Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan

Chapter 10 – The Fire of War on Lake Wei

Book 3 Chapter 10 – The Fire of War on Lake Wei

While helping Xu Ziling massaging the pit of his stomach, Kou Zhong anxiously asked, “Are you really alright? That female [usually refers to female animal] is really ruthless; just because we were not interested in hanging around with her! Unexpectedly she considered it big grudges and animosity.”

“Can you lower your voice a little bit?” Xu Ziling said in low voice, “If she hears it we will be in trouble. Hey! Let me tell you something amazing. When the true qi in my body started to move, just a short while and I feel better already. If I transferred my qi a bit earlier, perhaps I could easily take her palm strike.”

Kou Zhong said, “In that case this palm strike can be considered something of a value, as long as you don’t die.” And then he remembered something and giggled, “Don’t just look at her as being mean, the fact is that she unconsciously fell in love with you. But because she is already betrothed, and you treated her as a worthless nobody, in her anger she wanted to attack you, hence she made her move and injured you.”

Xu Ziling was not amused, “Go to your Niang! Fall in love with me? This kind of love is not worth mentioning.”

The more Kou Zhong thought, the more he was convinced. He analyzed, “Even if one time you cursed her as a loose woman and had no feeling of shame, hence your offense is more serious than mine, but my treatment to her was not much better. Yet she only looked for you to vent her anger; this kind of girl’s mind is the most difficult to fathom. When you went to see her, that guy Shang Ming could not sit or stand still, his expression turned really weird.”

Xu Ziling seized this opportunity to change the subject, “In that case, that Shang Ming ought to be that evil woman Princess’ husband, who has not yet passed through a doorway [marry into a family, see Book 3 Chapter 9]. Ay! Even if the entire Dong Ming Pai people kneeled in front of me, I can’t possibly join their Sect. Men married into the women’s family, why would I want to do that?”

Kou Zhong laughed and giggled, “The biggest reason is that the women would take care of us.”

And then his expression turned serious as he said, “After we get to Weishan Lake tonight, Madame Dong Ming and that evil woman Princess will go see Li Shimin’s old dad. That will be the time we make our move to steal that thing. From here we climbed down the window, it will be as easy as lifting our hand.”

Meanwhile the scenery outside the window has changed, no longer steep banks and cliffs, but clear and crystalline river water, clumps of white cloud, the far-side bank continued on to open land as far as the eye can see. They have arrived at Weishan Lake.

The door was pushed open. The ugly maid walked in silently, sized Xu Ziling up a moment, and then with her hoarse voice and crude manner she asked, “Are you still in pain?”

Xu Ziling was touched by her concern; he was about to reply that it was not a big deal when Kou Zhong pinched him. Hastily he said, “I think after two days rest I should be alright. Thank you Jiejie for your concern.”

“Who cares about you?” the ugly maid coldly said, “It’s just that tonight Madame wants to eat dinner with you, so she sent me over to check on you! Since you are alright, then that’s it.” Finished speaking she turned around and left.

While the two boys were looking at each other in astonishment, there was a knock on the door, the beautiful maid Ruyin came from outside the door, “May I come in?”

Kou Zhong sprang up and pulled the door open. “Good Jiejie, please come in!” he greeted.

‘Pfft!’ Ruyin broke into tender laughter; she cast a sidelong glance toward Kou Zhong and gracefully walked in. Seeing Xu Ziling was sitting in a chair by the window, without any visible change in her countenance she said in amazement, “Madame is right, although on the surface you look badly injured, actually it is not serious at all.”

Xu Ziling could not bear lying to her; he nodded and said, “Just a bit painful!”

Ruyin came over and stretched out her gentle and soft hand to feel the temperature on his forehead. Pulling her jade hand back, she said, “Your internal energy is so unusual; void and fluttering, so that it’s hard for others to gauge the depth of it.”

Kou Zhong walked over to her, he took that opportunity to lean closer, his nose vigorously sucked in the fragrance of her hair first, before speaking right next to her ear, “This is called ‘unfathomable’.”

Ruyin was displeased, “Can you be more proper? To be honest, my impression on you is not much better than the Princess’. Unexpectedly you hang around with those devoid-of-consciousness Baling Bang people; are you thinking of copying them in doing business in human trafficking?”

Kou Zhong awkwardly said, “We did not know Xiang Yushan was Baling Bang people!”

The more Ruyin spoke, the angrier she was; with arms akimbo she angrily said, “Then why did you go to their casino? Don’t you dare to say that you did not know it was not a casino!”

Seeing her almond eyes grew big in anger, Kou Zhong replied in panic, “We did not know it was a casino, we thought it was a brothel.”

“What?” Ruyin’s voice broke.

It was too late for Kou Zhong to correct himself, he knew he was in trouble. Heaving a deep sigh, he said, “Ay! Jiejie, how could you know our plight that time? We were in a tight spot, and had no choice but to find a place to hide.”

Ruyin’s pretty face was flushed with anger, “It’s just an excuse; the truth was that you wanted to fool around in a place where you wanted to ingratiate yourselves like that. Looking at your fine countenance fine appearance, I could not imagine that you are so corrupt in the inside. Just see if I will pay you any more attention in the future.” Stomping her foot, she turned around and walked away.

Kou Zhong reached out trying to get hold of her. Ruyin dodged; her eyes bulging like fish bowl, she screamed, “You dare to touch me with your stinky hand? Princess is right, not many men on earth are good people.”

The two boys had never imagined that such a gentle and considerate girl could become this emotional; they stared blankly at her in silence and in fear.

Ruyin’s silky breasts heaved up and down rapidly for a moment before calming down. Seeing the two boys who looked like a great catastrophe had just befallen them, her expression softened a little as she said grimly, “I rarely get angry like this; it’s all your fault! Alright, if you are willing to promise me that from now on you won’t go to that kind of place, I will forgive you!”

Xu Ziling was ready to promise, but Kou Zhong beat him by saying, “In that case won’t we have to change our training to Tongzi Gong [virgin boy skill]?”

Ruyin was taken aback, and then her pretty face blushed as she stared hatefully at Kou Zhong before storming out in anger.

‘Bang!’ as soon as he heard the door slammed, Kou Zhong breathed a sigh of relief. He said, “Fortunately I did not let you give your promise in a rush. Otherwise how could we enjoy life and be merry later?”

Xu Ziling let out a bitter laugh and said, “That’s one more person we offended. Right now on this ship, other than Madame Dong Ming, it could be said that we look up and see no one familiar.”

Kou Zhong sneered and said, “This ship is full of eccentric people, fortunately we are going to leave very soon. Otherwise, sooner or later we will turn into one of them. It’s not a big deal if we don’t go to Ryukyu, I am sure they don’t have half a place where we can have fun.”

Xu Ziling sighed and said, “What do you mean having fun? Every time we wanted to go to a brothel we always came across something shady. Apparently the two of us lack pleasure-house luck.”

Kou Zhong laughed and said, “I don’t believe in demonic influence. Come! Let us practice our exceptional divine skill, as long as our ears can hear the eight directions, we can carry out our grand plan.” Finished speaking, he started to walk back and forth in the room.

In the hazy dusk of twilight, the Dong Ming flagship sailed at full speed over the mist covered water of Weishan Lake, heading toward a certain destination.

On the ship, a vegetarian feast has been prepared inside the hall of the main cabin. Madame Dong Ming still had her face covered in veil, her entire being was still shrouded in unfathomable mystery.

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were sitting on her left and right, respectively.

All three Law-Protector Fairies were present. Shan Yan and Shan Yudie, who dealt with Du Fuwei the other day, were expressionless [I could have sworn that it was Shan Xiu, not Shan Yan]. Only Shan Qing showed a bit of warmth. But obviously everybody strongly disapproved Madame Dong Ming showing such grand hospitality toward two boys whose names not encountered in the classics.

The other attendees included Shang Ming and a senile-looking old man. This old man, Madame Dong Ming called him Shang Gong [gong means ‘grandpa’, ‘father-in-law’, or simply a term of respect to address (much) older man]. His stature was originally big and tall, but his back was crooked. However, the eyes under heavily wrinkled eyelids constantly flickered with strange purple light. He appeared spirited, yet appeared dull at the same time; in short, he was extremely intimidating.

The other Dong Ming Sect people were very respectful toward him. Other than the first time when he was introduced to the two boys, he did not even look at them. The rest of the time he was simply holding on to the only wine pot on the table, silently pouring himself a drink. Toward the fine vegetarian dishes on the table, he was not even interested in giving it a single glance.

Very soon the two boys even forgot that he was there.

Apparently Shan Wanjing was still angry, so she did not attend.

However, whether it was related to Shan Wanjing or not, Shang Ming seemed to be brimming with hostility; he was even more unfriendly than before.

Ruyin must be Madame Dong Ming’s personal maid; she waited on everyone. But she was still fuming with anger; apparently her resentment toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had not subsided.

All in all, this meal was not a pleasant one.

At the start of dinner, Madame Dong Ming spoke a few apologetic words on behalf of her daughter, but afterwards she chatted with Shang Ming and the others, leaving the two boys out on the side.

The two boys were already used to this kind of treatment, so they did not give it a [email protected], but going all-out in wiping out the dishes on the table. However, they were used to eating meat, hence no matter how many dishes were delivered into their belly, it did not give them a sense of satisfaction.

Seeing their table manners, other than Madame Dong Ming and Shang Gong, the rest of the people showed contemptuous look on their faces.

Shang Ming was discussing the changes in the militia situation, “The most worrisome is the Tujue [Turkic] people’s tendency. Right now Ying Yang Pai’s Liang Shidou and Liu Wuzhou already cast their lots with them, and are bestowed the titles Magnanimous Pijia Khan and Dingyang Khan, respectively. These two renegades have received Tujue Khan’s order to attack Taiyuan. If Li Yuan cannot defend Taiyuan, Tujue will definitely seize the chance to advance; at that time the Central Plains will be in grave danger.”

Everybody was paying attention.

Chapter 10, Part 2

Jaya, Ysabel, Critical, HPC, Drak, Anh, you are welcome. DongBin, aren't you an immortal, a prominent character in the Eight Immortals? Ba Xian Guo Hai ... one of my earliest memory of this group of immortals. Yes, I jested, but I was also serious. Ahoxan, I wouldn't know it since I never watched the tv adaptation. But please don't spoil it for me. I want to see if I was right, or Skywalker was right. Sky, that part, we are in agreement. Ysabel, thanks for dropping by.

Shan Yan said, “Right now the Li Clan is hard-pressed from front and rear, Dugu Clan and Yuwen Clan are dying to have them completely wiped-out. But in this matter nobody could offer any help to them, they could only look at the Li Clan’s good luck.”

Shan Yudie said, “Fortunately Li Yuan has several good sons, plus Taiyuan is located upstream of River Fen, between Taihang Mountains [on the border between Hebei and Shanxi] and Yellow River, cradled by the mountain and supported by the river, they are squatting on the world’s shoulder, with the Hedong as the foundation. They have elite soldiers and ample provisions. On top of that, Li Yuan, father and sons, bestow benevolence far and wide, making friends with heroes everywhere, their influence continuously expanding; they are not a force of only one battle.”

Shang Ming objected, “But Li Yuan is an indecisive leader, all along he considers himself as the incapable ruler’s aunt’s cousin. There will come a day where that incapable ruler will weary him to his death. If I were Li Yuan, I would take advantage while the incapable ruler is redeploying his border guards to deal with Du Fuwei in Jiangdu region, and Wagang Army is occupying the Sui’s main force at Luoyang, to advance to the capital and take it, to raise his army in rebellion.”

Listening to this, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s hearts were burning; they both thought, ‘oh, so the current situation is like that’, no wonder Li Shimin wanted it so much for his old dad to rebel.

Shan Qing said, “Too bad we are limited by our ancestors’ rule that we must not get involved in the Central Plains’ affair. Otherwise when we see Shimin, we can lay out the advantages and disadvantages thoroughly to him.”

Madame Dong Ming said indifferently, “If we can see the situation clearly, do you think other people can’t? This matter needs not be discussed anymore.”

How could anybody dare to continue the discussion?

After an unbearably awkward silence, Shang Gong suddenly looked at Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys. While the two boys grew nervous under his gaze that they could not swallow their food, Shang Gong spoke with his hoarse and hard-to-hear-clearly voice, “Who taught you martial art?”

Kou Zhong braced himself and replied, “It was our Niang!”

“Who’s your Niang?” Madame Dong Ming asked in astonishment.

Xu Ziling explained, “His Niang is the same as my Niang, other people called her Luocha female.”

Madame Dong Ming said, “Luocha female Fu Junchuo was famous for being vicious and merciless; I did not expect not only she took you as her adopted sons, she even sacrificed herself for you. It can be considered incredible.”

The two boys appeared deeply grieved.

Shang Gong shook his head and said, “That’s not right! How long have you been training martial art?”

Kou Zhong counted his fingers and gave him an honest answer, “A bit over a year.”

Shan Qing and the others revealed a shocked look on their faces. Although their fighting skill did not count for anything, but in just over a year of training, they already had this kind of accomplishment that they were able to take Shan Wanjing’s palm strike head-on; it was indeed shocking.

Shang Gong was deep in thought for half a day, and then he sighed and said, “If you can avoid experiencing fire deviation, in the future you ought to have superb accomplishment.”

Madame Dong Ming said, “Meixian[1] has inspected their qi circulation method, it is actually very vast without any clear boundary. I don’t know where it starts, hence I dispelled the thought of accepting them into our Sect and passing on our skill to them. If Shang Gong has an idea, why not giving them a direction or two?”

Shang Gong only shook his head; he no longer spoke.

Back to their cabin, the two boys felt relieved as if they had just escaped from a trap.

Kou Zhong said in a low voice, “There are too many people ‘who bite the hand that feed them’ on earth; just look at Shang Ming, a dog who relies on its master’s power, he looked at us with disdain while he is acting as if he is sitting high on a pedestal. Ha! Fortunately this Young Master is broad-minded, can’t possibly bicker with him.”

Xu Ziling sneered and said, “If you really don’t care about him, you ought not mention it.”

Kou Zhong slapped his forehead and said, “You are right! From now on, we won’t talk about this guy.”

Xu Ziling said in distress, “How would we know when Madame and the others leave the ship to see that Li guy?”

Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Isn’t that simple? Whenever the ship stops, that’s when they leave the ship.”

Xu Ziling said, “Supposing Madame invited Li guy to meet on the ship, won’t our dream become an empty dream?”

Kou Zhong was speechless for half a day. Finally he said in low voice, “Let’s not worry too much, as long as they congregate in the hall above, we will immediately make our move to steal that stuff. Li guy and his old dad’s fate is on our hands.”

Xu Ziling craned his neck to look out the window. After looking around for quite some time, he pulled his head back and said, “Didn’t they say Yuwen Clan people want to mount a sneak attack on Dong Ming flagship? How come there’s not even a trace of them?”

“You asked me?” Kou Zhong said, “Then whom should I ask? Huh?”

The sound of the ship suddenly changed; it slowed down. The two boys tensed up; they had to wait patiently.

That night the sky was clear the weather was nice, the crescent moon was hanging low on the horizon, the night view was enchanting.

Under the moonlight and starlight, the Dong Ming flagship slowly docked onto a small lone island in the middle of the lake, where another big ship had already anchored.

The two boys stuck out their heads out the window to look, and recognized that it was Li Shimin’s battleship; they grew even more nervous and their hearts were beating rapidly.

When the Dong Ming flagship has come to a complete stop, the two boys crouched down and pressed their ears on the cabin floor, while channeling their energy to listen carefully.

Unexpectedly the cabin below was silent, as if it was a deserted ghost town.

Right this moment, a sigh rang inside the two boys’ eardrum.

The two boys sat up in fright, and they both saw that the other’s face was devoid of any color.

“That’s Shang Gong’s voice,” Kou Zhong said in horror, “Even if he turned into dust I will still recognize it,”

“How could that old fellow’s sigh be that loud?” Xu Ziling asked, “It sounded like he was sighing next to our ears.”

Kou Zhong took a deep breath and said, “Let’s not worry about it too much. In half the time needed to burn a stick of incense, we will climb down the window to steal, and then use the water to escape.”

The two boys sat back in the chair; waiting with ‘heart alarmed, guts palpitated’.

Suddenly they heard footsteps in the hallway outside, the two boys groaned inwardly. Fortunately nobody came in; very soon the footsteps were getting farther and farther away.

Kou Zhong sprang up and said, “It’s time!”

In this frightening moment, someone knocked on their door. While the two boys were groaning incessantly, the ugly maid’s voice was heard outside the door, “Come out quickly! Princess wants to see you.”

With bitter face the two boys followed the ugly maid down to lower deck and on to the Princess’ study room’s door. Without showing any expression the ugly maid pushed the door open and coldly said, “Come in!”

Without any other choice Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling braced themselves and stepped into the room.

Dong Ming Princess Shan Wanjing was back into wearing men’s clothes, ready and waiting, sitting in a large chair by the desk, looking calmly straight toward the two boys’ faces.

Under her suffocating gaze, the two boys felt as if they were half a head shorter, and were overwhelmed with a feeling of inferiority.

As they stole a glance around, the account book was nowhere to be seen. There was really no word that can describe the two boys’ disappointment.

Shan Wanjing said dryly, “The other day I was not in a very good mood, and my hands slipped and injured Xu Gongzi. Right now just consider me apologizing.”

Although her manner was very polite, plus she was apologizing in person, the two boys were able to clearly see that she did not really care about them; she did not even have the courtesy to have them sit down and talk. As if they were only fit to be her underlings who had to stand up deferentially while listening to her bossing people around.

Shan Wanjing coldly sized them up and down several times, before continuing, “Why aren’t you speaking?”

Full of anger, Kou Zhong said, “We have nothing to say; if you want to say something, just be our guest and say whatever you want!”

A faint smile escaped from the corner of Shan Wanjing’s mouth. Her beautiful eyes penetrated Xu Ziling deeply as she spoke gently, “I can’t be considered good to you, but you brought it upon yourselves. Fortunately all these will be over soon; I have arranged a place for you to stay.”

“What?!?” Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong exclaimed hoarsely.

“Don’t make much fuss about nothing,” Shan Wanjing said indifferently, “Currently the number of people in Jianghu who have the ability to protect you is indeed not many; Li Clan is one of them. Based on our relationship with the Li Clan, we only need to open our mouth, they will definitely take care of you.”

The two boys called for their mother inwardly; if following her advice they went to the Li guy’s ship, would they still have a face to see the Li guy?

Kou Zhong hurriedly said, “Thank you Princess for taking a lot of trouble for us. We are the kind of people who are most afraid of lodging under another person’s roof while watching other people’s countenance as we conduct ourselves. If Princess thinks that we are not pleasing to your eyes, we will immediately jump into the lake. In this way we are slipping away to everyone’s delight and satisfaction, both parties are happy.”

Shan Wanjing’s pretty eyes flashed with cold rays as she crossly said, “What are you talking about?”

Xu Ziling was also indignant. “Zhong Shao was so articulate and clear, unexpectedly Princess was not able to hear it clearly?” he asked in astonishment, “We definitely will not live relying on other people’s charity; we won’t need your so-called benevolence either. We are going back to our room right now to pack, and then will leave immediately. Please!”

Actually, the two boys did not have anything to pack, they just wanted to stall for time. After Madame Dong Ming and the evil woman in front of them left, they would return to look for the account book before leaving.

“Halt!” Shan Wanjing angrily barked.

The two boys jumped in fright; they stared at her hatefully.

Shan Wanjing’s silky breasts moved up and down rapidly. The fact was that even she herself did not understand why it was very easy for her to get angry at Xu Ziling; it was so not like her usual calm and cold nature.

After half-a-day of awkward silence, Shan Wanjing calmed down. She heaved a deep sigh and her voice became gentle, “How about this? We’ll ask Li Clan people to give you a ride. After you reach a safe place, you may go as you wish. Perhaps you still don’t know it, but that incapable ruler has issued a strict order to obtain the ‘Secret to Long Life’ in your possession at all cost.”

For the first time ever there was a genuine concern over their safety in her voice. However, since they already had prejudice against her, naturally the two boys did not feel it; besides, they would not accept it anyway.

Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “If that’s the case, we can’t climb onto Li Clan’s big ship even more. After all, Li Clan is one of the Emperor’s son’s hunting dog; how would we know they won’t see profit and forget morality, and sell us, the two brothers?”

Toward Kou Zhong, this beautiful Princess obviously had much higher tolerance. She smiled and said, “Don’t underestimate other people. When you see Li Shimin, you will see such a real hero that makes other people willing to commit themselves to him cheerfully. Not to worry, I can guarantee in the name of Dong Ming Pai that such thing will never happen.”

While she was speaking about Li Shimin, her bright, lively beautiful eyes were constantly looking at Xu Ziling; her eyes were saying that compared to Li Shimin, you, Xu Ziling, are far too inferior.

But Xu Ziling did not have the slightest idea; in his usual natural and unrestrained manner he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whether he is a real hero or a fake hero, we are accustomed to carefree life, and have no interest in clinging onto the hero Princess thinks so highly of.”

Kou Zhong remembered that Madame Dong Ming once told them that they ought to learn through experience in Jianghu; he had a brainwave, “Princess’ idea, I am afraid you have not received Madame’s approval, have you?”

Swj’s countenance turned cold again; brushing her sleeve away she said, “Get lost! By the time I am back, don’t let me see your face again. You want to deliver your life, just go to hell!”

The two boys felt as if they had just received the Emperor’s pardon; they withdrew from the room in great delight.

Having much experience climbing down the wall, the two boys scaled down the wall without any mishaps toward the study room’s window.

The study room light has been extinguished; it was completely quiet. Not daring to hesitate, they craned their neck first to make sure nobody was inside before slipping in through the window; soon they were inside the study room.

Following the technique taught by Ol’ Chen, the two of them split up and methodically combed the study room until nothing was overlooked.

After being busy for half a sichen [i.e. an hour], they have scoured every cun of the room, yet they still could not find the account book.

The two boys sat slumping on the floor, so disappointed that they almost cried.

If they could obtain the account book, not only they would do that Li guy a big favor, they would probably be able to implicate Yuwen Huagu and had him, along with his entire family, executed unto the third generation.

But now everything was lost.

The account book was simply not in the study room.

Kou Zhong painfully said, “That woman [derogatory] must have brought that thing to settle the account with that Li guy. It’s over. The hardest thing for me is that we must leave immediately, otherwise, that evil woman would toss us out to the water like throwing garbage.”

Xu Ziling dejectedly said, “If we want to go, the sooner the better!”

Shang Gong’s voice, which was as easy to recognize as if it was the exclusive signboard above his head, rang again in the two boys’ eardrums.

How could the two boys not realize that disaster was imminent? They sprang up and were about to jump into the lake through the window when Shang Gong, as nimble as a wild cat, leaped inside from outside the window. The senile old man was completely gone.

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s only way out was blocked by him; they could neither advance nor retreat, and were in an extremely difficult situation.

Shang Gong raised his left hand and laughed softly as he said, “Are you looking for this account book? Come and get it if you have the ability!”

The two boys were dumbstruck; they could only stare with mouth agape at the precious account book in his left hand. Naturally they did not dare to make their move to snatch it away.

Shang Gong said nonchalantly, “Madame entrusted this responsibility to me, the old man. Naturally Laofu [old man, referring to self] must not disappoint her. These days Laofu has been watching you. Listening to your conversation, I even gave you a warning, but your thief character is hard to change, making Laofu very disappointed.”

With a bitter laugh Kou Zhong said, “We received a request from a friend …”

Shang Gong coldly cut him off, “Laofu don’t give your reason a [email protected], I only know that this account book concerns our Dong Ming Pai’s reputation. It’s just that were it not for the two of you making such a big fuss over it, we would not know that such an account book could become the root of great turmoil. When Madame is back, Laofu will ask Madame to destroy it, so that nobody will be able to exploit it as a fighting instrument.”

[1] Meixian, lit. beautiful immortal. At first I thought Shan Mei Xian was her nickname, but from this passage, apparently ‘Meixian’ was her given name, surnamed Shan.

Chapter 10, Part 3

Ysabel, Jaya, HPC, Anh, you are welcome. Sky, you get your wish ...

Here is the end of Chapter 10, and the end of Book 3. Say, can I ask how many of you:

1. Follow this thread from Book 1 Chapter 1, but have not read Grundle's original thread?

2. Follow this thread from Book 1 Chapter 1, but have read Grundle's original thread?

3. Follow this thread, but not reading it; i.e. you are waiting for me to catch up to start reading.

I am just curious. This is not a demand, your answer will not affect my work at all ... Plus, I am asking you, my regular readers; if you don't usually post, don't bother answering. You won't get extra point for doing so. Again, I am just curious. By the way, Book 4 Chapters 1 and 2 are relatively shorter that these last three chapters, so I hope by next week you'll start reading Book 4 Chapter 3.

This moment, the two boys’ interest was not so much on the account book but on their own destiny.

Speaking to this point, Shang Gong was still using a low voice, as if he was afraid others might hear him, which gave them hope.

Shang Gong casually tossed the account book onto the desk, while showing the first ever smile they saw since he came in, “Your innate character cannot be considered bad, you have not lost your innocence. Sometimes when I was listening to you, I could not help laughing.”

‘Beating the snake following the stick’ [see Book 3 Chapter 3] Kou Zhong said in low voice, “Shang Gong, is it possible for you to let us, two brothers, off this time?”

Shang Gong shook his head and said, “Public is public, personal is personal [fyi, the ‘gong’ of Shang Gong also means ‘public’ or ‘common’]. Our Dong Ming Pai’s most serious statutes, in all my life, since I was young, I have never deviate even half a step from it; how can I, at the last segment of my life, falter from it for the sake of you, two little kids? But when Madame returns, I can speak a couple of good words on your behalf. Now kneel down in front of Laofu.”

The two boys simultaneously thought about Dong Ming Princess; they both thought that warriors can be killed but never humiliated, so their hands instantly moved toward the hilt of their sabers.

Shang Gong shook his head and sighed, “If it were ten years in the future, Laofu really cannot guarantee whether this weary old body would be able to withstand your two boys’ joint attack, but right now your weight simply falls too short. Come!”

The two boys exchanged glances; they knew that they had reached a situation where there was no more leeway. So they drew their sabers and attacked.

Shang Gong’s face revealed a shocked look; but still calm and unhurried he raised both sleeves to generate two streams of powerful qi, meeting the two lightning fast saber hacking down on him.

Based on his status, naturally his victory had to be neat and tidy. If he had to alert the others before they could subdue these two boys, his face would suffer a huge setback.

‘Bang! Bang!’ with two muffled explosions Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt the palm of their hands exploded, their sabers were flung away, while their entire body was jolted, sending them tumbling backwards, and it felt like their internal organs were about to burst.

While the two boys were groaning inwardly for their terrible situation, Shang Gong suddenly let out a painful grunt and staggered sideways.

The two boys were at a loss; suddenly a human figure clad in black leaped in through the window and while he was still in the air, the shadow attacked Shang Gong left and right with a pair of daggers about a chi long in each hand, each move was never far away from Shang Gong’s vital points; extremely accurate, vicious and ruthless.

In the blink of an eye Shang Gong, who was already injured by the sneak attack, has already exchanged more than ten moves against the enemy.

Meanwhile the two boys recovered from their panic and dropped themselves down on the floor to get away from the scuffle. They saw that in the spacious study room, the man in black moved like a ghost, they only saw his shadow like wisps of smoke floating above and all around Shang Gong, unfolding astonishing attacks like the tidal waves of Yangtze River or Yellow River toward Shang Gong, who, very soon, was falling into disadvantageous position, without giving Shang Gong the least bit of opportunity to catch his breath.

By this time the two boys’ vision was much better than before, they could tell that this man’s skill was not inferior in any respect to Du Fuwei’s.

While they were contemplating whether they should call for reinforcement, Shang Gong let out an earth-shattering roar as he forcibly extricated himself from the enemy’s sword net. ‘Bang!’ he crashed onto the cabin wall and into the adjacent room.

Obviously that man was not interested in Shang Gong. Lightning fast he flew toward the desk, grabbed the account book, and without even casting a glance toward the two boys he leaped out of the window.

This moment sound of footsteps and people shouting and yelling were getting closer. The two boys yelled and sprang up, and then with all their strength they jumped out the window into the lake below.

‘Splosh!’ the two boys dove deep into the icy-cold water. They were trying desperately to distance themselves from Dong Ming flagship, when suddenly they felt something was not right, and their backs were grabbed from behind, while at the same time a stream of true qi penetrated their back, consecutively sealing a dozen or so major acupoints on their bodies.

The man apparently thought that he has immobilized them; he grabbed their arms instead, and dragged them along under water at an astonishing speed. It was only after covering more than ten zhang distance that they surfaced.

Shouts were still occasionally heard from the Dong Ming flagship, which was thrown into total chaos. The man let out a cold laugh, and then grabbing the two boys’ collar, he moved his two legs to swim really fast like a fish.

Meanwhile the fantastic true qi inside the two boys’ body spontaneously surged on and opened the sealed acupoints. While they were contemplating whether they should make their move, the man cursed under his breath, “Reckless bunch!”

The two boys opened their eyes a little to peek, and saw a dozen or so fast boats were speeding up like artillery shells in their direction. When the man dragged the two boys back into the water, they knew their chance has come. Kou Zhong lightly nudged Xu Ziling, and then together they exerted everything they had into their elbows, striking the man’s flank and his belly, respectively.

The man doubled up in pain, automatically his grabs on the two boys loosened, while he spurted a mouthful of fresh blood.

Kou Zhong already knew that the man had the account book wrapped in a waterproof oil cloth bundle and tied it on his waist; he seized this opportunity to reach out and snatch the bundle away.

Xu Ziling sent a follow-up punch toward the man’s face, but the man was indeed highly skilled; unexpectedly he was able to endure the pain and evaded the punch.

The two boys did not dare to pursue; desperately they dove down to the bottom of the lake first before swimming away with all their strength toward the isolated island.

This was the brilliance of their plan; evading the martial art expert’s pursuit was by no means, not an easy task, but no matter how powerful the expert was, he would not dare to return to where Li Clan and Dong Ming Sect people were. The most ingenious thing was that Dong Ming Sect people would search the nearby body of water, but they would never suspect that the two boys would return to the island instead.

This moment the two boys looked exactly like fish in the water, in no time at all they already reached the bottom of Li Shimin’s big ship.

Floating up to the surface, they saw Dong Ming flagship was brightly lit, but Li Shimin’s ship was in total blackout, quiet, with no visible movement. Kou Zhong whispered, “I hope Li guy’s people don’t mistake us for thieves.”

“Go up!” Xu Ziling said, “I was so shaken by that old fellow that I feel like my tender bones are falling apart!”

After suffering untold hardships, finally the mission was accomplished. Now they could take Li guy’s money with clear conscience. The excitement in their heart was certainly hard to describe.

Moreover, they bravely snatched this account book away from that mysterious martial art expert, hence it lessened the guilty feeling of being little thief, and considerably cleared their conscience.

Once again they put their climbing-wall experience to work. When they passed Li Shimin’s sister’s cabin, recalling that gentle and pleasant-to-the-ear voice, Kou Zhong could not refrain himself from looking in.

Completely caught off-guard, a dagger suddenly shot out, as fast as lightning, toward his throat. Kou Zhong was so scared that he nearly fell down. Not daring to move a finger, he froze on the spot, while still hanging outside the window.

A half-delighted, half-angry, extremely beautiful pair of eyes appeared about a chi away from Kou Zhong’s nose, coldly scrutinizing him.

By this time Xu Ziling already climbed onto his side and gave him a little push, indicating that he should not stop here; Xu Ziling was completely oblivious that Kou Zhong might lose his life at any time.

This lovely young woman, whose beauty was comparable to Dong Ming Princess, said in low voice, “Who are you?”

With strained breathing, Kou Zhong replied, “I am Kou Zhong, Li …”

The beauty withdrew her dagger and cried out softly, “Why haven’t you come in? If somebody saw you, we will be in big trouble.”

Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, he called Xu Ziling and still dripping wet, together they crawled into the girl’s room.

The first thing Kou Zhong did was taking out the bundle and opened the oilcloth. The account book was staring back at them.

The two boys cheered in chorus.

The beauty clearly knew about their deal with Li Shimin. Picking up the account book, she flipped the pages for a moment, and then delightedly said, “This is it. The two of you wait here for a moment, let me see if Er Ge has returned or not.”

After smiling sweetly, she went out the door.

The two boys went over to the rear cabin wall and sat down on the floor, feeling once again like decent human beings.

Kou Zhong sighed and said, “This girl is so beautiful. If I had known, I would have asked for her and not for money.”

Xu Ziling laughed and said, “This time I’ll let you have her; next time we encounter this kind of sweet girl, it will be my turn.”

Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, “Yours, mine, have you thought about what kind of things are we? She is a thousand-catty gold [i.e. precious daughter], born into respected family, a large and influential clan; when will we have our turn?”

Xu Ziling dispiritedly said, “Zhong Shao, since when did you become so modest? Didn’t you often say that we will be Wulin masters in the future? You also said that we will be bestowed the title marquis and promoted to be generals? Why so discouraged all of a sudden?”

Kou Zhong sighed and said, “We can say what we want, but compared to that unlucky martial art master just now, our martial art skill is far too inferior. He was caught completely off guard when we attacked, yet he merely threw up a bird’s mouthful of blood and that’s it. And then that old fellow surnamed Shang also said that before ten years, eight years, our martial art skill’s not worth showing. That’s right, we must remember to ask that Li guy for two more sabers; without sabers, we can’t even fight.”

“Not at all,” Xu Ziling said, “Otherwise, we can forget learning and understanding punching and kicking skill. No saber, just use our hands. We can still execute the Bloody Battle Ten-style taught by Li Dage.”

After waiting painfully for the time needed to burn an incense stick, Li Shimin’s beautiful sister returned. It was only then did the two boys notice that she was wearing beautiful pastel-colored dress, her figure sweet, fair and graceful, her manner dignified and elegant, making other people unable to criticize.

Seeing the two boys were sitting on the floor like beggars, the beauty was greatly displeased, “Why are you sitting on the floor? Still won’t stand up?”

Feeling extremely foolish, the two boys stood up.

The door opened, Li Shimin rushed in. Ignoring their drenched bodies, he hugged them tightly. “Success!” his voice trembled with emotion, “Just now Madame Dong Ming personally wrote a letter, telling me to immediately go to Taiyuan and hand it over to Die. If our Li family obtain the world [tian xia] in the future, we certainly won’t treat two gentlemen meagerly.”

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