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TW: Gore, death.
He Yunxing stepped up onto his own warhorse, following closely behind Helian Zhao. In that instant, the resentment between them suddenly vanished into air, smoke giving off all around them. The Junior Marquis, who had been looking forward to urging on a military horse since his adolescence, had grown up at flying speed in the wake of only a couple months of campaigning.
Blood and fire were cast into an iron-made cradle. The smell of makeup that polluted Fullmoon River had been completely washed off of his flesh.
The man whose horse was in the lead made a beast-like roar from his chest, his iron garments reflecting cold light in the dark night. Moonlight silently casting down upon his head, he disappeared without a sound immediately after.
Do not laugh at those lying down drunk on the battlefield; since time immemorial, few ever return from their expeditions.
Helian Zhao slaughtered all. A predator-esque barbarian was cut down by him, his head severed from his neck. A Great Qing soldier ran into him after fleeing brainlessly in defeat, causing him to raise his hand and use the hilt of his several-dozen-catty sabre to ruthlessly smash down on the other’s head, splattering his brains out on the spot.
In no more than a moment, the original color of that snow-bright armor could not be seen, his entire body bloodied and as filthy as his warhorse, but his expression was as harsh and frigid as ever. A date-red horse shot straight over, and the person coming turned his head; He Yunxing could clearly see that it was Cui Yingshu.
Cui Yingshu panted fiercely. “Your Highness, the right wing can’t hold up!”
Helian Zhao only looked at him. “Call the center army’s archers to the summit,” he replied indifferently. “When there’s no more arrows to shoot, throw rocks. When there’s no more rocks to gather, throw corpses. Even if you have to use carcasses to crush them, the barbarians need to be crushed to death.”
He twisted his head around to stare at Cui Yingshu viciously, his gaze like a venomous snake’s. “Cui Yingshu,” he said, a pause between each syllable, “this isn’t the age when our Great General Feng swept across Nanjiang, understand?”
Cui Yingshu stared at him in a daze, as if Helian Zhao was a visitor from the underworld, only to hear the other laugh coldly. “Back then, his death was planned for. Staking life on his behalf today is how it should be.”
There was an ominous undertone vaguely carried in his words. He Yunxing couldn’t help but interrupt him. “Your Highness.”
Helian Zhao didn’t turn to look at him, merely speaking calmly. “We can hold up. That’s because these troops are still dependent on knowing that our hundreds of thousands of Dynasty elites are here, and that no mistakes can be made. Now, though, if even their hopes are all broken, what would be left?”
Cui Yingshu’s face sank. “Yes. This humble general understands.”
Helian Zhao smiled, forcefully whipping his warhorse with a riding crop, and it charged out on initiative.
While everyone was on alarm, he alone headed the soldiers. All his movements seemed to have a bizarre magic power to them, as the hearts of those who saw him instantly settled down, automatically following him to welcome the sharp claws and teeth of the Vakurah. It was like a hole had torn open in the chaotic crowd, the whirlpool-like land integrating more and more people into coming together and flowing in one direction.
In fear of the earth long being polluted by the stink of livestock, the people run scared! Lead a crowd of heroes to do their utmost to eradicate it, hence! Among this land, those who encroach on the country must be put to death!
Human lives were lost just for him to rake in wealth. He colluded with corrupt officials to use the people as meat, removed dissidents regardless of consequences, brought harm to loyalists, and, even on the point of his departure, didn’t neglect to maliciously plant a seed of alienation between the Crown Prince and Prince Nan’ning… He Yunxing harshly wiped his face, angrily bellowed, and followed closely after Helian Zhao.
In a split second, a cold arrow came out of nowhere and unerringly shot Helian Zhao’s horse’s head. The warhorse immediately let out a long whinny, narrowly bucked him off, rushed two steps forward, then abruptly collapsed to the ground. Helian Zhao rolled off of it, and a prophetic-seeming arrow suddenly came again — with no time to dodge, he almost got hit, but He Yunxing fortunately caught up quickly, swiftly cutting it down.
The very second Helian Zhao fell off his horse, a voice started shouting. “The Great Qing’s worthless Head Commander is dead! He’s dead!”
Helian Zhao cursed, immediately pushing the warhorse away, pulling himself free of it, and getting up again. “The fuck I am.”
He Yunxing’s mind was in a whirl, and he suddenly understood why the other was staking his own life to make himself the target, nearly getting frightened into a cold sweat. Hurriedly, he jumped off his horse as well and grabbed him. “Your Highness, please retreat! If something happens—“
Helian Zhao snatched his collar, stared off with him for a short moment, then let go and pushed him a couple steps back, chuckling. “You can go back and report the good news to my little brother, then!”
Soon after, he mounted another horse, shouting, “Come on, you barbarian dogs!”
He Yunxing’s eyes were blurred. He wiped hard at them, only to discover that, at some unknown point in time, his face had become full of tears.
Helian Zhao was using his life to reinvigorate the Great Qing soldiers that were about to concede defeat. As karma went, a stream of blood turned into a sea.
By the time the morning sun broke dawn, a small gap struggled out of the dense cloud cover, and gloomy sunlight spilled down on the yet-continuing battle. The ground was full of human and horse carcasses. He Yunxing had suffered a cut across the shoulder, and in spite of the armor relieving him of the majority of its force, a lot of blood was flowing out nonetheless, adhering his battle armor tightly to his body.
He was a bit weak, but he still gritted his teeth and gripped his sabre no matter what thoughts he had, refusing to let go. A huge boom filled his ears, resulting in his mind not being very keen. The web on his right hand was torn open; in extremely short order, the blood and the dust on his utterly rubbed-rough palm mixed into black filth. Dust, dirt, and ash flew freely.
He didn’t know how long he could keep going.
Weapons of fire were finished launching. Arrows had been shot clean. The Vakurah had brought such a devil-may-care-esque extreme, with one wave of them rushing up to meet the Great Qing’s people head-on as soon as the prior one had fallen. His line of sight was fuzzy from excess exhaustion.
All of a sudden, a man frantically hurried over, dismounted, and knelt down with a plop, like a clay monkey. Only after trying to recognize him for a long while could He Yunxing tell that he was Helian Zhao’s personal guard, and his heart promptly sank.
The guard gazed up at him, then abruptly propped both his arms against the ground, and buried his head firmly onto it.
He Yunxing opened his mouth, but his throat was already so dry and rough, he couldn’t talk anymore.
He nearly fell off his horse, body swaying, and rigidly held onto the reins. It took some time before he could force himself to speak. “Send an emergency message. Tell the Emperor… and the Crown Prince…”
In the East Palace, the tea cup in Helian Yi’s hand fell to floor, smashing into three pieces.
The area outside the gates was captured, and the blood-dyed foreigners were coming in like this was a no-mans-land, thinking of their next target — the capital.
Jing Qi had long realized this, and was putting in effort to prepare to flee, so that he could do without it.
At this juncture, Helian Pei had completely fallen into a coma, and was wholly reliant on imperial physicians giving him medicine to extend his breathing, which came in but not out; he was simply the living dead. In the throne room, no one was quarreling at last.
From top to bottom, Helian Yi, looking down upon the sparse Court subjects, wasn’t even sure — who was it that destroyed the country? His Father Emperor? These couple of officials? His two older brothers?
But his predator-like eldest brother had since died on the northwestern battlefield, with not even his corpse able to be put back together, so… was it him?
Thinking back to these years, what all had he done?
Helian Yi realized that, apart from vying for power, he had accomplished nothing. He had been wanting to wait until he ascended to re-organize the old country for certain, but, for some reason, the Heavens were stuck in time and didn’t give him the opportunity. Now, he was finally sitting up high in the Great Hall, but it was far too late.
Suddenly, someone stepped out of the row of officials. Helian Yi woodenly swept his gaze over to see that the man was the former Assistant Minister of Revenue, and now current Minister of Revenue, Zhao Mingji. The dried-out, withered old man bowed deeply, his voice crisp. “Your Highness, this subject has a memorial to put forth.”
Helian Yi raised his hand and motioned to him.
Zhao Mingji took out a manifest, offering it up with both hands. In response, Wang Wu quickly accepted it, and gave it to Helian Yi.
Noiselessly, many others then stepped out of the row to stand behind Zhao Mingji. “Your Highness,” he was heard to say, “this subject had observed night divinations yesterday. The white tiger has overtaken the purple rose’s light. The imperial star is unclear, and now, having come across a chaotic world, the Emperor’s dragon form has taken ill. May this subject be so bold as to request that you, firstly, continue on your great legacy, and ascend the throne as Emperor.”
Helian Yi silently watched all the major ministers that stood up, awaiting his ‘secondly’.
After Zhao Mingji let out a slow breath, he said, “Now, there is no one obstructing the beastly Vakurah race. The northern defense of the capital is entirely broken, the national treasury has long been emptied, and the elite troops have practically been exhausted from losses. Now, this war cannot be fought anymore. I ask that you make a decision soon, Crown Prince.”
“The enemy has invaded my territory and injured my people,” he chuckled, voice low. “If I don’t fight, who can?”
“The plan for the present can only be to send diplomats for peace negotiations and give what is necessary,” Zhao Mingji replied. “You must bear with this now, Your Highness.”
No expression could be seen on Helian Yi’s face. “What you mean, Sir Zhao, is to cut apart the land in reparation, giving half of the whole country to someone else, and to not spare any part of it?” he asked softly.
Zhao Mingji knelt down and kowtowed to him. “Your Highness, this is not the time to put on a brave front,” he articulated. “This subject implores that you impart a decree to shift the country to the south, avoiding their cutting edge! We will likely have another day that we could make a comeback, returning in a whirl of dust!”
Helian Yi nodded emptily, gaze hung low as his hand landed on the manifest. At the spot for signatures, the six ministries and nine ministers had all signed their names. He looked up again, swept a glance over the crowd that knelt behind Zhao Mingji, and sighed. Tossing the manifest into Wang Wu’s arms, he stood up for a minute, back to the crowd, and turned his face up to gaze at the golden plaque atop the Great Hall that was as magnificent as ever.
“Okay.” He gently shook his head, laughing.
Zhao Mingji, believing that he had agreed to it, was about to kowtow and praise him as a wise ruler, but he saw Helian Yi turn around to look at him. “Okay. Sir Zhao has made a good plan for ruining the nation and making its people suffer.”
Immediately following that, he flung out his sleeves. “Arrest Zhao Mingji and all those behind him. Haul them away for me,” he ordered mildly. “If… if anyone brings up moving the capital again, gentlemen, please weigh how heavy the head on your neck is.”
The capital was on wide, level plains. If it was captured, then the final barrier in the northern half of the country would go. What was the difference between that and a dead nation?
Though the members of the Helian family are nothing good, we aren’t cowards. Eldest Brother, big brother* — if your spirit is still here, don’t laugh at your little brother for overestimating his abilities, okay?
Helian Yi successively issued three orders. The capital went into emergency status, the final Imperial Forest Army was densely arranged in wait, and several orders were issued every day to the Guangs and the Nanjiang area. Cruelly, all who dared to bring up half a word of ’moving the capital’ were imprisoned to be dealt with, as he intended to fight with his back to the water.
After the Court meeting, he kept Jing Qi behind.
Helian Yi sighed, then sat down limply, as if his muscles and bones were not enough to support the pressure. “Beiyuan, sit,” he said softly, a long while after.
Wang Wu quickly moved a chair over and asked for Jing Qi to sit down. He did, waiting for Helian Yi to open his mouth, but the man’s mind appeared to be wandering, as he just stared at him blankly for a time without making a sound.
After waiting for ages, Jing Qi gave a quiet cough. “Crown Prince?” he reminded.
Helian Yi seemed to snap out of it, mn’ed, and blinked, his expression clearing up. He reached up to knead the space between his brows, sighing. “I didn’t sleep last night, so my energy is a little lacking.”
Jing Qi was quiet. These days, Helian Yi absolutely wasn’t alone in not sleeping the whole night.
Helian Yi forced a smile, mumbling to himself, though it wasn’t known if it was to Jing Qi or not. “This is the time life and death will be decided. The capital will have a fierce battle. They’ve already stepped onto the farmland, but worry won’t do anything. Motivation needs to be nurtured so that decent soldiers will come to obstruct them.”
Viewing his peculiar expression, Jing Qi couldn’t grasp what he was going to say while he affirmed.
Helian Yi looked at him, voice extremely slow and soft. “The Shamanet is someone of Nanjiang. It’s also about the time we should be returning the hostage. This is a matter of the Great Qing, so it doesn’t make sense to spread harm to him, a foreigner, by making him stay in the capital…”
Jing Qi was taken aback, his peach-blossom eyes promptly widening to stare at Helian Yi incredulously.
He heard him proceed on. “I cannot leave. Avail yourself of the time before the Vakurah soldiers get to our walls, and take my place in… seeing him on his way.”
The translator says: …
 One of Wang Han’s Liangzhou poems. (Here’s a full version.)
 A quote taken from “Order for the Central Plains to Arms” by Song Lian. (Here’s a partial version.)
 Purple star divination is star-reading, with the Emperor always as the purple star. The White Tiger refers to the Guardian of the West; it refers to the barbarians having come from the northwest.
* He called him da-ge. 😦