In the still and quiet night, one clan head and one head of the family flipped over the walls to find Long Feiye. They might have been drunk for all the sense their actions made to anyone else. If news of this leaked out, everyone would be looking down on the Nether Clan’s Chu Clan.
Of course, if everyone knew of Long Feiye’s true identity as an imperial clan heir, something like this wouldn’t count as much. During the time of the Great Qin Empire, even the honorable and respected Seven Noble Families had to perform the grandest, most formal bow upon greeting members of the imperial clan.
Han Yunxi’s true identity had been a constant source of suspicion, but nobody had ever wondered about Long Feiye’s origins. Even the smartest amongst them, Gu Beiyue, had never once turned his suspicions in that direction. If there was a day where Gu Beiyue had found out that Long Feiye was West Qin’s mortal enemy, what would he do then? Currently, Gu Beiyue was in Western Zhou himself, but he had ended up following Chu Xifeng and Tang Li to the Thousand Buddha Cave instead of staying within the capital to guard his charge.
Since the Nether Clan Head had already flipped over the wall, Long Feiye had no choice but to go meet him. Despite his anxiety, Chu Yunyi was still cool-headed at this moment. “Your Highness Duke of Qin, I’ve long been looking forward to meeting you!” he proclaimed calmly.
Long Feiye simply arched an eyebrow at him before nodding his head.
His aloof and haughty attitude made General Chu extremely displeased. He could let it pass if Long Feiye overlooked himself, but this was the leader of their entire Nether Clan. How can he be so arrogant?
He has no manners at all! No sense of breeding!
Yet, Chu Yunyi didn’t get angry. He carefully studied Long Feiye as this was the first time he had met the man in person. Although he knew the youth was extraordinarily noble, he never expected Long Feiye to carry such a powerful aura. Those deep, icy pupils seemed to draw an inexplicable sense of respect and reverence from the very depths of the Nether Clan Head’s soul. Of course he knew that Long Feiye came from Tianning’s imperial clan, but he carried a natural, almost as if it were inborn, disposition of a ruler that even Emperor Kang Cheng lacked. Why does Long Feiye have such an aura when he’s never even sat on a throne? Even stranger than that was the deepset hate he could sense faintly from the man’s obscure gaze.
After his examination of Long Feiye, Chu Yunyi moved to observe Han Yunxi instead. Oddly enough, he found the same sense of regality within her form as well. He could understand why Long Feiye would seem so noble, yet Han Yunxi was only a commoner woman, the daughter of the first wife of the Han Clan. Where did her aura come from? Why did she have such a strong noble presence?
Did she cultivate those airs after staying by Long Feiye’s side for so long?
Chu Yunyi hid his alarm, but didn’t have time to ponder. They had to finish their talk with Long Feiye before sunrise and the formal meeting with Emperor Kang Cheng.
“Duke of Qin, let’s be frank and put our cards on the table,” Chu Yunyi smiled. “May I trouble you to state the terms that will help the Nether Clan keep its secrets?”
Long Feiye had ignored General Chu for the express purpose of luring out the tru Nether Clan Head. The terms he wanted weren’t something General Chu could offer.
“Your lordship wants but one thing,” Long Feiye finally spoke up.
“What is it?” Chu Yunyi asked hastily.
“Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons,” Long Feiye came straight to the point.
Both Chu Yunyi and General Chu knew that Chu Tianyin had blabbed by his statement. The two of them were stunned! Chu Yunyi was even a little angry, while General Chu was both indignant and worried. He understood his own son all too well. Heaven only knows the torment Chu Tianyin must have suffered to give up such intel. Everyone present knew about the Perplexing Butterfly Illusion, so Chu Yunyi didn’t bother to explain himself. He smoothed out his beard and took a long time to deliberate before replying, “Duke of Qin, you know that it’s not easy to enter the Thousand Buddha Cave, much less to reach the 1,000 year old gingko trees. Why not change…”
“If the Nether Clan can’t do it, then please go back,” Long Feiye interrupted.
“You!” General Chu lost his temper. “Duke of Qin, the two of us came in good faith to talk. What’s with your attitude?”
“Your lordship could simply make the same demands to Emperor Kang Cheng instead. I never once planned to discuss this with your Chu Clan! But seeing as how the Nether Clan deigned to pay us a late-night visit, I gave you this chance. If the Nether Clan can’t do it, I won’t force you,” Long Feiye’s tone was devoid of any warmth whatsoever.
Sitting by his side, Han Yunxi couldn’t help but gather up her robes from the sudden chill. She had sensed that there was something different in the way Long Feiye treated the Nether Clan, but couldn’t put her finger on the details. Did his sudden coldness affect her more because she was used to his warm and gentle side? Or were there other reasons at stake? Or perhaps it was all a misconception... While her thoughts were wandering, General Chu’s rage pulled her back to reality again.
He pointed at Long Feiye and shouted, “Duke of Qin, you’re blatantly threatening us!”
How else could Long Feiye get Emperor Kang Cheng to help them, if not by exposing the Chu Clan’s secret?
Chu Yunyi’s expression looked ghastly as well. But what else could they do, now that they’d been pressured to this point? Even if they had no way to get the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons, they’d still have to think of one somehow!
“Duke of Qin, my Nether Clan will accept this task. May you give us some time to accomplish it,” Chu Yunyi agreed instantly.
“How long?” Long Feiye asked coldly.
“Three months. Three months later, on the Bodhisattva’s birthday, the women of the imperial harem will pay their respects at the Thousand Buddha Cave. That’s the only chance we’ll have,” Chu Yunyi answered honestly.
Long Feiye nodded as he accepted. “Then three months will be the deadline. Don’t blame your lordship for being blunt if you miss it.”
“Many thanks.” Chu Yunyi was very polite, but Long Feiye kept his cold and arrogant air. Despite being led along and forced to beg for his terms, Chu Yunyi had no choice but to take it. Now that the terms had finally been set, he was in no mood to stay any longer and turned to leave.
Unexpectedly, Long Feiye actually called them back. “Nether Clan Head, wait a moment. Your lordship has one thing I still don’t understand. I would like to consult with you on the matter.”
“Please speak.” Chu Yunyi said magnanimously, but his face turned black as soon as Long Feiye spoke again.
He asked, “Do you know the whereabouts of the Di Clan?”
General Chu was even more alarmed. He only knew that his son must have suffered thoroughly under Long Feiye’s hands. Otherwise, he’d never reveal such secrets. Chu Yunyi remained silent, so Long Feiye asked again, “On the borders of Western Zhou and Tianning, they exist as a clan of merchants?”
“This old man only knows this much. With the Duke of Qin’s skills, it shouldn’t be very hard to lure out the Di Clan,” Chu Yunyi replied.
“Will Nether Clan Head consider trading the location of the Di Clan in exchange for Chu Tianyin?” Long Feiye asked in return.
General Chu immediately grew alert, yet Chu Yunyi said nothing. He only shook his sleeves and stalked off. General Chu chased after him with an urgent tone, “What do you mean by this? Aren’t we going to rescue Tianyin?”
He was waiting for Chu Yunyi and Long Feiye to keep talking until they reached the terms for Chu Tianyin’s exchange. He never thought it’d be Long Feiye who’d offer those terms first, or that Chu Yunyi had simply left without considering the options.
It would have been better if he didn’t say anything at all, because Chu Yunyi grew incensed. “He’s a useless waste who couldn’t accomplish anything but spoiled everything instead. What’s the use of bringing him back?”
Now it was General Chu’s turn to rage. He ran in front to block Chu Yunyi and demanded, “State your intentions clearly!”
“This old man gave him so many troops to tighten up exits at the Poison Sect’s underground palace, but what did he give me in return? Not only did he fail to kill Long Feiye and the rest, he even exposed the existence of the Nether Clan, the location for Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons, and news regarding the Di Clan! Heh, you still want this old man to save him?” Chu Yunyi raged back.
“Witch Aunt was present at the underground palace as well. Tianyin already did his best! It’s obvious to anyone who has eyes how much that boy’s done for the Chu Clan over the years! If it wasn’t for Tianyin, our Chu Clan would never have befriended Crown Prince Ye; if it wasn’t for Tianyin, our Chu Clan would never have planted roots in the capital city! It’s impossible for men to avoid making mistakes unless they’re sages or extraordinary persons. You can’t condemn everything about Tianyin just because of a single mistake!” General Chu was furious as well.
“Then explain to this old man, what happened with the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons? And the Di Clan? Don’t tell me he wasn’t the one who leaked that information?” Chu Yunyi shot back.
“They must have tortured him! Otherwise, Tianyin would never have revealed any of our secrets! Moreover, he doesn’t know much about the Di Clan at all---how many details could he have shared?” Even Gu Beiyue didn’t know. Of everyone in the Nether Clan, only Chu Yunyi and General Chu had the full story. The information was the most hidden piece on their elaborate chessboard.
General Chu was quite sure of himself, but Chu Yunyi only laughed at him. “If we go by your logic, then I have a chance to be forgiven some day if I spill all the secrets of the Nether Clan as well?”
“That wouldn’t happen! I know my son best; he has his limits! Even if he lost his life, he wouldn’t betray the Nether Clan!” General Chu was quite agitated.
“These two things don’t count as his limits already? What does, then? Tell this old man!” Chu Yunyi roared.
“At least...at least he didn’t say anything about the Shadow Clan,” General Chu defended.
Chu Yunyi only shook his head. “The Duke of Qin just didn’t bring it up, that’s all. How are you certain he didn’t spill the beans? Heheh, Gu Beiyue was right. Rather than save him, it’s better to discard him outright.”
General Chu couldn’t take these words. “What does Gu Beiyue count for? Does he have any right to decide the Nether Clan’s matters? I forgot to tell you something, but today the Duke of Qin said that it was someone else who told him about the Driving Arrow Arts. Gu Beiyue’s already helped Han Yunxi on multiple occasions. Now he’s even working at her Pill Fiend Pharmacy. Just for the sake of the Perplexing Butterfly Illusion? Alright, maybe he doesn’t want to rescue Tianyin, but why didn’t he help with Qingge’s early labor as well? It’s obvious that he’s on Long Feiye’s side!”
Chu Yunyi may have been mad about Chu Tianyin, but he still possessed his reason. With shock, he asked, “Someone told him about the Driving Arrow Arts?”
“Precisely! Who else would know of our Nether Clan’s secrets besides Gu Beiyue?” General Chu sneered. “Fortunately, Long Feiye already found out before he captured Tianyin, or else my son would definitely be the scapegoat for sharing that secret as well.”
Formerly, General Chu had only harbored suspicions against Gu Beiyue without any solid evidence, but now he was completely against the man because of his fury. Moreover, Chu Yunyi had his own share of doubts after Gu Beiyue refused to help him twice. Now General Chu’s words only stirred up his own misgivings.
“Gu Beiyue….” he muttered thoughtfully to himself.
“Over the past few years, he’s kept out of the Chu Clan’s power struggles and schemes in Western Zhou. With a personality like his, he’s probably betrayed us long ago,” General Chu added, putting more oil on the flames.
Chu Yunyi’s gaze darkened as he stood there in silence.
“As I see it, Long Feiye won’t give up easily now that he’s found out about the Di Clan. Instead of trading intel on them for our man, we can tell him about the Shadow Clan’s secret instead! Gu Beiyue’s its only member, and he’s so sickly that he’d never be able to stand against them. The Di Clan’s more worthy of standing with the Nether Clan to unite the world!” General Chu seized the occasion to push forward.
Chu Yunyi looked at him before he finally said, “The Nether and Shadow Clans were both in charge of protecting the same master in the past. We’ve been akin to one family over the years. Beiyue, that child…”
“Big bro, you can’t be soft-hearted towards him in the face of our bigger goals!” General Chu cut him off. “Especially at a critical time like this. We can’t allow Long Feiye to track down the Di Clan, not just for Tianyin’s sake, but the sake of our master plan! We need to distract him with the Shadow Clan instead!”
Chu Yunyi still remained silent.
“Big bro, you and I are the only ones who know about the Di Clan. Say something!” General Chu urged.
Chu Yunyi finally opened his mouth and...