Due to a Western envoy causing a commotion during the morning court, people were left dizzy and overwhelmed. After the court session, Chang Geng ignored the crowd of people trying to pry information from him, and he assisted the aging Feng Han Gong out of the palace.

The people in the capital were filled with anxiety, and carriages and horses were scarce. Normally, Gu Yun would have Huo Han wait outside the palace with his horse, but for some reason, Huo Han was nowhere to be seen.

At first, Chang Geng didn’t pay much attention to it. He walked back slowly, side by side with the old dean of the Ling Shu Academy.

Feng Han Gong resided in the Ling Shu Academy all day long, and his eyes had sunken in, making him look like a withered radish, with only a pair of gleaming eyes that seemed particularly sharp.

“I apologize for Your Highness’s patience in accompanying old men like us who have poor legs and feet,” Feng Han Gong sighed. “Is there any news about the reinforcements? When will they arrive?”

Chang Geng replied, “The chaos in the Four Realms has hindered the five major military regions. You know what the local garrisons are like. In recent years, the military funds and Purple Stream Gold quotas in various states have been repeatedly reduced. They can barely afford a few heavily armed troops. They are all lightly equipped. Light equipment is indeed fast and agile, easy to maneuver, but it is also prone to being blocked. Once the enemy sets up heavy armor or war chariots along the route, if the commander lacks experience, it is easy for the troops to be surrounded by the enemy. Even the Westerners don’t need to send many troops.”

Feng Han Gong self-deprecatingly shook his head and said, “The Ling Shu Academy hasn’t produced anything decent for several years. This useless old man was planning to retire after the New Year, but unexpectedly, we encountered a national crisis. I’m afraid I won’t have a peaceful end.”

Chang Geng spoke warmly, “Feng Han Gong, your contributions will last for generations. Don’t belittle yourself.”

“After the generations… will there still be Daliang?” Feng Han Gong muttered, his lips thinning. “I thought that once I entered the Ling Shu Academy, I could shut out everything happening outside and spend my whole life dealing with ignition mechanisms and steel armor. But it turns out that this world is bustling with activity. Even if the gentlemen and villains go their separate ways, they always manage to collide. The more you want to stay out of everything and do something unique, the less you accomplish… even if you just want to be a minor inventor.”

Chang Geng knew that Feng Han Gong was just expressing his feelings and didn’t expect an answer. He smiled and remained silent.

The current situation in Daliang had reached this point not only due to the accumulated contradictions between imperial power and military power but also because the chronic illness in the national treasury, which grew increasingly meager year by year, had already determined this bleak ending.

Feng Han Gong asked in a lowered voice, “The forbidden sky net around Qiyuan Tower is being adjusted every day. Those Westerners only dare to use their troops and vehicles, but they don’t dare to send out a large number of Eagle Armors. However, the power within the forbidden sky net is still limited. I heard that the Westerners are flying kites outside the city using strings, and it’s feared that the reserve of iron arrows in the forbidden net will soon be exhausted. What should we do then? Does General Gu have a plan?”

The remaining Xuan Eagles in the Northern Army, even counting those with missing limbs, totaled less than a hundred. Once the forbidden sky net became ineffective, it was feared that the city would be breached.

Chang Geng replied, “Hmm, he knows, and he’s working on it.”

Concerned, Feng Han Gong couldn’t help but feel helpless. He didn’t know whether to say that Prince Yanbei was “a hero emerging from his youth” or that he lacked foresight. Even if the sky were falling in front of him, the young prince would still have an indifferent attitude, as if it had nothing to do with him.

Feng Han Gong deliberately lowered his voice and said, “Did His Highness see General Han, the commander of the Imperial Forest Army, missing during the court session today? There are rumors in the court that the Emperor, on the surface, berated the Western envoy but is actually planning to relocate the capital.”

Chang Geng smiled, his expression unchanged. “The Emperor won’t do that. We haven’t reached a dead end yet. I saw the carriage from the Ling Shu Academy. Let me assist you up… Huh, Hobo has arrived?”

Huo Han hurriedly approached with an uneasy expression on his face. He stood in front of Chang Geng and said, “Master, I apologize for my late arrival today.”

“It’s fine,” Chang Geng waved his hand. “Hobo, what delayed you today?”

“…,” Huo Han cautiously glanced at his expression and said, “Lord Hou was injured by a Western arrow last night. I only found out this morning, and I just came from there… Ah, Master!”

In the shocked gazes of Huo Han and Feng Han Gong, Chang Geng’s face suddenly changed, and he leaped onto his horse like a gust of wind, disappearing in an instant.

The smell of gunpowder in front of the Nine Gates had not yet dissipated, and the Western Army withdrew only after daybreak. Gu Yun had a moment to catch his breath.

The shoulder armor of Xuan Iron had caved in, and the arrow had been pulled out. Two military physicians surrounded Gu Yun, holding forceps and scissors, carefully prying down his deformed shoulder armor. Inside, his clothes and flesh were mixed together.

In a hurry, Chang Geng burst in. His gaze fell briefly on Gu Yun before he couldn’t help but look away. His expression was even uglier than the injured person’s.

“Hiss…” Gu Yun took a sharp breath. “Can you two hurry up and get it over with? What’s with the embroidery—how is it?”

Chang Geng didn’t respond. He took a deep breath, stepped forward, dismissed the two military physicians, and bent down to carefully examine the armor piece that couldn’t be removed from Gu Yun’s body. He took out a small pair of iron pliers from his pocket, grasped Gu Yun’s shoulder tightly, and cut from the other side. His movements were swift, and the sharp pliers easily cut through the deformed shoulder armor, causing blood to immediately stick to his hand.

Chang Geng’s cheeks tightened, and for a moment, he seemed unable to catch his breath. He whispered, “Why didn’t you tell me it was this bad?”

Suppressing the pain that had just shown on his face, Gu Yun gritted his teeth and said, “It’s a minor matter—what did the Western envoy say during the court session?”

“What can he say? He spouted nonsense in the Golden Hall,” Chang Geng moved his somewhat unstable fingers and removed the broken armor piece stuck to Gu Yun’s body, stained with blood. “He demanded that we stop ‘persecuting and plundering’ the Western regions, cede the territory beyond Jiayuguan for the establishment of an international commercial district, where their domestic laws would be enforced. And…”

The deformed shoulder armor was completely removed, and Chang Geng stared fiercely at Gu Yun’s wound. He took a deep breath, barely straightened his body, and paused for a moment.

“And what?” Gu Yun shivered, cold sweat pouring down. “Doctor, why are you feeling dizzy?”

Chang Geng stiffened like an iron rod. “I’m not dizzy because of your blood.”

He snatched Gu Yun’s wine flask, took two gulps forcefully, and felt dizzy and nauseous. After forcing himself to breathe for a moment, Chang Geng picked up the scissors beside him and cut open Gu Yun’s bloodstained clothes, revealing the flesh beneath.

“Furthermore, they are pressuring Li Feng to order the withdrawal of the Southern Frontier Garrison occupying the islands of Nanyang, dividing the East Sea Canal into internal and external rivers, and relocating the Jiangnan Navy to the interior while assigning the area outside the river and along the East Sea to the Western Far East region.” Chang Geng’s gaze grew heavy, but his touch was surprisingly gentle as he cleaned Gu Yun’s wound. He paused for a moment and continued, “There are also reparations…”

Gu Yun remained silent, his muscles tensed.

“During the morning court, Li Feng wanted to execute the envoy, but was dissuaded by his officials,” Chang Geng held onto Gu Yun’s uninjured shoulder. “I need to clean the wound, adoptive father. Can I temporarily block your senses?”

Gu Yun shook his head.

Chang Geng persuaded him gently, “I’ll only use a little medicine. You have a strong resistance, so you won’t sleep for long. If there are any changes in the outer city, I’ll guard for you…”

“Just clean it,” Gu Yun interrupted him. “No more nonsense.”

Chang Geng glanced at him, realizing that reasoning with this person was useless.

Just then, Tan Hongfei rushed in and said, “Commander…”

As soon as Gu Yun turned his head, he caught a whiff of a strange fragrance and involuntarily took a breath, immediately feeling weak all over.

The wise and martial Prince An Ding never expected that His Highness the Crown Prince would resort to such low-level tricks, and he used them on himself!

Gu Yun said, “You…”

Chang Geng, without changing his expression, swiftly inserted fine needles into his acupoints, then caught Gu Yun’s unconscious body.

Tan Hongfei stood stunned at the door, gaping at the scene. He and the Crown Prince stared at each other wide-eyed.

Chang Geng made a hushing gesture without changing his expression, placed Gu Yun flat on the ground, and began to carefully clean his wound.

Tan Hongfei blinked—he had long believed that Prince Yanbei was like a gentle scholar, but later discovered that he was both capable and shrewd. He felt a deep sense of closeness towards him… until this moment, when Commander Tan realized a profound admiration for him.

Subconsciously, Tan Hongfei reached up and touched his face—the scar left by Gu Yun’s strike hadn’t faded yet—and thought, “The Prince has such boldness.”

Chang Geng asked, “What’s the matter?”

Only then did Tan Hongfei regain his senses and hurriedly said, “Commander, the Emperor has arrived. The royal carriage is right behind. Take a look…”

As he spoke, a weary-looking Li Feng appeared in court attire, accompanied by a eunuch named Zhu Xiaojiao. Li Feng lowered his head to look at the unconscious Gu Yun and reached out to touch his forehead. “Is the Prince alright?”

“Skin-deep wound.” Chang Geng bandaged the wound and draped a thin outer garment over Gu Yun. He tidied his silver needles. “I just used some anesthetic on him. He won’t wake up for a while, Your Majesty, please don’t be offended.”

After finishing his words, Chang Geng stood up, picked up Gu Yun’s Wind-Cutting Blade, and without wearing armor, turned to leave.

Li Feng hurriedly asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I’ll guard the city for my adoptive father,” Chang Geng said. “Although the envoy is in the capital, it might be a maze set by the Westerners. They may attack the city when we relax our vigilance. It’s better to be cautious.”

Li Feng stood in place, stunned for a moment. Then he grabbed a sword and followed Chang Geng outside. Zhu Xiaojiao was greatly alarmed. “Your Majesty!”

Ignoring him, Li Feng ascended the city walls.

Using his Thousand-Mile Eyes, Emperor Long’an saw the Western army’s camp not far away. The fertile land of the suburbs was now a scene of devastation. The bustling Nine Gates of the capital, where carriages flowed like water and horses galloped like dragons, was desolate. The partially collapsed city wall was held up by discarded Xuantie armor, barely standing and unyielding.

The ordinary soldiers of the Northern Garrison recognized Chang Geng and approached him to pay respects. However, they didn’t recognize Li Feng. Seeing his refined attire and extraordinary bearing, they took him for a civil official and addressed him ambiguously as “Sir.”

Li Feng and Chang Geng, the two brothers with strained relations, stood side by side on the city wall. From their appearance to their physique, there was no resemblance whatsoever. Their blood ties seemed as thin as a sheet of window paper that could be pierced with a finger.

Li Feng suddenly said to Chang Geng, “Han Qi should return this afternoon. Pass a message to my adoptive uncle, asking him to arrange for reliable people to meet him.”

Without asking further, Chang Geng, seemingly uninterested, casually responded, “Alright.”

Li Feng asked, “Don’t you want to know where I sent Han Qi?”

Chang Geng lowered his eyes slightly, gazing at the bricks on the city wall. After a moment of silence, he said, “Recently, I’ve been managing the flow of Ziliu gold and military supplies in the Ministry of Revenue. I discovered some anomalies in the past few years… but it’s probably part of your arrangements, Your Majesty.”

Emperor Long’an immediately understood that Chang Geng had already noticed the small amount of Ziliu gold he had secretly stored.

Li Feng felt somewhat embarrassed and said, “Um, there’s a secret passage inside De Sheng Gate that leads to Jinghua Garden. I ordered Han Qi to lead the troops out from there, open the private treasury in Jinghua Garden, and inside… cough, I haven’t had time to distribute it yet—there are 160,000 jin of Ziliu gold. Don’t spread the word; the court is unstable at the moment, and if news of the secret passage gets out, it might unsettle people.”

Chang Geng nodded, not particularly surprised. Li Feng was laying all his cards on the table.

As the Emperor, it was impossible for Emperor Long’an to yield and submit to anyone. He would rather perish beneath the Nine Gates.

Once he fell silent, there was nothing left to say between them. In fact, apart from the usual polite pleasantries regarding court affairs and greetings, the Li brothers had little to talk about.

Li Feng asked, “How long have you known my adoptive uncle?”

“Twelve years,” Chang Geng replied.

Li Feng made a sound of acknowledgement and said, “He didn’t start a family and has been leading troops in the northwest for a long time. I suppose he didn’t take good care of you?”

Chang Geng’s gaze fluctuated slightly. “No, he takes good care of me.”

Li Feng narrowed his eyes, gazing at the distant sky. He remembered that he had once had a close relationship with Gu Yun. When he was a child, he occasionally envied how his father treated Gu Yun better and more tenderly. But most of the time, he felt that although this little uncle didn’t often play with them, he was a good person.

He had thought that this bond of childhood friendship would last a lifetime.

But in just a dozen years, things had turned out like this.

“Amin,” Li Feng spoke up, “if the city falls, I will pass the throne to you. Lead the palace and officials through the secret passage to relocate to Luoyang… and take it slowly from there. There will come a day when we can regain power.”

Chang Geng finally looked at him.

“If that day truly comes,” Emperor Long’an spoke with a calm gaze fixed on the distance, “you don’t need to return the throne to the Crown Prince. Just ensure a safe place for your nephews.”

Chang Geng didn’t respond. After a moment, he indifferently said, “Your Majesty, you’re overthinking. It hasn’t reached that point.”

Li Feng looked at his younger brother, vaguely recalling the words he had heard from their mother’s mouth long ago.

She had said that the women from the northern barbarians were all monsters, skilled in manipulating poisons and bewitching people’s hearts. The children born from them would also taint the imperial bloodline of Da Liang.

Later, the Marquis of An Ding brought this Fourth Prince, who had wandered among the commoners for many years, back to the palace, fulfilling the late emperor’s wish and showing his benevolence. Li Feng let him stay, adding another duty to the Internal Affairs Office. He didn’t pay much attention to him in normal times.

But only at this moment did Emperor Long’an realize that he couldn’t see through this young man.

In the face of national crisis and formidable enemies, he remained unchanged. Even the honorifics of a sovereign couldn’t stir his heart. The clothes he wore seemed to be from last year, with the cuffs worn thin but never changed.

He was more unpredictable than the infatuated Grandmaster De Chong, seemingly immune to everything, as if there was nothing in this world that could move him.

Li Feng opened his mouth, but at this moment, Zhu Xiaojiao quietly reminded him, “Your Majesty, it’s time to return to the palace.”

Li Feng snapped back to his senses, handed his sword to a nearby soldier, patted Chang Geng’s shoulder without saying a word, took a glance at the young man’s tall figure, and turned to leave.

After Li Feng left, a disheveled monk ascended the city wall—it was Liao Ran.

The monks from the Hu Guo Temple had all retreated into the city. He followed the abbot and spent the days reciting sutras and praying for the nation’s fortune, while secretly using informants to investigate the people around Li Feng.

Chang Geng glanced at him.

Liao Ran shook his head, gesturing, “I investigated thoroughly, and the people around His Majesty have clean backgrounds. There were no close relationships with the witches of the Eighteen Tribes and their subordinates back then.”

Chang Geng said, “His Majesty is naturally suspicious and not good at hiding things. We have repeatedly leaked information from our side, so the mole must be someone close to him. Have you investigated Zhu Gonggong?”

Liao Ran solemnly shook his head—investigated, no problem.

Chang Geng furrowed his brows slightly.

At this moment, Gu Yun, who had been incapacitated by Chang Geng’s needles and medicine, finally woke up. He had been sleeping without knowing the passing of time until he felt the dull pain in his shoulder wound, which made him realize something had happened.

Gu Yun got up, put on his clothes, and prepared to find Chang Geng to settle the score.

But as soon as he stepped out, he heard a loud noise in the distance, causing the entire capital to shake. Gu Yun grabbed onto the city wall and wondered, “An earthquake?”

Chang Geng on the city tower suddenly turned his head. A trace of gloom flashed in his expression. He had always thought that the palace spy was someone among the palace servants close to Li Feng. With Li Feng’s cautious and suspicious nature, how could he have revealed the matter of Jinghua Garden to his servants?

Gu Yun asked, “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Chang Geng quickly descended the tower. “Li Feng just came and said that he had ordered Han Qi to depart through the secret passage and retrieve the Ziliu gold from Jinghua Garden… Is that in the direction of the western suburbs?”

Gu Yun was instantly alert.

On this 9th day of the 5th month, the secret of Jinghua Garden had been revealed. The Westerners’ peace talks were indeed a cover, but instead of launching an attack on the city, they sent troops to flank the western outskirts and ambush Han Qi on the way.

After Han Qi struggled on the brink of death, he finally couldn’t hold on any longer. Making a decisive decision, he set fire to the 100,000 jin of Ziliu gold, directly blasting the entrance of the secret passage into ashes. The unquenchable flames of Ziliu gold, like infernal flames rising from the underground, devoured the Ziliu gold escort of the Imperial Guards, caught the Westerners off guard, and engulfed the picturesque scenery of Jinghua Garden, turning all the pavilions and buildings into ashes. The special purple aura, like an auspicious sign, illuminated half of the sky, as if a vivid and radiant splash of ink flowed down from the heavens—

The heart of the earth was burning, and the entire capital trembled.

The scorching flow extended for dozens of miles, slowly streaming into the Nine Gates as if entering solid rocks. The summer air in the capital, which was still relatively cool, suddenly became as hot as a furnace in South Yang.

The faint scent of Ziliu gold, initially subtle and indistinguishable, now permeated with the east wind. Everyone finally tasted that unique fragrance—it was a fragrance that defied description.

As if the scent of pine resin mixed with a hint of vegetation.

All the remaining heavy armor was mobilized by Gu Yun, and the bowstrings of the white arc were drawn taut.

As he expected, the Western forces also made their move at this moment.

Gu Yun didn’t know how many Western soldiers were consumed by that blaze, nor did he know how long the Pope could hold on under such intense losses. After besieging the city for many days, both sides had reached their limits.

Just past the hour, the first wave of insane attacks began. Heavy armor and chariots alternated, artillery fire and white arcs surged continuously, and there was hardly any gap in the intense exchange of fire between the two sides.