Book 19 Chapter 1 - Get Stuck in Critical Situation Together
The sun was setting in the west.
The warship sailed speedily into the City of Luoyang, following the Luo River toward the Imperial City.
On the city wall and the high points of all the watchtowers along the riverbank flags were flying, a festive scene of triumphant return after the victory.
Ships and boats went back and forth on the river, pedestrians, horses and carts crowded the street; indeed it was a city bustling with prosperity. Seeing a warship entering the city, all passersby on both sides of the river waved and cheered, creating an enthusiastic atmosphere.
However, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were not affected by this atmosphere at all. After scrutinizing the sign on the flag, Kou Zhong spoke in shock, "Yang Dong was finally forced to abdicate!"
Although it was inevitable, yet still a bit too hasty. It could clearly be seen that Wang Shichong's desire to proclaim himself the emperor was urgent. From now on the Central Plains would have one more self-proclaimed emperor.
Xu Ziling spoke in heavy voice, "I do not wish to see Wang Shichong."
Kou Zhong nodded in agreement, "Seeing him does not have any significance anyway," he said, "See if you could find Bu Tianzhi; Xu Xingzhi and I will look for you, and then under cover of darkness, we will leave the city. Ay! All of a sudden I have a little heart-alarmed, body-leaping ominous feeling. If I experience some mishap, kill Wang Shichong to avenge me."
Xu Ziling laughed and said, "How could Ouyang Xiyi let Wang Shichong to kill you? Based on his position in Jianghu, no matter what Wang Shichong must give him a little bit of face. Unless he has help from martial art masters of Ouyang Xiyi or Chen Changlin's caliber, Wang Shichong is incapable to make a move against you. As long as you act according to circumstances, there should be no problem."
Nevertheless, the two still agreed on ways to meet all kinds of contingencies. Only after they were done that Xu Ziling jumped into the river, swam toward the thicket by Luo River dike, and disappeared without any trace.
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The warship cast anchor at the dock outside the Imperial City.
Wang Xuanying, Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu and the others led their men to meet him, and accompany Kou Zhong galloping toward the city gate.
Kou Zhong pulled the rein to slow down, while casually asked about Wang Shichong's condition.
Wang Xuanying sighed and said, "Li Mi's punch was no trivial matter at all, to this day Die has not been able to leave the bed, but he is in good spirits; all day long he is asking when he can see Kou Junshi again."
Wang Xuanying was surprisingly polite and deferential, but listening to him, Kou Zhong's hair stood up on its end, and his heart was shivering in fear. Reasonably speaking, if Wang Shichong could not even get out of bed, he should not be this anxious to proclaim himself the Emperor.
But why would Wang Xuanying lie to him? Kou Zhong inwardly wiped the proverbial cold sweat from his brows; he asked, "How are Old Yi and Changlin Xiong?"
Song Mengqiu on his other side put on a fake smile and said, "They are waiting by Shengshang's [minister's form of address for the current emperor] side, ready to meet Kou Junshi's honorable self."
Hearing that, Kou Zhong's heart sank even lower. Ouyang Xiyi has always extremely cherished him and Xu Ziling; hearing about their return, it was quite reasonable to expect him to come and meet them personally, but this time the situation was different, all government officials in the entire Eastern Capital have fallen under Wang Shichong's control, there was no need for Ouyang Xiyi to stay twelve sichen a day by Wang Shichong's side to protect him; at least Xu Xingzhi ought to come to meet him.
Suddenly, Kou Zhong had a feeling that he was trapped in a tiger's den.
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Xu Ziling arrived at the place where Bu Tianzhi was staying in Luoyang, and found that the people were gone, the place was empty; moreover, the inside of the house was a mess. It appeared that they were leaving in extreme haste.
The strangest thing was that there were no marking or secret sign as agreed, which was extremely unusual.
Xu Ziling sat down dejectedly in a corner of the main hall. He was wondering inwardly whether Bu Tianzhi's departure was related to Wang Shichong. If it was, then Kou Zhong was in danger.
But he was still not too worried. Wang Shichong wanted to harm Kou Zhong, it was definitely not an easy matter.
While he was musing, suddenly he heard footsteps approaching.
Even with Xu Ziling's usual cool composure, he could not stop his countenance from changing greatly. Because from the footsteps, he already recognized who the person was.
At the same time, he knew that Kou Zhong was indeed in a grave danger.
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Who was the person Wang Shichong dreaded the most right now? Before, it was obviously Li Mi.
But after Li Mi suffered crushing defeat, in this Central Earth central zone of the Yellow River basin, the Tang occupied Guanxi, Zheng occupied Henan, Xia occupied Hebei; they had become the three powers that stood like the three legs of a tripod [i.e. tripartite of balance of forces].
But for Wang Shichong, the Zheng Emperor, contention for hegemony over the world was still a distant matter. The most pressing business he had to attend to was to stabilize the interior, to consolidate the outcome of the war.
If Wang Shichong was able to personally orchestrated the military operation at Mount Mang, which resulted in Li Mi's defeat, then the glory and prestige of the victory would belong to him, so that he did not need to have any misgivings to anybody.
But the fact was not like this at all.
Currently, Kou Zhong had, albeit inadvertently, established a sublime prestige within Wang Shichong's army, as well as developed a close relationship with generals under Wang Shichong's command. It would be strange indeed if he did not invoke Wang Shichong's suspicion and jealousy.
Just by looking at how Wang Shichong bestowing high titles to his family and relatives, it was clear that he was a selfish and narrowminded person. And then there was precedence in Zhai Rang's case. Naturally Wang Shichong did not wish for Kou Zhong to become another Li Mi.
On top of that, there was undoubtedly close relationship between Kou Zhong and Zhai Jiao. Anybody would be able to guess that Kou Zhong could potentially absorb Li Mi's surrendering troops and defeated generals under his own banner. In which case, Wang Shichong would be in danger like he was raising a tiger.
One by one these thoughts crossed Kou Zhong's mind. The more the thought, the more fearful he became.
The cavalcade galloped into the Imperial City, heading toward the Shangshu Mansion.
Why didn't they go to the Imperial Palace? Even if Wang Shichong could not get out of bed, he could be carried to the Imperial Palace.
Wang Xuanying's voice rang in his ears, "Why don't Ziling Xiong come with Junshi to pay his respect to Fu Huang [father emperor]?"
His thoughts wandering far away, Kou Zhong replied perfunctorily, "He is like the floating clouds in the sky, with no interest to pay attention to earthly matters; even I cannot control him. Ay!"
The last sigh was for the developing situation that he had to face. Under this kind nasty situation, how could he contact Xu Xingzhi?
Shangshu Mansion appeared ahead. Its brightly illuminated main gate was like a beast opening its mouth, waiting for him, a tasty morsel, to enter and satisfy its hunger.
Kou Zhong was absolutely certain that once he stepped over the threshold, he would never be able to get out relying on his own power.
Kou Zhong reined his horse to stop, and was the first to dismount.
Myriads of thought flashed through his mind. The final conclusion was the thirty-sixth stratagem: if everything else fails, retreat.
Currently, he and Xu Ziling were recognized as world-class martial art masters. Wang Shichong, who was fully aware of what was true and what was false concerning them, knew that if he wanted to take the little life of either one of them, other than he had to have enough power, it also had to be under specific situation and special arrangement before he even had any chance of success.
And the main hall of this Shangshu Mansion happened to provide such a favorable place.
Wang Xuanying leaped down and landed on his left side, and spoke cheerfully, "Kou Junshi, please!"
Kou Zhong took a deep breath, and finally made the decision that was pivotal in nature to his destiny.
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