Chang Geng took the battle report and Gu Yun asked, “How much of the Jiangnan navy is left?”

“Hard to say,” Chang Geng scanned through the report. “Changjiao has never been out to sea, let alone fought a naval battle. Zhao Youfang’s death caused panic, and they scattered and fled. Gu Yun, do you remember the rebellion led by Prince Wei?”

Gu Yun pinched the bridge of his nose, understanding his meaning.

Back then, Prince Wei had bribed the Jiangnan naval commander and half of the navy, gathered forces on the small islands of Dongying, and coveted the capital. However, before they were fully prepared, Gu Yun and the Linyuan Pavilion had joined forces to disrupt their plans.

It was said to be “Gu Yun and the Linyuan Pavilion’s alliance,” but in reality, Gu Yun only had two or three Xuan Eagles by his side and a few half-grown kids. The Linyuan Pavilion had only brought about thirty martial artists, including Ran Ran, the useless monk who couldn’t take off his heavy armor.

Gu Yun held great power in the military. His sudden appearance had frightened the rebels, who were up to no good. But it also indirectly proved that the navy of Da Liang was indeed crippled.

They couldn’t even manage a rebellion properly.

If this had happened during the reign of Emperor Yuanhe, Gu Yun might have had a chance to intervene in the navy, just as he had reformed the northern defense army. Unfortunately, Li Feng was not like Emperor Yuanhe, who was hesitant and indecisive even when it came to killing someone. Such things were impossible during the Long’an period.

Gu Yun asked, “What about Yao Chongze? Is he dead too?”

“No mention of him. Too many people died,” Chang Geng replied.

Gu Yun sighed. “What about the ‘sea monster’? What is it?”

“They say it’s like a giant octopus, lurking in the water, rising up like a mountain, obscuring the sky. Compared to it, the giant condor is like a pigeon perched on a strong man’s shoulder. It has countless iron claws sticking to it, and it’s surrounded by thousands of small sea serpents. When it opens its tip, it can release a large group of eagle-armored soldiers…” Chang Geng paused slightly in his words. His slender fingers lightly tapped the edge of the battle report twice. “If such a thing really exists, it would burn at least four to five hundred kilograms of Ziluojin every day.”

Gu Yun glanced at him, and Chang Geng shook his head slightly. He stopped talking and concealed the latter half of the sentence. The Westerners must have paid such a high price, which probably meant they didn’t intend to engage in a prolonged war.

“After dealing with the garrison in Jiangnan, there will be no more worries at sea. The navy at Dagugang is no match for us. The next step is to advance directly to the capital,” Gu Yun took down the map from the wall. “Lao Tan, how many troops can be deployed in the capital?”

Tan Hongfei licked his chapped lips. “The Beida Camp has two thousand heavily armored soldiers, sixteen thousand light cavalry, and two thousand chariot soldiers. There are a total of eighty war chariots, each equipped with three pairs of white rainbows, with one long and one short cannon at the front and back.”

This number of troops was almost enough for a palace coup. However, for their meticulously planned decisive strike against the Westerners, it was like a drop in the bucket. Gu Yun frowned. “What about the Imperial Guards?”

“The Imperial Guards won’t work. There are less than six thousand men, and more than half of them are pampered young masters who haven’t seen blood,” Tan Hongfei paused for a moment, suddenly remembered something, and took out something from his pocket. He solemnly held it in both hands and handed it to Gu Yun. “Right, His Majesty asked me to bring this to the Commander.”

The item was wrapped in delicate palace silk. If someone didn’t know, they might have thought there were precious jewels inside. When Gu Yun opened it, however, he found a grim-looking Xuan Iron Tiger Token wrapped inside.

Gu Yun took a glance at it and forced a smile, curling the corners of his mouth. “Why give this to me now? The braised vegetables are getting cold.”

Tan Hongfei didn’t know what to say.

Gu Yun casually tossed the Xuan Iron Tiger Token to Tan Hongfei. “Alright, since His Majesty has made up his mind, you can write the deployment order according to his wishes. Recall the local garrisons in Shandong and Zhili, relieve the siege of the capital, and let Cai Min free up his forces for reinforcements… Well, start with that. If it doesn’t work, we’ll figure it out later.”

Tan Hongfei: “…”

On the other hand, Zhang Fenghan, who was old and weak, didn’t have the same tough mentality as these beasts. He had been fearful and on edge the entire way, and upon hearing the hidden meaning in Gu Yun’s words, his face turned pale. He couldn’t help but ask, “Commander, does that mean the Loyalist Army might not be able to come?”

Chang Geng replied, “If the information in the battle report is accurate, the Westerners couldn’t possibly bring too much logistical support with them. They couldn’t afford it. If they wanted a decisive strike, they would have divided their forces, with one route advancing from the sea to directly pressure the capital, and another route cutting off the land access to the capital and besieging us… It’s likely that the deployment order couldn’t be sent out.”

Zhang Fenghan almost fainted on the spot and sat down, gasping for breath.

Chang Geng didn’t expect such a strong reaction from him. He quickly poured a glass of water and brought it to Zhang Fenghan, skillfully patting a few acupoints on his back. “Stay calm. Elderly people should try not to get too excited. Otherwise, it’s easy to have a stroke…”

Zhang Fenghan grabbed his hand, tears almost streaming down his face. “My Lord, don’t you know what it means to be anxious?”

“Feng Han, calm down. I haven’t finished,” Chang Geng hurriedly said. “When my adoptive father was imprisoned, I was worried about potential changes at the border, so I contacted some friends.”

As he spoke, he took out a wooden bird from his sleeve.

“This wooden bird requires a special magnetic stone for navigation. It can be used to pass messages among people holding the magnetic stones. They received my message earlier, and by now, they should be heading to various garrisons. Hopefully, they’ll make it in time—if the capital is truly besieged, I can use the wooden bird to send messages, and they can convey them on my behalf. With the Xuan Iron Tiger Token and my adoptive father’s private seal, it should be enough to gain trust.”

When Chang Geng realized that leaving the Xuan Eagles would delay communication across the vast regions, he began using the Linyuan Pavilion to establish a large communication network to prevent any future trouble.

Tan Hongfei and Zhang Fenghan stared in astonishment at Chang Geng.

“They are just small tricks. In the rush, I couldn’t think of anything else,” Chang Geng said. “They can be useful in the beginning, catching the enemy off guard. But it won’t last long. Once the enemy becomes aware, this thing won’t be safe anymore. A small stone can easily knock it down.”

Gu Yun couldn’t express his feelings at the moment. When he was imprisoned, he had worried about Chang Geng. Now, it seemed that even if he had been the one to make the arrangements back then, he might not have done better than Chang Geng.

Not only did he manage to preserve half of the Xuan Iron Battalion, but he also left behind such a live chess move.

Amidst a mix of gratitude and relief, Gu Yun couldn’t help but feel that the young man who used to close his eyes and avoid everything in front of the Sword Puppet shouldn’t have grown up so quickly. He hadn’t taken good care of him.

But Gu Yun couldn’t express any emotions in front of others, so he simply said, “Your Highness has thought of everything.”

“Let’s go, Lao Tan. Come with me to the Beida Camp,” Gu Yun took down a wine jug hanging behind the door, glanced at the sky, and didn’t even bother to put on his armor. He picked up a cloak and walked quickly.

Chang Geng also stood up. “Adoptive father, you go ahead. I’ll accompany Zhang Fenghan back to the Ling Shu Academy to count and escort the supplies.”

The brief affection and ambiguity vanished, and the two hurriedly left.

Gu Yun and Tan Hongfei led a team of guards, galloping out of the city towards the Beida Camp.

Gu Yun had put on his cloak correctly. When they were halfway there, the continuous rumbling thunder in the sky suddenly transformed into a bright lightning bolt, striking fiercely from above. The gloomy sky tore open like a torn silk fabric, and an uncommon downpour of the pre-rain season poured down, assaulting them relentlessly.

It was pouring rain, and the wind was howling.

Tan Hongfei was nearly choked by the rainwater, forcefully shaking off the droplets on his face. He recalled that when he was reporting at Hou Mansion earlier, Huo Dan had told him that Hou Ye was ill. Unable to bear it, he rushed to Gu Yun’s side and shouted, “The rain is too heavy, General. Your illness hasn’t fully recovered. It’s better to find a place to take shelter and wait until the rain stops before continuing the journey…”

Gu Yun roared, “Look at those clouds! Who knows when they’ll clear? Stop wasting words!”

Perhaps the sudden and urgent rain came too abruptly, deviating from the usual, but Gu Yun suddenly had a sense of foreboding.

As the leader of the Xuan Iron Battalion, also known as the “Black Crow,” Gu Yun indeed had a remarkable ability to foresee events. Almost all of his ominous feelings came true without fail. He never missed his target.

Tan Hongfei estimated that the Westerners would be heading north within two to three days—too optimistic of him.

That night, on a lookout tower at Dagugang.

In front of the long-range scope, there were two palm-sized dust brushes futilely bobbing up and down in the rain. Soon, they were blown down.

The on-duty old tower soldier had no choice but to reach his hand out of the window and grope for the rusty handle by the window—The lighter inside had been broken for a long time, and nobody had bothered to fix it, so they had to use their hands. He flicked off the rainwater from his hand, complaining to his companion, “We’re both soldiers, but look at them, soaring in the sky, commanding the wind and clouds, so majestic. But us? We’re either sweeping the floor or playing cards on the tower every day. We don’t even get a drop of oil. There’s never anything interesting happening. We’re stuck here year-round, and we hardly recognize our own wives anymore… Ah, this is really damn unfair. Why is it raining so heavily? Where did this grievance come from?”

His companion, sweeping the floor without raising his head, replied, “Are you hoping for nothing to happen? Haven’t you heard what the sergeant said? If the Westerners attack, you’ll have something to do.”

“Don’t listen to the sergeant’s nonsense. When does he not talk about the Westerners for a few days each month?” the tower soldier said. “Lord Anding is still guarding the capital next door, isn’t he?”

“Lord Anding has been thrown into the prison.”

“Ah, isn’t it released again?” the old tower soldier said, as if he had grasped something, and suddenly said, “Yes, it’s strange. Didn’t they say Lord Anding rebelled and was forced into the palace? How did they release him so quickly, could it be…”

“Hush,” his companion suddenly raised his head. “Listen!”

A rumbling sound, like rolling thunder, faintly came from the wind. The lookout tower seemed to sense something and trembled.

Was it thunder?

No, thunder comes in bursts, why is it so continuous?

The old tower soldier hesitated, bent down and leaned against the long-range scope, slowly raising it.

The next moment, his blurry gaze penetrated the dark rain curtain and unexpectedly encountered a massive shadow at sea.

In a nightmare, there would never be such a ferocious monster. It raised hundreds of claws to the sky, roaring angrily.

The old tower soldier thought he was seeing things and rubbed his eyes forcefully. When he looked again, he saw that the “sea monster” was moving swiftly. It had just been a vague silhouette, but in an instant, it had advanced a considerable distance, enough for the long-range scope to see it clearly.

The dense sea serpent swarm, exuding a murderous aura, slid through the dark night like a hunting flag in the wind and rain, covering the vast ocean in shadows.

“Enemy attack…” the old tower soldier struggled to speak.

“What?”

The old tower soldier suddenly turned around and shouted, “Enemy attack! The Westerners are coming! Sound the bells and drums! Don’t stand there, go—”

The urgent drumbeat pierced through the heavy rain. The lights on the lookout towers, which were spinning leisurely, suddenly accelerated and spun wildly. Within moments, all the lookout towers in Dagugang rang with drumbeats.

The North Sea Naval Commander, Lian Wei, felt his heart racing and couldn’t close his eyes since he received news of the defeat in Jiangnan. He snatched the long-range scope from his attendant.

With just one glance, he let out a mournful cry in his heart. From his chest to his back, he felt a chill.

“What should we do, General?”

“Everyone…” Lian Wei’s throat moved, “The sea serpents advance first without notification, heavy artillery—wait, raise the iron cables, right, all sea serpents move in parallel, raise the iron chains! Form an iron barrier outside the harbor!”

“Deploy the white rainbow—”

“Notify the fishing boats and merchant ships in the harbor to evacuate immediately!”

Lian Wei looked down at the “Signal Fire Order” in his arms—it was the highest-level alert issued by the Great Liang. Once the “Signal Fire Order” was received, it meant that the entire region was on high alert.

The “Signal Fire Order” was signed with a character “Gu,” personally by Lord Anding.

When the Xuan Iron Battalion was attacked in the northern border, more than ten generals and commanders, burdened with grievances, took off their black Xuan Iron armor and put down their Wind-Cutting Blades, dispersing and retiring to various places. Lian Wei had thought that he would be trapped on the small harbor dock for the rest of his life, idly leading his men around the harbor, occasionally dealing with minor incidents of fishermen gambling and fighting… Even when he heard about the upheaval at Beida Camp due to the events of the past, he didn’t have the courage to speak out like Tan Hongfei and demand an explanation.

“Send a message to Beida Camp,” Lian Wei tightened his armor, took a deep breath, and forcefully retracted his protruding belly, “Report to Lord Anding, Dagugang has been attacked by the Western Navy, go quickly!”

Lian Wei stepped out, and as he was leaving, he remembered something. He picked up the Wind-Cutting Blade that had been gathering dust in the corner for many years, lightly stroked it, and then turned around and slung it over his shoulder.

The Wind-Cutting Blade, which had once severed the Yellow Sands, was already rusted and couldn’t even open the small compartment that contained the Purple Flowing Gold. It had become a black iron rod that pressed against the hand, with no other use except for knocking someone unconscious during a nighttime ambush.

However, as he slung it back on his shoulder, he suddenly regained the feeling of wearing the mysterious armor and overlooking everything from the past.

After years of indulgence and gaining weight, the Snow Blade and the Steel Armor were etched into his blood and bones, still faintly present.

The iron barrier formed by the linked sea serpents collided head-on with the rampaging sea monsters. They engaged in close combat, and the Western warships, like specters in the storm, were faster than the sea breeze. The frenzied waves seemed capable of engulfing the vast continent, with continuous gunfire. Numerous warships crumbled in an instant, sinking beneath the surging ocean.

“General, the iron barrier may not hold!”

“General, too many ships on the left flank are sinking, the iron cables…”

“Lookout tower—be careful!”

A cannonball, like a fiery dragon from afar, rolled over. Even the rain curtain couldn’t suppress the roaring flames. With a “boom,” it hit a lookout tower directly, causing the tall tower to stagger and bend down slowly in the air.

The wind lamp on top of the tower went out.

Lian Wei pushed aside his attendant, stepped onto the deck of a warship, and roared, “Keep the heavy artillery firing, launch the white rainbow rockets!”

“General Lian, it’s impossible to hold Dagugang…”

“Dodge!” Lian Wei pushed the soldier with the white rainbow arrow aside, shouted loudly, and hoisted the blowtorch rocket weighing over a hundred catties. He slammed it onto the white rainbow bow, wiping the rainwater off his face, and firmly gripped the white rainbow for calibration.

The first blowtorch rocket was fiercely launched into the sky by the white rainbow bow. The iron casing at the tail of the rocket fell off, and the purple flowing gold light, like an invincible dark fire, suddenly accelerated the rocket. It streaked across the sky like a shooting star, brushing against the war flag on the sea monster and falling into the nearby seawater.

The fluttering flag of the Holy See was torn apart by the tremendous impact, scattered by the wind, while the blowtorch rocket continued its momentum unabated. It hit a rampaging Western sea serpent head-on, creating a splendid fireworks display on the sea.

Lian Wei let out a long roar, his hair and beard wild.

Without the commander’s orders, the Xuan Iron Battalion would not dare to retreat.

When news of the attack on Dagugang arrived overnight, Gu Yun was in the command tent, finalizing the defense of the capital city with Tan Hongfei and the commander of the Imperial Guards, Han Qi.

Upon hearing the news, Han Qi almost jumped up and exclaimed, “How could it happen so quickly!”

Gu Yun’s face sank like water. “Who is the North Sea Naval Commander?”

“Lian Wei,” Tan Hongfei’s eyes turned slightly red. After a moment, he couldn’t help adding, “He was the deputy of the former general.”

Gu Yun’s eye twitched slightly. “Commander Han.”

Han Qi understood and said, “Yes, I will immediately return to the capital. General, rest assured, even if it’s the Young Master’s troops, the Imperial Guards will make it their final resting place only under the Imperial City walls.”

Gu Yun looked at him deeply and suddenly lifted the command tent. “Can those old men at the Ling Shu Institute be faster?”

Before the words even fell, a messenger ran over. “General, Prince Yanbei has arrived!”

Gu Yun turned around, and Long Geng’s horse had already galloped close. He grabbed the reins and said, “General, the Ling Shu Institute has finished repairing one thousand sets of Xuan Iron Heavy Armor and five hundred sets of Eagle Armor. The light fur coats couldn’t be divided into complete sets, but there are three thousand pairs of wrist buckles and four thousand pairs of iron knee guards. There’s also a batch of shoulder helmets that will be sent later—”