The mirage of an open gate
The lone survivor—or perhaps, the only one foolish enough not to play possum—continues to lumber over the sediment of death, shouting yet again "Open the gate!" Gao Xianzhi, eyeing the motionless Yeluohe commander positioned just out-of-range of the archers, issues his instructions: "Open the gate to lure the enemy". He wages that "even if they do not take the bait, [they] might save one life". Below, the soldier who is already on the verge of collapse, inches step by laborious step closer to the gate. He mutters to himself in gasps that he no longer cared for any amount of wealth, of advancement in government, or even the money to wed a wife—he only desperately yearns to return home.
Then to his amazement, the gate up ahead creaks open just a slimmer of space. The guardsmen behind it shouts to him "Hey! Brother! Over here, over here! Come quickly!" He can hardly believe his eyes, staring at this mirage of hope as though it were a mystical oasis at the heart of the merciless Desheret Desert. His brothers have not forsaken him; he is being rescued. The pitiful soul that he is is still worthy of being wrenched away from this ignominious gutter of soon-to-be obliviated lives. He need only to reach it.
All at once, a frightening excitement overwhelms his spirits, and he breaks from a canter into a furious gallop, as though at last prescient of monsters bearing down from behind. Fatigue is forgotten, or rather it has to be, and he clambers clumsily up the incline of festering corpses with frantic cries. Gripped by this scene, Feng Changqing first mutters then screams "FAST!" One outstretched arm towards his comrades' hands and then his tearful, ecstatic smile warps into regretful anguish. An arrow has plunged straight through his clavicle from behind, and so he tumbles down and down into the pit of forgotten stories.
The predator from afar was none other than the Yeluohe commander himself, relishing nothing more than a trivial, bonus kill. Tearing off his demonic helmet to expose his sadistic visage, he stabs up towards Xianzhi with his finger, then swipes his thumb across his throat, all while sticking his tongue out not like a playful child but like a hungry ghost. It is none other than Sun Xiaozhe, An Lushan's sworn son and deputy commander-in-chief. With a dramatic flourish, he then issues the order for a retreat, a retreat that by all appearances seemed somehow triumphant.
Order of self-sabotage
Atop the battlements, Gao Xianzhi and Feng Changqing watch as the Yeluohe horde fades away, surely to return again. Changqing winces at the sight of the piles of dead comrades below and then angrily pounds the floor with his fists. But another man, Military Supervisor Bian Lingcheng, is evidently not the least bit distraught as he approaches from behind to disingenuously congratulate Xianzhi for fending off the enemy. Xianzhi is in no mood to accept any praises, recognizing that the Yeluohe would only return with a larger force and that they needed to prepare for the next assault immediately. Still showing no sign of concern, Lingcheng nonchalantly suggests that he lead the army out of Tong Pass and pursue the enemy, following the victory with a counter-attack.
Changqing tilts his head slowly towards him, visibly stunned and appalled. He rhetorically asks if he is blind to the enormous casualties before them and tells him that their recruits are all boys of the streets, that it had taken all their efforts to push them into a frontal engagement, and most of all that defending Tong Pass is the utmost priority. Hearing this, Lingcheng slips into contempt, derisively accusing Changqing of making excuses by artfully recasting the "Great Tang royal army's heavenly warriors and valiant cavalry" as a "murder of crows".
He does not stop there and proceeds to pin the Fall of Luoyang squarely on Changqing's incompetence rather than the strength of their enemy. Then, as though to deliver a coup de grâce, he suddenly informs the jiedushi that the court had actually just decreed that he is to be stripped of all his ranks, effective immediately. Since this should mean that Changqing is now his inferior in station, Lingcheng audaciously points his hand down on him and orders him to "accompany the vanguard out of Tong Pass and absolve his crimes through service at the farthest frontline", a thinly disguised command to die in a suicide attack.
As he lets out one more taunt about the acceptability of any casualties to save the court's face, Xianzhi violently hoists him up into the air by the collar. Unable to tolerate Lingcheng's abuse any longer, he pins him over a merlon, threatening to oblige his wish to exit Tong Pass by personally throwing him right off the wall. Instantly, Lingcheng's smugness dissolves into pathetic terror, and he pleads between feeble stutters that he is only delivering an edict from the imperial court which should not be disobeyed. But Xianzhi is shrewd enough to see right through these schemes, putting the question right to his face of whether the order actually came from the court or just from Yang Guozhong. Since Lingcheng cannot muster a reply, Xianzhi adamantly tells him that he "fights for the Great Tang, not for little men like [him]", indicating that he has no absolutely no intention to comply with his order.
Almost as soon as Xianzhi has tossed him back onto the safety of the rampart, Lingcheng begins to recover his condescending demeanour. He mutters with exaggerated hurt about Xianzhi's ingratitude towards his patronage over the years before contorting his face into a sinister sneer for a final threat: "Of today's affairs, I will report them truthfully to Yang Guozhong".
After Lingcheng leaves, Xianzhi consolingly asks Changqing to get up, for he had continued to sit on his knees throughout the whole altercation. He issues his next orders for them to quickly revitalize their troop strength and repair the fortress's defences, and in response to Changqing's reminder that he is no longer a general, he resolutely informs him that it was of no consequence, for their soldiers "do not follow official titles, but men".
Overwhelmed by Xianzhi's continued respect for him, Changqing gets up onto his feet and bellows, "My lord! We have not been defeated! We only have not yet won!" All the soldiers at the garrison stand in file with stern expressions. Outside, the soldier who had failed to play dead lies as an additional corpse.