Volume 4, Chapter 30: Rebirth from Danger

Qiu Yufei did not escape that far. He understood how serious his injuries were. If he fled recklessly, he would likely die amidst the snow. After putting some distance between himself and the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, he chose a hillside. The snowdrifts here were easily a zhang in height. Qiu Yufei carefully dropped down onto the snow, causing a slight settling in the soft snow. Tasting sweetness in his mouth, Qiu Yufei forcibly swallowed down the blood that was threatening to come out. He had forcefully used his qinggong to tread over the snow without leaving any traces for the sake of not leaving a trail. If he left behind bloodstains, all of his efforts would have been for naught.

Seeing that the pursuers had not yet exited from the monastery, Qiu Yufei took out a wax pellet the size of a longan fruit from a brocade sack at his waist. Lightly removing the white wax covering, he exposed a vermillion pill. Qiu Yufei placed the pill in his mouth. When the pill was moistened, it immediately began to dissolve. Qiu Yufei felt a warmth well up from his dantian, flowing towards his limbs and bones. He immediately knew that the secret life-saving panacea from the Devil Sect was already having an effect on his body. He softly laid down on the snow. His internal energy concentrating, he sank down into the snow. With his subsidence, the surrounding snow collapsed onto him. Very quickly, all evidence of Qiu Yufei’s passage had disappeared without a trace. Using the tortoise breathing technique, Qiu Yufei completely concealed all outward signs of life and began to heal.

Drawing support from the medicine and treasured technique, Qiu Yufei felt as if his entire body was submersed in warm water. That hazy, snug feeling made it seem like he had returned to the womb, before he had been born. Through the accumulation of many years of focusing on practicing the zither arts, he was able to comprehend something. Stimulated intensely by escaping from the border between life and death, emotion and righteousness, Qiu Yufei surprisingly and miraculously entered into the Xiantian realm that he had sought and dreamed of for years. His breathing gradually faded away. At this moment, Qiu Yufei had become one with the accumulated snow of the wilderness.

Not knowing how long had passed, Qiu Yufei’s consciousness finally returned to his body, as if suddenly waking up from a deep coma. He was able to feel his entire body’s arteries and veins flow freely without any obstruction. Not only were his internal injuries nearly healed, his internal energy had improved vigorously. Using his six senses, he explored his surroundings. At this moment, he sprang forth from the snow. Lifting his gaze, he checked his surroundings, finding that the entire wilderness was empty and covered with snow. The accumulated snow on him was a lot thicker than before. Qiu Yufei did not know how long he had spent recovering.

Gazing into the distance, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery stood there as before. After pondering for some time, even though his cultivation had improved and followed his senior apprentice brother into the Xiantian realm, he was still several hundred li from Qinzhou. In addition, it was the dead of winter. If he couldn’t obtain supplies, it would be impossible for him to escape. When he was fleeing, aside from the medication, he had not brought anything else with him. It seemed that he could only return to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. It was not that he feared the Shaolin experts within the monastery. With his martial arts, it wasn’t difficult for him to noiselessly grab rations and clothing without being noticed. Narrowly escaping this time, Qiu Yufei felt as if he were born again. Many of the things that he had previously split hairs about were now trivial matters to him.

Smiling slightly, he began to walk towards the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. The black fur coat that he had escaped with was now in tatters. However, he did not feel that this was inappropriate. Arriving at the entrance to the monastery, he knocked on the door. It wasn’t long before a young monk came over to open the door. The monk was someone he recognized, Jingxuan, who stood there stupefied, looking at Qiu Yufei. Stuttering, the young monk asked, “Young, young master Gao … why have you returned?”

Qiu Yufei smiled and answered, “I am surnamed Qiu, named Yufei. Is Great Master Compassionate Distance here?”

Calming down, Jingxuan responded, “Seven days ago, Marquis Jiang departed from this monastery. Two days afterwards, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, called the Great Master to the army encampment at Zezhou. Reportedly, His Imperial Highness wished to reprimand him for the failure of the monks of our shabby monastery in assisting when young master attempted to assassinate Marquis Jiang. To this day, there has been no news.”

Smiling apologetically, Qiu Yufei said, “This was all because this one implicated your honored monastery. However, this one feels that the character of the Marquis of Chu is one that values camaraderie and friendship. He will not make things difficult for your honored monastery.”

Jingxuan led Qiu Yufei inside, replying, “Young master speaks the truth. On that day, the young master’s two companions died within. The Marquis ordered our shabby monastery to have them buried properly. At present, their ashes have already been collected. If young master is interested, you can take them away with you. The young master’s property has been sealed up, on the Marquis’s orders, in this shabby monastery. Does the young master wish to take a look?”

After his eyes froze on Jingxuan for some time, Qiu Yufei smiled and responded, “The disciples of the Shaolin Temple are outstanding, as expected. Little master is magnanimous. Back then, I suddenly had the urge to commit murder, to eliminate a future powerful enemy. However, after thinking it over, little master having such an enemy would be pleasing.”

Jingxuan’s expression did not change. Turning around, he spoke, “After the Devil Sect was reorganized by Sovereign Jing, each and every direct disciple has been a generational talent. Young master Qiu has been reborn from a calamity. Your future prospects are boundless. Jingxuan is only a junior disciple of the Shaolin Temple. How am I deserving this kind of praise?”

“There is no need for you to against your will and curry favor with me,” replied Qiu Yufei with a faint smile. “I have no intention of slaughtering all of the monks in the monastery. As long as you promise to not leave the monastery when this young master departs, I will not commit murder. What does the little master think?”

Jingxuan felt cheerful within. When he had just seen Qiu Yufei, he had known that he was someone who diligently worked to improve himself.1 In addition, the disciples of the Devil Sect were vicious and merciless. If this man wished to commit murder, even if he could escape, his junior and senior apprentice brothers within the monastery would be unable to survive. As a result, he had continuously acted submissively in order to ingratiate himself.2 Although his actions could be said to be flattery, it was worth it for him if he could ensure that unnecessary sacrifice is avoided.

Qiu Yufei walked into the room that he had lived in days earlier. He saw that everything was just as he had left it. The room was immaculate, looking like it had been cleaned on a daily basis. Walking to the wooden table, he gently caressed the beloved zither that he had not seen in many days, feeling all sorts of emotions well up from within. He sighed softly and said, “It is destiny. What can a man say in response?”

Qiu Yufei knew that, with Jiang Zhe’s return to the army encampment, there was no way that he could perform his mission of assassination. Moreover, to speak the truth, his desire to assassinate Jiang Zhe had been replaced by sympathy. After slinging the pouch containing the zither over his shoulders, Qiu Yufei said, “Lead me to pay my respects to Senior Cui and Jin Zhi.”

The bell rang faintly, the sound directly entering high up into the clouds. Standing within the main hall, Qiu Yufei spent a long time in silent prayer. Finally, he picked up the containers containing Cui Jiucheng and Jin Zhi’s ashes. The two of them were strangers. Because of Gao Yan’s orders, they had pledged their lives to help him. Were it not for these two, he likely would have already become a cripple and have been held captive within the Yong army encampment.

A short while later, Jingxuan, leading several monks of similar age to him, entered the main hall. In their hands were rations and a traveling bag. Stepping forward, Jingxuan said, “Young master’s horse is still within the monastery. This little monk presumed that the young master would not want to use the carriage. As such, I have already prepared the saddles and harness. The young master can depart at any time.”

Qiu Yufei’s eyes twinkled, as he replied, “You are clever and diligent!” Gazing at Jingxuan’s calm bearing, Qiu Yufei could not help feeling his killing intent return. If the Central Plains wulin gained another pillar in the future, that meant the Devil Sect would gain another powerful enemy. However, Qiu Yufei always had a haughty temperament. How could he kill a reverent and respectful monk? He ultimately sighed softly. Accepting the traveling bag, he walked out of the main hall, peering at the increasingly thick red clouds to the north.

Qiu Yufei thought, It is best that I return to Qinzhou as fast as possible. Although I have failed in my mission, having spent days with Jiang Zhe, it is possible that my impressions and observations would be of benefit to Master and General Long. Further, there are some things that are quite suspicious … I need to report them to the master.

Seeing that he was being escorted out by Jingxuan, Qiu Yufei’s complexion became frosty, as he said, “The little master must understand the seriousness of the situation. If you leave the monastery without permission to inform against me, I will naturally return in the future to retaliate. It is a given that the Yong army encampment will try to hunt me down. There is no need for you to gild the lily. It is best that you remain inside praying to the Buddha.” Finished speaking, he gently pressed down on Jingxuan’s shoulder, causing Jingxuan’s complexion to abruptly become deathly pale. Only after Qiu Yufei’s figure had disappeared did Jingxuan collapse to the floor.

The several novice monks rushed forward to help him up. In alarm, they asked, “Senior apprentice brother, are you okay?”

Jingxuan answered, “It’s no bother. I only need to recover in seclusion for a few days. With your help, there shouldn’t be any problems.”

One of the novice monks spitefully said, “If senior apprentice brother had only agreed to our proposal, we could have fought at the risk of our lives against that Devil Sect disciple. We likely would have had a chance. What’s the point of being so shamed and humiliated?”

Jingxuan tranquilly replied, “Junior apprentice brother does not know how difficult he is to deal with. I can see that the man’s cultivation has improved greatly. he has likely already surpassed the Houtian realm. Junior apprentice brother does not know that at that stage, a tiny difference is enormous. A few days ago, if it weren’t for the presence of the Demonic Shadow, Benefactor Li, even if there were more individuals, it would likely have been impossible to prevent the assassination of Marquis Jiang. However, several days ago, he should not have had today’s attainment. If Lord Li had not been handicapped by Marquis Jiang, young master Qiu would probably have been amongst the dead.”

Although the several novices still did not accept Jingxuan’s words, however, as they had faith in Jingxuan, they did not say any more, helping Jingxuan to go recuperate. They did not know that Jingxuan was exclaiming in astonishment in his mind, Marquis Jiang is truly a celestial being, able to foresee everything that has happened today.

***

Originally, on that day, when the Stalwart Tiger Guard returned to report that they could not find Qiu Yufei after hunting for twenty li, I thought it over before going to speak to Great Master Compassionate Distance. I had him bring the majority of the monastery’s monks to the Yong army encampment after the Prince of Qi’s summons arrived a few days later. I anticipated that with Qiu Yufei’s serious injuries it was impossible for him to have gone far. It was only that the monastery was located in the middle of the wilderness, and the disciples of the Devil Sect were definitely skilled at concealment, making it impossible to find him. I also anticipated that after he recovered, Qiu Yufei would definitely return to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery to seize supplies and recover his property. Otherwise, with the bitter cold of winter, how would he be able to walk back to Qinzhou? If there were too many people left in the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, I was worried that he would wreak havoc. Although these monks were formidable, if Qiu Yufei steeled his heart and savagely attacked, several young monks likely would die. I did not want Qiu Yufei to commit such slaughter and become enemies with the Shaolin Temple. In addition, I wanted him to return to Northern Han successfully. As a result, I only had Great Master Compassionate Distance leave behind a few young monks to await Qiu Yufei’s return. However, in order to prevent Qiu Yufei from silencing witnesses and covering up his whereabouts, I had Great Master Compassionate Distance leave a pliant disciple behind to properly ensure that Qiu Yufei was seen off.

Jingxuan was the one selected, informed of all of this. He had faintly guessed it to be likely that everything that had happened in the Ten Thousand Buddhas had been engineered by Jiang Zhe. However, no matter how he paid attention, he was unable to find any mistakes, feeling as if everything had occurred in a logical manner. Qiu Yufei was a direct disciple of the Devil Sect, someone whom Jingxuan feared greatly, and yet he had unknowingly fallen into a trap. At the same time that Jingxuan was wary, his words and conduct were cautious, not daring to reveal any abnormalities. Fortunately, he had been able to keep Qiu Yufei in the dark, preserving his life and completing his respected master’s orders.

At the same time that he had lingering fears, he could not help feeling that his impression of the Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe, was rising enormously, beginning to understand why the Abbot and Martial Uncle True Compassion’s evaluation of that man was so high and respectful while they were all back in the Shaolin Temple. This was likely why they had actively schemed to take that man’s beloved son as a disciple. This kind of character could only be a friend and not an enemy.

***

After Qiu Yufei departed from the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, he headed directly north towards the Northern Han border. He was familiar with the geography. Although the Yong army was hunting for him everywhere, Qiu Yufei was still able to find trails that he could use. Because he was unable to ride his horse, this stretch of the journey was exceptionally arduous. However, since Qiu Yufei’s martial arts had just broken through, these difficult conditions allowed him to stabilize his cultivation.

The Yong army’s pursuit was not done with great fanfare, only increasing the interrogations and searches at every checkpoint. Qiu Yufei could sense that they were outwardly loose, while inwardly tight. It seemed that his assassination attempt had deeply enraged the Yong army. However, for someone like Qiu Yufei, whose cultivation had increased greatly, although he still needed to be cautious, it was easy for him to bypass all of the layers of checkpoints. If it was as before, he would likely have fallen into danger. Although that was the case, it still took him ten days to enter Qinzhou from the wilderness of the mountains.

Not long after leaving the mountains, Qiu Yufei saw an inn located in the wilderness. This location was originally where the mountain hunters would frequently gather. Although simple and crude, the drink was strong and rich and the food was plentiful. When Qiu Yufei walked inside, aside from the proprietor and proprietress, there were only two hunters drinking wine within. Seeing Qiu Yufei arrive, all of them looked amazed. Although Qiu Yufei had changed into commoner’s garb, they were in tatters from the hardships of the journey, so his appearance and bearing were rarely seen on this world. How could the occupants within the inn not be astonished? Qiu Yufei was disinclined to take notice of their stares. Throwing down some silver tael pieces, he said, “If you have good wine, bring me a jar. Also bring a few dishes.”

The proprietor promptly came over, holding a jar of wine with both hands. The proprietress solicitously delivered several dishes cooked using game. It was rare to see such a noble customer at this location.

Qiu Yufei relaxed. Having returned to Northern Han, he could not help become melancholic even as his heart relaxed. He was somewhat embarrassed by returning in failure . He was worried and could not help drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Unexpectedly, as his wine combined with his anxieties, his worries only increased. Quite drunk, Qiu Yufei was unwilling to hasten on with his journey. He ultimately rented the inn’s lone guest room. Walking in, he pulled a blanket over himself and went to sleep. Qiu Yufei finally woke from his sleep not knowing how long had passed. He could not help blushing with shame. Having spent years outside, when had he ever lost and indulged himself like this? Rising from bed, he took out a clean set of clothes from his traveling bag and changed into them. Who could have known that before he had arriving in the dining area, he would hear a shout of fright from outside?

Qiu Yufei trembled, looking out, glimpsing a plain-clothed young man collapse at the entrance. The proprietor walked over to check and said in panic, “He has almost stopped breathing. Don’t tell me that he is going to die here!”

Seeing this, Qiu Yufei strode over and said, “Let me take a look.” So speaking, he leaned over and stared inquiringly. After a short while, he frowned and replied, “This man is both ill and injured, likely from not eating and resting properly for several days. Shopkeeper, make some warm stew and feed it to him. For now, bring some spirits.”

The proprietor promptly poured a bowl of strong liquor and brought it over. Qiu Yufei took out a pill and helped the sick man swallow it. Afterwards, he helped the man up, helping him drink the liquor. It wasn’t long before the man’s breathing gradually deepened. Only then did Qiu Yufei relax. As his gaze fell upon the young man’s face, he suddenly stirred. This man seemed familiar. After thinking it over, Qiu Yufei suddenly remembered. Wasn’t this one of Jiang Zhe’s bodyguards who was prostrated, begging forgiveness on that day, the former Ghost Cavalry soldier, Ling Duan? This man had escaped a day earlier. Who would have thought that he would have only just arrived here?

Presumably, he had exhausted himself mentally and physically in order to escape from Zezhou. This man’s martial arts were weak. He must have suffered innumerable hardships in his escape. Were it not for Qiu Yufei’s rescue, Ling Duan would likely have died here. Although Qiu Yufei did not have a deep impression of this youth, he sympathized with the young man because of the same suffering that they had undergone—both luckily escaping from Jiang Zhe’s hands without dying. As a result, Qiu Yufei could not help having a favorable impression, thinking, There is no harm for me to stay a few more days, bringing him back with me.

After bringing Ling Duan to the guest room, Qiu Yufei once again examined the young man’s wounds, making sure that they were not fatal. With this examination, Qiu Yufei was able to discover that this youth’s natural endowments were wondrous. Moreover, the martial arts that he practiced were an offshoot of the Devil Sect’s. Qiu Yufei could not help but be excited. When the Devil Sect accepted disciples, they paid particular attention to chance. As a result, Qiu Yufei began to feel closer to this youth, thinking, This child’s temperament is firm and persistent. It would be great if he is able to train in the martial arts of the Scorching Sun branch. Although I focus primarily on the martial arts of the Freezing Moon branch, senior apprentice brother does not have any satisfactory disciples. If I can recommend this youth to him, he will definitely be pleased. Thinking this, he could not allow this youth to remain in a coma, otherwise it would be of grave consequence to the young man’s cultivation.

When Ling Duan woke from his coma, he felt excruciating pain across his entire body. He could not help groaning. The days of flight had completely exhausted his mental and physical energy. When he had caught sight of the inn in the wilderness, Ling Duan felt as if all of his hard work had been worthwhile. Just as he stepped foot into the inn, he was no longer able to endure and had fainted to the ground.

At this moment, he could sense that he had been revived, causing him to be filled with ecstasy. Just as his body moved, an icy voice came from his side saying, “Do not be lazy. When you’ve gotten up, I will help you regulate your internal energy.”

Then a pill was shoved into Ling Duan’s mouth. The pill instantly dissolved into an agonizingly cold stream. Ling Duan was alarmed. However, at that moment, a hand had already touched his back. Ling Duan could feel his internal energy begin to circulate outside of his control. Steeling his heart, he ignored whether this individual was friendly or not, earnestly circulating his internal energy. At the beginning, the man allowed Ling Duan to circulate his energy. After several times, the man used his internal energy to force Ling Duan to change the circulation route taken by his internal energy. Ling Duan originally wanted to forcibly resist. However, he was shocked to discover that he could no longer control his energy. The new direction taken by his circulating internal energy was almost like the proper path. Ling Duan gradually sank into a state where he forgot himself. Not knowing how long had passed, Ling Duan finally returned to his senses, feeling his internal energy flowing unimpeded to his limbs and bones. Ceasing his cultivation, he rose, seeing a man in plain clothes standing before and gazing out a window with his hands behind his back.

Ling Duan stepped forward and kneeled, saying, “Disciple pays my respects to senior. Is senior an expert of the Devil Sect?”

The man did not turn around, only indifferently asking, “You know I am someone from the Devil Sect?”

Ling Duan cautiously answered, “Disciple once heard the general speak that our martial arts were passed down by the Devil Sect. With senior’s familiarity with disciple’s cultivation techniques, disciple went out on a limb and guessed. If it was in error, I hope that senior will not blame me.”

The man smiled and replied, “As expected, you are surpassingly intelligent. I am Qiu Yufei, a direct disciple of the Devil Sect Sovereign. I believe that you should remember who I am.” Finished speaking, the man turned around.

“Young master Gao!” exclaimed Ling Duan, dumbstruck. “You … how are you—?” Before he finished speaking, Ling Duan had already understood what was happening. Pleasantly surprised, he inquired, “Has senior successfully assassinated Jiang Zhe?”

Qiu Yufei sighed and responded, “Don’t bring up the subject. It was a fluke that I was able to return alive. It was also not easy for you to return to Northern Han. In the future, do you have any plans?”

Although he revealed a look of regret, Ling Duan still warily looked at Qiu Yufei, worried that his expression would be misconstrued as ridicule. Only after seeing no changes on Qiu Yufei’s face did he speak, “Disciple does not know. Originally, disciple should return to the army. However, there is a lump in my heart that is difficult to eliminate. This time, for General Tan’s army to be utterly annihilated, disciple suspects that there was someone from Northern Han adding fuel to the fire. As a result, disciple wishes to investigate this matter in secret. In addition, out of the ten thousand troops, disciple was the only one to return. As such, disciple is also worried that I will be suspected by others. Having experienced so many things, disciple does not want to die without rhyme or reason.”3 Reaching this point, his voice choked with emotions. Thinking of Li Hu’s death, he felt sorrow well up from his heart.

Qiu Yufei lightly patted Ling Duan’s shoulder. He understood clearly the apprehension in Ling Duan’s heart and also knew about the secret issues within the Northern Han army. However, Qiu Yufei had always been unusual amongst the disciples of the Devil Sect. Having learned the cultivation techniques of both the Scorching Sun and Freezing Moon branches, he was not fond of hand-to-hand combat nor crafty machinations. Aside from music, he did not have any other pleasures. As a result, due to his unwillingness to become excessively involved, he stated, “There is no need for you to worry. Come back with me to meet with my senior apprentice brother. If you have enough luck, you may be accepted as a disciple by my senior apprentice brother. Even if senior apprentice brother feels that your aptitude is lacking, based upon my honor, it would be easy for you to become an honorary disciple. When the time comes, who would dare to charge you with any crimes?”

Ling Duan was overjoyed at the turn of events. Kowtowing again, he said, “Disciple bows in thanks to senior’s grace. If all this is possible, it will be disciple’s great fortune.”

Qiu Yufei smiled faintly and replied, “All right. Go eat some food. After resting for a day, you will set out with me tomorrow. There are some things that need to be discussed with General Long. I don’t know too much, but it feels like Great Yong is employing some conspiracy. Senior apprentice brother Xiao and others are more adept at these matters. I am disinclined to show any interest. Also, there is no need for you to call me senior. I am ranked fourth in the sect. You can call me fourth young master or Fourth Lord.”

Ling Duan felt himself grow cold. He knew that Xiao Tong was responsible for investigating military intelligence. In practice, he was also responsible for monitoring the officers and soldiers of the army. Usually, when Ling Duan saw Xiao Tong, he would keep his distance. Ling Duan could not help but feel fear at the thought of meeting with that man directly.

Qiu Yufei did not pay any attention to all this, his gaze returning to look out the window. He was also uneasy. Northern Han’s survival had a direct effect upon the Devil Sect’s reputation. Although he was unwilling to get involved in matters of state, how could he not feel worried about the fate of being destroyed?

The next day, Qiu Yufei led Ling Duan out of the mountains and sought out a sentry post. Borrowing horses, they rushed back to Qinzhou without stopping to rest. Two days later, the two of them had arrived twenty li from Qinzhou. Seeing Ling Duan’s fatigue, Qiu Yufei called to him to rest and have a meal at a roadhouse. Both of them had heavy loads on their minds. Although they ate slowly, they did not say a word.

Suddenly, the sound of hoofbeats and rolling wheels thumped from outside. While Qiu Yufei was not in the mood to pay any attention, Ling Duan could tell that they were the sounds of an elite cavalry unit passing through. He could not help walking out the door of the inn to take a look. In the distance, he saw a unit of cavalry escorting a prisoner’s cart. Within stood a refined looking middle-aged man with plucked eyebrows and wide eyes. Although the middle-aged man was in fetters, his bearing was calm and completely without fear. When Ling Duan saw him, he was greatly shocked. Hurrying back inside the shop, he asked Qiu Yufei, “Fourth Lord, why is General Duan being transported as a prisoner?”

Qiu Yufei frowned. In puzzlement, he asked, “General Duan? Are you referring to the same General Duan that I know of?”

Ling Duan nodded his head and answered, “Right, General Duan Wudi. Could it be that he has violated military regulations? Otherwise, why would be a prisoner? I could see that the one escorting General Duan was General Shi Ying’s deputy, Shi Jun. Fourth Lord, General Duan has always been respected and loved by the soldiers, conducting himself with caution and rigor. How would he violate military regulations? Besides, even if General Duan committed a crime, General Long would definitely not disgrace and humiliate him like this!”

Qiu Yufei also felt doubt rise from inside. However, according to the regulations of the Devil Sect and without a military position, he could not directly get involved in military matters. However, with the misgivings within difficult to dispel, he thought, I should be able to ask privately.… Reaching this conclusion, Qiu Yufei walked out of the inn. Just then, the unit of cavalry had already come close by. Qiu Yufei blocked their path, coldly questioning, “Who is your commander? Come out to speak.”

The horsemen all reined in their horses, protecting the prisoner cart in the middle. A general with sideburns rode out. After considering Qiu Yufei, he could not recall this individual’s identity. Thus, he shouted, “Pretty boy, where did you pop up from to have the impertinence to block my execution of military duties? Why haven’t you gotten out of the way yet? If you don’t, this lord general will charge you with the crime of trying to break the prisoner out.”

His complexion becoming chilly, Qiu Yufei’s body moved. The general saw stars, as his face was slapped twice. Flying into a rage out of humiliation, he commanded, “Brothers! Get him! Chop him to pieces!”

Bloodlust appearing in his eyes, Qiu Yufei callously asked in a rhetorical manner, “Do you truly dare to act?”

The general broke out into laughter, replying, “I, Shi Jun, always keep my word. Since I don’t recognize you and you dare to block the path, you are most likely an acquaintance of Duan Wudi. If you try to break him out, it’d be wonderful, properly proving Duan Wudi’s guilt.”

Qiu Yufei’s expression became increasingly frosty. It would be trivial for him to kill a few soldiers. Just as he was about to act, the middle-aged man in the prisoner’s cart suddenly spoke up, “Shi Jun, stop! Why haven’t you taken a close look at who is standing before you? Fourth young master, this general is bound and cannot pay my respects. Young master, please forgive me.”

Qiu Yufei gazed at the middle-aged man, indifferently stating, “General Duan, in the two years since our last meeting, you have become quite thin.”

The middle-aged man smiled wryly and voiced, “Fourth young master, this general has exhausted my thoughts and ingenuity every day, how can I not become thinner? Now that this general has committed an offense punishable by death, would the young master please plead my case before the Grand General? Wudi couldn’t be thankful enough if you did so.”

Qiu Yufei had spent several days in Zezhou. Having seen the calm and confident display of the Yong army, their triumphant and invincible spirit, he felt that although the Northern Han army was not weaker, it was lacking in spirit and instead full of grief and indignation. He didn’t expect that, just as he returned to Qinzhou, one of the few capable generals in the Northern Han army would suffer such a twist of fate. Within the flood of hot fury was a bit of discouragement. Under the dim light, he felt an ominous premonition appear suddenly in his mind. Could it be that the situation was truly irretrievable?

Footnotes:

吴下阿蒙, wuxia’a’meng – idiom, Lü Meng (吕蒙) was an illiterate soldier who studied diligently to become a top strategist of the state of Wu during the Three Kingdoms Period; fig. someone diligently self-improving
曲意逢迎, quyifengying – idiom, lit. use every means to fawn over someone; fig. act submissively in order to ingratiate yourself
不明不白, bumingbubai – idiom, lit. without rhyme or reason

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