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By this juncture, there was no one in Court that dared to bring up moving to the South anymore. Helian Yi, this young man that had appeared gentle and kind for more than twenty years, finally exposed his iron-blooded, ruthless side to the people of the world. Then, existing in this dire situation where everyone wanted to retreat, he had the Ministry of Rites hurriedly make preparations, and took the top seat in close to a panic.
Deep inside the palace, Helian Pei’s breathing was weak, already at the end of his wick. Now, though, in this realm, the son was going to have to pay off his father’s debts.
This year, Helian Yi was twenty-eight years old when the era’s name was changed to Rongjia.
At this period in the capital, all those who picked up their heads and said that they had to negotiate peace in compromise were the first soldiers to be made into cannon fodder. Anyone else was mostly quieted under Helian Yi’s high-pressure policy, but it was only a quiet forced by lack of a better option — from the crowd of subjects in Court to the last of the Imperial Forest Army, everyone was on edge. The army had originally only had less than sixty-thousand members, and part of it had been temporarily transferred over by Helian Zhao, so it now had less than thirty-thousand remaining.
In former times, they were elites, but right now, upon hearing the news that nearly the entire army was wiped out, they turned into cowards out of dread.
Areas surrounding the capital, like Shandong and Henan, could be allocated, but they only had some backup ranks of the old, feeble, disabled, and whatnot. With no choice but to heal a dead horse like it was alive, Helian Yi assembled their entire sum. The remainder, such as the Nanjiang border guard and Guangs, traveled day and night to catch up to the capital, in spite of knowing full well that faraway water couldn’t quench thirst at hand.
Lu Shen assumed total control over the Ministry of Revenue. His first decision was to set down that the squadrons coming to the capital from the West had to pass Mian Province, and from the South, Cang Province, as those were the two largest provision stores closest to the capital. The armies were to go through them and carry their own rations over; the previously prepared armaments had all long since been given a funereal bury at the Northwestern battlefield, and it was definitely too late to raise funds again right now. Mian and Cang and such weren’t far from the capital, but they were still a good distance away. With how messy the present way of the world was, failure was likely, and they were obliged to have the coming forces take on several duties simultaneously.
As for Jing Qi and Zhou Zishu, they were doing something else.
Ever since the early days of the Great Qing’s establishment, there was an institution in the capital that featured specialized management of the Spring Market’s affairs, known as the ‘Northsent Department’. It had originally been under the Consul Herald’s control, but for the sake of easier work, there were quite a few Vakurah officials in it, which gradually separated it from the Consul’s office to become a lone branch.
Spring Market dealings had typically been in the Northwest, and only once per year. The branch generally didn’t do much work, yet it carried a lucrative position. Zhao Zhenshu once had countless dealings with the Vakurah chief, Jeshe; inside the transactions of money and power, it could be claimed that Zhao Zhenshu had single-handedly reared this wolf, and the Department had nearly turned into a secret thread between Zhao Zhenshu and the capital’s business.
Zhang Jin had never meddled in these private exchanges, either, because foreigners were ultimately just foreigners, and it oftentimes wasn’t good to be linked with them in the Great Qing’s internal political strife. For that reason, at the time of the great purge of the Northwest, these big-headed, fat-bellied vermin miraculously escaped it.
Starting from the very day the Northwest went into a state of emergency, Helian Yi had Zhou Zishu keep a tight watch on this group. With the current state of martial law, the latter further tore off his mask and straight-up put them all under house arrest.
Jing Qi understood, of course, that these fatties with stomachs two times rounder than their heads, and who hadn’t looked a nomad for ages, only truthfully had things to do with money, having no relation to this war at all. Perhaps even Jeshe himself had no idea what they had done. Even so, he needed a little something right now that evoked even stronger emotions in the city, for warding off those fears of ‘the Vakurah warriors are all indestructible’ that were spreading around like a plague.
He had never been a take-charge individual. He was more than enough for handling things and making ideas as a supporting role, but he wasn’t unwavering enough, and seldom had the drive to act alone. However, he understood the human heart better than anyone else, and he knew that, at this time, the most frightening thing was not the large Vakurah army watching them like prey, but rather the scatterbrained and flustered minds in the capital.
No matter whether they were legitimately discovered or fabricated out of nothing, Zhou Zishu made uncountable charges against everyone in the Northsent Department with extreme efficiency. Regardless of them being real or fake, they had the utmost of provocative power, and recounting clause after clause of them only made those that didn’t know the truth itch to peel the skin off of these ‘awfully guilty’ people.
Therefore, on that day, Jing Qi took about a hundred members of the Imperial Forest Army to hem in around the Department with no warning in the slightest.
Without even a hello, people were dragged out of it one by one, stripped of their official’s uniforms right on the streets, and hogtied. While he instructed someone to send the news back, he had another methodically organize a string of accompanying confiscation operations.
After that, he rode up on a horse, expressionlessly ordering that these shivering people were to be individually bound to large wooden poles. Behind those poles would hang a massive white cloth upon which who these people were would be written, whether they be Vakurah or their scumbag lackeys in the Great Qing, along with a point by point list of what crimes they had committed. Then, he personally brought them in a parade through the streets.
Taking into consideration that there were many among the citizenry that couldn’t read, he borrowed two major experts under Zhou Zishu’s command, Lu Yu and Duan Pengju, to follow him on the journey. Applying their internal force, they would read aloud word by word as they went, and could be heard clearly from faraway.
People poured out of the alleys of the capital as if a celebration was going on. The commoners and the soldiers keeping order all congregated on both sides of the mainstreet. It was unknown who took the initiative, but they threw a chunk of rotten, leafy vegetable onto the head of the director of the Northsent Department, who had been loudly shouting that he was falsely accused. Slowly, the feelings of the crowd began to stir; stones, rotten vegetables, spit, and whatever they had was what came smashing down.
The troops that had been assigned in the name of ‘keeping order’ had been able to stop them at the onset, but they were human, too, and some had friends and relatives that had died in the big Northwest. As a result, the soldiers and citizens became one family later on, and the hurling morphed into stomping and beating them up.
They were informed that these people — these big-headed, pot-bellied, fat people — were Vakurah. They were not all-knowing, nor were they indestructible. It was these outsiders that were currently blowing a foul stench onto this mild, peaceful land of gold dust, killing their brothers and families, and causing the chaos to separate people forever.
Without anyone realizing it, Jing Qi and Zhou Zishu had withdrawn to outside the circle for observation. Jing Qi stood on a tall building, watching quietly for a while before he said, “Zishu, later on, I’ll have you mingle in with the commoners to keep a bit of the spirit up. Those that weren’t beaten to death are to be given another strike on their skulls. Those that died are to have their corpses collected once these people have dispersed, and then their heads are to chopped off and hung up on the city gate.”
Zhou Zishu exhaled lightly, shaking his head with a grin. “Prince, you don’t know this, but even I’ve got the feeling of a sigh in my heart, like a huge rock that’s been suffocating my chest has exploded apart.”
Jing Qi narrowed his eyes, inclining his head to look at him. “I heard that you were finally willing to send Li’l Liang away?”
The other shook his head again and smiled painfully. “If he doesn’t leave, I’d still have to mind him. In the case that he gets into trouble at a time like this, I won’t have the leftover energy to wipe his ass for him and get someone to abduct him by force.”
“Take care that he doesn’t say that he’ll hate you forever,” Jing Qi answered with a skin-deep smile.
“Prince, love is deep only when hate is definite,” Zhou Zishu joked. “This subordinate doesn’t have the attractiveness that you do, Prince.”
Staring blankly for a short instant, Jing Qi then frowned as he looked at him. “Are you actually making fun of me?”
The other curbed his grin. “You have to take care of yourself by every means, Prince, don’t ruin your health by getting angry. I’m still awaiting the future of coming to ask you for a cup of good wine. I heard… that Nanjiang’s five-poison wine can be a great tonic.”
Jing Qi’s originally somewhat solemn appearance swiftly unfurled. Following a moment of quiet, he softly replied, “With your blessing, old friend, if I really can live to such a day, then the wine is nothing. I’ll even tell a pretty, small-waisted Nanjiang lady to be your wife.”
“Prince, a nobleman’s words are as a whipping of four horses. You have to keep your word,” Zhou Zishu said quickly.
Jing Qi reached his fist over, raising his brows as he looked at him. Zhou Zishu smiled, then reached his own fist over as well, lightly bumping against his.
“It’s a deal.”
After that, Jing Qi started to undertake divvying up the entire capital into several districts. Each one was appointed a person specially in charge of rationing food and supplies for every household, every day. He also ordered people to clear up a couple of roadblocks on the only road the ranks ordered to enter the capital could take. Troops were trained on the daily in the middle of the streets, lookout security tight. With every reinforcing army that came, three fireworks would be designated to notify the whole city.
Helian Yi used great effort to placate Helian Zhao’s family, posthumously titling him as Great General-Prince Zhongyong, and his eldest son, Helian Yu, as Kin-Prince Yangcheng. This had been a matter of honor, at first, but it had a result that was beyond expectations. Helian Zhao’s old division, headed by Jian Sizong, his father-in-law whose culturedness had hit rock-bottom back in the day, became the first group to stand up as a core power of the primary battle.
Ten years prior, Jian Sizong had cradled Zhao Mingji in the throne room and called him ‘darling’. Ten years later, Zhao Mingji’s head, along with a group of poor souls from the Northsent Department’s, were hung up together on the city walls by Prince Nan’ning. The long-since retired and now gray-haired Jian Sizong had brought over a bunch of people that had been born servants of the Eldest Scion’s Estate, all arranged in rows, and knelt falteringly before Helian Yi, loudly calling ‘Long Live the Emperor’.
Helian Yi did not nominate any generals whatsoever, merely shedding the dragon robe he wore and switching it for battle armor. He declared that he would defend the capital in person, and desperately fight to the very end.
Behind him was no longer loose sand that refused to come together. There was the airtight Lu Shen, the suddenly sly and vicious Jing Beiyuan, the newly-founded, immeasurable ‘Heaven’s Pane’, a vast crowd of impassioned scholars, and the unyielding, mourning troops of the former Eldest Scion party.
And, at this point in time, another person stood up as well — the daughter of Great General Feng Yuanji, the Princess Jing’an, and the adopted daughter of Retired Emperor Helian Pei; Feng Xiaoshu.
The young woman that had been wronged by being in the rear palace had suddenly showed up, dressed in military attire. She had the same pair of stubborn eyes and the same exceptionally straight back that Great General Feng once had. Like daughter, like father; being deep in the palace had not at all erased the intense Feng demeanor she bore. Princess Jing’an leaned on a spear and had her hair coiled up like a man’s, kneeling and begging Helian Yi to allow her to imitate Mulan in enlisting on behalf of her father.
Right then, the old Feng faction in the army, formerly as incompatible as fire and water, at last merged together with Helian Zhao’s remaining people. One month later, the number of those stationed at the capital reached eighteen-hundred-thousand, and provisions were readied all together.
Whether citizen or soldiers, everyone’s emotions had reached a peak — Emperor Rongjia, Helian Yi, would likely be the most prestigious Emperor since the beginning of the Great Qing’s history.
On the eighth of November, He Yunxing had sorted out the surviving troops, and arrived at the capital alive.
Upon receiving the news, Helian Yi personally went to the city gates to welcome him. He Yunxing knelt before him on the spot, weeping bitterly. Once his bout of crying was done, he never once labelled himself with fault, nor did Helian Yi descend fault upon him. He was simply weaved into the capital’s garrisoned generals; right now, whether one was dead or alive, they needed to have courage.
Yet, what Zhou Zishu didn’t know was that Liang Jiuxiao, who he had sent away, used a little trick halfway down the journey — the two escorting him did not check on him for a moment, allowing him to escape. Liang Jiuxiao said nothing, then happened to come across a backup squadron that was heading to the capital from the south, using the alias Xiao Jiang to go along with them.
This whole time, he hadn’t gotten over it. He hadn’t gotten over his sect-brother killing Jiang Zheng’s family, and he hadn’t gotten over the Prince’s words that made one feel a chill in their bones upon hearing them. He knew himself to be stupid and unable to see through things, so he couldn’t understand how these smart people thought.
Yet, he had always been guilty.
He had always dreamed that he would one day transform into a great hero that would uphold justice, but after coming to the capital, he had entirely lost himself. He felt that he ought to return, even if it wasn’t for the purpose of living, dying, advancing, and retreating in tandem with his sect-brother. It was for the purpose of being inside this age of blood and fire, and again seeking that road leading to righteousness for the land.
In this brief month, everyone found the shrunken-back resolution within themselves.
So, invaders… don’t hesitate to give all that you got, eh?