Read A Step into the Past Chapter 280, Please!
Book 25 Chapter 03 – Xianyang Happenings
After residing for three days, Qin Qing returned to Xianyang.
Xiang Shaolong is now fully conscious of Xiao Pan’s mindset: To protect his throne, he has no qualms about killing all that stands in his way.
Although it is uncertain if Xiao Pan will eventually come after himself, Xiang Shaolong decided to a.s.sume the worst after his Lin Zi experience.
He kept the habit of waking up every morning before dawn to practice his sabre play and even added archery to his training regime.
From the warriors of the Wu Family and Jing Village, he selected three hundred men which naturally include top experts like Wu Yan Zhe and Jing Shan. After specially arming them with chromium sabres and strong bows that were forged by Uncle Qing, Xiang Shaolong even went to the extent of imparting his flying needles skill to them. Day and night, they practiced nonstop.
In the meantime, Wu Yingyuan and the others started to leave the farm in batches. When it was time for Wu Tingfang, Zhao Zhi, Zhou Wei, Shan Lan, the Tian Sisters, Lu Dan’er and Xiang Bao’er to leave, everyone was filled with reluctance and the separation was an emotional one.
Xiang Shaolong, Teng Yi, Jing Jun and Ji Yanran accompanied the convoy for three days before returning back to the farm, which is now an uninviting and foreboding empty sh.e.l.l. They felt uneasy at this change of environment.
At dinnertime, Teng Yi remarked in a deep voice: “Wu Yingen should be the spy.”
The others were stunned.
Wu Yingen is the third younger brother of Wu Yingyuan. Although he is against abandoning the life of luxury in Xianyang, no one would have expected that he would become the spy for Xiao Pan.
Ji Yanran wondered: “All along, I have paid extra attention to this man. However, why is Second Brother so confident that he is the spy?”
Teng Yi explained: “I was able to come to this conclusion because he insisted on staying behind to manage the farm and only leave with the last batch of personnel. This behavior contradicts his usual greedy and cowardly nature. Therefore, I placed him and his followers under surveillance and found out that he would secretly dispatch messengers to Xianyang. I informed Master Tao about it and instructed him to send stalkers after the messengers. True enough, the messengers would enter the palace by a hidden entrance to make their reports.”
Jing Jun aggressively cursed: “I’ve never liked him.”
Xiang Shaolong was comforted: “Fortunately, we took early precautions. But with him around, it is quite troublesome for us to carry out our plans. Is there any technique that we can use to chase him and his men away?”
Ji Yanran contemplated: “He has merely been deceived into becoming a p.a.w.n for somebody else. Due to his craving for wealth and a materialistic lifestyle, he committed these acts of stupidity! If we can exploit his weaknesses and employ scare tactics, such as hinting him that by spying for Crown Prince, it is as good as making it easier for Crown Prince to attack us, I guarantee that he will wake up and realize what a fool he was.”
Teng Yi frowned: “You must exercise caution and don’t exacerbate the situation. If he were to report this to Crown Prince, Crown Prince would know that we are guarding against him.”
Her lovely eyes flashing with brilliance, Ji Yanran shrilly snorted: “If we send his wives, concubines and children away, what can he do besides obeying us? Leave this to Yanran.”
Noting that Ji Yanran is personally handling the affair, Xiang Shaolong can put his mind at ease. He checked: “We have to return to Xianyang tomorrow. Who is staying behind to oversee the farms?”
Ji Yanran bitterly laughed: “Let Ji Yanran stay back! Otherwise, Wu Guo may not be able to stand up to Third Master.”
Xiang Shaolong is most unwilling but also recognizes that this is the best arrangement. Time is running out and Xiao Pan will be coronated in three month’s time. All their preparations will come to fruition on that day.
Back at Xianyang, Xiang Shaolong’s first move is to enter the palace and seek an audience with Xiao Pan.
As per normal, Xiao Pan received him in the Imperial Study and Li Si is present too.
After accepting Xiang Shaolong’s paying of respect, Xiao Pan commanded: “Subordinate Li, give me your report on the happenings of Xianyang.”
Li Si seems to be afraid of coming into contact with Xiang Shaolong’s gaze. Lowering his head and flipping the doc.u.ments in front of him, he narrated in a deep voice: “Lu Buwei is spending most of his time outside Xianyang. Using the excuse that he is supervising the last leg of Zhengguo Ca.n.a.l’s construction, he was actually meeting up with the local officials all over Qin, trying to garner support from them in preparation for turmoil within the Court of Qin.”
Xiang Shaolong intentionally tested him: “What about Guan Zhongxie?”
Still not looking in his direction, Li Si kept his head low and responded: “Guan Zhongxie was freshly dispatched by Crown Prince to the region of Han in order to pressurize them. Unless he disobeyed his orders, he should be far away from here during Crown Prince’s coronation.”
Xiao Pan plainly added: “This man’s archery skills is too amazing. With him around, Guaren cannot eat or sleep in peace. Guaren has planted spies around him and should he do anything out of the ordinary, someone will kill him immediately with Guaren’s secret decree.”
Li Si quickly peeped at Xiang Shaolong once before lowering his head again, broadcasting: “The entire Yongdu has more or less landed in the hands of Lao Ai. With his thirty thousand followers, they have occupied every single official post in Yongdu.”
Xiao Pan sn.i.g.g.e.red: “Guaren is purposely allowing him to grow without any restrictions, indirectly numbing him to the real sense of danger. Afterwards, I will exterminate him and his cronies once and for all. Humph! I’ll just tolerate his willful lifestyle for a few more months!”
Looking directly at Xiang Shaolong for the first time, Li Si enlightened: “According to Crown Prince’s estimate, Lu Buwei will take advantage of Crown Prince’s trip to Yongdu and stage a rebellion simultaneously with Lao Ai, thereby gaining control of Xianyang. As the Imperial Infantry is still commanded by Xu Shang and Lord Changwen’s Imperial Guards would have to escort Crown Prince to Yongdu, it is possible for Lu Buwei to succeed in his endeavor.”
Xiao Pan added: “Both traitors Lu Buwei and Lao Ai are carrying the Seal of the Empress. Among the confusion, it is likely that some righteous officials would be misled by them and unknowingly end up as their accomplices.”
Xiang Shaolong plainly state: “Leave Xianyang to me. I guarantee that Lu Buwei will end up in failure.”
Xiao Pan and Li Si exchanged looks of surprise.
After a long time, Xiao Pan insisted in a deep voice: “Without Great General at the side of Guaren, how can Guaren be at ease? We can place Xianyang under the care of the two generals Teng Yi and Jing Jun. Great General must accompany Guaren to Yongdu.”
Xiang Shaolong had antic.i.p.ated this reaction from him. Sighing to himself, he pretended to be unaffected and accepted: “Subordinate dare not disobey Crown Prince’s order.”
Frowning at Xiang Shaolong for some time, Xiao Pan then turned to Li Si and instructed: “Guaren wishes to speak privately with Great General.”
Not daring to look at Xiang Shaolong anymore, Li Si retreated from the room.
The study is now filled with an awkward silence.
Xiao Pan sighed with a breath of air: “Is Great General dissatisfied with Guaren? There are many occasions when Guaren is left without a choice and was forced by circ.u.mstances to undertake such extreme measures.”
Staring unblinkingly at Xiao Pan, Xiang Shaolong felt as if he is looking at a complete stranger. He lightly checked: “How does Crown Prince plan to deal with Empress?”
Without backing down at all, Xiao Pan matched his stare. Hearing his question, his eyes started to glow with a chilling aura as he icily hissed: “Till today, Great General is still speaking up for this wanton and corrupted lady who has destroyed the reputation of the Qin royalty?”
His own eyes glowing with a chilling aura too, Xiang Shaolong continued staring and frostily reminded: “This is subordinate’s sole request for Crown Prince. I don’t care who else you are going to kill but I hope you will take into account Empress’s past relationship with you and let her off.”
A flash of killing intent sparkled once in the royal eyes of Xiao Pan but it is unclear if it was directed at Zhu Ji or him, Xiang Shaolong. Recovering his tranquility, Xiao Pan decided in a deep voice: “If she stays in the palace and no longer intervene in State affairs, Guaren will not treat her shabbily. Is Great General satisfied?”
If not for Qin Qing leaking out the information of a Zhu Ji replacement, Xiang Shaolong may have believed his words. But right now, all he feels is a sense of disappointment.
If Xiang Shaolong is single and without any dependents, he would straightaway expose his lie in a full counteroffensive.
But remembering the lives of Teng Yi, Jing Jun, Ji Yanran, Wu Family and Jing Village all resting on himself, he had to swallow this ball of anger.
Serving a king is like walking with tigers. If one is not careful, it could result in personal death and clan annihilation.
This future Qin Shihuang is not easy to get along with.
His tone softening, Xiao Pan gently inquired: “Master do not trust me?”
Br.i.m.m.i.n.g with emotions, Xiang Shaolong sighed with a breath of air before a.s.serting in a deep voice: “Crown Prince is well prepared against the forces of Lu Buwei and Lao Ai. Why do you need me around? I might as well leave tonight!”
Xiao Pan thundered: “No!”
Xiang Shaolong’s heart was shaken as well.
He was using these words to test Xiao Pan’s response. At this moment, he has finally drawn a conclusion, and it is the most bone-chilling conclusion of all.
Xiao Pan inhaled a deep breath: “Master had promised to leave only after watching me become King. How can Master go back on your word.”
He sighed with the same breath: “Don’t you wish to kill Traitor Lu with your own hands?”
Xiang Shaolong is conscious that if he keeps persisting along this path, he can forget about leaving the palace alive. Pretending to be mentally and physically drained, he bitterly smiled: “If I keep my word, will Crown Prince keep yours too?”
Xiao Pan was annoyed: “Since when did Guaren fail to keep my word?”
Xiang Shaolong thought: The changes within these two years are really drastic. Xiao Pan and himself can on longer communicate with complete honesty and trust. Now, both of them have to resort to mutual scheming and lying.
Of course Xiang Shaolong is not so stupid as to expose Xiao Pan’s plan to create a fake Zhu Ji. He smiled: “If Crown Prince has nothing more to say, Subordinate wishes to return home for a rest.”
Stepping out of the study, Li Si is still standing there. He saw Xiang Shaolong departing and whispered: “Let me send Great General off.”
Xiang Shaolong guessed he has something to tell him and walked by his side. Surprisingly, Li Si did not say a single word during the long walk to the square.
Noticing Xiang Shaolong, Jing Shan and the others brought his horse over.
Li Si suddenly whispered: “Shaolong! Get out of here!”
He then left with a helpless expression on his face.
Inside his heart, Xiang Shaolong can feel a tsunami of emotions rising and they are unlikely to subside anytime soon.
Li Si is now the closest and most trusted official of Xiao Pan. Based on his intelligence, he should have a good grasp of Xiao Pan’s intentions. As a matter of fact, from the clues that have popped up, it is not impossible for him to deduce Xiao Pan’s real background and the genuine relationship between Xiao Pan and Xiang Shaolong. From these a.s.sumptions, he could foresee that Xiao Pan will eventually seek the extermination of him, Xiang Shaolong.
Without Zhu Ji and Xiang Shaolong, Xiao Pan can preserve his Yingzheng ident.i.ty forever.
Besides Zhu Ji and Xiang Shaolong, anyone else would not be as convincing or exert the same amount of influence.
Just as Xiang Shaolong rode out of the palace, someone called his name from behind.
Turning back, he saw Lord Changwen chasing up to him from the palace gate. Lord Changwen suggested: “Let’s talk as we ride!”
Xiang Shaolong was incredulous: “What is it regarding? Don’t you have to work?”
With a heavy expression, Lord Changwen interrogated: “Is Shaolong really leaving for the borderlands?”
Xiang Shaolong simply responded: “I am ill suited to be here, because I cannot stand acts of war and violence. You have known me for some time and you should have a clear idea of what kind of person I am.”
Lord Changwen was quiet for a short spell, as if he wanted to say something but could not bring himself to say it. He finally disclosed: “Crown Prince doesn’t seem too happy with your decision, saying that it will affect the morale of the military.”
His heart aching once, Xiang Shaolong affirmed in a low voice: “You need not persuade me any more. My only regret is not leaving two years ago. If I did, my recollections of Great Qin shall be the fondest as I race my horse across the vast gra.s.slands.”
Completing his sentence, he squeezed the horse’s belly to increase his pace and sped away from a stunned Long Changwen who had reined his horse to a stop, leaving him far behind in a blink of an eye.
Ten over riders galloped like the wind, overtaking every horse or carriage that they encountered, racing down Xianyang’s highway at full speed with the sunset as a backdrop.
In this instance, Xiang Shaolong has given up all hope on Xiao Pan.
He has one major concern in his mind right now: How can he save Zhu Ji from the murderous clutches of Xiao Pan.
Ever since he came to this ancient warring period, he has to face all sorts of challenges on a daily basis, inadvertently training his willpower to be stronger than anybody else. Even when his opponent is Qin Shihuang, he does not possess the slightest nuance of fear.
But he would never underestimate Xiao Pan because he is the only person in this time period to have full knowledge of Xiao Pan’s fearsome character. In the annals of history, Qin Shihuang utilizes heavy-handed methods to exercise his authority throughout his empire. At the end of the day, the whole of China will bow down at his feet.
Ironically, this heavyweight historical character was personally fashioned by Xiang Shaolong himself.
Xiang Shaolong wished he could face the sky and shout with all his might in order to vent frustration in his heart.
But he would not do that.
Only by trudging on can he stay alive and travel to the borderlands to enjoy a new lease of blissful life.
If Zhu Ji is willing to follow him, Xiang Shaolong would definitely bring her along, using this opportunity to compensate her for his lies and years of guilt.
With just one leg stepping inside Wu Residence, Tao Fang had already begun pulling him towards the inner hall. Curious, Xiang Shaolong wondered: “What is it?”
In a secretive hush-hush manner, Tao Fang snickered: “Your old buddies are here!”
At this juncture, he was entering the inner hall and saw Teng Yi engaging two guests in a conversation. They turned out to be Tu Xian and Xiao Yuetan.
A thrilled Xiang Shaolong ran towards them. Holding the hands of both men, he was so overwhelmed with happiness he was momentarily speechless.
His eyes turning red due to a burst of strong emotions, Tu Xian clarified: “I did not know that Yuetan is coming over to Xianyang so I did not inform you guys in advance.”
With the groove of his eyes wet as well, Xiao Yuetan grinned: “Elder Brother used Shaolong’s life as a gambling chip in Lin Zi; I trust Shaolong will not blame Elder Brother, right?”
Teng Yi laughed: “Since we won the gamble, of course!”
Xiang Shaolong bitterly smiled: “Elder Brother’s confidence in me is even greater than the confidence I have in myself. Fortunately, I managed to run away fast enough from Cao Qiudao. Otherwise, I would not be able to hold hands and chit-chat with both of you today. This is called: Among the thirty-six stratagems, running away is a top stratagem.”
Everyone broke out into laughter.
Tu Xian sighed: “Well said. Running away is a top stratagem. Earlier, we were a.n.a.lyzing a plan to try and leave this forsaken place.”
Tao Fang chuckled: “Let’s sit down and discuss further!”
Once everyone is properly seated, Xiao Yuetan narrated: “My purpose in coming back to Xianyang is to witness Traitor Lu’s downfall with my own eyes. But after speaking with Brother Teng, I realized that Shaolong is in an unfavourable situation too.”
Laying his eyes on Xiao Yuetan, all the grievances in Xiang Shaolong’s heart has disappeared without a trace and was replaced by a heroic aura. He cheerfully laughed: “A true hero is someone who can continue to stand tall in the face of trouble. With Brother Xiao a.s.sisting me, all my worries are gone with the wind.”
Tu Xian was pleased: “Looking at Shaolong’s overwhelming confidence, we are happy for you too. Regardless of the danger, we shall maintain our high morale. Now that Traitor Lu’s destruction is certain, our only problem is how to safely reach the borderlands and enjoy the rest of our days in peace!”
Tao Fang added: “Earlier on, Manager Tu has made a detailed a.n.a.lysis of Traitor Lu’s situation. The forces at his disposal include the Imperial Infantry, Guan Zhongxie’s team, fifteen thousand family warriors and his partner-in-crime Lao Ai’s camp. Although there are several officials who are in cahoots with him, they are of no use when real trouble strikes. If we plan our strategies and deployments well, we could force him to a corner and exact revenge on him.”
Xiao Yuetan solemnly state: “The crux of the problem is: How can we take down Lu Buwei while guaranteeing a safe retreat.”
Xiang Shaolong beamed: “Initially, I was troubled over this but now that Elder Brother is here, it is a different story altogether!”
Xiao Yuetan bitterly smiled: “Don’t become over-reliant on me. For all you know, I may fall below your expectations.”
Xiang Shaolong whispered: “Does Elder Brother have the confidence to create another Xiang Shaolong?”
Everyone was stunned on the spot.
Xiang Shaolong gleefully explained: “Wu Guo is very talented when it comes to masquerading. In addition, his body build is quite similar to mine. If Elder Brother has a way to change his face to look like mine, I am sure we can deceive everyone and launch a stealth attack on our enemies.”
As everyone gazed at him with antic.i.p.ation, Xiao Yuetan contemplated for a short while before concluding: “This would be the greatest challenge for me, Xiao Yuetan. Despite the significant difficulties, I can guarantee that I will not disappoint Shaolong.”
Slamming his palm on the table, Xiang Shaolong burst out laughing: “With these words from Elder Brother, the circ.u.mstances have improved dramatically. The first person we must kill is Guan Zhongxie. With him dead, Lu Buwei is as good as a toothless tiger and his evil influence will be contained.”
Teng Yi nodded his head in agreement: “That’s right! If this man picks up his bow and arrows, we can expect heavy casualties.”
Tao Fang reminded: “However, our main concern is not Lu Buwei but Yingzheng.”
Xiang Shaolong simply clarified: “That is precisely why I needed another Xiang Shaolong.”
The corner of Xiao Yuetan’s mouth revealed a trace of a smile. Exchanging looks with Tu Xian first, he then laughing sighed: “Shaolong is truly formidable; you have deceived us thoroughly.”
In this moment, Xiang Shaolong realized that Xiao Yuetan and Tu Xian had already inferred that Xiao Pan is not the real Yingzheng.
And it is also because of this reason that Xiao Pan is going all out to kill himself.
For those in the know, they would have guessed that Xiao Pan is acting this way because of a particular reason.
Only when Xiang Shaolong is dead can Xiao Pan solve the root of the problem and not live in constant fear of another ident.i.ty crisis.
The showdown between him and Xiao Pan has long been decided by fate. n.o.body can prevent this from happening.