Breaking Through the First City
When Feng Yu Heng returned to the hall once more, nobody mentioned the four-colored lake anymore. Lu Shang nodded apologetically to Feng Yu Heng, and Xuan Tian Ming took the initiative to change the topic, saying to Lu Shang: “This prince has appointed the former prefect of Guan Zhou, Zhao Tian Qi, to the position of leader of the North. I hope that uncle Lu can work with him. The North has been left in a bad state by that Duan Mu An Guo. It truly needs some proper correction.”
Lu Shang nodded, “Your Highness, please do not worry. This old official understands this. Based on my age, I cannot continue doing this for many more years. These northern provinces require a younger leader that can remain in power for a longer period of time. That Zhao Tian Qi can be considered a good official. Although he had been controlled by Duan Mu An Guo the entire time, he did not commit any atrocities. I went to Guan Zhou a few times, and the citizens of Guan Zhou respect him a great deal.”
Xuan Tian Ming said: “This prince was also thinking this way. Originally, I had wanted uncle Lu to take care of this matter; however, although the North is comprised of three provinces, Guan Zhou and Song Zhou are separated from Jiang Zhou by that ghostly forest. For you to travel back and forth would truly be inconvenient. If you put all of your efforts on that side, I fear that the matters of Jiang Zhou would be left unattended. Moreover, uncle Lu, Jiang Zhou is the true border. If you don’t keep an eye on this border, father Emperor would feel uneasy.”
Lu Shang waved his hand and sighed, saying: “Even if I die of old age, I need to guard this border for his Majesty. I hope that your Highness and his Majesty can feel at ease on this matter.” He thought for a bit then told Xuan Tian Ming: “In order to reach Qian Zhou’s first city, Bin City, you must go around the four-colored lake before needing to deal with another mountain pass. Qian Zhou is not divided by prefectures. Every city has its own city lord that has a position equivalent to that of Da Shun’s prefect. That mountain pass is even more extraordinary than the ghostly forest. Once you pass through that, the temperature will suddenly drop. You must ensure that there are no soldiers caught off guard and end up freezing to death. This is considered a form of defense that Qian Zhou has for itself.”
These words caused Feng Yu Heng to furrow her brow. She had finally managed to get over some of the nauseating feeling caused by the four-colored lake. She asked: “Why is Qian Zhou so cold?” To be able to freeze someone to death if they were caught off guard. Not even the North Pole was this cold; moreover, the difference between the two sides of the mountain pass was like two different worlds?
There was not a single person that could answer this question. Lu Shang shook his head. He was a general. He could talk about killing the enemy, but analyzing this sort of thing was not his forte.
It was Xuan Tian Ming that thought for a bit then said: “This prince once flipped through some ancient texts. According to those texts, 500 years ago, Qian Zhou was not as cold as it is now, especially in the cities further South. In fact, when the sun was at its hottest, that four-colored lake would even have a season where it melted. Of course, the southern cities mentioned here definitely includes the cities in the three northern provinces, but they also include the few cities just beyond that pass. But over the following centuries, Qian Zhou grew colder and colder with each passing year. It seems that there is a drastic change in temperature every 50 years until the most recent century. During this time, it would happen once every ten years. After some calculation, this is the end of another ten-year period. Qian Zhou’s climate will undergo another drastic change.”
Feng Yu Heng furrowed her brow tightly and pondered, while Lu Shang interjected, saying: “This cold is not limited to just Qian Zhou. There have also been some changes here. After the new year, it has gotten much colder than before, especially in Jiang Zhou. Not to hide it from your Highness, but there is someone freezing to death every day. This is not a result of the government not doing its best. Instead, it’s possible that some people will pass away while laying in their own heated-brick beds.”
As Lu Shang spoke, it was as though he suddenly recalled something, quickly adding: “Right, there is something that I’m not sure if you have heard about.”
“What is it?” Xuan Tian Ming asked, “Because the Winter Palace in Song Zhou sank, we were focusing on rescue efforts during the previous few days. We did not have any chance to investigate. What is it that uncle Lu is speaking of?”
Lu Shang said: “It’s related to Qian Zhou’s rumored dragon vein.” Seeing that Xuan Tian Ming did not interject and waited for him to speak, Lu Shang immediately knew that the other did not know about it, thus he quickly said: “Duan Mu An Guo collaborating with Qian Zhou is not something that only began a day or two ago. Apparently, a portion of that dragon vein is within the three northern provinces. Over the years, Qian Zhou has always been sending people to investigate; however, they only began excavating in earnest over the past century.”
Xuan Tian Ming was able to grasp an understanding: “Duan Mu An Guo let Qian Zhou’s people into Da Shun’s borders, and the benefits that he received from it would be enough to support his lust. There is another point. Could it be that the people of Qian Zhou have ascertained the location of the dragon vein?”
Feng Yu Heng was puzzled and glanced at him. The gold mask was still on his face. Even if the piece in Feng Jin Yuan’s hands was unaccounted for or was taken by Qian Zhou, there were three pieces to the map. Being able to determine the location with just two pieces was not too probable.
Xuan Tian Ming also knew that this was not too possible. After saying this, he immediately rejected the idea. With a quick thought, he suddenly said: “Qian Zhou could not afford to keep waiting!”
Lu Shang nodded, appearing a little emotional. Standing up suddenly from his seat, he rubbed his hands repeatedly while pacing around the hall. When he finally stopped pacing, he finally said: “I was also thinking this! The place where they are digging is located between Song Zhou and Jiang Zhou. When Qian Zhou’s army entered the northern provinces, I gathered the troops to stop them; however, Duan Mu An Guo used his right to control the troops, and we had no choice but to give up on the defense. When the people of Qian Zhou came into the North, they went straight to that location to begin digging. Like this, they continued digging for half a year. During this time, I went to personally take a look a few times; however, I found that the officials in charge of supervising the dig were arguing. It was very clear that they were not very certain about the location of the dragon vein.”
Feng Yu Heng picked up on this, “Even if they were not certain, they continued to dig. It’s a bit like hoping for a blind cat to run into a dead mouse.”
“Correct.” Lu Shang nodded.
However, they heard Xuan Tian Ming say: “But it can be seen that Qian Zhou is continuing to make use of the dragon vein’s resources. The imperial family must have run into a difficulty that left them with no choice but to make use of the vein.”
But what this difficulty was exactly was not something that anybody could figure out. Feng Yu Heng said in confusion: “But we did not see a single person from Qian Zhou digging for a dragon vein along the way. Earlier, I heard that Prince Lian say that Qian Zhou’s army had been pulled back completely.”
“That’s right.” Lu Shang told them: “They suddenly pulled back. In the span of a single night, all of Qian Zhou’s soldiers stopped digging and retreated from the North, returning to Qian Zhou. This was something that I could not understand no matter how much I thought about it.”
Lu Shang was not the only one that could not understand. Even Xuan Tian Ming and Feng Yu Heng were unable to understand. Only one question continued to remain for the three: What exactly happened in Qian Zhou?
The army rested in Jiang Zhou for a few days, and Lu Shang provided Xuan Tian Ming with a map to the first city beyond the border, Bin City, and also told him once more in greater detail about the odd change in weather through the pass.
Three days later, the army set out once more. Grandly marching past the four-colored lake, they finally stood at the Northern Pass.
An advance scout returned to report. There were 20 thousand soldiers from Qian Zhou guarding the pass. They were guarding the pass tightly, but there was no ice blocking the gate to the pass. The army could break through.
Using a block of ice to block the gate was something that Qian Zhou used to protect its cities. This Northern pass was the boundary between the two countries. Both sides had soldiers guarding it. Although it was impossible for there to be a block of ice completely sealing the gate, for there to be nothing behind the gate was rather surprising.
Xuan Tian Ming used his internal strength to order the army: “Once we pass through the pass, it will be extremely cold. Frigid air will assault you, as the temperature drops drastically. All soldiers are to make preparations and advance while assessing the situation. Advance if you can, and retreat if you cannot. Retreating does not mean defeat. Surviving is the most important part!”
During this day, the two armies faced off. Da Shun’s soldiers engaged in their most joyous battle since coming to the North. Under Xuan Tian Ming’s leadership and with the use of Feng Yu Heng’s formations, they were successful in luring a number of Qian Zhou’s generals South of the border. As for the soldiers that had charged North of the pass, due to sufficient preparations, they did not freeze to death.
This battle came and went quickly. Within six hours, they had broken through the pass.
Feng Yu Heng followed the army through the pass. In that instant, she was assaulted by the cold. It was frigid, not cold. It was a bone-piercing cold that had passed through her clothes, made its way under her skin and buried itself in her bones.
She could not stop herself from shivering, and Xuan Tian Ming was the same. When they turned back to look, they found that some of the soldiers had fallen to the ground while holding their knees. Those that were able to remain standing had faces that had become completely pale from the cold.
“We cannot continue like this.” Xuan Tian Ming said, “The main reason Da Shun never attacked Qian Zhou over the years is that of the climate. There are very few soldiers from Da Shun that are able to act as usual in this weather. On the other hand, Qian Zhou’s soldiers have become accustomed to this frigid weather long ago and are able to move around without the slightest constraint.”
Feng Yu Heng also understood this reasoning and looked up toward the North. It was a blinding and frozen land, and it was unknown just how much longer the army could advance.
She began to pull out large amounts of chocolate from her space, having the soldiers pass it back. In a situation where someone was not well, a few extra would be given. At the same time, she pulled out a megaphone and said: “Although this will not do anything to protect against the cold, it can increase your strength. Don’t worry about what it is, and don’t worry about where it came from. Just keep it on you. When you feel like you cannot endure, just pull it out and eat some. Don’t worry about being an encumbrance. We will continue as far as we can.”
Xuan Tian Ming added: “This prince will echo that sentiment. Only by surviving can this be considered a victory. Da Shun has never resorted to throwing bodies at a problem. It has never used the bodies of its soldiers to fill some gap! When we have conquered Bin City ahead, we will discuss at that time whether we will advance or retreat.”
On the 28th of the second month of the 23rd year of Tian Wu’s rule, Xuan Tian Ming and Feng Yu Heng led tens of thousands of soldiers into Qian Zhou’s first city. From the army, there were 1000 dead and 6000 injured. Of the injured, 5000 were injured by the cold. 30 thousand enemy troops were killed and 20 thousand were captured.
The city lord of Bin City was forced to surrender.
The army entered the city once again and set up camp. Feng Yu Heng used the city lord’s manor as a temporary medical station, distributing medicine for frostbite while treating the injured.
She stuck a military thermometer in the yard outside. When she went to check after an hour, it read negative 26 degrees with a wind chill of negative 35 degrees.
This temperature might not have been a major problem to the people of the modern era living in colder climates, as temperatures in Northwestern Russia during Winter would regularly reach negative 40.
But the present could not be compared with the modern world. The people of the modern world had cars and had all kinds of tools for transportation. They could both provide warmth and travel quickly. Moreover, the clothes of the modern world were more advanced. They were more than 100 times better at stopping the cold. At present, there were no warmer clothes. For people to have only suffered frostbite in this temperature was already quite light.
When she was thinking about this, there was a comment from the onlooking citizens of Qian Zhou, “Just this much is already unbearable, yet they want to attack Qian Zhou? As I see it, they will be able to advance another two cities at most before Da Shun’s troops all die from the cold.”