This was the second time that Wei Song had ever fled from Jade City. His heart was full of anger and confusion. He had laid a perfect trap, and no matter how the Dragon King tried to maneuver, he could not have avoided offending the Central Plains, losing Prince Xiao's protection, and directly facing off against the best swordsman of the Luo family. But a cheap eunuch servant had ruined everything.
The last time had been six years ago. When he ended his term of Governor of Jade City, he had identified that so-called Servant Huan as the son of Gu Lun as well as the culprit who had killed his son. He promised Servant Huan that he would help him leave Jade City, but he had stealthily fled to the Central Plains.
This time, he performed the same trick. He had claimed that he would summon a second consultation the next day, but he would actually flee again, though in a different mood. Six years ago, when he was in Jade City, he had nothing, and the successful escape in and of itself was a victory. But this time, he had a strong army at his command, and he also had the best swordsman as his bodyguard, but he still had to flee from that fiend.
As a member of a family the members of which had been officials for generations, Wei Song had always been in a position of advantage during those disputes in the Imperial Court. This was the first time that he had ever hated those dignitaries far away in the capital so much. They had no idea at all what kind of person the Dragon King was. They took it for granted that they could manipulate and use him, but Wei Song knew that the Dragon King was a lunatic who only wanted revenge.
Thinking of the misfortune that his beloved son Wei Lingmiao had suffered through, Wei Song felt both heartbroken and fearful.
The darkness was thinning. Wei Song turned his head back around and saw that there were only thirty or so attendants and guards left, which made a scene somewhat more decent than the last time that he had fled. But it couldn't conceal the crushing defeat that the Governor of the Western Regions had suffered and the pathetic situation that he was in. They could vaguely see that the peak on which Golden Roc Castle was located was further away, and even Jade City at the foot of the mountain seemed to be behind a thin layer of mist.
Wei Song's heart lurched. He angrily asked the attendant beside him, "Why are we moving so slowly? We departed before the third night-watch."
The attendant's face was covered with frost, and even his smile was stiff. "My lord, we are moving quite quickly already. It's winter, and the road is in bad condition. Besides, the horses will be exhausted if we go any faster."
"You bastard. I have urgent business to deal with, but you're worrying about the livestock? Progress at full speed. We must reach Thousand Horsemen Pass by tonight."
The attendant stood there, transfixed with shock. Even if it were autumn when the road was in its best condition, it would take a fast horse three days to go from Jade City to Thousand Horsemen Pass. And it would still take two full days if the horse ran non-stop. But Wei Song wanted to travel there in one day. This was impossible.
He didn't dare contradict him, so he had to inform all the others to speed up.
Wei Song was just a civil official and he had hugely overestimated his tolerance. Before noon, he felt like his whole body had become still and cold. If he didn't stop and take a rest, he would probably die in the snow before the Dragon King could even come and kill him.
Fortunately, the peak was no longer within sight, which made Wei Song feel slightly more relieved. He took a break by the roadside. At this moment, the Dragon King should have just realized that he was no longer at the Four Noble Truths Temple. If Sun Chengqi managed to make a good excuse, then the Dragon King would stay unaware of the truth for a longer period of time. This was Wei Song's first line of defense.
Thousand Horsemen Pass was the second one, and it was also a harder and more effective line of defense. Both the armies of the Central Plains and the Golden Roc Army were stationed there. Though there were not many troops there, they should be more than enough to defend against the Dragon Army's attack and buy him some more time. And then he would go straight east towards the Loulan Kingdom which was at the eastmost part of the Western Regions. There, he could write some letters to a couple of powerful backers of his in the Imperial Court to persuade them into changing their minds.
The Dragon King must be killed. Wei Song had come up with a lot of reasons, and he believed that he would surely succeed.
They didn't reach Thousand Horsemen Pass that night. There was a heavy blizzard, and the team had to stop and rest again. This time, they pitched some tents for protection from the increasingly stronger northerly wind.
Wei Song couldn't sleep. He had someone prepare ink and paper for him and then started writing letters. The letters were for different people, and both the wording of and the reasons that he gave in them were completely different, but they shared one common main point: the Dragon King was an extremely dangerous man who couldn't be bribed with common methods, and who must be killed to eliminate all possibilities of future troubles once and for all.
The letters were not easy to write, especially the one for the Middle Assistant Minister, Yan Qin. Yan Qin was a member of the core group of the power community, and he was also the one who had formulated the strategy of co-opting the Dragon King. Wei Song had hoped that he could be informed of the real reason, but no matter how hard he tried to tempt Zhang You with wealth, Zhang You still wouldn't offer him any real information. Maybe this low-rank eunuch servant really didn't know that much.
The first two letters were almost finished, and he only needed to make a few minor adjustments now. The one for Yan Qin was only half done. Wei Song was not very satisfied with it. After pondering over it for quite a while, he decided to put it aside and started writing the fourth letter instead.
A gust of cold wind blew into the tent and the flame of the candle flickered, which nearly stilled Wei Song's blood. He stopped writing and looked in the direction of the doorway, but there was nothing there. Four loyal guards were standing there, holding their sabers, which made him feel slightly relieved.
The attendant beside Wei Song could feel that his Lord was in panic, but he didn't dare console him. The only thing he could do was carefully grind the ink-stick, secretly praying that he wouldn't annoy the Lord.
Wei Song didn't move his eyes for quite a while. It was not because he was worried that an assassin would suddenly appear, but rather because he didn't know where to start writing. He knew too little about the fourth person that he was writing to, and he was uncertain about his status. Thus, it was difficult for him to decide what kind of wording he should use.
Suddenly, he had an idea. He was just about to write when another gust of wind blew in. Amid the sounds of the howling gale outside, a neigh was heard.
Wei Song's heart lurched and the brush in his hand fell onto the paper. The ink on the head of the brush stained a large part of the paper. The attendant hastily tried to tidy things up, only to make the paper even more disorderly.
"Leave! You useless moron," Wei Song still got angry, and reprimanded him aloud.
Admitting his guilt repeatedly along with a deep bow, the attendant retreated step by step and eventually left the tent of his Lord. Relieved, he thought about how he wouldn't be able to get any credit no matter how well he behaved during the next few days. Thus, he might as well lay low and stay away from the Lord.
Wei Song grabbed the fourth letter which had been ruined, crumbled it into a ball, and tossed it to the ground. But when he meant to pick up the brush again, he was no longer in the mood for writing anymore, so he had no choice but to give up. Then he said to the guards at the doorway, "You guys stay here tonight. It's going to be a tough night, but your service will be handsomely rewarded after we reach the Loulan Kingdom."
"It's our duty to protect Your Lordship," the four guards said in unison. They had been working for Wei Song for a long time and they knew the right words to say in this occasion.
Wei Song pulled his clothes tighter about him and lay down on the narrow bed. He covered himself with several blankets, but still felt cold. He missed the Central Plains. He missed the warm weather, the luxuries, and most importantly, the orderly and safe environment there. Only in the Central Plains would noble people and humble people be in their right places. Jade City was an unruly place where status was meaningless, and even worse, he was not good at using a saber or a sword at all.
Wei Song had a lot of sentimental thoughts on his mind, and he thought that this would be a sleepless night for him, but he unconsciously started dreaming. In his dream, his beloved son Lingmiao was still alive and was talking to him animatedly while surrounded by a group of beautiful girls…
Wei Song abruptly sat up and realized that dawn had broken. Startled, he reprimanded the four guards at the doorway. "What time is it? Why didn't you wake me up?"
The four guards looked indifferent, the sabers in their arms folded against their chests. They seemed to have been frozen still, ignoring the Lord's voice.
Wei Song's heart sank. He got out of bed, put on his boot,s and slowly walked to the doorway. With a gentle push, one of the guards fell straight to the ground like a statue, knocking down the other three guards.
They were all dead. Wei Song was surprised that he didn't feel scared at all. He opened the thick tent flaps and walked into the shining white world of snow.
Both the sky and the ground seemed whiter than his dream. The knee-deep snow on the ground was as smooth as a mirror, and there was not a single mark on it. All of the seven tents were intact, and nobody walked out of any of them. On the leeward side, dozens of horses were chewing on the hay quietly, occasionally moving their strong long necks to shake the snow off of themselves.
"Who is it? Show yourself!" Wei Song yelled. His voice rippled far away, but soon disappeared into the quiet snowy wilderness. Even he himself wasn't sure whether he had made any sound.
Wei Song stood in the snow for a while. And then he suddenly had an impulse to run to the horses, get on one of them, and keep fleeing. But the last bit of his remaining senses told him that he should get back to the tent to destroy those letters.
But it was too late.
The letters were already in the Dragon King's hands. Even the ball of paper thrown to the ground by Wei Song had been smoothed flat on the small table beside the bed.
Gu Shenwei had just finished reading the letters and understood something vital. If these letters were not a trap, then Wei Song didn't have much extra information to offer him.
The first letter was for Wei Song's cousin. In it, he expressed how much he missed Wei Lingmiao and how much he hated the Dragon King. At the end of the letter, he concluded that the Wei family would never be safe as long as the Dragon King was alive, and he had requested his cousin to do whatever he could to persuade those dignitaries in the Imperial Court to not support the Dragon King.
The second letter was for the General-in-chief, Pang Ning. In it, he claimed that the Dragon King had been colluding with the Norland for a long time, and that if they handed over Jade City to the Dragon King, that the city would eventually fall into the Norlanders' hands. He said that the grassland was in dire chaos, which was a perfect opportunity offered by God, and that both the Dragon King and the Norland must be eradicated. Otherwise, they would eventually subject the Wei family to disaster.
Both of the first two letters mentioned the Middle Assistant Minister Yan Qin, ambiguously implying that this high-rank official had misjudged the situation and that the Dragon King could never be subjected to their command.
The third unfinished letter was for Yan Qin. "Beloved father," "Sincerely, your son" – Wei Song's wording was very humble. The first half of the letter merely provided information on the Dragon King's family background and personality, and he hadn't yet written down the reasons why the Dragon King had to be killed.
In the fourth letter, only the first line was distinguishable – Dear Guansheng. All of the other words had been obscured by stray ink.
"A ruthless and ferocious man." Gu Shenwei read out from a letter. These words were from the third letter where Wei Song had been hoping to depict the true image of the Dragon King to Yan Qin.
Wei Song's mind was working as fast as it could all along, but he still couldn't find a way to save himself. In the end, he burst into laughter, and the longer he laughed, the more difficult it was for him to stop.
Gu Shenwei wasn't surprised. He had seen people do various crazy things before they died, and uncontrollable laughter was a rather typical reaction. It was merely an abnormal form of extreme fear.
This time, he could skip those tired formulas before questioning him.
"Are these people the ones behind the assassination of the Gu family? Who's 'Guansheng?'"
"The adopted son of Assistant Minister Yan, Yan Di," Wei Song replied. He had given up all thought of resisting.
"I don't understand. The Gu family moved to the Western Regions. Why did you still refuse to spare my father?"
Wei Song shook his head. "I can't answer this question. Six years ago, I was just a loser sent to the Western Regions. The only thing I know is that Assistant Minister Yan gave me an order to kill all the members of the Gu family. I introduced Golden Roc Castle to Assistant Minister Yan and then gained his forgiveness and trust. Dragon King… nephew Shenwei… You may kill me, but for the record, I held no grudges against General Gu. This was a partisan fight, and there's nothing I could have done, even if I had my current status. Given that you've been an overlord for many years, I think that you'll understand this very well."
"I do," said Gu Shenwei. He understood a lot of things, and one of them was that a debt of blood could only be repaid by blood.
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