Because of the Western envoys, the early morning arguments had made everyone tense. After the court was dismissed, ignoring a large group of people who wanted to probe his intention, Chang Geng helped in supporting the elderly Master Feng Han out of the palace.
People in the capital were in panic, there was a shortage of horse carriages. Gu Yun would usually ask Huo Dan to lead a horse outside the palace to wait for him. But on this day, there was no telling what had delayed Huo Dan, he was nowhere to be seen.
Chang Geng did not pay attention to it at first, walking side by side with the old master of the Ling Shu Institute, slowly making their way back.
Master Feng Han spent all day long inside the Ling Shu Institute, his eye sockets had sunken in. His whole body was like a radish that had been drained of water, only a pair of brightly shining eyes were left.
"Your Highness has the patience to accompany us old things with bad legs and slow feet," sighed Master Feng Han. "Do you have any news about reinforcements? When on earth can they come?"
Chang Geng: "The turmoil in the four frontiers has struck the five military districts. What the local garrison is like, you already know. In recent years, the military expenditure and Ziliujin quota of each state have been reduced repeatedly. They can hardly afford several Heavy Armor units, most of them use Light Armors."
"Although the Light Armor is fast in marching and is easy to mobilize, it is also very easily hindered. Once the enemy forces set Heavy Armors along the road or intercept by combat chariots, if the commander is a little inexperienced, it would be easy to bring the troops into the enemy's encirclement — the foreigners won't even have to put out many people."
"Your Highness truly made this old man feel ashamed, Ling Shu Institute hasn't had any success in creating anything of use for several years now," Zhang Feng Han shook his head mockingly. "This useless immortal man could only sit and eat salary. I had intended to request the Emperor for retirement next year. Unexpectedly, we were met with a national disaster, perhaps I will not be able to die of old age."
Chang Geng gently said: "Master Feng Han's contributions will last for a thousand years; you must not belittle yourself."
"A thousand years...will there still exist a Great Liang after a thousand years?" Zhang Feng Han pursed his lips. "I had thought as I entered Ling Shu Institute, I would no longer need to pay attention to the outside world, dealing with fire engines and steel armor for the rest of my life, concentrating on doing my own work.
"But the bustling world turned out to be too crowded. Even if the righteous and the villains went their own ways, they would always come across each other. The more you did not want to entangle with anything, the more you wanted to do something outstanding, the more you would end up doing nothing — even if one only wished to be the lower class with their hands stained in oil."
Chang Geng smiled and remained quiet, he knew Master Feng Han was only expressing his feelings and did not want to hear his reply.
At this stage, the contradiction between the imperial power and the military power of two generations was unquestionably the fuse, but it was not the most fundamental reason — the long-term illness of the gradually emptying Treasury had doomed them to this bleak end.
Zhang Feng Han said: "Every day, the piers of the anti-air net are being adjusted. Now the foreigners only dare to drive, a large number of their Eagle Armors dare not to go up, but the strength in the hidden piers is still limited. I've heard that foreigners use ropes to 'fly the kites' outside the city every day. I'm afraid that in a few days, the iron arrows stored in the hidden piers will become unsustainable. What should we do then? Does Marshal Gu have any plan?"
In total, there were fewer than 100 Black Eagles in Northern Camp, including those missing an arm and a leg. If the anti-air net would fail, perhaps that would be the time when the city would break down.
Chang Geng: "Mm, he knows, he's trying to find a way out."
Zhang Feng Hen who was full of concern, upon hearing this, did not know whether to laugh or cry. He wondered whether he should say that Yan Bei Wang was a 'hero raised from youth', or whether he should say that he was slow-tempered. It seemed that even if the sky collapsed in front of him, the little prince would only reply with 'I know' as if it had nothing to do with him.
Zhang Feng Han deliberately lowered his voice and said, "Today, we did not see Commander Han of the Imperial Army. Did Your Highness see that? Now there are already rumors in the court that although the Emperor outwardly denounced the Western envoys, he had planned to relocate the capital."
Chang Geng smiled, but he was not at all surprised: "His Majesty will not do such a thing, we are not at our last resort yet. I see the cart of Ling Shu Institute, allow me to help you up... Ah, here comes Uncle Huo."
Huo Dan was moving over in a hurry, his expression restless, he walked to Chang Geng and said, "This old servant is late today, Your Highness, please forgive me."
"It is alright," Chang Geng waved his hand. "What had delayed Uncle Huo?"
"..." Huo Dan took a careful look at his face. "The Marquis was injured by Western arrows last night. I had only just heard about it in the early morning. I just went.... Oh, Your Highness!"
In Huo Dan's and Zhang Feng Han's bewilderment, Chang Geng, who was still strolling casually, suddenly had a change in his expression, turned around, jumped onto his horse's back, and disappeared like a gust of wind.
In front of the Nine Gates, the smoke of gunpowder had not dispersed, the Western army had only withdrawn at dawn, Gu Yun was able to have a moment of rest.
His armor had been indented, the arrow was pulled out. Two military doctors were surrounding Gu Yun, holding forceps and scissors, carefully prying his deformed shoulder guard down. His clothes had glued to his body.
Chang Geng hurriedly rushed in, his eyes fell on Gu Yun for a moment, then he could not help himself from looking away. His expression was even worse than the injured man.
"Ah...," Gu Yun took in a shaky breath. "I said, can you two be more decisive? Are you doing embroidery — how was it?"
Chang Geng did not answer, took a deep breath, dismissed the two military doctors, then stooped and carefully observed Gu Yun's armor that couldn’t be removed.
He took out finger-length iron forceps, holding Gu Yun's shoulder close to him, and cut it off from the other side. His movements were very fast, the sharp forceps easily cut through the deformed iron armor, blood immediately soaking onto his hand.
Chang Geng's face tightened up and for a while, he was a little out of breath. He whispered, "Injured like this, why didn't you let me know?"
Gu Yun who still had his face twisted as he endured the pain, gritted his teeth and said, "It's nothing — what did the Western envoys say at the meeting?"
"What else is there to say, they were spilling loads of nonsense in the Golden Palace," Chang Geng flexed his unsteady fingers, removing the fragments of the armor glued to Gu Yun's body by blood: "Said they wanted us to cease the 'persecution and plundering' towards the countries in the Western Regions, let the territory outside Jiayu Gate become a commercial zone for all countries, the legal system inside the zone acting in accordance with their country's rule of law, and..."
The deformed shoulder armor was completely uncovered. Chang Geng stared at Gu Yun's wound and inhaled sharply. He stood upright and slowed down for a moment.
"And what...? " Gu Yun shivered, his sweat dripping down. "I'm telling you, Doctor, how come you're still afraid of blood?"
Chang Geng's body was as stiff as an iron rod: "I'm afraid of your blood."
He grabbed Gu Yun's wine bottle and downed two mouthfuls, feeling dizzy and nauseous. He forced himself to breathe for a moment, and then took one pair of scissors and cut away the clothes, whose original color could not be seen anymore.
"Thirty-six counties in the Northern Frontier, from Xijing to Youzhou in Zhili, will all be assigned to the Eighteen Tribes, and the capital of Great Liang will be moved to Luoyang of the Central Plains. Princess He Ning will also be sent to the Eighteen Tribes as a pledge. From then on, we will be the subject to Eighteen Tribes and pay tribute to them every year."
He Ning was Li Feng's only daughter, she was only seven years old.
Gu Yun said angrily, "Bullshit!"
As soon as he struggled, blood started to gush out. Unable to hold it anymore, Chang Geng roared: "Don't move!"
The two men were relatively silent for a moment. Gu Yun's face was unfathomable, after a long time, he said, "... Continue."
"In addition, they forced Li Feng to order Shen Yi to withdraw the garrison of Southern Frontiers that occupied the Southern Sea Islands, divide the Eastern Sea Canal into rivers, retreat the Southern Navy inward, the outer territory and the Eastern Sea line will belong to the far east region of the Westerners." Chang Geng's eyes were heavy, but his hands remained gentle, wiping the wound for him. He paused and said, "There's still compensation..."
Gu Yun was silent, but all his muscles had tightened.
"In the court today, Li Feng wanted to behead the envoys, the ministers had stopped him." Chang Geng held Gu Yun's unhurt shoulder and said, "I will clean the wound now, yifu, shall I seal your consciousness temporarily?"
Gu Yun shook his head.
Chang Geng gently advised: "I will only use a little medicine, you have a strong resistance to drugs, you will not be sleeping long. If there are changes outside the city, I will defend in your stead..."
"If you want to wash it then do it," Gu Yun interrupted. "Don't talk nonsense."
Chang Geng looked at him and realized that it was useless to reason with this person.
Just then, Tan Hong Fei came running in: "Marshal..."
Gu Yun turned around, suddenly happening to catch a strange fragrance. With his guard down, he inhaled a mouthful, and his whole body instantly turned soft.
The Marquis of Order, wise and adept in martial arts, never thought that His Highness would know this kind of underhanded means of the pugilist world and even use it on himself.
Gu Yun: "You..."
Without blinking, Chang Geng quickly inserted a fine needle into his acupoint then grabbed Gu Yun's unconscious body.
Tan Hong Fei watched blankly at the door as his commander was being knocked out by someone, staring at His Royal Highness with wide eyes: "..."
Chang Geng made a gesture for him to stay silent, hugged Gu Yun and laid him down, then began to wash his wound carefully.
Tan Hong Fei's tongue stiffened: "This...then..."
Chang Geng: "It's alright. Let him sleep for a while to ease his pain."
Tan Hong Fei blinked a few times — long ago, he thought that His Highness Yan Bei Wang was a kind and gentle scholar. Later, he found out that he could fight well and was amazing at plotting. He was filled with respect for him and wanted to become closer. It was only until this moment that Commander Tan truly felt his admiration for this man.
Tan Hong Fei unconsciously reached out and touched his face. The scar left by Gu Yun had not disappeared yet. He thought to himself, His Highness is too courageous.
Chang Geng: "Ah yes, what's the matter?"
Tan Hong Fei came back to reality and quickly said: "Your Highness, the Emperor has arrived, the carriage is behind, you see..."
During the conversation, Li Feng already came in with a haggard look, wearing common attire, bringing with him only Zhu Little Feet.
Li Feng looked down at the unconscious Gu Yun and reached for his forehead: "Is Imperial Uncle alright?"
"It was only a flesh wound." Chang Geng wrapped the bandage around the injury, draped a thin silk robe over Gu Yun, and tidied up his silver needles: "It's just that I gave him some anesthetic, he will not wake up for a while. Royal Brother, please pardon him."
When Chang Geng finished, he got up and picked up Gu Yun's Wind Slasher. Without wearing armor, he turned to go out.
Li Feng asked, "What's wrong?"
"I will guard the city in yifu's stead for a while," Chang Geng said. "Although the envoys are in the capital, I am afraid it will be a trick of the Westerners. Perhaps they will seize this opportunity as we let down our guard to attack, it is better to be cautious."
Li Feng stood in place for a moment, then suddenly grabbed a sword and followed him out. Zhu Little Feet was taken by surprise: "Your Majesty!"
Li Feng ignored him and went up to the wall.
With the Qian Li Yan in hands, Emperor Long An could see that the barracks of the Western Army were not far away, and the fertile soil in the suburbs of the capital was now ravaged. In the past, carriages flowed in and out like water outside the Nine Gates of the capital that had now turned bleak, a corner of the city wall that had collapsed was held up by scrapped armors, faltering.
The ordinary soldiers in the Northern Camp knew Chang Geng, many of them quickly came to greet him, but they did not know Li Feng. They could only see that he was a well-dressed man and had an extraordinary demeanor, thus regarded him as a scholarly officer and called him 'Master'.
The Li family brothers who saw eye to eye but not heart to heart, stood side by side on the wall, no similarity in their appearance from head to toe. Their relation was as thin as a window paper, and could easily be pierced through with a single finger.
Li Feng suddenly said to Chang Geng, "Han Qi should be back in the afternoon. You can relay this news to Imperial Uncle, let him find someone who can be trusted to handle it."
Chang Geng did not inquire any further. He seemed not at all curious and simply answered, "Yes."
Li Feng: "Not asking where I had sent Han Qi to?"
Chang Geng looked down at the wall and stone tiles. After a moment of silence, he said, "I have been dispatching Ziliujin and military supplies with the Ministry of Housing for a while, I found that there was some suspicion about the access of Ziliujin in the imperial court in the past few years... but maybe it was Royal Brother's own arrangement."
As soon as Emperor Long An heard about it, he knew that the Ziliujin stock he kept hidden had been detected by Chang Geng.
Li Feng said with some embarrassment, "Well, there is a passage to Jinghua Garden in Desheng Gate. I had let Han Qi lead his troops out of the city and open the private storehouse of Jinghua Garden. There are... cough, there are 80,000 kilograms of Ziliujin that I haven't yet had time to distribute — don't make a fuss about it. The hearts of the people are not stable at the moment. If they become aware of the secret passage, they could be even more confused."
Chang Geng nodded; he was not surprised — this was Li Feng already taking out everything he had.
The stubborn Emperor Long An, who would rather be buried under the Nine Gates than lose his country and endure the humiliation of becoming a subject to another.
As soon as he fell silent, there was nothing else to say between them — in fact, it had always been this way, except for the meaningless courteous words when paying regards and during the court's affairs, there truly was nothing to speak about between the Li brothers.
Li Feng: "How old were you when you met Imperial Uncle?"
Chang Geng: "... I was twelve years old."
Li Feng made an 'Mm' sound in response: "He's not married, and has also commanded troops in the Northwest for a long time, perhaps he wasn't able to take care of you very well?"
Chang Geng's eyes moved slightly. "Not at all, he truly knows how to love someone."
Li Feng narrowed his eyes to the bleak sky, he remembered that he had also grown up sharing affection with Gu Yun. When he was a child, he would occasionally envy him that his Royal Father would treat the other better, gentler. But most of the time, he still felt that although this Imperial Uncle did not play with them much, he was a very nice person.
He had thought that this juvenile love could last a lifetime.
But only just over a decade later, it already turned out this way.
"A Min," Li Feng said, "If the city breaks down, I will pass the throne to you. You can take the inner palace and the ministers, moving the capital to Luoyang from the secret passage first, then slowly strategize. There will come a day when everyone can return."
Chang Geng finally looked at him.
"If that day will truly come," Li Feng continued, with his eyes fixed on the distance, "You do not have to return the throne to the Crown Prince either, just let your nephews have a place to stay."
Chang Geng did not respond, and after a moment, he said indifferently: "Your Majesty has spoken too soon, we are not yet at that extent."
Li Feng looked at his younger brother and vaguely remembered what he had heard from his mother when he was a child.
She said the Man Tribes' women were all monsters, that they were the most capable of using poisons and bewitching people, and in the future, they would also give birth to monsters that would stain Great Liang's royal blood.
Later, the Fourth Prince who had been lost for many years was brought back to the palace. For the sake of the late Emperor's will and the name of his own benevolence, Li Feng let him stay. The Ministry of Housing would only have another distribution, in ordinary time, to him, this was all 'out of sight, out of mind'.
Only at this moment did Emperor Long An realize he could not see through this young man.
In face of national calamity and great enemies, he remained unchanged, even the position of the supreme ruler could not touch his heart. The clothes on his body seemed to be the same as last year's, the sleeves were worn out but still had not been changed.
He was even harder to read than Master Liao Chi of the Hu Guo Temple; interested in nothing, as if nothing in the world could move him.
As Li Feng opened his mouth, Zhu Little Feet whispered to him, "Your Majesty, it's time to go back to the palace."
Li Feng returned to his senses, handed his sword to the officers on one side, silently patted Chang Geng on the shoulder, took a look at the young man's upright figure, then turned away.
After Li Feng left, an ashen-faced monk went up to the city building — it was Liao Ran.
The monks of Hu Guo Temple had all withdrawn into the city. He accompanied the head monk, praying for the nation every day. At night, he would secretly use informants to investigate the people around Li Feng.
Chang Geng looked at him.
Shaking his head, Liao Ran signed, "I checked all the people around the Emperor, they all have a clean record, no one has had close contact with the Eighteen Tribes witches and their subordinates."
Chang Geng: "The Emperor is doubtful by nature. Our sides repeatedly had information leaked, the spy must be his trusted companion, have you checked Eunuch Zhu?"
Liao Ran shook his head with a solemn look — Yes, I have, there was no problem with him.
Chang Geng frowned slightly.
At this time, Gu Yun, who was put down by Chang Geng with needles and medicine, finally woke up. He almost didn't know what night it was anymore until the dull pain on the shoulder wound came, and then he realized what had happened.
Gu Yun got up and put on his clothes, ready to go find Chang Geng to settle this debt.
Who would have known that as soon as he came out, a loud noise sounded coming from afar. The whole capital was shaken. Gu Yun held the wall and thought to himself, Earthquake?
Chang Geng suddenly turned around from the city building, shadows flashed across his eyebrows. He always thought that the traitor in the imperial city was the palace servant beside Li Feng. But with his cautious and suspicious nature, how could he disclose the matter regarding Jinghua Garden to a servant?
Gu Yun: "What's wrong?"
"I don't know," Chang Geng stepped down quickly. "Li Feng came here just now, saying that he had let Han Qi depart from the secret passage and go to Jinghua Garden to transport Ziliujin... Is that the direction of the western suburbs?"
Gu Yun woke up completely.
On May 9th, the secret of Jinghua Garden was leaked. The Westerners coming to make peace truly were a cover. But instead of seizing the opportunity to attack the city, they had sent troops to the west of the capital to rob Han Qi halfway.
After struggling in death, Han Qi finally lost the battle. Decisively taking this opportunity, he lit a fire, burning 50 tonnes of Ziliujin, directly exploding the secret passage; everything was razed to the ground.
This big flame devoured the whole western suburbs like wildfire. The endless Ziliujin was like the fire of karma brought from the underground. It torched the entire Imperial Army escorting the Ziliujin, along with the surprised Westerners and even the beautiful landscapes and pavilions in Jinghua Garden.
The unique purple smoke reflected half of the sky like an auspicious sign, like glorious sunlight flowing down from the horizon——
The heart of the earth was burning, the entire capital was trembling.
The heat stretched for tens of miles, slowly flowing from the western suburbs into the rock-solid Nine Gates, and the capital which should have still been cool in the early summer was momentarily comparable to the stove that was the Southern Frontier.
The originally light and indistinguishable odor of the Ziliujin flowed with the easterly wind, everyone could finally have a taste of that special flavor — it was some kind of an indescribable fragrance.
It seemed to be like rosin mixed with a scent of grass.
All the remaining Heavy Armors were mobilized by Gu Yun, the strings of the Baihong bows were tightened.
And as he had expected, the Western Army had also indeed begun moving at this time.
Gu Yun did not know how many Western soldiers had been burned with that fire, nor how long the Pope could last under such severe loss. After many days of siege, both sides had reached their limit.
Just after that, the first wave of desperate offense arrived. Heavy Armors and chariots moved alternately. Artillery and Baihong arrows fell one after another. There was hardly any gap between the fierce fire power on both sides.
Dust and noise were everywhere. The afterheat of the Ziliujin fire in the western suburbs continued to rise, people were dripping sweat. In the distance, the screeching noise of Eagle Armors taking off could be heard. The anti-air net had not completely failed, but the Western army could no longer wait, using countless Eagle Armors of their own to test it out.
This Western Army was dragged around by Gu Yun for more than a month, then was blocked by the Nine Gates city defense and the anti-air net. Every day's consumption had become enormous, and with each day of futile effort, it had also damaged the patience of the Westerners who came from far away for this expedition which had been planned for more than ten years.
Chang Geng seized Liao Ran and said quickly, "Listen to me, the spy cannot be a servant in the palace. We have checked the people around Li Feng more than once. The former dynasty fell due to flattering subjects, our court has never let eunuchs run rampant with power. The Emperor would never make an absurd decision as to leave the Jinghua Garden affairs to a eunuch or an important minister in the court.
“...Not to mention, the news of Han Qi's departure from the palace made people panic. Everyone said that the Emperor wanted to flee, but Li Feng had calmly silenced them until Han Qi was about to return. Only then did he reveal the news to me personally, even if he intentionally wanted to pass the throne to me.”
The monk looked at him in bewilderment.
Chang Geng muttered, "My brother who does not believe in military generals in peacetime, does not trust in civil ministers in wartime? Who could it be? Who else could there be?"
Liao Ran's unconscious movement of moving the Buddha beads in his hands suddenly stopped, and he trembled. For a moment, the monk's complexion was as unsightly as a dead man.
Chang Geng's heavy eyes turned to him: "Hu Guo Temple is in the western suburbs."
At that moment, a stray shell landed next to the two men. Chang Geng and Liao Ran were overthrown by the shockwaves altogether. Chang Geng staggered and could barely remain standing, but the Buddha beads on the monk's neck had burst open.
Old wooden beads scattered everywhere in the muddy red dust.
Chang Geng picked up Liao Ran's collar and dragged the monk to a stand. "Get up, go, if the kill turns out to be a mistake, I will take the blame!"
Liao Ran shook his head instinctively. He thought that as he had practiced Buddhism for many years, he had already seen through the sorrow and joy of this world. Only at this moment, when the latter days of the Law* met with the devil, did he realize that the four great emptiness** was only an illusion of self-righteousness.
*末法 (mò fǎ), the age of degeneration of Buddha’s Law, believed to be the current age in human history, which in this context, in the present timeline of the story
**四大皆空, everything is empty, a central teaching of Buddhism
Chang Geng pushed Liao Ran forward and met the pale-faced monk's frightened eyes: "I'm not afraid of karma. I'm going to handle this. Master, don't stop me, and don't blame me either."
When he was innocent, he had already suffered all menacing karma in this world. Purgatory or the mortal realm, nothing could frighten him anymore.
Chang Geng: “I'll borrow some people from my yifu.”
Liao Ran stood still; he saw the young Royal Highness make a special gesture towards him. He kicked back his thumb and made a slight pressing down movement. The wide sleeves of the prince's clothes flew in the air. The silver line on the sleeves flashed like a silver dragon shimmering on the river.
If the world was at peace, we would enjoy fishing, farming, reading and traveling this vast land.
After a long moment of trembling, Liao Ran put his hands together and made a salute to Chang Geng:
If the age of prosperity was on the verge of collapsing, the abyss near at hand, we will face it, even in thousands of deaths.
This teaching was called Lin Yuan.
Chang Geng let out a low laugh: "Fake monk."
Then he turned around and ran towards the gate.
Suddenly, Liao Ran's tears came down like rain.
Without knowing suffering, one would not believe in gods and Buddha.
Gu Yun had gathered all the meager firepower left in the whole capital together into one place, smashing down the city with all their might. Heavy Armors were on standby at the entrance.
For the first time, Chang Geng saw Gu Yun abandoning the Light Suit and putting on the Heavy Armor. His face with no trace of blood seemed to be cast in the hue of black iron by the Heavy Armor.
Hearing the guards report that Yan Bei Wang had come, Gu Yun turned around, his expression was even worse than when the arrow was pulled out from his body. He stepped forward and grabbed Chang Geng's arm through the steel armor. "Why did you come back?"
"What's the situation?" Chang Geng asked, "The Westerners are impatient. What are you planning to do?"
Gu Yun did not answer and only dragged him down the city wall. His answer laid within the silence — What else is there? Only defend to death.
"It's no coincidence what happened to Commander Han, there must be a traitor next to Li Feng," Chang Geng said.
"Yifu, give me a group of soldiers, I will go solve the hidden dangers in the city, otherwise, when they join efforts from both inside and out, the breakdown of the city is only a matter of time..."
"Chang Geng," Gu Yun completely retracted his regular expression that was always dyed with a hint of playfulness, "Your Highness, I will order a group of soldiers to escort you away, you must take good care of yourself on the way, do not come back here again."
Even without the enemies’ joint effort, it may only be a matter of time before the city broke down.
Chang Geng lifted his eyebrows, his intuition told him that the ‘away’ Gu Yun meant was not only to send him to the city.
Just then, a loud noise came from behind them, heavy artillery of the foreigners smashed onto the city wall. The entrance of the city as steady as metal for hundreds of years was shaking. The mottled outer wall shattered miserably, revealing the inner foundation and interlocking gears cast by black iron inside, like a face with its skin being peeled off, revealing the horrid flesh inside.
A corpse of a Black Eagle with his head detached fell next to them. Gu Yun took advantage of his Heavy Armor to protect Chang Geng closely in his arms. The collapsed boulders fell behind him. The broken rubble sprayed continuously onto the surface of the iron armor, the sound ringing nonstop.
They were so close, their breaths almost intertwined. Since Chang Geng had deliberately avoided suspicion, such intimate moments seemed to have never happened again.
Gu Yun's breath was too hot. He wondered if he had a fever, but his eyes were sharp and clear.
"What did the Emperor say to you when he was here?" Gu Yun said quickly in his ear, "Do as he wished, go!"
When Li Feng came over, Gu Yun was still unconscious. They did not even talk face to face.
This pair of ruler and subject, under the false image of peace and harmony for many years, constantly speculating about each other, suspicious, cautious of each other — yet at the very last moment, they both knew what the other was thinking.
Chang Geng's pupils shrank, he suddenly pulled down Gu Yun's neck which was surrounded by Heavy Armor, and bravely kissed the other's dried and cracked lips.
It was the first time he was able to taste Gu Yun when both sides were conscious. It was too hot, as if it would spontaneously ignite everything, a terrible scent of blood lingered.
Chang Geng's heart was beating fast enough to tear apart, but it was not because of the false pretense of sweetness always spoken of in romantic tales.
His heart seemed to be ablaze with a ferocious wildfire that could destroy the earth and heaven, locked inside his mortal body, almost ready to burst out of this flesh, sweeping across the scene of a fallen country in the present, and in the future.
This moment seemed to be as long as a hundred generations, yet it seemed even shorter than a blink of an eye.
Gu Yun forcibly pulled him away from himself. The strength of the Heavy Armor was something that could not be resisted by a human.
However, he did not get angry with Chang Geng, nor did he throw Chang Geng aside regardless of reasons.
He only loosened his iron hand almost gently and put Chang Geng down, two steps away from him.
Cast aside thousands of shackles and the normal order of life, could this burning affection in desperate circumstances move his iron heart?
If he was ready to die on this wall, then would the last person whom he held lips to lips with in this life make him feel that behind him was not a vast emptiness when stepping on the path to hell?
Would this be a consolation?
Or...would it only make him laugh?
At that moment, perhaps no one could get a glimpse of a hint on Gu Yun's handsome face.
Chang Geng looked at him and said, "Zi Xi, I still want to go cut off the path of the spy in the city, I won't be able to stay here to accompany you. If something happens to you today…”
When he said this, he seemed to have laughed, shaking his head, feeling that the words 'I will never live alone' were too weak. It would be laughed at by Gu Yun, but it was not at all false words. Would one tell him to live alone with the Bone of Impurity for the rest of his life?
He did not hate himself to that extent.
Gu Yun took a deep breath and shouted, "Old Tan!"
Tan Hong Fei surged down from the sky.
Gu Yun: "Order a group of Light Cavalry guards to escort His Highness!”
When he finished, he turned and headed directly towards the city wall without turning back.
The rockets on the Baihong bow rose to the sky at full speed and collided brutally with the incoming Eagle Armors. This was the last batch of rockets sent by the Ling Shu Institute.
The enemy troops used human flesh as a ladder, dead bodies as bridges. One followed after another without care.
A Western Eagle armor used the blown-up body of his companion as a cover, brazenly crossed the Baihong firewall, suddenly hurled an explosive into the city, then collided against the Qi Yuan Tower.
The Western Eagle armor was immediately hit by a Black Eagle. The iron wing on the side of the Black Eagle was already broken, thick smoke being emitted. There was no sword or blade on the Black Eagle's body, thus he locked the enemy's shoulder in a dead grasp, both falling from the air together.
Without hitting the ground, the overloaded golden box had burst, the short spark swallowed both the Black Eagle and the Western Eagle.
They perished together.
The 'Zhai Xing Platform' of the Qi Yuan Tower rocked twice then collapsed suddenly. At this time, only ruins and debris could be seen in the Yunmeng Grand View.
The capital with centuries of flourish, with the red wall and gold tiles of eternal dreams, together with broken liuli, fell to the ground...turning to ash.
The Golden Hall was in a mess, Zhu Little Feet stumbled under Li Feng’s legs, crying: "Your Majesty, the Nine Gates will be destroyed soon, Your Majesty must escape! This servant has ordered my adopted sons to prepare the carriage and casual clothes outside the North Gate. There are 130 guards left inside, they will escort Your Majesty to break through the encirclement with their lives.”
Li Feng kicked him down with one foot: "Dog servant daring to decide things on your own, go! Bring me the imperial sword!"
When Wang Guo heard these words, he also bowed down together: "Your Majesty, please think twice, as long as Your Majesty is safe and sound, the nation will have a place to lean on, the future has not tasted..."
An imperial guard held the imperial sword in front of Li Feng. Li Feng drew it, piercing through Wang Guo's official hat.
Li Feng strode out of the hall.
Zhu Little Feet crawled after the Emperor. The six ministries and nine branches resembling a herd of sheep in confusion seemed to have found their leader. They could not help but follow Li Feng one after another. On the other side of the Northern Gate, Zhu Little Feet’s pair of prostitute sons impatiently called out to him.
Zhu Little Feet shouted: "How dare you!"
After all, he was still a trusted servant of the Emperor. As a few guards hesitated, the two men took this opportunity to rush in. Just then, the head monk of Hu Guo Temple also arrived, a group of people who appeared to be fighting monks followed behind him, walking to Li Feng.
Li Feng’s expression seemed to ease up, but before he could greet Master Liao Chi, one of Zhu Little Feet’s sons suddenly raised his head. His submissive face was filled with murderous intent. He followed after Zhu Little Feet, just five steps away from Emperor Long An, then opened his mouth and spat out an arrow.
No one could have predicted this scene; everyone was momentarily shocked.
In the blink of an eye, Zhu Little Feet shouted, his plump body rolled over and hit Li Feng hard from behind to prevent a fatal blow. Li Feng staggered a step and almost fell onto Liao Chi. He turned back in anger and looked around, Zhu Little Feet had his eyes wide open, as if he still could not believe that his obedient and filial son would turn into an assassin, his body twitched like a wooden puppet, his breathing stopped before he could make a sound.
Li Feng held his breath. At that moment, he could hear a Buddha's prayer, but before the Emperor had time to mourn, he felt an icy cold hand on his neck. Master Liao Chi's hand hidden inside his sleeve was donning an iron gauntlet, the monstrous hand which could easily crush stones grabbed the Emperor's fragile neck. The imperial sword fell to the ground with a clattering sound.
All the officials and guards were shocked. Jiang Chong, a weak scholar with no power, did not know where he could find this much courage. He stepped up and asked, "Head monk, have you gone mad?"
Liao Chi unmasked his usual sorrowful expression and laughed, "Amitabha, this monk is not mad. Master Jiang, back then, Emperor Wu was a man eager for wars, sharpening his black iron sword using the neighboring countries, you were probably not born yet."
Jiang Chong: "What..."
After that, a 'combat monk' took a step forward and said a sentence that Jiang Chong could not understand. Then, several Heavy Armors emerged from all directions and stood behind the group of monks.
"Dong Ying people!" Exclaimed the nearby ministers.
Liao Chi laughed and said, "That year, Emperor Wu implemented Rong Jin Law, sixteen people of my family died by the hands of the black crows, only I was left, depending on your country. By the light of amnesty given to the world when the old marquis Gu and the First Princess were married, only then did I regain my freedom. I have since severed ties with the common world, befriended Buddha's teaching, diligently trained for forty-six years, this day has finally arrived."
Li Feng's throat was being strangled, his voice breaking up: "You... you are the descendant of those damn thieves smuggling Ziliujin deserving a thousand deaths that year!”
"Thieves." He repeated without amusement, "Isn't it? It's all because of Ziliujin — the Emperor's mouth is hard, your heart is also hard, I don't know if your bones are the same. Please move on to the Red Kite and follow this monk for a trip.”
Li Feng: "I..."
"The Emperor believes in Buddha’s way," Liao Chi said: "It's no different than believing in this monk."
After that, he pushed Li Feng directly onto a Red Kite and ordered people to hang the Dragon flag on the royal carriage on the Kite's tail.
"Cut off the rope and let the Red Kite take off," he said foolishly. "When the news comes out, the Emperor said he was going to flee the city by Kite!"
Jiang Chong: "Courageous thief!"
Liao Chi laughed aloud, "Anyone who wants to be a sacrificed pawn can come up!"
Just then, a roar suddenly came from a short distance away.
Liao Chi was stunned, then turned around; he didn't know since when Liao Ran had been standing on the ruins of the Zhai Xing Platform.
The mute monk's throat was no good ever since he was small. Even with all his effort, he could only let out an ‘Ah’. Many people who had seen the master have never heard him make a noise. He seemed to always resemble a fresh breeze, face filled with compassion.
He was an abandoned baby picked up by the previous head monk and raised by his elder martial brother, Liao Chi, since young. Although his ambition was unlike a monk, sneaking out of the temple at the age of eleven or twelve, traveling across the pugilist world, and later even entering Lin Yuan Pavilion, the feelings of his juvenile years gradually paled but always lingered.
Liao Ran signed to him, "Martial brother, repent and the shore is at hand."
He gazed at the younger brother he had brought up with a fascinated and complicated look. For a moment, even he could not help the arousing of old affection. He seemed slightly dazed, murmuring, "The river has already dried up. Where could the..."
The word ‘shore’ had not yet been said, a short arrow the size of a palm suddenly emerged from an extremely tricky angle while Liao Chi was distracted, decisively piercing his throat in one shot.
The crowd shouted in unison, only to see a Black Eagle flying close to the ground. Chang Geng was on the Eagle's back, the string of the medium-sized bow in his hands still trembling greatly. Tan Hong Fei was holding a Wind Slasher, sweeping his metal arms, each of them blocking the violent attack of two combat monks.
Jiang Chong shouted, "What are you standing there for, protect the Emperor!"
The guards of the palace immediately charged forward; a group of Black Cavalry rode out of the alley. Li Feng pushed Liao Chi away, the corpse of the monk rolled down from the Kite.
Liao Ran knelt down in the ruins.
A vast nation, a large world, east and west across the sea, north and south boundless...
Could not let go of a shrine far away from this mortal realm.
The Dong Ying monks and the guards clashed with each other, the Heavy Armor brought by Liao Chi shot an explosive into the sky, Tan Hong Fei directly flew down, Chang Geng landed on one knee with agility. The two men separated, bricks and rubble flew in the air.
Chang Geng's eyes met Li Feng’s for a moment, taking off the Baihong bow from behind, he leaned back to gain strength, pulled the iron string to the extreme, bending in the shape of the full moon——
A sharp noise rang out, the arrow precisely struck the golden box of the Heavy Armor.
He then withdrew quickly. The golden box exploded instantly; the heat wave shook the Kite into incessant tremors.
Li Feng reached for the balcony of the Red Kite: "Tan Hong Fei, drive this thing, send me to the city gate!"
Tan Hong Fei was surprised, after a moment of hesitance, he sent inquiring eyes over towards Chang Geng. Chang Geng's gaze slightly lowered, signaling his acquiescence.
The Red Kite carrying the Emperor moved towards the city gate, more than one hundred Imperial Guards and a hundred officials marched along. On the path from the Qi Yuan Tower to the gate, refugees and local people who fled to the capital continuously rushed out from both sides, gathering together like rivers pouring into the vast sea.
At this time, the city gate finally could no longer be sustained. The anti-air net had quieted. The rockets had been used to the bottom.
Gu Yun shouted an order for people to open the city gate.
The Black Iron Camp’s Heavy Armors that had been in waiting for a long time surged out of the gate. Gu Yun made a gesture with his hand towards the wounded soldiers on the city wall.
The city gate slowly closed behind the Heavy Armors’ formation.
Gu Yun pulled down his iron protective mask, all the Heavy Armors behind him followed his action.