Translated with: Jia<3
All at once, Fei Sheng calmed down. He promptly propped himself up and came over to pick up Yang Shan Xue for Shen Zechuan. But when he bent over, he noticed something odd about Shen Zechuan’s right arm. As his gaze glided up from the opening of Shen Zechuan’s sleeve, he realized Shen Zechuan’s entire right arm was trembling.
Thick, sticky blood coated the tips of Shen Zechuan’s fingers. Jida had almost broken off his fingers when they traded blows earlier, and this kind of trembling was not something he could control now that the combat had suddenly come to a halt. But he could not reveal the slightest hint of pain, given that the armored cavalry had just suffered heavy casualties. Jida had hammered the brigade commander until the latter’s brain matter had splattered right before everyone’s eyes. Shen Zechuan had to stabilize their morale so that it would not continue to plummet.
“M, Master…” Fei Sheng called out in apprehension.
“They are already assembling the bandits in the back to reorganize the convoy squad.” Shen Zechuan always brought along the blue handkerchief on him, but he could not bear to use it to wipe the blood; this was something he had taken from Xiao Chiye. He continued, “Tell the Libei Armored Cavalry to take off their helmets. Don’t panic. With the mounted crossbow bringing up the rear, the foes will be merely sitting ducks.”
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Both of Liu’er hands were shivering. He had already been released and lowered. The blowing wind was so cold it gave him a chill between the legs. The former subordinate took advantage of the chaos to drag him along, pushing and shoving as he urged, “Run! Run!”
Liu’er looked stiffly at the convoy squad that had been thrown into confusion and asked feebly, “Who, who came?”
“The Libei Armored Cavalry!” The former subordinate tore off the cloth bag on his waist and threw it away along with the chains he had been fitted with. “Let them fight. Let’s go!” But the former subordinate failed to move Liu’er, so he pinched him and cried out in anxiety, “Old Man Liu, what are you doing?!”
Liu’er’s feet scraped across the ground as he stooped over and refused to leave. With a savage expression, he said, “We’ll leave. But we also have to give these bastards a stab before leaving!” He pushed the former subordinate away and staggered forward. “Son of a bitch aimed at me with the crossbow. Those bastards.” He fell onto the ground, then got up again and muttered, “I want to smash them to death. Smash them all to death!”
The men in Shen Zechuan’s retinue who had arrived after Shen Zechuan summoned the bandits together to work as one and pull up the overturned wagon. The mounted crossbow was stained with mud, and Liu’er hastily wiped it clean with his sleeve. He squeezed among the crowd, exerting force in regular bursts along with the shouts as they hoisted the long arrows up and pulled.
A hundred paces away, Fei Sheng scrambled out and blew a quick whistle at the Imperial Bodyguards still engaged in battle with the Biansha Cavalry. The Imperial Bodyguards promptly pulled back and retreated as they held up against the remaining Libei Armored Cavalry. The Biansha Cavalry who still remained in the clearing waited but never got Jida’s commands, and by the time they realized it, it was already too late.
The very moment the “click” of the trigger sounded, Liu’er felt intense pain in both arms. He watched those long arrows shoot into the sky before plunging, their impact slamming the Biansha Cavalrymen who had nowhere to hide onto the ground along with their horses. It was almost instant death for the men.
Liu’er raised both arms and burst out laughing madly. He stood on tiptoe, finding this moment to be the most gratifying time in his life. Very quickly, the arrows were depleted, and the Biansha Calvary who had been dealt severe blows were too powerless to resist. Their small numbers prevented them from getting into formation, and it just took a couple of rounds from the mounted crossbow for them to break up and scatter.
The former subordinate pulled Liu’er by the collar and shouted over the din, “Old Man Liu, we should run now!”
Although they were captives, they had escorted the transportation of military supplies for the Biansha people. What’s more, they even led them towards Zhongbo. The Libei Armored Cavalry and the Biansha Cavalry were sworn enemies with a blood feud between them. So if they were to fall into the Libei Armored Cavalry’s hands, they would still have to die!
Liu’er hurriedly leaped off the wagon and limped along. “Go, go, go! Move!”
As if in tacit agreement, the bandits wanted to take to their heels and flee the moment they saw the cavalry retreating. But the squad behind them was long prepared for this and drew their blades to surround them, blocking off their paths so that they had no choice but to return to their original spot. Thrown into disarray, the bandits crowded together within the ring of horses’ hooves. They wanted to break through the encirclement, but they had no blades. Gradually, they all squatted down amid the shouts at them and held their heads, not daring to make a ruckus again.
Fei Sheng and a few of them sent Shen Zechuan back to the horse carriage. The moment the curtain fell, they heard the dull, muffled sound of coughing. Gripping his candies, Ding Tao’s eyes reddened. He was at a loss as he tugged on Fei Sheng’s sleeve and said in a teary tone, “My, my Young Master…”
Fei Sheng covered Ding Tao’s mouth with his palm and gestured around him to have the Imperial Bodyguards surround the horse carriage, thus setting the carriage apart from the armored cavalry and bandits.
Shen Zechuan bent over the seat. On his open palm was blood that he had just coughed out. The index and middle fingers on his right hand were racked with hot searing pain, as if they were being ripped apart. He had not bent over to pick Yang Shan Xue up earlier because he could not lift it. He lowered his head, pressing against his forehead, and forcibly swallowed down the blood that still wanted to gush up his throat.
A long time passed.
Shen Zechuan’s voice sounded particularly low and deep across the curtain. “Do a headcount of the bandits and get them to continue pushing the wagon. Send someone to rush posthaste to Bianbo Camp and convey the news about this squad to Ce’an. Then send someone to hurry to Cizhou and inform Yuanzhuo to reassure Zhou Gui before my return. As long as King Yi has not dispatched his troops, Cizhou must not make the first move, no matter what King Yi says.”
“Then, the Biansha captives…” Fei Sheng moved close to the curtain and asked carefully, “Are we to keep them?”
“Remove their blades and hammers.” Shen Zechuan clenched his palm and shifted his gaze under the darkness. “Execute them on the spot.”
The sky cleared up the next day.
Li Xiong crouched beside Jida’s corpse, looking as if there was something he could not figure out. He kept fiddling with Jida’s arm and looking at that poisonous scorpion over and over again.
Fei Sheng came over to boot Li Xiong and said, “Master had the others clear away the bodies. Why aren’t you allowing them to?”
Li Xiong was still angry. He pulled Jida’s arm up and pointed to the scorpion. “Why does he have the scorpion too? He can’t have a scorpion.”
Fei Sheng initially wanted to make fun of this silly lad, but the gears started turning in his mind, and he crouched down as well to ask Li Xiong, “Why can’t he have a scorpion? Have you seen this before?”
Li Xiong pointed to the back of his neck and answered, “My big bro has one lying here.”
Fei Sheng felt a chill run down his spine. With his heart in his mouth and sweat trickling down, he said, “When did Lei Jingzhe have it tattooed? Why has there never been a word of it on Mount Luo?”
Li Xiong tried his best to think as he pulled at his hair. “I don’t remember either. He had it a long time back—he already had it when he raised me! Gedale has a lot of scorpions. My big bro took me there at that time and even wanted to have it tattooed on me.”
Fei Sheng stood up at once and turned around to hurry towards the horse carriage.
Shen Zechuan was still resting. He drained the medical decoction from the morning like it was water. Ding Tao, who was keeping guard outside the carriage, heard Shen Zechuan cough several times. The medicinal smell wafted out from within, but no one dared to lift the curtains.
Fei Sheng did not dare to either, but this was a matter of great importance, so he placed a hand on the carriage for support and called out in a soft voice, “Master, master.”
Shen Zechuan was sleeping lightly; in fact, he had been semi-conscious the entire time. He leaned on his side against the pillow. The delayed onset of pain of the injuries on his back was taking hold now, and he was in so much pain that he could not lie flat. He removed the jade earring and wiped it for a long time before it was clean. Only then did he open his eyes and make a sound of acknowledgement.
Fei Sheng, even more cautious now, reported what he had heard earlier.
There was only silence from the interior of the carriage for a long time before Fei Sheng heard the rustling sound of sliding sleeves. After another moment, the curtain was lifted by a folding fan. With the fan in his left hand, and earring on his right ear, the expression in Shen Zechuan’s eyes was much more piercing than ever.
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The situation last night had been so critical that no one had paid any attention. With Li Xiong now standing beside Jida, the one thing that they had overlooked had become all the more apparent. Physique-wise, Jida was essentially what Li Xiong would grow up to become as an adult. They were both powerfully built, far more than the average man; their shoulders and arms were broad, their muscles rippling with astonishing explosive power.
Shen Zechuan lowered his folding fan and moved Jida’s arm over. “Is it exactly the same?”
Li Xiong squatted and nodded sullenly. “Big bro’s scorpion is a little smaller.”
Shen Zechuan said to Fei Sheng, “Strip these corpses of their clothes.”
Not long after, the Biansha Cavalry who perished last night lay stark naked across the ground. Fei Sheng examined them one at a time and found that all of them had scorpion tattoos. It was just that the scorpions were all freely positioned and hidden at locations that were hard to discover, such as the nape, pit of the stomach, side of the waist, and even behind the ear, but they were all on the upper body.
Shen Zechuan asked the Libei Armored Cavalry, “Are there scorpions like this on the battlefields?”
The remaining squad commander of the armored cavalry looked carefully at the tattoos and solemnly shook his head. “Never seen them before… The Twelve Tribes of Biansha indeed have the habit of tattooing their bodies, but those are either tribal totems or symbols of meritorious service. There are no scorpions in the Twelve Tribes.”
Shen Zechuan had an ill sense of foreboding.
This was a squad that could deal a heavy blow and inflict heavy casualties on the Libei Armored Cavalry. Once they became a prevalent force in the war, the standoff on the battlegrounds would take a sudden turn for the worse. It would catch the generals of Libei off-guard and put them at a disadvantage. If they were really establishing a squad based on standards that Li Xiong exemplified, then it would not matter even if they were to lose their battle steeds. As long as they could breach Libei, all of Dazhou would be in imminent danger, let alone Zhongbo.
“Scorpions are everywhere in Gedale. Big bro called them brothers; they are our friends!” As Li Xiong spoke, he looked at Shen Zechuan. “They have many small scorpions too. They are very young and never come out to play.”
“Fei Sheng.” Shen Zechuan said immediately. “Copy down this scorpion and bring it to Libei together. Not just Libei, but also Cizhou and Chazhou. Tell Zhou Gui and Luo Mu to start checking the commoners in the territories immediately.” He paused for a moment, then emphasized his words. “Especially the garrison troops.”
Lei Jingzhe was a native of Dazhou. In the years that Zhongbo was out of control, anyone could freely get in and out of Zhongbo as he did. They could let in the Scorpions, and even send the Scorpions deeper into Dazhou.
What Shen Zechuan had thought of at this moment was not just the war, but also of the decaying of government administration since the reign of Yongyi. From the Zhongbo troops’ defeat to Xiao Jiming’s poisoning, and Feng Yisheng’s death in battle to Lu Guangbai’s desertion. They used to focus their attention on Qudu and the noble clans, but it had all become rather odd starting from the military grain case onward.
Xue Xiuzhuo wanted to resurge Dazhou. Forcing Lu Guangbai into desertion would not do him any good. Why would Qudu make light of Qidong military provisions when they knew full well that there was ill will between them and Libei at the same time? Shen Zechuan’s memories swiftly went backward in time. Watching scene after scene of the past flash away felt like he was once again standing in the summer heat of Qudu.
Who exactly had delivered the relay report to Wei Huaigu’s desk and subsequently forced him to his death?
Shen Zechuan suddenly broke out coughing. He clutched the blue handkerchief and covered his mouth and nose. But this cough was so violent that it not only startled Ding Tao; even Fei Sheng’s face turned pale.
“Master!” Fei Sheng made to support Shen Zechuan by the arm.
“Escort the military supplies back to Cizhou.” Shen Zechuan said behind the handkerchief. “There’s no need for the armored cavalry to follow any further. Leaving a few men behind will suffice. We’ll head for Dunzhou today in disguise.”
Gedale had Bai Cha’s portrait, while Dunzhou had Shen Wei’s Prince of Jianxing’s Manor. These were the two key locations where it all began, along with the two blood kin with inextricable ties to Shen Zechuan.
“I want Lei Jingzhe as well.” Shen Zechuan’s expression was cold and detached as he enunciated each word. “Alive.”
I know all of you have no doubt forgotten about the scorpion tattoo. Please refer to chapter 114.
Credit: Thank you Tea for proofreading!