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Xiaohu, the key to Xu Ziling's victory was his unpredictability. Jaya, Ysabel, HPC, Chua, you are welcome. Anurman, LOL. Why not Engelbert Humperdinck's Lonely Table Just For One? Akolaw, as long as it is entertaining … Sky, I was hoping you'd have some comment about Kou Zhong's broken heart. Lance …

Book 26 Chapter 2 - Inside Secret

Kou Zhong watched as Song Lu poured the wine into two cups, and said, "How did Lu Shu know that I am here?"

Song Lu raised his cup. After both men drained their cup in one gulp, he laughed and said, "Yulin is our Song Family territory; any wind blowing the grass moving, nothing can be concealed from us; not to mention that I am in town specifically to wait for your honored self. It's just that you encountered Yuzhi first!"

The strong liquor entered Kou Zhong's throat and drilled into his anxiety [lit. 'worry intestine']; his emotional stirring breaking out everywhere, he said with a wry smile, "Since Lu Shu has seen Yuzhi, naturally you knew why I came here to drink. Is this moment she is in town?"

Song Lu amiably reached out to pat Kou Zhong's wide shoulder; he spoke warmly, "Xiao Zhong, you must not blame her. It is because she has great difficulty that she had to harden her heart and refuse you. I started to learn about it only recently."

Kou Zhong sighed and said, "She told me that Song Fazhu [clan leader/master] engraved my name on the whetstone. Ay! Is that true?"

Song Lu nodded and said, "This is indeed true. I personally asked Da Xiong [eldest brother] but he only smiled without saying anything, hence I could not make head or tail about it. But the reason she rejected you has nothing to do with it."

Dejected, Kou Zhong asked, "So what is it?"

Song Lu poured another cup for him first, before speaking slowly, "She does not want our Song Family to be directly drawn into the struggle over the world because of you."

"What?" Kou Zhong blurted out.

With serious expression Song Lu said, "Within our Song Family, there are two views on the current world situation. One view believes that this is the best time to revive our Song Family. Those who hold this view can be called the pro-war faction, headed by Song Zhi. He advocated strongly that we use Lingnan as our base, and then expand to Chang Jiang, and establish an imperial court with the south as the main power. Worst case scenario, we can divide the colors of spring evenly with the northerners."

Kou Zhong nodded and said, "The other view is naturally the peace faction. As long as the Song Family is able to stabilize and defend Lingnan, due to the seas and oceans and high mountains providing natural barriers, it does not matter who obtained the world, they could only adopt 'cai ji mi' policy [lit. gathering/harvesting ji millet/rice gruel; policies of the local officials used by the Chinese dynasties to manage ethnic minorities]. The mountain is high, the Emperor is far away; it will be like the Song Family is relying mainly on scratching the surface of the earth, but there will be people who would want to settle the account with you. I wonder who's leading this faction?"

"Precisely Shidao and Yuzhi," Song Lu replied, "I personally think that both strategies are feasible. But Shidao and Yuzhi cannot bear to see the Li people, the only ethnic group who has been following us blindly, to wither and have their heads roll and their hot blood shed for the sake of our glory."

Kou Zhong understood. But new question arose, "How about Fazhu? Which faction is he, the Senior, leaning to?"

Song Lu replied, "He never expressed his position."

Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, "How could it be?"

Song Lu helplessly replied, "Da Xiong's conduct has always been difficult to fathom. On one hand, he let Song Zhi recruiting troops, carrying out all kinds of training and spending efforts on preparation to war. On the other hand, he indicated that the fortunate timing has not yet arrived, so he ordered Song Zhi to hold back his troops without moving. Now you ought to understand why Zhi Xiong is so enthusiastic toward you and Yuzhi's affair. And Yuzhi's feeling to you is obviously as deep as the ocean, yet she has to put an act as if she is heartless toward you, so this is a hopelessly muddled affair."

As if his entire being had just been freed from a malicious spell, Kou Zhong laughed aloud, raised his wine cup, and said, "Come! Let me toast Lu Shu a cup."

Song Lu cheerfully drank with him.

And then, Kou Zhong, whose vigor had just returned to his eyes, took the turn to refill the cup for Song Lu. Laughing aloud, he said, "I am so happy that I feel like singing for the wine. Turns out in her heart Zhizhi loves me. This matter is not difficult to solve. If I can really obtain the world, I will come to escort the bride to the wedding ceremony. In case misfortune befell me that I lost the war and died, naturally this matter became void. I practically do not need a single soldier a single troop from you; I just need your supplies to support me."

"This matter is important," Song Lu said, "It will need Da Xiong's nod to work. The problem is that he already engraved your name on the whetstone, which usually means you already become his target opponent. Letting you to see him could be good or bad, it's difficult to guess. Therefore, Yuzhi must stop you from seeing him. Zhi Xiong is also worried about this matter."

"Where is Zhizhi now?" Kou Zhong asked, "I want to see her first."

"She has already returned to the mountain city," Song Lu replied, "I just received news from the mountain city via pigeon post, hence the reason I knew you have met her."

Kou Zhong raised his cup and drained it so that not a single drop remained. His tiger-eyes flashing, he said, "We need to go to the mountain city immediately; I do not want to wait a single moment!"

The sailboat was continuously getting closer and closer. On the bow stood more than a dozen people, tall and short.

Xu Ziling's vision far surpassed Lin Lang's; he was able to see that two of those people were women. The older one was a granny whose hair had turned completely white, the younger one was a well-developed, charming woman, wearing multi-colored Miao attire. Because they were still about a li away, Xu Ziling could not see their face clearly.

Puzzled, he said, "Unexpectedly there is an old granny on board. I wonder who she is?"

Lin Lang's countenance changed, he said, "Gong Ye's eyesight is really outstanding. This old granny, does she have white hair, and is holding a whisk in her hand?"

Focusing his power into his eyes, Xu Ziling nodded and said, "Indeed she is holding something that looks like a whisk. Who is this Senior?"

Severely shaken, Lin Lang said, "Tong Tian Laolao [maternal grandmother] Xia Miaoying has never paid any attention to Jianghu's affairs. Although Hou Jitong is her son, he could never be able to move her."

Xu Ziling mused that the three-letter name Xia Miaoying sounded so familiar, and then she remembered Zhai Jiao mentioned her name once, saying that she had the divine ability to communicate with the spirits, that she could have a dialog with the dead in the netherworld. Zhai Jiao even said that she wanted to go to Sichuan to look for her, because she wanted to know Zhai Rang's condition after he died, to see if he has been reincarnated, and things like that.

It had never occurred to him that he would suddenly run into her here, and in such situation where it would be difficult for him to explain clearly.

He asked again, "There's also a Miao lady next to her; she looks quite pretty."

Sucking in a mouthful of cold air, Lin Lang said, "That must be Ba Meng's 'Mei Ji' [lit. beautiful woman/concubine/courtesan] Sina. She is Xia Miaoying's proud disciple, as well as the heir of He Yi Pai [lit. the united (or unity) sects]. I hear that in the near future Xia Miaoying is going to hand over the Paizhu [sect leader/master] position to her."

And then his face showed a pained expression as he said, "Both He Yi Pai and Ba Meng [Sichuan Alliance] are big gang, big sect that we, Wu Jiang Bang cannot afford to offend. This time, I am afraid even our Sha Laoda will not be able to cover it."

Xu Ziling was about to talk, Xia Miaoying already shouted, with voice full of qi, "Indeed it is you, Gong Chenchun. I thought you are already dead!"

Just by listening to her voice, which, after traveling that far, yet every word was still very clear, it was evident that her inner power has reached the 'stove fire has turned bright green' [(allusion to Daoist alchemy), idiom: brought to the point of perfection].

Xu Ziling felt his whole face was burning hot; especially under Lin Lang's stunned luminous gaze, he felt even more embarrassed.

He had put on the appearance of one who saw what was right and acted courageously [idiom from Analects]; who would have thought that this matter boomeranged and hit the 'Gong Chenchun'? Fortunately he had Gong Chenchun's skin covering up his embarrassment; otherwise he really wished he could find a hole in which to hide himself.

Without any choice he turned toward Lin Lang and said with a bitter smile, "Lin Xiangzhu, please bring the ship near the shore; let me settle this dispute with them [female form] on shore! You need not pay attention to me."

Astonished, Lin Lang said, "Gong Ye obviously did not know Xia Miaoying, how could she act as if she and Gong Ye are old acquaintances?"

Xu Ziling knew that Lin Lang started to suspect something. He spoke helplessly, "This matter is hard to explain in a few words. The situation is urgent, Lin Xiangzhu, please bring the ship close to the shore."

Lin Lang spoke in low voice, "How much confidence Gong Ye has that you will be able to deal with the opponent?"

Xu Ziling watched the closing-in 'enemies', which had been closing in to within fifty zhang away - with rapt attention. Shaking his head, he said, "This is hard to say; if they attack together, victory or defeat is difficult to tell, but to escape should not be a problem."

Shaken, Lin Lang said, "Tong Tian Laolao is the master of a sect, she will never join hands with others in group attack. Since Gong Ye has that kind of confidence, let's wait until they come over and see who would have the real skill. Please forgive us for not being able to interfere; Gong Ye please do not blame us."

Xu Ziling was grateful; he said, "Lin Xiangzhu is a true friend indeed. Regardless of the development, I, Gong Chenchun, will definitely not get your honorable Gang involved."

Right this moment, Lei Jiuzhi's voice suddenly rang behind the two men, "If Gong Xiong won't turn your back on me, Xiaodi wishes to advance or retreat together with Gong Xiong."

Stunned, Xu Ziling and Lin Lang looked at each other; they were completely at a loss as why Lei Jiuzhi would be stupid enough to wade in this muddy water.

The Song Family's mountain city was located on the confluence of Yu Shui and He Liu. Three sides facing the water, and magnificent mountain and towering peak behind them. The stone city was built of rock piles from the waist of the mountain, following the curvaceous topography of the mountain, graceful like a dragonfly. The main building complex dominated a wide expanse of open area along the mountain ridge. The terrain was steep, with a lofty quality of a grand mountain pass. It overlooked the neighboring mountain and fields, standing face-to-face with Yulin County in the distance, symbolizing the ruling power protecting the safety of the entire Lingnan region.

Several dozens of big warehouses, as well as hundreds of piers, big and small, were built along the Yu River. When Kou Zhong, riding on a boat with Song Lu, was crossing the river, the docks were full of boats, big and small, with more sailing in either direction along the river. This kind of prosperous, thriving atmosphere gave him a great sense of grandeur.

Kou Zhong sighed and said, "The mountain range lingers on, Yu River flows in circle, rugged, dangerous and difficult, even if I have several tens of thousand elite troops, I am afraid it will be difficult to find favorable position to be used for my advantage."

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