Book 18 Chapter 2 - Initial Expectation Hard to Achieve
The fleet of carriages left the main gate.
Kou Zhong, along with the group of martial art masters, were riding in horses instead of taking carriages. Together with the more than a hundred imperial bodyguards, they rode in neat formation to protect Wang Shichong's carriage. When they left, the Rong Mansion was still lively with the loud party.
When they entered another major street, Xu Ziling, who was driving Wang Shichong's carriage, suddenly reined the horses to stop. While everybody was wondering, the curtain rose up, Wang Shichong stuck out his head and called out, "Xiyi Xiong, Daozhang [priest], Kou Xiaodi, please come in to talk."
Other than Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, and Ouyang Xiyi, three men who were aware of actual situation, the rest of the people were baffled.
Linglong Jiao, Chen Changlin, and a dozen or so martial art masters quickly jumped to the roof of the buildings on both sides of the street, to guard against the enemy seizing this opportunity to ambush.
Inside the carriage, the real and the fake Wang Shichong were sitting side-by-side.
After Kou Zhong, three men, settled down on their seats, Wang Shichong spoke in low voice, "I want to change course."
Priest Ke Feng was stunned, "Won't that mean a lot of our arrangements cannot be used anymore?" he asked.
Wang Shichong said, "I suddenly remember in the past Zhang Liang and Bo Langsha dispatching their strong men to throw huge rocks to the Emperor's carriage. If the enemy uses this tactic again, and the people throwing the boulders are Huang Gongcuo, You Chuhong, Dugu Feng, Wang Bodang, and the like, and I am hiding inside the secret compartment, it will be really dangerous."
Kou Zhong pretended to blurt out, "In that case, won't our tactic of showing-the-enemy-our-weakness go down the drain?"
Ke Feng also said, "If the enemy uses iron hammer, heavy rocks, and the like to attack us, we must anticipate our way back to the Imperial City first."
But Ouyang Xiyi said, "Spy among us is difficult to guard against, what Shichong Xiong said makes sense; if anything bad should happen to Shichong Xiong, it won't be showing-the-enemy-our-weakness, but it would give the enemy an opportunity to exploit."
Wang Shichong smiled and said, "Our objective is clear; if the enemy wants to assassinate, they will find a way. We ought to take the Heavenly Street's Imperial Road to go back to the Imperial City. Because of the trees separating the road, the enemy can only carry out their assassination using close range method. This is my decision!"
And then he called Xu Ziling, who was sitting on the driver seat, "Jieyuan, come inside, I have something to tell you."
Kou Zhong, three men, left the carriage. Ouyang Xiyi deliberately pulled Ke Feng aside to talk to him, while blocking his line of sight so that he did not see Wang Shichong taking off his outer robe, exposing an attire similar to Xu Ziling's, donning on the mask to turn himself to 'Qin Jieyuan', and climbing onto the driver seat.
The cavalcade moved again.
The originally quiet street was suddenly filled with hoof beats and the sound of wheels grinding the pavement. It brought up some kind of pressure-before-the-storm feeling, making everybody breath heavily.
Dark clouds hang low on the sky, another storm was brewing.
By this time Xu Ziling has already applied the disguising technique he learned from Zhuge Dewei. With the help of the fake Wang Shichong, he was able to achieve fo, 60% resemblance with the real Wang Shichong; it's just that without the hair and the beard, plus with the aid of the darkness of the night, perhaps anybody would be able to see the flaw in just one glance.
The 'original' fake Wang Shichong whispered in trembling voice, "I don't want to die, Daye …"
Xu Ziling patted his shoulder and said, "Don't worry! I will do my best to protect you."
Sighing inwardly, he hid inside the secret compartment.
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The leading riders, a platoon of about twenty men, finally turned onto the Heavenly Street, and slowly entered the Imperial Highway.
Linglong Jiao urged her horse to catch up with Kou Zhong. Riding alongside him, she spoke in low voice, "Is this a wise choice? The assassins can easily hide among the trees."
Inwardly, Kou Zhong was surprised; this woman seemed to undergo a huge change in her attitude these past couple of days, taking initiative to talk to him like this, it would have been unimaginable in the past. He laughed cheerfully and said, "I am most afraid that they won't come!"
After a short pause, he asked, "Where is Qiuci anyway?"
Linglong Jiao lightly replied, "Why do you want to know?"
"A place derives reflected glory from an illustrious son," Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, "Qiuci is able to produce matchless music and dance in the world, and beautiful women like Miss; certainly it is a beautiful land, hence the reason I, Kou Zhong, am tempted to inquire."
He cleverly flattered Qiuci State and Linglong Jiao, and mentioned music and dancing and the people in the same breath; therefore, although it carried a hint of teasing, it was neither blatant nor condescending, so that this as-cold-as-ice-and-frost beauty would have to take it as face value and would not be able to reprimand him.
Linglong Jiao's pretty face blushed slightly; under the illumination of the lanterns ahead and behind them, she looked even more beautiful and alluring.
After being quiet for half a day, she spoke in low voice, "Do you really think so?"
A tinge of regret grew in Kou Zhong's heart; considering non-Han women were different from Central Plains women - they were more forthcoming and direct, if she misunderstood that he was falling in love with her, it might bring unintended consequences. But this moment he was riding a tiger, how could he explain that it was just a random talk and that he was just teasing her?
Without much choices he hardened his heart and replied, "Of course I do."
Linglong Jiao shot him a coquettish glance. "Do you know where eastern Tujue is?" she asked.
Kou Zhong nodded, "Isn't that north of the Great Wall?"
Linglong Jiao became like a little girl, she excitedly said, "Go figure! West of Eastern Tujue is precisely Western Tujue, Gaochang and Qiuci. From Luoyang, you must pass through Wuwei, Zhangye, Dunhuang, Shanshan. From there you still have to travel for two months to the northwest, across the Great Desert, and that is the grassland where my people live."
Kou Zhong was dumbstruck, "It's that far," he said.
Suddenly they heard a horse neighing ahead; the cavalcade stopped immediately.
In the darkness, about twenty zhang ahead, they could vaguely see a tall figure standing in the middle of the road.
Momentarily everybody was stunned; how could the assassin be this brazen?
It should be noted that nearly all of the entire force of martial art masters under Wang Shichong's command were concentrated here, not to mention more than a hundred elite guards. Unless the enemy had stronger force, perhaps before they were able to even touch Wang Shichong's carriage, they would have to retreat with broken troops and damaged generals.
Without waiting for this side to shout the question, the man already let out an earsplitting long laughter and said, "Wang Shichong! You are going to die today!"
Surprisingly, it was the Dugu Clan's leader, Dugu Feng's voice.
Before anybody had time to respond, Dugu Feng roared and spun around several times with the speed that was difficult to see with naked eyes; and then he threw a large object that was spinning in the air. Like a black could it flew across the more than twenty zhang distance, cutting toward the vanguard troops.
A whistling noise, the sound of metal splitting the air, screamed along the Imperial Road. Under the illumination of the lanterns and the torches, they could see that the object thrown by Dugu Feng was actually a large piece of iron disk, about five chi in diameter; its edge was full of sharp teeth. Thrown using his special technique, it created a beautiful arc in the air, as like a spinning top it flew with astonishing speed toward its target.
Dugu Feng was the leader of a major clan, he has made his name in Jianghu for more than forty years. Being thrown with all his strength, plus the angular momentum amassed by spinning in place, combined with the circular disc's rotational property, plus the sharp teeth along its edge, really carried an unbreakable and impossible-to-withstand momentum, which, even if Ning Daoqi personally came, perhaps he would not dare to meet the disc head on.
After throwing the circular disc, Dugu Feng immediately flew back, simply because he had used up all his strength in this one throw, and his true power suffered a very huge loss.
Ahead, lanterns were falling to the ground, because the guards jumped down of their horses and scattered away to evade. Panic spread out like a ripple. The rest of the people also jumped down from their horses and scattered in all direction.
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The light was suddenly swallowed by the darkness. A dreadful feeling, worse than the danger of battlefield, descended upon the people.
Kou Zhong, Ouyang Xiyi, and the others had never thought that the enemy would gain the upper hand in just one move like this. Momentarily they could only watch in disbelief as the round disc from afar flying near, as it was going to cut the carriage in two.
By the time the spinning disc was about three zhang away from the horses, the troops were either jumping down to the ground or riding their horses away to evade, while they were utterly defeated, a dark shadow fell down from the sky. With astonishing speed and shocking accuracy it landed on the flying, spinning disc, the tip of the shadow's toes was right at the axis of rotation, so that the shadow looked like an immortal soaring across the clouds, riding on the fog, as it flew along the spinning disc; an astonishing scene to behold.
"Assassin!" Ke Feng shouted.
Ouyang Xiyi already soared into the air, hoping to be one step ahead of the enemy to intercept him.
Kou Zhong was more anxious for Xu Ziling, this assassin's martial art skill was really high, it was definitely above Xu Ziling's and his. Because he did not know what the enemy was going to do next, and was fully aware that nobody would be able to stop the assassin before he reached the carriage, in his quick-thinking he threw himself down underneath the carriage and shouted, "Go down!"
Wang Shichong, sitting on the driver seat, became the main target. Wide-eyed he stared at the enemy approaching fast, riding on the disc, nearly flying over the horses' head, while his subordinates while scrambling in all kinds of postures to evade. Looking at the curve of the flight path, he knew that the fast-spinning disc carrying the enemy was about to cut across his face.
If the enemy was coming at him in straight line, relying on his skill, he could leap into the air to intercept the enemy, without paying attention to the flying disc. But the curving attack path was the most difficult to grasp, plus the incoming enemy was Huang Gongcuo, one of the people with enough qualifications to be Ning Daoqi's match. Therefore, at the last second he decided to give up the idea, sprang off the seat, and rolled down on the ground in an extremely sorry condition.
Under everybody's blank stare, the spinning disc razed through the carriage as if it was made of dried, rotten wood, about half a chi below the roof. The disc carried the roof of the carriage along and dropped it to the ground, leaving the carriage looked like an ugly-shaped, a vicious-looking open cart.
The four horses pulling the carriage reared on their hind legs first, and then their necks broke and they fell down, died on the spot.
The assassin sprang up, made a flip in the air, and then with head below and feet above, he dove down into the carriage like a cannonball.
Without casting even half a glance toward the trembling fake Wang Shichong curling on the floor at the aft of the carriage, both his palms struck toward the secret compartment.
When Xu Ziling, who was hiding inside the secret compartment in place of Wang Shichong, suddenly heard the horses neighing, he knew something was wrong. He was just about to push the board open and get out when Kou Zhong's warning shout rang in his ears.
If it were other people, he would have hesitated but for a moment. But he and Kou Zhong have been together since they were little, they lived and died together, so there was a fabulous tacit understanding between them; it could even be said that it was unparalleled in the world.
Kou Zhong's shout was still ringing in his ears, he immediately used his power to shatter the bottom of the carriage, dropped to the stone slab pavement below, and rolled away from the carriage.
The entire floor of the vehicle shattered into small pieces, the fake Wang Shichong and the seats dropped down to the ground, but the wall of the compartment remained intact.
Xu Ziling cried 'Lucky!' inwardly. If he was a split second late, it would be strange indeed if he did not die like a minced meat with all the bones in his body split in pieces.
Before he had time to spring up, the dreadful assassin, who clearly knew that he had slipped away from the bottom of the carriage, simply crashed through the wall in Xu Ziling's direction, and fiercely attacked him.
In the meantime, even after cutting the carriage in two, the spinning disc has not lost its momentum; it flew across the neck of two startling horses. Immediately their blood splashed, two poor innocent warhorses toppled down tragically, bringing the guards on their back along to the ground.
Other than scattering in all direction, Wang Shichong's men behind the carriage were helpless against the disc, forget about dealing with the enemy.