“This official knows nothing about matters of the harem, and I don’t believe in hearsay. It couldn’t have been as simple as they claimed with so many consorts being punished. Besides, I hear that Miss Feng is ill. I don’t see why she’d punish the consorts without a reason. They have probably done something wrong.”
Nan Jihan’s expression relaxed somewhat. He waved a hand to dismiss the meeting and made his way to the side palace. The other officials shot the man disapproving glares, but they knew it was smart of him to keep himself out of the matter.
When Nan Jihan arrived at Jun Huang’s residence, she was drinking tea in the garden. She rose to her feet with a smile and had the maid prepare some snacks.
Nan Jihan didn’t intend to keep what happened a secret. He told her about the morning meeting. She responded guiltily, “My reckless action has created troubles for you.”
“Ha, he is to blame for not being capable enough,” Nan Xun retorted. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t need to use his consorts to keep the remaining factions from the last emperor’s reign at bay.”
Nan Jihan’s face darkened, but he had to admit he wasn’t good with this aspect of politics. He pushed aside his annoyance and turned to Nan Xun. “You sound like you know what I should do. Why don’t you give me some suggestions? Then we can get this over with.”
Nan Xun mused. Southern Mu was a significant enough player. There was no telling what would happen when Northern Qi fought Eastern Wu. With Southern Mu’s help, they stood a better chance of winning. He couldn’t stay on the sidelines when unrest lingered in Southern Mu. “Deal with your trouble-seeking consorts first. Then you can assemble a group to spy on the officials and identify their weaknesses. You’ll be able to win them over one by one.”
Nan Jihan nodded approvingly. However, it wouldn’t be easy to assemble such a group, and he didn’t want to scare the courtiers. He wasn’t sure exactly what he should do.
Nan Jihan voiced his doubts. Nan Xun hummed, thinking of the House of Heavenly Fiends. He gave Nan Jihan a smile.
Nan Jihan pursed his lips. What is he plotting?
“Does Your Majesty want to buy the information?” asked Nan Xun. “I know a place.”
Nan Jihan looked at him in confusion. Nan Xun briefly explained their relationship with the House of Heavenly Fiends. Nan Jihan pulled a face. He envied Nan Xun’s good luck for becoming one of the leaders of the House of Heavenly Fiends with Jun Huang’s help, but he did need the organization’s help. After some negotiation, he offered to buy the information at a considerable price.
A few days later, Nan Xun made his way to the House of Heavenly Fiends’ operation base in Southern Mu and showed the doorwatcher his token. He asked for information about Eastern Wu and the officials Nan Jihan was going to target.
The man in charge took him to a study and went off to retrieve the documents he needed. He returned with a couple written reports. Nan Xun cared less about the officials in Southern Mu. He thus picked up the report on Eastern Wu first and saw that they’d been gathering troops. They must be preparing for battles. He wrote a letter and had it delivered to Northern Qi, telling Qi Yun to be on guard.
When Nan Xun was about to leave, the man in charge stopped him. He waited for the old man to speak.
“Two of the officials Nan Jihan listed have been difficult to investigate,” admitted the old man. “We’ve found nothing unusual yet.”
Nan Xun frowned and took a more careful look at the other report. One of the two officials was General Li. The other was the man who had spoken up for Jun Huang in the court.
It was rare for the house to find nothing unusual about anyone. He told the old man to put more effort into investigating the two officials. He then asked about Jun Hao and Yin Yun.
He sighed in relief when he was told that they were both safe. Jun Huang hadn’t had the opportunity to inquire about her family lately, but she must be worried. It made his heart grow heavy.
He returned to the palace and told Jun Huang everything. She agreed that not finding anything unusual was a warning sign. The house must get to the bottom of this no matter how much time they needed.
Nan Xun knelt before Jun Huang and took her hand. “Don’t worry,” he said gently. “I’ve asked about Jun Hao and Yin Yun. They’re both safe.”
Jun Huang paused before giving him a smile and a nod, accepting his kind offer.
She’d been losing weight and hadn’t felt like going outside. No matter how much medicine she took, she remained ill and sometimes collapsed at night. Oleg Cragfiend had no choice but to prescribe more medicine for her. He also told her to get off the bed every day to facilitate the treatment.
Jun Huang knew what she should do, but she couldn’t move her sickly body. Her face got paler and paler, which worried everyone.
“You have to overcome yourself!” Oleg Cragfiend snapped angrily. “ Get off the bed tomorrow! You’re not a little girl anymore. You know what you have to do. Don’t lay there like a dead man.”
Jun Huang lowered her eyes and nodded. Nan Xun pulled her into his arms and whispered, “I’ll accompany you to a performance tomorrow. What do you say?”
“That’ll be good. Thank you.” Jun Huang gave him a smile, which made his heart ache. The blood drawing process had weakened her so much. She was still graceful, but much less lively.
She didn’t care much about other people’s opinions, but the pain in Nan Xun’s eyes hit her hard. She silently swore to persevere and not disappoint those who’d tried so hard to save her.
The weather was nice the next day. Nan Xun took Jun Huang to a performance. The sun and the singing made Jun Huang drowsy. Afterwards, she had her blood drawn and took some medicine. Exhaustion set in and put her to sleep.
Nan Xun had told Oleg Cragfiend that he’d go to the snowy mountain with him today. He hadn’t seen the lotus for himself even after all this time. Once Jun Huang fell asleep, he rushed to the mountain with the poison master.
In a hurry, he hadn’t put on a winter coat, but his inner energy kept him warm. They went straight to the cave the lotus was in. Nan Xun watched Oleg Cragfiend pour the blood over the flower from afar. The blood quickly seeped into the plant, giving it a faint crimson glow.
“She’s getting weaker, but don’t worry. The lotus is developing nicely and will soon reach maturity.”
Nan Xun was a little embarrassed for having someone notice his worry, but he didn’t dwell on it. He cordially expressed his gratitude to Oleg Cragfiend and asked him to take care of Jun Huang.
When the lotus was about to reach maturity, Eastern Wu sent out their troops.
After the emperor of Northern Qi died, the men Eastern Wu planted in Northern Qi brought the good news back. The new emperor was a young man who wouldn’t pose much of a threat.
Eastern Wu celebrated the news while Northern Qi was mourning for their loss. This was what they had been waiting for!
The emperor of Eastern Wu had been getting impatient. He laughed when he heard the news and tore the peace treaty to pieces in the court for all to see. Fate was on their side!
He immediately deployed the army. Although Nan Xun and Qi Yun had been prepared, they didn’t expect Eastern Wu to invade so abruptly with such ferocity. The general stationed at the border had been informed, but he was caught off guard by the sudden ambush at night. Northern Qi lost a city as a result. Eastern Wu’s morale was high, while Nan Xun grew even more resentful.
Nan Xun couldn’t wait to destroy Eastern Wu. His ire burned hotter when he heard that Eastern Wu soldiers had killed everyone in the city.
He went straight to Nan Jihan and asked for his help. Nan Jihan agreed readily. This could be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Eastern Wu had gained a city in Nan Xun’s absence. His soldiers needed a leader. In order to turn the tide around as soon as possible, Nan Xun must leave immediately. Jun Huang was still asleep when he departed. He didn’t wake her and instead had Nan Jihan deliver a message for him before mounting a horse and ridding off with his men.
Jun Huang woke up in the afternoon. The maid who’d been staying by her side noticed how unfocused her eyes were. The maid cried, muffling her sob by covering her mouth.
Jun Huang had gradually lost her vision. She could barely see anything. She’d heard about Eastern Wu’s invasion. She kept her condition from Nan Xun so that he wouldn’t be too worried. She stayed in bed and never gave him a chance to discover her loss of eyesight.
Nan Jihan was one of the few who knew. When he entered her room, she was sitting up with the maid’s help. He sighed and draped the blanket over her without a word.
Jun Huang could tell who her visitor was. “Why are you here? Did he… leave already?”
Nan Jihan’s heart ached. He put on a smile and nodded. Realizing that she couldn’t see, he added, “Yes, he came to visit you earlier, but you were asleep. He didn’t want to disturb you, so he left.”