the street was full of pedestrians, vehicles and horses, yet Kou Zhong felt incomparable loneliness, as if he and the rest of the people lived in two separate worlds.
His train of thought shifted to Li Shimin.
Contrary to Kou Zhong's expectation, Li Shimin's power was indeed very strong. None of the martial art masters of the Heavenly Strategies Mansion was not intelligent and brave; any one of them could make people bag their food before they finished eating and leave.
And now Ba Fenghan was gone, the two boys' strength was greatly diminished. Although their problem with Shi Feixuan was resolved, it was offset by similarly headache-inducing fallout with Li Shimin, so that he had a feeling that his life was hanging by the thread at all time.
In this kind of situation, he considered whether he should withdraw immediately, taking advantage while Li Shimin had not returned to Guanzhong, to get the 'Duke Yang Treasure. Ever since his arrival in Luoyang, this was the very first time that he had a strong desire to withdraw.
Thinking to this point, he fiercely clenched his teeth, and turned his horse around. He made up his mind to go to the Imperial City first to find Xu Xingzhi. The appointment with Song Jingang was thrown to the back of his mind.
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Xu Ziling closed the book up and put it inside his pocket. Without even looking back he spoke coldly, "How are you going to harm us this time?"
Shen Luoyan came to his side and gracefully sat down. She sighed and said, "How can Heaven play such trick on us, fitting you and I on hostile position against each other?"
She was wearing plain white clothes, and has become so thin that within her lucid and elegant jade countenance, there was a hint of hard to describe lovely and touching charm.
Xu Ziling's anger suddenly vanished away.
She was right; at the time where the whole country was in rebellion, people of different parties fought desperately with all their wits and with all their strength, committing all manner of crimes, just like people on the gambling table, each one desperately want to win all the other people's money into his own pocket. There really was nothing surprising about it.
"Let's go!" Shen Luoyan spoke indifferently, "Wang Shichong's days are numbered; if you wait too long, you might not be able to leave at all."
Xu Ziling was still pondering the new astronomy knowledge he had just obtained from Lu Miaozi's legacy just now; his mind was peaceful, his thinking clear and bright. He spoke calmly, "Tell me, how can I tell whether your suggestion is malicious or come from your kindness?"
Shen Luoyan faintly said, "Let me tell you something: Dugu Ba's body has been discovered. From the bruises on his body, they were able to ascertain that it was you and Ba Fenghan who did this."
Xu Ziling was slightly stunned, but immediately came to see the truth. Smiling ruefully, he said, "What an excellent plan to shift the blame onto someone else!"
Seeing he did not suddenly flare up in fury, Shen Luoyan was greatly surprised. It was quite half a day later that she hung her head down and spoke in low voice, "Each time I am harming you, the pain in my heart is really something that I do not need to tell others. Do you understand? You had better go!"
Xu Ziling sensed something was really wrong, but did not know where the problem was.
If Shen Luoyan were not confident that in the battle over the Eastern Capital they would surely win, she would not have spoken to him in such tone and demeanor.
Intuitively he felt that she has been going through an internal struggle before coming to urge him to leave; in no way would she let him know about their conspiracy.
If the Dugu Clan would recklessly avenge Dugu Ba's death, while the two boys were completely unprepared, Kou Zhong and his little lives would certainly be as precarious as a pile of eggs.
Shen Luoyan raised her face and gazed deeply into his eyes; she said, "I have said what I wanted to say! I even said what I wasn't supposed to say, a leader can submit or can stand tall as required. Ziling, take care of yourself!"
The last sentence was spoken with a voice as soft as mosquito; finished speaking, Shen Luoyan left as if she wanted to escape with her life.
Xu Ziling stood up suddenly and took a deep breath.
The only thing he had to do right now was to find Kou Zhong to see how they were going to deal with the Dugu Clan's raging temper.
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Kou Zhong was still thinking about how to find Xu Xingzhi without attracting undue attention when Song Mengqiu called him from behind, "Kou Xiongdi, Shangshu Daren is looking for you."
Kou Zhong stopped in front of the flight of steps in front of Shangshu Mansion's main gate. Turning around and saluted, he said, "General Song must be very busy these past couple of days, otherwise how can I have a feeling that I haven't seen General Song for a long time?"
Song Mengqiu came to his side and pulled his hand inside; it was only after they passed the main entrance that he halted his steps and said, "These days we don't even have time to sleep, therefore, even Shangshu Daren needs to find something to help him relax."
Even from the beginning Kou Zhong did not have too good of an impression on this man; he always felt that he was slick and sly, a hypocrite whose mouth did not agree with his heart. However, in order to find Xu Xingzhi, he thought that ever since he started, there has never been a better way than to ask Wang Shichong directly; therefore, without any choice he said perfunctorily, "I really can't imagine what can make us, these bunch of men without any good night's sleep, to forget our worry and not to think over our anxiety."
Acting mysterious, Song Mengqiu leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Women, of course. Not only that, this is the most attractive beauty. Her voice, appearance, all kind of arts, and her beauty could make a man forget his old man's surname."
Kou Zhong nearly forgot Xu Xingzhi; greatly amazed, he asked, "Whose family's beauty has this kind of charm and power?"
Song Mengqiu replied with glee, "Naturally it's the number one courtesan under the heavens, Shang Xiufang. Other than she, who else is worthy to be reputed as the number one voice, appearance, and all kind of arts?"
'Turns out it is she,' Kou Zhong mused inwardly.
The first time Fu Qian challenged Qu Ao for a duel at Man Qing Yuan, Wang Bo was inviting her to perform her art in public, but he, along with Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan, messed it up.
Also, because they were taking Shangguan Long away, they did not have the good luck of seeing her; they weren't even sure whether she did perform or not. Thinking about it, he was amused.
Song Mengqiu proudly said, "Wang Daren knew that after performing on stage for Rong Fengxiang tomorrow evening, she is going to enter Guanzhong. Therefore, with thousand ways, a hundred plans he is inviting her. He even prepared two banquet tables, hence he urged us to find you to join the fun."
Stroking his tummy, Kou Zhong said, "What time is it now? I have just had my fill of food and wine; I would be powerless to stuff my tummy with more than half steamed bun."
Naturally Song Mengqiu did not know that he was thinking of taking advantage while Wang Shichong was too busy for him to look for Xu Xingzhi. Laughing involuntarily, he said, "Kou Xiongdi must be joking. How could a wine lover thinking about the food [to accompany the wine]? Shang Beauty loves to take a nap is well-known, hence if we want to invite her, we can do so only after wei hour [1-3 pm]. Come!"
Kou Zhong only followed him for two steps before stopping; he said, "I want to go to the toilet first. Otherwise, after taking a seat and looking at the exquisite choices, if I wanted to leave, it would be very difficult to leave. It would be extremely awkward. Ha!"
Song Mengqiu had no choice but to nod and said, "I'll see you later then!"
Kou Zhong cried inwardly, 'Heaven helps me!' and went away quickly.
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Xu Ziling walked over to his horse; while stroking the horse's neck tenderly, he pondered on how to find Kou Zhong.
If he wanted to look for Kou Zhong, first of all, he had to find out where Song Jingang was staying in Luoyang. To do this, his only choice was to contact Green Snake Gang's Ren En. In Luoyang, he had a better chance than Xu Ziling.
While he was about to leap onto the horse's back, someone was coming rapidly toward him.
Xu Ziling turned his head to look, and saw a skinny young man wearing servants attire, coming directly at him from a distance; his delicate features were somewhat familiar-looking, but momentarily he could not remember where he had seen this person.
The young man revealed a friendly smile, but did not say anything until he was right by Xu Ziling's side, "Xu Ye don't remember Tongtong? The other day when Xu Ye met with Commander Liu, I was the one pouring tea for you!"
Now Xu Ziling remembered that after meeting Liu Heita again, in the house where Liu Heita was staying he saw a delicate and pretty woman Tongtong [see Book 13 Chapter 1]. It's just that now she was wearing men's attire, hence momentarily he could not remember. Otherwise, with his highly retentive memory, how could he forget?
Speaking about beauty, naturally she could not surpass Shen Luoyan, Song Yuzhi, that kind of beauty who can overturn a country, but in term of simple beauty, she was cheerful and pleasant, giving others the impression that she was candid and friendly. She had different and distinct personality traits.
Smiling, Xu Ziling said, "Your disguise skill, was it taught by Zhuge Dewei Xiong personally? There is no woman-dressed-as-a-man flaw at all. I still remember Liu Dage praised your exceptional flying blade skill."
Tongtong's pair of clear and pretty, beautiful eyes lit up. She said delightedly, "It's hard to imagine Xu Ye to be this unassuming. When I saw you the first time, I was a bit afraid of you!"
Taken aback, Xu Ziling asked, "What's so scary about me?"