Cheng'er's first thought was that Ah-Cheng had found his conscience and wanted to save her. She didn't expect he had a request instead. It had to be said that she still felt guilty after Ah-Cheng's rescue, but his query made her feel much better. Since this man wanted something from her, she would definitely try to get the most out of it.
"As long as you give me an answer I want, I'll naturally let you go," Ning Cheng agreed easily.
"What is it? Tell me first," Cheng'er grinned.
"Have you read all of Le Zheng's secret files?" Ning Cheng asked.
Cheng'er gave him a long look before she cried, "Well! Ah-Cheng, so you were aiming for those files! You…couldn't have been sold by Le Zheng as well, right?"
"Answer my question." Ning Cheng was unhappy.
"Yes, I've seen them all," Cheng'er said honestly.
"Do you remember them all?" Ning Cheng asked.
Cheng'er smiled wordlessly.
The slave records in Le Zheng's possession were all confidential as the ones who were bought and sold had impressive origins. Naturally, she remembered them all.
"What are you smiling about?" Ning Cheng asked coldly.
Cheng'er glanced at the human head on the side before she suddenly turned serious. "Ah-Cheng, can you give me a straight answer to one of my questions?"
"Speak." Ning Cheng's patience had almost ran out.
Cheng'er tiptoed to his ear and whispered, "Ah-Cheng, you haven't really taken a fancy to me, right? You won't be able to stay by Le Zheng's side long after killing Steward Ma."
Ning Cheng startled before he sneered. "You're over thinking it."
Cheng'er was dissatisfied and said, "Le Zheng has a total of five secret files in his hands. Besides myself, any of the other four can let Le Zheng die a death without a burial if they're publicized. Do you think you can still hide the fact you killed Steward Ma from him?"
This had to be why Le Zheng wanted to kill her so quickly. Otherwise, with Le Zheng's personality he would tell Steward Ma to torment her a while before the execution. If she guessed right, tomorrow Le Zheng would demand Steward Ma to deliver up her corpse. Cheng'er expected Ning Cheng to be shocked, but he wasn't.
He was still cold and stern as he asked "Your name is Cheng'er? What about your surname? Your original family?"
He long knew that Jin Zi came from Black Forest, so he guessed Le Zheng's secret files couldn't be simple. Killing Steward Ma was troublesome, but not as serious as Cheng'er's words. He didn't waste his years at Liubei Trade Consortium!
Cheng'er avoided Ning Cheng's question and asked, "You're really not afraid of the consequences?"
"Are you going to answer my question or not?" Ning Cheng's voice fell.
"Answer mine first," Cheng'er smiled cheekily.
But Ning Cheng suddenly took out a dagger and rested the blade against her face. "Either die or answer me!"
"If you wanted to kill me, why save me?" Cheng'er wasn't afraid.
Ning Cheng only snorted. "Looks like you misunderstood. I saved you from Steward Ma and you answer my question, this counts as a sale. Whether or not I kill you is another deal. One size doesn't fit all, understand?"
Cheng'er finally understood and snapped, "Who are you to kill me?"
"What, you're only allowed to take my life, but I can't take yours?" Ning Cheng's voice was cold.
They were the only ones who probably took life and death as a business deal with terms and reasons.
"You ruined my plans, so it's only natural I kill you!" Cheng'er huffed. "If you hadn't mixed in, Le Zheng would long be lying in Great Qin's prisons! I wouldn't have to follow him all the way to the Mysterious Continent. I hate this place!"
Seeing Ning Cheng remain silent, Cheng'er ranted on, "I became a slave when I was three. I've followed Le Zheng for over 20 years now. I was so close to killing him, so why did you get involved? Why did you steal away Liubei Trade Consortium? Don't you know how much of the silver he earned in his stash came from me showing my face to help him out?" She stared huffily at him. There were many things she didn't plan to tell him, things that even Yujin wouldn't know.
The reason Le Zheng had so much clout in Wintercrow Country was because she had suffered countless slights and grievances to curry favor with the royal family of Wintercrow. Women were always better suited for discussing business compared to men because the marketplace was full of men who wanted to take advantage of women. In the end, the woman reaped the biggest rewards.
What kind of man was Le Zheng? If she didn't have the skills, could she have earned his doting and pampering?
No one would know that Le Zheng once planned to marry her off to the Wintercrow Country's king, or even one of their slave nobles. She paid a huge price to get a business deal sealed and save her own life. Seeing her true skills and his lack of successor, Le Zheng gradually began to treat her as his own daughter, spoiling and protecting her. Perhaps Le Zheng had grown old and forgotten the past, but she had grown up and understood much more, hated more deeply.
She didn't want to be pathetic. She'd rather be a hateful villain and come off as an ungrateful girl who murdered her foster father than earn anyone's pity. She had no idea why she was suddenly speaking to Ning Cheng from the heart.
Seeing Ning Cheng was still staring at her silently, she even felt a sense of shame. "Why are you looking at me? Don't look!" She hated others feeling sorry for her, especially him, her rival.
But Ning Cheng had no sympathy. He simply scrutinized her and replied, "I don't care what kind of grudge you have with Le Zheng. But based on ability alone, you should obediently admit defeat if you don't have the skills. I'll ask you one last time: do you want to die or answer my question?"
Cheng'er narrowed her eyes without hesitation. "I choose death!"
She refused to believe that Ning Cheng didn't understand he'd lost the deal from the moment he began to negotiate. The more he wanted to know the answer, the more he had to submit to her. If she died, who would answer his question?
She raised her chin and prepared for death. As someone much shorter than Ning Cheng, even lifting her chin high didn't stop him from looking down on her.
Ning Cheng was full of contempt as he hummed with disdain. "Cheng'er, do you think I have to ask you and no one else? Since I dare to kill Steward Ma, I'm not afraid of troublesome things. If you won't answer me, I'll just ask Le Zheng."
Cheng'er was shocked. What does he mean? Although a little uneasy, she maintained an aura of righteousness and closed her eyes to fearlessly meet death.
But then Ning Cheng said, "I was originally going to wait a while and make my move after investigating Le Zheng's foundations. But forget it. Whether I kill early or later doesn't really matter."
Cheng'er's eyes flew open at his words. "You have a way to kill Le Zheng?" she exclaimed.
Ning Cheng didn't reply beyond raising his dagger to stab towards her.
"Ahhh…spare me!" Cheng'er shrieked in fear.
Ning Cheng's knife stopped next to her ear, stabbing air without hurting her. Scared, Cheng'er squeezed her eyes shut and screamed nonstop. Without a choice, Ning Cheng could only muffle her and muttered, "Enough. I know how much you're afraid of death."
Cheng'er stole a peek at his cold features and couldn't help but want to burrow in the ground. That was truly too shameful.
Ning Cheng released her mouth and got to the point. "Do the secret files contain any records of someone from Black Forest?"
"You!" Cheng'er was shocked. "You, you, you're actually Ling Ge!"
"It really is Ling Ge?" Ning Cheng was dumbfounded too. He had made inquiries into Black Forest's Ling Clan, who was the only family capable of subduing tigers. But these were just rumors. He wouldn't believe anything lightly when it came to the origins of Jin Zi's birth.
"Over twenty years ago, the leader of the Black Forest's Ling Clan lost their sole bloodline heir, a baby boy. Le Zheng was the one who smuggled him out," Cheng'er replied.
Ning Cheng's heart swelled with emotions. No wonder he felt Jin Zi wasn't simple upon seeing him in Three-Way Black Market all those years ago. Who expected him to be not just formidable, but extremely so!
"What exactly are Le Zheng's origins?" Ning Cheng asked.
Cheng'er shrugged. "I don't know either."
"What about yours?" Ning Cheng asked next.
Cheng'er grinned. "Nothing much. Otherwise, would I have fallen into your hands?"
"If you had no origins, would Le Zheng still keep you by his side?" Ning Cheng retorted.
"I was innocent and cute as a child. Everyone adored me and flowers bloomed at the sight of me. Anyone who glimpsed me wanted to pick me up and take me home as their daughter," Cheng'er said shamelessly.
Ning Cheng replied, "Our matters are settled, you can scram."
"You really won't kill me?" Cheng'er asked.
"I don't kill women. Get lost this instant!" Ning Cheng scolded.
But Cheng'er didn't leave and even took his hand, her face full of flattery. "How are you planning to kill Le Zheng? I'll help you?"
"No need," Ning Cheng broke free.
"Then I'll stay and help you take care of business?" Cheng'er went on.
"Are you going to scram or not?" Ning Cheng turned back with a glare.
Cheng'er didn't give up and kept clinging to him. "I can do anything, including housework, cooking, and even warming the bed."
Ning Cheng actually nodded. "All right. Ten taels of silver a month. If you happen to birth a child, you'll get a ten taels raise. Stay behind if you're willing."
Cheng'er immediately released him at those words and left without a single look back! Right as she reached the door, Ning Cheng shouted, "Jump out the right window, there'll be someone to pick you up. Go as far as you can."
Cheng'er went to the window and specifically looked back to say, word for word, "Cheapstake!"
Cheng'er was sent to Sunset City. Soon, the mercenaries surrounding Yujin scattered and told her the news as well. By the time Yujin found Cheng'er, she had disguised herself as a man and was standing opposite Carefree Joy's ruins, the result of all her hard work.
"Are you okay?" Yujin asked with concern.
Cheng'er looked back. Her first sentence was, "Jin, you didn't protect me well. How will we calculate this debt?"
Yujin was confused, but before she could answer Cheng'er said, "For the sake of being sisters all these years, how about this? Let's settle it with the previous accounts."
Yujin was worried that Cheng'er would be sad about the ruins of Carefree Joy, but her worries eased when she saw the other still talking about payment. She said, "You should wake up already. I never accepted your deposit to be a bodyguard, so I'm not obligated to protect you."
At last, Cheng'er's head drooped. "Jin, there's no more Carefree Joy. I have nothing left."
Yujin replied, "Sell the secrets you do know. Just one is enough to feed you for a lifetime."
"No. Once those records go public, Ah-Cheng and all of Liubei Trade Consortium will die!" Cheng'er was very serious, even stern.
Yujin was curious. "Didn't you always want to kill Ah-Cheng?"
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there was one thing bothering me about this arc and now i've figured out what:
they make ning cheng and cheng'er to be these schemers playing a cat and mouse game but ning cheng always already has the upper hand and backup plans. even if we're treated to cheng'er's plots, they're immediately followed up with the author saying "bug ning cheng already knew this, AND in fact had another plan to deal with hers blahblah"
cheng'er doesn't come off as a genius sure, but this kinda cheapens ning cheng's ability in the end too. it's not so impressive if he keeps winning against a so-so opponent, lol. i guess i'm nitpicking but usually when authors write "thrilling" plots you're supposed to feel a thrill, right? this is like the teacher giving you a test one minute and going "oh but wait, it's open book so you can use your notes." where's my sense of suspense? stolen, lol.
on the other hand i haven't read ahead so i don't know who NC ends up with (if anyone), but i hope it isn't this girl haha. her having a one-sided hate-crush is fine tho.