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Ysabel, DongBin, HPC, Jaya, you are welcome. Xiaohu, Akolaw, Shirak, ideally, one of you would volunteer to get hold of the book, search for the missing part (if it is indeed missing, although I suspect it was Huang Yi who messed up), and then send it to me. So … who'll that be? Chua, but I never left …

Book 22 Chapter 2 - The Truth In The Rain

Under the hazy moonlight, Xu Ziling unleashed his footwork, hurrying along the southern bank of the Huai River, heading west, toward the place he and Kou Zhong were going to rendezvous.

After taking his leave from Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong, he officially notified Li Zitong, before going on board the ship, together with Luo Qifei and the others, and left. Naturally in the end only an empty ship returned to Liangdu, since one after another Xu Ziling, Luo Qifei, and the others left the ship along the way, everybody hastening onto his separate destination.

Xu Ziling left the ship at the intersection between the Hang Gully and River Huai, and travelled at full speed for nearly six sichen, through the night and day before finally reaching the jungle region at the foot of Jia Mountain at the southeast of Zhongli County.

He lit a fire and made a signal.

Immediately there was a response from the mountaintop half a li away. First it was a spark of light, followed by two other flashes of light, indicating Kou Zhong's hiding place.

Warmth flowed through Xu Ziling's heart; Susu's misfortune, Ba Fenghan's leaving far away, had strengthened his feeling that he and Kou Zhong were mutually dependent for survival. At the same time, he was not without an emotional stirring; in a mere few months, Kou Zhong had successfully established his own power. The people gathered by his side were not a random group of mob, but a group of organized and highly efficient powerful masters.

It was not only obvious from the accurate signal transmission just now, but also in his ability to deploy his troops across the river in such a short period of time, in one breath hastening over nearly a hundred li to come to this place. Merely the speed of the marching army was enough to make people clicking their tongue.

In the blink of an eye he rushed into the sparse forest area at the edge of the jungle, where the Shaoshuai Army was resting against the tree, under cover of the dark, dense jungle. Everybody was holding their breath and calming their qi, while the horses were eating the grass quietly.

Led by a squad leader, Xu Ziling ran up a small hill, where Kou Zhong, awe-inspiringly, stood under the bright moon, with Xuan Yong and more than a dozen generals by his side.

Looking at Kou Zhong's profound, standing-tall-high-mountain-peak majestic silhouette, a peculiar feeling appeared in Xu Ziling's heart.

Kou Zhong now was not the Kou Zhong of the past, naturally he was not the Kou Zhong who stood on top of Jingling city wall facing the Jianghuai Forces' magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, whose heart continuously wanted to beat the retreating drum. Kou Zhong has now become the commander-in-chief, who viewed war as a game of chess, who moved his troops while laughing and joking, who, in the future, would become more than a formidable opponent to the warlords contending for hegemony over the world.

Kou Zhong suddenly looked back, flashed his snow white teeth to Xu Ziling, and laughed heartily, "With Ling Shao by my side," he said, "We have enough power to resist their ten thousand strong powerful army. This time, if we don't chop the Three Big Bandits' head, I swear I won't take my troops back!"

The group of generals thundered their response; their voices resonated over the mountaintop, making Xu Ziling felt Kou Zhong's innate charisma and charm, which surpassed others, in his blood vessels.

Coming to Kou Zhong's side, Xu Ziling halted unhurriedly and with tranquil and calm voice he asked, "How many people in total?"

Accompanying Xu Ziling overlooking the mountain forest and the plain below under the moonlight, Kou Zhong's eyes were flashing brightly as he spoke in heavy voice, "Altogether we have 1500 men, distinctly one-style cavalry, most of the warhorses are Khitan's top quality fine colts, with light adornment and simple equipment. Humph! Li kid has his mother's Black-armored Elite Cavalry, I, Kou Zhong, have Shaoshuai Wonder Troops. Inevitably there will be a day we will have a competition to see which one is more formidable."

Xu Ziling asked, "How do you organize it into squads?"

Kou Zhong smiled and said, "I am using the Plum Blossom Formation taught by Lu Dashi, dividing the one thousand five hundred men into ten units. The main force of the Shaoshuai Army consists of six hundred men. From the rest, every hundred-man team is under the command of a Pianjiang [deputy general]. Ling Shao, do you have any suggestion?"

Shrugging his shoulders, Xu Ziling said, "Speaking about troop formation, you ought to be more adept than me. Where is Luo Fang?"

Kou Zhong replied, "He must rush back to the Ranch first, to notify beautiful Changzhu to cooperate with us, to put on a joint performance at the border. The stage will be the two big cities by the River Er, Dangyang and Yuan'An."

And then, heaving a long sigh of relief, he said, "Laotianye's plan is really ingenious; while everybody is thinking that I must be looking after immediate gains and losses, by fully supporting Li Zitong dealing with Ol' Die, I secretly travel a thousand li to the west, to attack the enemy in an ambush. This will be such a moving heroic undertaking."

Realizing he had no choice but to throw himself into Kou Zhong's state of mind, Xu Ziling changed the subject by asking, "Has the route been fixed?"

Kou Zhong said, "We are going to pass through plains between Zhongli and Qingliu. Although along the way we can't possibly greet Ol' Die's troops stationed at Qingliu; child will have to ask forgiveness for being unfilial. Ha! After that we'll successively cross the Fei and Jue, two rivers, before trekking the most arduous part of the journey by passing through Dabie Mountain Range, and then circumvent the Dahong Mountain, and finally cross the Han River between Xiangyang and Jingling. From there, three sichen on fast horse we will be able to raise our wine cup and reminisce in happiness with our beautiful Shang Xiuxun at the Ranch!"

Standing on the other side, Xuan Yong joined in, "If all goes well, we can reach our destination within ten days."

Xu Ziling said, "Why haven't we hastened on your journey then? Aren't we supposed to rest during the day and travel at night to maintain secrecy?"

"I very seldom see Ling Shao to be this anxious," Kou Zhong commented, "Must be because you want to hurry to be the knight in shining armor. Hee! Ling Shao please don't be angry. Because we need to pass through Qingliu, we must send scouts to investigate the right course of action, so that we can execute the 'secretly crossing the Wei River at Chencang' [fig. to feign one thing while doing another] tactic. We, two brothers, have not seen each other for so many days, I want to take the opportunity to talk about everything since we parted."

And then he issued an order; the group of generals mounted their horses and dispersed, back to the unit under their command, leaving only Xuan Yong, one person.

Mountain breeze was blowing gently. The magnificent starry sky made everybody felt even more tiny, while also seemed to be even more grand, some kind of an intoxicating feeling that they were part of the joining of heaven and earth as they ran their course.

Xu Ziling took a deep breath and said, "Hou Xibai nearly made his move on me."

Shaken, Kou Zhong said, "My God! Finally he is showing his original treacherous face. Under what kind of situation did you meet him?"

By this moment Xuan Yong has left to inspect the troops as well.

Xu Ziling narrated what happened. When he was done, Kou Zhong breathed out a mouthful of cold air, and said, "Luckily you were able to remain calm. If it were me, I would definitely stake out everything to force Hou Xibai, that kid to come out. That would have been bad!"

But immediately his sword-eyebrows furrowed as he said, "Not right! My guess is that even Bao Rang and the others were not aware that Hou Xibai was waiting outside the window ready to help; so much so that Yun Yuzhen herself did not know that he was secretly lying in wait on the side. Somehow this fellow must have learned about this matter from Yun Yuzhen, so that he wanted to reap the benefit quietly."

Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, "Aren't you just making baseless conjecture?"

Kou Zhong shook his head; his face showed a faraway look, as he spoke slowly, "Do you remember at the deserted village that day, we were harmed by Wan yaonu that we nearly lose our lives, and then that kid Hou Xibai came charging in and inadvertently saved us? That kid still put on an act moving his brush to paint, and was quite convincing in doing so; clearly even Wan yaonu did not know his identity. Hou Xibai is able to maintain his secrecy so well, even when there was nobody around he still did such a good job; how could Yun Yuzhen be able to see any flaw in him? I am pretty sure Yun Yuzhen is still thinking that that Hou kid is a good person."

Xu Ziling's eyes were flashing with murderous intent. "But one negligence in a hundred secrets, he finally exposed the fox's tail," he spoke heavily.

Kou Zhong looked deep into his eyes, "Are you thinking of Shi Feixuan?" he asked.

Xu Ziling nodded and said, "That's right! It is clear that Hou Xibai was groomed in a certain demonic sect and was sent out especially to deal with Shi Feixuan, supposedly the most outstanding martial art master, scheming by using the most despicable means to influence Shi Feixuan, so that Wan yaonu would come out the winner."

Smiling, Kou Zhong said, "Do you think we should send someone to that bald Liao Kong's place, asking him to forward our message to Shi Feixuan?"

Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, "That will look a bit like something that a lowly person would do. Are you saying that I ought to tell Shi Feixuan that Hou Xibai was hiding outside the window waiting for an opportunity to launch a sneak attack on me?"

Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, "So what's the problem? Shi Feixuan is not an ordinary gal at all, she has appropriate attitude toward black and white, plus we are doing this for our own peace of mine, why do we care what her Niang is thinking? Even if in the future Shi Feixuan is going to help Li kid, I still do not want to see her being harmed by crafty scoundrels."

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