Li Qingcheng seemed to have lost his soul, as if he was missing a piece of his heart.
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Riding on a horse with the arctic gyr on his shoulder, Li Qingcheng wound his way up the mountain, injured soldiers in tow.
For reasons unknown, he was still worried about Zhang Mu. Can Zhang Mu, alone, succeed?
The warhorse stopped on the edge of the cliff, frightened. Li Qingcheng, facing a natural stone bridge ranging about a zhang wide that could barely support two people riding side by side, just shouted, "Jia!"
A loud commotion was suddenly detected from the other side of the bridge. Roars and snarls of wild animals came from afar, and the arctic gyr's feathers immediately stirred up in vigilance —— it got into a takeoff posture as it slowly unfurled its wings. Li Qingcheng, completely bewildered, looked carefully at the other side for a moment before dismounting from his horse. After tightening the leather armor on his upper body, he walked over the bridge.
Following the sound of a soft whistle was the wild howling of wolves from the forest opposite of the bridge. Soon afterward, hundreds of gray wolves rushed out!
Li Qingcheng, caught unprepared, grasped his sword as he withdrew. The soldiers behind him shouted out one after another and readied their shields —— they surrounded Li Qingcheng, protecting him in the center.
"Move back!" Li Qingcheng shouted. "Don't fight here, take care not to fall!"
The king of wolves appeared to be giving orders under the ashen sky; another howl resounded throughout the vast sky, causing more and more wolves to pour out of the forest. A pained cry soon came from inside the forest, with a swiftly-moving grey shadow coming out following it.
Fang Qingyu, also totally not expecting that the hidden ambush was actually a pack of wolves, hastily held his position as he shouted, "ATTACK——"
Hundreds of soldiers, shields in hand, went past Li Qingcheng. They advanced and blocked the wolves on the bridge.
Zhang Mu made a muffled groan as he unsheathed the Wuming Sabre and pounced at the wolves, sweeping them out and causing blood to splatter everywhere. Then, when he keenly spotted the grey shadow sweeping out of the forest, he immediately rushed to chase after it!
It was a man's arm that fiercely caught Zhang Mu's approaching sabre. When they came into contact with each other, the sound of something snapping followed by a big roar of pain resounded.
A man and a wolf, rushing out of the forest and leaping from rocks to rocks, fled into the mountain stream.
"Release the arrows!" Fang Qingyu ordered in a loud voice.
The soldiers on the edge of the cliff readied their crossbows one after another, and a round of arrows soon rained upon the advancing wolves in front of them. Li Qingcheng yelled, "Retreat! Don't fight on the bridge! It's too dangerous!"
The soldiers gathered in one spot to fight. The man took a risk in crossing over the cliff bridge, but since the wolf was exceptionally strong and vigorous, in just a short amount of time, they managed to traverse the stone bridge. Everybody's back was by the side of the cliff as they shot out arrows at the enemies.
The tactics they had planned in advance were completely useless against a pack of animals. Fortunately, Fang Qingyu had something up his sleeve, and the arrows were launched in an orderly manner. After the alpha wolf and the rider escaped into the stream, the pack that now lacked its leader no longer fought as fiercely as before, in the end leaving behind corpses of wolves all over the ground.
Li Qingcheng took a breath for a while, but seeing the soldiers lowered their crossbows, he said again, "Wait, don't drop your vigilance!"
Everyone readied their steel crossbows once more as they observed the opposite side, in case more enemies showed up.
Holding the crossbow in both hands, Li Qingcheng looked at the cliff under the bridge. Zhang Mu had his body clawed by wolves to the point he was drenched in blood, the area between his armor and neck all covered with scars. He took a big leap to chase after the huge alpha wolf and its rider, each slash of the Wuming Sabre in his hands cutting a rock to pieces.
"Go, go," said Li Qingcheng.
The arctic gyr looked into the distance. Li Qingcheng grabbed it before releasing it toward the mountain stream, however, the arctic gyr just flew back.
"You..." Li Qingcheng, frowning, used his crossbow to point at it. "How come are you so disobedient? Are all tamed falcons like these as well?"
The arctic gyr perched on the crossbow, shaking its body.
Li Qingcheng was at his wit's end. "What is this falcon called?"
A soldier replied, "Did Your Highness forget? Your Highness always call it 'Son.'"
Li Qingcheng: "......"
"Son?" Li Qingcheng said with a hint of displeasure. "Go lend a hand."
"This is surely going to get our son cooked to death ba," Li Qingcheng stooped down, both hands on his knees, as he said worriedly.
Zhang Mu, sitting on the stone as he earnestly poured the tea to wash bowels on the drenched arctic gyr, raised his head and looked at Li Qingcheng. "You're not afraid of the Xiongnus hating you, but actually afraid that an eagle hates you?"
"Son!" Li Qingcheng came back to his senses. "Go!"
The gyrfalcon fluttered its wings and let out a long, sharp cry that actually caused Zhang Mu and the wolf rider's actions on the cliff to simultaneously stop.
The arctic gyr pounced on the man immediately afterward. Zhang Mu clutched the cliff with one hand, while the other swung his sabre across. An echo resounded throughout the mountain —— two men and two animals launched an extremely intense pursuit on the cliff's precipitous terrain!
Zhang Mu finally managed to catch up with the man right at the moment he heard the very desperate, pained cry of the wolf as the gyr had scratched the alpha wolf until it was bleeding all over. He suddenly swung his sabre, sweeping the man down the ravine.
The soldiers on the bridge loudly shouted, "Good!"
But not sooner than later, that king of wolves leaped from the side and crashed into Zhang Mu.
Li Qingcheng felt as if his heart just jumped to his throat. Zhang Mu, whose tall figure was slightly leaning at the edge of the edge, immediately drew out and nailed his sabre on the rock in hopes of stabilizing himself, but the rock instead crumbled with a thunderous sound.
That moment when Zhang Mu looked back, Li Qingcheng's heart immediately skipped over.
The next second, dragging a trail of blood with him, Zhang Mu fell down toward the bottom of the ravine, as light as a feather.
"MUTEEEEEEE——!" Li Qingcheng's desperate roar resonated throughout the mountain stream.
Silence befell the whole cliff to the point not even a whisper could be heard. It was as if nothing had occurred in the place where the two people had fought to the death just a moment ago.
Even after a long, long time had passed, nobody dared to speak.
Li Qingcheng blew the eagle whistle, prompting the arctic gyr hovering around the ravine to fly back.
"Find him," Li Qingcheng said in murmurs. "If alive, I want to see the person. If dead, I want to see his corpse."
The soldiers thus scattered down the ravine and carefully searched the place where Zhang Mu had fallen. At dusk, they returned one after another, yet Zhang Mu's corpse still couldn't be found. Li Qingcheng sat for a moment, murmuring, "Not dead? Where did he go? Go find him. Do you understand? Son?"
The arctic gyr flapped its wings and plunged into the forest.
Li Qingcheng let out a long sigh. In the past, it was all thanks to Zhang Mu that I was rescued out of the capital and spared from the miserable end of being imprisoned in the deep palace. This mute bodyguard had been accompanying me for nearly 12 years, although he never spoke in normal times, his loyalty needs not be questioned anymore.
Thinking of this, Li Qingcheng's eyes reddened. Fang Qingyu said, "We can't find him. Most likely, he's already gone. Your Highness, we can't continue to delay over this, we must leave for Jiang Province at once. The longer we stay here, the more dangerous it will be."
Li Qingcheng didn't answer.
Fang Qingyu said, "Not even a corpse was found. There's also a chance it was eaten by wolves."
Li Qingcheng: "Qing-ge."
Li Qingcheng's tone was frost cold. "If I ever hear you say something like that again..."
Fang Qingyu smiled. "Qingcheng, if I could give up my life and die for you, I only hope my death will be worthwhile." Saying so, he turned around and went to sit on the side.
When Fang Qingyu said so, Li Qingcheng actually couldn't get angry even in the slightest and just blankly sat there.
However, speaking of this pain he felt, he once again didn't know where it came from. Thinking about it over and over, this bodyguard was neither affectionate nor obedient to him. At most, it was nothing but loyalty between the general who protected his lord.
To sacrifice oneself and die a heroic death for the country's sake, leaving behind a name associated with "loyalty" and a danqing painting.
Li Qingcheng: "Search again, more carefully this time. It will be the last time, don't blame me if we can't find him."
"At that time, were it not for the mute that rescued me from the palace and brought me all the way to Jia City, I would have most likely become your aunt's prisoner right now." Li Qingcheng glanced at Fang Qingyu, mood gloomy.
Fang Qingyu said, "If you carefully look into it at this time, it indeed truly seems out of step. But Qing-ge has a word that he truly has to say: even if you classify me as a person with a villainous character, this truly has nothing to do with it."
Li Qingcheng sneered. "It goes without saying that you are a villain."
Fang Qingyu smiled. "Had it not been for him being meddlesome, I would've taken you to Minghuang Hall that night. I would've gathered the grand secretariat and General Fu, then officially made the country to be under the crown prince's supervision.
"Empress Fang rebelled in a hurry, and she also executed it without thorough planning. Had we, together with the two outstanding generals, General Fu and Tang Yingzhao, fought in the imperial capital back then, while I'm not sure, there could be a chance of us smoothly pacifying the rebellion, and there wouldn't have been so many complications like today."
Li Qingcheng went quiet before sighing after a while. The soldiers came back after finishing the final search, yet still, they couldn't find the man. The arctic gyr also hadn't returned.
"Let's go," Li Qingcheng ordered. "In the future, when we return to the capital, give him a lavish funeral and confer him a posthumous title for three generations of ancestors."
A soldier handed over a warhorse when the army marched once again. Fang Qingyu, a moment after seeing Li Qingcheng just sitting in a trance on his horse, felt very worried and went to share a ride with Li Qingcheng as they headed toward the last section of the road of Mt. Mei.
Zhang Mu was hurt from head to toe. Caught by the wolf, he managed to catch hold of some rocks when he fell off the cliff. His left finger, which was twisted as he fell all the way down, already snapped into two.
Dragging his injured bare arm, he got up and staggered along the stream, until a drizzle that filled the whole sky once again puffed up and in front of him was shrouded with vapor.
After directly throwing himself into the bushes, Zhang Mu, who crashed on the ground, took a long breath afterward.
He found several branches to act as a splint to support his finger and held the sabre in his right hand. The arctic gyr flew down from the top of the cliff and sounded a low cry.
After standing still for a moment, Zhang Mu turned his head and squinted as he listened to howls of wolves coming from the distance. He then whistled at the gyrfalcon, which flew over and landed on his shoulder as a response.
Zhang Mu raised his sabre to push away branches obstructing the way as he walked silently toward the depths of the dense forest.
After passing through the long and narrow floor of the ravine, he found himself in a lowland where several dead bodies were scattered. Coming from the cave in the distance was the loud howling of wolf cubs. Zhang Mu closed his eyes as he tried to identify the movement around him.
There's no danger.
Zhang Mu's war boots moved step by step closer to the center of the lowland, his tall and straight figure standing firm as he looked up to survey his surroundings. With precipitous cliffs on all sides, this was a remote canyon surrounded by mountain ranges.
The canyon was covered with hay and the dead corpses of the Western Plains Army —— the people Li Qingcheng brought with him.
Furthermore, there was also an unfamiliar soldier wearing armor. Zhang Mu, who had bent down to examine the already decomposing body, pulled off a piece of Jiang Province's Army waist token from it.
Turning around, Zhang Mu saw several young wolves tearing apart an arm wearing a wristguard.
Zhang Mu killed those young wolves without even thinking twice before storing away the token and the wristguard.
Three days later, Li Qingcheng seemed to have lost his soul, as if he was missing a piece of his heart. When he stopped his horse in front of Jiang Province's military road, everyone also followed suit without exception.
In front of him were so many soldiers they could topple mountains and overturn seas. Under the dazzling blue color of the sky decorated with the blazing midsummer sun, 50,000 Jiang Province Army were lined up on the military road on the plains outside of the city.
Li Qingcheng opened his mouth, yet no sound could come out. When he finally managed to, it was in a stiff murmur that called out, "Little Uncle——"
Han Canghai in his martial attire shouted, "All soldiers, listen to order——"
Li Qingcheng's eyes reddened as he looked at the nearly forty-year-old Jiang Province's Governor Han Canghai who took another deep breath before shouting, "Soldiers——! Get ready!"
After dismounting, Li Qingcheng slowly walked over. A soldier tried to step forward, but he was stopped by Fang Qingyu.
Li Qingcheng, choked in emotions, came to a halt. Han Canghai said, "Respectfully welcome Your Highness the Crown Prince—— Kneel!"
A uniform "clang!" sound resounded. 50,000 soldiers knelt down at the same time, their voices earth-shattering, "Respectfully welcoming Your Highness the Crown Prince!"
Li Qingcheng only felt that on this heart-pounding day, those restless and sleepless nights would finally come to an end; there was no more need to feel alarmed all the time nor feel pressed until he couldn't breathe. In the short period of half a year, yet it seemed as if two lifetimes had passed.
Yet an indescribable pain weighed heavily on his heart. The experience that didn't belong to him seemed to blend in with his memory, causing him to feel the saddest emotion day after day during their journey; even he himself couldn't tell the reason this emotion broke out all the time. Li Qingcheng suddenly rushed to Han Canghai, and throwing himself at him, the nephew and the uncle thus tightly hugged each other.
—— Volume 2: Interrupted Dream · End ——
"A riot of carmine and violet blooms, though only dry wells and crumbling walls bear witness. The day is fine, the scene splendid, but joy and contentment are not gifts granted lightly.
Petals soaring, furling, morning and night; the rosy clouds, the emerald pavilions. Raindrops in a breeze, waves shrouded in mist, a painted boat on the water. For the woman in her boudoir, how humbling the beauty of spring!"
—— Interrupted Dream
GOD DAMN IT
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.