Feng Xin and Mu Qing behind him were both startled and exclaimed, “Your Highness!” They immediately rushed out and stood by his side.

However, the people on the entire Godly Warrior Street had already seen the white-robed young man appearing in the center of the street. The procession briefly fell into chaos but quickly reorganized. Layers upon layers of people surrounded Xie Lian, and the first person couldn’t confirm and asked tentatively, “Are you… Are you Crown Prince Your Highness?”

The second person hesitated, “Didn’t they say that the Crown Prince ascended and was no longer a mortal? How could he appear here?”

The third person exclaimed loudly, “It’s him! I saw him with my own eyes three years ago during the Lantern Festival when he ascended to the heavens. It’s Crown Prince Your Highness!”

More and more people recognized the war god they had worshiped day and night, and Xie Lian said slowly, “It’s me. I have returned.”

And then, people went wild.

“A heavenly deity descended! This is the living incarnation of a heavenly deity!”

“A celestial being has come to the mortal realm!”

“He must have come down because he couldn’t bear to see us being oppressed by those thieves any longer!”

Immediately, someone hopeful asked, “Crown Prince Your Highness, will you lead us to defeat the Yong’an people? You will, won’t you? It must be so!”

After a brief pause, Xie Lian calmly said, “I have returned to protect Xian Le, to protect my people.”

Wind Xin and Mu Qing, hearing these words, couldn’t be sure of their meaning. However, the passionate citizens understood the meaning of those words in their own wishful thinking. Xie Lian had his own considerations, his heartbeat growing stronger. He clenched his fist and said, “Believe in me!”

He continued, “Your faith will give me greater strength. With this power, I will protect Xian Le and its people with my life. Please believe in me!”

The people had been waiting for this moment, for this kind of assurance. They immediately cheered enthusiastically and one by one, bowed down to the center where the Crown Prince stood, saying, “We will follow you to the death! We will follow Your Highness!”

“Defend Xian Le!”

Upon hearing the news of the “heavenly deity descending,” the people from all over the capital poured out onto the streets and alleys just to catch a glimpse of this rare miracle. Even the imperial guards who rushed over didn’t dare to act rashly and joined in the act of worship. The three of them were caught in the middle of the street, struggling to maintain order. Wind Xin and Mu Qing shouted, “Don’t push, don’t push!”

However, their efforts were in vain as everyone wanted to get as close as possible to the Crown Prince, to touch the hem of the divine person who had descended from the heavens, as if they themselves were being illuminated. In the end, the monarch was alerted within the palace and sent several generals with fully armed soldiers to drive away the fervent crowd.

After everyone dispersed, Xie Lian saw something on the ground amidst the footprints and rising dust. He walked over and picked it up.

It was a flower. Trampled by many, it had almost turned into the color of mud. Only a few remaining petals hinted at its original purity.

The faint fragrance had dissipated in no time, not as before.

After realizing certain things, Xie Lian’s attitude toward the monarch softened when he returned to the palace. In turn, the monarch’s demeanor towards him also eased. The father and son compromised for the time being, reaching a temporary peace. The national teacher seemed to have anticipated Xie Lian’s arrival and said nothing.

Xie Lian used to think that when the nation was united and faced with a major crisis, everyone would follow the monarch as a matter of course. However, when he actually sat down to participate, he personally experienced how many troubles the monarch had to face. Even the officials who were supposed to be loyal to the regime were divided into numerous factions, each with its own plans. They could endlessly debate how to make decisions on important matters for seven days. Each faction claimed to act for the nation and the people, but their true thoughts might not necessarily align with that.

Regarding the Yong’an people who were stationed outside the city and intended to contest Xian Le’s authority, their opinions were still far from unified. Some advocated for direct military action, fabricating charges as needed, while others disagreed.

The Yong’an uprising began with natural disasters and escalated due to human calamities. The tragic deaths of a family of three at the entrance of the imperial city were truly a terrible catalyst. If it weren’t for the general who had cut the rope, and had his neck snapped by Lang Yin’s bare hands, he would have faced severe punishment upon his return. To put it bluntly, no matter how complex the underlying reasons were, on the surface, it appeared to be an uprising against the officials. At this point, the situation had become tumultuous, and forcing accusations would only further provoke resentment. No matter what reasons were concocted, they couldn’t hide the truth from the people. If troops were sent to suppress the uprising, it would blatantly expose the unjust ruler, making it difficult to claim righteousness and justice. Guard against the people’s mouths more than guarding against the river. Once they gained a reputation for brutality, not only would they fail to win the people’s loyalty, but neighboring countries might take advantage of the situation, claiming to be righteous while causing trouble. On the other hand, what did the Yong’an people have to fear? They were holed up in the mountains and wilderness, without food or weapons. How long could they cause trouble?

Therefore, the prevailing view was to adopt the latter approach: if the Yong’an people dared to attack, they would be killed each time they did so. If they didn’t attack, they would be left to their own devices, and Xian Le wouldn’t have to waste a single soldier or expend any effort. That would deplete them completely.

As the God of War, Xie Lian, in his incarnation, naturally had to play a role on the battlefield. Thus, the military vigorously promoted the idea: with the Crown Prince on their side, they represented justice, and any army with the Crown Prince was a divine legion!

Within a short period of time, a large number of young men enthusiastically joined the military, and the number of Xian Le’s army doubled within a few months. The commotion was so significant that it seemed the Yong’an side had also received the news. Previously, they had been quite active, moving in small groups. However, suddenly, there was silence as if they were cautious and gathering strength in secret. This made the soldiers on Xian Le’s side quite nervous, and they spared no effort to describe how terrifying Lang Yin was, the one who always charged at the forefront. Whenever he heard that name and recalled the sight of the child’s corpse that day, Xie Lian couldn’t help but feel a complex mix of emotions.

Two months later, after a period of apparent calm, the Yong’an people finally launched another attack.

This time, Xie Lian went into battle with only a lightweight sword and without wearing armor. The battle ended in less than half an hour.

Amidst the pervasive scent of blood, the remaining Yong’an warriors discarded their helmets and armor, fleeing in a frenzy. The soldiers of Xian Le hadn’t even fully reacted when they saw fallen figures all around them, and there wasn’t a single enemy left standing. As for their Crown Prince, he sheathed his sword calmly, not even dirtying a corner of his clothes.

After a while, they confirmed their overwhelming victory and jumped up, raising their swords to the sky, cheering to their heart’s content.

That night, the soldiers of Xian Le held a celebration feast on the city wall.

The soldiers hadn’t felt so triumphant in a long time. They cheered and rejoiced, toasting in praise of the Crown Prince. However, Xie Lian declined all the alcohol and went alone to a corner of the city wall to sober up in the night breeze.

Even though he hadn’t taken a sip, he could feel his face burning, flushed, and his fingertips trembling.

This was the first time Xie Lian had taken a life. His very first time, he had killed thousands.

Ants.

These two words kept repeating in his mind. Before his power, mortals were powerless, and not a single person could withstand his gentle grasp. Taking someone’s life was so effortlessly easy, just like how the palace maids had stepped on those ants, making him feel as though he was losing his sense of awe between each swing of his sword.

Leaning against the female wall, Xie Lian took a few deep breaths, shook his head to dispel the noise, and gazed absentmindedly at the flickering lights in the distant mountain valleys. Before long, two sets of footsteps approached.

Without turning around, he already knew who it was. Xie Lian said, “Don’t you two want to go celebrate with some drinks?”

Mu Qing snorted, “What’s there to drink? The situation doesn’t look optimistic.”

Upon hearing this, Xie Lian turned around and said, “Have you both also noticed?”

Indeed, things were not looking too optimistic. Although they had won this battle, in reality, the attack was stronger than any previous one by the Yong’an people.

Not only did their numbers increase, but their formations, weapons, and tactics had all made a qualitative leap. Some of them even wore armor, albeit crude and shabby, yet they had already formed a sizable regular army. It was hard to imagine that this was still a group of grassroots individuals.

Mu Qing crossed his arms and furrowed his brow. “Such extreme hardships can indeed accelerate growth. But no matter how difficult the situation is, it won’t magically produce resources. Something is not right.”

Feng Xin, speaking more directly and succinctly, said, “They must have received external assistance.”

Xie Lian nodded. Mu Qing said, “I don’t believe that none of these soldiers have noticed. But they still celebrated as usual, simply because you are here. They feel certain of victory.”

Xie Lian didn’t find anything wrong with that and said, “I won the first battle I fought after coming here. It’s good for them to celebrate and boost morale.”

Feng Xin hesitated for a moment and said, “Your Highness, you don’t look well. Are you still suffering from the drought in Yong’an?”

Xie Lian replied, “Mmm.”

Mu Qing, with a face that showed no surprise, disapproved and said, “Forgive me for being blunt, but there’s no use in bringing rain now. It’s like pouring water into an endless pit. Your Highness, even if the drought in Yong’an were completely resolved, these people outside the city probably wouldn’t retreat.”

Xie Lian said, “I know. But my intention in bringing rain is not to make these people retreat. It’s simply to prevent those who are still in Yong’an from dying of thirst. That was my original goal, and it won’t change because of anything.”

Feng Xin still had concerns and asked, “Can you handle it?”

Xie Lian patted his shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, I have the Eight Thousand Palaces and enough believers. It’s not a problem. However…”

He reached out his other hand and pulled Mu Qing closer, sighing, “I’m grateful to both of you for accompanying me and helping me today.”

On the battlefield today, his two attendants had suffered more than he had, covered in blood. Feng Xin said, “No need to mention it again.” Mu Qing simply made a vague sound of agreement.

Xie Lian exerted a little force with his hand, bringing the three of them closer together, and sincerely said, “Not just today, but always, thank you both. I hope that the image of the three of us fighting side by side can leave a lasting legacy.”

In a short while, Feng Xin burst into laughter. Mu Qing, however, said incredulously, “I’ve noticed that you always manage to say some… ridiculous things with such self-assurance. It’s truly…” He shook his head and said, “Forget it.”

Xie Lian’s lips finally curved up slightly. He hadn’t laughed for long when suddenly his expression froze, and he exclaimed, “Who?!”

“Clang!” Xie Lian drew his long sword from its sheath. With a slight flick, he lifted a figure out from the corner of the female wall.

This person had been hiding in the corner for a long time, holding their breath and concentrating. They had managed to go unnoticed all this time. Xie Lian had only intended to scare the person by lifting them up with the tip of his sword. But today, after killing so fiercely on the battlefield, his arm was trembling slightly, and he miscalculated his strength. The flick was unstable, and he exerted too much force, directly throwing the person off the wall.

Under the moonlight, suspended in mid-air, all three of them could see that the person was wearing the uniform of their own soldiers and appeared to be a young teenager of fifteen or sixteen. In an instant, they fell and disappeared without a trace. Seeing that the person was about to fall to the bottom of the city wall, Xie Lian realized it was dangerous and leaped out.

He hooked his toe onto the edge of the female wall, his body hanging upside down, and swiftly reached out his hand to grab the person’s arm just in time. The young soldier’s entire body dangled in mid-air, swaying back and forth. He looked up, and under the faint moonlight, Xie Lian could see his face, causing his eyes to widen slightly.