Welcome back to the Isu Codices. This month, we are looking into the English translations of the third volume of the Chinese manhua “Assassin’s Creed Dynasty” and the fourth (and final) volume of the Japanese manga “Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun.”
Due to the nature of the ‘Forgotten Myths’ comics by Dark Horse making pure explanation all but impossible (owing to how they did not discern what actually happened versus myth), we will not be discussing that.
Gao Xianzhi (? – 756)
Also known as Go Seonji, this man was a Tang dynasty general descended from the people of the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo. He was known as a great commander during his lifetime. He is best known for taking part in multiple military expeditions to conquer the Western Regions, over the Pamir Mountains, and reaching the Aral Sea and the Caspian Sea. He was also a commander of Tang forces during the Battle of Talas.
Around the new year in 756, Gao and fellow general Feng Changqing offended the politically powerful eunuch Bian Lingcheng while defending Tong Pass against An Lushan’s rebellion. As a result, Bian accused Gao of corruption (more on Feng when we get to him), and so Gao was executed. While he submitted to his execution for abandoning his post, he, and his soldiers, claimed that the accusations of corruption were nothing but falsehood until his death, though he reportedly commended Feng for his rise from a low station before the end came.
Feng Changqing (? – 756)
Much is known about Feng Changqing’s life, but we will keep this to just what is relevant to the era shown, and excluding the information on the Battle of Talas that we have already addressed.
He served as a guardsman in Anxi under Gao Xianzhi, who reluctantly allowed him in despite having low status and being rather frail and unattractive. He was promoted many times on his merits and intellect, On some occasions, he was known to cane subordinates for lack of discipline, even to the point of death. In 752, Feng, then the deputy to the military governor of Anxi, became the acting military governor following the death of his predecessor. His position was made more official in 754.
With the onset of An Lushan’s rebellion in 755, Feng was made the jiedushi of Fanyang and Pinglu to replace the traitorous general. Feng believed that the rebellion could be dealt with quickly, by going to Luoyang to defend it and then launch a counterattack. However, due to a lack of weapons to supply to his troops coupled with An Lushan crossing the Yellow River at a location aside from the bridge, he was forced to destroy the western gate of Luoyang and retreat when An Lushan attacked, having successfully captured the Chenliu and Yingyang Commanderies beforehand.
This retreat to (by then Supreme Commander of the military forces) Gao’s location at the Shan Commandery caused Emperor Xuanzong to strip Feng of his titles but allow him to continue serving in the army under Gao. Feng believed that Shan Prefecture was difficult to defend, advising that they retreat to Tong Pass and fortify its defenses against An’s attack, a decision to which Gao agreed, and so they retreated to the pass, leading An to be unable to capture that location. Even so, Feng, worried that he may be in trouble, wrote a final submission to the emperor in advance, warning about the general’s strengths and cautioning against overconfidence as other officials at the time (once including himself) had believed An to be a foe they could quickly defeat.
Unfortunately, due to Gao offending eunuch Bian Lingcheng, Both he and Feng were reported for their abandonment of Shan, and Feng was additionally accused of exaggerating An’s strength. On those charges, Feng submitted to his execution as demanded by Emperor Xuanzong, and was beheaded in 756.
Bian Lingcheng was a eunuch during 756 who served as a ranking official in Emperor Xuanzong’s court. During the campaign at Tong Pass, he served as the monitor for Gao Xianzhi, who had caused him much offense when he did not meet the demands made by Bian. Upon his return to Chang’an, he accused Feng Changqing of exaggerating General An Lushan’s strength, and Gao Xianzhi of improperly abandoning Shan, as well as of corruption by withholding food supplies and imperial rewards to soldiers for his own personal benefit.Continued below
As Emperor Xuanzong believed Bian, he issued edicts for the execution of both officers, which were then carried out.
Zhang Yizhi (? – 705)
Zhang Yizhi, formally the Duke of Zheng (nickname Wulang), was the brother of Zhang Changzong, Duke of Ye (nickname Liulang), and served with him as an official under Empress Regnant Wu Zetian of the single-ruler Wu Zhou dynasty both as an official and as Wu Zetian’s lover, from 697 until his death. He and his brother were nearly removed for corruption in 704, but were spared from removal by the actions of the Empress.
Upon the death of Wu Zetian, both Yizhi and his brother were assassinated, along with three other Zhang brothers, by a collection of officials who saw them as a threat to the ascension of Li Xian as Emperor Zhongzong of the restored Tang Dynasty.
In 750, Yang Guozhong, whose mother was a sister of the Zhang brothers (rather than being the son of Zhang Yizhi himself as in the manhua), helped the daughter one of the other Zhang brothers to have her petition defending them brother before Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, resulting in Zhang Yizhi and his brother having their titles restored posthumously.
Altan Khan (1507 – 1587)
Born with the given name Anda, Altan of the Tümed was the de facto ruler of the Right Wing (i.e., western tribes) of the Mongols. He was the grandson of Dayan Khan, a “great” khan who had re-unified Mongolian nobility in an attempt to regain the power of the Yuan dynasty, and also was a descendant of Kublai Khan.
His name means “Golden Khan” in the Mongolian language.
To remind others, this information is listed in chronological order, rather than in order of pages or release dates.
Assassin’s Creed Dynasty: Golden Turtles (Chapters 17 – 24)
Talking to surrendering Tang soldiers in an encampment, An Lushan was wistful about his first, fallen son, Qingzong, who grew up without his father there, as An had with respect to his own father. Hearing that he was deemed a traitor by the Emperor, the General killed the prisoners in a rage, then decided to give Tang China exactly what it thought of him by conquering Chenliu County and thereafter marching toward the eastern capital, Luoyang, a conquest that could be described as a massacre.
Home of Yan Jiming
In the courtyard, Yan Jiming trained with Li E. It was not going particularly well, but he tried his best to learn as He Hong’er, the wife of Li E, came to see them. The woman sparred with Li E, performing well enough in swordplay to surprise him at how they are seemingly evenly matched. He Hong’er claims to have derived training for herself from only some initial instruction, showing Li E that she is quite talented.
Gathering in the war room, the three met with a newly arrived Yan Gaoqing and the Changshan generals, hearing a situation most dire: all of the land from Fanyang to Luoyang had fallen to An Lushan within the past ten to seventeen days, with Tang forces forced to retreat into Tong Pass. By Gaoqing’s reckoning, the only possible way to turn the tide would be to secure Tumen Pass, which was under the command of Gao Miao and Li Qincou. If they could take that location, the Changshan forces could sever An Lushan’s supply lines by advancing from Taiyuan into Hebei. This matter was rather urgent, as He Quinnian was on the way to Tumen Pass with an elite marksman force, and would arrive at Changshan itself by the next day if not stopped. As such, the Changshan forces needed to move under the cover of night to link up with the army in Tong Pass.
Li E proposed they they only need to assassinate Gao Miao and Li Qincou, after which Tumen Pass would be relatively easily captured. From there, they could transmit their call-to-arms all throughout Hebei, hopefully rekindling hope for a counter-rebellion and aiding the Tang army.
As the plan stood, Gaoqing hoped to present an abundance of fine wine and foods to the Tumen Pass garrison for a feast, then slay the drunken soldiers, and afterwards ambush the rest beyond the officers who had already been dealt with. The Yan forces headed out that very night, having had Yan Jiming write a letter ghostwritten by Li E (who had little formal literacy training) to Gao Xianzhi in Tong Pass to ask for aid.Continued below
The Tang soldiers were in a panicked retreat, as Feng Changqing (jiedushi of Anxi), and Gao Xianzhi (now Great General of the Right of Jinwu) watched from on high. Given that Tong Pass was their last line of defense, they waited until nearly the last moment to have their archers fire on the forces, ultimately hitting ally and enemy alike. The carnage did not cease until a second wave of Yeluohe was stopped by its commander, Sun Xiaozhe, just before the moat, the ditch overfilling with corpses.
Both to lure in the enemy and to save a lone soldier, Gao Xianzhi had the gate to their fortifications opened, but that effort was for naught, the man killed by Sun Xiaozhe himself, who ordered a retreat soon after in spite of his quasi-triumph.
Upon the retreat, Military Supervisor Bian Lingcheng disingenuously congratulated Xianzhi on fending off the enemy (which was rejected) and suggested that he lead the army out of Tong Pass and pursue the enemy, following the victory with a counter-attack. Lingcheng continued to insult after being told how ludicrous such a suggestion would be, relaying that Feng Changqing had been stripped of his rank (making the latter actually Lingcheng’s inferior in station) and issued the former jiedushi a thinly veiled order to perform a suicide attack by joining a vanguard in attacking the Yeluohe, accepting any number of casualties to save the court’s face.
Having had enough, Gao Xianzhi threatened to throw him over the wall to satisfy his desire to leave Tong Pass. Terrified, Lingcheng tried to say that he was only relaying orders from the court that were not to be disobeyed. However, he did not reply when Gao asked if the orders came from the court or from Yang Guozhong himself. As such, Gao refused to obey the order, and threw the supervisor to the floor of the rampart again. Shortly thereafter, Bian Lingcheng ominously stated that he would be reporting of the day’s affairs “truthfully” to Yang Guozhong before leaving.
Once Lingcheng was gone, Gao told Feng to revitalize the troop strength and repair the fortress defenses, as even if Feng had been stripped of his rank, the soldiers followed men, not official titles, a kindness and respect that revitalizes the disheartened man and encourages him to do as ordered.
Despite commanderies as varied as Shan, Hongnong, Jinan, Puyang, and Yunzhong falling to the Yeluohe’s westward march (all within a month, alongside Luoyang), Feng and Gao defended the pass, hoping for a chance for a true counterattack. That chance came in the form of a box with the letter from Li E, who used a method of correspondence familiar to Gao from his time as a jiedushi.
In the letter, Li E not only explained the plan, but also told of the Hidden Ones he now serves and what happened at Talas (for which he does not blame his commander). Further, Li E requested Gao send troops to Taiyuan and await a rendezvous, as Gaoqing had trouble distinguishing friend from foe in this time of civil war. When asked by Gao, Feng recalled Li E as one of the troops in the group he claimed, verifying the authenticity of his words at least on that front.
Emboldened and relieved, Gao Xianzhi decided to send what troops he can to ensure this counter-rebellion can succeed, even if it meant losing some defenders at Tong Pass in the process.
Yan Jiming and his father Gaoqing approached the gates of the pass, and were let inside with the food and drinks. Unfortunately, An’s forces were not stupid, and did not let the soldiers (disguised as handymen) in as well, knowing there was a reason for the Yan family’s arrival beyond mere courtesy. Luckily, Li E had stowed away in a container normally used for wine, so they were not without support, as while they were disarmed, he was not.
Gao Miao told the Yans how he was aware they would likely try to kill him, but that while their attempts at poison (not the real weapon) we’re not likely to work, they would be killed as traitors due to being separated from their forces. To Gao’s surprise, neither father nor son seemed frightened by this possibility.Continued below
While there was some struggle, especially against the massive Li Qincou, both of the generals were soon dispatched: Gao Miao and several guards by Li E’s crossbow on a nearby roof, and the rest with the Assassin siding the Yan family in person, leaving both generals and their guards all dead. That done, Li E said they were ready to open the pass to their allies.
A few hours after this assault, He Quinnan, sent as a deputy general by An, arrived at the pass, intent on supporting his fellows and quashing the betrayers with Yeluohe archers. To his shock, He instead found the pass having been taken over. Though He was in disbelief, the thousands of assembled soldiers proved the loyalists as victorious, implying He Quinnan’s subsequent surrender and execution.
The forces from Tong Pass sent another message, to recover the tokens of office from the three traitors, was accompanied by a promise of additional soldiers to the area known as Taiyuan. However, the tokens found were not fish shaped, as with many of Tong, but turtle shaped, as was common in the reign of Empress Wu Zetian, of the preceding Wu Zhou dynasty, which alarmed the Yans and Li E.
Known to readers, but not to the trio, Yang Guozhong is the illegitimate son of Zhang Yizhi and Wu Zetian, and the latter was the Empress under whom the Golden Turtles began (explaining the aforementioned tokens). This information is found in the latest of Abe no Nakamaro’s letters.
With that in mind, Li E set off to Taiyuan, though not without agreeing to teach martial arts to Jiming if the lord would teach him to write.
Assassin’s Creed: Blade of Shao Jun Volume 4 (Chapters 14 – 18)
Forbidden City, Beijing
Shao Jun came to the Forbidden City as the letter she had received requested. There, she found not only Qixie, but also Qiu Ju. Though the Empress was briefly knocked unconscious in the battle while trying to aid Shao Jun (an event not shown in the game this adapts), Qiu Ju was set aflame, barely getting his burning attire off, but causing a spreading fire around the palace. The Assassin and the Templar faced off in a duel to the death, with Shao Jun victorious and helping her friend (again conscious) to escape the conflagration.
Outside, Qixie elected to remain at the palace and give the Emperor wiser counsel, even with Zhang Yong as the only remaining member of the Eight Tigers, in order to make for a better life for all outside of Templar manipulations.
Outside of Beijing
Shao Jun was training Xiao Hu, having him go out to find rumors about Zhang Yong’s potential location. There were apparently rumors of small amounts of Mongols firing over the Great Wall, which Shao Jun realized meant the leader who was most likely to attack them, Altan Han (better known as Altan Khan), likely has Zhang Yong as a supporter to open the way into the country.
The suspicions were confirmed with a note intended for Zhang Yong from the Mongols fired on an arrow. A dying, Templar-loyal guard explained that Zhang Yong was willing to help the Mongols invade China in order to gain a title in the Templar Order, and the gate through the wall was already wide open. Luckily, she made her way to the guards in charge of opening it, killing the traitorous one and telling his companion, not loyal to the Tigers, that Zhang Yong had betrayed them, leading to him closing said gate again as she faced Zhang Yong at last.
Despite her defeating him in a surprise attack aided by a catapult, Shao Jun learned that Zhang Yong had already sent the Precursor box abroad (to India, as shown in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India), and that while she killed him, the battle of one order versus another would go on.
Following the defeat of Zhang Yong, Xiao Hu decided it best to return to his homeland of Japan. There, he would take back his original name of Kotetsu, and, using his Mentor’s teachings, would ultimately begin the Japanese Brotherhood of Assassins.
Circa 2016-2017 CE
Following the breakout in Madrid that led to the assassination of Alan Rikkin, Dr. Kaori Kagami had descended into alcoholism (including drinking on the job), and so was sent home to Japan to sort her life out, with Ellen Kaye noting that the work could continue “perfectly well without [her]”. She had hated the Assassins ever since, blaming them for her being sent to a smaller outpost at home.
Mari tells Kiyoshi Takakura that Lisa Huang is planning to continue her treatment to find out what the Templars are after. However, while Kiyoshi does not think there is too much harm in it yet, and believes that Lisa is strong enough to resist the Bleeding Effect’s more dangerous manifestations, he still is intent on stopping the plans and rescuing her if things go on much longer, to prevent too much damage (be it to Lisa’s brain or what she could do to others).
After viewing Shao Jun and Qixie’s meeting, Lisa tried to leave for the day, citing the dangerous side effects of the Animus. With Dr. Kagami shocked, she tried to leave after hearing the doctor’s obsession with gaining the rest of the memories, only to find not only that the doors were impossible for her to break through, but that Kagami was willing to hold her at gunpoint and force her to continue, also telling her of how she had been trying to glean the memories since the fall of the Madrid facility (in 2016) prevented her from learning from another descendant of Shao Jun (as noted in a prior annotation). She has her guards force Lisa back into the Animus, claiming it to be “for the advancement of all mankind.”
Kiyoshi, having bugged some location, hears about Lisa having been forced back into the Animus, and, after telling Mari (who offers to come along), drives toward the treatment facility.
Finding out that Shao Jun sent the box abroad, Kagami has a breakdown over everything she learned being useless. Unfortunately, Lisa, having awakened, hears the entire confession, and how her desire for knowledge is for personal prestige, not to aid all of humanity.
Lisa declares that Kagami does not have the right to control her, only to be rebuffed with the idea that she was useless until the Templars got a hold of her genetic memories. Before the argument can continue, Kiyoshi and Mari burst in, taking out the guards seemingly less-than-lethally and overall creating an excellent distraction.
Upon being faced with the handgun Kagami raises in her direction again, coupled with her Bleeding Effect-gained martial skills, Lisa dispatches the guards and turns the gun on her captor. Despite Kagami’s belief (and prior instances with Shao Jun’s memories as shown in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia with another person), it is Lisa Huang, not Shao Jun, who controls the movement, declaring her independence from control once and for all.
When Kiyoshi and Mari finally arrive, Lisa indicates that while she hates being controlled, Kaori Kagami was right about the teenager’s self-loathing, and did help her work through her issues by way of Shao Jun’s memories. As such, while the Animus experiments would come to an end, she spares the doctor’s life, instead shooting a nearby computer before leaving the facility.
Outside, they meet with the Japanese Mentor, where, given the choice, both Lisa and Mari voluntarily decide to join the secret war in favor of the Assassins, at least in part to find the box Shao Jun lost in China. The hunt could take years (though judging from the other Chronicles games existing, that may be an exaggeration), but given their youth, they could potentially accomplish it.
We will check back next time, by which time the fourth volume of “Dynasty” is set to release in an English translation.