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Xiaohu, Akolaw, and all of you, readers out there … let it be noted that missing parts (if any) are beyond my control, not because I am being lazy or sloppy , since I have no way of checking my online sources against the original, be it the newspaper where the story was originally published, or the actual books published afterwards. Unless one of you volunteer to help me in this regards. Jaya, Spy, you are welcome.

Xu Ziling burst out laughing and said, "Your words sound so dignified, yet beneath the surface you are only afraid I might lose the opportunity to cultivate friendly relationship with Shi Feixuan. I guarantee that if Hou Xibai wanted to unleash his masculine charm on Shi feixuan, he will definitely bump his nose and retreat in discouragement without any meritorious deed. We'd better think about our own problem first!"

Kou Zhong grudgingly said, "What's not good about Shi Feixuan? You, this kid, seem not to care at all."

Xu Ziling cut him off, "While rushing here, I have had a chance to think about this matter all the way through, my conclusion is vastly different to your previous statement; would Shao Shuai care to listen?"

Remaining tranquil and calm, Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Ling Shao has something to say, this Commander naturally has to wash his ears and listen respectfully."

Contemplating, Xu Ziling said, "I think Xiao Xian is using the 'painting by holding two brushes' evil scheme; while sending people to get rid of me in Jiangdu, he is also attempting to lure you toward the Flying Horse Ranch, planning on setting up an ambush to kill you. Yun Yuzhen knows our character like the back of her hand, she clearly knew that we would definitely respond to the Flying Horse Ranch's call for help."

Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong said, "I have also thought about that; therefore, I used fast to control the slow, with the hope that the enemy would not be able to estimate our speed, while we secretly march the army a thousand li, before Xiao Xian cross the river from Yiling, strike and defeat the Three Big Bandits and Zhu Can in one move, and then you and I quietly go to Guanzhong to try our luck."

"Is it possible to do it the other way around?" Xu Ziling said, "We strike and defeat Xiao Xian's main army crossing the River, and then turn our operation toward Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong."

Kou Zhong stared blankly for a moment, and then broke into a big grin and said, "Man, oh man, why didn't I think about that before? All right! While even in his dream Xiao Xian would never think that we dare to make our move against him first, we take him down to play the music. Just consider it repayment for Su Jie's blood debt."

At the mention of Susu's name, the eyes of the two boys were blazing with fire of hatred.

The light in the distance suddenly flickered.

"Lead the horse!" Kou Zhong barked, "It's time to leave!"

Early morning the next day, Shaoshuai Army was passing through the plains north of Qingliu City without any trouble, and reached the north bank of River Chu, and take a rest in the forest by the river.

Too bad the weather did not cooperate; heavy rain poured down suddenly. Other than those in guard duty, the rest had no choice but to hide inside their tents. Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong went to a pile of rocks by the river, letting the heavy rain soak their bodies.

Kou Zhong plopped his butts on one of the big rock and said with a laugh, "It's really fun! Only in the rain will human beings feel a little bit of relationship with Laotianye, and only when our clothes are completely soaked like this will we feel closely related to Him."

Xu Ziling remained standing with his hands behind his back, looking at the long river, where three fishing boats were braving the wind and the rain, sailing toward the west. He spoke indifferently, "The moment we felt really close relationship was the days after Niang had just died, when we trained the 'Secret to Long Life' in that small valley. At that time I really felt that my entire being seemed to be one entity with the heaven and the earth; no separation, no self."

Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day; finally he nodded and said, "Those were indeed unforgettable times. We really must find time to go back there to see; but Niang once said that we must not observe religious rites for her."

Xu Ziling sighed and said, "Your current situation is just like you are racing against time. Li Mi has collapsed; no one can stop Li Shimin out of the mountain pass. Therefore, you, Shao Shuai, must establish enough strength to contend against him before the Li Family sweeps the world; otherwise, regret will come too late. How could you find enough time to sneak away?"

Kou Zhong pondered for a moment, and then spoke heavily, "Although it would be difficult for Wang Shichong to reach competence, but there's still Dou Jiande, Liu Heita in the northeast, Liu Wuzhou, Song Jingang in the north, Xue Ju, father and son, in the west, who have not collapsed yet. The Li Family has their internal worries, if Li kid wants to be well-regarded, I am afraid he will still have to wait for a period of time."

Xu Ziling felt the rain hitting his face was cold; he spoke softly, "Supposing Wang Shichong really forced Li Mi that he has nowhere to go except for surrendering to Li Shimin, then what happen?"

Kou Zhong smiled and said, "Do you think that would be a good thing or a bad thing for Li kid?"

Xu Ziling looked down and fixed his gaze on Kou Zhong for quite half a day, and then he spoke heavily, "If it were somebody else, it would be like showing the wolf into the house. But the Li Clan has a very deep foundation, and Li Shimin is a natural talent with all around expertise in martial art study and military strategy and tactics, so formidable that even Li Jing and the others pledge their allegiance to him, Shi Feixuan also thinks very highly of him, so he could put an air of the 'Son of Heaven' ordained by the Heaven itself. Li Mi naturally is unwilling to resign himself under someone else, but would others think differently than Li Mi?"

Emotionally moved, Kou Zhong said, "You are right; even I, at one time, wanted to run errands for him, and that time he has not become like this yet. If Li kid, for no reason, is able to make a group of strategic experts and powerful generals like Wei Hui, Xu Shiji, Shen Luoyan, and their peers vowed loyalty and devotion wholeheartedly to him, to surpass him would be difficult above difficult. Ay! Tell me, what should I do?"

Xu Ziling remained silent.

Kou Zhong rose up to his full height, came over to Xu Ziling, reached out to grasp his broad shoulders firmly, hung his head, and said, "Say it! One lifetime two brothers; why do you keep it stuffed inside your heart?"

Xu Ziling replied slowly, "Could it be that Su Jie's death still cannot make your heart dead to war and vendetta killing?"

Kou Zhong contemplated for a moment, and then spoke in low voice, "Are you willing to let Xiang Yushan and Yuwen Huaji off?"

Xu Ziling said, "Naturally we can't let Yuwen Huaji get away. But Xiang Yushan is, after all, little Lingzhong's birth father, and now he has already suffer the retribution, plus Xiao Xian is really not Li kid's match; how about if we let them off?"

Kou Zhong continued, "Yin Gui Pai murdered Bao Zhifu, Shi Jie, Ma Gui, three men; how are we going to settle this debt?"

Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, "This matter and what I am advising you to do are two unrelated matters, how could you confuse one thing with another? This world is chaotic enough, and now you add more confusion by creating the Shaoshuai Army. Ay!"

Kou Zhong accompanied him in smiling ruefully; he said, "Are you telling me to tell my men that I don't want to do it anymore?"

"Of course you cannot be that irresponsible," Xu Ziling said, "But your problem right now is just a matter of face; if you are willing to turn around and throw your support to Li kid, I guarantee he would be able to unify the world in a short period of time, and then the common people will be able to enjoy a bit more peace and happiness."

Kou Zhong said with a wry smile, "Are you telling me to work together under one master with Li Jing, who are responsible, at least half, for Su Jie's death?"

Xu Ziling sighed and said, "I did not advise you to become Li Shimin's subordinate, you only need to hand over the power in your hands as a present to Li kid, and then you and I can go to take Yuwen Huaji's head, and return to the small valley to offer sacrifice to Niang. Afterwards the heaven and the earth can be ours to roam freely, we can strike Yin Gui Pai in delight until they are in a sorry state, to rid the earth of calamity. And when Little Lingzhong is a bit older, we can take him out of the Pass to look for Ol' Ba; won't we be carefree?"

Kou Zhong took his hands away from Xu Ziling's shoulders; stepping toward the shore, he looked at the rain splattering on the river, creating small splashed on the surface of the water. He spoke heavily, "You have not talked with me about this matter for a very long time; why pouring out what's on your mind today?"

Xu Ziling walked over to his side, and put his hands on Kou Zhong's shoulders. With grief in his voice, he said, "Su Jie is gone, I don't want to lose you, this good brother of mine."

Severely shaken, Kou Zhong said, "You really believe that I am going to lose?"

Xu Ziling replied dejectedly, "Our problem is that we are too exposed; even more, we are involved in the 'Duke Yang Treasure' secret. Before, we can play hide-and-seek game with the enemy, but now the target is too obvious; we have become the target of multitude arrows. It does not matter if Xiao Xian succeeded in crossing the river, or who win who lose between Ol' Die and Li Zitong, or perhaps whether Li kid's army is moving out of Guanzhong, or Dou Jiande, Liu Wuzhou deployed their armies to the south, the first thing they all want to do is to pull you, this Shao Shuai, down."

Kou Zhong could feel the heartfelt concern Xu Ziling had for him; nodding, he said, "It's not that I have not thought about that problem, otherwise I would not be afraid to proclaim myself king or take the title Shuai [Commander], but to modestly and honestly calling myself his mother's Shao Shuai [reminder: junior commander] instead; it sounds awe-inspiring, while the fact is it is worthless. Of course, the most ideal is that after digging the Duke Yang's treasure, I will see whether I want to be a rich merchant supplying world-class jewels and arms, or to be the emperor? But you also ought to know how this Shao Shuai came to be. It could be said that the situation is forced, but can also be described as 'if you ride a tiger, it's hard to get off'. Xiao Ling! Man only lives for several decades, it will be over in a snap of the fingers. You mind what you love to do, no need to care about my life or death. Right now in my situation I have no way to retreat. Ha! A real man is to be buried in a horse's hide [idiom: to give one's life on the battlefield], it is also a joy! Someday I will die in battle, you don't need to avenge me. Su Jie's death has made me unable to enjoy the pleasures of life. Do you understand my mind?"

Xu Ziling grabbed Kou Zhong's shoulders forcefully, and said with a wry smile, "Of course I do. What you are doing is called 'beat the snake following the stick' [see Book 3 Chapter 3], using retreat to advance. Ay! As your brother, I have already exhausted all mental and physical efforts. Originally I was thinking that only after the Duke Yang Treasure's whereabouts is decided, I will really consider whether I ought to go out and contend for supremacy over the world. Who would have thought that the ghosts open the way the gods pushing forward, you have become his mother's Shao Shuai? Things happened too fast! It was not until Su Jie died that I was awakened from the dream, and thinking about these things. Your current glory is just short-lived [orig. the night blooming cactus shows only once], it is difficult to maintain for a long time. In less than a year your Shaoshuai Army is expanding and consolidating, yet it is still difficult to become a fierce army division. In short, your current situation still needs the arrival of luck; otherwise, don't even think that you will surpass Li kid. The question is: do you have time to wait?"

Kou Zhong said, "I am afraid Lu Miaozi had the same way of thinking as you, otherwise he would have told me directly where the Duke Yang Treasure is. I have a feeling that you are also certain that I will not be able to find the Duke Yang Treasure, hence the reason you are willing to accompany me playing this treasure hunt game. How about this: give me three months. If the treasure has not appeared yet, I will do as you said: I will hand over the troops and generals under my command to pass on as a present to your sweetheart, let her decide to whom she should give it to. But if Laotianye shows me favor and let me find the treasure for real, I will have to fight him, no matter what; I won't regret it even if I died. But I have one condition."

Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, "What condition?"

Kou Zhong smiled and said, "Even though Ling Shao will help me in the treasure hunt with your heart and soul, you must not deceive me."

"Am I that kind of person?" Xu Ziling spoke in heavy voice.

The sound of footsteps approaching, braving the rain, Xuan Yong rushed over and spoke in low voice, "We caught a spy!"

The two boys were stunned.

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