CHAPTER 6: FROST AND SNOW

IV

When Chang Geng arrived, his footsteps were steady, everything was in order, the whole world seemed to be in his hands. When leaving, he had turned into a paste in the shape of a human, not knowing which leg he should use to step through the door first.

In the dark night, where warmth turned to coldness, the breath that passed in and out of his chest resembled a raging flame.

Chang Geng fled back to his yard in a panic, took a breath, and leaned his forehead against the sword training puppet in the courtyard.

After many years had passed, this iron puppet was already out of commission and could no longer be used. It was just that Chang Geng was unwilling to throw it away; thus, he had let it stay in the yard as a decoration for hanging lanterns.

Its cold iron surface soon cooled down Chang Geng's burning flesh. He looked up at this big fellow, reminiscing old memories of his youth.

He remembered that he used to let it carry a basket packed with breakfast every day, then one boy and one puppet would eagerly run over to Gu Yun's quarters, listening to his endless speeches from north to south.

And when they prepared for Gu Yun's birthday, they had wrapped ridiculous ribbons and silks all over its body, then let it carry a bowl of noodles that didn't look appetizing at all to wish that person a happy birthday...

Thinking about it, Chang Geng couldn't help but smile a little; all of his joyful and warm memories were related to Gu Yun.

Chang Geng hung the lamp in his hand on the puppet's arm, then affectionately patted the gear exposed on its back. Recalling Gu Yun's two sentences just now, he heaved a sigh, his eyes darkening.

He had assumed Gu Yun might be furious, or perhaps he would repeatedly persuade him. He did not expect Gu Yun to show such an attitude.

Gu Yun had clearly presented his opinion in a peaceful manner — I am still your yifu, I still love you the most, no matter what you think inside, to me, everything will be just the same as before. I will forgive any of your offenses. All of your words, I will not take them to heart. I can't accommodate your wishes that go against the normal order, but I also believe that one day you will return to the right path.

Chang Geng wrote 'no desire'* on his own body, and Gu Yun gave him an 'as solid as a stone, completely unmoving' in response.

*taken from the full phrase: only with no desire can one lift their head high

"All of this mindfulness has been used on me." Chang Geng said with a bitter smile, "You should have saved a bit of personal wish in front of that person in the palace."

Chang Geng knew why Gu Yun suddenly did not continue his words. It was not at all because he was being a bother that Gu Yun wanted him gone early — but because he had more or less guessed what his next words would be, euphemistically suggesting to him not to mention it.

At present, avoiding the edge was the lesser plan. The best step to take next was to rebel — using military power to control and replace the political power. From then on, the military and political affairs would be able to unite as one.

If there was one branch of force that could send troops overseas at any time, the laws regarding the sea route and the Silk Road would then be free to be modified in their best interest. At that time, Great Liang would be able to advance and retreat at will, and the prestige would run far and wide; they could then be tolerated enough to let go of the Ziliujin ban.


But it was a pity that under Gu Yun's improper skin, under the resolution to kill, there hid the ever-righteous and noble bones that could withstand any wind and storm — he would never be able to commit such acts of overthrowing the throne and stealing away the country.


Chang Geng slowly walked into his room. At this time, the familiar sound of bird wings raised in the air. Chang Geng reached out and caught the weathered wooden bird. He opened it to find a letter from Chen Qing Xu.


It was rare for her handwriting to be this disorderly and untidy; Chang Geng managed to make out what was written with much difficulty: "I discovered the source of the poison in the Marshal's body. If I find the secret recipe, an antidote can be created."


Chang Geng's footsteps came to a halt.


However, his ecstasy did not even have a chance to rise when he saw Chen Qing Xu's following sentence: "But his eyes and ears have been damaged for many years. He even attacks poison with poison, the effect has been accumulating for a long time. The poison can be cured, but a severe and lingering illness is difficult to treat, Your Highness, please ready yourself."


Another line followed afterward, the handwriting even messier: "I suspect this is a secret unknown to outsiders of the barbarian goddess. Since the last goddess had entered the palace as an act of peace, it has been difficult to find more clues from outside the country. If convenient, you can try to look for one or two in the Forbidden Palace."


Chang Geng read from beginning to end, then rolled the letter up and thoroughly burned it, his heart sinking.


The Marquis of Order had been on the battlefield for many generations, their contributions incredibly grand, the Marquis' Manor was also a special gift from the monarch. When one looked up from the small courtyard where Chang Geng lived, they could make out the magnificent golden curling roof of the palace under the moonlight. Chang Geng intentionally yet unintentionally glanced towards the direction of the palace. There seemed to be a surge of wind and thunder in his eyes.


Only flashing by for a brief moment, it instantly retracted back inside him, undetectable.




Early the next morning, Gu Yun indeed did follow Chang Geng's advice, sending his written apology to the palace.


He first stated his own progress of reflecting on his actions and sincerely acknowledged his mistake with the Emperor, then claimed that his old injury had recurred; afraid that it would be challenging to handle the responsibility, he requested the Emperor to take back his Marshal Seal.


Sickness was a commonly seen excuse, but surprisingly, this request of the Marquis did not appear at all like an excuse — for he used his own Kai calligraphy style, that had made quite a name for itself among the common folk, to list all details for the transfer of military affairs — and finally, stated an absurd request of moving the location for his house arrest punishment to the suburbs of the capital.


The elegant writing couldn't conceal the meaning between his words: "I have already reflected on my actions, let me go out to play."


This request carried the style of the Marquis of Order, dyed with a hint of arrogance and honesty, one could tell at a glance it was undoubtedly not the work of a counselor writing in his stead.


Emperor Long An held on to this request for one day; he did not open it for discussion but did not approve of it either. On the next day, he sent a gift of many precious herbs to show his grace, lifting the house arrest order — this could be regarded as acquiescence to Gu Yun's resignation. To express respect, he did not find someone to take over, only letting the Marshal Seal hang in the air. He then used warm words to appease, claiming that after the Marquis returned to the court after his recovery, the Marshal Seal would be returned to him.


On the afternoon of the same day, Li Feng had somehow brought out a book he had read in his youth; a calligraphy note fell out from inside. Compared with the written request on his desk, the writing was slightly more juvenile. At certain places of letter transition, the wrist's lack of strength seemed to be showing, but the potential soon to come in the future could already be seen.


Li Feng took the note to study carefully, then suddenly asked Zhu Little Feet in a slightly amazed tone of voice: "Do you know who wrote this?"


Zhu Little Feet feigned confusion: "That is... this old servant doesn't understand whether this writing is good or bad, but since it is preserved by His Majesty, it must be from the hand of a famous artist?"


"Your mouth is so sweet — but it truly can be regarded as the work of a famous person. This was written by Imperial Uncle Shiliu." Li Feng gently put the note on the table, flattening it with a paperweight. He seemed to reminisce about the past, his eyes gazing far away:


"When I was young, I did not practice writing diligently and was scolded by the Royal Father. When Uncle knew about this, he had stayed up all night, and the next day, he brought me a stack of sample calligraphy notes..."


At that time, Gu Yun's eyes were already not good; they became even worse at night, unable to see a thing. He could only wear liuli glass. After a night of hard work, his eyes had turned red, showing a pair of rabbit eyes the next day, even trying to display the look of complete seriousness in front of them.


Li Feng continued, recalling the old days, his tone dyed with nostalgia, muttering to himself: "Say, Imperial Uncle was so introverted in his childhood, he did not like to be close to people at all. It truly is a far cry from the present — ah yes, where is he now?"


Zhu Little Feet replied: "I heard that he has gone to the hot springs in the north to recuperate."


Li Feng couldn't help but laugh: "He really went out to play? Forget it... Jiangnan Spring Tea has just been sent here. Go ask someone to give him some. When he returns, tell him to write me a sign for my palace in the North."


Zhu Little Feet promptly responded, no need to mention it any further — he felt that this was already enough.


In the afternoon of the same day, the Northwestern guardian station sent an 800-mile expedited letter, stating that there were unusual changes at the border, the Black Iron Camp refused to listen to the Drumming Order, and detained Governor Meng, so on and so forth.


Emperor Long An recalled the old days. He picked up the matter, then gently placed it down. He only sent people to scold He Rong Hui for ignoring the laws, cut a bit of salary as punishment just for the sake of it, and instructed the Black Iron Camp to continue strictly guarding the border.





Chang Geng had difficulty finding the right time to go to the hot springs in the Northern suburbs to fill Gu Yun in on what followed, only to see that Gu wrapped in a bathrobe, two feet soaked in the hot spring, a cup in hand, and two beautiful waitresses on the side massaging his shoulders, as blissful as living in heaven.

Gu Yun used the excuse of leaving to recuperate, and staying true to his words, he was wholeheartedly 'recuperating'.


This half-deaf wasn't able to hear anyone coming in, tilting his head to whisper something to the young miss next to him. There was no telling what he had said; the waitress did not speak up, only laughed, her face blushing bright red.


Chang Geng: "..."


Gu Yun saw that the waitress's blushing face was very adorable, almost wanting to raise his hand to touch. The hand was just lifted up halfway through when he saw the two girls quickly paying courtesy to someone, and automatically retreating.


Gu Yun wasn't able to see who had arrived when he turned back, searching around for his liuli glass and placing it on his nose bridge.


As he saw Chang Geng, this old but not proper character did not feel embarrassed at all, even happily calling him over, climbing up lazily: "I haven't been able to rest for a long time, all my bones went crisp from lying."


Chang Geng: "...Perhaps it wasn't crisp only from lying?"


As the words left his mouth, he instantly felt regret.


"Huh?" Gu Yun did not seem to hear it, asking with a perplexed face, "What?"


Somehow, Chang Geng remembered that this person always could not hear what he did not want to hear when he and Shen Yi were disguised as hermits living in the town of Yanhui.


He was already originally an expert in playing dumb*. Once pretending not to hear, he was even more powerful, like a tiger with wings.


* 'pretending garlic' (装蒜) is an idiom used for playing dumb/making a pretense


The Marquis of Order — Great Liang's number one garlic asked him cheerfully: "Right, did you bring my medicine? In the evening, I will take you to Xue Mei Zhai at the back. There are a few new songstresses that just arrived. It is said that they will all be competing for the number one spot at Qi Yuan Tower at the end of the year, let us go check them out in advance."


Chang Geng thought that as Gu Yun had said to take his medicine with him, there must be a matter of urgency. As it turned out, it was because deaf ears were no good for enjoying flower wine*, he instantly let out an unamused smile: "The medicine contains three parts poison, when there is nothing of urgency, yifu should drink less."


*drinking wine with the company of a prostitute.


Gu Yun gave him a completely irrelevant answer: "Mm, good, it's good that you brought it, the water here is very nice. Come have a soak to unwind."


Chang Geng: "..."


He no longer wanted to reason with him. "The Emperor already received the Northwest line's report. Everything is secure, you can rest assured."


Gu Yun nodded slowly: "Mm — you already came here, you're not going to soak for a while with me?"


"...No," Chang Geng said, his expression ice cold. "Yifu, enjoy it yourself."


Gu Yun clucked his tongue in disappointment. Then, without shying away from Chang Geng at all, feeling that there was nothing to shy away from, he calmly undressed and went directly into the water.


Chang Geng was caught off guard and quickly averted his sight. There was nowhere to place his eyes upon; he grabbed a cup of wine, taking a sip as if to conceal something. Only after his lips touched it did he remember — this was Gu Yun's cup!


He stood up awkwardly and almost knocked down the small table. He said dryly: "I only came to inform yifu, it's good that you know, I... I have some things to take care of, I will take my leave first."


"Xiao Chang Geng." Gu Yun called him, put aside the liuli glass that had already been fogged up by the hot steam — his line of sight was slightly out of focus, yet he still appeared like a dragon king commanding water — he leaned on the edge, and carelessly said, "We are both men, I have what you have, what you don't have I don't have either, there's nothing new."


Chang Geng held his breath and finally lifted his gaze. Gu Yun's figure was a little indistinct, but the scars were shockingly striking. One of them crossed his chest under his neck, making his upper body almost seem like he had been split in two then stitched back together again.


Gu Yun truly understood it well: when it came to certain things, the more evasive one was, the more taboo it seemed, the more intoxicating it would be. He simply and generously let him look at everything to his heart's content — there was really nothing good to see anyway.


"Everyone bears deep feelings for their parents, not only you, but also me," Gu Yun said.


"My father is a living animal. He only ever knew how to gather a group of iron puppets to chase me down. The first person who held my hand, teaching me to write, was the former emperor. The first person who coaxed me to take medicine and give me candied fruit afterward was also the former emperor.


"When I was young, I also felt he was the only one who had ever loved me. Sometimes when this kind of feeling becomes too deep, it may give birth to some illusions. But after this period passes by, it will be alright, the more you let it weigh in your heart, the more overwhelmed you will feel, the more it will entangle you."


Chang Geng opened his mouth, but Gu Yun used the cover of being deaf to ignore anything he might say and continued on: "Yifu knows that you are a good boy, but too quick to burden yourself. Let go of it all, stay with me here for two days. Living like an old monk all day, what good will it do? There are so many beautiful sceneries, countless interesting things to be experienced; don't be so stubborn."


Chang Geng stood stiff for a long time, then he stepped forward to the edge of the hot spring, slowly knelt down, carefully looking at the mass of scars and wounds on Gu Yun's body.

Over the years, he had become accustomed to being awakened by the Bone of Impurity in the middle of the night, and he would always think about Gu Yun every time.

Chang Geng had favored peacefulness since he was a child. At that time, he often felt that this overly lively yifu was impossible to be reasoned with. Later, after he pondered more and more, he suddenly had a strange question: Gu Yun...how could he grow into such a person?

Thinking about it, he himself was the only son of the old marquis and the First Princess; he should have been the most arrogant noble of all, how precious and prestigious his status could be.

He suddenly lost his sight and hearing when he was a small child, he was forced by his father's whip to run forward. The wings that had not been fully grown were tattered by injuries, and he even had to endure the loss of his mother and father. The Black Iron Camp's glory from the past now turned incredibly bleak, being trapped deep inside the Forbidden Palace... if a person suffered too much damage at a young age, even if one did not turn out to be cold and cynical, at least they would not become so playful.

When it came to this matter, Chang Geng had personally experienced it himself.

Sometimes, it was difficult for him to imagine: how many layers of wounds should overlap in order to hone a person like this?

Chang Geng suddenly felt incredibly hateful — why must he have been born ten years too late, not having the opportunity to hold this person's small childish hand tightly in the midst of thorns from all sides? For this reason alone, he felt that he would be jealous of Shen Yi for all his life.

As if the devil blinded his eyes, he moved forward, swept aside Gu Yun's long wet hair scattered all over, carefully and hesitantly touching the scar cutting across his chest.

"Ouch..." Gu Yun felt his scalp tingling at his touch, quickly moved to hide away: "I'm trying to talk reason with you; how come you started to get touchy with your hands?"

Chang Geng asked, his voice hoarse: "How did you get this?"

This deaf man wasn't able to hear it at the beginning. Chang Geng caught his hand and wrote it again in his palm.

Gu Yun was taken aback, momentarily unable to remember.

Chang Geng wiped away the fog on his liuli glass and returned it to Gu Yun's nose. He stared at him deep in the eyes and said through sign language: "Yifu, can we each confess one thing honestly to one another?"

Gu Yun frowned.

Chang Geng: "You have deep feelings for the former emperor. Do you want to kiss him, hold him, and intimately entangle with him for a lifetime?"

Gu Yun was shocked: "What?"

He couldn't help but recall the old withered face of the former emperor always cast in layers of sorrow, and then felt goosebumps rising all over.

"Alright, you already answered, my turn." Chang Geng then said with a pure-hearted expression, "I want to."

Gu Yun: "..."

It took him a while to understand the meaning of Chang Geng's 'I want to'. The first wave of goosebumps had not even subsided, yet the next wave already rose up, his hairs standing up all at once, resembling a hedgehog.


"There is not a single moment where I do not want to, even in my dreams, especially right now...there are several other things I want, and I am afraid that they will only dirty yifu's ears, I will not mention them." Chang Geng closed his eyes, no longer looking at Gu Yun, continuing to sign: "If I did not sink so deep, how would I be worthy of the words 'succumb to madness?'"


Gu Yun was speechless for a long time, only managing to respond after a while, his voice dry: "...you should go read more scripture with the monks."

Chang Geng: "It would be great if you said these words to me five years ago; perhaps I would have been able to let go, and what happened today would not have happened."


However, so many days and nights had passed, so many nightmares and mud that could only be withstood by reciting Gu Yun's name. Repeatedly, he had been drinking poison to quench his thirst –


It was already too late.


The Marquis of Order, who was a slowpoke and was always a half-beat behind, still hadn't come back to his senses, shockingly thinking to himself inside: I still assumed you were only a little brat whose mouth still reeks of milk!


"Then for my next question," Chang Geng closed his eyes tightly. "Does yifu think I'm disgusting?"


Gu Yun was silent for a long time. Chang Geng's eyelashes trembled fiercely, both his hands involuntarily tightened together inside his sleeves — Gu Yun's physical reaction just now was unmistakable. The apparent discomfort had shown clearly in the goosebumps on his skin.


Gu Yun might understand his heart, but perhaps he would never understand his desires.


Chang Geng heard the sound of the water. Gu Yun had come up to the shore and put on his clothes.


Gu Yun sighed, reached out, and patted Chang Geng's shoulder, calmly replying in avoidance: "You know that is impossible."


Chang Geng's lips slightly curled up, maybe he intended to show a lighthearted smile, but he completely failed; he could only reply in a whisper: "I know, I will not make it difficult for yifu."


Gu Yun sat down beside him, and for a while, he felt that he was a little slower and was about to speak.


Suddenly, he could sense that there was an unusually sharp wind surging forward, aiming at his back. The cup that Chang Geng placed on the side reflected a flash of razor-edged glint. Gu Yun hadn't had time to react, but Chang Geng already rushed towards him.


Chang Geng grabbed him and rolled to the side, his arms tightening. At the same time, Gu Yun's keen nose could catch a faint scent of blood.


An arrow with white steam that still hadn't spread at its tail grazed past Chang Geng, tearing his long sleeves open, revealing the wounded flesh inside.


Chang Geng looked up. Outside the quiet hot spring, a sharp metallic color flashed past: it was a 'Light Armor'!


The hot springs and the Northern Camp were only five miles away, even as one did not have to rush their horse, they would arrive in a moment. Where did this assassin come from?


The assassin did not succeed in his first move, but still, he did not give up.


The heavy sunset had fallen to the west, the assassin who just shot the arrow jumped over the courtyard wall.

White steam surged from beneath his feet, and like lightning, he appeared in front of them in the blink of an eye. Gu Yun pushed Chang Geng aside, reached out, and pulled out a steel sword from under the small table where the wine was, instantly crossing two moves with the assassin.


Gu Yun's skills were honed by clashing barehanded with iron puppets. Even though the Light Armor burned Ziliujin, he did not pay it any mind. However, after two moves, Gu Yun suddenly retreated back – he was shocked to find his hand shaking, overwhelmed by the weight of the steel sword.


Chang Geng could see at a glance that something was off. He reached for him and grasped his wrist, borrowing the sword in his hand, fiercely and accurately stabbing the assassin in the jaw. The tip of the sword directly pierced through the assassin's iron mask; blood spurted out.


Chang Geng did not look at him. His fingers immediately slipped onto Gu Yun's pulse, saying in a low tone: "Someone poisoned you."


Gu Yun's chest felt numb, his heart pounding wildly inside. He let out a groan, momentarily unable to breathe. The numb sensation quickly spread all over his limbs, causing even someone like himself who could not see and hear to tense up considerably.


"It's nothing," Gu Yun gasped for breath. "I'm afraid it's not finished yet, you..."


His crow mouth had just finished speaking when a dozen Light Armors appeared on top of the wall. At the same time, the soldiers guarding outside had also been alerted, charging forward.


There was no telling what was going on in those assassins' minds. They did not flee even after their failed attempt, continuing to clash with the guards.


The guards of the Marquis' Manor were soldiers retired from the battlefield. They could not be compared to the ordinary house guards, advancing and retreating with precision, extremely mobile. Chang Geng glanced at the battlefield that had become entirely one-sided, helping Gu Yun to the side: "Yifu…"


Gu Yun raised a finger to his mouth and patted him on the shoulder. He gently held his injured arm and motioned for him to take care of himself first.


Chang Geng did not pay attention to it, knelt down on one side, and grabbed Gu Yun's wrist. At that moment, his pulse had returned to order. Chang Geng tried to steady his mind, remembering that Gu Yun himself resembled a medicine jar, his resistance to drugs was much stronger than the average person.


It wouldn't be so easy to knock him down completely. Perhaps just now, as he was soaked in hot water, its effect had kicked in.


At this time, there was a loud noise in the courtyard. The entire mountain village shook. Even the half-deaf Gu Yun was able to hear it.


It only took a moment; the assassins were already defeated by the well-trained house guards. When the commander ordered for them to be arrested, all the assassins simultaneously pierced the golden box on their Light Armors and exploded!


Gu Yun narrowed his not-so-useful eyes, lowering his voice: "Suicidal soldiers…"


The commander instructed people to put out the fire while running to Gu Yun: "Your subordinate is incompetent, Marquis and His Highness, please retreat first."


Gu Yun did not say anything; it seemed as if his mind was still somewhere far away.


For a time, his old memories that had long faded over the years were cruelly ripped out, his blood ran like water, baring its fangs, viciously surging up in front of him —— the deeper in time something was, the clearer it would be.


That year, the blowing wind was engulfed in murderous intent; black iron covered one's sight; all around was the scenery of withered and dreary pasture; flocks of vultures hovered when riding a horse among the high grass; it only took a few steps to land on white bones still marked with the tooth prints of beasts.


Little Gu Yun, who had not yet reached the height of a table — was being punished by the old marquis for a meager mistake. He was to stand inside the camp and was not allowed to eat breakfast. Any soldier passing by could not stop themselves from laughing as they caught sight of him, causing the tears of the boy whose pride was already vast from an early age to be suppressed inside. He would rather die than let them fall.


At that time, the war had subsided, the Ziliujin tribute of the Eighteen Tribes had already entered the National Treasury, and the goddess had been bestowed the status of Royal Consort. Everything should have been peaceful...


Suddenly, a patrolling guard fell down at little Gu Yun's side without warning. He was wearing Heavy Armor; his body bore no injury. The guards in his camp then collapsed one by one, the sound of fighting and shouting came abruptly from the outside. Little Gu Yun had never met with such a terrifying scene before. Momentarily stunned from fear, he instinctively wanted to find a weapon.


But he was too small; even with both hands, he could not afford to lift even the lightest sword.


The people who charged in that day were also a group of suicidal warriors dressed in Light Armor. They acted as swiftly as the wind, approaching like the devils. One soldier who had just been making fun of him struggled to rise up like a dying bird and protected little Gu Yun under his body.


He could still remember the image clearly even now — he had had his eyes wide open, staring at the soldiers who resembled pigs waiting to be slaughtered; they all fell down inside the camp, one by one, in a heap of flesh and blood. He could feel something strike at his back; the pain caused his heart to tighten.


However, the pain soon became numb. Gradually, he felt as if his limbs were cut off from his body, all the sounds and colors in his surroundings were gone, and everything faded. The consciousness that was soon to be scattered and the pounding heart that seemed to break his chest weaved together, he could not breathe...


He remembered he had also heard that same earth-shattering noise in a state of half-consciousness — the princess had arrived, and those people blew themselves up with their armors.




Chang Geng held his shoulder: "Yifu!"


Gu Yun's gaze with absolutely no focus finally concentrated a little, he murmured: "Is there a wolf head tattoo on the bodies that have not been burnt yet?"


Chang Geng: "What?"


The commander was startled, suddenly lifting his head. Regarding this matter, the Gu family guards had a much deeper impression than Gu Yun, who was still a child at that time: "Marquis means to say..."


"When the fire has been put out, go check it," Gu Yun said with a blank expression. "Also, the person who used poison..."


Feeling that the effect of the drug in his body was gradually fading, he supported himself with Chang Geng's arm and stood up.


Chang Geng was shocked to find that his hand was as cold as a corpse, but Gu Yun released his hold in an instant, almost seeming as if he did not want to come in contact with any person.


Gu Yun soullessly stepped forward. His liuli glass had shattered moments before, his eyes were no good, and he almost stepped into the hot spring pool as a result. Chang Geng rarely ever became so unstable; he instantly jumped up, holding Gu Yun from behind and escorting him to the quarters.

Gu Yun's spirit had gone far away; he did not avoid his grasp.


Chang Geng helped him into the room, pulling a thin blanket over him. He wanted to recheck his pulse when Gu Yun suddenly said: "Give me medicine."


Chang Geng frowned: "No, inside your body there still is..."


Gu Yun's complexion paled, increasing his tone of voice: "I said bring me my medicine."


Chang Geng was startled, instinctively understanding that Gu Yun was truly angry now.


A quiet sigh of murderous intent leaked out; the tyranny of thousands of iron armors weaved into Gu Yun's pair of blind eyes. For a time, this handsome man appeared like an awoken statue of a demon, but only for a moment.


Gu Yun quickly recovered, his expression easing up. He searched around and patted Chang Geng's hand: "Go tend to your injury first, then help me bring my medicine — not listening to me anymore, hm?"


Chang Geng was quiet for a moment, then upon turning to leave, he punched the pillar at the door.




At this time, a much larger storm was approaching the brightly lit capital with no warning.


At night, in a narrow alley, a thin-haired elderly man finally glanced at his suicide letter on the table then hung himself on the beam of the house, ending his already withered life in the morning light.




As his heart was in disorder, Gu Yun had forgotten to order the guard commander to block the news. The hot springs and the Northern Camp could almost be considered neighbors; words quickly spread out as if they were carried by wings.


Tan Hong Fei — the commander of the Northern Camp located in the suburbs of the capital — used to belong to the old faction of the Black Iron Camp. Upon hearing that his marshal had an attempted assassination right inside this crucial territory, right under his watch, he was utterly furious, personally leading one branch of the camp to conduct a thorough investigation.


No one would be able to hide such a large incident. In a flash, the news regarding Gu Yun had run far and wide, and this was only the beginning.


The next day, Gu Yun regained his eyesight and hearing. When he remembered his own mistake, it was too late — Tan Hong Fei had directly charged into the capital with his men.


The mayor, who was deep in a mess, was forced by General Tan to turn over the capital, investigating any suspected individuals arriving from outside. The messenger sent by Gu Yun to drag Tan Hong Fei back had just gotten off his horse, yet an unexpected person had already brought forth a suicide letter and sounded the drum.


The messenger did not dare to enter the mayor's manor; he could only send someone to inform them. Unexpectedly, this place was already incredibly chaotic, and only after a long wait of one incense did someone finally lead him inside.


But before he had the chance to speak, the commander of the Northern Camp, Tan Hong Fei, stood up abruptly, his eyes seemingly wanted to explode, cracking the table from one smash of his hand and causing Mayor Zhu's hat, who was sitting at his side, to almost fall from fear.


Tan Hong Fei: "Who are you? Say it again!"


The middle-aged man holding up the suicide letter with both hands clearly spoke each word: "This peasant is a pastry shop owner outside the eastern suburbs. Our family has an old adoptive father who formerly served under Emperor Yuan He — Eunuch Wu He.


"Many years ago, in order to avoid misfortune, he had found someone to die in his stead. Luckily, he was able to escape from the palace. Since then, he has been hiding among the common folks. But even after more than a decade, he was still discovered by people bearing ill intention; to avoid involving the family, he took his own life last night."


"This peasant is as trivial as a firefly, as fragile as a grass, my puny life isn't worth mentioning. But even so, my deceased father left behind his instruction: for me to bring this horrifying injustice to light for the whole world to see!"


Mayor Zhu Heng instinctively realized that this would be an incredibly important matter, he hurriedly shouted: "How daring of you to talk nonsense! That year, Eunuch Wu He was immediately locked inside the prison for his crime of harming the Third Prince and was later executed. Are you blaming the Supreme Court for falsely charging him?"


The man bowed his head to the ground and responded: "This peasant has in possession the suicide letter personally written by my father before his death. Right now, as I brought this head here to see you, there is not a single hint of dishonesty in my words!"


Back then, Eunuch Wu He had accepted bribes, as if he had turned mad, allying with a disfavored consort to plot the death of the Third Prince. This matter had once been a boiling topic, and as it involved Gu Yun, who was still in the palace at that time, the subordinates belonging to the old faction of the Black Iron Camp wished for nothing more than to cut the old mindless eunuch into pieces.


Tan Hong Fei's expression darkened: "Master Zhu, let us listen to what he has to say."


Gu Yun's messenger could instinctively feel something was about to break out. Remembering the instruction of 'Don't let Tan Hong Fei cause trouble' before his departure, he immediately made a decision: "General Tan, Marquis has asked for you to return to camp immediately."


Zhu Heng instantly followed suit: "Yes, General Tan, please go back first. If there is any information regarding those criminals, I will immediately send someone to inform the general..."


At this moment, the middle-aged man who was kneeling down suddenly spoke: "This peasant wishes to accuse Former Emperor Yuan He, for he had been entranced by the wicked consort of the Northern Barbarians, using treacherous tactics to harm loyal subjects…"



Everyone was stunned from the shock.

After a long while, the messenger finally remembered his mission for this trip, he said drily: "General Tan, the arquis..."

"Shut up!" Tan Hong Fei suddenly shouted out loud, glaring his pair of bulls' eyes as large as a bell, then turned to the man kneeling in the hall. His throat was tight for a time, and every hair on his body stood up all at once: "What did you say? Be more specific — which loyal subject?"

The middle-aged man straightened up. His face was pale and sickly, appearing quite pitiful, yet he carried with him an indescribable determination: "Twenty years ago, the Northern Tribes were ravaged by a natural disaster. The Wolf King's ambition was overflowing, and he mobilized troops to invade us. With the Black Iron Camp's might, the old marquis had stabilized the Northern Frontier, making the wolves bow their heads in defeat, sending their tributes and the goddess sisters into Great Liang's court. Former Emperor Yuan He had taken the older sister as a consort, bestowing upon the younger sister the title of a Jun Zhu*, entering the palace to serve and waiting to be wed to a member of the royal bloodline."

*the same title as a Jun Wang but for female.

"Unexpectedly, these two demonic women harbored malicious intent. They first forged false letters of the old marquis being in contact with the Wolf King back and forth, accusing him of threatening the Eighteen Tribes after the war ended, silently taking and storing Ziliujin for himself. They would then use dark arts to entrance the former emperor, day and night, creating a rift in the friendship between the ruler and the subject…"

Having heard these few sentences, Mayor Zhu seemingly wanted to explode with anger, he instantly shouted: "Men! Capture this ignorant peasant who dares to degrade the former emperor at once!"

Tan Hong Fei's eyes almost cracked: "Let me see who would dare to!"

As soon as he roared, rows of Northern Camp soldiers by his side drew their weapons in unison, their swords shining like snow, patterns of ferocious beasts at the hilts seemingly wanted to come to life and devour everything.

Zhu Heng's face turned pale green, and gathering the last bit of courage belonging to a scholar, his voice trembled: "Tan Hong Fei, do you want to rebel?"

Tan Hong Fei snorted, turning and striding down the stone steps, walking straight in front of the middle-aged man. He thrust his massive sword to the ground, standing tall like an iron tower, and pressed on: "You continue, what happened afterward?"

The man said: "Does the general still remember, that year when the little Marquis was still young, with no one at home to attend to him, after the frontier had been settled, the old marquis had discussed it with the princess to bring him to the garrison."

Tan Hong Fei's eyes flashed. In a few words, bygone memories were evoked from the faded flow of time. He still remembered clearly: the currently renowned Marshal Gu was a troublesome child no more no less, there was no havoc he could not cause, and he feared no one. The old marquis and the First Princess had no other elders to discipline him in their stead and seeing that he was about to become completely lawless, they had no choice but to take him along.

Tan Hong Fei: "Yes, that is true."

The middle-aged man said: "The wicked woman took this opportunity to vilify the old marquis, saying that this time as he brought along his only son with him, then he must certainly be plotting something grand, that perhaps he intended to divide the country into East and West, then rule alongside the Emperor.

"Emperor Yuan He had been entranced by their spell, incredibly loathing the old marquis, yet at the same time fearing the Black Iron Camp that could bring the Northern Barbarians to ruin with only thirty iron cavalries. He was at a loss for what to do."


Tan Hong Fei: "Absurd!"


The middle-aged man's expression did not change, continuing to talk: "At that time, the demonic woman and another traitor worked together to come up with a vile plan, ordering my deceased adoptive father — Eunuch Wu — to use the excuse of rewarding the army, to lead thirty suicide soldiers and two men who were well-versed in dark arts to the Northern Frontier, mixing inside the garrison and carrying out the assassination.


"In order to prevent their scheme from being exposed in the future, they deliberately instructed the suicide soldiers to tattoo a wolf head on their chests, pretending to be barbarians."


Tan Hong Fei's breathing became heavier and heavier.


That year, thirty suicide soldiers had blended into the garrison with no warning, seemingly to have fallen out of the sky. They first used the underhanded tactic of mixing a powdered drug that could numb the limbs into their food and drink, then changed into Light Armors and carried out a surprise attack. Since their soldiers had become used to the scene of cavalry in Light Armors sweeping past every day, they were momentarily unprepared...


Tan Hong Fei muttered: "That's right. Everything you said is correct. Back then, I was only a small general; those suicide soldiers in Light Armors were indeed only thirty people."


The old marquis used thirty Heavy Armors to destroy the Eighteen Tribes; the demonic woman returned to him thirty Light Armors, causing the undefeatable Black Iron Camp to falter, even injuring the only heir of the Marquis of Order.


Tan Hong Fei suddenly laughed low: "That is the single most shameful thing for the Black Iron Camp. I still remember that time, the old marquis had left the camp for patrol. Her Highness, the Princess, was feeling uncomfortable; thus, she did not take her meal. If not, perhaps on that day, the little Marquis wouldn't have been the only one who was injured, is that right?"


The Northern Camp commander fiercely smashed his long sword to the ground, the thick stone floor cracked at the impact: "In a fit of anger, the princess had insisted there were spies inside our camp, more than ten of our brothers in charge of the defense of the Northern Frontier Garrison could not avoid this felony, they were innocent yet logic spoke otherwise, unable to explain themselves, they could only unload their armors, one by one, returning to the capital for their punishment…


"After so many years, I still silently loathed her, for I thought she had become mindless from the love she felt for her son… Turns out, it really was true…"


As Tan Hong Fei got here, his tears fell without warning. He did not wipe them away, neither did he get choked up. He remained still, standing tall like an iron tower, sniffling as if he was under immense pain.


Zhu Heng was stunned in place by the tears of the dark-faced Hell King. For a time, even his heart that was full of anger seemed to have been poked by something, his irritation slowly leaking.


Mayor Zhu could not help but ease his tone of voice and said: "This matter is of great importance, involving many parties. It would be unfair to listen to only one side of the story from this man, General Tan should be cautious."


Tan Hong Fei returned to his senses. The truth was, he already believed it by seventy to eighty percent. No one understood more about the impenetrable defense of the Black Iron Camp than Tan Hong Fei, who was tasked with the protection of the Northern Frontier Garrison that year.

Even though Gu Yun had never once mistreated them — the old members of the Black Iron Camp — he even recommended him as the commander of the Northern Camp, still, Tan Hong Fei could never forget the grievances of his incompetence that he had to carry, with no one to express them to.


Tan Hong Fei glanced at Zhu Heng and clenched his teeth. He bowed his head and asked the middle-aged man: "Correct, what evidence do you have?"


The man took out the letter, also bowing his head: "This letter was written by my father himself, his body is placed outside the entrance, After the general reads it, you will know whether he was Wu He or not, you will also know if my words were truth or lies."


Zhu Heng frowned, but Tan Hong Fei had already ordered people to lift up the body.


A moment later, a male body resembling a dried-up tree was carried inside. Death by hanging was certainly not peaceful; his cheeks were swollen, the tongue was exposed, and his throat was dyed in blue and purple. Tan Hong Fei only took a glance then immediately looked away, as if he could not bear the burden: "I remember that there was a scar in the shape of a triangle under the corner of the old eunuch's eye..."


The middle-aged man kneeling on the ground slowly dragged himself towards the body, sweeping away the dry white hair. On the corner of the eye covered in wrinkles and marks was indeed an old scar in the shape of a triangle.


The surroundings fell into a dead silence, Zhu Heng's face was completely bloodless. He suddenly took a deep breath then raised his hand to adjust the official hat that had inclined to the side due to a slap from General Tan. The hands of the scholar were still shaking, he asked: "What happened after?"


The man kneeling in the hall said: "Fortunately, the little Marquis was blessed by the heavens and did not perish in the face of misfortune. Later, when the former emperor was awakened from the demonic woman's magic, he had regretted it deeply, secretly disposing of the barbarian sisters and bestowing upon the little Marquis endless grace, even taking him into the palace to personally care for him.


"Although the demonic woman had paid for her crime, the villain who once gave this idea to the Emperor still remained. Greatly fearing that the Gu family would continue to receive the monarch's grace just as before, he had joined with Eunuch Wu to take action against the little Marquis once again."


Zhu Heng: "The secret of the palace, you have to think clearly before speaking."


The middle-aged man laughed aloud: "Thank you. When I was young, I was a farmer who grew up in the Northern Frontier. My family has been tyrannized by the barbarians for generations. My parents and siblings have all been killed by them. It was the old marquis who had saved us, avenged us. This peasant is of low status and has been bearing this burden for many years, serving this old eunuch, not for the wealth or benefits of his family, but to wait for this day!"


Tan Hong Fei no longer had the heart to be surprised, his emotions seemed to have almost numbed: "But I remember the one who died that year was His Highness the Third Prince."


"Yes," said the man. "Wu He applied a type of poison that could be scattered into the air on the steam lamp used daily by the little Marquis. Wu He had said — the little Marquis loved to turn the lamp to the brightest setting when he was young and often left it on all night, not turning it off even at bedtime. After such a long time, the lamp's backside always became hot enough to cook an egg. Naturally, the poison would be melted, then mixed in the air and inhaled into the lungs.


"The affected would start having a continuous fever and would cough non-stop in the beginning. Since these symptoms are commonly seen in children, it would not be noticeable. Still, the body would be weakened over time; after the poison entered the internal organs, all medicine would be rendered ineffective."

Tan Hong Fei's eyes seemingly wanted to drip blood.


"At that time, the steam lamp used by the little Marquis in the palace was the kind with a lampshade made from the colorful liuli glass especially sent by the Westerner. They were extremely expensive; only the young princes and the little Marquis used them, not even the empress had one.


"Unexpectedly, the Third Prince accidentally broke his Western steam lamp. He got worried about being reprimanded but did not dare to ask anyone for help, either. The little Marquis then switched his own lamp for the Third Prince's, secretly gluing the broken parts together, placing a book on top and pretending to use it normally like before."


"What happened next, you all already know, the Third Prince died at a young age. The former emperor was furious, ordering a thorough investigation of the inner palace. Wu He was imprisoned for his crime of murdering the prince, becoming the scapegoat for the traitor."


Just as the man finished this, he flipped his sleeves and bowed down to the ground, raising his voice: "This peasant has finished telling you everything from start to finish, thank you to all of you, generals and officers. The vile man from that year who still walks outside the grasp of law right now is the Imperial Uncle — Wang Guo!"


Zhu Heng was taken aback: "How courageous... you, how courageous of you!"


That middle-aged responded: "Courage as vast as the heaven, willing to leave this insignificant mortal body!"


Zhu Heng pressed on: "What is your evidence!?"


The middle-aged man took out a letter old enough to rot: "To answer the master, here is a letter that Imperial Uncle Wang and Eunuch Wu had secretly exchanged that year, you all will understand whether it is the truth after you have taken a look."


After that, the man placed the envelope on the ground then leaned back slightly, he seemed to let out a faint sigh.


"The grudges and resentment of the past, will all end here today."


When Tan Hong Fei noticed that something was off about him, it was too late. The man stood up. Before everyone could respond, he turned and charged straight into the pillar next to him.


Blood and brains scattered all around. He died on the spot.


This could be considered as another type of suicide soldier.




At this time, in the hot springs, Gu Yun's eyelids would not stop twitching.


The manor's guard commander, Huo Dan, suddenly barged inside, completely out of breath from panicking: "Mar...Marquis…"


Gu Yun turned back: "What's wrong?"


After learning about the change in the capital, Huo Dan's heart had been jumping wildly in his chest, but he had not yet had time to open his mouth when suddenly, the door was kicked open.


Chang Geng tightly held a wooden bird in his hand. The little thing had its beak open, its wings were flapping, and its head had been separated from its body. The hard, wooden material was being crushed by him. The uneven gears inside were exposed, digging into his palm, creating a mess of flesh and blood.


But at this moment, he did not seem to know pain. Like a fish that had left the water, he harshly gasped for breath, but his chest could not contain even one bit of air.


He had a piece of blood-covered sea grain paper in his hand. After all, the wooden bird was still faster than the horse. Someone had already passed along the hilarious event from the capital to him.

Chang Geng's chest felt as if there was a sharp knife inside; he could feel blood pouring with every intake of breath. He walked in front of Gu Yun with faltering steps and hugged him.


Huo Dan, who was standing on the side, was taken aback: "Mar..."


Gu Yun made a gesture towards him: "Old Huo, you go out first."


Huo Dan's throat twitched. He seemed to want to say something, then, in the end, he silently took his leave.


The strength of this unfortunate kid was not at all meager. Gu Yun felt that his old waist was about to break under his hold. Once Huo Dan was gone, he reached out and patted his back: "What's wrong?"


Chang Geng lowered his head and buried his face in his shoulder; surrounding him was Gu Yun's medicinal scent. In the past, this scent could only make him feel relieved. Even if he were to fall into nightmares, it could still break through the haze, but right now, he wanted to never sense this strong medicinal scent ever again.


Chang Geng closed his eyes, there were explosions inside his ears. His heart was empty, with only one thought remaining: I must kill the entire Li family.


Gu Yun took the crumpled-up piece of paper from his hand and swept his eyes through it. He instantly felt a chill. Strongly pushing Chang Geng away, he shouted: "Huo Dan!"


At the door, Huo Dan could hear the sound and immediately pushed the door in.


Gu Yun was about to go crazy. He stood up too abruptly, causing the view in front of him to turn black for a moment. He grabbed the edge of the table; his arm won't stop trembling.


"Ready the horse, I must go back to the capital," Gu Yun took a deep breath, "You lead... cough..."


His voice broke when he got there; no sound could come out. He cleared his throat: "Take a few Light Armors and go ahead first, we must stop Tan Hong Fei."


Huo Dan gave him a deep look: "Yes!"


Gu Yun turned to take out his own attire and Light Armor, but Chang Geng had grabbed his wrist.


Chang Geng: "Is it true?"


Gu Yun looked down at him. Inside his eyes were surging clouds and raging winds, appearing very complicated.


After a pause, Gu Yun whispered: "Of course it isn't, magic is only nonsense without evidence, and Imperial Uncle is only..."


Only a servant under the throne, acting as he was ordered to. The Northern Barbarian sisters were only two pitiful people who had lost their home and country, straying far away to a distant land.


Everyone knew the truth, but no one dared to say it aloud.


Gu Yun pulled his hand away: "It's about to turn chaotic very soon, you shouldn't go back to the capital, stay here for a few days..."


Chang Geng refused to let him go: "Then does it mean, except for the parts regarding magic and Wang Guo, everything else was the truth? You knew, you have always known?"


Gu Yun was running out of patience: "What time is it already? You are still standing there and causing more trouble, step aside!"


Chang Geng almost opened his mouth at the same time as him, his voice low: "Why are you still willing to pour all your heart and strength into guarding this broken country for him? Why are you still enduring countless compromises, condescending to their demands time and time again? Why did you take me in? Raising and caring for me for so many years?"


Compared to Gu Yun's angry shout, his whisper was as light as falling snow, yet there was no telling how, but the moment the sentences left his mouth, the person who was meant to hear it was able to catch every word without fail.


Gu Yun's heart tightened.


Chang Geng's lips were completely pale, his gaze piercing through him: "Yifu, why?"


Gu Yun's throat jumped. He was at a loss for where, and how, to start.


Truth to be told, he wasn't aware of what was going on inside either; he had always assumed his injury was only an accident. He always thought that he himself wasn't able to protect A Yan carefully enough and could only watch the boy die from the battle of the Inner Palace.


Up until...he was ordered to escort Jia Lai Ying Huo did he discover from the mouth of this man, who harbored no good intentions, that the poison of the savanna's goddess was not to be passed on to outsiders. Throughout many generations, they were for her to know only, not even the tribes' members were informed of it.


The incident of thirty Light Cavalry that caused significant loss to the Black Iron Camp twenty years ago had absolutely no relation to the Man people.


Home and country, hatred and resentment — on this road separated in two, regardless of which path he chose, he could never look back again.


Many hidden details inside were impossible to say aloud to outsiders. In the end, Gu Yun did not respond, forcibly pulling Chang Geng's hand away, tying his hair, and donning his armor.


The general had a heart, but unfortunately, it was cast from iron.


Gu Yun's reaction couldn't be said to be slow. Hundreds of the manor's troops could not be said to be ineffective, and yet it was still too late.