Chapter 867: Talas, the Army Departs!
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
"We've just about discussed everything that needs to be discussed. Father, Big Brother, let's give the order to move out."
Wang Yan immediately gave a grim nod.
"Speed is of utmost importance in war, and the matter of Talas cannot be delayed for too long. Since everything is ready, we should head out. Fu-er, go and handle it."
Wang Fu very quickly left to give the orders.
"Chong-er, you will be the commander of this operation. I, your big brother, and your second brother will work with you. Don't get any misgivings. Military affairs are vital to a state and cannot be treated lightly. The thirty thousand lives of the Anxi Protectorate army and the entire structure of the Western Regions are at stake in this operation, so we cannot be careless in the slightest. Before we set out, let's play out the scenario one last time!" Wang Yan sternly said.
Wang Chong nodded, taking the role of leader without much ceremony, and then he began to carefully explain. There were no fathers and sons on the battlefield. This was a battle that would decide the fate of tens of thousands of soldiers and the course of the Central Plains for the next one thousand years. Either the empire would fall into internal discord after its outward expansion was thwarted, or the Great Tang and the Han race would continue to enjoy a glorious status as the strongest people of the continent. All of it hinged on this battle!
A few moments later, after the last simulation was played out, Wang Chong finally walked out of the hall. As the wind buffeted his hair, he felt much calmer.
There's still seven days until the fall of a Great General, which means that Talas will only fall in seven days! Seven days! That's enough!
A sharp light flickered through Wang Chong's eyes as he stood at the door, and then he began to move.
"Bang the drums!"
The drums quickly began to thunder over the City of Steel, and then the earth began to tremble and buzz as the city awakened like some massive beast. Countless soldiers of various types proceeded into the massive City of Steel: the Qixi Protectorate army, combined units of infantry and cavalry, the Annan Protectorate army, the Wushang Cavalry, ballista units, Gangke mercenaries, the Western Regions mercenaries, the regular soldiers of Greater and Lesser Balur… an army of more than one hundred thousand had gathered in this place, a wondrous sight to behold.
Next to these soldiers were convoys of carriages loaded with steel, supplies, and craftsmen, as well as shepherds from various tribes.
The stench of war swept over the earth!
The world was silent as Wang Chong climbed up the walls of the City of Steel to appear before the countless soldiers. The sunlight appeared to make Wang Chong seem taller, his black silhouette the most visible figure between the heavens and earth.
"The purpose for which I've gathered you here does not need to be repeated! I'd like to use this opportunity to warn everyone against holding evil intentions and making an enemy of the Great Tang, for those who offend the Great Tang… will be punished, no matter how far away they are!"
Clang! Following this clear proclamation, Wang Chong unsheathed his sword and pointed west.
The heavens trembled as the army roared, then this mixed army of Han and foreigners majestically left Wushang's City of Steel like a surging river. It swept over the cement road toward the distant Talas, alarming the entire Western Regions with its procession.
The Great Tang's largest expedition to the west had begun!
"Hanshan, I leave Qixi to you!"
Wang Chong stood upon the massive tower situated on the walls, his hands held behind him as he watched the army march toward the horizon.
There was only silence around him, with no answer to these words. Just when one would think that Wang Chong was talking to himself, a cold and emotionless voice finally grunted in assent.
Silence once more.
Wang Chong mentally chuckled at this icy voice.
He's still the same Su Hanshan!
One would have to look with new eyes upon another after a parting of three days, but who could have imagined that while Su Hanshan had only been at the True Martial realm in their first meeting, he had now broken into the Imperial Martial realm, a result that most could not achieve even if given five or six years. No one knew what had happened to him in this intervening year or how he had managed to reach this cultivation level.
But while Wang Chong would have been somewhat surprised if this had happened to anyone else, he found it quite normal with Su Hanshan. Since Su Hanshan had, in his last life, been acknowledged to have the 'qualities of a Great General' and had even reached the rank of Brigadier General, it was of little surprise to Wang Chong that he had improved so rapidly.
Su Hanshan's strength might still not have reached the level that Wang Chong remembered, but his intelligence and eye for strategy were unquestionable. Moreover, after his half a year of training in Beiting, Su Hanshan was both thinner and sharper, like an unsheathed sword. He was also much more composed, which was why Wang Chong had called for him.
"The Battle of Talas is of major importance. Once I'm gone, Qixi will essentially be empty, so Ü-Tsang and the Western Turks will definitely try something. I can only leave for you eight thousand Hu soldiers and one thousand Han soldiers, as well as eight thousand bandits. This is the most help I can give you. No matter what, you have to hold on. Qixi is the gateway to Longxi, and if this place is lost, the door to Longxi will be wide open and all its innocents will be exposed to the iron hooves of the enemy, with unthinkable consequences. I will also be threatened on the front lines."
When fighting abroad, one had to first ensure that the domestic situation was stable. If his rear were threatened, Wang Chong would truly find it difficult to battle in the front without worry, so the rear had to be kept safe.
"Be at ease! It will not be lost!"
Finally, Su Hanshan walked out from behind Wang Chong to stand next to him. He was wearing black armor, and his head was slightly raised, his eyes shining like stars. He was still that aloof and arrogant person that Wang Chong had first met, but he also seemed much more composed, exuding the demeanor of a general.
Su Hanshan's words were very simple, but they were backed by strength.
"…But I still need some help from you," Su Hanshan added.
"Fifty ballista teams," Su Hanshan flatly said.
Wang Chong smiled and immediately agreed. Fifty ballista teams, five men to a team, was only two hundred and fifty people. This would have little effect on Wang Chong's forces.
After speaking with Su Hanshan, Wang Chong quickly descended the tower. At the imposing and lofty gates of the City of Steel, Xu Qiqin, Xu Keyi, and the others were waiting for him.
Upon seeing Wang Chong, Xu Keyi and the other officers immediately stepped forward and bowed. It was about time to go, and they had only been waiting for Wang Chong.
Wang Chong nodded, his eyes looking past his subordinates to Xu Qiqin, fairy-like in her white gown.
"…Take care of yourself. I'll wait for your return."
"Mm, relax. I'll definitely return in triumph."
Wang Chong grinned and then took the reins of the White-hoofed Shadow from Xu Keyi.
With these words, he mounted his horse and rode out with the others. Behind them, Xu Qiqin gazed at Wang Chong's back, her smile slowly fading and worry creeping into her eyes.
This was not the first time Xu Qiqin had seen Wang Chong leave like this, and if she did not understand the Arabs or the situation at Talas, she would have believed that this was just a simple expedition. But Imperial Great General Gao Xianzhi was besieged at Talas and was still unable to break out, so one could easily imagine the strength of the Arabs.
Still, Xu Qiqin did not want to add to Wang Chong's burdens, so no matter how worried she was, she would only show a faint smile in front of Wang Chong.
A light breeze sprinkled with sand blew over, causing Xu Qiqin to squint and cough slightly.
Behind her, Xu Qiqin's personal maid Little Zhu had appeared, with a worried look on her face.
"It's fine… don't tell anyone else."
With these words, Xu Qiqin returned to the City of Steel.
The vast army of more than one hundred thousand surged toward Talas. At the very end of the train, Wang Chong had called over Xu Keyi.
"Our marching speed is still too slow. Xu Keyi, bring some cavalry with you and go ahead. I have something I need you to do."
Wang Chong looked into the distance from atop the White-hoofed Shadow.
"Lord Marquis, please give the order."
"Take this letter with you. I've already written the task inside. Do everything as I've written out. I'm only giving you two days. There's no need to worry about us, and when you've settled the matter, you can head straight to the Anxi Protectorate to wait for us."
"This general will go!"
Xu Keyi took the letter and turned around without even paying it a glance.
"You, you, you… all of you, come with me!"
Speed was of paramount importance for an army, and it took only a few moments for Xu Keyi to select five thousand cavalry and gallop off, swiftly pulling away from the rest of the soldiers.
Gao Xianzhi, hold your ground, Wang Chong thought, looking to the northwest. Until I arrive on the battlefield, this is all I can do for you. Be careful of the Karluks. Those of another people aren't worth your trust!
The situation in Talas was getting more and more perilous, and there was a high chance that the Karluks would reenact their betrayal. History had changed, but the personalities of people would never change. Gao Xianzhi actually had a very large flaw in how he arrayed his forces. He favored placing his Anxi Protectorate army at the front and the mercenaries in the rear. If the battle was won, there was no problem with this sort of tactic, but if the battle did not proceed smoothly, and things went like they were going at Talas, Gao Xianzhi was only fettering himself with the chains of death.