Ouyang Xiyi was the most cool-headed; rising to his full height, he asked, "How's the situation?"
Letting out a cold snort, Yang Gongqing said, "I guarantee that within ten days we will be able to break through the Imperial Palace; we'll kill Yang Dong until not a single chicken and dog remains." And then he asked in low voice, "How's Daren's condition?"
Wang Xuanshu replied in low voice, "Die is still unconscious, but his life is not in danger."
Wang Xuanying asked nervously, "Why did we stop attacking the city?"
Yang Gongqing shot a glance toward Kou Zhong before responding, "This is Kou Xiongdi's idea. This moment we need to show our weakness to the enemy, or Li Mi won't fall into the trap by raising his army to attack Luoyang."
Immediately Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, Wang Honglie, and Wang Xingben's countenance changed.
Aghast, Wang Xuanying spoke hoarsely, "Do we still need to show our weakness to the enemy right now?" And then he pointed his finger like a halberd to Kou Zhong and said, "Die has gotten into this situation, everything is of your doings. Now we must break through the Imperial Palace immediately and take control over the whole city; otherwise we all will die without burial ground."
Frowning, Ouyang Xiyi said, "Ying Xianzhi [virtuous nephew], calm down a little bit. Victory or defeat is common in military operations. As long as Shichong Xiong is alive, we can't be considered failed and wiped over the floor."
Wang Xuanshu also told his older brother, "Die told us to listen to Kou Dage!"
Yang Gongqing came over to Wang Xuanying and put his arm around his shoulders; he consoled him, "Kou Xiongdi's tactic is actually in accordance with the Art of War's strategy of emptiness within solid, and solid within emptiness. The only way we can turn defeat into victory right now is to stabilize the troops' morale with that counterfeit goods, while at the same time following our original plan of luring Li Mi to attack; otherwise, there is no other strategy to turn the tide."
Wang Xuanying was still breathing hard, but he no longer said anything.
Kou Zhong spoke seriously, "We'll hand over Luoyang City to Lang Feng and Song Mengqiu, two generals' control. Xuanying Xiong and the others stay behind to take care of the Imperial City. As for Wanggong's safety, I will have to trouble Xiyi Gong and Changlin Xiong."
Stunned, Wang Honglie asked, "Where are you, two gentlemen, going?"
Yang Gongqing solemnly said, "Tonight we'll secretly take the impersonator out of town to Yanshi. In the show-down against Li Mi, if we are defeated, you must take Shangshu Daren that far!"
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling slipped away into an empty hall and sat down dejectedly.
Kou Zhong appeared to be both mentally and physically exhausted. Smiling wryly, he said, "We are still one move behind in this game; we lost under Li Mi, that crafty ghost's hands. Actually there is already a precedent to this matter; when Li Mi plotted against Zhai Rang in the past, he disguised himself as a corpse. This time he simply repeated this trick!"
Xu Ziling sighed and said, "Our thorough thought was not precise enough; such an important matter, how could Li Mi not make his move personally? Besides, even if we knew that Li Mi would be personally involved, it doesn't mean that we were going to find his trace. When Shen Luoyan assassinated Dugu Ba that day, I am sure there was another martial art master nearby, ready to provide assistance. And this person must be so superior that Ol' Ba and me did not even detect his presence. Perhaps it was Li Mi himself."
Kou Zhong hatefully punched his chair and blamed himself, "Li Mi personally massacred Qingshe Bang people, he actually already exposed a flaw, and we were still stupid enough to think that only Huang Gongcuo would do it. Let me ask you: how could Shen Luoyan be able to move Huang Gongcuo to do this kind of killing-chicken-using-butcher-knife-to-slaughter-a-cow matter? It was because Li Mi hated us to the bones that he troubled himself to be the assassin."
Xu Ziling coldly said, "Ren En Bangzhu and his brothers' debt of blood, I will definitely have Li Mi pay for it."
Kou Zhong sat his tiger-body straight; he nodded and said, "Other than Yuwen Huaji, Li Mi has become the crafty scoundrel we, the two brothers, want to eliminate the most. Humph! Although Li Mi could be considered full of schemes, he still underestimated that our sacred healing qi from the 'Secret to Long Life' combined with the 'Jade Annulus of He Clan' unexpectedly could save Wang Shichong's life. As long as he is not dead, but Li Mi believed him to be dead, we still have a chance to turn defeat into victory."
Xu Ziling smiled ruefully and said, "Right now I am afraid the rumors are flying everywhere; if the troops' morale is shaken, without even fighting, we will lose this battle in a very bad way."
Kou Zhong said, "Present situation is a bit similar to the battle of Jingling that day, the difference is that Wang Shichong is still alive. Fortunately I still have Zhai Jiao, this strong card up my sleeve. Wang Shichong and his group of great generals know that they must rely on me to gain victory."
They heard the sound of footsteps; the two boys stopped talking.
Xu Xingzhi pushed the door and entered in. He sat down by Kou Zhong's side and spoke in a low voice, "Just now, Wang Xuanying quarreled with Yang Gongqing, Lang Feng and Ouyang Xiyi, three men; he said that Kou Ye's revealing-weakness-to-the-enemy tactic already caused his Die to sustain serious injury; therefore, they must not let you act at will. His proponents were Lang Feng, Wang Honglie and Wang Xingben. Opposing him was Wang Xuanshu, who said that Wang Shichong has personally instructed them to obey Kou Ye's order."
Kou Zhong revealed an 'I knew it!' expression; he said, "A fool will always be a fool, they will never change. This matter is not hard to resolve. As soon as Wang Shichong wakes up, this old fox is formidable in considering pros and cons, he will definitely choose the most advantageous choice."
Xu Xingzhi said, "But currently we have a serious crisis that is difficult to resolve."
The two boys jumped in fright, "What crisis?" they spoke in chorus.
Xu Xingzhi appeared to be deep in thought; he said, "If I were Dugu Feng, I would spread the news far and wide that Wang Shichong was ambushed and died, while at the same time secretly instructed Luoyang's industry and commerce leaders with connection to them pay their respect and come to inquire Wang Shichong's condition. When that happens, they can't refuse them, but they can't accept them even more; how would they deal with it?"
The two boys had never considered this aspect; both showed deep wrinkled on their foreheads.
Currently, their best advantage was hoping that Li Mi thought Wang Shichong was dead, and it was his body double that came out to keep up appearances, and led the troops to the west, hence Li Mi would make his move to attack Luoyang City.
If upon receiving the news, the leaders from all walks of life in Luoyang came over, in less than three sentences, the opponent would have discovered the flaw in this poor-quality counterfeit goods, and then they would be convinced that Wang Shichong had really died. Once the news spread, Wang Shichong's main army and his generals would collapse without a fight; worse yet, they might shift their support to Yang Dong and Dugu Feng's side. Once the Eastern Capital was lost, they would lose their supporting force as well, and would sink deeper into inferior condition where they would have to face the enemy on both fronts. It would be a world-class fantasy indeed if they did not get wiped out completely.
If they pleaded illness, the consequences would be the same. Dugu Feng would most probably make a big deal about pointing out that the strolling-around 'Wang Shichong' was an impostor. To those with discerning eyes, naturally it would be very easy to tell genuine or fake.
This was definitely a knotty problem.
How could they get the best of both worlds, i.e. stabilize the troops' morale, but also showed weakness to the enemy?
The two boys were already weary; this extra problem only increased their headache.
Xu Xingzhi spoke heavily, "If we can accomplish one thing, Xingzhi can think of one-stone-three-birds way."
The two boys' spirit was greatly aroused; one-stone-two-birds was already ideal, much less three birds?
"What do you want us to do?" Xu Ziling asked.
Xu Xingzhi said, "If we can make Wang Shichong sit up straight for more than a quarter of an hour, my stratagem will work."
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in disappointment. The former smiled bitterly and said, "If I can transfer an endless stream of true qi into his body, I guarantee that he will look like he is completely fine, simply because his eight extraordinary channels will be unimpeded. But I can't press my palm on his back all the time he is receiving guests; it will only be trying to be clever but end up with an egg on our face."
Greatly delighted, Xu Xingzhi said, "That will work; leave it to me. We will divide the guests into three batches. The first batch will be his subordinates of aids and advisors to top official level and above; let them know that this is simply a tactic to lure the enemy, although he is injured, but it was nothing serious. The second batch will be important figures of the City of Luoyang who are coming to pay their respect; let them continue to take a wait-and-see stance. Receiving these two batches should not take more than a quarter of an hour; it would not easily reveal the cloven foot."
"As for the third batch," he went on, "This would be other idle people. Let the fake goods pretend injury by receiving the guests simply by waving his hand, nodding, saying something like 'thank you for your concern'. That would be enough."
The two boys were still baffled, but since they knew that Xu Xingzhi's wisdom surpassed ordinary men, they were quite hopeful.
Xu Ziling said, "At most we can only obtain two objectives: stabilizing the troops' and the citizens' morale. What is the third?"
Full of confidence, Xu Xingzhi said, "The so-called empty is solid, solid is empty; Shichong is not hiding in a quiet room recuperating from the injury, but forcing himself to get out and receive the visitors instead, surely he knew returning-the-soul-recovering-the-weary method; hence forcing himself to see the guests will play its role in stabilizing the people's heart. Furthermore, receiving visitors for a long period of time like this may add injury to injury. It would be strange indeed if Li Mi does not immediately lead his troops to the west."
The two boys slapped the table and shouted with praise.
By the time Xu Xingzhi finished explaining the details of this operation clearly, Kou Zhong exerted himself to stand up; he said, "We are saved! Even if Wuhou [Marquis of Wu, i.e. Zhuge Liang] came back to life, perhaps he could only come up with similar plan."