Unlike the other letters, these were all letters meant for the Wang Clan.
In the northeast of the Imperial City, within the Imperial Army Academy's buildings of glazed tile and ceramic glass, a middle-aged man sat cross-legged on the floor. From his gorgeous armor, one could see that this man was a commandant of the Imperial Army.
The room was quiet, but the middle-aged man exuded a powerful aura that continued to rise like bamboo after a spring rain. White steam billowed copiously off the top of the man's head, and his forehead was caked in cold sweat. It was obvious that he had reached a critical juncture in his cultivation.
Heart as calm as the abyss, heart as deep as the lake…
As this mantra flashed through his mind, he instantly calmed down. Bzzzz! Not long after, the steam rising from his head began to fade away, and the sweat on his brow began to dissipate. Finally…
"I've broken through into Imperial Martial Tier 7!"
Li Lin opened his eyes and gave a long sigh as if a heavy burden had been lifted off his shoulders.
Ever since Wang Chong had given him that technique, Li Lin had cultivated it day and night. The technique Wang Chong had gifted seemed to be extremely in tune with him, almost like it had been personally made for him. With this technique and a few opportunities in the outside world, Li Lin had made leaps and bounds in his cultivation to reach today's level.
He took a violet silk box from next to the bed and gently opened it, removed a white pill that was about the size of a quail egg, and swallowed it down. Boom! As the pill dissolved, enormous medicinal power erupted within Li Lin's chest, rushing into his meridians. The power of this medicine made Li Lin's aura swell, firmly placing him at Tier 7 of the Imperial Martial realm.
"Chong-er, thank you. If not for you, your uncle-in-law would have never been able to make a name for himself in the Imperial Army."
After some time, Li Lin finished digesting the medicinal power of the pill and raised his head, a look of gratitude in his eyes.
After three generations, the Wang Clan finally had another Qilin son, and he had even been titled as the Young Marquis and made the Son of Heaven's disciple. Everyone in the capital knew his name, and as his uncle-in-law, Li Lin had managed to receive quite a few benefits.
Li Lin had not been bestowed with much natural talent. With just the technique, he would have found it very difficult to reach his current stage so quickly. However, Wang Chong had also left behind many pills and medicines that had allowed Li Lin's strength to soar and completely firm up his status in the Imperial Army.
Li Lin was no longer the insignificant officer in charge of the gates. He now commanded a significant number of soldiers in the Imperial Army. Before, he had relied only on the Wang Clan's prestige, but now, he could rely on his own formidable strength to win the respect of his men.
As he was silently thinking, the flapping of wings came from outside the window. Li Lin turned toward the sound and saw that it was a white pigeon beatings its wings at his window. However, Li Lin had shut the doors and windows while he cultivated, so the pigeon was unable to get in.
A questioning look flashed through Li Lin's eyes, but he quickly regained his composure and opened the window with a faint smile. With smooth proficiency, he removed the letter from the carrier pigeon's leg and gently opened it. Glancing at the contents, he was immediately struck dumb.
The letter was almost completely empty, with only a few words written in the very middle.
There was no specific address nor the name of any sender on this letter. As Li Lin stared at it, his brow slowly began to crease.
"Already?" he muttered to himself.
This was a signal that he had agreed on with Wang Chong that no one except them knew the meaning of.
Li Lin quickly left his room with the letter.
If he wanted to complete the matter Wang Chong had hinted at with this letter, he would need the assistance of this marshal of the Imperial Army. Right now, Zhao Fengchen was the Wang Clan's staunchest and most powerful ally in the Imperial Army.
In a rush of wind, Li Lin vanished into the enormous Imperial City.
Several hundred li away from the capital, an enormous mountain stabbed into the sky like a mighty sword.
Imperial Heaven Pillar Mountain!
This was one of the four holy mountains that the Great Tang's Imperial Army used for training. It was rumored that several hundred years ago, the young Emperor Taizong had made an offering to the heavens and earth and reviewed the troops at this place. From that point on, this mountain became one of the primary camps for the Imperial Army.
The shouts and cries of training echoed over the mountain. A group of reserve imperial soldiers dressed in black clothes was running across the lush mountain via a steep road. Higher up the mountain, amidst the cloud and fog, thousands of imperial soldiers were training on the summit.
At the highest point of the summit, a thin middle-aged man was seated cross-legged on a round stone, silently observing the scenery below. Hwoooo! The wind tossed the man's hair about, and he gave a relaxed and carefree smile.
At this moment, a carrier pigeon flew down from the skies, breaking out of the clouds as it flew straight at the man's location.
The man's brows shifted, and a hint of surprise flickered through his eyes as he stood up from the rock and received the pigeon. As he glanced at the letter it had delivered, his smile faded and his expression turned serious.
"Chong-er, as expected, you spoke up. Is the situation at Talas so grim that you already need to mobilize that force?"
A complicated look flickered through Wang Mi's eyes. Without the slightest hesitation, he began to stride down the mountain.
No matter how fierce was the quarrel that had been sparked between the civil and military officials by the matter of Talas, this was all about some extremely faraway place to the people of the capital, and the capital retained its usual calm and serenity. In the western part of the city, in Ghost Tree District, crowds rushed here and there. No one took notice that a child of about eight or nine was strolling along, humming a tune while he swung around a wine gourd half a foot tall.
"Boss, how much does it cost for one tanghulu?"
"Two strings of cash."
"I want one.
"Boss, give me two taels worth of wine."
"Boss, I want a plate of spiced beef."
The child shopped as he walked, and in a little while, the wine gourd was full, his basket played host to several appetizers, and there was a tanghulu in his hands.
The merchant and peddlers would all call out to this child as he passed by. They had all become extremely familiar with this boy. Every day, he would buy a gourd of wine and several appetizers. There had never been any variation in this schedule.
As he was licking the tanghulu, a figure suddenly rushed in front of him. Caught unprepared, the boy crashed right into this figure.
"Ah, I'm sorry!"
The child hurriedly apologized, but when he raised his head and saw clearly who this man was, he froze. It was a tall and bulky man dressed in armor. This was no merchant or resident of the Ghost Tree District, but a soldier of some status.
As the boy's face tensed in panic, a small bell of gold and red suddenly dropped down in front of his face. On the bell, the image of a black ghost tree was extremely obvious.
The child was dazed by this bell and picture, and then he broke into a delighted smile.
"You were sent by Senior Brother?"
The soldier nodded and took out a letter from his bosom, offering it with both hands.
"Lord Marquis is in the northwest and cannot come. He sent me to give a letter to you. He said that Little Brother would only need to see this bell to understand."
In the end, the armored soldier couldn't hold himself back. "Please… offer Senior Su my respects for me."
No one could have imagined that this boy of eight or nine was the disciple of the Great Tang's War God, Su Zhengchen. The mere thought of that godlike existence made the soldier agitated.
The boy grimaced before taking the letter from the soldier and hopping and skipping away.
One pigeon after another flew into the capital while eagle after eagle flew off to the borders. These pigeons and eagles were all branches from the same tree; all of the Central Plains was rumbling to life according to the plans of Wang Chong and Gao Xianzhi.
Putting aside the capital for now, in the distant Talas, the clouds of war still hung thick, and the air was still tense. The news from the Khorasani had caused the entire city of Talas to enter a battle-ready state.
In a study within the northwest corner of the city, the light was dim and weak. Wang Chong sat behind a desk, a mountain of papers piled up in front of him.
"Wang Chong, you were looking for me?"
The door opened and the fully-armored Gao Xianzhi walked in.
"Lord Protector-General, you've come."
Wang Chong raised his head and rubbed his eyes, fatigue evident on his face.
"You didn't sleep last night. Are you still thinking about the Arabs?" Gao Xianzhi said.
Wang Chong nodded with a smile. Abu Muslim had not fully retreated and a new wave of soldiers was about to arrive. He was the commander of this army, so how could he possibly sleep? Wang Chong didn't even need to think to know that Gao Xianzhi was probably faring little better.
Wang Chong voiced his concerns. "Abu Muslim, Qutaybah, and Osman—if everything is really as that Khorasani said, then Talas will soon be the gathering place of three Arab governors. If we add Ziyad, Duwu Sili, Huoshu Huicang, and Dusong Mangpoje, we'll be facing the equivalent of seven Imperial Great Generals. This is an extremely dire situation for us."
Great Generals would always be the highest strength of any empire, powerful existences that could alter the course of battle. Four hundred thousand elite soldiers and seven Imperial Great Generals were an enormous and unstoppable force that could crush the Tang army at Talas into paste.
This was the reason Wang Chong had spent the last several nights without any sleep.
"Is there a chance… that the news from Khorasan could be incorrect?" Gao Xianzhi hesitantly asked.
Wang Chong bitterly smiled as he shook his head.
"The Khorasani have a deep feud with the Arabs. They would spare no effort to investigate the Arabs. Even if the reported number of soldiers is off, the discrepancy won't be that great. Four hundred thousand or three-hundred-thousand-some—that's still a formidable enemy that we can't contend against."