Before, much like everyone else, Master Xu placed an irrational trust in the Marquis of Order, the representation of the Black Iron Camp. It seemed that as long as there was Gu Yun, they could charge ahead whether it be a dragon’s cave or a tiger’s den, if the sky fell, he would be there to shoulder it. Of course, that trust was now shattered.
Deputy Inspector Xu's handsome face was pale blue, he still held onto the last line of hope and asked, "Marshal… is it also your intention to cross the river?"
"How is that possible?" Gu Yun looked at him with his gaze filled with confusion and said, "Tch, I already told Master Feng Han long ago that this thing is certainly not reliable. The reason why the Black Eagle can fly fast is that it relies on human control when it reaches the sky. He made such a large thing, it's alright in calm weather, in the face of a little storm and rain, it instantly comes down. Is it not to hand our lives to the enemy on the battlefield? You see, it's already done for."
Ge Chen threw up until his internal organs were turned upside down and his tears were running: "I will... definitely tell Master Feng Han after returning."
Xu Ling's liver almost busted from fright. He could not be as optimistic as Ge Ling Shu, feeling that he could never return again.
Fortunately, someone could still speak human language; Chang Geng turned to Deputy Inspector Xu and said with a laugh, "Don't listen to him, he was only scaring you. This place is flat, there are no enemy camps in sight. It shows that the enemy's leading force is not nearby at all. Tonight, there are also thunderstorms and rain, the sound of the explosion and thunder would have blended in together. He has calculated already, it won't attract a large number of people, at best, there will only be some patrol officers coming to check."
Gu Yun revealed an evil smile.
Xu Ling looked at Yan Wang with tears in his eyes. His Highness's courage and intellect that remained unfazed even in the face of danger were already enough for him to bow down in respect. At the moment, he sincerely said, "Yan Wang is wise."
"Not at all," Chang Geng waved his hand. "Being fooled by him since childhood, I soon learned my lesson."
Xu Ling: "..."
He did not know why, but he felt that there was a... strange intimacy in the few words Yan Wang spoke about Gu Yun.
It was not very pleasant to hide in the barren grassland on a rainy night. Fortunately, the Western patrolmen came quickly. A moment later, some people already came while cursing in a foreign language. There was the slight trembling sound of horses’ hooves on the ground. Only then did Gu Yun, who was still playful and smiling, suddenly frown and whisper, "Strange."
Xu Ling was startled as he saw his surprised reaction, he quickly asked, "Marshal? What's strange?"
"The people coming... Three, four, five... How come there are so little?" Yan Wang on one side lowered his voice and said, "The Westerners' patrol appears like child's play."
"I don't know," Gu Yun shook his head. "Let's deal with it first before anything else - does anybody know their language?"
He had just finished, but everyone's eyes already focused on Chang Geng in unison. He and twenty soldiers looked at each other for a moment. "What are you all looking at me for?"
Ge Chen was shocked, "Yan Wang does not know how to speak a foreign language?"
Chang Geng was puzzled: "... I can speak some Suzhou slang, but when did I ever know how to speak a foreign language?"
It turned out that over the past year, people had either thought that he was unpredictable, or that his heart was bottomless, or simply that he was a capable person, always assuming that no matter what he encountered, he should always have a solution, that he knew a little bit of everything.
At that moment, Deputy Inspector Xu on one side suddenly said, "This officer actually understands a little."
Only then did the eyes on Yan Wang shift collectively — plus Yan Wang's own pair.
Xu Ling coughed but did not show his timidity. He said, "To tell you the truth, when Marshal and Your Highness guarded the gate of the capital city, all the magistrates followed the Emperor up to the gate, this lowly official also joined in, I could truly feel the uselessness of a scholar then. However, I was not well-versed in the six skills, with no strength to kill the enemy, thus I had made up my mind to learn the language.
"If there is to be another fight in the future, even though I cannot don armor, I could follow behind to be a servant for the generals, run errands, and speak the language, it could be considered that I have not been born into this body in vain."
The last sentence was almost prideful. In fact, besides Deputy Inspector Xu, in this group of people, they were either those with experience or a black crow of the Black Iron camp. One was cunning, one was sharp, one was fast, good at both risking their lives and taking lives. There were continuous dangers along the way. If it were to be someone else, they might have collapsed. It was difficult for the weak scholar Xu Ling, but bearing the thought of working for the people, he was able to grit his teeth and endure.
In this society with many types of people, there was a scholar between heaven and earth.
Even Gu Yun rubbed his chin, no longer teasing him.
"We will have to trouble Master Xu later," Gu Yun's playful eyes vanished as if there was a glint of cold iron contained inside. "Here we go!"
With that, a group of Western patrolmen in Light Armor came into their sight. One man stepped out from the group, circled around the fire and wreckage of the Eagle that had not been extinguished in the rainwater, muttering something.
Xu Ling whispered, "He said, 'It's raining so hard, it shouldn't have caught fire for no reason. There are no outsiders in this area. What happened?'"
What did 'there are no outsiders in this area' mean?
Gu Yun just turned his head. Another foreign soldier picked up a burnt piece of debris from the ground and flipped it back and forth in his hand for a moment. Suddenly, he jumped three feet high and said something again.
Xu Ling hurriedly said, "He said, 'There's a sign of Great Liang's Military Factory on it, Great Liang spies must already be mixed in' — Marshal Gu, they're starting to get tense. Have we been found out?"
Wood could burn, but stone and iron could not. Those people must have recognized the sign of Ling Shu.
Xu Ling: "Marshal Gu, I'm afraid these foreigners will call..."
Gu Yun laid his hand on the Wind Slasher at his waist and gave Chang Geng a sideways glance. Chang Geng took out a Qian Li Yan that could be clipped to the nose bridge without hurry, wiping away the water on the glass. He touched the bowstring slightly, seeming as if he was determined whether it was damp or not, then pulled the bowstring under Xu Ling’s wide-eyed gaze.
Gu Yun waved his hand and the more than twenty guards of the Black Iron Camp flew through the grass.
A Western patrol soldier unloaded a horn-shaped trombone from his waist, took a deep breath, and as he was about to bring it to his mouth to sound a warning, an iron arrow suddenly burst through the air, coming towards his left ear, and shot the man's head into a rotten red and white watermelon.
His brain sprayed over his companions nearby, and the next moment, several dark shadows burst out in front of the Western soldiers who were not yet able to respond. The Wind Slasher chirped in the air as if chopping vegetables. In the twinkling of an eye, several heads fell to the ground, leaving only one man who had not yet had time to dismount. He raised his hands in fright, looking in fear at the killers emerging suddenly from the wild grass.
Only then did Xu Ling manage to finish the sentence: "...for their companions."
Gu Yun patted him on the shoulder and sincerely answered, "Now they can't be called for anymore — pick him up, tie him up and take him along. It's not suitable to stay here for a long time, withdraw first!"
Two Black Iron Camp guards took the Western soldier, stripped him like garlic, and searched him, then tied the Western soldier, who appeared like a white chicken, into a pig waiting to be slaughtered, stuffed his mouth, and carried him away.
"I think there's a small village over there. Let's try it." Chang Geng said while walking, "Generally, in this land facing the river, during the war, those who can run will have already run away. I'm afraid there are only a few old families left, nine out of ten houses will be empty. Later if we see people, let's ask the locals what the situation is in the occupied area, but I have to ask Master Xu to go ahead first. The brothers of the Black Iron Camp appear murderous when they're still and silent, so don't let them frighten the commoners."
Xu Ling hurriedly said, "Yes, as you command."
With that, he peeked at Chang Geng secretly. Yang Wang had been soaked by the rain. A strand of hair fell from his temples and was dripping with water. He was walking in the mud with deep and shallow steps in a deserted area, yet the look on his face seemed to remain unchanged and unconcerned, still carrying the bow that shook the earth as soon as it was pulled.
Chang Geng accidentally raised his head and met Xu Ling's eyes. He asked pleasantly, "What does master Xu want to tell me?"
Xu Ling's face changed a little, but he finally swallowed the words rising to his lips and shook his head politely.
When the group came into the village, they discovered that the place was as quiet as a ghost town. Except for the sound of wind and rain and their respective footsteps, there was no other movement. Each broken wooden door was left half-open, the grass in the yard grew as high as half the wall, and broken tiles and house posts were everywhere. There was a baby's top hanging at the door of a house, stained with mud, already becoming a rag.
The most spacious part of the village was the ancestral temple. The courtyard could be seen from afar and could be used by outsiders.
Ge Chen took out a stick of the size of a small fire match from his bosom. After unscrewing the lid, a faint light came out. The bricks and tiles on the top of the ancestral temple were broken. As it was raining heavily outside, bits of water leaked inside. The tables, chairs, and benches in the room had collapsed and were damaged. There were only a few rags left on the corner of the wall, printed with the plain-colored flower pattern of Jiangnan, still reflecting the prosperity of the old days.
Xu Ling looked around inside and outside the temple and asked, "It seems nobody is here, Marshal, have the local people already run away?"
Gu Yun also frowned slightly, ordering several guards to search around, and leaned over to pick up the printed cloth in the corner.
"The last time I went down to Jiangnan, it was in spring." Gu Yun said, "Flowers were blooming, warm winds gushed by, even rebelling was done in leisure, using some merchant ships filled with compressed fragrance to smuggle Ziliujin..."
Before he had finished, a soldier rushed in and said, "At the back of the ancestral temple, Marshal, you see, there's... in the backyard."
Gu Yun raised his eyebrows: "What's over there?"
The soldier's face flashed with hesitance for a moment, avoiding Gu Yun's eyes, he said with difficulty: "...the villagers."
The small village in Jiangnan was winding and graceful. There was a small river in the middle, houses were built along both sides. There was no distinction between North and South, but now they were all brought to ruin. The four stone signs of 'loyalty, filial piety, chastity, and righteousness' at the gate of the ancestral temple had been half broken. The stone pieces rolled into the grass. Xu Ling happened to kick something at his feet. When he looked down, he almost jumped up - it was a skeleton.
Xu Ling: "This... This..."
In the middle of the conversation, Yan Wang had taken the lead to enter the backyard of the ancestral temple. The real ancestor tablets were scattered all over the courtyard. The ruins of Buddhas were covered in dust. On the black slate, countless corpses with heads separated from their bodies were arranged neatly. Men, women, old and young alike, the deep hollows of the skeletons' eye sockets were covered with cobwebs.
Xu Ling took in a cold breath and unconsciously grasped the door frame.
"It's a vast area," Chang Geng said in a low voice after a long silence. "There are open seas and canals between the north and the south. East and West official roads can go to the rest of the territory. There are many plains in this area, with a foreign enemy occupying them for a long time, it is impossible to go on. It's also easy for our people to get in, I think they... they had to do a thorough cleaning up."
Xu Ling asked in a daze, "What is a thorough cleaning?"
"Send Heavy Armors to slaughter the village," Chang Geng whispered. "Make a circle, group the people inside the circle together, cleaning them all up, and not letting people from the outside come in again. Then just send people to block several main official road entrances and exits, so that there won't be thousands of Black Iron Camp soldiers mixed in under the disguise of merchants like what happened in the Southwest that year. Now I finally understand why there were only a few soldiers on patrol just now."
"... Because this place is a no man's land." Chang Geng kicked the stomach of the Western captive as he spoke. The captive almost had his intestines leaked out from this kick containing his anger. Unable to scream, he had to groan on the ground like a pig.
Gu Yun took the light from Ge Chen's hand and illuminated a rotten piece of wood, there was a line of inscriptions engraved by fingernails on it——
A guard asked, "What's that, Marshal?"
Gu Yun's throat moved slightly: "... 'The tears of the survivors are in the enemy's dust'*... There's only half the sentence..."
There was a skeleton beneath the big wooden pillar, it had rotted into a mass with patches of white bone, appearing very horrifying. Only an index finger eaten by insects and ants was still pointing at the inscription relentlessly.
As if it was still questioning in silence: in the land of fish and rice, where were the generals and the iron horses?**
*/**: Referenced from the Southern Song dynasty poet, Luyou 陆游《秋夜將曉出籬門迎涼有感》 (The feelings of traveling outside the fences during cold Autumn night), the original continuation after the first quoted line was "Hoping for the return of the Emperor's Army for another year."
Soaking in the rain all night, the chill finally seeped through his bones.
And the words 'Jiangnan defeated' had never been so powerful before, the whole ancestral temple was engulfed in dead silence for a while.
Not knowing how long had passed, Chang Geng gently nudged Gu Yun, "Don't look at it anymore, Zi Xi, many things could happen in the long night. Let's leave here first, it's important to join Old Zhong."
Gu Yun tightened his fist, straightened his back as he heard his voice. Unexpectedly, the front of his eyes darkened, tumbling for half a step before he could stand still. Chang Geng supported his arm in fright.
Gu Yun's chest was uncomfortable. For a moment, he felt an indescribable sense of weakness that he had not felt for many years rising up. After being injured at the West Gate, no matter whether he quit drinking or reduced his medication, he could not stop his body from becoming worse and worse, as if every debt from many years had come for him.
Now facing the questioning of a skeleton, he was not able to say a word, even a trace of nervousness and weakness arose in his heart. Gu Yun thought, When can I take back Jiangnan? Could I still... make it in time?
However, many doubts and worries in Gu Yun's heart only occurred for a moment, they were then forced down — at least in the eyes of outsiders, he was back to normal.
"It's alright," Gu Yun looked at Chang Geng, then pulled his arm out of Chang Geng's hand and said to Xu Ling, "Master Xu, ask the white-haired monkey where their old nest is, how many people, how many armors, and where they are hiding steel armors. If each time we ask he does not answer, cut off one of his fingers, grill them up to a good meal for him."
It was said that most of the Western soldiers were purchased at the expense of money. There was no such thing as bravery and no fear of death. Gu Yun's many means of frightening him had not been used yet - the guard only just raised the Wind Slasher, but he had already confessed everything.
As Chang Geng had said, the vast plains along the river had been cleared into a no man's land by them, leaving only one guarding station in each area. There were at least a dozen people in one post, mostly cavalry.
"A part of the army acts as the vanguard, confronting General Zhong, and part of it is..." Xu Ling thinned his lips, struggling to translate, "... they raid everywhere and force prisoners to work as miners and slaves for them. The looted goods are transported back to their home countries, silencing those who want the pope to step down."
At this time, the rainstorm had stopped, the thick clouds opened, revealing a small ray of moonlight. Looking far ahead, there was only thick smoke and mist, the scenery of farming puppets busy working on the field, and farmers drinking tea discussing matters of the country were difficult to conjure again.
Xu Ling whispered, "This officer thought that the refugees in Jiangbei were already in great distress, but at least they still had grass shacks to keep out the rain, and there were two bowls of porridge to receive every day..."
Chang Geng: "It's no use talking for longer. Let's go and let this Western dog lead the way to their post."
The two guards of the Black Iron Camp immediately responded by picking up the Western soldier.
"Your Royal Highness Yan Wang!" Xu Ling took a few steps and called Chang Geng, "When can we fight with the Western dogs?"
Chang Geng kept on walking and answered without turning his head: "If we can successfully settle down many refugees in Jiangbei, pray that God will spare us of natural disasters; after resting for a year or two, until the Eighteen Tribes exhaust their resources, and the Ziliujin passage in Northern Frontier is reopened, I don't believe we cannot do anything to this group of Western dogs!"
Now the court was engulfed in dark smoke, it was difficult to even take a step, thousands of refugees were still wandering everywhere, let alone taking a rest? Uniting against the foreign enemy?
Xu Ling took in a breath, his eyes were red. He caught up with Yan Wang and whispered in his ear, "Your Highness, did you know that your movements in reforming the court are too big, some people have regarded you as a thorn in the eye... Not to mention anything else, but if that Yang Rong Gui truly is corrupted and is concealing information, he will surely catch wind of this these days. As a last resort, he can exchange all the gold and silver in his manor for Feng Huo tickets, saying that your Highness wanted to impose Feng Huo tickets on local officials by any means, imposing targets that are impossible to achieve, thus they are forced to break the law with bribery, the Office of Inspection and the Imperial Censorate will also attack at the same time. What will you do then?”
Chang Geng revealed a half-smile, "If there is someone who can handle this mess, take back Jiangnan and bring peace to the four fronts, then I will pack my bags and leave. Master Xu, what I did was not for myself, nor for people to praise me - if they want to accuse me, then they are free to do so, I could face my own conscience and the heaven, at midnight whether I sleep at the Grand Council or the Imperial Prison, the ancestors will not come to slap me, other matters..."
No longer did he continue to speak, Yan Wang’s young and handsome face seemed to flash with a bitter laugh of self-ridicule. Xu Ling seemed to see the loneliness and helplessness surrounding him, his heart trembled greatly, his face burned —
The Imperial Censorate had been humiliated by Yan Wang in public more than once. For a long time, they had wished nothing more than to grasp his weak point and bite Yan Wang's party to death.
And the Office of Inspection was the gathering place of the 'pure party*' in the court — much like Xu Ling, they were unwilling to cling to power and nobility, and disdained to join with the merchants and businessmen filled with the stench of money. They regarded themselves as being loyal only to the ruler and regarded what Yan Wang did as drinking poison to quench thirst. In addition, there were dirty rumors everywhere. They always thought that Yan Wang was a power treacherously playing the Emperor in his hands.
*清流, qingliu, lit. pure stream, a term associated with the grouping of orthodox scholar-officials who were well known in social circles or in the academic field.
Xu Ling went south with Yan Wang this time, investigating and dealing with corrupt officials was one thing, more importantly, taking advantage of when the noble family and the new officials were fighting into a pair of black-eyed chickens, the two offices had planned to join hands to uncover Yan Wang's crime as the one who started it all.
Xu Ling's purpose for this trip was not simple. On one hand, it was due to Emperor Long An who did not feel assured of Yan Wang Li Min, on the other, it was for the two offices wanting to seize evidence of Yan Wang's traitorous intent —
There was someone here exhausting himself for the devastation of Jiangbei and Jiangnan, even though his means had been a bit tough, while they were in the court waiting to catch his error. In the end, who on earth was truly the one bringing harm to the country and the people?
Xu Ling couldn't help but get choked up: "Your Highness..."
Chang Geng raised his eyebrows slightly, "Master Xu, What's wrong?"
Xu Ling could not speak for a moment.
Gu Yun silently led the way in front. Xu Ling, a scholar, thinking he was whispering in a low voice, in fact, when Marshal Gu's ears were not deaf, he could hear every word in the wind.
He caught a glimpse of a guard fuming with anger upon hearing it, then glanced at Ge Chen whose expression was pale. He could almost come to understand the origin of this 'accident' causing them to fall into the enemy's territory.
Gu Yun bowed his head slightly, and when he thought about it, he already understood who was meant to watch this trip down south.
To some extent, Gu Yun, who grew up in the deep palace, knew Li Feng better than Chang Geng.
If a person's ambition was too high but their ability was not enough, it was easy to fall into Li Feng's situation. Emperor Long An certainly knew the way of power and tactics, but in the end, the most powerful shepherd dog could still only lead sheep. Even if it had sharp teeth and could kill a wolf in a one on one fight, it could not become the king of wolves — that was the general logic applied to humans as well.
Gu Yun did not need to inquire about the main political opinions or how many factions there were in the court. Whatever the purpose of Xu Ling on this trip was, no matter which faction he belonged to, in the end, he was Li Feng's man.
Li Feng liked this type of mallet, who did not use flattering words, did not form a party, with no status and no background, he only pursued the word 'pure minister' for all his life.
In the eyes of Emperor Long An, the words 'pure minister' had two meanings: first, they must have been promoted by the Emperor himself, with no support from any noble family or powerful minister behind their backs, their background must be clean, and secondly, they must make the Emperor feel reassured and be easy to control.
In the beginning, Yan Wang Li Min, had indeed walked this path. At that time, he had no foundation, no place of dependence, no power, and no influence in the court, only a meager bit of royal blood in his entire being. It was also his mixed blood that caused doubts in people. He almost resembled an ignorant man fearlessly shouldering the beam of the Grand Council. He was, of course, a 'pure minister' in Li Feng's eyes.
However, Li Feng later found that Yan Wang was no 'ignorant man'. He possessed too many tactics big and small that could summon the clouds and rain. The Emperor was already fooled by him once and thus no longer dared to believe in his 'purity', that was why Emperor Long An had sent someone purer to restrain him.
Through the swallow-like eyes on Master Xu's face, there was an Emperor looking out. It was a pity that inside that 'Qian Li Yan' was the personality of a newborn, it was presumably that Yan Wang's many tricks had not yet been used, he had already placed himself onto the hook.
Right now, Great Liang did not have a place for a true loyal and pure minister. Gu Yun, who had for many years avoided dipping his hands in internal affairs, still knew full well what type of people they were.
Chang Geng's behavior after entering the court, even though he was far away in the Frontier, he had heard a little about what he had done. But knowing and hearing was one thing, seeing was another.
In fact, up to this time, in Gu Yun's heart, Chang Geng was still that gentle and simple young man. Perhaps he was more brilliant than others, but he would never look down on people because of his talents. Perhaps he had a little bit of a petty temperament, but he did not get angry easily. Even if it happened, it happened in a proper manner, only to express to the offender that 'I'm angry'. The person would at most only feel like they were being scratched lightly by a dear little animal, only leaving a little white mark and not breaking the skin.
It could make one love him down to the bones.
So genuine and so warm… genuine to the point of even though he understood it full well in his heart, on the emotional aspect, in the end, he could not connect him with the resolute Yan Wang Li Min.
Now, under the bitter wind and rain of Jiangnan, these two images that seemed to be unrelated to each other, finally gradually merged into one. For a time, both images seemed so distant and strange.
Gu Yun's chest pain that caused him to be unable to breathe now turned even worse.
But in the enemy's line, it was not convenient for the Marshal to start mourning for no good reason, thus he had put on an almost frivolous relaxed look on his face, silently enduring this pain.
The group of people soon came to the nearest guard post together with the captive. According to the captive, their guard post was patrolled in two batches alternatively. The patrol for the no man's land was very simple. Over time, these Western cavalries relatively neglected their duty, unaware even if an enemy snuck inside.
"That foreigner said there were only two Heavy Armors in the sentry," Xu Ling whispered. "There's nothing else for us to take advantage of. Marshal, can Heavy Armor help us cross the river?"
"Yes," Gu Yun replied, "it sinks when it goes down, even faster than a pig cage. It specializes in dealing with all kinds of adulterer wives and husbands."
Xu Ling: "..."
It was a shame that he'd thought the Marquis of Order had become somewhat proper, as it now all seemed to only be an illusion.
Gu Yun wiped his face, erasing all his traces of exhaustion, and pretended to be in very high spirits: "No need to rush it, let's first borrow the disguise of these foreigners to mix up in front of the river then wait for an opportunity to find the incredibly fast Dragon of theirs. Master Xu can rest assured, I have notified General Zhong so that when we reach the river, they will automatically assist us."
Xu Ling replied with a serious look, "Marshal Gu has already managed to contact General Zhong? When did you do it?"
Gu Yun said, "The hearts are connected, that's all."
...Beginning to talk nonsense again.
Master Xu, who was deceived time and time again, finally learned to shut his mouth in front of Gu Yun, and deduced from this, he could understand where Yan Wang's stable and unfazed personality even when the sky falls came from.
But Chang Geng was severely shocked. He himself did indeed notify General Zhong, but it was through using Lin Yuan Pavilion's method. It was not convenient for Xu Ling to hear of it. He had prepared another set of plays to show to Master Xu. Unexpectedly, just through a few words, Gu Yun had shouldered this unlawful act for him.
Gu Yun held the Black Tiger Emblem in his hands, able to mobilize troops on all four sides during wartime, it was not uncommon for him to have a secret way of contacting the border garrisons. After listening to him, even if one was any more foolish, they would come to understand and stop any questioning. If they later met the reinforcements, Xu Ling would not be any more suspicious.
Chang Geng's wet palm suddenly broke out a layer of cold sweat.
He already knew, Chang Geng's heart trembled and sank into coldness.
Man proposes, God disposes. Even if a plan was any more perfect, it could not avoid having accidents outside of expectation. For Chang Geng, the first one was on that day when he proposed to travel to the South. Before he could have said it in a straightforward manner, Gu Yun had unexpectedly stepped out to quickly handle it.
The arrow already mounted on the string could not avoid being shot, he had to continue on and make his many arrangements with more and more discretion.
When it came to Gu Yun, the resourceful Yan Wang who had never blundered would still have momentary confusion — it was not that his brain and intellect fell short, but it was because he himself could not tell what it was that he wanted to do.
On one hand, he wanted to conceal this matter with Xu Ling as well as Gu Yun. After all, conspiracy was nothing to be prideful of, there would always exist lowly tactics behind it all. He did not want Gu Yun to see that he was the type who did not shy away from any scheme and calculation, nor did he dare to think about how Gu Yun would feel about this matter.
On the other hand, he courageously hoped that Gu Yun would be able to see through the truth clearly. It was almost the kind of mentality of acting spoiled that made one unreasonably pick a fight with people closest to them, wanting to let them know that 'I am that type of person'.
He was in a dilemma — afraid of meeting Gu Yun's limit, yet he could not help prodding for his reaction.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to measure in the world was not the enemy's intention, but a beloved's sincere intention that could sometimes still cause one to feel uncertain.
Gu Yun looked back at him intentionally or unintentionally. Chang Geng's eyelids twitched uncontrollably as if wanting to avoid it. Then looking straight into Gu Yun's eyes, his gaze resembled a hook, wanting to fish out a sign from the inside.
But at this time, a blinded Ge Chen came closer and said in Gu Yun's ear, "Marshal, I suspect that the Heavy Armor of the foreigners were crafted with a special technique, which is better than ours in conserving Ziliujin. How about you all clear out the people first, I'll take the Heavy Armor apart to learn from them."
Ge Chen's appearance had made Gu Yun avert his gaze. In a hurry, Chang Geng could not grasp the meaning in those eyes, but surrounded by outsiders, he could not go over to ask a clear question, thus he was put in an anxious state.
As Gu Yun heard what was said, he appointed a personal guard to follow Ge Chen, and replied with resolve, "If you can't learn anything, I'll treat it as you slacking off from work and you are to be dealt with by military laws after we return, go!"
At his command, more than twenty black crows quietly surrounded the small Western sentry, quietly clearing up the Western soldiers who were still deep in their dreams. From the sentry, they collected a set of garrison defense and control maps plus several sets of Light Armor, and each person in the group put one on. This way, as long as the mask was down, no one would recognize that the people inside were not the originals.
Gu Yun pointed to the shivering captive: "Put him in Light Armor as well, place a lead in the golden box, if he dares to cause trouble, he will be fried into dumpling stuffing — by the way, where is Xiao Ge?"
Ge Chen hurriedly trotted along and said, "I'm here, I'm here, Marshal!"
Gu Yun looked back. In just a moment, this man not only removed the Heavy Armor of foreigners but also removed the whole core power of the Heavy Armor. Much like a slave to money, tying it to his waist and refusing to put it down. With a pair of bright eyes resembling a mouse that fell into a rice jar, he ran up and said, "Marshal Gu, am I going to have to pretend to be a Western soldier, too? I'm going to take this away. Do we have Light Armor with a larger belly?"
Gu Yun looked at him for a moment, then suddenly directed his guards to tie up Ge Ling Shu, laughing, "What are you wearing a Heavy Armor for? It's about a dozen pounds! I have a more suitable role for you. You don't have to change your clothes, you can pretend to be an enemy spy who was captured sneaking around thieving, how about it? In case of being questioned, we would have an excuse ready as well — that's right, you carrying along this thing will appear all the more like you were caught with the evidence — tie him up!"
Ge Chen was put to replace the foreign captive in shock. He was tied up by two relentless guards and hung on a long pole, dangling as he was being carried away. Ge Chen was not foolish, vaguely feeling that he might have offended the general, and Gu Yun was now deliberately rectifying him. He hurriedly turned to Chang Geng for help: "Your Highness..."
"What Highness?" Gu Yun pulled the iron mask down. The voice came out from behind the cold mask and was covered with a layer of frost. "Cover his mouth. The captives are not allowed to scream."
Yan Wang, who was still anxious, dared not speak out at all. With his acquiescence, Ge Ling Shu became a human-shaped grievance and was taken away on the long pole.
The group of people marched with vigor to the Westerners’ garrison with the ‘captive’. Near dawn, they had crossed the vast inhabited areas in Jiangnan and approached the enemy's base.
At this time, through the eyes of the Qian Li Yan, Gu Yun and the others could already see the frightening water monster lying in the river. The iron Dragons usually came and went like the wind, this was the first time they faced them in person. Xu Ling was dizzy for a moment. The defense line of the Westerners was too tight. His hands were covered in a cold sweat, he did not understand how these people could still be this vigorous in the midst of the enemy's rank.
Before even getting close to the station, the muzzle of several short guns had turned over, all pointing at them.
Xu Ling swallowed with difficulty. At this time, his shoulder was pressed down, Xu Ling heard Yan Wang’s voice saying in his ear, "When you are afraid, do not think about how we will die if we were to be found out. You must think that we will have to take care of all these things. If we don't kill them today, we will have to kill them tomorrow. We are here to kill, not to be killed."
Xu Ling heard a hunter's murderous intent in Yan Wang's light voice, his body shivered slightly, this intent seemed to pass on to him in a tremor. Xu Ling took a deep breath, remembered the devastating white bones in the ancestral hall, and closed his eyes. As a result, his fear faded away.
Yan Wang said again, "Hold the lead of the captive well. We can't understand the foreign language very well. We can only rely on Master Xu, if he makes any odd movement... Does Master Xu dare to kill?"
Deputy Inspector Xu, who had only ever read books growing up, he had never even killed a chicken, shuddered involuntarily with the lead in his hand. As soon as he did, the Western captive also felt his life was hanging by a thread and shuddered along with him. Yan Wang pressed the hand on Xu Ling's shoulder down, the force seeped through the steel armor, like a pair of iron forceps, forcibly stabilizing Xu Ling by external force.
Xu Ling gritted his teeth. "I do, Your Highness rest assured, I will not disgrace the mission."
Chang Geng slowly withdrew his hand. He could feel Gu Yun was watching him, hiding behind the iron mask. He dared not look back, quietly wiping the cold sweat off his palm.
He could tell each person what it was that they should do, but no one could come and give him a piece of advice for his own dilemma.
At this moment, a Western guard said something in a foreign language through the tong hou, generally asking them what they were doing.
Xu Ling cleared his throat and answered, "During the patrol, we caught a traitor from the Central Plains and took him here to see how he should be dealt with."
The stationed guard doubtfully took a look, Gu Yun tapped their captive on the back with the hilt of the Western sword in silence: "Learn how to read the situation."
Xu Ling did not translate yet, but the Western captive had understood Gu Yun's meaning. He shakily lifted up the Light Armor's mask, a handful of familiar blond hair dispelled the guard's doubts. The guard glanced at Ge Chen, who was hanging on a pole, made a grimace, then beckoned. The several muzzles slowly moved away from them; the guard then let them inside the station.
"Wait a moment," said the guard. "The pope is entertaining important guests. All the other lords are accompanying him, nobody would be there to decide even if you report it in. First, go and register your name, lock up this pig for now, we will roast him in the evening."
The others did not respond. Xu Ling knew that even Yan Wang could not give him any guidance at this time. He swallowed his saliva and asked as calmly as possible, "Where are the guests from?"
"Holy Land," the guard scratched his face impatiently. "Don't ask too much of what you shouldn't know about. I really don't know when they will let us go back, this battle is over. Hey, brothers, the good-for-nothing bunch in the no man's land has caught a spy, give them a few bites of dried meat to eat. Perhaps they will never make a contribution this grand again for the rest of their lives."
The group of Western soldiers laughed aloud.
Xu Ling felt more reassured and took the lead in pushing the Western captive to the direction that they were guided. Unexpectedly, at this moment, the Western captive suddenly struggled, the lead that Xu Ling was holding was exposed. The Western guards who had not yet left caught sight of it: "Hold on, what is that behind you?"
Xu Ling's cold sweat came down.
The guard approached Xu Ling suspiciously, eyed him up and down, and suddenly reached down, placing his hand on the sword at his waist: "Push your mask up."
Xu Ling's heart was beating wildly, he went stiff, unable to move.
At that moment, a sharp alarm suddenly came from a distance, flames rose against the wind towards the sky. Many Western soldiers ran past them. The Western guard questioning them was momentarily distracted, Chang Geng then took a step forward, piercing a slender needle as long as an arm he obtained from who-knows-where into the guard's neck in no time.
Without a word, the Western guard was dead standing in the spot. A soldier took off the guard's helmet, cut Ge Chen's ropes, and placed it on his head.
Xu Ling gasped for breath and noticed that Gu Yun's guards were missing one person. In the next moment, Gu Yun grabbed Xu Ling's lead and dropped a sentence: "Go."
Before Xu Ling could react, he saw Gu Yun pull the lead behind the captive. He did not know what Gu Yun's Wind Slasher had touched behind the Light Armor of the Westerner, he kicked him out with one foot. With the help of Gu Yun's kick, the captive was plunged forward with the force of the Armor's spurting mist.
The captive let out an inhuman scream. At the same time, the movement on their side could not avoid going unnoticed. The guards of the Black Iron Camp were extremely well-trained. As Gu Yun made a gesture, each of them raised their own bow and artillery and shot away in all directions.
Only now did the Light Armor of the captive explode. The shockwave shook the camp and Western soldiers around him away. Xu Ling was not able to stand firm for a moment, but a hand wearing Light Armor had caught him and led him forward.
The group of people ran like mad in the midst of chaos. Gu Yun reached out and stopped Xu Ling together with Chang Geng who was dragging him. He quickly asked in a low voice: "How do you say, 'they ran off that way, after them'?"
Xu Ling had no time to respond and instinctively translated the words into the language of the Westerners.
As soon as he finished, the enemy troops had caught up to them. Gu Yun raised his hand and pulled out the sword on the Light Armor of the Westerner, vividly mimicking the sentence Xu Ling had just taught him. At the same time, he took the lead and fiercely chased 'after them'.
Donning the same armor suits and masks, they could not be differentiated from one another. Gu Yun had been in charge of the Black Iron Camp for many years, he truly had the temperament of a general. At his command, the Western soldiers could not help but run with him.
Xu Ling: "..."
They inexplicably went from being the surrounded into being the pursuers.
All the way up to the river, Xu Ling saw a black shadow suddenly coming from a distance. It was that guard of Gu Yun's that had just been missing, the Western armor disguise on him had been unloaded. The officers of the Black Iron Camp made a long whistle, then jumped into the river. Xu Ling adapted quickly, and shouted in the foreign language: "Onto the ship, after them!"
Gu Yun had no idea that Xu Ling would take after them so fast, he could not help but give him a thumbs up.
Before Xu Ling could feel proud, he was thrown by Gu Yun with the force of dozens of kilograms of Light Armor from the riverside, falling down onto a Western Dragon. The Western Navy could also hear the movement on the shore, coming to take a look in confusion.
At that time, several black shadows fell one after another, cleanly taking care of all the navy with a sweep of their blades with no delay. There was no sound — before the bodies could fall, they were already caught by the killers. To outsiders, it appeared as if their comrades-in-arms were entering the cabin side by side.
A second later, the chaos on the shore was not over yet, a Western Dragon had quickly rushed out of the Western Garrison Port at dawn.