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Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan
Book 54 Chapter 9 – Without Flaw

Book 54 Chapter 9 – Without Flaw
Translator: Foxs' Wuxia
After Shi Qingxuan left, Xu Ziling still remained on the mountain rock, making great effort in meditation. Not only his true essence was completely recovered, he even entered another new realm, his heart and spirit brightly lit, pure and limpid, connected in circle, free-flowing.
When he opened his eyes, the autumn sun has already moved to the middle of the sky, layers of clouds were thick and low, blown by the northwest wind, giving people the impression that the cruel autumn has already passed, the severe winter was coming.
He left the big rock, walked down the hill, and when he was about five hundred steps from the little house, he had a faint sense that someone was inside the house.
Who would it be? It could not be Hou Xibai, because without ten or eight days of effort, he could forget about accomplishing the task that Xu Ziling entrusted to him.
Very soon he got the answer, Shi Zhixuan was standing behind the window, staring at the big rock where he and Shi Qingxuan were having a heart-to-heart chat, his eyes were full of emotion, as if the ‘existence’ of the big rock itself already worth his watching it wholeheartedly and with pleasure. Xu Ziling sensed the Shi Zhixuan this moment did not have any malicious thought.
The sound of Shi Qingxuan’s flute last night has hit the vital part of this number one martial art master of the demonic school.
Xu Ziling stepped into the house and came behind Shi Zhixuan, he spoke indifferently, “Since Xie Wang has no courage to face her, why did you go and then come back?”
Sidestepping the question, Shi Zhixuan said, “Qingxuan’s Xiao skill is better than her Niang’s, this is a hard-to-believe miracle. If I did not hear it, I would not have believed. Just like you, Ziling, will never believe that anybody could surpass Qingxuan’s Xiao skill. That is no longer some kind of skill, but a musical Dhyana realm.”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling’s heart was full of admiration; Shi Zhixuan might be the most outstanding martial art master of the demonic school since the beginning of history, even a prominent martial art master like Wanwan still could not surpass him, were it not for his actions that completely devastated Jianghu and damaged the country and caused suffering to the people, his hands were reeking of blood – merely his knowledge and experience was enough to make people highly esteem him, so much so that they would prostrate themselves in admiration. His comment Shi Qingxuan’s Xiao art has drawn blood on the first prick.
He smiled and said, “Turns out Xie Wang has been lingering nearby.”
Shi Zhixuan turned his head around to look at him, he spoke softly, “Now Ziling should believe what I said, if you cannot hear the love in the sound of the flute, you might as well go back to your home village to cultivate the soil and be done with it.”
Xu Ziling was stunned, “Love?” he said.
Shi Zhixuan laughed aloud and said, “Turns out Xu Ziling is indeed a silly kid, Qingxuan, you are wasting your thought!”
Aghast, Xu Ziling said, “You have unexpectedly eavesdropped our dialogue!”
Shi Zhixuan spoke unapologetically, “Not eavesdropping, but listening as an observer. But as for watching, I did indeed watch in secret. This was the first time I saw her after she grew up, she has all the excellent qualities of her Niang, but also a more playful side than her Niang, which makes her able to display Xiuxin’s strong points even more vividly. Returning to the topic, you ought to know that you are not Qingxuan’s intimate friend yet.”
Xu Ziling recovered his cool-headedness; he spoke indifferently, “Why is Xie Wang so concerned about this matter?”
Shi Zhixuan cast his gaze back outside the window, at the plain deep with autumn nuances; his pair of eyes sad, he spoke softly, “Because I hope that, as a Die, I can spend a bit of mental and physical efforts for her future happiness; that is more important than unifying the demonic school, unifying the world. I am willing to trade anything for her happiness, and you, Xu Ziling, are the only man in the world who can make Qingxuan fall in love. What Ol’ Shi is saying, does Ziling understand?”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “This is the first time that I feel your, the Senior’s every word stem from the bottom of your heart, and I need not overly suspicious.”
Shi Zhixuan spoke in distress, “Qingxuan makes me feel proud, I should not have peeked at her. Oh, Xiuxin! I’m finally bowing before you! You know that not only I accept my loss wholeheartedly, I am also very happy!”
Stunned, Xu Ziling looked at him; could it be that Shi Zhixuan had the heart to withdraw from the fray and to live in seclusion [idiom: to retire]? But he had a faint feeling that it was not so.
And then Shi Zhixuan revealed a pained smile. He sighed and said, “Does Ziling know that Li Shimin nearly lost the Battle of Luoyang?”
Again Xu Ziling felt how enigmatic Shi Zhixuan was; how could he, when it was the least expected, suddenly change the topic that was completely unrelated? Momentarily he was speechless.
Shi Zhixuan recovered his absolute tranquility, the sharp light in his pair of eyes flashing, he spoke heavily, “Li Shimin’s most difficult moment was before Luoyang was broken, Jiande was going down south to the Great River. Everybody, Li Yuan included, advocated that Li Shimin cancel the attack plan and return the army and withdraw the troops. Only Li Shimin stood alone, he even said that whoever dared to mention troops withdrawal would be beheaded. Li Shimin is indeed a capable general of this world. Too bad Kou Zhong came out.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “I wonder if Xie Wang has misplaced kindness toward Kou Zhong? From the beginning he was knocked about, until today he still does not have the power to hit back.”
Shi Zhixuan spoke indifferently, “Because Kou Zhong was lacking an illustrious class origin. Furthermore, he lacked powerful backing and a robust team that belongs to him. But now, these extremely important conditions that he originally lacked, all are ready.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “If Xie Wang is referring to Song Que’s main forces and Kou Zhong’s Shao Shuai Army, the former is far-away-water-cannot-rescue-nearby-fire, the latter is struggling to survive on two different fronts, their destruction is imminent.”
Shi Zhixuan let out a stifled snort, and said, “You guys are the players on the field who are confused, I am an outsider who can see things more clearly. When it comes to ability in military affairs, who in the world does not fear Song Que? Song Que definitely will not let Li Shimin kill Kou Zhong. He let Kou Zhong supporting the general situation on the north alone, it is because he wanted to train him to become out of the ordinary figure that can compete against Li Shimin, so that Kou Zhong can establish his unequalled commander-in-chief reputation and image. When Li Shimin is forced to retreat and defend Luoyang and the Yellow River, with Song Que’s might plus Kou Zhong’s fame, how could the cities and towns on both banks of the Yangtze River dare not to look at the landscape and submit? This is the highest form of generalship, which is to balk the enemy’s plans, the most brilliant strategy of being able to subdue the others’ troops without fighting.”
A thousand layers of huge waves turned over in Xu Ziling’s heart. Shi Zhixuan’s insight was original, his knowledge and experience were indeed not something that he, Xu Ziling, could match. Although he could figure out that Song Que’s putting Kou Zhong to death and then to live was his style in training Kou Zhong to become a person who was worthy of respect, but he had never expected that there was an even deeper intention behind it.
Shi Zhixuan continued, “When this situation occurs, it will be the moment Ci Hang Jing Zhai will be directly involved into the battle between Kou Zhong and Li Shimin, because with Song Que plus Kou Zhong, Li Shimin’s allotted share is only to suffer defeat. At that time, the key to victory and defeat will be decided by the rise or fall of Luoyang; if they cannot defend Luoyang, the Li Clan will lose the world.”
At a loss, Xu Ziling said, “Under this kind of situation, what is Ci Hang Jing Zhai going to do?”
Shi Zhixuan shook his head and said, “I don’t know. But Fan Qinghui will have no other choice, because once the situation develops into North-South confrontation, Xieli, who has made adequate preparation, will surely take advantage of this weakness and entered in, to mess up our Central Earth. This is something that Fan Qinghui most unwilling to see. The good disciple that she trained did what she wish, by reversing the good situation that I, Shi Zhixuan established through hard work. By the time our Holy School, after suffering untold hardships, regain the upper hand, Kou Zhong and Song Que are coming to mess it up.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Why did Xie Wang tell me all these things?”
Shi Zhixuan looked at him, he smiled and said, “Now the development of the situation is subtle, plus it is not within our Holy School’s control. Ziling, you have become a figure to play a critical role who can influence both sides. I am analyzing the situation for you, with the hope that Ziling can place yourself outside the dispute, to accompany Qingxuan passing rural livelihood, shunning the world and withdrawing from the fray and living in seclusion. Because no matter which side you help, the other side will be harmed. Since that’s the case, why not throw out everything and grasp the life that is going to pass in the twinkling of an eye? Ol’ Shi’s words thus endeth, Ziling, do your best.”
Amidst the long laughter, he walked off without a second thought for those he left behind.
Once again Xu Ziling felt crisis was looming. Shi Qingxuan was, true from many points of view – Shi Zhixuan’s only flaw. Shi Zhixuan only stole a glance at her, he was ‘listening’ to her conversation with Xu Ziling, immediately this vicious person at the top of this generation became a compassionate father who did not hesitate to sacrifice everything for his daughter. But at the same time, Shi Zhixuan has freed himself from the pain and guilty conscience, beyond the heart’s barrier, putting his hope on his daughter, hence in the earnest and well-meaning advice he gave counsel to him, Xu Ziling.
Shi Zhixuan no longer had any flaw.
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, he put his feelings in order, left a note to Hou Xibai, and then floated away.
Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan stood on top of the perimeter wall outside the mountain stronghold. Their scalp went numb, they looked at the Tang Army’s terrifying battle formation.
No matter how rich their imaginations, seeing with their own eyes the other side’s overwhelming superiority was another thing altogether. Although it was a re-emergence of Luoyang situation, but Luoyang’s city wall was tall and thick, plus it had enough defensive power to deal with any attack, while their place now only stood two zhang high, the stronghold wall was only five chi wide, there was a real risk of being unable to withstand a single blow. Outside, the three layers of trenches, with the opponent’s many men, a great force, at most it would only need about a sichen to fill it flat, and then there would not be any barrier anymore.
The Tang Army’s military strength was between fifty to sixty thousand men, they set up camps everywhere on the vast hilly area far and near in front of the mountain stronghold, the string of camps was continuous for several dozen li, their banners were like a sea, it was the appearance of an army at its peak, straight with hiding the sky and covering the earth momentum.
Only one day and one night of work, the area about ten li square outside the mountain stronghold, all the trees were chopped clean. With the woods, they built all kinds and sorts of attacking-stronghold equipment, like cloud ladders, ramming vehicles, blocking-arrows-transporting-troops carts, toad carts to fill the trenches, stone-throwing machines, crossbow and arrow machines, and so on, by hundreds and thousands, and pushed them to the front line, about two thousand paces from the mountain stronghold. A variety of assault equipment were coming one after another. The Tang Army stood guard behind the rear wheels of the cart formation; they were unafraid the Shao Shuai Army would come out to attack.
Since there is an advantage, then there must be disadvantage as well. Mountain stronghold was easy to defend, but it was also easy for the enemy to seal off and concentrate their power to attack violently. If the retreat path on the rear was not cut off, since they could not succeed anyway, they might as well retreat. But now they have become the bie [freshwater soft-shelled turtle] in the jar, and could only fight as long as they had the strength – to the end.
Smiling wryly, Ba Fenghan said, “Do you have confidence to be able to penetrate the other side’s Wooden Donkey Carts?”
Wooden Donkey Cart was the proper name of the blocking-arrows-transporting-troops carts. In the past, Xu Ziling used these to carryout the crossing-over-the-trenches battle outside the City of Luoyang. It was moved by four wheels, and looked like little house that could move around. The inverted ‘V’ top was made of giant wood, covered in raw cowhide, not easy to burn, under which more than 70 soldiers could hide. During the attack on Luoyang, due to the support of giant trebuchets on the city wall, the carts could not display their power; however, to be used to attack simple and crude mountain stronghold, it was like handling a butcher’s cleaver with ease.
When the ramming vehicles started to shake gaps on the stronghold’s wall, the soldiers hiding inside the wooden donkey carts could flock into the stronghold, and the Shao Shuai Army would be done for.
Kou Zhong shook his head to indicate his powerlessness, he spoke heavily, “All Li kid’s deployments are aimed against our Piercing the Sun and Shooting the Moon, merely relying on the lu shields, they can withstand the powerful arrows shot from our divine bows.”
The lu [lit. scull (single oar worked from side to side over the stern of a boat)] shields were the largest shields, made of thick, solid wood, with a sharp tip on the bottom, which could be inserted into the dirt to increase their resistance power. The Tang Army guarding the front line were putting more than a dozen newly made lu shields pillars to stand at the front, while the men were showing off their military strength to them from behind the shields, hence the reason of Kou Zhong’s feeling.
Ba Fenghan fiercely said, “Quickly think of a way, otherwise, once Li Shimin start the attack, it will be with ten-thousand-jun­-thunderbolt momentum, continuing day and night, until we are completely collapse. You have no time to think of anything else.”
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, “My little brain does not seem to listen to my order. His Niang’s! Why does Li kid always look like he can come and press me and beat me up?”
Ba Fenghan replied, “Because he is certainly occupying the total superiority, he can do whatever he wants. Now, although we have troops and darts prepared, rations and fodder sufficient, the stronghold wall cannot last too long; since we cannot compete in power against the enemy, we can only compete in wits.”
Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong said, “Now it is clear that we are going to fight a hard battle, if we can’t win, then we’ll lose. Hey! I wonder if we could use kerosene bomb to burn Li kid’s cart formation, and drag his Niang’s for a few days?”
In the last night’s military campaign on the south road, they only used poisonous smoke arrows, and still had more than three hundred arrows, five hundred kerosene bombs and eight hundred poisonous smoke cannons intact and unmoved. However, even if they succeeded in burning the other side’s cart formation, the other side could build another batch within a few days, hence Kou Zhong’s last remark.
Ba Fenghan raised his head to look at the sky, he spoke slowly, “That is the best method we can think of. However many days we can drag, let’s drag it for that long. By that time, perhaps things will take a turn for the better, because early winter’s first big snow is about to fall. Snow-accumulation on the ground might be very disadvantageous to Li Shimin’s attack.”
Kou Zhong swept his gaze over the situation of the cart formation, he smiled and said, “Li kid already guessed that we might have this move, hence he deployed his men to defend tightly behind the formation, their distance is even farther away, reaching up to two thousand paces. If we deploy the troops to attack, the defending troops could deliver us a frontal assault. Fortunately, you have a good plan, I have the ladder to climb over the wall. Let’s just the two of us brothers personally come out to attack, tie to kerosene bomb onto the arrow, and then after igniting it, we shoot it out using the divine bow, to destroy the enemy over a long distance, what do you think?”
Revealing a smiling expression, Ba Fenghan said, “Good plan! Turns out to be able to survive a few more days unexpectedly can make people so happy and excited.”
Kou Zhong laughed and cursed, “Your granny’s bear, I, Kou Zhong definitely am not going to lose. Merely poisonous smoke arrow, kerosene bomb, and poisonous fog cannon are enough to hold out until the big snow arrives. I hope your, LaoGe’s ability to see the sky has enough qualifications to be my Shifu; I really have no confidence to see that snow is going to come down soon.”
This moment Ma Chang came to the two men’s side and said, “We confirmed that the Tang Army blocking the southern road exit is under Wang Junkuo’s command. After reorganizing the foot of his disposition of troops, Qu Tutong joined hands with Wang Junkuo to guard the southern road, their military strength reaches twenty-thousand men.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Li Shimin is using nearly a hundred thousand troops to deal with our not-even-ten-thousand-man army, we ought to be proud of ourselves. Where’s Chen Gong?”
Anxious and distressed, Ma Chang swept his gaze across the military-prowess-at-its-peak enemy outside the stronghold; he replied, “Mou Lao is trying to reinforce the defense of the south of the gorge. Although the enemy does not dare to enter the gorge path, it’s always better for us to be a bit more careful.” Finished speaking, he seemed to want to say something but then hesitated.
Ba Fenghan spoke in astonishment, “To this moment, where we live and die together, what is it that you feel cannot be expressed freely?”
Ma Chang said, “I am afraid the enemy would use fire to attack.”
Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan were unable to make any sense of the matter; breaking the stronghold was easy, burning the stronghold was difficult, they both did not understand why Ma Chang was having such a fear.
Ma Chang explained, “Strictly speaking, it should be smoke attack. In this weather, once the north wind, northwest wind, or perhaps northeast wind is blowing, if the enemy burns wood nearly, the thick smoke would be carried by the wind into the stronghold, to fill up the gorge path. At that time, if we take risks to break the siege, it would be no different from throwing away our lives.”
Kou Zhong drew out a mouthful of cold air, he said, “Your worry is reasonable.”
Ma Chang said, “If they dump white arsenic or some other poisonous substance into the open fire, the destructive power will be even more formidable.”
Shaken, Ba Fenghan said, “Ma Jiangjun can think of it, Li Shimin, whose talent is above the crowd surely will not neglect it. This is indeed a problem that give us a big headache.”
Kou Zhong said, “Perhaps the white arsenic is even on its way here; we must find a way to deal with it.”
Ma Chang proposed, “About the gorge path, we can still think of a way; as long as we send our men to seal off the gorge path, due to the smoke will rise to high elevation, we could protect the gorge path unharmed. The problem is that the mountain stronghold does not have any barrier at all on the outside. If the enemy takes advantage of the smoke to attack, we will definitely be unable to endure it.”
Even if the entire army could hide inside the gorge path to avoid the smoke, the mountain stronghold would potentially be razed to the ground, in which case, they might as well run away as soon as possible.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Kou Zhong said, “The situation is still not that nasty, is it? We could, under cover of the smoke, put poisonous fog cannon outside the stronghold everywhere and seize the opportunity to strike back, perhaps we could gain some advantages. Lao Ba and I are not afraid of poisonous smoke, the problem is how the men outside the gorge path are going to avoid the smoke? In this aspect, Chen Gong must have a way.”
Ba Fenghan cast his gaze toward the cart formation’s line of defense, which was continuous for several li outside the stronghold. Recovering his cool-headedness, he spoke calmly, “If Li Shimin uses fire to attack, the first condition should be to guard tightly the front line of the car formation; if we can break this line of defense, the smoke attack will have to be postponed.”
“How are we going to break their cart formation?” Ma Chang asked in astonishment.
After giving him an explanation, Kou Zhong said, “This matter should not be delayed, Ma Jiangjun immediately selects a team of elite archers, with me and Lao Ba as a cover, we will immediately commence the operation after dark, burn his Niang’s to our heart’s contents. How could Jiangnan’s firearms be easy to deal with? I am going to display initial show of strength to Li kid, to let him know that I, Kou Zhong, am not easy to push around.”
Ba Fenghan said, “Looking at the situation, Li Shimin should start attacking the stronghold tomorrow morning, so tonight is our last chance.”
After Ma Chang accepted the order and left, Ba Fenghan laughed and said, “A talent is a talent. Ma Chang not only has guts and has color, his thought is meticulous, he can be entrusted with heavy responsibility.”
Kou Zhong cheerfully said, “That he is available for me to use, it is indeed my good fortune.”
While the two men were discussing tonight’s operation in details, Chen Laomou hurriedly arrived, his expression excited, he said, “Such a trivial matter, leave it to Laofu.”
Greatly delighted, the two men promptly asked about his plan.
Revealing a look of respect, Chen Laomou lowered his voice and spoke mysteriously, “This is the method that Lu Dashi mentioned in his book on war, chapter five, defensive techniques against poison and smoke, which is to make circular cylinder using cloth, with wooden frame in the inside to support it, connected from segment to segment, one end leads toward a place where the poisonous smoke cannot reach, the other end leads into the sealed-up room. This room is not completely sealed-up, rather, it has an air outlet. On one side, a bellows pumps fresh and clean air into the long cylinder, transporting fresh and clean inside, the other end also uses bellows to discharge the poisonous air out, while it could prevent the poison gas from entering the house. We do have a ventilated room that is readily available, which is our main building, requiring only slight addition and refitting. Circular cylinders are simple and easy to make, plus we have adequate manpower, everything can be delivered tomorrow morning.”
Kou Zhong spoke in delight, “Chen Gong, please go immediately to carry this matter through.”
Upright and unafraid, Chen Laomou left.
Kou Zhong wrapped his arm around Ba Fenghan’s shoulders and said, “If we can live one day longer, then we’ll live one day longer. Ay! How come we have not seen Ziling’s trace? With him around, I would have more confidence in fighting this war.”