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Thread: A step into the past - 寻秦记 - by Huang Yi (Unabridged)

  1. #101
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 10 Chapter 1 - Leave No Witnesses Alive

    Xiang Shaolong and his men galloped directly towards Han Chuang's residence. Jing Jun had already led his crack troops to surround the residence, sealing off all the small alleys and roads nearby. After they arrived, he had made a secret gesture towards Teng Yi, who then led the tens of remaining soldiers to mount, then directly charge towards Han Chuang's residence.

    Han Chuang, trying to catch up from behind, had no idea what was going on. Wasn't this a case of "striking the grass and startling the serpent"? But at this moment, the only thing he cared about was himself. He had no time to worry about anything else, as he whipped his horse onward.

    Just as they nearly arrived at the main door of the residence, the residence suddenly was flooded with lantern lights as a large host of Han Chuang's men charged out, putting up a lively display.

    Xiang Shaolong glanced backwards, allowing Han Chuang to catch up. In a deep voice, he said, "Marquis, will you cooperate or not?"

    At this moment, the flesh on Han Chuang's face was twitching beneath his skin. Violently grinding his teeth, he said, "I will act in accordance with what you say!"

    Xiang Shaolong had secretly worried that he wouldn't speak up. Laughing, he said, "I recommend all of your subordinates to come out and whole-heartedly assist us in catching these thieves!"

    At this moment, fifty or so horsemen arrived in front of the main gate. Han Chuang shouted to his men, "By my orders, get over here and help the City Guards pursue the thieves!"

    His men were flabbergasted, guessing that he must be putting on an act. Assenting aloud in unison, they returned to the manor and called for men to equip their horses.

    Xiang Shaolong and his men continued to gallop without pause. After passing a few more streets, he waved towards Han Chuang. "Dismount!"

    Before Han Chuang had a clue as to what was going on, Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi flew off their still-galloping horses, their movements as graceful as that of a swimming dragon. The soldiers to each side held their horses' reins, and the two horses continued to gallop without stopping. Han Chuang had no choice but to slowly slow his horse down. Only after his horse had slowed down enough was he able to jump down. His horse was led away as well. In his heart, he couldn't help but feel admiration. By acting in such a manner, Xiang Shaolong's brilliance was put on display. If he were Prince Xinling's men, he wouldn't become suspicious either. At the moment, Handan was filled with running soldiers. It'd be strange if his manor was silent.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi darted off to one side. They watched as a group of roughly three hundred horsemen galloped directly towards them. At this point in time, Han Chuang was walking towards them from a few hundred feet away, at the point where he had dismounted.

    Xiang Shaolong said, "Order all of your men to come directly towards us and to obey my men's orders!"

    Han Chuang was already riding on the tiger's back and had no way to get off. He gestured to his men, ordering them to continue to advance. He only stopped one person, to whom he said a few words. Only then did the rest of his subordinates, bellies filled with questions, continue forward as directed.

    When the sound of hoof steps gradually faded away, Xiang Shaolong calmly said, "Marquis, at this moment, the entire district has been surrounded by my men. Nobody can enter or exit these few streets. So long as you, Marquis, are willing to cooperate with us, I am willing to say that the enemies had buried themselves in Lady Ya's courtyard, and were planning to assassinate her, only for us to have flushed them out, chasing them away towards your manor. Marquis, do you think this plan is workable?"

    Han Chuang's face was ashen. After a long time, he gloomily replied, "Is it possible for us to leave no witnesses alive? There's around ten or so slave-girls left inside."

    Xiang Shaolong said, "Do those slave-girls know the truth?"

    Han Chuang shook his head.

    Teng Yi understood Xiang Shaolong's feelings. He said, "We need to act in accordance with the demands of the situation. If we start killing people at random, that would actually raise people's suspicions."

    Han Chuang slowly calmed down. He knew that for Xiang Shaolong to be willing to protect him despite risking execution proved that he really was a true friend. Aside from secretly cursing Prince Xinling's men for having revealed their hiding place and ruined their plans, what else could he do? After sighing, he said, "Let's have you make all the decisions in this matter!"

    Right at this moment, Jing Jun appeared suddenly from out of nowhere. He excitedly reported, "Everyone is in place!"

    Xiang Shaolong suddenly felt a strange sensation. This was like a counter-terrorist operation in the 21st century. These terrorists had occupied a building, and held in their hands a precious manual of weapons diagrams. Their goal was to safely take the manual back home. At this moment, their greatest advantage against these terrorists was that the terrorists had no idea of the danger they were in, and the fact that they had a traitor, Han Chuang, on their side, who intimately knew all of the enemy's details.

    Han Chuang asked no further questions. He let out another sigh, then said, "They have thirty five men in total. However, every single one of them is an expert. Their leader is Yue Xing. He is one of Prince Xinling's competent subordinates."

    Xiang Shaolong had once shared a seating mat with Yue Xing at a banquet at Daliang, the capital of Wei. He let out a secret sigh as well. After inquiring regarding the enemy's position, he said, "If your men were to enter the granary they are hiding themselves in, is there some secret password that is needed?"

    Han Chuang secretly exclaimed to himself that this man is indeed formidable. Nodding, he said, "The password is, 'Many blessings to Master Lu'. Remember, leave no one alive. I will also need to ask that brother Dong put on a play as well, near Lady Ya's residence."

    Wu Guo just happened to arrive by their side with several of his best men. Teng Yi pulled him off to one side and instructed him to order a troop of men one street over to go to Zhao Ya's residence.

    Xiang Shaolong clapped his hand on Han Chuang's shoulder. He reassured him, "Marquis, be at ease. I, Dong Kuang, have already decided to act in lockstep with you in this matter. Afterwards, all of the corpses will be spread across the courtyard, the walls, and the streets. In addition, after Xiaocheng gets his secret manual back, he's not going to quibble too much over how I returned it!"

    Frowning, Han Chuang said, "The most worrisome problem is that your subordinates might let the secret out."

    Xiang Shaolong patted his shoulder forcefully, before replying in a relaxed way, "The people I have surrounding this place are local Zhao soldiers, but the people who will be accompanying us on this mission are my clansmen. I knew from the start that this had nothing to do with you, Marquis, and I immediately decided to do my best to help you cover this matter up, no matter what."

    Han Chuang knew that Xiang Shaolong really should not have acted in such a way. He gratefully said, "Brother Dong, you really are a true friend!"

    Xiang Shaolong was secretly berating himself for being so soft-hearted, even towards such bad men as Han Chuang. But without Han Chuang's help, it was likely that the only thing they would be able to retrieve would be the ashes of Lu Gong's secret manual. He replied, "Marquis, please go join up again with your servants and wait for news."

    After he was done talking, he started to move towards the residence with Teng Yi and Jing Jun. Han Chuang, under the 'protection' of several of Xiang Shaolong's elite troops, was quickly escorted away.

    The civilians nearby had been awakened by the hoof steps long ago. All of them were panicked, but nobody dared to stick their heads out to take a look. Instead, they actually shut their doors and windows, afraid that trouble might make its way to them.

    Xiang Shaolong suppressed the grief and hatred he felt for the deaths of Xiao Zhao and the others, returning to his normal calm and cool-headedness as he began to carry out this counter-terrorist operation.

    Borrowing the light of the moon, Xiang Shaolong, Teng Yi, and Jing Jun led around twenty or so crack troopers who were especially talented to flip over the walls with their tools, landing within the wide expanse of the manor's rear garden. They moved as quickly as ghosts, without making any noise.

    Everything was quiet, like normal. The only thing which could be heard was the pre-arranged sounds of horses galloping to and fro, which perfectly concealed and drowned out any sounds which they might have made.

    There were three storehouses arranged in a neat row in the garden. The one in the middle was their target, the granary. The group quickly moved towards it, locating all of the doors and windows. They took the best hiding spots they could find. Others climbed on top of the roof, preparing to drop in through the windows.

    The granary was totally dark inside. It was totally silent.

    Next, around fifty crack troops climbed over the walls as well, hiding themselves within the flowers and other plants in the garden. All of them had loaded crossbows in their hands.

    Seeing that all the preparations were in order, Xiang Shaolong motioned towards Teng Yi and walked towards the granary door.

    The two pulled out their precious swords, arriving in front of the door.

    Knock, knock!

    The soul-stirring sound of the door being knocked felt especially grating to the ear.

    The granary remained silent.

    Teng Yi said in a low voice, "Many blessings to Master Lu!"

    A few moments later, a deep voice shouted, "What is it? Why have you come to find us now?"

    Teng Yi shouted in reply, "Open the door now! The Marquis ordered us to come here and give you a report."

    How could the man know that it was all a trick? With a creaking sound, he opened the thick wooden door by just a crack.

    Teng Yi shot out a powerful kick. With a miserable cry, the person who opened the door collapsed inwards along with the door.

    The wooden door fell.

    It was time to make their move.

    The crack troops attacked from the eight windows situated around the granary. First, they threw in around twenty or so wind lanterns which they had just lit. These wind lanterns were marvelously designed. Around the size of a soccer ball, the flame was kept within the center. The lantern cloth were perforated with holes and treated with flame-retardant chemicals. Thus, they would not catch flames. They were one of the secret weapon the crack troops used for night assaults.

    The small granary, capable of holding only around ten or so large baskets of grain, was immediately filled with light, revealing the positions of each and every one of the thirty or so men within, be they standing or seated.

    At one moment, they were in a world of darkness, where they couldn't even see their own fingers; in the next, they were assaulted by brilliant light. There was no way for their eyes to immediately adjust, rendering them effectively blind. In addition, when hit with such a shocking change, everybody was panicked.

    This was precisely one of the best counter-terrorism techniques the 21st century had to offer.

    No matter how evil and vile a terrorist might be, in the end, he was still a human. Physiologically, he was no different from any other person.

    That was why, out of all the weapons counter-terrorism experts designed to assault the terrorists' senses, Xiang Shaolong was the most proficient and skilled at using cryo beams and nerve grenades.

    The former was capable of sending out a beam of cold at a temperature of negative 273 Celsius. At this temperature, absolute zero, all living cells would instantly stop moving. Afterwards, when the enemies were thawed out, they would be totally fine, albeit made prisoners.

    Nerve grenades had a very wide radius, and were capable of paralyzing the enemy's nervous system. After the enemy became totally immobile, they were helpless to resist any attacks.

    In this age, he obviously did not have access to such awe-inspiring, powerful weapons. But the 'wind lanterns' which Xiang Shaolong came up with, when used in this situation, had much the same effect.

    The only difference was in whether or not there would be any left alive.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi had mentally prepared themselves long ago. As soon as the wind lanterns were thrown within the room and illuminated their enemy's bodies, the two dropped to the floor and rolled into the room.

    At the same moment, Xiang Shaolong threw out a flying dagger, sending it flying into the neck of the door opener, who had been knocked down on the ground as well, blood flowing from a wound in his head.

    Within the still-bright room, they saw that the bloodstained murderers were still in full battle gear, and had not yet relaxed. There were two people guarding the door, one of whom Xiang Shaolong faintly recalled as being Yue Xing.

    When Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi jumped up, their longswords forcefully rose up from the ground as well, gutting into these two men's bellies.

    Just as Xiang and Teng made their sword strikes, the sound of crossbows being fired could be hired, followed by miserable cries.

    Before Yue Xing and the other had even had a chance to draw their blades, they felt an unbearable pain. And then, as blood spurted from their bodies, they stumbled backwards.

    The remaining men were all struck by cross bolts and staggered around.

    Yue Xing and the other man stumbled back ten or so steps before fell down backwards. Their breathing halted, they died.

    Thinking of how Xiao Zhao had been burned to death, how could Xiang Shaolong feel any pity? Charging forwards, he killed two people in a row before realizing that no more enemies remained standing. Jing Jun, who had flipped in through the windows, had killed one more person than he did.

    Xiang Shaolong pounced towards Yue Xing's corpse and began to search the body. He found both the original and the copy of Lu Gong's secret manual. A surge of sentiment suddenly swelled within him. If it weren't for these two things, how could Xiao Zhao and the others have lost their lives?

    Teng Yi walked towards him. In a low voice, he said, "Are you really going to cover up Han Chuang's role in this?"

    Xiang Shaolong let out a sigh. Rising, he said, "Am I too soft-hearted?"

    Teng Yi wiped away the fresh blood from his sabre. He dully said, "There's not much time left. Let's hurry up and handle this matter!"

    He motioned for the crack troops to move the corpses from inside the courtyard to outside, after finishing off the still-living with a stab, something which Xiang Shaolong himself could not bring himself to do.

    King Xiaocheng, seeing Lu Gong's secret manual placed in front of him on the desk, was overjoyed. He didn't really pay too much mind to Xiang Shaolong's description of how he had chased the assassins out of Lady Ya's residence, then surrounded and wiped them out.

    Off to one side were Zhao Ya, her beautiful eyes still swollen red, and Empress Jing. Watching, they were both gratified that Xiang Shaolong had become the meritorious hero of the day.

    Only Guo Kai's eyes were coldly turning as he said, "How could Comander Dong be so unwise as to not leave a single survivor, who would be able to directly accuse Prince Xinling of his crimes?"

    And then he said towards King Xiaocheng, "If we had been able to secure a living witness, we might be able to repair the situation with Wei as well. It looks as though these people also played a role in the attempt to assassinate Lord Longyang."

    Hearing his "new husband's" reminder, King Xiaocheng frowned. He said towards Xiang Shaolong, "Chief Advisor Guo's words are logical. What do you have to say for yourself, Commander Dong?"

    Xiang Shaolong calmly replied, "Your humble servant had no other choice. I had to kill them as quickly as possible. Otherwise, when the enemies realized that their situation was hopeless, they would move to destroy the manual. Even if they only destroyed part of it, it would still be a great loss for us."

    Empress Jing spoke in support, "Lord Longyang had already recognized some of the people involved and verified that the leader of the group was Prince Xinling's servant, Yue Xing. All we have to do is deliver these corpses back to Mr. Wuji, and I expect that he will be very frustrated."

    King Xiaocheng was primarily interested only in Lu Gong's secret manual. When he thought it over, it made sense. Nodding towards Xiang Shaolong, he joyfully said, "Commander Dong, you have accomplished an extraordinary service. Naturally, we will reward you heavily. Hmm..."

    Xiang Shaolong knelt down and thanked him. "Majesty, your generosity shames me. No matter what, your humble servant bears responsibility for having allowed this group of bandits to remain undetected in Handan. Majesty, you are already being very benevolent by not pursuing that further. Your humble servant recommends publicly displaying these corpses for three days, sending a public message of reassurance to the people of the city."

    Seeing how humble he was, King Xiaocheng was all the more delighted with him and nodded repeatedly.

    Xiang Shaolong seized the opportunity. "To improve the safety of the city, your servant would like to commandeer some additional men to fortify our defenses. I hope that you will allow it, Majesty."

    But on such a matter, King Xiaocheng was not careless at all. He said, "Minister, present your defense plans to us for our perusal. If there are no problems with it, I will immediately approve it." As he spoke, he let out two yawns in succession.

    Xiang Shaolong took the opportunity to ask for leave to withdraw.

    The day was just beginning to brighten.

  2. #102
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 10 Chapter 2 - Complicated Situation

    Inside the carriage, Zhao Ya curled up inside Xiang Shaolong’s embrace, extremely sorrowful over her loss.

    Xiang Shaolong rubbed her shoulder and softly whispered, “Keep up your spirit! A dead person can’t return back to life. We can only use our grief as strength to embrace all the upcoming dangers.”

    Zhao Ya twitched, “They all died tragically. We couldn’t even recognize their faces. Who would actually dare to collaborate with these murderers? How did they even know the secret path to the palace?”

    Xiang Shaolong’s heart trembled in fear. If this problem was investigated properly, even Empress Jing would be implicated in it, but if he didn’t explain everything to Zhao Ya clearly, with her wisdom, who knows one day she might realize that he had been lying to her all along. So, he explained Han Chuang’s role in this incident.

    Zhao Ya was filled with hatred, dissatisfied, “How could you let go of Han Chuang?”

    Looking at her filled with hatred and fury, Xiang Shaolong started to have a headache, sighed, “I also have no alternative. This incident must surely involve Empress Jing. In our current circumstances, there can only be danger and no advantage towards Zhao. If the relation between Han and Zhao worsen, it would only provide advantages to Tian Dan and Li Yuan. Ya’er, can you understand my difficulties? Don’t forget that I promised you to help your brother to tide over this crisis!”

    After this reasoning, it’s hard for Zhao Ya to pursue it further, lying back down onto his embrace, she whispered, “Shaolong, I hate my Brother. Besides himself and his personal interest, he doesn’t care about anybody else.”

    Xiang Shaolong secretly sighed. At the end of it, everyone who becomes the Emperor will become like this.

    Absolute power will corrupt anyone.

    When he thought about this, he couldn’t help but consider Xiao Pan, the future Qin Shi Huang. Just thinking about it brought about intense feeling of dread.

    Handan had just passed a quiet but not so quiet morning.

    Lord Xinling’s underlings had all been executed. Everyone in the city was shaken. This has brought Xiang Shaolong’s prestige as the new City Commander to a whole new level of height.

    The following few days, Xiang Shaolong and the rest were busy. They have put in place several new preventive measures, but in actual fact, they were secretly preparing a way to capture Zhao Mu back to Xianyang in order to complete this mission.

    With Guo Kai persuasion, Cheng Xu was released and allowed to resume his original post. Both were now even more envious of him. At the same time, they were confused why Zhao Mu hadn’t done anything even after knowing of Xiang Shaolong’s plot.

    Because of Lord Xinling’s incident, both Tian Dan and Li Yuan tried to keep a low profile, not allowing anyone to guess what they are doing.

    Han Chuang tried even harder to avoid suspicions, rarely went out for anything. Even more, he wouldn’t dare to request Shaolong to allow Tian Zhen and Tian Feng to accompany him, relieving Xiang Shaolong of this headache.

    Lord Longyang decided to return to Daliang. Xiao Cheng decided on a day inside the palace to organize a banquet in order to send off Lord Longyang.

    On the morning of three days before the farewell banquet, Zhao Mu sent someone looking for Xiang Shaolong.

    Xiang Shaolong knew what it is all about, left whatever he’s doing and went to Marquis resident to see Zhao Mu.

    This traitor invited him in to the secret room, excitedly said, “Your idea of loyalty letter is amazing. I can immediately test who is loyal towards me and who is sitting in neutral ground undecided.”

    Xiang Shaolong replied, “Quickly give me the names of these undecided people so that I may present them to Xiao Cheng to get rid off.”

    Zhao Mu pulled out a letter from his chest, spread it out on the table, gleefully smiled, “We both are thinking along the same line. Look! I have prepared it already.”

    Xiang Shaolong looked at it closely and only saw more than ten names written on it. Cheng Xu surprisingly was written amongst them. The rest are all prominent ministers and generals inside the city.

    Xiang Shaolong was astonished, “Isn’t Cheng Xu Guo Kai’s underling? How could he appear on this list? Could it be…?”

    Zhao Mu’s eyes glinted with wildness briefly, “If it wasn’t for me, this ungrateful bastard wouldn’t even have the right to be Palace Commander? You better used this time when Xiao Cheng is unhappy with him to get rid off him.”

    With these words, Xiang Shaolong instantly understood that Cheng Xu is definitely not his underling. He only wants to borrow someone else’s hand to kill him so that he can get his underling onto Cheng Xu’s current position.

    From this conclusion, who would have the biggest opportunity to be the next Palace Commander would probably be Zhao Mu’s man.

    Zhao Mu smiled, “Even if we couldn’t harm him, we have nothing to lose!”

    Then he went silent, “Xiao Cheng truly summoned Li Mu to return to the city. The 20,000 thousands elite soldiers under his command are on the way here. They will arrive in Handan in 7 days. Hmph! But his return will only bring about his death because Xiao Cheng doesn’t have that many days to live.”

    Xiang Shaolong secretly rejoiced. He knew that Zhao Mu had decided on a plan to usurp the throne. Pretending to be excited, “I have also prepared everything. Marquis, when have you decided to act?”

    Zhao Mu was shivering in excitement. The poisonous snake-like ugly scar on his face and both his eyes were flashing in excitement. He frostily replied, “Three days later during Lord Longyang’s farewell banquet. Every ministers and generals will all be inside the palace. That would be the perfect time to act.”

    This time, even Xiang Shaolong was confused, “But that would be when the security inside the palace would be most tight and the alertness would be most high, where is the opportunity in there?”

    Zhao Mu smiled sinisterly, “As long as you can get organise those Generals whom are loyal towards Xiao Cheng to move into the palace and replaced them with our people, then the city will fall under my hands. Under those circumstances, would Handan then be like a meat on top of the anvil allowing me free reign to oppress and exploit.”

    Xiang Shaolong replied in a heavy voice, “Could Marquis explain it better for me?”
    Zhao Mu nodded, “Our helping hand is that thief, Xiang Shaolong. I will organize someone to leave a mark that he has arrived inside the city. By that time, even if you don’t bring it up, the badly frightened Xiao Cheng will force you to track him down. You can use that as an excuse to move about and blockade the palace. On the other side, you can open wide the gate to allow Tian Dan’s army to enter the city. By then, who would be afraid of the trivial 10,000 palace guards, even more so when I have my own people inside too?”

    Xiang Shaolong frowned, “Isn’t this too forceful? It seems like there is slight discrepancy between this and what Marquis had originally planned for?” Continuing in a soft voice, “Can you really trust the Qi?”

    Zhao Mu was slightly displeased, “Regarding this, I have my own consideration. As long as you can attain Handan’s military power and follow my instructions, three days later would be Xiao Cheng’s time to return to heaven. The rest you don’t need to worry about. Afterwards, I guarantee that not only you’ll become the three army commander in chief, wealth and rank will be yours to enjoy.”

    Xiang Shaolong knew that the situation won’t be as simple as he described but he knew that if he continues to pursue this line of questioning, it will raise his suspicions. After agreeing to his request, he took his leave and immediately headed to request an audience with King Zhao.

    Inside the palace, Xiang Shaolong on seeing Xiao Cheng, was afraid that there might be spies amongst the palace guards, sent him an eye signal. Xiao Cheng agreed and led him to walk through the palace garden with the guards guarding from a distance. After listening to Xiang Shaolong’s report, he sighed, “Until today, I just realized the loyalty and importance of both Li Mu and Lian Po towards this Zhao. After eliminating Zhao Mu and his gangs, with Guo Kai and General Dong’s help, and also Li Mu and Lian Po, I am confident that we can rebuild our country again. In addition, we also have Lu Gong Secret Manual. Unifying the whole country is just a matter of time. General Dong need to work hard this time. I definitely wouldn’t forget your hardwork.”

    With a person like Xiao Cheng spouting these words is an equivalent of actually confiding in him. If Xiao Cheng can truly be what he promised to do then there is a hope to rebuild the country again. But listening to this heartfelt confession, Xiang Shaolong for whatever reason felt an inauspicious feeling. His heart felt really uncomfortable. Maybe, it’s because it doesn’t follow Xiao Cheng’s normal behavior, that’s why it gave him an abrupt feeling.

    Looking at Xiao Cheng’s pale face, Xiang Shaolong replied in a heavy voice, “If the city’s commander post is vacant, who would you choose as a replacement?”

    Xiao Cheng couldn’t answer right away, frowning, “General Dong, why are you in a rush to know?”

    Xiang Shaolong replied, “All along, Zhao Mu doesn’t fully trust me. He hides many things from me. I saw how confidence he is so he must have someone who is loyal towards him inside the army. If the city commander’s position is empty, this Zhao Mu’s underling would have a big probability of being chosen for this role.”

    Xiao Cheng shook his head smiling, “This is only one of Zhao Mu’s wishes. In reality, even I myself am not sure who I would have chosen. There are several candidates, I don’t believe that all of them are on his side.”

    Xiang Shaolong was shaken, “If something suddenly happened to the Commander General, under these circumstances, you must have someone in mind to temporarily lead the guards to avoid any chaos. In your heart, who would be the best candidate?”

    Under the Zhao’s Palace Commander, there are 10 Imperial Colonel leading the 10 armies. Each army contains roughly between 1,000-1,500 soldiers. These armies specialize in guarding King Zhao’s safety. All of them have been rigorous training and selection process. They are the elite. Their skills are far above the city guards and the outer city soldiers.

    Under normal circumstances, if the Palace Commander could not carry out his duties, one of amongst the 10 Colonel will carry it out instead, selecting the best of them to temporarily take over, mainly because they are familiar the Palace security and activities so as not to cause any problem.

    Xiao Cheng deliberated over his choices for a while, sighed, “This problem is hard for me to decide in such a short amount of time.”

    Xiang Shaolong understood his indecisive personality and continued to ask, “It seems like if we can’t obtain those Loyalty Letters, then we can’t feel out what Zhao Mu plan is. Let me handle this! Your Majesty, please relax.”

    Xiao Cheng fully trusts him, “Tommorow, I will give you the other half of the army seal. It will give you the authority to move the armies around.” He paused for awhile then continued, “If Tian Dan also joins in with that traitor that wants to usurp my throne, I want to take advantage of this time to kill him. General Dong, do you have the confidence to do this?”

    Xiang Shaolong replied in a heavy tone, “Your Majesty, have you thought of the consequences?”

    Xiao Cheng sighed, “I have thought over this issue for several days now. The Qi without Tian Dan would be like a tiger without claws and teeth. The problem is this person is not easy to kill. That’s why I am asking General Dong’s opinion.”

    Looking at this worried face, Xiang Shaolong gritted his teeth, “Leave this to me! Hey! I have a request if Your Majesty would be so kind to grant it.”

    Xiao Cheng said, “Please continue, General Dong!”

    Xiang Shaolong continued, “Regarding handling Zhao Mu, if Your Majesty could keep this a secret between the two of us and not let anyone else knows, including Minister Guo.”

    Xiao Cheng was stunned, displeased, “Does General Dong suspect Minister Guo?”
    Xiao Shaolong replied, “As long as we haven’t obtained that Loyalty Letters, I couldn’t be sure who is in that traitor’s pocket. Zhao Mu’s men could even be one of Minister Guo’s underlings. In this important moment, one mistake would cause everything to fall apart. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

    Xiao Cheng contemplated his words for a while then nodded in agreement. After discussing the details of the operation, Xiang Shaolong left the palace and return to his command center. He sent for Teng Yi and told him of the current situations.
    Teng Yi was absorbed momentarily then replied resolutely, “Zhao Mu has started to be more wary of you. Hng! Your performance was just too amazing, especially after snatching back the Lu Gong Secret Manual. If I was Zhao Mu, I would also be a little bit cautious towards you.”

    Xiang Shaolong anxiously said, “Not only Zhao Mu became more wary over this, but my biggest problem is that I had serendipitiously become the biggest benefactor of Le Cheng’s death. Even more troublesome is that Guo Kai is plotting something in the background. Now I am at a critical time. Truly bad timing!”

    Teng Yi blanked, “What do you mean serendipitiously?”

    Xiang Shaolong smiled bitterly while explaining it to him then said, “Now, we have to find a way to grab those Loyalty Letters before we can understand Zhao Mu’s movements. I reckon this sly as fox old thief would want me to get my hand dirty while he just sits by watching. Ai! I’m gonna talk to Tian Dan.”

    Teng Yi said, “You better not do that. It seems like Tian Dan is also suspicious of you. If you go, it would be an equivalent of sending yourself to death. You might even accidentally reveal a weak point. If he asked you about the Lu Gong Secret Manual, how will you answer to him? He is not Xiao Cheng. He wouldn’t trust you easily. Furthermore, he must have known the relationship between them and Han Chuang. There’s also Li Yuan. Recently, we might have overlooked him too.”

    Xiang Shaolong was disconcerted upon hearing this. While troubling himself over this, his underling came in to report that Lord Longyang is here to see him.

    Xiang Shaolong smiled bitterly, “Now, the only one I can trust is this not man and not woman fellow.” After saying this, he went to the main hall to greet Lord Longyang.

    After waving away his people, the two of them sits in the corner and starts chatting softly.

    Lord Longyang’s spirit had improved a lot, returning almost to his previous condition and gaining back his confidence, watching him closely momentarily, gently said, “This morning, Li Yuan came looking for me. He wants me to join forces with him to force Xiao Cheng to withdraw his troops from the Yan, otherwise Qi and Chu will resort to military forces. Hmph! He is full of himself. After only becoming the country’s uncle for a few days, he felt like he is the representative of Chu’s Xiao Lie.”

    Xiang Shaolong replied, “If Qi and Chu combined forces to deal with us, would Wei also come out to help?”

    Lord Longyang smiled, “Brother Dong, even though your wisdom is as deep as the sea, but your disposition afterall is forthright and honest. You wouldn’t understand someone as treacherous as Li Yuan. What he said and what he does is totally different. He only said that to cover up another bigger treacherous plot. You better warn Xiao Cheng to be more wary of him. Ai! I am really worried about you, Brother Dong!”

    Xiang Shaolong was stunned, “Why would you say that, My Lord?”

    Lord Longyang sighed, “I knew that you attained this City Commander role primarily due to Empress Jing’s backing. After the fire, I want to warn Brother Dong that this woman is very ambitious. Without making any noise, she can play around with people as easily as if they are on the palm of her hand. It wouldn’t even waste a small breath it takes to blow a speck of dust for her to put you beyond redemption. In the past, when Lord Xinling lives away from home in Handan, they were both involved with each other. You are now useful to her, so of course, she would try her best to win you over. Once you have expired your usefulness, let’s see how she will treat you then?”

    Xiang Shaolong started to cold sweat, he truly didn’t consider Empress Jing as a threat. Now looking back, she really isn’t that simple. At the present struggle, regardless of which side wins, she will reap benefit regardless.

    The problem lies with Li Mu and Lian Po. As long as they’re alive, no one would dare to touch her.

    Xiang Shaolong considered himself to be in Empress Jing’s shoes. She wished someone could help her to eliminate her King husband in name only but not in reality so that her son could ascend the throne while she controlled everything behind the scenes. At that time, with Li Mu and Lian Po, these two loyal and famous generals, backing, her standing will be as stable as Mount Taishan.

    Suddenly, he understood the significance of his role as the City Commander. Only he could give her power to control Zhao Mu and contend with Qi and Chu, these two foreign forces.

    When he thought of this, one soft jade hand covered the back of his hand.
    Xiang Shaolong was surprised and looked at Lord Longyang. He only saw him tenderly gazing at him, sincerely said, “Please leave Handan! Otherwise you will die without burial ground. It doesn’t matter who ascend the Zhao’s throne, at the end of it, they both will want to eliminate you.”

    Xiang Shaolong endured his almost acceptable hand on his hand, resolutely shook his head, “I never cared about life and death before, especially when we are at the juncture of my country’s demise, even more, I wouldn’t avoid and not care about this, otherwise I will regret it for the rest of my life and I would be ashamed to face my father in the afterlife.”

    Lord Longyang saw that he is determined, retracted his jade hand, took a long sigh in a depressed state, gently said, “Brother Dong truly is a real hero. I won’t force you anymore but if one day Brother Dong can’t endure this anymore, please remember that I will be waiting for you in Daliang.” Paused for awhile before continuing, “Although Empress Jing and Guo Kai have different opinion on the City Commander post, but both of them, because of gains and losses issues, will collaborate with each other. You have to be careful of them!”

    Xiang Shaolong was astounded. An idea flashed quickly through his mind. At the same time, he berated himself for his oversight for not realizing earlier Empress Jing’s machinations everywhere.

    Lord Longyang had nothing left to say and took his leave.

    Xiang Shaolong was touched. Full of gratitude, he saw him to the stable outside the command center and sent him off.

    He knew in that instant that he needs to start his strategy afresh. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to leave Handan alive. Furthermore, he wouldn’t be able to capture Zhao Mu alive.

  3. #103
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 10 Chapter 3 - Appearing to Both Welcome and Spurn

    After sending off Lord Longyang, Xiang Shaolong sent a messenger to secretly summon Pu Bu to inquire regarding Zhao Mu's recent activities.

    Pu Bu thought for a while, then responded, "Recently, he spends very little time at his estate. The people accompanying him are all trusted bodyguards who have been with him for over ten years."

    Xiang Shaolong said, "How are all of your brothers doing?"

    Pu Bu excitedly said, "They are extremely excited. They all say that Master Xiang lives up to his words and has not abandoned them. Your ambush and assassination of Le Cheng was all the more exquisite. However, I still do not dare to inform them that Master Dong is really Xiang Shaolong. It's always best to be a cautious."

    Seeing how prudent the man was, Xiang Shaolong felt greatly relieved. "Every time Zhao Mu returns to his estate, is there any room in particular he spends most of his time in?"

    Pu Bu was slightly stunned. Nodding, he said, "Now that you mention it, Master Dong, I do seem to recall that the past few times he's returned to the estate, he'll always go to the Jade Peach Garden at the eastern side of the residence. He keeps on walking in circles at the Reclining Traveler's Veranda there, and also ordered me to send people to guard that place in specific. Five sentry posts were set up. Master Dong, for you to ask such a question, you must know the reason behind his actions."

    Xiang Shaolong resolutely said, "Let's see how the situation is tonight!"

    Pu Bu let out a sigh. From within his bosom, he withdrew an overhead map of the marquis' estate. "I prepared this map long ago. Every single guard post is marked clearly. This part here is the Jade Peach Garden. The rectangle within the garden is the Reclining Traveler's Veranda. Be sure not to go on the roof; there's a hidden sentry there."

    Xiang Shaolong saw how even the hidden sentry was noted down on the map. After analyzing it for a while, he said, "As long as we can breach the outer barrier, we'll have our opportunity. What is this thick line circling around the Reclining Traveler's Veranda?"

    Pu Bu said, "That's a man-made creek that also serves as a natural barrier. It definitely isn't easy to get near the Reclining Traveler's Veranda." He explained in detail again.

    Xiang Shaolong, fearing that his long absence might raise other's suspicions, quickly urged him to leave.

    After sending off Pu Bu, Xiang Shaolong unceasingly analyzed that map, but before he was able to think of any appropriate way by which he could sneak into the estate without attracting any attention at all, in glided in the straight-tempered Ji Yanran.

    When this great beauty saw him, she appeared less joyful than she had in the past. She morosely burrowed into his embrace, saying, "I'm very worried! Although you demonstrated your prowess, you've aroused the suspicions of all parties. The strangest thing of all is, why would you have sent people to secretly watch over Zhao Ya's palace, and why is it that when you pursued Prince Xinling's men, you only used your own subordinates?"

    Hearing so many flaws exposed at once, Xiang Shaolong was stunned. "Did you come up with this by yourself, or did you hear it from others?"

    Snuggling in his arms, Ji Yanran sorrowfully said, "If I can think of these questions, can it be that others will not? Fortunately, no matter what theories they come up with, they still wouldn't be able to imagine that you are Xiang Shaolong. They only suspect that you, Empress Jing, and Han Chuang have some secret plan and are plotting in secret. Everyone knows that without Han Chuang providing information and a hiding spot, there is no way Yue Xing and his men would have been able to sneak into the Zhao palace to commit murder and arson, much less discover the location of Lu Gong's secret manual!"

    Xiang Shaolong was stunned speechless. Just as he was secretly berating himself for losing sight of the greater picture, this talented woman continued, "For the sake of ruining my opinions of you, Li Yuan unceasingly badmouths you under the pretext of discussing Zhao politics. He claims that you are one of the instigators of the arson, and that you, Empress Jing, and Zhao Ya have formed an alliance, and that you hope the be promoted into the nobility. It's good that he does so. That's why I still go to his place often to hear the news."

    Xiang Shaolong unhappily said, "You still meet with him frequently?"

    Ji Yanran coquettishly glanced at him. "Oh! How sweet! Shaolong is sipping from a cup of vinegar [getting jealous]. You oversensitive rascal! I'm suffering all this on your behalf. Li Mu has almost returned. When is Zhao Mu planning to make his move?"

    Xiang Shaolong explained Zhao Mu's plans to her.

    Ji Yanran's face became dignified and imposing. In a solemn voice, she said, "It seems they aren't even willing to let Han Chuang and Lord Longyang off the hook."

    Frowning, Xiang Shaolong said, "You think Zhao Mu would be willing to offend both the countries of Han and Wei under these circumstances?"

    Ji Yanran said, "Zhao Mu only needs to find an excuse to force the two to remain in Handan. By the time Han and Wei find out what happened, months would have passed. By that time, they would 'hesitate to smash a rat for fear of breaking the dishes nearby'. If within those first few months, Zhao Mu is able to execute or dismiss Li Mu and Lian Po without bloodshed, and also has both Qi and Chu supporting him, it won't be too hard for him to ascend to the throne!"

    Xiang Shaolong hesitated for a long time. After first getting a bit frisky with this beautiful woman, causing her entire face to blush red, he said, "Yanran, will you do as I say?"

    Ji Yanran was still 30% clearheaded. She sweetly replied, "As long as you don't intend to force me to leave you, anything is negotiable."

    Xiang Shaolong said, "How could I bear to? To the contrary, I intend to fall asleep while holding you each night!"

    Ji Yanran doubtingly said, "Don't you need to accompany your other wives?"

    Xiang Shaolong knew that he had just exaggerated too much. He tried to play it all the way through, "Can't we just spread a large blanket to cover everybody?"

    Ji Yanran glanced at him tenderly, unable to keep from smiling. "Sleeping together under one big blanket? How could you think of such a thing! I'm not as debauched and depraved as you. Oh! What was it exactly that you wanted me to do?"

    Growing serious, Xiang Shaolong said, "How many warriors do you have under you? How good are they?"

    Ji Yanran said, "My father and I have, all together, around a hundred family warriors. Roughly twenty of them can be considered high-class fighters. There are no questions at all about their loyalty, especially my own personal men. They are all clansmen who fled to Wei with us to avoid disaster. Each of them have their own unique skills. We even have some expert swordsmiths."

    Xiang Shaolong remembered that she was a member of the nobility of the country of Yue, the same as Tian Zhen and Tian Feng. He secretly thought that the beauties of Yue really were quite extraordinary. His heart suddenly stirred, he began to attack her with both hands and lips, while saying, "Regardless of whether or not we succeed in this venture, we will need to leave Zhao. I want you to come up with an excuse for leaving..."

    Ji Yanran's violently trembling face turned white in the blink of an eye. She sat up straight and, ignoring his hands roaming across her breasts, resolutely said, "No! Even if I am to die, I will die with you. I long ago have had my fill of the pain of being parted."

    Xiang Shaolong was greatly moved. In a soft voice, he said, "Your departure will only be a ploy. Now that I am the City Commander, I naturally have the capability of stealthily bringing you back so that you might secretly aid me. The reason I want you to leave is so that you can take away both Zou Yan as well as those two twin serving girls of mine to a safe place. That way, I can scheme without fear."

    Ji Yanran's pretty face returned to its original color. Letting out a sigh, she said, "As you wish!" Then she mumbled, "The best excuse is to return to Wei for a funeral. By chance, I just received a letter informing me that Empress Wei, who has always treated me like her own daughter, has just passed away due to illness. I will use this as an excuse to immediately head back towards Wei two days from now. When I reach the boundaries of Wei, I will alter my path towards Han. But as far as how to secretly enter Qin and then return to Han, you will have to make the arrangements. Oh! I'm so happy! Not only would I be able to stay with you day and night, I'll be able to stay with you at all times as one of your 'soldiers'."

    After an ardent kiss, they discussed various stratagems for leaving Zhao before Xiang Shaolong urged her away.

    When Teng Yi saw him, he said, "Han Chuang sent someone here to look for you. He says he has urgent business."

    Xiang Shaolong secretly pondered how wonderful it would be if he could create multiple copies of himself like Sun Wukong. His heart suddenly stirred, he pulled Teng Yi off to one side. "Tonight, I am going to burglarize Zhao Mu's mansion. At that time, if you dress up as me, then we can keep everything safe and hidden."

    Teng Yi frowned. "The oaths of loyalty?"

    Xiang Shaolong nodded.

    Teng Yi was silent for some time, then said, "In order to defend against the real Xiang Shaolong, Zhao Mu must have prepared tight, cautious rings of defenses. Must you take this risk?"

    Xiang Shaolong smiled wryly. "In order to understand Zhao Mu's plot so as to prevent our boat from sinking in the sewer, there's no better alternatives."

    Teng Yi sighed along with him. "No one would be a better fit for disguising themselves as you as Wu Guo. That fellow is especially skilled at playing tricks, and is even more skilled at imitating others' voices and intonations. With me helping to conceal any flaws, I guarantee that no one will be able to tell. Hey! Why don't we have young Jing Jun go with you tonight as well!"

    Xiang Shaolong said, "I have received information from Pu Bu which thoroughly details Zhao Mu's defenses. The fewer people who know about this matter, the better. Oh well! I will go visit Han Chuang first. We can discuss things more in depth when I return." When he thought about the placement of guards in the garden, he became all the more cheerless.

    Teng Yi, knowing that he had made up his mind, did not speak further.

    They arrived at Han Chuang's manor. The marquis' face was somber as he led them into his residence. Only after they arrived at a tightly closed door in an inner room did he speak. "Empress Jing wishes to see you again." Pushing the door open, he walked in.

    The only person within the hall was Empress Jing herself. Her back facing towards them, she was staring outside the only window in the room at the garden below.

    The rays of light shining past her from the window made this beautiful married woman appear all the more enchanting and graceful. For a moment, Xiang Shaolong found it difficult to link her to all of her stratagems.

    The two gingerly walked behind her.

    Empress Jing slowly turned around. First, she smiled slightly towards Xiang Shaolong. But when her gaze fell upon Han Chuang, she said with a cold humph, "If the person handling that affair had been anyone but Minister Dong, you would have exhausted me to death, you rash, impetuous man."

    Han Chuang was a person of great personal standing. For Empress Jing to openly rebuke him in such a manner in front of Xiang Shaolong made him feel very awkward. His entire face turned red, but he didn't refute her remarks.

    Xiang Shaolong soothingly said, "At least the affair is over with now. Empress Jing, please do not blame the Marquis."

    Empress Jing's face was as cold as ice. After staring at Han Chuang for a while, she said, "There are still repercussions to come from this matter. I said long ago that considering the current circumstances, it isn't advisable to have any contact with Prince Xinling. And yet, you refused to listen to me and almost imperiled Minister Dong."

    Han Chuang sighed, "Elder sister Jing! How else do you want me to pay for my transgressions before your anger will be appeased? I, too, didn't expect Yue Xing and his men to be so aggressive and cause such trouble."

    Empress Jing suddenly laughed. Just as the two were feeling confused, the beautiful married woman said, "The only benefit is that King Xiaocheng now trusts Commander Dong even more, and that that ****, Zhao Ya, feels extremely grateful to him as well. Fine! I want to speak with Minister Dong in private."

    Han Chuang found it appropriate to leave, closing the door as he departed.

    Empress Jing approached Xiang Shaolong. At a hand span away, she halted her footsteps. In a soft voice, she said, "Minister Dong, how should I thank you for performing such a meritorious deed?"

    Although he knew very well that she was using her beauty to win him over and that her heart was filled with schemes, when he remembered that she held the lofty position of Empress of Zhao and saw how sensual and sexy she was, he couldn't help but feel extremely aroused. With a dry throat, he said, "Empress, you showed me great favor by promoting me. Naturally, I will serve you with all my effort and am willing to do anything."

    Empress Jing took another step forward, almost touching Xiang Shaolong's bosom. She lifted her face up, eyes sparkling with light, as she said gently, "The people in this day and age all say one thing and do another. People like Minister Dong, who are willing to risk their own lives to carry out their promises to me, make me feel extremely grateful. I will never forget what you have done for me, Han Jing. I guarantee you riches and honor for every day I am in power."

    If this were in the past, Xiang Shaolong's trusting nature would have caused him to feel extremely moved. But after having been warned in advance by Lord Longyang, he was vigilant and only dared to tentatively listen to her words. But he allowed a look of gratitude to appear on his face as he said in a soft voice, "I, Dong Kuang, always pay my debts. And this was just a small matter besides..."

    Empress Jing moved forward slightly one more time. Her tall, erect, firm breasts pressed firmly against his chest. Her breathing beginning to grow rapid, she said, "Regardless of whether or not I am the empress, I am a woman. I need a man to look after me. You also know the king's ugly secret. He's also agreed not to interfere with my affairs. His health has grown poorer by the day, especially in the past half year. He's sick and aching all day long. Hypothetically, if the prince, my son, were to become king, we will need outstanding talents like Minister Dong all the more to assist us. Minister Dong, do you understand the hidden meaning of my words?"

    Xiang Shaolong could feel the alluring suppleness of her erect breasts. He secretly thought to himself that only a total idiot would not understand her 'hidden meaning'. He intentionally frowned, "Empress Jing, set your mind to rest. I am totally loyal to you. Ah! Empress Jing, please don't act in such a way! I'm almost unable to control myself any longer."

    Empress Jing began to laugh, her face appearing like a blooming flower. She placed a soft kiss on his face before retreating to the windowsill. She smiled enchantingly towards him. "Who is telling you to control yourself? If a person cannot act as he desires, what joy is there in life? Unfortunately, right now, I don't have the time to test and see if you were being honest or just boasting when you claimed to be able to make women desire to never leave you. If you have the chance to visit the imperial palace, try and take the time to visit me!"

    After she finished speaking, she brushed past him, smiling as she left. Xiang Shaolong was left behind grinding his teeth, secretly hating her for arousing his lust and making him feel uncomfortably aroused. The worst thing was, he really did want to take a taste of this Empress.

    When he thought of this, he suddenly remembered the aphrodisiac which Han Chuang had given him for the purpose of seducing Ji Yanran. If he were to use a little of it, it wouldn't be too unfair! Perhaps he could even flip the situation around and make the guest into the host, and instead control this powerful woman. This would save a lot of headaches.

    When he thought of this, his heart couldn't help but start beating.

    When he returned with Teng Yi to the manor, Wu Guo came and said, "Lady Ya has arrived. She's currently chatting with your two wives."

    Xiang Shaolong signalled with his eyes towards Teng Yi. The latter understood and pulled Wu Guo off to the side to speak.

    Upon entering the inner hall, he saw the three ladies seated in one corner, whispering quietly to each other. Xiang Shaolong felt very curious. Just as he was pondering why Shan Rou was acting on such good behavior, Tian Zhen and Tian Feng, off to one side, chimed in unison, "Master Dong has returned!"

    The three women all turned to look towards him as one. Smiles appeared on their faces, like flowers blooming beautifully. When adding in the faces of the Tian sisters, who definitely were not inferior to them in beauty, Xiang Shaolong felt his eyes going dizzy and almost lost track of place and time.

    Zhao Ya laughed, "Ya'er brought some ornaments over as gifts for sister Rou, Zhizhi, little Zhuo, and little Feng. They all like it a lot!"

    Xiang Shaolong exclaimed to himself, "So that's how it is!" He arrived by their side and sat down.

    Tian Zhen came over as well. "Master Dong! Can we begin to eat?"

    Xiang Shaolong nodded. "I'm about to die of hunger. Where did little Jun go?"

    Zhao Ya said, "He went to the pastures this morning. He still hasn't come back."

    Xiang Shaolong rose to his feet. "Ya'er! I have something to discuss with you."

    Shan Rou unhappily said, "Are you treating the rest of us as outsiders? What do you have to hide?"

    Xiang Shaolong felt unhappy. Just as his eyebrows began to rise, Shan Rou let out a giggling laugh. Pulling Zhao Zhi up by the hand, she said, "Don't be so serious, I was just joking!" After glancing at him sideways, she took her sister off to a corner to pore over the gifts they just received, full of joy.

    Xiang Shaolong wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry. Sitting down, he shook his head and forced a smile. "A wild horse will remain a wild horse!"

    Zhao Ya said, "I also have something to discuss with you. Just now, my imperial brother summoned me to the palace and asked if he could totally trust you. I replied, 'No matter what, Dong Kuang is at least more trustworthy than Guo Kai!'"

    Xiang Shaolong's curiosity was aroused. "And how did he react?"

    Zhao Ya said, "At first, he was very unhappy, but I asked him, who was it that risked his life to save Lord Longyang? Who retrieved Lu Gong's secret manual for him? This rendered him without any other arguments."

    Thinking of Empress Jing, Xiang Shaolong offhandedly asked, "Does Guo Kai also have an affair with Empress Jing?"

    Zhao Ya felt slightly astounded. "I don't know. I imagine it can't be possible! This woman has always treated the affections of men very lightly. If I recall correctly, she has only ever had sketchy relationships with Prince Xinling and Zhao Mu. Where did you hear this from?"

    Instead of answering, Xiang Shaolong asked, "King Xiaocheng really doesn't inquire into her affairs?"

    Zhao Ya said, "My imperial brother only wants the Empress to not bother him. As long as she doesn't make her affairs public, my imperial brother is happy to let things be as they are. Oh! He's also a bit afraid of her! You still haven't told me where you got your news from!"

    Xiang Shaolong said, "Lord Longyang told me. Logically speaking, he wouldn't lie to his savior and benefactor."

    Zhao Ya was briefly stunned. Slowly, her face became imposing. "If my guess is correct, Guo Kai must have sought out Lord Longyang to try and discern whether or not, in the event of a rebellion, Wei would support that woman. That must be why Lord Longyang would make such a guess."

    Feeling a hint of fear, Xiang Shaolong said, "Does this mean Empress Jing and Guo Kai have their own separate scheme?"

    Worried, Zhao Ya replied, "Imperial brother's health has been declining with each passing day. Right now, everyone is scheming to benefit themselves. At times, even I'm not sure who is in league with who, much less you."

    Shan Rou's voice drifted over. "Come eat! The rice and dishes are growing cold!"

    Zhao Ya stood up. "You need to be cautious of Zhao Mu. That traitor is an expert at using deceit and poison, and his techniques are strange and unfathomable. You'll be in trouble before you even know it."

    Xiang Shaolong's tall frame rose as well. With one arm, he pulled her into his embrace. He whispered into her ear, "Ya'er, do you have any way to depart from Zhao's borders before Lord Longyang's farewell dinner? Afterwards, I'll meet up with you. This will make my plan of retreat much simpler."

    Zhao Ya's fragrant body trembled. Biting her lip, she lowered her head and quietly said, "Can you give me some time to think?"

    Xiang Shaolong couldn't bear to press her. Nodding, he agreed. He pulled her to the dinner table. When Teng Yi entered, he waited until Xiang Shaolong gestured him in before going to the table and seating himself on a sitting mat as well.

    Tian Zhen was just about to pour Xiang Shaolong some wine, when he said, "I'm not drinking tonight."

    Shan Rou glanced at him, revealing a pondering look in her eyes.

    Xiang Shaolong reached out and curled his arm around Tian Zhen's pretty little waist. "Zhen'er, are you familiar with Zhao Mu's Reclining Traveler's Veranda?"

    Tian Zhen obediently knelt down as well, nodding.

    Xiang Shaolong asked, "Is there any place within the veranda where one might be able to hide something around the size of a silk manuscript?"

    After deeply pondering for a moment, Tian Zhen replied, "That room is filled with gifts others have given to that traitor. He doesn't put any documents or manuscripts there."

    Tian Feng interjected, "That place didn't even have a cupboard. But we have been gone for such a long time that I don't know if it's still the same."

    Zhao Ya worriedly said, "Do you want to go there to secretly read those oaths of loyalty? Right now, Zhao Mu's nerves are as tight as a bird startled by the twang of a bow. At night, he has vicious dogs patrolling. Please don't go, alright?"

    Teng Yi said, "There must be a series of tunnels installed in his manor. Do any of you know about such a thing?"

    Zhao Ya and the others all shook their head unknowingly.

    Tian Zhen suddenly let out a tender cry. "I remember! Beneath the main building, there's a cellar which is used to store weapons. But I don't know if the Reclining Traveler's Veranda also has such a cellar."

    Upon hearing her words have no bearing on any tunnels, everyone's excitement, which had just been lit, was doused promptly.

    Shan Rou sneered, "Even if you knew where the exit to the tunnel is, if I were Zhao Mu, I would have people guarding them, as well as have installed copper tubes to listen to any noise. I would know if so much as a fly entered the tunnels."

    Zhao Zhi laughed, "Shaolong, ask sister Rou and see what ideas she can come up with for entering the manor!"

    Everyone was stunned. They suddenly remembered that Shan Rou had once attempted to assassinate Zhao Mu within his own palace before safely escaping.

    Shan Rou pouted her little lips. "He's a peerless hero who travels alone and does as he pleases. How could he use the help of a woman like myself? Moreover, I, Shan Rou, don't have any part in his magnificent undertaking. I might as well save my breath and take a good nap instead."

    Zhao Ya was the first to burst out laughing. "Dear sister Rou, how can our Master Dong not have you take good care of him tonight, after seeing how full of resentment you are? Sister Rou, don't think too much on it." Turning, she winked towards Xiang Shaolong. "Isn't that right, Master Dong?"

    Xiang Shaolong helplessly forced out a smile. "Of course! I would like to ask Miss Rou to take this humble little soldier to the marquis' residence for a stroll tonight."

    Shan Rou's anger and resentment turned into excitement. Glancing at him, she said, "Oh, so you're begging me now? Don't act as though you've been forced into it. Even though I'm slightly inferior to you in lowly tricks such as stealing hens and dogs, if we are to compare our skills in infiltrating houses and assassinating people, who in the world is a match for me, Shan Rou? Otherwise, why is it that Tian Dan must tread so cautiously and carefully?"

    Zhao Zhi's face changed. "Sister Rou! Now is not the time for assassination!"

    Shan Rou impatiently said, "That's just a metaphor." Standing up, she said, "I need to go prepare." As she walked away, she saw that Xiang Shaolong was still staring stupidly at her. She loudly shouted, "Why aren't you scramming? Go and get prepared! I still have to dress you with a special 'water cloth'!"

    Not paying any attention to all the people who were staring at her in amazement, she went into her room.

  4. #104
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Deleted - double post for Chapter 4
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 11:24 AM.

  5. #105
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    Boom 10 Chapter 4 - Exploring the Marquis' Residence At Night

    Dusk is approaching.

    A carriage headed out of the residence.

    Both Wu Guo, who was masquerading as a fake Dong Kuang, and Teng Yi, surrounded with a group of guards and Lady Yas bodyguards, rode out escorting the carriage.

    The real Xiang Shaolong and Shan Rou were hiding inside the carriage. Both had changed into their water-resistant deer skin cloth, only revealing an opening in the face, fists and feet, looking slightly like the 21st centurys diving suit.

    The one that Xiang Shaolong wears was originally made for Zhao Zhi by Shan Rou. Fortunately, Zhao Zhis built tall and big, and deer skin is also flexible so he could still wear it with a little bit of difficulty.

    Beside their climbing tools, weapons and secret weapons, they also each brought a copper pipe, in case they need to breathe under the water.

    But until now, Shan Rou was still reluctant to reveal the secret entrance to the resident. This left Xiang Shaolong feeling very vexed.

    Zhao Ya was watching Xiang Shaolongs beautifully shaped body wearing the tight deer skin suit. His imposing and invigorate body were shining with charms. Bewitched, she didnt care that there was other people around. She rushed into his embrace, panting with an enchanting expression.

    Xiang Shaolong stroked her shoulder with one hand, while opening the other hand wide and said towards Shan Rou, Sister Rou, why dont you come and join us?

    Shan Rou glared at him then purposely moved away towards the window and gazed outside.

    Xiang Shaolong had known from early on that she wouldnt be submit and be obedient to anyone. He leaned towards Zhao Yas ear, Have Yaer thought about it?

    Zhao Ya knew that he was talking about her leaving Zhao first, in a pleading tone requested, How about this? How about you leave first then after awhile, I will come out and meet you. Ai! If you want me to leave without knowing that youll be safe, Yaer will be worried sick of you.

    Xiang Shaolong frowned, If your brother suddenly passed away and the power falls onto Empress Jing, would she let go off you? By that time, Ive already returned to Xianyang. Itll be beyond the reach of my power to help you.
    Zhao Ya disdainedly answered, Her position wont be stable immediately. She wont have the time to take care of me. Besides she is afterall a Han, if after she just gained her position, she tried to get rid of the royal clan, the nobility and ministers would put a stop to it. At that time, if I would like to leave, she would be more than happy to let me go! Ai! Shaolong! What Im afraid of is another thing! After she had spoken these words, she grew silent.

    Shan Rou didnt hear it clearly, annoyed, Zhao Ya, can you please speak louder?

    Both of them didnt know whether to cry or laugh.

    Xiang Shaolong ignored her and turned towards Zhao Ya, What are you afraid of, Yaer?

    Zhao Ya hugged him tightly, dejected, Im afraid that other people wouldnt be able to forgive me.

    Xiang Shaolong had long been worried over this. He tried to console her, Once we returned to Xianyang, I will help you to speak with Tingfang and Princess Qian. They have a big heart. They wouldnt hold a grudge against you. Dont worry about the others! This is what you call atone for a crime by good deeds!

    At this time, Teng Yi shouted from outside the carriage, Get ready! Were approaching the Marquis Resident. Oh! What a coincidence! Tian Dans carriage is moving towards us.

    All conversation stopped inside the carriage. Both Xiang and Shan hid in the corner, while Lady Ya lifted up the curtain and looked outside.

    As Tian Dans carriage was slowly approaching, both carriages slowly came to a full stop.

    The fake Dong Kuang, Wu Guo, whipped his horse, with Teng Yi approached Tian Dan to greet him.

    Tian Dan stood near the open carriages window, laughed, General Dong is so hard working. While we are out drinking wine and having fun, you are working non-stop all day all night. But theres a limit to how much you can push your body. General Dong, please make sure that you dont exhaust yourself.

    Wu Guo imitated Xiang Shaolongs voice, blandly smiled, I was born as a hard worker. The busier I am, the more spirited I become. Thank you for your concern, Prime Minister Tian. No matter the voice, tone or attitude, all unbelievably resemble him, which makes other people shake their heads at this.

    Under the bickering light from the lantern, even with Tian Dans sharp eyes, there wasnt any flaw. After nodding and smiling, he turned towards Zhao Ya, Ladys countenance is glowing and Ladys expression is very spirited these last few days. Can Lady tell me what the secret to this is?

    Everyone was frozen in fear. They all knew there was a hidden meaning behind this question at Zhao Ya.

    Zhao Ya, of course, had her own way, grinned, Zhao Ya wont let off that easily! Prime Minister Tian is just teasing me. After she said, she quickly closed the curtain.

    Tian Dan laughed out loud. After greeting both Dong Kuang and Teng Yi, he gave order to move out.

    Both carriages crossed each other.

    Xiang Shaolong gestured towards Shan Rou.

    Its time to get off the carriage.

    Both of them took advantage of the night to sneak into the Marquis resident through the dense forest in the southwest.

    Xiang Shaolong didnt understand what Shan Rou brought inside the gourd up till theyve arrived on the small river.

    Shan Rou pulled him to squat down with her, Any mansion, that has a pond, will always has an entrance and an exit for the water. This is Shan Rous big secret. Last time, this is how I sneaked into the pool inside that traitors resident. If were lucky, it might even take us straight to Jade Peach Garden.

    After saying this, she looked proudly at Xiang Shaolong.

    Xiang Shaolong said, Its around 100zhang (333m) from here to Marquis Resident, how do we breathe?

    Shan Rou raised an eyebrow at him, annoyed, Idiot! I can go in. Naturally, theres a way to breathe. What do you think the copper tube is for? Unless it is after a heavy rain, otherwise there is always a small gap between the rivers water height and the tunnels height. As long as we breathe from one end of the copper tube and the other reaches out of the water, wouldnt that solve the problem?

    Xiang Shaolong gasped in admiration, his heart was trembling in excitement. Suddenly he reached over and passionately kissed her, the other hand grabbed her waist tightly. Shan Rou was caught unaware allowing him to steal a kiss off her, after struggling in vain briefly, she kissed him back passionately. To show his gratitude, Xiang Shaolong kneaded her breast shortly before releasing her, This is my award!

    Shan Rou was blushing till her face and ears are red, afterall she was still young. She glared at him and then leapt first into the river.

    In an instant, both have dived a metre deep and have seen that the tunnel ahead is dark. They persisted and swam deeper into the tunnel slowly.

    Xiang Shaolong was filled with strange feeling.

    Every time he performed a task at night, he always felt this change from light to dark feelings.

    Just like the light and dark world, both existed together. Common people generally only knows about living during daylight, but they have no idea whatsoever towards this demonic darkness world.

    This time working at night, he can only rely on his tactile sense. In this quiet and still tunnel, his senses have grown stronger.

    This caused people to step with caution, another world filled with danger and excitement. It is truly a luring world.

    After a short awhile, they both came out of the exit and arrived at the lotus pond at the center of the garden at the back of the resident under the bridge.

    Within this ringed courtyard, the stars could be seen cascading across the night sky. A misty beam of moonlight shone down, as the sound of the pond frogs croaking could be heard. It was truly an entirely different world.

    From afar, a pair of sentries strolled towards them. As the two peered towards the sentries, two extremely strange-looking large green spots of light attracted their especial attention.

    Alarmed, Xiang Shaolong hurriedly grabbed Shan Rou by the hand and pulled her down into the water.

    His heart was thumping wildly.

    It seemed as though those two large green spots of light came from lamp light reflected off of the pupils of giant dogs. These enormous dogs normally would only be allowed to roam around freely late at night, but had been released early in order to heighten the security of the area.

    After the sentries passed by the bridge and walked far away, the two lifted their heads up from the water. Shan Rou softly said, "Damn! With those beasts patrolling the land, the only option we have is to slowly make our way via the water. If the Reclining Traveler's Veranda is also protected by two giant hounds, we'll have no choice but to go home and go sleep."

    Xiang Shaolong also could not help but feel extremely discouraged, but to give up midway through would be even more of a shame. He forcefully roused himself and headed confidently with Shan Rou in the direction of the Jade Peach Garden, as they separately swam through the pool.

    Xiang Shaolong had received strict, intensive underwater training, and agilely glided through the water like a fish. Based on the minute eddies and flows of the current, he discovered a place the water flowed out towards. As both he and Shan Rou raised their heads up out of the water, they both exultantly said, "Found it!" But then, both of them silently called out in dismay.

    Which of the two flowed to the Jade Peach Garden? Or did both flow somewhere else? Neither of them could be certain. What was even more frustrating was that both of the secret underwater passages were hidden at the bottom of the pond, and neither had any breathing spaces whatsoever. If one was not able to swim all the way through the passage in a single breath, they would suffocate and die. What a rotten, unfair death that would be!

    Xiang Shaolong was quick-witted. Nibbling at Shan Rou's ear, he said, "Let's each take a separate passage. As soon as we figure out where it leaves, both of us need to immediately return. No matter what, we can't try to show off."

    Agreeing, Shan Rou left.

    Letting out a deep sigh, Xiang Shaolong dove deep into the water. Entering the underwater passageway, he advanced ten feet and discovered that the water was winding towards the left. He hurriedly retreated back the way he came, moving backwards. Within the narrow corridor, it was very difficult to actually turn around.

    Shan Rou said, "I swam at least twenty feet forward. The path forward seems to be safe, but we are extremely far from the Jade Peach Garden. How can we possibly swim across without taking any breaths?"

    Xiang Shaolong was already recalling and meditating on the cloth map which Pu Bu gave him. "There's yet another pond between this place and the Jade Peach Garden. I think the underwater passage would first pass through that pond."

    Even as stalwart a person as Shan Rou couldn't help but feel discouraged. "Even if the pond was placed directly in the middle, it has to be at least a hundred or so feet away. We won't be able to make it that far."

    Xiang Shaolong had a brilliant idea. "I have a solution. If we plug one end of our copper tubes, and cover the other end with our hands, it should be more than enough to give us two or three extra 'breaths' of air. Wouldn't that allow us to get to the pond?"

    A look of astonishment appeared in Shan Rou's eyes. "Looks like you aren't a total idiot after all. But what will we use to plug one end?"

    Xiang Shaolong had a wicked idea in mind. "All I'm wearing underneath this skin-suit is a pair of shorts. Are you wearing anything underneath yours?"

    Extremely embarrassed, Shan Rou said, "You are such a lecher. Eek!"

    Xiang Shaolong pulled Shan Rou to the artificial man-made 'mountain' in the middle of the pond and unbuttoned her swim suit. Only after allowing his hand to explore and roam freely for a while did he tear off a large piece of her underskirt.

    Shan Rou was unusually docile, not attacking him with words as usual. Perhaps it was because she knew that this was unavoidable and so she was resigned to it. Or perhaps it was that she was willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of killing Zhao Mu and Tian Dan. And, after all, Xiang Shaolong had already 'taken full advantage' of her long ago!

    As she watched Xiang Shaolong tear the silk apart and use it to stuff the tubes, she dubiously said, "Will it leak out air?" She couldn't help but being concerned over her fate.

    Filled with confidence, Xiang Shaolong said, "With three layers of cloth wrapped around it, after the cloth becomes wet, it might let out a little bit of air, but by then, we'll have surfaced long ago. Come!"

    The two swam to the passageway entrance, took a deep breath, covered one end of the tube with their hands, and moved into the passageway, with Shan Rou leading the way.

    The two rapidly moved in deeper.

    After taking about thirty or so steps, the two had to take their first 'breath'. By their 'second breath', the two of them had long ago become light-headed and dizzy. They felt as though the air in the tubes had become exhausted. Without caring about anything else, the two advanced as quickly as possible.

    The exit appeared up ahead of them, faintly glimmering.

    Overjoyed, the two made their way to it. Rising to the surface, the two rested against the shore and gulped in the precious commodity, air, which they normally paid no attention to.

    They were surrounded by trees in all directions. Flowers and trees surrounded the pond, and a house jutted up on top of a stone 'mountain'. It was a very small garden, but the decorations were extremely exquisite.

    Each time Xiang Shaolong had previously come to the manor, his movements had been restricted to a few main buildings. He had never imagined that it would also have such an exquisite place as this.

    The garden was very lonely. No voices could be heard, and only a few lonely lanterns were lit, immersing the pond in pale, yellow moonlight.

    Panting, Shan Rou said, "The situation is even worse. We haven't swam more than a hundred or so feet, and this place has to be at least two hundred feet away from the Jade Peach Garden. How will the air in the tubes be enough?"

    Xiang Shaolong was just thinking the same thing. As he blankly stared at Shan Rou, he suddenly had a brainstorm. "Give me a kiss, and I'll be able to think of something."

    Shan Rou was stunned for quite some time. Lowering her head, she said in a quiet voice, "If you're lying to me, I'll butcher you." Wrapping her hand around the back of his neck, she gave him a scorching, savory kiss."

    Suddenly, the sound of footsteps could be heard. The two of them immediately sank down beneath the water, but their tongues continued to intertwine with one another's.

    Only after they could no longer hold their breaths did they rise to the surface. The sentries were long gone by now.

    The two of them were both filled with an emotion which would be etched into their bones and which they would remember for the rest of their days, especially considering it came about in such a dangerous, crisis-laden situation.

    Not able to bear being separated from him, Shan Rou tightly clasped herself to him. Panting, she said, "Tell!"

    Xiang Shaolong said, "Let's take off our headgear and use it to cover the tubes. Wouldn't that give us a few extra breaths?"

    Shan Rou jubilantly placed kisses on both of his cheeks. "You really are worthy of having been my first man! Only, I'll be in charge of the manufacturing. I don't trust your handiwork."

    Xiang Shaolong frowned. "What do you mean, your 'first' man? Miss, are you planning on having a second and a third?"

    Shan Rou naturally and easily replied, "If you men can have multiple women, why can't us women have multiple men?"

    Xiang Shaolong was stunned. "Then who would dare marry you?"

    Shan Rou wrinkled her nose, making a ghastly face. "Who says I have to marry? The world is such a huge place. If we manage to kill Zhao Mu and Tian Dan, I'll wander around the world. If I get tired, maybe I'll come find you one day! By that time, it'll be your choice whether or not to accept me."

    Xiang Shaolong discovered that he really liked this woman. Compared to others, she was much more similar to the staunch, independent ladies of the 21st century.

    Shan Rou paid him no more mind. Pulling out a small dagger from her suit, she went to work.

    Because of their previous experience, this time, they were much more cautious when it came to taking breaths. They easily passed another two hundred or so feet of underwater passageways before arriving at the man-made creek of the Jade Peach Garden. They stealthily made their way to the Reclining Traveler's Veranda.

    The man-made creek was roughly ten feet wide. The water wove around in a stream like a dragonfly, as beautiful houses, trees, and flowers unfolded in their path, one after another.

    The security presence became much tighter as well. Lanterns were hung up on every major road passing through the Reclining Traveler's Veranda. Guards were everywhere, and there were people leading giant hounds on leashes as well. If it weren't for this underwater route, even if Xiang Shaolong had access to his 21st century accessories and tools, it would be harder than ascending to heaven for him to have gotten so far without attracting any notice.

    The closest the creek came to the Reclining Traveler's Veranda was around ten or so feet. The two observed the situation for quite some time before they located the position of each and every hidden observer. They emerged from the water, underneath a bridge.

    After ascertaining that there were no vicious hounds nearby, Xiang Shaolong waved towards Shan Rou as he scurried out from underneath the bridge. Using a row of flowers as cover, he quickly rushed over to stand next to a tightly closed window. Pulling out a steel needle, Xiang Shaolong inserted the needle into an aperture in the window and undid the lock.

    The two nimbly flipped inside the veranda, then closed the window and re-bolted it. Both of them felt utterly exhausted and sat down next to a corner of the wall.

    Shan Rou lit a match. Xiang Shaolong quickly used his hands to cover it, preventing the fire light from seeping outwards.

    The reflected light from the flame gradually lit up the inside of the veranda.

    The inside was decorated elegantly, with twenty or so exquisitely made wooden cabinets held within its spacious bowels, each of which was filled with all sorts of rare treasures.

    The center of the veranda was covered with a felt carpet. Surrounding the carpet were four comfortable, spacious sitting-mattresses which were covered with animal-skin.

    Just as Xiang Shaolong was secretly praising Zhao Mu for knowing how to enjoy himself, Shan Rou excitedly said, "Look!"

    Xiang Shaolong looked towards where she pointed. Resting on top of two of the treasure cabinets lay a large metal chest, roughly five feet tall. It looked totally out of place.

    Shan Rou stroked the giant lock on top of the metal chest. Vexed, she said, "This is the first time I've seen a lock like this. How do you open it?"

    Xiang Shaolong smiled. "I'm a grandmaster lock picker. Let me try."

    Just as he grasped the lock, and before he had a chance to take a close look at it, voices could suddenly be heard coming from the main door.

    Shan Rou swept a glance across the room. In a low voice, she said, "Onto the roof beams!" She pulled out a grappling hook.

    The sound of the door opening could be heard.

    Xiang Shaolong extinguished the match she was holding as Shan Rou shot out the grappling hook. She accurately and precisely hooked the crossbeam pillars in the ceiling of the room.

    In the darkness, Xiang Shaolong did not dare to rashly shoot out his own hook. Grinding his teeth fiercely, he said, "Hold on to me!" Grabbing the rope tightly, he began to climb up.

    Shan Rou knew that the situation was critical. She tightly clasped her arms around his broad waist and put her life in his hands.

    The main door opened. Someone shouted out, "Light the lanterns, and open the windows! The Marquis and his guest are about to arrive."

    Xiang Shaolong secretly groaned in dismay. Exhausting every bit of strength he had, he clambered up frantically, as Shan Rou quickly pulled the dangling rope up along with them.

    A lantern by the door was lit.

    Ten or so sentries walked in. If any of them raised their head up at this moment, there would be no place for them to escape to.

    Fortunately, at this moment, the only things on the sentries' minds were to light the lamps and open the windows. For the moment, no one had the leisure to stare at the ceiling for no good reason.

    The two were extremely alarmed. As they huddled in the space between the roof beams and the roof, the space below them grew brightened, and fresh air rushed in, taking away the previous, stuffy air.

    Shan Rou moved her dainty lips and gave him a kiss, expressing her admiration.

    The sound of footsteps could be heard, followed by Zhao Mu's voice. "All of you get out, now."

    Xiang Shaolong and Shan Rou's hearts were both thumping wildly. They knew that Zhao Mu was about to bring Tian Dan and Li Yuan here. Without question, he must be intending to let them take a look at those 'oaths of loyalty' as a demonstration of his power and influence. Maybe they even had important business to discuss. They couldn't help but grow tense.
    Last edited by kohchun; 05-22-10 at 12:01 PM.

  6. #106
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    Book 10 Chapter 05 A Shocking Revelation


    Ka Cha!

    The sound of a giant lock opening reverberated in the quiet chamber, sending fear into the hearts.

    With their heads side by side, Xiang Shaolong and Shan Rou were prone on a ceiling beam. They locked themselves in that position by inserting their daggers into the beam for support. Unless someone climbs up the supporting round pillar for a look, this is the best hiding spot.

    The horizontal beam is supported by eight vertical pillars which formed the foundation for the roof and is thirty feet above the ground.

    Xiang Shaolong and Shan Rou had a quick glimpse below and saw Tian Dan and Li Yuan seated at two small coffee tables. Zhao Mu is reaching out to a giant metal chest to retrieve an object.

    The Liu Brothers are kneeling behind Tian Dan submissively. One of them even scanned the ceiling which caused them to shrink their heads in fear.

    Zhao Mu returned to his own desk and placed the whole stack of loyalty letters on it. There were sounds of flipping.

    Li Yuan laughed: Marquis is indeed brilliant to think of such an exciting method to control your spies.

    Tian Dan added in laughter: Is this your own inspiration or were you enlightened by your subordinates?

    Zhao Mu laughed back: Who cares! He took credit for Xiang Shaolongs creativity without a tinge of guilt.

    Xiang Shaolong was relieved that Zhao Mu did not show Tian Dan his own loyalty letter or Tian Dan would start to suspect him.

    Zhao Mu is extremely guarded against Li Yuan. If he divulged Dong Kuangs real identity, it would be as good as letting Li Yuan know about his relationship with Lord Chunshen.

    Li Yuan expressed in admiration: To think that even Zhao Ming Xiong is in your payroll. I have always thought that he is loyal to Li Mu and Lian Po. You are truly a genius!

    Up in the beam, Xiang Shaolong almost fell down in shock. Zhao Ming Xiong is his assistant General. He and Teng Yi have nothing but praise for his work. He cannot imagine him to be a traitor as well.

    Zhao Mu proudly state: He is not only my men but also my relative. When I got him to join Li Mu, it is to plot against him. Unexpectedly, Lian Po made him the assistant General to Le Cheng. I purposely sidelined him and Zhao Ya that foolish 5lut even spoke up for him in front of King Xiaocheng. This is hilarious!

    Xiang Shaolong was bathed in cold sweat. What a close shave! He felt like he is the owner of a pet tiger. If he did not take precautions, he may even die without knowing why. At the same time, he could relate to the power of Zhao Mus hidden weapons.

    He thought about his morning conversation with King Xiaocheng regarding the issue of the palace guards. If something happens to Cheng Xu, Zhao Mu can promote Zhao Ming Xiong to be head of the palace guards. With this, Zhao Mu will indirectly control both the City guards and the palace guards.

    (So sorry everyone, Cheng Dan and Cheng Xu are the same person. My limited vocabulary got his name wrong before. Please make the correction. Thanks.)

    As Xiang Shaolong was hoping Li Yuan will continue with the loyalty letter name list, Tian Dan interrupted: How is Empress Jings situation?

    Zhao Mu arrogantly replied: Who can guess our real relationship? Not to mention Xiaocheng, even Guo Kai and Zhao Ya have been deceived by us. Han Jing (Empress Jing is Han royalty) acts cold but she is full of passion inside. When she falls in love, she has no reservations. It is my great fortune that she is devoted to me and kept dissuading King Xiaocheng from recalling Li Mu or Lian Po. Otherwise, I would not be able to sit here and talk to both of you.

    Xiang Shaolong was flabbergasted and could not believe what he has just heard.

    Are they putting up an act or is it just wishfully thinking on Zhao Mus part?

    Li Yuan implored: Can Empress Jing really control Dong Kuang?

    On the beam, Xiang Shaolongs heart is thumping wildly and even Shan Rou can sense his palpitation.

    Tian Dan concluded: Dong Kuang appears to be straightforward and uneducated but he is full of strategies and knows how to pander to those in power. He helped Empress Jing settled the plot between Han Chuang and Prince Xinling while keeping Xiaocheng in the dark. He has laid his bets on Empress Jing, hoping that when Xiaocheng is dead, he will be able to spread his wings. This man must not live.

    Li Yuan coldly promised: I must kill him myself.

    Zhao Mu plainly said: This man is of great use now. Luckily, he did not know that Empress Jing is my woman. Humph! This man forgets his principles when he identifies gains. Even if Imperial Uncle does not act, I will not let him go.

    Xiang Shaolong finally calmed down and did his analysis. He screwed up on Han Chuangs incident. The most hateful is Empress Jing who had betrayed him to Zhao Mu. They are definitely a pair of scheming adulterers.

    Tian Dan suddenly mentioned: Both gentlemen have neglected an important figure.

    Zhao Mu and Li Yuan were taken aback.

    Tian Dan explained: That person is Xiang Shaolong. He is definitely connected to Le Chengs death. We are still puzzled about why he chose to kill Le Cheng first.

    He paused and continued: If Xiaocheng is behind this, there will be some traces of evidence. There will be injuries, deaths, or missing people in his trusted troops. We did not see any of these so he is not involved. This is getting more and more interesting.

    Xiang Shaolong and Shan Rou were petrified.

    Tian Dan revealed: I did remind Dong Kuang to search Le Chengs men for spies. Apparently, he did not investigate or could not find any evidence. We cannot interfere ourselves or we will expose our intentions.

    Li Yuan suggested: Dong Kuang is the main beneficiary in his death. Could it be done by him?

    Zhao Mu cut in: He had no idea he can be the City Commander. If not for my instruction to Empress Jing to recommend him to Xiaocheng, he will be dead before it is his turn.

    Xiang Shaolong was alarmed as he finally understood why Empress Jing looked up to him.

    Tonights extraordinary opportunity to eavesdrop in their meeting is a godsend. Otherwise he will end up as a muddle-headed ghost.

    Tian Dan observed: Dong Kuang can pretend to be sick but none of his men are injured or dead. He has nothing to do with Le Chengs death.

    Zhao Mu sighed: Le Cheng has numerous enemies. It is hard to judge who the killer is. As long as they leave the city quickly, we cannot determine who they are.

    Tian Dan resolutely swore: It must be Xiang Shaolong. I know he is here. Otherwise, Zhao Ya will not regain her energetic lifestyle. I met her and Dong Kuang outside the residence. Her carefree and graceful disposition can only come from a woman who has reignited the love of her life.

    Li Yuan joked: Can she be in love with Dong Kuang?

    Zhao Mus countenance changed: Chancellor Tian is right. Xiang Shaolong must be in town. I am familiar with her behaviour. Dong Kuang is just a playmate. The only man in her heart is Xiang Shaolong. Xiang Shaolong may even be hiding out in her residence.

    Tian Dan emotionally recommended: This is highly probable. Regardless of whether it is true or not, we can still get Zhao Ya into trouble. Once we find evidence of Xiang Shaolongs existence, there is no way she can talk herself out of trouble. Now, Guo Kai and Cheng Xu are trying to outperform Dong Kuang and they will leap at this opportunity to prove themselves. Does Marquis understand my meaning?

    Zhao Mu laughed out in admiration: Chancellor Tian is a master strategist who offers great plans. I have a better suggestion. We get Empress Jing to command Dong Kuang to carry out this matter. By putting some flying needles and bloodied clothes in her personal room, Zhao Ya can never redeem herself; This can also test Dong Kuangs loyalty to Empress Jing. Hng! I have long wanted to deal with this 5lut.

    On the beam, both persons looked at each other and were wet with cold sweat.

    The three devils below them are full of evil schemes. Even if they are aware of what is coming, they are unable to counteract them in such a short time.

    Tian Dan stood up and commented: We should not stay for too long or this banquet will arouse suspicions. When Marquis ascend the throne, do not forget about Chancellor and Imperial Uncle.

    Zhao Mu hurriedly expressed his gratitude.

    With the sound of the metal chest being locked, the trio left the chamber.

    After the residence guards came in to secure the windows and doors and extinguish the candles, Shan Rou whispered into her ear: What shall we do!

    Xiang Shaolong is filled with deathly calm and softly replied: The loyalty letters are not urgent. If we can return safely, we will win the battle.

    Xiang Shaolong looks enlightened and is full of vigour.

    The lethargy from last night has completely vanished and so has all the doubts in his mind. He is now fully aware about the entire situation ahead of him and the connection between Zhao Mu and Empress Jing.

    Tian Zhen had just stepped into his bedroom and noticed that he is awake. She happily scrambled to his side and greeted: Master Dong! Let me wait on you.

    Xiang Shaolong was pleased and he got up and washed up. He went to the main hall where Teng Yi, Zhao Zhi and Shan Rou were having their breakfast.

    Teng Yi and Wu Guo masquerading as Dong Kuang purposely stayed at the Command Centre until the third watch. This is the first time they met since he spied on Zhao Mu.

    Xiang Shaolong asked: Rou Rou should have told you about all that has transpired!

    Teng Yi nodded: She was very clear. Regarding scheming, we are nowhere near Zhao Mu and Tian Dans level. If not for the eavesdropping last night, none of us will return to Xianyang alive.

    Zhao Zhi was worried: How should we handle their plan to make you harm Lady Ya?

    Xiang Shaolong thought that last nights episode is like gathering intelligence in 21st century. He smiled: We can counter every attack they throw at us. The most favourable condition is that they did not suspect my identity as Dong Kuang and mistaken me as an apple-polisher. Even Zhao Mu dare not reveal our secret relationship. Based on this, we can fight them till the end.

    Teng Yi sighed: To think that Zhao Ming Xiong is Zhao Mus lackey. I have had high hopes for him.

    Xiang Shaolong straightened his neck and solemnly said: I did not believe that Empress Jing is devoted to Zhao Mu. This vicious woman is likely to use Zhao Mu to achieve her own means. If I can understand her true motives, everything will be fantastic.

    Shan Rou frowned: You have spoken so much and are unafraid. Do you have a good plan? Empress Jing may summon you anytime to harm Zhao Ya!

    Without restrain, Xiang Shaolong shrugged his shoulders and ate the bun in his hand. He patted Teng Yi on the shoulder and stood up: We are off to see Lady Ya. Both of you wait here for my return.

    Under Shan Rous cursing and Zhao Zhis whining, they left the residence.

    Riding side by side along the long street, Teng Yi checked: Should we make new arrangements to the City defences?

    Xiang Shaolong shook his head and answered: Nope. This will raise Zhao Ming Xiong and Zhao Mus alarm. Please fetch Little Jun back and see what he has to report on the Qi army.

    As they spoke, Zhao Yas residence came into view. Xiang Shaolong went into her place while Teng Yi returned to the Command Centre.

    At noon, Zhao Mu sent someone to fetch him. Xiang Shaolong knew about the upcoming plot and expected this.

    Inside the secret chamber of the Marquis residence, Zhao Mu put on a look of trust and confidence before declaring: Li Yuan is tricked and thought that I will cooperate with him. Hng! I will not let him leave Handan City alive.

    Xiang Shaolong did not believe a single word that he said but acted delighted instead.

    Zhao Mu revealed a sinister smile and inquired: We can talk about that later. How are you managing Empress Jing and Zhao Ya? Tian Dan mentioned that he met you and Zhao Ya in the same horse carriage last night.

    Xiang Shaolong replied with a grin: Zhao Ya is a born 5lut. As long as I please her on bed, there is nothing she will not do for me. I am also getting into the good books of Empress Jing. There is something I have yet to report to you. I have killed all the assassins of Prince Xinling. They were hiding with Han Chuang. With this, I have gained the trust of Xiaocheng and gain the favour of Empress Jing, killing two birds with one stone. When we take further actions, there will be fewer hindrances from these two. I am now trying to persuade Xiaocheng to give me the other half of the army seal. Once I have it, I will have full powers to deploy the entire army. Marquis will not have any worry about the rebellion by then.

    Zhao Mu was touched as he did not expect this report from Xiang Shaolong.

    Xiang Shaolong was laughing to himself.

    This traitor has suspected his loyalty as he had kept this incident from him, thinking that he has submitted to Empress Jing. Now that he has been fully honest about the palace robbery, Zhao Mu is at a dilemma and became indecisive.

    Zhao Mu stared at him for a while and asked in a deep voice: Why have you not reported this to me as early as you could?

    Xiang Shaolong innocently responded: This is a small matter and I have never thought of reporting to you. Only when you asked me about Empress Jings progress that it came to my mind. The two crucial fixtures are Empress Jing and Zhao Ya. With their full support, Xiaocheng will grant me full military command even with Guo Kais objection. Then, Handan City will be our playground. Ai! As long as I can repay the gratitude Lord Chunshen has bestowed on me, I, Dong Kuang, am willing to undergo any danger without the slightest hesitation.

    Zhao Mus colour changed and frowned: Is Xiaocheng behind Le Chengs death?

    Xiang Shaolong almost burst out laughing: Definitely not! Tian Dan got me to investigate the personal guards of Le Cheng to see if anyone backed out of his escort on that fateful night. My investigations have yet to be concluded but from what I see, the killer is likely to be Xiang Shaolong.

    Zhao Mu can no longer hide his fear and lowered his head in deep thought.

    Xiang Shaolong is puzzled. He has said everything that he could to gain Zhao Mus former trust but it is not working. With a quick inspiration, he roughly guessed what is missing. He mysteriously lowered his voice and whispered: Does Marquis want Cheng Xu out of the way? I have a marvellous scheme within a scheme.

    Zhao Mu raised his head is astonishment: What scheme within a scheme?

    Xiang Shaolong simply visualize: I have told Xiaocheng about the loyalty letters and bluffed him that I can steal them. As long as Marquis provide me a fake copy with Cheng Xus name, Xiaocheng will sack him immediately to protect himself.

    When Zhao Mu heard about the leak of the loyalty letters to Xiaocheng, there is no change in his expression. Xiaocheng must have told Empress Jing about the letters who then leaked it to Zhao Mu.

    Xiang Shaolong sighed with relief. If he had not made this move, Zhao Mu will never trust him.

    Sure enough, Zhao Mus suspicions gradually dissipated. He sighed: Wang Zhuo, in the future, you must report everything you did to avoid misunderstandings.

    Xiang Shaolong pretended to be flustered: What! Marquis suspects my loyalty?

    Zhao Mu regained his composure and patted his shoulder before adding: The storm is over and the weather is good. Do not have any doubts in your heart. As long as you do as I command, you will have a great and prosperous future.

    Pausing for a moment, he continued: The most important thing now is to retrieve the other half of the army seal and the imperial decree. You can then have full authority to deploy the army anyway you wish... he stopped halfway.

    Xiang Shaolong predicted that he has instructed Empress Jing to use him to harm Zhao Ya but could not say it out from his own mouth or risk exposing their relationship. He sincerely pleaded: Marquis, please feel free to give any instructions!

    Zhao Mu removed his hand from Xiang Shaolongs shoulder and nodded: Whatever you plan to do in the future, please discuss with me first. Never forget this.

    Xiang Shaolong knows that Zhao Mu is still having some doubts. Using Empress Jing to command him, he wants to see if Xiang Shaolong will report to him as promised. Xiang Shaolong agreed to Zhao Mus request and asked: Does Marquis have any instructions for summoning me here?

    Zhao Mu looked awkward and forcefully said: Just to ask how you have been. Oh! We can talk about the rest another time.

    Xiang Shaolong knew that they have each achieved their goals and bade farewell.

    Back at the command centre, he attended to his duties first before having a discussion with Teng Yi about Zhao Mus meeting.

    Teng Yi is full of praise: If the City Guards and the Palace Guards are indirectly controlled by Zhao Mu and Empress Jing at his beck and call, Zhao Mu can rebel without Tian Dans assistance. I am confused why he had not made his move yet. Is it so difficult to get Empress Jing to poison Xiaocheng?

    Xiang Shaolong reasoned: I am confused too. The only explanation must be Li Mu. If Xiaocheng died suddenly, Li Mu will be suspicious and send his army into Handan City against Zhao Mu. Even Tian Dan will not dare to face Li Mus army. Zhao Mus fantasy will be short-lived. Ai! I still do not believe Empress Jing will be satisfied to be under Zhao Mus control. She is tasked to unite the three states and knows that Zhao Mu is a Chu spy. There is no way she will submit to him whole-heartedly.

    Teng Yi shuddered: Women like her who are enclosed in the palace for years cannot be judged by the common yardstick. From her looks, even when she is speaking with a smile on her face, you can feel the chill in her heart. Maybe Zhao Mu has an excellent way of fulfilling her desires that she is willing to do everything for him!

    Xiang Shaolong was shaken when he heard this. He has a faint idea of how to deal with Empress Jing but could not put it in words.

    Changing the topic, he enquired: How are the City defences?

    Teng Yi took a deep breath: Luckily we found out who he is working for. He handed me a name list this morning about his suggestion to deploy the various military leaders. In the past, I would have no suspicions as he is more familiar with the troops and I trusted him. It is a different matter now.

    Xiang Shaolong acknowledged that it is a close shave and commented: Zhao Mu did mention that he has four colonels who are his lackeys. This must be another trick. We will purposely make full use of these four men so that Zhao Mu can only suffer in silence.

    Teng Yi slapped the table and cried: Suffer in silence. What a suitable quote! Third Brother you are full of wise proverbs. No wonder Talented Lady Ji has fallen for you.

    A subordinate came to report than Han Chuang is looking for him.

    They could guess what is coming and share a laugh before Xiang Shaolong left.

    As predicted, it was Empress Jing who is looking for him.

    This time, she is alone in a small hut deep inside the residence. There is food and wine on the table and she is chatting happily.

    Reminded by Teng Yi, Xiang Shaolong paid attention to her eyes. Despite her joyful expressions, her eyes are expressionless and give people an icy cold feeling.

    Is she a cold-blooded animal?

    Recalling the times when she teased him and rejected him at the end confirmed this view.

    If that is the case, what did Zhao Mu do to conquer her?

    Pondering, his hand reached into his waist pockets and retrieves the aphrodisiac Han Chuang gave him that was meant for Ji Yanran and finally understood what Zhao Mu did.

    On the last encounter, it did cross his mind to use this tool but it is a fantasy that is limited to ones imagination and would not be put to use. Under the present circumstances, his mindset regarding the use of this drug is different from the past.

    His heartbeat uncontrollably quickened.

    Empress Jing misunderstood his reaction and jested: I cause you to be so nervous?

    Using one hand, he swiftly hid a small amount of the drug in his sleeve. Wondering how he could deliver this drug into the lips of this voluptuous beauty, he coughed: Empress looks especially stunning and mesmerizing today.

    Empress Jing eyes flashed. In the past, Xiang Shaolong would never detect this flashing. Now, things are different and she can no longer hide anything from him.

    She personally lifted the wine flask and leaned forward, filling his cup. Batting an eye, she sighed: All guys are the same. After you get used to looking, there will be nothing extraordinary!

    Deep inside, Xiang Shaolong cursed this lady for using this method to seduce him. He had an idea and lifted the cup to his nose proclaiming: The wine poured by Empress Jing is especially aromatic! He moved the cup beyond her sight and smoothly added the drug. Raising the cup again with both hands, he toasted: Let subject toast to the everlasting beauty and youth of Empress.

    Which woman does not enjoy mens praising of their beauty? Even Empress Jing is not an exception. Elated, she raised her own cup and toasted: I bless General Dong with a successful military career and never losing a single battle.

    Xiang Shaolong deliberately laugh in a rough manner and explained: Does Empress know that for tribesmen like us, we must cross our arms to drink during toasting so that our wishes will come true.

    Empress Jing held her wine cup in surprise and asked: What is cross-arm drinking?

    Xiang Shaolong moved forward right to her side and lean ahead slightly. He delivered his wine cup to her lips and grinned: We cross our arms and drink each others wine. Not a single drop must be left. Thereby, our wishes will come true.

    Empress Jings face reddened slightly and admired his daring act. If she refused to drink, she would be insincere. Helplessly putting on a smile on her face, she crossed her arms and shot him a look, admonishing: Watch yourself. I like men who take it slowly. Oh!

    Afraid of choking her, Xiang Shaolong gently poured the wine into her small mouth and drank from her cup at the same time.

    After the cups have been emptied, Xiang Shaolong switched the cups on the table and wiped his lips of any remaining wine. He laughed: Great! In the future, no matter what I have to do for Empress, it will all be worth it.

    Empress Jing seldom drank an entire cup of wine in one go. With the effects of alcohol taking over, two red patches appeared on the cheeks of her smooth and well-defined face. She took out a silk handkerchief and covered her face with her sleeve and wiped away the remaining wine from her lips. Lowering her sleeve, she batted an eye at Xiang Shaolong protesting: I had not drunk wine in such a rush for a long time, you are really ... Oh!

    Xiang Shaolong took the chance to sit down right beside her. He is most afraid that she will slip away and some other guy will benefit from her present state. He interrupted: Does Empress enjoy drinking in the past?

    For a while, there is a sense of loss in her eyes like she is recalling a sad incident. Sighing softly and yet maintaining her silence, her eyes turned frosty and revealed poisonous anger.

    Xiang Shaolong remembered that she had an affair with Prince Xinling. He guessed that their love must have transformed into hate. Therefore, she had that interesting expression.

    He had no inkling about the potency of Han Chuangs aphrodisiac or how long it takes for the drug to take effect. He also did not know what the symptoms of the drug taking effect are. Full of questions, he kept quiet.

    For some time the little hut is in complete silence. On the sounds of magpies playing and fluttering their wings can be heard from the garden.

    Finally, Empress Jing coldly started: Are you thinking about another woman?

    Xiang Shaolong was shocked and raised his head to face her. He tested: Empress is brilliant. I am really thinking about women. But it is not another woman, it is Empress Jing.

    Empress Jings face turned red again and gazed at him. She proceeds to face the sun-filled woods beyond the window.

    Xiang Shaolong knew that the drug is taking effect. Otherwise, her complexion will not change as easily.

    Sliding to her back, he had wanted to hold her shoulders. Afraid of retaliation, he softly spoke: Does Empress have something on her mind?

    This Queen of Zhao unhappily sighed: Sometimes, I have no idea what I am doing. Why am I expending so much effort on an insignificant issue? Look at the trees and flowers outside. They remain so carefree under the rays of the sun. If I can abandon all my worries, life will be a paradise.

    Xiang Shaolong was dumbfounded. She has just taken an aphrodisiac and should be full of passion and be begging him for 5ex. Why is she expressing all her woes instead? Could it be that Han Chuang gave him the wrong medication or the drug has expired and cause a different reaction? Thinking back, he realised his error.

    If Zhao Mu has been feeding her constantly with 5ex drugs to keep her passion up, she would have developed some immunity to it. Like a common drug abuser, they need to increase the dosage to keep them high. He kicked himself for only doping her with a small amount. There is no way he can get her to drink another cup of his wine. What shall he do?
    Last edited by kohchun; 05-22-10 at 12:03 PM.

  7. #107
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 10 Chapter 6 The Deciding Factor

    While Xiang Shaolong is still undecided, Empress Jing stood up. He was expecting her to storm out in a huff; instead, she walked slowly to the window and released a long breath, gazing at the trees and flowers. Xiang Shaolong followed her lead and leaned on the window sill, scrutinizing her chiselled face.

    Although her face is peach-red, her mesmerizing eyes show that she is still dwelling on her past. Switching between happiness, anger, sadness and pain is all alternating on her face.

    Xiang Shaolong is sure that the drug is taking effect, causing her to reveal her hidden and suppressed expressions. She has even forgotten her original intention to get Xiang Shaolong to harm Zhao Ya.

    This Queen of Zhao seems to be in a trance as if she has taken some mind-altering medication. Exhibiting an unusual side of her, she seems to have lost her normal will power and sense of preparedness.

    Xiang Shaolong plucked up his courage and reached out with his hand around her soft and tender shoulder. What is Her Majesty thinking about? he soothingly asked.

    Empress Jing appears to be immune to his touch. Shaking her head, she cried: I hate him!

    Xiang Shaolong was taken aback and coaxed: Who dares to offend Your Majesty? Hei! Do you want another cup of wine?

    Irritated, Empress Jing scowled: Wouldnt drinking wine make me feel even worse than before?! She did not even turn her head and stared at him through the corner of her eye.

    Xiang Shaolong has a guilty conscience and dare not incur her wrath. Releasing his grip on her shoulder, he nodded: Yes! If you cut water with a knife, the water will still flow on. If you drink, the alcohol entering your upset liver will be transformed into tears.

    Unknowingly, he sprouted a line from Li Bai, the great Tang Dynasty Poet. Due to his limited memory, the verse is modified and doesnt make any sense.

    Empress Jing muttered: If you cut water with a knife, the water will still flow on. If you drink, the alcohol entering your upset liver will be transformed into tears. Her curvy figure started to shake and she faced him with her eyes shining with coldness.

    Xiang Shaolong is so nervous that his hands and feet turned into ice. He cursed himself for acting like an unrefined boor and yet came up with a fantastic line like that.

    The chill in her eyes faded rapidly as Empress Jing sighed: What a moving verse! It is subtle but yet pleasing to the ear. For so many years, this is the first time I am touched by poetry. Ending, her face became even more reddish.

    Xiang Shaolong was relieved. He is certain that she was recollecting her past with Prince Xinling, causing her pretty eyes to turn cold. It appears that Prince Xinling has dealt her such a heavy blow that she is still unable to let go after so many years. Her tryst with Zhao Mu is likely to be a form of revenge. In this case, she must be ignorant about Han Chuangs and Prince Xinlings conspiracy.

    Prince Xinling gained her true love while Zhao Mu is all about perverted satisfaction and excitement.

    After they gazed at each other for some time, Empress Jing warmed up and state in a low voice: Dong Kuang! You are a special man.

    Xiang Shaolong tested the waters by reaching over and holding her snow white jade hands. Her hands are well-manicured with long fingernails.

    Empress Jing rotated slightly and allowed her precious hand to land in this mans grasp.

    Just as Xiang Shaolong is about to pull her into his embrace, Empress Jing retracted her hand. Her delicate eyes show signs of awakening as she coldly snorted: Does General Dong know why I have summoned you?

    Xiang Shaolong was dismayed that the effects of the drug are subsidizing and this woman is recovering her usual clarity. He nodded: Please give your orders and I will not fail you.

    Xiang Shaolong left Han Chuangs residence and headed to Zhao Mus residence at once. The traitor is not at home and he left a message and head back to the Command Centre to liaise with Teng Yi. After his report, he sighed: There are bound to be some setbacks. Now, we can only rely on military might. I thought that we can seduce her and break Zhao Mus 5exual control over her. Who knows...! Ai!

    Teng Yi reassured: She has not given you the evidence to plant in Lady Yas residence. When you meet up again, just increase the dosage.

    Xiang Shaolong shook his head: First, we may not be drinking. Second, I am not used to such methods to deal with women. Forget it! It is better than Yaer leave Handan City and we have one less consideration.

    Teng Yi informed: Talented Lady Ji just sent word that she has informed Xiaocheng that she will return to Wei tomorrow. From what I see, her departure will stir up some debates and speculation, especially from Li Yuan and Lord Longyang.

    Xiang Shaolong could understand his meaning.

    This selfish and devious Li Yuan will not give up on an opportunity that is within his reach. Lord Longyang will suspect that she is leaving to rendezvous with Xiang Shaolong.

    Her leaving of Handan City will not be as smooth as expected.

    Teng Ti added; You need not fret over Yanran. I have made arrangements. Earlier, I have sent someone to move the Tian sisters secretly to the farm. Tomorrow, they can escape to Xianyang with Mister Zou (Yan).

    Xiang Shaolong is still worried: How will you deal with Lord Longyang and Li Yuan?

    Teng Yi explained: Lord Longyang will not resort to force with Talented Lady. He will only send spies to observe in secret. He will also notify the Wei border guards to track her movement. As long as we do not allow his men to reach Wei, everything will be taken care of.

    Xiang Shaolong nodded at his brilliance. With him controlling the City Guards, killing Lord Longyangs spies is a piece of cake.

    Teng Yi continued: From my estimates, Li Yuan may resort to force when necessary. He cannot send his own men to attack her and can only ask Tian Dan for assistance. I will personally escort Talented Lady Ji and Zou Yan with an army of Zhao soldiers. We will lay down a decoy and send them to Han instead. This will take care of Li Yuans ploy.

    Xiang Shaolong laughed: Yanran is not a common and weak woman. She is full of wisdom and strength to protect herself. Let Big Brother see to this. I still need you her to watch over Zhao Ming Xiong and company. We must pay extra attention to the men on Zhao Ming Xiongs name list.

    Teng Yi asked: There is something that I still do not comprehend. Why would Zhao Mu want to get the Qi army involved? With Xiaochengs death, he will be in power. Killing Li Mu and Lian Po will be easy, not to mention idiots like Guo Kai and Cheng Xu. I am certain that he still suspects Empress Jing and treats you like a pawn. His real trust should lie with Zhao Ming Xiong and not an outsider like you. He can even blame you for opening the gates to the Qi army and killed Tian Dan and Li Yuan at the same time. No one is better than Zhao Mu in understanding the ambitions of Qi and Chu against the Three State Ally.

    Xiang Shaolong ran these thoughts in his head and nodded: Second Brother is right. Zhao Mu will never be satisfied with our independent attitude. But things are too complicated and Tian Dan, Li Yuan will surely have a plot against Zhao Mu. We can only react to whatever situations that arises and wait for a golden opportunity to whisk away Zhao Mu. The most pressing thing is to get Zhao Ya to leave Handan City and all will be better.

    An attendant reported that Zhao Mu is here personally to see him and both men were stunned.

    Teng Yi excused himself as the guards brought Zhao Mu in. Escorting him were the leader of Zhao Mohism Juzi Yan Ping and eight other elite warriors that Xiang Shaolong has seen before.

    Xiang Shaolong gave them a warm welcome and paid his respects to Yan Ping like he is seeing him for the first time. Recalling their first encounter in Zhao Mus residence, he guessed that Yan Ping is now allied with Zhao Mu.

    This Zhao Mohism Juzi has lost some weight and his eyes are more sharper. It looks like after his loss to Xiang Shaolong, he made a lot of effort to train. Not only has he regained his wounded pride, his skills are at a higher level now.

    Xiang Shaolong was in agony. If Yan Ping and his men are Zhao Mus bodyguards, dealing with this traitor will be so much harder.

    The three men were seated as tea is served and Zhao Mus personal escorts guarded the four directions.

    Zhao Mu gave a dry cough: Juzi is my esteemed guest who will be dealing with Xiang Shaolong. He has brought three hundred followers who are all formidable people. If Xiang Shaolong did not come, so be it. If he is here, he will not leave Handan City intact.

    Xiang Shaolong feigned happiness and said: If Juzi needs any assistance, please let me know.

    Yan Ping let out a solemn chuckle and commented in a low voice: After Marquis heard of his return, we have been guarding every pass and waiting for him to fall into our traps. We did not even catch his shadow, which is extremely strange. From our sources, he is definitely not in Xianyang.

    Zhao Mu interrupted: Xiang Shaolong injured some people near Handan City and escaped. Juzi led his men in pursuit to the vicinity of Wei but did not discover any tracks. Juzi concluded that Xiang Shaolong is still in the city and is linked to Le Chengs assassination.

    Xiang Shaolong was shaken. No wonder Zhao Mu is generally unworried about Xiang Shaolong returning to Handan City. He has Yan Ping as his secret weapon against Xiang Shaolong. It is fortunate that he has regained Zhao Mus trust so that Zhao Mu revealed Yan Pings presence to him.

    He has been too careless and neglected Yan Ping this huge foe.

    With his eyes brimming with chill, Yan Ping coldly added: We have searched all the nearby forests and villages and there is no sign of him. The only explanation is he is hiding in the city under someones protection.

    Xiang Shaolong acted aghast: Juzis theories make good sense! Who does Juzi suspect to be hiding him?

    Yan Ping looked at Zhao Mu before divulging: Only Zhao Ya has the ability to hide Xiang Shaolong.

    Xiang Shaolong declared: Let me send some men to watch her around the clock. We will surely find a loophole. Hai! She says I am the only man in her heart. So I am only a cover while she is really with her old sweetheart.

    Zhao Mu reasoned: Juzi has the same analysis. Let him handle Zhao Yas supervision. If you send your men, they will not be able to hide from Zhao Yas family warriors.

    Yan Ping stood up and bade: Excuse me General Dong; I have some matters to attend to.

    As Xiang Shaolong escorted him to the main gate, Yan Ping lowered his voice saying: Xiang Shaolong would not dare to spend too much time here. I believe he will attack Marquis within a few days. If we are well prepared, we need not fear him.

    Xiang Shaolong could only agree but is actually full of misery. Yan Pings presence will only add to the burden of his mission.

    After seeing Yan Ping off, Xiang Shaolong returned to Zhao Mu and reported Empress Jings ploy to harm Zhao Ya. He frowned: We can easily dispose of this 5lut. The issue is she recommended my promotion to City Commander. In a twist of events, or because she is not there to put in a good word for me, Xiaocheng may not give me the army seal. This will affect our grand plan.

    Zhao Mu is satisfied that Xiang Shaolong reported his session with Empress Jing and smiled: When we get the army seal, we will dispose of Zhao Ya. You can delay Empress Jings orders. Hng! I have laid my plans well and can succeed the Zhao empire anytime. The present issue is Xiaochengs precautions. The palace guards are all controlled by him. If we cannot use trickery, we shall have to use force. Before Li Mu returns, we must send him to heaven.

    Hearing this update, Xiang Shaolong understood Zhao Mus schemes.

    Trickery is to use poison. Xiaocheng will die because of illness and this is the best outcome.

    Zhao Mu and Empress Jing must have been trying to poison him but they have been unsuccessful. Xiaocheng knew that Zhao Mu is a poisons expert and will take due precautions.

    Force is to use the Zhao army and force their way into the palace. After killing Xiaocheng, they will install the crown prince on the throne.

    This is the worst outcome as he needs to rely on the Qi army to deflect the returning army of Li Mu.

    Zhao Mu lowered his voice: No matter what, I have covered all the details of either scheme. Lets talk more the next time. You should spend more time talking to Xiaocheng. He is easily persuaded. Who knows he might give you the army seal after you chatted more with him.

    Pausing, he asked: I heard that Talented Lady Ji is heading back to Wei, even before Lord Longyang. Have you heard about this?

    Xiang Shaolong pretended to be astounded and cried: What!?

    Zhao Mu chuckled: That is a piece of great news. Li Yuan will not let go of the heavenly maiden. If he chased after her and resort to force, we can use this excuse to kill him. We can even push the blame to Ji Yanran and let Li Yuan be an h0rny ghost!

    Xiang Shaolong was flabbergasted. It is no wonder Xiaocheng dare not act against Zhao Mu. This latter does have his cruel methods that act as a deterrent.

    Arriving at Lady Yas residence, Zhao Ya brought him to the unforgettable loft.

    Xiang Shaolong noticed that her eyes were bloodshot and appeared to have been crying. What is wrong? He curiously asked.

    Zhao Ya fell into his embrace whining: I just had a big fight with Xiaocheng.

    After Xiang Shaolong got her to calm down, she recounted: This morning, you spoke to me about Empress Jing and Zhao Mus conspiracy. I could not tolerate it and enter the palace, telling Xiaocheng to watch the people around him. He mistaken me for badmouthing Guo Kai and blew his top. I screwed him for misusing his talents and he cursed me for loving you.

    Xiang Shaolong felt uneasy and anxiously asked: Did you tell him about Empress Jing?

    Zhao Ya shook her head: What is the use of saying it? I have no evidence and he will mistake me for wanting to harm her.

    Xiang Shaolong had wanted to persuade Zhao Ya to leave Zhao. In her pitiful state, how he can bring this matter up? In that instance, he did not know what to say.

    Zhao Ya raised her head and smiled bitterly: It is a good quarrel nonetheless. As soon as I came home, the imperial decree came. I was ordered to leave for Daliang (Wei Capital) immediately and will be travelling with Miss Yanran.

    Xiang Shaolong was mystified: What is your mission to Daliang? Are you not frightened of Prince Xinling?

    Zhao Ya felt his face with her hand and loving cooed: Luckily you still care for me or Ill be better off dead. My current mission is to bring the fourth princess to marry the Crown Prince of Wei. On the surface, it is to replace your Qianer but it is really a transaction. The dowry is the original copy of Lu Gongs Secret Manual. Lord Longyangs current trip is also to discuss this marriage.

    Xiang Shaolong just couldnt figure out. Why did your brother agree? He asked.

    Zhao Ya sighed: He has no choice. Qi and Chu are giving him a lot of pressure. Without Weis support, what can Zhao and Han achieve? He had long wanted to send me over but I know that you are coming back so I refused to go. Now that we have such a bitter fight, he no longer cares if I am willing or unwilling to go.

    Xiang Shaolong exclaimed: This is great! You can slip over to Xianyang while travelling.

    Zhao Ya shook her head strongly: I want my life too but this matter is of great importance. I must finish it at all costs before I can leave for Xianyang in peace. After that, I will not owe Xiaocheng anything. Ai! Xiaocheng is not like this in the past. After Lady Nis tragic death, he became very bad-tempered.

    Remembering the exquisite Lady Ni, Xiang Shaolongs spirits took a beating and he sighed: Prince Xinling hates you to the core and will try to harm you.

    Zhao Ya kept quiet for a while and softly said: Does hubby know what Empress Jing and I are on such bad terms?

    Xiang Shaolong guessed: Because of Prince Xinling?

    A guilty Zhao Ya nodded and faintly remarked: I do not wish to bring up the past. Prince Xinling still has feelings for me. That is why his men attacked the palace when they knew I was away. Moreover, Lord Longyang guaranteed my safety. He will be travelling with us.

    Xiang Shaolong was astonished. Isnt your brother sending him off with a banquet on the day after tomorrow? How can he leave before that?

    Zhao Ya bitterly smiled: Are you that simple-minded? He does not believe that Talented Lady Ji is really returning to Daliang. He sensed that she is taking the chance to flee and meet up with Xiang Shaolong. Miss Ji does not know about this yet. Ai! Shaolong! What should Yanran do?

    Xiang Shaolongs brain is throbbing with pain. A simple departure has made everything so complicated. If Yanran knows about this, she will be furious.

    His responsibilities are overwhelming and he struggles to handle them all.

    Zhao Ya sighed again: We have to be apart for some time and may not even see each other again. Yaer does not wish to live anymore. Why is life so difficult?

    Xiang Shaolong forced his headaches aside and raises his energy, asking: Does Xiaocheng have another son?

    Zhao Ya shook her head: There is only a crown prince. Therefore, no matter who badmouths that woman (Empress Jing), Xiaocheng will not be affected.

    Xiang Shaolong continued to probe: Does Xiaocheng have any siblings?

    Zhao Ya was surprised as she stared at him. After a moment, she replied: There is Prince of Wu City. Wu City is just a few days travelling away from Qi. You can reach there in two days if you rush the trip. Are you suspecting that he is conspiring with Tian Dan?

    Xiang Shaolongs face is full of suspicions as he assessed: I definitely do not trust Tian Dan to help Zhao Mu ascend the throne without his own benefits. If I am Tian Dan, I will not believe that Zhao Mu can control Empress Jing. And Empress Jing is not likely to get rid of Zhaos supporting pillars Lian Po and Li Mu. The best way is to tempt Prince Wu and get rid of Zhao Mu, Empress Jing and the Crown Prince in one swoop. Zhao Mu will be the scapegoat. He will then kill Li Mu and Lian Po through Prince Wu. Zhao will then be in his hands. Therefore, he needs to kill me first to highlight his brilliance. He surely does not believe that I will work for him.

    Zhao Ya thought about his words. Her face changed colour and uttered: Shaolong, you are right. This brother (Prince Wu) of mine is a greedy fellow and does harbour thoughts of rebellion. What can we do?

    Xiang Shaolong smiled: Regardless, Tian Dan can plot against you; we can plot against him too. Do not let anyone know about this. I naturally will have a plan to counter this. Forget all your worries and leave this place tomorrow. Wait for my news in Daliang and never come back to Handan City.

    Zhao Ya bit her lips: You are not keeping me company tonight?

    Xiang Shaolong kissed her petite face and smiled: There are many opportunities in the future. These few days are crucial to our success and I cannot indulge in pleasures of the flesh. Do you know there are people watching you?

    He shared about the presence of Yan Ping and reassured her at the same time. He then left to visit Xiaocheng in the palace.

    The palace attendant reported that Xiaocheng is unwell and has retired early. Xiang Shaolong decided to see Empress Jing since he was here.

    All of a sudden, he came to realise that the success or failure of his mission in Handan City lies solely in the hands of this cunning Queen of Zhao.
    Last edited by kohchun; 05-22-10 at 12:05 PM.

  8. #108
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 10 Chapter 7 - Filled With Plans From Head to Toe

    Empress Jing received Dong Kuang in that secluded pavilion in the imperial gardens. After being seated, Xiang Shaolong said, " Lady Ya has informed me that she is headed to Daliang tomorrow, so tonight is the only chance to make our move against her. All I need to do is find a valid excuse to head to her residence and I will carry our the task. Empress Jing, have you prepared the necessary materials?"

    A poisonous look flashed across the Empress of Zhao's eyes. After hesitating for a moment, she finally sighed. "She should consider herself lucky. We'll consider this matter to have come to an end now."

    Xiang Shaolong's heart trembled slightly. He realized that this noble lady and and Zhao Mu must have some sort of secretive yet effective system of communication between them. That's why she was able to find out so quickly that there has been a change in the situation.

    Just as he was considering the best way to awaken her to the possibility of Prince Wucheng's rebellion, Empress Jing mournfully sighed, "'When wine passes through worries, it transforms into tears.' Today, I've been incessantly thinking about this moving line. I can't motivate myself to do anything."

    Based upon all the information he had gathered, Xiang Shaolong was now capable of drawing a rough sketch of the history and person of this First Lady of Zhao.

    After being married off to the country of Zhao and becoming the Empress, her task was to maintain and strengthen the alliance of the three countries. In addition, she faithfully gave the people of Zhao their one and only Crown Prince.

    Everything should have been perfect, but a problem appeared in the form of King Xiaocheng. Because of his love for other men, he neglected her.

    Empress Jing definitely was not a promiscuous woman. Although King Xiaocheng didn't keep a tight watch on her, she nonetheless followed all the rules of propriety, living a lonely life at court. This sort of woman, once she truly falls in love, becomes an even more hopeless case when compared to how promiscuous women act.

    The person who made her truly fall in love was Prince Xinling. The latter was just putting on an act to gain personal benefit for himself. For the sake of politics, he put on a show for her, while the person he really cared for was Zhao Ya. Naturally, after Empress Jing discovered this, she suffered a wound which, to this very day, had not yet been healed.

    Zhao Mu, seeing the opportunity, used King Xiaocheng's indulgence for all sorts of 'games' to acquire a stockpile of many different medicines, which he used to arouse her sexual desire. He caused herself to wallow in wanton despair and become willing to do anything for him.

    Empress Jing harbored a deep hatred towards King Xiaocheng, and in addition, she wasn't a woman without ambition. The powerful and yet subtle relationships which develop between male and female caused her and Zhao Mu to use each other for mutual benefit, spurring each other on to greater depravities.

    No one can deny that Zhao Mu is a very attractive, mesmerizing man. He had ways for seducing both men and women. Otherwise, before Zhao Ya fell in love with Xiang Shaolong, she wouldn't have found herself unable to resist Zhao Mu's seductions and teases.

    If, hypothetically, he, Xiang Shaolong, was able to win over Empress Jing to his side, Zhao Mu's biggest supporter would be gone, and the task of capturing him would become much easier as well. When he thought of this, he couldn't help but let out a sigh. To have a happy, peaceful life in this era, the only option was to stop at nothing and use any methods available to achieve his goal.

    Staring at him, Empress Jing said, "Why are you sighing?"

    Xiang Shaolong, when thinking of the unscrupulous, underhanded tactics he was going to have to use, felt no desire for her at the moment. He dully said, "I don't know either."

    Empress Jing didn't expect him to reply in such a manner. Astounded, she said, "You are very frank."

    Both of them were silent for some time. After the two stared at each other for some time, Empress Jing found herself somewhat unable to withstand his scorching gaze. Lowering her head, she said, "You really are willing to listen to my orders to frame Zhao Ya? I thought you liked her? All men like women like her, who know how to satisfy them in bed."

    Xiang Shaolong understand what she was thinking. He ruggedly replied, "To ask me to frame the innocent really is something I am reluctant to do. I'd rather kill her with a chop of the sword and do things neatly and cleanly. At worst, I would have to flee from Handan afterwards and in such a manner, repay you, Empress Jing, for the kindness you showed in promoting me."

    Empress Jing's entire body trembled as she stared at him. Her phoenix-like eyes quivering with a fierce look in them, she replied with cold formality, "So you have the audacity to act against my instructions?"

    Xiang Shaolong used the technique of using 'soft' to overcome 'hard'. He let out another sigh. "I, Dong Kuang, am willing to sacrifice my livelihood and even my very life for you, Empress Jing. Empress, are you still not satisfied? Why is there such deep hatred between yourself and Lady Ya?"

    Empress Jing's face turned icy. "You aren't qualified to get involved in the grudge between myself and her."

    Seeing that she was no longer criticizing him over resisting her orders, Xiang Shaolong knew that she had already softened towards him. At this moment, he was riding on the tiger's back, with no way to get off. If he didn't use extraordinary measures to subdue her, it would be very difficult to anticipate the consequences. Zhao Ya was an excellent example of how difficult it is to fathom and understand the minds of these women, who have lived in the palace for so long. Suddenly, she issued an order of expulsion. "General Dong, if you have no further business here, you have my leave to depart!"

    Xiang Shaolong rose to his feet. Taking two angry steps away, he spoke to her with his back turned, "Empress Jing, do you know that disaster is so near that it is pressing at your eyelashes?"

    Empress Jing's tender body trembled slightly. Laughing coldly, she said, "General Dong, if you are just saying frightening words to try and scare me, I definitely will not let you off."

    Xiang Shaolong casually shrugged his shoulders, not appearing to care in the slightest. "If that's the case, please allow me to take back the words I said earlier. Starting today, I, Dong Kuang, no longer owe you, Empress Jing, anything further. If the Empress wishes to take Dong Kuang's life, go ahead and give the order!"

    Empress Jing exploded with anger. Rising to her feet, her lovable voice shouted, "What audacity! How dare you speak to me with that sort of attitude? Do you believe me when I tell you that I will immediately call for someone to come and pull your tongue out by the roots?"

    Xiang Shaolong swiftly turned around and stared at her, shooting her a gaze filled with cold electricity. His appearance suddenly became powerful without compare. He replied, "I, Dong Kuang, have never considered life or death to be a matter of great importance. If all I wanted to do was make you happy, it would be very easy for me to ignore my conscience and just say words pleasing to the ear. But no matter who I am willing to lie to, I, Dong Kuang, am not willing to deceived my beloved Empress Jing. That's the reason why I spoke those words from the heart. I didn't expect that I would gain only your disfavor. Forget it! It's no big deal if I can no longer be the city commander. At first, I was able to carry out some things on your behalf. It is a pity that things are the way they are. I'm going to go to the King now and return to him the imperial seal for commanding troops. I no longer wish to concern myself with the affairs of Handan."

    When had Empress Jing ever been rebuked directly in such a way by anyone before? For the moment, she was stunned and speechless. But upon hearing the overbearing power of his impassioned speech, her heart actually softened. She only tightened her tender face and said, "Fine! Since you are so straightforward, go ahead and tell me these words from the depths of your heart. I will respectfully listen to them."

    Xiang Shaolong secretly felt great joy. Deciding to stop while he was ahead, he disappointedly sighed, "Right now, your servant's heart is dejected and downcast. I don't wish to say anything at all. Empress Jing, call for someone to come take me away! I definitely will not resist."

    Empress Jing was briefly stunned. Leaving the table, she came to his side. After her slender, beautiful face closely examined his own for a moment, she let out a light sigh. "Why do you have to be so angry with me? Even if you don't care about your own life, you should think about the needs of your followers in Handan! Even the King cannot protect you from being punished for offending your betters."

    Xiang Shaolong knew that the time was right. Deep emotion flowing from his eyes, he shook his head. "I don't know why I was unable to control myself either. I only felt that if Empress Jing were to wrongly think badly of me, that I would...bah! I don't know what to say."

    Empress Jing was stunned at first. Then, she let out a tinkling laugh, the sound of silver bells chiming. Stretching her hands out, she pressed them against his broad chest. In a low voice, she said, "No need for you to explain. Of course I understand what you mean."

    Feeling her precious hands gently touch and stroke him, Xiang Shaolong suddenly felt a surge of desire. He comfortable closed his eyes. In a soft voice, he said, "Empress Jing, please don't be like this. Otherwise, I won't be able to control myself and will violate you."

    Giggling with laughter, Empress Jing said, "Just now, weren't you acting so mean and ferocious that you looked as though you were going to devour me whole? Why are you now trembling with fear? Eek! No!"

    Xiang Shaolong had waited for just such a good opportunity. It felt like he had been waiting for centuries. Why be polite for any longer? He roughly pulled her into his embrace and pressed his lips against her fragrant neck and shoulder.

    How could Empress Jing have imagined that he would be so rough and daring? She thought that he would be as proper as he had been in the past. By the time she thought to try and struggle free, she found herself lost within this man's charisma and his depredations of her.

    Xiang Shaolong ardently and fiercely kissed this 'First Lady' as his hands roamed across her buttocks without any scruple or reservation, holding her so tightly that she almost found herself unable to breathe.

    Only by breaking down the barriers between man and woman would he be able to break down Zhao Mu's control over her. This was similar to how Zhao Mu himself subdued her. These arrogant palace noblewomen lacked for nothing at all, but it was precisely because they lacked no material goods that they couldn't help but feel that their hearts were empty. If he could compensate for this defect in her heart, it would be the same as winning her affection. His freedom of action would become much greater, with the difference between as great as that between the clouds of heaven and the mud of the earth. Although there was some deception involved, how many times had she used the same sort of seductive deception against him? To him, this was just another battlefield!

    In the blink of an eye, Empress Jing began to react ardently.

    Xiang Shaolong's lust was tremendous, especially when he thought about her high and lofty status, as the Empress of the nation. But, knowing that she had suffered a deep psychological wound in the past, it wouldn't do to proceed with undue haste. When both of them were out of breathe from each other's kisses, he said in a low voice, "Empress Jing, do you know about the conspiracy between Prince Wucheng, Tian Dan, and Zhao Mu?"

    Empress Jing, whose body was still ensconced in his arms, suddenly trembled violently. The lust in her phoenix-like eyes suddenly dissipated. Staring at him, she cried out involuntarily, "What?!"

    Xiang Shaolong's arms around her tightened. In a soft voice, he said, "Empress Ding, you really underestimated Tian Dan and Zhao Mu. Do you think that it never crossed their minds that after the Crown Prince ascends to the throne, all power would be concentrated in your hands? In addition, everyone knows that you won't be so stupid as to destroy the base of your military security by executing Li Mu and Lian Po, the pillars supporting the country of Zhao. At that point in time, wouldn't Tian Dan have wasted all of his efforts for no gain? It is precisely because they have ulterior motives that they find themselves 100% confident in their actions."

    Their two bodies were still entangled with one another's, but Empress Jing had already totally recovered her normal clarity of thought. She calmly said, "Where did you get this news from?"

    Rousing his own spirit, Xiang Shaolong said, "From the first time Tian Dan met me, he wanted to win me over to his side. After you promoted me to the rank of City Commander, I sought him out and held secret talks with him. I pretended to be loyal to him, to see what secrets and plans he had. That is how I heard about this secret."

    A sharp light shone out of Empress Jing's eyes as she stared at him without blinking. Xiang Shaolong matched the intensity of her gaze, not budging in the slightest. A slightly ridiculing tone to her voice, the beautiful woman replied, "I didn't realize that Horse Fanatic Dong was so very skilled at deceiving people. Mmph!"

    Xiang Shaolong once again sealed off her lips with his own.

    This time, Xiang Shaolong stopped after only a quick taste. He boldly said, "For the sake of Empress Jing, it's no big deal if I deceive someone. But there is one thing I do not understand. The King is not in the best of health. I'm afraid that he doesn't have much time left to him. Empress Jing, why don't you just wait for a short period of time longer, instead of taking on such a risk?"

    Empress Jing had been kissed by him until her entire body went limp. Panting, she said, "If I were to wait a few more years, the country of Zhao will have been lost because of this blockhead."

    Xiang Shaolong suddenly saw the light, realizing that she had the same line of thought as him. No wonder she was willing to collude with Zhao Mu.

    With a slightly begging tone to her voice, Empress Jing said, "Let go of me, alright? There's a lot of things I need to discuss with you!"

    Xiang Shaolong secretly thought to himself that he might as well go all out. If he didn't seize this opportunity to conquer her, he feared that he wouldn't have such a good opportunity again. Just as he was about to launch a fierce 'attack', a palace lady's voice came from the staircase. "The palace servant, Zhang Jiguang has come to report that the King is waiting for General Dong in the inner palace."

    The two were feeling guilty due to their sordid actions. They hurriedly separated.

    Forcing herself to calm down, Empress Jing said, "General Dong will go immediately. Have him wait just a moment." Giving him a glance, she said in a low voice, "No matter what, don't let the King know what just happened. When dusk falls, go to Han Chuang's residence. I have business to discuss with you."

    Xiang Shaolong found it unimaginable that he once again lost the chance to taste the Empress of Zhao, despite her having been literally at his lips. Lamenting at the situation, he left disappointed.

    The palace servant, Zhang Jiguang, led him into a sturdy building within the inner palace. In a low voice, he said, "The King just woke up. When he heard that you came to visit him, he immediately ordered me to bring you to him."

    Xiang Shaolong knew that the servant had covered up his visit to Empress Jing. He immediately expressed his gratitude.

    Jiguang said, "Right now, everyone in the palace holds General Dong in the utmost esteem. If it wasn't for you quickly capturing those villains, who knows how many more of us would have met with disaster."

    Xiang Shaolong made a few modest remarks, before seizing the opportunity to ask, "Aside from General Cheng, who amongst the palace guards holds the most authority?"

    Upon hearing Cheng Xu's name, Jiguang revealed a look of disdain. "It would of course be the chief guard, General Zhao Lingpian. His popularity, prestige, and record of service all surpass that of General Cheng. But because he doesn't know how to curry favor with Chief Advisor Guo, he's never been given great authority."

    Xiang Shaolong didn't expect him to speak so openly about internal affairs. Staring at him in astonishment, he nodded. "Palace servant Zhang, you really speak boldly and forthrightly!"

    Jiguang smiled. "I speak based on my judgment of the person I am speaking with. Right now, everyone in Handan knows that Horse Fanatic Dong is an amazing hero who does not tremble at the sight of power and influence. If our country of Great Zhao had a few more heroes like General Dong, why would we fear the rapacious, predator-like Qin?"

    Xiang Shaolong clapped him on the shoulder. "I simply must make a friend of you, palace servant Zhang! I'll probably have favors that I need you to help me with over the next two days as well."

    They stopped talking as they crossed over the threshold of the door. Passing by two palace guardians, they entered the room to meet with King Xiaocheng.

    After paying respects to the monarch, each of them seated themselves. Before he had a chance to speak, King Xiaocheng ordered all the guards to leave before saying in a low voice, "Do you have any good news to report on the oaths of loyalty?"

    Xiang Shaolong closely examined his face. Although he looked a bit tired, he didn't look as bad as he had imagined. "The number of guards patrolling the Marquis' residence suddenly increased dramatically, and Tian Dan gifted him with ten giant hounds that are particularly sharp of eye and keen of nose. Aside from forcibly entering the residence, there's really no way in. If my guess is correct, someone has leaked the news out to him, causing Zhao Mu to become wary of me."

    King Xiaocheng was stunned for a moment, before revealing a pondering look in his eyes. After a long time, he said, "There's only a very few number of people who know about this, and We have ordered them to guard this secret carefully. Who would dare to disobey Our commands?"

    Xiang Shaolong said, "Maybe I'm being overly suspicious. Perhaps Zhao Mu is simply increasing his guards due to the critical time about to come to pass."

    King Xiaocheng's expression changed quickly. In a heavy voice, he said, "The great general is about to return in a few days' time. If Zhao Mu wishes to rebel, he must make his move in these next few days. General Dong, have you received any intelligence on this front?"

    Xiang Shaolong said, "He once mentioned that he will need to borrow support from the men of Qi to accomplish the deed. Based on this, I imagine he has a full and complete set of plans to allow the men of Qi to easily enter the city. Oh! Not good!"

    King Xiaocheng was alarmed. "General Dong, what did you just think of?"

    What Xiang Shaolong had suddenly thought of was Zhao Mingxiong, that internal traitor. With him acting as cover, it wouldn't be hard at all to sneak a group of men from under the walls through the Wu family tunnels. No wonder that Zhao Mu, when he suspected 'Dong Kuang' of betraying him, still appeared so confident and unconcerned. This really was not good at all. Although he thought of this, he dared not say it. He lied, "I believe that this very night, Zhao Mu will initiate the first of his chain-plans of attack. He will assassinate the ministers and generals opposed to him to cause confusion in the hearts of the soldiers and the civilians. I must make preparations."

    This was also very much a possibility. When he thought of this, he suddenly felt very uneasy. But before they had concluded their talks, he dared not rashly depart.

    King Xiaocheng's face turned white. Gasping with astonishment, he said, "Make the first strike to seize the initiative! Right now, we can't hold too many scruples. General Dong, order your men to go and capture or kill Zhao Mu. If he is going to be disloyal to me, there's no need for me to be faithful to him. No one can blame Us for being ruthless to him."

    Although Xiang Shaolong's heart was burning with anxiety, he forced himself to be calm as he explained, "Highness, you are absolutely correct. That is the most direct, straightforward way to deal with things. But right now, we still don't know how many of the palace or city guards are traitors. If Zhao Mu gets a wind of the plan and makes his move first, launching an attack in unison with Tian Dan and Li Yuan's forces, it will be very hard to determine who will win and who will lose. Today, Zhao Mu introduced me to the Mohist Juzi, Yan Ping. This extremely talented Mohist swordsman alone will be very difficult for us to deal with. When combined with the thousands of men Zhao Mu has under him, the situation looks very grim.

    Upon hearing the names Tian Dan, Li Yuan, and Yan Ping, King Xiaocheng's face turned ashen. At a loss as to what to do, he complained, "Are you saying we should just sit here and do nothing until he calls up his men and revolts?"

    Xiang Shaolong secretly grumbled to himself that all of Zhao Mu's resources and power were nurtured by the King himself. And now, the King wants to blame him? He calmly replied, "Although your humble servant has become the City Commander, I only have the authority to command the troops in dealing with routine matters of city security. I cannot deploy the troops as I see fit, much less command the troops stationed outside of the capital. If, theoretically, you were to give me the army seal, I would be able to strengthen our defenses and concentrate our forces within the city, while having all of the critical choke points and passageways manned by people I trust. At that point in time, we would no longer need to fear the forces outside of the city. Perhaps we would even be able to slaughter Tian Dan and Li Yuan at the same time."

    King Xiaocheng hesitated for a long while, before saying in a trembling voice, "Tian Dan and Li Yuan are important officials of the kingdoms of Qi and Chu. Do not take any rash actions before I consult with generals Lian Po and Li Mu."

    Xiang Shaolong secretly exclaimed to himself that this was such a pity. He knew that the King was just finding an excuse. He now better understood why Empress Jing said that the kingdom of Zhao would be lost under his rule. If you wish to accomplish great things, how can you be so full of misgivings and vacillate on what to do?

    King Xiaocheng suddenly rose to his feet. "Fine! We will give you the army seal, so that you can act with full authority!"

    Xiang Shaolong hurriedly knelt down to thank him.

    At this point in time, the hatred he felt for the King of Zhao had already become very dull and light. It had been replaced with pity and sorrow.

  9. #109
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 10 Chapter 08 – Sufficient Evidence

    Xiang Shaolong rushed back to the Command Centre and caught Jing Jun and Teng Yi is a secret discussion. Jing Jun has just come in from the farm. Teng Yi has a serious look on his face. Witnessing his entry, he called out: “Third Brother, please listen to Little Jun’s report!”

    Xiang Shaolong had the impression than Jing Jun slipped out to accompany his pretty village girl but is actually hard at work. Pleased, he remarked: “Let’s see what his observations are.”

    Jing Jun produced a rolled map and spread it open on the table. Although the map is slightly worn, you can catch a bird’s eye view of the Qi Army formation, the surrounding forests and hills.

    Teng Yi scrutinised the map shortly and praised: “Dan Chu lives up to his reputation of being Qi’s famed general. Tall mountains covered his back and his camps lined up on two high grounds. From this, you can tell that he has substance.” Pointing to the central camp, he added: “A source of water is crucial to a good campsite. They are camped near the water source...” Moving his hand down to the pastures and woods between three border camps and continued: “And they have grass to feed the warhorses. If they lay appropriate formations in the woods, it will be hard-pressed to attack them even with a much larger force. There are multiple rock formations within the camp and can be used for both attack and defence. Dan Chu is more than meets the eye. We must never let down our guard on them.”

    Xiang Shaolong inquired: “Did we discover any tunnelling?”

    Jing Jun proudly reported: “Negative. I did question the neighbouring huntsmen. They told me the mountain behind the camp is named Back-Wind Mountain. It nicely blocks off the cold wind blowing from the north. Just beyond the camp, there is a natural cave that goes deep into the mountain. The exit is a secret hole at the mountain side. After my investigations, I detected Qi sentries at the exit. It is no wonder that the nearby Zhao soldiers have no idea about this.”

    Teng Yi pointed to a dense forest beside the mountain and checked: “Is it here? Have you entered the forest to see for yourself?”

    Jing Jun answered: “It is right there. The forest runs for ten over miles straight to a point five miles north-west of Handan City. For those who are unaware of the cave, people can arrive at the city border without your detection.”

    Xiang Shaolong stood up: “Come! Let’s observe from the city wall. This beats talking over a piece of paper.”

    As the trio ascended the north tower sentry, city guards paid their respects. Chen Shi, the major in charge rushed over to accept his orders.

    Xiang Shaolong acted uninterested and scanned the surroundings once. He made an excuse and got Chen Shi to leave. Lowering his voice, he told the two: “It will be too risky if the Qi army is relying on internal traitors to open the City gates. The majority of the City guards are loyal men and the Qi army will be at a disadvantage if they queue up to enter the city. While the ten thousand of them is wasting time coming in, the border guards and the city guards can attack them on both sides. I believe that the Qi army has a secret way of entering the city. As long as they secure a few strategic locations and attack the palace, Handan City will belong to Tian Dan.”

    Teng Yi is moved: “Third Brother speaks with reason. If they come in head to head, it will earn the spite of Handan’s army and population. Everyone will sacrifice their lives to defend the city. The Qi army of ten thousand soldiers is insufficient to deal with such a situation.”

    Jing Jun imagined: “If I am Tian Dan, I will disguise my men as Zhao citizens. When they enter the city, I will dress them as palace guards. Collaborating with Zhao Mu, I will spread the rumour that Guo Kai and Cheng Xu rebelled. Zhao Mu and Empress Jing will rise to take over the court affairs. By then, Xiaocheng is dead and Third Brother is his subordinate. Other officials can only accept this takeover obediently.”

    Teng Yi became even more agitated.

    Xiang Shaolong watched the dense forests beyond the city and plainly said: “Tian Dan will not be so foolish to help Zhao Mu and Empress Jing fulfil their fantasy. In addition, he will not trust this Dong Horse Fanatic or the Crown Prince. Caught off-guard, the border guards may not be able to return in time. Thus, he will control the entire situation. When the army is in chaos and Handan’s troops are mostly the old, weak or handicapped, there will not be a strong resistance.”

    Teng Yi frowned: “On what grounds can he prolong his control over Handan City? Will Li Mu let him off?”

    Xiang Shaolong revealed his guess about Prince Wu Chen. He continued: “It will fall to Prince Wu’s responsibility. All he needs to do is to lead his men and the Qi army masquerading as Zhao army. He can kill Zhao Mu with a good reason and even push the death of Empress Jing and Crown Prince to him. When Li Mu is back, Prince Wu Chen is sitting on the throne with the backing of Qi and Chu. What can Li Mu do? If there is an internal strife, Tian Dan the conqueror will lead his huge army to attack Handan City. When that occurs, Lian Po is busy fighting Yan and Li Mu is fighting alone. Eliminating Zhao will be a piece of cake and Tian Dan will realise his ambition.”

    The sun setting the west sends out millions of rays across the wide grasslands and forests.

    Teng Yi heaved a deep breath: “It is good that we have figured out the intricacies or we might be annihilated. Even when we are in hell, we have no idea what brought us there.” Pointing to a building in the city, he proposed: “That is the North Command Centre under the command of Zhao Ming Xiong. If I am not mistaken, there might be a tunnel which leads outside the city, Why don’t Little Jun conduct some investigations on the tunnel’s entrance and exit?” To Xiang Shaolong, he enquired: “How you gotten the complete army seal?”

    Xiang Shaolong patted his waist pouch happily: “Both the seal and decree are here! Let us deploy our troops now and fight to the last with Tian Dan and Zhao Mu. They may even act tonight!”

    Teng Yi shook his head: “I can foresee that they are still working on the tunnel day and night. They must keep their silence when digging or they may leak out their activities. Otherwise, they need not drag for another day. The earlier they control Handan City, the better can they prepare for Li Mu’s return. When we can predict the day they complete the tunnel, we can predict the time when they will attack.”

    Jing Jun suddenly warned: “Careful! Someone is here!”

    Zhao Ming Xiong’s voice drifted over the stone steps of the city wall behind them: “Assistant General pays his respects to City Commander. May I ask what instructions does City Commander have?”

    Xiang Shaolong smiled: “The King has given me the complete army seal. With such a heavy responsibility, I have to patrol personally and give my orders.”

    Xiang Shaolong passed the burden of handling Zhao Ming Xiong to Teng Yi. Chatting for a few more seconds, he left with Jing Jun.

    Leaving the city wall, Jing Jun made use of the darkness to conduct his investigations. He himself rushed to Han Chuang’s residence to liaise with Empress Jing.

    Both parties are racing for time. Whoever can set their traps earlier will be the winner.

    This time round, Han Chuang did not bring him into the inner chamber but through the garden. They passed the rice granary where Prince Xinling’s men used to be hiding and reached a hut that is used to store gardening tools.

    Han Chuang gave him a mysterious smile. Clapping his shoulder, he promised: “General Dong will understand everything once he enters.”

    As the wooden door was dragged open against the floor, Xiang Shaolong could see that the interior was dimly lit and the shadows are unclear.

    Empress Jing is actually inside. Surrounding her on all fours are her personal guards as well as Han Chuang’s personal escorts.

    Under the light, there is a man who is tied to the wall. He appears to be in a daze and his clothes are bloodied and his face and head are full of scars. His body has burn marks which show that he has just been tortured.

    Empress Jing did not even turn her head and coldly said: “Except for Marquis and General Dong, the rest of you can scram.”

    Everyone left in an instance.

    Empress Jing simply asked: “General Dong, do you know who he is?”

    Xiang Shaolong advanced to her side. Shaking his head, he answered: “Who is he?”

    Behind him, Han Chuang cut in: “He is one of the family warriors of Prince Wu Chen. He came to Handan City the day before yesterday. He came here to deliver weapon-grade copper to Guo Zhong.”

    Xiang Shaolong was hit by a wave of realization. He suppressed his pity and asked in a deep voice: “Has he revealed anything?” His heart could not stop thumping. If this guy refuses to say anything, it is the same as not catching him.

    Empress Jing let slips: “General Dong is right. Prince Wu Chen the idiot does not know what is good for him. He has conspired with Tian Dan to revolt.”

    Xiang Shaolong secretly sighed with relief and thanked his lucky stars. Han Chuang started: “In the beginning, he is tight-lipped. We called his bluff that Prince Wu Chen was sighted in the Qi army camp that he starts to reveal everything.”

    Xiang Shaolong was feeling relieved when he became anxious again. He frowned: “Wouldn’t this put them on the alert? He must people who are helping him.” Empress Jing’s voice softened as she turned around and look at him. With her eyes full of gratitude, she said: “Relax. We will put on an act that he chickened out and dare not participate in the rebellion and has escaped in secret. Dong Kuang! What should I do next?”

    Han Chuang suggested: “Sister and General Dong can return to the inner hall first. Leave this man to me.”

    Xiang Shaolong knew that he is going to kill him to shut his mouth. Sighing, he escorted Empress Jing into the inner hall.

    Arriving at the room where they last met; the personal guards stayed outside and even closed the door.

    Empress Jing’s expression is cold like ice. She stood like a statue in the centre of the room. Xiang Shaolong snaked to her back and stuck his body onto hers. He reached out with his strong hand and held onto her abdomen tightly.

    Empress Jing sighed and her icy demeanour begin to thaw. She leaned into his embrace and faintly asked: “Dong Kuang! Will you deceive me?”

    Xiang Shaolong can understand her position. Her two lovers, Prince Xinling and Zhao Mu, have both deceived her, causing her to lose confidence in herself.

    Zhao Mu is actually ignorant about Prince Wu Chen. Under such circumstances, how could Empress Jing tell the difference? She could only believe Xiang Shaolong’s lie.

    Empress Jing displayed her weak feminine side and cooed: “Kiss me!”

    Xiang Shaolong will not be shy about such matters. After a hot kiss, Empress Jing resumed her usual resolute self and withdrew from his embrace. Pulling him to sit down at a corner, she asked in a deep voice: “How do they plan to deal with us Mother and Son? Should we report this to His Majesty?”

    After a short thinking session, Xiang Shaolong managed to arrange all the complicated issues into a single train of thought. He shook his head: “If you want to tell him, it should be done before the torture of Prince Wu Chen’s man. Moreover, there is no difference whether you tell him or not. If word gets to Zhao Mu, there will only be disadvantages and no benefits. The most pressing thing is to understand Tian Dan and Zhao Mu’s plot. We must predict when they will act. After they make their move, we will react and wipe out the rebels in one shot.”

    Empress Jing lowered her head and shyly mentioned: “From your tone, you seemed to be aware of my relationship with Zhao Mu.”

    Xiang Shaolong reached and held onto her clothes, gently coaxing: “Do not think too much. Empress Jing must act like everything is normal and continue to work with Zhao Mu. Leave the other problems to me.”

    Empress Jing was worried: “Are you confident of handling Tian Dan? I have yet to see a man more devious than him. If I am Tian Dan, you will be the one I wish to kill first.”

    Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Now, I can feel your true concern for me.”

    Empress Jing’s face reddened slightly. Shooting him a look, she stood up saying: “I will contact you via Ji Guang. He is not linked to Zhao Mu or Guo Kai and pledges his loyalty to the Crown Prince. He is definitely reliable.”

    Xiang Shaolong knew that she cannot stay for too long and he himself needed a break too. He advised: “I’ll make a move first. If Zhao Mu has any news, no matter how insignificant it is, please drop me a note.”

    Empress Jing threw herself into his arms and softly asked: “Do you want to check out the loyalty letter name list? I may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse. After all, I am from the royal family and Zhao Mu will not dare to offend me.”

    Xiang Shaolong gave her a light hug and kiss: “Then I will have more confidence. Do you trust me?”

    Empress Jing nodded her head.

    Pleased, Xiang Shaolong left. Having her on his side is truly a deciding factor in this battle.

    Before he could return to the Command Centre, he was detained by Pu Bu. With him are ten over warriors of the Marquis’s residence. They only winked at each other before he went on to meet Zhao Mu.

    Xiang Shaolong is certain that Tian Dan and Zhao Mu will act within these few days. As a result, he is also busy arranging his countermeasures. He is unsure of Zhao Mu’s confidence in himself. Scanning around, he did notice Yan Ping’s followers within the residence. They are easily identified as they all dress in hemp clothing and are bare-footed.

    If he had not be promoted to become the City Commander, or become the confidante of Xiaocheng, or Empress Jing’s lover, based on his own abilities, he will hardly be Zhao Mu’s match. He can only thank his good fortune.

    Zhao Mu personally came to meet him and led him into the secret chamber. He is cheerful and full of colour. He congratulated: “Xiaocheng has issued an imperial decree that he has given the other half of the army seal to you. You have complete authority over the army now and you are tasked to improve the city defences.”

    Xiang Shaolong modestly said: “It is due to Marquis’s good fortune that I do not lead a disgraceful life.”

    Zhao Mu ordered: “We mustn’t delay. Li Mu will arrive in a few days. We must achieve control first or we will lose this golden opportunity.”

    Xiang Shaolong agreed: “As you instruct.”

    The corner of Zhao Mu’s mouth curled in a cold smile as he simply said: “Guo Kai and Cheng Xu have been scrutinizing your every move in secret, hoping to find a weak spot ...”

    Xiang Shaolong purposely state: “Why not I deal with them. I will make it a clean job with no witnesses.”

    Zhao Mu disagreed; “I have more important duties for you. I still have misgivings about Tian Dan.”

    Xiang Shaolong was aghast: “Marquis is not thinking of opening the city gates for the Qi army to assist the rebellion?!”

    Zhao Mu clarified: “Once the rebellion is over, Tian Dan wants me to cede Wu Chen, Guan Jin, Wu Sui, Wu Heng, Chu Zhou and Fu Liu to him. These are our six provinces east of the river. How can these terms be accepted? Therefore, I have decided to act alone. With your input, I can still succeed without Tian Dan.”

    Xiang Shaolong could not tell if he is lying or telling the truth. He frowned: “After discounting the old, weak and handicapped soldiers, there are only about ten thousand soldiers in the City guards. Not everyone is willing to rebel with us. How can we handle Cheng Xu’s palace guards?”

    Zhao Mu ordered: “There are many ways to kill Xiaocheng. You can leave this to me. I want you to use your new authority to focus your troops on the movements of the Qi army. I do not trust anyone else. Long Shan (Teng Yi) and yourself must see to this personally.”

    Xiang Shaolong laughed in secret. He figured out that Zhao Mu is till suspicious of him and is only making use of him for the time being. He nodded: “I will follow your orders. If I leave the city, it may arouse suspicions. Who will the City Guards depend on for their orders?”

    Zhao Mu laughed: “I have the perfect excuse. I will get a fake Xiang Shaolong to make an appearance nearby. You will have the best excuse to leave and pursue him. It is only for one night. By morning, Xiaocheng will be in heaven.”

    He continued: “Regarding the city guards, you can hand them over to Zhao Ming Xiong. He is with Zhao Ya and Li Mu and is friendly with Guo Kai and Cheng Xu. With the both of you away, he will naturally take over your duties. No one will be suspect anything”

    Xiang Shaolong admires his handiwork. If he did not know that Zhao Ming Xiong is a traitor or that the Qi army is digging a tunnel, he may really fall into Zhao Mu’s trap.

    From all this, Zhao Mu must have been uneasy about himself. It could also be due to his character that arouses misgivings. This traitor is only using him all the time.

    Zhao Mu lowered his voice and sniggered: “If something happens to Xiaocheng and you are not around, you will not be suspected of having a part to play in his death.”

    Xiang Shaolong frowned: “You are confident of controlling Empress Jing?”

    Zhao Mu nodded in appreciation: “Your thinking is very thorough. For her own sake, Empress Jing must cooperate with me. She will personally poison Xiaocheng while I kill Guo Kai and Cheng Xu. We will replace them with our own men and no one will dare to go against us.”

    The sound of knocking was heard.

    Zhao Mu was annoyed: “Who dares to disturb me at such an hour!”

    Xiang Shaolong reasoned: “It must something urgent.” And went to open the door.

    An attendant frantically came to Zhao Mu’s side and whispered a few words. The traitor was taken by surprise and stood up commanding: “Follow my instructions to the letter. General Dong, please return first!”

    As Xiang Shaolong left the Marquis’s residence, he is very puzzled. What is the event that could cause Zhao Mu to react personally and immediately?
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 12:23 PM.

  10. #110
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    Book 10 Chapter 09 Eloquence

    Upon his arrival at the Command Centre, Xiang Shaolongs stomach is rumbling. He recollected that he hasnt had any dinner yet. He notified Teng Yi to get someone to cook a meal for him.

    Instead, Teng Yi pulled him back to the main gate advising: Third Brother, please suffer in hunger for a while longer. Your wives have sent word on more than one occasion for you to go home for dinner. From now till tomorrow night, you better be careful of what you put in your mouth. If you died from Zhao Mus poison, it will be a great injustice! I have got men to monitor our food and drink and place some fish in the well to test if the water is pure. It is better to be safe than sorry.

    Xiang Shaolong was astounded by his advice and nodded in agreement. He took the opportunity to ask: Any news from Little Jun?

    Teng Yi praised: There is no better spy than him. Within four hours, he has located the tunnel. It runs from Zhao Ming Xiongs camp all the way to the North City Wall. It is about a hundred metres long. Both sides are ready to be used. They are now finishing the tunnel by reinforcing it with wooden panels and pillars. It should be put to use tomorrow night.

    They arrived at the assembly ground and their horses were brought to them.

    Riding forward, they were escorted by nearly five hundred soldiers, putting on an impressive display.

    Xiang Shaolong noticed that only ten over escorts are their own elite troops while the rest are ordinary Zhao soldiers. He is uncomfortable and enquired: Where did these men come from?

    Teng Yi smiled: I have sent our brothers to the various strategic locations to strengthen the power of the city defences. These men are from different departments and I have avoided using those who are linked to Zhao Ming Xiong. The background checks have been carried out and they are loyal to us. Handan City is full of hidden dangers and it is better to strengthen ourselves.

    Xiang Shaolong updated Teng Yi about Zhao Mu in a low voice. Teng Yi assessed: With such precise intelligence, it will be easier to deal with Zhao Mu and Tian Dan. The challenge is how to kill Tian Dan, capture Zhao Mu and escape back to Xianyang.

    Xiang Shaolong sighed: Frankly, I dont think I can accomplish both of them. Tian Dan will never take part personally. Xiaocheng that muddle-headed king has cowered at the last moment, ordering me not to touch Li Yuan and Tian Dan. We need his cooperation for tomorrows night operations. If we have the same strength as the enemy, we will be in trouble. Teng Yi nodded in agreement: I realize your difficult position. Thank heavens we still have one nights time to go through our plans. Little Jun is monitoring their situation. If there are any changes, we can react in the shortest time. I have investigated the surroundings. The North Wall is the only entrance to the tunnel. If the enemy is entering the city via the tunnel, only three or four thousand can enter no matter how quickly they move within those hours. If we can prevent Zhao Mu from meeting the Qi people, I have confidence of annihilating them.

    Xiang Shaolong sighed: If not for your input, I will be busy like he11!

    As they spoke, they eventually reached home.

    Stepping into the inner hall, he saw Zhao Ya and Ji Yanran were present and are chatting with Shan Rou and Zhao Zhi.

    The girls saw him entering and all eyes were fixated on him.

    Zhao Zhi asked: Where is Second Brother?

    Xiang Shaolong sat between Zhao Ya and Ji Yanran, answering: He went off to deploy our men to defend our residence. This is to prevent wild bees and romantic butterflies from coming in to pick these beautiful flowers.

    Everyone is amused by his refreshing talk on the bees and butterflies and could not help laughing. The stress and depressing mood is gone immediately.

    Xiang Shaolong looked over to Ji Yanran: Yanran is aware?

    Ji Yanrans jade-liked face turn cold as she promised: If Lord Longyang is brave enough to follow me, I will kill him at once.

    Shan Rou asked: Do you want to steal the loyalty letters again?

    Zhao Ya implored: Have you verified Prince Wu Chens rebellion? Does that woman believe you?

    As the three girls grilled him incessantly, he can only update them on all the latest developments. After he finished, they were all confused by the complicated and overlapping issues.

    Xiang Shaolong continued: Yaer must head to Daliang for sure. Lord Longyang has promised to accompany her so Yanran only needs to leave after they have set off and Lord Longyang will be unable to trail you.

    Zhao Ya giggled: I told Yanran to rest easy. You are not the City Commander for nothing. I am sure that Lord Longyang will invite you to keep an eye on Ji Yanran and capture Xiang Shaolong on his behalf. She bowled over in laughter.

    Xiang Shaolong is bewildered: Why are you so cheerful?

    Zhao Ya exclaimed: You are winning the battle with Zhao Mu and Tian Dan, why shouldnt I be happy for you! Moreover, I have a nice bodyguard going to Daliang with me!

    Xiang Shaolong faced Shan Rou in alarm while Shan Rou hurriedly pointed at her sister clarifying: Not me! Its Zhi Zhi!

    Zhao Mu happily explained: Sister Ya has to go to Daliang alone so I volunteered to keep her company.

    Xiang Shaolong was elated: Thats very nice of you. Initially, I had wanted you to leave with Mister Zou

    Facing Yanran again, he asked: Does Li Yuan have any concern regarding your return to Daliang?

    Full of disdain, Ji Yanran chided: Who is he to hinder my way? All he can say are the same old stuff. I am sick of his ranting!

    Xiang Shaolong informed: We rather erred on the side of caution. I will increase the defences of Ji Yanrans residence. Yanran must instruct your men to be extra cautious. Big Brother Wu Zhuo will escort you personally. Yanran will be a beautiful soldier and slip back to Handan City. I have an important task for you!

    Ji Yanran twinkled with smiles as she teased: What task? I am eager to know!

    Xiang Shaolong replied: It is to join Shan Rou and myself in bed. Aiyah!

    Shan Rou had kicked him below the table.

    Zhao Ya sighed: I am so jealous.

    This is the first time Ji Yanran has been teased in front of so many people. Her face turned fire-red and her eyes shot daggers at him but she is secretly joyful.

    Shan Rou pointed at him in annoyance: Who is sleeping with you? Hugging a pillow is better than hugging you! She continues to giggle and her charm was overwhelming.

    Teng Yi came in and reported: The keeper of the inner palace Ji Guang is here to look for you.

    Xiang Shaolong was shaken. In that moment, he realised what caused Zhao Mu to react in such a frantic manner. It is Empress Jing.

    In front of Ji Guang, Xiang Shaolong opened the wooden container that is sealed with wax. He retrieve a secret document that is written beautifully but is unsigned. There are over twenty names on the document and even states their official position.

    The first name is naturally City Commander Dong Kuang, followed by Zhao Ming Xiong. The third name was a stunner as it is Zhao Ling, Cheng Xus assistant general whom Ji Guang just mentioned this morning.

    Xiang Shaolong read the list in one go and passed it to Teng Yi. Looking at Ji Guang, he checked: How is the security of the palace?

    Ji Guang replied: Since the burglary, arson and murder by Prince Xinlings men, the King has held onto the palace guards army seal himself. Cheng Xu is only the person who passes on the orders. Any deployment of ten men and above must go through the King. The eighteen thousand palace guards are camped inside and outside the palace awaiting their orders to protect the palace in shifts. Defence shouldnt be a problem.

    Xiang Shaolong thought that Prince Xinling has indirectly caused more problems for Zhao Mu, causing him to borrow the strength of the Qi army. He continued to ask: What about His Majestys personal safety?

    Ji Guang answered: You can put your mind at ease. The King has reorganized his personal escorts. Most of them are the family warriors of the royal family and there is no doubt about their loyalty. Some areas of the palace have been restricted to a kill-zone. Whoever that intrudes will be killed without questions asked. His food and drink is also protected. The kitchen well is heavily guarded at all times.

    Ji Guang stared at the name list and state: Empress Jing has ordered that this name list must be destroyed before our very eyes. Not a single shred must be left behind.

    Xiang Shaolong secretly praised Empress Jings thorough thinking. He gave the list a second look before throwing it into the fireplace and burning it.

    As Ji Guang saw the name list burning, he sincerely offered: I am aware of the dangerous period we are going through. If you have any duties that require my help, I am willing to do my best.

    Xiang Shaolong glanced over to Teng Yi. Teng Yi caught his meaning and nodded: I can manage the City guards. Regarding the palace guards, we have to bother General Dong to speak to the King personally.

    Xiang Shaolong stood up and smiled at Ji Guang: Of course we will need your assistance as the keeper of the inner palace. Let us enter the palace and seek an audience with the King. We can chat more on the road!

    Xiaocheng got word that Xiang Shaolong is coming and hurriedly receive him in the hall behind the sleeping chambers. He anxiously asked: Do you bring good news?

    Xiang Shaolong replied: It is not only good news, it is the best news. I have full confidence in routing all the traitors.

    Xiaocheng happily cried: Have you stolen the loyalty letters?

    Xiang Shaolong smiled: The King has great foresight. If I can bring the loyalty letters here, Zhao Mu will know that the secret has been leaked.

    Xiaocheng is in high spirits and did not take offence. He laughed: I am so happy I forgot. He then frowned: Didnt you mentioned that his security is very tight and that there is no way to burgle his residence? How did you get hold of the loyalty letters?

    Xiang Shaolong has a story ready. He explained how he used the waterway to enter the Marquis residence. He added: I manage to contact some people in Zhao Mus residence who are loyal to His Majesty. They told me Zhao Mu is always hanging around this particular room so I guessed that is where the loyalty letters have been hidden. Blessed by His Majestys good fortune, I found the loyalty letters. After reading most of them, I was interrupted by the patrols and have to leave.

    Xiaocheng frowned: What hasnt this traitor made his move?

    Xiang Shaolong was laughing to himself. If he had acted earlier, he will not be tricked by me. He officially stated: Zhao Mu is well-prepared right now. If we grab him just like that, there will be serious injuries and deaths on both sides. The best strategy is to wait for him to strike. When he begins his rebellion, we will ambush him and minimise our losses. Xiaocheng considered his statement and nodded: What General said is reasonable. And who are the traitors?

    Xiang Shaolong retrieve a name list from his bosom. It is a duplicate list that was written by Teng Yi before he left. He kneeled down and present it to Xiaocheng. Xiaocheng anxiously opened the list for a look and his face colour changed immediately. What? he groaned: Zhao Ming Xiong is also with Zhao Mu? He is one of my potential candidates for City Commander. Is General Dong mistaken?

    Xiang Shaolong confidently said: I am similarly concerned that the name list is a fake to throw us off the trail. Thus, I rummaged his most prized possessions to be sure. In the process, I discovered that he has dug a tunnel underneath the north command centre which leads outside the north city wall. This matter can be verified. His Majesty can send your men to follow my men to the perimeters of the tunnel. Inserting copper pipes into the ground, one can hear the sounds coming from the tunnel. Please issue the order now.

    Xiaocheng eyed him with suspicion before speaking: It is not that I do not trust you. This matter is of great complications. If you can prove your words, I will be relieved. This matter must be executed with utmost care and not alert our enemies.

    Finishing, he waved two of his personal escorts over. Xiang Shaolong led them outside the palace and got a waiting Wu Guo to bring them to the tunnel grounds.

    When he came back, Xiaocheng has finished reading the name list and was letting out a long sigh: This name list should be correct. Except for Zhao Ming Xiong and Zhao Ling, the rest of them are people that I have already suspected to have links to Zhao Mu. General Dong has accomplished a noteworthy mission. I will keep this in mind.

    His ferocious eyes glittered as he commanded: The tunnel is definitely dug for the sake of the Qi army. General Dong, please seal it at once. Next, in the fastest and most quiet fashion, round up all the traitors and lay siege to the Marquis Residence. When Li Mu is back, he shall lead the attack on Zhao Mu and everything will come to an end.

    Xiang Shaolong could guess this coming from Xiaocheng. He lowered his voice: Your Majesty, there is another important news. To gain my trust, Zhao Mu has revealed to me that he is conspiring to Prince Wu Chen. Right now, Prince Wu Chen is at the Qi army camps.

    Xiaochengs countenance changed: What?!

    Xiang Shaolong continued: Now I realise why Zhao Mu wants to rebel, as soon as he.... Hei! That Prince Wu Chen will be able to succeed the throne and the state of Qi will gain our Zhao territories east of the river.

    Xiaocheng impatiently interrupted him: I understand. What brilliant counter measure do you have?

    Using his most solid and confident tone, Xiang Shaolong proposed: If we acted first against the rebels, it is hard to determine victory. The biggest problem is we cannot attack them at this point in time. If someone opens the City gates for the Qi army, we can still win but it will be at the expense of the citizens. We have to protect the palace and lay siege to the Marquis Residence at the same time. It will be difficult to fight on so many fronts and is unfavourable to us. If we allow the Qi army to come in from the tunnel instead, I have a brilliant trap waiting for them.

    He added in a deep voice: While Tian Dan is in the palace, we should kill him once and for all!

    Xiaocheng slowly said: This news came too late. Tian Dan made an excuse to inspect his camp and has left Handan City in the evening.

    Xiang Shaolong was astonished: How come I have no idea at all?

    Xiaocheng bitterly laughed: He left by the North Gate and Zhao Ming Xiong naturally will not inform you!

    Suddenly, the two spies of Xiaocheng came back and present their findings to him.

    Xiaocheng is even more trusting of Xiang Shaolong. After another hour of discussion did he finally leave the palace.

    As he stepped out of the palace, he knows that the key to victory is in his hands. No matter how formidable Tian Dan, Zhao Mu or Li Yuan are, they cannot escape from his grasp.
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 11:36 AM.

  11. #111
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    Book 10 Chapter 10 Detailed Arrangements

    Back at the Command Centre, Teng Yi was nowhere to be found. Instead, Lord Longyang was waiting for him. Both of them are on good terms already so there was no need for the usual courtesies. After dispensing his men, Lord Longyang commented: I am relieved that my King has sent an army of five thousand soldiers, led by my good friend General Wei Bai Nian. They will arrive at Fan Wu tonight at meet up with us tomorrow. We will no longer be afraid of Tian Dan or Li Yuans mischief.

    Xiang Shaolong began: I have a favour to ask of Lord.

    Lord Longyang happily agreed: Brother Dong please speak your mind. I will do my best to help you.

    Xiang Shaolong requested: Please take good care of Lady Ya and make sure she can return safely.

    Lord Longyang was taken aback and cried: Brother Dong, you are really in love with her!

    Xiang Shaolong plainly replied: I am not sure too but after a night of passion, she promised to be loyal to me. Thus, I do not want her to come to any harm.

    Lord Longyang was incensed as he shot an eye at him before faintly sighing with helplessness: Rest assured Brother Dong! Because you asked, I will guarantee her safety and well-being.

    He continues to sigh: How is Brother Dong going to handle Tian Dan, Li Yuan and Zhao Mu?

    Xiang Shaolong smiled: Men can plan but Heaven can interfere. I will do my best.

    Lord Longyang frowned deeply and unhappily said: I know I cannot persuade General to abandon Handan City. However, do not forget my invitation. If you can succeed, please escape to Wei. I will inform the border guards to receive you.

    Xiang Shaolong is moved and gave his thanks.

    This beautiful man changed topic: Does Brother Dong wants to score a big merit? From my calculations, Talented Lady Ji is pretending to return to Wei. In reality, she is rendezvousing with Xiang Shaolong. I cannot even protect myself and have to escort Lady Ya back to Daliang. So I simply cannot afford any energy or time to keep my eye on her.

    Xiang Shaolong had a brainwave and checked: Does Lord know this man called Yan Ping?

    Lord Longyang exclaimed: You must be talking about Mohist Juzi Yan Ping! Not only do I know him, we are well-acquainted. This man is good at military warfare and is a rare talent. Too bad he is too arrogant and difficult to get along with.

    From his words, Xiang Shaolong can sense that Lord Longyang has sought to recruit Yan Ping as well. This shows that Wei do harbour ambitions against Zhao. He smiled: Why dont you tell Yan Ping about Xiang Shaolong and Ji Yanran. This man hates Xiang Shaolong deeply and will pursue him at all costs. I can also focus on my original work.

    Lord Longyang smiled: Not only can you can focus on your work, this will lower Zhao Mus prowess at the same time!

    Exposed by him, Xiang Shaolong awkwardly laughed: It is really hard to hide anything from you!

    Lord Longyang cheerfully said: Ill see to it and even exaggerated my words to lend you this helping hand. Ai! After this separation, I wonder if Ill ever see you again.

    Xiang Shaolong gracefully mentioned: Nobody will know what will happen tomorrow. Life is only a few decades long. As long as we have shared a life and death experience together, who cares about what the future holds.

    Delighted, Lord Longyang stood up grinning: Brother Dong is one in a million and so is your thinking.

    Xiang Shaolong personally sent him to the door. As he is turning back, Zhao Ba had come to see him.

    After a few words of courtesy, Zhao Ba revealed: The King has ordered me to see you and do whatever I can to help.

    Xiang Shaolong is glad that Xiaocheng is doing his best to cooperate with him and execute his plan. After some talks, he praised Zhao Ba to the skies. While Zhao Ba is feeling high and mighty, he warned: Our conversation must remain top secret! Headmaster must not let a third party know, especially Guo Zhong. Headmaster should understand his connection to Li Yuan!

    Zhao Be vehemently cursed: Old Guo is getting muddle-headed, desiring to be the father-in-law of that cold blooded thief Li Yuan. I am so pi55ed that I havent seen him for a while. General can put your mind at ease.

    Xiang Shaolong start off: Today, we require Headmasters help as Zhao Mu has secretly conspired with Tian Dan and Li Yuan against our King.

    Zhao Bas face changed colour as he uttered: What! Tian Dan and Li Yuan are so daring!?

    Xiang Shaolong explained: The King has forbid me to give you all the details. Can I enquire as to how many top fighters do you have at the Martial School and whose loyalty is beyond question?

    Zhao Ba puffed his chest: At least five or six hundred elite fighters. Are we attacking the Marquis Residence?

    Xiang Shaolong suggested: It depends. Can headmaster find an excuse like an (army field) exercise? Using this cover, secretly assemble your men at Lady Yas residence. Once you enter, prevent anyone from leaving so that your location will not be leaked out.

    Zhao Ba is a man who loves fighting and action. He happily consented and left after further discussion.

    It is almost midnight. Just as Xiang Shaolong was deciding to go home and sleep or not, Teng Yi came back. In a relaxed mood, he updated: Lucky we had that name list or we will be in peril. Major Gan Zhu and Major Li Ming who are guarding the South gate are Zhao Mus spies as well. Zhao Ming Xiong has deployed them there with ulterior motives.

    Xiang Shaolong remembered these two names but had no idea they were in charge of the South gate. Thinking what a close shave they had, he analyzed: Zhao Mu is a top schemer. First, he let Tian Dans army come in from the tunnel and create chaos. Then, he will open up both the North and South gates for the entire army to enter Handan City. Their attack is focused and well-planned. Even with the entire Zhao population attacking them, it is of little use. This is truly a top battle strategy.

    Teng Yi laughed: A pity he is not your match. Otherwise, the loyalty letters will not have appeared. Patting his shoulder, he added: Third Brother should return first. Leave this to me. Little Jun and his men are actively spying on the Qi army. You can relax and keep your wives company.

    Xiang Shaolong questioned: This upcoming battle, we will use our elite brothers exclusively for Zhao Mu. Does Second Brother have any method of assembling a force of elite City guards and plant them in strategic locations inside the city. I want them to limit the power of the Qi forces.

    Teng Yi replied: All thanks to your Army Seal. Earlier, I was discussing the deployment with Zhao Ming Xiong. He tried to trick me with various recommendations. I allowed myself to be tricked and accept all his suggestions. Now that he has deployed all those loyal to him at the north and south gate, I am free to choose my elite city guards from the remaining forces. In fact, I have assembled an elite force of two thousand city guards. The rest of the old, weak or handicapped soldiers will be sent to spy on the Qi army as Zhao Mu requested. Better to let them leave than to hamper our progress in Handan City.

    Catching each others eyes, they held their bellies and filled the room with laughter.

    At home, Ji Yanran had led the Tian sisters away while Zhao Ya and Zhao Zhi had gone back to her residence. Barely awake, Shan Rou is still waiting for his return. She roared: Why are you back so late! I have something to say to you!

    Due to her lack of sleep, Shan Rou is slightly not in full control of herself.

    Xiang Shaolong carried her with both hands into his bedroom.

    Before he could step over the door ledge, Shan Rou displayed her prowess and bit him on the shoulder.

    Xiang Shaolong bore with the pain and threw her onto his bed.

    Shan Rou proudly giggled and flipped to one side. She comfortably lay down and closed both her eyes. She seems to be offering herself for his pleasure.

    Xiang Shaolong is in need of a beauty to soothe his tense nerves. Removing his shoes, he climbed onto Shan Rou.

    She is strangely cooperative and passionate, letting Xiang Shaolong enjoy her tenderness.

    After the stormy affair, they hug each other to sleep.

    Shan Rou whispered: This is our last night together. In the future, you need not tolerate my tantrums.

    An exhausted Xiang Shaolong was almost asleep but was fully awaken after hearing these words. He sighed: So you are not joking and is leaving me for good.

    Shan Rou sighed: I am in a dilemma too. From what I see, Tian Dan will survive this episode...

    Xiang Shaolong butt in: If you risk your life to assassinate him again, I will be worried.

    Shan Rou intimately cooed: I will be extra cautious and will not die in vain. If I fail, I will commit suicide. Who is afraid of death?

    Xiang Shaolong knew that her mind is made up. He gently advised: Do not pressure yourself too much. If you know you cannot succeed, look for me in Xianyang. Dont you wish to see Shan Lan?

    Shan Rou kissed him: Got it, you long-winded man! Arent you going to make love with me one more time?

    Xiang Shaolong bitterly smiled: The Queen has ordered. No matter how difficult it is, your servant will oblige.

    Before the sun is up, Xiang Shaolong was roused by Shan Rou. Get up quickly! As the City Commander, how can you be so lazy? she scolded.

    Today is her D-Day so she is highly excited. Under her teasing, he forced himself to get out of bed.

    Shan Rou disguised as his escort and seriously state: Today, I will break all traditions and listen to your every command obediently. However, I must be at your side all the time.

    Xiang Shaolong recalled getting Lord Longyang to deceive Yan Ping. He dared not be complacent and hurriedly washed up and got dressed. In between bites, he led Wu Guo and his entourage back to the Command Centre.

    It was daybreak when he arrived at the Command Centre. Teng Yi is busy like a bee but he is still as energetic and fresh. Xiang Shaolong is amazed at this Ironman.

    Teng Yi noticed how serious Shan Rou looked and teased her. He then proceeds to report to Xiang Shaolong about last nights deployment: I have assembled three thousand men internally and externally. They will be the main force against the enemy. I have analyzed the attacking and retreating routes of the enemy and I guarantee that the ambush will be successful and we will make a killing. Zhao Bas men are an added advantage as the enemy will never think that we will have this bonus.

    Xiang Shaolong added: At that time, Xiaocheng will transfer another five thousand elite palace guards under our command. With this, we will have over ten thousand elite troops which can mop up the rebels. Divide the remaining City guards into two groups. Group A will be responsible for guarding the city and patrolling the streets. Group B will switch from monitoring the Qi army to guarding Handan Citys borders. Let Tian Dan know that we are ready and not make any reckless attacks.

    Shan Rou could not help but ask: How are we going to escape?

    Xiang Shaolong teased her: Arent you a simple and obedient soldier? Your general is talking and who are you to interrupt?

    Shan Rou was annoyed and pouted, staring hardly at Wu Guo who is trying to hold his laughter at the side. Ill get even with you later! her body language displayed.

    As relax as possible, Teng Yi held his laughter and replied: It couldnt be easier. During the attack on Zhao Mus residence, all of us died in the fight. Wouldnt that be a good closure?

    Shan Rou and Wu Guo were bowled over and did not know what to say.

    Xiang Shaolong assessed: Todays first task is to contact Pu Bu. Without his intelligence reports, there are many things we cannot do.

    Teng Yi agreed and Xiang Shaolong continued to speak about Yan Ping.

    Teng Yi joked: He did not learn his lesson the first time round. We will annihilate him and take revenge for Mister Yuan Zong.

    After a detailed discussion, Xiang Shaolong led Shan Rou to the palace to send of Lord Longyang and Zhao Ya.

    Palace security is extremely tight. Ji Guang noticed them and welcomed: The King, Empress Jing, Lord Longyang, Princess Ya, Miss Zhi and Master Guo are having breakfast. The King asked me to send you to see him immediately if you should show up.

    Xiang Shaolong winked at Shan Rou and Wu Guo, asking them to wait for him outside the palace. With Ji Guangs company, he entered the palace.

    In a low voice, Ji Guang warned; General Cheng Xu knows that there is something between the King and you. He appears to be very upset. You have to be careful when you see him.

    Xiang Shaolong realised that it is erroneous to neglect him and it may cause some trouble.

    Although this kid is snobbish, he is not evil. As he thought about it, Cheng Xu appeared at the end of a long corridor under the escort of some palace guards.

    Ji Guang gave a dry cough and stop speaking.

    Xiang Shaolong waved to Cheng Xu from afar and Cheng Xu reluctantly returned the gesture. When they are nearly facing each other, Xiang Shaolong winked at Ji Guang before approaching the uncertain Cheng Xu: General Cheng, can I have a private word with you?

    Cheng Xu anxiously nodded in consent and they left the corridor and entered the garden.

    Xiang Shaolong asked in a low voice: The traitors are rebelling. What plans does General Cheng have?

    Cheng Xu coldly retorted: General Dong is handling this well. What do I have to worry about?

    Xiang Shaolong laughed: General Cheng is too serious. I have a suggestion. If we work together and resolve this danger, it will only be beneficial to both of us either personally or officially. What does General Cheng think?

    Cheng Xu appears to be tempted but after a reality check, he bitterly laughed: Although I am the leader of the palace guards, I have no real authority. Everything has to be agreed by the King. I think General Dong had better speak directly to the King instead.

    Xiang Shaolong reasoned: The King cannot wear his armour and fight the war personally. In the end, General Cheng is still required to manage the palace guards. Let me speak to the King first and discuss with you again.

    He added after a sigh: I, Dong Horse Fanatic, is not used to an official position. After this episode, I will quit my post as City Commander and focus on horse-breeding. If General Cheng can score some merit later, you will be the new City Commander.

    He stretched his hand towards a disbelieving Cheng Xu: If I do not honour my words, may I die a horrible death and bring shame to my ancestors.

    Recalling the days when they went through thick and thin, his eyes became shining with sincerity.

    (Note: Cheng Xu is with Xiang Shaolong on his trip to Daliang to steal the Lu Gong Secret Manual)

    Cheng Xu was moved and reached out with a great force, grabbing Xiang Shaolongs hand tightly. He embarrassedly confessed: General Dong is more generous than I can imagine, I...

    Xiang Shaolong held his hand for a while before letting go. Patting his shoulder, he returned to Ji Guang and waved with confidence.

    Cheng Xu continued to daze in the sun, amazed that there are such people who love animals more than power. No wonder he is called Horse Fanatic.

    Reaching the inner palace, breakfast is over. Xiaocheng and Empress Jing are accompanying Lord Longyang towards a large group of men on horseback.

    Xiang Shaolong caught up to them. Zhao Ya, Zhao Zhi and Empress Jing stared at him with different expressions.

    Empress Jing is full of love and warmth while the two other ladies are full of sadness at the thought of separation.

    Xiang Shaolong knew that it is not a good time to talk in confidence. He appeared in front of Xiaocheng and Longyang, bowing deeply and bade farewell to Lord Longyang.

    The sadness in Lord Longyangs is not lesser than the two girls. Standing beside Xiaocheng, Guo Kai sniggered: If General Dong visits Daliang, he will be Lords most esteemed guest.

    Xiaocheng appears to be ignorant about their relationship and look over to Xiang Shaolong when he heard this.

    Although he knows that he will not see Xiaocheng after tonight, Xiang Shaolong still feels uneasy under his stares.

    After some fanfare, everyone board their carriages. His old friend, Zha Yuan, has been promoted to a captain of the palace guards. Leading five hundred palace guards, he is tasked to protect the convoy. When they leave the city, Xiang Shaolong will assign another group of city guards to protect them till they arrive in Wei. Halfway, they will meet up with the Wei army. As a result, safety shouldnt be an issue. Tian Dan and company will not stir up trouble and attack Lord Longyang at such a critical juncture.

    While boarding, Lord Longyang chance upon a short moment of privacy and informed Xiang Shaolong: Yan Ping has been tricked. When I told him that Talented Lady Ji refused to travel together, he left at once.

    Xiang Shaolong dare not reply and bade his farewell to the two ladies. When he was about to leave, Xiaocheng summoned him into the library and Guo Kai was left out in the cold.

    After the attendants have left, Xiaocheng revealed; Prince Wu Chen is really rebelling. I brought in Lady Li for questioning and she confessed that Prince Wu Chen came to Handan secretly a month ago. After a few days, he left. He must have been liaising with his spies.

    Xiang Shaolong has no idea who is Lady Li and guessed that she must be from the royal family. Because of her close ties with Prince Wu Chen, she was embroiled in the scandal.

    Xiang Shaolong is glad that Xiaocheng has personally verified this matter. He remembered his promise to Cheng Xu and added: Presently, spies will be watching every move you make. If there are any slips, they will be alerted at once. Due to these circumstances, General Cheng Xu becomes valuable as he is not under observation. If you can secretly bestow some military authority to him and get him to work closely with me, we can destroy the enemies plot together.

    Xiaocheng was surprised: Are you sure he will not mess things up?

    Xiang Shaolong reassured: At least he is not connected to Zhao Mu or else Zhao Mu will not get me to harm him. Zhao Mu wants Cheng Xu out of the way so that Zhao Ling can take over his position. Put your mind at ease, my King! General Cheng is a talented man. His last mistake is not made on the battlefield. Who knows, it may even be Zhao Mu who leaked the secret of the palace tunnels to Prince Xinlings men so that you will remove Cheng Xu from his post.

    Xiaocheng pondered and agreed that it makes perfect sense. Summoning Cheng Xu, he gave him fresh instructions and ordered him to work closely with Xiang Shaolong. If they succeed, huge rewards await them.

    Cheng Xu was moved to tears. The three of them had a detailed meeting regarding tonights counterattack after which Xiang Shaolong galloped non-stop to Liu Residence where Ji Yanran is staying.
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 11:39 AM.

  12. #112
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 10 Chapter 11 Attacking And Defending At the Same Time

    Even before he could reach the Liu Residence, Xiang Shaolong and his men had a big surprise! Horse carriages were promptly lined up in front of the residence blockading the entire street. Any empty spaces were filled with Ji Yanrans well-wishers and common folks who there to witness the spectacle.

    Upon his sighting, everyone began pointing at him and cheering: That is Dong Horse Fanatic! while others shouted: That is a true hero.

    Xiang Shaolong can only laugh bitterly and got down from his horse with the rest of his men. Shan Rou laid down her conditions first: I am not waiting for you outside no matter what you say.

    Xiang Shaolong cannot win her in an argument. Instructing Wu Guo to maintain order in the streets, he squeezed into residence with Shan Rou.

    The servants of Liu Residence have been informed of his arrival. They welcomed Xiang Shaolong and led him into the inner chambers. The waiting Tian sisters saw him and their eyes shone with happiness. Leaping into his bosom, they wailed in tears.

    As Xiang Shaolong was busy pacifying the two girls, like a magician, Ji Yanran managed to evade all the attention and slipped in. She angrily cursed: I am bored to death! Scrutinizing the escort soldier next to the three of them, she recognized Shan Rou.

    Embarrassed. The Tian sisters left Xiang Shaolongs bosom with their eyes swollen with all the crying.

    Shan Rou showed the gentle side of her, pulling the Tian sisters to a corner and continued to pacify them.

    Xiang Shaolong joked: How did you slip away?

    An annoyed Ji Yanran responded: I got godfather (Zou Yan) to handle them. I am not interested in such activities.

    She added in a low voice: Han Chuang just notified me that Li Yuan is leading five hundred of his family warriors to escort me back to Wei. They are waiting for me outside the city wall. What should we do?

    Xiang Shaolong coldly snorted: Relax! He is simply using this as an excuse to leave Handan to avoid any connections with tonights event. After tonight, he will come back to check on the end result. He went on to share about Yan Ping.

    An attendant came to report that it is time to set off.

    Ji Yanran got her men to send the Tian sisters secretly into one of the horse carriage. Xiang Shaolong, Wu Guo and hundreds of city guards were leading and protecting the convoy as they rode towards the east gate.

    Before noon, the entourage has left the city and proceed east towards the State of Han. The number of city guards has been boosted to over a thousand.

    Xiang Shaolong instructed Wu Guo on how to deal with Li Yuan before hiding with Shan Rou in the same carriage as the Tian sisters. Together, they travelled with Ji Yanran.

    After travelling for half a mile, Li Yuan and his five hundred family warriors rushed over from the west gate where they had been waiting.

    Ji Yanran commanded the entourage to stop. When Li Yuan reached her carriage side, she asked with discontent: Why is Imperial Uncle chasing me?

    Li Yuan jumped down from his horse and went to her carriage window asking: There are many bandits on these roads and Li Yuan cannot help but be worried for Miss. Therefore, I wish to personally send you to Wei. Ai! Arent you going back to Wei? You seemed to be travelling in the wrong direction!

    Behind Ji Yanrans carriage, Xiang Shaolong peeped out from his carriage. Li Yuan has an incensed look on his face and must be thinking that Yanran is deceiving him.

    Ji Yanrans sweet and gentle voice sounded from within the carriage: Imperial Uncle is mistaken. Yanran is sending Mister Zou back to Han before going home to Wei. Imperial Uncle, please do not send us any further. Yanran is capable of taking care of herself.

    Li Yuan coldly smiled: Is Miss Ji really going home to Daliang?

    Ji Yanrans voice turned cold and she hissed: None of your business. Men!

    Wu Guo gave a loud reply and rode over to her carriage.

    Ji Yanran calmly ordered: Kill whoever that follows us!

    Li Yuan was ashen faced, exclaiming: Miss!

    Wu Guo shouted his command and gestured with his hands. The carriage convoy continued to move forward while he led his men and detained Li Yuan with the family warriors.

    Mad with anger, Li Yuan flew up his horse and swore: Even if your King sees me, he has to show me some courtesy and respect. Who dares to block my way?!

    Wu Guo cannot be bothered with his antics and icily challenged: Feel free to try your luck. But if you continue to follow us, do not blame my weapon for being merciless.

    Li Yuan is so incensed that his face is turning red. He could see that Wu Guo is very determined and his army is twice as big as his own. He has no confidence of winning. After Ji Yanran and the carriages have gone far, Wu Guo yelled a new command and chased the entourage with his army, leaving Li Yuan and his men dazed at the same spot, watching the dust kicked up by the galloping horses.

    Out of a sudden, Li Yuan knew that he has lost this top beauty forever.

    Initially, there are grasslands on the two sides of the official road to Han. After an hour on the road, the grasslands are replaced by forests. Hugging the Tian sisters, Xiang Shaolong coaxed: Be obedient and listen to Mister Zou on the road. Very soon, both of you will be back at Xianyang. From then on, we can live happily together!

    The two girls held their tears and nodded in consent.

    As he spoke, the horse carriages began to slow down and came to a complete stop eventually.

    Xiang Shaolong and Shan Rou got out of their carriage. Under Wu Guos cover, Ji Yanran is now disguised as an escort soldier and got out of her carriage as well.

    Xiang Shaolong went over to Zou Yans side and wished: Mister, please take care.

    Opening the curtains, Zou Yan laughed: There is nothing under the sky that cannot be accomplished by you.

    The entourage started to move off again under the leadership of another elite brother. Another fifty elite brothers continue to protect the carriages back to Xianyang.

    Xiang Shaolong has prepared all the necessary travel documents for them. Without needing to go through Han, they can easily cross the border between Zhao and Qin. As long as they avoid the military passes, they can return to Xianyang effortlessly.

    Even in the 21st century, it is easy to enter a country illegally. In this age where the land is plentiful and the population is small, it is not worth mentioning how simple it can be for people to move around.

    Under Wu Guos command, the remaining army of one thousand city guards entered the thick forest and based themselves in various strategic points.

    They had barely concealed themselves when Wu Zhou appeared and reported: Third brothers guess is correct. Yan Ping was tricked when Yanran unexpectedly exited Handan City via the east gate. They are trying the best to rush here and should be arriving soon.

    Ji Yanran laughed: In their wildest dreams, they will never imagine that they will be attacked by the Zhao army with the consent of Xiaocheng.

    Shan Rou asked: Did Li Yuan return to Handan City?

    Wu Zhuo smiled: He left for the Qi army camp but got ten over spies to continue to follow Yanran. I have killed all of them.

    Sounds of urgent hoof beats can be heard from the grasslands. Xiang Shaolong swore in a deep voice: We will not hold back and kill every single one of them.

    Wu Zhuo reassured: Relax! We have one thousand men against three hundred of them. Moreover, we have the element of surprise. They have no chance of surviving. Even if anyone manages to get away, they will still be killed if they go back to Handan City.

    Theyre here! Shan Rou signalled.

    Wu Zhuo left their company and gave fresh instructions.

    Everyone prepared their strong bows and their sharp arrows. Hiding in the forest, they await Yan Ping and his Mohist followers.

    Ji Yanran whispered into his ears with delight: My torment is over. From today onwards, I will fight alongside hubby and share every joy and sorrow until our deaths.

    Xiang Shaolong has gained her true love and replied with sweet words. Grateful for her love, he did not hold back and kissed her pretty face.

    With the sun high above them, the landscape shone like a scene from a movie.

    A huge troop of riders came into their view, stirring up clouds of dust.

    When all of them entered the ambush area, a horn sounded and a thousand arrows left their strong bows and shot out like rain towards the enemy. Men and horses alike began to tumble down and there was blood and flesh everywhere. In this first attack, over half of the enemies were felled from their horses.

    After the second volley of arrows, there was nobody on horseback any more.

    More than half of Yan Pings men had been killed by now. Their forces were in a state of disarray and panic.

    Xiang Shaolong knew that this is best time. Pulling out Bloodwave, he charged at the enemies. Shan Rou and Ji Yanran were like two tigresses on his left and right, killing whoever that is in their way.

    A peaceful forest has transformed into a slaughterhouse.

    The city guards have been specially trained by Teng Yi day and night. Every Zhao citizen admires a hero. Everyone is bravely using a shield to protect themselves and viciously attacking the enemy with lances and heavy swords. Although the Mohist warriors are highly-skilled, they have lost their morale and most of them are injured. With the smaller numbers, how can they withstand their attacks?

    Xiang Shaolong evaded a thrust of an enemy sword and flipped his wrist, chopping down on the attacker. He caught sight of Yan Ping under the protection of several of his followers. They were trying the best to retreat into the centre of the forest to escape from the City guards.

    Energised by the thought of Yuan Zongs revenge, Xiang Shaolong signalled to the two girls and charged forward like a wild tiger, chopping down at the outermost man surrounding Yan Ping.

    The man forcefully met his chop and was shaken by the strong arm strength behind Xiang Shaolongs sword. His entire arm went numb and he staggered to hold onto his sword. Shan Rou took this break to kill him with a strike of her long sword.

    On the other side was Ji Yanran. Unlike her usual gentle self, Ji Yanran let out a shrill cry and advanced with her sword flashing with brilliance. Another two men were felled by her.

    Xiang Shaolong broke the sword of another man and sent him off with a flying kick and turned to face Yan Ping.

    Yan Ping roared: Dong Kuang! What the he11 is going on?!

    In this sentence, another three of Yan Pings men fell down with their clothes soaked with blood, showing the intensity of the fight.

    Xiang Shaolong laughed: Juzi does not know what is good for him. The King has ordered me to kill you for conspiring with Zhao Mu.

    Yan Ping defended himself from the two swords on his left and right. He then realised that he is the only one standing from his side. Fully surrounded on all sides, he knows that his time is up. He roared: Dong Kuang! If you are a hero, kill me with your own sword in a duel!

    Xiang Shaolong agreed to his ploy and got his men to step back. Raising his sword, he promised: Let me grant your death wish! His sword flashing, he zoomed forward like a wild madman.

    Yan Ping is exhausted and cannot handle his strong blows. Whenever their blades meet, he will step back to maintain his balance.

    Out of a sudden, Xiang Shaolong stood completely still and is his hands, Bloodwave is vibrating slightly. Everyone present can sense that he is at one with his sword and the forest is filled with his killing aura.

    After all, Yan Ping is a master swordsman. Taking this chance to catch his breath, he advanced and swept over with his sword. The sharp whistling of the sword as it cuts through the air penetrates the ears of everyone.

    Xiang Shaolong is aware of his swordplay and remains calm. He counter attacked with the third supreme killing skill of Mozi Attacking and Defending at the same time.

    In their last duel, Yan Ping lost out to this stroke.

    It may be due to Yuan Zongs divine intervention. When Yan Ping saw this move, he felt somewhat familiar. His spirit is shaken and he seemed to have guessed that Dong Horse Fanatic is in fact Xiang Shaolong. When he was about to call out, a white flash of Xiang Shaolongs sword sped towards him, crushing him like a brick wall.

    Yan Ping held his tongue and defended himself. Just as he barely deflected the blow, he felt great pain in his stomach. Xiang Shaolong has taken the opportunity to kneel him in the stomach.

    Yan Ping steadied himself and did not retreat. Gritting his teeth, he attacked Xiang Shaolong without any reservations.

    Xiang Shaolong had a good laugh and deflected the blow. Dang! A loud noise was made when the weapons clashed and rang in everyones ears.

    Making use of this opening, Bloodwave shot forward like lightning and embedded itself in Yan Pings chest.

    Yan Pings sword fell to the ground and he in shaking uncontrollably. He cannot believe his own eyes. Buried in his chest is the enemys sword and fresh blood is pouring out from his wound. He groaned: You are...

    Xiang Shaolong could not afford to have him call out his real name. He replied in a low voice: This is for Yuan Zong!

    He ferociously pulled out his long sword.

    The forest is full of cheering and morale is sky high.

    As Yan Ping fell down in front of him, Xiang Shaolong looked up to heaven and silently prayed: Brother Yuan! If you can hear me, you can rest in peace now. In his heart, he is feeling ironic. He has completely uprooted the Mohist organization from Zhao. Will it really make Yuan Zong happy?

    When Xiang Shaolong is back at the Command Centre, there is only an hour to sunset. Every street is peaceful and on the surface, one cannot sense the turbulent and rough undercurrents.

    Everybody gathered in the quiet army study to listen to Teng Yis latest update.

    Teng Yi started with Pu Bu and has successfully communicated with him to act according to the grand plan. He added: There are many redeployments among the city guards. I purposely messed things up but actually, only Zhao Ming Xiongs army is in a mess. Our men have already been assembled at the strategic locations. I have also purposely situated huge numbers of our soldiers outside the city. Besides myself, there is no one who knows what is going on.

    Ji Yanran laughed: With Second Brother in charge, everyone can put their mind at ease.

    Teng Yi described: When the sky is dark, we will take immediate action and capture all the rebel leaders. Using Third Brothers appearance as an excuse, we will impose a city-wide curfew so as to avoid harming any innocent citizens.

    Xiang Shaolong frowned: When am I supposed to appear?

    Everyone was tickled and had a good laugh.

    Teng Yi laughed: Jing Jun has a clear picture of the North tunnel. Zhao Ming Xiong has removed all the city guards at the tunnel exit and replaced them with his personal escort guards. He is sitting alone in the North Command Centre. Even if we killed him, cooked him and finished eating him, none of his men will have the slightest idea.

    In these ancient times, the City gates are of utmost military importance. The city gates will also house barracks, offices of military leaders and Command Centres. They are well-defended at all times.

    Handan Citys biggest Command Centre is situated at the East gate which is where they are based at.

    Xiang Shaolong enquired: What news does Little Jun has?

    Teng Yi answered: After lunch, the Qi army has started to move through the cave in Back Wind Mountain and secretly entered the forest. Little Jun dare not enter the forest to spy as it is too risky. However, we can imagine that at nightfall, Zhao Ming Xiong will cover their advance. The Qi army will first cross the moat and enter Handan City through the tunnel.

    Ji Yanran joked: If the Qi army discovered that their cover is actually our spy, how will they feel?

    Xiang Shaolong chuckled: They should feel honoured!

    Wu Guo entered the room at this point, exclaiming: The Zhao lieutenants have spotted Xiang Shaolongs tracks!

    Everybody was initially shocked by his outburst before having a good laugh again.
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 11:45 AM.

  13. #113
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 10 Chapter 12 In complete control

    The huge army left Handan City via the east gate. Under the glowing rays of the setting sun, the grasslands shimmered with their brilliance.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi personally led the army to investigate the sighting of Xiang Shaolong at a village fifteen miles away.

    This army of five thousand city guards is just a cover. When they reached a thick forest with adequate hiding places, they will stay hidden until night time. Wu Guo will assume command and march them to the appointed spot where they will engage the Qi army who are trying to enter Handan City through the South Gate.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi slipped back into the city and resumed control of the city guards.

    Hiding in the study, they receive intelligence reports from their spies.

    After the sun eventually disappeared into the horizon of this ancient city, Handan City is soon filled with lights and everything is as per normal.

    When Xiaocheng got word of Xiang Shaolongs sighting, he acted accordingly to the plan and commanded Zhao Ming Xiong to assume Xiang Shaolongs responsibilities at the Command Centre. Cheng Xu and the palace guards went on to impose a city-wide curfew. Everyone knew that Xiaocheng is terrified of Xiang Shaolong and no one suspected that it is a ploy.

    From this moment, Zhao Mu is cut off from the outside world. Neither Zhao Ming Xiong nor anyone could communicate with him.

    Zhao Ming Xiong did not suspect foul play as he led hundreds of his personal escorts to the main Command Centre. When he stepped into the main hall, he was surprised that all of his escorts have been locked out. With a Bang! the huge door was closed behind him.

    Zhao Ming Xiong was alarmed and he cried: What is going on!?

    The city guards on two sides walked towards him in one smooth movement. Lowering their lances, they held him in position.

    On the other side of the door, bows were heard firing and tragic shouting can be heard.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi came out from a side door and faced him.

    Zhao Ming Xiongs face is drained of any colour. He angrily yelled: General Dong! Why are you making things difficult for me? I did not commit any wrongdoings!

    Teng Yi coldly hissed: Does conspiring with Zhao Mu to rebel count as a wrongdoing?

    Zhao Ming Xiongs expression became more deathly white. His voice shook: How dare you slander me!

    Adopting a sit-and-wait attitude, Xiang Shaolong interrogated: A grand tunnel was newly constructed right under your command centre. Dont tell me you know nothing about it!

    Zhao Ming Xiong thought of his pretty wife and his lovely son at home. Both his legs turned soft and he kneeled down.

    Teng Yi detested men without backbone. He called: Tie him up!

    The city guards put their weapons aside and surged forward, tying him up.

    Xiang Shaolong went up to this kneeling figure and promised: If you will obediently cooperate with me, I will spare your life and send you and your family away from Handan City. If I speak a word of untruth, may I die a tragic death.

    Zhao Ming Xiong was trembling and raised his head, disbelieving what he had just heard from this towering god-like hero.

    Teng Yi cautioned: But you must first tell us how to communicate with Zhao Mu. Once we verified your information, we will send you out from the east gate and supply you with horses, provisions and travel documents. Men! Open the door!

    As the giant door opened, Zhao Ming Xiongs entire household of over a hundred people were herded into the hall. His immediate family and servants were all present and panic is written on their faces. Amazingly, they were all dressed in travelling attire and carrying their own luggage.

    Zhao Ming Xiong is extremely touched. He gratefully thanked: I do not know how to repay you. I am convinced to carry out all your orders.

    Xiang Shaolong knew that he has won the psychological battle and ordered: Release Brother Zhao at once!

    The ropes binding Zhao Ming Xiong were severed immediately.

    Zhao Ming Xiong stood up and Teng Yi smiled: Escort Madam Zhao, Young Master Zhao and the rest into the horse carriages first and send them into the forests outside the city first. Do not be impolite and cause any worry to Madam.

    The City guards received the order and herd the Zhao family out.

    Xiang Shaolong took out the travel documents he had prepared and handed them to Zhao Ming Xiong. He sincerely advised: Handan City will be in peril in these coming days. As long as Brother Zhao can travel day and night, he can leave Zhao and spend his remaining days in peace. Brother Zhao surely knows this better than me.

    Zhao Ming Xiong is moved to tears: I will tell you everything I know.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi smiled at each other. With the full cooperation of Zhao Ming Xiong who is knowledgeable about Zhao Mus rebellion plans, the Qi army and Zhao Mu will fall into their well-planned trap.

    Accompanied by Xiang Shaolong and his men, Zhao Ming Xiong made his way to the North Command Centre. Gathering all his conspirators in the main hall, he proclaimed his new loyalty to Xiang Shaolong.

    These men knew that their rebellion has failed. Kneeling all over the place, they beg for forgiveness.

    Xiang Shaolong announced: If you can accumulate merits to atone your sins, I will not inform the King of your betrayal. No one will know about this. However, you must follow my instructions with absolute obedience. Otherwise, you will lose your head and cause trouble to your household.

    Everyone hurriedly pledged their loyalty.

    Earlier as they rode to the north gate, Zhao Ming Xiong had divulged everything about the entire rebellion scheme. With the north gate under their control, victory is in their hands.

    Realizing that their families are in the hands of Xiang Shaolong, and admiring their morale and thorough planning, they know that their rebellion has collapsed. Everyone did their best to cooperate and see to their duties under the command of Zhao Ming Xiong.

    Xiang Shaolong got Teng Yi to assume command of the North Command Centre. Leading Ji Yanran, Shan Rou and his elite brothers, they left the north command centre. With Zhao Ming Xiong, they rode on Handans long and lonely street. The air is tense with the anticipation of a big skirmish.

    As they turned into another long street, Jing Jun and his army of a few hundred men met up with them.

    The two forces merged together in the centre of the streets.

    Jing Jun joyously reported: Gan Zhu, Li Ming and Zhao Ming have been captured by Cheng Xus palace guards. Now, we are in control of the entire city.

    This is the brilliance of Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi. If they handled everything on their own, they may arouse Xiaochengs suspicions. But if they distribute some of the tasks to his own palace guards, Xiaocheng will has less considerations.

    Zhao Ming Xiong saw that they were one step ahead in every encounter and experienced deep regrets. He agreed to help Zhao Mu as he hated Xiang Shaolong for snatching the post of the City Commander from him. In addition, he is confident of Zhao Mus rebellion. Now, the rebellion has failed miserably.

    Xiang Shaolong spoke to Zhao Ming Xiong: I will send someone to escort you to meet up with your family outside Handan City. When the rocket signal is shot into the sky, my men will release your party instantly.

    Zhao Ming Xiong shamefully sighed: No being able to work with you is my greatest regret.

    Xiang Shaolong intimately patted his shoulder and smiled: Please take care Brother Zhao and have a fruitful journey.

    He continued to ride forward.

    Ji Yanran rode beside him and spoke with complete elation: General Dong is full of creative and brilliant strategies. Yanran is bowled over by your extraordinary abilities. I fully submit to and admire your ingenuity.

    On the other side, Shan Rou pouted: This man only has some simple tricks up his sleeve; why is Yanran so fascinated?

    Xiang Shaolong and Ji Yanran exchanged a loving glance and smiled with mutual understanding.

    Under the illumination of the street lamps, the long streets of this ancient city are filled with the blowing of cold winds. The singular galloping sounds of the horses added to the mysterious feel of the night.

    With two great beauties at either side, Xiang Shaolong fantasized that this is indeed paradise as compared to the first time he came to Handan City. Even in his wildest dream, he would never have thought that the entire city will be at his beck and call. The future of this beautiful city is in his hands.

    His thoughts drifted into the future 21st century. As he is busy day dreaming, the sound of footsteps brought him back to reality.

    Zhao Ba stepped out of the shadows and greeted him.

    Xiang Shaolong dismounted from his horse and greeted: Hi Headmaster!

    Ji Yanran is afraid to be recognised and hid behind Xiang Shaolong. Zhao Ba gladly announced: Everything is taking place as planned. The Marquis Residence is fully surrounded and not a soul is able to leave without running into our arms.

    Xiang Shaolong informed: I shall have to trouble Headmaster with the attack on the Marquiss residence. When the first rocket is shot from the City north command centre, Zhao Mus men will pour out from his residence to attack the palace with the Qi army. That will be the best time to ambush them. But no matter what happens, do not attack the Marquis residence until you have seen my personal rocket signal. I have special orders by the King to slip into the residence and capture Zhao Mu the traitor alive.

    Zhao Ba realised that he is fully in charge of the attack. It is equivalent to Xiang Shaolong giving him full credit for this effort. He was jubilant and agreed to wait for the signal.

    Xiang Shaolong added: Tonights password has been changed from The Qin shall fall to Long live our King, do not show any mercy to our enemies. Wonderful! It is almost time. Lets put on our identification bands.

    He gestured and his men brought out pieces of red cloth from their pockets. The cloth is tied around the right hand of all their followers.

    Zhao Ba agreed to his suggestion and left to distribute the red cloth bands to his men.

    Xiang Shaolong and his men walked over to a site where he can overlook the entire Marquis Residence. His army of three thousand elite city guards and Zhao Bas martial warriors have fully surrounded the Marquis Residence and are in full battle mode. The point of contention will be on the main road that leads to the palace.

    Everyone has a red cloth around their right arms to differentiate between friend and foe.

    Xiang Shaolong sighed to himself: Zhao Mu, you are trapped like a bird in a cage.

    Revitalised, he called: Little Jun!

    Jing Jun bowed and answered: At your service, City Commander!

    Xiang Shaolong could barely hold his laughter and smiled: Go!

    Jing Jun muttered a reply and led several of his elite brothers away.

    Zhao Ba has finished instructing his men and came to find Xiang Shaolong. Ji Yanran was shocked and hid herself within the crowd of elite brothers.

    Zhao Ba arrogantly boasted: I have brought two siege vehicles with me. I guarantee that Zhao Mus perimeter wall will fall in a few blows. By then, death will be too easy for them.

    Xiang Shaolong is wary of his thirst for action and repeatedly reminded him to act according to their battle plan.

    Zhao Ba has always admired Xiang Shaolong since the duel at his martial school. He did not mind the nagging and promised to follow his plans strictly.

    After a few hours, Xiang Shaolong estimated that the appropriate time has come. Giving his last order to Zhao Ba to hold his position, he personally led his elite brothers towards the water channel where he and Shan Rou had used to slip into the Marquis Residence before.

    All these while, Jing Jun and his helpers have been using sandbags to divert the water source away from Zhao Mus residence.

    As Xiang Shaolong was visualizing about the sinking water levels within the residence, he heard a loud Bang!. From the north of the city, a single rocket is shooting up into the sky and exploded into a burst of golden yellow fireworks. The fireworks continue to float down like a shower of rain, lighting up the sky in an enchanting manner.

    Ji Yanran stared until the sky returns to darkness and sighed: The Qis vanguard is here.

    A unique splashing sound is heard as a half-drenched Pu Bu emerged from the water channel.

    Jing Jun hurriedly pulled him out of the water.

    Pu Bu reported: Zhao Mu is tricked. He is complete unaware of what is happening outside.

    Xiang Shaolong quickly asked: Will he personally lead the attack on the palace?

    Pu Bu despising replied: This coward will not risk his own life. Otherwise, he need not hide in the inner chamber. There is a secret tunnel there that will bring him out of the residence.

    Shan Rou inquired: Are there any guards on the other side of the water channel?

    Pu Bu answered: Everyone is assembled at the parade square and are ready to assault the palace. There is not a single guard anywhere near the pond.

    Xiang Shaolong checked: How is our brothers situation?

    Jing Jun came over and gave Pu Bu a fresh change of clothes. As Pu Bu got undressed at the spot, the two girls quickly turned their backs to him.

    As he changed, Pu Bu smiled: They already knew what to do. The best thing is that Zhao Mu actually grouped them together and put Liu Chao and myself in charge. Therefore, we can attack and retreat as we liked.

    Although the Marquis Residence is complete quiet, everyone knows that Zhao Mus family warriors have set off to attack the nearby palace. The warriors have disguised themselves as palace guards and are well-trained. If not for Xiang Shaolongs well-prepared counter attack and as well as reports from spies, they do have a high chance of success.

    Xiang Shaolong noticed that the stream is fully diverted and the river bed is showing, he exclaimed: Lets go!

    Upon hearing his order, the impatient Jing Jun dived in first while the rest of the elite brothers swam after him.

    Pu Bu could tell that every man is highly-skilled and expressed his admiration.

    Shan Rou gave a short battle cry and squeezed in as well.

    Xiang Shaolong wrapped his hand around the thin waist of Ji Yanran and joked: Is Talented Lady Ji willing to accompany hubby to go swimming in the drain?

    Pu Bu then realised the real identity of this soldier. He was dumbfounded and could only stare stupidly at her.

    This belle gently consented: I will gladly accompany you to the ends of he11. A little cave like this is nothing to be afraid of.

    Xiang Shaolong checked his time and could foresee Zhao Mus men walking into Zhao Bas trap. This is the best time to sneak into the residence. He sighed with relief and sounded: Its our turn!

    Sounds of killing reverberated from the north of Handan City. It must be Cheng Xus palace guards and Teng Yis city guards ambushing the Qi army who are coming out from the tunnel. If the Qi army is led by Dan Chu, Tian Dan will have to lose his favourite general tonight.

    Except for capturing Zhao Mu, his elite brothers are not involved in the fighting. To capture Zhao Mu back to Xianyang and not losing a single man in the process is a feat that he himself could not have imagined at the start of the mission.

    Ji Yanran shoved him lightly and he snapped out of his mental reasoning. Focusing on the situation at hand, he jumped into the stream.

    When Ji Yanran and Xiang Shaolong were pulled out of the dried pond, all the elite brothers have readied themselves for battle and all the crossbows are loaded.

    Liu Chao and their band of fifty brothers were awaiting their arrival. Everyone is exceptionally happy.

    Now, Xiang Shaolong is a world-famous character. To have such a good master, they are naturally over the moon.

    Shan Rou impatiently hissed: Hurry up!

    Xiang Shaolong was about to say something when battle cries and killing sounds can be heard from the direction of the palace. Like a tidal wave, the cries come in surges.

    To keep it short, Xiang Shaolong commanded: No one is to kill any servants, women or children. Pu Bu will lead the way. Lets move!

    Pu Bu drew his long sword and charge ahead with Xiang Shaolong right behind him.

    As they turned into a long corridor after passing through the garden, they ran into several family warriors who are guarding the inner chamber entrance with ferocious dogs. The warriors are astonished to see such a large number of trespassers. Before they could move a muscle, crossbow arrows fell like rain and there were no survivors.

    Xiang Shaolongs forces grouped into an attacking formation and killed their way into the inner chamber.

    Zhao Mus family warriors are unable to defend themselves and are mainly killed by arrows even before they could draw their weapon.

    The servants have been posted to other parts of the residence on Zhao Mus instructions, making the assault easier than expected.

    Every human they came across was killed like chopping vegetables. The speed of the operation is beyond imagination. In the blink of an eye, the two hundred family warriors guarding the inner chamber were slayed.

    Anxiously waiting for news of the rebellions success, Zhao Mu is still unaware of the impending danger. As he saw Pu Bu leading a pack of formidable intruders and forcing their way in, he stood up in panic. Under the stinging sound of the crossbow firing, the several family warriors in the same room collapsed to the floor. No one was spared.

    Zhao Mu frantically pulled out his sword. Seeing her arch enemy, Shan Rous eyes reddened and she shot forward. While he is still in shock, she disarmed him and kicked him, sending him sprawling across the floor.

    Six elite brothers leaped over and tied him up securely.

    Pah! Pah!

    Shan Rou slapped him on both cheeks and pointed at him scolding: Traitor! Can you recognize who is your Mistress? I am the daughter of Qis Master Shan. Do you remember how you wiped out my entire household?

    Both of Zhao Mus cheeks turned swollen and red with marks of Shan Rous palm. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth as he looked at Shan Rou in a daze.

    Xiang Shaolong came to him and joyfully greeted: How is Marquis doing?

    Zhao Mus entire body was shaking. He furiously cursed: Dong Kuang, you are really good!

    Xiang Shaolong plainly said: I am not Dong Kuang!

    Aiyah! Zhao Mu cried. Shan Rou gave him a hard kick and he looked really down and out.

    Wang Zhuo! I knew that you are an ungrateful traitor!

    Xiang Shaolong leisurely laughed. Using his normal voice, he states: I am not Wang Zhuo!

    Zhao Mu was taken aback as he stared closely at him. His voice shaking, he said: You are...

    Xiang Shaolong removed his mask and handed it to his men, instructing: Proceed as planned.

    When Zhao Mu saw his real appearance. He tragically groaned and did not know what to say.

    Xiang Shaolong icily laughed: When you raped and killed my women, did you even dream that such a day will come?

    Jing Jun went up to him and punched him hard on the stomach. Zhao Mu kneeled down in pain.

    Ji Yanran shouted from afar: We have found the tunnel entrance!

    Xiang Shaolong faced Jing Jun: You check out the tunnel first. If it is unblocked, we will follow you. Arent you going to remove your mask?

    Piak!

    Zhao Mu received another kicked by Shan Rou and fell down. The look on his face is ferocious and fearful.

    Jing Jun removed his mask and hand it to his men. Leading another group of elite brothers, he entered the secret tunnel.

    Xiang Shaolong held onto Shan Rou to prevent her from beating Zhao Mu further.

    Shan Rou mournfully wailed and fell into his arms and cried her heart out.

    Xiang Shaolong could understand her state of mind and lovingly held her shoulder. At the same time, he told his men: Fix the two masks onto two men whose build is similar to myself and Master Jun. Then set this place on fire. Be careful not to alert those men who are guarding the external halls of the residence.

    His men left to carry out his orders.

    Shan Rou stopped sobbing and swore: I want to kill Zhao Mu.

    Xiang Shaolong was stunned. Shan Rou madly laughed: Look at the sight of you. I am only trying to scare you. She struggled and left his embrace, her face red and awkward about losing her composure.

    Ji Yanran returned to his side. Together, they can hear loud sounds of frantic killing from the direction of the palace.

    Liu Chao and his men are familiar with the residence. In a short time, they have accumulated a large amount of wood and dry grass and placed them all over the place. Once a fire breaks out, no one can even think of coming in or even putting the fire out.

    Jing Jun sent someone to report that the tunnel is usable.

    Xiang Shaolong was elated. He got someone to stuff Zhao Mus mouth and ship him into the tunnel.

    Under his command, everyone threw their torches into the stacks of dry grass and wood. In these times, buildings are mainly constructed out of wood. When a building catches fire, even the immortals are powerless to intervene.

    Before he entered the tunnel, Xiang Shaolong shot out the rocket signal.

    It is time for Zhao Ba to attack the Marquis Residence.

    When he reaches the inner parts of the Residence, he will discover that it has become a sea of fire. Countless corpses will be recovered and it will be a challenge to identify which body belongs to Zhao Mu.

    He may find Dong Kuangs and Little Juns bodies and mistook them to be trapped in the fire and perished with Zhao Mu.

    As to why the fire is so strong, it must be Zhao Mu who had placed these dry grass and firewood in the first place. If the rebellion fails, he will burn himself to death. Unexpectedly, he ran into Dong Kuang and his men and they are all consumed by the inferno.

    Everyone in Handan will mourn him; not Xiang Shaolong but the Dong Horse Fanatic who enjoyed a short burst of fame.

    If the people of Zhao ever learn that the real Dong Kuang is still in Chu, they will find it hard to believe.

    With regards to Teng Yi, he will fake his death on the battlefield. Unless someone is disrespectful and tear at the face of his scapegoat, the truth will be hidden forever. The tunnel exit is at the back garden of an unoccupied villa nearby. Everyone joyfully followed the travelling directions and avoided the palace battleground and the area north of the city. Undetected, they arrived at the North gate.

    Leading scores of their elite brothers, Teng Yi met them at the City gate. Catching sight of a bounded Zhao Mu, he laughed: Marquis is indeed thoughtful to join us.

    Leading everyone, he got on his horse and rode out of Handan City. He even commanded the leader of the City Guard as he left: Keep a close watch on the City gates. I am bringing some men to search for more enemies.

    A huge force of riders galloped mightily onto the wide grasslands.

    The sky is filled with stars and could only increase their high spirits. Only but shouting out loud can they express their extreme delight.

    After riding through the grasslands, everyone looked to the west where Qin is.

    Travelling for another five or six miles, Xiang Shaolong rode his horse up a little hill and looked back towards Handan City.

    Many parts of the city are in fire, lighting up the sky.

    Hoof beats can be heard as Wu Zhuo and Wu Guo caught up to them with the rest of the elite brothers.

    They cheered upon witnessing Zhao Mu who is trussed up like a chicken on one of the horses.

    Xiang Shaolong looked to his men smiling and roared: Is everyone here?!

    Everyone reported that they are safe and well.

    Xiang Shaolong gave a big laugh: Then lets go home!

    He raised his horse whip and gently smacked his horse.

    The war horse reacted to the smack and galloped downhill.

    Everyone cheered and rode after him.

    Everyone speedily rode across the beautiful plains under the glittering stars.
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 11:48 AM.

  14. #114
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 11 Chapter 01 A Triumphant Return

    The winding roads are prettily carpeted in a thick layer of grass and the river is flowing back to the east.

    As Xiang Shaolong watched Shan Rou rode off alone and gradually disappear in the vast grasslands, he prayed silently for her safety.

    On his left, Ji Yanran softly sighed: Sister Rou is a very headstrong and brave lady. I confess that I am not as courageous as she is.

    On his right, Teng Yi nodded in agreement: Lets hope that she has a safe journey and will meet us at Xianyang in due time.

    On the other side of Ji Yanran, Jing Jun was worried: Third Brother, why dont you go after her? She may change her mind after your persuasion.

    Xiang Shaolong chuckled: Everyone should have the right to pursue their own dreams and their lifestyle. Otherwise, life will be meaningless.

    When Ji Yanran faced him in surprise, Xiang Shaolong let out a long howl. Reining his horse, he galloped towards the west.

    Ji Yanran and the rest of the men rode after him, dragging the bounded traitor Zhao Mu.

    Under their neat riding formation, the dust swirled up continuously like a tornado.

    As they rode at breakneck speed, they caught up to Zou Yans entourage within a day. Despite the short separation time, it felt like years have gone by.

    The Tian sisters are mad with joy, not expecting to see Xiang Shaolong so soon. Recalling their emotional departure earlier, they felt slightly awkward.

    The mission is a complete success and everyone is in great spirits. The air was filled with chatter and they seemed to be on a vacation. After two months, they finally returned to Xianyang.

    Lu Buwei received word of their arrival and welcomed them with Master Tu and Xiao Yuetan. When he saw Zou Yan and Ji Yanran, he recognized them immediately. Lu Buwei used to be a business magnate and had business in every state. He travelled widely and loved meeting strange and exceptional people. Zou Yan the great philosopher and Talented Lady Ji the rare beauty are obviously famous people that he had made his acquaintance.

    After the usual courtesies, they entered the city on horseback and carriages.

    Lu Buwei and Xiang Shaolong shared a carriage where Xiang Shaolong reported his adventure with deep details.

    As Xiang Shaolong was wondering why Wu Yingyuan and the rest of the family did not come to receive him, Lu Buwei remarked: The most fantastic part is nobody managed to discover your true identity during the entire mission. This is very favourable if we lead an expedition to Eastern Zhou. While the six states are in turmoil, this is the best time to attack with the army.

    Xiang Shaolong asked with surprise: So Premier Lu has intentions to attack them. Hei! Why didnt I see any of my clansmen?

    Even more energetic than before, Lu Buwei confidently and mysteriously smiled: Your return must remain a secret and so must Zhao Mus capture. We will only announce the arrival of Zou Yan and Talented Lady Ji. Otherwise, the six states will guess the relationship between you and them. Only when they are kept in the dark can we use the excuse of rebellion to get rid of Lord of Eastern Zhou at the speed of lightning.

    Xiang Shaolong understood that Qin values military achievements and Lu Buwei has nothing to show on his report card. Therefore, he is anxious for results and hoped to be made a Marquis in near future.

    Eastern Zhous military strength is laughable. Even though it is an independent state, its ruler is considered the same level as the Marquises of the Seven States. If Lu Buwei officially led an expedition against Eastern Zhou, the six states may put aside their differences and join hands to protect Zhou from Qin. This will be highly disadvantageous. Thus, this war must be fought while the enemy is unprepared and be as short as possible to avoid any counterattacks.

    Lu Buwei added: Eliminating Zhou is a small issue but there is still a potential misgiving we may incite the six states to ally and attack Qin together. To enjoy true victory, we must handle the attack and the foreign relations equally well.

    Xiang Shaolong secretly admired his capabilities. Lu Buwei is a talented and wise man like no other. It is no surprise that he can control and strengthen Qin for the next ten odd years. He took the chance to ask about Xianyang and Qin developments.

    Lu Buwei revealed a sinister smile and replied in a deep voice: A group of men under Lord Yangquan are spreading rumours that I have poisoned you to death and that Prince Zheng (Xiao Pan) is my child with Empress Zhu Ji. They are doing this so that the King will change the order of succession. Humph! I will let them die with a burial place. All their wives, concubines and daughters will become courtesans and prostitutes to be ravaged by men in order for me to vent this hatred in my heart.

    Xiang Shaolongs spine turned cold upon hearing this. Offending this man is not something trivial. But on the other hand, if Lu Buwei or himself has been captured by Lord Yangquan, the consequences will be the same. This is a dog-eat-dog world and whoever is soft-hearted will surely suffer.

    Lu Buwei continued: We are lucky to have the full support of King Zhuangxiang and Empress Zhu Ji to put in a good word for us. Now that you have captured Zhao Mu, I will take this opportunity to annihilate Eastern Zhou and Lord Yangquan at the same time. By then, everyone in Qin will have to dance to my tune.

    Xiang Shaolong sighed to himself. It is because of this attitude that will force Xiao Pan the future Qin Shi Huang to kill him. When that happens, he has to turn his back to him as well. Presently, he is Lu Buweis confidante. In the future, they will be enemies. Thinking of this, Xiang Shaolong is full of emotions.

    Lu Buwei mistook Xiang Shaolong to be worried for him. Pleased, he advised: It has been hard on you. Please rest well at the farm and heal your soul. I have important missions waiting for your undertaking.

    Xiang Shaolong enquired about the missions but Lu Buwei refused to speak further. At this point, the entourage entered Xianyang City through the east gate.

    Zou Yan and Ji Yanran were sent to Wu residence while they brought Zhao Mu straight into the Qin palace.

    Xiang Shaolong is tired of politics but knew that he has been deeply embroiled into the power struggle of the Qin court. For Xiao Pan, he has to help Lu Buwei against Lord Yangquan.

    Thinking of this, his homecoming happiness dropped drastically. The only comfort is that he will soon see Wu Tingfang, Zhao Qian, Ting Fangshi and the rest of the girls.

    Zhao Mus complexion is dead white. His hands were tied behind him and his legs were locked in chains. Two burly Qin palace guards brought him in front of King Zhuangxiang and forced him to kneel down. At the same, they held his hair so that he has to lift his head and show his face.

    King Zhuangxiang laughed: How is Marquis doing?!

    On the right, Zhu Jis eyes shone and besides her, Xiao Pan is burning with revenge.

    Xiang Shaolong may have harboured a deep revenge for Zhao Mu but looking at his state of distress as compared to his usual grandeur, he can only sigh.

    Zhao Mu did not say a single word but his eyes are shining with poisonous anger.

    Zhu Ji laughed: Marquis seems to have lost weight!

    Zhao Mu could not tolerate her insults and loudly scolded: You slu...

    Xiang Shaolong is concerned that Zhao Mu will publicly announce that he (Zhao Mu) has slept with Zhu Ji before. Pressing against a table, he used it as a support and flew forward, his foot landing squarely on Zhao Mus jaw. This traitors teeth were broken and blood started to flow. His face begins to swell and the pain was so intense that he couldnt cry out.

    Xiang Shaolong roared: How dare you insult the Empress! Hng!

    Xiang Shaolong is so quick that the two guards have yet to react.

    Zhu Ji is smart and sharp, knowing the real reason behind this kick. Gratefully looking at Xiang Shaolong, she pleaded King Zhuangxiang: Your Majesty! I want to deal with this traitor personally.

    King Zhuangxiang appears to be smitten by her charms and happily promised: As you wished. Get this traitor out of my sight and await the Empresss punishment.

    The palace guards reacted to his order and dragged Zhao Mu out like an animal.

    Xiang Shaolong took this break to assess Xiao Pan. In the six odd months of separation, he has become more well-built. His eyes are shining with vigour and his movements are full of spirits, developing an imposing and awe-inspiring aura that even Xiang Shaolong is a little afraid of.

    Xiao Pan may be young but has undergone the pain of losing his mother. Moreover, he has to protect his secret identity so he has to develop some shrewdness.

    Both of them caught each others eyes for a second and both looked away immediately.

    King Zhuangxiang faced Xiang Shaolong and contently remarked: Grand Tutor has brought us Le Chengs head and captured Zhao Mu alive, relieving the hate in my heart. Premier Lu, how should we reward him?

    Xiang Shaolong hurriedly intervened: This mission is largely due to Premier Lus strategic planning and the four masks he provided. He is the one who truly deserves this credit. I am only following his orders!

    Lu Buwei saw that he is humble despite his accomplishments and even gave credit to himself. Delighted, he laughed: Your Majesty! To have this talented Xiang Shaolong on our side is due to your good fortune and blessings. Le Cheng and Zhao Mus case must be kept confidential and we cannot reward Shaolong at this point. We even have to act offended and blame his incompetency to hide this truth. What does Your Majesty think?

    King Zhuangxiang frowned: Although I agree with you, I have only good feelings for Shaolong. How can I bear to put this blame on him?

    Lu Buwei smiled: Leave this to me! Your Majesty need not worry.

    Xiang Shaolong could tell that King Zhuangxiang is still unhappy about this arrangement and respected him even more.

    Ai! It is a pity that he has only two odd years of lifespan left.

    Zhu Ji interrupted: Now that Grand Tutor is back, Prince Zheng is the happiest. He has refused to learn swordsmanship from anyone other than Grand Tutor.

    Xiang Shaolong is slight taken aback and looked over to Xiao Pan. As Xiao Pan looked over to him too, the chill in his eyes were slowly replaced by warm gratitude.

    Lu Buwei sighed: Prince Zheng may have to be disappointed. After Grand Tutor Xiang has taken his break, he has to leave Qin again.

    Xiang Shaolong, Zhu Ji and Xiao Pan were astounded.

    King Zhuangxiang sighed: I cannot bear to see him leave but Premier is right. To eliminate Zhou, the attack and foreign relations must be handled equally well to avoid any accidents.

    Zhu Ji frowned heavily and asked: Does Your Majesty and Premier intend to make Grand Tutor Xiang work non-stop? What if his health suffers?

    Lu Buwei smiled: Empress can rest easy. The attack will take place at least one month from now. He can take a good vacation.

    Xiang Shaolong could not understand and asked: Qin is full of talented men and I lack actual experience. Furthermore, I am a wanted man in both Wei and Zhao. Maybe...

    Lu Buwei chuckled: Experience has to be nurtured. Xiang Shaolong is well versed in both diplomacy and war and will rise to the occasion. Regarding their internal quarrels and bad blood, it is due to mutual suspicions. If we attack them, they will rush to ally with each other. This matter is final and Shaolong need not reject any further.

    Xiang Shaolong knew that he has no other choice. Sighing to himself, he pretended to be happy to have this mission. In reality, it is similar to forcing a bone down his throat.

    Next, Xiang Shaolong elaborated on his Handan City encounters and communicated it like a thriller movie with action and sound effects. King Zhuangxiang was moved by his adventures and during the exciting parts, Zhu Ji is holding onto her chest with anticipation while Xiao Pan is simply amazed.

    It is only until evening did they allow him to return to Wu Residence.

    Lu Buwei personally sent him home.

    Xiang Shaolong was looking out of the carriage window. Under the beautiful street lamps, he was lost in Xianyang Citys night view.

    At his side, Lu Buwei commented: Shaolong, do not fault me for making you run here and there. A good horse should not stop running. I am also working hard to make you my right hand man. I have friends in all the six states. Even if you are the main guy, I will send men to carry out all the groundwork and the trips will be easy for you.

    Xiang Shaolong could only hypocritically answer: I am honoured by your trust and will do my utmost best to repay your kind intentions.

    Satisfied, Lu Buwei nodded: In my opinion, time is the most crucial factor. First, we will resolve our internal conflicts and then focus on external enemies. Once we are established, we can expand our influence all over the world. This new mission is of extreme importance. We must never allow the six states to increase their prejudice and eventually work together against Qin. Everyone under the sky is greedy and there are no exceptions. As long as we are generous and present numerous bribes to the various leaders of the enemy states, we will be able prevent them from plotting against us. Does Shaolong understand what I am trying to say?

    Xiang Shaolong acknowledged that the Wu Family has pledged their loyalty to him through this bribery as well, proving its effectiveness. No wonder Lu Buwei is dead confident of this bribery strategy. On the other hand, Xiang Shaolong abhors these under-the-table methods and prefers to fight openly and win the battle with true capabilities.

    After a short contemplation, Lu Buwei added: Although there are different strategies to deal with different states, a simple summary will be to surround the three states (Zhao, Han, and Wei) while conspiring with Qi and Chu. We can disregard Yan for the time being. Once the three states are conquered, the other three states are as good as ours. We will be able to unite the whole country and break the century-old deadlock of a leaderless nation.

    After he finished speaking, this merchant-who-rose-to-a-political leader sat back and his eyes were brimming with delight as he visualized the bright future that he is creating.

    Xiang Shaolong thought to himself Your estimates are not far away from the truth but the person who unites China will be Xiao Pan and not Lu Buwei.

    Lu Buweis strategy is an extension of Fan Yaos Making friends with those far away and conquering those who are nearby. This is the crux of expanding ones territory by taking over the neighbouring land. The first casualty will be Lord of Eastern Zhou.

    History has proven this to be an ingenious tactic.

    By now, the entourage of horse carriages have reached the Wu Residence. Lu Buwei clapped his hand on Xiang Shaolongs shoulder and intimately said: I will not accompany you in. Have a good rest and visit me tomorrow night. We shall have a feast to celebrate your victorious return.

    Under the protection of his personal escorts, Lu Buwei left.

    Before he could step into the residence, Wu Tingfang and Zhao Qian ran out of the house crying and leapt into his embrace. Behind them are Wu Yingyuan, Tao Fang, Teng Yi and the rest. Everyone has a serious look on their faces and smiled at him forcefully.

    Hugging his two wives, a perplexed Xiang Shaolong asked: Where is Ting Fangshi?

    The two girls cried even harder.

    Xiang Shaolongs limbs turned cold and he could sense that something unpleasant has occurred. He looked to his father-in-law.

    Wu Yingyuan sighed: Shaolong must learn to let go. Ting Fangshi died of illness three days ago! Ai! She did not even see you for the last time.

    Xiang Shaolong stood in a daze besides Ting Fangshis corpse. She was dressed in burial clothing. Except for her face which is thinner, she looked like she was asleep. Xiang Shaolongs heart is filled with deep grief.

    Wu Yingyuan continued to sigh: After you left, she became very restless and pined for your return. In addition, her constitution has not been very good. Within a month, she fell sick and her health fluctuated.

    Hot tears rushed out of Xiang Shaolongs eyes and his vision became blurred.

    This unfortunate beauty has suffered abuses all her life and her life ended before she could enjoy many happy days with him

    Pain and regret began to overwhelm him.

    What is the meaning of life?

    Three days ago, she is alive and kicking. Now, she is just a lifeless corpse.

    Teng Yi came to him and put his hand around his shoulder. He persuaded: Dont be so depressed. It will affect your health.

    Xiang Shaolong tried his best to maintain his composure and slowly mentioned: I wish to bury her near the courtyard of the Hidden Dragon Abode. That is her favourite spot. At the same time, I want to erect graves for Zhao Ni, Suer and Su Nu...

    Before he could finish, he began to sob.

    The funeral is held three days later. Lu Buwei and General Meng Ao personally came to the funeral while King Zhuangxiang sent a top official to represent him.

    Xiang Shaolong did not shed another tear. Every day, he visited the graves first thing in the morning and prayed in silence.

    After ten days, he began to regain his usual demeanour.

    On this morning, Ji Yanran, Wu Tingfang and Zhao Qin accompanied him as usual to present flowers to the graves.

    After they have paid their respects, Xiang Shaolong led the three girls and went strolling in residence grounds. Still filled with strong emotions, he was visibly upset.

    Ji Yanran gently advised: Shaolong! Please dont be so upset!

    After a short embrace, Xiang Shaolong released her from his grip and sigh: With each death, there is someone less to talk to. Everyone who is born will die one day. Why is my life filled with calamities? Is it because I have taken too many lives?

    On his other side, Wu Tingfang was shaken: Hubby! Do not say such things anymore! You are frightening me!

    Remembering that he has to leave them soon, he sighed: Lu Buwei wants me to head out again and execute his foreign relations strategy.

    The three girls were alarmed at the same time.

    Xiang Shaolong is even more agitated after witnessing their reactions. Determined, he vowed: Dont worry. Whatever I do, I must bring all of you with me. We will be inseparable.

    The three girls are relieved and became happy once again.

    Ji Yanran teased: There is news from Handan City. Is Shaolong interested?

    Xiang Shaolong led the girls to a nearby valley. Sitting down beside a stream, he forced himself to pay attention.

    Ji Yanran reported: After we left, Handan City deteriorated into chaos. Tian Dan and Li Yuan knew that they had failed and escaped back to Qi and Chu. King Xiaocheng thought that all of us have been sacrificed and was terribly upset. When he saw your corpse, he fainted on the spot. Now, he is bedridden and ill. Empress Jing and Guo Kai are taking charge of Zhao in his absence.

    Xiang Shaolong looked towards Zhao Qian. This Third Princess of Zhao is very quiet and her head is lowered. She seems to harbour feelings for her father Xiaocheng, having a worried expression on her face.

    Xiang Shaolong released a long sigh. Looking up, he saw the slopes of the valley were dotted with trees that were hundreds of years old. All of them have extremely thick trunks and they stood upright against the blowing wind. With their thick leaves and branches, they seemed to cover half the sky. Even in this cold winter season, they did not lose a single bit of their majestic appearance.

    Behind the green trees and their shade is a protruding mountain peak. It is the highest mountain peak within their compound and is widely known as the Moon Prayer Peak. It has an imposing grandeur and dazzles whoever that sets their eyes on it.

    Xiang Shaolong could feel his heart stirring and suggested: I am keen to climb Moon Prayer Peak. Can Qianer make it? He needs to break out of his limbo and give himself a fresh goal so as to shake himself free from the chains of sorrow.

    Initially, the three girls reacted with surprise. Zhao Qian then nodded: Qianer has been practising horse riding and archery with Tingfang every day. I am very athletic now! I do not see any problems in climbing Moon Prayer Peak.

    For the first time since he returned, Xiang Shaolong is motivated to do something out of the ordinary. Wu Tingfang is delighted with his change and jumped up with joy, cheering: Fanger will get some horses so as to preserve our energy. She then left for the valley entrance.

    As the sun was shining right above their heads, they have made their way up Moon Prayer Peak. Half a mile from the highest point of the peak, the mountain has become too steep to ascend and they have to stop climbing.

    From their position, they could view the entire Wu Family farm. The landscape is mainly flat grasslands with the occasional streams running through the territory. Horses, cows and goats were scattered all over the farm. Some of them animals are alone while some are grazing together in a group.

    The various buildings of the Wu Family can be seen as well. Some are fully visible while some are partially visible, just like a landscape painting. With such a mesmerizing picture before them, they felt like they were on top of the world.

    As the winter wind blows, the hills are nicely stacked up in different heights and the farms occupy the flatlands near and far. What a memorable experience!

    Xiang Shaolong shouted with all his might, venting all the frustration in his heart. Feeling way better, he asked: Is Dan Chu dead?

    An intoxicated Ji Yanran was gazing at him. She laughed: He is not the one leading the tunnelling army and managed to keep his worthless life. I also have word that Empress Jing was heartbroken after learning about your death. In fact, she was so affected that she refused to eat anything for three days.

    Xiang Shaolong stirred slightly. After another few seconds of thinking, he continued to ask: Any news of Yaer and Zhi Zhi?

    Ji Yanran replied: Not yet. Second Brother Teng has sent someone to contact them in Daliang. If our first stop is Wei, we will be able to see them very soon!

    Xiang Shaolong shook his head and laughed bitterly. He recalled the time when he had to flee from Daliang. If someone had told him he could swagger back to Daliang without a single worry, he would not believe it at all.

    Ji Yanran added: Premier Lu has officially invited godfather and myself to stay over at his place for a few days. I want to accompany you and have rejected him. Godfather has gone ahead on his own.

    Zhao Qian mentioned: Little Jun is very active. After a few days of returning, he led Liu Chao and Pu Bu all over the city to have fun. I am really concerned that he may into trouble.

    Xiang Shaolong bitterly laughed: Even if we do not invite trouble, trouble will look for us. There is no way to avoid it.

    Wu Tingfang happily remarked; Fourth Brother (Wang Jian) sent you a top quality herb from the north, wanting you to enjoy it with wine. I heard from Dad that he recently defeated the Xiong Nu. His military achievements are outstanding!

    Xiang Shaolong consoled himself that there is finally one piece of good news after all.

    He is highly confident about Wang Jian. During the warring states period, there are four famous generals: Qi, Jian, Po, and Mu. They are respectively Bai Qi, Wang Jian, Lian Po and Li Mu. Zhao and Qin each possess two of these generals.

    If not for King Xiaochengs mistake during the battle of Changping, using Zhao Kuo who is only good with military theory to replace Lian Po, it will be hard to tell who will win the battle of Changping.

    Now, age is catching up to Lian Po. Although the highly-talented Li Mu is around to hold the fort, he has two major obstacles. First, there are hardly any soldiers in Zhao to make a decent army. Second, Zhaos politics has fallen into the hands of the cunning and narrow-minded schemer Guo Kai. With these restrictions, he cannot fully display his prowess. Under these circumstances, what hope does Zhao have?

    Bai Qi has passed away already. Now, the world belongs to Wang Jian.
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 11:56 AM.

  15. #115
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 11 Chapter 02 - Powerless

    On the way back, Xiang Shaolong is feeling extremely good about himself.

    With the dead buried, every living human must continue to live on courageously and to strive against the never ending challenges of life.

    One day, he will also die in this ancient warring period and no one will ever know that he is from the future 21st century.

    Ji Yanran could sense that his mood is improving. She took the opportunity to ask: “Yanran’s clansmen are all experts in forging swords and stringing bows. Can Shaolong make arrangements for them to build a weapons manufacturing facility and eke out a living?”

    Xiang Shaolong remembered that Ji Yanran and her clansmen came from the conquered state of Yue. During the ancient warring period, the sword forging techniques of Yue is the best among all the states. Famous swords like Yue Nu, Gan Jiang and Mo Ye were forged by the sword smiths of Yue. To discontinue such a skilful practice is a loss so Xiang Shaolong nodded: “Count on me. I will highlight this to Father-in-law at once. With such a big farm, mining should not be an issue.”

    Ji Yanran joyously thanked: “Shaolong is also a gifted artisan. If you require any special tools, feel free to get them to produce it for you. Do you wish to speak to Uncle Qing? Throughout the generations, his family has been our country’s most outstanding artisan.”

    Xiang Shaolong was excited as he recollected the training he had in the 21st century. He had attended some basic training about the construction of weapons and gunpowder. Although he has forgotten about the majority of them, he still has a vague idea. It would be impossible to produce a gun but as long as he can produce a rough idea such as creating a new alloy of various metals, it is still possible to come up with a sword that is even sharper than Gan Jiang or Mo Ye. Pleased, he invited: “Please tell Uncle Qing to see me tonight and we can have a good chat.”

    Ji Yanran smiled like a blossoming flower: “Shaolong! You are so good to me. I love you.”

    Xiang Shaolong unshackled himself from the depressed and dispirited man he used to be and walked towards the Hidden Dragon Abode.

    At dinner time, the main hall was filled with laughter for the first time since their return.

    Teng Yi, Wu Zhuo, Wu Guo and Tao Fang were all present.

    Xiang Shaolong told Tao Fang about Ji Yanran’s suggestion and got him to be in charge of the entire affair. When he enquired about Jing Jun, Teng Yi smiled: “This kid loves to hang around Premier Lu’s men. Premier Lu’s residence has now become the playground for all the interesting characters all over the world. Every day, there will be some famous person who will be invited to stay with him. Now, he has over four thousand guests and it looks like this will go on for some time.”

    Xiang Shaolong sighed to himself. Lu Buwei’s continued invitation of outsiders will incur the jealousy of Qin’s population. Without King Zhuangxiang’s support, he will not even last one day.

    The Tian sisters came in to fill his wine cup.

    Xiang Shaolong roped his hand around Tian Zhen’s slender waist and asked: “Are you used to life here?”

    Tian Zhen shyly nodded: “This place is quiet and beautiful. All the mistresses have been very nice to me. Very good... Zhen Zhen is very happy.”

    Chun Ying, who is attending to Tao Fang, laughed: “Zhen Zhen has just learnt how to ride a horse and is enjoying herself very much!”

    Xiang Shaolong was again reminded of Ting Fangshi. Luckily, Tao Fang coincidently interrupted his train of thought: “Master has instructed that when Shaolong is feeling better to return to Xianyang City. King Zhuangxiang and Premier Lu are eager to see you.”

    Xiang Shaolong agreed reluctantly. When dinner ended, everyone left as well. Xiang Shaolong returned to the inner chamber and found Ji Yanran chatting with Zhao Qian. After introducing each other further, he intentionally left them to chat on their own.

    Two hours later when Ji Yanran came to find him, she witnessed her Uncle Qing listening with complete bewilderment. “How can we add this chromium into the sword forging metal?” he asked.

    Xiang Shaolong was frowning heavily: “You must use another metal to combine the both of them. It can be done. Let me do the trial forging!”

    Surprised, Ji Yanran commented: “Shaolong is unpredictable. I have never seen Uncle Qing so taken aback.”

    Xiang Shaolong thought that it is fortunate that he is an amateur at this craft or he would have caused Uncle Qing to faint with shock.

    Over the next five days, Xiang Shaolong abandoned all his work and spent his days having fun and touring with his wives and maids. Together, they had the most wonderful and fulfilling time. When he was about to leave the farm, he was still melancholic but his energy is vastly different from before.

    On the second night in Xianyang City, Lu Buwei hosted a banquet for them. Wu Yingyuan, Teng Yi, Jing Jun and Ji Yanran were all present.

    The co-hosts are Meng Ao and his two sons, Master Tu, Xiao Yuetan and guest Zou Yan.

    Beauties are welcomed everywhere they go, not to mention this is the talented and crowd pleasing first class beauty. The moment she stepped into the hall, she captured the attention of everyone present and was given the best seat.

    Meng Ao’s two sons Meng Wu and Meng Tian are slightly younger than Jing Jun but both of them possess a sturdily built body with nicely formed muscles. For their age, they were awe-inspiring.

    A few rounds of drinks later, Meng Ao got his two sons to fight with real swords to add to the celebratory mood. Energetically leaping around with their swords brandishing, they exchanged strong blows as heard from the heavy clashing of their weapons. Ten over rounds later, they separated and bowed to the audience. Despite the intense fight sequence, their faces are not red and they are breathing normally as they returned to their seats besides their father.

    Everyone cheered at this magnificent display. Jing Jun has been hanging out with them and cheered louder than the rest.

    Xiang Shaolong recollected that Meng Tian will be another famous Qin General other than father and son team Wang Jian and Wang Ben so he paid extra attention.

    Seated opposite Ji Yanran, Lu Buwei smiled: “What does Shaolong think of these two kids?”

    Xiang Shaolong sincerely praised: “General Meng’s sons are brave and highly skilled. They will succeed General to become another famous General. I personally guarantee with my own head.”

    Meng Ao is extremely pleased when he heard this and bellowed to his sons: “Quickly give your thanks to Grand Tutor!”

    Meng Wu and Meng Tian immediately stood up and kowtowed towards Xiang Shaolong. Xiang Shaolong got up hurriedly and helped them up. In his heart, he was thinking that it is not as easy as it looks.

    Back in his seat, Lu Buwei expectedly suggested: “Since they were thirteen, they have been going into war with General Meng but General Meng regards them as only suitable for weapons demonstration as they lack real experience. Moreover, they lack familiarity in leading soldiers into battle. We hope Shaolong can take them under your care.”

    Meng Ao asked with complete earnestness: “I have seen countless men all my life but have never come across anyone as extraordinary as Grand Tutor. If you don’t mind, I hope you can bring my two boys with you on your foreign relations mission.”

    Xiang Shaolong knew that he could never decline and laughed: “General Meng has been a true friend and I will gladly accept.” He secretly analyzed that Lu Buwei is doing his best to cultivate talents and it appears that he is not satisfied with only being the Premier of Qin.

    As Meng Wu and Meng Tian kowtow with thanks, this arrangement is decided.

    Lu Buwei was about to speak when a family warrior rushed in out of a sudden. He came to Lu Buwei’s side and whispered a few words, attracting everyone’s attention.

    Lu Buwei was greatly agitated and cried: “Zhao’s King Xiaocheng is dead!”

    The entire hall quietened down.

    When everyone is home at Wu residence after the banquet, Zou Yan got Xiang Shaolong to a corner and began chatting.

    In the tranquil side room, Zou Yan spoke about a few unimportant topics before inquiring: “Lu Buwei has placed a lot of emphasis on Shaolong. What does Shaolong think?”

    Xiang Shaolong accepted the Zou Yan is exceedingly intelligent and his observation skill is second to none. If he says something, there has to be a good reason behind. After a brief contemplation, he sighed: “I am in a dilemma too... Ai! It’s snowing.”

    Outside the window and against the backdrop of the black night, snowflakes are fluttering gently.

    Zou Yan stood up and slowly walked to the window sill. Clasping his hands and admiring the later-than-expected first snowfall, he resembles an immortal from heaven.

    Xiang Shaolong joined him at the window. Zou Yan is thrilled by the snowfall and suggested that they proceed to admire the snowflakes more clearly at the garden pavilion.

    Amidst the falling snow, they strolled to the pavilion and stood erected side by side.

    Zou Yan sighed deeply: “For the past eight days, Lu Buwei has been pestering me about Fengshui. He wants to find an auspicious burial plot for his deceased father. This man is exceedingly ambitious and Shaolong should be careful.”

    Xiang Shaolong is full of respect for this philosopher.

    Lu Buwei’s countless conversations with Zou Yan are simply out to determine if he is the new saint. Zou Yan could tell that he is not the real deal and issued this warning to prevent Xiang Shaolong from becoming too deeply embroiled with him.

    Zou Yan spontaneously added: “On numerous occasions, Lu Buwei wanted me to endorse his <<The Spring and Autumn Annals of Lu>>. I have rejected his offer on the excuse that the contents are preposterous. Does Shaolong know why?”

    Xiang Shaolong could guess that this philosopher is using himself as an analogy to enlighten him. He humbly asked: “Please continue, Godfather.”

    Zou Yan laughed: “This is the first time you addressed me as godfather. Are you used to it?”

    Xiang Shaolong chuckled with embarrassment as Zou Yan continued: “Lu Buwei is a person who has his own mind. Even if he heavily emphasizes on you, in actual fact, you are just another tool to help him achieve his beautiful dream. Using the example of <<The Spring and Autumn Annals of Lu>>, he is trying to impose his will onto others.”

    Xiang Shaolong remembered hearing Li Si mention about letting Xiao Pan study the contents of the ancient encyclopaedias. He did not have the details and took this chance to ask: “Does his annals make sense?”

    Zou Yan despising ranted: “What ‘Rule by benevolence’ as the mainstay and ‘Rewards and punishment’ as a support. They are all impractical stuff by Confucius. It is taking a step back, not a step forward. We can only excel if we keep moving forward. Since Shang Yang’s reforms, Qin has been governed by military law. Lu Buwei’s theories are the exact opposite. There will be trouble in the future and Shaolong has to take note.”

    Xiang Shaolong lowered his voice: “Godfather has great foresight. If my estimates are not incorrect, Lu Buwei will get into trouble sooner or later and die a horrible death.”

    Zou Yan was shaken and glanced at him, realising: “So Shaolong has seen it coming. I have been worried over nothing.”

    Xiang Shaolong secretly sighed. It is because he knew of such a future that he cannot really relax and enjoy his current wealth and lifestyle. Maybe it is better to be ignorant about the future.

    It is starting to snow heavily.

    The next morning, Xiang Shaolong was summoned to Lu Buwei’s residence. Receiving him in his study, Lu Buwei exclaimed: “Later, Shaolong must enter the palace with me to visit His Majesty. Ai! I have been making excuses for you for ten over days and Empress Ji almost lost her temper.” He proceeded to advise: “Empress Ji seems to be concerned about you. Do not get into any trouble with her or even I will not be able to protect you.”

    Xiang Shaolong bitterly smiled: “Rest assured Premier!”

    Lu Buwei nodded: “I trust that you can resist her as well. I am concerned about you and just wanted to share this advice.”

    Lu Buwei thought for a few seconds and revealed: “I have decided to lead the expedition to Eastern Zhou personally with Meng Ao as my assistant general. By the time Shaolong arrived in Han, Eastern Zhou should be eliminated and the Zhou legacy will end. From this moment, it will be a battle of the world’s best heroes.”

    A short pause later, he added: “With Xiaocheng’s death, Empress Jing and Guo Kai will be in power. Their political scene will be in chaos. I need to adjust my strategies to take advantage of this opportunity. The day I get rid of Lord Yangquan will be the day we expand our Qin operations. Before this happens, Shaolong must assist me in managing the six states. If they join forces against us because of our attack on Zhou, we will be at a disadvantage.”

    Xiang Shaolong sighed helplessly. Whoever is anti-Lu Buwei is also anti-Xiang Shaolong. Presently, the fate of Wu Family and himself are intertwined with Lu Buwei’s. If Lu Buwei meets with a calamity, they will be affected as well. If Lord Yangquan manages to change the succession order, Zhu Ji and Xiao Pan may lose their lives. Xiang Shaolong can only nod his head in agreement.

    Digging deeper, everyone is only working for their personal benefits. If you talk about moral ethics, you will suffer at the hands of the rest of the unscrupulous people.

    Lu Buwei’s eyes were shining sharply while he detailed: “On this trip, you will have a mask to hide your real identity as well. We must have different men accompanying you. Otherwise, when one man gets recognized, they will link you to Dong Horse Fanatic and everything will be even more complicated. Luckily, we have no shortage of manpower. From my own family warriors, I will select a band of loyal and expert swordsmen to be your personal escorts. We will add another thousand elite cavalry (soldiers on horseback) to accompany you. This arrangement should be able to protect you from any potential dangers during the trip. Xiao Yuetan will be joining you as your personal assistant.”

    Xiang Shaolong is alarmed. From another point of view, these family warriors of Lu Buwei can be spying on him as well. Inspired, he checked: “Can Premier Lu add Li Si to my team?”

    Puzzled, Lu Buwei stared at him and hesitated for a while before consenting: “Since Shaolong has such a request, I will see to it! Come! Let’s enter the palace and see the King!”

    On the surface, things appear to be fine but from his hesitation, Lu Buwei is actually unhappy. It is hard to decide if he is unhappy over Xiang Shaolong’s independent mindset or that he does not think very highly of Li Si.

    Beyond the carriage window, Xianyang has transformed into a pure white wonderland as it snowed non-stop.

    The first snow is always the most delightful. In addition, the weather is not freezing cold. Some kids are running along the streets playing snow games. When the horse carriage turned into the main road leading to the palace, Xiang Shaolong could see some young girls making snowballs. He noticed that women are not confined to their homes, a practice which began after the Han Dynasty. During the warring states period, the State of Qin is the most open-minded as they are descendants of barbarians.

    Lu Buwei did not say a word during the journey as both men are deep in their thoughts.

    Out of the blue, Xiang Shaolong grasped the deep meaning behind Lu Buwei’s conquest.

    Snow and heavy wind is disadvantageous for an attacking army but in this case, it brings two benefits instead.

    Firstly, this move is unanticipated by common people. Under the cover of the snow, the invaders can make their way to the city wall undetected.

    It is difficult to travel during winter season and communications is as good as non-existent. By the time the six states know about the attack, Eastern Zhou would have been conquered. Even if they knew about the attack at the earliest instance, they can only watch helplessly as it is an uphill task to intercede.

    From this strategy, Lu Buwei has displayed his courage and risk-taking appetite. When they become enemies in the future, Xiang Shaolong must guard against his characteristic or he may stand to lose out.

    Lu Buwei entered the Qin palace and went straight into the inner chambers as if it is his own residence. He alighted from his carriage at the garden bordering the inner chambers. Without reporting his presence, he swaggered into the back palace surrounded by his personal escorts.

    Compared to six months ago when Xiang Shaolong first came to Qin, Lu Buwei’s standing has been raised dramatically.

    King Zhuangxiang emphasizes on relationships and trust while Lu Buwei is an ambitious and crafty schemer. Together, King Zhuangxiang will only be manipulated and controlled by Lu Buwei.

    Sounds of wooden swords clashing can be heard ahead of them.

    Lu Buwei has a comforted smile on his face and remarked: “The Crown Prince is practising his swordsmanship.”

    Viewing his expression, Xiang Shaolong wanted to tell him that Xiao Pan is not his son and see his reaction.

    Moving forward, the corridor that they were walking along opened up into a bigger area.

    Between two palace buildings is a small courtyard. Under the fluttering snowflakes, Xiao Pan is duelling with another child of around the same age.

    Watching at the side are King Zhuangxiang, Zhu Ji, Lady Xiuli and Prince Cheng. There are also ten over palace attendants, two sword fighting coaches and one minister. They are surrounded by palace guards and the atmosphere is very strict and solemn.

    King Zhuangxiang and the rest of them did not see them coming in. Lu Buwei whispered to Xiang Shaolong: “The boy duelling with the Crown Prince is Wang Jian’s son Wang Ben. Within the palace, he is the best fighter in his age group.”

    Xiang Shaolong was excited and carefully assessed this future invincible general. He is indeed stocky and he has an alert expression on his face just like Wang Jian. He knows when is the best time to attack and defend and is always one step ahead. If you can forecast an adult’s success by analyzing his childhood, this 13 year old is already resembling a great general.

    He still possesses some queries regarding the palace rules. How did Wang Ben get the rare honour to be Xiao Pan’s practice partner? This must be Lu Buwei’s idea to get Wang Jian over to his side.

    King Zhuangxiang caught sight of them and joyfully waved them over.

    Xiang Shaolong observed the pure bliss on his face and could not help asking himself: Do nice guys really finish last?

    King Zhuangxiang whole heartedly received this benefactor who had helped him ascend the throne. Did he ever think that he is actually keeping a tiger as a pet?

    This is not a time for deep thinking. Collecting his thoughts, he strode over to King Zhuangxiang.

    Pack! Xiao Pan’s wooden sword has been swept aside by Little Wang Ben, leaving him exposed.

    Little Wang Ben frantically kept his sword and retreated. Kneeling on the floor, he pleaded: “Prince Zheng, please forgive Little Ben for being rash.”

    Xiao Pan saw Xiang Shaolong and is not interested in the duel anymore. However, he actually went forward and helped Little Ben up. He then whispered some nice words into Wang Ben ears.

    Xiang Shaolong did not know whether to be happy or fearful. This teenager Qin Shi Huang has already learnt how to curry favour.
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 12:11 PM.

  16. #116
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 11 Chapter 03 – Lady Hua Yang

    Xiang Shaolong and Lu Buwei went ahead to pay their respects to King Zhuangxiang and the rest of his companions. Lu Buwei chuckled: “Shaolong has never met General Xu Xian!”

    Xu Xian has the body of a typical Qin, tall and stocky. Just slightly shorter than Xiang Shaolong and Lu Buwei, he is dressed simply in official robes. If he puts on his combat armour, he will become the prestigious and fear-inducing Qin general.

    Xu Xian’s eyes are lively but his cheekbones are too high and run in contrast with his straight nose, making his face slightly disorganised. Around thirty, he radiates calm and steadiness. After a few general exchanges with Xiang Shaolong, he plainly said: “I have heard of Grand Tutor’s fame a long time ago. Unfortunately, I was guarding the border and can only meet you today.”

    Xiang Shaolong sensed that Xu Xian’s tone is icy and carry a hint of disdain. He did not seem to hold any respect for Lu Buwei at all. Xiang Shaolong could guess what has transpired and dare not extend the conversation.

    Before Zhu Ji has a chance to speak up, the less enchanting and less graceful Lady Xiuli smiled: “General Xu is our famous general. Together with General Wang and Lu Gong, they are known as the three tiger generals of Qin!”

    Xu Xian quickly expressed his modesty but no happiness can be seen from his face.

    Xiang Shaolong analyzed the situation and committed it to memory. However, he still has no idea who Lu Gong is.

    Xu Xian is on Lord Yangquan and Lady Xiuli’s side and obviously has no good feelings for Lu Buwei. He had even mistaken Xiang Shaolong to be Lu Buwei’s follower.

    On the surface, Lu Buwei appears to be respectful and invited: “Only heroes can relate to heroes. Why don’t you have a drink at my residence and exchange pointers with Shaolong?”

    Xu Xian smiled: “Premier is too generous!” Turning around, he bade farewell to King Zhuangxiang and left without giving a definite answer to Lu Buwei’s invitation.

    Xiang Shaolong has a good impression of this gentleman who places his principles above his fear of authority.

    Xiao Pan led Little Ben and greeted Grand Tutor Xiang. After paying obeisance, Little Ben asked: “Father is full of praises for Grand Tutor. When Grand Tutor is teaching Prince Zheng, can I watch at the side?”

    Everyone burst out laughing after hearing him. Only Prince Chen glimpsed briefly at Xiang Shaolong before looking away. Prince Chen must have been influenced by the rumours spread by Lu Buwei’s enemies.

    An attendant came to report that the Empress Dowager wishes to see Xiao Pan.

    King Zhuangxiang immediately instructed Xiao Pan to visit Lady Hua Yang under the escort of the attendant and other palace guards. Although Xiao Pan is unwilling to leave, he does not have a choice and departed with disappointment.

    King Zhuangxiang made some comments to Empress Zhu Ji and concubine Lady Xiuli before bringing Lu Buwei and Xiang Shaolong into the imperial study. It then dawned upon Xiang Shaolong that this is not an ordinary visit.

    In the study, the King and the two men took their respective seats. All the palace guards were dismissed, leaving the three of them in total privacy.

    Seated higher, King Zhuangxiang looked to Xiang Shaolong who is seated on his lower left and smiled: “Shaolong is an appreciative family man and a great friend as well. I wished to have a longer chat with you but that will have to wait. Have you rested well?”

    Xiang Shaolong is full of appreciation for King Zhuangxiang and his genuine caring nature. Among all the Kings of the seven states, this nature hardly exists. He hurriedly gave his thanks and affirmation.

    Lu Buwei is surprisingly quiet and giggled at Xiang Shaolong.

    King Zhuangxiang’s eyes are shining with reflection as he softly sighed: “I have been held hostage in Zhao for a prolonged period and I had a rough time. Despite this, I managed to experience the sufferings of the commoners. As the King today, I still remind myself to understand what the common people are going through and create laws that benefit them. Ai! I also do not wish to start a war after I barely ascended the throne. However, Premier Lu is right. Offence is the best defence. If you do not attack others, others will eventually attack you. During these turbulent times, the only way to survive is to fight power with power. Ai!”

    Xiang Shaolong was stunned. If not for Lu Buwei’s fanning the flames, King Zhuangxiang will not send his army against Eastern Zhou. In order to fully convince King Zhuangxiang, Lu Buwei must have proven that Eastern Zhou is collaborating with the other six states against Qin.

    Unknowingly, he had lent Lu Buwei a big helping hand.

    Lu Buwei intercepted: “This cannot be helped. The six states have ulterior motives towards Qin and are keen to limit our progress. Although Eastern Zhou is only made up of seven small provinces Henan, Luoyang, Guchen, Pingying, Yanshi, Gonghe and Zhongshi; we have to pass by their cities in order to reach the six states. Rather than let the six states occupy them and blockade us, it is better to attack first.”

    The corner of King Zhuangxiang’s mouth curled up in a bitter smile and he did not reply at once. The atmosphere is filled with tension.

    Lu Buwei officially state: “A single wrong step can cause the whole country to be annihilated. Please do not hesitate. Xiaocheng has just passed away and Han is at its weakest point. This is a golden opportunity which must not be missed. Otherwise, the consequences will unbearable.”

    King Zhuangxiang simply said: “I understand. Premier, please proceed to attack Zhou!”

    Facing Xiang Shaolong, he added: “I have discussed with Premier Lu. The elimination of Zhou is akin to chopping off an arm for Han’s King Huan Hui. There is not much we can do to appease him. Instead, we will focus on the other states. I know that Shaolong is an intelligent man. Therefore, we will leave everything to your discretion.”

    Lu Buwei reminded: “Among the five states, Zhao and Yan are at war and we can ignore them for the time being. Regarding the other three states, we must not neglect Qi and Chu. We must wholeheartedly convince them that the attack on Zhou is an act of deterrent and not expansion. Between these two states, it is much easier to negotiate with Chu. Shaolong can present our good intentions to King Xiaolie. If you can sign an alliance treaty, it will be even better. Our Prince Zheng is growing up and it will be good to find a wife for him. I heard that King Xiaolie’s teenage daughter is a great beauty and is only slightly older than Crown Prince. If you can fix a marriage agreement for them, the Chu will definitely be appeased.”

    Xiang Shaolong is nodding his head but his heart is groaning; Isn’t this bringing calamity to Chu’s little princess? Moreover, Xiang Shaolong has to lie through his teeth and bring harm to the other party. Although he is not so innocent that he has never cause harm to others but whenever he plots against someone, he had a valid reason and a strong motive. Take Zhao Mu’s capture as an example. It is for personal revenge and also self-preservation, unlike this mission which is to strike the potential enemy first.

    To console himself, he thought: Tian Dan, Li Yuan, Prince Xinling, Han Chuang and Lord Longyang are all plotting and harming people every day to benefit themselves and their own countries.

    He could not help but smiled bitterly.

    King Zhuangxiang has been scrutinising his facial expressions. Understandingly, he commented with a tinge of guilt: “I can tell that Shaolong is a hero and does not employ dirty tricks and schemes. Like you, I hated these trying times where you have to kill or be killed. Ai! There are many things I am doing against my will but they have to be done.” Ending, he sighed loudly.

    Lu Buwei frowned: “Is Your Majesty referring to Lord Yangquan?”

    Helplessly, King Zhuangxiang nodded: “After all, he is the younger brother of the Empress Dowager. If not for his past effort in getting the Emperor to acknowledge me as his successor, the Empress Dowager may refuse to accept me. Now that I have to confront him, the Empress Dowager will be very upset.”

    Lu Buwei left his seat and kneeled down, promising: “Rest assured Your Majesty. I will do my utmost best to handle this matter. Unless the Left Premier is really staging a rebellion, I will not act. We can try to hide this matter from Empress Dowager and not disturb her peaceful lifestyle.”

    Witnessing this, Xiang Shaolong could only join Lu Buwei in kneeling in front of King Zhuangxiang. In his heart, he admired Lu Buwei’s tactic. Lu Buwei is highly versatile and knows how to please King Zhuangxiang. No wonder he can remain in his good books for so long.

    He naturally knew that Lu Buwei is lying. Given his treacherous methods, he can easily force Lord Yangquan to rebel. By then, he will have acquired Lord Yangquan’s authority and killing him or not is inconsequential.

    King Zhuangxiang is expectedly happy. When the two men have returned to their seats, he joyfully proclaim: “With Premier Lu’s promise, I can put my mind at ease.”

    Lu Buwei informed Xiang Shaolong: “Although you have been here for almost a year, the time spent at Xianyang is limited and there are many things you are unaware of. Nonetheless, you need not be distracted with these matters. I have prepared everything for you. In three days, you will leave for Wei in order to coincide with our plan to attack Eastern Zhou.”

    Xiang Shaolong sighed to himself and consented.

    An attendant came to report that Empress Dowager Lady Hua Yang wishes to see Xiang Shaolong. The three men are equally shocked.

    Under the attendant guidance, Xiang Shaolong arrived at the giant palace on the east. Stepping into one of her chambers, he noticed that besides Xiao Pan, Qin Qing whose beauty rivalled Ji Yanran is also present and is seated on the right of Lady Hua Yang. He hurriedly kneeled down to pay his respects.

    Dressed in luxurious and glamorous clothes, Lady Hua Yang is in her mid forties and she glows with a unique royal charm. Age is catching up to her and her makeup cannot conceal all her wrinkles. Despite all this, Xiang Shaolong can easily visualize the days when she is the favourite woman of King Zhuangxiang’s father and her beauty was envied by all.

    On her right, the widow Qin Qing is as emotionless as ever. She appears to be unconcerned about everything under the sky. Even Xiang Shaolong’s presence did not draw a single reaction from her.

    In a gentle and peaceful voice, Lady Hua Yang hailed: “Grand Tutor please rise!”

    Xiang Shaolong stood up nervously. He does not know what this powerful Qin Empress Dowager has summoned him for. Respectfully lowering his head, he dare not face her straight on.

    After an uncomfortable silence, Lady Hua Yang gently said: “Grand Tutor, please raise your head.”

    Xiang Shaolong obeyed and raised his head to face this Lady Hua Yang who is seated on a raised platform. He intentionally did not look at Qin Qing and Xiao Pan.

    Their eyes met.

    Lady Hua Yang’s eyes lit up and sighed: “Such a talent, you are indeed a dragon among men. Do not mistake me for judging by appearances. If you are full of integrity, you will radiate a similar aura. If you have been upright all your life, your eyes will shine with righteousness. When I first saw His Majesty, I could tell that he has a kind heart and will be a good king who loves his followers. He is far better than the other wilful and arrogant candidate to succeed the throne. I confessed to the late King that I was fortunate to enter the palace and serve him but did not have the luck to produce an heir for him. I wished for the late King to decree Zhuangxiang as my son to fulfil my dream. The late King granted my wish and I was officially appointed as his mother. Other people mistook me for being selfish but they have no idea that there is a deeper meaning to it.”

    Xiang Shaolong was flabbergasted as he could not imagine this Lady Hua Yang to be such a street smart heroine. She had chosen the right man to rule Qin. The only issue is that she has neglected Lu Buwei the ambitious man. After all, Lu Buwei’s interest to dominate the whole world may not be in Qin’s best interests.

    Lady Hua Yang sighed: “Grand Tutor Xiang, please be seated. Ai! Three days later, it will be the late king’s death anniversary so I am slightly emotional. Please do not take offence.”

    Xiang Shaolong sat down with uncertainty and he was served tea by an attendant. Within the chamber, the atmosphere was peaceful and tranquil. Outside the chamber, the landscape is ever changing as the white snow accumulates wherever they land.

    Qin Qing the classic ancient beauty has her head lowered and remained silent throughout. She looks like she do not require anything more in life but still be very satisfied and at peace.

    She resembles a white lotus that can only be admired from afar. If one has any evil thoughts about her, it will only ruin her perfect composure.

    Until now, Xiang Shaolong did not have a single clue why Lady Hua Yang summoned him. Unable to hold back any longer, he glanced over to Xiao Pan. Xiao Pan has been staring at him and shook his head slightly to assure him that there is nothing to be worried about.

    The chamber is so quiet that no one wants to be the first to destroy this stillness.

    Just as Xiang Shaolong is preparing to spend his time admiring the lovely interior design of the chamber, Lady Hua Yang softly remarked: “Today, my main purpose to summon you is to see what kind of man would Ji Yanran, whose fame is equal to Qin Qing, will fall in love with. I have finally gotten a satisfactory answer!”

    Xiang Shaolong was finally enlightened and expressed his modesty.

    The silent Qin Qing at last speak up in a voice that is more melodious than the singing of the forest birds: “Miss Ji has been here for some time but I have yet to meet her. Can Grand Tutor Xiang make an arrangement for us to meet? The Empress Dowager wishes to meet her as well. I heard that Mister Zou Yan is a top philosopher. If he has the time to make the journey here, I will receive them with sincerity.”

    By hearing how she represented Lady Hua Yang to invite both persons shows Qin Qing’s high standing within the Empress Dowager’s palace.

    Xiang Shaolong had to look over to her. The moment their eyes meet, this beauty tried to avoid his gaze.

    Irritated, Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Does Grand Tutor Qin’s guest list includes myself as well?”

    Qin Qing was taken aback. A hint of displeasure can been seen on her face. She continued to avoid his gaze and kept her head lowered.

    Lady Hua Yang laughed: “Grand Tutor Xiang, please excuse Qing’er. After losing her husband, she does not come into contact with any young men.”

    Xiang Shaolong apologised: “I am really sorry for offending you. Will Grand Tutor Qin please forgive me? I have to return home and prepare for my mission. If there is nothing else from Her Majesty, Shaolong hereby asks to take his leave.”

    Lady Hua Yang was roused and asked: “When is Grand Tutor Xiang leaving?”

    Xiang Shaolong told her accordingly. After a short contemplation, Lady Hua Yang checked: “Does Grand Tutor Xiang’s trip includes the State of Chu?”

    Xiang Shaolong recalled that she is of Chu royalty. When King Zhuangxiang first met her, Lu Buwei dressed him up as a Chu citizen to remind Lady Hua Yang of her Chu origins. That is also the reason King Zhuangxiang changed his name to Zi Chu (Son of Chu). Xiang Shaolong reported that he will make a trip to Chu as well.

    Lady Hua Yang sighed: “Within these two days, I will send someone to pass something to Grand Tutor. When Grand Tutor is in Chu, please help me to pass the item to Lady Xiu. Ai! If not for my health, I really hope to make a trip back to Chu personally.”

    Xiang Shaolong consented and left without looking at Qin Qing anymore.

    Ten odd steps away from the chamber entrance, Xiao Pan ran out of the chamber after him. The palace guards protecting him are running over as well.

    Xiao Pan faced the palace guards and ordered: “Stand where you are and stop following me!”

    All the palace guards instantly halted to a complete stop and remained motionless.

    After Xiao Pan showed his authority, he pretended that nothing has happened and led Xiang Shaolong into the garden. With his two eyes turning red, he cried: “Master! I killed Zhao Mu! Please do not hold it against me. This is the last time I am addressing you as Master. I will not dare to do it in the future.”

    Xiang Shaolong was getting worried about the power of the future Qin Shi Huang. He was taken by surprise at this news and he reconfirmed: “You killed Zhao Mu?”

    Holding back his hot tears, Xiao Pan coldly revealed: “I whispered into his ear who I really am and that I am killing him to avenge my mother. With that, I stabbed him in the centre of his heart. Grand Tutor taught me that this is the surest way to kill somebody. Hng! The terrible way he died is really pleasing. Mum can finally rest in peace.”

    Xiang Shaolong is freezing all over.

    Xiao Pan was 13 when he left Handan City. As a 14 year old, not only does he have the guts to kill, he knows exactly how to kill a man for sure. Even though he is avenging his mother’s death, his cruelty and his indifferent attitude is chilling to the bone.

    Xiao Pan noticed that Xiang Shaolong is keeping quiet. He thought that Xiang Shaolong is upset with him and hurriedly said: “Grand Tutor need not worry. After I killed him, I jumped into the Empress’s bosom and cried that I have taken revenge for her instead. I guarantee that nobody will find out. They all had the impression that I loved my Empress mother greatly.”

    Xiang Shaolong was tongue-tied and could not find an appropriate reply.

    Xiao Pan softly said: “But I really care for Empress!”

    Xiang Shaolong finally uttered: “We must not be alone for too long. Your parents and Premier are waiting for us to have lunch together...”

    Xiao Pan held onto his sleeve and pleaded: “Grand Tutor! Can you visit me before you leave?”

    Xiang Shaolong nodded in agreement before they left the Empress Dowager palace.

    Back in the Wu Residence, it is nearly evening.

    As he alighted from the horse carriage, an attendant reported that Li Si is here to look for him. Presently, he is waiting in the guest hall. Xiang Shaolong rushed over to see Li Si.

    After the usual courtesies, a seated Li Si gratefully thanked: “Due to your recommendation, Li Si is able to accompany Grand Tutor to visit the six states. I do not know how I can repay your kindness. Ai! Life in the Premier residence is causing me to lose my 5ex appetite.”

    Xiang Shaolong did not expect him to sprout vulgarities. He smiled: “Brother Li need not thank me. It is me who will need to rely on Brother Li! When you are more familiar about the six states, it will help in the progress of your career.”

    Li Si hesitated for while. Unable to endure any longer, he had to ask: “I had thought it over many times but I still do not know why Grand Tutor has such high aspirations for me? I have always been deprived of an opportunity to showcase my talent...”

    Xiang Shaolong laughed and patted his shoulder: “I have never made a mistake in choosing the right people. Has Brother Li packed your luggage?”

    Li Si’s face turned light red and he awkwardly replied: “The moment I received the order from Premier, I got everything ready for the trip.”

    Both men look at each other in the eye and suddenly burst out laughing, knowing what each other is think about.

    To this future Grand Premier of Qin, Xiang Shaolong invited: “Since you are here, why don’t Brother Li stay for dinner?”

    Li Si chuckled: “There are many days ahead of us and we will certainly dine together during the trip.”

    Xiang Shaolong understood that he wants to avoid raising Lu Buwei’s suspicions and did not repeat his offer. While sending him to the main door, he took the chance to ask: “Is Brother Li clear about the situation in Xianyang?”

    Li Si answered in a low voice: “Let’s talk more on the road.”

    Watching as he gradually disappeared from sight, Xiang Shaolong was feeling really ridiculous and crazy for him. The current Li Si is lowly regarded by everyone and down on his luck but who could have guessed that in the future, he will be the Grand Premier of Qin?
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 12:12 PM.

  17. #117
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 11 Chapter 04 - Exhausted

    Xiang Shaolong fetched Ji Yanran and Zou Yan to the Empress Dowager palace before he went to find Xiao Pan and Wang Ben. He got them to duel with each other first and then instructed them to attack him at the same time.

    The two boys are thrilled to hear this and raised their wooden swords to attack him like in a real fight. Having inherited his father’s strength coupled with a good martial arts foundation in swordsmanship, Little Ben is especially excited. Unless it is Xiang Shaolong, otherwise, it will be hard to fight both of them without hurting them.

    Xiang Shaolong shifted to the side and evaded a thrust from Wang Ben. He returned a thrust which Wang Ben hastily avoided by retreating. It was a false retreat. As Xiang Shaolong parried a blow from Xiao Pan’s wooden sword, Wang Ben leapt towards him and chopped down heavily on Xiang Shaolong’s head.

    “Good move!” Xiang Shaolong cried and met his blow head on. Piak! Wang Ben’s entire arm went numb. Wang Ben was about to press on with another attack when Xiang Shaolong raised his right foot, pretending to kick out. A shocked Wang Ben fell back, sheathing his sword with his face full of indignation.

    Xiang Shaolong stopped the fight and smiled at Wang Ben: “Are you angry that I did not follow the rules and tried to kick you?”

    Wang Ben’s face reddened. Lowering his head, he replied: “I dare not!”

    Xiang Shaolong softly asked: “If you are fighting a war, will you blame the enemy for kicking you?” His voice turned fierce at the last line.

    Wang Ben quivered with fright. Kneeling down on the floor, he shouted: “I understand!” Xiang Shaolong is satisfied with his reply and roared: “Then you better get up and attack now!”

    Wang Ben shot up from his kneeling position and advanced very quickly with his wooden sword thrusting at chest level.

    Xiao Pan is spurned on and attacked Xiang Shaolong from the other side.

    Xiang Shaolong laughed and kicked the blunt side of Xiao Pan’s wooden sword. He continued to evade Wang Ben’s powerful strike and tripped him. Wang Ben fell flat on his face and lost hold of his wooden sword.

    Xiang Shaolong noticed that Xiao Pan is undefended and thrust his sword towards him.

    Just when Xiao Pan is about to be stabbed, Wang Ben somersaulted up and used his body to shield Xiao Pan.

    Xiang Shaolong frantically withdrew his thrust. Staring at Wang Ben, he simply asked: “Is Little Ben planning to use his body to absorb this blow?”

    Wang Ben proudly declared: “Father has taught me to protect Crown Prince even at the cost of my life.”

    Xiang Shaolong was very moved. Smiling, he asked again: “If you did not lose your sword, you can use it to deflect my attack right?”

    Wang Ben excitedly praised: “Grand Tutor is great! Father will never kick me in a swordfight.”

    Xiang Shaolong laughed: “This cannot be compared. Come! Let me teach you how to withstand blows.”

    Xiao Pan recalled the days when he was tripped heavily by Xiang Shaolong. Losing his composure, he cheered: “Ah! That’s wonderful...”

    Catching a stern glare from Xiang Shaolong, he quickly shut up.

    A round of applause can be heard from the side. Under the escort of her palace maids, Zhu Ji came up to them and giggled: “Can Grand Tutor spare a few minutes to chat with me?”

    Xiang Shaolong looked to the disappointed Xiao Pan and Wang Ben who had not fought to their heart’s content. Sighing to himself, he nodded: “I will not dare to disobey Empress.”

    Sounds of Xiao Pan and Wang Ben’s clashing and shouting can be heard from the practice grounds. Xiang Shaolong, Zhu Ji are seated in a pavilion within the royal gardens while the palace maids and palace guards are situated away from them.

    Every time he faced this graceful, elegant, charming, cunning and intelligent Qin empress, Xiang Shaolong felt uneasy and anxious. He has to constantly remind himself to observe the boundaries of men and women and suppress his urge to disregard all the rules. Zhu Ji seems to be facing the same problems.

    He is certain that Zhu Ji’s devotion for King Zhuangxiang is a mixture of gratitude and love. Between himself and Zhu Ji is an exciting and wild passion. After all, they had met under extraordinary circumstances. Suppressing her emotions, Zhu Ji looks especially charming.

    Zhu Ji plainly gazed at him and lightly sighed: “I have barely seen you a few times when you have to leave again, making me melancholic. Ai! How can I ever repay you? You have saved us both mother and son and taken revenge for me with Le Cheng and Zhao Mu!”

    Xiang Shaolong dare not look straight at her. He respectfully said: “That is my responsibility! If Empress has other wishes that I cannot fulfil, it is my fault and not yours.”

    Zhu Ji reproached: “Even you are playing games with me. Everyone is respectful and fearful of me now. If you, my confidante, are really afraid of me, who else can I pour out my sorrows? Lu Buwei is avoiding me like the plague and you are following his example!”

    Xiang Shaolong sighed: “The most fearful place in the world in the royal palace. Doesn’t Empress know that someone is trying very hard to replace you mother and son?”

    Zhu Ji’s mouth curled up in a smile. She casually mentioned: “In terms of scheming, I have my fair share of experience. Grand Tutor Xiang need not be worried.”

    She giggled: “Do not behave as if I am always trying to seduce you! Although life in the palace is boring, I am satisfied to just watch Zheng’er grow up and do not care about other things.”

    If this discussion carries on, something bad will happen. Xiang Shaolong changed the topic and asked: “Who is actually coveting this throne?”

    Zhu Ji batted an eye at him. After a short moment of reflection, she replied with disdain: “Most of the Qin officials are amiable. Only those in Lord Gao Ling’s camp and Lord Yangquan’s camp are hostile towards us mother and son. The others are either bribed by Lu Buwei or just onlookers. I don’t believe they are capable of anything drastic.”

    Xiang Shaolong asked: “Who is Lord Gao Ling?”

    Zhu Ji replied: “Lord Gao Ling is Ying. Originally, he is supposed to be the next King of Qin. Due to Lady Hua Yang intervention, Zhuangxiang was crowned King and Ying was conferred as the Lord of Gao Ling. The traitorous Du Cang has been fanning the hatred in his heart. Thus, Ying has been spreading rumours that Lu Buwei and Zhuangxiang caused the death of the late King. He possesses ulterior motives. At the end of the day, he just wants the throne for himself!”

    An important meeting was held in the main hall of the Wu Residence before their departure.

    Wu Yingyuan started: “This coming year shall be a challenging period for us since we come to Xianyang. Not only is Shaolong away, Premier Lu has to lead an expedition to Eastern Zhou. Only Master Tu is left to hold the fort in Premier Residence and he may be overwhelmed by work. Luckily, I have cultivated many supportive relationships over the past year. As long as we maintain a low profile, everything should be fine.”

    Teng Yi updated Xiang Shaolong: “We have discussed this earlier. Big Brother Wu Zhuo and Wu Guo will stay behind and assist in managing the residence. In case of any trouble, we are not powerless. During this time, we will send most of our men back to the farms and avoid all the issues happening in Xianyang City.”

    Xiang Shaolong suggested: “Why don’t Second Brother stay back as well? Sister-in-law is giving birth soon and ...”

    Teng Yi interrupted: “Speak no further. This trip seems simple but it is hard to predict the reactions of the six states. If I stay behind, how can I sleep peacefully at night?”

    Hearing the two words ‘giving birth’, everyone has an uncomfortable expression on their face, especially Wu Yingyuan.

    Xiang Shaolong is feeling bad that his failure to impregnate Wu Tingfang is becoming more and more obvious.

    Back in the 21st century, he can undergo hospital checks to find out the real reason. During these ancient times, everyone is equally ignorant.

    Wu Zhuo sighed: “I regret not being able to accompany Third Brother on this trip but there is no other choice. Ai!”

    Tao Fang added: “Your elder brothers have selected twelve of the best fighters from the elite brothers to be your personal escorts. Every one of them can fight ten men and will be of great help to you. Shaolong must never travel anywhere alone. There are many people who cannot wait to get rid of you. I heard that Lord Yangquan has sent a top assassin to assassinate you during this trip. He wants to get rid of this thorn in his flesh and affect Lu Buwei’s standing as well. Shaolong please be cautious.”

    Xiang Shaolong nodded. Wu Yingyuan sighed: “Is Shaolong really bringing Tingfang and Princess Qin with you?”

    Tao Fang suggested: “Why don’t you bring Chun Ying and her fellow maids with you? They can wait on the three madams.(WTF, ZQ, JYR)”

    Xiang Shaolong happily agreed and reminded himself to guard against Lord Yangquan.

    Wu Yingyuan remarked: “Premier Lu has spoken to me about this trip. He will present you with various valuables and three thousand pieces of gold as bribes for this trip. On our side, we will prepare a hundred top quality horses, a group of courtesans, and an additional three thousand pieces of gold. This should help Shaolong satisfy the appetite of those greedy men.”

    Hearing this, Jing Jun was amazed: “This can feed me for ten lifetimes!”

    Teng Yi was downcast when he heard about giving courtesans as gifts.

    Xiang Shaolong sighed: “Any gift is fine but I am not comfortable with giving courtesans as gifts. Can Father-in-law exclude this item?”

    Wu Yingyuan is slightly surprised. After staring at Xiang Shaolong for a while, he nodded: “Since Shaolong has such a weird dislike, I will not force you.”

    More discussions are held and the meeting was concluded.

    Ji Yanran happened to come back home and is received by Wu Tingfang and Zhao Qian. They were chatting about the proud and cold widow Qin Qing.

    Somehow, Xiang Shaolong is not keen to hear anything that concerns her.

    Ting Fangshi’s early death has made him more conscious about the heavy burden of a serious relationship. From the viewpoint of a 21st century custom of monogamy, his three wives are making him feel like the luckiest man on earth. Moreover, there is still Zhao Ya and Zhao Zhi waiting for him at Daliang.

    Enough!

    He does not want to be distracted by women anymore.

    His only wish is to help Xiao Pan ascend the throne and control Qin. He will be able to retire and live the rest of his life in complete bliss.

    Out of nowhere, he is beginning to feel exhausted.

    When Xiang Shaolong got up, he entered the palace and taught Xiao Pan and Wang Ben how to fight with their bare hands. While he is away, they can continue to practise.

    The snow has stopped the night before and the weather is beautiful. The winter wonderland is tremendously pleasing to look at.

    Others may not find it special but he, Xiang Shaolong, is from another time zone. These snow-capped ancient looking palace constructions is causing him to immerse in his surrounding and forgetting who he is.

    His past is like a dream. His present life is like another dream.

    Sitting alone in the pavilion, he watched Xiao Pan and Wang Ben as they sparred. The boys were enjoying their session when Qin Qing’s sweet voice sounded behind him: “Ai! Grand Tutor Xiang! Prince Zheng has forgotten the time again.”

    Xiang Shaolong was rudely awaken from his day dreaming. Turning back, he saw Qin Qing dressed in a yellowish-purple gown with a white and fluffy cloak. She gazed peacefully at Xiao Pan and Wang Ben.

    Xiang Shaolong hurriedly stood up and greeted: “Good Morning Grand Tutor Qin. Let me fetch the Crown Prince.”

    Qin Qing’s eyes turned to him and she greeted him in return. Shaking her head, she objected: “The Crown Prince is enjoying himself very much and Grand Tutor Xiang has made an effort to come all the way here. We shall let him skip today’s lesson.”

    Xiang Shaolong remembered that more political infighting will take place tomorrow. He sat down and plainly invited: “Grand Tutor Qin, please have a seat!”

    Surprisingly, Qin Qing obediently sat down on the other side of the stone table. She softly commented: “The Crown Prince seems to favour you. With you around, he is much happier. On normal days, he will be so quiet unlike kids of his age. He seems to carrying a lot of mental burden and I feel so sad for him.”

    Xiang Shaolong thought of Zhao Ni and was depressed so he kept his silence.

    By now, Wang Ben is gaining the upper hand on Xiao Pan. He dare not defeat the Crown Prince and Xiao Pan tripped him instead. With Wang Ben flat on his face, the victorious Xiao Pan cheered loudly.

    Xiang Shaolong roared: “Come here!”

    Wang Ben flipped up agilely and went to the pavilion joyfully with Xiao Pan.

    Xiang Shaolong interrogated Wang Ben: “You were gaining the upper hand earlier, why did you miss the opportunity?”

    Wang Ben looked at Xiao Pan awkwardly and lowered his head confessing: “I will get killed for offending the Crown Prince!”

    Xiao Pan was astonished and exclaimed: “What! Why did you give in to me?”

    Xiang Shaolong laughed: “What do you expect? You are the Crown Prince! But if you follow my method to practice, you will not get hurt easily. The next time you are fighting close combat, you can fight on a thick layer of straw mats. That will prevent any injuries. Before you practise, do plenty of warm-ups and you will be safe. Clear?”

    Both boys expressed their affirmation and rushed off to practise with their swords.

    Xiang Shaolong turned back to Qin Qing and smiled: “Kids are the most adorable. However, one day, they will be like us and lose the innocence they have to enjoy life to the fullest. Then, I will feel that reality is cruel.”

    Qin Qing was in a daze. After a moment of thinking, she remarked: “Grand Tutor Xiang seems to be tired of life!”

    Xiang Shaolong was becoming emotional. Sighing, he did not reply her.

    Other the other hand, Qin Qing could not hold back and had to ask: “I have never seen anyone who dares to speak to the Crown Prince the way that you do. Most people could not wait to get into his good books instead. Does Grand Tutor Xiang not cherish the official position and power you have currently?”

    Xiang Shaolong is secretly alarmed that Qin Qing is beginning to be interested in him. This love must not grow. He wonders if she sees him in a different light after meeting Ji Yanran yesterday.

    Thinking of this, he casually commented: “Life is only a few decades long. I cannot be bothered and do whatever I think is correct. Otherwise, life will be boring.” He stood up and paid his respects: “I have to pack my luggage. I’ll see you next time.”

    Qin Qing cannot imagine that he will take the initiative to leave first. Fumbling, she stood up and returned the gesture.

    Xiang Shaolong left the pavilion and had taken two steps towards Xiao Pan when Qin Qing yelled out behind him: “Grand Tutor Xiang!”

    Xiang Shaolong was astounded and turned around. Qin Qing lowered her beautiful head and wished: “The story about a drop of honey was brilliant. I understand the meaning of it. Have a safe journey!” Her face reddening, she turned around and left.

    Xiang Shaolong smiled bitterly to himself. Later, he must interrogate Ji Yanran and find out what other secrets have she revealed to this lady who is as beautiful as herself.
    Last edited by kohchun; 06-13-10 at 12:14 PM.

  18. #118
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    Book 11 Chapter 05 – Analyzing the Situation

    Three days before Lu Buwei is leading the army to invade Eastern Zhou; Xiang Shaolong left Xianyang with his team and travelled east towards the Yellow River. They were protected by one thousand elite Qin soldiers.

    Except for Ji Yanran, Wu Tingfang, Zhao Qian, Teng Yi and Jing Jun, the other representatives from the Wu Family are the twelve elite brothers. Despite their limited number, everyone is highly skilled and should not be taken lightly.

    From Lu Buwei’s side are Li Si, Xiao Yuetan and three hundred family warriors. These men report directly to Xiao Yuetan. Luckily, this talented man is on fantastic terms with Xiang Shaolong and there should be no conflict of power.

    Of course there are Meng Ao’s sons Meng Wu and Meng Tian. Despite their young age, they are full of respect for Xiang Shaolong. Teng Yi and the rest doted on them as well.

    The leader of the soldiers is Major Lu Xiong, a relative of Lu Buwei. He appears to be respectful towards Xiang Shaolong but he has shifty eyes and Xiang Shaolong did not have a good impression of him. Since they are travelling together, he can only pretend to be courteous towards him as well.

    Compared to the trip to Zhao, they have more men but Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi felt that they were less powerful instead.

    They reached the west bank of the river and will soon cross into Han’s border.

    The river is flowing to the east and the surrounding hills are different in height. Overall, the scenery is mesmerizing.

    The snow fall has resumed last night after stopping for five days. Everyone started to put on their fur coats. Dressed in their snow white fur coats, the three girls are as pretty as Barbie dolls.

    They are happy to be part of the trip and pointed at the different sceneries and are chatting with enjoyment. Chun Ying and her three fellow maids are travelling behind them.

    Along the way, Li Si mixed among the family warriors of Lu Buwei so as to avoid letting Xiao Yuetan learn about the special relationship he has with Xiang Shaolong.

    At evening time, they camped on a high ground between the river and a red pine forest. They are prepared to cross the river tomorrow morning.

    Lu Xiong sent a few hundred men to find wood to build rafts. Sounds of chopping wood and grunting can be heard from the forest.

    While the maids are managing the tents, Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi strolled along the river.

    Although the weather is extremely cold, the river did not turn into ice. Since the air is cold and the water is warm, the river water evaporates and crystallizes into ice on the tree branches along the river. It is a miracle to see these silvery white crystals hanging like a Christmas decoration.

    With a beautiful picture laid in front of them, neither of them wanted to say anything.

    As they stepped onto the soft snow, a light squishing sound can be heard. Looking at the snowy forest and the snowflakes dancing in the air, all their worries are gone with the wind.

    Unknowingly, they have left the camp boundaries.

    Footsteps can be heard from behind. As they turned around, Li Si appeared among the while background.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi caught each other’s eye, knowing that Li Si is not here for an idle chat.

    Teng Yi laughed: “Is it cold?”

    Li Si hands are hidden in the sleeves of his outer robe. When he breathes, the air leaving his mouth is whitish. He came directly in front of Xiang Shaolong. Looking up at the flying snow and looking back at the red pine forest, he shared: “This red pine tree is highly resistant to bugs and is very good for building houses or furniture. It can be made into turpentine as well and be used for lamps.”

    Surprised, Teng Yi stated: “I was born in the wilderness and naturally knew about this tree. I did not expect Brother Li to know this as well.”

    Li Si smiled: “Travelling ten thousand miles is better than reading ten thousand books. Since young, I love to travel and learn at the same time. I also make friends with capable people and learn from them. The more you ask the more you know. Brother Teng, please don’t laugh at me.”

    Xiang Shaolong was impressed with his elegant speech, knowledge and experience. No wonder he can help Xiao Pan unite the world. Clapping him lightly on his shoulder, he suggested: “Let’s continue to explore this area!”

    Li Si nodded his head happily and they proceeded to walk upstream.

    Teng Yi pointed at the icicles hanging on the trees and commented: “When the sun is up, these icicles will fall to the ground like flowers. That will be a rare sight.”

    Xiang Shaolong saw that Li Si is unresponsive. After a quick contemplation, he is certain that Li Si has something to say. He sincerely asked: “We are all brothers of the same family. If Brother Li has anything on his mind, feel free to say it!”

    Li Si smiled: “Both brothers are farsighted and knowledgeable. What is your opinion of the six states?”

    Teng Yi laughed: “Brother Li is a scholar and we are unrefined boors. Why don’t you enlighten us instead?”

    Li Si expressed his modesty and explained: “Both brothers must not laugh at me. I love to fantasize but there is something I cannot explain. The six states are Qi, Chu, Yan, Zhao, Wei and Han. Except for Han who is always the weakest, the other five states have had a period of prosperity and power and many talented men in service. Why have they been unable to unite the world?”

    Both Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi are flabbergasted. This theory sounds simple; if you cannot defeat the other states, you cannot conquer their lands. But to find a really convincing reason is harder than it looks.

    Li Si stopped speaking. Watching the river flow below him, his eyes shone with wisdom. Recollecting a memory, he leisurely said: “On an evening three years ago, I witnessed a strange event at the border of Wei and Chu. There was a bunch of frogs stuck in a dry well. For some reason, they begin to fight among themselves. There were some stronger frogs who won every fight. When all the weak frogs are dead, the strong frogs begin fighting among themselves. By then, all the frogs are weak and injured. Even the last frog died because of excessive bleeding. I was enlightened that the six states are like the frogs in the well. Limited by the environment and fighting relentlessly, they will be defeated and killed. I was motivated to relocate to Qin to try my luck. There was only one thing on my mind: Only Qin, the frog who is watching the fight outside the well, will be the last and final winner.”

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi nodded in agreement. This analogy explains why Qin can eventually catch up and annihilate the other six states. Qin is further away in the west and is unaffected by the constant inter-state battles.

    Li Si has been deprived of a chance to showcase his talent. Now that he has started speaking, he continued to reveal: “Originally, Chu has the best chance to conquer all the lands. Chu is in the south where the land is the most fertile. After King Zi Hui conquered Chen, Cai, Qi and Ju province, they gained a huge amount of territory. But because they have plenty of resources, they lead very comfortable lives and the population became extravagant and rotten. Although they are rich, they lack quality. They have a huge army but neglect their training so the army cannot withstand a real war.”

    Teng Yi nodded his head: “Well said, Brother Li. The people of Chu are arrogant and unrealistic. The recent generations of kings have been hugely unpopular and the Chu officials are always busy fighting or scheming among themselves. The citizens have lost confidence in their government and many parts of their city are in a state of disrepair.”

    Xiang Shaolong thought of Li Yuan and Lord Chunshen and sighed.

    Li Si continued: “If we only focus on military competency, Zhao is the most promising among the six states. They have over two thousand miles of territory, thousands of chariots, tens of thousands of soldiers and horses. They are protected by mountains in the west, River Zheng in the south, River Qing in the east and facing Yan in the north. When Zhao’s King Wuling ascended the throne, he abolished traditions and revolutionised the army uniforms and methods of war. Zhao was invincible. Unfortunately, he is succeeded by incompetent leaders and Zhao can only rely on Lian Po and Li Mu to hold off the enemies. The battle of Changping is most regrettable. Like the frogs in the well, no matter how strong you are, once you have a bleeding wound, you will bleed to death.”

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi are feeling perplexed. Is Li Si here to exhibit his observations?

    Teng Yi spoke up: “Han has always been weak. Yan is facing the Xiong Nu in the north and Qi, Chu in the south. Although Prince Dan of Yan is highly talented, he’s hands are still tied. Prince Xinling of Wei and Tian Dan of Qi are the remaining talents who can still pose a threat to us. What does Brother Li think?”

    Li Si smiled: “No matter how strong they are, they are still two injured frogs in the well!”

    Pausing for a while, he calmly explained: “Prince Xinling’s injury is that the Wei King is prejudiced against him and limits his progress. Tian Dan’s injury is the attitude of the Qi citizens.”

    Xiang Shaolong remembered that Li Si has studied under Qi’s Xunzi, he was curious and requested: “Please elaborate!”

    With his two hands behind his back, Li Si continued to walk upstream.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi caught each other’s eyes. They felt that this down and out scholar seems to have become a different person who is on top of the whole world. They hurried to his two sides.

    Li Si is unaware that he is now the centre of attention. Raising his head, he breathed heavily with pride and explained: “Qi is only good at boasting. Hei! Seriously, I used to indulge in some boasting as well. Don’t even talk about the other schools; right in the place where I studied, there are thousands of scholars. If they debate about politics, arts, philosophy, etc, no one is their match. If we talk about fielding an army to fight a war, no one has the interests or the ability. Tian Dan may have risen to power and prevent the destruction of the country but circumstances have changed. Those empty-talkers are just not bothered to challenge him.”

    Turning to face Xiang Shaolong, he suggested: “Grand Tutor’s mission is to prevent the six states from allying. If we focus on Qi first, it will be much more effective. As long as Qi cowers like a tortoise, Chu will not act rashly. With Qi and Chu out of the picture, Zhao and Yan embroiled in a war, what can Wei accomplish on its own?”

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi are stunned. They finally understood the real intention of Li Si’s words. He is hinting that the first target should be Qi instead of Wei.

    They were anxious to meet up with Zhao Ya and Zhao Zhi but this matter is too important. Personal issues that do not affect the mission have to be put aside. With this turn of events, they have to reassess their entire planning.

    Xiang Shaolong sighed: “Brother Li is wise and farsighted. I am truly enlightened by your words. Let’s change our route to Qi and then to Chu and complete our mission.”

    They proceed to discuss about Qi’s issues before returning back to camp.

    Xiang Shaolong immediately summoned Xiao Yuetan and Lu Xiong into his tent. He instructed them to change the first destination to Qi but did not explain why.

    Xiao Yuetan seriously stated: “In this case, I will immediately send someone to notify Qi about our arrival. Zhao is not as weak as Han. Shall we make ourselves known and ask for permission to cross their country? If we just cross without informing Zhao of our presence, we may incur their anger.”

    This advice sounds reasonable. Xiang Shaolong has decided to change the journey without much consideration as there is limited time for him to think about all the details. Listening to Xiao Yuetan’s words, he could feel a headache coming and is momentarily undecided.

    The relations between Zhao and Qi are strained. If he went ahead to conspire with Qi and ignored Zhao, Empress Jing may be annoyed and send Li Mu after them. Then they will be in deep 5hit.

    Lu Xiong’s countenance changed slightly and commented: “Premier Lu has indicated that the first destination should be Wei’s capital of Daliang. The entire journey has been planned accordingly. If we just change our plans because of Grand Tutor, it may affect our strategies and the morale of our army. The roads ahead are treacherous. Can Grand Tutor stick to the original plan instead?” Xiang Shaolong thought that he is over sensitive but he does have some misgivings too. He did not know what to say and kept quiet.

    Xiao Yuetan chose to side with Xiang Shaolong and reminded: “I am afraid that General has misunderstood Premier’s intention. Premier has instructed us that when we leave Xianyang City, Grand Tutor will assume full leadership and responsibilities. Since Grand Tutor has decided to change the destination to Qi, there must be a deep meaning behind it. General Lu should make his arrangements accordingly.”

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi were surprised that Xiao Yuetan is so harsh on Lu Xiong.

    Lu Xiong’s reaction is even stranger. Respectfully, he nodded: “I am muddle-headed. I will immediately discuss this with Qu Dou Qi. Once I have the initial arrangements, I will report to Grand Tutor and Mister Xiao again.”

    Xiao Yuetan watched as he left. His eyes full of disdain, he let out a cold snort.

    Xiang Shaolong remarked: “Brother Xiao seems to be dissatisfied with this man!”

    Shaking his head, Xiao Yuetan sighed again: “Given Premier Lu’s brilliance, I cannot understand why he has chosen this man to lead the army. Lu Xiong is incompetent and often takes short cuts to achieve his goals. As a result, many of us are not won over by his conduct and refuse to submit to him. In the past when Master Tu and I were running errands for Master Lu, this group of clansmen are nowhere to be seen. When Master Lu was appointed as Premier, they start to come forward to acknowledge him. Ironically, Master Lu gave them a good share of responsibilities.

    Xiang Shaolong finally comprehended their relationships between one another.

    Within Lu Buwei’s subordinates, there are generally divided into two camps. One camp is lead by Master Tu and Xiao Yuetan while the other camp consists of Lu Buwei’s clansmen, including Lu Xiong. They are bickering with each other for Lu Buwei’s recognition.

    The earlier mentioned Qu Dou Qi is another army Major. A true-blue Qin citizen, he is Meng Ao’s trusted follower. Despite being Lu Xiong’s assistant, his prestige and accomplishments in the army are far better than what Lu Xiong can ever hope to achieve.

    You cannot avoid confrontations.

    Even a small faction of one thousand men can create such complicated issues.

    Xiao Yuetan enquired in a low voice: “Shaolong, why did you suddenly change the travelling route? Are you concerned that Lord Yangquan has collaborated with Han to ambush us on the roads?”

    Xiang Shaolong had not thought about that. If he told Xiao Yuetan about his secret conversation with Li Si, it may raise some suspicions. He took the chance to divulge: “This is one of the reasons. I went to find Mister Li earlier and questioned him about the situation in Qi. The people of Qi are easily persuaded so I decided to proceed to Qi first.”

    Xiao Yuetan was jubilant: “I see. Shaolong is really good at judging people. Li Si has travelled widely and is well-informed about many people and places. It is too bad that he has not gained the favour of Premier nor given opportunities to perform.”

    He added: “Now I understand why Shaolong requested that Li Si join us on this trip!”

    Teng Yi interrupted: “Is Lu Xiong reliable?”

    Xiao Yuetan sighed: “This is hard to say. Basically, everything is going along well but if something happens, no one is above suspicion.”

    Pausing for a while, he added: “Shaolong is my personal friend and I am not afraid to let you know about this. A big disagreement came about when we were planning our manpower for this trip. Master Tu and I wanted you to head this mission while Lu Xiong’s clansmen wanted Madam Lu’s brother Zhu Meng instead. After Premier reconsidered the importance of this mission, he decided to follow our recommendation but the relationship has deteriorated already.”

    Xiang Shaolong thought that he did not mind not being chosen for this trip. But it is too late now. He has already started his mission and wasted his energy. Sighing together with Xiao Yuetan, he smiled bitterly.

    Xiao Yuetan sincerely pleaded: “Master Tu and I knew that Shaolong is no someone who hankers after fame or fortune. However, we are now at loggerheads with the clansmen headed by Zhu Meng. Shaolong must help us vent our frustrations.”

    Xiang Shaolong realised that he is a hot favourite with Master Tu’s camp and found it hilarious.

    Outside the tent, sounds of weapons clashing and cheering can be heard. Puzzled, the three men went outside to take a look.

    On an open space outside the main tent, an armoured Ji Yanran was engaging Meng Tian in a spear duel. The fight is tremendously exhilarating.

    Wu Tingfang, Zhao Qian, Meng Wu, Jing Jun and the elite brothers are cheering at the side. The atmosphere is extremely lively.

    Ji Yanran may have gained the upper hand but Meng Tian persisted hard to deflect her blows.

    Teng Yi could not imagine that this seventeen year-old is such a good fighter and cheered for him as well.

    Meng Tian saw Xiang Shaolong watching the fight. Motivated, he attacked three times in succession and gained some advantages.

    Ji Yanran parried his strong spear to the side. When Meng Tian lost his footing, she retreated and sheathes her spear on her back. She smiled charmingly: “In time to come, I will not be your match!”

    Meng Tian hurriedly expressed his respects and modesty and everyone was exhilarated.

    Sounds of footsteps can be heard. With a proud look on his face, Lu Xiong was leading an irritated Qu Dou Qi towards them.

    The three men exchanged glances, knowing that Lu Xiong has stirred up trouble and instigated Qu Dou Qi to reject the changes.

    The two of them came in front of Xiang Shaolong. Before they could speak, Xiang Shaolong intercepted with a smile: “Since the journey started, I have yet to know Major Qu better. Come! ”

    He turned around and entered his tent.

    Qu Dou Qi is taken by surprise and followed him in.

    Just as Lu Xiong was about to enter the tent as well, he was detained by Teng Yi. He courteously invited: “General Lu must have some idea about the new travel plan. Grand Tutor has ordered me to go through the details with general. Why don’t we talk about it in my tent?”

    Lu Xiong can only follow him helplessly to his tent.

    Only Xiao Yuetan was left there smiling and stroking his beard.

  19. #119
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 11 Chapter 06 - Panic

    Inside the main tent.

    When the two men are properly seated, Qu Dou Qi’s faced tightened as he inquired: “I heard Grand Tutor is making a last minute decision to alter the journey. May I know the reason?”

    Xiang Shaolong thought: Even King Zhuangxiang has given him a free hand to do whatever he wants, why am I being questioned by a Major? He recognizes that he has no authority within the Qin army. He is at most a civil official and Lu Buwei’s assistant.

    Checking his temper, he turned the tables: “Has Major Qu heard about Lord Yangquan’s plot against us?”

    Qu Dou Qi pretended to realised what is going on and replied: “If this is your concern, Grand Tutor can rest assured. Master Meng Ao has given instructions. I have deployed riders over the past ten days to scout our surroundings. If there is anyone trailing us, I will be the first to know.”

    Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Has Major Qu know that this travel route has been fixed a long time ago?”

    Qu Duo Qi is a smart man and knows the meaning behind this question. He answered: “Although the route has been fixed a long time ago, except for myself, General Lu and Grand Tutor, even Premier Lu has no idea about the details. So Grand Tutor need not worry about someone leaking out our travel route. ”

    Xiang Shaolong wanted to tell Qu Dou Qi that he will do whatever he wants and it is not up to him to challenge. Ultimately, he swallowed his pride and plainly state: “All we need is a spy who will leave clues for the enemy to follow us. When they find a right spot, they will ambush us. These areas near the Han border are especially dangerous.”

    Unaffected, Qu Dou Qi countered: “In this case, we will still be ambushed even if we change the route. They can also ambush us near the Zhao border. I suggest we stick to the old route. Even if we are defeated, we can still escape.”

    Xiang Shaolong curiously mentioned: “Major Qu is strongly against my changing of the route. May I know the reason?”

    This is a great move. If Qu Dou Qi cannot explain himself, Xiang Shaolong can punish him for disobeying martial law.

    Qu Dou Qi was slightly taken aback. His eyes shining with anger, he coldly replied: “Master Meng has given me the responsibility of ensuring the safety of Grand Tutor. I will naturally put safety as my top priority.”

    Xiang Shaolong was pi55ed and coldly smiled: “Now, I am not sure who is in charge, Major Lu or you? Earlier, he has received my command but now, you seemed to disregard it. Can you explain yourself?”

    Qu Dou Qi was shaken, knowing the Xiang Shaolong is mad at him. Softening his voice, he humbly said: “I dare not disobey your order, but...”

    Xiang Shaolong impatiently cut him off: “We are crossing the river tomorrow. Have you sent someone to swim over and have a look?”

    Qu Dou Qi was dumbfounded. He uttered: “The rafts are not ready and the water is so cold...”

    Xiang Shaolong stood up in a huff and went to the opening of the tent. “Jing Jun!” He shouted.

    Jing Jun stopped his swords duel with Meng Wu immediately. Walking over, he responded: “What orders does Grand Tutor have?”

    Xiang Shaolong commanded: “Find a few brothers at once and swim opposite the river. Check on the surroundings and remain discreet. If there are any discoveries, do not alert the enemy. Clear?”

    Jing Jun happily received the order and left to execute it.

    Qu Dou Qi lowered his head with dissatisfaction. Xiang Shaolong’s action is to highlight his inadequacy and negligence.

    Xiang Shaolong was amused. They came well prepared and one of their secret weapons is the waterproof wet suit made according to Shan Rou’s specifications. He did not expect to use it so soon.

    Originally, he did not want to investigate what is opposite the river. He was reminded by Xiao Yuetan that Lord Yangquan may send someone to assassinate him. While bickering with this disrespectful Qu Dou Qi, he was inspired to use this method to put him down.

    Since he will not accept reasoning, Xiang Shaolong will use hard tactics and force him to submit.

    Insubordination is a big military taboo.

    If Qu Dou Qi or Lu Xiong continue to create problems, he will make use of King Zhuangxiang military decree to dismiss both of them and put Teng Yi in charge.

    He is no longer interested to argue with this man. He icily said: “That’s all. Major Qu can continue to do whatever you are doing. Except for you and Lu Xiong, not a third person must know about the route change. Violators will be dealt according to military law. Tomorrow morning, I will tell you which path to take.”

    Qu Dou Qi kept quiet and stood up. Bowing to Xiang Shaolong, he left unhappily.

    The sky is darkening

    After Xiang Shaolong finished explaining the reason for changing the destination to Qi, Ji Yanran marvelled: “Mister Li Si is indeed extraordinary to analyze the six states so meticulously. He is especially experienced with the Qi people to know about their boasting and debating culture. I did not expect there to be such a man in Premier’s residence. Can Shaolong introduce him to me?”

    Xiang Shaolong understood her character and is happy to have someone chat with her. He nodded: “I will invite him later to meet you.”

    Ji Yanran joyfully cooed; “What surprised me even more was your foresight. You intentionally got him to join our trip.” Xiang Shaolong was feeling guilty. What foresight does he possess?

    Zhao Qian was worried: “But hubby has informed Lady Ya in Daliang and they are waiting for us. If we go to Qi and Chu first, wouldn’t they have to wait like an idi0t for a long time?”

    Xiang Shaolong bitterly smiled: “This cannot be helped. I will send Jing Jun to find them in Daliang first. When we are leaving Qi for Chu, we can meet them halfway. At most, it will be a three month wait!”

    Zhao Qian thought that this is reasonable and kept quiet.

    At this moment, Xia Ying added some rice for Xiang Shaolong. He smiled and asked her if the journey is manageable.

    Other the other side, Qui Ying laughed: “When we were in Xianyang City, Miss taught us to ride horses and practice archery. This trip is easy compared to what we do!”

    Wu Tingfang smiled and proudly state: “Under my training, these ladies are doing very well.”

    Abruptly, disturbing noises can be heard from outside the tent. Teng Yi shouted from outside: “Third Brother, please come out!”

    Xiang Shaolong noticed that his tone is heavy. Sometime must be amiss and he dashed out from his tent.

    A crowd is forming near the empty area near his tent. Even Lu Xiong and Qu Dou Qi were present.

    Jing Jun had just come back from the spying and excitedly exclaimed: “Grand Tutor! We have captured an enemy soldier. Please do not hold it against me. The moment we got out of the water, we ran into this fellow relieving himself. We were forced to act.”

    Xiang Shaolong was traumatized. He looked over to the crowd and everyone has a serious expression on their faces. Qu Dou Qi’s face is guilt-stricken.

    Wu Yan Zhu and Wu Shu, leaders of the twelve elite brothers brought a man before Xiang Shaolong and forced him to kneel down. The man is wearing farming clothes and his hands are bound behind him. Still dripping wet, his face is deathly grey due to the cold.

    In a deep voice, Teng Yi questioned: “Who are you?”

    His lips shivering, the spy lowered his head and rudely shot: “My name is Deng Jia, a Han farmer. I was just passing by. Why did you resort to force and imprison me?”

    Still in his wet suit, Jing Jun countered: “Don’t believe him. He is armed with a sword, a bow and arrows. He is up to no good.”

    Teng Yi passed a sword to Xiang Shaolong and commented: “From the design of the sword, this man is likely to be from Yan.”

    On his side, Xiao Yuetan exclaimed: “What!?”

    Xiang Shaolong was blown away as well. He did not forecast his enemy to be related to Yan. Puzzled, he thought hard and ordered: “Get him some dry clothes. I’ll personally interrogate him.”

    Wu Yan Zhu and Wu Shu received the order and dragged the spy away.

    Xiang Shaolong faced the onlooker soldiers and coldly snorted: “Get back to your posts and be extra alert. Will the two majors, please stay behind.” Turning to Ji Yanran and company, he instructed: “Please wait for me in the tent.”

    Only Teng Yi, Jing Jun, Xiao Yuetan, Lu Xiong and Qu Dou Qi were left. Xiang Shaolong simply mentioned: “If this man is really from Yan, we are in serious danger.”

    Everyone is dead serious and kept quiet.

    Under the illumination of the camp lanterns, the snow continue to fall and the atmosphere is solemn.

    Qu Dou Qi gave a dry cough and kneeled down begging: “I have neglected my duties and am willing to accept Grand Tutor’s punishment.”

    Lu Xiong could only helpless kneel down and beg for mercy as well.

    Xiang Shaolong was glad at this turn of events. Unwittingly, he managed to put down these two men. However, they are in danger now and he cannot be as happy as he wanted. Stepping forward to help them up, he promised: “As long as we work together to manage this crisis, I will not begrudge you.”

    His underlying meaning is: If you go against me, I will make sure you regret it.

    Both men resembled the proud cock that has just lost the cock fight. They stood there crestfallen.

    Xiao Yuetan advised: “Let’s discuss further after we have interrogated Deng Jia! But if I am in his shoes, I will not confess. If I confess, it is as good as signing my own death warrant.”

    Teng Yi smiled: “Leave this to me. Fortunately, the weather has just turned cold. Let me go digging in the nearby burrows to see if I can find a helper.”


    Finishing, he left the camp, leaving everyone bewildered.

    As Xiao Yuetan had foretold, Deng Jia refused to admit that he is a spy.

    Xiang Shaolong knew Teng Yi very well and is certain that he has a good plan. He prevented Qu Dou Qi and the rest from torturing him and tied him in one of the tents with an elite brother standing guard.

    In a short while, Teng Yi returned with a cloth sack. The sack contains something soft.

    Everyone in the tent including Xiang Shaolong was mystified. Only Jing Jun understood. Laughing, he left saying: “Let me get a small basket!”

    Teng Yi ordered his men: “Get him to stand up!’

    Wu Yan Zhu and Wu Shu supported Deng Jia up on two sides.

    Deng Jia was horror-struck. Staring at Teng Yi holding the cloth sack in front of his face, he was also unsure about that animal moving in the cloth sack.

    Qu Dou Qi enquired: “What does Mister Teng plan to do?”

    Teng Yi put his hand into the sack without hesitation. His well-trained hands produced a black and flurry field rat. Holding the rat to Deng Jia’s face, he smiled: “Are you confessing or not?”

    Watching the struggling and squealing giant field rat held up by Teng Yi, even the clever Xiang Shaolong and Xiao Yuetan had no idea how this will help in getting a confession.

    Deng Jia arrogantly countered: “I am just a farmer. What is there to confess?”

    Xiao Yuetan icily smiled: “You had better confess. You have a Yan accent when you speak. Moreover, a farmer in your shoes will be frightened to death and not arrogant like you. Who are you still trying to deceive?”

    Deng Jia heard his words and realised that he has revealed his background. He persisted: “I have no idea what you are talking about. If you still do not believe me, feel free to check the Deng village opposite the river.”

    In this instant, Jing Jun returned with the bamboo basket. “Take off his pants!” he cried.

    Everyone present was stunned.

    In a few quick movements, Wu Yan Zhu did as instructed. Deng Jia was half naked below the waist and everyone look on.

    Jing Jun personally cover his groin area with the bamboo basket. Using a rope that goes behind to Deng Jia’s buttocks, he secured the basket.


    Deng Jia was terrified: “What are you trying to do!?”

    Teng Yi smiled: “You will know in a short while.” To Wu Yan Zhu and Wu Shu, he ordered: “Hold him in a seated position!”

    Everyone finally understood and was convinced that his method is a hundred times more malicious than beating him up.

    Teng Yi lifted a cover on the side of the basket. Putting the rat into the basket, he shut the cover.

    As the rat was moving inside, the basket and Deng Jia started to shake violently.

    Deng Jia screamed: “Xiang Shaolong, you are so vicious!”

    Squatting down, Lu Xiong questioned: “How does Brother Deng Jia know that he is Xiang Shaolong?”

    Deng Jia knew that he has let the cat out of the bag but he cannot be bothered to answer him. His eyes followed the rat as it moves around inside the basket.

    Among those in the tent, he has the best experience in ‘interacting’ with the field rat.

    Squatting down besides Lu Xiong, Xiang Shaolong patted his face and softly coaxed: “Why don’t you confess obediently. Once we have your confession, we will release you after we have left.”

    Teng Yi observed his heaving chest and advised in a deep voice: “When the rat is tired of walking, it will start to look for food. Don’t tell you are waiting for that to happen!”

    Jing Jun laughed: “By then it will be too late. The earlier you confessed, the higher chance your birth organ and urinating organ can remain intact.”

    Without their hard and soft tactics, Deng Jia understood what is befalling him. Petrified, he groaned: “Get this thing away from me first!”

    Qu Dou Qi shook his head: “If you do not start confessing, that thing will stay inside the basket for good.”

    Xiao Yuetan smiled: “You want to drag this further? Idi0t!”

    Either as a result of Deng Jia being scratched or bitten, he tragically shouted: “I confess! We are here on the orders of the Prince. Get it out now!”

    Xiang Shaolong knew that he has fully submitted. He winked at Teng Yi to retrieve the rat. Frankly, he himself is afraid of the rat. If he retrieves the rat himself, all his goose pimples will pop out.

    Shaking his head, Teng Yi roared: “Speak!”

    Without a choice, Deng Jia revealed everything he knows. Without a doubt, this is the fastest interrogation in the world.

    By the time Teng Yi took out the rat, Deng Jia is totally soaked in his own sweat and urine despite the cold weather. This ‘torture’ strategy is truly marvellous.

    From his confession, Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi understood Yan’s plot as well as the assassination of Lord Longyang outside Handan City.

    Yan’s Prince Dan has been besieged by Lian Po in the capital city. He can only hold his fort and cannot lift the siege. He was forced to send his famed general Xu Yi Luan and three thousand brave soldiers to break out of the siege. They entered Zhao secretly and hope to create chaos to force Zhao to recall their soldiers.

    For a start, they tried to assassinate Lord Longyang. When that failed, they killed the Qi spy and pushed the blame to Tian Dan.

    When this plan failed as well, they conjured up another scheme.

    Prince Dan has friends all over the world. With his well-thought strategies, he has spies in every state. He heard about Xiang Shaolong’s mission to Wei and informed Xu Yi Luan to disguise as Zhao soldiers to kill Xiang Shaolong.

    Xiang Shaolong is representing King Zhuangxiang. If he is killed, Qin will not take it lying down. When Qin attacks Zhao, the siege of Yan’s capital will be lifted. What a clever plan!

    Xu Yi Luan is a wise and capable man. On Xiang Shaolong’s journey to Wei, he deployed sentries and await the perfect opportunity. He decided to attack them as Han soldiers when they are crossing the river tomorrow. When the river crossing has failed, Xiang Shaolong will not dare to enter Han anymore. He will have to divert his route towards Zhao. In Zhao, Xu Yi Luan can utilise his full army strength to ambush them. Once Xiang Shaolong is dead, their mission will be accomplished.

    Everyone is frowning deeply upon hearing this news.

    These Yan soldiers are not in the own country and can behave recklessly. On the other hand, Xiang Shaolong could not bear to alert Zhao and Han about their journey and create unnecessary trouble. He is very troubled about the current situation.

    Besides Xu Yi Luan, Lord Yangquan may have conspired with Han to destroy them. They are travelling with over one thousand men in their party. With such a huge amount of travellers, they become an easy target for any attackers. Even escaping will be difficult.

    If they come across any fortifications that they can use to defend themselves, they may stay alive for the time being but will likely be trapped like a caged animal. In the end, it will be worse as they cannot visit any of the states.

    Xiang Shaolong and company had a long discussion outside the tent. Nobody could think of a good idea to handle this crisis.

    Qu Dou Qi suggested: “Since we know that Xu Yi Luan is hiding in a mountain opposite the river, why don’t we swim over under the cover of the night and eliminate them in a surprise attack?”

    Xiao Yuetan rejected: “That is too risky. I have heard of this man. He is good at military warfare and must have soldiers spying on us in secret. The disappearance of Deng Jia will cause him to be suspicious. Moreover, their army is three times as big as ours. Rushing over now will only send us to our deaths.”

    Lu Xiong’s face is turning green and his lips are turning white, he quavered: “Why don’t we escape at once and leave our empty tents here. By the time the Yan army discovers this, we will be long gone.”

    Although Xiang Shaolong hated his guts, he had to agree with his plan. Nodding, he agreed: “We must definitely escape. However, we must plan how to escape. With only a thousand soldiers, we can move pretty quickly but it is only a river between us and them. They will catch up sooner or later.”

    Qu Dou Qi nodded: “No matter whether it is Zhao or Han territory that we are entering, we must be extremely careful. We must send spies to scout the roads and avoid meeting Zhao and Han soldiers. Thus, our paths will not be as smooth as we want. This will slow down our speed. An intelligent man like Xu Yi Luan will catch up to us very soon.”

    Keep quiet all this while, Teng Yi suddenly spoke up: “I have a suggestion. We will break up our formation and divide our soldiers into smaller groups and travel on different routes. This way, the enemy will not know which group to pursue. It will also make our escape more nimble.”

    Everyone became quiet and digested what he had just recommended.

    Xiang Shaolong concluded: “This is the best way. Let’s do it.”

    The snow fall is getting heavier and heavier

    The killing aura of the wilderness is becoming stronger and stronger.

  20. #120
    Senior Member kohchun's Avatar
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    Book 11 Chapter 07 – Pine Forest Ambush

    Snowflakes fell relentlessly from the sky.

    On the dark snowy plains, everyone is silently packing up the tents and getting ready to leave.

    Xiang Shaolong, Teng Yi, Jing Jun, Xiao Yuetan, Li Si as well as the twelve elite Wu family warriors are prone on the riverbank, scanning for any suspicious activity on the opposite shore.

    Beyond the black pine forest, there was no other sign of life. If not for the capture of Deng Jia and knowing the enemies’ ambush from his confession, it will be hard to imagine that there were three thousands enemies spying on them with ill intentions.

    Xiao Yuetan coldly snorted: “Yan really stooped so low just to relieve the siege by the Zhao army.” However, Xiang Shaolong thought that it is rather common for such despicable acts during these warring times.

    Lu Xiong appeared and reported: “Grand Tutor! Everything is ready. We can set off anytime.”

    Xiang Shaolong gave the order to depart.

    The one thousand Qin soldiers were split into two groups of five hundred each. Pulling their horses and carriages, one group went upstream while the other group went downstream. Lighting their lamps, they resembled numerous fireflies.

    Ji Yanran, the other girls and the three hundred Lu Family warriors retreated among the darkness into the red pine forest.

    The stillness of the night was shattered by the galloping sounds of the horses and the movement of the carriages.

    Teng Yi eyed the black forest opposite the river and laughed: “If I am Xu Yi Luan, I will be having a bad headache now.”

    Xiao Yuetan asked in a deep voice: “Will he be tricked?”

    Jing Jun replied in a low voice: “We will know soon enough!”

    It is difficult to navigate the paths in the dark and the armies moved at a snail’s pace. It was only two hours later that both groups are considerable apart from each other.

    As agreed, they will meet twenty days later at Mount Yangchang which is situated besides Qinshui and at the Zhao-Han border. If they did not meet up after three days of waiting, they will meet up again at Mount Wang Lung Ling at the Zhao-Qi border.

    The Qin army has undergone strict training and everyone is highly skilled in archery and horse-riding. With a smaller force, it is much easier to escape in this uninhabited territory.

    Teng Yi softly whistled: “The enemy is moving!”

    Footsteps and hoof beats sounded from a hill on the opposite shore. Hundreds of torches were lit and two groups of men chased upstream and downstream like two fire dragons.

    Xu Yi Luan guessed that he has been discovered that there is no more need to keep hiding.

    When the two fire dragons have gone far, Xiang Shaolong ordered: “Little Jun, please investigate the opposite shore again. If everyone is really gone, we will cross the river at dawn tomorrow.”

    Jing Jun grunted a reply and led the twelve elite Wu family warriors across the river on two hidden rafts. Li Si and Xiao Yuetan went along with them.

    Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi returned to the red pine forest leisurely.

    This surprise ambush by the Yan army has caused them some panic but everything is resolved for the moment.

    Xiang Shaolong was about to say something but he interrupted by what he sees in front of him. Trembling, Teng Yi shouted: “Not good!”

    The edge of the red pine forest is filled with a thousand red flaming torches. Closing in like a fan towards the centre of the forest, the air is filled with battle cries and the attack is earth-shattering.

    Both men thought of the assassination of Lord Longyang. The colour disappearing from their faces, they drew their swords and ran madly towards the red pine forest.

    There were at least five hundred invaders and they had approached the forest in silence. When they were discovered by the sentries of the Lu Family Warriors, they charged straight into battle.

    From the start, the Yan army has ambushed Xiang Shaolong’s entourage from three sides – upstream, downstream and within the red pine forest. Even if they wish to escape now, the river will block their escape.

    In such freezing weather, jumping into the river is as good as committing suicide.

    Their opponent employs the most vicious, bloodthirsty and well-planned strategies to kill them all.

    Killing sounds filled the air as men and horses fell alike. Ji Yanran was directing the family warriors and was protecting Wu Tingfang, Zhao Qian and the four maids. Together with the Meng brothers, they escaped towards the river.

    Luckily, the forest is very dense, the ground is uneven and it is dark at night. Otherwise, they would have perished under the arrows of the enemy.

    However, they were being forced to the river by the attackers and they may not survive anyway.

    Countless enemies are streaming over from all over. The Lu Family warriors may be top fighters and fought with their lives but the overwhelming majority of enemies soon overcome them.

    Barely leaving the forest, Chun Ying gave a tragic cry. A long arrow has pierced her back and she died on the spot.

    Wu Tingfang and the other maids wailed in agony.

    Coolly, Ji Yanran pulled Zhao Qian and yelled: “Follow me!” Snaking through the edge of the forest, she advanced towards a small hill besides the river.

    Only about a hundred warriors are with her. Half of them re-entered the forest to re-engage the enemy. The remaining sixty-odd men covered their retreat and rushed up the hill together. The snow-covered slopes only caused their ascent to take twice as long.

    Behind them, torches can be seen everywhere and the forest is shining red like blood.

    On the side, ten odd enemies disguised as hunters came assaulting. Mad on her killing spree, Ji Yanran pierced continuously with her lance and killed several men in a row, creating an opening.

    Another enemy chopped down at Zhao Qian who is behind Ji Yanran, disregarding the fact that she is female and powerless.

    Ji Yanran’s lance is embedded into another enemy’s chest and cannot rescue her in time. Meng Tian who is on her right dashed over and his sword flashed, severing the man head from his body.

    As they are about to reach the hilltop, a shower of arrows rained on them and another ten family warriors were felled.

    The enemies scrambled over and chopped furiously at those hit by arrows to ensure their deaths.

    Qiu Ying slipped and fell onto the ground.

    Xia Ying and Dong Ying were as close to her as real sisters. They turned back to help her up. With this lapse, a gang of unscrupulous invaders broke through their defences and in the chaos, murdered all three of them. It was a heart-breaking sight.

    Wu Tingfang nearly fainted upon seeing this. Supported by Meng Wu and Meng Tian, they reached the hilltop.

    The remaining thirty family warriors utilise their advantageous terrain height and managed to hold the attackers at bay but not for long too.

    At this crucial moment, Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi arrived to help them. Noticing the maids’ absence, they could guess what had happened.

    Xiang Shaolong exclaimed: “Get to the river. Jing Jun is there!”

    Wu Tingfang wailed: “Hubby!” Meng Wu interrupted her and dragged her away.

    Ji Yanran cried: “Don’t get caught up in the fighting!” Leading the four persons, they ran down slope towards the river.

    Teng Yi had reached the hilltop. Waving his heavy sword, he massacred everyone in his sight.

    Xiang Shaolong cut off the pursuers of Ji Yanran and began his own killing spree. The fighting is simply horrendous.

    As another hundred of attackers swarmed up the hill, someone shouted: “Xiang Shaolong is here!”

    Xiang Shaolong just disembowelled two men. Scanning his surrounding, he can see more enemies advancing. Except for Teng Yi, there is no other survivor. He knew that if he still continued to fight, he will meet his end here. Roaring loudly, he brandished his sword and fought his way to Teng Yi, bellowing: “Go!”

    By now, their bodies are filled with sword wounds. Teng Yi nodded and swept his sword, killing another two men.

    Fighting as they retreat, they were hard pressed and found it hard to slip away.

    Eyeing the countless fighters coming out of the red pine forest and climbing the hill to engage them, Xiang Shaolong called out: “Let’s roll down!”

    Pulling Teng Yi, they bend down and rolled down the hill slope.

    Thanks to the heavy snowfall, the ground was wet and soft and they rolled safely to the bottom of the hill.

    Like madmen, the Yan army chased down the hill.

    As they got up, Teng Yi grunted. His right shoulder was pierced by an arrow.

    Ten odd enemies are rushing over from both sides.

    Xiang Shaolong pulled out his flying needles and shot them out in succession. Before they knew what happened seven men were strike dead. The remaining men scrambled to safety.

    Suddenly, the fiery torches dimmed.

    The snowy slope is extremely slippery. Several of the torch-bearers slipped and fell into the snow, extinguishing the flames.

    Teng Yi reached behind him and held onto the arrow. Pulling the arrow out with some of his flesh and blood, he struck the arrowhead into the throat of another attacker.

    With his armour protecting him, the arrow only entered his flesh by a few inches and his organs are unharmed. Otherwise, he may lose his life.

    Taking advantage of the low visibility, they charged into a group of enemies and break out of the encirclement. Once freed, they sped towards the river.

    Behind them, three groups of men carrying torches were trailing closely and battle cries filled their ears.

    In an instance, they reached the river shore, Jing Jun leapt over and happily cried: “Let’s go!”

    Leading them, he ran along the river.

    The first raft carrying Ji Yanran and the rest had just left. The other raft is waiting for them.

    Jumping of the raft, they rowed towards the opposite shore.

    As they reached the centre of the river, the pursuers came to the river bank. Taking out their bows, they rained arrows on Xiang Shaolong and company.

    The twelve elite Wu Family Warriors formed a human wall and used their swords to deflect the incoming arrows.

    Tragic calls were heard.

    One man was hit and he fell onto Xiang Shaolong.

    Grieved, Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi yelled at the same time: “Get down!”

    Another three men were hit by arrows.

    The rafts finally left the firing range of the arrows and arrived at the opposite shore.

    The enemies were cursing helpless. To think they let them escape even in such a disadvantageous situation.

    Xiang Shaolong had just leapt onto shore when Wu Tingfang heartbreakingly leapt into his blood-stained embrace.

    Jing Jun suddenly cry out: “Third Princess!”

    Xiang Shaolong trembled uncontrollably as he looked over. Zhao Qian was in Ji Yanran’s arms with an arrow protruding from her chest and she has breathed her last.

    Although his wounds have been bandaged, Xiang Shaolong’s heart is still bleeding. When he is fully confident about protecting his loved ones, they were killed right before his eyes. In these catastrophic times, the majority of women were dependent on men for their survival. If their men happened to be killed, they will be handed over to their conquerors. There, they will face abuses such as prostitution. Su Nu, Su’er, Zhao Ni and Ting Fangshi died first and Xiang Shaolong was informed later. He may be heart-broken but it is still better than personally witnessing Zhao Qian and the four maids dying while he stared helplessly. Recalling their usual happy demeanour, he could feel an intense hatred surging in his heart. If he had not insisted on bringing them along, they will not suffer such a terrible ending.

    Lady luck has always been on his side. From the first time he came to Handan City, the trip to Daliang to steal the Lu Gong Manual, the Wu Family escape to Qin, the capture of Zhao Mu, he has always managed to gain the upper hand in all the dangerous situations. The death of the five girls has shattered his beautiful dream. This time, he did not lose to inferior battle strategies, he lost to luck.

    Witnessing the fresh graves, he cannot help but think of the exposed corpse of the four maids, the four elite Wu Family warriors who were shot dead on the raft and the three hundred faithful warriors of the Lu Buwei. For the first time ever, Xiang Shaolong was filled with the most intense murderous hatred and revenge! He will not show any mercy to Lord Yangquan or Yan. Only blood can wash away this debt of blood! Wu Tingfang is wailing loudly in the arms of the sobbing Ji Yanran, adding to his pain.

    Xiao Yuetan approached Xiang Shaolong and swore in a low voice: “Grand Tutor Xiang must take it easy. When we get back to Xianyang, I will get Premier to seek revenge for us.”

    In this moment, Jing Jun swiftly came to the gravesite and hissed in a frantic tone: “Enemies are sighted on the south-eastern direction. I detected Lord Yangquan’s men and Han soldiers. They numbered five hundred and are equipped with hunting dogs. We better leave as soon as possible.”

    Filled with grief, Xiang Shaolong wondered aloud: “Where can we go?”

    Teng Yi reasoned: “The road to Mount Yangchang is flat ground and rivers. We do not have any war horses and will not escape their pursuit. The best way is to go through the mountains to Jing Jun’s hometown, Jing village. There, we can obtain provisions and horses. We can even recruit some top hunters and add to our fighting strength. Jing Jun and I are familiar with the roads and can evade enemies’ on our trail.”

    Xiang Shaolong forced himself to brighten up. Glancing at his two lovely wives Ji Yanran and Wu Tingfang as well as the Meng brothers, Xiao Yuetan, Li Si, Jing Jun, Teng Yi and the remaining eight elite Wu Family warriors, he decided: “Great! Let’s go. As long as I, Xiang Shaolong, am alive, Lord Yangquan and his allies will not get away with this.”

    They travelled day and night.

    Twenty five days later, after enduring several hardships and hunger, they came to Jing village.

    Hunting for food during winter in extremely tough. Fortunately, Teng Yi and Jing Jun are the best in this field. It is due to these two men that Xiang Shaolong and the rest did not die of hunger in the mountains.

    On a few occasions, the pursuers nearly caught up to them. It was also due to Teng Yi and Jing Jun’s familiarity of the mountains that they managed to slip away each time.

    By the time they got to Jing village, even strong men like Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi were on the verge of collapse, not mentioning normal people and girls like Xiao Yuetan, Li Si and Wu Tingfang. Luckily, they have achieved some fitness by practising swordplay or they will not be able to hold out. However, their zombie-like appearance is still heart-rending.

    Jing village comprises of ten odd clusters of huts situated all over the mountains. Teng Yi has always been the most respected hunter in the eyes of the villagers. Every kid in this village has benefitted from his horse-riding or archery lessons. Viewing his return, everyone was excited with happiness. They did their best to see to the needs of Xiang Shaolong’s group and helped them to spy around for enemy activities.

    After three days of rest and recuperation, everyone is fully rejuvenated and fresh. They have regained their confidence and fighting spirit.

    Time can dilute everything, including burying all the unhappy events deep into the hearts.

    Everyone is having lunch in the big hut of the village leader when Teng Yi brought Xiang Shaolong to the open area outside the house. Thirty eight young hunters were chatting excitedly with Jing Jun. Seeing the appearance of the two men; they stood at attention and seemed to be waiting to be selected to join them.

    Xiang Shaolong asked in a low voice: “Second brother can decide for me.”

    Teng Yi answered: “Isn’t it better for them to feel that they were selected by you the world-renowned hero?”

    He continued: “None of them were originally surnamed Jing. The entire Jing village inhabitants are originally nomads from the north. They live a carefree life and do whatever they want. Due to Zhao’s expansion and the Xiong Nu’s harassment, they were forced to come south. After living here for hundreds of years, they were despised by the Han and were forced to change their names. Therefore, they have a great dislike for Zhao and Han.”

    Anger can be seen on the faces of the young hunters.

    Jing Jun added: “Everyone here practises martial arts to fight raiders from the Han soldiers, horse thieves and invaders from other villages.”

    Teng Yi concluded: “These hunters were specially selected from a thousand hunters. They are the best. With additional training, I guarantee they will not be inferior to our elite Wu Family warriors.”

    Xiang Shaolong asked: “Is everyone willing to throw in their lot with me Xiang Shaolong?”

    The hunters agreed in unison.

    Xiang Shaolong swore: “From today onwards, we will share wealth and woe.”

    Everyone cheered wildly.

    Back in the house, Teng Yi reminded: “We will set out for Huang Lung Ling tomorrow. We have lost all our precious cargo in the red pine forest. It seems inappropriate to continue our mission without any valuables.”

    Xiang Shaolong replied: “Those are secondary.”

    That night, the terrible battles, the tragic cries and the intense feelings surfaced in their dreams once again.

    Wu Tingfang woke up with a scream and her face is covered with tears.

    Xiang Shaolong embraced her tightly and tried his best to comfort her. On the other side, Ji Yanran woke up too. She opened the window to allow more fresh air to enter the room.

    After Wu Tingfang went back to sleep, Xiang Shaolong has lost all desire to sleep. He felt as if there was large boulder pressing down on his chest. “It is a beautiful night. Why don’t we take a stroll?” he suggested.

    Ji Yanran replied in a pitiful tone: “Fang’er cannot sleep alone. You go ahead!”

    Xiang Shaolong put on a coat and left the house. Stepping into the garden and under the bright moonlight, he noticed Xiao Yuetan looking at the sky mysteriously.

    Xiang Shaolong was astonished and approached him asking: “Brother Xiao cannot sleep too?”

    As if he was expecting Xiang Shaolong, Xiao Yuetan continued to stare at the black sky and sighed loudly: “I love to let my thoughts wander, especially at night. Therefore, I love to hug a beauty to sleep to prevent myself from thinking too much. My bad habit came back tonight!”

    Xiang Shaolong did not feel good hearing this. He continued to ask: “What is Brother Xiao thinking of?”

    Xiao Yuetan shook his head and bitterly laughed: “I am thinking about Master Lu. Ever since he became Premier, he has changed a lot. It is hard to link the present him to the previous him.”

    Xiang Shaolong bitterly laughed: “Regardless of any changes, the basic character remains the same. It is only due to different environments that people suppressed their basic nature to achieve a goal. When they no longer need to hide their true intentions, the suppressed basic nature will resurface and be dominant. This is the most obvious in people who suddenly rise to the top and are given plenty of authority. They will be beyond control as they no longer need to subject themselves to the will of others.”

    Xiao Yuetan was shaken and looked to him. “From your tone, Shaolong seems to be unhappy with Master Lu!” he commented in a surprise tone.

    Xiang Shaolong knew he had let the cat out of the bag. He hurriedly explained: “I am just causally mentioning from personal experience. It has nothing to do with Premier Lu.”

    After a quick moment of contemplation, Xiao Yuetan reassured in a soft voice: “Shaolong need not deceive me. Master Lu and you are two different breeds of human. I can totally trust you but can I totally trust Master Lu? Master Tu and I may be his confidante but we still have to watch our tongue around him. We are afraid to offend him after all.”

    Pausing, he added: “Moreover, he expanded his influence too quickly. When we first arrived at Xianyang, there were only seven hundred advisor-guests. Now, we have exceeded five thousand. How can we not incur the jealousy of the Qin population? This must be why we were assassinated in the pine forest.”

    Xiang Shaolong remembered those who lost their lives and kept quiet.

    Xiao Yuetan knew that he has reminded Xiang Shaolong about the unhappy incident. Sighing, he advised: “After we have been through this life-and-death incident, I will be frank with you. With your character that values human relationships and love, you will soon be unable to tolerate Premier Lu’s actions. Do you understand what I am trying to say?!”

    Xiang Shaolong nodded his head in silence.

    For Xiao Pan, he will be Lu Buwei’s future enemy. This is his destiny!

    The death of Zhao Qian and the maids has him fully convinced to help Xiao Pan unite the six states.

    Only military might can eliminate military might.

    Although the state of law is only seen two thousand years later, it will begin with him now.

    “It is late!” he answered. “And we have to set off early tomorrow morning. Why don’t we retire to bed now?”

    Xiao Yuetan invited: “You go ahead! I still want to stand here for a while longer.”

    Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Then let’s use this wonderful night to chat till morning. I wish to understand Xianyang City’s position to a greater extent.”

    Xiao Yuetan was delighted: “I will be glad to share with you my knowledge!”

    The night passed like this.

    The next morning, the fifty odd persons rode off towards Huang Lung Ling.

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