CHAPTER 7: NATIONAL CALAMITY

V

There was a horrifying silence in the empty city, plunging one's heart to panic. As soon as Master Ja waved his hand, his men immediately scattered to search inside the surrounding houses.

Residential courtyards were built along the riverside, winding and curving, and it was very easy for outsiders to get lost within them as they wandered. Sometimes, they would encounter large stones blocking the path, making the already difficult terrain become all the more complicated and confusing.

Master Ja had an ominous feeling in his heart, suddenly beginning to regret his bold advancement.

At that moment, a Western soldier cried out. All the people around him immediately became frightened birds, instantly drawing their swords. Many steel armours soon formed into a circle, canons with black muzzles pointed at the unusual locust tree.

They saw a Western soldier hanging from the tree, half of his head had been blown away, there was no telling which battle he had died in. There was a white face mask tied to his bloody head - this time it had changed into a crying face!

An explosive noise sounded. It turned out to be an armored soldier who had shot the cannon out of nervousness. The body on the tree was suddenly blown up into a pile of meat and fell down. Then, a horrifying laugh sounded, all the soldiers underneath hurriedly retreated as if they were in the presence of a great enemy.

A moment later, a round-faced owl emerged from the crown of the tree, looking at the two-legged animals under it. Then, the owl fluttered its wings and flew straight into the sky, spreading its strange laughter everywhere.

Frightening people into a cold sweat in broad daylight.

"Sir Jacobson, will we continue the search?"

Master Ja swallowed with difficulty: "No... Retreat, get out of here, quickly!"

He had yet to finish speaking when suddenly, there was the sharp noise of an explosion in the distance, followed by several blood-curdling screams. Large fireworks soared up into the sky, exploding brightly.

Someone shouted in fright, "We were ambushed!"

"Withdraw!"

"Leave now!"

The sound of cannons and arrows rang out in unison. Several explosions caused by someone unknown knocked down the already unstable stone houses. The disarray of rubble combined with the large stones that had blocked the road caused the empty city to quickly become a big maze.

The map in the hands of the Westerners became a piece of disposable paper. The drawbacks of their unfamiliarity in terrain instantly became clear. A group of Heavy Armors and foot soldiers were deeply trapped inside, resembling flies without heads. For a moment, they weren't able to find a way out.

Master Ja had no choice but to whistle for the Eagle Armors, for them to take off and command from the sky. For better or worse, there would be someone to lead them out.

The panic-stricken Western Army retreated to the city gate. There was no telling who happened to touch some kind of mechanism. A tooth-aching noise of gears rang from the city gate. For a moment, all the Western soldiers drew their bows, all arrows pointed to the building, ready to fire, but something slowly fell down from it.

Master Ja pushed aside the frightened guards to take a look and was furious to find it was another white face mask. This time it was the face of a demon!

Master Ja: "..."

"Sir, we... Shall we take a detour?"

Master Ja raised his hand to interrupt him and stood in place for a moment, his expression darkening: "His Majesty is right. Gu Yun has no trump card in his hand, he can only rely on these underhanded tricks. Are you all already frightened by the masks? Ambush...Hmp!"

He let out an angered laugh, then said coldly, "Demolish this city for me, let me see where they can hide!"

However, more than one hour later, Master Ja, who razed the empty city to the ground, searched in the ruins three times, finally had to admit that this godforsaken place had wasted his countless valuable time, money, and Ziliujin. It truly was an empty city. The so-called 'ambush' consisted of only two masks and an owl that had soon flown away.

Master Ja tightened his teeth to the point of almost drawing blood: "Where are the path-finder Eagles? Go at full speed!"


At this time, on the path from Dong'an to the capital, Gu Yun, who was hiding under a tree, received the Qian Li Yan given by Tan Hong Fei and watched several path-finding Eagles whistling from over the top of their heads and speeding towards the capital.

He spat out the straw he was currently chewing in his mouth and patted the Wind Slasher behind him: "Old Lian, you have made a grand contribution."

Tan Hong Fei asked in a low voice, "How was it?"

"Can you see that?" Gu Yun said lazily, "The foreigner in charge must already be dead or wounded by now. The current leader is obviously unfamiliar with the area around the capital, otherwise he would not be as impulsive as to send Eagles to fly around."

In the imperial city, the capital had always been strict, no one was allowed to sneak a peek at will. Black Eagles dared not fly around, even in exceptional times, and they could only land at the base of the Northern Camp then ride into the capital on horseback after removing the Eagle's armor.

But most people did not know, the reason why the Black Eagle dared not fly was not because the Black Iron Camp was particularly strict in following regulation. Gu Yun knew that once the Eagles flew across the border, it was easy to make contact and run into the 'anti-air net'.

  Outside the Nine Gates of the Capital, there was an invisible 'anti-air net' that was built during the reign of Emperor Wu and had taken thirty years to complete. It was a masterpiece of the Ling Shu Institute. There were numerous hidden piers under the net, and the main commander was on the top of Qi Yuan tower.

The reason why the building was so high was that besides providing food, drink, and entertainment for visitors from all over the world, it also played a very important role - it was the main pier of the anti-air net.

There was a 'Tian Yuan Di Fang* Pavilion' on the 'Zhai Xing Tower**', locked up tightly behind layers of doors in peacetime. For the sake of this Tia Yuan Di Fang Pavilion, many masters of the Ling Shu Institute became bald. It would create a special optical network outside the Nine Gates and was very tightly knitted. Even at night, it would easily be covered by the light of stars, moon, and flames. Unless one had unusual abilities, it would hardly be visible to the naked eye.

*天圆地方, lit. Round Sky, Square Earth: an ancient traditional Chinese philosophy where people believed that the sky is a rounded dome and the ground is flat. This was also incorporated in their architecture.

** Star-plucking Tower, first mentioned in Chapter 22

This layer of optical network was 300 feet up from the ground and would not affect the people and animals on the ground. If someone flew by using the Eagle Armor, at low altitude, they would be discovered by the gate guards, there would be Baihong arrows waiting for them. If the Eagle flew above 300 feet, it would touch the anti-air net.

The light would then be reflected back to the Tian Yuan Di Fang Pavilion, then back to the covert piers in the area of the anti-air net through special mirrors. The piers would then move in accordance with the light signal and would lock on the position of the offender, shooting arrows from all directions. If the Eagle tried to dodge, they would soon find that in the scope of the anti-air net, where there were secret piers, arrows would continue to follow them inseparably like shadows.

Only on New Year's Eve, the Tian Yuan Di Fang Pavilion would temporarily close the anti-air net for its annual maintenance, and the task of keeping watch would be handed over to the guarding stations on the Red Kites.

"That path-finding Eagle will not be returning; the commander of the foreigners will soon remember the legendary anti-air net from the stories. Under the command of the Feng Huo Order, all Red Kites will go up to the sky, and the position of the anti-air net will change accordingly. For a while, they will not know where that mechanism had run to. The closer they approach the capital, the more afraid they will be to let the Eagle Armor fly too high...,” Gu Yun whispered to Tan Hong Fei, "Give orders, tell the brothers to rest well, we will start at night. The Black Eagle goes first, suppressing them from high places. Light Cavalry will ambush them from both wings, breaking up the enemy line. Do not be eager to fight, attack then leave, do not get yourselves trapped inside. The chariots will pretend to block their path, blowing up two or three rounds then letting them retreat. Do not force the other party to their last resort. Our troops are not strong enough."

Tan Hong Fei asked in a low voice: "Marshal, why didn't we ambush inside the city?"

"Who's going to ambush in broad daylight?" Gu Yun's eyes widened. "Is there a problem with your brain?"

... Master Ja must have sneezed twice.

  Tan Hong Fei carefully considered it for a moment, feeling it was quite reasonable. He then asked: "Marshal, how do you know they will come here at night?"


Gu Yun: "It was calculated by your Yan Bei Wang, fine him money if he turns out to be wrong. It doesn't really matter, even a small amount of his lucky money is already more than half a year's salary of mine."

Chang Geng was sitting at one side repairing the leather grip of the iron bow. After fighting a long battle, bits of it had torn away. No one knew where he had found the small knife that he was currently using to file a small piece of leather. His fingers were incredibly adept, causing one to become dizzy. As he was suddenly named, Chang Geng did not raise his head either, he laughed at Tan Hong Fei and replied: "Either way, everything from top to bottom belongs in the account books of the Marquis' Manor."

  Tan Hong Fei was a crude man, his way of thinking being 'All comrades are my own arms and legs'. After fighting side by side in the first battle with Yan Bei Wang, he had soon considered the other to be his family, not caring who his mother was. After hearing this, he teased without care: "Your Highness and Marshal are as close as one. If only you were a princess, we might have another princess tent in the Black Iron Camp as we did in those days."

  Gu Yun: "..."

  He could not help licking the itchy root of his teeth.

  Chang Geng's hands came to a halt for a moment, then continued General Tan's words: "Unfortunately, I am not beautiful as a flower or a jade, your Marshal with a cart filled with fruits would not want me."

*a reference to Pan An, a writer during Jin dynasty. Whenever he went out, every lady old and young would throw him fruits to express their adoration.

Tan Hong Fei said mindlessly: "Oh, it isn't right, the Emperor usually calls Marshal 'Imperial Uncle', there's a gap between generations!"

Gu Yun: "... Go away!"

General Tan who only said a few words of jest, together with Yan Bei Wang who harbored different intentions in his heart, looked at each other and laughed aloud.

At night, a cuckoo call came from the distance. It was a signal that the enemy had entered the trap. Tan Hong Fei was pressed back down by Gu Yun as he moved to stand up.

"Wait a bit longer." Gu Yun whispered, "Until the fourth period."

His eyes shone in the dark, like a pair of divine weapons that had been sharpened by blood.

Tan Hong Fei couldn't help licking his dry and cracked lips: "What kind of calculation did Yan Bei Wang make? Really..."

Gu Yun was about to say, "His teacher is Old General Zhong." Unexpectedly, Chang Geng had unknowingly come closer and suddenly answered from behind, "I spent all day long carefully calculating, and gradually grew accustomed to it."

Tan Hong Fei: "Huh?"

Chang Geng looked at Gu Yun and said, "Wanted to save up dowry, to wed the grand general."

Gu Yun: "You two are quite persistent, aren't you?"

That idiot Tan Hong Fei laughed. Gu Yun was helpless with this goddamn type who always “mentioned things that should not be mentioned” and “spared no effort to make the Marshal's heart more uncomfortable”. No one knew when, but Chang Geng that kid had become more and more careless in front of him. That day at the hot spring, Gu Yun advised him to "let go of burden". As it turned out, he truly did take it to heart and "packed up lightly" for him to see.

Chang Geng was very understanding of proper advancing and retreating. After teasing Gu Yun, he immediately mended things over: "Yifu, I'm only joking, don't be angry."

Tan Hong Fei: "Our Marshal does not have much of a temper. This old Tan has lived these many years, I have only ever seen him become angry once at the palace..."

As soon as these words came out, Even Tan Hong Fei knew that he had made a mistake, closing his mouth in embarrassment.

Gu Yun's expression faded.

Tan Hong Fei was not good at holding back. After a while, he still could not help himself from saying: "Marshal, that is..."

Gu Yun cut in: "Tell the Eagles to get ready!"

Tan Hong Fei's teeth tightened, finally helpless, he sighed.

Chang Geng patted him on the shoulder. "I'll go."




It was the darkest hour before dawn when the night deepened, the moon faded, and the light began to rise.

Master Ja was frightened on his march during the day, afraid of being ambushed by Gu Yun several times. He was both fearful and furious, not daring to relax even after setting up camp at night. For fear that one of Gu Yun's false ambushes would suddenly become a reality, he did not dare to close his eyes to rest throughout the night.

Watching the long night passing by, there was still no movement around. Master Ja finally could no longer stand it and took a short nap.

Unexpectedly, just as he was falling into a deep sleep, there was a loud explosion as if the entire camp had been bombed. Master Ja's whole body broke out in a cold sweat, and he instantly got up and rushed out. The whole night sky was lit up in flame.

"My Lord, get away!"

A cluster of arrows glinting with fire fell from the sky. Master Ja was pushed aside by a guard. The night breeze became hot enough for cooking, two teams of Black Cavalry resembling whirlwind charged over.

"Heavy Armors!" Master Ja roared, "Don't panic, there aren't many soldiers in Central Plains..."

Before he finished, there was a loud noise behind him. A line of chariots mysteriously appeared. For a moment, sand and rocks were flying. It was incredibly chaotic.

Master Ja was an expert in creating rift, turning countries against one another, and was well-versed in scheming, but he was not an effective commander on the front line. He was too accustomed to careful and deep planning. Once the enemy exceeded his expectations, he would easily be unable to react in time and would lose control of his troops.

Suddenly, an indescribable sense of chill climbed up his back. Master Ja felt as if he was a frog locked down by a snake's killing intention. He turned around in fear and found an iron arrow shooting through the night sky like a meteor chasing the moon, heading straight for his face.

Master Ja had no time to hide. In the crucial moment, a Western soldier in Heavy Armor roared and covered him. The iron arrow penetrated through the thick steel plate of the Heavy Armor, the sinister arrowhead showing through the back of the soldier.

Master Ja watched the force approaching with alarm and saw a young man standing on the back of a Black Eagle, a long bow in his hand.

He was wearing the glass used for aiming from the Qian Li Yan on his nose, looking at... no, glancing at him from above, his gaze seemed to contain poison.

Master Ja's personal guards immediately pointed the cannons at the Black Eagle in the air. The young man seemed to have smiled, shook his head with an indifferent expression that conveyed 'this target cannot easily be hit'. Then, he jumped down from about twenty meters in the air without hurry, separating from the Black Eagle, just in time to dodge an explosive reek of the scent of gunpowder.

Gu Yun immediately charged forward and caught Chang Geng who had jumped directly from the Eagle's back. The Wind Slasher in his hand, driven by the steam, transformed into an invisible whirlwind. The horse's hooves rose high, the cutting edge swept by in a circle, followed by numerous shrieks and cries. Somebody's blood had splashed on the cinnabar beauty mark at the corner of his eye. He then ushered the horse with his feet, in the blink of an eye, the war steed had jumped out of the battle circle ——

Gu Yun forcefully gave Chang Geng a smack. "Bastard, do you want to find death?"

Chang Geng intended to jump down directly. Before landing on the ground, he would use the Light Armor's leg protector on his feet to speed up and cushion the fall. Unexpectedly, Gu Yun had interfered. Momentarily in a state of shock, he stared at Gu Yun's face only inches away from his. His chest shook violently, and he could hardly sit still, grabbing hold of Gu Yun's cold iron guard on his wrist.

His gaze tore through the calmness on the surface, fiery as a living object, Gu Yun was angered: "What are you looking at!"

Chang Geng calmed down with difficulty, retracting his flaming eyes under his eyelids and coughing dryly: "It's time to cast the net."

Gu Yun pulled him to his chest then turned around and whistled. All Light Cavalry immediately gathered together and rushed toward the enemy's line like blankets. The Western army which had been shot heavily by the Black Eagles in the sky finally began to regroup with difficulty, Master Ja roared, "Open a path with Heavy Armors, tear a hole in the rear!"

There was no need to tear it open. The battle front of the Northern Camp chariots was arranged in a very feeble formation, withdrawing as soon as they made contact and letting the Western troops retreat.

Gu Yun made a gesture to Tan Hong Fei not far away. The Light Cavalry quietly withdrew, resembling a group of wild wolves that did not know what strategy was, running off as soon as they managed to take a bite, stopping just in time.

  Otherwise, waiting until the Western troops came to and reacted, their meager Light Cavalry would only be nothing more than food for the enemy. Of course, when they did, the black whirlwind had blown away and disappeared into the darkness without a trace and could no longer be found.







On April 15th – Seventh Year of Long An, the Black Iron Camp attacked the Western troops at night in the west of Dong'an City.

On April 17th, the Western vanguard forces were led around in a circle by the nose by the Black Iron Camp for a few days. Finally unable to go on with this disturbance, they had sought reinforcement from their navy backup, then remained still in one place.

On April 23rd, the Western Army reinforcement arrived. Black Iron's Light Cavalry was forced to retreat. The Western Army continued their pursuit after gaining victory, rushing to Wuqing. They ended up being led into the trap to trigger the anti-air net by Gu Yun, more than half of the Western Eagle Armors were damaged, they were forced to retreat once again.

On April 26th, the Pope's condition had shown signs of improvement, he immediately returned to command the battles himself.

On April 29th, Wuqing fell.

On May 3rd, Daxing Prefecture was heavily shot by the Western Army.

With tens of thousands of Western troops pressing forward, Gu Yun brought a group of Light Cavalry and Eagle Armor from the Northern Camp to attest to them for nearly a month; in the end, he could not continue any longer.

On the 7th, Gu Yun retreated back to defend the capital, all Nine Gates were tightly closed, the reinforcements still had not arrived.

  At this moment, resentments and enmities had all been pushed outside the city wall, the capital of Great Liang entered the summer in the shade of green trees, but there was no sight of flower boats singing on the artificial lakes in the city. At last, the Westerners sent out their dignified envoys.