"All is well, let us go," Yan Xun replied.
Chu Qiao nodded and took a quick glance behind her. "Where are the troops of Southwest Emissary's Garrison? Why did they not catch up?"
Yan Xun obviously would not use the story of them sacrificing themselves for the country to fool her, so he smiled and replied, "Do not worry, they will arrive shortly. We will leave first."
"Okay." Without a single doubt, she followed him and headed towards Chi Shui.
With haste, the troops initiated the river crossing. Although there was only one bridge, but within one hour, most men and horses had already crossed. Chu Qiao stood beside Yan Xun and observed the river crossing that was happening while Zhen Huang City was engulfed by flames. Suddenly, she heaved a sigh of relief. "It's been eight years. We've finally been out."
Yan Xun sighed, and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. With an emotional voice he said, "AhChu, it's been hard on you."
Chu Qiao shook her head, and her eyes sparkled with happiness. "No, it was you who gave my life meaning, who gave me motivation to live. All these years, we relied on each other, helped each other, cared for each other, perfected each other's plans, and fixed each other's mistakes. That is precisely why we were able to survive day after day in that corrupted palace. We do not owe each other anything."
"Yes, we do not owe each other anything. Since long ago, we have been bound, our fates tied together." Yan Xun revealed a tender smile.
"Indeed," Chu Qiao gently nodded, "our fates have since long ago merged into one."
"Your Highness, all men have crossed the river. We can leave," AhJing ran up and reported.
"Yan Xun!" Chu Qiao shouted out, "Are we not waiting for the Southwest Emissary's Garrison?"
Yan Xun shook his head. "Fret not, they will catch up to us."
"If the floating bridge is removed, how will they cross the river?"
Yan Xun had already thought up an excuse. Slowly he explained, "The empire's pursuing forces are of no concern to us. They can go down the official path to Xi Ma Liang to rendezvous with us."
Chu Qiao nodded. "Oh, I see. Let's go"
Having walked a few steps, the lady suddenly frowned. She touched her waist and suddenly panicked. "Where did the Command Token from Da Tong that you gave me go? It disappeared!"
Yan Xun frowned. The command token was of great importance, thus he became anxious as well. "How could it be? Did you not carry it with you all the time? Try to think of where you could have misplaced it."
Chu Qiao searched herself up and down two times, but was unable to find it. Suddenly, she slapped her forehead. "I am so stupid! I left it in the pouch on the horse saddle. I will go and get it now."
Yan Xun swiftly grabbed her arm, as out of nowhere, he suddenly got an ominous premonition. He added, "Let someone else go. You can wait here."
"There are so many horses, how do they know which is mine? Do not worry, I will come back quickly." Before he could stop her, she jumped onto the floating bridge. Her light and frail body would not even cause the floating bridge to wobble. After about a minute, she had already reached the other side. Yan Xun ordered his men to light up the flames, only to see that Chu Qiao had already found her horse, and brought it to the waterside. She stopped, as if contemplating something.
Yan Xun was startled and shouted, "AhChu, have you found it? Hurry up!"
The lady lifted her head. Her face was as white as sheet, but her gaze was filled with determination as she stared firmly at Yan Xun.
At that instant, as if struck by lightning, Yan Xun pushed AhJing aside, and started a maddening run towards the bridge. Almost at the same time, Chu Qiao pulled out her blade, and without any hesitation, struck the bridge. The floating bridge fell, and floated down the river along with the current.
"AhChu! What are you doing?" Yan Xun bellowed in fury.
The young lady stood besides the waves of the torrential current, her gaze fixed on Yan Xun, full of conviction. She replied, "Yan Xun, you just told me, our fates have converged! Disaster or prosperity, we will be in it together. That's why I will not sit around and watch you make such a blunder!"
With that said, Yan Xun attempted to jump into the river, only to be pulled back by AhJing and the rest. He howled, "AhChu! Do not be stupid! Come back immediately!"
"Yan Xun, the reason for your popularity, and reason for the civilians anticipating your return to Yan Bei was due to the benevolent rule of Old Master Yan! No one was able to take over control of Yan Bei precisely due to the lasting influence of his name! Yan Xun, I cannot stand around and watch you destroy this foundation, and stage your own defeat!"
Yan Xun was in an utter rage, and had completely lost his usual composure. Exasperated, he roared, "AhChu! Come back immediately! We will construct a rope bridge. Catch it from there, and come back immediately! This is an order!"
Chu Qiao shook her head. Quietly, she went to mount her horse before turning around and stating, "You made a mistake, so I must correct it! Yan Xun, we will meet at Xi Ma Liang. If I do not arrive in two days, bring the men back to Yan Bei first! I will bring the soldiers from Southwest Emissary's Garrison towards the Yan Bei Highlands to rendezvous." With that said, with a curt shout, she brandished her whip and struck the horse, and disappeared into the pitch black grassland. The 5000 horses who had lost their riders trailed behind her and headed toward the majestic city.
"AhChu..." The furious river water smashed on the riverbank, creating huge splashes that wet Yan Xun's robes. Under the endless pitch black sky, all that remained was the echoes of his vexed howls.
This world is not an amusement park, and there is no restart option. What we can do is merely to twist our fate around before disaster was completely materialized. Yan Xun, the rationale behind what I do today will probably take you many years to understand. I am not being sympathetic; I merely do not want you to be blinded by revenge! Wait for me, I will bring all these soldiers back for our reunion!
"Commander, we have been abandoned!" The shattered soldiers roamed aimlessly amidst the crowds. They were surrounded by enemies. The advance had been blocked, and their retreat had been cut off by the enemy. These soldiers, far away from home, had completely became abandoned. In the whole world, there was no place for them to return to.
"Why? Why abandon us?"
"Kill! HAHAHA! Kill all of them! The apocalypse is here! Let us go down to hell together!"
The inferno embraced the entire capital, and every direction was an dead end for these soldiers. They descended towards maddening desperation, as they were left without formation, without strategy, and could only rely on their own strength to battle it out. The defenders of the royal capital could finally breathe easy after being pressured by the rebels for the entire night, and struck back mercilessly, using all possible means. Within sight, there were piles of bodies and rivers of blood. Dozens of imperial soldiers would surround one, mutilating their bodies even after death, completely venting their anger!
Zhao Qie sat on his horse and watched his brother, whom he had never paid much attention to. The young Zhao Yang was covered in blood, and his handsome face was completely bloodied. Even then, his blade continued to flourish, and he faced the battlefield with unparalleled composure.
"Seventh brother, the enemy is breaking."
"Alright, it is about time." Zhao Qie nodded. But it was then, just when he was about to give the command, a huge rumble came from afar. From the Northwestern gate, it seemed like there was thousands of thunder clouds rumbling at once. All of Zhen Huang City started trembling yet again. Everyone halted whatever they were doing to look for the source of the noise.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
The cacophony sent chills down everyone's spine. It was as if they were facing the rage of the entire cosmos. Everyone lifted up their heads to look at the distant sky. A Yan Bei warrior's blade was still buried in the shoulder of an imperial soldier, but he forgot to pull it out! An imperial guard laid his sword on a Yan Bei fighter's neck, but he forgot to swing it down to finish off his enemy!
With an deafening outburst, the west gate burst open, and 5000 horses poured in like a flood into the fray, instantly driving a wedge into the masses of soldier. The defenders of the capital were instantly reminded of the tactics used by Yan Xun when slaughtering the 16th Camp. Their faces were plae, and their knees buckled. At this moment, a black iron eagle war flag was planted on the city gate. A frail but steady feminine figure stood under the flag, and with great fervor, she shouted, "Fighters of Yan Bei! You have not been forsaken! Listen to me! Obey me! Follow me! I will bring you home!"
One second, two seconds, three seconds… After a short pause, an overwhelming wave of cheers arose!
"Return to Yan Bei! Return to Yan Bei! Return to Yan Bei!" The men in despair grabbed onto this twig of hope, and like a flood, they crowded toward the west gate!
"Seventh Brother, 14th Brother, who is that?" Zhao Yang looked at Chu Qiao, and hesitated to speak. Zhao Qie continued sitting on his horse, and squinted at that silhouette under that proudly soaring flag, and opened his mouth, "You two, remember this well. That women will become the greatest threat to the Xia Empire! If we want to rebuild the empire, she will be one of the greatest obstacles!"
The flames of war were reignited. Today, on the watchtower along the northwestern side of the capital, the entire Xia Empire remembered her name. Eight years ago, she entered the palace as a slave, but today, she led the last armed forces of Yan Bei away from the empire, and headed off to the lands beyond Zhen Huang City.
Chu Qiao had yet to know, it was precisely this move today that rescued Yan Bei from an overwhelming defeat, and resuscitated the gravitas of the Yan Bei government. At the same time, she created the first military power for herself in this chaotic era.
The entire remnants of the Southwest Emissary's Garrison pledged eternal loyalty to this seemingly frail and weak lady. From here on out, they would follow this leader in campaigns all over the West Meng continent, and stick with their pledge forever. No matter how tough the situation, they would remain faithful and loyal to Chu Qiao for the rest of their lives.
This frail woman, because of this, had unknowingly taken her first steps onto the path that led her to become what people later called, "Princess Xiuli"...
Empire Calendar, in the year 755, 20th of May, was an unforgettable day. The capital of the Xia Empire, Zhen Huang City, was decimated by an inferno, and half of the city was abandoned. The symbol of the empire, Sheng Jin Palace, was completely in ruins. The elite royal garrison had lost around 80% of their strength, making up a total of over 170,000 deaths. Within these, 30,000 were from direct combat with Southwest Emissary's Garrison, while 70,000 had been systematically slaughtered by Yan Xun. The remaining were attributed to the anarchic clashes with the civilians and fratricide from the chaos.