Book 19 Chapter 1 – Get Stuck in Critical Situation Together
The sun was setting in the west.
The warship sailed speedily into the City of Luoyang, following the Luo River toward the Imperial City.
On the city wall and the high points of all the watchtowers along the riverbank flags were flying, a festive scene of triumphant return after the victory.
Ships and boats went back and forth on the river, pedestrians, horses and carts crowded the street; indeed it was a city bustling with prosperity. Seeing a warship entering the city, all passersby on both sides of the river waved and cheered, creating an enthusiastic atmosphere.
However, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were not affected by this atmosphere at all. After scrutinizing the sign on the flag, Kou Zhong spoke in shock, “Yang Dong was finally forced to abdicate!”
Although it was inevitable, yet still a bit too hasty. It could clearly be seen that Wang Shichong’s desire to proclaim himself the emperor was urgent. From now on the Central Plains would have one more self-proclaimed emperor.
Xu Ziling spoke in heavy voice, “I do not wish to see Wang Shichong.”
Kou Zhong nodded in agreement, “Seeing him does not have any significance anyway,” he said, “See if you could find Bu Tianzhi; Xu Xingzhi and I will look for you, and then under cover of darkness, we will leave the city. Ay! All of a sudden I have a little heart-alarmed, body-leaping ominous feeling. If I experience some mishap, kill Wang Shichong to avenge me.”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “How could Ouyang Xiyi let Wang Shichong to kill you? Based on his position in Jianghu, no matter what Wang Shichong must give him a little bit of face. Unless he has help from martial art masters of Ouyang Xiyi or Chen Changlin’s caliber, Wang Shichong is incapable to make a move against you. As long as you act according to circumstances, there should be no problem.”
Nevertheless, the two still agreed on ways to meet all kinds of contingencies. Only after they were done that Xu Ziling jumped into the river, swam toward the thicket by Luo River dike, and disappeared without any trace.
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The warship cast anchor at the dock outside the Imperial City.
Wang Xuanying, Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu and the others led their men to meet him, and accompany Kou Zhong galloping toward the city gate.
Kou Zhong pulled the rein to slow down, while casually asked about Wang Shichong’s condition.
Wang Xuanying sighed and said, “Li Mi’s punch was no trivial matter at all, to this day Die has not been able to leave the bed, but he is in good spirits; all day long he is asking when he can see Kou Junshi again.”
Wang Xuanying was surprisingly polite and deferential, but listening to him, Kou Zhong’s hair stood up on its end, and his heart was shivering in fear. Reasonably speaking, if Wang Shichong could not even get out of bed, he should not be this anxious to proclaim himself the Emperor.
But why would Wang Xuanying lie to him? Kou Zhong inwardly wiped the proverbial cold sweat from his brows; he asked, “How are Old Yi and Changlin Xiong?”
Song Mengqiu on his other side put on a fake smile and said, “They are waiting by Shengshang’s [minister’s form of address for the current emperor] side, ready to meet Kou Junshi’s honorable self.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong’s heart sank even lower. Ouyang Xiyi has always extremely cherished him and Xu Ziling; hearing about their return, it was quite reasonable to expect him to come and meet them personally, but this time the situation was different, all government officials in the entire Eastern Capital have fallen under Wang Shichong’s control, there was no need for Ouyang Xiyi to stay twelve sichen a day by Wang Shichong’s side to protect him; at least Xu Xingzhi ought to come to meet him.
Suddenly, Kou Zhong had a feeling that he was trapped in a tiger’s den.
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Xu Ziling arrived at the place where Bu Tianzhi was staying in Luoyang, and found that the people were gone, the place was empty; moreover, the inside of the house was a mess. It appeared that they were leaving in extreme haste.
The strangest thing was that there were no marking or secret sign as agreed, which was extremely unusual.
Xu Ziling sat down dejectedly in a corner of the main hall. He was wondering inwardly whether Bu Tianzhi’s departure was related to Wang Shichong. If it was, then Kou Zhong was in danger.
But he was still not too worried. Wang Shichong wanted to harm Kou Zhong, it was definitely not an easy matter.
While he was musing, suddenly he heard footsteps approaching.
Even with Xu Ziling’s usual cool composure, he could not stop his countenance from changing greatly. Because from the footsteps, he already recognized who the person was.
At the same time, he knew that Kou Zhong was indeed in a grave danger.
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Who was the person Wang Shichong dreaded the most right now? Before, it was obviously Li Mi.
But after Li Mi suffered crushing defeat, in this Central Earth central zone of the Yellow River basin, the Tang occupied Guanxi, Zheng occupied Henan, Xia occupied Hebei; they had become the three powers that stood like the three legs of a tripod [i.e. tripartite of balance of forces].
But for Wang Shichong, the Zheng Emperor, contention for hegemony over the world was still a distant matter. The most pressing business he had to attend to was to stabilize the interior, to consolidate the outcome of the war.
If Wang Shichong was able to personally orchestrated the military operation at Mount Mang, which resulted in Li Mi’s defeat, then the glory and prestige of the victory would belong to him, so that he did not need to have any misgivings to anybody.
But the fact was not like this at all.
Currently, Kou Zhong had, albeit inadvertently, established a sublime prestige within Wang Shichong’s army, as well as developed a close relationship with generals under Wang Shichong’s command. It would be strange indeed if he did not invoke Wang Shichong’s suspicion and jealousy.
Just by looking at how Wang Shichong bestowing high titles to his family and relatives, it was clear that he was a selfish and narrowminded person. And then there was precedence in Zhai Rang’s case. Naturally Wang Shichong did not wish for Kou Zhong to become another Li Mi.
On top of that, there was undoubtedly close relationship between Kou Zhong and Zhai Jiao. Anybody would be able to guess that Kou Zhong could potentially absorb Li Mi’s surrendering troops and defeated generals under his own banner. In which case, Wang Shichong would be in danger like he was raising a tiger.
One by one these thoughts crossed Kou Zhong’s mind. The more the thought, the more fearful he became.
The cavalcade galloped into the Imperial City, heading toward the Shangshu Mansion.
Why didn’t they go to the Imperial Palace? Even if Wang Shichong could not get out of bed, he could be carried to the Imperial Palace.
Wang Xuanying’s voice rang in his ears, “Why don’t Ziling Xiong come with Junshi to pay his respect to Fu Huang [father emperor]?”
His thoughts wandering far away, Kou Zhong replied perfunctorily, “He is like the floating clouds in the sky, with no interest to pay attention to earthly matters; even I cannot control him. Ay!”
The last sigh was for the developing situation that he had to face. Under this kind nasty situation, how could he contact Xu Xingzhi?
Shangshu Mansion appeared ahead. Its brightly illuminated main gate was like a beast opening its mouth, waiting for him, a tasty morsel, to enter and satisfy its hunger.
Kou Zhong was absolutely certain that once he stepped over the threshold, he would never be able to get out relying on his own power.
Kou Zhong reined his horse to stop, and was the first to dismount.
Myriads of thought flashed through his mind. The final conclusion was the thirty-sixth stratagem: if everything else fails, retreat.
Currently, he and Xu Ziling were recognized as world-class martial art masters. Wang Shichong, who was fully aware of what was true and what was false concerning them, knew that if he wanted to take the little life of either one of them, other than he had to have enough power, it also had to be under specific situation and special arrangement before he even had any chance of success.
And the main hall of this Shangshu Mansion happened to provide such a favorable place.
Wang Xuanying leaped down and landed on his left side, and spoke cheerfully, “Kou Junshi, please!”
Kou Zhong took a deep breath, and finally made the decision that was pivotal in nature to his destiny.
After breaking through the wall and coming out, before Xu Ziling had the chance to spring up from the ground, his left ankle tightened, because Yuchi Jingde’s Gui Zang [see Book 17 Chapter 12] Whip, which slid closed to the ground, so that it was very difficult to guard against, wrapped itself around his ankle tightly.
The tiny suction cups along the body of the whip wound around tightly on his skin and flesh.
If Xu Ziling had not seen Yuchi Jingde and Wang Bo’s battle, this moment he would have been trying with thousand ways, a hundred plans to shake off the loathsome entanglement of the Gui Zang Whip. But now, he was fully aware of the strange whip technique of this Heavenly Policy Mansion martial art master, with the changes that were impossible to guard against. He quietly thought that if he wanted to compete with the opponent in changes, he could forget about having his left foot intact.
Thereupon Xu Ziling let out a cold snort, his left foot planted firmly on the ground, like an iron panel his entire body changed from lying supine to become standing erect with both feet on the ground.
The Gui Zang Whip went taut like a ramrod, but Xu Ziling stayed perfectly still. The other end of the whip was held about three zhang away, in Yuchi Jingde’s hand, whose build was extremely bold and powerful, who lowered his waist in a horse stance. But the latter was actually shivering inwardly. The technique he launched just now was meant to drag Xu Ziling down to the ground first, and then he wanted to exploit the pulling force of the suction pads on the body of the whip to break his ankle. But unexpectedly Xu Ziling’s internal energy, ingeniously unleashed, sucked the body of the whip firmly, and thus his ankle locked the whip so that it could not be moved instead. This kind of strange move was completely beyond his expectation.
Sound of the wind sprang up everywhere.
Five shadows separately flew in from the roof and walls of the front and rear courtyards, Surrounding Xu Ziling in the middle.
Pang Yu, holding a four-chi long greenish-black awl stood on top of the wall. His sleeves fluttered in the night breeze, he looked extremely confident and at ease, but his eyes were sharper than a hawk, as from his high vantage point he ferociously stared at Xu Ziling, who seemed to be turning a blind eye to the besiege.
Zhangsun Wuji, who dressed in dark green Confucian scholar attire, with fair skin and delicate facial features, stood with his hands behind his back at approximately the same distance on the opposite side of Yuchi Jingde, with Xu Ziling right in the middle. There was a jade Xiao [vertically blown flute] stuck on his lower waist. He was carrying a down-to-earth demeanor, without the slightest bit of swords-drawn-and-bows-bent attitude, free and easy as he was visiting a fellow scholar.
But Xu Ziling did not underestimate him at all, because from his deep-pool, pavilion-and-high-mountain-peak bearing, he knew that his martial art skill could not be inferior to Yuchi Jingde.
The other three were the saber-wielding Luo Shixin, the spear-wielding Shi Wanbao, and the truncheon-wielding Liu Dewei, who spread in all direction, and thus sealing all escape paths Xu Ziling might take.
Xu Ziling fixed his gaze at the hole in the wall he created, and the debris of the mahogany chair scattered on the floor; he shouted in heavy voice, “May I venture to ask Shimin Xiong, assisting Wang Shichong to deal with Kou Zhong, besides Yang Xuyan, who are the others?”
※ ※ ※
Applying his internal energy, Kou Zhong let out an earth-shattering shout, “If Wang Gong is still giving a little consideration to the host and guest relationship, please come out to answer me!”
Wang Xuanying, Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu and the group of personal guards standing by his side were stunned; more than half immediately pressed their hands onto the hilt of their weapons as they backed off slightly and glared at him.
His voice travelled far and wide, resonated throughout the Imperial City.
The crow and peacock made no sound.
Song Mengqiu cleared his throat and signaled the others with his eyes that they would not rush indiscriminately into action. “Kou Junshi misunderstood!” he said to Kou Zhong, “Shengshang is still lying on the dragon bed to recuperate from his injury, hey …”
Sneering, Kou Zhong said, “Didn’t General Song tell me that Old Yi and Changlin Xiong are inside the Mansion? How come they did not utter a single word?”
Immediately Song Mengqiu was at a loss for words.
Kou Zhong exerted his authority without sparing anybody; letting out a long laugh, he said, “There is an old saying, ‘the birds are over, the bow it put away’. Humph!”
‘Clink! Clank!’ there were repeated sound of metal clashing against metal.
Wang Xuanying and the others did not wait for him to finish speaking, they already exposed the fox’s tail; one after another they drew their weapons.
With another long laugh Kou Zhong soared to the sky, prompting Song Mengqiu, Lang Feng and Wang Xuanying, three men to also soar in pursuit.
Countless archers showed themselves from the roof of the buildings nearby; immediately murderous aura filled the air, while battle cry shook the heavens.
Who would have thought that Kou Zhong only rose for two zhang, unexpectedly he changed breath mid-air, changed direction diagonally, and flew toward the steps of the Shangshu Mansion?
This move was a big, big surprise to everybody, and who among the pursuers had the ability to change his breathing midair like him? They all went to far and rose two more zhang up into the air, so that the several hundred archers hiding on the roof refrained from shooting at the rat for fear of breaking the vases, nobody dared to release the arrow.
Before even landed on the ground, Kou Zhong already pulled the Moon in the Well.
Over a dozen Wang Shichong’s personal guards, like wolves and tigers, charged toward him; it looked like very soon Kou Zhong would be caught in chaotic warfare.
Kou Zhong knew that if he was held up by these personal guards even for a while, he would fall into siege by hundreds, even thousands Wang Army’s troops. And if that happened, even Ning Daoqi would be hard pressed to escape the misfortune of fighting to the death. With a loud roar, his body following his saber, he charged into the enemy’s formation.
The Moon in the Well turned into cold ray protecting his body. The two personal guards at the front blocking his way were immediately thrown sideways and fell to the ground.
Another man, along with his sword, was hacked that he flew backward and fell. After consecutively knocking two more personal guards, he rolled down the steps.
By this moment, from the bottom of the steps, amidst the shouting and yelling, the saber flashes and sword shadows, the enemy was swarming up the steps like a tidal wave. Momentarily he could not see clearly just how many the enemies were.
Kou Zhong did not dare to jump high; suddenly he flew sideways, avoiding more than a dozen enemy charging at him, rushing along the Shangshu Mansion toward the east, to the closest Xuanren Gate, while murderous intent filled his breast.
One after another the enemy came to intercept him.
Kou Zhong was well aware than Xuanren Gate must be swarming with massive military force and martial art masters, so heading that way was actually his ruse to confuse the enemy.
Actually, if all the gates of the entire Luoyang, a capital city consisted of the Imperial Palace and the Imperial City, were closed, and the city walls, which were several zhang high, were covered with archers, even if he grew wings like a bird, it would still be difficult to cross over; the security was that right.
Fortunately, inside the city, there were high buildings everywhere. Although the upper floors were surrounded by high walls on all sides, but all the walls always had a portal, with the balconies usually linked together, so that it would be a very good place to play hide-and-seek.
Wang Shichong was a man who loved to put on a good face, so he did not want Kou Zhong assassination, this kind of scandal, to be spread outside; therefore, he wanted to lure Kou Zhong into the Shangshu Mansion to be killed there, to prevent Kou Zhong’s blood from staining his Palace City.
Kou Zhong estimated that as long as he was able to escape out of the Shangshu Mansion limit, Wang Shichong’s ambushing power would be weakened considerably, hence Kou Zhong would have a hope of escaping alive.
Kou Zhong changed direction again; he went around toward the back of the Shangshu Mansion, and darted toward the stable [orig. Taipusi, court of imperial stud; office originally charged with horse breeding] and the workers’ quarters. Crossing over these two magnificent structures, he came across a row of Dalisi [judicial officers’ office], Zongzhengsi [directorate of the imperial clan], Waterworks Supervisor office, and the Commandant of Guards office [these last two were part of Nine Ministers of the Imperial China], which stood side-by-side, and connected to the Hanjia Gate and the Deyou Gate, which was the Imperial City’s north exit.
On both sides were high city wall reaching more than ten zhang. This moment, amidst the sound of bugle horn, a team of more than a hundred armored soldiers charged out of the back of Shangshu Mansion straight toward him. While above the wall there were shadows of enemy soldiers everywhere.
To break his way over the wall was practically out of question. If there were no enemies on the wall, relying on his skill of taking a breath midair, he might be able to do, albeit with difficulty. But under the enemies’ merciless lance, spear, arrow and dart, jumping up would be tantamount of throwing his life away.
His only choice was through the other five exits leading out of the city.
First was through either Xuanren Gate or Dong Taiyang [East Sun] Gate, which were connected to the east-west major road in front of the Shangshu Mansion.
The Xuanren Gate was the east exit out of the Imperial City. Just now he already tried and this road ought to be closed, so he could forget about it. The Dong Taiyang Gate was the road leading into the Palace City.
Chengfu Gate was the south Imperial City exit of the Shangshu Mansion. Unless he was willing to turn around and throw himself into the embrace of Shangshu Mansion’s main force, he would not need to spend any effort to break through it.
The remaining choice was the Hanjia Gate and Deyou Gate, these two layers of gate at the front.
Between the two gates, there were the Hanjia Granary, Zhuanchu Rice Grain storehouse, and other things. Kou Zhong has been involved in the hostilities against the Palace City in the past, so he knew the Capital City situation like the back of his hand. It’s just that he never expected that in the end he would use this knowledge to run for his life!
Saber flashes flickered continuously, two sabers hacked down on him from left and right, the power was adequate; obviously these two were the best and brightest among the personal guards within the Wang Army.
As soon as he saw the saber momentum, he knew that if he charged forward to meet the attack head on, the enemy troops would arrive, and then he would be besieged in the middle again.
The biggest advantage he was able to maintain until now was denying the enemies any opportunity to entangle him, instead, he took the enemy going around in circle, to make use of the Imperial City’s terrain to run this way and that, in order to confuse the enemy.
Once he lost this advantage, it would be the end of Kou Zhong.
The Moon in the Well parried left and right in succession, while at the same time he retreated swiftly.
As soon as the two attackers’ sabers met Kou Zhong’s, they screamed because they were hit by the spiraling energy, like a windmill they spun away; not only their mouth spurting fresh blood, their companions behind them did not have time to dodge that they all were hit and fell to the ground while groaning in pain. It was as if they were hit directly by Kou Zhong’s spiraling energy.
The more than a dozen enemies intercepting him with torrential momentum were immediately utterly defeated.
Kou Zhong was also overcome with lost of strength.
Although the two saber strikes ingeniously sent out the spiraling energy to pierce through the opponents’ body, it also cost him considerable true energy that he was unable to follow up the victory by pressing home the attack, and was unable to force his way into the enemy ranks toward the Hanjia and Deyou, two layers of gates on the city wall ahead.
But he was already extremely satisfied.
Suddenly traversing seven zhang, he evaded the violent-tidal-wave-like more than a hundred enemies streaming out of the Shangshu Mansion behind him.
He decided to abandon his plan to charge ahead.
Because in order to reach the two-layer outside gate, he still needed to pass through the Taipusi, the worker supervisor office, and others, six buildings in total.
Since Wang Shichong already planning the scheme to kill him, it was only natural that he would prepare ambushing troops in those buildings, waiting for him to walk right into the trap.
The only way out with his life was to enter the Imperial Palace, where he then could exploit all kinds of situation to open up opportunities for him to escape.
Letting out a long whistle, Kou Zhong soared in an angle toward the city wall separating the Imperial City with the inner Imperial Palace.
Darts and arrows split the air.
Kou Zhong changed the direction of his true qi from slanting up to slanting down, so that the several dozen powerful arrows flitted across overhead, while he threw himself to the bottom of the city wall, and then, staying close to the wall he bolted in the direction of the Shangshu Mansion.
Like a bolt of cloth the enemy rolled down on him.
Hundreds of torches and lanterns shining down their light from the top of the wall and all around the Shangshu Mansion. Sabers, swords, spears, halberds and body armors and shields flickered brightly under the light. The Imperial City suddenly turned into Asura [malevolent spirit in Indian mythology] hell of bloody battle.
Kou Zhong sped up constantly. Staying close to the wall he shot toward the Dong Taiyang Gate, the only gate leading into the Imperial Palace.
He did not care anymore how many people he would have to kill, but he had to kill his way toward the Dong Taiyang Gate. Even if Ning Daoqi came in person, he would not be able to stop Kou Zhong.