Surprisingly, those severe losses were not the greatest blow dealt to the empire. After that skirmish, the entire economy of Zhen Huang City was completely paralyzed. In the sweltering heat of summer, the mountains of corpses brought about inevitable disease. Most infrastructure and buildings were burnt down in that inferno, resulting in huge batches of homeless refugees. Even injured soldiers had to make do resting on the roadside. Making matters worse, it rained profusely over the next few days. Bodies that had yet to be removed were soaked with water and quickly started decaying, giving off an intense stench, with flies buzzing around.
Before Yan Xun had left, he made sure that the inferno engulfed the food stockpiles. Food merchants had also been ransacked during the riots by civilians. In this disaster, Zhen Huang City was unable to even provide food for its citizens. Within half a month, batches and batches of civilians fell from sickness and hunger. During this struggle for survival, peaceful civilians reared their ugly side as robbery became frequent. Some even picked up arms and formed groups of armed militia in order to rob food.
At one point in time, during a mere span of two days, 30 groups of soldiers who were ordered to patrol the city disappeared without a trace. A few days after their disappearance, their belongings—uniforms, daggers, boots—appeared in the drains. Among those, there were occasionally some which were more private or grotesque, such as underwear, wallet, or broken limbs, eyeballs, or even bones…
There was not a single vestige of order left in the royal capital
Another half a month later, the maddened refugees broke open the city gates and escaped from the city. The Royal Zhao family saw all this but could do little to reverse this catastrophe.
Zhao Zhengde helplessly stood at the ruins of Sheng Jin Palace and smiled bitterly, before leaving with the last group of armed forces. Guarded by Song Que, his carriage rumbled into the distance, away from this ruined city. The Xia Empire had a history of over 300 years, and the royal capital had withstood countless sieges from enemies.
In the year 633, the Defense of the Imperial Capital, Emperor Bai Wei led 8000 cavalry troops against 200,000 Quan Rong warriors. The siege lasted for one whole month, and they ran out of both food and arrows. Even then they refused to give way. Finally reinforcement from various noble families arrived to break the siege. That became an everlasting legend.
In the year 684, the noble family of Wo Long defected, and opened the Bai Shui Gates, allowing a massive coalition between the Tang Empire and Song Empire to enter the borders unopposed. The enemy charged straight into the heart of the empire, and reached San Li Hills, which was not even 30 miles away from Zhen Huang City. The Emperor of that era was still inspecting the southwestern borders, and there was only the eight year old Prince Zhao Chongming and the Queen, Muhe Jiuge. At that time, the entire court recommended retreat, but the 27 year old Queen stood at the top of the watchtower for 3 whole days with her son, until they saw the Empire's flag flying above the San Li Hills after driving back the enemies.
In the year 741, during the Chi Chao Uprising, the city gates were completely destroyed. Even then, the Zhao Royal families had not taken a single step out of the capital!
Year 735…. Year 761…. Year 769…. Stubbornly standing despite all the battles on this grass plains for over 300 years, the capital was finally abandoned by the Royal Zhao family on the morning of June 9th. They abandoned this heart of the empire which their ancestors had defended for more than 300 years. Miserably, they retreated to the Holy Citadel, Yun City
Historians of the future would have greatly differing opinions about the rationale of this decision, but they would all agree that the one who had caused this was none other than the new King of Yan Bei, Yan Xun! By his own strength, along with the 5000 warriors of Da Tong Guild, he managed to achieve what 300,000 warriors of Quan Rong, and 580,000 soldiers of the Tang-Song coalition could not! The entire West Meng continent trembled at the might of this waking lion. This era would undoubtedly be dominated by Yan Bei, as the flames of war had just been reignited.
It was a cloudy morning as the war horn sounded off on the watchtower of Zhen Huang City. The sun slowly rose from the horizon, but the mist persisted, as if rain would soon fall. A dozen soldiers, all donned in pale green armor, stood on top of the watchtower, gazing into the distance. Along the empty paths, there was not a single person in sight. Sighing, the old soldier put down the horn, and turned around.
"Is there still no one coming?" It was a deep voice. Startled, the old soldier lifted his head, only to see a man in his twenties, handsome and youthful. Wearing a black cape, he concealed his attire such that no one would recognize his position. Even then, the old soldier could tell that this man was a general, and was of a different league from him.
"General, no one is coming."
The young man nodded silently, as if already expecting this outcome. He observed the old soldier who seemed to struggle to support the weight of the armor with a 50 year old body. Even the division engravings on his shoulder plate showed signs of weathering. The young man inquired, "19th Division should have already left for Yun City with the Emperor. Why did you not follow?"
"General, I am really too old. I can no longer walk long distances. I would rather leave the chance for the youngsters." Sighing, the old man continued, "I enlisted at 14 and became a horsekeeper. I was later assigned to guard this City. I already defended this city for over 30 years. Even if this city was attacked, even if all the civilians ran away, I cannot run away. As long as the gates are still intact, I must be here."
The younger man frowned, and in his eyes a complicated emotion flashed past while his gaze was still locked on the old soldier.
The old man did not notice, and continued, "Furthermore, my family all died in that battle. Going to Yun City alone would be meaningless. I would rather stay here and look for the bodies of any familiar people or neighbors to bury. Humans should ultimately return to the soil!"
The youngster lowered his head, and his expression looked forlorn. Behind him there was an endless stretch of ruins. Previously, there stood the most prosperous buildings and crowd, the most majestic towers, and the most luxurious palaces. But now it is just history.
"General," the old soldier lifted his head, and anxiously rubbed his hands, looking a bit uneasy, "why did none those nobles and aristocrats send men for reinforcement? Master Zhuge and Master Wei all left for their own lands. Is the empire going to split? Are we going to war? When will the Yan Prince attack here?"
"There will not be such a day!" a calm voice came out of that young man, slow and steady. Although softly spoken, the words were filled with confidence. The young man looked determined, and his tone was firm. Word by word, he stated, "The empire will not collapse. Yan Bei Army will not advance here. Someday, those who left will return. Zhen Huang City will be restored to its former glory!"
The old man was stunned and looked at this young man. All the rumors he had heard in recent days were immediately blown out of his mind. At that instance, he wholeheartedly believed the words of this young general. Light returned to his eyes, as he excitedly asked, "Really? They will be back? Then can I still continue to guard this city gate?"
"You will," the young man replied. Turning around, he smiled, revealing sparkling white teeth. "I will specially allow you to continue to guard these gates. Even if you live to a hundred and can no longer walk, I will send men to bring you here on a carriage. If you still have living descendants, I can extend this special permission to them to guard these gates too! As long as I am alive, the empire will not fall!"
With that said, the young general searched himself and took out a silver token. On it, there were fine engravings of crepe flowers—the national flower of the Xia Empire. Right now, that seemed so holy, yet so desolate.
"This item will be the proof of that promise."
The old soldier was ecstatic, but in the next moment he felt suspicious of this young man. Smartly, he asked the young man very tactfully, "General, which division do you belong to? May I know your name?"
"I am from the Cavalry Camp. My name is Zhao Che."
The old soldier was utterly stunned, and his eyes almost popped out of his sockets. After a few seconds, he dropped onto the floor kneeling, and kowtowed with all his force. "I am such a blind man. Your highness, please forgive me for my insolence!"
There was no response. The old man lifted his head, only to see a figure on the staircase of the watchtower. The figure held a sword in one hand, and step by step, disappeared from view. From the corner of his eye, he saw a blinding flash of light. Looking carefully, he saw that the light was being reflected from the silver token. The blossoming crepe flowers engraving felt like warm summer sun!
Centuries later, the archives of Tang Empire left records as such: Following the revenge by the Da Tong Guild, the Royal Zhao Family tried to assemble all noble families, but none of the factions responded to his call to arms. Helpless, they could only abandon the devastated capital. Prince Zhao Che continued to guard the capital, while Prince Zhao Yang volunteered to pursue the Yan Bei army. The Xia Empire displayed symptoms of collapse, as they could no longer retain full control over the huge swathes of land and aristocrats. Under the leadership of our brilliant and wise Prince, the Tang Empire became the greatest empire in the world, and the hub of commerce started to shift towards us. Merchants in the Xia Empire lost confidence in the government, and started to migrate towards the Tang Empire. The brilliant and wise prince displayed unparalleled wisdom and intelligence, and godly courage and bravery. Such could only be described as a genius blessed by heaven, and the population found themselves extremely lucky….
Many later historians took these records with a grain of salt, as Yan Xun's rebellion had been completely unrelated to the Tang Prince. Many even took it one step further to claim that the later portion had been added by Prince Li Ce himself, as the handwriting was completely different. If one were to describe the first portion as the handwriting of a calligraphy master, then the later portion would be something that even calligraphy novices would be ashamed of. Despite that, this would not deny the truth of the first part. After the revenge by the Da Tong guild, the enormous Xia Empire really started to decline.
Just as Zhen Huang City faced its calamity, the last forces of Yan Bei were still loitering around Qiu Ping Mountain. On those endless plains, a group of shabbily dressed soldiers were lying in ambush. Despite their equipment, their eyes were filled with determination, and they were like a pack of wolves, patiently waiting for their prey.
Although the factions had not assisted the Royal family, they still had their eyes on Yan Bei. Only now, Chu Qiao felt slightly relieved for Yan Bei's decision to abandon the Southwest Emissary's Garrison forces. Yan Family had been completely wiped out by the Royal family, so the hatred between Yan Xun and the Royal Family was not something that everyone knew of. Da Tong Guild, on the other hand, was well known as the organization that led rebellions on this continent. Consequently, the only group that was branded as the traitors of the nation was the Southwest Emissary's Garrison personnel.