On this day, the veteran with surname Wang was in charge of the city defence. He had wasted half of his life here in Yanhui Town. He liked to drink on his downtime, and he would start boasting and telling fib whenever he had had a little too much. He would always say that in the past, he used to follow the Old Marquis to go on the Northern Expedition.
No one could find out whether that was true or not, but it was not impossible. The Old Marquis was still human. He still needed to eat, of course, he would require a servant to take care of his meal.
But no matter how careless he was, Old Wang would never dare to drink on the day of the return of the Giant Kite. Each of the officers must be lined up in turn, and everyone was afraid of being embarrassed.
Unfortunately, what you fear was what you get.
Old Wang looked up at the alarm whistle ascending to the sky and roared hysterically: “Which little bastard’s piss does not look at the date and demands to get crazily drunk to molest your wife? Who released the whistle? Do you think this old man is just for show?”
At the end of the dark river, there was a big pool surrounded by an iron net waiting to welcome the incoming Giant Kite. The iron net had already been opened halfway. The little soldier who was in charge of pulling the latch was scared by this sudden alarm sound. Not understanding what was going on, he did not dare to be careless and fastened the latch again.
In the end, the big iron gate was half-opened and half-closed, just like a big mouth that clamped down onto the dragon decoration on the Giant Kite’s head.
The soldiers who were all lined up readily waiting to unload Ziliujin from the ship had started to look back and forth in confusion. The Mayor who was responsible for receiving military goods took out a small tong hou, directed it at the soldiers who are awaiting at the iron gate and yelled out: “Are you all half asleep?! The Giant Kite is stuck, can’t you see it?!”
He has not even finished talking yet when a burst of burning fire suddenly flashed on the deck of the Giant Kite. Thick white smoke streamed out, unloading a thick steel arrow the size of an arm savagely flying into the sky. It accurately shot down the loud warning alarm whistle in the midst of a surprised noise of the crowd.
The alarm whistle shut its mouth and died out in the blink of an eye. It stopped in the air for a second and fell straight down. Silence hang in the air for a brief moment, then, it exploded with a loud ‘bang!’ ensuing chaos.
”What happened?! Who shot the Arrow? Is the person on board crazy?!”
”What are they planning to do?”
‘Baihong‘(1) is a type of mechanical giant bow. After the whole bow had been fully extended, it would be seven feet long. It could only be equipped onto a large-scale ship such as the Giant Kite. Such a terrifying weapon certainly could not be driven by human strength alone. A mechanism powered by Ziliujin was equipped under the bow. An arrow that had been shot from a fully extended bow can pierce through a few feet wide city gate.
It was said that when the Giant Kite slid across the sky, the Baihong arrows that would rain down from it were like divine punishments that had fallen onto the ground below that even Heavy Armors could not withstand.
This change came too suddenly. Old Wang grabbed a “Qian Li Yan“(2), stretched out his neck like an old turtle and muttered: “Oh no,… This is not good. Hurry! Go call Master Guo and Tudor Lu, go!”
He was still speaking when the Giant Kite’s flaming wings that had been extinguished suddenly illuminated altogether. The lack of Ziliujin caused the Kite to let out a rumbling and exploding sound, like a beast that had been woken up.
Old Wang’s eyes widened as he watched the deck of the Giant Kite turn over. A row of strong soldiers donning heavy armors started lining up. The glimmer of their armors were like daylight reflecting onto the river’s surface. Even across the distance, one could still feel the heavy pressure.
Their leader pushed up the protective mask of his armor, revealing a face covered with scars.
Old Wang was shocked – this was a strange face, how did he get on board the Giant Kite?
Scarred Man suddenly smiled, then he turned his head towards the sky and howled. His howl was loud enough to pierce through the roar of machinery, resembling the howl of a wolf. All the other warriors behind him had started to mimic his action. Howl after howl followed the other like a pack of wolves that had been hungry throughout winter, greedily revealing their deadly fangs.
Among the crowd of people that came to watch the Giant Kite, someone shouted: “The Barbarians!”
These words had poked a hole into the hornet’s nest.
The people of the dozens of villages and neighbouring cities have all gathered here. Men and women, young and old, now resembled a pack of antelopes, running and fleeing in fright, pushing and shoving, stepping over each other.
Even the horses of the guarding officers were continuously whining as the mass of people pushed through them.
Old Wang stepped onto the watchtower, took out a long spear at his waist, and raised his hand to break open the “golden box” at the top of the tower. He knows that the golden box contains the Ziliujin used for lighting. If he had enough good luck and the fire could be properly ignited, the top of the watchtower could be used as an alarm whistle exploding into the sky.
The veteran who had been telling fib for an entire lifetime successfully stabbed a corner of the golden box, streams of Ziliujin started pouring out. He shakily took out an ignition tool. As the howling of wolves rang through the sky, a few sparks of fire broke out and was stuffed into the golden box by his old hands.
Half of the Ziliujin in the golden box has leaked out, the remaining half was burnt up immediately after meeting the flame. The ventilator of the lighthouse was blocked. Only a few steam spurted out, seeming like it was about to explode.
In the next moment, another Baihong arrow blasted into the air and nailed through the chest of Old Wang. His flesh and blood were split apart in an instant. The momentum of the arrow did not stop for even the slightest, dragging what remained of the old veteran towards the watchtower.
The tower exploded then collapsed from up high. Rubbles fell all over. On the ground, the guarding officers and the commoners started to scatter and hurriedly fled in all directions.
At the same time, the golden box burning at the top of the tower finally surged into the sky, the ominous purple light flashing and exploded into a huge firework in midair, lighting up half of Yanhui town.
Only now did the commander behind the tong hou started to react, and he shouted with all his might: “The enemy attacked! – the barbarians attacked! -“
The Giant Kite that got taken over and controlled by the barbarians slowly rose from the ground, baihong arrows rained down to claim lives.
The people scattered like flies that had lost their head, and the city cavalry guards quickly ran past through the bluestone path that was not completely closed.
All the artillery on the tower raised their heads together, aiming at the giant kite currently taking off –
The entire city was engulfed in smoke and fire.
It appeared that the compartment for containing Ziliujin on the Giant Kite was wide open, and countless Northern Barbarian soldiers descended from the sky amidst the howling of wolves.
The wolves roared; the streets were covered in blood. Everything had been turned upside down.
The man with scars on the Kite leapt and jumped, the steam under his iron armor spurting out violently. His entire body bounced up to more than ten meters high. He landed onto a military horse — of course it could not support the weight of the heavy armor and its front legs were broken immediately. The soldier on the horse got his neck bitten by the savage man before he could react.
The barbarian raised his head and took a bite out of the soldier’s throat. Blood spurted out like oil, ending the soldier’s life before he could even cry out.
Scarred Man laughed loudly, resembling a man-eating demon, then swallowed the bitten human flesh. He suddenly whistled, four or five other barbarians donning heavy armors appeared at his signal, sticking closely at his side. They flew quickly across the street and went straight to the direction of Xu Baihu’s house.
The military armors were divided into two types: “light” and “heavy”. The light armor was worn by the cavalries and could only carry with it a small bit of power. Mostly still relying on manpower and animal power, its only advantage was its weight.
Heavy armor was a completely different concept. A set of Heavy armor had the height of two adult men and carried a ‘golden box’ on its back. Ziliujin flowed through its joints and limbs. The wearer’s feet could travel thousands of miles and could swing a hundred pound sword with one arm. Its waist was also equipped with explosives. Just a single unit of Heavy armor could sweep through an army.
If Heavy armor was available, cavalry, navy, and such are not necessary … But this was not possible. Heavy armors were immensely expensive. They burn up one box of Ziliujin in a few hours which was the estimated amount that could light the watchtower lasting for two years.
Ziliujin was the lifeblood of a nation. One or two golds on the black market might not be able to afford one or two batches of Ziliujin with seven or eight parts impurities.
Even a great and powerful nation could only support one branch of force fully equipped with Heavy Armors – the Black Iron camp of the Marquis of Order – Gu Yun.
Hence, where did these barbarians obtain that many Heavy Armors?
The dead soldiers have no one to answer them.
The old maid who just stumbled out of the Xu’s house bumped into this group of vicious murderers. She didn’t have the chance to make a single sound when she already got nailed onto the wall.
The savage man drove straight into the inner chamber and shouted: “Hu Ge Er! Hu Ge Er!”
”Hu Ge Er” – Xiu Niang, of course, could no longer answer him.
The carved wooden door was kicked down by the warrior in heavy armor, the door shaft broke apart with a piercing noise then collapsed completely.
The invincible barbarian’s footsteps finally stopped. He stood in front of the entrance of the woman’s chamber blankly.
The light smell of smoke had not dissipated, the room still only had the slightest of light, the long shadow of the tassel hanging on the bed scattered on the ground. The makeup table had been tidied up, and there was a box of lip coloring still open in the corner…
A teenager was kneeling down in front of the bed with his back turned towards him… there seemed to be a figure of a person lying down.
The teenager – Chang Geng upon hearing such a big ruckus, instinctively looked back. He saw the group of savage barbarians break into his home in broad daylight yet he did not feel the slightest hint of shock in his heart. He did, however, come to a sudden realization, and could now partially understand why Xiu Niang had wanted to die.
These barbarians were able to enter the city, they must have had relations with Xiu Niang without a doubt. Xu Baihu was still on the Giant Kite, perhaps because she was in contact with the foreigners that he had already been killed by barbarians while onboard. She had successfully avenged her country, but she had also indirectly killed the only man who treated her with kindness.
Chang Geng looked at the barbarians with indifference, then turned back and bowed to the woman on the bed, expressed his gratitude for not killing him all these years, then completely severed any ties with the deceased.
He bowed until his forehead touched the ground, stood up, then turned to face the heavy-armored warrior at the door.
The heavy-armored man was like a mountain. He was but a child of flesh and blood. Standing among these men, he appeared like an ant that was about to go head to head with a large ancient tree(3). It seemed that he should be afraid, but he was not.
Chang Geng was not so arrogant that he thought he could stand a chance against these many mountains. He was also aware that there was no way he could run from them, yet it was strange that he felt no fear.
Perhaps his fear had all come out in that moment when he knew that there was another identity to “Shen Shiliu”.
Scarred Man looked at him — no one could tell what he was thinking of, when suddenly, his face was filled with anger: “Where is Hu Ge Er?”
Chang Geng’s gaze stayed on his face for a moment then said, “I remember you, you were the man that led a pack of wolves to attack me in the snowstorm from the winter that year.”
A barbarian in heavy armor stepped forward attempting to grab Chang Geng when the scarred man raised his hand to stop him.
Scarred Man slightly tilted his head down, clumsily bent his back to stare at the boy that didn’t even reach his armored chest, and asked again in an accented Chinese dialect: “I am asking you, Hu Ge Er, Xu…Xiu Niang, where is she?”
Chang Geng: “Already dead.”
He held onto the iron wristband then stepped out of the way, revealing the lifeless body lying on the bed. There was a trace of black blood on Xiu Niang’s lips. Her face was pale white, like a poisonous flower that had withered.
The Barbarians in the yard all kneeled down, crying out and screaming in sorrow.
Scarred Man seemed stunned for a moment. Then he slowly lifted his foot and stepped into Xiu Niang’s room. Although the action seemed cautious, the heavy armor he wore still left a deep imprint on the ground that he walked on.
The barbaric man went to the window and reached out to lean on the carved wooden bed. He retracted his hand halfway as if he was afraid that his strength could crush the bedpost.
He bent down his waist that was covered in heavy armor, the white steam behind him spreading in the small bedroom. The ziliujin inside the armor continued to burn, creating the sound resembling that of a dying beast.
The beast caressed the woman’s face.
It was ice cold.
Then, Scarred Man suddenly howled like a wolf that had lost its mate. In the next moment, the heavy armor in front of the bed turned at a speed which the human eye could not see, and the stirring white steam spewed out hysterically. A mechanical hand reached out to grab Chang Geng.
Chang Geng’s feet were immediately off the ground. There was a sharp pain behind his back. His internal organs felt as if they were knocked upside down as the barbarian slammed him into the wall.
The wall cracked.
Chang Geng could no longer endure and spat out blood onto the Scared Man’s metallic arm.
He struggled to lower his head and confronted the pair of eyes that were full of killing intent.
Chang Geng saw such eyes for the first time, there seemed to be a heavy scent of rust contained in them.
However, he did not know how, in this situation of disparity between strength and weakness, suddenly there was a burning will sprouting up in his heart and soul. He did not retreat his gaze, but instead fiercely stared back at the barbarian in front of him.
(1) 白虹 White Rainbow
(2) 千里眼 translated as Clairvoyance, a binocular
(3) Based on the idiom 蚍蜉撼大树 pí fú hàn dà shù lit. an ant trying to shake a big tree