Chapter 490. The South-western Army
In the south-west of the Great Wen.
A group of mysterious horsemen from the north quietly entered the encampment of the South-western Army.
This army built three years ago, after including the garrison stationed in the two south-western prefectures, had recruited a lot of new soldiers on a yearly basis and grown into a force over 100,000 strong. Everybody believed that this army had been built to deter the various tribes of complicated ethnic background dwelling near the south-western border as well as their headmen, every one of whom was itching to annex a town or two of the Great Wen. Only the commander of the South-western Army and his lieutenants were aware of the real reason why this army had been organized.
The arrival of the group of mysterious horsemen at the encampment of the South-western Army brought a change to the atmosphere in the encampment. It was like a kind of inexorable herald, or an unsheathed long knife that would make its wielder invincible.
Thunder rumbled in the sky and soon it was pouring with rain.
There was a sudden landslide on a mountain outside Yuechao City which was located in the south-west of the Wan Kingdom. A valley beside the mountain was almost filled because of it. Even people inside the city heard the almighty crash.
The Wan soldiers on night duty looked in the direction of that mountain outside the city, startled and confused. What with the inky night and the heavy rain, they were unable to see clearly what had just happened, but for some reason, every one of them had a foreboding feeling.
Before long, the ramparts suddenly quaked. It happened without warning and all the soldiers lost their footing and hastened to grab the parapet. The ramparts still quivering, they all broke out in a cold sweat. A few moments ago, when they had been gazing in the direction of the valley from which the almighty crash had issued, a section of the ramparts for some inexplicable reason had suddenly collapsed!
The ramparts had always been as substantial as though they were made of solid metal, but on this night a section of them had actually collapsed for no good reason. Nobody would believe that the rain was responsible for it. An indescribable panic suddenly spread among the soldiers on night duty. Some of them rushed off with the intention to report it to the local authorities. Some stared at the collapsed ramparts, unable to believe what they were seeing.
“The ramparts collapsed! The ramparts collapsed!”
The city began to descend into confusion. People shouting “The ramparts collapsed!” could be seen everywhere.
Before the officials of Yuechao City could give any instructions, a clatter of horses’ hoofs emanated from outside the city, where the impenetrable blackness was accompanied by torrential rain. The sounds were urgent and in chorus as though countless drums were beating in the dark. The dull clattering sounded as if it were reaching into the deep recesses of people’s minds, striking horror and shock into their hearts.
“Wh–What are those?” The soldiers looked in terror at the numerous black spots approaching in the dark, unable to tell what they were. However, the soldiers were all consumed with fright as though the Grim Reaper were coming. They found their legs trembling, but soon they found that it was not because of fear but because the ramparts were quaking from the drumbeat-like clattering of horses’ hoofs.
“Horses. No, no, people! They’re…INTRUDERS! WE’RE UNDER ATTACK!”
Finally someone made out what was approaching in the dark. It was an army of countless cavalrymen, who were galloping towards the city under cover of night. The sea of riders was even more terrifying than the pitch-black night. Nobody knew where they were from. It was as though they had descended from the sky or emerged from underground. The only thing the soldiers were positive about was that this army radiating an aura of death was here to claim their lives…
“Defend the city! Defend the city!”
“Inform His Lordship we’re under attack! We’re–”
Whizz! Whizz! Whizz!
Amid the blackness of night, some shooting arrows came penetrating the sheets of rain and one of them abruptly went into the speaker’s throat, sending him sinking to the ground, blood splattering.
Next, a volley of arrows whizzed over and took the lives of all the soldiers on the ramparts before they knew it.
“Enter the city.”
A cold voice was heard in the dark, traveling through the sheets of rain and reaching everybody’s ears.
The large army of men in black, who had appeared out of nowhere like ghosts, flooded through the breach in the ramparts and into Yuechao City to deafening clatter of horses’ hoofs and neigh, slaughtering all resisters and spattering blood along the way with their wicked-looking sabers.
Thunder was still rumbling on in the sky and the rain was still pouring down. The ground of Yuechao City was dyed red by blood mixed with rainwater.
This city was the largest along the south-western border of the Wan Kingdom, but the garrison here were utterly powerless to defend against the black army, who stormed the city as easily as cutting tofu with a knife.
“Take over the city and regroup. We’ll resume going north in two hours. Those assigned to stay here to stand guard are to welcome the team led by the Right Prime Minister into this city first light in the morning.”
The soldiers made a reply as one, their voices resounding through the whole place in the rain under the pitch-dark night sky.
The official in charge of the defense of Yuechao City was captured. Legs trembling, he actually wet his pants from horror, a foul odor pervading the room. When asked about the situation in the next city, he had no intention to resist whatsoever and disclosed everything he knew.
“Give him a quick death.”
A saber flashed through the air with a gleam and another dead body toppled to the ground.
Two hours later, Yuwen Tong looked up into the sky from which rain had been falling all night, then shifted his gaze into the still darkness of night in the direction of the next city. “Let’s go,” he said.
The sea of men in black, after hearing the two words, followed in Yuwen Tong’s wake like a mighty wave, merging into the dark, heading for the city nearest to Yuechao City.
In the capital of the Great Wen.
“It’s time to turn in, Your Highness.”
It was after midnight, but Ling Zhang still showed no inclination to go to sleep. The eunuch waiting upon him couldn’t help but remind him of the time.
Ling Zhang couldn’t sleep. The memorials to the throne delivered to him during the day had all been dealt with, but there still hadn’t been any new messages from the south-west. He was unaware of how things were going on the battlefield, and his worries were keeping him from getting to sleep.
Judging from the time of Yuwen Tong’s departure, it should have been two days since the army led by him had stormed into the south-west of the Wan Kingdom. Yuwen Tong’s army owned the fastest carrier hawks, and the message should have been delivered to the capital city some time ago. However, it was something after midnight, but there was still no news, so he naturally was unable to sleep.
He had a feeling that Yuwen Tong was not in danger. Ever since he had reached the sixth layer of his method of cultivating internal energy, he had been having some kind of premonitory awareness of the future development of the things he was concerned about. Right now he was feeling calm, and he had confidence in his hunch, so the reason why the carrier hawk hadn’t arrived yet was either that Yuwen Tong was delayed by something or that some kind of accident had happened to the hawk halfway through its journey.
Finally, after he waited for almost another hour, a secret bodyguard rushed inside.
“Message delivery–! A secret letter from the south-west, Your Highness!”
A look of delight flashed across Ling Zhang’s face at the report and with that he took the little bamboo correspondence-tube from the secret bodyguard’s hands, removed the stopper and extracted the secret letter inside. After he finished reading it, his face finally creased into a smile.
The army led by Yuwen Tong had taken three cities already, occupying the south-western corner of southern Wan Kingdom, which approximately covered the same area that a southern prefecture did. It had taken the carrier hawk some time to finish the journey, which meant that soon – in three days at the latest – Xue Chi would be informed of it, and people in the capital city would heard the news as well. And then, naturally, it would be no longer necessary to keep it secret that Yuwen Tong had been faking his injury. He would be able to overtly put Old Master Ji in charge of the imperial court, entrust his children to his father and Ji Yin and then set off to Shengzhou.
Three days later, news spread throughout the belligerents that two prefectures in south-western Wan Kingdom had fallen into Yuwen Tong’s hands.
Outside Shengzhou Pass, Xue Chi, who had fought the North-western Army for six solid days but still hadn’t made any progress, found his self-restraint no longer enough to help him maintain his dignity as General-in-chief at the news, his face so tense it was twisting. Through gritted teeth, he muttered smolderingly, “Yuwen Tong!”
The so-called waist injury was a blatant lie! Yuwen Tong had left the capital of his country some time ago. He had just launched an attack on Shengzhou Pass when Yuwen Tong had detoured around the vast mountainous south-western areas inhabited by various tribes and had his army storm into the Wan Kingdom!
All of them had fallen prey to Yuwen Tong’s trick!
However, though he had now come to know about the truth, there was nothing he could do about it. Distant water cannot quench a nearby fire. Besides, the only way to stop Yuwen Tong was to get through Shengzhou Pass and march all the way south. In that case, Yuwen Tong would lead his army back to save the capital of the Great Wen.
Xue Chi smacked his fist down on to the table, clenching his teeth, beside himself with rage, but eventually he had no choice but to summon all the officers, inform them of the latest news and tell them that they must take Shengzhou Pass within two days.
All the officers didn’t dare believe their ears after hearing that Yuwen Tong had taken two south-western prefectures. When their superior had affirmed that it was true, they all instantly lapsed into silence.
“Despicable. Yuwen Tong is so fucking despicable!” Someone cursed loudly.
“Father, should we go back to their rescue?!” asked Xue Yi anxiously.
Xue Chi glanced at him. “The Chen family had led an army south to intercept Yuwen Tong’s men. What we should do is figure out a way to take Shengzhou Pass as soon as possible.”
“It’s been six days, General Xue. Can I trust you to take Shengzhou Pass within two days?” said Shan Congyi, looking derisively at Xue Chi. At the beginning their victory had seemed in the bag, but now things were taking a drastic turn for the worse. They had been attacking Shengzhou Pass for six days but still hadn’t broken its defense, and they were still unable to gain entry into the Great Wen or go south to lay siege to its capital. They might not even be able to stop Yuwen Tong from taking their home front, not to mention kill him!
“I will take Shengzhou Pass or die trying,” enunciated Xue Chi.
If he failed, the consequence he would have to face after returning to the capital would be death anyway.
Everybody in the tent fell silent. After a moment, they all balled their hands into fists tightly.
“If Mu Hengtian’s army takes Youzhou Pass right away, we’ll have a higher chance of winning, but…” flared Xue Yi.
It had been two days since the Luohai Kingdom’s army had reached Youzhou Pass, but they still hadn’t gone on the offensive. God knew what they were thinking!
“Contact Nian Feng the Luohai General-in-chief and tell him to attack immediately. There’s no way I’m letting them sit back and do nothing after they pocketed all the money and land we offered them,” said Xue Chi irritably.
Soon, a dispatch written by Xue Chi himself, which bore the General-in-chief’s seal and Prince Yi’s seal, was handed over to an officer, who immediately departed, heading for Youzhou Pass with all haste.
In Shengzhou Pass.
“There has been frequent redeployment and regroupment in the Wan army. It would seem they have received the message. Tomorrow’s fight is going to be a tough one. Should we activate the large-scale Formation that His Highness had us deploy?”
Jiang Xi, after descending the ramparts, directly went to the main tent where he met Jiang Ke.
“The Formation could only trap the enemy for three or four days,” hesitated Jiang Ke, looking at the map on the table. “His Majesty has taken two prefectures, and there are only two southern prefectures under the Wan Kingdom’s control. If His Majesty takes them as well, the whole south will be in our hands, and that river will be the only thing between us and the Wan capital, but now the Chen family has led an army south to intercept His Majesty under orders from Shan Congli. There’s no telling how long it would take His Majesty to–”
Jiang Xi was somewhat anxious. “Stop dithering. Let’s trap Xue Chi’s men first. It’d be worth it even if the Formation would last only two or three days. They need to be brought down a peg!”
The hesitant expression in Jiang Ke’s eyes was replaced by one of determination and with that he replied through gritted teeth, “Okay. Give the order. We activate the Formation tonight!”