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Jaya, Ysabel, you are welcome. DongBin, Sky, you might not like the outcome though. Chowbeng, whiteskwirl, with your permission, I'd like to amend my source with the additional information you provided. Please kindly let me know if you do NOT want me to use it. Xu Xiong, thanks for sharing.

Book 16 Chapter 6 - Fractured Relationship

Ba Fenghan turned his gaze from the building on the other side of the garden, he spoke contemplatively, "In this kind of breaking-a-new-ground decisive battle, it is obvious that Fu Qian wants to establish his might in one fight. I don't understand why he has such a high confidence. Qu Ao has made his name for decades, how could he be an easy target?”

Xu Ziling nodded and said, "If we could make Fu Qian understand that he may not necessarily triumph over Qu Ao, there is a probability that he would let Qu Ao come out for you.”

Smiling wryly, Ba Fenghan said, "That is easy to grasp but difficult to put into practice. I'd better challenge Qu Ao directly. As long as he nodded, Fu Qian could only be a spectator on the wall.”

Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "Aren't you going to intercept Qu Ao outside the door?”

Ba Fenghan said, "Supposing Qu Ao is coming with Tuli, he could simply brush his sleeve and ignore me, then I will be humiliated, what can I do to him?”

Xu Ziling sighed and said, "In my opinion, just let those two have their duel first! Just like your analysis, this matter can happen because both of them nodded their heads.”

Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, "In that case, I can only change according to the situation.”

There was a knock on the door.

"Who is it?” Ba Fenghan shouted.

A young woman's voice replied, "Daye! Maid is here to tidy up.”

The two felt strange, because they had already told Cui'er that unless it was an emergency, they did not want to be disturbed, why did this little maid deliberately disobey the order?

They have not yet answered, the door was pushed open, a young maid came in, and lightning fast put a letter, which had been folded into a small square, on the table, and said in a low voice, "Ren Bangzhu sent me here.”

Finished speaking, lightning fast she left.

Ba Fenghan unfolded the letter and read; heaving a sigh of relief he said, "Princess is really resourceful, she has been brought out.”

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Hearing that, Li Shimin laughed aloud and said, "Zhong Shao still trifles without respect, as usual. With your current skill, no poisonous wine will be able to harm you, plus I, Li Shimin, am not the kind of person who would use such trick.”

Kou Zhong coughed dryly and said, "Turns out good wine is just like poisonous wine. It choked me that my seven apertures [of the human head: eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth] are shooting flames.”

Li Shimin happily said, "I brought this from Guanzhong, it is called ‘hou zui lie jiu' [intoxicating throat strong wine].”

Seeing him pouring another cup for him, Kou Zhong, still with lingering fears, said, "What are we drinking for this time?”

Li Shimin smiled and said, "This second cup is for Wang Shichong. If he did not have you to help him, perhaps he would become a lone army painstakingly defending Yanshi, but now he had a great chance of defeating Li Mi instead. Presently Zhong Shao has become a person with great influence and plays a critical role left and right.”

Kou Zhong said, "Actually, saying that we drain our cups for Li Shimin is more fitting.”

Li Shimin spoke seriously, "If you want to toast, you should toast my Die. Ay! Sometimes I really don't know my relationship with you. If you are willing to change your mind and exert yourselves for our Li Family, I, Li Shimin, am willing to guarantee with my head that we can't possibly treat the two of you meagerly.”

Kou Zhong's eyes shone with divine light; he slowly said, "By saying that, Shimin Xiong has decided not to accept inferior status.”

Li Shimin's eyes also lit up; he spoke in heavy voice, "This matter is too early to tell. Right now the world situation is getting more and more divided, as clear as the strive for Guanxi and Guandong. In my capacity as a friend, may I ask you a question? How much chances do you have against Li Mi?”

Calmly, Kou Zhong replied, "I'll tell you the answer the day after tomorrow.”

Li Shimin appeared to be pondering over something, but he did not press on. He said, "Li Mi's fierce generals are certainly as numerous as clouds, but among them, there is one you must not neglect.”

Frowning, Kou Zhong said, "Are you referring to Wang Bodang or Pei Renji?”

Li Shimin slowly shook his head; he said, "Although these two men's reputation is resounding, they can't match Xu Shiji. This man entered Wagang Army when he was seventeen, and currently holding the post of Right Wuhou Great General; very resourceful and decisive, predicts enemy's movement like a deity, each attack subdues the enemy. Moreover, he is modest and sincere, strict with self but lenient with others, hence he can make officers and soldiers follow orders. A truly rare talented field commander.”

Stunned, Kou Zhong said, "Turns out he is like that; fortunately you reminded me. That year, because at Xingyang he was unable to do anything to us, plus he is Shen Luoyan's lover, all along I did not take him seriously. What a close call!”

After staring at him with mysterious expression on his eyes for a moment, Li Shimin heaved a deep sigh and said, "People who are willing to accept other's advice like Zhong Shao, I, Li Shimin, have to admit that I lack that quality; I must learn from you well.”

For the first time that night Kou Zhong revealed a sad look on his face; smiling ruefully, he said, "Aren't you also able to absorb good things from others? When people who can't listen to others' admonishment became the Emperor, they would be like Yang Guang, just another muddleheaded ruler. Ay! If it were peacetime, you and I will surely be close friends; at least we can't be enemies.”

Li Shimin stared blankly at the clear liquor in his cup; he said in low voice, "That being said, you are determined to take the ‘Duke Yang's Treasure' out!”

Kou Zhong did not answer, but asked a question instead, "This time we meet, is Li Jing aware of it?”

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Lowering his voice, Xu Ziling asked, "How did she do it?”

While still reading the letter, Ba Fenghan replied, "Dong Ming flagship was ready to sail tonight anyway, hence they already cleared the security at the gate, and thus did not arouse other people's suspicion.”

Finished reading, he handed the letter to Xu Ziling.

The letter only had very few characters, it was written in code words of the ‘black way', and there was no signature. Even if it fell into other people's hand, they would be unable to make any sense of it.

Having the weight off his mind, Xu Ziling breathed a sigh of relief, and then applying his power he kneaded the letter and turned it into powder. Sitting back comfortably into his chair, he sighed and said, "This time we beat the odd. Yin Gui Pai might fly into a rage out of humiliation, they will take drastic measures.”

Laughing coldly, Ba Fenghan said, "I don't care if it's Yin Gui Pai or Dugu Clan, both harbor sinister design in their hearts. Cooperation like the one just now, may be done once and once only.”

After a short pause, he went on, "Only Tuli and Qu Ao's cooperation is unusually rare. Tujue and Tiele's relationship has never been a harmonious one.”

Xu Ziling said, "If you leave Luoyang alone, aren't you afraid Tuli and Tuoba Yu might team up to chase and kill you?”

Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Ba Fenghan said, "I really hope they would do that. Only under this kind of circumstance would I be able to progress continuously. If I can lure them away, it would also be beneficial for the two of you.”

And then, looking up, he exclaimed in low voice, "Someone's up there!”

He had not even finished speaking, a shadow flashed. Someone somersaulted toward the balcony, and then sneakily entered the room.

※ ※ ※

Li Shimin's pair of tiger-eyes was flashing brightly, but the tone of his voice remained flat; he said, "Whether Li Jing's aware or not, what does it have to do with us?”

Kou Zhong laughed calmly. He said, "I just want to ask Shimin Xiong one thing: last night when Wang Shichong issued the curfew, did the idea come from Shimin Xiong?”

Li Shimin's shoulders and back straightened up slightly, immediately he emitted a powerful, overbearing, yet invisible aura. Laughing aloud, he said, "Well guessed. If Xiaodi denied, it would be too uninteresting.”

Kou Zhong laughed involuntarily; shaking his head, he said, "Qin Wang is really a good friend. Under the circumstances, we could not escape even if we wanted to.”

Li Shimin spoke indifferently, "How could Kou Zhong be a coward? Since you have the guts to stroke the tiger's whiskers, naturally you are not afraid of the tiger!”

And then he spoke heavily, "Why was Ziling Xiong unwilling to come with you to see me?”

Staring at him coldly, Kou Zhong said, "Based on Qin Wang's ability and wisdom, you ought to be able to guess the reason.”

Li Shimin was silent for half a day. His eyes revealed a hurting look; he sighed and said, "Was it because he is unwilling to witness you and I negotiate the breaking of our relationship and becoming enemies instead?”

Kou Zhong's expression became incomparably grim, his eyes shone brightly. Staring hard at Li Shimin, he said, "The moment I step out of the door, Qin Wang need not consider us with old affection. The fact is, you have already dealt with us. In this chaotic world, not only friends can become enemies, father and son, older and younger brothers, will inevitably become a foe. Qin Wang ought to have particular experience in this regard.”

Li Shimin raised his cup and let out a long laugh; he said, "You have aspiration! Let this king toast Kou Xiong one cup. The moment you step out the door, I will deal with you with all my strength, in no way will I be lenient to you, because you and Ziling Xiong are the persons I, Li Shimin, think most highly of.”

Kou Zhong raised his cup to return the toast, "I wonder if Qin Wang has several hundred of saber and axe masters waiting outside the door to kill me!”

Li Shimin nearly sprayed his wine out; laughing in spite of himself, he said, "You trust me enough to come and see me, how could I treat you with injustice?”


The two cups clinked against each other.

These two outstanding figures who were destined to dominate the world in spite of the wind and the clouds [i.e. unstable situation], finally separated.

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