Sorry for the long draught, been sick and busy throughout the month. Finally managed to finish chapter 2 before Christmas. Merry Christmas to everybody!
Ten li away from where they got off the ship, on the second floor of a restaurant in the downtown of Dongping County, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were hungrily stuffing themselves with food and wine.
Upon their departure, Li Shimin gave them a handsome amount of money.Of course Kou Zhong didn't reject it. Sitting upon such richness, he knew well how to spend it.
Xu Ziling pressed down the wine bottle and advised, "Enough, I think you're heavily drunk already."
Kou Zhong swayed off his hand. Pouring some more wine into his bowl, he said, "Just let me drench in wine for this once! I promise you I wouldn't do this again!"
Xu Ziling scolded, "Didn't you say you've thought it through?Now you're drinking like there's no tomorrow!"
Kou Zhong peered through his drunken eyes and laughed, "I'm drinking to celebrate, you know, for the first shipwreck in my love voyage! Haha! Just this once! I will make her regret in the future for not choosing me!
That stupid fellow Cai, by what right could he look down upon me?"
"Come on!Let's toast!"
Xu Ziling couldn't stop him. He noted the few guests that were in that restaurant were all peeling towards them.
Not wanting to draw more attention, he raised his cup and drank in silence.
Kou Zhong was totally drunk by then. Burying his face on the table he grumbled, "I've had enough...now let's go to the brothel next door, and find a chick who's a hundred...no, a thousand times prettier than her! Let's see if I really cannot do without her!"
Xu Ziling hurriedly paid the bill and dragged him down the stairs.
"Let's go,"Xu Ziling said, not wanting to deject him further,"Let's go to the brothel."
Half awake, Kou Zhong said, "Don't you cheat me...my brother, you must bring me to the brothel and choose the most adorable girl for me."
By the time they stepped out of the restaurant, the street lights had just been lit.Somehow the usually busy street was quiet as a cemetery.
In the soughing autumn wind, only one or two passersby were hurriedly making their way in the street, giving them a sense of loneliness.
Xu Ziling laughed bitterly and said, "Seems you're still sober after all!"
Kou Zhong complained, "So you're not bringing me to the brothel? Is this how you treat your beloved brother?"
Xu Ziling argued,"Did I actually say I was going to bring you to brothel?"
Suddenly Kou Zhong wrested out from Xu Ziling's support and stumbled across the street.
Kneeling by a canal, he started to puke all over the place.
Xu Ziling hurried over and knelt beside him, stroking his back. A sensation welled up within him, and he almost wanted to weep.
He had never seen Kou Zhong with such unhappiness.
"Xiao Ling!"Kou Zhong panted, after throwing up anything in his stomach,"Can you feel my pain?"
"You haven't begun the very first step yet and now you become so painful,"Xu Ziling sighed," What if she betrayed you after being engaged with you? Are you supposed to kill yourself then?"
"You won't understand. "Kou Zhong shook his head and said,"Last night when you were studying the ledger with Little Li, we chatted happily and she seemed to care a lot about me."
He paused suddenly, then continued, sadly,"But now I recalled, she was just investigating our background for his brother, she never felt anything special about me."
Xu Ziling , "You should've known in the beginning that we're nothing in the eyes of those great clans!You were just asking for trouble this time!"
Kou Zhong had become much soberer by then. "Rest assured!"His eyes glittered as he muttered,"After this round, I won't fall for another girl so easily."
Xu Ziling suggested, "Still want to go to brothel?"
Kou Zhong shook his head and got up with Xu Ziling's help."Let's find an inn to rest tonight. We shall set out for Yingyang on the morrow. When we find Sister Susu, we can... haha!"
Xu Ziling was curious,"Why do you laugh?"
Kou Zhong leaned on his shoulder and said, "Actually the heaven had treated us well. At the very least we achieved the first level like Mom said. Now we have money in our pockets, and we know Yang's Treasure Vault is somewhere near the Yuema Bridge in Capital City. What's more, the ledger that could bring Yuwen Huaji to his downfall is in our hands! But I had been so blind towards these that I actually wept for a woman!"
Xu Ziling gleefully said, "Here comes back the brother I had always known. Do you still want to be the emperor?"
Kou Zhong fell silent for a brief moment. Holding his feet, he answered solemnly."It's still too early to decide, but what I'm sure is I don't want to kneel before anyone from now on, because we're not inferior to them."
Xu Ziling agreed, "You're right, we're definitely not inferior."
Kou Zhong chuckled, "Then let us do something big. Mom will watch us happily in the heaven, and never would people dare look down upon us."
Xu Ziling's ambitions also soared. He begun to sing a popular song :"I had been a noble, learning hard all my life."
Kou Zhong continued, "I drew my sword when my country had a perilous time."
They strode down the street, following the rhythm, and sung louder in chorus,
"Fallen the Dingling Fort in the west, Conquered Chanyu's Terrace in the north."
"On the high mountain I stand, and my mind flies,"
"The suffering in history had taught his lessons, yet none remembered."
The echoes of the song resounded, across the dark street and beyond.
As their fugitive days came to a stop, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling could finally do whatever they liked.
* * *
The two found a well and sat down beside its railings to take a rest.
Looking into the well, Kou Zhong was attracted by the crisp reflection of the moon hanging up in the sky. He chuckled and said, "This should be called Qiankun in a well, which is even more unfathomable than Old daddy's Qiankun Sleeves."
Xu Ziling popped his head over the well, complaining, "There must be something going on in this Dongping county, every inn is full while the street is empty."
Hey!"He suddenly called out with surprise.
Kou Zhong asked, "Are you looking at the moon in the well? What's so intriguing?"
Xu Ziling appeared to be deep in thought. "I seemed to have caught something in my mind, yet I can't tell what it is."His sharp eyes glittered as he said excitedly.
Kou Zhong fell silent and looked down again at the reflection. A piece of cloud coincidentally flew past the moon, blocking it partially from their view.
There was definitely some vague idea coming into his mind.
Xu Ziling murmured, "Did mom said her mentor taught that everything originates from oneself, and that everyone has his treasure vault? Just like this well."
"The water in this well can become like anything and contain anything. Now the moon, the whole sky is in the well! It's so real! Can you tell it from the reality?"
Kou Zhong's eyes shone and he slapped his palm against the edge of the well. "Well said!"He muttered,
He picked up a small pebble and threw it into the well.
The moon reflection was shattered into glimmering ripples, and it took quite some time for it to restore to its original form.
Xu Ziling exclaimed happily, "I understand now! It is actually a very powerful mental method. At the beginning of a fight, we could be as calm as the water in the well, able to reflect anything around us. But once we got into the fight, our emotions stirred and then we couldn't see things clearly."
Kou Zhong sighed, "You're right. When we saw old daddy, we were freaked out like mice in front a cat, it was the same when we faced Elder Sang.If we could banish the fear, and other emotions, and remain calm in fights, our mind would be like the water in the well, reflecting everything clearly. That would be a huge leap from what we are now."
Leaning against the rails of the well Xu Ziling exhaled, "I'm so delighted now. If I could reach such state, I'm willingly giving up 10 years of my life."
Kou Zhong was about to say something when his attention was drawn by some footsteps.
Two swordsmen were walking directly towards the well. The one in a gray robe yelled, "Little imps, get lost! We need to get some drinks!"
Kou Zhong laughed,"Let the imps serve you!"
Together the two boys dropped and pulled back the hanging bucket, drawing fresh water from it.
The two men didn't hesitate at all and drank the water in mouthfuls.
"Good lads, why are you still hanging out this late in the night?"One of the men questioned.
Xu Ziling answered, "We were just getting bored.Where are two uncles heading?"
The men in gray shot him a contemptuous look and jested :"Even if I tell you, you're not eligible, haha!"
Then he left with the other man.
The two exchanged a look and both were baffled.
Kou Zhong suggested, "Now that we have nothing to do, why not follow them and see what they're up to?
Just to kill this boring night."
Xu Ziling gladly agreed.
Utilizing light-body techniques, they joyfully glided from one roof towards another. They had become so skilled that it was as effortless as walking on the ground.
All of a sudden they were like being in a dream realm that only belongs to the most skilled experts. There was only a thin line separating it from the world of the mundane folks, yet the sheer difference of experience were what made them feel great.
Their mind transformed into the untroubled waters in the well, objectively reflecting a mystic aspect of the universe.
When they popped their heads out from behind the eaves of a house, those two men had just turned into the main street.
They were at the southern part of the city, where men and carriages flowed busily outside a large residence.
Lanterns and torches shone like day, and the noises of merry making filled the air.
Kou Zhong whispered to Xu Ziling, saying, "It appears everybody has come here. There must be some kind of celebration going on, shall we go join them?"
Xu Ziling said, "No wonder that two fellows mocked us. Just look at this spectacle, you know the host is some influential person. How can we get past without invitation letter?"
Kou Zhong seemed to have fully recovered from the blow and vigorously said, "Not through the front door, of course. Once we get in from the rear, nobody would suspect us since we are wearing these brand new suits!"
Not even before Xu Ziling could answer, Kou Zhong had already jumped down the alley and walk towards the residence.
Xu Ziling had no choice but to follow.
When getting closer to the entrance of the residence, the two found there were at least several hundred of onlookers who weren't allowed into the residence, and they were all huddling outside the gate.
A group consisting of about 30 men, clad in blue warrior suits were maintaining order. By driving off onlookers they tried to clear way for guests' carriages driving in.
"My goodness!"Kou Zhong exclaimed,"What the hell is going on here? Even a large wedding banquet wouldn't have attracted so many people!"
Xu Ziling called over one of the onlookers who were turned away by the armed guards and asked, "What's going on here?"
The man shot them an furious look and vented his frustration upon them, bawling, "Ignorant fools! You don't even know the famed artist Shi Qingxuan has come? Go home and suck your mother's tits!"
Finishing he strode away angrily.
Hearing the name the two boys were all dumbfounded.
Shi Qingxuan was a famed female artist for her flute skills across the country.
They had heard of her back in Yangzhou. Whoever invited her here to perform must be someone of great influence.
It is said she had always been living in seclusion, and the very few people who had the opportunity to hear her playing were all full of praise.
Kou Zhong shoved Xu Ziling with his elbow and said, "We're not going to get bored tonight, with shows and wine to enjoy."
Xu Ziling's heart warmed up and he joked, "If you're drinking again, then please excuse me for not coming with you."
Kou Zhong hurriedly said, "Okay, I'm not drinking."
Noting the front gate was blocked, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling took a large round to the rear of residence, which occupied nearly a hundred acres of land.
They scaled over the high walls easily and snuck into the empty rear garden of the residence.
Walking back towards the front gate, they saw the main garden was brightly lit by lanterns and crowded with servants and guests.
They shook off the dust on their clothes before squeezing themselves into the crowd excitedly.
Kou Zhong, who started to scan around for those dressed-up ladies and make a comment every once in a while, seemed to have really left Li Xiuning in the past.
When they made their way into the main hall, the atmosphere became even more lively. Everyone was engaged in the heated discussion about Shi Qingxuan's flute skills, as if they were all professional musicians.
A line of ten odd tables were set up along the wall, and every guest could help themselves to all kinds of pastries on the tables.
Kou Zhong squeezed through the crowd and exclaimed, "Had I known this wonderful place, we could've saved our dinner bill!"
Xu Ziling suddenly dragged Kou Zhong behind a stone pillar, hiding from someone.
Kou Zhong was puzzled and asked, "What's wrong?"
Xu Ziling pointed with his finger, "Look!"
Kou Zhong looked in the direction he pointed, and there were two beautiful girls he saw, surrounded by seven noble childes who were competing to get their attention.
He immediately became invigorated and commented, "These two chicks are really pretty."
Xu Ziling muttered annoyingly, "I'm not talking about them! Look further! And just now you said you would not love women so easily!"
Kou Zhong reluctantly moved his gaze away and instantly caught sight of three very distinguishable men sitting in chairs, while others could only stand around them.
With hairs and beards white as snow, the man in the middle emitted a commanding aura. Although he was sitting and his clothes seemed ragged, it's still difficult not to be impressed by his rocky build.
Another man was wearing a long scholar robe. If not for the spotted white in his hair, one would assume he is still a middle-aged. His composure was elegant and graceful, resembling that of an immortal.
Kou Zhong had gained a lot of experience lately, yet these two people stood out from the crowd he met.
Accompanying the two was an official-like middle-aged man, who had a lordly, shrewd face.
But Xu Ziling shouldn't be so surprised seeing these people, Kou Zhong secretly thought.
At this time Xu Ziling's voice whispered, "Isn't that Shen Naitang whom we met before?"
Kou Zhong was alerted and quickly found Shen Naitang who was among the ten odd man surrounding the trio.
On their way to fetch the Secret of Immortality under Du Fuwei's escort, they met this Shen Naitang, who was with Liang Shunming, son of Liang Shidu and co.
Fortunately they incited a fight and took the opportunity to slip away. It's been so long that they almost forgot, now thanks to Shen Naitang, Kou Zhong immediately recalled his beautiful niece Shen Wushuang.
Xu Ziling muttered :"Let's run off!"
Kou Zhong reluctantly said, "Why should we? I won't go until I hear Shi Qingxuan's flute performance. That old fellow Shen isn't going to see us.That official-like man must be the host. I wonder who the two others are."
Xu Ziling also ignored Shen Naitang temporarily, "Judging by how they were respected by the others you know they were truly formidable persons. Hey! This is what real experts should look like!"
At the same time, the elder and the robed scholar simultaneously swept their gaze towards them, seemingly aware of their attention.
The two boys were shocked and hid back behind the pillar.
Kou Zhong exhaled, "My goodness!They are real experts, seriously."
In his panic, Xu Ziling sensed someone was getting closer from behind.
He would've mistaken it for a passing by guest, but the person's hand was reaching out to pat on his shoulder.
It was a strange and unspeakable feeling. He clearly 'saw' the hand coming, though not with his eyes.
At this particular instant, his mind was like the water in the well, reflecting everything around him. He knew the person wasn't going to harm him.
The hand touched his shoulder, with a gentle warmth.
Kou Zhong was also alerted. They both whirled around and saw the person.
Their souls were almost shattered in fear, for the coming 'man' was Shan Wanjing, the Dongming Princess disguised as a scholar, the last person they would like to meet at the moment.