Volume 5, Chapter 37: Doubting the Loyal and Steadfast (Middle)
Gazing at the frosty and beautiful face of Su Qing, Duan Wudi felt only tranquility. His former love and hate had all faded away. Smiling softly, he asked, "Has your distinguished country's Imperial Highness already agreed to this one's demands?"
An indescribable feeling welled up in Su Qing. From those words alone, she understood that the man before her treated her as a stranger. Wasn't this within her expectations? After she had severed their ties outside of Qinzhou proper, this result was preordained. Lifting her head, she calmly answered, "His Imperial Highness has assented to General's demands. As long as General Xuan is safe and sound, His Imperial Highness is willing to not pursue your troops for one day."
A glad look appeared in Duan Wudi's eyes. He was only gambling and had not expected that it would actually yield results. Smiling, he replied, "However, your honored army is formidable, while my army is weak, and I have to be on my guard against His Imperial Highness's dishonesty. I wonder what the honored envoy thinks?"
"The words of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, are worth their weight in gold," responded Su Qing coolly. "Why would he renege? However, it is understandable if General does not trust his word. If General is willing, you can first return General Xuan to the Yong encampment. Su Qing is willing to serve as the hostage."
In reality, Duan Wudi did not harbor any doubt and was only seeking to appease his troops' morale. As such, he said, "Since that is the case, then I will have to wrong honored envoy."
Su Qing smiled faintly, as beautiful and alluring as the wintry plum blossoms. She had personally volunteered to serve as the hostage. If Duan Wudi were astute, he would drive her away as soon as possible. Unfortunately, even today in this man's heart, she was only a lonely goose who had lost her way, and he had not yet recognized how dangerous she was.
Once Xuan Song had been delivered to the entrance of the Yong encampment, when he was feeling homesick, he heard the calls of the bugle horns. The gates opened and Li Xian led the generals out to welcome Xuan Song with great fanfare. Advancing, Xuan Song knelt on the floor and stated, "This guilty general has disgraced the army's prestige. I ask that Your Imperial Highness administer justice."
Li Xian hurriedly stepped forward, reaching out with his hands to prevent Xuan Song from kneeling. Remorseful, he replied, "Why is General Xuan speaking thusly? On that day, it was Li Xian who was at fault, leading to the situation in which General Xuan was forced to charge to death. This Prince once said that if there were any mishaps, this Prince would take all responsibility. You are fortunate enough to return alive. Wouldn't it be too harsh if this Prince were to punish you more? You do not need to worry. Today's humiliation, you will definitely be able to take revenge."
Moved to tears, it was some time before Xuan Song could calm down. He quickly said, "Your Imperial Highness, you must not be a stickler for these small matters. Duan Wudi is a talented general who is an expert at defense. If he is permitted to return to Jinyang to defend the city, the threat he poses to our army will be enormous. I hope that Your Imperial Highness will pursue doggedly to capture or kill Duan Wudi."
"I had long known that you would say such words," replied Li Xian with a smile. "However, there is no need for you to worry. It is impossible for Duan Wudi to return to Jinyang. Moreover, General Su is a hostage amidst his army, making it inappropriate to attack right now."
Stunned, Xuan Song inquired, "Why has General Su become the hostage? Although she is able and efficient, she is after all a woman and possesses a deep grudge for Northern Han. I'm afraid that even if Duan Wudi will scrupulously uphold his side of the bargain, she will still meet with danger."
Lowering his voice, Li Xian responded, "You do not need to worry. There will naturally be someone who will provide General Su with support. As for Duan Wudi, he possesses a noble character. Combined with the presence of this Prince's army, nothing will happen to Su Qing. It will likely be too late for him to have regrets." Thinking of something pleasing, Li Xian could not help laughing heartily. Compared with having victory in his grasp, was there anything that would make him excited?
Li Xian pulled Xuan Song along and entered the command tent. Li Xian had Xuan Song sit down in the first seat on the left. After all of the generals had taken their seats, Li Xian stated, "General Xuan, normally you should have the opportunity to rest after returning from the experience of such a calamity. However, the present military situation is urgent with Duan Wudi's talent for retreating and consolidating at every step. This is also your expertise. We have no choice but to have you bear the burden. Tomorrow at this time, you will command a vanguard and pursue. You will have full authorization to lead the advance."
Xuan Song was delighted. Having been worried that he would be relieved for a time, he did not expect that Li Xian would actually trust him so heavily. Promptly, he rose and assented, "This general obeys!"
Seeing this, Li Xian could not refrain from smiling. In reality, it wasn't necessary for Xuan Song to take command. Li Xian merely wanted to use this method to show how highly he regarded Xuan Song to avoid someone from using Xuan Song's captivity to stir up trouble. It was difficult to avoid vile characters regardless of location.
After the Northern Han army had begun to retreat to Pingyao, they essentially marched without stop, reaching Yangyi1 in one day. After arranging the defenses, Duan Wudi entered the residence his personal troops had prepared for him. Stopping in his tracks, he saw someone seated in the outer room. Sitting in a chair, Su Qing rested her chin on her lily-white hands as she gazed at him with a smile. On the pear wood clothing rack to the side was a blue-grey cloak. The entire interior was immaculate.2 The table before Su Qing was crowded with food emanating fragrant aromas in all directions. On the chair off to the side was a copper basin and a hand towel. The fresh water inside the basin still roiled with steam.
The two bodyguards following Duan Wudi instinctively dropped their hands to the hilt of their sabers. However, they then revealed looks of bewilderment. It was evident that this heartwarming spectacle puzzled them. Even Duan Wudi was perplexed. Were it not for the tight-fitting clothes Su Qing wore, the sword she had at her waist, and her bright and beautiful smile carrying derision and inhospitality, Duan Wudi would probably have mistakenly believed that he had returned home and the beautiful woman in front of him dressed in men's clothes was his wife. Sobering up, he coldly asked, "Why are you here? Where are the soldiers monitoring you?"
Glancing at the bodyguards behind Duan Wudi, Su Qing indifferently answered, "Are you going to interrogate me in front of them?"
Duan Wudi did not make a single sound, only waving his hand to dismiss his bodyguards. Afterwards, he sat down in the seat on the other side of the table and calmly gazed at Su Qing. An indescribable look flashing across Su Qing's eyes, she spoke with apathy showing in her eyes, "The army is partly composed of General Shi's former subordinates and they recognized me. Some of them took the opportunity to question me about what happened that day. I explained to them that General Shi did not know of my true identity. At the time, I only utilized General Shi to be able to stay in Qinzhou. Although I did add some fuel to the fire, I did not expect that General Long would so firmly believe in General Shi's betrayal. Alas, General Shi was too stubborn and unyielding. If he was willing to explain himself to General Long that day, he probably could have cleared his name."
Feeling only bitterness in his chest, Duan Wudi inquired, "Are you telling the truth?"
Su Qing remembered the scene she had witnessed on the day when Shi Ying had irately committed suicide. Even if she were hard-hearted, she could not help feeling sad and dejected. She detachedly responded, "It is naturally the truth. In some cases, the truth can entice people into making the wrong decision. However, there is no need for you to have any regrets. Although Shi Ying did not secretly defect to Great Yong, he was indeed deliberately targeting you because I told him some lies about you. In addition, when Shi Ying committed suicide, he had already guessed my identity and only hid it from you people, willingly meeting his death."
In towering rage, Duan Wudi abruptly slammed his right hand onto the table. The plates and cups on the table were jolted by the force. Duan Wudi glowered at Su Qing. However, his rage quickly settled because he could see Su Qing's calm and unfeeling expression. Falling limp, a slight, wry smile appeared. Hadn't he already decided to treat this woman as his woman? Since that was the case, what need was there for him to feel resentment for her conduct and deeds?
Feeling an exhaustion he had never before experienced, Duan Wudi coldly replied, "What good methods. Formerly, you forced General Shi to commit suicide, while you are smearing me today. Miss Su, you are truly vicious. However, why are you explaining all of this?"
Su Qing sincerely answered, "Today, we are meeting in secret here. Tomorrow, news of this will raise a commotion. It won't be long before Jinyang learns that you used a pompous excuse to release General Xuan and also had a private discussion with your former fiancée. Tell me, what will Jinyang think of all this?"
As Duan Wudi was left speechless, Su Qing rose. Picking up the cloak and tying it in place, she continued, "Since matters have reached this point, the situation may be retrievable if you kill me now. If not, I may have the opportunity to bury your corpse. However, if you are able to think things through, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, is waiting for you to renounce the dark to seek the light."
Duan Wudi remained silent. Although Su Qing had set him up, he did not have the slightest bit of resentment. They served different masters. Whatever was done was to be expected. He was already grateful that Su Qing had still preserved a way for him to survive. It was only a pity the road was one he would rather die than tread upon. Just as Su Qing was about to exit his quarters, he softly stated, "Thank you very much. I'm very sorry."
Su Qing's tender body trembled. Although the couple's relationship had been severed at Qinzhou, this was easier said than done. Regardless of love or hate, her heart still remembered Duan Wudi. She had come today not only to make it even more difficult for Duan Wudi to explain himself, but also out of hope that Duan Wudi would agree to surrender and avoid the misfortune of being executed. However, even if she had such intentions, she did not hold any hope that this man would understand. In fact, she was prepared for this man to treat her as a venomous snake or scorpion. However, this man had clearly understood her kind intentions and yet had unequivocally informed her that he could not accept. Su Qing could not help feeling disconsolate. She softly replied, "I have never regretted our former engagement. Even though I was terribly wounded by you, I still considered you a firm and unyielding and good man. It is only that, since we have already parted ways, it will be impossible for us to meet again. However, are you truly seeking to bury yourself along with Northern Han?"
In a heavy voice, Duan Wudi answered, "What happened in the past was my fault. I have nothing to say about your decision. There is no need for you to worry about me. I will obtain what I seek and I will die without any complaints. It is only that I once heard that you had some relations with the Fengyi Sect. Originally, I was worried that you would not be accepted by Great Yong. At that time, no matter how large the world, you would have no place to seek shelter. Now though, it seems like the Prince of Qi is truly not an ordinary man and still places enormous trust in you. By all accounts, the Yong Emperor's magnanimity is greater than the Prince of Qi's. It may be assumed that you won't be implicated.
"However, there is one matter I am still concerned about. Until this day, you've been alone. Perhaps I am being too arrogant, but it was ultimately my fault that your life was delayed. If possible, I hope that you can obtain a good spouse soon to comfort the departed spirits of your parents."
With tears rolling down her face, Su Qing departed. She did not respond to Duan Wudi's words and did not turn her head. She had personally framed her former fiancé, likely delivering him to execution. How could she not feel anguish? Further, even though he was in desperate straits, Duan Wudi did not have a shred of resentment or hatred. How could she not feel guilty? Walking out the door, Su Qing quickly wiped away her tears. Fetching her mount, she left without any second thoughts.
With her steed galloping like the wind, Su Qing had only one thought on her mind. Wudi, if you die because of this, I can only stay single for the rest of my years to atone. In a fog, she did not know how long she had ridden. Suddenly, she heard the sound of hoofbeats. Immediately returning to her senses, she raised her head to look and was promptly stupefied. She recognized the riders of the two horses galloping towards her, kicking up dust. The rider atop the black horse at the front was Qiu Yufei, while the one behind on the piebald horse was Ling Duan. Without consulting each other, both sides slowed their horses before coming to a stop to silently gaze at the other party.
The first to get ahold of herself, Su Qing saluted atop her horse and greeted, "So it is fourth young master Qiu. At the time, I was being pursued by the young master. I still remember the pain and suffering I went through on that day. I heard that the young master was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Eastern Sea. Unexpectedly, you return today. Could it be that you are heading for Yangyi? Duan Wudi, General Duan, is currently at Yangyi. In a day or two, the core of my Yong army will likely also arrive. Although young master's martial arts are outstanding, you are ultimately just one man. Out of consideration for the young master, I invite the young master to return to Jinyang as swiftly as possible."
Qiu Yufei smiled faintly, complex feelings of admiration mixed with killing intent flashing across his eyes. For this woman, he was full of deep admiration. Alone as a weak woman, she had walked into the tiger's mouth and had accomplished a brilliant achievement. On that day he had pursued relentlessly, she was the only one who could fight against him. Her martial arts were impressive, her scheming extensive, and she was quite resourceful. Combined with her mastery of music and her beauty, how could men not blush with shame in comparison? It was quite a pity that her enmity for Northern Han was as deep as the ocean, abandoning her country and beloved without hesitation to serve the enemy.
Qiu Yufei wondered if he should kill her to destroy one of the Prince of Qi's assistants. But since all three of them were in the wilderness and the woman's horse was exceptional, if she wholeheartedly focused on escaping, he probably would not succeed.
While Qiu Yufei was hesitating about attacking, billowing dust appeared behind him. At the head of a group of horsemen was a young man in azure clothes. The young man's complexion was as pale as snow—it was Demonic Shadow Li Shun.
Qiu Yufei sighed lightly. Returning Su Qing's salute, he replied, "Strangers meeting by chance, but no time for us to chat. Miss's unmatched skill with the pipa leaves Yufei full of great admiration. In the future, if we have the opportunity to meet again, I hope that I can ask for guidance." Finished speaking, he spurred his horse forward and hurriedly departed.
Su Qing felt her back soaked with sweat. Only when Qiu Yufei had gone far did she feel the heavy pressure surrounding her fade away. By this point, Xiaoshunzi had already arrived nearby. He indifferently declared, "The young master's letter has arrived, recalling this one and General Su to go await his orders. The young master has asked for you to prepare to receive an honored guest."
Confusion shone in Su Qing's eyes. What honored guest required the Marquis of Chu to personally welcome? A thought suddenly surged into her mind like wildfire and her complexion suddenly became pale. She finally understood many things, including why Qiu Yufei had appeared here. The more she understood, the more frightened Su Qing became of Jiang Zhe's profound schemes. Thinking back now, her decision in the past to change his plans was rather rash.
In the dead of night, Duan Wudi gazed at the diagram of Jinyang's defenses he had completed and set down the brush with satisfaction. These last two days, rumors had abounded, even making the majority of his old subordinates suspicious. If he had not used tough repression methods, the soldiers would likely have mutinied long ago. Although there were trusted officers and bodyguards who still had faith in him, they could do no more than futilely explain on his behalf. In addition, it would probably take one royal edict from Jinyang to completely isolate him and leave him without help. After all, he had never taken deliberately tried to win over his subordinates. Finding oneself completely isolated was not a predicament only brutal and tyrannical leaders experienced.
The night he had seen Su Qing off, an urgent military order had arrived from Jinyang, commanding him to hold Yangyi. From this, Duan Wudi was aware that Jinyang had already become suspicious. Since the situation had reached such a stage, he had no intention of explaining himself. Ninety percent of the rumors could be said to be true, only acquiring some false details. Even though this was the case, he had no way of explaining himself. Presumably Jinyang has already decided, he thought with dim agony.
At this moment, someone coldly asked from outside, "General Duan, why are you still here?"
Stunned, Duan Wudi raised his head, as someone pushed the door open and entered. Alarm turning to delight, Duan Wudi stepped forward and saluted. He said, "So it is the fourth young master. Your trip to the Eastern Sea presumably contained many dangers. For the young master to be able to return safely, the State Mentor will surely be overjoyed."
Gazing at Duan Wudi, Qiu Yufei sadly replied, "I already learned of the situation when I entered the town. The dire circumstance you are in is quite challenging. Even I, if not for our familiarity, I would also suspect your loyalty. In addition, honestly speaking. Even if you were faithful and true in the past, under the current circumstances, it is difficult for you to stay loyal to Northern Han. Therefore, although I have penned a letter to the State Mentor in hopes of having him help you, all will likely be for naught. The only thing that can done now if you do not leave is defecting to Great Yong. As long as you do not help them attack Jinyang, I will not blame you."
Duan Wudi cracked a grin. "Why is the young master speaking thusly? I have a clear conscience. How can I slink off out of fear of punishment? For the young master to believe in my loyalty, I am very grateful. If I really were to flee, pretense would probably become reality.3 After General Long sacrificed himself for the country, only the Princess of Jiaping remains to prop up the state. She has treated me well. I cannot betray her trust."
Suddenly, sounds of alarmed fury and profanity came from Duan Wudi's bodyguards outside. These bodyguards were all trusted individuals who had risked life and limb by Duan Wudi's side. They naturally understood the injustice their general had received. It was just that no one was willing to believe their explanations. Their sudden fall into such chaos at this moment could only be because the emissary from Jinyang had arrived to investigate Duan Wudi. With a slight smile, Duan Wudi stated, "Presumably, the emissary from Jinyang has arrived. It may be inconvenient for the young master to be present here. If it isn't inappropriate, please go into my bedroom to hide temporarily. There is no need to worry about me."
Qiu Yufei sighed deeply before his figure disappeared into the bedroom and the door leading to the bedroom closed noiselessly. Rising, Duan Wudi walked to the front of his desk and quietly waited for the emissary to enter.
It wasn't long before the door was pushed open and Duan Wudi caught sight of the haggard looking Lin Bi. Surprisingly, the Princess of Jiaping had come personally. What was going on? Right now, Lin Bi should be directing the defenses of Jinyang. The expression on Duan Wudi's face could not but change several times.
Without leave, Lin Bi walked behind the desk and sat down. Gazing at the wet ink on the defensive layout, her expression darkened as she asked, "Is General Duan still worried about Jinyang's defenses?"
Standing before the desk with his hands clasped solemnly together, Duan Wudi answered, "This general once served in the Jinyang garrison. Originally, Jinyang's defenses were impenetrable. However, with the passage of time, it inevitably has some shortcomings. This general once carefully studied how to remedy these flaws. It is only a pity that they were not accepted by the Ministry of War. These last several days, this general has redrawn the defenses from memory. Amongst them are included some weak points. If they can be strengthened based on this diagram, it may be improved. Princess, please take a look. If the Princess finds it feasible, there is no harm in implementation."
Lin Bi gazed at Duan Wudi's noble face and replied, "Do you know that His Royal Majesty has already issued stern orders to have you immediately executed according to the law? I repeatedly and strenuously tried to persuade otherwise, but His Royal Majesty persists in his decision. As for the State Mentor, even though he believes that you are not disloyal, he cannot guarantee that you won't defect to the enemy. This has led to His Royal Majesty's decision."
"This general has long expected this result," expressed Duan Wudi calmly. "Although the enemy's stratagem is simple, it is extraordinarily vicious. I am also at fault. Regardless of the reason, there is clear evidence of this general's former smuggling operations. In addition, if General Shi Ying truly died unjustly, this general is also the main culprit. Further, it is all true that I released a captive to survive and that I released Su Qing out of personal considerations. I am well aware that my crimes cannot be tolerated. That His Royal Majesty has only ordered my beheading is already showing mercy. Princess, there is no need to be concerned about this matter."
Showing lament on her face, Lin Bi said, "On that day, Tingfei spoke to me about your situation. You have done much for Northern Han while disregarding your own reputation. All of these accusations are framing you. Using Xuan Song in exchange for the lives of you and your soldiers was something I tacitly accepted. Releasing Su Qing was also proper and expected. Could it be that our Northern Han can kill an emissary? It is only that you are being denounced by everyone in the court. When I tried to explain things on your behalf, I was nearly driven from the audience chamber by His Royal Majesty.
"Alas, previously the court emphasized the military while denigrating the civil. But now, the words of each and every one of the civil officials are fierce, almost as if failing to execute you will lead to the fall of the country. Although there are many generals of noble background in the court, because Tingfei had always been fond of promoting officers from humble origins based on merit, they have long been resentful. Now that Tingfei has died for the country, they have seized the opportunity to join in the denunciations of you.
"Humph! With the enemies at the gates, they are not thinking about how to confront the enemy, but rather eliminating dissent. It's almost as if they are overconfident that they can reverse the perilous state of affairs if they took command. General Duan, Lin Bi is incompetent and could not protect you. I could only strive to personally come to Yangyi to punish you. Only in this way can your dignity and honor be preserved."
Kneeling down, Duan Wudi replied, "Many thanks for Your Royal Highness's belief in this general's loyalty. Since matters have reached this point, Princess, please do not cause a rupture with the court because of this general's life and death. Without the Princess serving as the commander-in-chief, it will likely be difficult to defend Jinyang. Even if this general dies, I will not blame His Royal Majesty and Your Royal Highness. Princess, please give the order to have this general beheaded. If the country and the masses can be preserved, this general will have no resentment even if my name becomes a byword for infamy."
Covering her face, Lin Bi replied, "Doubting the loyal and steadfast. The court has wronged you. Y-you can go."
Duan Wudi kowtowed before walking out. Just as he arrived at the doorway, Lin Bi's bodyguards outside the door seized him. Suddenly, Lin Bi loudly ordered, "Wait a moment!"
Everyone was surprised, looking to Lin Bi and seeing the unswerving determination on her face. She resolutely declared, "General Duan, with me, Lin Bi, present, I will not permit you to be harmed as an innocent. Immediately depart from Northern Han. At present, the entire country is in chaos. There are many locations from which our army has retreated and where the Yong army has yet to garrison. It is highly likely that you will be able to escape. Go to Binzhou. Right now, that is nominally still not a part of Great Yong. In addition, Great Yong won't have the free hand to issue a warrant for your arrest. From Binzhou, travel to Southern Chu. This is your only hope for survival. In the future, you will have the chance to return to Northern Han after Yong has been driven off."
Hearing all of this, Duan Wudi was left dumbfounded. He absolutely had never expected that Lin Bi would assume such responsibility. If he had a chance for survival, how could he not grasp it firmly? Earlier, Qiu Yufei had tried to persuade him. In order to prevent Lin Bi from suspecting him, Duan Wudi had refused to depart. Now that Lin Bi was also trying to persuade him, the matter gnawing at his mind was settled and the plan became more feasible as he ruminated. If he could survive, he could still be of service to the country in the future. If he died now, it would only sadden the people while gladdening the enemy. Besides, aside from Lin Bi, no one else could oversee the current perilous situation. Lin Bi only needed to explain that he had departed before her arrival to avoid being censured by the king.
Seeing Duan Wudi's reaction, Lin Bi could not help feeling miserable. However, thinking of this man's loyalty to the country, going so far as to impugn his own reputation, she was determined to follow through with her decision to let the "traitor" go. Walking forward, she said, "General Duan, you cannot stay here long. His Royal Majesty may send another emissary. When the time comes, it will be impossible for you to leave. I know that you have always been incorruptible and have no reserve wealth. Take this gold to use on the road."
So speaking, Lin Bi shoved a purse full of gold into Duan Wudi's hands. The gold was valuable and easy to carry. Before departing Jinyang, Lin Bi had brought it along with her out of curious coincidence.4 Perhaps she had already had such thoughts then and had only made the decision right now.
Accepting the purse, Duan Wudi could not help being extremely touched. He knew that Lin Bi was assuming an enormous responsibility, but he also knew that this was his only hope for survival. Although his future prospects were murky and he might fall into the hands of the Yong army or be executed by the Northern Han army as a traitor, he was still moved to tears. Dropping to his knees, Duan Wudi tearfully said, "This general will never forget this. If Wudi is able to escape by chance, I will definitely send word. If the Princess has any commands, Wudi will obey without question. Your Royal Highness, be relieved, if Wudi were to suffer the unfortunate fate of falling into the hands of the enemy, I would definitely not drag out an ignoble existence."
Tears also streamed down Lin Bi's face. She had some misgivings before coming. If Duan Wudi fell into the hands of the enemy, he likely would ultimately surrender to Great Yong. That was why she had come with the intent to wrongfully kill him. Seeing Duan Wudi's pledge thusly, she felt herself relax and could not help but feel some guilt. Turning around, she lightly waved her hand, indicating for Duan Wudi to depart. Duan Wudi kowtowed again before rising, turning, and departing. With this departure, it was unclear when or if they would meet again. How could these heroic figures not wring their hands in frustration?
After Duan Wudi's figure had disappeared, the ceaselessly eavesdropping Qiu Yufei revealed a grateful smile on his face. Just now, when Lin Bi was about to have Duan Wudi dragged out to be executed, Qiu Yufei had already made up his mind to perform a rescue. Now that he had witnessed Lin Bi setting Duan Wudi free, he could finally relax. Originally, he intended to walk out to meet Lin Bi. However, he suddenly detected a familiar aura unexpectedly appearing outside of the town carrying concealed killing intent. Smiling coldly, Qiu Yufei turned illusory as he leaped through the bedroom window. Taking advantage of the chaos within the town, he pursued in the direction Duan Wudi had fled.
Outside of Yangyi, Xiao Tong gazed at Duan Wudi galloping out of the town from his position standing atop a hill. He couldn't stop himself from stamping his feet. When his master had learned that Lin Bi had gone personally to deal with Duan Wudi, Jing Wuji had considered carefully before dispatching him to pursue and kill the likely-to-be released Duan Wudi. Now that everything was as expected and when he was about to pursue, Xiao Tong heard a clear and cold voice ask, "Senior apprentice brother, do you truly intend to exterminate him?"
Xiao Tong was stunned and lifted his head to look. Xiao Tong caught sight of Qiu Yufei standing with his hands behind his back. Smiling wryly, Xiao Tong answered, "Junior apprentice brother, this is Master's order. Regardless of General Duan's innocence, he would be an enormous threat if he fell into enemy hands. You cannot be merciful and compassionate."
Qiu Yufei frigidly replied, "General Duan has been faithful and true to Northern Han. Although rumors abound, I believe the day will come when the truth comes to light. Neither Princess Bi nor I believe that General Duan is disloyal. Even if Master were to come personally, I would not allow Master to act."
Xiao Tong could only continue to smile wryly. He knew that if it came to martial arts, he was not his junior apprentice brother's match. It seemed like this mission to pursue and kill Duan Wudi was no longer achievable. He had no alternative but to say, "Since you have already returned, you should go to Jinyang to meet Master."
"Fine, let's go together," responded Qiu Yufei indifferently.
Xiao Tong hurriedly replied. "I still have military duties that need to be performed."
When Qiu Yufei glanced over uncaring, Xiao Tong promptly explained, "Do not worry. I swear to the Devil Sect Founder that, if I pursue and kill General Duan, I will be submerged in the Devil Sect Founder's blood prison and never reincarnated. It really is an urgent military matter I need to handle."
Qiu Yufei remained silent. Since Xiao Tong had sworn such an oath, he would definitely not violate it. Turning, Qiu Yufei departed, disappearing suddenly. Looking up, Xiao Tong continued to smile wryly. Having not seen this junior apprentice brother for several months, his cultivation had advanced by leaps and bounds, leaving him as the senior apprentice brother blushing with shame. Fine, since Princess Bi and Yufei both trusted Duan Wudi so much, Duan Wudi was apparently incomparably loyal. What need was there for him to play the role of a villain?
Footnotes:阳邑, Yangyi - a modern-day township located Taigu County (太谷县), Jinzhong Prefecture, Shanxi Province 一尘不染, yichenburan - idiom, lit. untainted by even a speck of dust; fig. spotless 弄假成真, nongjiachengzhen - idiom, lit. pretense that turns into reality; fig. to accidentally make something true 鬼使神差, guishishenchai - idiom, lit. demons and gods at work; fig. unexplained event with a supernatural explanation, curious coincidence