Translated with: Jia<3
Warning: Violence, Brutality
The sky was dark, and devoid of stars. Liu’er huffed white puffs of air in between gasps; he could no longer tell if he was dead or alive. He hung there, light as a feather, like a piece of cotton wadding in the wind.
Jida could not operate the mounted crossbow. He shoved aside the subordinates by his side to check on it and continued to inquire about it in the Biansha language. As they were unfamiliar with such heavy weaponry, the subordinates called for a few bandits to take a look. Jida unscrewed his canteen to have a drink of water as he stood bare-chested in the chilly night and waited.
Fearing that he would be implicated and face the same outcome as Liu’er, the former subordinate lay prone on the ground, not daring to move an inch. He stared at the trampled mud on the ground and saw the subtle tremors coursing through it. Thinking that it was caused by his own rapid breathing, he used both hands to cover his mouth and nose, but those tremors did not stop; instead, they became even more pronounced.
Jida was the first to sense something amiss. He stopped drinking and listened intently for a moment. Suddenly, he threw his canteen onto the ground and shouted, “The Armored Cavalry is here—!”
But it was too late. The Libei Armored Cavalry that had been creeping forth for half the night in the darkness was like a fierce tiger pouncing with force so great that the wagon by Jida’s side overturned with a loud crash. The startled horses neighed as they were dragged to the ground by the wagon that weighed up to a hundred jin. That mounted crossbow sent mud splashing, and the wagons beside the former subordinate also shifted along with it. Several of the supply wagons haphazardly collided against one another without warning, and at that moment, chaos erupted as men and horses were thrown off their feet.
Jida retreated swiftly and kept calm as he shouted, “Mount your horses!”
The Libei Armored Cavalry’s battle steeds wore a full body of armor, and the sound of their hooves as they drew nearer sounded like muffled thunder to the ear. The heavily armed armored cavalry held no fear of the scimitars. They were like a dark, swarthy wall that directly cut across and broke the formation of the Biansha’s transportation squad. The battle steeds, donned in armors of iron gilded with long and thick spikes at the chest, were unstoppable when they charged straight-on. Unable to run fast enough, the Biansha Cavalry was thrown to the ground and successively trampled to a bloody pulp before they could get back up.
The helmeted brigade commander gestured with his hand to Fei Sheng at the side. Fei Sheng, lightly armored1 on his horse, circled over into position and lowered his long sword2 together with the brigade commander, and in one coordinated move, charged towards Jida to flank him in a pincer attack. Jida mounted his horse, as if he had not sensed Fei Sheng approaching. He leaned over, and the pony under his crotch broke into a run like the fearsome wind. Jida stared fixedly at the brigade commander as their horses crossed paths in the blink of an eye. The brigade commander abruptly swung his long sword, intending to hack off Jida’s head, but his swing had missed the mark, for Jida seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
In the next instant, a blunt weapon slammed hard into the back of the brigade commander’s head. The force of the impact instantaneously made him bleed from the mouth and nose and deafened him. That nearly sealed and airtight iron armor could stand up to blows from all sharp weapons, but had a fatal weakness—it could not withstand the impact of blunt weapons.
The brigade commander tumbled off the back of the horse and fell headlong to the ground. His ears were ringing like crazy, and he even felt sharp, stabbing pain. He tried to crawl to his feet, but his entire body was trembling too violently. Blood trickled out through the gap in his helmet. He could not hear his own voice clearly, but he continued to move his lips, “Take, take off the hel—”
The iron hammer smashed down onto the back of the brigade commander’s head once again. Blow after blow rained down on him, crushing that helmet until it was all deformed. Blood plasma spilled all over the ground. The brigade commander went silent.
Jida squatted on the brigade commander’s back and wiped off the blood on his scorpion tattoo, then stuck his fingers into his mouth. Contained in those sturdy muscles of his was a shocking amount of explosive strength. He lifted the iron hammer and locked his gaze on Fei Sheng.
Fei Sheng felt his hairs stand on end, while the horse under him tossed its head in fear. Fei Sheng swallowed with difficulty; he had served as an Imperial Bodyguard for so many years, and to think he would be daunted back into a retreat by the expression in the other party’s eyes.
This was no ordinary Biansha Cavalryman; this was not even one of the Biansha’s elite forces.
They were unlike Hasen’s elite troops who carried scimitars and pike daggers; instead, they were equipped with scimitars and iron hammers with protruding spikes. This was a Biansha force that had never made an appearance before on the Libei battlefields.
A strangled gasp escaped from Fei Sheng’s throat. If such an iron hammer were to be delivered to the battlegrounds, then the Libei Cavalry would become livestock at their mercy. All the advantages they derived from their armors would be rendered useless.
“Retreat.” Fei Sheng yanked the reins and suddenly bellowed, “Retreat!”
They had to shake them off!
Fei Sheng turned the horse around and broke into a desperate run. But things did not go as planned. This peculiar, treacherous troop tailed him like shadows; it was clear that Jida had locked on to him as a target as he relentlessly followed hot on his trail. Both parties engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase in the darkness of the night. Fei Sheng had finally gotten his taste of the Biansha Cavalry that rumors were made of. The horse beneath him was a fine steed too, but it could not throw them off and widen the distance between them at all; Jida remained close on his heels.
Jida’s iron hammer came swinging at the back of Fei Sheng’s head, and Fei Sheng, on sensing it, dodged by the skin of his teeth. The horse was running too fast, and all those jolts and bumps nearly caused Fei Sheng to slip off. He was far from being as adept at horsemanship as the Biansha Cavalry. At this moment, both parties were hundreds of paces away from the convoy squad. Fei Sheng came to the realization that he would not be able to shake off the other party. Likewise, the other man did not give Fei Sheng another chance to retreat either—Jida had already caught up with him.
Fei Sheng was not one of the Libei Armored Cavalry. The iron hammer was not that much of a threat to him; thus, Jida swapped back to his scimitar. That crescent moon-like blade caught on to Fei Sheng’s Xiuchun Blade.3 The squads behind, having already converged together, began to fight at close quarters. Both men were still galloping on their horses as they barged headlong into the sparse forest.
Withered branches lashed hard against his face. Fei Sheng could not draw back his ensnared blade at all. Jida revealed a cruel smile as he said to Fei Sheng in the Dazhou language with perfect enunciation, “You are welcome to be our guest.”
Fei Sheng wanted to retort back, but he was too preoccupied to speak. At the same time Jida leaned forward, he yanked his scimitar back, and Fei Sheng’s Xiuchun Blade promptly slipped from his hand and went flying. Following right after, his horse was rammed from the side, which knocked Fei Sheng off it. In the instant he rolled to the ground, he reached for the short blade from the side of his waist and brought it up before his face to parry the blow.
Jida’s scimitar slipped from his hand along with the Xiuchun blade. He relaxed his entire right arm and swung the hammer up into Fei Sheng’s face. The blade Fei Sheng used to ward off the blow caved in from the impact, and his forearm went numb. He reacted swiftly and rolled away, then cast away the ruined blade. Unarmed, he maintained a certain distance away from Jida.
Stooping over at his waist, Fei Sheng continued his retreat. He adjusted his breathing, then made a “shoo” sound at Jida as if to drive him away.
Enraged now, Jida gripped his hammer tightly, but at the very moment he swung it up, he felt a sudden weight on his back. Ding Tao strangled Jida’s burly neck with an arm from behind and strained to call out, “Daxiong—”
Before Ding Tao could finish his words, Jida grabbed him by the arm and yanked, intending to fling Ding Tao over the side of his shoulder to the ground, but a figure sprinted out from the side and lunged headlong at him, slamming his head into the side of Jida’s waist.
The impact from Li Xiong caused Jida to stagger, and Ding Tao seized the opportunity to break free. Li Xiong had been hiding in the horse carriage these days, having the time of his life eating. He stretched out both arms at once to wrap them around Jida’s waist, then assumed the horse stance4 with the intent to lift Jida like he would a tree trunk.
Jida swung the hammer and slammed it into Li Xiong’s back. Li Xiong cried out in pain and shouted, “Taozi, that hurts!”
Ding Tao rubbed his numbed arm and said quickly, “Hit him with the Ji clan’s fist!”
Thus, Li Xiong loosened his grip and bellowed as he threw out a fist at Jida’s chest. Surprisingly enough, the force knocked Jida back two steps. Happy, Li Xiong followed up with several consecutive punches, every blow of his striking flesh. He remembered all that Ji Gang had taught clearly. With the air of one unrivaled, he looked back and said, “He can’t fight—”
Li Xiong had yet to finish his words when Jida backhandedly smashed him with the hammer and knocked him over to the ground. Even if this lad was a sturdy one, he could not withstand the blow. Fortunately, he reacted extremely swiftly and bent his arms to shield his head. But even so, the force of the blow knocked a tooth out. With blood in his mouth, he spat the tooth to the ground and felt the first spark of anger.
“Blockhead! Get up!” Ding Tao yelled anxiously.
Unable to get to his feet in time, Li Xiong could only roll out of the way for all he was worth. That hammer scraped past his cheek and slammed into the ground. Mud splashed Li Xiong full in the head. He repeatedly spat out the muddy water in his mouth. Ding Tao hit upon an idea in a display of quick thinking and stirred the mud with his brush. Treading on Li Xiong’s shoulder, he said, “Go!”
With a sudden flick of the brush, muddy water splashed into Jida’s eyes. Jida hastily wiped it away. Taking advantage of the opportunity Ding Tao accorded him, Li Xiong propped both hands against the ground and slid over in an attempt to slip through under Jida’s crotch. But he was too sturdy, and he had only just slid halfway when he got stuck. This lad had a one-track mind. He just had to go this way, and as he lifted himself with brute force, he knocked Jida over instead of sliding his way out.
Ding Tao wanted to praise Li Xiong. Unexpectedly, Jida wiped away the muddy water and hauled Ding Tao by the ankle that Ding Tao had yet to retract. Ding Tao had come to grief many times in the past with this move, so he had long since learned to play it smart. The instant he felt the grip on his ankle, he promptly lifted both arms to protect the back of his head and closed his eyes as he plummeted to the ground. Immediately right after the fall, he shouted, “It doesn’t hurt! I’m fine!”
Li Xiong climbed to his feet from the mud and tried to lunge over to hold Jida’s neck in a chokehold, but he had only just pounced when Jida, who was already on guard, bent his elbow and slammed it into the bridge of Li Xiong’s nose. Li Xiong instantly felt a stinging ache on the bridge of his nose. Jida followed up with another blow and sent Li Xiong flipping over into the mud, using so much force that blood spurted out of Li Xiong’s mouth and nose.
Jida moved his shoulders and arms about, the “creak” of which indicated that the fight earlier was just a joke in which he had been merely fooling around. His arms were far more thick and burly than Li Xiong’s. As Li Xiong lay in the mud covering his nose and mouth, he caught a vague glimpse of the poisonous scorpion on Jida’s arm.
Ding Tao was lifted upside down, and the brush and notebook in his bosom slipped out along with the poisonous needles and secret weapons on him when Jida swung him up with all his might. Ding Tao reached out with both hands to grab them, failing which he yelled, “My candies!”
But before he could bat an eyelash, Ding Tao saw his oilpaper-wrapped candies fall into a hand. Wind swept past their ears, and in this very instant, Jida saw a flutter of white sleeves descend onto the muddy surface, like a piece of drifting snow that arrived with the wind and then took off into the air again. The cold glint of Yang Shan Xue was like the crystal clear ripples of autumn waters as it suddenly shot right towards Jida’s chest.
Jida could not retreat, so he cast Ding Tao aside in an attempt to free a hand to grab hold of Yang Shan Xue’s tip.
However, Yang Shan Xue was too fast. It took just an instant for the blade to make its way before his chest. Jida failed to grab hold of it, and Yang Shan Xue flicked up in tandem with the white sleeve to slash towards Jida’s throat. This time, Jida swung his shoulder over to dodge it, using his shoulder to take the blow in the flesh instead.
Jida’s alarm bells went off.
But then, it instantly dawned on Jida. Even though Shen Zechuan was as swift as a thunderbolt, that one blow of his earlier had also exposed the frailty of his constitution. Jida let loose a sardonic smile and struck out towards the side of Shen Zechuan’s neck with a lightning move of his hand. As the white robe withdrew and seamlessly dodged out of the way like clouds and mist, he closed in and balled his fists to counter Shen Zechuan’s attacks, then grabbed hold of Yang Shan Xue with a turn of his hand.
With Yang Shan Xue held down, Shen Zechuan’s arm also ended up being grabbed by Jida.
Jida knew the other man was not an easy one to capture. With the latter’s leg movements coincidentally restricted, Jida seized this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and turned around so that his back was pressed up against Shen Zechuan, then lowered his shoulder to fling Shen Zechuan over to the ground.
Shen Zechuan almost coughed out blood from the force of it. He did not manage to break free when he got up, and sharp cracks rang out as he traded two blows with Jida with his hands. Jida, however, warded off his blows with sheer brute force.
Jida was not that meticulous in his study of martial arts, and he did not want to waste too much effort on Shen Zechuan over this. As he parried the blows, he sensed Shen Zechuan abandoning the use of Yang Shan Xue, so when Shen Zechuan rose with a lift of his waist, he swung his hammer over.
This strike sent the hammer smashing into the tree trunk, and as he had expended too much force, Jida could not pull it out.
Shen Zechuan was relatively shorter, and as his pitch-black eyes locked onto Jida, Jida heard the crack of something snapping. While he could not figure out what this sound was at the moment, he could acutely sense the danger he was in. Almost immediately, he abandoned his hammer. But before Jida could make a move, Shen Zechuan had already struck out at him. He was much faster than before this time, as though he had been planning for this moment since the start, waiting and luring Jida in until the latter was accustomed to the rhythm of his movements. Jida even went as far as to suspect that Shen Zechuan was not injured at all, that his frailness from before was all an act.
But Jida did not have the chance anymore. Fresh blood spewed from his neck, spraying all over Shen Zechuan’s face. His throat bobbed; he could not believe he would be defeated in this place. He shifted his gaze sluggishly and saw a pair of deep, unfathomable eyes.
Shen Zechuan seemed to finally remember to say his greetings. With his expressive eyes half-closed, he said amicably to Jida, “You are welcome to be our guest.”
The moment the words left his mouth, Jida fell over on his back to the ground.
With half a brush sticking out of his neck.
Ding Tao was still badly shaken when Shen Zechuan let his fingers drop to toss the candies into his arms. Ding Tao caught it in a daze and saw the oilpaper red with blood—blood that had already seeped all the way in.
Credit to Tea for proofreading!
- Heavy Cavalry: heavily armed and armored men on equally armored horses. Their primary role was to engage in direct combat with enemy forces, e.g., the Libei Armored Cavalry.
Light Cavalry: lightly armed and lightly armored men on horses. Their missions were primarily reconnaissance, skirmishing, and communications. Though it refers to Fei Sheng here, since he’s not all decked out in heavy armor like the Libei Armored Cavalry in comparison.
Specifically a changdao, or a two-handed, single-edged Chinese sword.
绣春刀 Xiuchun Blade is the blade of the Imperial Bodyguards during the Ming Dynasty.
马步 horse stance, a common posture in Chinese martial arts and takes its name from the position assumed when horse-riding.