The rebellion left as quick as it came. That being said, it failed not from a lack of foresight in the Prime Minister’s planning but the emperor’s outstanding acumen paving the way for the entrapment.
With the ‘festivities’ over and done with, the emperor pulled out the welcome wagon for the Quanrong as guests of honor. Tuoba Liufeng and company gladly obliged in a show of respect.
Glancing at his remaining children, the emperor sighed. The foreign look in their eyes cut the heart of this old father.
“Crown Prince, Cong’er, Yongning!”
The emperor began, “Are you perhaps of the opinion that inviting Quanrong to deal with Zhuge Changfeng is a stain on Tianyu Empire’s honor?”
“It’s vile and treasonous!” Yongning snapped.
“What does a sheltered girl know?” The emperor was livid. Yongning flicked her head as she stomped away.
The emperor shook his head turning to his sons, “You two are the future leaders of Tianyu. What is your take?”
“Uh, imperial father, the plan is sublime, to the point that it eludes me.” The crown prince bowed.
The emperor flicked his eyes on the fatty, who jolted, “Imperial father, with the seven houses poisoning the nation since inception, the sooner they’re gone the better. Zhuge Changfeng and Dugu Zhantian had power yet couldn’t attain peace. If, for argument’s sake, it leaks out that you used our lands to do it…”
“Then the Yuwen dynasty will have Tianyu’s people against it. Tianyu’s emperor might even change. And for that reason, this information will not leave this place. Anyone found guilty will be hanged!”
The emperor’s eyes flashed and he sighed, “While I know the consequences of such a move, do you?”
The two shook their heads, “We ask imperial father to enlighten us.”
“The lord adheres to the three bonds and five virtues, preaches benevolence, like any other person. But there is one aspect in which a man and a lord defer. A man but strives for peace on earth while a lord can’t be shackled by it.”(StarReader: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Fundamental_Bonds_and_Five_Constant_Virtues)
The emperor stroked his beard, “Do you know who Tianyu belongs to?”
The two bowed, “Yes, imperial father.”
“No, it’s the emperor’s!” The emperor shook his head, “Today it is mine, but after I’m a hundred, it will pass on to the next one. In other words, Yuwen clan’s. But they’re all wrong. We have little control over anything. The Seven Noble Houses make a show of submitting to us, but they rule half the lands. Zhuge Changfeng and Dugu Zhantian control the rest.
“In that regard, Yuwen clan has the weakest power. And is further exacerbated by being an emperor who only keeps the power balance till the end of my days. How is this Yuwen clan’s rule?”
The sons were gripped with fear, their faces solemn.
The emperor followed, “Yuwen clan’s every generation of emperors strove to return Tianyu to its rulers. And in my time, the chance has finally come, a chance I could never forsake, at the offset of using Quanrong to achieve it for a tenth of our nation. And it has washed away the seven houses and those two minister’s power, begetting my one true rule. In this regard, I am the winner!
“Crown Prince, Cong’er, what’s yours can only be yours in your own two hands. Anything short is pointless. This empire may go by Tianyu, you may be its emperor, but they’re all empty words.”
“We are grateful for your teachings!” The sons bowed.
The emperor nodded…
Two weeks later, in a serene valley, the birds and everything called out the song of nature.
The silence was soon interrupted by a rumbling so great that it made all the birds frantic.
Once it settled, a black column of men marched through the valley like a big snake.
With each step, the earth trembled, with each step, the land moved. A power instilled by a march of a million people.
In the lead was an old man, strong and valiant, holding a cold blade at his side.
“Marshal, there are cliffs on both sides and are covered in trees, the worst position for us. There may be ambushes up ahead. We should send scouts.”
Dugu Lin advised.
Dugu Zhantian pondered, “No one would dare ambush us in Tianyu. Not even Zhuge Changfeng with his endless wisdom and his few troops. The imperial capital is in turmoil and we don’t know how long His Majesty can hold on. We have to charge, ambush or not. Increase speed by a third. We must reach the imperial capital within the month!”
Dugu Lin relayed the orders and the army was soon at the center of the valley.
Huge booms rattled the sky and odd flickers of light revealed lightning connecting heaven and earth in its unbridled show of force.
Searing flames fell onto the valley like dragons and pinned the army down, taking with them thousands of soldiers howling from the heat.
Dugu Zhantian cried, “It’s a trap. We’re being ambushed!”
The Four Tigers of Tianyu were before the marshal in a bow. The soldiers remained calm even at the death of thousands of their comrades in arms.
“This is the valor of Dugu Army, unflinching in death, unbreakable in battle.”
A cold pair of eyes stared at them from among the trees, “Dugu Zhantian, I may win this battle, but it brings me no honor. Nevertheless, I still wish to be the one to cut you down. Prepare for battle! This trick won’t scare that old timer!”
“Understood!” The forest exploded with agreement.
Looking at the flickering lightning, the scorching fire, Dugu Zhantian roared, “Ha-ha-ha, that old Zhuge has even made a move against me now, on my return? What I lack in subterfuge, I make up for on the field of battle!”
“Four Tigers of Tianyu, snake formation. Punch through!” Dugu Zhantian snorted.
The tigers took a division each.
A soldier was weak alone, but working together, the Yuan Qi blended into forming a cohesive unit, shielding the squad.
No lightning or flame touched them.
The tigers roared and the army split up into snakelings in all directions, easily bypassing the heat and thunder bolts.
At safety, they regrouped, with not so much as one loss.
Dugu Zhantian wielded his blade, looking around, “Don’t think you can take me with such a trick. Come out if you dare!”
Beast howls shook the skies and quaked the earth, “T-that’s…”
With a shudder stronger than the army’s previous marching, a horde of spiritual beasts came into sight.
They were not ordinary spiritual beasts either, but carrying armored warriors. Dugu Zhantian could tell that display from anywhere.
“Quanrong’s beast army? What are they doing here, and so many on top of it?” Dugu Lin asked.
He wasn’t the only one curious. Dugu Zhantian gnashed his teeth, “That wretched Zhuge Changfeng sold his country. Letting this army run unchecked, it will slaughter the people and rain havoc on Tianyu! That rotten bastard has cast aside even the people for the world. Does he not care about heaven’s wrath?”
“Marshal, something stinks! Not even the Prime Minister would be so brazen as to let Quanrong into Tianyu in such an open fashion and undetected as well. There hasn’t even been a word from the border!” Dugu Feng frowned.
Dugu Zhantian’s suspicions grew, but he had no time to unravel them.
The beast army was upon them and not even their numbers would prove to help them here, with no support from arrays…