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Xiaohu, Ysabel, HPC, Jaya, DongBin, Spy, you are welcome. Shirak, Lance, yes, Hou Xibai seemed to be questionable right now; I guess we'll see … Kowloon, Patudo, KChill, welcome back dude! How's DC? Frozen solid?

Book 23 Chapter 12 - The World's Situation

Tipsy and merry, Luo Qifei said, "From the Jianghuai Army, I obtained another information, which is, after inflicting defeat to the Tang Army, Xue Ju suddenly became ill to the point of death. As a result, his son Xue RenGao ascended the throne and became the new Qin Emperor, stationing his troops at Zheshu."

Everybody was emotionally moved.

Chen Laomou asked in disbelief, "Xue Ju had a very deep power; unless he suffered fire deviation, how could he suddenly fall ill and die?"

Kou Zhong was concerned over another problem, "What do you mean by the Tang Army was defeated?"

Luo Qifei responded, "His death is still a rumor. I think I'd better start from the beginning. Two months ago, Xue Ju personally led his main forces to attack Jingzhou. Along the way, his troops robbed, took prisoners, and killed, all the way to the vicinity of Binchuan and Qizhou, shaking Guanzhong. Thereupon Li Yuan sent Qin Wang Li Shimin as the Marshall of the Military Expedition to the West, with Liu Wenjing and Yin Kaishan as his deputies, leading his troops to meet the enemy at Gaoshu. Strange thing happened; Li Shimin suddenly fell ill, leaving only Liu and Yin, two men, to lead their main forces. Xue Ju's elite cavalry came from behind, outflanking them in surprise attack. The fought fiercely from Binzhou's Qianshuiyuan [lit. shallow water spring, not sure if this is a place's name], resulting in the Tang Army lost nearly half of their troops and generals, as well as Gaoshu. Li Shimin was forced to return to Chang'an. Since raising his army, this was the first time Li Shimin lost a battle."

Greatly astonished, Bu Tianzhi said, "That is surely a fantastic story. How did Li Shimin suddenly get sick at this time?"

Kou Zhong said, "If I am guessing correctly, Yin Gui Pai definitely has a part in this matter, and most probably the one undertaking the task was Wan Yaonu. Li Shimin could be considered outstanding as well, unexpectedly he did not die. Ha! I get it! Shi Feixuan chasing this yaonu all the way to Hefei, maybe it was because of this matter as well."

Listening to that, everybody else was completely at a loss. Thereupon Kou Zhong briefly explained his thought, and then asked Luo Qifei, "What other rumor there is concerning Xue Ju's death?"

Luo Qifei replied, "Some say that Xue Ju was assassinated, because several sichen before his death, he was still patrolling the army camp at the front line like energetic dragon and ferocious tiger."

Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, "Must be that kid Yang Xuyan. Only he has the ability to take the enemy general's severed head in the middle of magnificent army with thousands of men and horses like feeling in his pocket and taking it out. Good kid!"

"But didn't Yang Xuyan suffered big loss under Shao Shuai's hands?" Luo Qifei asked.

Chen Changlin said, "Xue Ju's son, Xue RenGao's martial art skill is outstanding; it even surpasses his father's. Moreover, his great general Zong Luohou is both intelligent and brave. Although Xue Ju is dead, I am afraid the Tang Army still cannot gain any benefit."

Luo Qifei shook hid head in disagreement, "Xue Ju's prestige is nothing that Xue RenGao could achieve. Xue RenGao's greatest shortcoming is precisely his arrogance; he does not get along well with various generals. Xue Ju's death most likely will be the pivotal point where the Western Qin Army would turn from prosperity to decline."

With grave expression, Kou Zhong said, "Do you have any news from Liu Wuzhou's side?"

Shaking his head, Luo Qifei replied, "There seems to be no activity."

Kou Zhong mused, "Must be because the Tujue people are still unwilling to have an acrimonious falling-out with Li Yuan. Without the Tujues' support, Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang would never dare to move south rashly. Ay! This is called 'to sit and waste a good opportunity'."

Luo Qifei said, "But I heard that the reason Xue Ju was so bold and powerful and unstoppable in his advance to Guanzhong in the east is because the Tujue are supplying equipment and warhorses in secret."

Chen Laomou said, "Is it possible that Liu and Song, two men, are afraid that if they led their troops to the south, they might benefit Xue Ju, father and son? Because they would never have anticipated that Xue Ju would suddenly meet a violent death; they only thought that Xue Ju, father and son, could greatly weaken the Li Clan's strength, therefore, it would be best to let them fighting each other until both sides suffer. At that time, it would not be too late for them to swagger down to the south."

Chen Changlin shook his head and said, "If they had that thought, then they did not understand the art of war. If I had to guess, I'd say that the reason Liu Wuzhou still did not dare to rashly go south must be because Dou Jiande is restricting his movement. This man would never showoff his debt toward the Tujue, not at all like Guo Zihe, Liang Shidu, and the others, who have to look at the Tujue's countenance to conduct themselves."

Because Chen Changlin had served under Wang Shichong, naturally he was familiar with the situation in the north.

Thinking deeply, Kou Zhong said, "Behind his back, Xue RenGao still has Li Gui. If the entire Western Qin Army came out of their nest and invaded the east, and Xue Ju lost his life along the way, what could Li Gui do?"

Luo Qifei said, "All along Li Gui covets the Qin's Longyou [short name for Gansu] territory occupied by the Xue Clan, father and son. But as for what he is going to do, we don't have any news yet. Our so-called latest intelligence is, at best, already two months old."

Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Just like Xiaodi, Li kid is lucky. Based on the bits and pieces that I gathered, this kid Xue RenGao is adept at employing blitzkrieg strategy, which is matched equally by his brave generals and valiant soldiers. The praise of 'soldiers and weapons acute and magnificent' is definitely well deserved. Unfortunately, his adversary is Li Shimin. The Li kid's greatest strength is 'stable defense', two words [wen shou], which is precisely Xue Ren Gao's bane. My speculation is that Xue RenGao would enjoy small victories first but suffer crushing defeat later. Once Li kid captured Longyou territory, Li Gui will have no choice but to surrender, and then it will be the various hegemons outside the pass' turn. Ay! We should have deployed our forces a bit sooner."

Shaking his head, Chen Changlin said, "If the Li Family, father and son, really pulled their troops out of Guanzhong, they would potentially become the target of a multitude of arrows of the whole world. While admittedly Wang Shichong and Dou Jiande would definitely not allow them to succeed, various hegemons of the north and south might also seize the opportunity to go up north and go down south. Apparently, the situation is not that simple."

Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "I was hoping it was so. The problem is that not only Li Shimin understands heavenly strategy, he is adept in buying the people's heart, and the worst thing is that this kid has Shi Feixuan's support behind his back, who is spreading benevolence and righteousness image on his behalf. Therefore, many times, without trying too hard, he is able to receive the enemy's surrendering soldiers. He must not be underestimated."

And then he asked, "I have not had the opportunity to ask Changlin Xiong about the struggle between Wang Shichong and Li Mi!"

Chen Changlin replied, "When I left the Eastern Capital, Wang Shichong was still occupying the upper hand position; he is unceasingly expanding his territory, as well as recruiting a large number of Li Mi's high-ranking military officers and soldiers. However, Wang Shichong practices nepotism, he is also narrow-minded; as a result, he is causing severe internal conflicts, with various factions fighting and scheming against each other. Plus he is highly unpopular; especially after the news that he wanted to kill Shao Shuai was spreading, even more generals are bitterly disappointed at him. All along, it would be difficult for him to succeed in the great undertaking."

Bu Tianzhi asked, "From Li Mi's side, which fierce generals throw their lot to Wang Shichong?"

Chen Changlin replied, "The most famous are, primarily, Qin Shubao, Cheng Zhijie, and Luo Shixin, three men. But in my opinion, it would be very difficult for Wang Shichong to retain their service."

At long last Kou Zhong heard the news about Qin Shubao. Emotionally moved, he said, "Turns out Qin Shubao attaches himself to Wang Shichong. This man is definitely a fierce general that even Shen Luoyan was nearly defeated in his hands, only too bad for him Ling Shao and I messed up his situation."

Bu Tianzhi said, "I hear Cheng Zhijie is also known as Cheng Yaojin [589-665, a famous general of the Tang dynasty]. In Wulin, he has quite a reputation. He is also a valiant general that can't be ignored."

Kou Zhong laughed and said, "The name Cheng Yaojin is a bit easier to remember. Cheng Zhijie is too bookish and sounds old! [Yaojin - biting gold/metal, Zhijie - understanding festival/holiday] How's Li Mi, that kid's current situation?"

Chen Changlin replied, "According to the intelligence that Wang Shichong received, Li Shimin's top general Li Jing made contact with Li Mi's chief imperial strategic adviser Wei Zheng [(580-643), Tang politician and historian, notorious as a critic, editor of History of the Sui Dynasty]. This Wei Zheng then persuaded Li Mi to surrender to the Li Clan. If this affair is accomplished, perhaps without even spending one soldier one troop, the Li Clan would obtain a large tract of land, which extended to the ocean on the east, to the River on the south, reaching Ruzhou to the west, and Kongwei County to the north, which currently under Wagang Army's control. But I heard that Xu Shiji and Shen Luoyan are strongly opposing the proposal, assuming the heroic attitude of 'better be a broken jade than surviving as a roof tile'. These two have great influence on Li Mi, hence Wang Shichong is still very at ease over this matter."

Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Li kid is really formidable that he even thought about this. At least he only sent one person to speak a few words, Li Mi's army is immediately split into two factions: those who want to surrender and those who want to fight. Very cost effective. We should study it well."

Bu Tianzhi said, "While admittedly Wang Shichong, Liu Wuzhou and Dou Jiande are Li Yuan, father and son's most formidable opponents, Xiao Xian and Du Fuwei are not adversaries without substantial threat either. They only need to remove some obstacles, and then they could move north at any moment. If I were Li Yuan, under these circumstance, I would definitely not move my troops to attack Luoyang."

Frowning, Kou Zhong said, "Can Xiao Xian join hands with Du Fuwei? Under the same circumstances, this certainly cannot happen. But if Li Yuan, father and son, really take their troops out of Guanzhong, what is impossible will become possible."

Chen Laomou said, "If the Li Family wanted to deal with either Xiao Xian or Du Fuwei first, they could only take the Jinchuan via the Bashu [Sichuan] route. Then most probably they would go down along the river, take Jiangling first, and then following the river, go east to attack Du Fuwei. However, this route is tiring to the troops, definitely not something that a wise man would do."

Kou Zhong's countenance changed, he exclaimed, "My Niang! Now I know why Shi Feixuan is going to the southwest!"

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