It occupied ten percent of the land area of Tianjing Basin, but fed one third of the population.
In this area, a total of seven cities dotted the plain like seven pearls. These seven pearls were under the control of the three major factions.
Recently, the three major factions were converging their forces on this area. This made the commoners living near the Three River Delta jittery as they wondered if there was going to be war again.
A few days later, the news gradually spread among the commoners of the Three River Delta that there was really going to be a war. It wasn't between the three factions, but was them against the aboriginals.
"They are recruiting new soldiers in the area south of the city. I heard that the salary is quite high and that you can get two taels of silver per month. Fat Head, you are idling around doing nothing, so you might as well go and take a look! With your physical build, you may be able to make a name for yourself in the army."
"Ptui, even if you want to earn money, you must be alive to spend it. You would be fighting against the barbarians. How many people can survive? Those barbarians are eight feet tall and bloodthirsty like wild animals from the mountain, so you and I can imagine the result."
"Just call yourself a coward. I heard that if those barbarians come and invade, they are going to massacre everyone in the city. Many in the northern region have already been slaughtered, and people are running away to the mountains in order to survive. As I see it, we will die anyway, so we might as well fight it out with them and maybe get recognized for our contributions and become officials in the future…"
"Massacre the whole city? Is that true?"
"It should be true. Don't you know what those barbarians are like? Anyway, many people have said so. Everyone is jittery and thinking of how to escape if the barbarians were to invade."
"If that's the case, there is no choice but to fight with all our might."
A middle-aged man who was walking by overheard the conversations in the alley and paused for a moment before moving on.
No one knew who had spread this rumor about massacring everyone in the city. Although it made people panicky, it also provoked them, and as a result, the three major factions were able to recruit many new soldiers in just half a month.
However, these untrained recruits would find their legs becoming soft like jelly if they encountered the soldiers from the Protectorate of the South.
The middle-aged man went to a mansion in the city to announce his arrival, and a moment later, a middle-aged man of about the same age came to welcome him and laughed heartily.
"Junior, why are you here? We, fellow apprentices, haven't met for a long time!"
"No one can escape such a big storm. Whether you are a big fish or a shrimp at the bottom of the ocean, you will be carried along by the waves. In this case, it's better to see the spectacular scenery from the surface of the water!" the first middle-aged man said with a smile.
"Come in and take a seat before we continue with our conversation." The senior apprentice roared with laughter.
After tea was served, the senior apprentice asked, "How is our master? Is the sect doing well?"
"Our master is slightly injured and still recuperating. As for the sect… there is no point in mentioning it!" The junior apprentice sighed.
"Did our master go to Wu City? What happened to the sect?"
"The aboriginals asked for our surrender! After they came to the sect, the disciples started quarrelling all the time. I heard that both the hidden village and the Lingshan Sect have surrendered!"
The senior apprentice was surprised to hear that the aboriginals had asked for their surrender. The aboriginals had always exterminated their enemies and left no one alive.
Was it possible that the hidden village and the Lingshan Sect had surrendered? Qingyun Sword of the hidden village and Zuo Cheng of the Lingshan Sect had been famous in the martial arts world for decades. Not too long ago, Qingyun Sword even gathered people to try to besiege and assassinate Qi Zixiao. How could such a person surrender? The news about them was too shocking and even made him forget about the injury suffered by his master.
"Are you serious?"
The junior apprentice nodded and continued, "I heard that the leader of the aboriginals isn't Qi Zixiao nor is he the butcher, Xi Wanya!"
"Who else can it be?"
"Do you remember the news about Qi Zixiao having found a husband who isn't an aboriginal…?"
"That's right, his name is Ren Baqian. He's the one behind this matter of persuading the enemy to surrender. It is said… that he promised to let bygones be bygones for those who surrender. He also promised to let the people of Tianjing Basin walk free and live together with the aboriginals."
The face of the senior apprentice changed drastically. These words could influence many people to accept the proposal.
"What other news does Junior know?
"This time, it was the disciples of the hidden village and the Lingshan Sect who went to our sects and caused them to quarrel internally. Many people think that Qi Zixiao and the winged cavalry are already in Wu City and that the three major factions are no match for them. With the promise of forgiveness and freedom of movement, they were thinking of imitating the Linshan Sect and preserving the heritage of the ancestors. Otherwise, when the aboriginal soldiers arrive, their sects might be exterminated."
The senior apprentice became uncertain after hearing this and asked, "What did our master say?"
"Our master didn't say anything, but I can see that he disagrees with this. Therefore, I wanted your opinion on this matter. Regardless, Senior has better foresight than all of us."
The senior apprentice clenched his teeth and said, "No matter what, I will not surrender!"
"I know. Your parents died at the hands of the butcher, Xi Wanya. You can't share the same sky with the killer of your parents." The junior apprentice nodded.
"For those who want to surrender, let them go. This will let the sect preserve its heritage no matter what happens. For the disciples of the sect to bicker, it must be due to the conditions imposed for the surrender. Is it because the disciples aren't allowed to join the three major factions?" the senior apprentice raised his head to ask.
"Senior is correct." The junior apprentice smiled slightly and nodded his head.
"What about removing our names from the sect? Can't we do that?" the senior apprentice asked again.
"They are arguing over this matter now." The junior apprentice sighed.
"What's there to consider? Just expel from the sect people like us who want to fight, and the rest can go north to surrender. If the rebels win, the sect will not be affected with us around, and we can rejoin the sect again later. If the aboriginals win… then the heritage of the sect can still be preserved!" the senior apprentice from the sect said disapprovingly.
"Does senior think that this strategy will work?" the junior apprentice asked in response.
"Even if the odds are slim, I'm still willing to risk my life to fight." The senior apprentice raised his voice, cupped his fists, and said, "Junior, this is a serious matter. I need to consult with the governor and then come back to have a long discussion with you."
"Senior, wait a moment."
"Does Junior still have any other issues?"
"Our master has always been concerned about Senior. He said it's easy to lose one's life due to the present situation, and I have brought along something to help protect you," the junior apprentice said.
"Our master misses this unfilial disciple and worries about me all the time. I'm thankful to Junior for traveling so far just to bring me such important news and convey the concerns of our master to me." The senior apprentice was warmed by the words of his junior and stood to one side as he looked at the junior apprentice untie a cylinder from his waist.
"This was passed down from our ancestors and is said to be from Great Xia's Baiji Pavilion. It can shoot three rounds of piercing bone nails, so if Senior is in danger, you can just press the button here."
Following this action, the cylinder was pointed at his senior as if by accident and then… and then the button was pressed…
Three piercing bone nails shot out from the cylinder.
"Junior, you…" The senior apprentice didn't react in time. He was hit by three piercing bone nails, and fresh blood spurted out from his chest.
"Senior, that Ren Baqian is more treacherous than you think… If a sect has three Earth Wheel experts and one joins the rebels, the whole sect will be exterminated. If two out of six Man Wheel experts were to join the rebels, the same thing would happen."
"Although our sect doesn't have many members, many have joined the army these past few years. Unless all of you are killed, the sect can't preserve its heritage." The junior apprentice sighed in agony.
The senior apprentice shivered at the words of his junior. He laid on the ground with blood flowing from his mouth and asked weakly, "Did our master send you here?"
"Our master refuses to surrender. The chief of our sect also refuses… So it isn't possible to preserve the sect's heritage… Unless something unexpected happens, everyone will die." The junior continued sighing.
"Then why did you…"
"Fortunately, that Sir Ren gave us an alternative way to survive… Just kill someone of the same level from the same sect, present their head as proof of allegiance, and one can live. I still want to live. Senior wants to seek revenge, but so do I. However, our enemies aren't the same person. My enemy is the Southern Metropolis's governor. You didn't know this. Even our master doesn't know because I'm tight-lipped about it. By surrendering, I can save myself and take revenge at the same time. Is there any reason not to do this? As a result, I need to borrow a head as proof of allegiance. We all live together in the sect, so if I got discovered there, I would have no chance to escape. It's too risky to kill anyone there. After thinking about it, I decided it would be easiest to kill you."
The junior apprentice squatted in front of his senior and continued softly, "There is no chance of winning the fight against these barbarians! Not to mention Qi Zixiao or Xi Wanya, how do you intend to withstand the 1,500-strong winged cavalry who are all at the Earth Wheel level? Since Senior will die anyway, you might as well fulfill my wish. This way, someone will pay respects at your grave during the annual festivals."
Gasp… gasp… The senior apprentice was lying on the floor heaving and vomiting bloody foam. Since the piercing bone nails had penetrated his lungs, it made him unable to speak. His eyes were gradually growing lifeless.
Then, the junior apprentice said softly, "Senior, lend me your head. I will pay respects at your grave next year!"