A boundless expanse of thick clouds swarmed forth and swallowed up the sunlight. Falcons from Libei soared across the vast horizon. Meng was the first to swoop down. Under the cries of the falcons, it spread its wings, dispersing the thin fog as it looked down upon the stretch of pure white snow. The saker falcons came from the south like a volley of sharp arrows shooting straight towards the falcons. Letting out a long, loud cry, Meng spun and brushed past the military banner beneath. The sound of war drums instantly reverberated through the sinkhole.
Cavalrymen surged towards them with the momentum of a tidal wave incoming from the south.
The Armored Cavalry remained still. Once the scimitars of the Biansha Cavalrymen could be clearly seen, Yin Chang drew his old blade with a loud clang and roared at the sky, “Unveil the trenches—!”
The Imperial Army, who had been lying prostrate in the snowfield, promptly released their grip on the ropes at both ends, exposing the newly dug trenches. Meanwhile, the Biansha Cavalry, renowned for their speed, was charging long-distance towards them when they crossed the trenches. Unable to stop in time, the horses fell into the trenches, and cracking sounds instantly rang out as their front knees broke on impact.
The vanguards of the Biansha Cavalry tumbled into the trenches, throwing the array at the head into disorder. The Imperial Army instantly drew their blades and pounced like wolves to engage this batch of vanguards in the trenches. Without losing speed, the Biansha Cavalry at the back spurred their horses into leaping over the trenches to continue with their charge forward.
Even as Yin Chang hacked down the Biansha Cavalry, he still had to dodge the hooves leaping over his head, or he might just get his head kicked into a bloody pulp in a moment of inattention. He bent over and shouted over to the other end, “Laohu, what’s wrong with you? You dug this way too narrow!”
Tantai Hu’s palms were slick with sweat. He heard Yin Chang’s shouts as he fixed his eyes on the Biansha Cavalry galloping over, but he did not dare to divert his attention to answer. Gripping his own twin blades, he silently recited Tantai Long’s name to himself.
A Biansha cavalryman’s scimitar was already swinging towards him when the ponies were right about to reach him. Tantai Hu rolled forward, and Xiao Chiye, who was behind him, stuck out Langli Blade in a flash, making use of the cavalryman’s momentum to stab through him. Blood splattered. Leading the garrison troops, Tantai Hu crouched and slashed his blade across to cut off the ponies’ legs.
The ponies screamed and threw back their heads as they toppled over to the ground, like wild geese that had lost their wings. The cavalrymen fell off the ponies and rolled. Tantai Hu wiped the blood from his face, lifted both blades, and roared, “Revenge avenged!”
After getting thwarted again and again, the Biansha Cavalry decreased the momentum of their charge, no longer willing to advance rashly. But the distance between them had already shrunk. They wanted to retreat, but Xiao Chiye was now advancing.
Xiao Chiye tapped gently on the abdomen of his horse with the back of his blade, and Lang Tao Xue Jin charged forth. The sound of the Libei Armored Cavalry’s hooves was as resounding as muffled thunder as they pushed forth urgently with the snowstorm moving in tandem. They rammed into the Biansha Cavalry, breaking the latter’s battle array into tatters. The “war chariot” formation left the Biansha Cavalry with no time to catch their breaths. As long as they were slammed over to the ground by the heavy armors, the iron horseshoes of the Libei Armored Cavalry would trample over flesh and blood as they steamrolled over the Biansha cavalrymen’s bodies.
A saker falcon swept past overhead, with the wind trailing in its path as it attempted to flee east. Meng swooped through the snow and grabbed hold of the saker falcon with its talons. As it passed by Libei’s wolf banner, it ripped off one of the saker falcon’s wings before flinging the saker falcon away.
The Biansha Cavalry retreated like the receding tide, and one of its young generals galloped on horseback and yelled a series of swift commands. He withdrew the regular cavalry, then chided the Scorpions in the Biansha tongue for them to advance. The scimitars were instantly drawn back as the cavalrymen retreated with their eyes on the Libei Armored Cavalry.
Xiao Chiye slowly returned to the battle formation, and the protruding columns on all sides followed suit and merged back swiftly. The Scorpions took the place of the vanguards. The iron hammers they swung no longer faced up to one Armored Cavalry, but a group of Armored Cavalries.
Xiao Chiye led the charge. As he sped forth, he suddenly kept away Langli Blade. Following his action, the Armored Cavalry behind him unleashed those new blades of terrifying length. Xiao Chiye bent over slightly as they stabbed hard into the ranks of the Scorpions like a flash of cold glint in the night.
Xiao Chiye flipped the longer hilt with both hands and took away a Scorpion’s head as his horse passed by. To reduce its weight, the sharp steel of the long blade was thinned down, and it took just the blink of an eye for throats to be slit. A spray of blood instantly spattered towards his heavy armor along its iron arm before spilling onto the ground.
The iron hammers could not keep up with the speed of the long blades, and they were not long enough to swing and hit the Armored Cavalrymen themselves either. All they could do was watch helplessly as the Libei Armored Cavalry killed their way into their formation and cut down their own ranks into two halves.
Lang Tao Xue Jin broke through the Biansha Cavalry’s encirclement and snorted as it turned around on its hooves. Xiao Chiye held his long blade at a slanting angle and shook off the viscous blood on its blade.
Scorpions on both sides gasped for air as they watched all of their center unit tumble off their horses. Everywhere Xiao Chiye passed, streams of flowing blood formed. His long blade practically sliced off the heads of everyone who stood in his way.
A Scorpion pulled at his reins as he murmured in the Biansha tongue, “Chidaqi…”
The Libei Armored Cavalry spurred on their horses once more, and the Scorpions, no longer willing to continue fighting, turned their horses around at the sound of that muffled thunder. When the young general of the Biansha Cavalry at the back saw the Scorpions retreating, he hurriedly brandished his blade to berate them, but to no avail. Fear had already been sown in the hearts of the Scorpions. Following the loss of their leader, they had been reduced to mere sacrifices on this battlefield.
Lang Tao Xue Jin galloped out of the pack, while the Libei Armored Cavalry followed close behind on its trail.
The Biansha Cavalry on the south side of the sinkhole were too powerless to resist, as their scimitars were unable to pierce the heavy armors. Those who lost their ponies scrambled over themselves to run like mad in the snow, their urgent breaths of white air resembling a wave of floodwater breaching its dam. Surfaces of snow quaked as the Libei Armored Cavalry made its passage through. A Biansha Cavalryman who was falling behind the rest fell to the ground, and his scimitar went flying from his hand. Before he could even reach out a hand to draw out his piked dagger, he was swallowed up whole under the hooves of the Armored Cavalry.
Xiao Chiye charged out from the fringe of the battle formation and chased after the Biansha Cavalry like Xiao Fangxu had done so thirty years ago, showing no mercy under the iron hooves of his horse. The Libei Armored Cavalry ran on a rampage as they assaulted and massacred their way forward. Heavy armors gravely traversed the battlefield, turning into heavy blades in the midst of emerging from their sheaths in Tantai Hu’s eyes.
As the Scorpion galloped on his horse, he shouted sharply, “Chidaqi!”
Seven years ago, Xiao Jiming led the troops down south, earning himself the name “River of Ice Armored Cavalry”, and tonight, Xiao Chiye chased after the Biansha Cavalry for twenty li, the echoes reverberating through the lands he stepped on.
“Damn…” Yin Chang’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he wiped the blood off his face and recited silently to himself,
The passage of heavy frost through the lands
leaves not a blade of grass in its wake.
◈ ◈ ◈
Shen Zechuan was boiling tea in his tent. The Prefectural Lord, inept as he was in the art of tea, simply stuffed the tea leaves into the teapot, filled it with water, and set it on the fire to boil. His folding fan was resting on his knee, and there was a stack of piled-up documents on the desk at his side, yet his eyes were fixed on that tea as he watched it gradually start to boil and bubble over.
Hairigu squatted at the entrance of the tent and peeked through the gap. “It’s not drinkable if you boil it like this, or is it?” he asked Fei Sheng.
Fei Sheng did not have a favorable impression of this Scorpion, so he looked ahead with his arms folded and listened to the urgent beats of the war drums. “It’s not like you are going to be drinking it, so what are you worrying about?”
Shen Zechuan stared blankly for a long time, and by the time he returned to his senses, the tea had almost evaporated. He lifted the teapot off, added more water, and continued to boil it. The sound of boiling water could cover up some of the drumming from the war drums, which was putting him in a dazed trance. He had not done any work today either.
Seeing as it was late, Fei Sheng lifted the flap to enter. He said softly to Shen Zechuan, “Master, how about taking a quick nap? As soon as there’s news from the battlefront, I’ll call you.”
Shen Zechuan lowered his eyes and did not answer him.
Fei Sheng understood that the Prefectural Lord was reluctant to do so, so he dared not persuade him further and retreated to the entrance of the tent to wait in attendance. The tea in the military tent boiled for the entire night. When it was almost dawn, Shen Zechuan heard the war drums stop.
Shen Zechuan rose and pushed aside the flap. Fei Sheng hurriedly draped a cloak over him and accompanied Shen Zechuan out of the tent. They made their way outside, where Shen Zechuan waited again for a moment in the snowy fog bathed in the first glimmer of dawn. It was extremely frigid in the morning, so frigid that the tip of one’s nose would turn red from the freezing cold if one stood for too long out there. The north wind pounced on their faces like sharp knives. After a little less than an hour, Shen Zechuan suddenly heard the rising sound of hooves, followed by rows after rows of emerging silhouettes overlapping one another. Meng was the first to return to camp.
Fei Sheng heaved a sigh of relief as if he had been relieved of a heavy load. He immediately congratulated Shen Zechuan, “Master, it’s a success!”
Meng circled in the air, wanting to land on Shen Zechuan’s arm. Shen Zechuan was not wearing his arm guard today. Just as he lifted his arm, a whistle sounded from the other end.
Xiao Chiye broke through the boundless expanse of heavy fog and spurred his horse on without stopping. The moment he rushed into the campgrounds, he swept up Shen Zechuan. Lang Tao Xue Jin slowed and turned its hooves around to gallop away into the fog again with both men on its back. Meng, which had pounced on empty air, landed on the military banner and wiped its talons clean as it watched them run further away into the distance with a sidelong glance.
Yin Chang, with arms cradling his war trophy, wanted to say something, but Fei Sheng held him back and did not give him the chance to open his mouth. The rest of them wore a wide array of expressions. Tantai Hu spat on his palms and rubbed them together to warm them up a little. “… Let’s enter the tent first. Military affairs can be reported a little later. There’s no hurry to do so right now.”
With that, he repeated it once more, only to make what he had been trying to cover up all the more conspicuous.
“No hurry to do so now.”
“Whatcha’ mean? No hurry?” Yin Chang craned his neck to look around him and said in bafflement, “We have to head back to the city at the hour of mao. His Lordship’s very much in a hurry!”