Tang Li and Han Yunxi hadn’t even asked Chu Tianyin a single question before he caved and surrendered. But even now, they still ignored him in favor of discussing more betting terms.
I’ve already admitted my loss, what more do they want from me? Chu Tianyin had experienced his share of shocks in his life, but it was nothing like this! As Tang Li and Han Yunxi kept arguing and pressing down on him, the sense of aching pain and helplessness increased until Chu Tianyin was feeling dizzy. He knew if this kept up, it wouldn’t just be an issue of bowing his head anymore. Perhaps he’d grow disabled and never be able to straighten his neck again. Either he’d die first, or live the rest of his life with his head bowed. He could take losing an arm or a leg, but his neck…
Han Yunxi, you’re too ruthless!
Chu Tianyin finally grew submissive. “All I know is that the Di Clan withdrew to live in seclusion at the borders between Tianning and Western Zhou. They’re a merchant family, but we’re still investigating as to which one!” he shouted.
Tang Li and Han Yunxi stilled at his words.
Actually, Chu Tianyin knew information about the Shadow Clan best, but he would never sell them out. For one thing, the Nether Clan wouldn’t forgive him even if he was the eldest son of the first wife amongst the Chu. Faced with their clansmen’s mission, such humiliation or even death was seen as a worthy sacrifice to the cause. For another, he was still holding out hope that the Shadow Clan man would come save him! Recently he’d been doing nothing but getting closer to Long Feiye and the rest. Based on the relations between the Nether and Shadow Clans, there was no reason he’d simply leave Chu Tianyin here to die.
Knowing his skills, it’s fully possible that he could successfully rescue me from Long Feiye’s clutches.
Of course, Chu Tianyin would say nothing at all if he was given the choice. But Long Feiye wouldn’t trust his ‘ignorance’, so he had to reveal a bit of something. Thus, he had chosen to give up the hard-won intel the Chu Clan had dug up on the Di Clan.
The Di Clan’s Ning Family was the only merchant clan amongst the Seven Noble Families. Men and women in the family both went into business, and they had industries and properties all across Cloud Realm Continent. They were probably the wealthiest of the Seven Noble Families because of that. The Di Clan was part of the West Qin Dynasty---or rather, their literal moneybags. Many people had tried to win them over during the Great Qin Empire, but they were shrewd and devious types who made friends and deals with everyone. With artful tact and canny insight, they achieved their successes smoothly. However, if something really came to threaten the West Qin imperial clan, they wouldn’t budge a step, and offended countless parties on the sly.
During the civil strife of the Great Qin Empire, the Di Clan had been the first to fall. Their businesses failed and their clansmen scattered to the four winds, all disappearing within two years. Some people said that the Di Clan had offended too many people, so the various forces moved to suppress them and ruin their finances so their wealth could be robbed by others. Others claimed that the Di Clan was merely putting on a show while hiding themselves amongst the populace with their immense wealth so that their descendents could live on. Still others were certain that East Qin had destroyed them all and stolen all their fortune. Once the East Qin Dynasty died out as well, the treasure was all buried with the last of their heirs…
In any case, there were plenty of rumors. At the very least, the claim that East Qin stole all the wealth was a lie, because Long Feiye’s money didn’t come from theft or plundering.
“What else?” Han Yunxi asked suspiciously.
“That’s all I know. Heheh, but there’s no guarantee as to how much my father or the clan elders might know. Maybe you can use me as a chip to bargain with my father!” Chu Tianyin’s neck might have gone soft, but his attitude was still stiff. If he was kept locked up like this, his resolve would be worn away. But if Long Feiye took him to talk with his father, it’d at give him a chance to be rescued.
Long Feiye was still sitting in his chair, watched the man in the shadows with the bowed head. He could admire Chu Tianyin for still refusing to give up at this moment. If this man wasn’t my mortal enemy, I’d be willing to make friends with him. But since he is, I need to nip him in the bud before he grows to be a bigger threat.
Han Yunxi wasn’t so easily won over, either. She purposely bent down to look him in the eye. “Eldest Young Master Chu, if the poison on your neck isn’t cured within an hour after being afflicted...even gods wouldn’t be able to straighten your neck again. Do you believe me?”
“I do,” Chu Tianyin said without any hesitation.
“There’s only about the time it takes to burn a stick of incense left. You should consider whether or not you want to say anything else.” Han Yunxi even had Tang Li light a stick of incense for her while she stood at Chu Tianyin’s feet. This way, he had a clear view of her face.
“It’s not a short time, so you can slowly think over anything related to the Seven Noble Families.” Han Yunxi stood up as she spoke, staring at the incense while the room fell silent. In the near darkness, the smoke from the incense rose in the air like time itself, vanishing into the shadows.
“Qin Wangfei, why bother wasting your time?” Chu Tianyin asked.
Tang Li only laughed coldly, but neither Han Yunxi nor Long Feiye said a word. Chu Tianyin chuckled softly before falling silent himself. A single length of incense was neither short nor long. Soon enough, the flame had burned to the bottom, where it guttered and threatened to go out. Chu Tianyin still hadn’t spoke, but clearly felt the pain in his neck growing sharper like thousands of ants gnawing at his skin.
Han Yunxi glanced at the incense before chuckling absently. “Does it hurt?”
She thought Chu Tianyin wouldn’t answer, but he only laughed and replied, “Yes, it hurts a lot.”
Han Yunxi’s eyes flickered with curiosity before she smiled again. “It’s okay. Soon enough, you’ll stop feeling the pain. You’ll never feel pain there again.”
Of course Chu Tianyin knew what she meant. He fully believed her words as well. Yet even if it was his entire body facing the threat of paralysis, he couldn’t betray that man from the Shadow Clan. He was the last surviving Shadow Clan member. If anything happened to him, then the Shadow Clan would really be lost. Now the incense had reached the very end. The flame sputtered, and Han Yunxi grew convinced that Chu Tianyin would rather die than speak. She had no idea exactly how much he knew.
Actually, her words had been a lie. Even if she didn’t treat his poison in time, Chu Tianyin’s neck still wouldn’t be permanently paralyzed. He was the eldest son of the first wife in the Chu Clan and a very useful bargaining chip. If they ruined him for life, what was Long Feiye supposed to use against his clansmen? Time is running out. If Chu Tianyin discovered her lie, it would be much harder to force any confessions from him in the future. Han Yunxi knelt back down to stare at the dying incense embers, her eyes flickering gloomily. But just as she began to fret, Chu Tianyin suddenly spoke up.
“Qin Wangfei, Su Xiaoyu’s still by your side, isn’t she. I don’t know anymore about the Seven Noble Families, but I know everything about Su Xiaoyu.”
Han Yunxi inwardly rejoiced. She was just worrying about how to back out of her empty threat when Chu Tianyin gave her a chance. In the end, Chu Tianyin had lost this game of chess.
“Why did you send Su Xiaoyu to the Duke of Qin’s estate? Time’s running out. If you waste any more words, don’t blame me if it’s too late!” Han Yunxi questioned him coldly.
“To search for Perplexing Butterfly Illusion. After we met in the underground palace, I began to suspect you two had it in your hands. But that damned girl listened to Qingge’s orders to hurt you all for the sake of Qingge’s revenge. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been discovered. I’ve said my piece, now you can treat my poison, right?!” Chu Tianyin said in a rush despite spewing a bunch of lies.
He was betting with his neck that Han Yunxi would trust the words he said at the most critical moment! Only the Nether and Shadow Clans knew of the West Qin’s imperial heir’s phoenix birthmark, present on the eldest daughter of the first wife. Nobody else was aware it or its significance.
Han Yunxi did believe him. Su Xiaoyu had stayed in the Duke of Qin’s estate for ages without ever showing any killing intent to her or Baili Mingxiang besides those two instances of scalding. Chu Tianyin’s explanation made sense to her. Moreover, he had done it under such pressing circumstances that it seemed highly unlikely he was lying.
She took out an antidote pill and stuffed it into Chu Tianyin’s mouth, thus curing his poison. Chu Tianyin silently exhaled. I might have been tricked in this game of chess, but I still got the better result. I managed to protect both the secrets of the Shadow Clan and knowledge of the West Qin imperial heir’s birthmark.
Han Yunxi and Tang Li both believed his words, but Long Feiye didn’t. If there was anyone who could claim to be the ultimate winner in this battle, he would be the champion. He had already heard from Mute Granny that the Shadow and Nether Clans were close. How could he trust Chu Tianyin’s words? He looked at the man coldly as an icy smile rose on his lips. But rather than expose his lies, he decided to find his own ways to lure out that Shadow Clan man. Even if I can’t lure him, I’ll still use this chance to sow discord between the Nether and Shadow Clans!
After his poison was cured, Chu Tianyin slowly raised his head again and happened to meet eyes with Long Feiye. He quickly averted his gaze, not wanting to aggravate the man any further. That would only be asking for trouble. Right now, he had to endure and wait---until the Shadow Clan man arrived!
Currently, the white-robed gentleman in question was in a secret chamber located in the Chu Clan compound in Western Zhou. There were only two people in this room, himself and one General Chu---not the same general who headed the Chu Clan, but the leader of the Nether Clan who had never shown his face, Chu Tianyin’s elder uncle, Chu Yunyi.[1 Chu Yunyi (楚云翳) - Yunyi means “dark clouds.”]
Chu Yunyi certainly lived up to his name as clan leader. Even after such a catastrophic event, he was still calm and unperturbed. As he slowly drank his tea, he smiled and asked, “You’re still wearing your face veil even in front of this old man?”
“Habit,” the white-robed gentleman was even more cool and indifferent than him, his entire attitude leisurely and comfortable.
“Witch Aunt and Tianyin went to look for the Earth of Ten-Thousand Poisons. Yesterday, yet only Witch Aunt came back. Tianyin...fell into the hands of Tianning’s Duke of Qin,” Chu Yunyi said.
“He was perfectly fine, so how did he fall into the Duke of Qin’s hands?” It was obviously the white-robed gentleman who put out the fires in the underground palace, but he feigned ignorance.
Chu Yunyi finally told him the full story before adding, “You’re close to the Duke of Qin and the rest. If you were to...rescue Tianyin...it shouldn’t be very difficult, right?”
“I’ve said it long before, don’t provoke the Duke of Qin. Why didn’t you listen?” the white-robed man showed a rare flash of temper.
“The Duke of Qin has recognized our Driving Arrow Arts. He must be already harboring intentions against our Seven Noble Families. Even if we didn’t provoke him now, we would’ve provoked him later. These recent developments aren’t necessarily bad. After all, the Duke of Qin is our archenemy!” Chu Yunyi said sincerely.
“Our? Since when has the Duke of Qin’s aspirations for the world have had anything to do with us?” the white-robed man asked.
Cold laughter flashed through Chu Yunyi’s eyes, but he kept his patience. “You might be the last surviving member of the Shadow Clan, but you can’t forget your mission to revive West Qin! Have you been idle so long that you’ve forgotten your clan vows?”
“Clan Head Chu, neither the Nether nor Shadow Clans have the right to decide whether to revive West Qin!” the white-robed man said coldly.
“Naturally, we don’t. But we have a responsibility to assist the ruler in governing the country. Over the past few years, our Nether Clan has been amassing power in Western Zhou while searching for remnants of the imperial clan. What about you? Are you planning to hide away in Pill Fiend Pharmacy as a doctor for the rest of your life?”
As Chu Yunyi spoke, he suddenly thought of something and asked in alarm, “Could it be that there's someone there you have to protect?"