Yes, Long Feiye had indeed come to sow discord!
He had not only successfully instigated Emperor Kang Cheng to move against the Chu Clan, but stirred up dissent between the Chu Clan and Gu Beiyue as well. It was only a shame that Han Yunxi only saw through the former and not the latter. The two of them reached the Court of Dependencies just as Tang Li and Chu Xifeng came to report from the Thousand Buddha Cave.
“Big bro, unless there’s someone leading the way, it’s impossible get in there. The guards are stationed too tightly, and there’s a bunch right by the entrance!” Tang Li was completely certain that the place was impenetrable, while Chu Xifeng nodded in agreement.
“Master, even if the Chu Clan themselves want to get in, it would be difficult. Besides the guards, there’s also a bunch of traps. If not for Young Master Tang, this subordinate would have startled the snake in the grass for sure,” Chu Xifeng added.
Because Tang Li was skilled in hidden weapons, he was quite proficient when it came to recognizing traps. This time, he’d been very reliable during the exploration. Long Feiye and Han Yunxi fell silent at their words. Both of them were thinking about the same person---that white-robed gentleman. Long Feiye was considering how the Nether Clan would probably reach out to the Shadow Clan fellow for help, while Han Yunxi was musing how easy it’d be for that man to slip in the caves unnoticed. Unfortunately, neither of them could read minds, so they didn’t voice their thoughts.
Long Feiye said, “For now, we wait for news from the Chu Clan.”
At this moment, Gu Beiyue himself had just arrived at the Chu Clan as well. Chu Yunyi had mentioned something that made him curious. Gu Beiyue knew many things about the Poison Sect and its Perplexing Butterfly Illusion. He had heard Chu Tianyin speak of the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons as well. Still, why would the Chu Clan choose this of all times to try and steal it from the Thousand Buddha Cave? Why wait until Long Feiye showed up to Western Zhou?
Could it be that Chu Yunyi knew Long Feiye was coming for the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons, so he wants to get his hands on it first? Or have they agreed to some sort of trade?
Gu Beiyue’s gaze grew complex as he asked, “Why are we looking for Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons now of all times?”
“It’s better to make the first move in this situation. That bastard Tianyin sold us out!” Chu Yunyi spat hatefully.
Gu Beiyue looked at Chu Yunyi as if he could see right through the man’s intentions. He asked next, “So, the Duke of Qin came for the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons?”
“Exactly!” Chu Yunxi didn’t elaborate. He was here to both ask Gu Beiyue for a favor and probe him out. Lowering his voice, he added, “Beiyue, I won’t keep this from you now, but last night this old man met in private with the Duke of Qin. He agreed to help the Chu Clan keep the secret of the Nether Clan as long as we can help him get the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons.”
Immediately, Gu Beiyue asked, “And Chu Tianyin?”
“Heheh, that damned brat even told them about the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons, so why should this old man bother with saving him? Hmph, my Nether Clan needs no traitors!” Chu Yunyi retorted coldly.
Gu Beiyue fell silent. His bright, clear eyes stopped being gentle and turned icy and pensive instead. It seemed he had completely transformed from his warm and soft-hearted personality to someone completely untouchable. Even Chu Yunyi, who’d tried to sound him out on purpose, found himself unable to meet the man’s gaze. It was impossible to tell what Gu Beiyue was thinking at this moment. The longer he stayed silent, the more guilty Chu Yunyi felt. Although he was the senior in this situation, he had never once underestimated the young man before his eyes. He could only regret and rue the fact that Gu Beiyue hadn’t been born in the Nether Clan instead.
It wasn’t that Chu Yunyi had no cool, but that Gu Beiyue remained mute for way too long. In the end, Chu Yunyi had to ask, “Beiyue, there are many guards stationed at the Thousand Buddha Cave. It would be difficult to even enter it, much less approach the thousand-year ginkgo trees beyond them. This old man only found you because I was stuck in a dilemma. The life and death of the Nether Clan---the fate of our very existence---rests in your answer!”
Chu Yunyi wasn’t over exaggerating. If the Nether Clan couldn’t get the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons, Long Feiye would never spare them. But if they forced their way into the Thousand Buddha Cave, then the Chu Clan could forget about making a living in Western Zhou. Truly, they were stuck between a rock and a hard spot.
“Nether Clan Head, your words are an overstatement,” Gu Beiyue remarked.
“Beiyue, this old man was impatient with his speech a few days ago. Please don’t take it to heart,” the Nether Clan Head replied.
“I won’t,” Gu Beiyue’s tone was neutral and didn’t reveal a single thing.
The Nether Clan Head knew that saying anything else was useless, so he fell silent. After a long period of silence, Gu Beiyue finally ventured to say, “Nether Clan Head, the Duke of Qin has a handle on the Nether Clan. Why didn’t he find Emperor Kang Cheng directly to discuss these matters instead of seeking out the Chu Clan’s help?”
Of course Emperor Kang Cheng had heard of the Perplexing Butterfly Illusion as well, but he didn’t know Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons was a vital ingredient to crack the toxin, or the fact that Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons was located right on the thousand-year ginkgo trees. If the Duke of Qin was just here for the thousand-year ginkgo, then finding Emperor Kang Cheng would be the most direct choice.
“He probably has other schemes for the Chu Clan. What do you think?” Chu Yunyi asked.
Gu Beiyue nodded and said, “With this one’s skills, I can enter the Thousand Buddha Cave with effort. However, to reach the thousand-year ginkgo trees is…”
Chu Yunyi cut him off. “We only need you scope out the way. Three months later, the caves will open up for prayer. General Chu will find his own way to enter the caves then, so you can simply follow behind him when the time comes.” As he spoke, Chu Yunyi drew closer to whisper in Gu Beiyue’s ear.
The contents of his speech were a plan to lure Long Feiye into the Thousand Buddha Cave in three months so Gu Beiyue could seize the chance to assassinate the man in the dark! They would find their own way to get the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons. Gu Beiyue’s gaze grew complex. He was about to speak when Chu Yunyi added, “And even if you can’t kill the Duke of Qin, you have to kill Han Yunxi! She understands poisons, so this old man would definitely have her accompany us into the caves.”
Gu Beiyue’s eyes flashed coldly at his words, but he was looking down so Chu Yunyi didn’t notice. He had been hesitant before, but now he was filled with determination. “Alright. This junior will definitely see through this to the end!”
Chu Yunyi was thrilled and invited Gu Beiyue to stay overnight at the Chu Clan right there. But Gu Beiyue refused and said he’d explore the Thousand Buddha Cave in a few days instead. Once he left, General Chu emerged from an inner room and asked, “Aren’t you afraid that he’ll tell them what you’re planning?”
“What’s there to be afraid of? Long Feiye knows how to meet plots with plots. Since he’s scheming against the Chu Clan, we should plot against him as well. This time, he forced the hand of our Nether Clan. He shouldn’t blame us if we turn ruthless and pay him back!”
For Chu Yunyi to be so decisive meant that he definitely had a backup plan in place. While setting a trap for Long Feiye, he was testing out Gu Beiyue at the same time. If Gu Beiyue didn’t ally himself with Long Feiye, he’d let Gu Beiyue off. But if he did, then the Shadow Clan could die out right in Thousand Buddha Cave!
General Chu didn’t understand. “Even if the Duke of Qin meets a plot with a plot, what can we do? Do you want to expose the Nether Clan?”
Chu Yunyi only smiled coldly and whispered something that caused General Chu’s expressions to blanch. In the end he said, “The risk is too great.”
“Yes! But the Nether Clan has no other options left!” Chu Yunyi said icily.
Long Feiye’s plans accounted for the Chu Clan, Gu Beiyue, and Emperor Kang Cheng while the Chu Clan was plotting against him and Gu Beiyue. Meanwhile, Emperor Kang Cheng himself was currently planning against the Chu Clan. While everyone was sleeping in White City tonight, a fierce and wild storm had long started brewing in the background. Who would suffer the greatest triumphs or the most tragic losses?
Only three months later would tell.
After the banquet, Emperor Kang Cheng personally sent off Long Feiye and Han Yunxi. His attitude from that morning had already outlined his stance. To put it in fancier terms, Western Zhou preferred peace and would never proactively offend any person. They had clearly refused an alliance with Long Feiye, but then had the second imperial prince entertain the guests of honor while inviting Long Feiye and company to tour the sights around White City.
Everything had gone according to Long Feiye’s expectations. Naturally, he refused the offer and said that he’d be leaving the city tomorrow morning. But of course, they weren’t going anywhere while they were here for the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons.
Early next morning, General Chu came under orders to escort Long Feiye and Han Yunxi out of the capital city. Once beyond its gates, their carriage traversed the public roads for a while before shaking off their trackers around noon to head west towards Thousand Buddha Cave. The caves were part of an extensive mountain chain call the Thousand Buddha Range. West of the mountains was the Scraping Sands,[1. Scraping Sands (嚓薾沙漠) - Ca’Er shamo Ca means a scraping sound, Er is “like that, so,” shamo is “desert.”] Western Zhou’s largest desert, while east of the range lay its biggest oasis. White City was built upon that very patch of green. Meanwhile, Thousand Buddha Cave was at the foot of Thousand Buddha Range, a massive cave system whose thousands of Buddha statues gave the place its name.
Western Zhou’s imperial clan had built an imperial temperial within the vicinity of the caves that shared its name. Within its grounds grew a single thousand-year ginkgo tree. Although it wasn’t the only ginkgo tree in Western Zhou, the high monks considered this one an auspicious plant. Thus, the imperial family considered it a patron tree of the nation and guarded it stringently. Aside from monks and members of the imperial clan, the temple was closed to all visitors outside of important ceremonies.
Long Feiye’s group took two days to reach a small village located closest to the caves. The town itself was called Eastcome Garrison.[2. Eastcome Garrison (东来镇) - Donglai Zhen, in which “Donglai” means “east comes” and Zhen means “garrison post, town.”] They’d hardly stepped foot in the inn before someone else arrived---the long missing Gu Qishao!
“Where did you go? Was it fun to leave without so much as a by your leave?” Han Yunxi asked with a scoff. Long Feiye only took Gu Qishao’s words on the roof that night as ramblings from a dream and silently drank his tea without a glance at the man.
Gu Qishao’s smile was brighter than the noonday sun. Ignoring Long Feiye’s existence, he began to tease, “What, did you miss your Qi gege?”
Han Yunxi’s lips pursed, but Long Feiye was already throwing his teacup before she could speak. “Get lost!”
Having been on guard already, Gu Qishao quickly dodged out of the way. He next took out a bunch of poisons from his sleeve and stuffed them into Han Yunxi’s arms. “Here, feed them all to Lil Thing at once.”
Han Yunxi quickly analyzed the poisons and found them all to be hypertoxic. Most of them she couldn’t even make on her own because the required ingredients were too rare. But this fellow had brought her a whole bunch of them!
“Where did you go to find these things?” she asked doubtfully.
Gu Qishao simply dug out a few pills and added, “These are for you to eat, they’re one-time pills as well.”
Han Yunxi couldn’t figure out what they were even after scanning them with the detox system. “What are these?” she asked.
Now Long Feiye was looking over as well.
“They’re beneficial for your brain! Aren’t you always fainting all the time?” Gu Qishao asked earnestly.
Han Yunxi didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. But seeing Gu Qishao so travelworn, she couldn’t help but feel her heart grow warm. At that moment, Long Feiye suddenly grabbed the pills out of her hands...