Only three doctors currently held the rank of Medical Sage, and mentioned trio happened to make up the first three positions in the medical academy’s Council of Elders. Second and Third Elder were hard enough to meet with, to say nothing of the Head Elder. Moreover, they were asking them to do something against medical city’s own regulations. But since General Chu had brought up the idea, it meant he thought it was feasible.
“Third Elder Shen showed himself recently in a dispute between Pill Fiend Pharmacy and Medicine City. Suppose…” General Chu trailed off.
Chu Yunyi rejected the idea. “The implications of this project are huge. We need to make sure it succeeds, or else we’ll lose everything.” And that success didn’t merely hinge on inducing early labor, but the very secrecy of the deed itself. If someone ever made news of it public, the Chu Clan would be scorned by the world’s people. They had chosen to induce early labor because they were worried that time was running out. Otherwise, they could afford to wait those three extra months.
“There is one person we can count on,” General Chu lowered his voice and spoke a single name. “Lady Lianxin.”
After the events of Medicine City had spread across the continent, everyone knew that Lady Lianxin and Han Yunxi had long parted as enemies. The Mu Clan had been thoroughly beaten down in Medicine City as well, so it’d be very difficult for them to make a comeback. If Lady Lianxin could join forces with them, she would be able to get revenge and find another source of power to rely on beyond the medical academy. She was such an intelligent woman that she would never refuse their offer.
Lady Lianxin was only a fifth ranked Divine Doctor, but she had the skills to ask out any of the Medical Sage Elders for a meeting. Moreover, she would know better than themselves on which one could best keep a secret.
Chu Yunyi was thrilled. “We can’t afford to lose any time. Go make a trip personally. Qingge has Witch Aunt looking after her after all, so there’s no need to worry on her side.”
Long Feiye had already stirred up the Chu Clan into panic without ever stepping a foot into Western Zhou Country. They were even ready to induce early labor on the girl. What would happen after he reached Western Zhou for real?
Currently, Chu Qingge was still unaware about the impending early labor. She was pregnant with Emperor Tianhui’s child, but still spent her days pining after her beloved Highness Duke of Qin. Tonight was dark and still, yet she was sprawled on the windowsill, staring at the moon while deep in thought. Witch Aunt sat by her side while making her medicine.
“There are still 20 days until the fifteenth of next month,” Chu Qingge remarked.
“You’re not worried over the fact that he’s locked your brother up? I thought you’d hate him for it,” Witch Aunt was displeased at her indifference.
Chu Qingge turned to stare at her before breaking into a cold laugh. “Shouldn’t I be happy instead?” If there’s anyone I hate, it should be my own father and brother!
Witch Aunt was going to lecture her, but the sight of Chu Qingge’s fresh tears held her back. In the end, she had still raised this girl from birth as her aunt. After a period of silence, she finally intoned, “If you have to hate anything, hate the fact that you fell in love with the wrong man.”
“No!” Chu Qingge suddenly grew emotional, her voice rising. “It was not a mistake! Even if I had to do it all over again, I’d still love him! All I hate is Han Yunxi. If it hadn’t been for Han Yunxi, I wouldn’t be reduced to this state. If it wasn’t for Han Yunxi, maybe he would have spared me a glance!”
If it wasn’t for Han Yunxi, I would’ve never played the qin at the empress dowager’s birthday banquet and caught that old Tianhui’s attention. If it wasn’t for Han Yunxi, my birthright, looks, martial arts, and talents would definitely cause Long Feiye to pause after I expressed my feelings. He definitely wouldn’t reject me outright!
And if Emperor Tianhui hadn’t been interested in me, father and brother would have tried to set me up with Long Feiye instead.
That’s why, in the end, it’s all Han Yunxi’s fault.
Witch Aunt stared at her hysterical niece, then recalled her meeting with Han Yunxi at the Poison Sect’s forbidden grounds. She couldn’t help but shake her head.
“Qing’er, rather than hate her...you should hate yourself instead…”
But Chu Qingge was too lost in her own grief and indignation to hear Witch Aunt’s words. Witch Aunt carried over her bowl of medicine and offered it to her instead.
“Hurry and drink this, it’ll be good for your body. If your health fails, you’ll have even less of a chance to fight Han Yunxi.”
Chu Qingge didn’t even glance at the bowl, much less drink its contents.
“If you want to tussle with Han Yunxi so much, you still have to keep your health up! The road before you is still long!” Witch Aunt coaxed.
Her medicine was purely to nourish Chu Qingge’s body and was personally prepared by Witch Aunt herself. Before inducing early labor, she had to make sure Chu Qingge was healthy enough to take it. Although the girl herself was still muddle-headed, Witch Aunt knew that the Chu Clan would toss Chu Qingge aside as soon as she had stopped being useful. Her prodding finally moved Chu Qingge to down the medicine as Witch Aunt looked on in helpless distress.
“Does Emperor Tianhui know of the Duke of Qin’s plans to visit Western Zhou?” Witch Aunt asked.
“Those imperial sons asked for an audience a few times, but all of them were denied entry. Even if they did get in, Tianhui wouldn’t be able to hear a word they say.” Chu Qingge might be inadequate in other things, but she was quite skilled at keeping Emperor Tianhui under her thumb.
She could very well earn a spot as a femme fatale in the annals of human history.
“That’s good, then,” Witch Aunt didn’t want to scold or rebuke Chu Qingge. If she can hold the fort here at West Liang, then let her have her fantasies. After seeing the Duke of Qin’s style in the flesh and experiencing his finesse first-hand, she was clear that he’d be an unforgettable man in many women’s eyes.
Besides West Liang City, Tianan City was also very interested in Long Feiye’s pending visit to Western Zhou. Long Tianmo couldn’t even sit still and went to personally visit General Mu’s estate.
“What does the Duke of Qin mean by this?”
“Zhen long wanted to invite him to Tianan, but you two found every way possible to stop me. Now look, he’s going to Western Zhou. The Chu Clan should be proud of themselves by now!”
Mu Qingwu stood quietly on one side, while General Mu respectfully offered Long Tianmo a cup of tea. “Your Majesty, the Duke of Qin is visiting Western Zhou, not Tianning. Please keep calm.”
“What’s the difference between him going to Western Zhou or Tianning?” Long Tianmo asked back.
“Father, such things… The Duke of Qin’s actions really are rather unexpected,” Mu Qingwu agreed with Long Tianmo.
“Emperor Kang Cheng didn’t fear the Chu Clan taking the throne in Tianning when he agreed to the marriage alliance. If Tianning falls into Western Zhou’s hands one day and befriends the Duke of Qin, we’ll be the target of public criticism by all!” Long Tianmo spat angrily.
His reasoning wasn’t wrong. The Chu Clan controlled half of the military power in Western Zhou. Emperor Kang Cheng had allowed their daughter to marry into Tianning, which proved that he was confident enough in his own power to quell the Chu Clan. Thus, anything the Chu Clan won in Tianning must go to Western Zhou in the end. Once Western Zhou staked claims on the ten counties in northwest Tianning, then befriended the Duke of Qin, Tianan City would be forced to face a foe three times as strong.
Long Tianmo had yet to stabilize the foundations of his fledgling kingdom. How could he ever hope to withstand such pressure? Naturally, he felt quite panicked.
But Great General Mu wasn’t concerned at all. “Your Majesty, don’t be impatient. It’s not even too late to act on the matter after the Duke of Qin’s gone to Western Zhou. As this old official sees it, his sudden visit must have a reason. This old official asks that Your Majesty heed me one more time.”
Long Tianmo didn’t understand. Great General Mu had always been hot-headed and impulsive. The best example came from the past, when he’d outright lashed Han Yunxi with his whip. But somehow, he was able to remain calmer than anyone else when it came to matters of state. Was his old personality all a sham?
Of course, he’d never give voice to his suspicions. Currently, he still trusted Great General Mu since the Mu Clan was his sole source of strength. Great General Mu’s rational calm had been the right choice in multiple major issues of the past. But this time, Long Tianmo couldn’t keep calm. He was about to speak up when Mu Qingwu beat him to it.
“This soldier has remembered something. In the past when the Duke of Qin refused the marriage alliance with Western Zhou, Tianhui used no end of sacrifices to play down the issue. A man with a temper like Emperor Kang Cheng’s would never invite the Duke of Qin on his own initiative. And knowing what we do about the Duke of Qin himself...it’s no guarantee that he’s going for a friendly chat.”
Actually, Mu Qingwu was thinking about Han Yunxi when he spoke these words. Long Tianmo’s thoughts wandered to her as well. It had been a long time since either of them had seen that woman.
Mu Qingwu’s words were successful in calming Long Tianmo down. Great General Mu watched on with dissatisfaction from the side, but couldn’t do anything about it. After saying a few more words, he simply changed the topic. “Your Majesty...you’re getting on in years as well. You should consider the issue of begetting heirs.”
Long Tianmo had yet to take a single concubine since establishing his reign. Mu Liuyue was his only woman. With her as his empress, his mother, the insane Empress Li, naturally became empress dowager. As a filial son, Long Tianmo was nothing but docile and obedient before his mad mother, who had taken a fancy to making Mu Liuyue serve by her side. But how easy was it to wait on a crazy woman? Mu Liuyue suffered nothing but grievances all day long!
Her father and brother had urged her repeatedly to think about having children, but she still didn’t have the guts to tell them that Long Tianmo hadn’t touched her at all.
“Mm, Zhen will think over the issue!” Long Tianmo replied coldly. He was in no mood to continue the conversation and left soon after.
As of right now, the situation in Cloud Realm Continent was still stable. But a single move from Long Feiye had already sent ripples of fear amongst the various powers. Even Northern Li’s Emperor Ruishi[1. Emperor Ruishi (睿式皇帝) - Rui means “astute, perspicacious, farsighted,” Shi is “martial, military.”] was secretly keeping tabs on further developments. However, instead of consulting with his Ministry of War, he found Jun Yixie’s master Ban Yanqing instead.
As the leader of Cloud Realm Continent’s strongest military force, Emperor Ruishi wore armor all year round even though he had never appeared on the battlefields. He was approaching 50 years old, but hardly looked old or weak. A heroic, domineering aura surrounded him like a vigorous tiger, his eyes sharp and ready to kill. He was like a heavenly warrior incarnated!
In contrast, the man dressed in gray robes before him seemed like a drifting cloud or untamed stork, free from worldly concerns. Still, Ban Yanqing’s languid air was more than enough to suppress Emperor Ruishi’s overbearing presence, because what laid beneath him were...hidden depths enough to make a man tremble with fear.
“Tianning’s Duke of Qin is nothing short of a calamity!” This wasn’t the first time Emperor Ruishi had judged Long Feiye like this. For years, Western Zhou and Tianning had joined hands to resist Northern Li’s crack horsemen in the south. Now Tianning had been broken up into three factions in the north and south, their relations with Western Zhou unclear. Emperor Ruishi was waiting for his chance to conquer the south as well. Circumstances were finally starting to turn in his favor. Of course he couldn’t let Long Feiye disturb his plans.
“Let him sow disaster as he will. In the end, the threat from one man can’t compare to the schemes of a single femme fatale. Your Majesty only needs to wait and watch a good show,” Bai Yanqing replied with a smile.
Emperor Ruishi was no sapling like Long Tianmo. He laughed out loud and exclaimed, “A femme fatale? Interesting! Very interesting! Zhen will wait and watch!”
As for the beauty in question---that was probably someone only he and Bai Yanqing knew. By the time Jun Yixie entered the room, the two older men had already fallen silent. Various parties across the continent were all waiting for Long Feiye and Han Yunxi to visit Western Zhou.
On this day, they were indeed travelling towards the country, but had chosen to use the small roads instead of the main thoroughfares for Tang Li’s sake. Aunt Ru and Tang Zijin had finally started suspecting Long Feiye of harboring Tang Li after being tricked by multiple false trails. They never expected Tang Li to run off into the most dangerous possible place for shelter.
Despite this, they still failed to track down Long Feiye and Han Yunxi even though they knew the pair was heading for Western Zhou. In the end, it was Tang Li’s fiancée’s clan who sniffed them out instead. Because they didn’t want to stir up any extra trouble, the group chose to hide away.
“Hey, what’s your fiancée’s background?” Han Yunxi asked with curiosity.