Translator: Foxs' Wuxia
The drumbeat was thunderous, the bugle horns were sounded simultaneously, the music was not the drums and horns of assault, but the happy tune to welcome Li Shimin’s triumphant return.
Li Yuanji’s besieging-the-city army the whole nest came out, they lined up in battle array on the river plain outside the city. Lantern lights reached the sky, shining upon the numerous, nearly a hundred – navy ships coming from the Great River, crowding the Cao Canal and the Luo River with the flickering shadows of their sails. The moon and the stars in the sky also had to lose their splendor.
‘Peng! Peng! Bang! Bang!’
The two giant warships leading the convoy set off their victory canons, momentarily flame was flashing, smoke and fire bits soared into the sky, on the plains, several tens of thousands Tang soldiers and the ships already anchored on the shore to support the Battle of Luoyang shouted and cheered at the same time, the sound of their cry swept over Luoyang like a tidal wave, the morale was high and boiling almost to the extreme point.
Kou Zhong, Ba Fenghan, Xu Ziling, Ba Yegang, Yang Gongqing and so on arrived at the top of the eastern city wall. Wang Shichong, Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, along with Wang Honglie, Wang Xingben, Wang Shidan, and a group of high-ranking military officers of Wang surname, were one step ahead to reach the city wall, looking at the situation of the enemy positions from a distance. The high-ranking military officers of different surname, like Guo Shancai, Shan Xiongxin, Duan Da, Cui Hongdan, Meng Xiaowen, Zhang Tong’er, and so on stood on the wall with blank expression on their faces, everyone’s countenance was the color of the earth, there was fear in their eyes, as they watched the seizing-people-momentum outside the city, the highly excited surging-up mood of the Great Tang Army.
On top of Luoyang’s city wall, from Wang Shichong down to every single one of the defending-the-city soldiers, none did not have his spirit seized away, they were lost in fear and despair.
Kou Zhong and the others came to Wang Shichong’s right side, they joined the ranks of men watching the enemy.
On Wang Shichong’s face, the color of blood has completely faded, he cast a glance toward Kou Zhong by his side, and then his gaze was back to outside the city, “Dou Jiande is finished!” he spoke in low voice.
Kou Zhong’s scalp went numb, he was unable to respond.
‘Dong! Dong! Dong!’
The sound of rhythmic drumming, amidst the sound of cheering, came from the vast body of water. The Tang Army’s military show of force’s rallying cry gradually diminished, being replaced by the sound of the marching soldiers’ footsteps, neat and uniform, which was like a curse that was hounding the officers and soldiers defending the city to death.
The Great Tang Army, which was located on the plains between the Cao Canal and the Luo River, started to advance toward Luoyang, in three separate units. At the front were several rows of lance and shield wielders, followed by saber and arrow wielders and the cavalry. With military appearance at their peak, high-spirited morale, they pressed on toward the city.
Outside the city, banners were flying everywhere, the disposition of troops was like the ocean, merely its mighty power was enough to make people feel like dispersing without fighting, an overbearing momentum that they would not be able to withstand.
Kou Zhong focused his power to his eyes to look at a group of men and horses going ashore from the ship. The leader was surprisingly Li Shimin, on his side, sitting on the saddle was the trussed-up-tightly, hanging-his-head-dispiritedly Dou Jiande, with a group of great generals Zhangsun Wuji, Yuchi Jingde, Pang Yu, Luo Shixin, Qin Shubao, Li Shentong, Li Nantian, Kang Qiaoli, Cheng Yaojin, Wang Junkuo, and so on crowding around them, to rendezvous with Li Yuanji, Qu Tutong, Xue Wanche, and so on – welcoming them, and then high and mighty, they marched together toward Luoyang City.
The battle drums rumbled across the sky, the sound of hoofbeats and footsteps shook the mother earth.
The Tang Army formation between the two rivers pushed on until they were about five zhang away from the second layer of trenches. Under a shout of order, they halted together, giving up another kind of impression that the Tang Army was well-trained and highly-disciplined, a threatening force, which, from top to bottom, were of one mind.
On the city wall, the officers and soldiers defending the city, everyone’s face was the color of the earth, timid feeling grew up inside them.
The Li Shimin, Li Yuanji-led men and horses slowly came, passing through the human wall formed by the Tang Army troops withdrawing to either side, straight toward the outer edge of the second layer of trenches, and then spread into a row, facing Wang Shichong, Kou Zhong, and the others, standing on the city wall.
Kou Zhong cast his gaze toward Dou Jiande, whose upper body was tightly bound, his arms tied behind his back, and a rope looped around his neck. The latter happened to raise his head to look up, the two men’s eyes met, Dou Jiande immediately, his face was full of shame – hung his head down to avert Kou Zhong’s gaze. Just by looking at his haggard and dejected expression, his eyes were brimming with the-path-exhausted, the-end-of-the-road flurried and despaired appearance, compared to the previous mighty-power-spread-across-eight-sides, a hundred-percent-self-confidence Dou Jiande, the difference made people sad and was hard to endure.
Dou Jiande was held between Li Shimin and Li Yuanji, so that others felt it even more that the victory was entirely in their, two brothers’ hands.
Li Shimin looked up. Although they were separated by more than a thousand steps distance, but both sides were all martial art masters, they could see the other side’s expression very clearly. Kou Zhong as staring hard at him, the two men’s eyes made contact, it was like saber and sword exchanged blades, neither gave way to the other.
Wang Shichong was like losing control of himself, hot tears gushed out, he cried in sorrow, “Xia Wang!”
Dou Jiande’s mighty body shook severely, but he did not answer.
Li Shimin did not pay attention to Wang Shichong, from far away, he sighed and said to Kou Zhong, “Shaoshuai! Did Shimin say it wrong?”
Before Kou Zhong had any chance to respond, Li Yuanji already roared, “Kou Zhong! If you are not an idiot, you should know that the great momentum has gone. If you haven’t kneeled and begged for mercy, and immediately surrender, I will make you seeking life, you won’t find it, seeking death, you cannot.”
Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan exchanged a glance, musing inwardly that it was just as expected, Li Yuanji was doing everything he could to make Li Shimin and them as incompatible as fire and water, there was no room for negotiation or to restore relationship.
Hearing that, Li Shimin’s eyebrows were deeply furrowed, but there was nothing that he could do, because after all, the two sides have become mortal enemy, plus Li Yuanji has received Li Yuan’s secret order. Moreover, in his position as the commander-in-chief of the Tang Army, in front of the three armies, how could he protect Kou Zhong and the others?
Kou Zhong calmed his mind, his countenance became incomparably tranquil. Letting out a stifled snort, he said, “Qi Wang is too polite, but did you see me, Kou Zhong, as someone who might kneel and beg for mercy?”
Behind Li Shimin’s horse, Qin Shubao and Cheng Yaojin revealed a sad expression. They shook their head and sighed bitterly.
“How dare you!” One after another the various generals under Li Yuanji’s command was shouting and cursing.
Standing next to Li Yuanji, Li Nantian shouted sternly, “Kou Zhong, death is near at hand, you still dare to boast shamelessly. Dou Jiande before your eyes is a good example for you, those who dare to fight against our Great Tang, not a single one can have a good end. You ...”
Long laughter came from Ba Fenghan’s mouth, the sound shook the city wall, above and below, transmitting the viewing-death-as-a-return-home, courage-without-fear, looking-disdainfully-out-of-the-corner-of-his-eye-at-the-world confidence and valor, interrupting Li Nantian’s shout and swear, so that the Tang Army’s imposing manner was also reduced somewhat.
And then Ba Fenghan’s voice thundered, “Right now Luoyang is not broken yet, victory or defeat has not been decided, thy mouths speak out wild idea, wouldn’t it be a joke?”
A hint of hideous smile brimming with hatred flooded out of the corner of Li Yuanji’s mouth, which instantly exploded into a loud laughter as he said, “Victory or defeat has not been decided? Now that’s a real joke. I am representing Fu Huang [father emperor] to state conditions to you: if you, Kou Zhong, within ten drumbeats, do not come out of the city and kneel and beg for mercy, I will immediately strike Xia Wang dead with my palm.”
Next to him, Dou Jiande struggled to straighten his bound-up tight body on the horseback, with his hoarse voice he shouted, “Xiao Zhong, don’t do anything foolish, remember to avenge ...”
Xue Wanche behind him leaned forward on horseback, his middle finger swiftly jabbed, he cut off Dou Jiande’s speech.
The entire field, crow and peacock made no sound, the only noise was the whooshing autumn breeze scraping against the inside and outside of the city walls, blowing the several hundred and thousands torches that they produced rustling noise, sending random fire bits up into the night sky from time to time, which disappeared just as quickly.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Kneeling down and begging for mercy, isn’t that so easy?” He lightly bumped into Xu Ziling first, before moving backward, afterwards he rushed out the city wall and made somersault, unexpectedly just like that, he flipped out of the more than thirty zhang high wall to the ground below. Watching this, both sides, the enemy and us, everybody was shocked.
Xu Ziling also leaped up to the battlement on the city wall, both hands spread out, indicating that the men and horses from their side should not act blindly without thinking. He and Kou Zhong’s minds were interlinked, he knew that Kou Zhong wanted to singlehandedly rescue Dou Jiande back from within the enemy’s formation.
On top of the city wall, from Wang Shichong all the way down to the lowest-rank soldier defending the city, none did not crowd toward the wall’s battlements, to bend their head to look at the continuously somersaulting Kou Zhong. They could not bear to see him fall that his flesh split his bones snapped, but they simply could not but watch in concern.
Thirty zhang of height, it was indeed beyond anybody’s physical limit, perhaps even the three grandmasters were still unable to land safely.
At once Kou Zhong became the focus of the eye of everyone present, above and below the city wall.
Kou Zhong made another somersault, not only the falling momentum did not grow, when he was about a zhang away from the ground, his body actually rose slightly up, and then, as light as a feather, he landed on the ground.
On the city wall, the officers and soldiers could not help exploded into shaking-the-heavens cheers, a few even suspected that Kou Zhong was actually an immortal descending into the world. Immediately their morale was greatly aroused.
Li Yuanji roared, “Come and kneel to beg for mercy to me first. Beat the drum!”
Kou Zhong tapped the ground and darted forward, straight to the first layer of trenches outside the east city wall, without the slightest hesitation he soared again, and amidst another beat of drum he threw himself toward the other edge of the trench, and flew out of the trench, as fast as a flash of lightning.
The third drumbeat was heard.
Apart from Li Shimin, Li Yuanji, Li Shentong, Cheng Yaojin and Qin Shubao, everybody quickly picked up the long bow and powerful arrow hanging on the side of their horse, taking aim at the Kou Zhong, who was pouncing on the trenches to come over. As soon as he entered their firing range, surely a hundred arrows would be released at the same time, shooting him into a hedgehog. This group of fierce generals, everyone’s martial art skill was outstanding, absolutely not an average archer could compare, even someone as powerful as Kou Zhong, his futile attempt to break into the formation was really following the path to his own doom.
Kou Zhong suddenly stopped, exactly a thousand paces away from the enemy in the empty space at the edge of the trenches, still outside their firing range.
Li Yuanji chuckled and said, “There are still eight drumbeats [sic, don’t ask me, perhaps they don’t know how to count?]. Shaoshuai, don’t harm other and don’t harm yourself.”
The drumbeats continued, pressing down on the enemy and us, both sides, that everybody’s heart was falling down like a piece of lead, their breathing could not flow freely.
The people on top of the city wall, although their heart was burning with anxiety over Kou Zhong’s dangerous situation, furthermore, they were afraid that he might rashly show off an ignorant person’s bravado and disregarding life or death, leap over the trench to charge into the battle formation, yet no one dared to make any noise, for fear of distracting his mind.
Ko Zhong stood still, as if he was turning into a stone statue, his expression was so calm that it made people’s heart turn cold.
‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’
Li Shimin’s countenance was solemn and respectful, he did not utter a word.
The ninth drumbeat rang. The atmosphere of the entire field was as tense as fully-taut bowstring. Li Yuanji’s pair of eyes flickered with a cruel strange light, he shouted sternly, “I, Li Yuanji, will definitely do what I said. This is your last chance.”
The last drumbeat rang across the field, intimidating every single person’s heart like a curse hounding people to death.
Without the slightest hesitation Li Yuanji raised his palm to strike Dou Jiande’s back.
Right this moment, when a thousand pounds hangs by a thread, Kou Zhong, using a technique that was so fast that naked eye could not see clearly, pulled the Piercing the Sun Bow, using internal energy he pulled the bowstring that it produced a clear ‘Qiang!’ sound, and then like conjuring a magic trick, a powerful arrow suddenly appeared in his other hand. Bending the bow and putting on the arrow, he pulled it to become a full moon, and aimed at Li Yuanji. This series of movements was accomplished in the blink of an eye, the speed was such that if people did not stare blankly, they would not have believed their own eyes.
This move was beyond anybody’s expectation; nobody had guessed that the originally without-any-bow-without-any-arrow Kou Zhong suddenly had a strong bow and powerful arrow in his hands, and was waiting for action after having accumulated power.
However, no one could match Li Yuanji’s shock. The instant he raised his hand to strike Dou Jiande, not only Kou Zhong had his arrow pointed at him, he also seemed to be able to use his spirit and true qi to lock him up from the distance via the arrowhead. He himself could be considered world-class martial art master, he knew that if he released his power to strike dead Dou Jiande, he would not be able to dodge this dripping-with-concentrated-essence-qi-and-spirit, shooting over startling-the-heaven-and-the-earth-making-the-ghosts-and-deities-cry arrow. The situation within it was subtle to the extreme point. Although on his left and right fierce generals were like a cloud, Li Yuanji’s feeling was like he was all alone, completely naked, and losing all cover and hiding place.
How could he still dare to take the risk by releasing his power? He did not even dare to move half of a finger, afraid that under the pull of the qi power, it would provoke Kou Zhong to release the arrow.
Standing proud on the city wall’s battlement, the sleeves of Xu Ziling’s clothes were fluttering in the wind, his hands were behind his back, his appearance was like a deity, no one dared to doubt that just like Kou Zhong, he had the ability to leap down the thirty-zhang high city wall and rapidly come to help Kou Zhong. Only he knew that he did not have this ability. Just now, when Kou Zhong lightly bumped onto him, he was borrowing the true qi from Xu Ziling, and then when he moved back, he borrowed an arrow from Ba Yegang’s quiver. Because Xu Ziling had no one to borrow true qi from, he was only putting on an air right now, so Kou Zhong was still a lone army fighting by himself.
No one among the enemy ranks dared to exhale even half a mouthful of loud breathing; moreover, they stopped talking about blocking the arrow for Li Yuanji, afraid that any unusual move would only provoke Kou Zhong to release the arrow to shoot Li Yuanji.
The situation was weird but subtle.
Upright and unafraid, Dou Jiande raised his head. In this moment where he was facing life and death, he intentionally showed off his viewing death as a return home heroic inherent character.
Revealing a faint smile, Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, “How much does Qi Wang’s life worth? You haven’t release him for me?”
Right this moment, when a thousand pounds were hanging by a thread, a hint of grim and strange, unfathomable smile escaped out of the corner of Li Yuanji’s mouth. By the time Kou Zhong realized something was amiss, suddenly someone appeared by Li Yuanji’s side.
Unexpectedly, it was the Shadow Assassin Yang Xuyan.
“Hold it!” Li Shimin shouted loudly, but he was still one step too late.
In an impossible-to-pull-back fact, Li Yuanji’s accumulated-to-the-peak palm power was released. Dou Jiande’s spinal column shattered into cun-sized fragments, his seven apertures spurted blood.
Kou Zhong’s powerful arrow left the string. As if it transcended the distance, shrinking a zhang into a cun, in the flash-of-lightning-or-spark-of-a-flint instant it was already in front of Li Yuanji’s chest.
At the same instant, Kou Zhong’s mind was also severely shaken, a thought rose from deep within his heart – Dou Jiande had died.
The heaven and earth were no longer like the heaven and earth before.
The enemy ranks were like a mute play on a silent stage before his eyes, Yang Xuyan flashed in front of the head of Li Yuanji’s horse, his Shadow Sword, which name shook the world, stabbed at an angle upward, the tip of the sword met the tip of the arrow.
Precisely the moment when the tip of the sword and the tip of the arrow touched each other, Kou Zhong and Yang Xuyan’s essence, qi and spirit also clashed over the distance.
The pit of Kou Zhong’s stomach was like being struck by a lightning, he violently recoiled half a step back.
Yang Xuyan also fell back half a step; a burst of bright red flitted across his clear and white face, but disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Amidst the shocking-the-entire-battlefield-inside-and-outside-the-city lingering sound of the sword and the arrow clashing against each other, everybody’s scalp went numb, they watched as the hegemon-of-this-generation Dou Jiande, like a sheet of soft mud, slinked down from the horseback toward Li Yuanji’s side. ‘Bang!’ He landed on the ground, raising some dust along the trench.
Dou Jiande had died!
This thought echoed continuously in Kou Zhong’s mind. The true qi within his body naturally neutralized Yang Xuyan’s essence, qi and spirit, which was the fusion of Tian Dao Mo Gong [lit. heaven’s way, demonic power] and the ‘Xie Jin Wan Fa Gen Yuan Zhi Jing’. His mind went blank.
Neither side, the enemy and us, made any move, gasped for breath, or uttered any word.
Kou Zhong’s eyes were fixed on Dou Jiande’s dead body, lying down in tragic death by the horse’s feet. His mind gradually cleared up.
On the grim, ruthless battlefield where two armies were facing off against their adversary, there was only victory or defeat! Any remorse, regret, grief, hatred, or feeling of distress has no place at all. If he was influenced by any emotion and do something foolish against reason, it would only result in the troops-defeated, body-perished ending.
Suddenly, from the extreme grief and guilty conscience, Kou Zhong rose out, he entered the Moon in the Well realm. It did not mean that he turned into a ruthless person, but he must transform the power of grief and anger, to deal with the immediate danger, to preserve his life to win the final victory in the future.
After all these years of tempering himself, he finally understood Song Que’s warning – apart from giving up the saber, there was no other thing.
He felt that the whole world was expanding, the mother earth his feet were stepping on was extending to infinity, and that the sky that had existed since ancient times was covering the earth, and yet, to him, he was precisely the focal point and the core that connected the heaven and the earth.
Heaven, Earth, and Man, three entities became one; he knew clearly what the most frustrating, the most disappointing moment in life – was. He finally reached Song Que’s ‘Heavenly Saber’ realm.
There is law, that is the Earth. There is no law, that is the Heaven. There is law, but without law, that is the level of Heaven, Earth, and Man fused into one. Without law yet there is law, there is law yet without law.
Only in this way he would be able to lead all those who follow him loyally through the present crisis.
Xu Ziling shouted loudly, “Rope!”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong let out a long laughter and said, “Dou Ye, go in peace! One day I will demand the debt of blood, both the principal and the interest – on your behalf.”
Li Yuanji raised his arm and shouted loudly, “Great Tang will prevail! Long live my Emperor!”
Neary 100,000 Tang soldiers outside the eastern wall echoed in chorus, their roar spread over the rivers and the plains, the heaven and the earth changed their color.
Li Shimin revealed a helpless look. He wanted to speak, but had nothing to say. He knew that the Li’s Tang already tied an unsolvable deep enmity with Kou Zhong. Although Li Yuanji was acting under Li Yuan’s decree, in his capacity as the commander-in-chief, he cannot escape the blame, yet he was clearly unable to change anything.
Kou Zhong moved backward. Just like that, he flew over the trenches, accurate as if he had eyes behind his back, a sign that his mind was not in chaos the slightest bit, hence he was able to grasp chi and cun with that kind of precision.
And then he turned around and rushed back toward the east city wall, sprang to the air, straight to nearly fifteen zhang of astonishing altitude, where the long rope was shooting out of Xu Ziling’s hands, which Kou Zhong, who was soaring to the limit – was able to catch head-on. And then, borrowing the force, he returned to the city wall’s battlement. The two men then leaped down onto the top of the city wall.
Li Shimin shouted loudly, “Whether to fight or to surrender, Shaoshuai can decide with one word.”
Kou Zhong turned around to look at Wang Shichong. The latter’s countenance was like a dead person, his mouth and lips were quivering lightly.
Kou Zhong’s expression was calm, his pair of eyes emitted flashing divine light brimming with formidable self-confidence. He said, “The city is still Zhushang’s [lit. master, superior]. What is Zhushang going to do?”
Wang Shichong pulled back his gaze from looking outside the city and cast his eyes onto Kou Zhong.
The two men were surrounded by a group of officers and soldiers, their eyes were all focused on Kou Zhong and Wang Shichong.
Choked with emotion, Wang Shichong gasped for breath and said, “Other than offering the city and surrendering, we don’t have any other choice.”