CHAPTER 7: NATIONAL CALAMITY

I

  Chang Geng chased after him, following him outside: "Yifu, wait!"

  Gu Yun had mounted his horse, looking down at him from above. The horse was as restless as its owner. Even when the reins were already pulled, it continued to pace back and forth in the same place.

  The blood on Chang Geng's face seemed to have all been stuck onto his palm and his sleeve, and he resembled a Bai Miao* portrait of a human drawn on paper.

*a style of artwork drawn using only linearts with no coloring.

  He appeared almost indifferent, the incredibly pained expression just now seemed to have been hidden under a mask: "In case Uncle Huo cannot suppress General Tan, yifu charging into the capital right now will be equal to leading yourself into the flame."

  Gu Yun lifted his long eyebrows; he was about to speak when Chang Geng interrupted him.

  "I know, even if you will be in the fire, you can't afford not to go to the capital for the Imperial Guards would not be able to stop the Northern Camp. As of the present, except for yifu, no one can control General Tan. Once the capital is shaken by this chaotic change, the consequences will be unimaginable."

  Chang Geng took a deep breath, then reached out a blood-covered hand to him. "In case the Emperor imprisons you, the generals on all sides will inevitably be plunged into confusion, and disaster will break out. I need yifu to leave me some kind of token that can temporarily calm people's hearts."

  Astonishment flashed past by Gu Yun's face. The child who just earlier made him feel incredibly troubled had now become completely different.

  Everyone had a lot of faces. Just like some people, while on the outside, they were capable of calling up the wind and storm with renown prestige. But once they returned to their relatives, they would become an ignorant child who didn't understand what hunger or coldness was.

  Although Chang Geng was growing further and further away from the boy who did not know his manners, always calling him 'Shiliu', always relying on his little yifu — after all, he still harbored admiration for Gu Yun deep inside his heart. Even in the middle of the night, when his love and desire arose, it was for this affection resembling that of a father's, a brother's, that would bring to him an indescribable sense of taboo.

  Until this time as the east wind blew away the last bit of feeling of his teenage years.

  In the shortest time, Chang Geng realized, he would be all alone on this path with no one who understood, and no one to accompany him.

  From now on, he was no longer the son or the younger generation of anybody.

  Gu Yun took out his own private seal from inside his clothes and threw it to Chang Geng: "This thing cannot be compared to the Tiger Emblem, but the older people who used to follow me all recognize it. Perhaps it could be useful, just in case... you could think of a way to invite General Zhong."

  Chang Geng did not look at the private seal at all, directly placing it inside his sleeve, replying with indifference: "I know, yifu rest assured."

  As soon as he finished, Gu Yun had already ushered his horse, charging off.

  Chang Geng continued to stare at his back until his figure was out of reach. He suddenly closed his eyes, whispering in a soft voice: "Zi Xi..."

  The manor guard on the other side wasn't able to hear clearly, he asked: "What did Your Highness say?"

  Chang Geng turned around: "Ready the pen and paper."

  The guards quickly chased after: "Your Royal Highness, your hand..."

Chang Geng stopped his steps as he heard this, grabbing the wine bottle Gu Yun left behind. He expressionlessly poured all of the strong liquor onto his injured hand. The dried up wound once again began to bleed. He then took out a handkerchief and wrapped it.



  At this time in the capital, no one expected that the death of an old eunuch could cause such enormous waves.

  Tan Hong Fei unleashed the injustice he had felt and suppressed all these twenty years, perhaps he had already lost his mind. First, he sent troops to surround the Imperial Uncle's residence. When he learned that the old bastard had left his wife and children behind to hide himself in the palace, he immediately turned around, boldly went up against the Imperial Army arriving at the site for the rescue.

  From before until now, the Imperial Army and the Northern Camp were companions. As the last line of defense of the most crucial territory, they would always run into each other.

  The Imperial Army was mainly composed of two parts: the 'young master' type who joined by the back door and ate imperial salary; and the elites selected from the Northern Camp. The former had long since wet themselves from fright and could not be relied on at all. The latter, although capable, as they suddenly confronted their 'birth family', for a while, they were also in a dilemma. As Chang Geng had expected, the army was soon scattered.

  The sound of performance on Qi Yuan Tower was still echoing, warm flower wine and white fog had not yet disappeared, Sijiu City had already boiled up.

  Tan Hong Fei led his men pressing outside the forbidden palace and took off his helmet as if he was holding his own head.

  First, he knelt down and performed the formal courtesy of three deep bows in the direction of the main hall. Then, he shouted at the row of guards blocking in front of him, "Sinner Tan Hong Fei, greetings to Your Majesty. I ask of Your Majesty to please hand over the traitor who is now hiding inside the palace, giving justice to my millions of brothers and comrades who had protected our country, giving the world an explanation! Your subject is willing to pay for the crime of disrespecting the monarch with death!"

  Inside the palace, Emperor Li Feng was able to hear this, but before he could afford to reprimand Wang Guo, he was already furious. The courage of the Son of Heaven was not at all comparable to the likes of the Imperial Uncle who fled with his tail. Li Feng almost even shattered the jade seal. Disregarding how people tried to stop him, he changed his clothes and moved to the front of the hall, confronting Tan Hong Fei face to face.

  The capital’s Heavy Soldiers and the palace guards were separated by a few inches of white marble steps, even birds on the wall would break a sweat.

  In this utmost dangerous stalemate, Gu Yun finally arrived in time.

  Gu Yun took with him only twenty people, forcefully opening a path through the Northern Camp currently surrounding the palace and went straight inside.

  Witnessing this situation, the Marquis of Order could almost vomit blood from anger. He strode forward, pulled out his whip, then slashed directly at Tan Hong Fei's face with enough force to break the skin, shouting: "Do you wish to find death?"

   Tan Hong Fei's eyes became red the instant he saw Gu Yun: "Marshal..."

  "Shut up! What are you planning to do? Force the Emperor to abdicate?" Gu Yun kicked his shoulder, Tan Hong Fei almost slammed to the ground with the impact. "Do you still understand what is the proper order? Do you still understand what is loyalty? The Northern Camp is not allowed to enter the capital without the summoning command, where had you tossed this law to? Who gave you the courage to disrespect the ruler!"

  Tan Hong Fei sat on the ground, his tears seemingly about to fall: "Marshal, it has been twenty years, the brothers had died in vain, the brothers had no one to express the injustice..."

  Gu Yun lowered his gaze at him, his pupils ice cold, completely unmoved: "In half an hour, order the entire Northern Camp to retreat from all Nine Gates. If there is any delay, I will personally take your damn life, go!"

  Tan Hong Fei: "Marshal!"

  "Get out now!" The corner of Gu Yun's eyes were pounding intensely and twitching incessantly. He kicked Tan Hong Fei out of the way, kneeling down at the stone steps in front of the main hall.

  "Your Majesty, please cease your anger. General Tan suffered an injury in the past, he had soon shown signs of insanity, combined with being incited by the bad guys, perhaps he was momentarily blinded by the devils, his old illness recurring once again. I ask of Your Majesty to please think of his many merits and his diligence throughout the years, to let him go back to recuperate, sparing the life of this madman."

  Zhu Little Feet took this opportunity and whispered to Li Feng's ear: "Your Majesty, you see, Marshal has also arrived, you are the one of utmost importance and cannot be at risk, let's avoid this for a moment inside the palace."

  Li Feng laughed low from anger. He turned his head and glanced at Zhu Little Feet, speaking coldly, "What, even you would call him Marshal?"

  Zhu Little Feet's face went pale, instantly kneeling down on the ground.

  Li Feng folded his arms, stood on the white marble steps, and looked down at the Marquis of Order in Light Armor from up high. For the first time, he understood one thing he never did before. Before his passing, the former emperor had grabbed his hand and said again and again that he must be careful of one person. It was not the incredibly ambitious Wei Wang, nor the foreigners resembling tigers — but his right-hand man, Gu Yun.

  After half an hour, the Northern Camp withdrew from all Nine Gates. Together with Tan Hong Fei, more than a dozen generals involved were detained, and the Marquis of Order was imprisoned.



 At the same time, countless wooden birds took off from the hot springs in the northern suburbs, a few other Light Cavalry separated in two directions, fast on their steed, carrying the letters marked with Gu Yun's private seal, dressed in commoner attires, running towards the crucial territories of the Northwest and the Eastern Sea.

  If Chang Geng had Black Eagles at his disposal at this time, even if there was only one or two, perhaps he could have had a chance.

  However, when Emperor Long An detained Gu Yun's marshal seal, he had already ordered all the Black Iron Camp officers around him back to the Northwestern station.

  Once again... it was too late.



  April, at the entrance of the Silk Road.

  The bustling and prosperous scenery of a few months ago had long ceased to exist, all the guarding stations had been closed, the Black Iron Camp had readied their formation.

  There were 'black crows' with murderous aura wherever everyone went. He Rong Hui was ordered to temporarily serve as the commander of the three factions. The Drumming Order from the capital was still on his desk, covered in dust.

  On this day, the sky was bleak, thick and dark clouds hovered above the city, the garrisons of various countries had their gates closed tightly, dead silence hung in the air. Everywhere, golden sand flew past. There seemed to be something waiting to explode.

  There was no telling whether it was only an illusion, but General He could sense that something was going to happen.

  At that moment, a Black Eagle suddenly fell from the sky.

  The Black Eagle faltered as he landed, swaying, then rolled into the dust and sand of the Western Regions. Coincidentally, a Light Armor patrol happened to catch this and immediately came to check.

  Only to find that the killer of the sky seemed to be crushed by the weight of his Black Eagle armor. Unable to stand up, he knelt on the ground, grasping his comrade's hands. The young face behind the mask was scarily haggard.

  The patrol commander quickly came over and asked continuously: "Did General He not send you to the capital to see when the Marshal can get his seal back? How was it? What happened?"

  The Black Eagle tightened his jaw, the gap between his teeth was full of blood, his handsome face was distorted. Pulling off his armor, he said in a hoarse voice: "I want to see General He..."

  The Northern Camp was in trouble. Tan Hong Fei was put in jail. The commanders of the Nine Gates were afraid the news of the imprisonment of the Marquis would lead to a greater turmoil. After taking over the camp, the first thing to do was to send people to greatly secure the entrances and exits in the suburbs of the capital.

  The Black Eagle had not yet landed, but he was already met with a wave of Baihong arrows. He managed to break out and landed with difficulty. He then disguised himself and blended in. He had learned the whole story from the beginning to end from the boiling conversations of the people in the capital.

  The Black Eagle had directly traveled back to the Northwest in a fit of rage, just happening to pass by the Cavalry sent out by Chang Geng in the same direction. The Eagle was countless times faster than the horse. He arrived at the Black Iron Camp Garrison earlier than the other by a few days.

  He Rong Hui — the gunpowder barrel — was blown up on the spot, bringing people charging into the Northwestern Governor's manor. But it was exactly at this crucial moment that the Sand Tigers lined up at the Kucha Kingdom slowly left the station and lifted their dark muzzles, aiming in the direction of the east.

  The various forces involved had done everything they humanly could, the rest could only lie in the fate decided by Heaven.

  But this time, Heaven seemed to have completely abandoned the dynasty of the Li family whose fate was coming to its end.



  In the still chilly Saibei wilderness —

  The rolling ridge bent creating a gentle arc, wild flowers were eager to display their buds one after another.

  The gray wolves stood high, the falcons howled as they hovered, the flags covered with oil and dust and animal skin flew together with the wind. The sky was green, the earth was dark and gold, and deep in the grass, there were thousands of troops and horses.

  In the roar of cold iron and machinery, there suddenly came a hoarse song.

  "The cleanest spirit, even the heavenly wind wanted to kiss her skirt, all living beings will sing and bow their heads, kneel down where she sings and dances. Next year there will be herds of cattle and sheep, lush vegetation, blankets of flowers, spreading to the end of Tianshan Mountains. Next year there will be evergreen grass, the hare will come out of its nest, the wild horse will slowly return —"

  It had been five or six years since Jia Lai Ying Huo — the barbarian prince who directly pressed onto Yanhui Town in a fit of rage — now inherited the Eighteen Tribes and officially became the true Wolf King. The northwest wind of the frontier had left on his features marks as deep as the cuts of a knife, repeatedly carved onto his face for thousands of days and nights, hatred and resentment soaked through to his bones.

  Nowadays, his hair had already been dyed with hints of grey, the ferocity in his gaze was withdrawn inside, completely undetectable. His vast and far-reaching singing voice had already been covered with dust. He could only hum a few lines. The lyrics of the olden days remained, but his voice soon became incredibly hoarse.

  He lifted the wine jug hanging at his waist, taking a sip of the liquor mixed with the rusty taste of iron, his expression tight, eyes focused on a figure flying over from the distance. The shadow side by side with the falcon came near. It was a Hawk armor suit, bigger than the Black Eagle, the helmet fiercer. With a sharp, ear-piercing noise, he landed in front of the Wolf King, lifting up a golden arrow made of unknown materials with both hands.

  Jia Lai reached out to pick up the little golden arrow and poured wine on it. The smooth arrow pole slowly revealed a line of words written in the Eighteen Tribes language, the fine and curly handwriting stretched out under the hot liquor. It read: Wolf King, please take the first move.

  Jia Lai took a deep breath. He had thought that once this moment arrived, he would be full of ecstasy.

  But no, he discovered that after so many years, hatred had soon hollowed him out. Even if he was about to turn the tide, he had forgotten how to laugh or smile. The current Wolf King looked up at the heaven above him. The sunlight made him feel slightly entranced, as if the eyes of countless deceased were watching over him.

  "It is time." He whispered softly, raising a hand in the midst of thousands of troops, engulfed in dead silence.

  Then he slashed down.

  The gray wolves lifted their necks and howled, charging forwards, heading in the direction of the south.




  At the Southern Sea Islands, where greens were lush all year, and warm wind rustled.

  In the night, a large black ship slowly entered an ordinary and quiet dock but did not stop just yet. A group of armed people donned in armor opened the hatch and rushed out. The uninhabited island suddenly became brightly lit.

  There were rows of battle armor lined along the large rocks, reflected by the dim light of the fire, resembling an army of ominous and sinister soldiers.

Among the Heavy Armors, there was an enormous map for a marching route covering the entire underground passages deep below the Southern Frontier. What Gu Yun once sent people to dig out was only just the tip of the iceberg.



  Finally, it was the originally peaceful and calm Eastern Sea —

  Dong Ying warriors with long swords and snake-like ninjas dressed up as coastal Eastern people carefully rowed small boats through the sea and secretly slipped by, communicating with each other using strange gestures.

  They gathered slowly from all different sides like ants, the usually bustling cargo ships withdrew from the Great Liang Harbor one after another, quietly turning in the direction of the Dong Ying Islands.

  A long whistle that could carry through the air rang out in the boundless ocean.

  The 'merchant ships' gradually gathered in a row, arranging in a formation, all in order. As they gradually left the patrolling area of the Southern Navy, the original flag of the merchant ships was suddenly lowered, replaced by the heavy battle flag of the Western Pope, flying on the blue sea, casting a large shadow below.

  The change of the flag seemed to be a terrifying signal. A huge 'merchant ship' began to disintegrate, its disguise of peace fell into the sea, revealing the dark muzzles underneath.

  This was a kind of 'Sea Dragon' that had never been seen before. They were small and strange, could be hidden inside ordinary merchant ships, its speed resembling lightning, and when gliding on the sea, they were no different from a monster tearing through the wind.

  The seven monsters dispersed at the flag's signal; a huge shadow then rose slowly from below the water.

  The originally calm sea surface surged up like a hill. It was an incomparable enormous monster, breaking through the surface and revealing its strange 'head'. Thousands of Sea Dragons and warships were glued to its numerous 'suckers' overhead, ready for action.

  The pillars oared into the clouds were filled with Ziliujin. Under the working power of numerous connected gears, heavy iron plates and shells rolled up and revealed large and small cannons lining up, resembling countless sinister eyes. There was no trace of stagnation when turning.

  The deck of this giant Sea Monster could contain at least ten of Great Liang's Dragons.

  Next, the hatch door slowly opened up. A dark ladder came down like a tongue. Two rows of Western Navy wearing strange hats rushed out. Then, a black umbrella opened in the dark hatch, propped up, blocking the sea water falling from above. The white-haired Western man Gu Yun once encountered in the palace bowed his head, calmly walking under the umbrella.

  The man who held the umbrella for him came out half a step behind. It was 'Master Ja' who had toyed with the bandits in the Southern Frontier that year.

"Your Majesty, you can now rest assured," Master Ja reached out and supported the white-haired man. It turned out that the man who had visited Great Liang many times before, claiming to be a messenger, was actually the pope himself.


Master Ja: "Although there were countless deviations along the way, in the end, the final result has not wasted the time and energy you have put here."


The pope watched the ferocious Sea Monsters on the blue ocean surface. His face was quiet without happiness or sorrow. It seemed that not only was he not joyous, he even bore with him a kind of indescribable sadness and melancholy.


"It is still too early now to speak of the result,” the pope said, "Fate is a very mysterious thing. The fate of a person is not predictable, let alone an entire country? This is something only God could know."


Master Ja: "For example, when that moronic Jia Lai wasn't able to hold back and disclosed that matter to Gu Yun in advance?"


Jia Lai Ying Huo had resented the last member of the Gu family too immensely. In addition to this hatred, there was nothing left in his entire existence. He had long left behind the dignity of a Wolf King and became a mad dog. He could no longer see the grander picture. In his view, as long as he could bring down Gu Yun, he did not care whether he destroyed someone else's planning.


However, they must cooperate with this mad dog. The hatred entangling for generations between the Eighteen Tribes and the Central Plains was too deep, the forces currently in hiding left behind in the capital by the deceased goddess were also incredibly important.


  "I truly admire that Gu Yun," sighed Master Ja, "If I were him, who knows what I might have done already, but he quietly handled all these things. Otherwise, the truth that we turned over today will absolutely be even more insane than what it is now. The garrisons in different locations may have already been... What do they call it? ‘Qing jun bian’*?


*eliminated the traitors next to the ruler


The pope: "This effect is not ideal, but there is no other chance. An opportunity is as fleeting as time, we have no choice.


“Jacques, all of us are trapped beasts, we are all looking for a way to survive. If we do not devour the others, we will be devoured. Countless pairs of eyes are staring at this large and appetizing herbivore, we must take one step ahead first, otherwise, we will not necessarily have the power to go out for battle after three or five years in the future."


Master Ja looked at the sea, everywhere was water; the sea and the sky shared the same shade. He partially could not comprehend: "Your Majesty, if this is only a herbivore, why should we pour in so much effort to plug away its fangs?"


"Carnivore or herbivore, the differences do not lie in its fangs nor its shape," the pope murmured. "You must assess whether it is greedy, whether it has the heart that is eager to bite and swallow… were you able to detect that scent?"


Master Ja was dumbfounded. Ziliujin with high purity when burnt created almost no scent; only Gu Yun and dogs would probably be able to detect it. He tried to ask: "Your Majesty refers to... the scent of sea water?”


"It is the stench, my son," the pope whispered. "If the devil truly existed in this world, then it would definitely be this little mineral with blue and violet flames. From the day it pierced through the ground, it had ignited this damn era. It turned the Children of God into the hearts of iron monsters."


Weren't the machines that burned Ziliujin man-made?


Master Ja shrugged, he did not rebut, but he also somewhat disagreed.


The pope no longer explained, he only bowed his head and began to kiss the ring on his hand with the symbol of a scepter and repeated a simple prayer.


"Forgive me," he whispered. "Please forgive me."


At this time, a cluster of signaling fires of a deep blue color suddenly appeared at the two leading ships, soaring into the high sky.


  The shade of Master Ja's eyes seemed to have blended with the color of the flame. He tried to contain himself, but for a while, it was still difficult to suppress his excitement: "Your Majesty, it begins!"