Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan - Volume 53 - Chapter 9

Book 53 Chapter 9 – Unswerving Determination Without Pulling Back

Translator: Foxs' Wuxia

Shao Shuai troops were scattered around the dense forest, mountain and fields – to rest; sentry posts were set up at high places to watch the surrounding area, near and far.

They adopted the lying-low-by-day-and-traveling-by-night strategy. During the day, it was comparatively easier to guard against the enemy’s pursuing troops attacking, while the night was beneficial to march in secret.

From time to time, Kou Zhong also released Wuming to scout the situation from high altitude. Unless the enemy knew invisibility art, they could forget about deploying wonder troops to launch surprise attack.

The previous night they traveled at full speed toward the mountain and fields, which were only about a dozen li or so from the end of the Yi River, but they also reached the danger zone where they might be ambushed, hence they had to preserve and nurture their spirit, in order to deal with this section of their journey after dark.

Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan released Wuming on the top of a hill on the west bank of the Yi River. Chen Laomou came to look for the two men, he said, “I have a very ominous premonition that Li Shimin can’t possibly miss the opportunity to intercept us at the southern end of the Yi River.”

Kou Zhong smiled and said, “What good proposal does Chen Gong have on this matter?”

Chen Laomou said, “I want to immediately cut trees and build the bridge; as soon as it is dark, we raised the pontoon bridge and cross the river. By the time Li Shimin finds out, we will already be far away from the Yi River, he can only pursue from behind.”

Ba Fenghan spoke in heavy voice, “Li Shimin, this man, cannot be underestimated. Maybe he already has men across the river to monitor us; he could promptly rush over and launch the attack when we are crossing the river.”

Chen Laomou said, “We could send a team of elite troops to swim across the river and find out the situation on the other side first before making a decision.”

Kou Zhong agreed, he said, “Chen Gong‘s proposal is very well thought out. I’ll leave the bridge-building matter into Chen Gong’s hands, the most important thing is not to make any noise; if Li Shimin knew that we are building a bridge, it will be really bad.”

Chen Laomou smiled and said, “Leave it to Laofu.” He cheerfully accepted the order and left.

Turning to Ba Fenghan, Kou Zhong said, “I have an important task that I must trouble you, LaoGe to help.”

Blurted out laughing, Ba Fenghan said, “Your business is my business, we are all brothers, why be so polite?”

Kou Zhong was overcome with emotional stirring; reaching out, he put his hand on his shoulder and said, “In that case, I won’t be polite to you. I am asking you, LaoGe to immediately cross the Yi River, to hasten at full speed to Chenliu, tell Xingzhi about our situation here, have him do his utmost to hold fast to Chenliu, until Song Que’s main forces come to help. Only you, LaoGe have the ability to break through Li Shiji’s blockade, no one else can.”

“Is it that simple?” Ba Fenghan calmly said, “You’d better let me get the firearm on the way, and then come back from the other end of the Tian Cheng Gorge to meet you. This way you could save about a dozen days of effort, and I guarantee that the Tang Army won’t detect it.”

Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, he said, “That is even more perfect. Xingzhi will arrange for you some flywheel boats and enough manpower. It would be best to transport some rations and fodder and heavy military supply wagons at the same time, then when we deal with Li kid, we will have more confidence.”

Ba Fenghan cast his gaze to the other side of the river; tranquil and calm, he said, “Frankly, right now my heart is full of pent-up frustration. Anything that can harm the Tang Army, I will definitely do, not just for you, but to vent my anger as well. I will set off immediately, if there are any Tang Army scouts on the other side, I will clear them away for you in passing. Brother! I’ll see you again in Tian Cheng Gorge! Take care!”

After Kou Zhong explained the location of the hidden firearms in details, he tightly embraced his shoulders, no more words were necessary.

Ba Fenghan patted the Stealing the Heaven Sword on his back, with a few jumps, he disappeared into the river water, without creating the least bit of splash. Just like that, he secretly headed toward the opposite bank underwater.

Hou Xibai flew in the mountains and forest, fast like a demon; he made a big circle and came back to Xu Ziling, who was hiding on a mountaintop nearby. Copying him crouching under a thicket, he spoke in low voice, “I tied your clothes full of bloodstain to a weasel, and hit it so that it ran away in pain. On my way back, I applied my power to close my pores so that my body did not leak any odor. I hope this trick will be effective, otherwise I will carry you and force our way out of the siege.”

Hou Xibai was quite unlike Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, he was particular about his clothes, they had to be clean and tidy, no matter where he went, he always carried change of clothes. Just now when the two men were fleeing, they encountered a foraging weasel, Xu Ziling told Hou Xibai to catch the weasel, he took off his bloody garment, changed into the clothes from inside Hou Xibai’s bundle, and put this scheme to use.

Xu Ziling smiled and said, “We are at least 50% success. Look, the three vicious vultures are already chasing!”

Hou Xibai also noticed that the three vicious vultures looked west and flew over, and they continued flying lower and lower. They were birds of prey that love to eat rotten meat; they were especially sensitive to the smell of blood.

“They are here!” Hou Xibai spoke in low voice.

With a gust of wind, more than a dozen figures flitted across in the forest, following the bald vultures flight route and quickly went far, the leader was, surprisingly, Li Yuanji.

Greatly delighted, Hou Xibai said, “Success!”

Xu Ziling pulled him back, stopping him from showing himself, “A bit more patience!”

He had not finished speaking, a dark shadow appeared on a horizontal branch near the top of a tall tree, looking around in all directions. It was precisely Yang Xuyan, who had mastered both the ‘Bu Si Yin Fa’ and the ‘Yu Jin Wan Fa Gen Yuan Zhi Jing’.

Hou Xibai drew out a mouthful of cold air, crying inwardly, ‘Close call!’

The two shrank inside the bushes, not daring to reveal even half a mouth of breathing.

They heard Yang Xuyan snorted coldly, and then he flew in the direction where Li Yuanji and the others were pursuing, and disappeared very quickly.

Heaving a sigh of relief, Hou Xibai said, “That kid is so crafty. What do we do now? When it comes to avoiding enemy’s hunt and kill, not many people are more adept than Ziling and Kou Zhong.”

Xu Ziling smiled and said, “In the past, in order to evade Li Mi’s hunt and capture, Kou Zhong and I fled to the east and escaped to the west on this mountain and fields region, hence I have a certain understanding of the terrain around here, we should be able to throw them off. Come!”

The two left their hiding place and returned to the river.

The night has just arrived, Chen Laomou immediately ordered his men to construct the pontoon bridge. Five thousand men and horses quickly crossed the river, and then the pontoon bridge was dismantled. They hurriedly traveled to the east, rushing nearly forty li in one breath, before men and horses were unbearably tired.

Kou Zhong selected a highland densely covered in wild trees. They cut trees and built fences there, turning it into a primitive yet effective defensive measure, and then ordered the whole army to light fire and cook rice on the mountaintop, to have a good rest.

Kou Zhong took Ma Chang, Wang Xuanshu, Ba Yegang, Bing Yuanzhen, four men to another mountaintop west of the camp, where he released Wuming to scout for any movement in the direction of River Yi.

Leaving the Yi Luo Plains, where danger lurked on every side, furthermore, far away from the heart-breaking area where the soldiers were destroyed, the generals were lost, everybody had a feeling of having a weight off their mind, their mood was a lot more cheerful. Besides, they now had clear coping strategies and objectives, which naturally must not be spoken on the same day with the disheartened feeling when they had just been defeated.

Ba Yegang said, “Our move must be greatly beyond Li Shimin’s expectation, so that his original strategy cannot be carried out anymore, hence the reason he has not been able to catch up until now.”

Bing Yuanzhen nodded and said, “At least it does not feel like every moment we are living under the shadow of the Tang Navy’s threat.”

Kou Zhong watched Wuming’s movement high in the air, but his mind was actually on Yang Gongqing, whose bones were buried on the other side of the Yi River; he wanted to speak but had nothing to say.

Wang Xuanshu said, “Li Shimin might think that we are at the end of our rope, hence we took the risk to charge through toward Chenliu; in this case, he might notify the Xiangcheng’s city defenders, while he himself leads the main forces to pursue us from behind, waiting for us to have our body weary, strength exhausted from the journey, and then launch pincer attack from the front and back, which could easily crush us.”

Ma Chang agreed, he said, “Although Xuanshu Gongzi’s conjecture might not be spot on, it shouldn’t be too far off!”

Smiling bitterly, Wang Xuanshu said, “I am no longer any Gongzi, just call me Xuanshu, that will make me a bit more comfortable.”

Kou Zhong reached out to wrap his arm around Wang Xuanshu’s shoulders, he spoke tenderly, “You are our beloved Xiao Didi [little brother (affectionate appellation)]. Ay! Things have come to this, it is really beyond anybody’s expectation.”

Wang Xuanshu spoke dejectedly, “I just hope Li Yuan would treat my Die well!”

Kou Zhong sighed with him, he shook his head, but did not say anything.

Ba Yegang exchanged a glance with Bing Yuanzhen, they were surprised at Kou Zhong’s expression.

Wang Xuanshu’s lips quivered, in the end he could not help asking, “Looks like Shaoshuai is not too optimistic about my Die.”

Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “Xuanshu, you must be strong in confronting the cruel facts, just like confronting life and death in the battlefield, anybody could encounter unexpected disasters.”

Ma Chang spoke in astonishment, “Currently Li Yuan deeply dotes on Dong Shuni; in order to fawn on the beloved imperial concubine, Li Yuan can’t possibly deal with Xuanshu’s surrendering clansmen ruthlessly, can he?”

Kou Zhong said, “I hope I am wrong. Because the problem is not in Li Yuan, but in the demonic school people manipulating the Li Clan from behind. This is called many incense burners, many ghosts. Because Xuanshu’s esteemed father has deep understanding of the demonic school’s secrets, plus he has deep influence on Shuni, people like Yang Xuyan definitely will not allow such person to enter Chang’an safely.”

Staring blankly, Wang Xuanshu said, “How could Die know about the demonic school’s affairs?”

Feeling a headache, Kou Zhong said, “This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly, I’ll tell you everything later, but as for your esteemed father, the Heaven helps the worthy. However, Xuanshu, in your heart, you ought to be prepared for the worst. Contending for hegemony over the world is precisely such a cruel, merciless affair. Looking at Wuming’s eagle dance, Li Shimin’s covering-the-mountains-and-the-plains fast cavalry unit are coming to attack from the southwest. Looking at the momentum, Li Shimin is going to launch a violent attack on us immediately, attempting to trap us rigidly on the mountaintop. Let’s go back and make adequate preparation.”

The crowd roared in response, the morale was high.

Hou Xibai said, “There is something that I have always wanted to tell you. Huh? There’s an abandoned village over there.”

Xu Ziling halted his steps abruptly, he saw the roofs visible among the forest tree at the end of the slope of the mountain road. All sorts of feelings welled up in his heart, he said, “That is the village where we came across Dong Shuni. What is it that Xibai Xiong wanted to tell me?”

Hou Xibai sighed and said, “Ziling Xiong is already aware that I am unable to put Feixuan into the painting. Until this moment, I still don’t have confidence that I will be able to capture Feixuan’s appearance. What I wanted to tell you is this: now, other than Feixuan, there is another beauty that I am unable to capture her most touching moment with the tip of my brush, which is Shi Qingxuan. Both are somehow related to you.”

Blurted out laughing, Xu Ziling said, “So what’s exactly the problem? Wanwan is also very difficult to capture, how come you were able to capture her and draw her so well?”

Hou Xibai thought he might as well walked over to a large rock and sat down. Casting his gaze toward the sun setting in the west, he spoke with a bitter smile, “That is something that I cannot explain. Ziling took me to this village, I wonder if there’s any reason? I always feel that something is fishy with this abandoned village.”

Xu Ziling sat down by his side. Revealing a contemplative look, he spoke indifferently, “Since I was injured, I became much more clear-headed than before, I am thinking of a lot of things that I previously overlooked, my lingtai is empty, clear and bright. Just now I had a faint feeling that we ought to head this way, because I feel that something is going to happen here.”

Knitting his brows, Hou Xibai said, “With Ziling’s current condition, it is better to avoid unnecessary trouble, right?”

Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Do you think I am someone who loves trouble? But things are wonderful; in the past, due to I have the Long-Life Qi, which has divine efficacy to treat injury, I have never had any internal injury that made me having my hands bound and am unable to do anything about it; however, this spirited efficacy was finally broken by the two great secret methods of terrifying demonic power that Yang Xuyan fused into one. For the time being, I am no longer able to restore my original martial art skill that can contend with the enemy for victory; however, my mind and spiritual sense are, not only weakened by the decline of my martial art skill, but becoming even more cohesive, even clearer than before. Do you know what I mean?”

Hou Xibai said happily, “In that case, injury may not be a bad thing for you, on the contrary, it is a rare turning point in your cultivation. When Ziling’s internal injury is completely healed, your cultivation might rise to another level of shedding one’s mortal body and exchanging one’s bones, to achieve the breakthrough that apart from this, there is no other way. However, I still do not approve of you taking risks, if something happened to you, how am I going to answer Kou Zhong, Ba Fenghan, Feixuan and Qingxuan?”

Xu Ziling replied calmly, “In that case, you must trust my hunch that although it is difficult to guess that whatever it is waiting for us in the abandoned village, whether it is happiness or disaster, I have a feeling that it is a part of my spiritual cultivation. Cultivation is not evading but confronting; only under the most vile situation would a man be able to display the power hidden beneath the surface. Just consider it an opportunity for Xibai Xiong; Xibai Xiong fused your painting method into the martial art way, it must be able to stand the test of the wind and the waves.”

Smiling ruefully, Hou Xibai said, “What you said makes sense; however, our enemies are Li Yuanji and his numerous martial art masters, plus a certain Yang Xuyan on top of that, no matter how confident and conceited I am, I still do not dare to guarantee your safety.”

Xu Ziling said, “This might be the purpose of the unusual power of my spirit. All the way fleeing to this place, I have some kind of distinct, spiritedly-clear feeling, as if I knew where the real danger is, hence I continually changed the route of escape, until we finally arrived in this abandoned village. Moreover, I have a vague feeling that the abandoned village is the only way to survive. This is a feeling that I cannot explain, Xibai Xiong can only trust me.”

Hou Xibai finally revealed a smile; he spoke with great interest, “Ziling’s statement is a mystery within a mystery, yet it seems to contain some logic. May I ask you question in passing: can Ziling sense the position of the pursuing troops at this moment?”

Xu Ziling nonchalantly replied, “I sense that danger is getting closer and closer. If I am guessing correctly, they are following our trail in pursuit. Since I can’t cover up my footprints, how can I escape Yang Xuyan’s, who is an expert in following a trail – discerning eye?”

Hou Xibai’s countenance change, he said, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? I could have carried you away on my back!”

Xu Ziling sighed and said, “What’s the use of that? The scent that I left behind still cannot escape the brilliant pursuing troops. No need to hesitate! How about we go to the abandoned village ahead to try our luck?”

Smiling bitterly, Hou Xibai said, “Do we have any other choice?”

Kou Zhong was giving it all, doing everything in his power to command the Shao Shuai Army painstakingly defending the mountaintop; they used the trees to build barriers, repelling wave after wave of the Tang Army’s cavalry units attacking from four sides, eight directions. Both sides suffered injuries and deaths, but the enemy’s main assault team’s casualties were more disastrous, until eventually the enemy formed a siege.

The Tang cavalry’s vanguard unit had ten thousand men, under the Great General Wang Junkuo’s command. He barely arrived and immediately he sent the troops in violent attack, dividing his troops to storm the mountaintop position from several different directions. Fortunately Kou Zhong’s side has already had the waiting-at-their-ease-for-the-exhausted-enemy and the living-high-and-look-down [both are idioms] convenience. On top of that, from top to bottom they were of one mind, hence they were able to firmly maintain their battle formation.

At the bugle horn signal, the enemy retreated like a tide to regroup.

Putting away his folding bow, Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “Li Shimin has arrived!”

Under the afterglow of the setting sun, they saw big cloud of dust rising far away from the mountain forest in the southwest, and faintly saw the flying banner.

Seeing this, the officers and soldiers all around felt like their heart sank like a piece of lead; there was an oppressive feeling like they could not breathe.

Kou Zhong asked in heavy voice, “How many arrow darts do we have?”

Chen Laomou replied, “Enough to last us until sunrise tomorrow.”

Turning to Ma Chang, Kou Zhong asked, “How’s the exit path situation?”

Ma Chang replied with grave expression, “Wang Junkuo deployed a cavalry unit, approximately three thousand men, taking their position on a mountain top about half a li away from us. If we want to leave, we will have to pass this men-and-horses barrier first.”

Ba Yegang anxiously said, “If Li Shimin’s main forces arrive, he will immediately increase the military strength on that side, our chance of getting away is even more uncertain.”

Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Good kid! Li Shimin must have seen through our intentions, hence he dares to charge with this kind of ten-thousand-jun-thunderbolt momentum, open sabers and open spears. Fortunately, not only we occupy the advantageous position, we also have the benefit of the right timing. By the time Li Shimin arrives, it will be dark, and that will be our only chance to escape.”

“Shaoshuai, please bestow instructions!” Bing Yuanzhen said.

With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, “Right now the northeast wind is blowing, we divide our men and horses into two units, two thousand six hundred men per unit. when Li Shimin arrives, before their disposition of troops is stable, one team break out the siege to the northeast, setting the forest in fire along the way, the other team change according to the situation, to be in charge of bringing up the rear. With the fires, big and small, and the smoke in the plains as cover, plus the moon black and the wind high, and the enemy is weary their horse tired, we will leave safely. Otherwise, if we painstakingly defend the mountaintop, waiting for the enemy to cut off the trees in the vicinity, we will become a lone army lying bare inside the enemy’s heavy siege, and lose the chance to escape alive forever.”

It was only then did Ma Chang and the others understand what he meant by the right time and the advantageous position; none did not have his confidence doubled.

Kou Zhong gave his order, “The breaking-out-the-siege army is under Ma Chang’s command, Ba Da Jiangjun and Bing Da Jiangjun as deputies. Xuanshu and Mou Gong stay by my side, taking the duty of bringing up the rear with me.”

The group of generals responded in chorus, they accepted the order and left.

When only Chen Laomou and Wang Xuanshu remained by his side, Kou Zhong spoke fiercely, “Li Shimin wants to eliminate me, Kou Zhong, he already missed his chance. I am going use the Tujue people’s tactics to contend with him to the end, to make him know that I, Kou Zhong, am not somebody that he can bully.”

The two were able to hear the deep resentment toward Li Shimin in his voice, there was not the slightest amount of friendship at all.

“What is Tujue people’s tactic?” Wang Xuanshu asked.

The murderous intent in Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes was flaring greatly, but the tone of his voice was exceptionally tranquil; he spoke glibly, “The war that the Tujue people are fighting is a war of attrition like the wind, to catch the enemy off guard with a surprise attack [idiom from Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’], coming suddenly, leaving abruptly, able to display previously unimagined destructive power in the prairie wilderness. Furthermore, it can defeat the many using the few. From here to Xiangcheng, there are continuous mountain and fields, precisely the best terrain to display the Tujue people’s tactics. Two armies facing off against each other is just like martial art masters fighting each other. No matter how the other side has powerful men, strong horses, as long as I can grasp the initiative, evade the strong and strike the weak, why would I fear Li Shimin? Li Shimin is famous for being an expert in defense, but I am adept in attack. Now it is his turn to come to attack me, I am going to use attack against attack, to confront mortal danger and achieve survival in the end.”

Listening to that, Chen Laomou and Wang Xuanshu’s heart was full of admiration. If it were other people, after the bitter experience of recent defeat, while the present situation was even more inferior, it would be strange indeed if one’s fighting spirit was not completely gone, and he covered his head and sneaked away like a rat. Only Kou Zhong still had unswerving determination without pulling back, to strike back tenaciously without any fear.

Exhaling slowly, Kou Zhong said, “Li Shimin is here!”

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