The guard brought Uncle Cheng to the cell doors with Jun Yixie following behind. He suddenly regretted his choice and dismissed the guard before having Uncle Cheng enter alone. Compared to telling Ning Cheng about the traitor, it was better for the man to keep up the ruse. Maybe it’d lead to an even better show!
“Go in yourself! This lord cannot determine your life or death, only Ning Cheng can!” Jun Yixie said before kicking him through the doorway.
Uncle Cheng didn’t understand what he meant, but quickly scrambled to his feet and carefully entered the cell. Jun Yixie followed, but hung in the shadows so he could watch the drama play out. After passing through the long corridor, one came upon a tiny small. There was nothing inside but a torture rack and a prisoner hanging from its frame. Five to six people would find it a tight fit.
Originally, Jun Yixie had kept Mu Linger and Su Xiaoyu out of here because one was pregnant while the other was ill. In the end, he had trusted Bai Yuqiao too much, thus leading to the escape of all his hostages. They were supposed to be his counter chip even if Long Feiye and Han Yunxi attacked north. Now he only had Ning Cheng left, which meant pressuring the Di Clan to deal with pressure from the south.
Ning Cheng sensed Uncle Cheng as soon as he came in. However, he remained with his head bowed and pretended not to notice. Uncle Cheng’s gaze was timid as he carefully leaned against the wall without a sound. Jun Yixie had stomped on his shoulders, his chin was swollen from his fall, but such physical pains were nothing to his pained heart. Seeing Master Ning, the man he’d watched grown up, in this state was nothing short of heartaching.
He was the master of the Di Clan, commander of the Ning Clan troops, and head of Myriad Merchant Hall. He had power and wealth and was meant to be a daring and vigorous man who could call the wind and rain beneath his dominance. Now he was reduced to this sorry-looking one-eyed prisoner with whip scars all over his body, thwarted and abandoned.
Where was the noble and proud Ning Cheng of old?
Uncle Cheng felt his eyes grow moist. He wished Ning Cheng would look up at him, but was afraid the man would discover his betrayal. He admitted, he had selfish intentions at heart. If Mu Linger and Ning Jing were saved, he’d never be spared by the former even if the latter didn’t press him for kidnapping charges. However, his true motive was to wreck the alliance between the Di Clan and East Qin! After loyally serving the Di Clan through two successive generations and witnessing its sacrifices for revenge and the revival of West Qin, Uncle Cheng couldn’t accept the idea of working together with the East. This was no alliance, but simply East Qin using the Di Clan! At most, the Di Clan would be fighting for East Qin and Long Feiye’s kingdom.
Han Yunxi had no aspirations to revive the dynasty, so after the northern expedition destroyed Northern Li, Long Feiye would definitely swallow up Western Zhou and Tianan to unite all of Cloud Realm Continent under his rule. By then, the new kingdom would be the East Qin Empire, leaving West Qin princess Han Yunxi to be empress of East Qin. The Di Clan would end up as the East Qin Dynasty’s slaves!
How was he supposed to swallow that?
He would rather they be the head of a chicken than the tail of a phoenix. With Ning Cheng’s skills and the Di Clan’s strength, they could use their name as the West Qin’s bequeathed subjects to claim a territory of their own in Cloud Realm Continent. Even if Ning Cheng set up a separatist regime in Tianning and held it through military strength alone, Long Feiye would have to consider Han Yunxi’s face and their identity as “West Qin subjects” before trying anything against the Di Clan!
How could Ning Cheng be such a fool and charge forward for Long Feiye’s sake? He’d be doing nothing but a hard and thankless job.
Only by breaking the alliance of East Qin and the Di Clan could he force Ning Cheng onto a path of no return. Either he’d die or start genuinely working with Jun Yixie to carve out a piece of territory for the Di Clan. Uncle Cheng had been spending his days in Tiger’s Prison shut up in his rooms to consider this very issue. He was certain that the current chessboard had forced Jun Yixie into a dead end, especially after all the hostages escaped. The man had no way left beyond cooperating with the Di Clan. Otherwise, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi’s northern expedition would wipe out all his efforts in Northern Li. In other words, Jun Yixie was now in a position to beg Ning Cheng for help, not the other way around!
After standing for a while with no reaction from Ning Cheng, Uncle Cheng took a deep breath and approached him. By the time he was standing in front of the man, there was still no response. One might even think that Ning Cheng was unconscious.
“Master Ning…” Uncle Cheng murmured. He was ready to lay out the current situation at Tiger’s Den, the state of the Di Clan and Jun Yixie, then press the man to make a choice. However, he’d hardly opened his mouth when Ning Cheng gave him a vicious kick! Heaven knows how much strength he used or all the fury embedded in that blow, because Uncle Cheng was sent flying!
He crashed harshly against the stone wall before crumpling to the ground and spitting up a mouthful of blood. Aghast and disbelieving, he lifted his head. “Master Ning…”
“Don’t think I don’t know what you did!” Ning Cheng roared!
Jun Yixie was startled from his hiding place in the shadows. He didn’t think that Ning Cheng would guess Uncle Cheng’s identity as the culprit. Extreme disappointment filled him, but he still watched and waited patiently.
Uncle Cheng climbed to his feet with difficulty--he was getting on in years, after all, and being kicked so many times in the past hour made it hard for him to stand. He was even more surprised than Jun Yixie that Ning Cheng would suspect him without a word.
“Cheng Xianmin, you didn’t betray me, but the Di Clan! You were the one who pledged a loyal oath to my father!” Ning Cheng thought he could take it, but now he was furious beyond belief!
“Master Ning, just agree to ally with Jun Yixie! Only then can you keep that tiny territory of Tianning under your name! Otherwise, the Di Clan will just end up as East Qin’s slaves!” Uncle Cheng cried loudly.
Jun Yixie’s eyes flickered with complicated emotions as he fell silent. He never liked Uncle Cheng, but it looked like the man was one of his benefactors now. If he could convince Ning Cheng to submit, then Jun Yixie didn’t mind giving the man one more chance.
Ning Cheng gave Uncle Cheng a hateful glare and said, word by word, “Cheng Xianmin, you are my Di Clan’s first and only traitor! You have no right to speak to this clan head! Get lost!”
“Master Ning! Why are you still lost in the maze?” Uncle Cheng lost his temper as well. “Just what’s so good about Han Yunxi? What makes her so great? Master Ning, are all your actions from loyalty to West Qin or to Han Yunxi herself?!”
“Han Yunxi is West Qin, and West Qin is Han Yunxi!” Ning Cheng shouted.
Uncle Cheng laughed coldly. “Master Ning, once Long Feiye tramples Northern Li and revives East Qin, West Qin will no longer exist! Nor will Han Yunxi! There will only be the East Qin empress!”
“Enough!” Ning Cheng snapped.
“Master Ning, think it over carefully. Jun Yixie cannot advance or retreat right now. He has no room to talk terms with you, so as long as you sincerely work with him, you can use his soldiers to help the Di Clan claim a piece of territory in Cloud Realm Continent!” Uncle Cheng urged.
In the darkness, Jun Yixie gave a start before growing unwell all over! He was only here to see a show, but ended up counterattacked by Uncle Cheng instead!
This damnable Cheng Xianmin, his subtle thinking’s hidden deep. So his betrayal wasn’t a true betrayal, but a plan with foresight and thought!
Jun Yixie narrowed his eyes as his face grew angry. He almost charged out right then, but told himself to hold back. Despite how hateful Uncle Cheng was, his words were all right. He was in a far worse state than the Di Clan and had no other way to withdraw beyond allying with Ning Cheng. Even then, he could get no benefits from their alliance. If it was Mu Linger locked up here, he could have a bargaining chip against Han Yunxi; if Ning Jing was the captive, he could even demand the Tang Clan to support him. But all he had was Ning Cheng. How could Han Yunxi and Long Feiye ever hold themselves in check for the leader of the Di Clan?
If anything, those two would probably seize the chance to sacrifice Ning Cheng once and for all, just to break apart the Di Clan!
Even without the Di Clan’s strength, Long Feiye could carry out his northern expedition; however, if Jun Yixie lost the Di Clan’s support--money or men--he’d have no way to face Long Feiye’s gigantic army. The thought made his heart stifled.
By now, Ning Cheng had already hung his head, refusing to look at Uncle Cheng or exchange any more words.
“Master Ning, this subordinate only betrayed Miss Jing. I’ve never thought of betraying you.”
Seeing Ning Cheng unresponsive, Uncle Cheng could only wait. He cradled his aching chest and sighed. “Master Ning, think it over carefully. If you insist...then only death awaits you. Long Feiye and Han Yunxi won’t cherish your life.”
As Uncle Cheng prepared to turn away, Ning Cheng suddenly raised his foot and kicked him aside again. This time, Uncle Cheng lost consciousness as he fell to the ground and didn’t get up. Because Ning Cheng used too much strength, his torture rack swayed in the aftermath of the kick. He didn’t spare Uncle Cheng a glance, but remained with his head bowed, thinking inscrutable thoughts.
Jun Yixie wanted to get close but stopped, wary of Ning Cheng’s feet. He never expected the man to have such an explosive kick even after he was strung up. If he hadn’t found out today, he would have been in danger the next time he drew close. He silently left the jail cell and gave orders at the door, “Chain up Ning Cheng’s legs!”
Jun Yixie then wandered off into the forests alone, wondering how he could deal with Long Feiye and Han Yunxi if Ning Cheng refused an alliance. With the Di Clan and East Qin army on the verge of heading north, he was in imminent danger.
Just who was it that rescued Mu Linger and the rest? What’s their goal? Were they only aiming for Mu Linger’s group, or me?
Annoyed and irritated, Jun Yixie couldn’t plan anything for his troops without knowing which scheme to plan against. Meanwhile, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi had already reached the base of Celestial Mountain. Before dawn broke, they stopped to rest at a concealed cave, one of Long Feiye’s haunting spots during his past trips to the mountain. He used to hide here to avoid Duanmu Yao in the past. Besides Xu Donglin, the only person who knew of its existence was Chu Xifeng.
The two had just finished eating their dry rations and begun planning their ascent when a succession of light, soft sounds came from outside the cave.
“Who’s there?!” Long Feiye demanded as he rushed to the entrance.
4. Cheng Xianmin (程衔民) - amazing how we finally get a full name for Uncle Cheng. Cheng is “rule, order, journey,” Xian is “hold in the mouth, harbor, link up/join, receive or bear (orders),” Min is “people, common folk, civilian.”