CHAPTER 5: SOUTHERN BANDIT

V

Although Kuai Lan Tu’s guards were ordered to make way, they did not withdraw their weapons either, leaving Fu Zhi Cheng only a narrow path packed with swords and blades. Bandit Fu did not give in either, leading two hundred elite soldiers up the mountain, all fully armed, lined up in two rows, each one bearing their weapon.

Each side pointed their swords at the other. With the sound of metal, Fu Zhi Cheng led his men, biting his teeth and charging forwards.

He didn't appear to have come to apologize, but to interrogate Gu Yun instead.

The Southern Garrison had surrounded Xing Zi Lin, resembling a tiger stalking its prey, their forces pressed on to the mountain.

Kuai Lan Tu didn't expect him to be this courageous, he did not even bother to pretend, nor did he put the Marquis of Order in his eyes. His jaw couldn't help but tighten.

Fu Zhi Cheng rushed up the mountain like a stormy wind, and as he emerged, a strong murderous aura instantly hit one's face.

The dog blocking the way, Sun Jiao, was the first to catch the heat. When he hurriedly drew back, he accidentally stepped on a bandit who was tied up on the ground. The bandit let out a loud cry, causing Officer Sun's legs to go soft.

Fu Zhi Cheng had not yet opened his mouth, one man on this side had already been defeated.

Chang Geng looked down from the attic with great interest, saying to Shen Yi who was currently stunned at his side: "I just remembered something."

Shen Yi carefully listened.

Chang Geng: "Master Sun’s younger sister was married to Imperial Uncle Wang as a concubine... His Majesty is truly... why did he let a brother-in-law of a brother-in-law enter the Ministry of War? Dealing with a group of dissatisfied generals all day, does he not feel exhausted?"

"...", Shen Yi carefully asked: "Your Royal Highness, just now you said Marshal does not wish to protect Fu Zhi Cheng wholeheartedly, please elaborate on this."

Chang Geng: "Otherwise, why would we still stay at this den? If he truly wanted to protect Fu Zhi Cheng, he would have already rushed to the Southern Frontier Garrison for questioning."

Shen Yi could not rebuke; he had indeed wondered about this as well. It was only due to his unconditional trust in Gu Yun over the years that led him to assume that Gu Yun had other plans.

"I had guessed when these lawless bandits closed in on us on the road, that yifu had already begun to think about it. If Fu Zhi Cheng came to plead guilty, perhaps yifu would have considered his hard work over the years and leave him a way out. But now..." Chang Geng smiled, “Greed is not wrong, being sly is not wrong, even stupidity is not wrong, but Fu Zhi Cheng shouldn't have openly challenged the Black Iron Camp."

Three generations had worked hard to build up the Black Iron Camp. Whether this military power was in the hands of the Emperor or Gu Yun, as long as the Black Iron Camp still stood, the peace and stability of Great Liang would be preserved. Directly challenging the Black Iron Camp was something that could shake the foundation of the nation; just for this reason alone, Gu Yun could not forgive him.

Fu Zhi Cheng stared intently at Gu Yun for a moment, then, in the end, he still managed to remain somewhat rational. He returned his sword to its sheath then bowed down to pay respect: "Long time no see, Marshal Gu is doing well.”


As soon as Fu Zhi Cheng bowed his head, the soldiers behind him instantly withdrew their weapons at once, standing as still as a wall. The atmosphere immediately eased up.


Both Kuai Lan Tu and Sun Jiao secretly felt relieved. It seemed that asking for Gu Yun to come here was the right move.


"Not doing so well," Gu Yun looked at Fu Zhi Cheng for a while, then suddenly opened his mouth. "General Fu, just now Inspector Kuai had told me, although you are the Southwest Commander, you have colluded with the bandits, communicated with the Southern Sea, your intention to rebel is as clear as day — what do you think about all this?"


Fu Zhi Cheng: "..."


No one expected that Gu Yun was even more straightforward than Fu Zhi Cheng. Even with the major Southern Army currently surrounding mountains, he did not even bother to beat around the bush, directly questioning him.


The situation below reverted back to its tense atmosphere, but Chang Geng in the attic remained at ease. He seemed to be very fond of the bow that Gu Yun gave him, always carrying the large and heavy object weighing a few pounds with him, not willing to let go for even a moment. This time, he had taken it down and held it in his hand, with a handkerchief he had gotten from who knows where, carefully wiping the bow repeatedly.


Shen Yi said after a moment: "But if he has to give up Fu Zhi Cheng, wouldn't it mean sitting still and watching as His Highness forcefully implemented the Drumming Order?"


Chang Geng said without hesitation: "Did General Shen ever think that as the Drumming Order appeared, even the old farmer in the village knows that this order divided the military power in yifu’s hands, the commanders from all sides have objected to it, why is it that he refused to speak up?"


Shen Yi blurted out his question: "Why?"


Chang Geng: "Because he grew up together with the Emperor, he understands the stubbornness of that person more than anyone else in the world. As long as the Drumming Order has yet to be carried out, and the Emperor has yet to control the military power in his hands, he will not be able to eat and sleep well. Opposing would only increase internal friction, causing conflict between the ruler and the subjects, and the villain would then gain the upper hand. This compromise will have to be done sooner or later; the only question is how."


His last words were almost covered up by a roar.


Kuai Lan Tu was not the timid type like Sun Jiao. As he heard Gu Yun's question, he immediately knew that this matter would not be settled smoothly. Today in Xing Zi Lin, either he or Fu Zhi Cheng would perish. There was also the large Southern Frontier Garrison Army under the mountain. The more nonsense, the faster it was to find death. Wasn't it better to capture that Fu in one fell swoop while he was still not alert? At that moment, regardless of how large the Southern Army was, they would become nothing more than a headless snake under the mercy of others.


Inspector Kuai came to this decision in a flash, moving past Gu Yun, pointing at Fu Zhi Cheng and, shouting: “Capture that lawless convict!”


Chang Geng in the attic took a heavy iron arrow from its carrier and slowly pulled the bowstring. The tail of the bow created little white mist, spraying on his face. His face was covered with water vapor, revealing even more of its gentle handsomeness.

Shen Yi secretly felt startled as he watched. This bow was made especially for Gu Yun; although with the addition of a golden box, ordinary people still would not be able to achieve the effect of a Baihong arrow. Chang Geng pulled the string to its limit while aiming, both his arms were incredibly steady, not trembling in the slightest — these skills of the little prince were probably from more than just being 'diligent'.


Shen Yi: "Even if Marshal truly wished to compromise, who can replace General Fu to clean up this messy situation of the Southern Frontier?"


Chang Geng: "I want to hear the details."


Shen Yi quickly counted all large and small military generals in the imperial court: "In addition to the new Jiangnan Navy commander, Zhao You Fang, who possessed a certain amount of skills, the others could not be put to use. Maybe there is no shortage of fierce officers, but being a commander of a territory, just knowing how to fight won't be enough. Qualifications and experience cannot be lacking either. One has to be able to argue with the local forces and even the Ministry of War. The Emperor would not pull the Navy commander to the Southern mountains, would he?”


Fu Zhi Cheng under the attic certainly refused to let himself be captured without a fight. The Southern Frontier general did not take the name of fierce and unparalleled for granted: one sword slash cut off a head, then turned to greet the Heavy Armor that came over behind him. He did not shy away or hide, swinging his sword and stepping on the shoulder of the Heavy Armor, using it as leverage. His whole body flipped in the air, and the three accompanying Southern Army soldiers reacted at once, the whips in their hands flying forward, entangling the Heavy Armor.


The machine and Fu Zhi Cheng simultaneously roared. Fu Zhi Cheng held the iron sword with both hands, cruelly struck down, accurately stabbing into the gap behind the Heavy Armor, directly piercing the neck of the person inside. The Heavy Armor stiffly moved a step forward then stood still in its place —


Then, blood poured out like a stream.


Fu Zhi Cheng rode on the shoulder of the Heavy Armor, reaching out to wipe the blood on his face, his eagle-like gaze striking directly at Kuai Lan Tu.


Kuai Lan Tu finally took a step back subconsciously.


At this moment, an arrow-like rainbow piercing through the sun dived down from above, its screech echoing in the entire den. Fu Zhi Cheng's pupils shrunk, but it was already too late to dodge, the arrow accurately grazed past Kuai Lan Tu’s hair crown, cutting it into two halves. Inspector Kuai's hair scattered, making him appear like a demon. Immediately, it passed straight through the Heavy Armor’s chest and broke through the double-layered steel plate. Fu Zhi Cheng was struck by the unrelenting force of the arrow, swaying, then falling down. The trajectory of the arrow did not stop, piercing onto the ground.


The ground exploded into a small pit. The three Southern Army soldiers retreated at the same time. The arrow tip directly nailed to the intersection of their three whips.


The tail of the arrow trembled non-stop, like the buzzing of the wind.


"Too arrogant," Chang Geng muttered to himself. Then, under the frightened look of everyone, mounted another iron arrow onto the string and continued his sentence: “General Shen, don't forget, there is another person."


Shen Yi was still immersed in the shot just now, only managing to find his voice after a long time: "...Pardon me, I cannot think of any.”


Chang Geng: "Far out in the distance, but close at hand."


Shen Yi was shocked: "What?"


Chang Geng: "That's right, it is you."


Under the attic, Gu Yun’s expression was void of his regular carefree aura, he appeared extremely cold from tension: "Hey, I have always wanted to ask, who gave you the courage to raise so many private soldiers?"

Kuai Lan Tu’s expression turned dark. His ears were still filled with the buzzing sound of the iron arrow, and he could not figure out which side Gu Yun was standing on. He slightly panicked: "Mar- Marshal, you did not know, due to the Southern Central inspector being placed in the frontier, in order to prevent the mob from rioting, the imperial court had especially allowed one branch of the defensive army..."


Gu Yun: "The defensive armies in this country, except for the imperial army of the Emperor — the others must not use any machinery above Light armor or Cavalry. Even the Heavy Armor of the imperial army cannot exceed six seals — Kuai Lan Tu, was it I who remembered it wrong? Or was it you?”


Kuai Lan Tu shivered.


Of course, he knew that he had stepped over the line, but this was not a grave matter. As long as they could defeat Fu Zhi Cheng and let the Drumming Order be implemented, this would be nothing more than a small offense under a much larger merit. Things had already come to this, there was no turning back anymore: "The traitor is right here, does the Marquis truly want to talk about private soldiers breaking regulation right now?"


Gu Yun frowned, almost appearing as if he wasn't very good at arguing face-to-face. Kuai Lan Tu immediately assumed he had managed to catch this expression flashing across his face, suddenly feeling that the Marquis of Order was not as terrifying as the legend said.


Kuai Lan Tu had nothing to fear, thinking to himself: "In the end, he is simply a young man of nobility. Without the old Marquis' faction, what the hell is one Gu Yun?"


Fu Zhi Cheng furiously shouted: "This Kuai, who did you call a traitor?!"


Kuai Lan Tu raised his voice: "Gentlemen, we have been besieged by the rebels’ force, the best solution right now is to capture their king, not allowing them any room to react! I also ask you all to please control your men, do not let the rebels run astray!"


Fu Zhi Cheng was angry to the point of laughing, causing his already unsightly face to resemble a demon: "Capture me? Go ahead and try!"


As he finished this, Fu Zhi Cheng's elite soldiers took the lead in launching a storm, rushing into the hall of the den from the foothills. The guards of the Southern Frontier Army and the inspector’s private soldiers clashed.


The small Xing Zi Lin nest was instantly crowded.


Shen Yi could not understand why Gu Yun was still pretending to be worthless, sitting and watching the scene. Shaken by the loud screams and shouts, he had almost run down the stairs. But as he turned around, he saw that Chang Geng's face did not change, his arrow never left Gu Yun's surroundings - anyone who dared to approach him would become a meat skewer.


"General Shen, please rest assured, yifu already planned this, and I am also keeping watch right now." When Chang Geng spoke, there was a strange kind of certainty and assurance in his words.


For a moment, Shen Yi suddenly thought of an idea — Gu Yun had deliberately intensified the contradiction between Fu Zhi Cheng and Kuai Lan Tu: was he planning to get others to do his dirty work?


Chang Geng: "If today, Fu Zhi Cheng is captured, the position of the commander of the Southern Frontier Army will be left open. Although the Emperor is persistent, he also understands what is of importance. The borderland is a critical territory, only grand generals are to be put in this position.


“Looking at the entirety of the imperial court, no one is more fitting than you, General Shen, when it comes to experience and qualification.


“Not to mention, the Emperor suppressing my yifu’s right to control was only due to his strong suspicious nature. The affections of growing up together from childhood still remain, Great Liang’s safety was still placed upon my yifu's shoulders.


“When the Drumming Order is implemented, the Black Tiger Emblem will be ineffective. Whoever becomes the commander of the Southern Frontier has the authority to control and manage but has no actual military power. Since yifu has already expressed his attitude, should the Emperor not pacify him after his punishment?”


As he got here, Chang Geng paused and smiled: "General Shen, just wait and see, although the Emperor does not like this long-lost younger brother very much, my reward for the holiday season certainly does not lack anything. When added up, it would perhaps be even more than yifu's wage.”


Shen Yi ignored the complicated matter of ‘Who is the one raising this family?’. He looked at Chang Geng with shock, his expression changed several times, then in the end, he praised: "Your Royal Highness has changed so much."


At that time, the teenager who came out of the town of Yanhui was simple and stubborn, all his emotions, from happiness to sorrow, were clear at a glance. Shen Yi had secretly admired his determination many times — if it were to be any other ordinary child, transforming from a country boy to a prince in just one night, they would have been blinded by the vanity of the capital.


Chang Geng that year was just a child who had never tasted luxury and wealth, yet he had insisted on leaving the manor. He would rather wander under this endless sky than return to be a prince of royalty, a frog sitting at the bottom of a well.


But right now, the young man who was currently discussing the nation’s state of affairs with him in the midst of swords and blades was void of any trace of childishness from that year. His transformation had struck Shen Yi with awe.


Chang Geng did not respond. In the past four years, he had never dared to be lenient with both his body and soul for even a day, but not from the desire to make any grand contribution. He wanted to be strong as soon as possible, to quickly arrive at the day where he could have a casual conversation with the Bone of Impurity… to be strong enough to protect one person.


"Although the sea route is open, Central Plains people rarely go out to sea. The naval defense is also lacking. If relying only on the foreigners to travel here to bring in trades, in the end, the ones who will largely profit from it are still these sea traveling merchants, the meager amount of silver flowing in is not enough for the Emperor to secretly buy Ziliujin from the hands of the Westerners.”


Shen Yi: "This is only momentary, it’s not impossible to find a way out."


Chang Geng seemed to smile: "Yes, I have traveled to see the Silk Road this spring, the entrance to Lou Lan was flourishing to the point of unbelievable. When I thought of how all this was made possible thanks to yifu's efforts, I could not help but feel very honored.


"In about three more years, the Silk Road can be completely opened, connecting through the whole territory of Great Liang. Wait until the people can truly profit from it, there will be enough gold and silver flowing into the National Treasury. At that time, the Ling Shu Institute will no longer have to worry about money. Defenders everywhere will have plenty of troops. Who would still dare to invade the frontiers?


"If so, then whether the Ministry of War has the final say, or my yifu has the final say, in his eyes, there may be no difference at all."


Shen Yi was silent, he did not know why, despite being separated for five years, Chang Geng had come to understand Gu Yun even more.


But what he said was true.


In the past few years, Gu Yun still carried with him a raging murderous intent, quite often with no one around, he would talk of fighting this, fighting that. But since he was ordered to take over the Silk Road, he had mentioned these matters less and less.


On one hand, as he grew older, he had begun to think more and more, and his anger had begun to fade. On the other hand — it was because Gu Yun who has never once thought about grasping the military power in his hands from beginning to end, what he wished for all his life was for his home country to be at peace.


If they needed him to fight, he was willing to don his armor and mount his steed. If they needed him to defend, he was willing to be a lowly guard on the Silk Road.


Chang Geng saw that Shen Yi seemed to be lost in thought, he suddenly remembered something he had heard of before — it was said that the understanding and trust between a general and his mechanic was something that no other could get in between. Chang Geng's heart involuntarily felt envious. But before his jealousy could become concentrated, he suddenly heard the sound of wings flapping.


A bird stopped on the windowsill. Chang Geng was momentarily surprised, then put away his bow and arrow. The bird flew over and landed in his palm. It was a very well-crafted wooden bird; its neck could make flexible movements. It was adorable, appearing as if it was a living bird.


Shen Yi came from Ling Shu Institute, the bad habit of feeling his hands itching whenever he saw a craft he liked would accompany him for a lifetime. His eyes had never left the bird as soon as he saw it, but it was not convenient for him to ask Chang Geng for it either, driving himself to distress with wants and needs.


Chang Geng gently tapped a few times on the bird's belly. The wooden bird's abdomen popped out, revealing a roll of paper inside.


Chang Geng took a look, the face that remained stable even when the mountain exploded suddenly changed.


Shen Yi: "What is the matter?"



At this time, Gu Yun under the attic caught a glint of light from his peripheral vision. He raised his arm, only to lower the beautiful hand, which normally belonged to those young masters from prestigious nobility, to the sword hanging at his waist.


A short and small-framed Southern Army soldier suddenly emerged and rushed straight towards Kuai Lan Tu — Gu Yun's Black Iron Camp guard immediately stepped up to save him.


Kuai Lan Tu was still yet to feel relieved, the Southern Army soldier had already opened his mouth to spit out something. He could instinctively feel that this was not right, but it was already too late to turn his head to dodge.


An arrow as large as a thumb pierced straight into his neck, at the same time, the Black Iron Camp guards smashed the head of the Southern Army soldier, appearing like they did not see the arrow that flew towards Master Kuai at all.


Kuai Lan tu's throat twitched violently, and he reached out, as if wanting to grasp onto something —


In a split second, the assassin and the assassinated both perished at the same time.


Sun Jiao could not have predicted this even in his dreams. He came tumbling back, crashing into the wall behind him in fright, and suddenly, Gu Yun showed him a smile.


In the next moment, a loud screech broke through the sky, the roof of the towering bandit lair was destroyed into half, countless Black Eagles came whistling down —


Kuai Lan Tu and Sun Jiao wanted to use Gu Yun to force Fu Zhi Cheng into rebelling. But unexpectedly, Gu Yun had not followed their plan. Before they could make their move, he had taken the lead to intensify the hostility between both sides, borrowing Fu Zhi Cheng’s hand to kill off the troublesome Kuai Lan Tu.


Then by some method, he snuck the Black Iron Camp into the Southern Frontier to later deal with Fu Zhi Cheng, killing two birds with one stone...


But this was not right.


Chang Geng turned and rushed down from the attic, this game did not stop here!


The one who started it all was not Kuai Lan Tu, not the Ministry of War, not Sun Jiao, and not even Gu Yun...