Inside the secret chamber.
Finished listening, Wang Shichong's countenance changed; he said, "Is there such thing? Laojun Temple's Zhuchi [manager, see my earlier note, Book 16 Chapter 11] Bi Chen Xianzhang [I translated this as 'immortal elder' earlier, must be a term of respect to address Taoist Priest] is a friend of mine for many years; how could Ke Feng harm me?"
This time it was Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling's turn to have their countenance changed. "Pi Chen?" they blurted out.
Wang Shichong was surprised, "What's wrong?" he asked.
Kou Zhong said, "Bi Chen's real name is Pi Chen, the Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] of the other demonic sect outside Yin Gui Pai; as for what kind of demonic method they are using, I, myself, am not too clear. But Liao Kong has personally told Xiao Ling that Liaojun Temple has fallen under some crafty scoundrels' control, and we do know Pi Chen's background. Ke Feng is the spy, I no longer have any doubt. Don't forget that last night he was the one who suggested we go to war."
Evidently Wang Shichong's mind was in chaos; he asked, "How could Liao Kong reveal this information to Ziling for no reason?"
So Xu Ziling told him about his visit to see Shi Feixuan that morning. Naturally he did not say anything about the Jade Annulus of He Clan being stolen by them.
Finally Wang Shichong was convinced. "What do we do now?" he asked.
Kou Zhong excitedly said, "Right now only you, me and Xiao Ling know about this matter. Later on we will use a scheme within a scheme, I guarantee Shen Luoyan will fail miserably [orig. capsize in the ditch], and will suffer a great loss."
※ ※ ※
When the two boys stepped out of the Shangshu Mansion, their mood was greatly different; at least their objective was clear before their eyes, so that they had the direction on what they were fighting for.
The guards brought their horses out.
The two were just about to mount their horses, when Ke Feng's voice rang out from behind, "Two Xiao Xiong, please wait for me."
Kou Zhong turned around and saluted, "Does Daozhang [Taoist Priest] have any urgent matter to discuss? I am in a hurry to send my humble friend out of the city."
Ke Feng caught up with them and said with a smile, "This must be Kou Xiao Xiong's good partner Ziling Xiao Xiong. Pindao [impoverished Taoist] just want to say hello!"
And then he casually asked, "Where is Xu Xiao Xiong going?"
Pretending to be not in the mood to chitchat, Xu Ziling replied without thinking, "To Huaiyang."
Kou Zhong's countenance immediately became very unnatural; pretending to be very much in earnestness, he lowered his voice and said, "Even Wanggong only has partial information [orig. to know the first, but not know the second; Daozhang, please do us a big favor, you must not breathe a word."
Ke Feng solemnly said, "What is it? Why is it so serious that Xu Xiao Xiong must leave town immediately? Is there anything Pindao can do to help?"
Xu Ziling put on an awkward expression as if he had just said something that he should not say; he stammered, "Because this matter involves the safety of some friends, we would appreciate it very much if Daozhang could keep it strictly confidential."
Frowning, Ke Feng asked, "Does that mean Xu Xiao Xiong is not going to participate in our operation tomorrow?"
Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong replied, "It came up very suddenly, Xiao Ling has no choice but to rush to that place."
Ke Feng nodded and said, "In that case, Pindao is not going to waste Xu Xiao Xiong's time anymore. As long as you are careful in everything, your esteemed friend will be able to turn misfortune into blessing."
The two urged their horses to gallop out of the Imperial City via the eastern gate. When they reached the city gate, they handed over the command tablet issued by Wang Shichong himself, plus the captain of the guards recognized Kou Zhong, so they were able to leave the city without any trouble.
Outside the city, the two made an act of galloping over the mountains and fields for about ten li before stopping on a hilltop to rest and let the horses have a breather.
After gazing into the distance from the top of the hill for half a day, Kou Zhong said, "There shouldn't be anybody dare to tail us, right?"
Facing the cool night breeze, Xu Ziling took a deep breath. Not in a good mood, he said, "The enemy surely can send information via flying pigeon or something like that to notify their cronies in Huaiyang, and spread out the net to wait for me. When I meet with Zhai Jiao, with a momentum of ten-thousand-catty thunderbolt they would swoop us in one go to get rid of any problem later on. Why would they spend so much energy to trail me?"
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, "My brain is still not quite working yet. Ay! Thinking about Su Jie, I just want to cry."
Xu Ziling coldly said, "Go ahead and cry. Afterwards, don't cry anymore. The only thing we must do right now is to be strong enough to face all the unfortunate things that already happened, and then do our best to deal with the crisis before our eyes. I think Ke Feng has been fooled. Now it's Shen Luoyan's turn, and later on, Li Mi. It's almost time! You'd better go back to town to avoid any suspicion."
"Please be careful!" Kou Zhong said.
Xu Ziling nodded, "So must you!" he said.
※ ※ ※
The door opened. The Song Clan's martial art master guarding the door was stunned. "Turns out it's Kou Ye. May I ask if you are looking for Qi Shu [seventh uncle], or San Xiaojie [third miss]?"
Stepping over the courtyard gate, Kou Zhong replied, "If San Xiaojie had not gone to bed, I'd like to ask her a couple of questions."
The man led him toward the main residential building, while another man took his horse away. Naturally there ought to be another man flying toward the inner courtyard to notify Song Yuzhi. Nobody did not act deferential and proud to have the honor to serve him.
When they reached the main hall and Kou Zhong sat down, the young man taking him inside, whose name was Song Jie, personally served him fragrant tea and apologetically said, "All the maids have retreated to the rear courtyard to rest; who would have thought that Kou Ye would suddenly arrive to grace us with your presence?"
Kou Zhong thought that the Song Clan was worthy to be counted as the number one big clan in the south; any random captain of the gatekeepers, not only his martial art skill was not bad, his speech and demeanor were decent and appropriate to the occasion. Smiling, he said, "I don't dare! There's no need for Song Xiong to be overly courteous."
Taking the offered tea, he took a sip and said, "Why don't Song Xiong sit down and talk?"
Song Jie smiled and said, "It's against the rules, Kou Ye please fell free to ask. Fortunately the one Kou Ye wanted to see is San Xiaojie, because Qi Shu still attended a banquet and has not returned."
Kou Zhong took another sip of the hot tea; emotionally moved, he said, "What kind of tea is this? It's so fragrant!"
Song Yuzhi's voice responded, "That is West Lake's Longjing Tea. If it were brewed using local Hupau [lit. tiger paw] spring water, it would give out even more sweet smelling and clear taste, mouthwatering and thirst quenching; it is known as double-ultimates."
Kou Zhong turned his head to look at her; his eyes immediately brightened.
She was wearing silk woven pure white dress, with the collar, breast, sleeves, skirt, and other places adorned with perfectly matched plum colored embroidery. The flower's shape lucid and elegant, the color and luster pleasing to the eye, what is true and what is false in stark contrast, the gradation distinct. Plus the upper outer garment soft and elegant, light and smooth. Worn by this beauty, it was so touching, so moving.
Song Jie quickly asked to be excused.
Without the slightest bit of emotion on her face, Song Yuzhi sat down on a chair by the window opposite him, so the two of them were separated by the entire hall, which was nearly two and a half zhang wide.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "To be quite honest, when I saw San Xiaojie just now, I nearly wanted to flee absent-mindedly. Because looking at San Xiaojie's brilliant splendor, which is like the bright moon in the sky, I was suddenly overwhelmed with an intense feeling of shame of my own inferiority."
Song Yuzhi crossly said, "You are the best in coaxing a child, the best at talking insincere words. Do you know what time is it now?"
Giggling, Kou Zhong said, "That was exactly what I wanted to ask: what time is it now? How come San Xiaojie is not in bed yet?"
Evidently Song Yuzhi was helpless dealing with him; she angrily said, "I don't want to blather with you; if you are not going to tell me the reason of your visit this late at night, I am going to ignore you."
In deadly earnest, Kou Zhong said, "I was hoping I could spend the night here."
Song Yuzhi's almond eyes grew big. "What?" she blurted.
Kou Zhong crossed his legs, assuming a rogue, rascally demeanor, and then calmly and nonchalantly said, "Tonight Xiaodi remains to be the one who is cut off from others [idiom: one who has chosen to follow a solitary path], no more me and Xiao Ling take turns on night vigil while sleeping on the street. I want to get a good night sleep, so I came to implore San Xiaojie to offer shelter. Ay! Tender village is the hero's burial mound; to the other end of the world, where is my home?"
Listening to his last two sentences, which were incongruous nonsense, although fully aware that this kid was casually making fun of her, Song Yuzhi was still unable to refrain from smiling; she had to struggle not to laugh as she said, "Get lost! Go to Wang Shichong and ask him to offer shelter to you, the tramp!"
Kou Zhong stood up to his full height, stretched his limbs, and said, "Where is San Xiaojie's boudoir? If I have no place to stay, I will have to borrow San Xiaojie's fragrant room, ha! San Xiaojie's fragrant room must be particularly savory."
Just like that, and he walked toward the inner hall.
Song Yuzhi jumped out of her skin; angered and annoyed, she ran after him, stretching out her finger to seal the vital acupoint on his back.
This finger attack carried 'hatred' in it, naturally it was quite different from an ordinary move.
Who would have thought that Kou Zhong took the attack and collapsed.
Song Yuzhi had never imagined that Kou Zhong did not even dodge or run; quickly she dashed forward to hold him up.
Paralyzed, Kou Zhong seemed to be falling into her fragrant bosom, while producing a loud snoring noise.
It was only then did Song Yuzhi realize that she had fallen into a crafty scoundrel's trap.