Book 36 Chapter 13 – Old General Handing Over His Heart
The first attack to arrive was from Li Shentong’s double punches and Pei Ji’s Forgetting Shape Fan. Two major martial art masters joint strike was definitely not a common chord. They broke into the hall separately via the main gate and the window; sending their qi power from a distance, locking Xu Ziling tightly.
If it were the Xu Ziling before absorbing the primordial essence of the Relics, his only feasible method would be to break out through the roof and escape. But if he did that, it would be precisely what the enemy wished for.
Xu Ziling had no choice but to take the risk of singlehandedly meet the attack. He deliberately let the enemy know that Gao Zhandao and the others were going to Guanjun. Only by doing this would the enemy pursue in the wrong direction. The best part of his plan was that he could force Chen Shi, the lowly people of this place, to help him perpetuate his lies.
Smiling slightly, Xu Ziling pressed both hands onto the round table. The table immediately flew off the ground. It hit the few chairs by the table first, sending them flying in all direction, before it swiftly spun around to slam into Li Shentong, who was entering via the main gate.
At the same time, Xu Ziling soared into the air, the tip of his right foot tapped the center of the tabletop, both palms met Li Shentong’s double punches head-on.
The flying chairs shattered midair, turning into wood splinters raining down on Pei Ji and the other martial art masters breaking in through the window; it was more than they could attend to, so that they were unable to join Li Shentong in besieging Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling dared to ascertain that the enemy’s main force was concentrated on the roof, so that no matter from which window or door he was escaping, they could still live high and look down, and able to see everything very clearly, and thus could coordinate their attack. On top of that, the archers lying in ambush on the roof of the buildings around would be able to intercept him and could easily put him under heavy siege.
Just now, when he came in, he had carefully looked at the situation surrounding the hall. Outside the main door of the inner hall, there was a long corridor leading into the main hall of the main building right ahead. Directly outside the door of the main hall was a plaza, leading toward the perimeter wall and the main street. If he could break through to the street outside, his chance of escape would increase substantially.
Under normal circumstances, Li Shentong would never be afraid of Xu Ziling’s double-palm strike; in any case he would be able to intercept him, entangle him, or even repel him. But no matter how brilliant he viewed himself, he still did not dare to meet his double-palm strike head-on while dealing with the rapidly spinning table top about to slam onto his chest at the same time. Without any choice, he had to evade sideways, and roared wildly, “He wants to escape from the main door!”
Since the table could not fit through the door, it crushed the doorframe and knocked down the wall around the door as well.
Like a bird out of its cage, Xu Ziling pounced toward the tabletop first, positioning himself about 30° from the tabletop, the tip of his foot pushed hard on the edge of the table, he shot as fast as artillery shell toward the other exit of the long corridor. Outside the door, although sabers and swords moved together to block him, but they did not expect that his momentum would be this fast and nimble; all were chopping and slashing empty air, they even failed to touch the corner of his clothes.
Xu Ziling pounced into the main hall; unexpectedly not a soul was in sight. Obviously it has been cleared away earlier so that it would be convenient to deal with him.
Guarding outside the door, more than a dozen men under Chai Shao’s leadership stormed toward him. From the ground, Xu Ziling shot up and to the side, made a somersault, and broke through the window; he landed on the open space between the main hall and the external wall.
Arrows and bows immediately rang out. More than a dozen strong archers lying in ambush on the roof tile on top of the wall shot their crossbows together, powerful arrows crisscrossed the air from all directions.
Xu Ziling knew that his move has thrown the enemy’s troop disposition into chaos. Such a rushing and random shooting practically did not pose any threat to him at all; instead, the time to reload the arrows had actually given him a breather.
His toes tapped the ground, he soared straight up. Sweeping his gaze around, he saw Pang Yu and Duan Zhixuan, leading more than twenty men – were pouncing over from the roof.
Probably by this moment Li Shentong and Pei Ji were pursuing into the main hall, hence he did not see their trace. But if he did not leave now, what was he waiting for?
Thereupon he took a breath high up in the air, at more than ten-zhang high altitude he changed direction sideways to evade the enemy’s second round of powerful darts, and crossed over the external wall covered with enemies, and landed in the middle of the street.
Tapping the ground with his toes again, like he was soaring above the cloud, riding on the mist he rose up toward the back of the roof of the building across the street, and slipped away and disappeared without any trace.
※ ※ ※
Because Zhang Zhenzhou was in Yanshi, it took some time to go back and forth, hence a small courtyard was arranged at the south part of the city for Kou Zhong to take a rest.
Wang Shichong originally wanted to keep him in the Imperial Palace, but Kou Zhong tactfully declined; he even politely refused maids and servants who were sent to wait upon him.
After Lang Feng, who had taken him into the residence – left, the only thing he wanted to do was to have a good sleep.
By the time he was awakened by the knock on the door, it was almost dusk. The one paying him a visit was an old friend cum comrade-in-arms Yang Gongqing. Meeting again after a long period of separation, naturally they were very excited.
Yang Gongqing did not bring any entourage. As soon as he sat down, he asked, “Why is it that once Qin Shubao and Cheng Yaojin left, they did not come back? If it’s not convenient for Shaoshuai to tell me the reason, I will not mind at all.”
Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong said, “Did Shengshang put this account on my head?”
“This matter is quite strange,” Yang Gongqing replied, “Twice I mentioned them in front of him, but Shengshang always changed the subject; it seems to me that he is unwilling to perform an in-depth investigation.”
Kou Zhong said, “This is called having a guilty conscience.”
Thereupon he narrated the rise and fall of the terrain on why Wang Shichong wanted to borrow Song JinGang’s hands to conspire against the two men plus Tuli’s lives. He laughed and said, “Xiao Ling and I were also the target that Shengshang wanted to get rid of. Fortunately we discovered it in time, and we neutralized his malicious scheme, leaving no trace. Otherwise, Tuli might never return to his hometown.”
Wringing his hands, Yang Gongqing sighed and said, “Cheng Yaojin and Qin Shubao are fierce generals, veterans of a hundred battles; only because their frank natural disposition, they refused to fawn on Taizi [the Crown Prince], plus in terms of strategy and troops disposition, they opposed Taizi’s ideas, hence they incurred Taizi and Shengshang’s dislikes. However, such rare talents should not be tossed away like a pair of worn-out shoes because of this kind of small argument; on top of that, they still conspire to harm them. Ay! Toward such master, who would not be bitterly disappointed?”
Greatly shocked, Kou Zhong said, “Setting bitter disappointment aside, right now the war is pressing in our eyebrows and eyelashes [idiom: nearby], it is crucial that Yang Gong [honorable sir] supports the overall situation. Otherwise, Luoyang will be in extreme danger.”
Yang Gongqing fixed his gaze on him for a good half a day. And then he spoke heavily, “Do you know that Cheng Yaojin and Qin Shubao, via Li Jing’s recommendation, already surrendered to Li Shimin?”
“What?” Kou Zhong blurted out.
Shaking his head, Yang Gongqing said, “Sometimes I really don’t understand; if you help Wang Shichong defeating Li Shimin, what’s in it for you?”
Kou Zhong spoke seriously, “First of all, the one I am afraid of is Li Shimin and not Wang Shichong at all. Next, I want to strive for a chance to take a breath, in order to establish my Shao Shuai Army. Do you think I don’t know what kind of trash Wang Shichong is?”
After a moment of hesitation, Yang Gongqing lowered his voice and said, “Will Shaoshuai be interested in offering shelter to Laofu?”
Kou Zhong jumped in fright. Also lowering his voice, he responded, “This is not a laughing matter; however, under current circumstances, the one Yang Gong should consider ought to be Li Shimin or Dou Jiande, why would you want me, little Kou Zhong?”
Taken aback, Yang Gongqing broke into laughter, “Shaoshuai is too modest. Laofu look around at the hero and mighty around the world, only you, Kou Shaoshuai, have the capability to go head to head against Li Shimin. Ever since I, Yang Gongqing, was involved in the great undertaking of Handan uprising ten years ago, I have been able to move unhindered; what kind of figure I have not seen? But I have never seen someone like you, Kou Zhong, who stand tall and see far, able to produce hundreds of crafty changes yet without losing honest and considerate way. To serve you in some capacity is already some kind of satisfying delight.”
Receiving such praise, Kou Zhong was quite embarrassed; smiling wryly, he said, “Yang Gong’s praise, this kid is ashamed and dare not to accept. I certainly wish to gallop side by side on the battleground with Yang Gong, but the immediate situation is greatly disadvantageous to me, so I really do not want Yang Gong to accompany me bearing the hardships together.”
Yang Gongqing smiled and said, “Since that’s the case, Shaoshuai might as well disband the Shao Shuai Army, be happy to be unfettered, carefree and without worries?”
Kou Zhong’s tiger-eyes were shining, he spoke heavily, “Since my debut, I have been accustomed to constant struggle for survival; battling the mighty is as natural as taking a breath. Only because all the things we encountered were almost impossible to accomplish, yet in the end Ziling and I managed to settle it one by one, I am able to derive the pleasure from within the hardships. Our trip to Chang’an this time has deepened my conviction that the people of honorable school and large and influential family do not have the qualification to bring happiness, peace and security to the people. Just look at Li Yuan, Li Jiancheng, Li Yuanji, and the others; anybody would understand my feeling. Within the Li Clan, only Li Shimin is a decent person.”
Yang Gongqing clapped his hands and said, “Well said! I, Yang Gongqing, after Li Jiancheng harmed me that my family bankrupt and the people dead, have been all alone in the world; therefore, to become anything, I do not have any burden, to do anything, I do not have any scruples.”
Shocked, Kou Zhong said, “Li Jiancheng harmed Yang Gong that your family bankrupt and the people dead?”
Yang Gongqing nonchalantly said, “Let’s not mention this matter anymore; I just want to ask Shaoshuai whether you would be willing to accept Laofu’s proposal or not?”
Kou Zhong extended his big hand and solemnly said, “It’s rare that Yang Gong thinks so highly of me, Kou Zhong. Kou Zhong could only be grateful and delighted.”
Yang Gongqing grasped his hand tightly, the divine light in his pair of eyes flickered as he said, “I have been thinking deeply about this for a long time; this is not out of a momentary impulse. Henceforth, what does Shaoshuai want Laojiang [old general] to do?”
Kou Zhong replied, “Our top priority is to borrow Wang Shichong’s power to resist the Tang Army. Among Yang Gong’s men, how many can we use?”
Yang Gongqing said, “The officers and soldiers under my command have been cut to the left and reduced to the right by Wang Shichong, the remainder is less than five thousand men, but all are trusted elite troops who have been with me for many years, so in term of loyalty, there is no problem whatsoever.”
Kou Zhong said, “This matter must remain a tacit mutual understanding between the two of us; Yang Gong must, by no means, reveal it in your words and deeds, to avoid inciting Wang Shichong’s suspicion.”
Again Yang Gongqing grabbed him firmly for a moment. Letting go of his hand, he nodded and said, “Shaoshuai set your heart at ease; Laofu has my own measure.”
And then he sighed and said, “How much confidence does Shaoshuai have in saving Luoyang?”
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, “Originally I had ten- or twenty-percent, but now not even five-percent?”
Stunned, Yang Gongqing asked, “Why is that?”
Staring at him, Kou Zhong said, “Yang Gong, you are a living example, a clear prove that the heart of the people of the Great Zheng has been scattered about. Unless in our first battle we could render big blow on Li Shimin, when the Tang Army is coming to the east, without even need to injure one soldier or half a troop, they would be able to receive the cities that wanted to surrender to them just like harvesting the grass. And then when Luoyang become a lone city, how long can it hold up?”
Yang Gongqing nodded and said, “That scenario indeed might happen. Many times Zhang Zhenzhou, in private, in front of me, chewed out Wang Shichong’s passing his former subordinates in bestowing titles in favor of his own relatives. Most likely he will be the first to surrender to the Li Clan.”
“What?” Kou Zhong blurted out.
Shrugging his shoulders, Yang Gongqing said, “What’s so strange about it? Wasn’t I just one step ahead of him? It’s just that the target is not Li Shimin!”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong did not know whether he ought to laugh or cry.
Suddenly he remembered something, “Did Wang Shichong put Rong Fengxiang in order?” he asked.
Indignant, Yang Gongqing said, “That is another source of resentment for us. I really don’t understand why Wang Shichong is having so much apprehension toward Rong Fengxiang; but after Rong Fengxiang was assassinated by Shaoshuai, he did not show his face for a long time. However, the control over Luoshui Bang is still in his hands.”
Kou Zhong was also struggling to understand.
After Yang Gongqing left, Kou Zhong returned to his room. While he was still pondering whether he should go to the street to roam around, he heard faint noise.
Kou Zhong was greatly stunned.
Could it be that the enemy was coming to his door to give him trouble this soon?