Qiang Jin Jiu – Chapter 208 : Return of a Nightmare

Translated with: Jia<3


Achi fled towards their original path in a hurry. Along the way, the Scorpions let loose their own saker falcons. Lang Tao Xue Jin pressed forward and did all it could to catch up amid the clanging sounds of the heavy armors. The collective sound of the Libei Armored Cavalry’s hooves in hot pursuit was so intense that it unnerved the Scorpions, who feared the ice beneath their feet would crack. What’s more when that sound was catching up just right behind their horses! 

Achi clenched his teeth and looked back in the wind in humiliation. All he could see was that one heavy armor. 

Xiao Chiye!  

Bayin suddenly pulled in the reins on the head of his horse as he bumped into Achi from the side and barked sternly, “Retreat, retreat, retreat! Achi, stop looking at him!” 

The snowstorm that resembled flying willow catkins transformed Heaven and Earth into a sacred, untainted realm. The Biansha Cavalry charged madly in the wind for a little less than an hour before they managed to throw off the Libei Armored Cavalry. Even so, they did not dare to stop. On returning to their original path, Bayin suddenly piped up, “Pull out the route markers. Don’t leave them behind for Xiao Chiye!” 

They charged with all they could along their original path, heeding Bayin’s instructions not to leave behind route markers for the Libei Armored Cavalry. 

“Deploy troops to counterattack tomorrow morning.” Bayin was covered tightly in his fur collar, and his eyelashes had been dyed white by the wind. He could barely even open them. “Xiao Chiye will not be able to escape out of the Chashi River once he loses all sense of direction.” 

Achi was livid. His rage blazed so intensely that his chest felt uncomfortable. He had been played for a fool by Xiao Chiye even before they came face to face with one another. No matter what, he could not take this lying down.  

“Listen, Achi.” Bayin chased after the lightning-swift Achi and pulled down his collar to shout, “Don’t fall for his goading, you hear me? He did it on purpose.” 

“He wiped out both of my flanks!” Unable to contain himself anymore, Achi screamed back at Bayin. “He’s flaunting his military might to me. That son of a bitch!” 

Three days ago, Achi took down Xiao Chiye’s left flank troops, and today, Xiao Chiye stood there and blew out Achi’s left and right flanks. The vanguards of both flanks were all elites. Achi’s heart was dripping blood. He felt this to be a warning from Xiao Chiye, and the threat was now rubbing it into his face. 

“I’m going to kill him!” Achi lost control and growled. “I will kill—”  

With one fist, Bayin punched Achi off his horse. Having lost its master, the horse slowed down and stopped ahead. Achi rolled in the snow, his chest heaving violently. 

“The Hero knows all. If you still want to merge the Scorpions into the Twelve Tribes, then finish Xiao Chiye off tomorrow morning.” Bayin said in a deep voice. “Losing your mind will reduce you to being a jackal, and a jackal can’t bite a wolf to death. You’d best clear your head up!” 

Achi lay on the snowfield and grabbed a handful of snow to wipe his face with. He climbed to his feet and caught up to his horse without so much as another word. 

The atmosphere surrounding the cavalry was glum and heavy. With Achi and Bayin no longer speaking, those at the back did not dare to open their mouths either. They ran in the snowstorm for another two hours, and their battle steeds were all exhausted to the point they were panting. Fortunately, the route markers indicated they had reached the end. 

“The saker falcon will notify the reinforcements to hurry this way.” Achi slowed his horse and stepped onto the bank. “We can wait here.” 

Bayin was feeling uneasy deep down. Due to his introversion, he took particular notice of his environments. The boundless expanse of snow obstructed the world from view and prevented him from getting a clear look at the situation a few steps away, but he could keenly sense that this was not the southeastern part of Duanzhou from where they came. 

“We went the wrong way.” Bayin muttered and squinted his eyes to keep out the gale. Amid the fog of snow that was being blown away, he indistinctly caught a glimpse of what lay ahead. “This place is…” 

A horse at the back that had yet to step ashore suddenly lost its footing, and its hind hooves slid into a hole in the ice. The Scorpion on horseback yanked at the reins in the blinding snowstorm, intending to drive the horse back on ice, but in its panic, it broke its hind knees against the edge of the ice and neighed as its entire body overturned into the water! 

The unit was promptly thrown into disarray. The horses all started panicking, and the Scorpions berated them to no avail. Fearing that they would slide in too, they could only lash out with their whips hard. Achi heard the sound of heavy armors among the noise. He initially thought it was a misperception, but not long later, the pitch-black Armored Cavalry materialized for real in the snow. 

No matter how dumb Achi was, he could also realize what was happening by now. He retreated and shouted, “Get on your horses and move fast!”   

This particular route marker was genuine enough, but Xiao Chiye had long shifted it away from its original location. The footprints were indeed a diversionary cover-up; Xiao Chiye’s real intention had been to herd them towards this place. 

Seeing Bayin still in his original spot, Achi bumped into him hard and cursed, “Get on your horse! Snap out of your fucking daze!”   

Bayin turned his eyes to look at Achi. As if sensing it too, Achi looked ahead, and the color drained from his face in horror.   

The pitch darkness ahead was none other than the Chashi Sinkhole. 

Achi wiped the sweat at his temple and looked out as far as he could, only to see that both flanks of the Libei Armored Cavalry had already surrounded them from both sides and were now ahead of them. He turned his head back and saw Xiao Chiye. 

Seven years ago, the Biansha Cavalry buried 40,000 Duanzhou Garrison Troops alive here. Seven years later, on the same snowstorm night, Xiao Chiye used the same battle formation to push them before the Chashi Sinkhole. Achi did not know Xiao Chiye, but in this instant, he strangely understood Xiao Chiye’s intent.

Bayin’s Adam’s apple bobbed. He squeezed his cowhide-bound book and muttered Hasen’s words, “… returning the favor, tit for tat.”

Xiao Chiye was the wolf that was the toughest to deal with. Bayin knew Xiao Chiye would even bite Hasen to death in order to retrieve Xiao Fangxu. Once an opponent like this committed his scars to mind, he would retaliate and tear away at his foes with his fangs on his own terms. 

“Reinforcements will be here in a while.” Achi unexpectedly calmed down at this juncture. He stared at Xiao Chiye. “Hang in there until then, and this place will still be our slaughterhouse.”  

Achi had never seen Xiao Chiye’s real appearance before today, but through that helmet, he seemed to sense Xiao Chiye’s scoffing. Achi did not believe in the Biansha gods; he believed in his own tattoo. As a Scorpion surviving in difficult circumstances between the gaps, he would not concede defeat until the very moment his head took leave of his body. 

However, Xiao Chiye similarly believed in his tattoo. That was his father, and also his Libei. The scar Hasen left behind burned all the time. He had suppressed it for far too long, so long he could even hear Langli Blade howling in its sheath. 

The violent gale under the snowy dome rode roughshod over the snowflakes, tearing them into pieces of willow catkins flying in the wind. At the moment when the swarm of white blinded his eyes, Achi saw the Armored Cavalry charge. Their armors were like dusty blades, charging head-on towards the Biansha cavalry with the momentum of a tempestuous storm that brushed away all the dust on them to reveal sharp blades that glinted coldly in all its glory. 

The moment the iron hammer came swinging, Xiao Chiye parried it with Langli Blade. His horse did not stop as he led the Armored Cavalry to crash head-on into the Biansha Cavalry amid the screeching sound of friction as blade scraped against blade. Meanwhile, the armor-clad Lang Tao Xue Jin, clad in heavy armor, threw its head back and knocked askew a pony that was blocking the way.

The Biansha Cavalry was like a canteen that had been crushed until it burst. They resisted Xiao Chiye’s onslaught of heavy blows for just a mere few blinks of an eye before they were repeatedly rammed back in a retreat by the “war chariot” battle formation. The sinkhole stretched across them a short distance away; if they retreated again, they would no doubt plunge into it. 

Achi lifted the iron hammer that weighed a hundred jin.1 In this short period as they crossed swords, he had come to recognize Xiao Chiye as the most vital part of the Libei Armored Cavalry. He knocked over an Armored Cavalryman before him with a swing of his hammer and heard the other man’s head slam into the snow with a “thud”. Hooves stepped over the body, and in a split second, he was already swinging his hammer right in Xiao Chiye’s face.

But he struck at empty air!   

Achi thought Xiao Chiye would follow up his victory with an attack, but Xiao Chiye did not. He retreated back in front of the Libei Armored Cavalry, and this “war chariot” instantly underwent a transformation. 

Bayin crowded at the back with his book in his arms and got a clear look as the Libei Armored Cavalry transformed.

Was that the Libei Armored Cavalry? 

That was a heavy-duty war chariot! 

Xiao Chiye was unwilling to give up on Xiao Fangxu’s heavy armors; he did not want to prove his old man wrong. It was through Lu Guangbai, Qi Zhuyin, and Yin Chang that he acquired a whole new Libei Armored Cavalry. 

Xiao Chiye cast away the former long blades of the Libei Armored Cavalry on the basis of them being “heavy” and equipped the Libei Armored Cavalry under his command with new blades. These were the real long blades, with a length so long that there was no way for the iron hammers to get close. He had observed Lu Guangbai’s infantrymen at the battlegrounds. The “war chariot” battle formation was able to conceal their weakness of not being fast enough. Xiao Chiye directly cut off their need to give chase; he wanted the Biansha Cavalry to come lunging into them themselves. 

That offensive and defensive battle Qi Zhuyin fought in the war zone was skillful in its swap between light and heavy cavalry. Xiao Chiye consolidated the Imperial Army and the Libei Armored Cavalry together. As long as they appeared on the same battlefield, they would have erratic and unpredictable ways of fighting. Hasen did not reign supreme when it came to field warfare. 

The last was also the most crucial point—Yin Chang’s “dagger” squad. 

Yin Chang modified Lu Guangbai’s “war chariot” battle formation and split the soldiers into “daggers” to advance onwards. Hairigu secretly learned this move on the sly, allowing Xiao Chiye to find a new opportunity back at the Beiyuan Hunting Grounds to turn things around. Xiao Chiye then incorporated the “dagger” into his own “war chariot” formation, thereby giving rise to the current Libei Armored Cavalry of tremendous might and formidability.  

Very quickly, Achi came to understand that the iron hammers were now useless, as they could not avoid the long blades to get close to the Libei Armored Cavalry. But when he swapped out the iron hammers, the Libei Armored Cavalry would attack in columns. It was just like several bayonets suddenly flicking out of a box to stab at the Scorpions until they could not even fend for themselves.

Those bright, shiny edges of the blades extended and retracted at will. 

This was equivalent to a heavy-duty war chariot, one that discarded the wooden structure of the common siege weapons, was completely forged with iron and steel, and came with improved mobility. As long as Xiao Chiye was willing to give the go-ahead, the Libei Armored Cavalry could even dismantle on the spot and switch over to field squads to lay ambushes. 

Even though it was still in its infancy and was even a little raw around its edge, it was undoubtedly a Libei Armored Cavalry that completely belonged to Xiao Chiye. 

Achi saw defeat looming right before his eyes, but then he heard a falcon’s cries among the snow. His saker falcon retracted its wings and circled its way down the heavens, bringing with it the reinforcement troops he had been waiting a long time for. 

“Why are there so many soldiers?” Yin Chang was about to sit on the ground to pour away the watery blood in his boots when he saw the cavalry swarming out from the southwest like ants. He hurriedly clambered to his feet and stomped his feet into his boots. “We’re done for. This is almost fucking three times our military strength!” 

The Scorpions’ morale was instantly boosted. Sounds of killing crashed over them like the roaring waves as both parties engaged in a battle of life and death before the Chashi Sinkhole. Gleaming blood splattered through the snow. The Libei Armored Cavalry and Imperial Army went all out. The only chance they had to break out of the encirclement was now. If they missed the opportunity tonight, they were as good as dead! 

Gu Jin lifted Hairigu by his back collar and kicked him into the crowd of people. Seeing Yin Chang limping a little, he leveled his blade to strike away the Biansha Cavalry and shouted to the old man. “Elder Yin, are you injured?!”

Yin Chang wrinkled his red nose, rotated his ankle a few times self-consciously, and answered, “My, my foot is itching from all that soaking.” 

Hairigu nimbly dodged the scimitars from where he was in the crowd. Every now and then, he even had to flash his little golden token to the Imperial Army, who had gone berserk from the killing. “We’re on the same side!” 

On the other end, Achi, who was far more adept at wielding the scimitar than the hammer, was already battling it out with Xiao Chiye. The trampling and stomping in the tussle between both parties’ troops caused the ground to shake. No one knew whose horse flipped over first, but following that, the edges of the sinkhole collapsed entirely, sending everyone tumbling into it in one jumbled mess. 

The Imperial Army ingested several mouthfuls of mud and popped their heads out from among the dense mass of enemies to shout to each other. “Fuck! Did Second Master get jostled down there too?!”

As Lang Tao Xue Jin rolled and sank into the bottom of the pit, Achi pounced from a rock. Unable to get to his feet in time, Xiao Chiye lifted his foot to kick Achi in the chest, causing Achi to stagger back a few steps from the impact. Meanwhile, Xiao Chiye had already straightened up. The hammer came swinging almost in his face, and as Xiao Chiye dodged the blow, he used his arm guard to block the attack.    

“THUD!”

Feng Ta Shuang Yi knocked over the old and dilapidated wooden fence as Shen Zechuan galloped across the snowstorm with his overcoat flapping in the wind. Frosty snow flew between his facial features, his side profile reflecting a somber, forbidding harshness.  

Fei Sheng, not daring to be complacent and careless on the battlefield, followed closely behind Shen Zechuan’s horse with the Imperial Bodyguards

Tantai Hu, not daring to let Shen Zechuan take the lead either, led his troops to chase after the Prefectural Lord with such haste that he was almost standing on his saddle. He shouted at Shen Zechuan across the gale, “Your Lordship! It’s right in the northeast—the Chashi Sinkhole!”

Sprays of flying snow erupted under his horse’s hooves. Shen Zechuan had gripped the reins until it was soaked. He had not made a single stop on the journey here, and Feng Ta Shuang Yi was already exhausted.

Chashi Sinkhole!

All that Shen Zechuan passed by on his way was a white, boundless expanse of wilderness. But the moment he entered the vicinity of Chashi Sinkhole, that nightmare came surging to the surface like a tidal wave, and the familiar stench of blood choked his nose and throat. Shen Zechuan gasped for air, unable to see Xiao Chiye in the bloodshed. 

Shen Zechuan shouted in a grim voice. “Xiao Ce’an—!”

Fei Sheng surveyed the surroundings and saw Yin Chang, who in turn saw the Prefectural Lord all dressed in white from afar—a rather conspicuous sight here. He jumped up and down, waving his blade as he shouted. “The sinkhole, in the sinkhole, Second Master is in the sinkhole!”

In that instant, Shen Zechuan’s face turned a shade of ghastly white. With icy-cold limbs, he rolled off the horse; even his hands that were holding onto Yang Shan Xue were trembling. Blood seeped through his white robe, wetting it as he stepped over the corpses. All he could see was the sinkhole that appeared in his nightmares millions of times. 

Shen Zechuan could not bother with anyone else. He stumbled along the sinkhole and slid down. Heavy snow filled all over the sky. He trembled as he shouted, “Xiao Ce’an…”

Nightmare and reality overlapped. Shen Zechuan had seen his own body strewn among the corpses here before, but he had never imagined that Xiao Chiye would be among those lying here.  

Fei Sheng had never seen the Prefectural Lord in such a state. He hurried over to help him up, but Shen Zechuan refused. He dug up the body before Lang Tao Xue Jin among the bloodied mountain of corpses, raking so hard with his hands that they both turned slick with blood. The ‘corpse’ suddenly raised a hand, and grabbed hold of Shen Zechuan’s wrist with speed and accuracy. 

“Lanzhou,” Xiao Chiye felt suffocated under the helmet. “Lan…”

Shen Zechuan had already pushed off Xiao Chiye’s helmet. In that whirling snow, he got a clear look at Xiao Chiye’s face, and with no regard for the bloodstains, he hugged Xiao Chiye’s head tightly in his embrace.  

Xiao Chiye backhandedly stroked Shen Zechuan’s back. He wanted to say something, but in the soughing of the wind, he heard Shen Zechuan call out over and over in a small voice.

“Xiao Chiye…” 

Xiao Chiye’s heart ached with such ferocity that it broke into pieces.

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Footnotes

  1. jin or catty, 1 jin equal to 0.5 kg