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Winter passed, spring came. Once the white snow covering the world went away completely, branches began to sprout fresh green. For the people of the capital, the biggest change of spring days was that they could swap out their thick winter clothes for lighter, elegant spring garments.
Ever since Wan Tong had returned to the Brocade Guard, he had discovered that every level of it had changed, the power he had originally set up all but thoroughly eliminated. Even the two Bastion Envoys of the North and South were new people.
Hating Yuan Bin to the extent that he wanted him to die, he’d had no choice but to fix things up anew. It hadn’t been easy to get his own people into the Southern Bastion Office again, but the most-important Northern Bastion Office differed from the Southern; it had since become a place where water couldn’t leak into and needles couldn’t pierce through.
Sui Zhou’s matron was not inferior to Wan Tong’s. He was not a figure that he could grab and replace easily. The entire Northern Bastion Office was currently made of Sui Zhou’s confidantes, giving Wan Tong no way to play hard. All he could do was probe Sui Zhou’s standing, then watch for his chance to slowly infiltrate.
Wan Tong found many people displeasing to the eyes. The Crown Prince certainly took first place in that, but he wasn’t someone he could touch right now, as the Emperor still held affection for the Prince, and there was always a group of people circling him to protect him, who were frequently able to turn danger into safety at critical junctures. One couldn’t help but suspect that he might have brilliant luck, and the protection of the gods.
The Crown Prince couldn’t be touched, but that didn’t mean that other people couldn’t, however.
The Prince’s teachers helped incur the Emperor’s favor for him every day, which Wan Tong found aggravating. There was also Wang Zhi, that ungrateful traitor, and yet another example in Sui Zhou, the obstacle dividing up his power in the Guard. All of them were people he wanted to get rid of.
Following the birthday banquet, Wan Tong, Shang Ming, and the rest of them had frequently been searching for opportunities. They were deeply versed in the ways of beating a snake without getting bitten back. Either they wouldn’t make a move, or if they did, they would have to be quick, ruthless, and precise with it, striving hard to give their foe one ferocious strike that wouldn’t give the other a chance to backlash at them.
Such an opportunity would come soon.
After Wang Zhi departed the capital, he had intermittently stayed at the border stronghold for over two years. Even though he had returned several times during this period, he had come and gone in a rush — that was to say, his previous power in managing the capital was getting shakier and shakier.
It could be seen that starting from the beginning of this year’s spring, the war in Datong had not been going too smoothly. The Tartars would occasionally come over and loot like they were entering their own home, while the Ming army had had repeated losses. No longer did it have endless reports of victory like it had before, even suffering a few minor defeats.
Were the war to be lost, it would naturally be difficult for the frontline commanders to escape that fault. Some suggested that there was an overall issue with the leadership of Commandant Wang Yue, and that Military Supervisor Wang Zhi needed to bear responsibility, as well. The two had held military power over Datong for a long time, and should have been switched out long ago — even if Wang Zhi wasn’t, Wang Yue and the garrisoned army generals nearby ought to have been made to change defenses, so as not to have the suspicion that they were growing self-important in their grasp on the army.
The instant they were denounced, Wang Yue and Wang Zhi rushed to present memorials defending themselves, even having to express that they had no thoughts to lust after power. No one other than Liu Cottonflower had that thick of a face in this world, where they could just pretend that the denouncements didn’t exist, after all.
Ever since he had heard Tang Fan’s warning, Wang Zhi had long been wanting to return to the capital. He went along with the flow to announce that he was resigning from his post as Military Supervisor, stating that he missed the days where he had served by His Majesty’s side, and also longed for his homeland of the capital. On top of that, the poor weather of the border these years had caused old injuries of his to flare up, so he hoped that he could return to recover.
Few didn’t know that there were many in the capital today that neither wanted him to win the war, nor wanted him to return. Thereafter, it was explained to the Emperor that the Great Bend region constantly got invaded by the Tartars, and it was thanks to Wang Zhi’s previous defense that success could be obtained; the situation was disadvantaged as of right now, but Wang Zhi and Wang Yue’s capabilities were there. They requested that His Majesty grant them more patience and opportunities by having them continue to stay there and establish greater merits for the Great Ming, but, in order to prevent people of ulterior motives from recklessly slandering meritorious officials, a new Provincial Governor should be dispatched to Datong.
The Emperor quickly agreed to that memorial. The former Datong Governor was transferred back, Guo Tang was sent to be the Governor in his stead, and Wang Zhi was officially designated as Datong’s Defending Supervisor.
Wang Zhi had formerly been nothing more than a marching Military Supervisor, but now that he had earned a title, that meant that the second it was fastened onto him, him remaining in Datong was entirely justifiable, and he wouldn’t be able to return for a short while.
Not long after this occurred, censors in the Court successively sent memorials claiming that the Western Depot acted harshly and the citizens’ unhappiness was piling up, so they requested that it be closed. Even Head Vizier Wan An signed his name for it. Seeing the turmoil amidst the crowd, the Emperor granted the request.
The tyrannical, once-unmatched Western Depot thus quietly shut its doors.
Within this tempest, Qiu Jun, who had once been demoted to Nanjing for denouncing Wang Zhi before, sent no memorial up this time. The reason for that was simply that while Mr. Qiu detested Wang Zhi, he detested being in a group of thugs throwing rocks at someone in a well even more. He refused to follow along with jumping up and down and taking advantage of another’s crisis.
Back on topic, if the Western Depot had been harassing the citizenry, why had these people not said so before, only popping up after the Emperor appointed Wang Zhi as Datong’s Defending Supervisor? It was for none other than the fact that everyone used to be afraid of offending Wang Zhi, and now that it looked like he probably wasn’t coming back, they swarmed up to throw those rocks. With Wan Tong’s group also fanning the flames, the crowd pushed the wall over.
These dual moves of attacking while dissolving defenses were quite potent. The first move appeared to have given Wang Zhi the immense power to kill and seize in Datong, but locked him up there in reality. Since he couldn’t return, he naturally couldn’t manage the faraway Western Depot in the capital, either, and the followers under his control inevitably landed in dire straits.
And yet, that was an advantage for Sui Zhou, because most of the Western Depot’s staff were Brocade Guards that had been transferred over, not eunuchs. Wang Zhi wasn’t an idiot; once he had learned that he was being appointed as a Defending Supervisor, he knew something was off, and had quickly written to Tang Fan to ask Sui Zhou for help.
When the Western Depot was wiped out, Sui Zhou therefore went along with this to take in Wang Zhi’s confidantes, giving them shelter from the elements so that they didn’t get washed away.
Inside this turmoil, Wang Zhi appeared to have suffered unreasonable disaster, but the truth of the matter was that the Western Depot had offended many people due to its previous despotism. When it had been well-off, everyone dared to fume, yet hadn’t dared to say anything. Now that it was well-off no longer, who wouldn’t rush to stomp on it?
Many things had consequences; if those mixed into officialdom were overly mindful of gains and losses, they would rage to death sooner or later. Wang Zhi clearly understood as much, so after he heard that the Western Depot had been shut down, he didn’t have that big of a reaction.
However, there were rumors on the streets that said that when news had reached Datong, Eunuch Wang had broken a couple of cups out of anger, and worn his mouth out swearing stuff like, ‘Those bastards! This guy’s going to get them back someday!’ Those were only rumors, though, and listeners would stop at a laugh, not taking it seriously.
Those that had set up the game board behind everyone’s backs believed that this match was far from being settled.
After Guo Tang replaced Datong’s Governor, the hostilities did not take a good turn, several bizarre happenings occurring on the frontline instead. When news of this reached the capital, Commanding Envoy Wan Tong suggested that since Left Metropolitan Censor Tang Fan was a god at solving cases and of meticulous thoughts, he could go to Datong to help handle this. Bastion Envoy Sui Zhou acted with decisiveness, so he could accompany him, too.
The Emperor approved of this, ordering Tang Fan and Sui Zhou to leave in a few days’ time for Datong and jointly coordinate the war efforts.
Datong, during the Warring States, had been the capital of the Zhao State. After the Great Ancestor established Ming, Datong Prefecture was arranged under the jurisdiction of Shanxi. As an important strategic location on the Ming’s border, Datong controlled some of the Great Wall, starting from Pian Pass in the West and going to Juyong Pass in the East, and deserved to be called the master of nine borders. The area had become the frontline for resisting the Tartars, as the latter regularly infiltrated the Great Bend to plunder Datong.
On account of Datong’s important status, there was a very convenient official road built that went from the capital to Datong, good enough for horses to speedily gallop down. The two locals were less than a thousand miles apart, so if the horses were ridden a little faster, one could get there in about two days.
Run your mouth before, run on broken legs after. Tang Fan hadn’t expected that while he was sitting at home, a calamity would fall down from the sky, sending him to Datong for no good reason to go eat sand.
He was aware that since he had offended Wan Tong, the other would inevitably find a way to retaliate. At this moment, his most important aim in getting Tang Fan and Sui Zhou out of the capital was separating the latter from the Brocade Guard, so that he could get to work on the Northern Bastion Office.
As for Tang Fan, he was only a subsidiary.
Even if this was understood, it was no use. Imperial decrees could not be violated. In spite of Sui Zhou’s favor, he, too, had to pack up his things and get on the road with Tang Fan.
Sui Zhou’s leaving meant, in Wan Tong’s view, that the Northern Bastion Office was a crowd of dragons with no leader, and would coincidentally be easy for him to reorganize. Against his expectations, though, Sui Zhou had long made arrangements; on the eve of his departure, he took an imperial audience, saying that since he would be in Datong, it would likely be very difficult to multitask if anything happened in the Northern Bastion Office. He requested the Emperor’s consent in allowing him to recommend two people to temporarily take up Bastion Envoy positions and lead the Office.
Of those two, one was Xue Ling, and the other was a man with the slightly strange name of Mou Bin.
There was only supposed to be one Bastion Envoy, but Sui Zhou knew that his subordinates didn’t have enough qualifications, so no matter who took his place in leadership, they would be a lone piece of timber finding difficulty in supporting a whole building, to be quickly suppressed by Wan Tong the instant he left. Such was why he had intentionally put forth two people, to have them jointly take command of the Office.
The Emperor, naturally, agreed to his request.
Wan Tong hadn’t expected that Sui Zhou would do such a thing, nose nearly scrunching up in rage, but he turned his trajectory around. Xue Ling was an elder to Sui Zhou, but his talents were overall a little lacking compared to his, and Mou Bin was an unknown pawn never heard of before. When the time came, as long as he took down Mou Bin, thus leaving Xue Ling by himself, this would be easy to contend with. By the time Sui Zhou came back, what would greet him would be long far-removed from the Office of before.
His own willful calculations were done pretty well, but he had forgotten that Sui Zhou would certainly have his own reason for promoting an unknown pawn to be a Bastion Envoy. Xue Ling and Mou Bin, as a pair, were one strong and one weak, one astute and one honest, yet their cooperation was as seamless as the clothes of divinity. Just as Sui Zhou had explained, they had a fortified hold on the Office, giving Wan Tong nothing to take advantage of.
Wan Tong had wanted to find Mou Bin’s weakness and pull him down off of his horse before focusing his efforts on dealing with Xue Ling, but after all his searching, he only discovered that this trifling nobody had no weak points at all. Not only that, but Mou Bin had an integrity that not even the average civil official would possess. Wan Tong searched and searched, yet couldn’t find any evidence that he had ever accepted bribes, or was lustful in nature.
By the gods! Was he even a Brocade Guard?!
Wan Tong learned at last why Sui Zhou had shoved this guy out before his departure — it was to anger him to death!
Still, that was all a story for later. Even if Wan Tong was hopping mad in the capital, Sui Zhou couldn’t appreciate that with his own eyes. At this moment, his group had just reached the destination of this trip.
A sturdy, imposing city wall towered before them. Atop the tall gate’s towers, the name ‘Datong’ was firmly engraved into a stone-turned-plaque, in cursive-like calligraphy, resembling the feeling the city gave someone.
It was a bold, uninhibited city, a relic of Yan and Zhao. It was a city of chivalrous bones and loyal hearts, watered with the blood and flesh of the Great Ming’s soldiers.
Tang Fan had been to many places before, but he had never come to Datong, immediately stunned by the grandeur in front of him the second he arrived. It wasn’t until Sui Zhou gently bumped him with his riding crop that he came back to his senses.
According to the custom of ‘the civil leads, the martial helps’, this expedition was headed by Tang Fan, but they hadn’t brought many people. Sui Zhou had left some behind to restrain Wan Tong, unable to bring along the full count of his confidantes. Yan Li had also been left behind due to being newly wed, so only ten or so elites like Pang Qi were with him.
It was currently the middle of the day. There were many people queued up outside the city to get in, but for some reason, their advancing speed was particularly slow. Perhaps extremely strict inspections at the gate were the cause.
Tang Fan’s group was on official business, and had to wait for an unknown amount of time like so before they could press on ahead to the city gate, take out their permits, show off their identities, and request entry.
Unexpectedly, that set of procedures didn’t work here. The defending soldier at the gate looked them up and down, heavy doubt and scrutiny on his face. “Since you were sent by the Court, why aren’t you in your uniforms?”
The Brocade Guard’s uniform was known to be majestic, extremely recognizable once on the body. Few wouldn’t know it. However, during their group’s trek, they had encountered heavy rain that had soaked all of their clothes, so they’d had to put on backup sets. Who could’ve known that on the very next day, it would rain hard yet again, shortly soaking their backups, too? With no other choice, the group had had to stay at a posthouse and wait for their clothes to be washed and dried. In order to avoid this same exact situation, they simply put on everyday clothes, ready to change into them after they arrived.
Tang Fan had Guards open up the luggage and show a hem of the bright colors inside for the other party to examine. However, the soldier’s doubts were not yet dissipated. Having only a slight bit of politeness, he threw out the sentence “All of you wait a minute,” then jogged back, off to report to someone unknown.
Everyone was coated in the dust of travel. They had been thinking to get in, take a rest, and then a hot bath, only to be stopped right before the gates. The Guards were a little unhappy. “Something’s amiss,” Tang Fan said to them. “Maybe something happened in the city.”
As much was said, but they were straight-up left to dry out there. After waiting for quite some time, they then caught sight of the soldier walking over with someone dressed like a Corporal. Said Corporal was a little cautious the entire time; although he didn’t hide that he was on guard, he gave his name to them. “This humble official is Meng Cun, a Corporal defending Datong. You gentlemen are wanting to enter the city?”
Pang Qi finally couldn’t help himself. “Can you not talk crap? What would we be standing here for, if not to enter the city?! We didn’t come here on our own, we were sent by the Court! Did your Commandant not get the correspondence issued?!”
Corporal Meng knew that if the other party really was the Brocade Guard, he definitely couldn’t afford to offend them, so he smiled apologetically. “He has, but some things have happened recently. The Commandant specifically ordered that entry into the city needs to be strictly checked, especially for…”
He didn’t finish his words, but Tang Fan could guess that the latter half of them probably went something like, ‘especially for types like you, who pretend to be Court ambassadors.’
Tang Fan stopped Pang Qi, who wanted to go off, and said to Meng Cun, “Since your Commandant gave the order, we shouldn’t make things difficult for you. Whatever you need to check, do so according to standards.”
Meng Cun quickly smiled. “This gentlemen is yet a reasonable one. I ask that each of you hand over your permits and identity tags to me, after which I will bring them into the city and personally hand them over for the Commandant and Eunuch Wang to look over. After they find no fault, you all will be able to enter the city.”
That was kind of a huge joke. Identity tags were obviously carried on-person to prove one’s identity — how could it be so casually given away? If the other put their stuff away and reneged on them, a group with no provable identity, where could they go to explain themselves?
The instant Meng Cun said this, even Tang Fan’s smile slightly curbed.
Pang Qi grew even more furious. “What ‘mighty one’ set that rule?! When have you ever seen anyone give their tags away so casually?! Go call your Commandant to come out and meet us! These two are the Left Metropolitan Censor, Sir Tang, and our Bastion Envoy of the Northern Office, Sir Sui! I want to see who’s going to have the guts to try and stop us if we want to just go in!”
Hearing of the two’s posts, Meng Cun’s complexion finally paled. He twisted his neck to glare viciously at the soldier, then turned back around beaming, even bowing with cupped hands. “I wasn’t aware that you two gents were gracing us with your presence. Please excuse this humble official for being a coarse man; I have been at the border for a long time and understand nothing. Please don’t lower yourselves to my level!”
Seeing that he was cautiously polite out of repentance, but still wasn’t relaxed enough to let them in, Tang Fan knew that something major must have happened here previously. “Is the Defending Supervisor in the city today?”
“He is, but he is currently in discussions with the Commandant. This humble official was afraid to go in and disturb them, so I came out here first.”
“You can just head in and inform him. Say that Tang Fan came; I will bear any responsibility for that for you.”
Meng Cun only half-believed him, but since talks had come to here and he couldn’t exactly take their tags by force, he answered, “I will enter the city and make a report, then. Please wait a moment, Sirs!”
With that, he turned and went back in. Likely because he had made a separate account in private, after he left, several soldiers circumvented the gates to all stare at Tang Fan’s group like glaring tigers. Even the gazes that nearby entering citizens gave them turned a little weird, making them unsure of how to react.
With all this waiting, Tang Fan simply found a rock near the city wall to sit down on, then quietly began to speak to Sui Zhou.
On the other end, two people finally scurried out from the city. One of them apparently recognized Tang Fan, as after catching sight of the man sitting at the base of the wall, he promptly accelerated his pace to jog up, a broad smile on his face. “It really is you, Sir Tang! Ever since he learned about the Court’s decree a few days ago, our Eunuch Wang has been going on and on about you, and you came at last! Making you wait for such a long time was truly out of necessity — this lowly one will give you a humble apology here.”
Tang Fan had something of an impression of him. “You are Ding Rong?”
Ding Rong looked even happier at his recognition. “Yes, that is I. Eunuch Wang told this lowly one to receive you!”
Meng Cun’s embarrassment didn’t need to be described. He repeatedly bowed to the group. “This humble official has offended you all, my eyes unable to recognize Mount Tai itself. Please excuse my incompetence, Sir.”
Tang Fan waved his hand. “Were these ordinary times, you likely wouldn’t be so hard-pressed, Corporal Meng. Something big happened, did it not?”
Seeing that the complexions of the Brocade Guards were still dark, Meng Cun thought to himself that scholars were indeed more considerate, grateful. “It did indeed. You gentlemen would not be aware, but before you arrived, several bands of Tartar spies mixing into the cityfolk have just been caught here, one group of which was pretending to be officials. They swindled our brothers on watch then, nearly causing catastrophe. The Commandant got immensely angry over this, and told everyone that if we let spies into the city again, we’d be considered the same. This was unavoidable; please quell your anger, Sirs.”
“That all is true,” Ding Rong picked up from his side. “The Corporal that had let them into the city was beaten with a rod in front of everyone by the Commandant, then stripped of his post, so inspection for entry into the city is stringent out of fear of repeating that mistake.”
Wang Yue was strict in his command of the army; this, Tang Fan knew. He also knew that the other had high prestige in the army over these years in Datong, else he would never have been able to lead the army in repelling the Tartars again and again.
After hearing both of their explanations, the Guards’ suspicions went away slightly, their ire receding a bit.
“The Tartars have already used spies to scout out military intelligence?” Tang Fan asked.
Ding Rong smiled painfully. “They come straight over and leave straightaway, always running following the fight. After those spies were caught, Eunuch Wang and Commandant Wang cross-examined them, and found that they had connections to the White Lotus Society.”
The White Lotus Society?
Tang Fan suffered a start. How had he managed to wind all the way back around to come across the Society once again?
In all likelihood, since the evil organization had operated for many years, it had influences distributed all over the world. Them conspiring against the Great Ming’s land with the Northern Tartars was not too surprising.
Upon entering the city, Tang Fan’s group noticed that the atmosphere here was quite different from other places. Passersby on the road had frantic looks, and everyone was tense, far less carefree than the citizens of the capital.
Every once in a while, the group would come face-to-face with stationed soldiers equipped with spears and ji, then size them up, getting inquisitive looks in return. Once they all saw Corporal Meng walking behind Tang Fan, the soldiers would then startle, quickly stop to bow, get rebuked by Meng Cun a few times, and scatter.
Seven counties were beneath Datong Prefecture; this area was Datong County, the point of governance for the Prefecture. It was a county capital, but its location was important, as ever since the retreat inland from the Great Bend during Yongle’s time, it had turned into the Great Ming’s frontline against the Northern clans’ fire. The Tartars were nomadic peoples that could not self-sustain like farming peoples, so they could only rely on looting foreigners of their wealth to meet internal growth requirements.
In their view, being able to get into the Ming Dynasty’s territory signified that they were rolling in wealth. They didn’t want to take over their cities, they just wanted to come rob them periodically, as only that was the most fitting mode of their survival.
Under such frequent wars and onslaughts, the citizens of border cities had muscles of steel and bones of iron forged, no poison able to encroach upon them. Even young women possessed an efficiency not found elsewhere.
Despite being a border city, there was no shortage of supplies here in the least. Tang Fan glanced around quickly, paying extra attention, and noticed that stores crowded the streets. There were fabric stores, ready-made clothing stores, and citizens in attendance. At most, maybe, there were less patterns and colors provided to choose from, and fewer in-vogue styles.
Seeing that he appeared to be interested, Ding Rong asked, “Do you want clothes made, Sir?”
Tang Fan shook his head. “I’m just looking. Where are we going now?”
“Eunuch Wang told this lowly one to take you all to meet him.”
“He’s finished speaking with Commandant Wang?”
“Not when I left, but he hasn’t been in a great mood recently…”
Tang Fan raised his brow. “Because of the war?”
Ding Rong nodded, then spoke at a volume that wasn’t too loud nor too quiet, just enough for only Tang Fan and Sui Zhou to hear. “The Court sent the new Governor Guo over a bit ago. After he came here, he’s been quite disagreeable with Eunuch Wang and Commandant Wang. Every time they discuss the war, the three start arguing.”
“What’s going on today, then?”
What he was asking about were not secrets. Even if Ding Rong didn’t explain, the others would be able to inquire about it all afterwards. Moreover, Tang Fan had come here to lend a hand, which was beneficial to Wang Zhi.
Ding Rong must have understood as much, so he told the truth. “Recently, in spite of the trails of spies frequently being caught in the city, the army’s movements always seem to be known ahead of time by the Tartars. Last time, for example, we focused on defending Piantou Pass, but they appeared to know where our forces were concentrated, so they just bypassed Piantou to run off to Guangling County and loot it.”
Hearing this, Tang Fan glanced at Sui Zhou. Each saw undisguised surprise in their counterpart’s eyes.
Tang Fan’s brow creased. “Did you all not say before that you caught a few groups of spies? Can you not block them?”
“We can’t!” At this part, Ding Rong couldn’t keep his slightly scared expression at bay. “It’s not only that. Troops that we’ve sent out to chase down the Tartars have never come back, three times. This last time, Commandant Wang sent people to find them, and out of five hundred men, only seven ended up being found.”
“They landed in the enemy’s traps?”
Ding Rong shook his head. “Some said that they saw ghosts, and some said that the Tartars had the aid of gods, summoning wind and rain, leading them into a frightful place. Had it not been for them running quickly back to the squadron when they saw the chance to, they likely wouldn’t have returned.”
Tang Fan had previously believed that since Datong had a Commandant, Governor, and Defending Supervisor, three people were enough to put on a play, whereas he wouldn’t have anything to do even if he did come here. The circumstances here ended up being unexpectedly complicated.
Traps? The aid of gods? Where could the Tartars have gotten that junk? They were a tribe known for their fighting prowess on horseback. This trick of pretending to be the supernatural was obviously related to the White Lotus Society.
Still, he had dealt with the Society several times, so he knew how difficult it was. Those people had no lack of schemes, let alone the courage to plot a rebellion. The lone thing they did lack was enough strength. Now that they had teamed up with the Tartars, did they not hit it off immediately, and overturn the Heavens with one prod?
Thinking to this point, Tang Fan empathized with Wang Zhi. Eunuch Wang was indeed unlucky; others had ruined the Western Depot, yet he still wasn’t at peace on this end.
After explaining all of this, Ding Rong said, “If his tone isn’t too pleasant towards you in a minute, please forgive that, Sir!”
Tang Fan smiled. “How loyal you are! Be at ease, he and I are old acquaintances. How could I not understand how he is? I won’t put it to heart.”
The other hurriedly smiled apologetically. “This lowly one has said too much.”
The current Governor of Datong, Guo Tang, was one of Head Vizier Wan An’s people. Him taking up the post was naturally not for the sake of having a common goal, nor to fight for a better future together, but rather to make things harder for Wang Zhi and Wang Yue.
The latter two had been managing Datong for two years, reorganizing this run-down city into the invulnerable state that it was in now, as well as repeatedly fighting with the Tartars. Why would they ever be willing to let Guo Tang dip his fingers into this? The three coming into conflict had been inevitable.
As soon as Ding Rong spoke, Tang Fan’s group had already made mental preparations to mediate. However, once they got into the Commandant’s Estate, they realized that their own imaginations had been a little lacking.
Inside the main hall, the tables and chairs that should have been arranged there were all nowhere to be seen, replaced with one incense stand, one rooster, and one Daoist. There was also white smoke curling all around the room, and two other people stood to the side, the smoke enshrouding them and making their features indistinguishable.
The very next moment, Tang Fan’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, as he discovered that the Daoist was holding a sword in one hand and a dying rooster in the other, the blade cutting its neck.
“Supreme Sovereign, quickly bestow your favor… break!” the Daoist shouted.
Alongside his voice, chicken blood sprayed onto the other two people.
When Tang Fan’s group came in for a closer look, they discovered that the pair was familiar to them: the Datong Commandant, Wang Yue, and the Datong Defending Supervisor, Wang Zhi.
Tang Fan: “…”
Sui Zhou: “…”
What the fresh hell was this?
The translator says: Mr. Wang, please take the tinfoil hat off.
…Shang Ming has connections to the Society, #confirmed.
 The ‘bin’ (斌) here is a rarely-used variant of 彬, ‘elegant/pretty’, hence why it’s strange.