In addition to two hundred soldiers, the Southern Frontier inspector also possessed ten sets of Heavy Armor and fifteen sets of Light Armor — add a Giant Kite into the mix, and then judging from firepower alone, they would be no different than Yanhui Town's defensive force in the Northern Frontier.
The moment he received a letter from Sun Jiao, he knew that the day he had been waiting for was arriving.
Fu Zhi Cheng had been the mountain king for a long time: he was crude, arrogant, and had caused Kuai Lan Tu — who was sent by the imperial court to keep an eye on him — to lose face on more than one occasion. The hatred between the two had a long history.
The Emperor was determined to gather the military powers throughout the country, and the implementation of the Drumming Order would inevitably require someone as a sacrifice. The Northwest was Gu Yun’s territory, they temporarily could not touch him. Jiangnan was made up mainly of naval forces, they bore the most important task of keeping surveillance on the Western ships. Combined with the recent incident, it would be greatly inconvenient to touch them now. The Central Plains army was for defending the center of the country, even if they wanted to do something, it had to be left for last. Only the desolated southern areas of the country could be used as a breakthrough.
If Fu Zhi Cheng was smart, during this period, he should have stayed quietly in the Southern Frontier, pretending that he did not exist. Yet he had to jump out and threaten the court using the name of a family ‘funeral’.
A soldier came forward, whispering: "Master, the fire oil is ready."
Kuai Lan Tu took over the Qian Li Yan and observed the charming green hills in front of him. The owner of this hill was originally a Taoist priest named Jing Xu. Due to the Emperor’s belief in Buddhism, the common folks also followed suit. His Taoist temple grew more difficult to sustain by the day. Not only so - seeing that he could easily be picked on, many outlaws had even come to his doors to rob him. In a fit of rage, Jing Xu had accidentally killed a thief. From that point on, there was nowhere left for him to be. Having no choice, he had gone to the mountain and became a bandit.
This person knew how to read and write, and his methods were ruthless - he could be categorized as an exceptional individual. He later became the leader of all the bandits within the three hundred miles of mountains in the Southern Frontier.
Kuai Lan Tu knew that Jing Xu and Fu Zhi Cheng had a close relationship. To kill Fu Zhi Cheng, he would have to first start from this priest.
Ever since the Emperor sent a golden medal order to Gu Yun, Kuai Lan Tu and Sun Jiao had already come up with a plan. He first spread the news in the Southern Frontier, saying that the imperial court envoys were coming, with the purpose of investigating the case of Fu Zhi Cheng’s collusion with the bandits.
In order to ensure that the imperial envoy would not get harmed, Fu Zhi Cheng must have informed the major bandits’ leaders in advance, saying that ‘the envoy appeasing the troops’ would arrive soon, and telling them to restrain their underlings — and if this was the case, would these bandits listen to General Fu, or listen to the rumors? If their hearts already harbored doubt, then when Fu Zhi Cheng understated the situation and described it simply as ‘the envoy appeasing the troops’, what would these leaders think?
Nearing the time of the envoy’s arrival at the frontier, Kuai Lan Tu received an informing letter from Sun Jiao. He then proceeded to send someone to pretend to be a soldier of the Southern Frontier army to go find Jing Xu, to inform him that the Marquis of Order’s carriage had been robbed in the middle of the road. General Fu wished to avoid the eyes of those with the intention of uncovering his connection with the bandits and had no choice but to ask the priest for help.
Jing Xu and Fu Zhi Cheng had the best friendship. At this moment, regardless of any suspicion he might have had, in this critical situation, he would still support Fu Zhi Cheng until the end. As he heard this news, his loyalty arose, and he immediately rushed over.
The second after they left, Kuai Lan Tu waiting to ambush instantly used Heavy Armors to block the entrance of the mountain pass, thousands of oiled up arrows preparing to burn Jing Xu's hideout down to ash.
At the same time, he sent out Heavy Armors to circle the mountain, anyone who escaped would be shot with explosives: from the gangsters guarding the mountain to the elderly and the weak women and children living in the mountains, all would be treated equally. They only deliberately allowed a few witnesses to live, letting them run off to inform Jing Xu.
Seeing the mountain had been burnt down to rubble, Kuai Lan Tu stroked his beard, laughing with satisfaction.
"This is enough, let's move. Let us go meet Marshal Gu." Kuai Lan Tu waved his hand; Heavy Armors and two hundred well-trained soldiers gathered, preparing to march out. Kuai Lan Tu mounted his horse, looked back at the mountain being ravished by fire becoming a mess of flesh and blood, and spoke with indifference: "Let's go listen to Fu Zhi Cheng's reasonings, what are wicked mountain bandits, what is 'wildfires can never cease, reborn again with the spring breeze’. This officer lit the wildfire, let me see how they will be reborn again — move out!"
This time, the whole mountain knew that Fu Zhi Cheng had made a plan to slow down the soldiers. In order to save himself in the face of imperial envoys, he had turned against his ‘brothers’ of the past.
Kuai Lan Tu intended for the bandits and Fu Zhi Cheng to fight within themselves, Fu Zhi Cheng had always been conceited and confident. Did he think that no one could grasp his weak point?
Of course, in order to prevent Fu from committing treason when being forced into a corner, Sun Jiao had specially invited the Marquis of Order here to keep guard.
Marquis Gu had not yet reached the age of thirty, dealing with the rebels might be very efficient, but it might not be possible to restrain a high ranking official who had climbed out of a heap of corpses like Fu Zhi Cheng — but that did not matter, in the end, he still owed the old marquis for his support.
Kuai Lan Tu was absolutely certain that Fu Zhi Cheng would not dare to harm Gu Yun. Although most of those belonging to the previous Marquis' faction had already withdrawn from the army due to old age, the relationships were complicated, their might still remained. If he dared to be ungrateful and harmed the old Marquis' only son, the chaos arising from inside his Southern Frontier Army would be his downfall.
In addition, even if that Fu was arrogant, would he dare think that the measly Southern Frontier Garrison had the ability to rise up and shake the foundations of Great Liang?
Just as they left, a wooden bird as large as a palm turned its eyes, fluttered its wings and flew into the sky engulfed in blood and smoke, quickly turning into a little black dot and disappearing.
At the same time, Fu Zhi Cheng in the Southern Frontier Garrison received the news that the carriage of the Marquis of Order was robbed. He was utterly shocked, instantly jumping up and grabbing the scout’s collar: "Where is the Marquis now?"
The scout said: "The Marquis shot and killed Xing Zi Lin, but somehow afterwards, he continued to stay in his den and did not leave, even replacing the original flags of the bandits with the battle flags of the Black Iron Camp."
After Fu Zhi Cheng heard this, his face twitched for a moment, then he raised his hand and swiped all the cups on the table to the ground, his voice filled with hatred: "Little success but plenty of failures!"
The scout did not dare to breathe out, quietly knelt on one side, and watched the commander of the Southern Army walk back and forth in his room, resembling a caged beast. Fu Zhi Cheng was not at all surprised to hear Gu Yun had cleaned through Xing Zi Lin's den, Gu Yun getting robbed for real would be a shocking, never-before-seen story.
The question was... what was the meaning behind the Marquis' action?
Why didn't he continue on his way, but stayed in the den?
If it was only for the purpose of interrogating the bandits, why should he change the flag?
Who was he waiting for? What was he waiting for?
Gu Yun came in the name of giving condolences. Why did he bring along the flags of the Black Iron Camp?
Since the battle flags were here, was the Black Tiger Emblem also here?
Was there truly only a few guards and a coward next to him?
There was also the Southern Central inspector about a hundred miles away who must have already prepared a large barrel of black mud ready to pour on Fu Zhi Cheng. Had Gu Yun already come in contact with him?
Which side was Gu Yun standing on?
Fu Zhi Cheng's eyelids suddenly twitched. He used to belong to the Old Marquis’ faction, but he had never had any association with Gu Yun. Even so, he knew that Gu Yun had always despised his criminal ways.
With this visit from Gu Yun, Fu Zhi Cheng felt immensely uncertain.
"Prepare the horse," Fu Zhi Cheng said abruptly. "Three factions Shan Hu, Bai Lang, and Ling Hu come with me to meet the Marquis of Order and the envoy. Lin Bao stay on standby, use smoke as a signal and be prepared to act at any moment.”
The scouts looked at Fu Zhi Cheng with trepidation. General Fu mobilized nearly half of the troops stationed in the Southern Army. Was he going to ‘meet with the Marquis’ or going to ‘annihilate the Marquis’?
Fu Zhi Cheng took his long spear off the wall and angrily shouted: "What are you still standing there for!"
Following right after the forces of the inspector, the Southern Frontier Garrison also moved nearly half of its troops on the path of no return to Xing Zi Lin.
Deep into the night, on the official road of the Southern Frontier, various groups of large and small caravans began to set up their temporary camps on the roadside. The merchants who wandered through the south and the north of the country were used to sleeping under the sky, they left only the night watchmen and a few torches, then gradually fell asleep.
Late at night, there were cries of cuckoos in the forest.
The watchman and a group of ‘merchants’ who just pretended to fall asleep all stood up. They did not say a word; even when passing by each other, they only used eye contact to communicate, silently walking behind the accompanying van.
In the cart, there was a mezzanine. After clearing out all the goods on top, cold armors below were revealed, not the slightest glint of reflection.
The groups of nightwalkers equipped the steel armor with lightning speed: there were Eagles, Armors, and some Light Cavalry suits.
They turned around and blended into the night in all directions. The mountains were disturbed for a moment, the sleeping birds were scared awake, but in an instant, everything was once again quiet as if nothing had happened.
Only the shining torches of the merchants were scattered in the mountains, twisting and turning with the land, resembling scattered gold.
This night, different complex forces of all walks of life all harboring their own personal motives were heading in the direction of Xing Zi Lin.
The Xing Zi Lin bandit leader who was crushed under the rock probably could not imagine this even in his dreams: that he was like a vital string, his momentary stupid decision had exploded the easily flammable situation of the Southern Frontier.
In the old nest of Xing Zi Lin, the group of bandits insisted they did not know about the arrival of the imperial envoys. Sun Jiao tried to interrogate them for a while, but it proved to be fruitless, he had no other choice but to give up, his eyes continuously glancing at the doors.
Gu Yun only ate a few bites then wiped his mouth and put down the chopsticks. When he saw Sun Jiao’s appearance that seemed like he had grown an ulcer on his behind, he smiled and asked: “Officer Sun, the meal is not finished yet you have glanced at the door about seven or eight times already. Looking forward to Inspector Kuai's arrival?”
Sun Jiao's face changed several times, he could barely smile: "Marshal, you jest — how come Marshal is not eating more, is the food not up to your taste?"
"No," Gu Yun conveyed his meaning with a look. "It would be difficult to act if I ate too much, this is enough. That's right, Ji Ping, if there is nothing else of importance, go check how much gold and silver there is in this den. Let's pack it up to bring along later."
Sun Jiao: "..."
Gu Yun: "Master Sun will not report me after we return right? Hey, to tell you the truth, the Ministry of War is tight with their budget, our Black Iron Camp doesn't have it easy either.”
The bandits that were tied up in a group still had their wits with them, they quickly said: "We have records! We do! They are up there!"
Shen Yi looked back and saw that there was actually a ‘hidden room’ - a large ladder was set in the corner, leading up to the roof, a pile of thatched grass covered a small attic built on the beam.
"Great," Shen Yi thought. "I have become an accountant in this chicken nest."
At this time, Kuai Lan Tu was the first to arrive in Xing Zi Lin.
Kuai Lan Tu marched in with his personal guards. The blood and fire lingering on his body still hadn't dissipated, and he appeared to carry with him a strong murderous intent. He stepped forward and spoke up proudly: “Southern Central Inspector Kuai Lan Tu, greetings to the Marquis of Order, Master Sun, the generals, and this..."
Chang Geng smiled: "Li Min."
Kuai Lan Tu: "..."
Sun Jiao hurriedly lowered his voice to remind him: "Don't be disrespectful, that is Yan Bei Wang, His Highness the Fourth Prince!"
Kuai Lan Tu was taken aback.
The youngest brother of the emperor, Li Min, had never appeared in front of people. Most only knew that he used to live amongst the common folk. After being brought back, he had stayed still in the Marquis' Manor and did not have any achievements. He was still so young... while he knew that although this young man was of royalty, there was nothing to worry about - however, he remained an unexpected variable. After all, this would always cause one to feel uneasy.
As if to foreshadow, Kuai Lan Tu’s eyelids suddenly twitched.
But before he could say any more, a personal guard walked in and whispered in Kuai Lan Tu’s ear.
Gu Yun: "Why, the spit of Master Kuai’s family is so precious that we're not allowed to hear either?"
Kuai Lan Tu kicked the guard away: "How disrespectful, whispering right in front of Marquis and His Highness, where are your manners!"
The guard did not appear to be angry either, he immediately knelt on the ground and reported: "Reporting to all the masters, there are tens of thousands of troops coming towards the direction of Xing Zi Lin, they seem to belong to the Southern Frontier Army!"
He had not yet finished his sentence when a strange officer walked up the mountainside. All the guards of the inspector picked up their swords and spears, like cold light in the dark night.
The leading officer did not appear to be frightened in the slightest, he raised his voice: "Southwest Governor Fu Zhi Cheng, bringing along personal soldiers to greet the Marshal!"
Gu Yun remained indifferent, thinking: “That Fu truly is good at finding death.”
Kuai Lan Tu subconsciously glanced at Chang Geng. Chang Geng smiled at him then turned to the ladder in the corner without hesitation and climbed up to the attic.
Kuai Lan Tu realized that this opportunity could not be lost, he immediately stepped forward and said: "Marshal, this officer has something to report!"
Gu Yun lifted his eyes.
Kuai Lan Tu: "That Fu Zhi Cheng, although being a defender of the region, he had neglected his duties, colluding with the bandits, tyrannizing the people, in communicating with the Southeast Sea, his intention to rebel is as bright as day. Marshal, please be fully prepared...”
"Oh, is that so?" Gu Yun was not at all surprised when he heard this. He only turned the old beads in his hand a few times around his fingertips, as if contemplating something.
After a moment, he said: "Then bring him up."
Both Kuai Lan Tu and Sun Jiao looked at each other - they both thought they had heard it wrong.
Gu Yun: "Please bring General Fu up. Let me see how he intends to rebel."
Chang Geng climbed up to the small attic, and found that it was quite special. There was a window and a skylight with an excellent view. Moving up from the window was where the bandits had set up their flag. Shen Yi set a torch next to him, there was no telling what type of fuel was used, it created white smoke that did not scatter in the blowing wind, flying straight into the sky.
Chang Geng smiled and said: "I thought General Shen was doing accounting work, I thought about coming to help out. It turns out you were sending a smoke signal.”
Shen Yi leaped down from the window and curiously asked: "Your Highness even knows how to do accounting work? What have you been doing in the past few years?"
Chang Geng: "Nothing much, there was a period when I followed Miss Chen to learn medicine, occasionally helping a few friends in the pugilist world, traveling with the merchants. I know a little bit of everything.”
Shen Yi saw that he only responded for the sake of it, he did not ask any further. The knowledge and experience of a person wasn't something that one could forge: even if a young person pretended to be unwavering, their act would be seen through if someone were to pay enough attention.
Chang Geng’s travels in the pugilist world these years were certainly not simple, otherwise he would not bear with him the unpredictable aura of unfathomable depth.
Chang Geng pushed open the small window in the attic and looked out.
Only to see the mighty troops moving up with the twists and turns of the land, their battle flags blowing in the wind.
In the light of the torches, the cold armors let out steam for miles, resembling a dragon panting heavily.
Fu Zhi Cheng had been in charge of the Southern Frontier Garrison for a decade, and he had soon become the king of this territory. At this moment, if he brought about one or two hundred people to 'eliminate the bandits plus greet the imperial envoy', there was still room for maneuvering. But he had actually mobilized half the troops in the garrison.
Chang Geng: "Yifu might have had some intentions to protect General Fu at first, but as of right now, it seems that he cannot be saved anymore.”
"Perhaps not only did he not appreciate it, he also intended to make a scene." Shen Yi looked at Chang Geng's calm and undisturbed side profile, "Your Royal Highness bears the quality of a general who does not faze in the face of danger, this truly is rare.”
"I grew accustomed to it with time," Chang Geng said quietly. "Last time, when I went to the Eastern Sea rebel army nest with yifu, that was truly a frightening situation. At that time, there were only a few of us being a burden around him, no one knew when the Navy would arrive, and there was no telling whether they could receive the news we sent out along the way. But even so, yifu was still talking and laughing like normal, then retreated safely in the end. At that time, I had understood one thing."
Shen Yi: "What?"
Chang Geng: "Fear is unreasonable."
Shen Yi thought for a moment, then shook his head and smiled: "Of course, everyone knows that fear is unreasonable, but it is like being hungry at a certain time and being cold when not wearing enough clothes. It is a natural reaction of the body. How can one restrain the natural reactions of their body?"
Chang Geng’s face showed a not so obvious smile: “It is possible.”
Shen Yi was startled, he suddenly had some kind inexplicable intuition, feeling that Chang Geng's words of 'it is possible' seemed to hide a much deeper meaning.
Chang Geng: "I believe that as long as you are willing, there is nothing in the world that can defeat you, including this mortal flesh.”
This sentence, although it sounded quite unremarkable, with Chang Geng’s attitude and firm tone, his determination created a strange enchantment, which made people become involuntarily convinced.
Shen Yi: "Your Royal Highness, last time you and Marshal were trapped in the Eastern Sea, there were dozens of Lin Yuan Pavilion masters around you. It can be said that both sides had assisted one another. But it is different this time. We only have one Officer Sun who only insists on implementing the Drumming Order, Inspector Kuai who doesn't harbor any good intentions, and that Fu Zhi Cheng who will soon march up the mountain - he has thousands of troops in his hand. Isn’t it much more dangerous than the last situation? Your Highness is not worried?”
Chang Geng calmly smiled and said: "I’m not worried. When I saw the battle flag of the Black Iron Camp in the attic, I instantly felt that there were three thousand Black Cavalries hidden in the Southwest mountain forest. I couldn't help but feel steady.”
Shen Yi was taken aback, then let out a bitter smile. He was breaking a sweat in Gu Yun's stead. Their family's little prince was not at all simple, he truly was a descendant of the dragon.
Chang Geng: "Didn't you know, General Shen? My yifu may not want to protect Fu Zhi Cheng wholeheartedly."
This he did not know!