Book 1: Chapter 14: Everyone Hates Gu Hai
Gao Xianzhi, Crown Prince Song, and a group of their trusted men camped in a remote valley.
Inside a large tent, Gao Xianzhi showed an extremely unsightly expression as he read through the piles reporting defeat.
It had already been several days. Crown Prince Song felt extremely tense and anxious.
“I have a report!”
A soldier rushed into the tent.
“Did you find him?” Crown Prince Song asked anxiously.
The soldier’s expression appeared very unsightly as he nodded. “Your Highness, don’t be too sad!”
As the soldier spoke, a few other soldiers carried a corpse into the tent. This was the corpse of Song Zhengxi, the crown heir. Several bloody holes could be seen in his body. By now, the body had already dried up, looking very miserable.
“My son!” Crown Prince Song immediately walked over, feeling pained and full of grief.
Gao Xianzhi put down the report in his hand and looked at the group of soldiers who just came in. “Where did you find him?”
“Beside Lin Chong’s corpse. When the commotion happened, everything turned chaotic. The Chen Nation’s army also took advantage of that moment to attack, plunging the camp into further chaos. We got separated from the crown heir during this time. Ten guards went to protect the crown heir, but they all died. Based on the wounds and the weapons, it was Lin Chong who killed the crown heir!” that soldier reported gravely.
“Lin Chong!” Crown Prince Song roared with a ferocious expression.
However, Gao Xianzhi took a deep breath. Helplessness and bitterness flashed in his eyes.
“Your Highness, I already moved very quickly, but I could never be faster than Gu Hai. He did not even give me one meal’s worth of time. Haha! Gu Hai, I have been too arrogant,” Gao Xianzhi said bitterly.
“Gu Hai?! I want to shred you to pieces!” Crown Prince Song growled with a maniacal expression.
“I understand now!” Gao Xianzhi’s expression suddenly changed.
“Huh?” Everyone in the tent looked towards Gao Xianzhi.
“The one at Hulao Pass is not Gu Hai! It’s not the real Gu Hai!” Gao Xianzhi’s expression changed drastically now.
“What?” Everyone looked at Gao Xianzhi in shock.
“I should have thought of it earlier. We should have attacked with our full force when we first attacked. Ah! That was not Gu Hai! To think that it was not Gu Hai!” Gao Xianzhi exclaimed with a regretful and hateful expression.
“Commander, who is not Gu Hai?” Everyone looked at Gao Xianzhi in confusion.
Gao Xianzhi’s eyes flickered with darkness as he said, “Gu Hai is in Song City. He can control all the details so meticulously—sending information about Lin Chong’s family and even saving the crown heir from execution—only if he is in Song City. He must be in Song City. A slight change could affect everything. As long as he missed something small, he could end up with nothing. However, it would be impossible to do what Gu Hai did from Hulao Pass, even with the fastest way of sending information. In that case, there is only one possibility. At that time, Gu Hai was in Song City, my nation’s capital!”
“How can that be?” Everyone let out startled cries.
When a large army pressured his nation and danger surrounded them, the other party not only changed commanders at the last minute, but the new commander did not even go to the camp. Instead, he ran to the enemy’s capital to cause trouble?
“Commander, is that true?” Crown Prince Song asked, his expression changing.
“Yes. Your Highness, don’t grieve yet. This is not the time to be sad. Gu Hai might already be gone or might still be in Song City. Given my understanding of Gu Hai, it is not over yet. This…this is just the beginning!” Gao Xianzhi said with an unsightly expression.
“Just the beginning? What do you mean?” Crown Prince Song asked with wide eyes.
“The promise Gu Hai made with the immortal sect was not to defeat the eight-hundred-thousand-strong army but to defeat the Song Nation. Hence, Gu Hai will continue. There is more to come!” Gao Xianzhi replied worriedly.
“There is more to come?” Everyone in the tent inhaled sharply.
Before their eight-hundred-thousand-strong army saw Gu Hai, it had already crumbled. Gu Hai had not gone all out yet. Could the next action be…?
When everyone thought of various possibilities, they all trembled in fear.
“Commander, what should we do now?” someone asked anxiously.
Gao Xianzhi’s expression changed as he said, “Fortunately, I killed six hundred thousand soldiers of the Chen Nation back then. Otherwise, the Chen Nation’s army could march straight to the Song Nation. The Song Nation would find escaping the calamity challenging, then. Right now, the Chen Nation’s strength is greatly diminished, likewise for my Song Nation. However, my Song Nation lost only the confidence of the soldiers. Three hundred thousand out of the eight hundred thousand soldiers would probably flee and return. Having three hundred thousand soldiers is already pretty good. We can slowly regather them.”
“That’s right. The Chen Nation suffered a great loss in strength, losing most of its soldiers. Commander, you should remain at the border and regather the army. I will immediately return and report to my imperial father to get the various cities to recruit soldiers for you,” Crown Prince Song said.
Gao Xianzhi nodded and smiled bitterly. “I will do that. However, I fear that we will be too late.”
“How could it be too late? You already killed six hundred thousand soldiers of the Chen Nation’s army. Could Gu Hai pull out another six hundred thousand soldiers?” Crown Prince Song countered in disbelief.
Gao Xianzhi nodded with a bitter smile. “I don’t know about other people. However, Gu Hai can do that with sufficient time.”
Crown Prince Song: “…!”
“Commander, Gu Hai hasn’t unnerved you, right?” Crown Prince Song said, feeling upset.
“I’m not afraid of him. This is just based on normal calculations. How could regathering the army be easy? This requires a change of heart; that is the hardest thing to change. However, I will do my best. I will remain in the border city and rally the soldiers in case the Chen Nation’s army attacks. Your Highness, immediately return and warn the emperor and the officials. Tell them to remain vigilant—spread word of Gu Hai’s terror across the entire Song Nation. Do not let Gu Hai’s schemes take advantage of an opening again. At the same time, we have to pardon the soldiers who deserted,” Gao Xianzhi said with heavy emphasis.
“I will. I’ll immediately return to Song City!” Crown Prince Song said through clenched teeth.
Some days later, during the royal assembly of the Song Nation:
The Song Emperor sat on the throne, and Crown Prince Song stood below. The civil and military officials stood respectfully in two rows. At this moment, everyone kept silent as they listened to Crown Prince Song describe the situation at the frontlines in detail.
They sucked in their breath, shock and uncertainty flashing in their eyes.
“Eight hundred thousand soldiers all crumbling in one go? Gao Xianzhi will have to bear the blame for this!” an old official in the left row said.
When that old official spoke, everyone looked at him. That was an ancient man, even older than the eighty-two-year-old Song Emperor on the throne.
“Imperial Tutor Pang, Gao Xianzhi already did his best. Gu Hai was too ferocious, catching us off guard!” Crown Prince Song said bitterly.
Imperial Tutor Pang did not get angry. However, he frowned heavily and said, “Since we handed the army to him, he holds the responsibility; there is no excuse for that. Although this old official knows that he did his best, he still failed to anticipate the calamity Gu Hai caused, which resulted in Gu Hai rescuing the crown heir. Otherwise, his efforts would not have been for naught.”
“Imperial Father, Imperial Tutor Pang, officials, when I returned, I immediately sent people to arrest the presiding official of that day and investigate the truth of the matter. It indeed caught us off guard. Unexpectedly, someone impersonated us to scare the presiding official. However, this is not the time to pursue responsibility. Gao Xianzhi is trying to rally the soldiers again at the borders. He sent me back to deal with our internal affairs, to prevent Gu Hai from taking advantage of an opening,” Crown Prince Song said gravely.
“What did Gao Xianzhi say?” the Song Emperor asked from his throne.
The many officials looked at Crown Prince Song.
“Pardon the deserters of their crime and quickly regather the army!” Crown Prince Song replied gravely.
“Permitted!” the Song Emperor immediately agreed.
“Thoroughly search the city, checking every single place, even my residence. Hopefully, we can find Gu Hai, as well as the ordinary citizens that Gu Hai kidnapped. Then, use the imperial notice to spread word of Gu Hai’s terror and regain the soldiers’ confidence in us. At the same time, the various local officials and citizens should prepare in case Gu Hai continues to scheme against us,” Crown Prince Song added gravely.
“Permitted!” the Song Emperor agreed again.
“Imperial Father, I believe that as long as the Song Nation’s citizens and officials are of one heart and we make sufficient preparations, Gu Hai will not be able to cause trouble in the Song Nation again once everyone is forewarned of his schemes, no matter how capable he is. The Chen Nation’s military might has dried up. Gao Xianzhi will definitely be able to regather the army quickly. Then, we will march on the Chen Nation and eradicate them in one go,” Crown Prince Song said gravely.
In a tavern in Song City:
Gu Hai and Gu Han sat by the window, drinking wine as they watched countless ordinary citizens surround the nearby imperial notice board and read in anger. At the same time, everyone in the tavern discussed this matter.
“Did you hear? Gu Hai, that old man, destroyed the eight-hundred-thousand-strong army!”
“Of course I heard. To think that I thought that Gao Xianzhi was very incredible. Unexpectedly, he got hoodwinked by an old man!”
“Don’t listen to his nonsense. The nephew of my cousin works under Gao Xianzhi. What happened was simply too strange!”
“Oh? Tell us. What happened?”
“Have you heard of commanding the enemy’s army to fight battles?”
“What? Are you joking?! How can one command the enemy’s army? Are you just telling a tall tale?”
“Heh! You’d best believe it. Even a tale would not be as exciting as this. You all do not know. It was like demons possessed those eight hundred thousand soldiers. They were like puppets on a string, doing anything Gu Hai wanted them to do. If he wanted them to mutiny, they did.”
“Is that true?”
“Why would I lie? My cousin’s nephew saw it himself. At first, it was just a small group of people. Then, more people joined. Eventually, Gu Hai forced Gao Xianzhi to leave the army to return to Song City and execute the crown heir. Then, Gu Hai eventually controlled the eight hundred thousand soldiers to mutiny. It was simply horrifying.”
The tavern guests gossiped about how Gu Hai made the soldiers lose their confidence in the nation, clearly describing every step of the way. The listeners were very engrossed. Even the performances in the theater did not seem this exciting.
“Fortunately, Gao Xianzhi killed six hundred thousand Chen Nation soldiers. Otherwise, the Chen Nation’s army could march straight in after Gu Hai defeated the eight hundred thousand soldiers of my Song Nation. It would be over for my Song Nation, and we would become slaves to the Chen Nation!”
“That would be too terrifying. If Gu Hai really leads an army over, it would be bad!”
“What a hateful Gu Hai! He kidnapped the innocent citizens and forced my Song Nation’s army into chaos. My nephew died on the battlefield; it’s all Gu Hai’s fault!”
“Right now, I do not know whether my son is dead or alive. What a hateful Gu Hai!”
Soon, the conversations shifted from telling stories to complaining and blaming Gu Hai.
As Gu Hai listened to the guests’ discourse as he sat by the window, he showed a faint smile instead of anger.
“Adoptive Father, the Song Nation is smearing your name now. It looks like they are afraid of you, to the extent of telling the ordinary citizens every single detail of the battle. They want to plant a seed of hatred in the ordinary citizens’ hearts to put an end to our activities,” Gu Han said with a slight frown.
“We can use the popular sentiment. The more they hate me, the faster it will destroy the Song Nation!” Gu Hai revealed a confident smile, then drank a mouthful of wine.
“Adoptive Father, is it starting?” Excitement flashed in Gu Han’s eyes.
“No. It’s not enough yet. The Song Nation’s people do not hate me enough yet. Their anger is still lacking. Since that is the case, let’s make them angrier and more hateful!” Gu Hai said seriously.
“This is still not enough? Everyone is discussing it already, right?!”
“It is still not enough. The influence that comes from discussing me is too weak. Since that is so, let’s help them expand this influence. Make everyone discuss me and hate me!” Gu Hai said.
“Release the captured families of the Song Nation soldiers. Let them speak about how evil I am. Let everyone believe that my schemes destroyed the eight hundred thousand soldiers. Let the Song Nation’s official proclamation be more convincing. Let everyone from the officials to the citizens hate me!” Gu Hai said, his eyes flashing with confidence.