"If the Marquis is able to win, then I will no longer concern myself with this matter."
Editor(s): jelly, namio
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At the same time, the black mass of the migrating army left Luoyang. Dong Zhuo and the young emperor were sitting in the carriage. Liu Xie lifted aside the hanging curtain of the window and looked out, and within his fresh, young face, his eyes carried a thread of numbness and bleak desolation.
After leaving Hangu Pass, they would head directly for Chang’an, the ancestral land of the Han rulers. The four hundred years of painstaking effort that had been put into Luoyang had been completely destroyed by fire. There were less than fifty thousand people left in the capital, and they were all leaving, fleeing west with their families in tow.
Soldiers with stern, cruel countenances patrolled through the ranks. On their journey, Dong Zhuo called over a commander and asked about the military situation along the way. Upon learning that Yuan Shao and his allied forces had just entered Luoyang, he set his mind to rest.
At this moment, Sun Ce and Zhou Yu were hiding on the mountain, anxiously staring at the direction that the carriage was traveling in.
Feiyu let out a cry as it sped through the air towards them.
Sun Ce untied the cloth strip tied to Feiyu’s claw and took a look at it. Neither of them spoke.
“Retreat ba,” Sun Ce said.
“We’ve missed out on an opportunity,” Zhou Yu responded. “Oh well.”
Sun Jian was unwilling to send troops, which was something within their calculations. The plans of man were nothing in the face of the will of the gods, and in the end, they had no choice but to return, their tails between their legs. Just as the two of them were about to head down the mountain, they managed to startle the Liangzhou troops in the region that were patrolling the area.
“Who’s there!” someone immediately roared. “Spies!”
The soldier leading the patrol immediately discovered the two of them, and Sun Ce said quietly, “Run, quickly!”
The two of them only had Sun Ce’s white piebald, and they speedily slid down the mountain. Branches whipped past their faces and bodies, each leaving behind a fiery pain. Zhou Yu suddenly shouted, “Split up and run! You escape first!”
Sun Ce: “No way--”
Zhou Yu: “Even if they catch me, I’m of no use to them! If they catch you, your dad is Sun Jian, Dong Zhuo definitely won’t let you off. Quickly --”
Sun Ce said angrily, “If I lose you again, where am I supposed to go find you?! This isn’t up for discussion!”
“Our eight characters don’t match.” Sun Ce laughed loudly, and the two of them simultaneously slid sideways, sliding towards the foot of the mountain with a hua, before they mounted the white piebald.
The soldier issuing commands roared loudly, “Capture the assassins!”
“Don’t run that way!” Zhou Yu shouted loudly as he hugged Sun Ce around the waist, the two of them still sharing one horse.
“What are you afraid of! Wait until I send them running with their tails between their legs --” Sun Ce shouted optimistically. “This young lord is coming for you--”
Zhou Yu: “...”
Arrow shafts whistled towards them, and Zhou Yu squeezed his eyes shut. Sun Ce pressed the white piebald on, and actually managed, under the encirclement of a group of soldiers, to rush right into the enemy’s squadron of carts!
At this time, the procession immediately fell into great disarray. The soldiers had no more attention to spare to chase them, instead all moving to protect the horse carts.
Zhou Yu keenly sensed something, and he immediately turned his head, observing the direction that the soldiers were moving to stand guard in.
“No.” Sun Ce immediately guessed what Zhou Yu had in mind and directly stopped him.
Within the horse carriage was definitely the emperor and Dong Zhuo… for them to miss such an opportunity just like that was a pity. But before Zhou Yu could even suck in a breath, the white piebald let out a long whinny, crashed into a freight cart and overturned it, before with a leap, it flew into the air. It landed with its four hooves on the ground, vanishing like a flash of lightning in the plains.
The wind gusted by their ears. Zhou Yu turned and looked back, and as expected, their enemies weren’t willing to let them go. Thousands of Liangzhou troops split off from the rest of the army in pursuit.
“We need to figure out a plan to throw them off our scent,” Zhou Yu said.
“No problem!” Sun Ce said. “My steed is a white piebald, a horse that nothing in this world can catch up with!”
“You’re sure?” Zhou Yu intently watched as on the horizon, the commander leading the Liangzhou troops drew closer and closer.
“Jia!” Sun Ce roared angrily. “I don’t believe we can’t outrun them!”
With a great jolt, Zhou Yu almost fell off the horse.
Zhou Yu pulled the bow and arrows off Sun Ce‘s body and leaned backwards. As soon as he drew the bowstring, he loosed an arrow, which whistled as it flew out. The commander chasing after them also ducked at the same time, evidently unharmed.
“They’re getting even closer!”
“What! That isn’t possible!” Sun Ce said.
“The white piebald is carrying two people…”
“Shut up!” Sun Ce said, gritting his teeth. “I won’t leave you behind!”
“Then you get off the horse and let me go first ba!” Zhou Yu couldn’t resist shouting.
Sun Ce: “...”
“There’s a forest ahead!” Sun Ce said loudly. “Be careful!”
The two of them, on a single horse, rushed into the forest. With a series of loud noises, Sun Ce circled and turned in the grove. Every time that Zhou Yu thought the two of them would smash right into a tree, the whie piebald managed to skim by the trees that they couldn’t dodge by a mere hairsbreadth.
As Sun Ce controlled the horse’s direction, he still had the spare time to chat, and he said, “The horses that can outrun my beloved steed can be counted on the fingers of one hand…”
“The only thing I’m worried about is that one of those is pursuing us,” Zhou Yu replied.
But the situation no longer allowed them time to chat idly. As the scenery in front of their eyes suddenly grew expansive, Sun Ce roared loudly, “Watch out!”
With a long whinny from the white piebald, the horse with its two young riders leapt out from within the trees, drawing an arc through the sky as they flew towards the little creek which shone with thousands of rays of golden light.
But someone in the creek shouted, “Who’s there?!”
Zhou Yu: “There’s an ambush!”
Before his sentence finished echoing, Sun Ce and Zhou Yu plummeted right into the water. With several hualas, they fell in.
Zhou Yu and Sun Ce were both very adept at swimming. Just as they landed in the water, both their heads popped out.
Zhou Yu’s heart thumped. There was an ambush in front and pursuing troops behind, this time they were completely done for.
Sun Ce stood up from the water. This creek was only waist-high, so the two of them sloshed a few steps forward, only for a threatening voice to say, “Don’t move!”
“At least let us get on land first ba!” Sun Ce roared angrily, feeling bedraggled beyond belief.
“Stay standing in the water,” a man’s voice said from not too far away.
Sun Ce and Zhou Yu turned their heads at the same time, only to see that within the waters of the creek stood a martial general and a white horse. The martial general’s long, wet hair was loosely tied, the upper half of his body bare. Without even looking at them, he was currently wringing dry an inner robe.
“What do you do?” That martial general finally lifted his gaze to look directly at the two of them.
The martial general’s hair was black, and he appeared both young and heroic. His features were gentle, and the muscles of his bare back and chest were well-proportioned and firm. Neither Sun Ce nor Zhou Yu responded. That martial general then led his own white horse up onto the bank. He was wearing a pair of long white pants, which were embroidered with life-like depictions of coiling dragons stitched in black thread.
A set of silver armor was drying on a rock, and to one side was placed a long spear.
Zhou Yu could roughly guess what had happened -- this martial general was all on his own with only his horse for company. When he and Sun Ce came charging in, he was currently washing his horse in the stream, and also taking a bath while he was at it...
Sun Ce said quietly, “Ignore him, let’s go quickly.”
That martial general, with his feet bare, walked to the edge of the bank, watching the two of them. Sun Ce was about to lead his horse out as well, when Zhou Yu said, “You aren’t from the Liangzhou troops?”
“Answer me first.” That martial general’s gaze shifted from Zhou Yu to Sun Ce, before then moving to their horse.
Sun Ce immediately thought of a possibility -- he was one of their own! He must have been sent out by the allied troops.
“Is this general from the allied troops? How should this one refer to you?” Sun Ce asked. “This one is under the command of the Changsha Prefect Sun Jian…”
Before he could finish speaking, someone else rushed out from within the grove. Zhou Yu’s and Sun Ce’s expressions instantly changed, and they speedily clambered up onto the bank, horse and all.
“Those brats are trying to escape!” a voice called from within the grove. The martial general gripped the silver spear in his hand as he took a step forward.
Just as the words rang out, another martial officer, wearing a set of fully black armor, rushed out from within the trees, riding a prized Akhal-teke horse. The warhorse let out a long whinny as it reared on the northern bank of the river. Behind him, over a hundred archers appeared, and he roared, “None of you should even think about escaping!”
It was then that that bare-chested martial general stepped in front of Sun Ce and Zhou Yu, shielding the two of them behind him.
From the southern bank of the forest, a dense mass of white-armored archers appeared, pointing their arrows at the forces on the opposite bank. The two sides were separated by a river, and they instantly fell into a stalemate.
When Zhou Yu saw that martial officer on the other side that had come racing after them, he immediately understood. The reason that they couldn’t escape their pursuers today was not because Sun Ce’s horse was slow, but rather because their luck was as bad as it could get.
The person on the opposite bank was wearing a set of black-scaled armor, his head clad in an iron helmet that bore a pheasant plume. He was nine chi tall and held the fangtian halberd. His nose was hooked like an eagle’s beak, and his eyebrows were as sharp as a sword’s edge. His gaze held resentment, and the horse he rode on was exactly one of those five that could catch up with the white piebald: the divine steed, the Red Hare that could chase even the wind.
This time, they were actually going to fall into Lü Bu’s clutches. They hadn’t expected that he would personally come chasing after them.
When Zhou Yu turned his head to look at the other side, his hands were slippery with sweat. He was afraid that the white-armored troops were not enemies of Lü Bu, but he once again recalled that scene where the two sides had crossed swords in battle when he had first entered Sikang. Hadn’t it been this exact same white-armored army that had crossed swords with Lü Bu’s riders?
Sun Ce didn’t know that the two sides had already fought before. In a grave tone, he reminded that bare-chested martial general in front of him, “General, this person is the Marquis of the Household Lü Bu. You must be extremely careful.”
The martial general that was protecting them turned his head slightly. Under the light of the midday sun, his kind eyes held not even a trace of fear as he faced Lü Bu.
The corners of Lü Bu’s mouth twitched slightly as he narrowed his eyes. With a single command, both sides would rush at each other, hacking and slashing, dyeing the waters of the creek red with blood. But he didn’t attack, instead laughing coldly. “Zhao Zilong, you still want to fight another round? How about you put on your clothes first?”
That martial general gripped the silver spear in his hand, replying gravely, “You cannot take these two away, because they are my side’s allied troops. If the Marquis of the Household wants to attack, then this general will naturally follow suit.”
That provoked an uproar from both sides, but Lü Bu didn’t go forth. Instead, he pointed the fangtian halberd forward, saying, “The other one can go, but Sun Jian’s dog of a son must be handed over to this general. If you do so, then we can pretend that you and I never saw each other here today.”
“No,” Sun Ce said. “I won’t go back with you.”
“Shouldn’t you call me shifu, disciple?” Lü Bu asked menacingly.
Zhou Yu startled at that, turning an incredulous gaze on Sun Ce. Sun Ce merely cupped his hands and bowed. “Shifu, this disciple cannot go with you.”
“You’re the disciple of the Marquis of the Household?” Zhao Yun watched Sun Ce warily.
Now that things had come to this, Sun Ce could only grit his teeth and press forward. Lü Bu said coldly, “Sun Jian promised that he would send his son to the elite cavalry to learn skills. But as of today, he has changed his tune as quickly as flipping the page of a book. I’ll hold onto his son and release you all, so leave ba.”
Lü Bu was extremely overbearing, but Zhou Yu said, “I’ll take his place and go.”
“It’s you again,” Lü Bu said, looking at Zhou Yu. “What exactly is your background?”
“You cannot.” Sun Ce immediately stopped Zhou Yu.
“Marquis of the Household,” Zhao Yun said sternly, saluting him in a way that was neither overbearing nor timid, “this matter must wait until this general returns to report to General Sun and the commander of the alliance before this general can release these two. Otherwise, neither of them can go with you, I apologize for the offense.”
Immediately, Lü Bu flew into a great rage, but Zhao Yun stood as steady as a mountain, standing in front of Sun Ce and Zhou Yu like a protector god. He said slowly, “If the Marquis wants to forcefully act, then how about you and me fight three rounds right now? If the Marquis is able to win, then I will no longer concern myself with this matter, how does that sound?”
Lü Bu had fought as he pleased on this world for ten plus years, but had anyone ever dared to challenge him to a fight? After that defeat under Hulao Pass, there was now this arrogant junior who didn’t have much of a reputation at all, asking for a beating. How could he let that go?
Lü Bu said, “This marquis will fight three rounds with you! All of you, step back!”
After both sides’ troops retreated like the tide, Zhao Yun lifted his long spear, walking into the shallows. Zhou Yu and Sun Ce held their breaths in response.
But before Lü Bu could attack, a messenger came from behind, hurriedly saying a few sentences. Lü Bu’s expression immediately changed, growing dark, he said, “Oh well, these three rounds will have to wait. Today I will allow you to take them, but we will decide the victory and the defeat in the coming days! Men! Move out!”
As soon as Lü Bu said they were going, they left, retreating from within the trees like a gust of wind. Zhao Yun kept his hand on his silver spear like he always had, watching Lü Bu’s silhouette leaving, to prevent him from rushing back again for the kill. It wasn’t until he confirmed that the Liangzhou troops had indeed retreated that he let out a breath of relief.
“You all used the luring the tiger out of the mountain trick?” Zhao Yun asked Zhou Yu.
“We haven’t.” Zhou Yu was extremely skeptical.
Sun Ce said, “It should be that someone else went to ambush the procession of carts again.”
With this, Zhao Yun finally put on his clothes. Sun Ce and Zhou Yu thanked him, but Zhao Yun waved his hand. “It was but the effort of me lifting a hand, do not mention it. Since we are allies, then naturally we should help each other.”
At noon, Zhou Yu and Sun Ce followed along with Zhao Yun’s troops. After they had each supplied what the other side lacked, Zhao Yun explained that he was under the command of the White Horse General, Gongsun Zan. On Yuan Shao’s orders, he had come here in pursuit of a remnant of one of Dong Zhuo’s defeated armies. On the way, he had received Gongsun Zan’s secret envoy, whose message was for him to keep his troops where they were and not move, to merely wait outside the Hangu Pass for supporting troops to arrive.
“What we still don’t know is who took this opportunity to ambush the cart procession,” Zhou Yu said, trying to watch from afar.
Sun Ce shook his head. “If we were to ambush them now, we would have already missed our prime opportunity.”
The cart procession had already traveled too far from the pass, and since the two of them had startled Dong Zhuo the first time, Lü Bu probably already had defenses in place. Zhao Yun then said, “I heard that Cao Mengde was leading a division in hopes of rescuing the emperor. I’m afraid that he may not have succeeded either. The speed that they are traveling at now is not one that an army can hope to keep up with. Let’s go ba.”
The two of them followed Zhao Yun’s troops in entering the pass. A line of people bid each other farewell under the pass, and Zhou Yu once again tried to express his thanks, only for Zhao Yun to deflect it time and again, and only after this was done did he return to Luoyang.
Sun Ce cheerfully watched Zhao Yun leave. Zhou Yu’s expression immediately changed, and he said, “Lü Bu is your shifu?”
Sun Ce replied, “Didn’t he already say so? Lü Bu treated me pretty well, and before our two sides started fighting, I was thinking of asking him to bring you out of Luoyang.”
“Now that won’t work,” Zhou Yu said helplessly.
Just now, they had learned of the battle situation at Hulao Pass from Zhao Yun. It was only because Sun Jian had changed sides mercilessly, meeting Lü Bu’s troops head on without flinching, that the Tiger of Jiangdong’s reputation had proven to ring true. He had actually sent Lü Bu’s elite cavalry running in a mad dash for their lives, heedless of their reputations, and all he was afraid of was Lü Bu capturing Sun Ce and using him as a hostage.
Under the Hangu Pass, the clouds changed, as if a storm of torrential rain was about to arrive.
After one night, Sun Ce and Zhou Yu were each riding a horse. Sun Ce brought him outside of the market under the pass and notified the guards there, who brought out six large carts, four horses, and a group of merchants.
Zhou Yu was instantly struck dumb with amazement.
Sun Ce smiled. “I’ve found your horse carts for you. They were being held by Hua Xiong, and only after this young lord personally led troops in to slaughter those troops did I manage to snatch them back.”
That group of merchants came forward, each of them gratefully thanking Sun Ce. Zhou Yu was already at a loss for what to say, and after searching his thoughts for a long time, he finally said, “Oh well, now we can finally go back to hand over the goods.”
“Don’t hurry to leave just yet,” Sun Ce said. “When will you return? Let’s decide on a time and a place, so that we can easily meet again.”
Zhou Yu said, “After I return home and unload all the goods and send each of them home safely, I’ll come over immediately. This debt that I owe you, I won’t be able to repay in almost ten lifetimes, so I can’t afford to shortchange you on this contract of indenture.”
Sun Ce laughed loudly and patted Zhou Yu’s shoulder.
The sky was faintly brightening, but the stars in the sky had yet to withdraw. Sun Ce kept Zhou Yu company the entire way to the Hangu Pass, where he finally said, “Ride my horse.”
With that, the two of them exchanged horses. Sun Ce then said, “Take Feiyu with you. If anything comes up, have it deliver a message.”
Zhou Yu could only take Sun Ce’s bird he was offering.
“Sun Bofu,” Zhou Yu said suddenly, turning his horse around.
Sun Ce rode on the horse, watching him with a careless air. He smiled and said, “Don’t miss me too much.”
“I will return,” Zhou Yu said.
Zhou Yu had ridden several zhang away when Sun Ce couldn’t resist it anymore. “Zhou Gongjin.”
Zhou Yu reined his horse to a stop, turning his head back casually, meeting Sun Ce’s gaze.
In that instant, it was as if time had moved like water. How many years of the ever-surging tide, the ebb and flow of the waves, the flames blazing in the sky, beacon-fires lighting up across the land, passed in this indescribable, inexplicable single gaze?
No matter how long it had been, Zhou Yu still remembered the way Sun Ce had looked in that moment of daybreak, his silhouette backlit by the stars above and the new dawn, and his gaze.
It was as if it was half bright day, half dark night. Dawn was breaking over the horizon, and a thread of twilight pulled itself taut between the two of them. The shadows of the mountain range accompanied the brilliant, blinding light of the blazing, newly born sun as they slowly turned.
“Are you willing to stand with me, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, to conquer the world?” Sun Ce asked with a serious expression. “I’ll only ask you this one sentence. As long as you come, then you cannot leave.”
Zhou Yu lifted his eyes to look at Sun Ce, saying, “I know.”
“If you’re afraid of owing me a debt,” Sun Ce added, “then we no longer need to bring up this matter. Sun Bofu has done these things for you, not because he wishes to take advantage of you.”
“I know,” Zhou Yu repeated, lifting his eyes calmly and composedly despite the situation as he looked towards Sun Ce’s. He said slowly, “I am willing to come to your side and assist you, at the heart of it, not because of this debt.”
“Then for what?” Sun Ce asked.
“Because I think highly of you,” Zhou Yu said. “Perhaps, there will come a day when the entire world is your Sun family’s. Before that day comes, let’s see how far the two of us can go. Owing you this bit of debt, what does it count for in the grand scheme of things? Isn’t that right?”
Sun Ce smiled. “Then you’re willing to come?”
“I’m willing,” Zhou Yu said. “Jia!”
The white piebald turned around on the path, racing after the tail end of the caravan, vanishing into the depths of the vast mountain forest.
moon: and now the real zhao zilong has taken the stage… not the fish, he’s real
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.