Another run down temple, another injury. For the first time, Yi Chongren found out that he had fate with run down temples. He had succeeded in assassinating Sima Xian, but he had also been heavily injured by the masters by Sima Xian’s side. Yi Chongren, who was struggling to bandage his own wounds, wore a mocking smile at the corners of his lips. So what if there were five masters by Sima Xian’s side. Of those five people, he had heavily injured two, cripled one, and left two to be dealt with by “others”. In the midst of chaos, masters could not win against great numbers.
Yi Chongren’s face was pale, and his lips seemed even more bloodless, but he still held the same steadfastness and grandeur in his eyes. Step by step, he had endured humiliation to reach where he is today. Yi Chongren held his sword in his hand and coldly said to himself: “Huo Feng, if you still can’t take this world like this, then you really are a cowardly fool, and I can be considered to have misjudged you.”
A whistle sounded, Yi Chongren’s body trembled, and he put a finger to his mouth to whistle twice. After a while, a figure flew in through the door of the rundown temple with the anxiousness of someone who had rushed over. The December days were gloomy and dreary, yet Yi Chongren met this person with a faint smile.
“You’re hurt again.”
The other party sheathed the sword in his hand and quickly walked towards Yi Chongren. Yi Chongren raised his hand that wasn’t holding his sword and lightly said: “Don’t worry, I won’t die.”
“I’ve sent Xiao Qin to the village before rushing over. I didn’t expect to still be a step late.”
“Not too late.” Yi Chongren took a few weak breaths, “ I don’t have the strength to go back by myself. Those charlatans from the Tian Shen Sect won’t let me off easily. You’ve come just in time.”
The visitor pursed his lips, swallowed the words he wanted to say, and bent down to carry Yi Chongren on his back and quickly leave the rundown temple. A horse quickly appeared before them, the man helped Yi Chongren onto the horse, and they hurriedly left.
Sima Xian was assassinated, and the hearts of members of the Tian Shen Sect were unsteady, yet the person they were most concerned about was not that assassin but the fifty thousand elite soldiers of the Hu An guards and imperial guards. The Hu An guards and imperial guards were all vicious people who could kill a person without batting an eye. However, the person leading these troops, “Yi Chongren”, had two brushes and aimed to take down the main forces of the Tian Shen Sect. Now that Sima Xian was dead, the elders of the Tian Shen Sect mobilized all of their manpower to counter the Hu An guards and imperial guards. Of course, they still had to investigate the assassin. The Tian Shen Sect sent some masters to track down the assassin’s whereabouts, vowing to use the assassin’s head as a sacrifice to Sima Xian, and most importantly, to raise the morale of the Tian Shen Sect.
Huo Feng was paying close attention to this mysterious assassin that killed Sima Xian, and someone from the inner palace was also paying close attention. Hearing that the assassin was heavily injured, Empress Dowager Ru became very anxious, unceasingly using the new emperor’s name to order the Hu An guards and imperial guards to investigate the whereabouts of the assassin. Empress Dowager Ru knew that the assassin who killed Sima Xian was none other than Yi Chongren. The “Yi Chongren” who was leading the fierce battle against the Tian Shen Sect was a military general pretending to be him. Very few people knew of this matter as Yi Chongren had told Empress Dowager Ru to use the strategy of “doing what was least expected”. Everyone assumed that the person commanding the battle was him, so no one would suspect that the true Yi Chongren would assassinate Sima Xian. To Empress Dowager Ru, Yi Chongren was an irreplaceable existence, not just for Empress Dowager Ru herself, but for the entire court. She couldn’t lose Yi Chongren’s strength and help. If they lost Yi Chongren at this critical juncture, it would be a huge blow for Empress Dowager Ru.
After capturing Baqiu City, Huo Feng appointed several well-respected heads of large households from Baqiu City to temporarily assume control over Baqiu, left a thousand men and horses to garrison Baqiu, and then led his main army to continue heading towards the capital. However, after learning that the “assassin” who killed Sima Xian was heavily injured, Huo Feng brows were constantly knitted, creating a tense atmosphere in the army. The people who weren’t aware of the reason thought troops from the court or Kun would be arriving soon. Nonetheless, the Huo Family army had killed their way out of the battlefield, so no one would face dangers timidly. It would only raise their fighting spirit. Southern Chu had long lost the hearts of the people, especially those of these hotblooded men.
Only Huang Han knew what made his highness like that. Although he still carried some doubts towards Yi Chongren, thinking that if Sima Xian was really assassinated by Yi Chongren, Huang Han couldn’t help but hold some admiration towards Yi Chongren. However, once he thought of all the loyal officials that innocently died at Yi Chongren’s hands, he once again thought that if Yi Chongren died like this, it could count as atonement.
“We’ve found it! We’ve found it!”
As Huang Han was going on this mental journey, Jidi stormed in from outside the tent. He had messy hair and sunken cheeks, yet his eyes were shining like copper bells, glowing with excitement. Hahaha, as expected, no task was too hard for him, Jidi!
Huo Feng raised his head from the battle map the moment Jidi’s voice traveled into the room. Although he was trying his hardest to restrain himself, Huang Han and Tang Nian could still see the nervousness hidden below his calm facade.
“Your highness, this subordinate has completed the mission. This subordinate has found it. That assassin was nearly cut in half from behind by Sima Xian’s people. It is a very serious injury. But fortunately, he didn’t break any arms or legs. This subordinate has also found out that the Tian Shen Sect most likely has not found the assassin yet.” After saying this, Jidi let out a breath, “This chivalrous assassin must not fall into the Tian Shen Sect’s hands. Although his wounds are indeed very serious, I don’t know if he has anyone to support him. It would be good if he had someone to support him.” Then, he said worriedly, “It seems that the Hu An guards and imperial guards are also looking for him. Who knows what they want to do. Your highness, should we send someone to assist the chivalrous assassin?”
Huo Feng’s two sword brows seem to scrunch together. Almost cut in half by someone……this was a life threatening injury! That person had been injured by his people at Jade City Pass, and now he was injured so seriously……Huo Feng’s heart was the same as his eyebrows. If it wasn’t for his subordinate injuring him, he wouldn’t have been so seriously injured this time. A pang rang through Huo Feng’s heart. Finding out that his emotions were swayed by that person, Huo Feng immediately recovered his calm, surprised by how much he valued this person. But then, he once again thought that that person owed him an explanation. His own two children were still in that person’s hands, so that person definitely couldn’t die.
Huo Feng’s expression turned dark: “Even if we sent someone to help him, we wouldn’t be able to find him.”
“Ah? Why?” Jidi was stunned. Tang Nian was also stunned. Was that assassin someone sent by his majesty? How could they not find him?
Lowering his head once again to look at the battle map, Huo Feng didn’t explain, only saying: “Pay attention to the assassin’s movements. The reinforcement troops from Kun are stationed at Shangyuan City. They clearly don’t want to lose too much of their strength. Why don’t we hide our true intentions behind superficial actions to confuse the opponent and win by surprise.” Still thinking about the assassin, Huang Han, Jidi, and Tang Nian were stunned. Weren’t they talking about the assassin? They quickly shifted their thoughts to join in the discussion.
That night, Huo Feng walked out of the military tent, and the six guards stationed outside his tent followed behind him closely. Huo Feng waved his hand to let them retreat: “I’m just going to take a walk around the camp.”
“Your highness’s safety is of great importance. This is where this subordinate’s duties lie.” A guard said, refusing to leave. Huo Feng glanced at him, but didn’t make things difficult for him, and said: “Then stay a step back a bit. I want to think about certain matters, so don’t disturb me.”
The six guards stayed a dozen steps behind.
It wasn’t possible for Huo Feng to leave the camp. He walked slowly and thoughtfully around the camp. As he walked for about an hour, he didn’t stop thinking once. At the end of the year, the camp didn’t have any end of year festivities, instead, it was covered with the thick smoke of gunpowder. Someone came out of their military tent, and saw his highness who was “wandering” outside. He strode over. As it was the middle of winter, it was very cold, and even colder at night.
“Your highness, why are you still outside when it’s so cold?”
Huo Feng’s contemplations were interrupted by the man. He raised his head and lightly said: “Thinking about some matters. Just to sober up a bit outside.”
Huo Feng didn’t mention what matters he was thinking about, yet Huang Han understood. He asked: “Would your highness like to take a seat with this subordinate? This subordinate also can’t fall asleep.” Huo Feng was “roaming” outside, so a few concerned soldiers quietly reported to Huang Han.
Huo Feng nodded: “Alright. Let’s go.”
The two men went to Huang Han’s tent together.
Once they entered the tent, Huang Han poured a cup of tea for Huo Feng. After sitting down, he directly said: “Your highness, are you worried about Yi Chongren?”
Huo Feng’s tea drinking motion paused. Putting down the teacup, he was silent for quite a while before opening his mouth to say: “Yi Chongren gives me too many questions. I always thought he was just a castrated dog, a demon, a traitor to be slain. But after the events at the capital, he acted in so many ways that I can’t understand.” Deeply taking a breath, Huo Feng looked towards Huang Han, “If I wanted to kill him before, then now, I want him to live, I want to personally ask him why he did all this, or what his objectives are.”
Huang Han also had a contemplative look on his face and said: “I also keep wondering about what his goals are. If he wanted to express goodwill towards your highness, it would make sense. Maybe he thinks that your highness has the ability to become the son of heaven so he gave himself an alternative path?”
For some reason, Huo Feng didn’t like Huang Han’s guess. He shook his head: “If he wanted to give himself an escape route, he wouldn’t have told me those words.”
Huo Feng clenched his fists.
“He said that I’m a coward, said I’m incompetant, can’t even compare to him, a eunuch.”
“He said this to your highness?!”
Huang Han was shocked. Oh my lord! Yi Chongren, that slave, even dared to speak to his highness like that!
“He said these words to me because he didn’t intend to leave an escape route to my side. How could he express goodwill to me for this reason?”
Huang Han was at a loss for words and still in shock. Huo Feng’s eyebrows tightly knit together. Once he said “escape route”, a thought flashed through his mind, but it was too fast, and he didn’t catch it.
“He killed the emperor, Zhang Zhong and Sun Jiyu, and even killed Sima Xian. No matter how you look at it, he’s helping us, yet he still dares to say such insulting words to your highness? What on earth is he thinking?”
Even Huang Han’s curiosity towards Yi Chongren’s actions became matchless.
A light suddenly flashed in Huo Feng’s eyes and his expression changed drastically: “He wants to go!”
Huo Feng punched the tabletop with gritted teeth: “He wants to leave! He didn’t do any of this for us! He wants to leave the capital! Completely leave!”
Huang Han couldn’t keep up with his highness’s train of thought. Huo Feng stood up and once again said with an indescribable fire: “The emperor, Zhang Zhong, and Sun Jiyu all died. There’s already no one in the capital who can threaten him. There’s definitely someone in the court who knows he assassinated Sima Xian. Otherwise, how would the fake ‘Yi Chongren’ hide from the fifty thousand soldiers from the Hu An guards and imperial guards? He was heavily injured from assassinating Sima Xian, and now no one knows where he is. If he doesn’t show up for a long time, everyone will think he succumbed to his wounds and died. By doing this, not only would be like a golden cicada shedding its shell, he would also make me owe him a huge favor. It has to be so, I can’t be wrong! He wants to completely leave the capital, leave the Hu An guards and imperial guards’ control, and especially leave any possible threats I may hold towards him in the future!”
Huang Han was at a loss for words: “This, this, this is too……”
The more Huo Feng thought, the more he thought his guess was right. The more he thought, the more the fury in his chest grew, especially the hint of panic he hadn’t noticed before. Thinking of something, he stormed out of the tent without another word.
Jidi was deeply asleep. Suddenly, he was awakened by the shock of “earth quaking and mountains shaking”. Hazily waking up, he got up: “An earthquake? An earthquake?”
“Jidi! Find someone for me and monitor Empress Dowager Ru.”
Jidi’s eyes widened and he completely woke up.
“Find a reliable person to monitor Empress Dowager Ru, and find out where Yi Chongren is. Don’t make this matter public!”
All the fine hairs on Jidi’s body stood on end as a sinister expression appeared on his highness’s face. He was a smart man. Although he was still tired, he immediately understood the importance of the matter. “ This subordinate will think of a way to plant one of our people by Noble Consort Ru’s side. However, to do this, this subordinate must personally go to the capital first.”
“I will send twenty men to protect you.”
His highness was serious! Jidi immediately said: “No need. It’s more convenient for this subordinate to go alone. Your highness only needs to give this subordinate the travel expenses.”
The next day before the sun rose, Jidi quietly left the barracks, bringing sufficient travel expenses to head to the capital alone. Huang Han didn’t know what Jidi had headed off to do, but he believed that it had something to do with Yi Chongren. Huang Han was a bit worried. His highness was too concerned about Yi Chongren. If Yi Chongren wanted to go, they should just let him go. It was better to leave now. In a few days after they attacked the capital, there would be many people looking for Yi Chongren to exact revenge.
In a remote village, the villagers were clearly all a bit anxious. Before dawn, everyone had already woken up. A month had already passed since the New Year, but everyone passed the new year with disappointment. Every household still hung bright red lanterns, stuck on bright red paper cut flowers, as if they couldn’t bear for the New Years to just pass. After everyone finished eating breakfast, they all gathered in Yuande’s house. The village was very remote and very small, without any village chiefs. The most prestigious Yuande was the village’s backbone. Whenever anything big happened, everyone would go to his house. However, today, Yuande was also visibly anxious and uneasy.
“Old brother, nothing’s happened to his excellency, right? Huaiqiu went out before the new year. Now it’s already February, and we haven’t received any news.” A man who was similar in age to Yuande asked.
The worry in Yuande’s eyes grew stronger: “I’m also worried about whether something happened to his excellency.”
“Something must have happened to his excellency.” A beautiful woman quickly started crying, “His excellency said he’d immediately come find us after killing Sima Xian. But Sima Xian has been dead for so long, yet his excellency hasn’t come back. Something definitely happened.”
“Don’t speak nonsense!” Yuande’s wife patted the woman, “His excellency is blessed with great fortune, he must be fine. There must be a reason why he has been delayed.”
Yuande frowned: “Huaiqiu and his excellency both can’t send us any letters, and we can’t go out to inquiry, so all we can do is wait. Huaiqiu hasn’t returned so either he hasn’t found his excellency or he and his excellency have both been delayed.” Thinking, Yuande looked towards a young boy, “Xie Ming, go to town today and listen around. His excellency’s identity is sensitive. If something really happened, there would definitely be rumors circulating outside.”
“I’ll go with Xie Ming gege.” A young boy sounded, “I’m a child, so I can listen.”
Yuande was a bit hesitant, and the child earnestly said: “No one will recognize me. Now that there are battles going on everywhere, who would pay attention to me?”
“It’s ok to let Yuanmai follow.” Xie Ming said.
Yuande thought for a while before saying: “Ok. Just pretend to be selling dry goods. But if it’s very chaotic outside, you must return immediately. This place definitely can’t be exposed now.”
Not delaying any longer, Xie Ming brought Yuanmai to carry a basket of dry goods and drove a donkey cart out of the mountain. The woman who had just been berated by Auntie Yuan hugged Auntie: “Godmother, I’m scared.”
Auntie pressed her arm: “His excellency must be fine.” She said this for herself, and also for everyone else.
 两把刷子 literally translates two brushes but means someone is skillful
 明修栈道， 暗度陈仓 basically achieve victory in a way the opponent doesn’t expect
 金蝉脱壳 means to vanish leaving an empty shell