Chapter 72: Both Sides of the Story
Translator: Atlas Studios Editor: Atlas Studios
“He’s not human!” someone shouted, hurriedly fleeing. “He’s Garison’s emissary!”
More started to retreat. “God is angry and has sent a punisher down!”
The Rong soldiers, who had stayed in place for two days, finally dispersed. Yet, with careful calculations, Yuan Zhaoxu had already achieved what he wanted – to drag them along for one day and night, in order to buy time.
The escapees ran anxiously, not picking their paths properly, despite there being only three walkable routes. Most of the soldiers automatically charged up the widest stone path, which had been renovated and hence was neat and unobstructed.
The first Rong man stopped in his tracks. A lonesome head was rolling down toward him.
Just a head.
The head instantly reminded the Rong soldier about the strange head that had randomly exploded, as well as the assistant general and his comrades, who had all exploded too. He couldn’t forget the blood and flesh bits that had stained all of their bodies as well.
He let out a shocking cry, quickly turning back to the main path and then into a thicket-filled path, where more soldiers could be seen entering.
That was a “path of death.”
It was a path that, within a day and night’s time, had been dug, poisoned, installed with net traps and ambushed. It was a path that appeared harmless, but it soon turned into the graveyard of close to 3,000 soldiers.
It was a one versus 3,000 battle, which had been under Yuan Zhaoxu’s control right from the start. From allowing the soldiers to surround them to the explosion of heads, from breaking the army’s morale by destroying their leader to keeping the army stationary, Yuan Zhaoxu had them all calculated out. Only upon the completion of arrangements did he strike, sending all 3,000 soldiers away and then preventing them from taking the open path by rolling a trauma trigger – a decapitated head – down. As such, all of the soldiers had in fact voluntarily fallen into his ultimate trap.
These knotted events had to occur at the right moment as any strong step meant a complete defeat. It was a thoroughly-thought out and psychologically-intensive battle strategy that the seasoned general had orchestrated, but Yuan Zhaoxu had easily tweaked it to his advantage and made the army pawns of his plan.
Meng Fuyao sat before Yuan Zhaoxu, watching the figures vaguely flashing through the dense thicket. Explosions and cries boomed incessantly as blood splattered onto the jade-green leaves and jet-black rocks. A pitiful painting had been drawn, and not far away, the first glimmer of dawn could be seen. The thicket-filled path fogged up, tenderly veiling the bloody scene that was unfolding.
“Inhumane…” A long time later, Meng Fuyao mumbled arrogantly and stubbornly, “I swear never to become your enemy.”
Yuan Zhaoxu brushed away non-existent dirt from his robe and smiled. “You can choose to be family this life.”
Meng Fuyao blinked, realizing that he had become more straightforward ever since he clarified the matter with her. She was usually a sharp-mouthed girl, but when it came to topics like this, she simply did not know how to react. Helpless, she turned away and pretended that the conversation never happened.
Upon turning her head, she kept silent. Just then, Xiao Dao, who was close behind Yuan Zhaoxu, retrieved a knife from her boots and aimed, with unimaginable power and speed, for his back.
She stabbed with force unlike that of a child, and Meng Fuyao’s face changed, instinctively raising her arm to block her attack.
Yet, upon reaching Yuan Zhaoxu’s back, the knife slid down his robe, as if it was coated with a layer of oil.
Yuan Zhaoxu turned around, and before processing what Xiao Dao was doing, he first pulled Meng Fuyao aside to prevent the knife from getting to her. Then, he clasped the knife with two fingers, effectively snapping it into two. Lastly, he raised a leg to kick Xiao Dao.
Xiao Dao flew backward and slammed into Tie Cheng, who was rushing over. Grabbing her, they staggered countless steps backward before crashing into the rock wall. Fiercely tossing her aside he hurled, “Backstabbing a fellow companion and biting the hand that fed you? Are you still human?”
Xiao Dao leaned against the wall, coughing out a bit of blood. Without turning around, she grabbed onto the vines. Her fingers were pierced and started bleeding, bud she didn’t utter a single word.
Meng Fuyao stared at her for some time before pulling out her own knife.
She understood that Xiao Dao was a danger and had gloomy thoughts, but she also knew that the girl that turned out this way because of her misfortune and unhappiness toward life and people. She believed that time would water down her negativity, which was why she had resisted against Zong Yue’s decision to get rid of her.
Meng Fuyao was neither afraid of Xiao Dao’s secret plots nor that she would be harmed, but she couldn’t bear to see the girl harming those around her. Accepting Xiao Dao meant that she was putting her companions in danger.
Meng Fuyao kept her eyes on Xiao Dao as if she was observing a young beast. Xiao Dao’s sudden appearance was strange and suspicious. Was her pitiful appearance all an act? And the three sound soldiers… was she the one who had lured them over?
Meng Fuyao’s knife was half-pulled out and reflecting the first rays of morning sun. She was gathering strength in her hand. While feeble, she was resolute enough to take Xiao Dao’s head down.
Yuan Zhaoxu smiled suddenly and stopped her.
“We can get rid of obvious enemies without hesitation, but those less clear… no harm pondering over it a little.”
He placed his hands behind his back and turned to Xiao Dao. “Dao Naier?”
Upon hearing those words, Xiao Dao quivered and looked up at him in disbelief.
Yuan Zhaoxu studied her expression, which jolted a piece of memory. After some time, he asked unhurriedly, “Is Chahan Erjin doing well?”
Xiao Dao shuddered even more violently, but Yuan Zhaoxu continued with a smile, “He has eight sons, and his biggest wish is to own a grassland. Looks like his wish is coming true soon.”
Xiao Dao whipped her head around, yelling, “How dare you mention him? How dare you?”
Yuan Zhaoxu gazed at her calmly, before adding, “Looks like he really sees you as a gem. He wouldn’t have told you about it otherwise. You’re only so young…”
“Why wouldn’t I know?” Xiao Dao stared at him, her words and gaze sharp as a knife. “From when I started remembering events, Mother has been telling me that we used to own a rich grassland full of livestock. Our white-as-pearl tents stretched across the northern part, and we had more cattle and sheep than all the stars in the sky. My father was a brave soldier and the noblest king in that region. Warriors lowered their head and kneeled to kiss his feet. What about now? We’re living in a torn tent, guarding a few skinny goats and leading a life in exile. My father has to slog it out, and the hands that were supposed to be holding horse milk wine are now gripping coarse reins. These… all because of you. You made the northern Rong king believe the southern Rong king’s words that the men on the grassland were brothers, which allowed the southern spies to infiltrate the northern region, ultimately banishing the noble king of the north.”
Meng Fuyao stared in shock at Xiao Dao, whose eyes were burning with hatred. ‘What a good speaker. What is she talking about? Internal strife? Sounds familiar…’
“Why didn’t your mother tell you that as a king responsible for the lives of countless herdsmen, should your father only know how to battle, ride horses and brandish his knife? Should he only remember how to sip on his tea, eat his crackers and wrestle with his soldiers? Why hasn’t your mother told you that the reunification of the Rongs in the north and south was good? The southern king, upon acknowledging allegiance, immediately sent envoys to Zhongzhou, to learn about the culture and etiquettes on the plains? And what was the northern king doing at that time? Hunting or drinking his horse milk wine?”
Yuan Zhaoxu raised his head slightly, basking in the clean and pure rays of sunlight, his features appearing exceptionally prominent and god-like.
“We Han people have a phrase, “Wisdom will forever win strength,” and also “Winner takes all,” Yuan Zhaoxu shared. Has your mother ever thought that it was the southern king who sent your family into exile, and not your family that made the first move?”
Xiao Dao glared at him, somewhat understanding. The words that her mother had spoken to her ran through her head. “God-like youth, extraordinarily brilliant,” her mother had described. Her mother had told her that this magnificent man was their real enemy; without him, the northern Rongsmen would’ve claimed victory over the southern Rongsmen and become the rightful owners of the grassland. Because of his appearance, the northern king had gained a “brother” from the southern tribe, who eventually betrayed him and seized the northern region. Her mother also mentioned that Xiao Dao would definitely be able to recognize their enemy if she came across him because his brilliance was irreplaceable.
The first time Xiao Dao had met him was in the brothel. She had simply looked at him in suspicion without doing anything since there were too many people around.
Their second meeting was in the garden, where she gradually gained confidence that he was the person who matched her mother’s description.
The night before, she had snuck out of the city. Her heart was filled with hatred, and thus, she attacked the northern-southern Rong army camp with flame arrows she had crafted in advance. It was then that she had witnessed the man’s skills.
Those distorted, snake-like bodies were what made her certain as her mother had shared that their enemy had done the same thing years ago.
That indifferent yet elegant demeanor indicated that he was the one. Hence, she had recognized him.
She was going to take revenge for her powerless father, for her mother, whose beauty had withered from years of tough labor, and for the tribesmen who had lost their land and livestock.
Xiao Dao had no regrets about all that she had done, but the only thing was that she daren’t to do was look Meng Fuyao in the eye. To her, everyone was evil, but Meng Fuyao… she didn’t seem all that bad.