Nan Xun’s eyes were dark and his face tight with fury. It took some time for him to gain control over himself. “Find out everything about Tianyu. Whatever it takes! And don’t forget about Ji Bo and the House of Heavenly Fiends. Be discreet with the investigation. Don’t let anyone notice you.”
The shadowguard nodded. He wanted to tell Nan Xun to take care of himself but decided against it. He walked away.
Ji Bo had foreseen that Nan Xun would find him. Therefore, he’d moved Jun Hao and his men in advance. When Jun Huang arrived, he was the only one left.
The man who had taken Jun Huang to him was one of his deathsworns, who comitted suicide after completing his mission by swallowing poison.
He’d predicted Nan Xun’s arrival, but not the speed at which Nan Xun had found his way to them. Therefore he hadn’t had the chance to turn Jun Huang to his side. Once Nan Xun’s men went after him, he immediately fled through the tunnel.
He knew Nan Xun’s men would follow him down, so he destroyed the exit as soon as he left through it. Then he met up with an ally and made his way to Eastern Wu at night.
“It was a close call, sir. We have to...”
“Shut up.” Ji Bo shot the man a glare and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. It had been a close call. He’d been distracted by his memory. He should’ve been more careful.
The man considered Ji Bo carefully and asked, “Am I right to assume that Jun Huang isn’t willing to join us?”
Ji Bo’s eyes grew sharp, but he didn’t say anything.
The man knew he’d guessed right. He smiled, offering some platitudes. “Judging from the way you look, it seems that Jun Huang at least believes she’s a Tianyu’s descendent. That’s good. What do you plan to do next?”
Ji Bo ignored the man and said nothing. The man took the silent treatment with grace. He stared at Ji Bo as the strategist closed his eyes and leaned against the window of the coach.
They soon left Northern Qi. The coach had been moving quickly. Ji Bo managed to go through the checkpoint before Nan Xun’s order arrived, and he did have the permission to cross the border.
They entered Eastern Wu. The soldiers let Ji Bo in as soon as they saw his face. The man next to him turned to him curiously. Ji Bo scoffed and closed his eyes, ignoring the unspoken question.
They soon reached the palace. The patriarch of the royal clan, who was in power at the moment, welcomed them into the palace. He gave the man following Ji Bo a considering look.
“He’s my subordinate,” Ji Bo interrupted coolly. “Let’s get to business.”
The patriarch nodded and looked away. They entered the main hall and dismissed the servants.
“I’ve looked into it,” said Ji Bo. “It was General Nan Xun of Northern Qi who spread the news about the emperor and caused the chaos last time.”
“Why would he do that?” asked the patriarch.
Ji Bo huffed, his eyes cold. “Remember, patriarch, Northern Qi and Eastern Wu may have reached a temporary truce, but Nan Xun had stayed in the imperial city for a long time and ordered his men to stay at the border. What do you think he’s doing? Why did he infiltrate Eastern Wu?”
“Do you mean his retreat is merely for show, and his true purpose is to defeat us from within?” The patriarch widened his eyes. That seemed to be the most likely explanation. In his eyes, everyone in Northern Qi was a hypocrite whose actions always contradicted their words.
Ji Bo silently let the patriarch come to his own conclusion, which was best for his goal.
The patriarch realized belatedly how devious Nan Xun’s plan had been. Eastern Wu’s court had almost fallen apart. If Qi Yun hadn’t forced him to retreat, Nan Xun would’ve invaded the imperial city.
He broke into a cold sweat. His resentment for Northern Qi deepened. “There will be no peace between Eastern Wu and Northern Qi. However, we’re not powerful enough to rival them.”
“Ha, don’t worry, patriarch,” Ji Bo said faintly, waving his fan. “I have a plan.”
Overwhelmed by the recent development, the patriarch didn’t question Ji Bo’s words. “The gentleman is known for your wisdom. You must have an idea about how we’re going to protect Eastern Wu and make Northern Qi pay.”
Ji Bo threw the patriarch a cool glance in response and said slowly, “We have to catch them off guard.”
“Even if we don’t deploy the troops, Northern Qi will invade soon enough. That’ll put us at a disadvantage. Since a war is inevitable, we’ll make the first move and attack when they least expect it. Once we gain the upper hand, they won’t be able to turn the tide.”
Ji Bo’s smile was cruel and intimidating, but it gave the patriarch hope.
Nan Xun and his men had been looking for the mastermind behind everything to no avail, but then Ji Bo showed his hands. He was the source of all trouble. He and his helpers were responsible for what Jun Huang had suffered in Eastern Wu as well.
That was a significant discovery. Nan Xun wanted nothing but to get to the bottom of everything. Then, however, the border city was attacked.
Nan Xun immediately followed a eunuch to the palace. Qi Yun’s face was dark. He waved Nan Xun over and handed him the report.
Nan Xun gritted his teeth. He didn’t expect Eastern Wu to attack so suddenly. He silently cursed at their enemies for being shameless.
Ji Bo must have been involved, somehow. There were many things Nan Xun had yet to find out about the strategist. His fury burned hot with old resentment mixing with the new. If only he could strangle Ji Bo himself now.
He took a deep, calming breath and looked up at Qi Yun, meeting his unwavering gaze. Realizing what Qi Yun was asking of him, he dropped to one knee. “Eastern Wu has invaded. I’ll fulfill my duty and defeat them. Please make the order, Your Highness. It’s best that we fight them off immediately.”
Qi Yun agreed, but his words were interrupted by a commotion outside. A group of officials shouldered past the eunuchs and barged in.
“Please reconsider, Your Highness!” exclaimed the Minister of Rites, a coward who thought too much and did too little.
Qi Yun’s expression grew darker. The others dropped to their knees, expressing their disapproval of a war. Qi Yun let out a sharp laugh. “Eastern Wu invaded. Do you think we should hide? Do you want me to give them our imperial seal?”
“Your Highness has misunderstood.” The officials trembled fearfully, lowering their heads.
Qi Yun’s gaze swept through every one of them before settling on Nan Xun, whose back was straight and unbendable.
“Eastern Wu has broken the peace treaty again. It’s unforgivable. If we tolerate their advance, we’ll be considered spineless. A nation’s sovereignty must be maintained. Since they’ve blatantly challenged our authority, I hereby order Nan Xun to march out. You must drive them away and reaffirmed our power over our territory.”
“Understood,” said Nan Xun. The officials knew there was nothing they could do to change Qi Yun’s mind. They disbanded.
Nan Xun considered the officials with eagle-like eyes. He didn’t realize that Qi Yun had come up to him.
“What are you thinking?” asked Qi Yun.
“The report arrived today. I only knew about what happened when I came to the palace. Why would the officials know beforehand?”
Nan Xun looked up at Qi Yun. They both had their suspicion, but they didn’t voice it.
After a long stretch of silence, Qi Yun sighed. “You’re going to war again. What are you going to do with Jun Huang? I can let her stay in the palace. No one would lay a finger on her under my watch.”
Nan Xun shook his head. “Ji Bo must have helpers if he’d managed to keep his agenda hidden for so long. I believe there are people working for him in the imperial city. Ji Bo has stayed by your side for some time. There’s no telling if he’s planted his men in your circle.”
Qi Yun nodded. “I understand.”
Qi Yun knew Nan Xun was worried about Jun Huang, and that Nan Xun needed to talk to her. He let Nan Xun leave. He’d discuss the details of the battle with Nan Xun’s second in command.
Once Nan Xun returned to his manor, he told Jun Huang everything. She didn’t expect Ji Bo to make a move so quickly. More precisely, she didn’t expect Ji Bo to gain Eastern Wu’s trust in such a short time. He was indeed a formidable foe.
“The imperial city isn’t safe. I worry that you’ll be in danger here. Will you go with me?” Nan Xun made his case, but he’d respect Jun Huang’s decision.
She considered his suggestion. Ji Bo should be in Eastern Wu now. She wouldn’t be of help in Northern Qi. She nodded. “I’m going with you.”