Half an hour later, Shen Yi excused himself, saying he had something to attend to in the Northern Camp and wouldn’t be dining at home. This left Shen’s father as the only idle dandy in the house. He spent his days either reciting scriptures or tending to his birds. Shen’s father didn’t feel it appropriate to have the widow and orphan of his own brother eat with them, so Madam San and her son took their leave.

As soon as the mother and son reached the doorstep, the gatekeeper-like myna bird at Shen Manor started speaking again. It flapped its wings and squawked, “Bitch and lazy dog, mangy dog.”

Shen Hui’s face turned black on the spot, while Shen Yi, who was seeing them off while pinching his nose, gave a suppressed smile.

Originally, he thought that this foul-mouthed bird was dirty and annoying, and he had thought about plucking its feathers and stewing it. Unexpectedly, it could also charge into battle against external enemies. He felt greatly relieved and decided to treat the bird to some good rice wine as a reward another day.

However, on the surface, Shen Yi explained, “This animal hangs around at the gate all day, amusing anyone who sees it. It has learned some vulgar language from the streets. Don’t let my brother be influenced by such an animal.”

Shen Hui, a prodigal son depleted by wine and women, didn’t dare to provoke the Western Frontier Commander and could only force a painful smile before making a hasty retreat.

Shen Yi watched the mother and son depart, and only then did his expression darken. He stood at the entrance for a moment, reached out to touch the myna bird’s tail, and muttered to himself, “Have you ever heard of poor families selling their children for food, or someone coming to the General’s residence to buy the General?”

The myna bird, indiscriminate in its insults, turned its head and gave him a peck, spitting, “Pah, foolish animal! I hope you don’t trip over your own trousers!”

Shen Yi: “…”

Perhaps stewing it was still a good idea.

He laughed self-deprecatingly and walked back. He saw Shen’s father, dressed in a dignified manner, waving to him from a distance with a cane. “Ji Ping, come here. I have something to discuss with you.”

Shen Yi had held back his temper in front of outsiders earlier, but now he walked over with a face that was neither a nose nor an eye. He said to Shen’s father, “The Lu family is a prestigious household where imperial concubines are born. I can’t afford to marry them. If you want to marry, marry them yourself—don’t talk about some favor from Uncle San. Even if I wanted to repay a favor, I wouldn’t directly offer myself as a gift.”

Shen’s father fell silent for a moment and said slowly, “You used to despise cats and dogs since childhood. Your father never expected that one day you would be willing to sell yourself for a high price. Truly, how honorable.”

“…” Shen Yi was speechless for a moment and angrily said, “You don’t understand anything, old man. Just go walk your birds and mind your own business!”

“Although I’m almost out of breath due to my old age, I still have some knowledge of the outside world,” Shen’s father said calmly, “Since the reign of Emperor Wu, our dynasty has been particularly wary of private exchanges between civil and military officials. The great generals who hold military power marrying princesses is something I have heard of, but marrying these prestigious and noble young ladies is rare. Not to mention you, even General Gu in those years… Wasn’t he engaged and yet died before the wedding?”

He spoke like he was singing an opera, dragging out his words with a lingering tone. Shen Yi’s eyelids twitched, feeling that there was a deep meaning behind his elongated tones.

Ignoring him, Shen’s father shook his head and sighed, “Since the siege of the capital, the Emperor was forced to return the Xuantie Tiger Token to General Gu. In the current world, there are more and more people who disregard the Emperor’s authority. The deer has already descended upon the Central Plains, and I fear the chaotic times are about to begin…”

Why did he bring up Gu Yun?

Shen Yi took a moment to process it. After contemplating for a long while, he finally grasped a hint of meaning. Since the Westerners surrounded the city, Li Feng first had to hand over his military power to Gu Yun, and then the Westerners burned down Jingxi’s Jinghua Garden and the centuries-old royal treasure, the Ziliujin… And now, with the unresolved crisis in the Four Realms, the weakness of Emperor Long’an was gradually seeping out. It seemed that Li Feng himself was aware of it; otherwise, with his stubborn temperament, how could he actively repair the awkward relationship with Gu Yun?

Shen’s father continued to chant, “Yesterday, I observed the stars and saw the Greedy Wolf seizing the Purple Wei light. The star dust in all directions grew dim, and people’s hearts were as restless as wild grass. And now, the deer has already descended upon the Central Plains. I fear that an era of chaos is about to begin…”

Shen Yi: “Father, wasn’t it cloudy last night?”

“You ignorant child,” Shen’s father didn’t even look at him, “Let me ask you, who is currently the Commander of the Imperial Guards?”

Shen Yi was stunned for a moment—there were many young lords in the Imperial Guards, but according to convention, although they also had to accumulate experience and rely on their family background, the highest-ranking leader was usually transferred from the Northern Camp, someone with military achievements.

However, during the siege of the capital, more than half of the elite Imperial Guards and their former commander, Han Qi, perished in Jingxi. Their “home” in the Northern Camp was also nearly wiped out, and the defenders of the capital suffered heavy losses. The talent pool had withered. The remaining majority of the Imperial Guards were mostly young masters who had been looked down upon by Han Qi and had stayed near the imperial palace as mere show. After this battle, these young masters had gained military achievements, and their positions rose accordingly. The highest commander, who had not yet undergone training in the Northern Camp, was Liu Chongshan, a former lieutenant under Han Qi and the younger brother of Lu Chang’s sister-in-law.

Shen Yi pondered in his heart for a long time before finally untangling this complex relationship. His heart turned cold, and he took two quick steps forward, suppressing his voice as he spoke to Shen’s father, “Father, experience counts for something. Can you give me some guidance? Gu Yun just left, and the Lu family has already made their move. What are they thinking?”

Shen’s father tapped his rosewood cane on the ground and mumbled, “I knew you only understand birdwatching. You know nothing. Hasn’t your wings hardened? What guidance do you need?”

Shen Yi, who had been oppressed by Gu Yun every day, had already developed the temperament of a flexible man who could bend and stretch. He treated the cold words entering his ears as if he hadn’t heard them. He furrowed his brow for a moment and lowered his voice to ask, “Could it be that a mere Deputy Minister dares to…”

“A mere Deputy Minister?” Shen’s father glanced at him and sneered, “The Grand Marshal, the Fang family’s eminent tutor, the Lu family’s in-law alliance—crushing you, a village bumpkin leading troops in a remote area, would be as easy as flipping my hand. Do you believe it or not?”

“I don’t believe it. Throughout history, there have been many weak emperors, but have you ever seen any of them constantly thinking about rebellion? This violates the principles and norms…” Shen Yi’s voice trailed off.

“Principles and norms? The Yanwang has already gone to Jiangnan. The Lu family must have encountered major trouble. If it weren’t for that, they would be facing extermination! Is the current emperor a weakling? Will he allow himself to be oppressed and restrained?” Shen’s father spoke, then fiercely struck Shen Yi’s left leg with his cane. “Going this way is a dead end!”

Shen Yi instinctively leaned his body to the right, avoiding the blow, but Shen’s father swung the cane again, striking his right leg solidly. “Going that way, after breaking free from a glimmer of hope, if you dare to act on your thoughts, where will you step?”

Shen Yi furrowed his brows deeply. “They want to use the Yanwang…”

The thought was somewhat alarming. The Imperial Guards had always been trusted by the Emperor. If the Emperor’s trusted men turned against him without any precautions, the Northern Camp, which couldn’t come to their rescue in time without being summoned, would be too late.

And if the Yanwang compromised and was unexpectedly pushed onto the throne, what would happen to Gu Yun?

Would he tolerate these usurpers due to his personal feelings? Based on Shen Yi’s understanding of him, Gu Yun would definitely not.

However, with external enemies lurking and half the territory lost, if Li Feng were to die, would Gu Yun, in such a critical moment, wage war against the Yanwang and hand power over to the eight-year-old Crown Prince?

Shen Yi realized that he couldn’t make any guarantees.

…But regardless of what choice Gu Yun made, whether it was out of father-son affection, friendship, or the indescribable affection between them, it seemed that it would all come to an end.

Shen Yi’s thoughts raced… No, if he could think of it, couldn’t the Yanwang think of it too? As long as he valued Gu Yun so much, the Yanwang would never…

Shen’s father interrupted him, saying, “In that case, write a letter, think of a plausible and prudent reason, and personally visit the Lu family’s residence to postpone this marriage.”

Shen Yi was astonished. “If I want to postpone, I’ll postpone. Why delay it? Besides, it’s not like I’m breaking the engagement. Why should I personally visit their house?”

Shen’s father looked deeply at him, let out a low grunt, and ignored Shen Yi.

After a moment, Shen Yi’s surprised expression faded from his face, replaced by shock. He realized that his father’s intention was actually to let him maintain good relations with both sides and not offend the Lu family at this critical juncture!

Shen Yi couldn’t help but raise his voice, “Father, apart from facing the enemy on the border, I have never played both sides like this with anyone else. If I want to marry a girl, I’ll go out and find a matchmaker to propose. If I don’t want to marry, I’ll decline. There’s no need to be hypocritical in this matter. What kind of person will I become? Do you really think a group of people who are not united can overthrow the Yanwang?”

Shen’s father stopped and turned his back to Shen Yi. “Since the Yanwang took control of the military affairs office, he first resolved the issue of the depleted treasury, then escorted military supplies, and even pushed the Xuantie Battalion back to its old base in the Western Regions. He secured the peace and repelled the nomadic tribes. Such great achievements… Do you know what he’s thinking?”

Shen Yi angrily said, “Has the Yanwang ever gathered a faction, harbored selfish ambitions? He just wants to restore peace to the world and then… then retire. It’s not easy for him to give his all at such a young age. Yet, he’s followed by a group of presumptuous old fools who make baseless speculations. You’re simply… simply unreasonable!”

“You stepped on your own tail?” Shen’s father sneered. “With the achievements Yanwang has made today, does he still need to form a faction? There are plenty of people willing to follow him! Do you know what it means to ‘make a tiger out of a cat’? The first person is the rising noble in the court who climbed up through the military merits and new policies, the second person is genuinely seeking to pacify the country and serve the people—and then there’s the third person, the ’third person’ is those whom he has offended. The first two groups want to push him to power, and the latter group wants to add fuel to the fire and see him punished for treason! Apart from treason, who can touch the Prince?”

Shen Yi’s lips moved, but no words came out.

Shen’s father continued, “Do you know what it means to be ‘backed into a corner’? Do you know what it means for ‘a tree that stands out in the woods will be toppled by the wind’? People’s hearts are as unpredictable as water, ripples arise on flat ground. With those three people making a tiger, what do you think will happen in the future—can the Emperor tolerate him achieving success and retiring peacefully? Who is really confused!”

Shen Yi stood frozen for a moment, his face turning pale, and finally, with a grim expression, he turned and left without saying a word.

Shen’s father shouted, “Where do you think you’re going?”

Shen Yi didn’t even look back. “To do what I need to do! Go play with your birds!”

In the bustling capital, sleep eluded many.

At this moment, Gu Yun and the others had just arrived secretly at the front line in the north. They had traveled at full speed, enjoying the thrill of the journey. But as they approached their landing point, something went wrong. Unfortunately, they encountered a torrential thunderstorm. The airship, designed for speed and fuel efficiency, couldn’t be too heavy. When the sky was clear, it could cover thousands of miles in a day and display its might. But when it encountered wind and rain, its performance suffered greatly, turning the majestic eagle into a feeble quail.

The entire airship was tossed and turned by the gusty winds, and while the others could bear it, Ge Chen, who was crucial to their plans, fell down first. He fainted and couldn’t get up, and Yanwang had intended to use acupuncture to alleviate his symptoms. However, as soon as the needle was inserted, the airship tilted abruptly. If it weren’t for Gu Yun’s quick reflexes, grabbing Ge Chen by the collar, he would have crashed into the foot of the bed—the needle had been driven in at the exact moment.

Under the guidance of the weakened Ge Chen, the group of guards had to modify their planned direction and avoid the area of rain and mist, but they ended up going around in circles.

With the heavy rain obscuring Gu Yun’s Thousand-Mile Eye, he couldn’t see anything clearly and had to rely on his instincts to command, “Descend a bit, descend!”

Another thunderclap struck, narrowly missing the airship. Buffeted by the strong wind, the airship trembled and tilted, on the verge of toppling over. Gu Yun stumbled, taking a step forward and falling into the embrace of Chang Geng. Chang Geng instinctively held him, gripping the railing on the eagle with one hand and tightly embracing Gu Yun with the other, his face damp with the rainwater from Jiangnan.

Xu Ling clung tightly to a mast nearby, never wanting to go skyward again, and he shivered as he asked, “Lord Hou, can we still investigate those corrupt officials and treacherous ministers if we survive?”

“It’s alright,” Gu Yun laughed indifferently, “Xu-daren, rest assured, who hasn’t fallen off the Xuan Ying a few times? Don’t panic, I’m here, I promise no one will fall.”

Xu Ling: “…”

Amidst the bleak winds and bitter rain, a guard shouted, “We’re about to land, hold on… be careful!”

Gu Yun felt a sudden darkness before him as the airship tipped to one side, his head tilting to the side as well. He plunged headfirst into the ground, and the people on the eagle were almost thrown out. Chang Geng grabbed Gu Yun and rolled three times before crashing into a mast, coming to a halt. There was a “snap” sound, and Gu Yun grabbed Chang Geng’s collar, pulling him to the side. Shortly afterward, the mast fell straight down, narrowly missing the two of them.

The scattered guards were startled, exclaiming one after another. It was only at this moment that Gu Yun realized he and Chang Geng were entangled, their limbs intertwined, appearing rather ambiguous in front of others. In the presence of outsiders, he hurriedly cleared his throat, got up, and surveyed the surroundings.

It was deep in the night, and the landing place of the airship was an abandoned field that seemed endless. The surroundings were eerily quiet, devoid of village houses, chicken cries, or barking dogs. Only occasionally, a few quiet calls from summer insects could be heard—

Gu Yun suddenly had a sense of foreboding. “Where are we?”

A guard stumbled forward, still catching his breath. “Marshal, we seem to have unintentionally crossed the river.”

Xu Ling, who hadn’t yet gotten up, heard the news and stumbled down again.

They had actually plunged into enemy territory!

Chang Geng turned his head and smiled at Gu Yun. “Marshal, we overshot.”

Gu Yun rubbed his nose awkwardly. “With such a commotion, let’s not attract the Western soldiers again. Go ask Little Ge how to deal with this unreliable old eagle of yours.”

Two guards went to dig out Ge Chen, who had nearly gone to meet the late emperor. Ge Chen struggled to break free from their grasp. “Ugh…”

“Don’t vomit,” Gu Yun grabbed Ge Chen’s collar to prevent him from bowing his head, finding it difficult to deal with this stubborn person. “First, tell me if this thing can be dismantled.”

Ge Chen: “…”

Hearing that General Shen wanted to strangle Marquis Anding more than 300 days a year, Ge Chen finally understood in this moment.

In less than the time it takes to burn an incense stick, the guards around Marquis Anding, following Ge Ling Shu’s instructions, quickly dismantled the power system of the airship. It was dismantled into four pieces, carried by four individuals, leaving behind a pile of useless scrap metal. Gu Yun poured some Purple Flowing Gold into the cannon barrel of the airship and took out a matchstick. “I’ll count to three, run!”

Xu Ling was completely bewildered, only seeing Yanwang make a hand gesture. Two guards supported him from either side as the group ran towards the opposite direction of the wind.

Then, with a loud bang, a massive explosion shattered the continuous rainy sky, accompanied by a muffled thunder in the half-empty air, causing the earth to tremble.

Gu Yun blasted the wreckage into oblivion!

Xu Ling’s face changed abruptly. “Lord Marquis, what do we do if we attract enemy forces?”

“Of course we attract enemy forces! How else can we go back?” Gu Yun said bluntly. “Can’t swim across the river horizontally, can we? Mr. Xu, just follow me, you’ll be fine.”

Mr. Xu could no longer trust him.