Book 18 Chapter 3 – One Move Behind in the Game
Wang Shichong was about to launch sneak attack from behind. Who would have thought that Huang Gongcuo flashed away, and Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well was shooting at lightning speed toward him? Not enough time to evade, he let out a cold snort, and raised his sword to block.
Wang Shichong’s entire body was jolted by the heavy, powerful-internal-energy infused Moon in the Well that he staggered three steps back; not only his plan to attack sneakily became an empty dream, he also suffered a sharp pain on his palm. Only then did he understand that not only Huang Gongcuo did not neutralize Kou Zhong’s original power, he even added his own true qi into the saber, so that it became like the two men were working together to attack Wang Shichong, rendering him unable to attack the enemy.
Ke Feng’s palm struck Xu Ziling’s back; he even spoke grimly, “Shichong Xiong, you fell into the trap!”
Xu Ziling, like a kite with cut string, immediately staggered toward Huang Gongcuo.
In term of using the true qi within his body, Xu Ziling has become an expert. Knowing perfectly well that Ke Feng might use this one-in-a-thousand opportunity to plot against him, of course he would not come to him willingly. His only concern was that the opponent might use sharp weapon.
By the time Ke Feng’s destroying-heart, splitting-the-lung palm power entered his back, Xu Ziling already had his true qi condensed onto his back, spiraling continuously. The instant the enemy’s qi invaded his body, without releasing the least bit of opposing force, he used his true qi to contain the enemy’s power, and sent it toward his yongquan acupoint, and discharged it to the ground.
The bluestone bricks paving the road became the silent victims; in the wake of his steps, the stone continuously cracked and shattered to pieces. Luckily under cover of darkness, the two major enemies’ attention was focused on this fake Wang Shichong’s body, so that even Huang Gongcuo did not realize that he was fooling them.
Xu Ziling suddenly jumped.
Huang Gongcuo had never imagined that after suffering repeated blows, the opponent still had this kind of strength left. Retracting his left hand, and changed his right hand from palm to fist, he lowered his waist to assume the horse stance, and sent out a punch over the empty air.
Xu Ziling met the punch head-on; he was thrown up, and this time spurted a mouthful of fresh blood for real, his five viscera turned upside down, his meridian felt like it was going to split.
As if he suddenly appeared from the dark, Kou Zhong flew over to catch Xu Ziling and held him tight, and then bringing him to the roadside, his toes tapped a big tree, before Huang Gongcuo, who was leaping toward them, arrived, he already flew in the opposite direction.
Huang Gongcuo thundered, “Success!”
All the assassins, including Ke Feng, immediately withdrew.
The entire assassination process only took several blinks of an eye; fast like a sudden clap of thunder, swift like the storm blowing dry leaves.
※ ※ ※
The lanterns were lit up, the dead and injured, men and horses, scattered everywhere on the ground; it was a field after disaster.
Holding Xu Ziling in his arms, Kou Zhong landed by the destroyed carriage. Wang Shichong, Ouyang Xiyi, Linglong Jiao, Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, Chen Changlin, and the others came over and crowded around them.
Xu Ziling was still in Kou Zhong’s arms, quietly treating his injury.
Kou Zhong shouted, “Summon help immediately, rescuing people is urgent!”
Emergency fire arrow soared to the sky, and exploded in the air into blood red flower of fire.
The wind blew and rocked the leaves, heavy rain was imminent, the lanterns swaying, the shadows dancing.
Squatting by Xu Ziling, Ouyang Xiyi asked in consternation, “How’s your injury?”
It was only this moment that Chen Changlin and the others found out that this Wang Shichong was a fake; their confidence returned.
The other fake Wang Shichong was being helped by two bodyguards from a pile of carriage seats; his legs did not stop shaking.
Still having lingering fears, Xu Ziling said, “Huang Gongcuo is indeed formidable; he nearly took my little life.”
The real Wang Shichong spoke in delight, “This is a success! We’ll go back to the Imperial City immediately.”
Mission accomplished, Kou Zhong stooped down to pick up Xu Ziling; he said, “Wanggong’s injury is serious, we must go back to the Imperial City immediately, leave the dead and injured here for the time being, other … oh …”
Everybody else also felt the alarm, but it was already too late to react.
One of the wounded people, who was originally lying face down on the ground, unexpectedly sprang up and then with a ghost or demon speed shenfa, flashed toward Wang Shichong, who was still wearing a mask, and launched a violent punch on his back.
Definitely this person’s skill could not be inferior to Huang Gongcuo.
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong blurted out together, “Li Mi!”
Wang Shichong did not even have time to evade; all he could do was to gather his internal energy onto his back.
Wang Shichong violently spurted fresh blood. By the time his body stumbled forward, Li Mi already let out an ear-splitting wild laughter and soared into the air. With his deep and resounding, yet gentle voice, he said, “Shichong Xiong, take a good care of yourself.”
Because this matter happened so suddenly, a fast-change-of-scene-growing-without-restraint kind of thing, plus it was a case of pretense that turned into reality, a change of mood from delight to grief, which was difficult to accept, everybody could only watch Li Mi’s long hair fluttered in the breeze, his god-like stalwart build entered the dark sky where the lantern light could not reach, as if they were nailed down to the ground, in a nightmare from which they would never wake up.
Xu Ziling was the first to spring up from Kou Zhong’s arms, to grab Wang Shichong’s body, which was falling down to the ground, while ignoring the fresh blood spurted out wildly from Wang Shichong’s mouth splashing onto his head and face. Using the sacred-healing qi from the ‘Secret to Long Life’, first he protected his own heart and meridians, and then transmitted the qi from its source into Wang Shichong’s channels, who, by this time, did not have the least bit of color on his face.
Kou Zhong also reached out to press his hand on Wang Shichong’s back; shaken, he said, “Ren En and the others were murdered by Li Mi.”
Only Xu Ziling understood what Kou Zhong was saying; from Wang Shichong’s current injury from Li Mi’s punch, he recognized that the fatal injury Ren En and the others suffered came from the hand of the same person.
Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu were bound with father-son love with Wang Shichong; they threw themselves on him and wailed with a calling-out-to-heaven-and-scrambling-toward-the-earth cry, “Die!”
Ouyang Xiyi tried to stop the two, while he himself called out, “Shichong Xiong!”
With the two transmitting their true qi into his system, Wang Shichong opened his eyes slightly and spoke with difficulty, “I am not dead yet!”
Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “We must flee to the Imperial City immediately, and then we’ll go all out to attack the Imperial Palace. Dugu Feng [peak] won’t be able to move a single step.”
The heavy rain, which had stopped for a half of the day, started to descend to the mortal world again.
Wang Xuanying spoke in trembling voice, “Die is heavily injured, we’d better leave town immediately. Let’s flee to Yanshi for some time until Die …”
Wang Shichong coughed violently, while spitting out blood constantly. It was quite some time later that he said, “Go back to the Imperial City. Listen to Kou Zhong’s order.”
Finished speaking, he closed his eyes and no longer said anything.
Everybody felt as if they had just fallen into an icehouse; their heart sank, they did not eve feel the rain falling down on their bodies.
Suddenly they heard the sound of hoof beats. Like a bird startled by the mere twang of a bow, everybody jumped in fright, before finding out that it was Yang Gongqing and his troops.
Carrying Wang Shichong in his arms, he barked at the fake Wang Shichong, “Still haven’t mounted your horse? This time you are really Shangshu Daren!”
With Wang Shichong in his arms, he leaped onto a horse nearby and led the cavalcade galloping toward the Imperial City.
Nobody has ever imagined that this beating-somebody-at-their-own-game tactic backfired; it failed through lack of a final effort, and fell into a pretense-that-turns-into-reality sad end.
※ ※ ※
Battle cry around the Imperial City and Imperial Palace shook the heavens. The beating of the drums and the whistling of arrows continued all through the night. Wang Shichong’s troops braved the rain and gave serious opposition. The battle continued till dawn, with both sides suffered heavy casualties. However, since Wang Shichong’s side had the strength advantage, plus they already had sufficient preparation in facing siege tactics, it could be said that Wang Shichong’s side still came out better.
Their body weary, their strength depleted, Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Yang Gongqing, three men, returned to the tightly-guarded Shangshu Mansion. Ouyang Xiyi, Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, Linglong Jiao, Wang Honglie, Wang Xingben, Chen Changlin, and the others congregated in the main hall; everybody appeared dispirited, with worried frown on their faces.
Chapter 3 - Part 2
Ysabel, Jaya, HPC, Lao Qianbei, you are welcome. Xiaohu, Sky, yes. I am at CDG (Paris), waiting for my flight back home. So, after this, hopefully posting schedule will be back to normal.
Ouyang Xiyi was the most cool-headed; rising to his full height, he asked, “How’s the situation?”
Letting out a cold snort, Yang Gongqing said, “I guarantee that within ten days we will be able to break through the Imperial Palace; we’ll kill Yang Dong until not a single chicken and dog remains.” And then he asked in low voice, “How’s Daren‘s condition?”
Wang Xuanshu replied in low voice, “Die is still unconscious, but his life is not in danger.”
Wang Xuanying asked nervously, “Why did we stop attacking the city?”
Yang Gongqing shot a glance toward Kou Zhong before responding, “This is Kou Xiongdi’s idea. This moment we need to show our weakness to the enemy, or Li Mi won’t fall into the trap by raising his army to attack Luoyang.”
Immediately Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, Wang Honglie, and Wang Xingben’s countenance changed.
Aghast, Wang Xuanying spoke hoarsely, “Do we still need to show our weakness to the enemy right now?” And then he pointed his finger like a halberd to Kou Zhong and said, “Die has gotten into this situation, everything is of your doings. Now we must break through the Imperial Palace immediately and take control over the whole city; otherwise we all will die without burial ground.”
Frowning, Ouyang Xiyi said, “Ying Xianzhi [virtuous nephew], calm down a little bit. Victory or defeat is common in military operations. As long as Shichong Xiong is alive, we can’t be considered failed and wiped over the floor.”
Wang Xuanshu also told his older brother, “Die told us to listen to Kou Dage!”
Yang Gongqing came over to Wang Xuanying and put his arm around his shoulders; he consoled him, “Kou Xiongdi’s tactic is actually in accordance with the Art of War’s strategy of emptiness within solid, and solid within emptiness. The only way we can turn defeat into victory right now is to stabilize the troops’ morale with that counterfeit goods, while at the same time following our original plan of luring Li Mi to attack; otherwise, there is no other strategy to turn the tide.”
Wang Xuanying was still breathing hard, but he no longer said anything.
Kou Zhong spoke seriously, “We’ll hand over Luoyang City to Lang Feng and Song Mengqiu, two generals’ control. Xuanying Xiong and the others stay behind to take care of the Imperial City. As for Wanggong’s safety, I will have to trouble Xiyi Gong and Changlin Xiong.”
Stunned, Wang Honglie asked, “Where are you, two gentlemen, going?”
Yang Gongqing solemnly said, “Tonight we’ll secretly take the impersonator out of town to Yanshi. In the show-down against Li Mi, if we are defeated, you must take Shangshu Daren that far!”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling slipped away into an empty hall and sat down dejectedly.
Kou Zhong appeared to be both mentally and physically exhausted. Smiling wryly, he said, “We are still one move behind in this game; we lost under Li Mi, that crafty ghost’s hands. Actually there is already a precedent to this matter; when Li Mi plotted against Zhai Rang in the past, he disguised himself as a corpse. This time he simply repeated this trick!”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Our thorough thought was not precise enough; such an important matter, how could Li Mi not make his move personally? Besides, even if we knew that Li Mi would be personally involved, it doesn’t mean that we were going to find his trace. When Shen Luoyan assassinated Dugu Ba that day, I am sure there was another martial art master nearby, ready to provide assistance. And this person must be so superior that Ol’ Ba and me did not even detect his presence. Perhaps it was Li Mi himself.”
Kou Zhong hatefully punched his chair and blamed himself, “Li Mi personally massacred Qingshe Bang people, he actually already exposed a flaw, and we were still stupid enough to think that only Huang Gongcuo would do it. Let me ask you: how could Shen Luoyan be able to move Huang Gongcuo to do this kind of killing-chicken-using-butcher-knife-to-slaughter-a-cow matter? It was because Li Mi hated us to the bones that he troubled himself to be the assassin.”
Xu Ziling coldly said, “Ren En Bangzhu and his brothers’ debt of blood, I will definitely have Li Mi pay for it.”
Kou Zhong sat his tiger-body straight; he nodded and said, “Other than Yuwen Huaji, Li Mi has become the crafty scoundrel we, the two brothers, want to eliminate the most. Humph! Although Li Mi could be considered full of schemes, he still underestimated that our sacred healing qi from the ‘Secret to Long Life’ combined with the ‘Jade Annulus of He Clan’ unexpectedly could save Wang Shichong’s life. As long as he is not dead, but Li Mi believed him to be dead, we still have a chance to turn defeat into victory.”
Xu Ziling smiled ruefully and said, “Right now I am afraid the rumors are flying everywhere; if the troops’ morale is shaken, without even fighting, we will lose this battle in a very bad way.”
Kou Zhong said, “Present situation is a bit similar to the battle of Jingling that day, the difference is that Wang Shichong is still alive. Fortunately I still have Zhai Jiao, this strong card up my sleeve. Wang Shichong and his group of great generals know that they must rely on me to gain victory.”
They heard the sound of footsteps; the two boys stopped talking.
Xu Xingzhi pushed the door and entered in. He sat down by Kou Zhong’s side and spoke in a low voice, “Just now, Wang Xuanying quarreled with Yang Gongqing, Lang Feng and Ouyang Xiyi, three men; he said that Kou Ye’s revealing-weakness-to-the-enemy tactic already caused his Die to sustain serious injury; therefore, they must not let you act at will. His proponents were Lang Feng, Wang Honglie and Wang Xingben. Opposing him was Wang Xuanshu, who said that Wang Shichong has personally instructed them to obey Kou Ye’s order.”
Kou Zhong revealed an ‘I knew it!’ expression; he said, “A fool will always be a fool, they will never change. This matter is not hard to resolve. As soon as Wang Shichong wakes up, this old fox is formidable in considering pros and cons, he will definitely choose the most advantageous choice.”
Xu Xingzhi said, “But currently we have a serious crisis that is difficult to resolve.”
The two boys jumped in fright, “What crisis?” they spoke in chorus.
Xu Xingzhi appeared to be deep in thought; he said, “If I were Dugu Feng, I would spread the news far and wide that Wang Shichong was ambushed and died, while at the same time secretly instructed Luoyang’s industry and commerce leaders with connection to them pay their respect and come to inquire Wang Shichong’s condition. When that happens, they can’t refuse them, but they can’t accept them even more; how would they deal with it?”
The two boys had never considered this aspect; both showed deep wrinkled on their foreheads.
Currently, their best advantage was hoping that Li Mi thought Wang Shichong was dead, and it was his body double that came out to keep up appearances, and led the troops to the west, hence Li Mi would make his move to attack Luoyang City.
If upon receiving the news, the leaders from all walks of life in Luoyang came over, in less than three sentences, the opponent would have discovered the flaw in this poor-quality counterfeit goods, and then they would be convinced that Wang Shichong had really died. Once the news spread, Wang Shichong’s main army and his generals would collapse without a fight; worse yet, they might shift their support to Yang Dong and Dugu Feng’s side. Once the Eastern Capital was lost, they would lose their supporting force as well, and would sink deeper into inferior condition where they would have to face the enemy on both fronts. It would be a world-class fantasy indeed if they did not get wiped out completely.
If they pleaded illness, the consequences would be the same. Dugu Feng would most probably make a big deal about pointing out that the strolling-around ‘Wang Shichong’ was an impostor. To those with discerning eyes, naturally it would be very easy to tell genuine or fake.
This was definitely a knotty problem.
How could they get the best of both worlds, i.e. stabilize the troops’ morale, but also showed weakness to the enemy?
The two boys were already weary; this extra problem only increased their headache.
Xu Xingzhi spoke heavily, “If we can accomplish one thing, Xingzhi can think of one-stone-three-birds way.”
The two boys’ spirit was greatly aroused; one-stone-two-birds was already ideal, much less three birds?
“What do you want us to do?” Xu Ziling asked.
Xu Xingzhi said, “If we can make Wang Shichong sit up straight for more than a quarter of an hour, my stratagem will work.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in disappointment. The former smiled bitterly and said, “If I can transfer an endless stream of true qi into his body, I guarantee that he will look like he is completely fine, simply because his eight extraordinary channels will be unimpeded. But I can’t press my palm on his back all the time he is receiving guests; it will only be trying to be clever but end up with an egg on our face.”
Greatly delighted, Xu Xingzhi said, “That will work; leave it to me. We will divide the guests into three batches. The first batch will be his subordinates of aids and advisors to top official level and above; let them know that this is simply a tactic to lure the enemy, although he is injured, but it was nothing serious. The second batch will be important figures of the City of Luoyang who are coming to pay their respect; let them continue to take a wait-and-see stance. Receiving these two batches should not take more than a quarter of an hour; it would not easily reveal the cloven foot.”
“As for the third batch,” he went on, “This would be other idle people. Let the fake goods pretend injury by receiving the guests simply by waving his hand, nodding, saying something like ‘thank you for your concern’. That would be enough.”
The two boys were still baffled, but since they knew that Xu Xingzhi’s wisdom surpassed ordinary men, they were quite hopeful.
Xu Ziling said, “At most we can only obtain two objectives: stabilizing the troops’ and the citizens’ morale. What is the third?”
Full of confidence, Xu Xingzhi said, “The so-called empty is solid, solid is empty; Shichong is not hiding in a quiet room recuperating from the injury, but forcing himself to get out and receive the visitors instead, surely he knew returning-the-soul-recovering-the-weary method; hence forcing himself to see the guests will play its role in stabilizing the people’s heart. Furthermore, receiving visitors for a long period of time like this may add injury to injury. It would be strange indeed if Li Mi does not immediately lead his troops to the west.”
The two boys slapped the table and shouted with praise.
By the time Xu Xingzhi finished explaining the details of this operation clearly, Kou Zhong exerted himself to stand up; he said, “We are saved! Even if Wuhou [Marquis of Wu, i.e. Zhuge Liang] came back to life, perhaps he could only come up with similar plan.”