The beauty's long eyelashes followed her eyes, staring and flickering as she scrutinized him for a moment; suddenly she revealed a smile, seemingly very pleased with herself, her manner was lovely and moving. "Turns out you are a good man," she said, "Fortunately you did not force nujia to kill myself, otherwise Die and Gandie [adoptive father (traditional adoption, i.e. without legal ramifications)] will never let you off. Although your martial art is not bad, you will surely die."
Xu Ziling did not know whether he should be happy or amused. Feeling a big headache, he said, "Does Miss have any thought on my proposal?"
The beauty's eyebrows were knitted deep; as if nothing had happened, she put the dagger back into its sheath, which was tied on the side of her thigh. Sitting cross-legged, she asked in amazement, "Am I not beautiful? Why do you seem to urgently want to drive me away? What's your name? Han people seldom look like you, tall and handsome."
Xu Ziling knew she had recovered, and cried 'Not good!' inwardly, and was afraid even more that someone might come down, and then he would be the turtle in a jar that they could catch quite easily. He wanted to make his move, but did not have ample confidence that he would be able to subdue her. Besides, she reminded him of the beautiful Tujue maiden Chunyu Wei. His heart softened, he said, "I am called Xu Ziling. Miss, what's your relationship with An Long?"
The beauty rolled her eyes; giggling blissfully, she spoke with naiveté, "Turns out you are one of the people I'd like to see the most in the Central Plains; how about your good friend Kou Zhong? Where is he?"
Her demeanor has awakened the memory of his first encounter with Dong Shuni, but this woman greatly differed from both Chunyu Wei and Dong Shuni, it's just that momentarily he could not tell what the difference was. Apparently, the moment she rolled her eyes, he caught a glimpse of her innocent and unaffected, unrestrained and carefree heart and mind behind her external beauty. Take her last few sentences for instance, not only she skirted his question, she inquired Kou Zhong's whereabouts instead.
Xu Ziling grew up on the streets, since childhood he had mingled with seventy-two heretical schools of opinion outside the orthodox way; he had come into contact with thieves and swindlers. For the last several years, he even dealt with countless old foxes and extremely sly people. This moment his heart was already set, he would not easily reveal the cards in his hands. Playing it down, he said, "Naturally he is outside providing support for me. Miss has not answered my question."
'Creak!' the chest lid at the entrance of the cellar opened, a high-pitched voice called out, "Rou Gongzhu [princess], is it convenient to come down? Mei Gongzhu is here!"
The beauty's stare meeting Xu Ziling's gaze became deeply bright and sharp; without blinking she responded, "Mei Jie, please wait for me upstairs, I am coming up immediately!"
'Bang!' the lid of the chest was dropped down.
By now Xu Ziling was seventy-, eighty-percent sure that this young woman called Princess Rou was the kind of person who would do anything, by hook or by crook, to accomplish her goals. The key was in the four words, 'I am coming up immediately' [li ji bian lai].
If she had the intention to make up with him, she would have said a few words to stall for time, and then saved Cao Yinglong by waking him up. But she was so eager to seize the opportunity to leave from the only exit, even without any explanation, Xu Ziling knew that she was harboring unfathomable motives. He would be trapped inside this danger spot; unless someone came to rescue him, he could forget about escaping with his life intact.
However, whatever thought flitted across his mind, it did not show on the outside at all.
His pair of tiger-eyes instantly radiated sharp light all around, as he spoke heavily, "I don't know what Miss is thinking, but Ol' Xu already made up my mind; if Zaixia cannot take the awake Cao Yinglong out of this place, I will not let Miss leave safely."
Princess Rou revealed an astonished look; she asked quizzically, "What are you doing? Why suddenly became so harsh? I though we are talking amiably with each other?"
Intentionally or otherwise, her demeanor, the tone of her voice, revealed tenderness and naiveté that made other people's heart beating faster and their spirit galloping away, that made other people really want to believe her.
But Xu Ziling remained unmoved; not the slightest bit. He spoke coldly, "Miss, please tell me how to wake Cao Yinglong up."
Princess Rou's eyes flashed with murderous intent, but the tone of her voice was exceptionally calm; she said, "Do you really have the confidence that you can make me stay here? I only have to make some noise, the people outside will come down immediately. When that happens, Cao Yinglong will become your biggest burden. You just missed the golden opportunity, and now you can only follow my arrangement. Ay! How can I make Xu Xiong believe that I have no enmity toward you? You are wasting your time on this issue, people upstairs will be suspicious."
She was speaking using both gentle methods and force, it was hard to distinguish between what's true and what's false; it was indeed not easy to parry.
Xu Ziling calmly laughed; as if he was scrutinizing every cun of her fair, young skin, which was different from Central Plains' women, he spoke indifferently, "I am not afraid you are calling people down at all; since our side has the capability to intercept An Long, we also have the capability to storm in when the situation warrants it. Miss must not forget, a trapped beast will fight the hardest; Ol' Xu might do everything in my power to prevent Miss from leaving this place alive. The one wasting your time is Miss."
Princess Ruo gave him a hard stare; suddenly she stood up.
It appeared that Xu Ziling already knew that she was going to stand up; his tiger-body straightened up, he stood right in front of her, the distance between them was no more than three chi, and Princess Rou's back was against the stone wall, so that if they fought, Xu Ziling was already occupying the favorable position, he could force the opponent into a desperate fight as the only way to escape.
Princess Rou stomped her feet and angrily said, "I was going to wake Cao Yinglong! Are you or are you not going to make way for me? I have already answered your question, even if you want to give Cao Yinglong to me, I am not interested. Our Western Tujue people have no interest in becoming your and Kou Zhong's mortal enemy even more. Let An Long takes care of An Long's problem, we take care of our own problem; don't you understand?"
Inwardly Xu Ziling was shaken. He finally remembered which side's figure Princess Rou was. That day he listened to Ba Fenghan's account on Tujue people, Tujue was a political power composed of nomadic peoples, with the strongest among them became the king. Because economically they were scattered over many regions, plus they kept moving around and did not stay in one particular area, power struggle among them never stopped. During the Sui dynasty era, they were divided into two major khanates, east and west.
East Tujue's current Khan was Xieli, with his trusted junshi [military counselor] a Han man by the name of Zhao Deyan [see Book 12 Chapter 4]. The 'Cyclone' Tuli Khan was his nephew. One of the world's three major martial art masters, the 'Wuzun' Bi Xuan belonged to the East Tujue people.
The Sui dynasty declined, militias sprang up everywhere, among them were Liang Shidu, Liu Wuzhou, and so on who 'go up north to align with the Tujue', the Tujue in question was precisely the Eastern Tujue.
Comparatively speaking, the West Tujue was more low-key. This might be due to their geographical proximity. But now their 'devil palm' has finally reached the Central Plains.
The Western Tujue Khan was called Tong Xie Hu [lit. unifying, harmonizing protector]. Under assistance of a Persian called 'Yun Shuai' [lit. cloud commander], their prestige was pressing straight toward the Eastern Tujue. Yun Shuai's daughter was called Lian Rou [lit. lotus soft/supple], regarded as his own daughter by Tong Xie Hu, and he extremely doted on her. She ought to be the woman in front of Xu Ziling now.
Recalling that she was a beauty from the distant country, Xu Ziling could not stop strange feeling from appearing in his heart; no wonder her martial art was so unfathomably strange.
Noticing him staring blankly at her, even Princess Rou herself did not understand why her pretty face was burning hot; sticking out her silky breasts out, she said, "Are you going to let me pass or not?"
Xu Ziling's mind was racing at the speed of light; he asked himself, if she did not personally help him, would he have the confidence that he could wake Cao Yinglong up? This time, he would not even lay a bet. Fiercely clenching his teeth, he swiftly backed off toward the stone stairs, taking a 'please save him' attitude.
Lian Rou revealed a charming smile of victory. Nobody saw how she moved, but she was suddenly standing by Cao Yinglong, who was crouching on the ground, and starting to kick randomly, but the targets were various fatal acupoints on Cao Yinglong's head like baihui, fengfu, guanhui, shenting, and so on. Watching this, Xu Ziling's 'heart was alarmed, his body leaping', which made him did not understand even more, why would he care about a big thief head whose entire body was covered in crime?
Cao Yinglong moaned and regained his consciousness.
Fuming with rage, Lian Rou cast Xu Ziling a sidelong glance; her expression clearly showed that she was still angry and resented that she was wronged by him. And then she stepped aside and said, "I have saved him! You are not going to let me out?"
Xu Ziling was a bit embarrassed as well. Abruptly raising a mouthful of true qi, he readied himself to rescue Cao Yinglong out of there. Right this moment, he heard a barely perceptible abnormal noise from the direction of the chest lid, which was the sound of the true qi flowing in the meridians when someone was amassing his power. Were it not for his own qi was coursing through his own body, plus the empty cellar was acting as an audio amplifier, he would not be able to hear it.
In that instant Xu Ziling suddenly understood everything; he knew that the three people outside already knew what was going on inside the cellar, so he could not help scolding himself for being too careless. A while ago he was able to hear the sound of Cao Yinglong's breathing from above; obviously there was a ventilation hole from the cellar to the rear hall of Qingyang Si, therefore, the fighting noise and the speaking voices from downstairs had already alerted the people upstairs.
Looking at Lian Rou's pure expression, graceful, clean and honest outward appearance, Xu Ziling was bitterly disappointed.
Cao Yinglong let out another groan.
Pretending that nothing had happened, Xu Ziling said, "I am Xu Ziling. Cao Xiong, can you hear me?"
Just to slightly nod his head, Cao Yinglong seemed to be struggling. Sitting up, he looked around with blank expression on his face. His gaze swept past the Persian beauty Lian Rou, completely ignoring her, but as it reached Xu Ziling, his eyes began to focus. His face showed a pleasantly surprised expression, he seemed to remember his own situation.
Lian Rou suddenly turned her tender body around to face the wall, appearing to show off her innocence and her unwillingness to intervene in Xu Ziling's effort to rescue Cao Yinglong.
Were it not for the fact that Xu Ziling already knew something was amiss, he might really fall into the trap and believe her. But now, since she was trying to hide it, she made it more conspicuous instead, hence Xu Ziling was already in a full-alert mode.
What other trick might she have in her sleeves?