Chapter 12 – The Debut of the Wing
Book 6 Chapter 12 – The Debut of the Wing
Under the star-filled-sky ocean, four boats slowly sailed in a fleet.
After another round of wine, Gao Zhandao modestly asked, “That being the case, who does Kou Ye think will have the greatest chance to sit on the throne?”
Kou Zhong turned to Xu Ziling and said, “Why don’t Xu Ye tell us?”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “Our Kou Ye can tell it more vividly, I also want to hear Kou Ye’s enlightening remarks very much.”
Kou Zhong sneered and said, “You, this kid, are the best in deriding me.”
Meeting everybody’s eager eyes, he said word by word slowly, “Whoever can seize Guanzhong will become the emperor, ruler of the new dynasty.”
And then, as if his thoughts were wandering far away, he said, “Those who desire to obtain the world but don’t understand the time, geography and harmony of the people, these three things, are like the blind who rides a horse in the night overlooking an abyss. Chang’an is located at the Guanzhong Plain [in Shaanxi, valley of the River Wei]. It is situated south of Wei River, north of Qinling Mountain Range, fertile land that spans thousand li, surrounded by a range of hills. Since ancient times it has been a strategic location for both transportation and military matters. Zhou, Qin, and Han have all made it their capital, they constantly built and expanded it. The present Chang’an has been built by Yang Jian as a new city. Not only its scale is the apex in the world, it also opens wide the connecting canal drawing Wei River flowing to the east to Tongguan and enters Yellow River. Speaking of transportation, Luoyang is perhaps superior to some degree. But speaking about military affairs, we must give a serious look at the latter. In the past Qin Shihuang was able to unify the six directions, sweeping and wiping out the outstanding heroes, the reason is summarized in these eight characters: ‘fertile land people flourish, danger can be guard against’ [di wo ren fu, you xian ke shou].”
Niu Fengyi slapped the table and sighed, “Reminded by Kou Ye, today’s situation came to Fengyi’s mind. The present situation is exactly the same as the Warring States period [475-221 BC]. History unceasingly repeats itself; this is the best example.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Compared to the Warring State period, where the heroes were fighting over the world, the present situation is a hundred times, a thousand times more chaotic.”
Everybody nodded their head in agreement.
Gao Zhandao asked, “Are you saying that the Li Clan has the greatest opportunity to become the overlord of the world like Qin Shihuang?”
Kou Zhong shot a glance toward Xu Ziling before saying indifferently, “If I, Kou Zhong, did not exist, then that would be the case.”
By this time Gao Zhandao and the others were already in complete prostration to Kou Zhong’s insight; they busily asked him to elaborate.
Kou Zhong’s spirit was greatly aroused; he said, “The Li Clan has three big problems, which are not easy to resolve: in the first place, they used to be Sui officials, and common people detest Sui Dynasty bitterly. Anything, be it people or object, associated with Sui Dynasty is difficult to accept. Secondly, the Li Clan is a famous, rich and powerful family. During the time where people’s mind is in rebellion mode, this has become a burden instead. Thirdly, their heir apparent is Li Jiancheng and not Li Shimin. I, Kou Zhong, dare to bet my neck that this will go wrong in the future.”
Niu Fengyi agreed, “Kou Ye has a brilliant insight. Although Li Jiancheng’s martial art skill is superior to his father, and has the reputation as the number one martial art master of the Li Clan, he is unlike Li Shimin whom people give their allegiance to, his popularity is far too inferior. Currently he is the Tang’s Heir Apparent, but he is highly questionable.”
Kou Zhong’s eyes shot a chilling light, but his tone was surprisingly calm. Again, word-by-word he said slowly, “At the moment the Li Caln is barely able to stand firm and have a stable footing. The calamity within their bosom is precisely the territory they occupy is Western Qin’s Li Gui and Xue Ju, two large forces, the so-called ‘Western Qin is settled Guanzhong is calm, Western Qin is a mess Guanzhong is chaotic’; plus Qin and Liang are situation on higher ground to the west of Longshan Mountain Range, their tiger-eyes are staring at Guanzhong. The longer the Li Clan is unable to pacify the Western Qin, they cannot be considered as truly in control over Chang’an, Even more, they are powerless to go east to take Luoyang, and go on to pacify the world.”
And then he slapped the table so hard that the soup and meat dishes splashed, bowls and cups shook. “Whoever can drive the Li Clan away and occupy Guanzhong will be able to rule the world,” he said solemnly.
Zha Jie scratched his head, “But I heard that on the way to attack Guanzhong, the Li Clan absorbed a great number of generals and soldiers from various regions, as well as recruited able-bodied men, their military strength reaches 300,000 men. On top of that, their city defense is strong; taking Chang’an is easier said than done. Didn’t Xue Ju have just suffered a crushing defeat?”
Kou Zhong leaned back on his chair, stretched himself, and said, “The finesse of an army is not in its number; otherwise Gaoli would have been eradicated by Yang Guang early on. Don’t forget that I still have the ‘Duke of Yang Treasure Trove’!”
Gao Zhandao and the others were emotionally moved.
Recalling Fu Junchuo, Xu Ziling suddenly felt uncomfortable. He rose up and said, “Please forgive Zaixia for taking my leave, I want to go to the cabin and rest for the night.” Without waiting for any response he simply left.
Kou Zhong was silent; his tiger-eyes flashed a sad look.
Xu Ziling stood quietly by the window, silently gazing at the bright moon over the sea.
Kou Zhong quetly pushed the door and entered. He came behind him and said softly, “Are you unhappy that I touched ‘Duke of Yang Treasure Trove’?”
Xu Ziling shook his head, “No!” he said, “I have no such thought. Niang told us the location of the treasure, clearly she wanted us to go get it. I’m just afraid that you talked too big too soon, if another day you can’t find the treasure, you won’t be able to honor your commitment. That’s all.”
Kou Zhong said, “That’s why I wanted you to help me. One lifetime two brothers; you have to help me find the treasure no matter what, and only then can you leave.”
Xu Ziling turned around to meet Kou Zhong’s passionate expression in his eyes; all kinds of past events flashed through his mind. His heart softened and he said, “So what do you have in mind?”
Kou Zhong was greatly delighted; he said, “Over the last several years that kid Gao Zhandao has amassed a large quantity of weapons, boats and wealth. If we can train them well, they can become our disciples army. With them as our troupe members, we can make meticulous plan to put an act of transporting salt. Other than killing Li Mi’s prestige, our reputation will also soar. Along the way we can recruit soldiers and buy horses, and tie good relationship with heroes all over the world. The best part of our plan is that we do not occupy certain territory, we won’t declare ourselves king, and only emerge to contend for hegemony after we obtain Guanzhong. Hey! What do you think?”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly, “You are talking too far ahead,” he said, “At most I will only help you find the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’, and then I will withdraw and leave you.”
Kou Zhong hugged him. “That is enough, you are indeed my good brother,” he said, “We are going to organize Shuanglong Bang [double-dragon gang]. Leaving no stone unturned, we infiltrate all militias, gathering intelligence first, while continuously buying the people’s heart. Once the uprising begins, we know exactly who our opponents are.”
Knitted his brows, Xu Ziling said, “Gao Zhandao and the others are used to be pirates, will they be willing to listen to your commands?”
Kou Zhong let him off, laughed aloud, and then lowering his voice, he said, “They have just kowtowed and offered me a toast, and called me Bangzhu [gang leader]. Now we are going to their pirate nest; after establishing good control over their power and organizing and training them, we can be on our way immediately.”
And then, patting his chest he said, “Trust me! I, Kou Zhong, can train a team of peerless-throughout-the-world elite troops, a team that can beat Li Mi, Ol’ Die, Yuwen Huagu and the others that they will cry for their Niang. Oh! But you have to help me train as well.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “I should have known that you would ‘beat the snake following the stick’ [see Book 3 Chapter 3]. But after obtaining the treasure, you must not use any other trick to make me stay.”
Kou Zhong extended his big hand and said, “One word and it’s settled!”
Xu Ziling also reached out to grab his hand tightly.
Looking at Kou Zhong’s tiger-eyes gleaming with unusual shine, a hard-to-describe feeling welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart: he had a faint feeling that in this troubled times, right this moment, powerful hegemon, who could move clouds just by waving his hand, who could control rains with a turn of his hand, has suddenly emerged.
Shuanglong Bang was established quietly without the knowledge of any Jianghu people.
Kou Zhong demonstrated his outstanding talent in controlling the more than two hundred men who were accustomed to live of oppressing others; everybody was willing to look up to him for leadership.
In just one night he managed to blend Li Jing’s ‘Bloody Battle Ten-Style’, Tu Shufang’s ‘Meridian-Severing Technique’, plus the martial art of his own understanding, into a new set of ‘Divine Dragon Eight-Strike’, which he then passed on to Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi, Zha Jie, three men, and delegated them to teach the Gang members.
He also single-handedly developed a simple, yet tight organizational structure. The general idea was that there were two Gang Leaders; naturally Xu Ziling could not hold any other office, but the fact was that virtually all power was in Kou Zhong’s hands. Under the Gang Leader, there was one military advisor [Junshi], four gang protectors, and then three Hall Masters overseeing three inner halls: internal affairs, finance, and training, which were under Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi and Zha Jie, respectively. The three outer halls were in charge of war, intelligence and provisions.
Each hall had a hall master and his deputy hall master, which were in charge of day-to-day hall affairs to some degree. Except for the three inner hall masters, the other positions were still vacant, waiting for suitable virtuous candidates.
In the water fort of Changshu [county, Suzhou, Jiangsu], Kou Zhong was busy day and night; he personally drafted a proposal of the Gang Bylaws. After he was done, Gao Zhandao and the others could not think of a single character to change; as a result, they admired him even more.
He forced Xu Ziling to train his men. Xu Ziling was amiable and approachable, so he enjoyed great popularity, plus everybody could see that his pair of hands was superior to any weapon, hence he was extremely admired. His men were in high morale and did not have any contempt to him due to his young age.
Two months passed quickly like that. One day Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were studying the changes and variations in troop formations, Gao Zhandao came to report that a large number of Jianghu people from surrounding area heard the news, and since they admired the two, they came to join the Gang as volunteers for the uprising.
Kou Zhong pondered for half a day before saying, “Please tactfully decline them all. Currently our condition is not stable yet, there are still a lot of things not on track; if we suddenly expand, we may have a dismal ending.”
Gao Zhandao accepted the order and left.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Xiao Ling! When we are victorious in battle we can expand.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “The rumor has leaked. This bunch of people must be spies sent by Shen Faxing. Seeing that we did not fall into his trap, these next couple of days he may send his men to attack us. Let me send our spies to scout the enemy’s movement, when they come back, I will report to Bangzhu.”
Kou Zhong doubled over in laughter, “Kid, don’t tease me; what Bangzhu? Aren’t you also one? Bangzhu or Emperor are just appellation people use, between us, brothers, there is no such thing.”
Xu Ziling laughed aloud and left without further ado.
Chapter 12 - Part 2
After Xu Ziling returned that night, Shuanglong Bang’s several highest echelons gathered in the main hall for a secret meeting.
Xu Ziling said, “It is just as Kou Bangzhu thought, Shen Faxing deployed approximately two-thousand men to lie in ambush in a forest southeast of our stronghold, estimated distance two-day marching.”
It was only now that Gao Zhandao and the others found out what happened. But looking at Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s ‘we have everything under control’ expression, they became excited too; rubbing their fists and wiping their palms, they were eager to go into battle with heads held high.
Kou Zhong said, “This time we are going to fight a beautiful battle. We are not looking to annihilate the enemies, we only hope to meet the enemy head-on, inflict heavy losses, and behead the commander-in-chief. And then we will deal with other things one by one, proceed with previously developed plan.
“So which plan are we going to do?” Niu Fengyi asked.
Kou Zhong replied, “If my estimation is correct, this time Haisha Bang is also taking this opportunity to settle old debt, therefore, they must have come with the enemy as well, if not, they must have taken the water route to attack us from two fronts, water and land, hoping to kill us clean in one go.”
Turning to Xu Ziling, he said, “I’ll give you Han Gaitian.”
Xu Ziling smiled slightly and said, “In that case I’ll hide alone in Haisha Bang’s flagship, and become maritime assassin one time.”
Full of admiration, Zha Jie said, “When as soon as we got here Bangzhu ordered us to reinforce the defense, we thought that it was superfluous; but know we know that Bangzhu really have foresight.”
Kou Zhong laughed, but did not say anything, while thinking in his heart that if Laozi did not have a bit of ability, how could I control you, this bunch of big thieves?
Three days later, it was a moonless and windy night. Everybody was well aware that the time the enemy was going to attack has come.
When darkness fell, all Shuanglong Bang’s seven warships quietly left the dock. Kou Zhong led a hundred men to lie in ambush at the more than a dozen bunkers on the mountain and fields outside their water stronghold, quietly waiting for the enemy’s honorable selves to honor them with their presence.
By the first watch period [7-9 pm] more than fifty warships, big and small, appeared on the surface of the sea outside the water stronghold, let down their skiffs, and launched the attack from the sea.
Almost at the same time hundreds of torches lit up, covering the mountains and the plains, as probably close to a thousand men were charging toward their stronghold.
The enemy taking the land route relied mostly on cavalry, with the infantry providing support; it was a large-scale military attack.
Who would have thought that before they even reached the stronghold gate, the horses were either falling into pits full of sharp spikes, or stepping onto the field of sharp spikes that their feet were broken, their blood splashed and they fell to the ground. For a short while the situation was a total chaos.
This moment, close to five hundred skiffs full of soldiers have just arrived at the wooden fence surrounding the water stronghold when suddenly out of nowhere several dozen fiery arrows filled the sky. The surface of the sea around them, as well as the dozen or so wooden constructions across the wooden stronghold rapidly caught fire. Very soon the invading troops were trapped on the sea of fire.
Haisha Bang and Shen Faxing’s coalition army realized that they had fallen into a trap. Hastily they blew the trumpet signaling retreat.
Kou Zhong led his men to fire arrows from the dark, while at the same time signaling his men everywhere to set on fire to cut the enemy’s retreating path. Right this moment Xu Ziling had just climbed onto Han Gaitian’s five-mast flagship.
He craned out his neck from the edge of the ship to look around, and saw on the platform above the cabin on the main deck Han Gaitian was standing anxiously, like an ant on a hot pathway, unceasingly issuing orders, while the subordinates around him were quiet out of fear. His other subordinates on the other ships were running back and forth, trying to get the ships turn around is hasty retreat.
The most formidable part of Kou Zhong’s plan was that the enemy did not have any attack target.
Xu Ziling took out the pebbles he had already prepared and suddenly jumped up onto the deck, and then soared onto the platform. His hands threw the pebbles in rapid succession toward the wind lanterns hanging from the masts, rupturing their covering and extinguishing the fire inside, so that by the time he landed onto the platform, the entire deck has fallen into complete darkness.
Han Gaitian did not even have any chance to fetch his weapon, Xu Ziling’s fist already arrived at his chest.
Overwhelmed with shock, the ‘Fat Assassin’ You Gui and the ‘Charging General’ Ling Zhigao on his left moved to intercept.
Han Gaitian was worthy to be the leader of a gang; crossing his palms together, he met Xu Ziling’s fist head-on.
A scorching qi suddenly turned into million strands of soft thread, which, contrary to Han Gaitian’s wish, penetrated and invaded his arteries and veins.
In unbearable discomfort Han Gaitian nearly threw up blood; hastily he recoiled backward and circulated his internal power to dissolve the invading qi, while his subordinates swarmed forward to surround this terrifying lone assassin.
Who would have thought that in a flash Xu Ziling disappeared from their midst and soared above Han Gaitian’s head? Fast as lightning his both feet kicked in succession toward his face. You Gui and Ling Zhigao’s weapons trying to meet him hit empty air.
Although the other men also pounced on him, but because Xu Ziling was moving like a ghost, plus the deck was so dark that it was difficult to see, momentarily they were thrown into confusion, nobody knew how to deal against this enemy, so that although they had the strength, it was difficult to unleash it.
‘Swish! Swish! Swish!’
The ‘Mermaid’ You Qiuyan stepped aside, waved her hand and continuously shot three silver hairpins, which she pulled from her hair, toward Xu Ziling, who was flying in the air.
Han Gaitian abruptly raised a mouthful of true qi to keep the endlessly surging blood in his vessels under control, while lifting up his palms to block Xu Ziling’s swift as the wind rotating wheel of six kicks.
Han Gaitian let out a painful groan, staggered and fell down; trickle of blood appeared from the corner or his mouth, having experiencing the dreadful innate true qi from the ‘Secret to Long Life’.
Xu Ziling fantastically shifted forward, missing You Qiuyan’s secret projectile by a hairbreadth. Although he started later, he arrived earlier behind Han Gaitian.
Han Gaitian was so scared that his soul flew away and scattered; although he knew that it was a desperate moment, he could only rely on himself to save his own life. Turning around, he raised his palms to attack Xu Ziling.
Suddenly Xu Ziling spun swiftly; in an instant he counterattacked with five palm strikes and four kicks, plus a shoulder bump and an elbow strike, giving the impression that any part of his body could become a deadly weapon.
The sound of clashing qi rang continuously.
The two combatants were suddenly closing in to each other, but then just as sudden they separated.
Xu Ziling somersaulted and leaped away from the platform, and then with another push of his toes on the ship’s railing, he leaped into the boundless ocean, and disappeared without a trace.
Everybody rushed toward Han Gaitian; they saw him clasping his hand on the pit of the stomach. It was only by leaning on, and helped by, You Qiuyan that he did not fall down to the floor.
They saw Han Gaitian’s face was like the golden paper used in funerals; he said in trembling voice, “Retreat immediately, my internal injury is extremely heavy, albeit the opponent was being lenient to me. We hereby drop this matter.”
Everyone was stunned speechless.
Who could have imagined that in mere two months Xu Ziling has become much more formidable?
And thus Shen Faxing and Haisha Bang’s coalition army suffered defeat and was forced to retreat. They lost more than a thousand men, while could not even touch the enemy’s shadow.
By daybreak, seven warships, carrying the Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling-led Shuanglong Bang, quietly set sail from a hidden dock by the water stronghold, which had been burned to coke, bound for the ocean.
Everybody of the Shuanglong Bang was in high spirits, they all looked up to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling like deities.
Kou Zhong knew that he had established his credibility, so when the darkness fell, he summoned Gao Zhandao, three people, into his presence, and instructed them, “We will separate here. You will secretly go to the appointed place, to recruit soldiers and buy horses, and to advance our carefully drafted master plan. Xu Ziling and I will take only four men to transport the salt to Guanzhong. Be sure to remember not to take any risk and to advance too quickly, you must not leak our relationship even more.”
The three accepted the order and returned to their respective boat.
Kou Zhong walked over to the aft, toward Xu Ziling, who was standing with his hands behind his back, enjoying the ocean scenery. He sighed and said, “Our great undertaking is finally launched. When we left Yangzhou that day, I was dreaming that this day would come.”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “If Su Jie did not meet any mishap, we should be able to see her soon.”
A bit embarrassed, Kou Zhong said, “I am very concerned about Su Jie too. We parted in the middle of winter, and now it is already the end of spring. Five months passed before we know it.”
Their sailboat changed direction, slowly leaving the fleet, heading toward the northwest.
Only four sailors and those sacks of salt remained on the boat. These four men were Duan Yucheng, Bao Zhifu, Ma Gui, and Shi Jie. They were roughly between twenty to twenty-four, twenty-five years of age, and everyone was handpicked personally by Kou Zhong, and have undergone special training by him; they all had especially high natural gifts.
Xu Ziling looked deep into Kou Zhong’s eyes and said, “Transporting the salt this time has made us tying a lot of enmities; have you considered the consequences?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “But it has also made us tying a lot of friendships. Xiongdi! Life is like that; if we want friends, then we will have enemies as well. This can be considered an important phase in our training. As long as we don’t die, by the time the salt is safely delivered to Guanzhong, we will become martial art masters unequalled under the heavens!”
The moon rose from the horizon, illuminating the entire border where the sea and the sky met, creating a mysterious, as well as beautiful, world.