Volume 4, Chapter 21 : Cutting Off a Vital Part

Ji moved unhindered on the battlefield for many years, winning more battles than he lost, frequently taking sole command, relied upon by the Grand General. In the twenty-third year of the Rongsheng era, the Grand General led an army and invaded Zezhou, fighting the Great Yong’s main army at Qinze and dispatching Ji to attack the enemy’s supplies. Unexpectedly, the Yong army was crafty. The Prince of Qi adopted a disguise and departed from the main army, setting a trap. Ji did not discover it and was ambushed into an encirclement. Fighting bitterly all day and all night, Ji’s army used up all its ammunition and provisions. In the face of the strong enemy, a meteorite fell at Qinshui. All of his troops were killed, none of them surrendering. At the time, the Yong commander, the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, although disgusted by Ji’s massacres, still cherished his talent and dispatched an emissary to convince Ji to surrender. Ji refused, singing a song as he met his end. At the time of his death, he was thirty-one years old. The Prince sighed with admiration, prohibiting his corpse from being desecrated, ordering his household troops to deliver the body back to Northern Han. Seeing Ji’s corpse, the Grand General felt a sorrow that penetrated him to his core. Adhering by Ji’s previous request, the Grand General buried Ji’s ashes in his homeland.
—Northern Han Dynastic Records, Biography of Tan Ji

At dawn the next day, the Northern Han army was finally completely annihilated. Under the protection of his bodyguards, Li Xian walked through the plains reeking of blood and carnage. The entire battlefield was littered with corpses. Each dead Northern Han soldier had been stricken with numerous grievous injuries. All of them had died after putting up fierce fights. Li Xian soon arrived at the center of the battlefield where the most savage and desperate fighting had taken place. Several of the corpses had bronze masks on their faces. Amongst them was a man in the uniform of a general. Li Xian looked carefully and saw that the man’s arms were spread out, using his body to protect a comparatively smaller body. His right hand still tightly grasped a dagger-axe. His battle gown was slashed to pieces and completely soaked with blood. On the ground beside him was a warhorse with a pike piercing its back. The horse let out long whinnies, frequently moving its head to nudge its owner, wanting him to rise again.

Without Li Xian needing to give the order, someone naturally dragged away the mortally injured and unwilling to depart warhorse. Li Xian walked over, bending down to take a look. He saw that the man still wore a bronze mask. Li Xian stretched his hand out and removed the mask, revealing a delicate and handsome face. Although he was already thirty years old, he was still elegant and refined. Years of not being exposed to the sun caused his skin to be excessively pale. Even though his eyes were closed, his sorrowful and dismal aura could still be sensed. Probably because his face had been covered for so long, there were no bloodstains on his face even though he had undergone a brutal battle. His countenance did not have a single hint that he was terrified or indignant at the prospect of death, instead possessing a faint smile, as if he was finally able to relinquish the burdens he had carried.

Li Xian sighed softly. When he sought to have Tan Ji surrender earlier, although he partially intended to disturb enemy morale, he truly wished to recruit this man into his service at that moment. Although this man was excessive in his slaughter, his tactics and courage left a great mark. Even on the verge of death, his subordinates were willing to follow him to death. From this, it was clear that although this man was callous and unfeeling he was not ruthless by nature. It was a pity that this kind of talent was lost.

Right when Li Xian was feeling quite piteous, he heard a weak groan. Li Xian did not react consciously, although his body retreated one step. His bodyguards drew their swords and approached, cautiously protecting the Prince of Qi. Everyone listened carefully, not hearing any sound. Li Xian racked his memory, trying to recall whence he had heard the groan. His gaze fell upon Tan Ji’s body, or rather, the person underneath Tan Ji whom his body protected. Li Xian ordered his men to lift Tan Ji’s body up, discovering a member of the Ghost Cavalry underneath Tan Ji. Li Xian discovered that although this man had suffered a serious injury, his dire wound was quite shallow. Presumably, Tan Ji had used his body to block that blow.

Tao Lin, one of the Prince of Qi’s bodyguards, glared coldly at the soldiers who were tidying up the battlefield. How could they have not discovered this living person? If someone took the advantage to assassinate the prince, it would be terrible. However, Li Xian did not blame them. He walked over and removed the bronze mask from the unconscious Ghost Cavalry, revealing a yet childish face. Li Xian unwittingly remarked, “Who could have thought that there is such a youngster in Tan Ji’s Ghost Cavalry, going into battle even at such a young age and having responsibility for leading from the front? This kid is truly not simple. Come, deliver him to the army doctors and have his wounds treated.”

Everyone exchanged looks of dismay. Having battled Northern Han for many years, it could be said that the grievances on both sides were as deep as the ocean. Although the Yong army maintained the custom of not executing captives, when discovering badly injured enemy soldiers on the field, more likely than not they would be sent on their way or left to die. Why was the enemy being rescued and given medical treatment? Li Xian smiled slightly. He understood the bafflement of his subordinates. However, recalling that man’s serious expression as he lectured, Li Xian could not help but snicker. In a bright voice, he stated, “Previously, our enmity with Northern Han was thoroughly grave, naturally requiring retribution for all grievances. However, who in this world does not have parents? Killing one man causes an entire family to mourn. All of you, remember this. The Emperor wants to unify and pacify the world. These people, right now, are citizens of Northern Han. In the future, they will be citizens of Great Yong. Although weapons are merciless upon the battlefield and death is a common occurrence, if we do not help dying men, wouldn’t that mean we are slaughtering our own citizens? This Prince transmits a military command. From now on, all those who kill prisoners without permission will be punished with death.”

The entire army voiced their obedience. Although there were those who did not understand the Prince of Qi’s intentions, everyone understood that military regulations were ironclad. At this moment, a unit commander stepped out and said, “Marshal, Tan Ji repeatedly sowed devastation upon the people of Zezhou for many years. He has the blood of Great Yong’s common people on his hands. In addition, many of our comrades in arms have also died at his hands. Marshal, please allow this general and company to hack his body into mincemeat to reduce the hate in our hearts.”

Just as Li Xian was about to voice his agreement, he saw Tan Ji’s corpse out of the corner of his eye, seeing his calm face, almost like he was sleeping. Sighing, Li Xian replied, “We warriors of Great Yong have the responsibility of repaying gratitude and the duty to avenge. However, once a man has died, all enmity should disappear. Why should we make things difficult for a dead man? Moreover, although this man has been destructive towards our Great Yong, he is a loyal general of Northern Han. In addition, he views death as a homecoming. This Prince is full of heartfelt admiration. Mutilating corpses is not something that our Great Yong imperial armies should do. Zhuang Jun, prepare a coffin and clean up General Tan’s body. After the battle ends, deliver it back to Northern Han.”

His face filled with shame, the commander who had spoken up retreated. Li Xian glanced at him and shouted, “Tan Ji has already been killed in battle. Regardless of his crimes, his death is sufficient compensation. Listen up! We need to go meet that Grand General Long who’s hanging around Zezhou with no intentions of leaving. There’s nothing honorable about bearing grudges against a dead man. The greatest glory for a man of Great Yong is capturing or killing Long Tingfei! Tell me, isn’t this true?”

Hearing the Prince of Qi’s words, the entire army shouted in unison, “Kill Long Tingfei! Break the Northern Han army!” At the beginning, only the generals and officers were chanting before the entire army joined in. Just now, some of the officers and soldiers were dissatisfied because of the Prince of Qi’s command. However, with these words from the prince, they no longer had any complaints. That’s right … how could they mutilate corpses and slaughter captives? Naturally, the only real way to eliminate the hatred in their hearts was to kill or capture the enemy commander.

Seeing the atmosphere excited by his words, Li Xian added, “Relay my commands! We will rest and reorganize for one day. Tomorrow, we will march to Qinze and have a glimpse of Grand General Long’s prestige.”

This time, the entire army responded with whoops of joy and approval, as if they itched to get going right then and there. Li Xian worried and agonized instead, not knowing the current state of the battle at Qinze.

***

On the night of the seventh day of the eleventh month, within the marshal’s tent of the Northern Han army, under the dusky yellow light of the lamps, Long Tingfei’s haughty shadow elongated. His gaze never left the letter upon his desk. This was a letter that was found upon a secret Yong messenger by martial arts experts amongst the scouts whom Xiao Tong had dispatched. The messenger’s martial arts were formidable, his temperament tenacious. After being pursued for a hundred li by Northern Han scouts, he had been surrounded. Even at death, he refused to surrender. Just before death, he had even tried to destroy the letter, but was prevented from doing so by the experts from the Devil Sect. This letter must undoubtedly be extremely confidential. However, Long Tingfei rather that this letter was fake. Although the wording of the letter was a bit ambiguous, the information that it contained was something that Long Tingfei was unwilling to believe. He picked up the letter once more and diligently read it again.

I have received your letter and see the half-hearted nature of your words. Nominally speaking, you are traveling with the army, speaking of numerous problems, or perhaps you are still waiting to see. You are the enemy commander’s trusted lieutenant. If you can act, the Northern Han army will be defeated. Therefore, victory and defeat is of utmost importance. If you can win, there is no need to continue our discussion. If I win, then you can turn from the dark and seek the light. This battle’s victory or defeat is not at Qinze, but on the supply lines. You have a heavy responsibility on your shoulders; sir, please make all efforts.

This letter was not addressed to anyone and had no signature, only possessing a private seal. The seal said, “Cold Courtyard Hermit.” However, from the tone of the letter, it was written by a high-ranking official in Great Yong. Looking at the elegant and leisurely style of the characters, Long Tingfei concluded that it was likely from the hand of his current opponent, Jiang Zhe. In addition, when Jiang Zhe was staying at the then-Prince of Yong’s residence, he had resided at the Cold Courtyard. Long Tingfei once had the opportunity to see some of the poetry that was produced from that time period. If he remembered correctly, Jiang Zhe had briefly claimed the title of the “Cold Courtyard Hermit.” However, was the recipient really Jing Chi? Although this letter only spoke of the importance of the supply camp at Miaopo, it also faintly suggested that one of Long Tingfei’s trusted subordinates had the intention to rebel, but was wavering and waiting until the battle ended before making the decision.

It wasn’t that Long Tingfei did not suspect that this was an attempt to sow discord. Although it was reasonable for Jiang Zhe to write a letter to Jing Chi—whom he had demoted—to stabilize his morale, with Jiang Zhe handling this matter, how could Long Tingfei not suspect an insidious motive?

As a result, when he first saw the contents of the letter, Long Tingfei did not believe it completely, only briefly storing it in memory. Regardless of what happened, this letter would not have any impact upon the current battle. However, after repeated engagements these last few days, although neither side had the intention of fighting a decisive battle, Long Tingfei had noticed from numerous indicators that he was not facing his original opponent. The Prince of Qi’s battle style was like an energetic and raging inferno that could conquer all obstacles. As for his current opponent, he was a bit hesitant and handicapped at the beginning, but now was as flexible, tenacious, and ever-changing as water. Although Long Tingfei and his subordinates all assumed that it was Jiang Zhe in command, the suspicions had gradually risen in Long Tingfei’s mind. Whatever his abilities, Jiang Zhe was a scholar who had never been in battle. It was highly unlikely that the Prince of Qi handed over all of his command authority to Jiang Zhe. However, Long Tingfei absolutely did not believe that the Prince of Qi was absent within the enemy army. Facing him, was there an enemy commander who dared to leave their army? The more he thought about it, the more annoyed Long Tingfei became. He finally came to the resolution to solve this riddle during tomorrow’s engagement. Unless the Prince of Qi took command himself, otherwise, he could not continue fighting in this manner.

At the very same moment, under the dusky lamplight, Xuan Song was holding a conference with the gathered generals inside the Yong encampment, while looking at the army supervisor sitting to his left from the corners of his eyes. Jiang Zhe was sitting in a chair, dozing. Although there was no obvious change in his posture, almost as if he was deep in thought, he had skillfully hidden his face in the dark where the lamplight did not shine, preventing everyone from seeing his closed eyes. Xuan Song was touched and also filled with admiration. These last few days, he had practically borne the entire responsibility of facing Northern Han’s Long Tingfei by himself, leaving himself with barely any room to breathe. However, this seemingly lazy and indolent army supervisor always seemed to be able to reassure him. Moreover, Jiang Zhe was not idle. In the beginning, he had stifled all those generals who refused to comply with Xuan Song’s orders. Afterwards, he privately made suggestions, allowing Xuan Song to review his previous actions and master new knowledge and tactics. Right now, Xuan Song had full confidence in confronting his opponent while the generals had gradually begun to willingly accept his commands. Without this army supervisor, it would have been impossible for Xuan Song to achieve his goals.

Seeing Xuan Song’s expression, Xiaoshunzi smiled faintly from his position behind Jiang Zhe. He softly transmitted his voice, stating, “Young master, stop sleeping. The conference is about to end.” Finished speaking, he sent a wave of qi into Jiang Zhe’s body.

After a while, I slowly woke up. Without revealing any flaws, I changed my posture, as if I was a bit tired from sitting there listening and wanted to move a bit. I languidly looked at everyone. As of now, Xuan Song could completely exercise command without needing my help. As such, I did not pay much attention to this conference. However, it would be inappropriate for me not to be present. After all, Xuan Song’s status was still quite low. I touched my teacup, feeling that it had cooled. Xiaoshunzi smartly switched it out for a hot cup of tea. After moving my stiff arm, I wondered when the conference would end.

Just then, a low shout trying to suppress excitement sounded from outside. It wasn’t long before Quan Zu cheerfully rushed in, relaying, “Reporting to the Army Supervisor daren and Adjunct Xuan, His Imperial Highness has sent a report of victory. Tan Ji’s command has been completely wiped out. His Imperial Highness is already on his way back and should arrive at noon the day after tomorrow.”

All of the generals within the command tent beamed with joy, whispering in each other’s ears. Delight was also evident on my face as the first step of my plan was accomplished successfully. Rising to my feet, I smiled and said, “Excellent! Since His Imperial Highness has already won a victory over there, we are reaching the end here. Adjunct Xuan, I believe that the Northern Han army will receive news only after several days have passed. However, regardless of when they do, I observed today that Long Tingfei’s leadership was a bit odd. He is likely already suspicious. Adjunct Xuan, there will be no need for you to conceal anything tomorrow. Straightforwardly display your banner, showing Northern Han that our Great Yong has an additional general capable of contending with Long Tingfei. With this, the morale of the Northern Han army will definitely be shaken. In order to raise morale and wipe out the humiliation suffered, Long Tingfei will definitely launch a full frontal assault. As long as you are not defeated, this battle will deal a grievous mental blow to Northern Han. Adjunct Xuan, everything will depend on you tomorrow.”

Finished speaking, I saluted Xuan Song. All of the generals also rose from their seats and shouted, “We generals will strictly abide by Adjunct Xuan’s commands!”

Xuan Song was extremely moved. However, he was not an ordinary individual, after all. As a result, it wasn’t long before he calmed down. He replied, “Many thanks for Army Supervisor daren’s deep affection. Generals, let’s show the Northern Han army a thing or two tomorrow! Let them know just how formidable the Great Yong army truly is!”

All of the generals roared their agreement, happy and cheerful expressions on their faces.

***

The next day, when Long Tingfei saw the banner that the enemy commander displayed, his mind was in a spectacular mess.1 Although he had his suspicions, he was shocked and infuriated to the utmost upon seeing this scene. The commander’s banner had been changed to one with the “Xuan (宣)” character. Aside from this, Long Tingfei could no longer see any of the Prince of Qi’s bodyguards or household troops. Long Tingfei immediately understood that the one facing him these last few days was not the Prince of Qi. If that was the case, where was the Prince of Qi? Long Tingfei did not believe that the Prince of Qi would bypass him and attack Qinzhou, as his communications line had not been broken. If that was the case, then the Prince of Qi could only be at the Yong supply camp at Miaopo. Why did such a location not only have Jing Chi there but also require the Prince of Qi’s personal presence? The only possibility was to set a trap. Thinking of this, Long Tingfei tensed up. If that were the case, then Tan Ji …

Long Tingfei shouted, “Xiao Tong! Swiftly dispatch a messenger to Miaopo. If Tan Ji has not yet fallen into a trap, have him quickly retreat. Remember to dispatch your most capable scouts to undertake this task. Be sure to have them bring messenger hawks. That should make it easier to find Tan Ji.”

Deeply worried and sick at heart, Xiao Tong replied, “This subordinate obeys. General, it’s just that if the enemy has indeed set a trap things likely bode ill for General Tan. Moreover, General Tan is unpredictable when commanding his troops. If this subordinate does not go personally, it will likely be impossible to find General Tan.”

“I know. However, we can only do our duty right now and leave things to destiny,” voiced Long Tingfei sadly. “I need you to remain at my side and take charge of military intelligence. As a result, you cannot go personally. Alas … There is no need to excessively worry. Tan Ji is quite clever. It is possible that he hasn’t been so easily fooled.”

Although Long Tingfei said this, he clearly understood that he was only trying to console himself. He suddenly felt intense anguish in his heart. Long Tingfei frowned grimly. He was filled with sincere regret, realizing just how heartless he had been to Tan Ji.

Lifting his head, Long Tingfei gazed past the many ranks of men and the chaotic battle. He could barely make out the scholarly general in azure armor who was issuing commands beneath the enemy’s command banner. At the general’s side was a scholar in azure robes who was leisurely looking over the battlefield. It was these two individuals who had delayed him here and caught his lieutenant in a trap. Suddenly, Long Tingfei suddenly remembered that ambiguously worded letter.

Long Tingfei originally found it quite strange. That letter was worded so ambiguously, almost like it was advising and comforting someone. But now, it seemed more like sending military intelligence. Long Tingfei initially still had his suspicions. If this letter really came from Jiang Zhe’s hand, it did not make much sense. There was no need for Jiang Zhe to write such a letter at this moment. After all, Jing Chi was also a capable general and should not put private affairs before public ones. Although Long Tingfei had his misgivings, there were always some things that he’d rather believe were true. Now that he knew that the Prince of Qi was very likely at Miaopo, then that letter could be explained. If the Prince of Qi and his deputy, Jing Chi, were both at Miaopo, then they would definitely worry about the situation at Qinze. As such, it would be reasonable for Jiang Zhe to write messages to the Prince of Qi to report the military situation. As for the ambiguous wording, it was obviously to guard against the event that the letter was lost en route. If this letter was lost, then there was nothing within that would allow Northern Han to guess that the Prince of Qi was not present at Qinze. As for the defectors within the Northern Han army mentioned in the letter, the veracity was yet undetermined. Perhaps it was true but the turncoat had hesitations. Even if this letter were lost, it would only cause Northern Han to be vigilant, even causing the turncoat to betray sooner from the panic and pressure. Of course, it could also be false … However, that Yong messenger had resisted to the end. The likelihood that it was completely fake was probably not that high. In addition, Xiao Tong had mentioned that there were several other messengers who had been dispatched to Miaopo. Although none of them had been intercepted out of fear of the scouts suffering losses, this explained that these letters were sent to the Prince of Qi.

Reaching this conclusion, Long Tingfei felt hot fury burst forth. He absolutely could not tolerate anyone betraying Northern Han. Looking up, he looked at the distant Yong army center. Even more so, he could not permit anyone to play these kinds of tricks on him. Long Tingfei continuously issued orders. Since the Prince of Qi was not with the enemy army, he had every intention of causing the Yong army to pay a hefty price in blood. A grim desire to commit murder appeared on his face. If he could inflict heavy casualties upon Great Yong’s main force at Qinze, it would make up for any losses suffered by Tan Ji. As a result, Great Yong’s losses would be greater than their gains.

This was the fourth time that the Northern Han army had launched an assault. I helplessly gazed at the corpse-strewn landscape. I could not help lamenting. Had I underestimated Long Tingfei’s determination? It looked like he wanted to attain victory at any price. If the Yong army here suffered a disastrous defeat, then even if my meticulously prepared plan to eliminate Long Tingfei’s flanks succeeded, everything would have failed. If Long Tingfei were permitted to inflict a severe defeat upon the Yong army, his self-confidence would definitely soar. Ignoring the casualties suffered, such a disastrous defeat would greatly increase the morale of the soldiers and civilians of Northern Han.

I glanced at the increasingly calm and confident Xuan Song, I exhaled a sigh of relief. There were probably holes in his tactics, but with twice the numbers, we should at the very least be able to fight to a draw. Over the last few days, Long Tingfei had been using delaying tactics. As a result, his attacks had not been too fierce. This was good for Xuan Song. The Northern Han army was like a whetstone, honing Xuan Song from a simple sharp blade into a divine weapon. The current situation tested him by forcing him to apply all of his skills. If I had any other choice, I would not have selected this moment to reveal that the Prince of Qi was not present. But we did not have any choice in the matter. Only by fighting this battle could we ensure that Long Tingfei return without any accomplishments and effectively strike a psychological blow at his confidence. If the Prince of Qi were present, Long Tingfei would definitely not fight the decisive battle at Qinze. In meeting the Northern Han army head-on this time, I had the intention of killing three birds with one stone—capturing or killing Tan Ji would destroy Long Tingfei’s wings; a fake letter to sow discord between Long Tingfei and his trusted subordinates; and employing Xuan Song to strike a psychological blow to Long Tingfei’s confidence. These were already enough for him to enjoy, let alone the fact that I had more waiting for him. However, I sighed again. Regardless of what I had planned, this battle still needed to be fought.

Long Tingfei grimly studied the battlefield before him. Twelve hours had already passed. Although the Yong lines had been weakened, there was never any sign of their collapse. Who could have thought that Xuan Song, a nameless adjunct, had such abilities? Great Yong truly had boundless talents. However, the battle could not be allowed to drag on like this. Long Tingfei steeled his heart, lightly caressing a jet-black halberd whose metal was forged from the finest steel. The body of the halberd was engraved with meticulous patterns. Because it had been constantly saturated by blood and sweat from battle, a faint crimson color could be seen along with the blackness of the halberd. It was only on the halberd’s speartip; the crescent blade remained as dazzling and sparkling as ever. Gazing at this weapon that had accompanied him for years, a feeling of grandeur welled up from the depths of Long Tingfei’s heart. He loudly and heartily laughed, shouting, “Men of my Northern Han! All of you are heroes! How can we be so insulted by the people of Yong? Everyone follow me into battle and let those Yong dogs see our abilities!”

Finished speaking, Long Tingfei spurred his horse forward, taking the lead to charge into where the two armies were fighting chaotically. The magnificent steed with a crimson, flaming mane, the crimson battle gown fluttering in the breeze, and that black and red halberd made Long Tingfei seem like an unstoppable blaze, as fearsome as an invincible god of war descended from the Heavens.

I practically held my breath as I watched Long Tingfei plow into the our battle lines. That kind of bold and imposing spirit, like a raging wildfire on the open prairie, that kind of prestige that would blow away all those standing in his way caused me to shiver inside. It was only a few thousand household troops, and yet their undefeatable vigor and majesty caused all those before them on the battlefield to shrink back. As I watched, Long Tingfei’s assault seemingly treated the Yong formation as nothing. Although I was distressed inwardly, my spirit was aroused. This was truly worthy of Long Tingfei, the incomparable general who had prevented Great Yong from conquering a single inch of Northern Han’s territory! It almost seemed like there was only that crimson, raging inferno scorching and expanding throughout the battlefield. The Northern Han army had been boosted by the ferocity and valiance of their commander. Their attacks became increasingly unstoppable. It was almost as if the entire Northern Han army had been ignited.

By this point, Xuan Song had rapidly shifted some units, planning on mounting a determined defense. I understood that Xuan Song’s strength was not in attacking and thus knew that he was playing to his strengths. We only needed to survive the violent assault of the Northern Han army. After all, such an assault could not last long. Once the vigor of the Northern Han army had been blunted, we could seize the opportunity to counterattack. Although this kind of thinking was correct, the current Yong army did not have complete faith in Xuan Song. At this critical juncture, there unavoidably was some hesitation. As a result, the entire formation became chaotic. Under Long Tingfei’s unstoppable charge, the Great Yong army temporarily fell into a disastrous predicament. If nothing was changed, the army would likely collapse.

Beads of sweat broke out on Xuan Song’s forehead. He gazed at me, a look of bewilderment and entreaty in his eyes. I knew that he hoped that I would be able to give him a helping hand, possibly even hoping that I would take command. I frowned slightly. If I interfered at this moment, it would definitely deal a severe blow to Xuan Song’s confidence. As a result, even if we won, our gains would be surpassed by our losses. I needed a general capable of taking a command and assuming personal responsibility. However, if I did not intervene, the army would likely suffer a complete and utter rout.2 Although the Yong army was formidable, it was unlikely that it would be able to stop the Northern Han army’s sweeping attack.

Reviewing the chaotic situation, I understood that there weren’t any mistakes in Xuan Song’s commands. It was only the misgivings that the generals had towards him and the fear of Long Tingfei that inevitably caused fear in the army. As long as their morale was boosted, Xuan Song would definitely be able to stabilize the situation. My gaze flicked around the area, falling upon a nearby war drum. Coming to a decision, I turned and spoke to Xiaoshunzi, “Use your internal energy to help me. I want to personally beat the drums to encourage the army.”

Frowning slightly, Xiaoshunzi replied, “It can’t be for too long. My internal energy is sinister and cold, and is not suitable for helping you.”

Smiling, I said, “There is no harm. It won’t be too long.”

Finished speaking, I rolled off of the horse and walked to the war drum. Dismissing the drummer with a wave of my hand, I picked up the heavy drum mallets and stood before the war drum. Xiaoshunzi took up a position behind me, his right palm on my back. I could feel an icy energy flood into my body, almost as if all of my hot blood was being churned. Feeling my limbs and bones fill with energy, I lifted the drum mallets and beat the drum for the first time.

When the chaotic Yong army suddenly heard the drum beat like a clap of thunder, they were all shaken. Afterwards, a deep and low, seemingly distant drumbeat rumbled between the Heavens and the Earth. The deep, resounding, and collected drumbeats were meticulous and flowing, almost like a flowing river with an enormous boulder at its center. No matter how enormous and high the boulder, it could not stop the advance of the river. Although light boats could ride the river’s current, they could not escape from the river’s bindings. Under this steady rhythm, the Yong army gradually calmed down and the formations tidied.

Just then, a reverberating bugle horn blared from within the Northern Han army. The originally somewhat blunted Northern Han army suddenly regained their vigor, beginning another round of fierce and violent assaults. However, the drumbeats became steadier and deeper, showcasing an invincible fortitude that could be clearly heard by every soldier on the battlefield. The drumbeats and the bugle horn clashed, akin to the battle between the two armies. The horn resounded sharply like the scorching sun or the biting cold wind, while the drumbeats were like a weed tenaciously and persistently surviving through the cold wind and raging inferno. Regardless of hardships, nothing could stop the weeds from sprouting.

Suddenly, both the reverberating horn and the deep drumbeats weakened. However, they left behind a killing aura that could be ignited at any moment. Suddenly, almost as if a storm had abruptly erupted, both the drumbeats and the horn sounded simultaneously, like the surging tide of the Eastern Sea, each successive wave higher and faster. At this time, Long Tingfei and Xuan Song simultaneously issued orders, causing the two armies to be chaotically tangled up in bloody carnage. The two strongest cavalry units in the world slammed together, fighting in close quarters, revealing the resolution to fight to the death and ensure that other side did not survive.

Just then, the sound of the bugle horn seemed to soar into the skies, increasingly reverberating before it seemed to be cut off in the middle and vanished into nothingness without a trace. The drumbeats, escaping the heavy pressure of the horn, slowed somewhat, but did not stop. Each beat seemed to be able to shake a person’s soul. Everyone fought to the death, causing blood to splatter all across the plain. As the darkness of night gradually descended, the two armies began to light torches, continuing to fight bitterly in the dark. No one retreated.

That drumbeats disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving the two armies to fight a brutal and close battle.

Under the flickering torchlight, Xuan Song directed the Yong army with extreme confidence, while Long Tingfei, who had retreated back to his command position, seemed a bit pale. Although the Northern Han army under his command still held the advantage, it was extremely difficult to find any holes in the Yong lines. At a secret location that no one paid attention to, Xiaoshunzi supported an almost unconscious Jiang Zhe into a tent that had been temporarily set up.

On the Northern Han side, a man in black clothes and completely enshrouded by a black cloak silently gazed at the broken bugle horn in his hands. He finally heaved a deep sigh before disappearing, his gigantic body seemingly blending into darkness. He quickly disappeared without a trace.

Footnotes:

翻江倒海, fanjiangdaohai – idiom, lit. overturning seas and rivers; fig. overwhelming, earth-shattering, in a spectacular mess
兵败如山倒, bingbairushandao – idiom, lit. troops in defeat flee like a landslide; fig. a routed army in total collapse

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