Book 19 Chapter 6 – Hostage Exchange
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong crouched on the roof of the multi-story building. After pricking up their ears and listening carefully to make sure that there was nobody inside the building, they craned their neck to look at the target building about thirty zhang away from the roof ridge. The two buildings were separated by a pond, a brook, complete with a small bridge across it, and a pathway paved with bluestone slabs.
On the semi-corridor circling the main hall, there were octagonal palace lanterns hanging every ten steps or so, illuminating the outside wall of the main hall, giving it the illusion that the wall was translucent. Worst yet, there were light towers on all four corners of the building, which, combined with the lanterns on the semi-corridor, provided bright illumination on the surrounding area.
After analyzing the situation, Kou Zhong said, “We have to jump at least ten zhang above the top of the building to avoid the light tower casting its light on us and creating shadow on the wall. Are you still that confident?”
Before Xu Ziling could answer, voices and footsteps were heard.
The two boys prompt ducked down, while looking at the source of the noise.
They saw a group of people walking along the corridor on the other side of the building toward the main hall. The two at the front were surprisingly Rong Fengxiang and Lang Feng. The rest were important people of Luoyang [orig. with head, with face], whom they have met during the birthday celebration.
The two were greatly disappointed. Could it be that the one riding the carriage earlier was Lang Feng? Although he usually rode a horse, if he wanted to avoid people’s eyes and ears, riding a carriage was not out of question at all.
They looked on helplessly as one after another the other side entered the main hall; dejected as if they already failed.
With rueful smile Kou Zhong said, “What should we do? I am afraid grabbing Lang Feng won’t have much of an effect. Nobody knows Wang Shichong better than I do.”
“Don’t you want to listen to them?” Xu Ziling asked in heavy voice.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “I doubt there is anything good to listen to. It will be nothing more than government officials colluding with businessmen, dividing up the profits, while the ones suffering hardship will always be the common people. Huh?”
Sound of people talking and laughing floated by from behind.
The two turned their heads to look, another group of people, with four lantern-bearing warriors leading the way, was walking leisurely along the gravel path cutting through the yard toward the building the two boys were hiding.
The most eye-catching was naturally the lovely scene of blossoming plants swaying in the breeze, Rong Jiaojiao; but the one attracting their attention the most, even more, the one making the two boys pleased beyond their expectation, was Wang Xuanying, who was walking intimately by her side.
Indeed it was the best alternative countless times better than Dong Shuni.
The group of warriors, who were escorting the carriage earlier, were lagging several steps behind; everybody looked perfectly relaxed, obviously no one would expect the enemy to hide in the Rong Mansion, waiting for them.
The two boys exchanged glances; with tacit understanding they both knew what to do. Pulling down their masks, they exposed their true identity.
The target was getting closer.
They heard Wang Xuanying said, “Presently one after another Li Mi’s men are surrendering to Fu Huang [father emperor], making him even more losing momentum, lacking strength. If we take over Heyang, Li Mi won’t even have a place to escape anymore, ha!”
The two boys silently gathered their energy, ready to strike.
Since Wang Shichong selected this group of warriors to protect his treasured son, they must have real skill. Once they struck and failed, they would be in very big trouble.
Kou Zhong signaled with his hand, telling Xu Ziling that he would capture Wang Xuanying, while Xu Ziling would deal with the rest of them.
Down below, Rong Jiaojiao’s warbling voice twittered coyly, “This time you dealt big blow on Li Mi, puncturing his triumph-in-every-battle legend, smashing his formidable renown that gave him authority over the whole country. Jiaojiao does not know how to express my happiness for you!”
So pleased as he seemed to lose his sense of measure, Wang Xuanying laughed aloud and said, “It was entirely due to Fu Huang’s faking-injury-to-lure-the-enemy tactic, which was executed properly!”
Listening to him, Kou Zhong was burning with rage. This moment Wang Xuanying was about four zhang away from the main entrance of the building, the exact position most beneficial to their surprise attack. Two palms pressed against the surface of the roof, his entire body slid down the back of inverted V-shaped roof, and shot like an arrow toward Wang Xuanying. He applied his internal strength to control the fluttering of his clothes, so that like a vicious fish attacking its prey in the deep sea, without creating any noise, he dove on his target down below.
Xu Ziling made his move simultaneously; soaring to the sky, he made three somersaults consecutively close behind Kou Zhong to pounce on the enemy.
While Kou Zhong was about two zhang above, and at an angle from, Wang Xuanying, the first to react to the two boys’ unexpected attack was surprisingly not Wang Xuanying, or any one of the martial art masters protecting him, but Rong Jiaojiao.
She raised her pretty face up, and as soon as she saw Kou Zhong, her pair of beautiful eyes lit up with strange light, while like magic, a sword appeared in her hand and created a flash of sword light to meet Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well head on. Her reaction was fast, her sword move was ruthless and well-trained. Even with his level of skill, Kou Zhong was still at a loss of what to do, since her action has upset the overall situation.
It was only then did Wang Xuanying and the group of martial art masters of the imperial bodyguards realize that there were assassins dropping down from the sky. Not only that, the assassins were two top masters of the new generation. Shocked, they hastily drew their weapons while whistling a warning, urgently summoning martial art masters of the Rong Mansion to come to their aid.
Facing Rong Jiaojiao’s bright flash of sword qi dashing up to the sky, Kou Zhong was so mad that he felt like killing himself.
It should be noted that the window of opportunity to kidnap Wang Xuanying was extremely narrow; if Rong Jiaojiao managed to hold him, even for only the blink of an eye, the entire situation would be reversed. They might end up fleeing for the lives in panic, or else they would regret of coming to this place, this moment.
Forget about provoking martial art masters like Yang Xuyan, if Rong Fengxiang and Lang Feng in the other building rushed out, they would not get the desired outcome.
But Rong Jiaojiao’s astonishing accuracy, timing and speed as she intercepted him midair was enough to make him unable to change his move, so he could only meet it head on. This was a fact that was difficult to change.
Wang Xuanying has already started to run to the side, while the expert personal guards were closing in to protect him. For a short while saber’s light and sword’s shadow flashed, battle cry filled the sky.
The moment it seemed like their enterprise would be ruined for the sake of a basketful, Xu Ziling, who started later but arrived sooner, flashed past Kou Zhong. His head down his feet up, both palms pressed on the ground, he charged into Rong Jiaojiao’s sword net.
As he and Kou Zhong brushed past each other, Xu Ziling backhandedly pushed Kou Zhong.
Originally Kou Zhong could not alter his momentum, but with Xu Ziling’s push, he somersaulted, the Moon in the Well hacked down on Wang Xuanying’s head and face, who, by this time, was running away.
Cold, swift and severe spiraling saber power completely enshrouded Wang Xuanying, forcing him to stop dead on his track, while brandishing his sword to block.
Rong Jiaojiao cried out tenderly, as Xu Ziling’s left and right palm slammed onto the blade of her sword in succession, and violent spiraling energy entered the left part of her body before circling to the right, jolting her that her meridians were nearly thrown into disorder. Shocked, she flew sideways to evade, and thus lost the opportunity to rescue Wang Xuanying.
Xu Ziling was shocked as well.
Until today, anybody who met his spiraling energy for the first time had never been able to produce qi power of their own; everybody would suffer a little bit.
Moreover, he was using left and right hand in sequence to ingeniously reverse the flow of his true qi. Based on his calculation, she would have to dispose her weapon. Who would have thought that not only it did not happen as he expected, she was also able to exploit the reaction force to evade sideways? From this, it was obvious how brilliant her martial art skill was.
If the daughter was like this, the father must also be like this. Rong Fengxiang was indeed not a simple character.
Wang Xuanying struck the Moon in the Well with all his strength, but instead of clear ring of metal striking against each other, the sound was as dull as if he was striking leather; without producing reaction force at all.
Immediately Wang Xuanying’s soul flew away and scattered. No matter how he looked at it, Kou Zhong’s saber was full of strength; who would have thought that it looked impressive but actually worthless? The chop was floating and fluttering without any strength at all.
This feeling of using the wrong force was as uncomfortable as exerting one’s strength trying to lift a heavy-looking object, only to find that it was as light as a feather.
Wang Xuanying groaned miserably as he forcefully held his sword back, and nearly threw up blood.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Xuanying Xiong has fallen into the trap!”
The Moon in the Well immediately changed from being powerless to be powerful, as it violently struck Wang Xuanying’s sword on its way of being withdrawn.
Finally Wang Xuanying could not stop spraying out a mouthful of fresh blood, his long sword flew out of his hand, and he dropped down on the ground with a loud thump.
Kou Zhong quickly pressed his palm on the top of Wang Xuanying’s head, and shouted, “Everybody back off!”
Overwhelmed with shock, the guards halted.
Xu Ziling landed by Kou Zhong’s side.
Kou Zhong could hear fluttering noise suddenly rang out from the direction of the main hall; he knew that Rong Fengxiang and the others were heading this way at full speed. Quickly he picked up Wang Xuanying, whose acupoint has been sealed, in his arms and together with Xu Ziling he soared into the air while shouting, “Tonight, third watch of the night, tell Wang Shichong to bring Xu Xingzi to the Tianjian Bridge for an exchange! You dare to pursue me, I’ll kill his treasured son. Ha!”
Amidst his laughter, Kou Zhong, with Wang Xuanying in his arms, and Xu Ziling disappeared into the distance.
※ ※ ※
On top of the bell tower.
Kou Zhong slapped Wang Xuanying’s acupoint, and said cheerfully, “Xuanying Gongzi, how are you?”
It was half a day later that Wang Xuanying regained his composure. “What do you want?” he said hatefully.
Kou Zhong responded indifferently, “If Gongzi does not wish to suffer, it would be best if you answer my questions. Ay! I am a highly suspicious person; if I catch slight hesitation in your answer, I will consider you are babbling nonsense, perhaps for every nonsense I will take away one emperor offspring’s finger? After ten lies, Gongzi will only able to caress a woman with your toes! After twenty times, even your toes will be gone.”
His countenance changed, Wang Xuanying said, “How could you do that? Die will never let you off.”
This kind of showing-strength-while-weak-inside nonsense only put his mediocre and cowardly character in full display. Even Xu Ziling, who was sitting with his back against the wall on the other side, showed disdain. Inwardly he cursed, ‘How could there be such a useless character?’.
Kou Zhong spoke with astonishment, “Who do you think your Die is? If I was scared of him, you, this kid would not have to sit here with face alternating between blue and white. Enough chitchat. Remember, there must be an answer for every question. One slow answer, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Have you ever heard of me being a man who go back on my word like your Die?”
“Just kill me!” Wang Xuanying dejectedly said.
Kou Zhong drew his dagger. Pressing the tip against Wang Xuanying’s chin, he said, “You want to say anything else?”
Wang Xuanying’s entire body trembled; in the end he broke down and surrender, “Ask away!” he hurriedly said.
Xu Ziling did not want to watch; he moved over to the other side of the bell tower.
The moon and the stars displayed their splendor in the sky, the night breeze was gently blowing.
Luoyang was calm, most people were already sleeping peacefully, only sparse dots of lanterns remained.
It was quite a while later that Kou Zhong came to his side and, copying Xu Ziling, also sat with his back against the wall. He said, “Both father and son are worthless nobodies, only Wang Xuanshu is a decent individual.”
“Did you learn anything about Mr. Xu?” Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “He is really locked up by his dad. Li kid guessed that we would return to Luoyang for Xu Xingzhi, hence he deduced his importance to us. Xu Xingzhi made the mistake of revealing his intelligence, we made the mistake of failing to guess that Wang Shichong would act so quickly.”
“What else did you get from him?” Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong said, “After his mission accomplished Yi Lao [i.e. Ouyang Xiyi] retired and returned to the south. Chen Changlin was transferred to the city of Jinyong. His mother! I really want to kill this kid with a stab of my knife.”
Xu Ziling mused, “Later on leave this matter to me. Even if they want to play tricks on me, I am not afraid.”
Kou Zhong understood that Xu Ziling was worried that his injury might recur; he laughed and said, “How could I let you do that? If Li kid and Wang Shichong captured you and forced me to exchange, wouldn’t I have to submit obediently? As long as we have Wang Xuanying, this kid in our hands, I am not afraid Wang Shichong will not surrender. We are going together! I really wish I could see Wang Shichong’s expression right now.”
Without any choice Xu Ziling had to agree.
※ ※ ※
The two boys sat on a stolen boat. With Wang Xuanying in custody, they sped toward the Tianjin Bridge.
Wang Xuanying was lying on his back at the bottom of the boat, unconscious.
Xu Ziling sat at the stern, single-handedly sculling the boat. The water of the river responded with gentle rustling sound.
Both banks of the river were pitch black without a single speck of fire. Not a single boat was moored on the usually full of boats, big and small, river dikes. But the Tianjin Bridge was brightly lit, with shadows of people going back and forth.
Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, “Power takes its toll; we must take advantage of it. Ay! We are not used to be a thief; otherwise, after capturing people, how could we forget to extort some ransom? Or perhaps took the opportunity to strike Wang Shichong a big blow, let him suffer a little bit. If we raised the issue only now, it will make us appear lacking in poise too much. Ay!”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “This is the same as destitute heart has not been exhausted, greedy heart already arises. If we could leave this place safely with Mr. Xu, we ought to thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, yet you are still delusional.”
Looking at the Tianjin Bridge in the distance, Kou Zhong looked pensive; he said, “When I interrogated that kid Wang Xuanying, his eyes would roll two or three times with each answer; don’t you agree that something is not right? But I can’t find any flaws. If I had to torture him cruelly for no reason, Xiaodi simply cannot do that.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “I don’t care if he is telling the truth or if he is lying, we’ll exchange a man for a man. If something is not right, we’ll kill him and escape. If we are separated then we need to agree on where to meet. But where would be a good place to meet?”
Kou Zhong proposed, “If inside the city, we’ll meet at the fishpond of Tingliu Pavilion. If outside the city, we’ll meet at the small hill where the Jade Annulus of He Clan was done for!”
The two no longer spoke, they gathered their energy and circulated their qi.
The boat suddenly accelerated, it rapidly approached the Tianjin Bridge.