CHAPTER 1: STABILITY

III

The sky was not yet bright but his big brother was already doing sword training. Ge Pang Xiao had already prepared a mouthful of sugar-coated praises. Unexpectedly, this situation already unfolded before he had the chance to, and he was scared to death as he stood motionlessly on the side, not daring to breathe out.

Chang Geng seemed like he did not sleep well. His face was pale and his eyes were twitching slightly. After taking a deep look at Gu Yun, he slowly lowered the tip of the sword and restrained his voice: "I had greatly offended the Marquis with my blunder."

Gu Yun rubbed his chin, trying to hold himself back from laughing.

He raised his hand in an attempt to put it around Chang Geng's shoulder just like before, but the boy avoided it as expected.

Chang Geng said coldly: "Marquis, please come inside."

Gu Yun retracted his hand with a bit of embarrassment and placed it on his lips, covering it up with a cough: "Chang Geng, wait."

Hearing Gu Yun call his name, Chang Geng's footsteps subconsciously stopped, only to see Gu Yun turn around and wave his hand. The few people who were carrying a box immediately stepped in and placed it in the yard, took one step back, and lined up into a row then got down on one knee.

"Marshal."

Gu Yun reached out and signaled for the soldiers to get up, then personally stepped forward to open the lock on the box. With his hand placed on the complicated looking lock as if he was tempting little children, he turned around and told Chang Geng with a mysterious smile: "Come, I have something nice to show you."

The lid of the box popped open with a creaking sound. Ge Pang Xiao pulled on Chang Geng, but upon seeing how silent he was, he couldn't help his curiosity and stepped forward himself to take a peek, then immediately cried out in surprise.

Inside the box laid a silver-colored Heavy Armor. There was no variegation in its whole body, the lines and curves were almost dazzling, stunningly beautiful. Compared with this one, the Heavy Armors that the barbarians had obtained seemed nothing more than a load of heavy metal lumps.

Gu Yun said with a hint of pride: "This was custom-made by the master from Ling Shu Institute a while back. The efficiency of the Ziliujin firepower is twice as high as other Heavy Armors. The joints have a reinforcing layer and will not become stuck by just one piece of Xiu Zhong Si unlike that junk of the barbarians. This is a masterpiece, much better than the one I used when I was young, but it still has no name... You should be at the age where you have your own name already, you should leave your childhood name for this one."

Chang Geng, except for the light that reflected from the armor flashed that onto his eyes, had no other expression on his face. Especially not after hearing Gu Yun suggest that he should give the Heavy Armor the name 'Chang Geng'.

He didn't know since when the name 'Chang Geng' had become so popular. Xiu Niang - Hu Ge Er, Gu Yun, they all seemed to favor this childhood name.

The enemy who carried the status as his mother gave him a dose of poison that could cause insanity before her death, naming it 'Chang Geng'. The yifu that he had wanted to use the rest of his life to take care of before it had all turned into bubbles, now gifted him with this astounding Heavy Armor, also suggesting that he named it 'Chang Geng'.

Was there anything more ironic than this?


In short, Marshal Gu who excelled in the art of 'mentioning things that should not be mentioned' had once again successfully delivered.


Chang Geng's long silence had made the people around him uneasy. Ge Pang Xiao stepped over and reached out to gently tug on his sleeve: "Big brother, are you not going to try it on? The first time I saw Heavy Armors was from the group of barbarians that day..."


Chang Geng suddenly bowed his head then turned back inside the house without a word and shut the door with force.


The smile on Gu Yun's lips gradually became a bit bitter. He appeared quite self-conscious standing at the entrance of the courtyard, but he quickly steadied himself again and laughed his way out of it: "First time being someone's yifu, not quite good at it. How embarrassing."


A sergeant in Black Armor came forward and asked: "Marshal, this armor..."


"Put it...um, just put it outside his quarters and leave the key behind for him." Gu Yun briefly paused, appearing like he was going to say more, but in the end, he was still discouraged: "Forget it."


He had donned a casual attire the color of indigo, thin and flimsy; his figure was not entirely sturdy either. He had put in a lot of effort trying to please the boy but ended up touching matters that should not be touched. Staring at the tightly shut doors in front of him with sorrow, he gave off quite a pitiful image.


Shen Yi witnessed this situation, and could not help but curse: "Aren't you usually so arrogant? Looks like you have kicked right at an iron pole this time. Serves you right!"


Ge Pang Xiao felt a little uncomfortable, awkwardly scratching his head: "Uncle Shiliu..."


Gu Yun patted Ge Pang Xiao's forehead and smiled reluctantly: "It's nothing, you two run along and go play."


He later turned and walked over to Shen Yi, dragging him quite far out in the distance then whispered: "Wasn't he very happy last time when I gave him the iron wristband? Why did it not work this time?"


Shen Yi looked around and saw that no one was within earshot, then bluntly said: "Grand Marshal, do you think he is made of wood? So that you could use the same trick every time?"


Gu Yun was a little anxious: "Cut the sly remarks, then what do you think I should do?"


Shen Yi's eyes widened: "Just look, you have done all these grand deeds in the Northern Frontier, yet you hid them from him for how long. He had treated you with all his heart, but what about you? Now he still thinks that you were just pretending to be blind and deaf to fool him, not to mention the mother that had raised him from a young age turned out to be a spy from the Man's tribes, who is also gone now and could have been indirectly killed by you..."


"Bullcrap," Gu Yun interrupted him, "This sort of fiend from the savanna undoubtedly ended her life knowing for sure her grand scheme had come to fruition. If she knew that I was here, she would surely realize that they stood no chance, like hell she would go die."


Shen Yi pondered on his words, he could not make out any relation to karma in this sentence, he could only hear the key point - 'the hero of the world, if it's not me, then who is it?' from Marshal Gu's words — what is this 'knowing that he is here, I now understand that I have no chance'?


Simply hopeless.


Shen Yi did not pay him any mind, he replied just for the sake of it: "Just give him some room, let him have some peace and quiet for a few days, don't run over with these 'coaxing mistresses' tricks to bother him. Just let him get himself together."

Gu Yun: "I don't have a mistress."


Shen Yi sneered: "That's right, you don't even have a wife."


Gu Yun kicked him.


However, after two steps, Marshal Gu realized that this matter happened right on time - he simply did not wish to return to the capital right now.


But escorting the little prince, they couldn't stay in Yanhui Town forever. He briefly considered it, then suddenly had a sly idea.


Gu Yun said to Shen Yi: "Just in time, the report written last night still has not been sent out, you go back and change it, say that the Fourth Prince harbors genuine filial piety. Although it is hard to accommodate both loyalty and filial piety, in the end, he had placed righteousness before his own family, but afterward, due to excessive sorrow, he ended up bedridden with a severe illness. We are resting in Yanhui Town for a while, waiting for His Highness' body to recover then return to the capital. It must be written reasonably and sensibly; strive to make the Emperor break down in tears."


Shen Yi: "..."


If he had any chance to defeat him, he would personally make this Gu break down in tears.


It was a pity that a human's calculation could not be compared to that of God's.


The next day, as Gu Yun was watching Chang Geng practice his sword on top of a wall, a Black Eagle suddenly arrived with an urgent gold medal order. Just one look and Gu Yun's expression immediately changed.


The Emperor was currently in critical condition; he had summoned the Marquis of Order to bring the Fourth Prince back promptly.


Gu Yun turned over and jumped off of the wall top. Chang Geng could faintly hear him speaking to someone outside the courtyard boundary: "Tell Ji Ping to come to see me, we are to return to the capital immediately."


Chang Geng was bewildered; leaning on his longsword, he could sense unforeseen circumstances coming.


All of Great Liang thought of him as this Fourth Highness, except for himself.


Chang Geng always felt that his identity was quite insulting. If he really was a prince, whether he was a purebred or hybrid, either way - should the true dragon bloodline be there to shelter him?


How did it turn out like this?


But then again, whether he belonged to the royal family or that of a beggar's, he had no say in this matter.


Ge Pang Xiao was observing and noticed that Chang Geng's mood was not very good, he immediately smiled and said: "Don't worry, big brother, I will always follow you, if you are a general, I will be your bodyguard; if you are a magistrate, I will be your assistant; If you are an emperor, I will be your eunuch- ... Ah!"


Chang Geng covered his mouth and glared: "How can you speak of such nonsense? You don't want to live anymore?"


Ge Pang Xiao's small pair of mung beans' eyes went left and right.


Chang Geng's darkened mood suddenly improved a lot. Even the little boy of a butcher's family was unaffected. If he continued to wallow in anxiety, wouldn't that mean he was completely incompetent?


Chang Geng thought: "I should just run for my life then, as there is utterly no burden. I should run deep into a mountain's forest and be a hunter. No one could ever find me again."


However, if he decided to run, he must first leave Shiliu... Gu Yun behind. As he started to entertain this idea, his insides started to hurt too much as if they were being cut into pieces; he had no choice but to temporarily set these thoughts aside. But as soon as he did, going with the flow, Gu Yun was already escorting him on their way back to the capital.

Ge Pang Xiao already made up his mind about following him. The boy who grew up in the countryside had chosen the path of the capital thousands of miles away. Buy one, get one free — the next day as they were about to set off, Chang Geng found himself looking at Cao Niangzi, who was now donned in men's attire, but no matter how one looked at it, he still resembled a crossdressing female.


Cao Niangzi mustered up his courage, trying to add force to his voice: "Big brother Chang Geng, you saved my life in the river that day. My father said that as a man, one must not be ungrateful: I must repay you with my life."


Upon hearing the 'as a man' part, Chang Geng already had goosebumps. After hearing 'repay you with my life', he suddenly felt his stomach ache. He replied dryly: "It's not necessary."


Cao Niangzi's ears were bright red, he shyly said: "I... I just want to go to the capital with you, to stay beside and serve you."


Chang Geng wanted to refuse at first, but as the words were about to leave his lips, they slid back down into his throat. In his impression, Ge Pang Xiao and Cao Niangzi were his two little tails. They barely ever spoke a full complete sentence to him, one could not say that there was any kind of friendship here, but once he left Yanhui Town, these two little children would suddenly become all the memories that he had of this place — Shen Shiliu not counted.


Chang Geng hesitated for a moment, then turned his head and asked a soldier: "This brother... would you mind inquiring with the marquis about this?"


The guard's reply came quickly: "Grand Marshal said this is for you to decide."


Chang Geng gently let out a breath; as he thought, such trivial matters, Gu Yun would not pay them any mind.


Bringing along Ge Pang Xiao and Cao Niangzi, Chang Geng mounted on his horse, then turned around and took one last look at the small town of Yanhui.


Giant Kites had once returned to this place, with crowds of people lining up on both sides welcoming them back. Although ridden with poverty, life here had always been happy and peaceful.


Now, as the fire of war had swept through them, the whole town seemed to have fallen into a shadow. In the distance, only the sounds of crows could be heard.


There was an indescribable sensation in Chang Geng's heart — he felt that those happy and simple days would never come back again.


The powerful Black Iron Camp rushed back to the capital in the same way as the marching of an army. Even energetic young children were completely exhausted after a few days of traveling.


When the army set their camp down for resting in a valley, in the midst of haziness, Chang Geng had a nightmare completely different than usual. He dreamed that he had a steel knife in his hand, which he pierced through Gu Yun's chest, and blood started spurting out. His face was as pale as paper, his eyes darkened and gaze scattered as they slowly lost their focus, a thin stream of blood flowing down his lips.


Chang Geng shouted 'yifu!' out loud and sat up in fright. Soaked in a feverish hot sweat, he subconsciously touched his chest.


Chang Geng had flattened the scrape on the ruined Xiu Zhong Si and noticed a detail about it. The traces left behind by the Ziliujin burn looked like some kind of pattern, resembling clouds; he then drilled a hole in it and wore it on his neck.


This Xiu Zhong Si had helped him kill a barbarian. Chang Geng believed that as he had seen blood, he could no longer be regarded as a child. He was now qualified to be a real man, hence he wore this blade on him at all times.


Chang Geng's fingers touched the ice-cold piece of black metal, gradually calming him down.


He slowly spat out a suffocating breath, then moved to exit his tent. The night guard immediately wanted to follow after, but he was refused.


Chang Geng went alone to a small river. As he was washing his face, he heard the lively noises of insects on the grass. He reached out his hand and caught a small cicada.


The Fire Star would soon fall, signaling the beginning of the cool autumn; the lifespan of this little thing was coming to an end. Chang Geng felt that this creature was very pitiful and let it go. He aimlessly strolled along the riverside until he unconsciously arrived at Gu Yun's tent.


*fire star(流火 liúhuǒ), associated with the end of summer


He then mockingly smiled to himself, but just as he was turning to leave, he suddenly saw Shen Yi rushing in, holding a porcelain bowl in his hand, a very familiar medicinal scent spreading out.


Chang Geng's nose twitched, and he was unable to make another move.




It was difficult for Chang Geng to regard Shen Shiliu and Gu Yun as the same person.

Shen Shiliu was simply some improper man from the border town, spending all his days wandering and idling about, not working for a living but also being a picky eater who was immensely difficult to please. He was genuine and true yet repulsive at the same time.

But Gu Yun was not.

For most people in this world, 'Gu Yun' might not be an individual. He was more like a symbol; an incredible being with three heads and six arms, exceptionally skillful and talented.

In a grand nation that encompassed thousands of miles, there could only be one person like Gu Yun.

Not only for Chang Geng, but also for Ge Pang Xiao and Cao Niangzi, when discussing this matter, they also felt as if they were only dreaming.

It was just that Chang Geng was different from his two little friends. After all, Shen Shiliu was not their yifu.

Chang Geng did not resent Gu Yun for deceiving him. After all, he was already surrounded by deception since the day he was born, adding one more into the midst did not make that much of a difference.

Besides, what could the Grand Marquis of Order obtain by deceiving a poor orphan boy like him?

Generally, it could be said that it was because of Xiu Niang's blessing — who forged him this false identity — that such a lowly character like him could have the chance to meet with the Marquis of Order in his lifetime. The man even lowered himself down to 'trick' him, there must be other reasons for it.

It's just that for Chang Geng's affection — two parts went out to his home country, two parts were given to Xu Baihu who seldom came home. The remaining six were all for his little yifu. But now that Marshal Gu had caused his little yifu to disappear, those six parts of affection fell to the ground in vain and were shattered, hollowing out a large pit in his heart, the bleeding spreading out over a vast expanse.

But at this moment as Shen Yi brought the medicine this late at night, Shen Shiliu and Gu Yun — two separate figures that should have been on two completely opposite sides — suddenly and unexpectedly overlapped with each other.

After a while, Shen Yi came out with an empty bowl. Chang Geng heard him notify the soldiers guarding outside the Marshal's tent: "You all keep watch here, don't let anyone come in and bother him."

Chang Geng hesitated for a moment, but proceeded to step closer, as if he had been pushed forward by an invisible force.

After many days of traveling together, Gu Yun's personal guard certainly recognized him. But due to Shen Yi's instructions, he had no choice but to move forward to stop him: "Your Royal Highness, the Marshal is feeling somewhat uncomfortable today, he has already taken his medicine and gone to bed. If you have any business please command your subject, I can do it in your stead. "

The man who he used to live next door to and could easily find without even knocking on the door, now Chang Geng had to trouble others just to catch a glimpse of his face.

Chang Geng bowed his head, his voice seemed to be dyed with loneliness: "This brother..."


The guard immediately knelt down: "I don't dare."


"No, no, I don't mean it like that." Chang Geng quickly waved his hand then smiled helplessly. After a moment, he sighed: "It's just that back in Yanhui Town, I used to bring him his medicine. I only wanted to take a quick look, if it really is inconvenient, then I..."


He could not speak anymore. Chang Geng made up his mind, deciding that if he got rejected again this time, he would not humiliate himself any further.


Unexpectedly at this time, another soldier came up and whispered into the guards ear: "Didn't the Marshal instruct that there was no need to inform him if it was His Highness who came to visit? Don't be so stubborn."


Chang Geng was sharp, of course, he could hear this. He raised his head in surprise, momentarily not understanding the emotion in his heart. And just like that, he was allowed in.


The scent of the medicine had not evaporated, the bed curtains were left open, and a figure of a person laid there silently.


As he moved a little closer, Chang Geng discovered that Gu Yun still hadn't fallen asleep.


Perhaps due to the headache, Gu Yun's fingers were pressed tightly against his temples, a deep scowl between his brows; he did not notice that someone had entered.


Chang Geng cleared his throat from a few steps away, then gently called out: "Mar..."


He only just made a sound but Gu Yun, who was lying on the bed had instantly risen, he pulled out a sabre hidden inside his blanket, and unsheathed it about three inches. Chang Geng could not even afford to blink his eyes when the sharp blade of the sword had already been placed against his neck, its coldness climbing up on him. The person holding the sabre resembled a vicious dragon that had just been awoken.


Chang Geng was shocked by his killing intent and was forced to blurt out:


"Shiliu!"


Gu Yun tilted his head, after a brief moment he narrowed his eyes and seemed to recognize Chang Geng, he vaguely said: "Sorry."


He put the sabre back into the blanket then gently rubbed Chang Geng's neck: "Did I hurt you?"


Chang Geng was startled, and just as he gathered himself together again, suspicion started to rise up inside: Can he really not see?


But he immediately cast this impossible thought aside — how could the Marquis of Order be a blind man?


Gu Yun searched for an outer coat and carelessly draped it onto his body: "Why have you come here?"


But he toppled as he tried to stand up due to dizziness, ended up half-sitting, half-fallen onto the bed. Gu Yun sucked in a deep breath and held his forehead with one hand, the other was pressed onto the bedside for support.


"Don't move." Chang Geng subconsciously reached out and caught him.


He hesitated for a moment, then bent down and lifted Gu Yun's legs up, tucked them back on the bed, and properly pulled the blanket up for him. While avoiding the mess of long hair that scattered around, he supported Gu Yun's shoulder to help him lie down. After finishing this series of actions, Chang Geng dumbly stood there for a while, he suddenly could not find any words to say, only a stiff question came out of his lips: "What happened to you?"


Gu Yun's medicine was starting to take effect. He did not expect Chang Geng, who was 'throwing a tantrum', would suddenly come for a visit. He could only reluctantly endure the headache and the sounds echoing near and far in his ears.

He had intended to send Chang Geng away first, he laughed casually: "Made a little ungrateful brat that doesn't acknowledge me angry — pardon me, Your Highness, could you fetch me my wine bottle?"


According to his experience, in a situation like this, drinking some wine might be able to make it more bearable.


Chang Geng frowned and looked at him with suspicion.


Gu Yun's head was aching as if being cracked open, he lied: "Shen Yi's medicinal wine can help cure my migraine."


Chang Geng was fooled easily, he went to grab the bottle that was hung next to the Light Armor suit.


Gu Yun tilted his head and downed half of the wine in one go. As he almost finished the whole bottle, Chang Geng quickly held on to his wrist and took the bottle away by force: "Enough, don't drink so much even if it is medicinal wine."


The strong wine flowed into his stomach like a burning fire, the blood in his whole body boiled up. Gu Yun let out a breath and felt that his sight was clearer now. It was just that he started to get a bit dizzy from drinking too fast. The two had nothing to say, and after looking at each other for a while, Gu Yun could not hold on. He leaned on the bed and gently closed his eyes.


His intention to send Chang Geng away was made crystal clear, even Chang Geng himself understood that he should leave, but his feet seemed as if they were rooted in one place.


Chang Geng mocked himself on one hand: "Even if you feel worried it would all still be meaningless, just be sensible and leave now."


But at the same time, he involuntarily reached out and pressed the acupuncture point on Gu Yun's head.


As he continued, he felt that he himself was despicable and low, yet he could not stop.


Gu Yun's forehead was cold, and except for the frowning of his eyebrows at the beginning, he did not express any other opinion, he simply let Chang Geng do as he pleased.


It was only when Chang Geng's hands felt a bit tired that he whispered, "Do you feel better now?"


Gu Yun opened his eyes and looked at Chang Geng silently.


The so-called 'even the wise can be wrong at times, and even the fools can at times be correct' under the influence of wine — Gu Yun was able to say something sensible for once. Looking at Chang Geng for a while, he suddenly said:


"Even after we arrive at the capital, yifu will still be here to protect you. Don't be afraid."


Chang Geng was completely stunned. Under the dim light, he seemed to tremble greatly.


Forced to mature so soon at this age, when knowing full well that he had nowhere and no one to rely on but himself, he could only clench his teeth and force himself into a calm and restrained adult.


But, in the face of just the slightest bit of warmth that he had always longed for, the tough and brave exterior fell apart and revealed the soft and fragile child inside.


Gu Yun stretched out a hand towards him: "Yifu was wrong, all right?"


He didn't know how this sentence had penetrated through the young boy's cracked heart; perhaps not all of it was sincere, because, for the most part, Gu Yun never thought that he was wrong. Even if his conscience spoke up occasionally, it was not necessarily that he knew where exactly he went wrong.


His gentleness and indulgence brought on by the wine had given Chang Geng a way out.


Chang Geng held onto his hand tightly, like grabbing the last life-saving straw. The shoulders that had stiffened for many days suddenly fell. He almost broke down into tears.


He now realized that what he had been waiting for all this time was only these two simple sentences. As long as that person said to him 'yifu was wrong, yifu still needs you', it was enough for him to know that even after the Xiu Niang who abused him no longer existed, after losing Xu Baihu whom he did not even have the chance to see again one last time, in this world there was still this one bit of warmth left for him... then he could forgive his little yifu for anything.


In the past, and for ever after.


Whether he was called Shen Shiliu, or Gu Yun.


Gu Yun felt that his eyelids were getting heavier and heavier. He leaned on the bed, closed his eyes, then said, "Chang Geng, many things will change from now on. No one can know where their final destination will be right from the start, sometimes you must not think too much."


Chang Geng stared at Gu Yun without blinking. His eyes unknowingly carried hints of carefully hidden greed. He admitted with sorrow that Gu Yun was right; many things would change, living people would have to die, good times would dissipate, relatives and friends would be separated in the end, affections as deep as the sea and as high as the heaven would eventually resemble a stream of water flowing towards the ends of the earth...


Only his own final destination was already permanently established: he would become a madman.


Gu Yun moved further into the bed, then patted the empty space beside him: "Come here, we will have to quickly be on the move again tomorrow, sleep here at my place tonight."


After midnight, Chang Geng fell asleep in Gu Yun's Marshal's tent. As usual, the Bone of Impurity refused to let go of him, endless nightmares came one after another. But he could always sense a faint medicinal scent around him. He knew very well that he was safe, even vaguely understanding that he was only dreaming, those fears and resentments seemed to be separated from him by a layer.


For Chang Geng, this was a rare night of peaceful sleep.


Of course, that was if he didn't wake up to find that he had used one of the Marquis of Order's arms as a pillow all night, causing it to go numb, and not only that, he was even snuggled deep into the man's chest.


Especially Gu Yun, that shameless bastard would never understand the sensitive and emotional heart of the still-growing young boy. The more self-conscious the other became, the more he would pour oil into the fire. Marshal Gu believed that since they had shared a bed for the night, Chang Geng had already reconciled with him, thus continuing his bad habits. He rubbed his numbed arm and teased the boy as his morning entertainment, and it even appeared like he would remember this to always bring up again in the future.


Was this person's ill and weakened appearance from last night just an act again?!


In the early morning, Shen Yi saw Chang Geng angrily stomping out of Gu Yun's Marshal's tent, blushing red. For the rest of that day, he would turn the other way as soon as he could see Gu Yun.


On the road, Shen Yi ushered his horse over, glanced at Gu Yun's face then asked, "Is everything alright now?"


Gu Yun, like an old wolf, proudly said without care: "Just a little kid, such trivial matters. There was nothing in the first place."


Shen Yi had witnessed Gu Yun spin around with concern and anxiety during the previous two days, he was at a complete loss of words and could only sneer.


Gu Yun as per usual pretended he couldn't hear, watching Chan Geng’s back from far away, he suddenly spoke: "Say...can I leave the Black Iron Camp in his hands down the road?"


Shen Yi dryly replied: "You want him to meet a tragic demise?"


Gu Yun made an irritated sound as if Shen Yi had just killed his mood.


"Do you really think that the Black Iron Camp is a nice thing? I am speaking honestly, Zi Xi, pardon me for saying these words that are difficult to hear," Shen Yi said: "The Black Iron Camp in the hands of the old marquis, was a 'weapon for the country'. But when handed to you, it became a 'weapon against the country'. A weapon for the country is radiant, favored by many, the same can't be said for a weapon against the country."


Hearing the meaning behind his words, Gu Yun's lazy smile disappeared.