Ji Bo glanced at Nan Xun. He knew why Nan Xun was worried, so he didn’t take his words personally. He walked away shaking his head.
Seemingly provoked by Ji Bo’s words, Nan Xun had become even more ferocious and unstoppable in the next few battles. He sent Eastern Wu fleeing like a man possessed.
The Eastern Wu palace was silent. The officials didn’t dare utter a word lest they anger the emperor. They exchanged glances without a word.
“Cats got your tongue?!” The emperor swept everything on the table off and glared at the officials. “What do I pay you for?! Northern Qi is right at our doorstep. Do you think they’re going to stop without breaking into the imperial city?”
“This son believes it’d be unwise to fight them headon,” the first prince said timidly. “Northern Qi is powerful. If we insist on fighting them, we’ll end up losing the entire Eastern Wu. We might as well seek a peaceful resolution. They may be willing to work with us. Then we’ll get some time to recuperate and make a comeback later.”
His words did make sense, but he’d been sweating profusely due to his nerves, which made him look pathetic.
The emperor had been thinking about doing exactly that, but as an emperor he couldn’t possibly make such a proposal. He was relieved that his first son had done it for him, but he didn’t immediately respond and instead told everything to consider the idea.
The courtiers weren’t blind to the reality. It was shameful to submit to Northern Qi, but there was no place for pride in survival. They had to first think about keeping Eastern Wu from being destroyed.
The next day, they sent delegates to Northern Qi seeking peace.
Nan Xun heard about the delegates and concluded that Eastern Wu didn’t have the power to fight back anymore. He intended to keep advancing, but he couldn’t just keep the delegates from entering their territory. Before they could reach Northern Qi’s imperial city, though, Nan Xun sent a letter to Qi Yun.
They both wanted to destroy Eastern Wu, but the Northern Qi officials believed peace was the better option and tried to pressure Qi Yun into summoning the army back. Qi Yun didn’t want to oblige, but the courtiers were united in this decision. Qi Yun had no choice but to make the order, but he implied that generals enjoyed their autonomy at the border, urging Nan Xun to do what he wanted to do.
Nan Xun got his message loud and clear and advanced until they reached the gate to the imperial city. Qi Yun would have wanted them to keep going. However, Jun Huang was somewhere in the imperial city. Nan Xun didn’t want her to get hurt, so he stopped and had the troops pull back twenty miles, which allowed Eastern Wu some room to breathe. He sent a group to report back to the imperial court, while he disguised himself and snuck into the city.
Yin Yun soon found out what the medicine was. He entered Jun Huang’s room without getting detected and placed the residue on the table.
“Did you find anything?” Jun Huang asked with a grave expression.
Yin Yun nodded. “I sought out an old master and had him look at the medicine. It contains a hallucinogen, but all the other ingredients are good for the human body.”
Yin Yun tried to make his words less blunt. It was admirable that Jun Huang was able to stay so calm even when being deceived by everyone around her.
Jun Huang sighed in relief. She’d thought the medicine was only meant to harm her, but that turned out not to be true. However, it could still cause her great trouble. She didn’t show any reactions on the surface, but she’d made a decision in her head.
She opened the door to check outside. The maid was asleep and didn’t seem likely to wake up anytime soon. She closed the door and got right down to business.
“I’ve told you about the back of the manor being suspicious,” said Jun Huang. “Have you found anything?”
Yin Yun nodded. “From the sheer number of guards stationed at the back, this subordinate believes that must be where the prince is kept. I didn’t want to alert the guards, so I haven’t made a move. From what I could tell, though, those guards aren’t the regular types.”
Jun Huang nodded in agreement. There must be something hidden in the back. Otherwise the heavy defense wouldn’t be necessary. Even if it wasn’t Jun Hao, it’d be a secret worthy of their attention.
She narrowed her eyes. “If so, we’ll check in a few days.”
Yin Yun considered Jun Huang silently. Although her face was pale, her presence demanded respect. People like her shone too brightly to be overlooked. She hadn’t lost the inherent air of nobility to her as the princess of Western Que, and she’d become closer and closer to her former self the past couple days. People like her were bound for greatness. It was unfortunate she was born a woman in this time.
Jun Huang sat down on the bed and started flipping through a book, as if forgetting about his existence. Yin Yun got her silent message. He opened the window and jumped outside.
The maid knocked. Jun Huang took a deep breath and put down the book in her hand. She glanced at the still open window and called out, “Come in.”
The maid entered the room. She was facing Jun Huang, but her eyes darted around looking for something before settling on Jun Huang’s face, trying to spot any unusual signs. Jun Huang was unfazed by her attention. After a moment, Jun Huang smiled and asked, “What are you looking for?”
The maid averted her gaze and cleared her throat. “I seem to have heard someone talking in the room, so I came to check. Have you noticed anything or anyone, my lady?”
Jun Huang was amused by the maid’s careful demeanor, but she wasn’t going to let it show. She paused and asked with feign surprise, “Who? What are you talking about?”
The maid stared at Jun Huang, trying to discern if her words were true, but a young girl like her wouldn’t be able to see through Jun Huang’s calm mask. She wasn’t entirely convinced, but she didn’t want to risk making Jun Huang unhappy.
“Nothing. I thought you were looking for me, so I came. Since my presence isn’t needed, I’ll take my leave.” She bowed to Jun Huang and left.
Jun Huang’s smile dropped once the maid was out of her view. She narrowed her eyes in contemplation and scoffed. Once her eyes started to get sore, she retired to her bed.
The maid waited until the lamp in Jun Huang’s room went out before walking around the building with a candle in her hand. She walked to the place directly outside Jun Huang’s window and checked the bushes. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There were no footprints like she’d expected.
The matter was too important for her to ignore. After some deliberation, she put out the candle and made her way to the mistress’s residence. She was going to tell the mistress everything she noticed today. Then she wouldn’t be blamed should something happen in the future.
Once he’d entered the imperial city, Nan Xun followed his memory to the inn he’d gone to with Jun Huang last time. It’d been Yin Yun and Jun Hao’s hiding spot. He suspected Jun Huang might have gone into hiding there.
To his surprise, the inn had become a brothel. Women of various styles walked the premise. As the night fell, scions of important family came to have their fun. The air was buzzing with energy.
Nan Xun stood at the door, only broken out of his trance when one of the women approached him.
“Is the gentleman looking for a good time?” She batted her eyelashes at him, the smell of cosmetics too strong to be pleasant.
Nan Xun took a step back. “I remember there being an inn here the last time I visited. How did it get replaced by a brothel?”
The woman gave him an incredulous glance, but seeing how handsome he was, she replied, “The brothel has been here for some time. I hear the inn went out of business, but the exact details of what has happened is beyond a woman like me. Don’t you think so as well?” She swayed her hips as she got closer to Nan Xun, her gaze heated. She tried seducing him in every way short of throwing herself into his arms.
“My apologies, I have something important to do.” Nan Xun stopped her from getting close and turned to leave, ignoring her pitiful look. He made his way to the operation base he’d lost contact with.
It took some time for him to find it. It worried him how dark the whole place looked. The operation base had been disguised as a tavern. This should be its peak hour. Why would it be so quiet?
He quickened his pace but kept his guard up. The door was shut. He stopped himself before knocking on the door and instead went to the back. Without hesitation, he vaulted over the wall.
Inside, it was even more eerily quiet. There was no human activity at all. He slowly made his way to the back, exercising the greatest caution.
Something was very wrong. There was no one inside, leaving only codes he used to communicate with his men etched into the walls. Every sign pointed to the base being attacked and raided, but there wasn’t anything telling him who the attackers were.
He stumbled upon something as he walked. With the moon as his light source, he located the item and picked it up. His pupils contracted when he got a good look.