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Ysabel, Tail, Sky, Chua, HPC, Jaya, you are welcome. Xiaohu, I didn't know Akolaw's real name is Wang Tong? Same family name as yours? DongBin, but you did not know he was using wireless technology. Akolaw, thanks, I will include it in the unabridged. Xu Xiong, this is one of those times ... Paona, you are welcome, I wish him, the Senior, speedy full recovery.

Book 21 Chapter 12 - Flywheel Battleship

Xu Ziling returned to the Dew Bamboo Hall; Xing Rong came out to meet him and said, "Luo Tangzhu and Xiliang Ge are talking inside, you …"

Xu Ziling patted his shoulder and spoke in low voice, "I want to talk to Qifei first, I'll talk to them later."

Xing Rong promptly led the way.

Only after talking to Luo Qifei did Xu Ziling go to the inner hall to see Luo Feng and Gui Xiliang. Before he was even seated, Luo Feng cheerfully said, "Turns out it's you, Ziling. I am relieved now."

Xu Ziling was stunned, but he was embarrassed as well; he did not understand why Gui Xiliang trusted Luo Feng this much. Gui Xiliang explained, "Feng Shu [uncle] has always taking a good care of me and Xiao Rong; we can keep secret from anybody, but we can't keep secret from him."

Luo Feng asked, "What did Li Zitong say?"

Composing himself, Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Naturally he said pompous and moving words: both sides agree to form an alliance, together repelling big enemy. But we are prepared to work together with him, so we are together from the first beat."

Frowning, Luo Feng said, "Li Zitong is not someone who speak and keep his promise; Ziling, you have to be more careful."

Xing Rong said, "That is like scheming with the tiger to get the fur."

Xu Ziling did not dare to reveal too much; he spoke in low voice, "We are also prepared for this. Don't worry about it."

Frowning deeply, Luo Feng said, "Ziling, tell me, why did Kou Zhong brag that Xiliang can break Du and Shen's allied armies? Now Shao Lingzhou is making a big fuss about it. How could Xiliang step down?"

Xu Ziling was slightly relieved, knowing that Gui Xiliang did not reveal the overall scheme. Nodding his head, he said, "Hence the reason I came to find out the situation; perhaps I will need big help from Feng Shu."

Luo Feng stared blankly for half a day. Finally he sighed and said, "Now the dispute within our Gang has turned into a struggle whether we are going to rely help from Li Zitong or from Kou Zhong. This time Shao Lingzhou made big blunder."

Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, "Does he want to be the Bangzhu?"

With a cold snort Xing Rong replied, "There is no question about it. The problem is that Xiao Zhong and you have established quite a lofty prestige within our Gang, plus there is the Song Clan supporting you, hence he does not dare to act blindly without thinking, afraid that you and the Song Clan would strike back. But now, with Li Zitong, this big backing behind him, he started to show off his prestige."

Xu Ziling asked, "How about Shen Tangzhu? Which side does he stand for?"

Luo Feng revealed a strange expression; he said slowly, "Without him giving me a nod, how could I sit here listening to you, and worried about you?"

Hearing that, the three were stunned; they looked at each other.

Luo Feng sighed and said, "The fact is: this is the struggle between the young and vigorous group with new ideas versus the senior figure factions; originally the young faction was no match, but because of Kou Zhong and your, Ziling's support, the whole situation is reversed. Except for Shao Lingzhou's direct disciples, the rest of the younger generation are completely behind Xiliang and Xiao Rong, because you guys represent some kind of newly-developing, forging-ahead power, as well as the far-reaching objective. Old Shen and I have been able to see this, plus we are afraid that Zhuhua Bang would all split up and in pieces; thereupon we act separately, trying hard to quiet down this internal conflict. Ay! Who would have thought that Shao Lingzhou would throw his lot onto Li Zitong, making things worsening to the point of hard to redeem? What are we going to do next? I am afraid nobody know the answer."

After a short pause, he went on, "Shao Lingzhou's biggest mistake was promoting the arrogant, egotistical Mai Yunfei as a Tangzhu, making Old Shen and me feel that not only he practices nepotism, but also shortsighted, and did not understand the heart of the people."

Spreading out his hands, he said, "Do you understand now?"

Gui Xiliang's breathing turned heavy; he said, "So that's how it is."

Xu Ziling nodded, "Things have indeed deteriorated until it is hard to redeem," he said, "Presently Shao Lingzhou is completely standing on Li Zitong's side, all we can do is just continue to deal with each other until the other side collapse."

Luo Feng said, "I should not linger here too long. If there is any new development, you must notify me immediately."

After Luo Feng left, the three 'you look at me, I gaze at you'; nobody knew for which problem they ought to sigh with sorrow.

Finally Xing Rong rose up to his full height and said, "The more I think about it, the more I feel upset. How about reliving our childhood dream and go outside to stroll the night arm-in-arm, and won't go home until we are drunk?"

※ ※ ※

Nightfall, the decorated lanterns were starting to lit up, the Great South Gate Street was bright and colorful with the lanterns reflecting each other. The day market was closed, the night market was starting, giving the impression that the market opened 24 hours continuously. Moreover, the famous Satin Silk Street and the other lanes and alleys crisscrossing the street, restaurants and pleasure quarters densely populated the area. It was indeed worthy to be called world-famous fireworks scenic spot [i.e. prostitution]; the unbroken string of war did not seem to have the least bit of influence.

Along the well-lit long street, people were flowing like a tide, rubbing shoulders and following in each other's footsteps, the shops displayed their specialties, curios and other commodities, the list was exhaustive, so that there was no way the people could take it all.

The three felt as if they were back as little hooligans roaming the streets of Yangzhou; you pushed me, I shoved at you, they were striving to be the first and fearing to be last along the stream of people, going all over the place.

Greatly astonished, Xu Ziling said, "It seems to be more prosperous than before!"

Xing Rong laughed and said, "The muddleheaded ruler died, naturally this place is thriving."

Gui Xiliang squeezed himself between the two, wrapped his arms around their shoulders, and spoke in great delight, "This is called while we have time. Each time Jianghuai troops or Jiangnan troops retreated, traveling merchants from all parts of the country are flocking to Jiangdu like a tidal wave, to do their business. Every day there are hundreds of ships coming from all over the place, otherwise, it won't be this lively."

Along the street, not only shops stood in great numbers, there were also tightly packed vendor's stalls, buying and selling all kinds of merchandise; everything that should be there was there, from daily necessities, ornamentation, down to fortune tellers, divinatory diagram, writing brush and ink stone, calligraphy and painting, as well as hawkers buying and selling second-hand articles. Some were using peddler's carts, some others were using shoulder poles, some were even using trays that they carried on their head. Everybody was giving it their all, loudly shouting their wares, trying to attract the customers. They all offered refreshments, toys, papercutting [a form of Chinese folk art], multi-colored string flower; in short, all kinds of snacks and knick-knacks.

This kind of bustling atmosphere was buzzing to the ears and dazzling to the eyes.

The market where Sister-in-law Zhen used to sell steamed buns was another scene altogether. To the east were vendor stalls, while to the west people were setting up arenas for storytelling, people dressing up as god, playing the devil [fig. to mystify, scam], puppet show, even martial art demonstration, attracting thousands of strolling, roaming audience. The atmosphere was blazing, brimming with fantasy [orig. as if drunk or entranced], a happy feeling of enjoying-the-present-in-the-midst-of-war.

The three men jesting and joking with each other; while talking and laughing, they reached the Willow Alley, which liveliness was not inferior to the Great South Gate Street.

Although it was called an 'alley', the width was only somewhat narrower than the Great South Gate Street. It was also filled with endless stream of horse and carriages, and unending stream of fragrant-seeking guests like a swarm of bees.

The Willow Alley's biggest distinguishing feature was the string of red cotton yarn lanterns spread out along both sides of the alley; the natural sign in front of the pleasure house's front door, luring all kinds of men to enter through the door, from which the sound of music and song from the string and bamboo musical instruments leaked out and resonated in the night sky, mixed with the boisterous clamor of people talking and laughing, filling the long street.

Even more, there were the female brothel keepers, twittering away with charming eyes and cheerful talk in front of the door to solicit customers, in this intensely competitive, yet thriving and prosperous business, adding unbounded colors of spring to this red-light district.

Although Xu Ziling did not like to visit a brothel, but because he was revisiting old haunts, he was greatly excited as well.

While pointing this way and that, without realizing it they had reached the front door of the House of Heavenly Fragrance. As the doorkeepers saw the three, they respectfully said, "Gui Daye and Xing Daye, please!"

"Wait!" Xu Ziling shouted loudly, and pulled the two men two steps back. Smiling wryly, he said, "We can have a drink anywhere, there is no need to go inside!"

Xing Rong and Gui Xiliang were very happy to play with him; sandwiching him from left and right, they pulled him along straight into the courtyard.

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