Striking Broadsword Wielder (Part 1)
The rain and snow hindered the business escort’s journey across the rugged mountain path that they had to take to reach Nanjiang from Huzhou, forcing them to take shelter in a small village for the night.
They dropped by Xiuyu City, which was under Emperor Yuansheng’s jurisdiction at the border of Nanjiang to accept a job from a company there. They were to exchange ten carts of goods for Nanjiang’s fragrances, jewellery and sea products with hard shells.
Transporting goods to Nanjiang is a highly lucrative industry that promises earnings ten times that of one’s capital. In exchange, they must be brave enough to traverse high roads and fight off blood-drinking barbarians, all whilst the dense fog handicapped their vision. Up until now, the success rate of returning from a delivery to Nanjiang is a meagre 10%. Hence, only big companies can afford the risk and cost of hiring a reputable escort company.
This escort numbered only around sixty people, though their stares were enough to frighten people off, and transported few goods compared to what companies would usually order for delivery. Judging from how deep the prints in the ground were, it would be safe to assume they were transporting silk, tea leaves, daily necessities and a drool-worthy amount of gold or silver.
The Central Plain’s currency can’t be used in Nanjiang, but they do use gold and silver. In the Central Plain, businesses stick to using notes for safety and convenience purposes. Therefore, a bandit would conclude that the escort was unquestionably headed to another region.
Emperor Yuansheng’s escort commenced the pilgrimage three days ago after spending nearly two weeks to prepare everything, choosing to travel under the guise of a business escort to avoid dangerous foes targeting them. As for bandits, it was part and parcel of travelling as an escort, particularly outside of Jiangnan.
Knowing they weren’t just going to return to the capital, Long Zaitian had a pigeon deliver a letter to the northern border, requesting the aid of eight hundred Qilin Guards from their grand commander, and Baima had them set out the day after, taking twenty days to reach Long Zaitian.
The eight hundred hand-picked Qilin Guards were combat veterans, stealth experts and familiar with fighting in any terrain thanks to their experiences in the north. To put it into perspective, the warriors from the cold north could give any of the imperial court’s Yi Rank warriors a run for their money. More than forty of them could rival Long Zaitian in a fight. Most importantly, they had experience dealing with beasts that heckled civilians by the northern border. Thus, Long Zaitian entrusted them with keeping surveillance from the shadows.
Emperor Yuansheng had another two hundred agents from his entourage join the escort, with a portion of them delivering messages to and fro the imperial court, while another group was tasked with handling his domestic needs, which meant that they had to scout the path up ahead at all times.
Besides the hundred-plus men Ming Feizhen managed to rescue, all that remained of Evil Spirits were Mountain Monster and Feathered Serpent’s assassination and intelligence teams, respectively, because they were absent when Luo Ming slaughtered the others.
Feathered Serpent’s scouts were more loyal to Abels than they were to the former. In saying that, the main combat unit was still the hundred-odd soldiers, who directly answered to Abels, that Ming Feizhen released. Overall, their morale was high thanks to Abels’ presence.
River Monster could be trusted but didn’t have any manpower. Mountain Monster and her dozens of subordinates, team “I only kill. Don’t ask me to bury them”, were an issue. Under her guidance, they’d give her their hearts if she asked. Though she took orders from Abels in the past, their relationship had changed since, yet, for whatever reason, Abels didn’t kill her despite her betrayal.
Alhough Emperor Yuansheng was initially against trusting Abels as his coach, Abels was the best choice for the role as he could handle any situation and was a sturdy first line of defence. Abels, leading a mobile brigade near the main forces to handle any impromptu situations, reorganised the remaining two hundred-odd members of Evil Spirits into a force that could tackle an array of situations. Emperor Yuansheng ordered a maid to wait on Abels as an expression of gratitude. Alas, River Monster kicked the innocent maid off. Riding with them was their physician, cooks and artisans.
Abels assistance was the equivalent of adding fire to arrows considering his own skill set, forces, experience in addition to his leadership. In light of his knowledge and experience as a war leader, Emperor Yuansheng asked him to formulate their escort formation.
Long Zaitian was promoted to his former rank after displaying his loyalty and competence in Huzhou as well as being granted the post of vice-strategist. As vice-strategist, he was trusted with mobilising their forces and had His Majesty’s authority in battle. That said, his smug fanning and lips-tug didn’t sit well with anyone.
Having been on the receiving end of his friend’s betrayal once, Emperor Yuansheng tightened security for himself, trusting Tie Hanyi and Ye Luo, who rode with him, to take care of anything he consumed and daily security checks. Tie Hanyi was as good as dishing out as taking hits, while Ye Luo was empowered with brilliant visual prowess, making them the perfect guards.
Additionally, Emperor Yuansheng had Lai Jingzhen stay beside him around the clock. Lai Jingzhen wanted to run back to Mount Zisheng, but being as crazy as he was, he had forgotten about the excuse until now. As for Dugu, he had recovered thanks to Ming Feizhen’s treatments and was responsible for sweeping out any danger that came within three metres of Emperor Yuansheng since Lai Jingzhen couldn’t replicate Dugu’s proficiency in that field.
Bai Laimu had returned to the capital under orders of His Majesty for another job.
Emperor Yuansheng gave Shen Yiren the reins to plan things because he trusted her the most among those present and happened to know the most about what was going on. Su Xiao was her only available subordinate from Liu Shan Men, and he did a praiseworthy job of waiting on her. Shen Yiren, Su Xiao and Ye Luo disguised themselves as Emperor Yuansheng’s servants to avoid arousing suspicion. As well, they had a few more girls join them.
Luo Yan and Luo Siming decided to offer Emperor Yuansheng’s escort top-quality gear that Emperor Yuansheng was very pleased with, on top of instructing a thousand men to meet up with the escort prior to entering Nanjiang.
Luo Siming, Luo Mingzhu, Ao Xue and Yeshu, the only two survivors of Mr. An’s attack on The Four Samuume Swordsmen, also joined the escort. Luo Siming and Ye Shu posed as convincing blacksmiths. Luo Mingzhu and Ao Xue played the roles of maids.
In one carriage, there were only two cells, one for Luo Ming and another for his warden, Tang Ye. The Luo siblings had no intention of raiding the escort to free their father. Emperor Yuansheng was aware they insisted on travelling with the escort for it could very well be the last time they see their father.
Emperor Yuansheng didn’t dare to probe Shen Yiren for where Ming Feizhen went off to or what for as, when she frigidly told him Ming Feizhen went back to the capital, he could hear his pulse beating in his ears and feel sweat course down the side of his face.
The rendezvous point ahead of entering Nanjiang was the last place under the Central Plain’s jurisdiction in the south – Xiuyu.
“Mm, not bad at all.” Emperor Yuansheng couldn’t hide his joy as he checked his escort again.
According to Abels, while marching through the snow wasn’t impossible for the escort, the risk of revealing their true identities would be higher than acceptable.
“Master Huang.” Long Zaitian, still giddy since his return to glory, came inside brightly. “Everyone you asked for is here.”
“Great. Come on in,” hollered Emperor Yuansheng.
At first, the villagers told Emperor Yuansheng to buzz off when he asked for the house that could house dozens of people. Thankfully, he managed to settle it with some cash, earning them a generous amount of blankets and firewood as a bonus.
The group outside stepped inside and lined up in three lines.
Stroking his beard, Emperor Yuansheng chuckled. “It’s not really anything important. The reason I called you all here is,” he placed a book from his shirt onto the table, “to create your character settings.”
Everyone’s faces: Not this again!
As someone who didn’t know the Emperor Yuansheng way of character design, Abels shrugged it off: “A wise decision. So… are you the master of the escort?”
“No, I’m not the only one who can fulfil that role.” Emperor Yuansheng drew a shiny broadsword from his belt and twanged it. Wearing a sideways “3” for a smile, he asserted, “I believe I can be a. Striking. Broadsword. Wielder.”