Translated with: Jia<3
The Imperial Army was very much like Xiao Chiye, but they were more sly than him. This was a group of soldiers that gave the Libei Armored Cavalry complicated feelings. After the reign of Yongyi, their reputation waned, and they were reduced to being mere ornamental decorations in Qudu; even their original patrol duty had been snatched away by the Eight Great Training Divisions. In the decades that followed, all they did were odd jobs, and they even appear to be more than happy to simply muddle and idle their way through life. But then, they met Xiao Chiye, and it was as if they had been wiped clean of grime to finally shine in all their full glory in Qudu.
The Imperial Army was unlike the Libei Armored Cavalry and the Qidong Garrison Troops. They were able to overlook all the noise and focus all of their attention solely on Xiao Chiye. They could not hear a single one of the criticisms against Xiao Chiye. As long as Xiao Chiye waved his hand and signaled them, they would be willing to go through the most severe of trials and tribulations alongside him. This was a brew of loyalty blended with the code of brotherhood.
A prime example: right this moment. The enemy clearly outnumbered them, yet the Imperial Army felt no fear. They chopped off the horses’ legs belonging to the Biansha Cavalry’s vanguard so that a break opened up in Hansen’s encirclement. However, the number of follow-up cavalry multiplied exponentially, and these men were all highly adaptable to boot. Without even needing Hasen to give his command, they had already figured out the Imperial Army’s intentions.
The Imperial Army still wanted to hack off more legs, but the Biansha Cavalry dismounted from their horses before charging into the battlefield. They had no armors, and the furs they donned were light and cold-resistant, so it was with extreme agility that they moved. Unlike Huhelu’s squad, each of them had a spare scimitar at the side of their horses, and pike daggers tightly secured on the outside of their thighs. In the event that their scimitars were damaged, they could still use the reserve scimitars, or swap over to the pike daggers to fight at close quarters.
They were taciturn, well-trained men.
Xiao Chiye was gasping for breath as he savagely swept his eyes over this elite force.
Hasen did not say a word. He did not need to engage in any form of communication with Xiao Chiye. He did not want to use Xiao Chiye to threaten Xiao Fangxu either, and he knew very well that leaving Xiao Chiye alive would mean no end to troubles in the future. Now was the moment to kill off Xiao Chiye.
Hasen locked eyes with Xiao Chiye. He gripped his scimitar with one hand and released the reins with the other hand, letting it fall gently into the mudhole. They were like certain beasts facing off against each other in confrontation, their abhorrence for the other mixed in with the stench of blood. Hasen kept moving, wading through the muddy water while observing Xiao Chiye.
Sporadic raindrops left in the night sky dripped onto the back of Xiao Chiye’s hand as he gripped Langli Blade and followed Hasen with his eyes.
This was a strange kind of silence. Tumultuous sound of killing clearly abounded all around them, and yet Xiao Chiye found it quiet, so quiet that his hair was standing on end. He had to restrain, restrain, and restrain himself before he could suppress that murderous intent to kill bubbling up in his body.
Hasen was no longer moving. He seemed to have noticed Xiao Chiye’s testiness. They both vied for the right to call the shots on this battlefield and attempted to influence its atmosphere. This made it clear that there was no way they could co-exist; what they wanted was absolute control over their own rhythm.
A water drop slid along the back of Xiao Chiye’s slightly bulging hand. At the very instant it dripped off, Hasen burst into action. His red hair was like a flaming torch in the dark night, charging right before Xiao Chiye’s eyes the very instant the mud splashed aside.
In the blink of an eye, Hasen’s scimitar pressed in towards Xiao Chiye’s throat. Xiao Chiye took a sudden step back, and the mud splashed out in a fan-like arc along with the movements of his legs and feet. He swung up Langli Blade in a half-circle, and both of them collided in mid-air. The impact forced Hasen’s feet to slide back some, but he regained his footing and bounced back into action the next moment, even cleverly learning to dodge.
Langli Blade was a heavyweight executioner’s blade,1 and Xiao Chiye’s arm strength was what it relied on. Every move Hasen made during the fight was executed with the intention to hack off Xiao Chiye’s arm. Each time Xiao Chiye wielded his blade, he would strike at empty air. Even if he caught up with Hasen, Hasen would immediately turn his scimitar sideways and brush past it so that he would not have to shoulder Xiao Chiye’s terrifying strength.
Assaulters were also sneaking up behind Xiao Chiye out of nowhere. He used and pushed his sight and hearing to full capacity, but his physical strength was like water already splashed; in less than an hour, Xiao Chiye felt his own movements slowing down a little. Hasen lunged once again, and at the same time, a strong gust of wind suddenly came assaulting him from behind. Xiao Chiye abruptly strode half a step to sidestep and dodge the scimitar behind his back, then backhandedly grasped the arm of the man behind him. Following right after, he spun around to kick Hasen over and break the arm of the man who sneaked up on him from behind. The scimitar on the other side cleaved down on Xiao Chiye’s arm. A loud “THUD” rang out as the blow was blocked by the arm guard Shen Zechuan had gifted him.
A slurry of mud erupted like exploding artillery shells as the Biansha Cavalry simultaneously bore their scimitars down on Langli Blade. Xiao Chiye promptly lifted a fist with his left hand and punched one of them over. The pressure on Langli Blade promptly subsided some, and he lowered his body and made to lift the blade. With his scimitar cracked from the impact from Langli’s Blade, Hasen abandoned it, pulled out the pike daggers from both sides of his legs, and sprang when he saw his chance—all of a sudden, one of the Imperial Army pounced and grabbed Hasen around his waist; he even used a wrestling technique, but failed to trip Hasen.
Hasen flipped over the pike dagger, slid it along that man’s armor, and viciously stabbed it into the side of his neck. Blood spurt like a fountain of spring water. Hasen had yet to pull out the pike dagger, instead turning his head aside first to dodge Xiao Chiye’s blade.
Men were dying on both sides. The Imperial Army did not expect Hasen’s elite force to be this formidable, and likewise, this elite force did not expect the Imperial Army to be able to hang in there for so long.
The Biansha Cavalry at the periphery took out iron chains attached with small copper balls. These kinds of chains were similar in appearance to the chains used by the Libei Armored Cavalry, but much lighter. They pressed in, shrinking the encirclement area, and when Xiao Chiye’s Langli Blade was pinned down once again, they flung countless chains towards Xiao Chiye. The copper balls caught on to Xiao Chiye’s arms and legs. With Xiao Chiye now entangled in the iron chains, they dragged him over to the ground in one abrupt move.
Hasen’s pike dagger shot right towards Xiao Chiye’s face. Xiao Chiye practically used up all of his strength to drag his arms over to block the blow, causing the Biansha Cavalry of the other end who was pulling at the chains to stumble in unison.
Once again, the pike dagger slammed into the arm guard with a thud, but this piece of top-quality iron could not withstand this kind of repeated blows raining upon it one after another. Xiao Chiye felt the dogskin string snap; the arm guard was already dented.
Xiao Chiye attempted to break free of the chains, but there were simply too many for his arms to bear. He tilted his head to spit out the muddy sand in his mouth, watching as the scimitars of the cavalry went straight for his own throat. At this moment, Xiao Chiye saw the billowy black sky. The winds of Hongyan Mountains blew against his drenched hair, and he thought of Shen Zechuan in between ragged gasps.
Hasen’s victory was initially already within grasp, but who would have expected Xiao Chiye to shoulder the combined force of all the tugging and pulling from those holding him down and raise both legs to kick over a blade-wielding cavalryman. The iron chains securing him suddenly went swinging. It was impossible to tell if it was sweat or muddy water trickling along his temples, but blue veins visibly protruded as Xiao Chiye executed a kip-up2 and flipped himself up to his feet.
However, one person alone could not salvage the situation, much like one log could not prop up a collapsing building. During the time Xiao Chiye executed his move, the cavalry had yanked the chains taut; he had gotten on his feet for only a mere moment before he was once again dragged back to the ground.
Even if he was blessed with wings, escape was impossible tonight!
In the nick of time, the ground suddenly started to quake. Water droplets among the shrubbery and branches leaped about as the battle call of a war horn reverberated through the boundless night.
Hasen looked out towards the south; as expected, he saw a person single-handedly charging over in a mad dash, and following close in his wake was a black tide that similarly steamrolled everything in its path under the crushing darkness of the night. The closer they got, the more aggressively the mudhole shook from that muffled thunder-like roar of horses’ hooves—a testament to the heavy weight of steel armors.
Hasen immediately whistled. The cavalry flipped onto their horses in an orderly fashion and swiftly withdrew northward. Before he turned the horse around, Hasen regretfully glanced towards Xiao Chiye. He raised two fingers, tapped his temple, and leaned towards Xiao Chiye to bid him a polite farewell. Then he took his leave and sped away, leaving a scene of devastation behind in his wake.
The black-armored cavalry charged over to Xiao Chiye’s side, circling around him once.
Xiao Fangxu removed his helmet and looked askance at Xiao Chiye. In a grave voice, he commanded those behind him, “Untie your Second Young Master. What an unsightly sight.”
The expression in Xiao Chiye’s eyes was scathingly cold and grave—it was the shame of having his first taste of defeat.
◈ ◈ ◈
There were commanding generals of the five camps in the Shasan camp, all of whom reported to Xiao Fangxu. Based on ranking, Xiao Chiye’s position was at the very bottom. However, he had been thoroughly defeated this time, and he cut such a sorry figure as he squatted outside of the tent and rinsed half his body with cold water that the commanding generals who came and went would all cast him a glance.
Xiao Chiye did not seem to feel the blade-inflicted wounds on his shoulders, chest, and back as the cold water scoured his body pale. Zuo Qianqiu lifted up the flap after the meeting in the tent had been dismissed, and as he looked at the sight of Xiao Chiye squatting at the side with his back to him, his reproach had all but turned into a twinge of bemusement. He called out, “Come in and drink a bowl of warm milk. Don’t you fall sick on such a cold day.”
Xiao Chiye mumbled an answer and rose to put away the water bucket before walking into the tent.
There was a fire going in the tent. Xiao Chiye’s armor had been so badly damaged that it could no longer be used. Xiao Fangxu was currently examining the dented top-quality iron of the arm guard. Zuo Qianqiu instructed the military medic to dress Xiao Chiye’s wounds, so Xiao Chiye sat bare-chested on the little stool and remained still.
After some time, Chen Yang, Gu Jin, Tantai Hu, and Wu Ziyu entered.
“Give your commanding general a report of the casualty count.” Xiao Fangxu tossed the arm guard back onto the table, sat down, and said to Chen Yang.
Chen Yang quietly answered, “The Imperial Army lost three hundred men…”
“Louder,” Xiao Fangxu looked at Chen Yang. “Why are you hanging your head looking all so dejected?”
Chen Yang raised his voice. “The Imperial Army lost three hundred men. Thirty-six men sustained severe injuries, and eight got away with light injuries.”
The Imperial Army was Xiao Chiye’s roots. He had to be responsible for all its casualties, fatal or otherwise. This army no longer held any possibility of further expansion, for it was unique and distinctive. The moment the entire force was decimated, even Xiao Chiye himself would not be able to rebuild it in Libei. This meant that as long as the Imperial Army suffered a defeat in a battle, it would face exponential losses. While three hundred people were nothing to the Qidong Garrison Troops or the Libei Armored Cavalry, it was considered heavy casualty to the Imperial Army.
Silence descended upon the tent. Tantai Hu snuck a couple of glances at Chen Yang and Gu Jin before finally plucking up his courage and speaking up, “Hasen caught us off guard, Master was also…”
“Now report the casualties of the Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang to your commanding general.” Xiao Fangxu ordered.
Chen Yang paused for a moment, “The Liuyang Southern Route Army lost eight hundred and ninety-two men, forty-five sustained heavy injuries, and two hundred and thirty-seven suffered light injuries.”
“Zhao Hui was initially fighting on the northern route; this Southern Route Army was established at the last minute to rescue your Imperial Army. A total of two thousand men, while digging the collapsed bridle path, encountered a surprise attack by the cavalry that Hasen left stationed at the northern route. Practically half the men died.” Xiao Fangxu continued, “If you had just stayed where you were, you would’ve met with them in just under four hours, but you impulsively turned around and headed for the Tudalong Banner. How are you going to account for this loss to Zhao Hui?”
Xiao Chiye said nothing.
Xiao Fangxu continued, “You should remember that you’re the commanding general in charge of the escort and transportation of military supplies, not the commanding general for combat. To think you’d forcibly assault Hasen’s squad with a few hundred men… Did a donkey kick you in the head, Xiao Chiye?”
Zuo Qianqiu originally should not have spoken, but Xiao Chiye had just retreated from the battlefield, and as his shifu, it was inevitable for his heart to ache for him. Thus he said, “Hasen has been planning for it for a long time this time, and it just so happened that they’d chance upon a rainstorm. The situation was urgent then. A-Ye—”
“You never treated the Libei Armored Cavalry as your own duty at all. In your eyes, there’s only the Imperial Army.” With his hand on his knees, Xiao Fangxu suddenly turned stern. “The battle at Bianbo camp went to your head, letting you get carried away by your success. You regarded everyone as Huhelu. Your defeat today to Hasen is a lesson. What exactly do you have that’d possess you to fight with him head-on? Lift your head up!”
Wu Ziyu could no longer bear it and fell to his knees on the ground with a “thud”. Once he kneeled, Tantai Hu cluelessly followed suit and kneeled. Then, “thud, thud”, Chen Yang and Gu Jin kneeled too.
Xiao Fangxu swiftly looked towards them.
Wu Ziyu said in an extremely feeble voice, “Your Lordship… It’s, it’s not what you think… My legs have gone all wobbly.”