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Ysabel, Jaya, Lao Qianbei, you are welcome. Chua, not yet. Xiaohu, you'll have to wait and see ...

Kou Zhong pushed the door and entered. Dejectedly he lay down on the bed, supporting himself with one arm, and his feet were still touching the ground, next to Xu Ziling, who was sitting in meditation, breathing out a sigh, and said, "Didn't you always lie down to cultivate your power? Why do you sit cross-legged like other people now? Is it more comfortable than lying down?"

Xu Ziling opened his eyes a slit and said, "Has someone wronged you? Why do you look like you are storing a bellyful of grievances?"

Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and said, "Grievances, that I don't have, just a lot of worry! It was only now that I know that although in the battle of Tong Hill Li Mi suffered substantial damage, his strength is still well above ours. It's possible that this battle would be a repeat of the battle of Jingling against the Ol' Die! Yet I have to think of every possible way to maintain highly optimistic attitude that we are going to win, to comfort others; being Junshi is not easy."

Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Didn't the military strategy book mention that honorable troops are refined, but dishonorable are many? After the fierce battle, a lot of valiant generals and acute soldiers under Li Mi's command died and injured, their spirit must be low. Yet our army is staking all in one throw, our aspiration is to fight to the death. Their spirit is disappearing ours is growing; as long as we employ proper tactics, avoiding the heavy and striking the light, victory will be in our grasp."

Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, "That is precisely the thing that I am most worried about. Last time, when dealing with the assassins, I was so confident of success; who would have thought that in the end we were still one move behind, and Li Mi was able to exploit it? The tactic of showing our weakness to the enemy has become we are weak against the enemy. Were it not for Xu Xingzhi's brilliant scheme, we would not even have to fight this battle."

Xu Ziling suddenly opened his eyes wide; his eyes gleaming brightly with strange light, he spoke heavily, "We are going to win this battle. Because Li Mi thinks Wang Shichong's injury is heavy and it is difficult to recover, our troops' morale is in chaos, our warriors are without the will to fight, hence his heart will be contemptuous. Under current circumstances, Du Fuwei and Shen Faxing's coalition army may attack Jiangdu any moment, along Yuwen Huagu's old route going up north, while Dou Jiande's intention is to go south. In the meantime, the Li Clan has to deal with Xue Ju, father and son's main forces from the west. Whether Li Mi can capture Luoyang in time or not, it will be the crucial point in the fight over the world. Therefore, Li Mi's anxiety to obtain Luoyang is more unbearable than that of the ants on the cauldron. This is the 'Escaping One'; do you understand?"

Kou Zhong sat up suddenly, and spoke with a huff, "Well said! But supposing Li Mi cut off our return route to the Eastern Capital, while at the same time sending his elite troops moving west along the river to pressure the Eastern Capital, what should we do?"

Tranquil and calm, Xu Ziling said, "How could Li Mi have such patience? If that happens, we only need to defend Yanshi steadily, while holding on to Li Mi's hind leg and cut his supply line, combined with the fact that Luoyang is a strong city, well-known throughout the world as easily guarded, hard to attack, under prolonged battle, his tragic victory will only force his army to lose their zeal to continue fighting. Hence the reason I am quite certain that unless he did not come, this battle will establish our prowess and raise our spirit, and then we'll seize the opportunity to capture the Eastern Capital in one fell swoop."

"Insightful!" Kou Zhong exclaimed while slapping the bed.

Sitting up straight, he mused, "I hope Zhai Jiao will not disappoint me; let Li Mi's wonder troops become ordinary troops, and then we can avoid the important and dwell on the trivial, and beat the triumphing-in-every-battle Wagang Army."

Vigorously patting Xu Ziling's broad shoulders, he praised, "Xiongdi! You are quite all right!"

Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, "You just did not have free time, hence you missed the obvious."

Kou Zhong was staring blankly for half a day; finally he nodded and said, "Your statement is a stern warning. Do you remember at the top of the Jingling city wall the other day, when we were facing Ol' Die's main forces besieging the city, I gained an understanding of a xinfa [I still have not found a good English equivalent on this; any idea?] that was transcending life and death, success or failure, and simply regarded the entire battlefield as a chessboard? If a chess player wanted to win, he must plan first and move later, leading the opponent by the nose. Right now Li Mi appears to have the first move, but the situation is actually under our control; we only need to see how he is going to enter the playing field."

Xu Ziling spoke heavily, "Shen Luoyan is an expert in snooping military intelligence. Don't forget we stole that roster book from her house; she has eyes and ears everywhere."

Kou Zhong's countenance changed, "What do we do then?" he asked.

Word by word Xu Ziling replied slowly, "If you want to use your wonder troops to deal with Li Mi's wonder troops, you must not use even one lowly soldier from Wang Shichong's troops. Only Zhai Jiao and the talents under her command can become wonder troops."

Kou Zhong was severely shaken, "Good kid! You are just amazing!" he exclaimed, "But listening to the tone of Zhai Jiao's voice, the only ones willing to follow her right now are just Xuan Yong and his several hundred men; what can we do against Li Mi's main forces?"

Xu Ziling laughed and said, "You, this kid, are using all kinds of weird tricks to coax me to speak; I don't believe you don't know what to do."

Embarrassed, Kou Zhong said, "You ought to know that I love listening to your analysis the most. In military strategy, the most critical thing is bluffing; on the battlefield, people panic, they might be too nervous to remember even their Die and Niang's names. If it were direct confrontation, several hundred people probably can't pull even half a hair of the opponent, but to burn their supply at the back of their camp, we may have plenty of capability. Right now everything is ready, all we need is an east wind. Oh Zhai Jiao! Whether you will be able to avenge your father this time, it depends whether you are determined enough not to fall short!"

※ ※ ※

The next day the warships arrived at the dock outside the City of Yanshi. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, the two boys donned their mask to disguise themselves as ordinary soldiers, and mingled among the crowd sneaking into the city.

Once they were inside, they took off their military uniform, exposing the ordinary traveling merchant attire underneath. Immediately they tried to find any marking left by Zhai Jiao's men. Half a sichen later, they met with Xuan Yong at a private house on the east side of the city.

Kou Zhong asked in astonishment, "I didn't expect Xuan Xiong would meet us personally. How's the situation here?"

Xuan Yong welcomed them inside. After they were seated, he said, "Li Mi seems to constantly amassing military power at Jinyong; it appears that he might advance to Yanshi any moment. Kou Ye's luring-the-enemy tactic seems to be working."

Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, "This time I want to make sure this old kid can come but cannot leave."

Xu Ziling spoke heavily, "Don't be delighted too soon."

Xuan Yong nodded and said, "Xu Ye is absolutely right. Li Mi is obviously aware that Miss is lying in wait for an opportunity nearby, because not only the city's security is very tight, they don't allow just anybody to enter the city, and set up numerous posts outside the city to prevent spies from lurking around, making the communication between us and our contact inside the city difficult. This is quite a headache."

Frowning, Kou Zhong asked, "How's Li Mi's present situation?"

Xuan Yong replied, "After defeating Yuwen Huaji, Li Mi lost a lot of strong soldiers and good horses; his troops are weary and sick, in their heart they loathe to go to war. Therefore, he has to transfer far inferior soldiers from all places. As a result, although there are still around a hundred thousand men, the fact is that good and bad people intermingled; they are strong in appearance but weak in reality."

Kou Zhong was pleased, "That being the case," he said, "If we can take advantage while his tired army is moving south, while his track is not hidden yet, we take them by storm, and use our wonder troops to raid their rear, so that there will be enemies on Li Mi's belly and back. In this way Li Mi will inevitably collapse in crushing defeat."

Xuan Yong sighed and said, "The problem is that Li Mi is an expert in deceit and decoys. Without definite knowledge of his route, we might miss the main force and mistakenly take his secondary chariot. We might step into the trap he laid, and then it will be our turn to suffer a calamity."

Xu Ziling said, "It seems that after prying the enemy's intelligence, Xuan Xiong has not uncovered any definite answer yet!"

Xuan Yong said, "After Li Mi found out about Miss, he started to suspect all high-ranking military officers who had close relationship with Da Longtou [big boss, i.e. Zhai Rang], and did not allow them to take part in this military operation; he even transferred them to guard other places instead. Currently, Li Mi can trust only Shen Luoyan, Xu Shiji, Wei Zheng, Pei Renji, Wang Bodang, Shan Xiongzin, Cheng Zhijie, Chen Zhilue, Fan Wenzhao, those kind of people; making us not knowing where to start."

Kou Zhong swore hatefully, "I really want to immediately kill that demon Taoist Ke Feng."

"Is Xuan Xiong saying you don't have any idea at all?" Xu Ziling asked.

Xuan Yong smiled and said, "He has Zhang Liang's scheme, I have the ladder to cross over the wall. Li Mi can only guard against several great generals in command of the troops who were related to Da Longtou, but it's difficult for him to deal with all Da Longtou's former subordinates within the military. Although they don't have any qualifications to participate in Li Mi's secret military conference, they are still able to see subtle movement from troop dispatch, and are able to supply us valuable intelligence."

Xu Ziling was puzzled, "Didn't just now Xuan Xiong say that it is difficult to communicate with the city?"

"Absolutely correct," Huan Yong replied, "We used to use carrier pigeon or hide the letter inside a bottle which we floated along the canal out of the city, but ever since Xu Shiji dispatched his men to closely monitor the traffic, we no longer dare to use the old communication method. But since there are always people going out of town, we can hide the letter in specified location, which we will then retrieve. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to support two Masters."

Kou Zhong praised, "Xuan Xiong must have spent a lot of mind and energy in this regard."

Xuan Yong revealed an 'it was nothing' free and easy expression; he said, "In the first place, we know that Li Mi's main force is divided into four divisions; three are stationed outside the city in three wooden forts, each division consists of roughly twenty thousand men, mostly new army recruit without enough training and elderly and weak people. Only the forty-thousand-man division inside the city is the elite troops who has been with Li Mi fighting all over the world; this division also includes Cheng Zhijie, Xu Shiji and Pei Renji's combined army."

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling's spirit was greatly aroused. The former's eyes lit up with strange light as he said, "Ha! Li Mi wants to repeat his former strategy! Those three divisions of sixty thousand men can only be a shop sign [fig. pretense], the real powerhouse to attack Yanshi is that division with forty thousand men."

Xuan Yong nodded and said, "At the moment, the key to obtain victory is whether we can keep track of these forty thousand men's movement. In the past, each time Li Mi went into war, he always relied on accurate intelligence, and launched surprise attack while the enemy least expected it. Or perhaps using the luring-the-enemy tactic; feigning defeat and retreating someplace else, and then his hidden troops strike back suddenly, while the pretending-to-be-defeated troops also turn around and attack. Zhang Xutuo was devoured by him like that."

Kou Zhong solemnly said, "I must entrust this matter to Miss and Xuan Xiong, but you must by all means be careful, that poniang Shen Luoyan is deceitful in many ways, and must not be trifled with."

Xuan Yong nodded his agreement. And then he spoke with a wry smile, "The other problem is Shen Luoyan seems to know your every move like the back of her hands, making it difficult for the two of you to use deceit. Once direct confrontation happens, the entire victory or defeat situation will be difficult to guess."

Kou Zhong made eye contact with Xu Ziling; lowering his voice, he said, "In this, we will have to rely on Miss and Xuan Xiong; only by your men and horses' support will we be able to face Li Mi's hard-to-grasp wonder troops' movement. If we can make Li Mi's side mistakenly think that it was Wang Shichong's other troops providing support in secret, we can shake the enemy's confidence and will hasten their downfall."

Staring blankly, Xuan Yong said, "But we are just a crowd of two hundred people. Oh! I understand! Two Masters are really men with guts reaching up to the heavens; Xuan Yong submit in admiration."

Summing up, Kou Zhong said, "Right now the only way to win is by securing accurate military intelligence. We are going to quietly wait Xuan Xiong's good news."

Xuan Yong said, "Can Kou Ye give me the pass [i.e. special authorization through checkpoints]? This way I can go out and come in a bit more conveniently."

Kou Zhong rose up to his full height and said, "Not only I am going to give you the pass, I will also take you to see the general in charge of city defense. If necessary, you can come to see me directly, so as not to delay any military intelligence."
[1] Wonder troops, this is a literal translation of 奇兵 (qi bing). The correct definition is 'troops appearing suddenly (in a raid or ambush)', but in this case I want to show the contrast between 'wonder troops' and 'ordinary troops'.

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