Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan

Chapter 10 – Classified Account Book

Book 2 Chapter 10 – Classified Account Book

Kou Zhong jumped down from a giant rock about three zhang high. ‘Whump!’ he landed hard on the beach; dizzy, and could not tell one object from another.

On the side, Xu Ziling squatted and looked down; with a bitter laugh he said, “Our Beautiful Shifu was right. Her ‘Bird Crossing Technique’ is basically unleashing the way of circulating qi and taking a breath; with our so-called peerless divine skill it is a totally different thing, as if the two will never be mixed together. Looks like our qinggong is just a sweet dream, from now on we can just knock it off and lay it down to rest.”

Kou Zhong turned over to look up to him and said, “Can you not concede that quickly? Remember our great theory! We can unleash the true qi within our body, and the only way to unite the inner and outer into one entity is by forgetting ourselves.”

Distressed, Xu Ziling said, “The problem is that were just common folks, we can’t to reach the state where we are able to jump high or leap low every time. Hey! I have a very stupid idea.”

Kou Zhong suddenly sat up and said, “Since you can think of an idea for such a difficult problem like this, it must not be a stupid idea.”

“Do you remember that strange encounter when we jumped from Dong Ming Pai ship into the sea?” Xu Ziling asked.

“I can’t forget it even in my dreams!” Kou Zhong replied, “We were nearly drowned to death.”

With a serious face Xu Ziling said, “But not only we did not die, we also acquired the ability to breathe under water. It is clear that when we are in some kind of desperate situation, we can naturally, like Niang said, bring out the innate quality that is buried deep within us. This hidden treasure has been opened by the fantastic skill of the ‘Secret to Long Life’, but only in life and death crisis this hidden treasure can be forced to come out.”

Kou Zhong looked up to the boulder from which he had just jumped down; his countenance changed as he said, “You are not suggesting that we jump down together from a hundred zhang cliff, are you?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Xu Ziling said, “What are we afraid of? If underneath is the ocean, we won’t fall to our death.”

Kou Zhong shook his head, “No, can’t do,” he said, “Only if there is a risk of our body torn and our bones crushed will our true qi be forced to come out.”

This time Xu Ziling’s countenance changed. “Are you serious?” he asked.

With solemn expression Kou Zhong said, “A hundred zhang cliff is just an exaggeration. I am afraid even our Beautiful Shifu will fall until her jade body perishes and her fragrance vanishes; ten or so zhang should be enough. Ay! Xiao Ling! Let Laoge [old brother, referring to self] try it first! If I really fall to my death, just cremate me, and then bring my ashes back to that small valley where Niang is buried. If your heart to become Wulin’s martial art expert is dead, you can be a good chef quietly; and if you have a son in the future, just change his name to Xu Zhong, to commemorate your great brother!”

Xu Ziling’s voice cracked, “Tell me you are joking!”

Kou Zhong shook his head, “After seeing Yuwen Huagu, Du Fuwei, that kind of people, you will no longer be willing to live a dull life. After coming across beautiful women like Niang or our Beautiful Shifu, it will be very difficult to take an ordinary woman as my wife. I really want to fight this challenge; if I win, it’s very possible that I will master an exceptional qinggong, but if I lose, I will go down the Yellow Springs[1] to find Niang and show a bit of filial piety. Do you understand? My good brother.”

Xu Ziling sat down dejectedly; but suddenly he burst in laughter, “You are always greatly persuasive; if you want to die, let’s die together.”

The two boys stood at the edge of a high cliff. Looking down at the underbrush and scattered rocks dozen or so zhang below, they hesitated.

“Seems to be a bit high,” Kou Zhong said in a low voice, “We are really stupid; we forgot to ask Beautiful Shifu how many zhang a beginner martial art master can jump.”

Xu Ziling looked up toward the magnificent starry sky. “Shall we go back to sleep?” he asked with a wry smile.

Kou Zhong took a deep breath, closed his eyes and said, “We’ll count to three, and then we jump together. Just remember to … ay, don’t try to think about anything, let the nature take its course.”

“One!” Xu Ziling shouted.

“Two!” Kou Zhong caught on.

And then the two of them screamed together, “Three!”

Four legs kicked the ground, like a bullet the two boys left the edge of the cliff to enter the empty air outside the cliff.

In that split second, all kinds of profound, unforgettable memories, such as: they were playing and swimming in the stream and met Fu Junchuo, her death, they were being carried by Du Fuwei as he rushed across the open field, strolling along the street with Susu, being treated in a cold manner by Qingqing at the brothel, the stunning beauty of Yun Yuzhen when they first met her; were flitting through their mind like flashes of lightning, or like the flying sparks of a flint, followed by a blank. And then they started to sense that they were falling, fast.

In the instant they were hovering between life and death, suddenly they were completely without any access to external qi, however, their internal breathing was like a torch. ‘Bang!’ It lit up with an explosion.

Just like a dream.

All of a sudden, they understood the secret to speed up the movement of true qi within their body. They must first sever the outer physical breathing before unleashing the true qi inside the body. This is precisely what the Taoist School said about innate breathing.

The two boys’ body was like ant marching, the true qi went back and forth endlessly. Xu Ziling’s started from Yong Quan going up, Kou Zhong’s from Tian Ling passing down.

At the same time they remembered Beautiful Shifu’s Bird Crossing Technique, quickly they raised a mouthful of true qi, their palms pushed down, and applied the ‘adverse power’. Immediately there was an opposing force in vertical direction; unexpectedly their descending speed experienced substantially reduction, and there was still enough force left over to push them back about half a chi up. Turning a somersault in the air, ‘wham’ they landed on a pile of thick underbrush so hard that all they saw in their eyes were stars.

Kou Zhong was the first to crawl up. “Niang!” he shouted loudly, “We succeed!”

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling finally made an incomparable step in their martial art journey, a crucial breakthrough. Although there was still a considerable distance from the level of true martial art experts, but it was an important step in the right direction.

One day Xu Ziling suddenly had a weird idea; he pulled Kou Zhong along to train martial art at the bottom of the sea. Trouble is, they could not get a stable footing. Thereupon they each tied a big rock on their leg, and this seemed to improve their situation.

Gradually they discovered that they could channel their qi and focused it in their legs, so much so that they were able to withstand the attack of the undercurrent, hence they did not need to rely on the rocks anymore.

With this discovery, they began to experiment rising up and sinking down in the water, which made their training more delightful.

Back to the dry ground, after the underwater experience, they were able to train the Bird Crossing Technique until the ‘what the heart wishes, the hand accomplishes’ level. They could easily leap over ordinary a zhang, or perhaps two zhang tall trees, and on the way down, they could even show off a variety of poses and fancy postures.

When they sparred against each other with weapons, they followed the same steps to gradually able to channel their qi onto the weapons.

Tonight was the big night, the appointed day for them to meet Yun Yuzhen. The two boys dressed neatly and waited at the beach.

After sitting down, Kou Zhong thought for a moment and said, “We must guard against the people’s heart. I forgot who said that; was it Niang, or Du Fuwei?”

“I think it was Niang,” Xu Ziling replied, “You don’t seem to trust our Beautiful Shifu.”

Kou Zhong said, “Wulin’s martial art masters are always enigmatic, we can’t let people see through how much weight we carry [i.e. importance]; therefore, it would be best if we hide our true power, don’t let Beautiful Shifu find out we have mastered her Bird Crossing Technique. Supposing she really wants to harm us, we still have a bit of asset to flee.”

Xu Ziling nodded his agreement; he turned his eyes toward the ocean and said, “Look! Look!”

A dot of light appeared on the surface of the ocean; the dot rapidly growing bigger. A fast boat passed to the left and swerved to the right among the reefs and came to the shallow water.

The two boys focused their eyes. Very soon they could see the boat clearly. Four men were rowing the boat, on the bow stood a young woman wearing white warrior outfit, but she was not Yun Yuzhen.

The girl soared to the air; in just two leaps she already arrived in front the two boys, and spoke respectfully, “Xiao Bi [little maid servant] Yun Zhi, on Bangzhu Miss Yun Yuzhen’s order to invite two Gongzi to get on the boat.”

They did not anticipate this move from Yun Yuzhen. After exchanging glances, they followed Yun Zhi to board the small boat.

Aboard the three-mast ship, Yun Zhi led the two boys into the main cabin to see Yun Yuzhen, who was sitting in a plush chair. The two boys sat up straight in the chairs to her left and right, and Yun Zhi withdrew, leaving only the three people in the cabin.

Yun Yuzhen smiled, “How’s your training?” she asked.

Assuming an ashamed look, Kou Zhong shook his head. Catching on, Xu Ziling flawlessly sighed and said, “As soon as we started, the qi and blood in our body surged; how could we dare to continue?”

Yun Yuzhen found it hard to conceal her disappointment; bowing her head, she was lost in thought for a long time before finally managed to say, “Since you can’t train it, we have to make another plan.”

The two boys immediately understood, although Yun Yuzhen said all those good things, the fact was that teaching them qinggong was part of her plan so that they could use it to accomplish their mission. They could not help rejoicing inwardly for not telling her the truth.

Yun Yuzhen sighed again before asking, “Do you know why Dong Ming Pai let them come aboard their ship that day?”

[1] Yellow Springs, underworld in Chinese mythology, equivalent to Hades in Greek mythology.

Chapter 10, Part 2

Anh, DongBin, HPC, Jaya, Weed, you are welcome.

Kou Zhong replied, “Every year they come to the Central Earth to select some young men with natural endowments to be brought back with them; needless to say, those men are to be the women’s husbands, is that right?”

Yun Yuzhen said, “Tell me everything that happened after you came onboard, don’t omit anything.”

Kou Zhong only needed several sentences to explain everything; because the chain of events that day only happened in the time needed to drink half a cup of hot tea.

Listening to him, Yun Yuzhen’s pretty eyebrows were knitted; it was quite some time later that she finally said, “This is strange, why did Madame Dong Ming ask you those strange questions?”

Xu Ziling replied, “Do we need to tell you that? Since they are selecting son-in-law, naturally they are looking for some guys with aspiration and ambition. Realizing that we are just two boys who are crazy about riches, they chased us out of the ship in anger.”

“You are not asking us to steal their stuff, are you?” Kou Zhong wondered, “If that’s the case, won’t it be better for you to make the move yourself? They only need to remove the rope ladder, and we won’t be able to climb up.”

Yun Yuzhen was impatient, “If I have a choice, why would I want to rely on you, these two little demons?” she said, “Right now, only you can stroll and swagger into their ‘Floating Fragrance Flagship’.”

The two boys were stunned. “Beautiful Shifu must be mistaken,” Kou Zhong said, “I am afraid you and us are not on Madame Dong Ming’s welcomed guest list.”

Yun Yuzhen said, “This time and that time are two different things. Right now you have rendered great merit to Dong Ming Pai, Madame Dong Ming even dispatched her subordinate, the four law protector fairies to go everywhere to look for you; it’s just that they have not found you!”

The two boys’ spirit was immediately aroused; remembering that pretty young maid, their hearts warmed up instantly.

Yun Yuzhen smiled, “You understand it now?” she asked, “I could arrange that they coincidentally find you, and thus you will have a good chance of going into the ‘Floating Fragrance Flagship’.”

Xu Ziling said, “Actually, you have not even told us what is it that you want us to steal!”

Yun Yuzhen nonchalantly said, “Do you remember I told you that every clan and sect has their own way of earning a fortune? Dong Ming Pai’s expertise is in manufacturing high-quality weapons; this fact is extremely well known in Jianghu. Out of ten divine arms and sharp weapons, at least three were forged in their Ryukyu factory.”

Xu Ziling suddenly came to a realization, “So you want us to steal weapons.”

Yun Yuzhen was irritated, “Other than divine arms and sharp weapons like Gan Jiang and Mo Xie[2], there is nothing good to be stolen. What I want you to steal an account book of a great importance.”

The two boys looked at each other in incredulity.

Yun Yuzhen’s pretty eyes flickered. “This account book records all Dong Ming Pai’s weapon transaction in the last few years; both the seller and the buyer must sign and affix their seals, and it also lists the quantity as well as the type of weapons being sold. Yuwen Huaji ordered Haisha Bang to attack the ‘Floating Fragrance Flagship’, it was precisely for the sake of this account book.”

Listening to this, the two boys were totally confused and were at a loss.

Yun Yuzhen continued, “It also involves the power struggle within the imperial court. For instance, certain high-ranking minister secretly purchased a large quantity of weapons from Dong Ming Pai, this account book becomes irrefutable evidence that will allow Yuwen Huaji to submit a memorial to the Emperor and thus drag his opponent down. Do you understand it now?”

Kou Zhong said, “But Beautiful Shifu is not Yuwen Huaji; why do you want to obtain this account book?”

“You don’t need to mind my business,” Yun Yuzhen replied, “In short, just get me the book, in turn I will set you free and give you the promised gold. If you are willing to try, while there are still ten days or so time, I will have my people teaching you first-class technique in stealing. Are you clear?”

There was a knock on the door, Yun Zhi came to report, “There is a small boat coming to us from behind; it’s probably Li Gongzi.”

Yun Yuzhen’s powdered face turned slightly red from annoyance; she said, “That shameful, annoying @$$hole keeps entangling me; let him come aboard.”

After a short pause, she added, “Take these two little demons go see Grandpa Chen.”

Seeing how happy she was at the prospect of seeing that Li Gongzi, the two boys were already upset. Now that she wanted to get rid of them, the two little demons, their ego took a hard beating. With anger and resentment they followed Yun Zhi out.

Following Yun Yuzhen’s order, Yun Zhi took them along the hallway of the upper deck and came to a door. Knocking the door, she said, “Grandpa Chen! Two Gongzi are here.”

An old-sounding voice came from inside, “Have them come in!”

Yun Zhi pushed the door open and tell them to come in on their own.

The two boys stepped into the room, and discovered that the room was surprisingly very big. Spread all over the room were all kinds of padlocks, scaled building models, and some tools of unknown purpose. The walls were covered with a lot of architectural drawings. Unexpectedly they were inside the ship’s main workshop.

A decrepit, hunchback, old man with long beard was taking apart a padlock and examining it carefully by the window. Without even casting a glance to the boys, he said with his hoarse voice, “Shut the door!”

Xu Ziling pushed the door closed.

The old man put down the lock and went over to them. Because he was shorter by more than half a head than the two boys, he had to look up to them. After seeing clearly the two boys’ faces, he let out a hollow laugh and said, “I heard that you two have been stealing and swindling since childhood. Ha! Put out your hands first, let me take a look.”

The old man reached out to the two boys’ four hands, grabbing and pinching left and right for a while, he expressed his astonishment, “I have never seen hands better than yours. Apparently very soon we will have two better pairs. Ha! I, the Ol’ Chen will have my successors.”

With hands behind his back, he walked away and only stopped at the window. Staring out the window, he said, “Trying to steal things, apart from a pair of dexterous hands, one must be quick witted and able to change according to the situation, plus having excellent understanding of the building, its construction, mechanism, and so on.”

And then he strolled back and beckoned the two boys to come over to a building model on the table. “This building complex is made of ten courtyard houses of different sizes. If I want you to steal a piece of precious jade, how would you find where the jade is?”

Noticing the two boys only return blank stares, he seemed to be immensely proud of himself as he moved to another model and said, “Do you recognize this one?”

Kou Zhong’s voice was hoarse, “Isn’t this Yangzhou Zongguan’s mansion?”

“Precisely Yuchi Sheng’s doghouse,” Ol’ Chen replied, “Actually, stealing is not too difficult. If I want you to steal a classified dossier, after reading all that stuff you must memorize everything written inside in your brains, and then return the dossier to its original place, the owner will not know that the flies have been seen by others, now that would require not only outstanding skill, you must also have photographic memory. Oh! Do you know how to read?”

Kou Zhong was already suspicious of Yun Yuzhen, naturally he would not tell him the truth. Pretending to be ashamed, he said, “How could we have the opportunity to go to school?”

“I won’t blame you,” Ol’ Chen spoke sympathetically, “Luckily this time the mission does not require you to read.”

Taking the two boys to a drawing hanging on the wall to their left, he said, “This is the ‘Floating Fragrance Flagship’, which you have been to. The blackened parts are places where we are not yet clear.”

The diagram showed ‘Floating Fragrance Flagship’ in stereoscopic perspective, but the main cabin section below the deck had been blackened.

Like an unceasing torrent the Ol’ Chen explained everything, but the two boys found it fascinating, hence they listened attentively, while asking questions from time to time.

By daybreak, Yun Zhi came to take them to the room at the end of a long hallway toward to bow to rest. The two boys put down their heads and slept peacefully and did not wake up until evening.

Two pretty maids came to wait on them as they took a bath, changed their clothes, shaved their beards and combed their hair into a bun. When Yun Zhi returned to take them into the main cabin, her elegant eyes lit up as soon as she saw them; she said in astonishment, “Turns out two Gongzi are so handsome; indeed I failed to admire that.”

Seeing she was so pretty and pleasant, Kou Zhong leaned over and said, “How old is Jiejie this year? You seem to be almost at the same age as we are?”

Yun Zhi crossly said, “Definitely your senior. Come!” She turned around and walked away.

The two boys realized she was looking down on them; after exchanging frustrated expression and eye contact with each other, they followed her.

Arriving at the main cabin, they saw a dinner table was already prepared with food and wine, but there were only three seats, and one of them was already occupied by a big man in embroidered robe. His face looked ugly, with an approximately two cun long saber scar on his left cheek, giving out the impression that he was a cruel man; but his pair of eyes was flickering lively, so with one look people could tell that this was a martial art master with exquisite inner power.

The man was actually very polite. He stood up to welcome them and said, “Jukun Bang Fu Bangzhu [Deputy Clan Leader] Bu Tianzhi at your service. Yun Bangzhu has a business to attend to and has left for the shore, assigning the Ol’ Bu to take up the responsibility to greet the two Xiao Xiongdi.”

[2] Gan Jiang and Mo Xie: the following is from Faerie Queene’s work, Legend of the White Haired Maiden (Liang Yusheng). I thought I repeat it here for reference:

This pair of swords was said to be created by a pair of husband and wife sword smiths who lived during the end of the Spring and Autumn era (722BC-481BC) and were said to be apprentices coming out from the same school as the master sword-maker Ou YeZi who crafted the Dragon Springs Sword. Having crafted two of the finest swords of their career, they named these two swords after themselves Gan Jiang (literal translation: Competent General), Mo Xie (literal translation: Do not be/commit evil).

There appears to be various stories and legends surrounding these two sword-makers. It was said that though they worked for the Lord of the state of Wu (He Lu), yet Gan Jiang was also unjustly executed by the Lord of Wu because he did not want Gan Jiang crafting equally superb swords for the other states. Another story posits that it was Gan Jiang who crafted the pair of swords and named them after his wife and himself. He worked for the Lord of Chu and having anticipated that his lord would kill him immediately upon receiving this sword, he voiced these fears to his pregnant wife and left behind one sword buried under a large tree so that his unborn child may one day take revenge for him. Indeed, upon presenting the Gan Jiang sword to the Lord of Chu, Gan Jiang was executed.

When their son Chi Bi (literal translation: Scarlet Nose) grew up, he dug up the sword and swore revenge for his father. But unable to approach the Lord of Chu, he narrated his story to a noble warrior from the Chu state, who having been touched by his story promised to seek revenge for him. According to legend, it was this warrior who by presenting the Lord of Chu with the Mo Xie sword as a decoy, beheaded the Lord of Chu with this very sword and knowing that being surrounded by numerous soldiers he would be unable to escape, this warrior beheaded himself with the very same sword. There was yet another legend which posits that Gan Jiang collected together the essence of the highest grades of gold and metals belonging to the five mountains (probably: SongShan, TaiShan, HuaShan, Northern HengShan, Southern HengShan) and combined them together within a forge. But the heat of the forge was not enough to melt the metals and since the metals were unable to merge together, his sword was unable to be completed.

Gan Jiang knew that his failure to finish the sword according to his deadline would lead to his execution by the Lord of Wu and as a result was filled with despair. Suddenly, during one night, his wife smiled at him, causing Gan Jiang to be greatly worried as he pleaded for her to not commit what he feared she would do. But she only smiled and by the time Gan Jiang woke up, he found that she had already disappeared. He ran to the place where they crafted the swords and saw his wife standing by the forge smiling at him. But before he could reach her, she had already thrown herself into the fire. Her last words to him were that of reassuring her husband that she has not died yet and that they would eventually reunite. The metals finally melted and combined together to finally complete the pair of Gan Jiang, Mo Xie swords. Gan Jiang only presented the Gan Jiang sword to the Lord of Wu and secretly kept the Mo Xie sword by his side. But the Lord of Wu eventually discovered this news and had his men surround Gan Jiang.

At that time, Gan Jiang opened up the box, which contained the Mo Xie sword and asked the Mo Xie sword how he could ever be reunited with his wife. But the sword instantaneously transformed into a great white dragon, which suddenly disappeared along with Gan Jiang himself. Similarly, the Gan Jiang sword, which was by the Lord of Wu’s side all this time mysteriously disappeared as well. Meanwhile, in a district called the Pin (destitute/impoverish) Cheng (City) located a thousand miles away appeared a young white dragon that suddenly emerged in their YanPingJin lake.

This majestic dragon was not only beautiful, but also kind-hearted and by calling upon the power of rainfall and the force of wind, it enabled the destitute city to benefit from the weather and prosper in its agriculture. As a result, the city was also renamed as Feng (Prosperity) Cheng. But the inhabitants found that the white dragon seemed always to be very unhappy as it looked towards the shores as if forever waiting for or pining away for someone with eyes filled with tears. After six hundred years, a young man named Lei Huan suddenly discovered a box buried within the ground. Upon opening the box, he discovered that it concealed the legendary Gan Jiang sword.

Pleased with his finding, he hung the sword by his side and one day, when he past by the YanPingJin lake, the sword that hung by his waist suddenly leaped up into the air and dived into the lake. There was a great commotion in the waters when suddenly two dragons leaped out, one white dragon and one black dragon. These two dragons danced together in joyful happiness before returning to the bottom of the lake, only to disappear forever. The next day, a husband and wife moved into the town. They were merely an ordinary couple and although the husband was a very skilled blacksmith, yet he only crafted the ordinary tools used in everyday agricultural life while his wife stood by his side, fanning him with a little fan and wiping away his sweat.

Chapter 10, Part 3

Sleepy, HPC, Jaya, Zlack, Anh, you are welcome. I am glad you guys like it. Jiu Long, thanks for the correction. Too lazy to scroll back, but I did correct my source doc, so that when we have our unabridged thread in the future, it will have the corrected version. Here is the end of Chapter 10. There is one more week in January, I will try to finish Book 2 by next week or at least the beginning of the following week. We'll see ...

Seeing their Beautiful Shifu was not present, and thought that she must be with that Li Gongzi, the two boys felt extremely disappointed; it’s just that they could not resist the temptation of food, so they replied perfunctorily with some polite remarks, and then sat down to gorge themselves, pushing all unpleasant thoughts to the back of their minds.

Bu Tianzhi was not talkative either; he spoke one minute and was quiet the next. He only asked the two boys’ past experience. Kou Zhong gave him some made up stories, yet he seemed to be very satisfied.

At the end of dinner Bu Tianzhi beckoned his subordinate to fetch an embroidered case, opened the lid, and took out an exquisite looking book. The cover was embossed with Dong Ming Pai insignia, which was of the same pattern as the embroidered flag of the Floating Fragrance Flagship.

The two boys looked at Bu Tianzhi in astonishment.

Bu Tianzhi did not say anything; he simply opened the first page. They saw the page was densely packed with small characters, written in black, ink stick, and vermillion, ground cinnabar ink. On one side was the type of weapon and its quantity, written in black, on the other side was the amount of money paid, written in vermillion; to their surprise, the unit of currency was gold, the highest amount reached three thousand taels of gold, which was more than enough for an ordinary person to eat for more than ten lifetimes. There was also a note on the date and place of delivery.

The most shocking was that written at the top was ‘Li Clan the First of Longxi’, six characters [long xi li fa di yi], but there was neither signature nor seal.

Kou Zhong pretended to be confused. “The letters recognize me, but I don’t recognize them,” he said, “What does it say here?” he pointed to the top.

Bu Tianzhi turned to the second page, but it was blank.

Bu Tianzhi turned back to the first page and said, “What we are asking two Xiao Xiongdi to steal is precisely this account book. When you open the book, the first page will look exactly like this. You must remember it carefully, don’t make any mistake.”

Xu Ziling probed further; pointing to the character ‘yi’ [one/first, which is basically a dash (-)] of the ‘Li Clan the First’, he said, “I know this is character ‘yi’, but I don’t know the rest. What does it say, actually?”

“You don’t need to worry about anything,” Bu Tianzhi said, “This ‘yi’ character simply indicates the first page. By the time you leave the ship, I will show it to you again.”

The two boys were getting even more suspicious. But since they still need to learn Ol’ Chen’s great stealing skill, they did not have time to think about it too much; whenever they had spare time, they would practice secretly inside their bedroom.

Five days later after passing through the mouth of Yangtze River, they dropped anchor and tarried over for four days, but the two boys were not allowed to come ashore.

After that they continued northwards. That evening during dinner they found out that Yun Yuzhen has returned, but they did not see Bu Tianzhi.

Yun Yuzhen was in high spirits, it was as if her beauty had spread all over her body and made her glowing. But since Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling already knew that she did not trust them completely [orig. baring her heart into their keeping], they did not see her with the same longing as when they first saw her. Because she was definitely not another Fu Junchuo or even Susu.

“Where are we going, actually?” Kou Zhong asked.

‘We are now heading north toward Huai River,” Yun Yuzhen replied, “After that we will head west to Zhongyang. At that time we will plan your mission.”

After sizing them up for half a day, she laughed and said, “I am sure that after two years you will be dignified, handsome and imposing men. Right now after you have your beard shaved, your hair tidied up, you are already a lot more impressive than before. How old are you this year?”

“I just turned eighteen,” Kou Zhong replied, “And he is a year younger.”

Yun Yuzhen cheerfully said, “I heard from Grandpa Chen that you guys managed to master any trick as soon as you learned it; you did not fail to live up to my expectations at all.”

Xu Ziling asked, “If we are successful in stealing the account book, how are we going to leave the ship?”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Yun Yuzhen replied, “I will have my people teach you how to use the light signals to communicate with us. At that time I might personally come to the ship to pick you up. I guarantee it will be foolproof.”

Kou Zhong asked, “Dong Ming Pai came to the Central Plains, why would they stay this long?”

Yun Yuzhen replied, “Every three years they would come to the Central Plains for a period of time, to accept new orders and collect payments. As for the delivery of goods, they have other vessels transporting the weapons. This, you don’t need to mind.”

Xu Ziling asked, “Are there any new developments on the outside world?”

Yun Yuzhen unenthusiastically replied, “Du Fuwei still occupies Liyang unchallenged, several times has he repelled the Sui army. Four months ago Dou Jiande proclaimed himself as the King of Changle, his prestige is actually above Du Fuwei’s. Recently several new people emerged; among them is Xu Yuanlang, another one is Lu Mingyue. These two are Wulin characters who hold the balance of power. But in term of sensation, no one surpasses Yingyang Pai’s Liang Shidou and Liu Wuzhou who together raised an army against the Sui. Both of them were originally Sui generals; therefore, their rebellion has significantly weakened the Sui forces.”

She suddenly sighed before continuing, “These two men have close relationship with the Tujue. Liang Shidou recently did obeisance to become a disciple of Tujue’s ‘Wu Zun’ Bi Xuan [see Book 1 Chapter 5] school. With Tujue people’s involvement, I don’t know how this mess is going to be cleaned up.”

The two boys recalled Liang Shidou’s son, Liang Shunming and Shen Tianqun’s beautiful daughter Shen Wushuang; momentarily they were lost in thought.

Xu Ziling was concerned over Susu, he asked about her master, Zhai Rang.

Yun Yuzhen was indeed well-informed of the current situation; she calmly replied, “Zhai Rang and Li Mi are concentrating their forces in preparation to attack Xingluo Warehouse. If they succeed, Sui Clan will be in danger. Speaking about character and prospect, among the militia the Great Dragon Head [or simply ‘Big Boss’] Zhai Rang has the biggest fame and power, but he achieved his fame and power relying on Li Mi. Sooner or later there will be a problem.”

And then she curiously asked, “You seem to also know a little abut this aspect?”

“Du Fuwei told us all of these,” Kou Zhong said.

The two boys were worried about Susu, they hurriedly finished their dinner, and went to the Ol’ Chen to continue their training. By the time they returned to their room, it was already the third watch of the night [between 11pm – 1am].

The two boys pretended to lie down on the couch to sleep, but they were talking it over under the bed curtain.

Kou Zhong said, “Our Beautiful Shifu is beautiful on the outside, but the scheming in her heart is not too good. She clearly wants to exploit us to steal something to harm others.”

Xu Ziling said, “She must want to blackmail the Li Clan people just like she blackmail us. We simply must not become her accomplice; we might as well slip away and be done with it.”

Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Do you think I did not want to leave? Problem is, if Beautiful Shifu really wants to treat us cruelly, she would broadcast our whereabouts to the world, so much so that she might make our portraits, and then we certainly won’t be able to move a single step. Therefore, we must come up with a proper escape plan.”

Xu Ziling said, “When we really see Madame Dong Ming, we can tell her everything, and then beseech her to take us to Ryukyu. It’s just that by doing this, we won’t be able to avenge Niang.”

“And we won’t see Li Dage and Susu Jie either,” Kou Zhong added.

After being silent for half a day, Kou Zhong said, “Have you noticed that the situation on the ship these days is a bit peculiar?”

Xu Ziling nodded and replied, “Ever since Beautiful Shifu is back, the ship suddenly become very tense, from time to time it changes course as if they are guarding against the enemy.”

“I got it!” Kou Zhong slapped his thigh, “Those people might come for us. For example, Haisha Bang, or perhaps our Ol’ Die Du Fuwei. You can plant spies in other people’s organization, why can’t others use the same trick to deal with you?”

Xu Ziling smiled wryly, “What kind of bird trick is that?” he said, “Captured by the Ol’ Die or Han Pudi, I’d rather stay here. At least we get polite hospitality.”

The know-it-all Kou Zhong said, “Mountain people have brilliant scheme, we’ll launch the move ‘escaping by death’; we will appear to be killed, but actually we’ll escape without a trace.”

“It’s easier said than done,” Xu Ziling dejectedly said, “But how do you do it?”

Kou Zhong said, “If we are elsewhere, or our skill is as useless as before, naturally it is impossible. But now, as long as we pretend to fall into their trap and fall into the sea, and spurt some blood, and then walk secretly at the bottom of the sea, everybody will think that we are swallowed up by the sea. Won’t we be able to regain our freedom then?”

“Where can we get the blood from?” Xu Ziling asked.

Kou Zhong made a gesture as if he was grabbing something. And then he laughed and said, “Every day we have a large chunk of chicken meat entering our belly, evidently they keep quite a few chicken in the kitchen; you got that?”

Xu Ziling was dismayed, “Problem is we don’t know exactly when the enemy will strike; if we take the blood prematurely, it will coagulate into a hard lump. Supposing that when we fall into the sea and then lumps of chicken blood emerge, won’t the enemy laugh until their big teeth fall off?”

“We can knock the chicken out,” Kou Zhong said, “We are the experts in that kind of trick in stealing chicken. After stealing it, we keep it under our bed. If the enemy has not come yet, we’ll replace the chicken with two others. This will work.”

While Xu Ziling was still hesitating, Kou Zhong sat up and said, “It’s time to test our lightness skill and Ol’ Chen’s stealing technique.”

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