Qiang Jin Jiu – Chapter 187 : Approach

Translated with: Jia<3

Hasen was panting heavily. His cheek stung from being scraped by the ice on the snowfield, and the nape of his neck had turned red from exertion. The howl of the wind behind Xiao Chiye’s back intensified, and the sudden swing of an iron hammer knocked him over. Seizing his opportunity, Hasen climbed to his feet and spat out the ice in his mouth. 

The scorpions had suffered heavy losses this time. Of the remaining ten or so men who had crossed paths with Xiao Chiye, there were only a few still alive now. A scorpion on night patrol in the far distance blew the horn. Hasen backed off, knowing from the wind that the pack of wolves was currently charging this way. 

Hasen flipped onto his horse, albeit unwillingly. His hand fell to the hilt of his scimitar, but before he could do anything, the gyrfalcon in the sky swooped down, its cry erupting in his ears. Following right after, a long arrow burst through the snowstorm under the billowy darkness of the night and hurtled straight for his head. 

Xiao Chiye braced himself against the ground. His back was soaked through, but he could not tell if it was blood or sweat. With sticky fingers, he grabbed a handful of snow and stuffed it into his mouth, swallowing down the blood between his teeth. At the same time he climbed to his feet, he lunged for Hasen. 

Hasen was almost dragged down by this force. He struck back with his elbow, but Xiao Chiye lifted his palm to grab hold of it. Then, Hasen’s world turned topsy-turvy as Xiao Chiye flung him over. Before Hasen could return a strike, a punch from Xiao Chiye made him choke out bile. Hasen hissed as he felt the ache in his mouth. He kicked Xiao Chiye hard in the chest and immediately rose swiftly with aid from his elbows.

But Xiao Chiye was too tough of a nut to deal with! There was no way he could escape without taking Xiao Chiye out. 

Hasen understood this feeling. He broke into a run with the horse and braced himself with his arms to flip onto it before Xiao Chiye made his next attack. He blew his whistle, then ripped off the sack hanging at the side of the horse and held it up high at Xiao Chiye. Hasen’s fingers clenched tightly at that sack—never had he felt unable to take it lying down so intensely. But the very next moment, he flung the sack out. His voice cut through the wind as he said with detest at the same time he turned his horse around, “After tonight, my name will overshadow the Libei Armored Cavalry. I’ll make you people pay back double for what you owed me since the battles on the eastern mountain ranges.” His red hair flared ostentatiously, like the manifestation of his hatred. “Take your father and scram!”   

Xiao Chiye instantly understood what that sack was. The bitter wind raged. He staggered over the snow and dashed over with all he had. As he fell and rolled over, he caught hold of the sack firmly.  

Hasen instantly cracked his horsewhip and galloped away into the vast expanse of heavy snow.

Xiao Chiye lay on the ground, hugging that sack as he stared at the dome of heaven. He clenched his teeth even as his chest heaved heavily, unwilling as he was to shed another tear. But he could not control the sobs. 

He could not

He could not look at Xiao Fangxu in his arms. 

The Armored Cavalry swarmed over, and Zuo Qianqiu took the lead in tumbling down his horse. Countless helmets were removed in the ensuing silence.

Heavy snow buried Xiao Chiye. He heard the wails of the Hongyan Mountains. He no longer had the strength to stand up, for his limbs were already numb. He stared fixedly at the sky, feeling as though he had died. 

The Libei Armored Cavalry suffered their first fatal blow in twenty years, having been stabbed through and through. Hasen was right. After tonight, the Libei Armored Cavalry would live in his shadow. He had used tens of scorpions to sever the dignity of the Libei Armored Cavalry. 

This was too endless a night. 

The iron wall of Libei collapsed with a crash, leaving countless men exposed on the outside. Armor was no longer their advantage. They were like wandering souls who had been expelled here, unable to find refuge. 

Xiao Jiming waited to receive his father in Dajing. The entire city was silent when the horse carriage rolled in. Suppressed sounds of crying rose and fell.

Xiao Jiming did not cry. He was neatly dressed and properly crowned as he walked down the stairs, one step at a time, to stand before the carriage. A never-ending silence followed. His body, wrecked with severe injuries, seemed to have shrunk some. In that heavy snow, his face was pale. 

A veil of gloom was cast over the firmament. The news spread throughout Dazhou a few days later. Qudu removed the banners of the Eight Great Training Divisions. But as Xiao Chiye still had the charge of regicide hanging over his head, Qudu did not issue a eulogy to Libei; instead, they merely took down the colored lanterns on the streets and hung up white flowers. 

Qi Zhuyin, sans armor and hairpin, led a unit of guards hurriedly through the snow towards Libei.

Xiao Fangxu was a legend. A junior soldier of the Luoxia Pass who conquered the eastern mountain ranges of the Hongyan Mountains, he was the last person out of the Four Generals of that generation to make a name for himself. Yet, he was the one and only person out of the four to be conferred with the title of a prince. At the present time, Lu Pingyan was in ill health, Qi Shiyu was retired, and Feng Yisheng and Xiao Fangxu had both successively perished in the war. The four generals from the early days of the Yongyi reign had all fallen into obscurity. Thirty years had gone by in a rush, and those high-spirited youths with boundless enthusiasm had all returned to the lands which they belonged. 

◈     ◈     ◈

Xiao Chiye was a picture of calm after Xiao Fangxu’s burial. His howls and cries seemed to have been buried in that bout of heavy snow, vanished without a trace after he seized his father back. He ate and changed his dressing as usual, but at night, Shen Zechuan could not hear Xiao Chiye’s breathing.    

He seemed to have fallen into a certain kind of deep slumber, languishing as he greeted each new day.

“I’ll now give you an account of the ambush that snowy night.” Jiang Sheng stood bandaged in the hall and said to the commanding generals. “On day eight of the twelfth month, while His Lordship was in the Shayi Camp, he decided to lay an ambush. He then personally led Squad Three of Shayi Camp up north. I was to go around from the back to provide support. The aim was to intercept Hasen in the east of the Tudalong Banner. The snowstorm was especially heavy that day. We waited until the hour of you before we encountered Hasen’s elite forces. Both troops engaged in a battle, and we launched a head-on assault to Hasen’s elite force, injuring nearly half of them in the process.” 

“While taking inventory of the remnants of the Biansha soldiers, we found that Hasen was not among them. At that time, it was already the hour of hai. We drew up a plan in the snowfield to branch out and search westward. As such, His Lordship and I split up into two. Then I came across the Biansha Cavalry to the east of the Tudalong Banner and was depleted of my remaining troops. By then, I had already sensed something amiss. Instead of continuing on westward, I took the decision into my own hands and turned back to join up with His Lordship.” 

“His Lordship’s military strength had been similarly worn down, as the Biansha Cavalry kept engaging in guerrilla tactics in small groups. We stopped heading further in and decided to head back to the camp. Midway through, we arrived at the abandoned relay station of Changzhu Camp, where we met the scorpions disguised as the Libei Armored Cavalry.” 

“Every one of them had the token of the Armored Cavalry at the side of their waists. They not only spoke the Dazhou language, but also with the Libei accent. They were able to answer readily and fluently. These people claimed to be subordinates of Zhao Hui’s Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang, and having sustained severe losses from Hasen’s harassment and lost their way in the snowstorm, they were forced to stop over at the relay station.” 

“How many of them?” With hands on his knees, Zhao Hui asked with a solemn expression.

“Sixty.” Jiang Sheng set the book in his hands on the table and looked towards Xiao Chiye, who was sitting at the very end. After a few moments of silence, he spoke up. “We compiled a register of names based on the tokens Second Young Master brought back. You can cross-reference it.”

Zhao Hui quickly read through the register. “These are all brothers who have died in battle.”

Guo Weili, whose voice had gone hoarse from crying too many times these few days, said, “Fuck his ancestors. They even took away the armor and tokens! We have to inform all the major camps as soon as possible to clean up the battlefields personally from now on.”

“It’s futile.”

Guo Weili immediately retorted. “How can it be fu…” His voice trailed to a stop when he saw Xiao Chiye. 

Xiao Chiye had brought back Xiao Fangxu, which made it impossible for Guo Weili to shoot his mouth off as he previously did. His expression underwent several changes, but still, he could not hold it back, “… We have to deal with it, eventually. We can’t give them any more opportunities.”

“If Biansha can even equip themselves with iron hammers now, they are naturally able to counterfeit tokens as well.” Zuo Qianqiu understood what Xiao Chiye meant. “The hardest part lies in how we can differentiate the scorpions from the rest.”  

With his cloak draped around him, Xiao Jiming contemplated it for a moment. “Recall back the tokens. We’ll no longer use them. Continue with what you were saying.”

Jiang Sheng continued. “Deceived by the scorpions, we lay down our blades, and that was when it all happened.” At this point, he exposed half of his face. “That sort of iron hammer was custom made to go up against the Armored Cavalry. A sudden smash to the helmet will cause blurred vision, ringing ears, and blackout if you are lucky, or you’ll die on the spot bleeding from the nose and mouth. My troops couldn’t react in time at all, and I was knocked unconscious to the ground. I don’t know what happened after.” 

This time, no one made a sound. They had learned about the scorpions via the private letter sent from Zhongbo, but no one could have imagined the severity of the threat that the scorpions posed. 

Gu Jin bowed in greeting all around and took over from Jiang Sheng. “After an examination of the battlefield, my conjecture is as follows: Hasen failed to besiege his lordship, so he changed his tactics to outflank his lordship from both sides on the snowfield with his elusive elite troops and had his lordship trapped in the heavy snow. This consequently led to the total annihilation of Squad Three.” 

“Damn you. I don’t believe it. His Lordship is invincible in the fields.” Guo Weili stood up and irritably paced up and down. Eventually, he said with reddened eyes, “What is Hasen?! He was still sucking on milk when His Lordship was already the implicit king of the northern battlegrounds. We’ve been fighting in the field with Biansha for almost twenty years; there’s no way the Armored Cavalry led by His Lordship can lose!”

Guo Weili was promoted by Xiao Jiming himself, but he had enlisted in the army alongside Xiao Fangxu. He could not accept this. The tactics he used to fight against Huhelu in the field when he was stationed in Changzhu camp had been learned from Xiao Jiming, and while Xiao Fangxu had never taught him before, Guo Weili’s style of combat was obviously picked up on the sly through his observations of Xiao Fangxu.    

The sound of discussion in the hall increased, and the noise gradually grew to a crescendo.

They were presently like a node on the brink of collapse. Every person’s nerves were stretched taut with tension as they struggled to preserve the current stability of the Libei Armored Cavalry, but the sense that they were inching towards a complete breakdown still pervaded the atmosphere.

The Prince of Libei was dead. 

This phrase was like a nightmare weighing down on everyone’s mind, crushing them. They were helpless against Hasen. It was as if it was only at this moment that they came to the harsh realization that the Libei Armored Cavalry had already fallen a long way behind Amu’er.  

Xiao Chiye found it noisy, but he did not utter another word other than that “futile” comment of his. It was here he sat, with a splitting headache. The injuries on his shoulder and arm simultaneously assaulted his consciousness on both sides. He heard Hasen, Hasen—this name being shouted everywhere. 

This word was a shadow haunting him relentlessly. 

At night, Shen Zechuan could not sleep well. He had to wake up every now and then to make sure Xiao Chiye was still there, but when he awoke this night, Xiao Chiye was not inside. Shen Zechuan got up and hurried over to the doorway, where he found Xiao Chiye standing in the courtyard, dressed only in a single layer of garment. 

It was snowing again. 

Xiao Chiye’s shoulders were blanketed with a thin layer of snow. On hearing movements, he looked back and smiled faintly at Shen Zechuan with an expression meant to reassure.

Shen Zechuan gazed at him. 

Xiao Chiye’s eyes gradually reddened under that gaze of his. Shen Zechuan watched Xiao Chiye’s tears slide down slowly. He understood everything; to this day, Xiao Chiye was still lost in his memory of that blizzard. The wolf pup that had run alone for dozens of li had not returned at all.    

Shen Zechuan pushed open the door without even putting his shoes on. 

Xiao Chiye had already begun to choke with sobs. It was as if he finally found release from all that he had suppressed within him as he watched Shen Zechuan approach. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he called out, “Lanzhou…”

Shen Zechuan embraced Xiao Chiye hard and stood on tiptoe to cover the back of Xiao Chiye’s head, as if he was a barrier, taking the physically and emotionally battered Xiao Chiye completely into the protective shelter of his arms.

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Credit: Thank you marti803 for pointing out the typo and to Tea for proofreading! <3

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