"Who am I? I am the Emperor of the Yu Country!"
Editor(s): Jelly, namio
Arius, like the mad, feral wolf he was, opened his bloodshot eyes as he roared, "Who are you?! Today, my clan's blood debt will be repaid with your blood!"
"Who am I? I am the Emperor of the Yu Country!"
Li Qingcheng's voice came through from above. On this tranquil, snowy night, his voice was clear and sharp as it resounded within a radius of few li.
"When you Xiongnu people took advantage of the civil unrest among the Central Plains' states years ago, you dared to invade us and even slaughtered my Central Plains' common people, my Great Yu's citizens. For every Xiongnu crossing the border, out of ten towns, nine were burned down. You also raped women and killed men. Today, you'll repay the blood on your hands using a mere few thousands of heads!
"Fifteen years ago, my father had beaten you to a pulp, making you run away with your tail between your legs, yet now you colluded with Empress Fang to murder my Father Emperor. You think that since my Father Emperor is dead, nobody in Great Yu would be able to stop your band of messy, barbarian brutes?!"
When the nearly ten thousand people inside the pass heard these words, they shivered all at once.
A soldier interpreted Li Qingcheng's words into the Xiongnu language, trying his best to communicate with them. But as soon as he began to do it, his whole body trembled in disbelief at these two words "the emperor," and he turned to look at Li Qingcheng.
The light of the flame in the night shone on his delicate face. Inside the pass and on the wall, every single soldier, simultaneously, laid down their weapon as they slowly got to their knees.
Li Qingcheng continued, "Arius! Since time immemorial, sons would follow in their fathers' footsteps. The Great Yu has always belonged to my Li family, not Empress Fang! Today, with me here, don't ever think the Xiongnus will take a step past the Feng Pass!"
Arius coldly said, "What a big mouth, it's a pity you're not Li Mou."
Li Qingcheng replied, "Come and fight, you'll see then."
The Feng Pass main gate slowly opened; five thousand troops swarmed out of it and lined up under the pass.
From the light amidst the darkness to the break of dawn, the first ray of the sun arrived, and finally, the white, marble color of a fish belly turned apparent on the horizon.
Li Qingcheng took a deep breath before shouting, "Commanders and soldiers!"
At that moment, in front of Feng Pass's Hutiao Canyon, there seemed to be some ten thousand people responding one after another, some agreeing voices and some shouting in a thunderous roar, making the field of snow vibrate incessantly.
"Give your all to this battlefield tonight——" Li Qingcheng drew out his sword and heightened his voice, "——and bring honor to your family tomorrow! ATTACK——!"
"ATTACK——" the cavalry roared, fueled up, and charged into the Xiongnus' watertight formation, as if they were going to topple the mountains and overturn the seas!
Arius bent down, repeatedly gasping for breath.
Behind that formation, the rumbling sound soon grew even more apparent. Arius took the lead of nearly ten thousand people to enter the ravine! Fang Qingyu and Tang Hong each led a wing as they charged into the Xiongnu cavalry. Both parties' armies numbering over ten thousand clashed with each other, and the war of life and death began!
However, not a moment after the battle began, another group of people came out to attack from behind. Those troops who had come from afar were a combination of mounted and foot soldiers; the infantry was unexpectedly dressed in simple leather armor amidst this world of ice and snow, carrying lances in hands as they, not fearing for their lives, made a surprise attack at the Xiongnus' backline!
Zhang Mu drew out his sabre; there was no roar nor declaration from him, only a swiftly galloping horse —— he looked like a god of death descending at the break of dawn, silently tearing apart and ripping out a huge rift in the enemy's formation.
He brought back with him the 20,000 Yu troops that had been imprisoned in Mt. Duanke. After being humiliated for nearly ten days, these prisoners of war who had just been freed all seemed to turn into mad tigers.
He was in the lead, galloping in front of these 20,000 ambush troops, and like a dagger, he pierced deep into the back of Xiongnu troops.
Wherever he waved his sabre, that place would have flesh flying over and corpses falling to the ground!
His battle armor was soaked in a purple-black haze of blood from running over Arius's personal army. Anywhere he went, nobody could stop that godlike sabre!
Feng Pass had successfully turned into a giant meat grinder, black blood permeating three chi deep under the snow. The bloody battle was fought from the break of dawn right until the rising sun rose, bathing the entire field in gold.
By the time Fang Qingyu and Tang Hong had successfully outflanked them from both the left and right, the Xiongnus were finished and they retreated one after another towards both sides of the canyon.
Li Qingcheng shot a fire arrow, at last launching the final ambush.
On the top of the canyon, boiling oil was dumped on trees. Similar to falling fire boulders, they filled the snow plains and canyon covering thousands of li in front of the Feng Pass. The Xiongnus were utterly defeated, protecting Arius as they retreated north.
Li Qingcheng urged his horse so he could get closer to them at least several steps. Yet as he spurred it, he felt the sky spin and the earth rotate, and his right hand holding the sword continuously trembled. He gasped for breath and leaned forward on horseback.
"Your Highness!" Tang Hong turned his horse around.
Li Qingcheng was covered in blood. When he had been leading the assault, soldiers behind him had blocked the majority of the arrows with their round shields, but his left arm was still hit by an arrow, now making blood flow down the gap between his armor. During the assault, he also had a one-on-one fight with Arius, the Yunshu Sword in his hand clashing with the long dagger-axe, which left behind an extremely shocking war trophy.
"What is that…" Tang Hong, couldn't help but slightly tremble.
Li Qingcheng controlled his breath; his hand was holding a severed arm that was still clenching a dark-blue halberd.
Tang Hong moved closer and took the arm. After he finished separating it, he said, voice trembling, "Your Highness, you… cut off…"
Li Qingcheng closed both of his eyes. When he opened them again, he faintly said, "I cut off Arius's right hand."
Tang Hong's astonishment reached its maximum, and he looked at Li Qingcheng with a gaze full of reverence. When he, under the protection of his soldiers, charged and collided with Arius's personal troops, the Xiongnu King relied on his martial skills and didn't put this young crown prince Li Qingcheng in his eyes at all.
Anger, underestimation of the enemy, and arrogance; everything piled up into one. So when he was suddenly hit by Li Qingcheng's fast-yet-fleeting blow, adding the fact that Yunshu was a divine weapon that could cut through iron like mud, half of his arm, as well as the armor, was cut clean on the spot.
"The credit goes to the sword, not me," Li Qingcheng said. "Fang Qingyu uses a sword, while Mu-ge uses a sabre; both of them have no need for polearms. I'm rewarding you with this halberd."
At once, Tang Hong took it with both hands.
Li Qingcheng said no more. Several soldiers came to his aid and they returned to the pass, opening the main gate once. The raging inferno and black smoke covered the whole canyon as they followed the eastern wind and billowed in the direction of the Xiaogu River.
Li Qingcheng's hand had been bandaged, and he was leaning tiredly against the haystack.
"You really are the Crown Prince?" asked the soldier who had bandaged his wound in a trembling voice.
Helpless, Li Qingcheng said, "If you believe it, then I am, if you don't, then I am not.
Still having a splitting headache, he suddenly heard the voice of a man, one shouting until it grew hoarse and roaring mad like a wild tiger.
"Who let him out of the pass——! Who let him out! Fang Qingyu, I'm going to kill you!"
"Don't shout," Li Qingcheng said in a low voice. "I'm not dead."
Zhang Mu's chest was heaving up and down, his breathing wild. He rushed over and roughly pressed Li Qingcheng; he frantically touched him all over, stroking his head, caressing his hands, feeling his shoulders. Li Qingcheng shouted "hey, hey, ouch!" before swatting his arm then angrily said, "Be gentler!"
Zhang Mu cradled Li Qingcheng in his arms and put him on the haystack, both of his hands trembling as he removed the bandage off Li Qingcheng's arm.
"General! I just finished bandaging His Highness the Crown Prince, you can't re…" a young soldier came forward to forbid him. Zhang Mu turned his hand into a fist and punched that soldier without a preamble. At once, the sound of bones breaking could be heard, and blood spurted out of his mouth for far, far away.
Li Qingcheng said, "Mu-ge, it's just a bruise!"
Face ashen, Zhang Mu unwrapped Li Qingcheng's bandage, took medicinal powder out of his lapel and sprinkled the contents on Li Qingcheng's arrow wound. Li Qingcheng cried out in pain, and Zhang Mu tightly rewrapped the bandage three times, only then he thought it was okay.
Li Qingcheng asked, "How many people died?"
He forced himself to stand up. Fang Qingyu and Tang Hong came soon after, only Zhang Mu alone was still on his knees.
Li Qingcheng personally bent himself down to help him up. Zhang Mu, still kneeling on both knees, lowered his head and stuck his forehead on the snow.
"Get up," Li Qingcheng spoke. "Mu-ge, if you don't get up, I'll bend myself more until it becomes too difficult to bear, and I'll just pass out again."
Zhang Mu had no choice but to stand up.
Li Qingcheng continued, "Count the casualties."
Tang Hong turned around to give orders to the soldiers. The Xiongnus had been defeated and were now fleeing. Amidst the snowy plains, there was only a sea of flames; it was unclear which soldiers' corpses belonged to their side and which ones belonged to the Xiongnus.
Li Qingcheng said, "How many people did Mu-ge bring back? Let Tang Hong check it through."
Zhang Mu turned around in silence and walked away in large strides.
At this time, Fang Qingyu spoke up, "Why bother going, just me fighting is enough. What are you running out again for? You'll make me get beaten by the mute too."
Li Qingcheng answered, "None of your business. I also don’t give a damn if you're going out of the pass. Don't be pesky, I haven't even executed your whipping yet."
Zhang Mu stopped walking behind Li Qingcheng.
Behind the Feng Pass, a group of Yu Country's cavalry had arrived, pulling a carriage with them.
Li Qingcheng pressed his sword with one hand. He turned and saw that the captain of the cavalry in front of the carriage was Yin Lie.
"This is the real Lord Diplomat," Yin Lie dismounted and said. "Why didn't you tell me? He was almost killed by me!"
Li Qingcheng threw the jade tally out; it landed on Yin Lie's hands. He then raised his eyebrows and said, "But you didn't kill him in the end, did you?"
The diplomat climbed out of the carriage, in his hands was an official correspondence scroll. From the moment his foot reached the ground, his body was trembling like mad; he was shivering all over. "Lord Yin, what are we doing here?!"
Li Qingcheng said, "What is this lord called?"
The diplomat said, "This humble officer is Gao… Gao Ya. This general is…"
Li Qingcheng took off his helmet and asked, "Do you know who I am?"
The diplomat's eyes widened in fear. The words "crown prince" couldn't leave his mouth no matter how hard he tried.
Li Qingcheng merely wanted to reconfirm his identity once more, which was why he turned to the diplomat. Seeing his expression at the moment, the doubt in his heart was dispersed. He then faintly said, "You were one step too late, Arius had been kicked back to Mt. Duanke already. Someone! Take him away!"
In this battle, Li Qingcheng led both Langhuan and Feng Pass defenders of 9,000 troops to fight Arius's 40,000 and achieved victory at a great cost.
In Mt. Duanke, Zhang Mu rescued 21,700 Northern Expedition Army's prisoners of war, which bore the most casualties during the charge against the Xiongnu cavalry, losing seven out of ten men.
Nine thousand cavalry had gone out of the pass; they slaughtered more than ten Xiongnu camps, killing 6,000 people including the old, young, women, and children. When reinforcements came, the Feng Pass cavalry had lost almost half of their number, with only 4,900 remaining.
Dead, charred bodies covered the area in front of the pass. The fire gradually died down, and this battlefield that looked like purgatory on earth left a total of 27,000 corpses of the Saiwai's Xiongnu people.
After this campaign, Arius's Xiongnu troops lost the majority of their strength and escaped to Mt. Duanke in a flurry.
The next day, Li Qingcheng woke up in Feng City's administrative assistant manor; his whole body, both muscles and bones, were all in pain, but the injury on his arm was almost healed.
Zhang Mu lay on the ground by the couch, and when Li Qingcheng shifted a little, he woke up. Both of them reeked of blood. Li Qingcheng's leather armor had been removed and properly placed before the table. Zhang Mu, however, just lay on the ground and fell asleep the night before and was still wearing his armor and iron helmet.
Several people were dead tired to the point where they slept for nearly twelve shichen.
A servant served Li Qingcheng his breakfast. Tang Hong, Fang Qingyu, and Zhang Mu all stood by his side, ready to obey his instructions. The diplomat was brought in, still tied up, and was now sitting across the table. The smell of blood coming from these people choked him, making him want to vomit.
Li Qingcheng drank his congee, ate his steamed buns, and then gestured with his chopsticks. "Lord Gao, feel free to eat. There's not enough ingredients in the frontline, I've been a poor host indeed."
Gao Ya looked at Li Qingcheng, bewildered and unconvinced.
"You say." Li Qingcheng slightly looked sideways. "Kill him or not?"
Tang Hong stared at the congee in front of Li Qingcheng, gulping.
Fang Qingyu replied, "Kill ba. Keeping him for what, a waste of food."
Tang Hong said, "Can't kill. If we kill, the court will just send another one to come, you want to kill each time they come? Kill until they stop coming?"
Li Qingcheng, "Hmm. Mu-ge, what do you think?"
Zhang Mu was silent. Li Qingcheng said, "I can't look into your eyes' signal. Open your golden mouth ba."
Zhang Mu answered, "Don't kill."
Li Qingcheng said, "Don't kill it is then. Lord Gao, please continue to eat."
Gao Ya had been scared to the point his soul went out of his body; he almost failed to hold his urine a few times. With a trembling voice, he said, "Your… Your Highness, this subject didn't know…"
Li Qingcheng glanced at Gao Ya, scaring him into shutting up once more.
"I won't kill you, I'll let you go," Li Qingcheng stated. "We have to go too. We have to go back and give that Mother Empress of mine a report. Family affairs are family affairs, foreign invasions are foreign invasions; they have nothing to do with each other."
Shaking with fear, Gao Ya asked, "Where does Your Highness want to go?"
Li Qingcheng replied, "I'm telling you, are you waiting to be hunted down?"
Gao Ya trembled once more. "It's no longer possible to negotiate peace. The situation in the Northern Border is not yet settled…"
Li Qingcheng mocked, "So I should stay here and help that woman guard the border town? There's no guarantee there'll be no more attacks on both the inside and outside in the future."
Zhang Mu suddenly opened his mouth. "You remembered everything."
Li Qingcheng replied, "No, this is all based on conjecture. Someone, send Lord Gao back to the capital. Remember to bring my message: I will return to the capital within three years."
Several soldiers stepped forward and carried Gao Ya out.
Li Qingcheng threw away his chopsticks and said, "Eat, eat, you eat ba. After you've finished, pack up your things and we'll go. But before going, we all need to take a bath. Our bodies reek of blood, it's choking people."
He woke up at the wu period. Li Qingcheng's arrow wound was barely healed, so he dared not touch the water and had no alternative but to put his arm on the edge of the tub while bathing. After he finished, he came out with disheveled hair and said, "You go wash next. I'll ask them to add extra heat for you."
The person he was speaking to was none other than Zhang Mu standing outside the room, whose cheeks had a faint, hard-to-notice flush at the moment. After saying that, Li Qingcheng left.
Zhang Mu entered the room and signaled that he didn't need to be served upon. He then slowly removed his armor, leaving only his shirt and underpants.
After the clothes and pants were taken off, one could see that they were all covered in a thick layer of blood and mud.
The soldier poured hot water in. Zhang Mu leaned against the tub and closed his eyes wearily. A short moment later, the door was closed. A pair of hands pressed on his shoulders; Zhang Mu abruptly jolted and turned his head.
"I'll help you," Li Qingcheng smiled and said, "Don't move, sit down."
Zhang Mu said, "Don't…"
Li Qingcheng insisted. "Don't move."
Zhang Mu could only sit down. Both his eyes were fixed on the water surface, which in turn reflected Li Qingcheng's visage.
Li Qingcheng had just finished washing, his whole body still carried a faint smell of honey locust. He began to give Zhang Mu a rub on his neck, and Zhang Mu, from his back shoulder all the way up to his neck, went red all over.
Li Qingcheng's wet fingers wiped the side of Zhang Mu's face. Zhang Mu unnaturally turned his head to keep the burn scar away from his fingers.
"I do not reject you," Li Qingcheng said. "You don't reject me either."
Zhang Mu didn't say anything. Li Qingcheng continued, "Mu-ge, in this life, with you by my side, there's nothing I'm afraid of, I'm not afraid of dying, nor worried about living. I also don't thank you either, everything you've done for me, is just as it should be."
Zhang Mu said, "Your Highness."
Li Qingcheng continued, "So, what I'm doing for you, is also just as it should be. Remember this for me in the future."
Li Qingcheng pulled out Zhang Mu's wooden hairpin and proceeded to wash his hair. For a long time after that, only the sound of water could be heard inside the room. Hair half wet, Zhang Mu was draped with an azure robe and barefoot as he stood hand-in-hand with Li Qingcheng.
"Look," Zhang Mu said in a soft voice.
He let go of Li Qingcheng's hand and signaled him to follow his example: he squared-off, his hands each forming a hook akin to a talon, and flipped over his eagle-like fingers so they faced upwards while simultaneously taking an opening step; the magnificence of that step was indescribable.
Li Qingcheng frowned as he watched. He saw that the set of moves Zhang Mu used was different from the one he taught him before; this one had a subtle yet uninterrupted and exquisite artistic concept behind it. Li Qingcheng was intelligent in nature and he almost never forgot martial arts routine sequences. However, when Zhang Mu was doing this finger technique, one move transformed into a hundred, and each style had countless sequences and variations.
All in all, it could be sorted into five moves: hooking, raising, capturing, seizing, and intercepting.
Repeatedly, Zhang Mu rehearsed the routine a total of ten times. He then took Li Qingcheng by hand and signaled him to exchange blows with him.
Li Qingcheng said, "What do you mean? It's too hard, I can't learn it.
Zhang Mu's expression turned sad. Li Qingcheng spoke, "Why are you suddenly teaching me this?"
Zhang Mu replied, "Secret skill."
Li Qingcheng, "Your family's secret technique?"
Zhang Mu nodded. "Passed to only one person each generation. Recipient is a direct descendant."
Li Qingcheng waved his hands. "Since you can't teach it to outsiders, I'd better not learn it."
Zhang Mu realized he had said something wrong and his eyes became a little disappointed. Li Qingcheng had only looked at the surface when he made this conclusion; but all of a sudden, he felt slightly touched and understood what Zhang Mu meant.
"You want to give the best for me," Li Qingcheng stated.
Zhang Mu nodded. "Besides this, I have nothing else."
Li Qingcheng laughed, his heart full of tenderness. He once again let out a sigh and gave Zhang Mu a kick below his kneecap. Zhang Mu went down to a half-kneel with a blank look on his face. Li Qingcheng smiled and said, "Blockhead." Then, with both hands in his arms, he passed through the corridor and told the men to get ready to move out.
MU-GE WHY ARE YOU SO GOOD!! MU-GE!! MU-GE!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARKH
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.