This plan had been in motion since the late old master Guan's lifetime.
It wasn't until the moment before Ling Shu lay in the coffin that he fully understood.
Yue Dingtang hadn't lied to him.
The Guan family's wealth was truly abundant.
To what extent?
Ling Shu had seen wealthy people before.
Before the downfall of the Ling family, imported goods were everywhere in the house.
Ling's father wasn't even a collector of antiques, but after several generations of accumulation, there were several cabinets full of enamel porcelain, precious stones, clock towers, gold cups, and silver bowls.
These items played an important role when the Ling family completely fell apart.
After Ling Yao sold them all to pay off debts, she was still able to scrape together enough to send Ling Shu abroad to study.
But the Guan family's assets were far more than this. The Guan family moved from Beijing to Tianjin, and then from Tianjin to the northeast, losing much along the way. Despite various efforts, by the time old master Guan passed away, only about one-tenth or one-twelfth of their possessions remained.
Even so, the amount was still astonishing.
Old master Guan had scattered some calligraphy, paintings, and antiques, spreading rumors that he was going to sell them. This attracted pawnshops to come and bid on each item, and the money earned was divided into six parts. Aside from giving each of his five children a share, some was also set aside for public use.
This was what everyone saw when they opened the storage room that day.
But the Guan family had much more than just these items. The real treasure, more precious than any gold, silver, or jewels, was all concentrated in two boxes by old master Guan.
Since his lifetime, the contents of these two boxes had been slowly taken out right under the noses of his sons and hidden in the Guanyin Temple near the ancestral tomb.
The temple was very remote, and almost all the incense burned there was offered by the Guan family, or more accurately, by old master Guan himself.
This meant that Old Yuan not only had free access to the temple, but was familiar with it to the point that he knew exactly how many leaves were on the willow branches in the jar held in the hand of the Guanyin statue.
These small cloth bags in the coffin were the last things that needed to be transported out.
Knowing the situation, Ling Shu chose to step into this mud pit and, using Mrs. He's death as a cover, helped Old Yuan bring the items out. Three days later, he would help Old Yuan send them away.
Where were they being sent to? They were sending it out of Fengtian City, passing through Jinzhou, heading to Beijing, and then...
Thinking of this, Ling Shu couldn't help but cough softly.
The journey was so far, spanning almost half of China. How could they ensure that everything arrived intact?
Old Yuan couldn't stand his constant coughing, as if he was trying to cough up his lungs.
"That Russian must have hurt you badly, right? Here, take a puff. It'll make you feel better."
As he spoke, Old Yuan handed him his pipe.
Ling Shu pushed it away irritably.
"While I was with Ivanov, I overheard him telling Zhen Congyun that there's a secret hidden in the Buddhist pagoda left by old master Guan for Yue Dingtang. It's said that in the past, there were clues to a treasure left in the pagoda, in case their descendants were driven out of the Central Plains and needed to make a comeback... "
Before he could finish his sentence, Old Yuan burst into laughter, gasping for breath.
"This rumor was thought up by the old man and me. We spread it in secret to divert others' attention, so they wouldn't focus on me. Can you believe that some people actually fell for it? Hahaha!"
"Oh, so that's why they're all fixated on the pagoda. Yue Dingtang almost got killed by Ivanov because of it. Did you anticipate that too?"
Old Yuan turned his head and saw Ling Shu staring at him expressionlessly.
"Ha, don't look at me like that, it makes me feel like a murderer! At first, we thought the Yue family would send the second son over, after all, he has a better relationship with the Japanese, but we didn't expect it to be the third son who came, and the pagoda was only used to attract attention from others. At most, the disobedient children of the Guan family would fight over it. I never expected Ivanov to show up! But in my opinion, Yue Dingtang is very cunning. He deliberately told you where the key to the pagoda was, just to see you take action. He doesn't fully trust you and will definitely have a backup plan. You don't have to worry too much."
Ling Shu remained silent.
He fumbled in his pocket for a while and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
"Can I borrow a lighter?"
Old Yuan laughed, "You've left these cigarettes in a coffin with a dead person for a couple of hours, and you're not afraid of bad luck!"
Ling Shu gave him a glance, "I spent a few hours lying with a dead person, and now I'm sitting next to you. Do you think it's unlucky? I carried you for a few hours when you were half dead. Did I complain about bad luck?"
Old Yuan replied, "Okay, okay, you win."
Ling Shu said, "Stop talking nonsense and get back to the topic. Is the secret of the Buddhist pagoda and the treasure fake?"
Old Yuan replied, "Of course it's fake! The ability to hold onto power depends on people. If future generations are useless, what's the use of giving them gold and silver? Besides, this is just dividing the property of a local rich man. If the descendants of the emperor are useless, their heads will be gone in minutes. Look at the current leader, he was kidnapped and made a puppet in the northeast. Even if you give him endless treasures, it'll all be taken by the Japanese."
It had been a long time since Ling Shu had smoked, and at first he coughed a few times, but gradually he found the feeling he had back then.
Yue Dingtang was a heavy smoker, but Ling Shu wasn't. He used to take a few puffs occasionally, but never got addicted.
Now with chest pain, he really needed a cigarette to relieve and refresh himself.
Taking a deep drag, the two of them took turns exhaling smoke. The silhouette of a person emerged vaguely in the smoke, only to be blown away by their breath.
Old Yuan asked, "What's the deal with that foreigner? Have you figured it out?"
Ling Shu replied, "If you haven't figured it out yet, how would I know? He's so close with the Fourth Master."
Old Yuan said, "You know how Fourth Master is. The foreigners cater to his every whim and make him feel like he's on top of the world. I'm busy helping the old master hide and move things, where would I have time to think about him? That Ivanov guy is not one of us. He came and immediately hit it off with the Fourth Master, and it doesn't look good!"
Ling Shu replied, "Ivanov. He claims to be a descendant of the czar and works for the German Duke. Zhen Congyun is completely infatuated with him and let him lead her around by the nose. She's nothing like the Miss Zhen I know, who is quite cunning and scheming."
Old Yuan chuckled, "You're also a little white face, yet you accuse others of being one!"
Ling Shu retorted, "Then why haven't I led any Zhen Congyun around by the nose?"
Old Yuan replied, "Weren't you led around by Yue Dingtang? Isn't that about the same?"
Ling Shu: ...
Old Yuan asked, "Why aren't you speaking? Keep talking about Ivanov! Oh, forget it, I misspoke. You're not a little white face, Yue Dingtang is the little white face, right?"
Ling Shu sneered, wasn't he still indirectly insulting him?
Seeing Ling Shu refuse to speak, Old Yuan pondered alone.
"The Duke is now cozying up to the Japanese, but secretly he sent Ivanov over to steal the pagoda without going through the Japanese. Obviously, he has his own ulterior motives. Can't we use this to make them fight each other and make our job smoother?"
Ling Shu couldn't help but remind him, "Don't be too clever! In my opinion, Ivanov may have some ulterior motives, and he doesn't even know which side he stands on. And as for Zhen Congyun, although she willingly eloped with Ivanov, she is not to be underestimated. You should stick to the original plan and be cautious!"
A drop of water landed on the back of his hand.
Old Yuan looked up and saw that the sky was even darker than before, with layers of clouds indicating an impending storm.
Without a word, the two of them put out their cigarettes and quickly packed up their belongings.
They placed the cloth bag in a sheltered spot and Old Yuan took off his coat to wrap everything up.
Then, he picked up a shovel and began filling in the hole, while Ling Shu muttered to himself as he helped.
"I didn't mean to step on your chest bone just now. It was because Old Yuan refused to give me a hand. And I didn't kill you when you came to steal the Buddhist pagoda in the middle of the night. You reap what you sow. If you can turn into a vengeful ghost and bite Ivanov to death, that would also bring glory to our country. As for Old Yuan, don't kill him. Just bite him a few times."
Old Yuan glared at him fiercely and couldn't help but splash the dirt on Ling Shu's hand with the shovel.
"Go to hell!"
In the end, the two of them couldn't avoid getting drenched in the rain. The soil had just been filled, but the rain came pouring down in just a moment, from small droplets to heavy downpour.
Old Yuan was fine, as he was still relatively healthy.
However, Ling Shu was not doing well.
On the night they stayed at the Guanyin Temple, he started running a high fever.
His face wasn't particularly red, but his temperature was frighteningly hot.
Old Yuan was shocked to see how much his body had deteriorated.
He quickly thought of carrying Ling Shu down the mountain to see a doctor, but with his current condition and the rain pouring down, things could only get worse.
"Stay strong, my brother. I'll go down the mountain and bring a doctor back for you!" Old Yuan piled as much firewood as possible onto the fire next to Ling Shu, making it burn brighter and longer. He also took a tablecloth from the temple and wrapped it around Ling Shu to keep him warm.
Ling Shu was already feeling a bit confused from the fever. He had just drunk half a bowl of rainwater and his lips were starting to crack.
He half-opened his eyes, as if wanting to say something, but his lips moved without making a sound.
Old Yuan had no choice but to turn and rush into the heavy rain.
The Guanyin Temple had been neglected for years, and even with the doors and windows tightly shut, the wind still blew in from all sides.
As Ling Shu's consciousness hovered between waking and sleeping, he felt as if he had wandered between the underworld and the mortal world.
His body could no longer contain his soul, which was about to break free from its shell.
However, his body desperately clung to his soul, and the two struggled in a stalemate.
Ling Shu felt as if his body was being engulfed in flames, struggling to break free but unable to do so.
If this had happened several years ago, he would have been able to endure the transition between injury and impending injury day and night, and his endurance would have been even higher.
However, after several years of comfortable living, his body had become delicate and could not withstand a single blow.
Ling Shu despised his weakness but was helpless to do anything about it.
He was being pulled involuntarily, his eyes hazy as if he had caught a glimpse of the compassionate face of Guanyin above his head, but it disappeared in an instant.
The world spun around him, and he saw what seemed like thousands of soldiers and horses slowly advancing towards him. Those people, some holding guns, knives, or bayonets, others covered in scars, were once enemies who swore to never give up, and some were comrades who fell in battle.
This land holds too many memories, and he didn't want to come back, but he couldn't resist the urge to return.
He couldn't think.
Together they advanced, and memories flooded in like a tidal wave, overwhelming him in an instant.
One step, then another.
The wind blew the fire askew, but it didn't go out.
Ling Shu muttered to himself.
He was speaking.
The newcomer bent down, wanting to hear what he was saying.
Unable to hear clearly, the newcomer leaned in closer.
Finally, he heard it.
Ling Shu said, "I'm sorry."
The newcomer didn't understand, but it didn't stop him from taking the next action.
Ling Shu was jolted awake, still groggy, his eyes not fully open.
The barrel pressed against his forehead.
The tone of the incoming voice was as warm as a spring breeze.
"Good morning, Mr. Ling."