Book 01: Tengen Puzzle
[TL Note: Tengen refers to the center point on a Go board. It is normally marked with a dot. The Chinese word for this is Tianyuan, which means origin of heaven, or the center. Here is a link to what a Go board looks like: https://senseis.xmp.net/diagrams/29/ad217a381dbb8bc75d8420f6aec40af5.png. The nine dots you can see in the picture are known as star points, and the center one is tengen. The others are not named and are referred to by their grid reference, like 4,4.]
Book 01 Chapter 001: The Strongest Strategist
On the sixth day of the sixth month, Fallen Dragon Cliff, the Chen Nation:
Gray clouds covered the sky, and a chilly wind swept through the land. Thousands of wounded soldiers camped at Fallen Dragon Cliff, appearing like a defeated army. Many soldiers guarded a large yellow tent in the center.
Officials filled this large tent, looking worriedly at a throne at the north of the tent.
An old man dressed in imperial robes sat on the throne. This person looked about sixty-odd, had a pale complexion, and was coughing continuously. Servants carefully attended to him, occasionally wiping off the blood that he coughed out.
A white-clad man who looked to be about forty stood beside the throne. This person placed his hands on the back of the old man in imperial robes, apparently transfusing Veritable Energy into the old man to treat the old man’s injuries.
The old man in imperial robes spat out a mouthful of blood. The treatment ended, but his condition did not improve. Instead, his face paled even more.
“Imperial Father!” a middle-aged man wearing official robes, the leader of the group of officials, cried out in startlement.
“Your Majesty!” the group of officials immediately exclaimed in fear.
The old man in imperial robes ignored the officials. Instead, he looked at the white-clad man who transfused Veritable Energy into him.
“Third Granduncle, you can stop trying to save me. I know my condition. My heart vessels have ruptured; I was too careless,” the old man in imperial robes sighed bitterly.
The white-clad man sighed, “Your heart vessels ruptured. Chen Taiji, you were too greedy for accomplishments, making a premature advance! Why did you not wait for me?”
“I wanted to attack with my full force to gain victory for the sect. However, I underestimated the Song Nation’s strategist, Gao Xianzhi. He is truly incredible. While he was defending the southern territories, I did not know about his capabilities. In fact, my army enjoyed a streak of victories during that time. Unexpectedly, the Song Emperor handed full military authority to Gao Xianzhi. After he took control, it was like they gained divine assistance, turning unpredictable. He broke many of our advantages. He used a large army like a flood to force us into a full retreat. To think that the Song Emperor could bear to do that. Cough! Cough!” Chen Taiji said bitterly as he coughed.
“I told you before, the battle between the Chen Nation and the Song Nation has great implications that you cannot imagine. Like us, the sect behind the Song Nation gave firm orders for victory. The sect behind the nation that wins will gain the newly discovered spirit stone mine,” the white-clad man sighed.
“This grandnephew begs Third Granduncle to help me kill Gao Xianzhi. Otherwise, my Chen Nation will fall in defeat, perhaps even be eradicated,” Chen Taiji begged.
The white-clad man frowned, then shook his head. “As I said, this battle has great implications. Initially, it was over a spirit stone mine. However, it attracted the attention of someone important. That personage wants to observe a battle of the mundane world and has ordered us not to interfere. Not to mention me, even the sect master will not offend that personage for the sake of a mundane nation.”
“What? You cannot interfere? Cough! Cough!” Chen Taiji coughed out blood again.
The white-clad man shook his head with certainty. “Likewise, the sect behind the Song Nation cannot interfere, either. So, don’t assume that the sect behind the Song Nation is responsible for your injuries; it was all Gao Xianzhi’s handiwork.”
“Cough! Cough! Cough! Cough! Cough!” Chen Taiji suffered another coughing fit.
“I have a report!”
A footsoldier rushed into the tent and knelt on one knee. When he saw the pale emperor coughing blood, his expression froze.
“Speak!” Chen Taiji stared at that footsoldier.
“Reporting to the emperor, Tong Pass has fallen!” the footsoldier reported anxiously.
“What?! Cough! Cough! Cough!” Chen Taiji coughed out blood again.
“I have a report!”
Another footsoldier rushed into the large tent.
“Reporting to the emperor, Chengshan Pass has fallen!”
“I have a report!”
“Reporting to the emperor, Jiayu Pass has fallen!”
“Cough! Cough! Cough! Cough! Cough!”
The large tent fell silent except for the officials’ anxious breathing and Chen Taiji’s coughing.
Despite Chen Taiji’s violent coughs, a rosy color returned to his pale face.
The white-clad man frowned heavily, figuring out that this was a dying flash. Chen Taiji was on the verge of death.
All the civil and military officers in the tent appeared flustered.
“Imperial Father, with the fall of Tong Pass, Chengshan Pass, and Jiayu Pass, all that remains for the Song Nation are the plains. It’s practically over for three-quarters of my…my Chen Nation’s territory!” exclaimed the man in official robes, horror written across his face.
The white-clad man sighed, “We lost. In the end, we still lost. This Gao Xianzhi is genuinely capable. There is no way for the Chen Nation to retaliate.”
Chen Taiji’s complexion now appeared rosy. “Godlike usage of the army? A godlike usage of the army, feinting in the east and attacking the west, breaking through three passes simultaneously and shattering our army’s morale. This Gao Xianzhi is excellent, genuinely incredible. Cough! Cough! Cough! Cough!”
“Chen Taiji, let the crown prince succeed the throne. The Chen Nation still has Hulao Pass. Hopefully, he can defend it for a while. Hah…! However, it does not matter how long he can defend it for; we lost this war. It is unfortunate for your son. I hope the sect master does not take his anger out on your son,” the white-clad man said with an unsightly expression.
“What? The sect master will take his anger out on him?” Chen Taiji resisted coughing as he looked at the white-clad man.
The white-clad man remained silent for a while before nodding. “It’s possible. I will be implicated, as well. An important person is watching this war. Once the Chen Nation loses, that personage will definitely be disappointed in the sect. The sect master values that personage’s opinion a lot. Perhaps… Hopefully, the sect master will not take out his anger on your son. After all, the other party’s strategist is too incredible…”
However, Chen Taiji trembled. Uncertainty appeared in his eyes; it seemed like he was making a tough decision.
“No, we have not lost yet. We still have Hulao Pass. There is still Hulao Pass!” Chen Taiji quavered.
“Hulao Pass? Hulao Pass has the weakest military might. Furthermore, they are all imperial guards. Unlike the soldiers of the other three passes, they are just inexperienced soldiers who have never seen battle—and there are not many of them. How are they to defend against the Song Nation’s ferocious army? Moreover, you won’t last much longer, and your son’s ability is a far cry from yours. If you cannot block them, what more the crown prince? Besides, you are about to lose three-quarters of your territory. After losing most of your territory, you will lose the confidence of your citizens. What are you going to use to fight the Song Nation? Not to mention, the other party has a great strategist, Gao Xianzhi. The situation is getting worse by the day; there is no stopping their momentum!” The white-clad man sighed.
“No, we have not lost!” Chen Taiji said with a fierce expression, trembling.
“With the scattered remnants of your army? No one can stop the destruction of your nation. Taiji, you are better off thinking how to beg for forgiveness from the sect master,” the white-clad man said bitterly.
“Father, what other ways are there? The sect is not willing to interfere!” the crown prince in official robes said with a bitter expression.
Chen Taiji closed his eyes, trembling all over. After a while, he said, “No, there is one person. He…he can save this desperate situation. He definitely can!”
“Oh?” The white-clad man stared somewhat blankly.
The crown prince in official robes also showed a curious expression.
“Crown Prince, go and beg him. As long as he is willing to help… As long as he is willing to help, we can win it all back. We definitely can. Cough! Cough! Cough!” Chen Taiji said while coughing.
“Chen Taiji, this is not the time for jokes. The Chen Nation has nearly lost everything already. Who can save this desperate situation? The Song Nation’s people are unified, and the strategist Gao Xianzhi is riding the strong momentum. Their troops’ morale is through the roof. There is no way to turn the situation around without our sect’s interference,” the white-clad man argued in disbelief.
“It’s possible. He can, he definitely can!” Chen Taiji’s face flushed red.
“Who is it? Imperial Father, who is it?” the crown prince asked, feeling startled and curious.
“Gu Hai!” Chen Taiji said this name with great difficulty, like he deeply rejected this person.
“The wealthiest man of the six nations, Old Mister Gu?” the crown prince asked, feeling shocked.
“The wealthiest man of the six nations? Cough! Cough! Cough! Gu Hai? Unexpectedly, I come and beg you again right before my death!” Chen Taiji revealed a bitter smile.
“Gu Hai? That person who only started cultivating after thirty, later holding wishful dreams of joining my sect despite his advanced age and poor cultivation talent?”
“Third Granduncle, you know him?” Chen Taiji looked at the white-clad man in shock.
“I have seen him before. Most of the Golden Core Realm cultivators of my sect have seen him before. As long as we come to the mundane world, that old man finds us very quickly, coming to bribe us with all sorts of ways to get inducted into the sect. However, his cultivation talent is too poor, and he started cultivating very late. It is difficult to find a use for him. If we take him in, we will become a laughingstock of the other sects.” The white-clad man nodded.
“Gu Hai? Ah, I thought I had already suppressed all opportunities for him to come in contact with the sects. Unexpectedly, he managed to circumvent my precautions against him long ago. The world is indeed filled with hidden talents. Hahaha! Cough! Cough! Cough!” Chen Taiji said bitterly while coughing out more blood.
“Chen Taiji, you say that Gu Hai can save this desperate situation? Why are you so sure? He is just an ordinary person with an Acquired Realm cultivation,” the white-clad man said with a frown.
“Indeed. Imperial Father, he is just a merchant. Can he command troops and fight wars?” the crown prince asked anxiously.
“He definitely can! If Gao Xianzhi is a great strategist, Gu Hai is the strongest of great strategists. Crown Prince, lead all the civil and military officials to beg him. You must obtain his help, even if you have to kneel!” Chen Taiji said with a resolute gaze.
“A merchant? The strongest of great strategists?”
“Third Granduncle, please do your best to fulfill his demands. Yes, he is a merchant. Yes, he is an ordinary person. However, only he can turn this desperate situation around. If we want to win everything back, we can only ask him for help. I guarantee it on the crown prince’s life!” Chen Taiji was completely flushed red now.
The white-clad man frowned as he looked at Chen Taiji contemplatively. There was no way to turn this hopeless situation around, but Chen Taiji insisted that Gu Hai could do it. Furthermore, Chen Taiji seemed to have unwavering faith in him. The white-clad man slowly turned grave. After all, this war had significant implications. He could not afford to overlook any detail.
“I will. The sect master has given me the authority to deal with this. As long as his demands are not overboard, I will do my best to satisfy him!” the white-clad man assured gravely.
“Crown Prince, after you manage to convince Gu Hai to help, you will have to listen to everything he says if you want to turn this desperate situation around. Remember: that goes for all arrangements he makes. Also, address him as Uncle Gu. He was once your father’s sworn brother. Cough! Cough!” Chen Taiji said weakly, feeling bitter.
“Uncle Gu?” The crown prince revealed a shocked expression.
“Finally, apologize to him on my behalf. I let him down back then.” Chen Taiji showed a sorrowful bitterness.
After saying that final line, Chen Taiji closed his eyes. This flushed face instantly paled, and he stopped breathing.
“The emperor has passed away!”
Everyone fell to their knees—both inside and outside the large tent—endlessly mourning.
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