Zhang Sun stood there pondering for a long while. In front of her, Qing Ning and the sword master knelt there for an equally long while.
“Qing Ning, get me a brush and some ink,” said Zhang Sun with a light sigh, finally breaking the long silence.
Qing Ning stood up and promptly brought a brush and some ink to her desk.
With several rapid strokes of her brush, Zhang Sun finished writing a couple of letters and folded them before handing them to Qing Ning.
“These two letters; one is to be delivered to the estate of Marquis Kaixuan while the other is to be sent along with Ning Chen to the headmaster of the Ashen Heaven Academy.”
Qing Ning received the letters without question and immediately left the room.
At the side, the sword master expressed his gratitude with a bow, a look of release crossing his tired face as he did so. If it’s that person, Ning Chen was saved,
With the departure of those two, Zhang Sun gave the unconsciousness Ning Chen lying before her another look, her eyes revealing the complex emotions within her.
“No matter what, you’ve won twenty thousand warhorses for Grand Xia. You may have committed some offenses but they do not wipe away your deeds, this Empress will help you one more time.”
A moment later, Qing Ning returned to the room and carried the teen away, leaving the palace as quickly as she could.
Minutes after she left, an urgent message was sent down from the north that darkened Zhang Sun’s expression in an instant.
The Mongol Horde had finally dispatched their troops!
This was a momentous event; nearly twenty years of peace had finally been broken. However, unlike twenty years ago, the army wasn’t led by the Mongol’s grand marshal but was instead led by a girl named Fan Lingyue.
As for why the strength-worshipping Mongols allowed such a thing to happen, no one in Grand Xia knew.
Yet after paying close attention to the Mongol’s movements for these past few years, Zhang Sun knew better than anyone how scary this girl actually was.
Grand Xia had truly met its match in this girl this time.
The northern region was guarded by the Northern military marquis and was not in danger for the time being. However, given the Mongol’s strong showing this time around, this was bound to be a fierce battle.
In the distant Northern Plains, Fan Lingyue stood there silently. As she watched the war machines slowly roll past her, a profound sadness flashed across her dainty pale face.
As cold winds blew across the vast plains, she covered her mouth and coughed several times. Looking at the blood on her hands, she placidly wiped it off and paid it no further heed.
“Strategist, please take care of your health,” said the young officer who was forever by her side.
“Mhm.” She gave him a slight nod and turned towards the distant silhouette of Grand Xia’s capital. Letting out a soft sigh, she turned around and left for the command tent.
Regrettably, Grand Xia’s fortune had not reached its lowest point yet. However, with the appearance of the Eternal Night Cult’s Martial Monarch, this matter could no longer be delayed, more importantly, she didn’t have much time left…
Her birth country was cursed with an impoverished land that could barely support its citizens. In order to bring them out of poverty, they had no choice but to wage war.
The Mongol Horde’s grand marshal had grown old while the current king was still young and had a weak personality. Thus the task of leading the troops against a giant empire fell to her.
To her, Grand Xia was the greatest obstacle standing between her and a bright future for her people. Thus, she had no choice but to wage war.
Her only regrets were that the chess pieces she hid within Grand Xia had been undone prior to this. If not for that, the Mongol Horde would be in an even more advantageous position.
That eunuch named Ning Chen…his appearance was just too sudden, too strange. No matter what, he must be killed.
There was one thing she absolutely hated, and that was variables!
“What’s the status on Qing Wuyou’s progress with the Eternal Night Cult?” She paused momentarily in front of the command tent and asked in a soft voice.
“Martial Monarch Ye has agreed to send us ten thousand suits of the Shrine’s own heavy armor. However, his terms are that we increase the amount of warhorses given to them from twenty thousand to thirty thousand.” The young officer replied respectfully.
“Give it to them. Tell Wuyou not to delay this matter any longer and ship those armors back as soon as possible.” Fan Lingyue’s eyes narrowed as she replied in a soft voice. What the mongols had plenty of were horses, compared to that, ten thousand sets of Shrine heavy armor were vastly more important to them.
She wasn’t concerned about the Eternal Night Cult double crossing them, after all, their biggest opponent now was Grand Xia. At least for the short term, their interests were aligned.
“Understood.” The young officer replied with a nod of his head, after which he watched her entered the tent.
The command tent was forbidden to all except for the direst of reasons. This was the rule set up by the military strategist.
Within the command tent, the sound of coughing could be heard echoing within, ever so softly yet ever so clearly.
At the same time, to the west of Grand Xia, the First Shrine of the Eternal Night Cult sat amidst a sprawling city of palatial buildings on what used to be a deserted plot of land.
With the seal broken, the once dominant First Shrine of the Eternal Night Cult had made its appearance in the mortal realm once more, heralding a slew of cataclysmic changes.
Within the First Shrine sat a towering figure atop a throne, staring into the distance with eyes that held the world in contempt. Just by standing next to him, one could feel the space around him warp from his sheer strength.
This was the strongest person in the world, the Hallmaster of the Eternal Night Cult’s First Shrine, an existence that had long since crossed the boundaries of Houtian.
Within an ancient city nearby, a man of indeterminate age clad in blood red clothes opened his eyes and stared towards the west with a grave look on his face.
He knew, the Martial Monarch had made his move.
Generations of the Martial Monarchs had been bold individuals who were all experts in warfare. The appearance of such warmongers could only herald the arrival of war.
Marquis Xueyi rose to his feet and summoned his adjutants. After leaving a few words with them, he walked off by himself towards the front of the city, quietly awaiting the arrival of the flames of war.
The military marquis were all men born for the sake of war as well.
Within the imperial palace of Grand Xia, letter after letter of intelligence was brought up to the Xia Emperor who sat atop his dragon throne with a solemn look on his face. As he read through each report, a cold glint flickered within his eyes.
The war hadn’t officially started and yet its influence could already be felt within the walls of the Imperial City. Just within these three short days, a stream of horses could seen rushing in from the western and northern regions bringing with them news of the frontlines reinforced by the Emperor’s own personal intelligence network.
However, the citizens were decidedly nonchalant about this news. Having prospered and dominated for a thousand years, the citizens of Grand Xia had developed a confidence in their empire that was difficult to describe. In fact, the thought of defeat had never once crossed their minds.
Whether this was a good or a bad thing, at the very least it made the job of the security forces a lot easier.
The lives of the citizens continued as per usual. The only change was the addition of a new topic to discuss over tea.
As of right now, the most popular topics among the storytellers and waiters of many inns were of the valiant efforts of a certain eunuch in fighting off the advances of the Zhenji emissary.
Such stories have and always will be a welcome addition to any storyteller’s arsenal.
None of these people knew that the main character within their stories had just taken a boat ride down the river Styx; barely to be saved in the nick of time by the legendary headmaster of Ashen Heavens Academy.
However, while his life was saved, he had become a cripple. The meridians in his legs had been damaged beyond repair and his bones were completely shattered. Whether he accepted this or not, this had become his reality. And so the academy had acquired a handicapped teen who frequently stared off into the distance in a daze.
Yet, the academy did not support freeloaders, especially not a person who had to rely on their connections to the distant Marquis Kaixuan in order to enter. For someone like Ning Chen who barely made it through the backdoor, there were no privileges to speak of.
And so, the academy arranged for him the only chore he could do, which was to chop wood!
The majority of the students within the academy were all sons of nobility, with the dimmest of them all being geniuses that were seen once every ten years. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the academy only had geniuses within it or that its streets were packed full of geniuses. In such an environment, Ning Chen’s existence was naturally not very eye-catching.
The estate of Marquis Kaixuan was well-known throughout the empire and this extended to the academy as well. However, for a “distant relative” like Ning Chen, it was only to be expected that he couldn’t enjoy the benefits of such a reputation.
This low-key existence was exactly what Zhang Sun wanted for him, and thus she didn’t arrange any special identity for him.
Upon waking up, the headmaster who treated him had already disappeared, leaving behind a middle aged man who arranged everything for him.
The middle aged man obviously didn’t take too well to Ning Chen but neither did he make things difficult for him. All he did was assign the daily chores to him and leave.
With the passage of time, Ning Chen ended up being a unique existence within the academy, neither a student nor a tutor.
Simply put, he was a groundskeeper of sorts who could freely enter and leave the academy.
Ever since he lost the ability to walk, Ning Chen had become taciturn, losing the usual smile on his face. Most of the time, he would sit there in a daze with each session lasting over an hour.
His daily routine mostly consisted of chopping wood and cultivating; during which he rarely spoke. As time passed, his silence led the students to believe that he was mute.
With his martial background, chopping the wooden blocks wasn’t too hard of a task even with his crippled legs. With each chop of his axe, a block was split into nearly identical halves.
And so this dull, repetitive lifestyle continued without incident. Day after day, chipped axe after chipped axe, Ning Chen chopped his wood, silently and solemnly. Over time, the students got used to this eccentric person, not that there were that many who knew of him either.
The grounds of the academy were extremely vast, and the corner in which Ning Chen spent the majority of his time was the quietest of them all, with hardly any student passing through that area. Thanks to this, he was spared a great deal of trouble from having to deal with the students.
The academy employed a host of tutors and yet it only had one Sage. However, the Sage had grown old and thus rarely gave a lecture, so not many students attended when he did.
Yet Ning Chen enjoyed these lectures and attended every one of them, making sure to give his undivided attention to each of them.
The Sage was a senior who was even more reserved than Ning Chen. With his snowy white beard and hair, he gave off the impression of an old man, an extremely old man. The lectures he gave was as long as he was old and thus the younger students didn’t have the patience for his lessons.
Which was a shame as he had a wealth of knowledge ranging from poetry, etiquette all the way to the humanities. Quoting the words of this sage himself, living for a long time naturally resulted in one knowing a lot more.
Ever since he became a cripple his pace had slowed down significantly, whether it was his movement or his studies; thus the Sage’s slow pace suited him just fine.
At times, the Sage’s lessons would take an entire day to finish with Ning Chen being the only one left behind in the hall.
Once night fell, he would finish off the chores leftover from the day, with any remaining time being dedicated to cultivation or sleep. This was the simple lifestyle Ning Chen led since coming to the academy.
In the autumn of this year, Grand Xia entered a new chapter of its history with the beginning of war.
With the advent of autumn, the Mongol Horde had 30,000 men stationed within the Northern Plains, ready to attack Grand Xia.
And yet, the early arrival of a snow storm ended up changing their plans, delaying the start of the first battle by four whole months.
It was a sudden snow storm that no one had predicted. Not the astrologers of Grand Xia nor the Strategist of the Mongol Horde. Its unexpected arrival ended up throwing everyone’s plans into disarray.
Within the academy, the effects of the storm could be felt as well. While it wasn’t much of an issue for the others, it was a major problem for Ning Chen as the snow made it difficult for his wheelchair to travel. And so, his already slow pace became even slower.
Later in the day, he found out that the Sage’s pace had slowed down as well. Due to the severity of the storm and the Sage’s old age, his lessons ended up being delayed, whether it was the start or the end of the lecture. With that, the two men’s pace ended up in sync.
The one thing Ning Chen didn’t expect was that after being crippled, his cultivation ended up being a lot faster, allowing him to rise to the fourth-grade after merely two months of cultivation.
Of course, this didn’t make the price he paid any lesser.
Furthermore, the snow brought with it an aching pain in his legs. Pain that penetrated every fiber of his being, whether it was his bones or heart, turning his days into a living hell.
From that day onwards, Ning Chen hated the snow. Unfortunately, reality wasn’t one to bend to his wishes and so the snow storm continued for another month without any signs of abating.
It was in such an environment that the final examination of the academy was held.
Ning Chen wasn’t a student thus didn’t need to take it. However, he was volunteered by one of the preceptors to be free labor.
The Sage had grown old and thus couldn’t invigilate the exams so Ning Chen was given the task of invigilating the courses taught by the Sage. Furthermore, this was personally requested by the Sage himself.
With that, Ning Chen became the academy’s first ever substitute preceptor. Thankfully, the Sage only had a few students and thus the matter of invigilation didn’t seem particularly hard.