Volume 3, Chapter 39: Trampled Snow

Don’t attempt the impossible, Rihaku thought.

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Before his eyes, Shishou’s private army was panicking, unable to properly deal with the sudden intruders. Though they brandished their spears amidst their panic, they were no match for Rihaku’s people who had come here perfectly prepared.

Right now, Rihaku was here to capture the rebels, the Shi Clan. The location was five hundred ri north of the capital. Them repairing the fortress that should have already been abandoned and having soldiers must be something like that. It was equivalent to thinking that they are retaliating against the emperor.

The fortress was moderately large, but it was truly foolish to plan an uprising with just that. According to what he heard, the fellows who had planned the uprising had broken up internally, and it was only the Shi Clan who came to be unyielding among them.
The head of the Shi Clan, Shishou, was a personage who was quite respectable even within the imperial court. He was a person that emperor was no match for, to the point where he chased out the previous high-ranking consort and installed his own daughter on that seat, though-

Rihaku tilted his head as he swung his staff.

He didn’t know if they were lost in their greed, or that they had gone mad.

Just that, be as it may that they were driven to a wall, the fact that they had disappeared from the capital and barricaded themselves in this kind of place meant they couldn’t be the type of people to be treated as rebels, right?
That the personage who is known as the Tanuki Geezer even in the imperial court wouldn’t do such a foolish thing.

However, Rihaku was a military official. He’ll leave the overthinking to the other guys, and finish the job.
He slammed his staff on an enemy soldier’s leg and swept him off his feet. His subordinates in white overcoats were tying up the fallen soldiers behind Rihaku. Rihaku was also wearing the same overcoat, but he had just taken it off with it being in the way.

The white overcoat stood out with the blood splatters. It was a costume that was essentially inappropriate for battle, though—.

It was a colour that blended in with the white of the snow. It was just the right thing for camouflage. Also, they would stand out even less in a moonless night.

Rihaku’s troop had been marching without bearing torches. The unit had split into two groups en route to the fortress.  The leading infantry unit who were assembled being used to the snow and had pride in their skill, and then the rest of the unit. The two were mobilised a couple of ten ri apart.

As a result, speaking what would happen, at night, the fortress lookout would notice the lights carried by the unit at the back, and wouldn’t notice the unit that had approached in advance. They would be mistaken to think that the enemy’s arrival would be a while later.

In that case, Rihaku’s unit had another problem.
They were walking on the plains that had nothing since a couple of ten ri ago. It would be a different matter if the stars came out at least, but even the moon was hidden by the clouds. It was normal that their sense of direction was muddled.

Rihaku, for a moment, let out a breath after he finished capturing the enemy. During then, something fell out from his collar.

“This thing is thought up really well.”

Rihaku picked up the fish-shaped wooden sculpture that had fallen onto the snow.
They relied on this to grasp the location of the fortress.

There was a magnet inside the figurine. You’ll know your bearings when you float this in a bucket of water. It’s a tool used by sailors.
The surface of it had been rubbed on with some mysterious glowing powder. He could see which direction even in the dark. It seems the raw material was a mushroom that glowed in the night.

Also, with this surprise attack, there was one other bonus.

With a look of surprise, Rihaku thought when he saw the surging snow from the top of the cliff, The guy who thought of this strategy, what kind of mind does he have?

One of the reasons this fortress was abandoned came from the following facts.

He heard that places close to hot springs have lots of earthquakes. There was a large earthquake a couple of decades ago, and the surrounding topography seemed to have changed then.
The slope of the mountain had crumbled, making avalanches appear in winter since then. Though the scale itself was small and it wasn’t something that occurred frequently, the location was bad.

Since it falls right on top of the building, the deterioration of it progressed, and they got right on to reducing the size of the army.

He was told that this time’s was artificially induced. It was based on the fact that this year was colder than average and the snow was also deep.

Several people used to the snowy mountains had been taken along by the leading unit. If he were to figure out where they were going while bearing a large number of fire lances, it must be for this.

He looked around. Fresh blood scattered in the air. The red spots were stark on the white snow. One of his subordinates ran a sword through the chest of an enemy soldier who continued to struggle. The soldier collapsed, caught off-guard; he was out of luck to brandish his dagger.
He coughed, feeling the bloody froth overflowing from his mouth. His movements faltered and stopped.

Don’t take their lives if they surrender. They should have been told that.
It would have been fine if they just listened obediently. Did they not have that composure? Seeing that scene, the men around them went compliant.

Beyond the possibility of being able to take lives, they must not be heartless. Rihaku was taught that, had taught that.

He located a personage treading on the dirty snow, entering the fortress.

His black hair looked very stunning with his white overcoat. Rihaku, who couldn’t imagine himself thinking about that towards a man, smiled bitterly at this situation.

This man originally shouldn’t be on the battlefields. His handsome visage was the gardener of the flower garden known as the inner palace, and was also counted as one of its flowers at the same time.

However, in reality, he wasn’t a ‘flower(花)’, but a ‘Flower(華)’.

In his hair that was half down and had the remaining half in a bundle, there was a silver kanzashi. You can do nothing but prostrate before it when you see that design.

It was the thing above the three blades in the country called Rii. There were only two individuals unique in this country that bore names with ‘Ka(華)‘.
This was one individual.

Originally, he should not be on this ground. He was in the night march, and had also walked tens of ri in order to not make a sound. The unit was assembled with those with physical strength, but he could see his fatigue.

However, the owner of the graceful face that was like a celestial maiden, was wielding a liuyedao(柳葉刀, willow leaf sabre. A single-edged sword with a moderate curve along the blade.) that didn’t match him. He was clad in bluish purple armour, which indicated his existence to his surroundings.

Eunuch Jinshi, that should have been that man’s position. The young eunuch highly favoured by the emperor, with a beauty that, at times, went as far as to spread insolent rumours.

When he appeared before he took command of the army, several people must have dropped their jaws in shock. There were also officials whose complexions had blatantly gone bad. That lord, who was popular with both men and women, had been wooed by even men at times.

Rihaku was also one of those in shock. A few days ago, he was entrusted with various matters from Jinshi’s close aide, a man called Gaoshun. This time too, being called to assemble those with strong physical ability in the cold among his associates and own subordinates was something like this.

His name wasn’t Jinshi anymore, but Rihaku cannot call him by his ‘Ka’ name. There was no one aside from the emperor who can directly call him by that name even in writing.

Jinshi went inside the fortress. Rihaku followed so he doesn’t fall behind. Gaoshun wasn’t by his side, instead, a young military official kept close to his back.

Rihaku also went after them.

The inside of the fortress was shrouded by a cloying stench. The stench was like rotten eggs. As he wondered what happened, there were men carrying clumps of snow to the underground.

Could a fire or something have broken out underground? When Rihaku caught a man who was carrying snow in a panic and asked him, that was the case. He was told there was an explosion.

“We h-have to be put it out quickly, or the m-mistress will….”

The trembling man looked away from Rihaku.
Rihaku released the man.

He didn’t know if his bad complexion was due to the smoke, or that was he scared of this mistress or whoever.

However, they might have made such a miscalculation that there were fewer soldiers in the fortress than they had expected.

Rihaku covered his mouth with his sleeves, and went down on his knee behind Jinshi who was standing in the lead.

“A word of advice?”

I’m thankful that I can speak from the other side, Rihaku thought.

“Permitted.”

“Then, I shall presume upon your words.”

He always regretted that he should have studied language properly for moments like this.

“I believe there is no need to remain in this smoke for long. Shall we have the people inside promptly leave as well?”

“I get it.”

Did I say the obvious? Rihaku reflected.

“However, there might be people inside who can’t escape.”

“In that case, we shall have everyone search, outside.”

“We cannot do that.”

At Jinshi’s words, Rihaku’s face twisted. He thought it was good that his face was bowed down.

For Rihaku, it was intolerable for Jinshi to get injured.  He wanted him to go outside as soon as possible, even if it was to observe from a safe place.
However, on the honour of the Imperial Guard, Jinshi was also required to come out in front. Precisely because they were launching what appears to be a surprise attack, he might not relinquish that part.

His showing his face to the public majestically like so, meant that he was throwing away the eunuch Jinshi. It must signify that he was living, not as the useless shut-in imperial brother.

With that, the harmony of the imperial court will collapse at once. The Shi Clan that was once a cut above the rest was in this state. Those guys must be mixed with the captured enemy. It was good that they were captured, but their crimes were settled. It was standard that those who retaliate against the emperor will be sentenced to familial extermination. The hopes on the extent of how the reigning emperor’s kindness will deal with them must be faint.

“Grand Marshal Kan’s daughter is captured here.”

“That is….”

Grand Marshal Kan, in other words, the weirdo tactician. Rihaku was told this before they broke into here. He was surprised that man had a daughter, and why she was captured was also a mystery, but that was all he was told.

“Can we abandon her?”

They could not.

“A new political opponent will be born.”

His mouth slipped.
He had a feeling that a small amount of something was revealed within Jinshi’s stiff expression.

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“Ahh, I guess so.”

As he revealed a bitter expression as though something was tearing him to pieces, Jinshi went ahead.

Rihaku got to his feet and scratched his head. If it’s like this, he should finish his job as soon as possible.


T/N: Chapter Title: The snow that was used to base the strategy on, and the snow that was stepped on.


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