Li Sansi took a deep breath and continued running . He reached Tianhan Gate at night .
He heaved a warm sigh . Fluffy snow fell in the dark night and with the guidance of the garrison soldiers, he went up the gate tower .
Since it was snowing, the brilliant light of the moon was hidden by dense clouds . Not even a sliver of it peeked through .
The garrison soldiers of North County all knew who Li Sansi was . Although he had held off the North County Army alone at Buzhou Peak, there was no denying the amount of work he had put into fending off the Xirong soldiers when he had been wandering around their borders .
“Has it ended?” Li Sansi whispered .
He stood in the snow, his Taoist robes billowing in the wind .
Beside him, a North County general dressed in armor nodded .
“This war has been a difficult one . The Xirong Army marched under the leadership of the Lord of Xirong . Had it not been for the cultivators of White Jade City, Tianhan Gate…would probably be in enemy hands now,” the general said .
Li Sansi was conflicted .
He looked at the battlefield beyond Tianhan Gate . The boundless desert had been covered by the expanse of snow, now traces of blood had seeped into the ground, and some of the soldiers’ corpses were completely soaked .
Li Sansi could still feel the aura of murderous intent that was difficult to miss .
He could anticipate just how intense this battle must have been for them .
If Tianhan Gate had fallen because he had was late, and the Xirong soldiers were left to wreak havoc on the vast expanse of North County land, then Li Sansi would have been consumed by guilt and loathing .
“But the fact remains that my coming late has caused too many North County soldiers to die… This is a wrong I cannot deny . ”
Li Sansi lifted his head . The ice-cold snow drifted onto his face, melting into icy water and gliding down his face .
He lifted his wooden sword .
Li Sansi used his wooden sword to knock on the bluestone of the mottled Tianhan Gate tower .
He rapped three times in succession as if making an oath .
Under the shocked gaze of the North County general, Li Sansi leaped down from the gate tower with a fluttering of his robes .
“I will go after the Xirong Army… This wrong of mine, I will be the one to make up for it . ”
Li Sansi’s voice drifted with the falling snow .
In the wintry night, a thin figure dressed in Taoist robes clutched a wooden sword with one hand and ventured out across the snow .
The soldiers at the gate tower admired him . The general looked in pride at the sight of Li Sansi floating off into the distance .
His face reflected the emotional conflict he felt .
The number of people in the world who could, like Li Sansi, run off to pursue the 100,000 strong Xirong Army all by himself with just his sword, could be counted with one’s hands .
This sort of courage was something to envy and strive for .
South County .
In the night, the moon shone brightly .
Tang Xiansheng sat in the courtyard . He lay back in his rocking chair as he listened to the servant reading out the news and updates to him .
When he heard that the people in the war outside Nanjin City had won a hard-earned victory, he finally heaved a sigh of relief .
He had been worrying about this since the war started .
He was extremely fearful of losing the war . The chaos that the Five Barbarians had caused in Great Zhou had been intense from the get-go .
“I hear it was due to help from the strong people of the Daoist Pavilion and Sword Pavilion, as well as swordsman, Jing Yue, from White Jade City, that made it possible to stop the Nanman Army,” the servant spoke as he bowed .
“Even White Jade City intervened?
“As expected, White Jade City probably predicted this would happen quite some time ago .
“Immortal encounters are becoming more and more rampant in the world now . Tang Yimo managed to get one, the Young Master Lu of Beiluo managed to as well, and honestly, even the Five Barbarians are able to as well,” Tang Xiansheng muttered under his breath .
He looked towards the moon that was bright and clear, and laughed . “In the eyes of the immortal, how can mere mortals be their equals? He controls the Heaven and Earth and keeps the balance of this world .
“But when the Five Barbarians obtain immortal encounters, their greed will be insatiable . They will want to invade Great Zhou and throw us all into chaos . They will ruin the beautiful mountains and waters and re-enact the chaos they have caused in Great Zhou this year .
“It’s a good thing this happened during the era of White Jade City .
“In terms of cultivator strength, White Jade City is the best in the world . The Five Barbarians… What could they do?”
Tang Xiansheng laughed .
“Oh right, is there any news from the capital city?” Tang Xiansheng asked .
He was still keeping up with news from the capital city . South County had lost the capital in the fight and because of this, they had to be extra meticulous with news in the capital city .
The servant’s expression flickered . He said, “The letter has been sent to the capital city, but…”
Tang Xiansheng stopped rocking in his chair . He coughed as he stood up .
The servant hurried to drape a thick blanket over Tang Xiansheng who was still struggling with a severe illness .
“I heard that the West County has also sent news of the Nanman invasion to the capital city, but the emperor did not care about it . Even with reports of battles from South County and West County, he’s acting as if he has not heard anything . But when news from North County reached his ears, on the other hand, the emperor sent out a decree to Tianhan Gate . But I don’t know exactly what the emperor’s decree was .
“Also, the Imperial Advisor has left Book Pavilion after the emperor sent out his decree . He got into a horse carriage and left the capital city . He has headed east . ”
The servant trailed behind Tang Xiansheng .
“If the Imperial Advisor is heading east, he’s likely heading towards Dongyang County…
“It seems…that the little emperor has disappointed the Imperial Advisor . ”
Tang Xiansheng chuckled .
“The little emperor is still not mature enough, or maybe the Black Dragon Guard has made him lose his way…
“Things like power are as beneficial as they are malicious .
“I hope the emperor didn’t go overboard with the decree he sent to North County . These are abnormal times, and that old thing Tantai Xuan has quite a nasty temper . If he has gone overboard, then I fear he might trigger some shocking incident . ”
Tang Xiansheng laughed, then covered his mouth and coughed lightly, splotches of red dotting his white handkerchief .
He sighed, “The woes of mortality, such is to be human…
“What a shame Lu Ping’an of Beiluo wouldn’t see me . If he would, I really do want to ask him a question…
“Could all these forms of cultivation really extend one’s life?”
Tang Xiansheng looked up at the bright, brilliant moon . He shook his head . Underneath the moonlight, his shadow looked rather desolate .
The capital city .
Snow fell in heaps . Not a single person walked along the streets of the capital city .
Aside from the guards on patrol, the capital city was like a ghost town with no traces of life .
Beneath the gate tower of the capital city, two people dressed in black garb dragged along horses that were huffing hotly in front of Kong Nanfei . With respectful nods, they took two letters from Kong Nanfei’s hands .
“One goes to North County, and the other goes to West County . Don’t mix them up,” Kong Nanfei instructed solemnly .
The two people in black robes stuffed the letters firmly into the fronts of their robes .
“Don’t worry, Commander Kong . We will get the letters delivered . ”
Kong Nanfei nodded .
In the snowy night, the two people dressed in black robes hurled themselves onto their horses . The sound of hooves on the ground was jarring . The horses kicked up snow; one headed North and the other headed West .
Kong Nanfei retreated into the capital city .
The gates to the city closed suddenly, jolting off the little bit of snow that sat on the gate tower .
The two people dressed in black robes galloped off speedily, parting ways when they reached a fork in the path .
In the dark night, snow fell .
When the two people had galloped several miles away from the capital city…
Suddenly, there were arrows shooting at them from both sides of the highway .
A sharp arrow pierced the belly of one of the horses and the sound of its whinnying rang out in the dark night .
The horse fell to the ground, bringing the black-robed rider down with it . They rolled about in the snow .
In the dense forest of the highway, leaves were shaking loose .
A Black Dragon Guard covered in light armor slid down from the trees .
Their blades glinted with a blinding light as they reflected the snow, causing the black-robed man to flinch .
“Black Dragon bodyguards! The Thirteen Black Dragon Armored Men!”
The black-robed man inhaled a deep breath .
Without hesitating at all, he turned to leave .
Numerous Black Dragon bodyguards dressed in light armor raised the Spirit Qi in their Qi Core and galloped at full speed .
The black-robed man was also a cultivator and there was Qi in his core, but how could he escape the pursuit of this many Black Dragon Guards?
They soon caught up to him and a fight broke out on the snowfield .
The snow was kicked up and they scattered like beads of snow foam .
The battle ended quickly . After all, the Black Dragon bodyguards had the advantage of numbers .
The white blade cut through the man’s body and dragged through his torso . His blood spilled everywhere and thoroughly stained the snow red .
The black-robed man lost his life quickly .
A Black Dragon Guard retrieved the letter from his robes .
He scanned the content of the letter, then called for the other Black Dragon Guards to leave .
Snow fell everywhere .
Only the black-robed corpse remained, lying in a pool of his own blood, staining the snowy ground . His eyes were wide open as they stared up, unseeing, at the snow falling from the sky .
The two black-robed people had been ambushed simultaneously .
Both of them died on the spot .
Kong Nanfei had no way of knowing this . After all, he was no Lu Fan, and there was no way he would have been able to find out about what happened miles away from him .
In the capital city, the old eunuch flicked his fly-whisk about as he walked speedily .
In the depths of the Imperial City, Zijin Palace, a dim candle flame was burning and it gave off a mild yellow gleam that shone into the courtyard of the palace .
In the palace, eunuchs and maidservants had all been dismissed, leaving only Yuwen Xiu sitting alone on his throne .
The old eunuch pushed open the doors and stepped into the room .
He saw Yuwen Xiu clutching the carving of Black Dragon, not looking away from it at all .
It was a rather creepy scene .
The old eunuch shivered .
“Your Majesty,” the old eunuch said .
Under the candlelight, Yuwen Xiu lifted his head to look at the old eunuch .
That one gaze had the old eunuch’s heart seizing unconsciously . Suddenly, the old eunuch found Yuwen Xiu’s gaze rather familiar .
It was much like the gaze of the Black Dragon .
“What’s the matter?”
Yuwen Xiu put away the Black Dragon carving, frowning as he looked at the old eunuch .
“Your Majesty’s bodyguards, the Thirteen Black Dragon Armored Men, acted under your orders . On the capital city highway, they intercepted and killed the two messengers,” the old eunuch said .
Yuwen Xiu’s eyes glinted .
“If there were letters seized, hand them to me quickly . ”
“Understood . ”
With his body bowed, the old eunuch retrieved the two letters and passed them to Yuwen Xiu .
Yuwen Xiu took the bloodstained letters from the old eunuch . He tore off the head of the envelopes and read the letters . Under the light of the candle as he continued to read…his eyes glinted brighter .
Finally, he broke into raucous laughter .
The old eunuch had not read the letter, so he did not know why Yuwen Xiu was so happy .
But he could tell from Yuwen Xiu’s smile that the contents of this letter must be of utmost importance .
“As expected of my teacher, the brilliant Imperial Advisor of mine…”
Yuwen Xiu squinted and the smile slid off his face . Suddenly, a bout of anger flashed in his eyes .
“I… Have I not done well? What did I do wrong? Why is everyone revolting against me? Why does everyone want to leave me?” Yuwen Xiu asked indignantly after he stopped laughing, his fists clenched .
The old eunuch kneeled with his head touching the floor, unmoving .
“No wonder I thought something was strange . The Imperial Advisor, who always had the situation under his control, had dared to question the Confucianist philosopher alone, so how was it possible that he would retire to the Book Pavilion so easily? He’s had this all planned out this whole time, huh?
“He’s set his plan in motion such that West County and North County will be doomed eternally!
“He’s set it all up, but now he wants to forsake it entirely . It won’t be that simple!”
Beiluo, Lake Island .
A figure strode out from the Responsive Dragon’s Dragon Gate .
Jing Yue had the Jing Heaven Sword on his back and Nie Changqing brandished his cleaver, while Lv Mudui had a bamboo stick in his hand . All of them had returned from the various counties to Lake Island .
On the island, Ni Yu, who had a black pot on top of her head, could not help the gleam that entered her eyes when she saw these familiar people .
Ning Zhao had been cultivating . The aura on her body gradually stabilized and she opened her eyes slowly .
Ni Yu waved excitedly at Jing Yue and the rest .
Nie Changqing stepped over in his white robes .
He looked at Ning Zhao from the distance . “Not bad, you’re almost done with refining five organs…”
His realm was almost the same as Ning Zhao’s, but he had exploited the anomaly of the world to finish refining the five organs in one go .
Ning Zhao had obviously gleaned quite a bit from that anomaly of the world as well .
“And Nie Shuang?”
Nie Changqing held his cleaver as he swept his gaze across the entire Lake Island, the expression on his face slowly hardening .
“Nie Shuang and Bai Qingniao headed to the North County battlefield,” Ning Zhao said .
“With how strong Nie Shuang is now, there shouldn’t be an issue in him going there . ”
However, Nie Changqing’s face grew solemn .
“You don’t understand, Ning Zhao…the Five Barbarian’s attack on Great Zhou this time is not normal!”
Nie Changqing, whose face had been calm, suddenly seemed conflicted .
But still, he repressed the worry he had for Nie Shuang . Although he had always been harsh on Nie Shuang, deep down in his heart, he still thought of Nie Shuang as his precious son .
“What about the Young Master?” Nie Changqing asked, suppressing the anxiety in his chest .
“Young Master left the gate tower and headed to the surface of the lake . The fog is dense so I can’t see what exactly he’s doing there,” said Ni Yu with the black pot still on her head, chewing on a sugar-coated Gathering Qi Elixir .
Nie Changqing frowned . He did not know what the Young Master could possibly be up to this time .
He had wanted to ask Young Master about the situation with the anomaly of the world, but now he would have to head to North County first .
If North County had people like the blond man and the Buddhist Monk, Bai Qingniao and Nie Shuang might not be able to handle it .
He took in a deep breath . Nie Changqing did not care . He stepped into the Dragon Gate again and rushed towards North County .
Meanwhile, Jing Yue and the rest turned to look at each other .
They had evidently learned how severe the situation really was .
“Nie Shuang doesn’t have a lot of experience with battles . Will he…be alright?”
Jing Yue frowned as well, worried .
He was rather perplexed .
Had he known earlier, he would have warned Nie Shuang before he left . He would have told the boy that, if he met an opponent he could not defeat…he had to run .
Where there was life, there was hope .
The boat on the lake swayed .
Lv Dongxuan and Lu Changkong had arrived on boats as well .
They stepped onto the island, only to find everyone gathered .
Lu Fan was still secluded in the fog . They could not break through the fog, so they could only watch from the island .
Lu Changkong caught sight of Jing Yue and the rest who had returned .
Concerned, he asked after their situation at their respective battlefields .
Jing Yue had the Jing Heaven Sword in his hand and he hurriedly reported every detail of his experience on the battlefield .
Lu Changkong had quite a vivid picture of how cruel the war was, thanks to his passionate description .
When he learned that the enemies on the battlefield who could produce spikes from the earth, Lu Changkong’s expression changed .
“There are people amongst the Nanman who have had immortal encounters as well?
“Perhaps Fan’er wanted to stop the war for three months because of these people from the Five Barbarians who have had immortal encounters .
“Seems like Fan’er predicted the Five Barbarians’ attack on Great Zhou . ”
Lu Changkong took in a deep breath .
Lv Dongxuan stroked the gold chain at his neck, squinting his eyes .
Suddenly, something changed in the gazes of the crowd that had been chatting amongst themselves on the lake island because…
The fog that shrouded the surface of the lake had started to clear .
Vaguely, they could hear a rumbling not unlike the evening drums and morning bells of a monastery, as well the sound of chanting . The sounds reverberated in their ears .
Mingyue, the young lady with the pipa in her hand, shivered .
How could she not recognize this sound? What was it, if not the Amitabha that the Buddhist Monk had recited on the South County battlefield with his palms together?
They watched the fog roll, and out from it swept a blurry Buddha’s shadow that covered the entire sky .
It gave off an extensive and incomparably oppressive aura .
Abruptly, a faint snickering sounded from the fog .
A glimpse could be seen of silver blades tearing apart the statue of Buddha .
The statue fell apart in both directions, but in the dissipating fog…
The peaceful surface of the lake stirred as ripples kicked up .
Lu Fan sat in his wheelchair and slowly rolled himself forward, through the collapsed Buddha statue .