Note: As the identity of the Di Clan has already been revealed as the Ouyang/Ning Clan, all instances of “Ouyang Ningnuo” shall now be referred to as “Ouyang Ning Nuo” to match his clansmen.
This piece of news was definitely more surprising than that of Chu Qingge’s early birth. Cloud Realm Trade Consortium had publicly come out in support of the Chu Clan and had even promised to supply it with large amounts of grain and weapons.
“It has to be them! The Di Clan has to be them!” Tang Li was visibly affected by the news.
“Definitely! Master, Chu Tianyin was lying. The Chu Clan’s long found the Di Clan and befriended them!” Chu Xifeng chimed in. His Highness Duke of Qin had been investigating the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium for quite a while now, even before Ouyang Ning Nuo colluded with Jun Yixie at Fishery Island. That was all due to of Long Feiye’s own suspicions. Cloud Realm Trade Consortium relied on its business dealings at the borders to make them money, but had risen within the span of a few years to have estates and industries all across Tianning and Western Zhou. They were even making inroads into Northern Li. Without ample funds for such backings, how could that be even possible? How could any business rise out of the blue without investors?
The Duke of Qin had once suspected that Cloud Realm Trade Consortium had to be either controlled by the Di Clan or the Di Clan itself. Now the truth had been revealed.
“Ouyang Ning Nuo wasn’t surnamed Ouyang at all, but Ning!” Tang Li thought out loud. “And that Ouyang Ning Jing---she’s surnamed Ning, so her name is Jing?”
Han Yunxi was silent. She had completely misunderstood. After being gone for so many years, would any of the Seven Noble Families still hold fast to their original loyalties with the East and West Qin? The Nether Clan’s Chu family had shot West Qin’s last imperial son, but the Di Clan had allied with them despite being devoted supporters of the royal family! After all, how could merchants expand and progress without the express support of the government, royalty, or the military?
Now that the Chu Clan had their support and Empress Xue as a hostage, they would probably keep their stake in the three prefectures on the borderline!
“Cloud Realm Trade Consortium…” Long Feiye trailed off with interest. “Chu Xifeng, write a letter to the commander-in-chief’s estate in the south central regions. Just tell them that your lordship wants to reduce the land tax and raise the merchant tax. Additionally, because Cloud Realm Trade Consortium has involved itself in politics, all of the granaries in the south central regions are to stop immediate sales to the consortium!”
Just recently, the south central regions had wanted to reform their taxation system and wrote a letter to Long Feiye consulting him on the matter. Long Feiye had held off on replying until now. Though his statement was simple, its implications went quite deep. Tianning’s south central regions were the most fertile areas in all of Cloud Realm Continent. Its taxes were high to begin with, but raising the taxes any further would mean that the merchants were helping its government make money instead.
This would be quite a blow to Cloud Realm Trade Consortium!
They were perfectly justified to stop grain sales to the consortium as well. Once news of this got out, they’d definitely win popular support. The common citizens were less concerned with the intricacies of politics if it didn’t affect their peaceful daily lives. Would the commander-in-chief’s estate take Long Feiye’s words as a suggestion?
No, they’d take it as direct orders and put it into immediate effect.
“Xu Donglin, send word to Medicine City’s Council of Elders. Just say that this wangfei wants to remind them not to forget their one-year promise,” Han Yunxi added. Back then, Medicine City had agreed to cut off all business with Cloud Realm Trade Consortium within a year in exchange for letting Pill Fiend Pharmacy take over their medicinal materials trade. Although only a few months had passed since then, Han Yunxi still had to send them a nudge under these circumstances. If war broke out, both grain and medicine would be in high demand!
Less than two days later, Long Feiye’s missive reached the south central regions. The people there implemented his commands within the month and even used extremely firm methods to prohibit all grain trades with Cloud Realm Trade Consortium in the regions! Both Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were a little taken aback at the speed of the developments. Those people in the south central regions seemed to crave nothing short of chaos just so the Duke of Qin could lead the charge and conquer the west!
Once Cloud Realm Trade Consortium heard of this news, they immediately called for an emergency meeting of their executive council at a location near Tianning’s borders. These meetings were usually held in a large conference hall, but this time they met in the secret chambers of a luxurious house! There was no other reason besides the fact that the Di Clan Head was personally attending! Indeed, the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium was controlled by the Di Clan. Even Ouyang Ning Jing had rushed back from her negotiations in Medicine City to attend the gathering.
The secret hall was spacious and roomy despite its dim lighting. Aside from a long rectangular table and one single chair, there was nothing else inside. The chair itself was placed at the very head of the table. Before the meeting had started, someone was already sitting in the seat. He was dressed in black robes, his entire figure shrouded mysteriously in the shadows. He wasn’t sitting up straight, but with both legs sticking up in the air as he leaned against the armrest and cradled it with his left hand.
Dimly, one could see him kissing a ring on his thumb, which sparkled with faint white light. A profession appraiser would be able to tell that the ring was made out of Cloud Realm Continent’s most precious material, purple jade crystal. His face was hidden behind a cast-bronze that covered him from chin to nose. He seemed very young, with strong brows and big eyes that were staring absently at something in the darkness.
Despite this, he wore a very haughty gaze!
Soon enough, more people began to stream into the room until everyone had arrived to stand on both sides of the table. Closest to the left hand side of the seat figure was none other than Ouyang Ning Nuo. He might have been dismissed as the trade consortium’s president, but he still held a respected position within the Di Clan as the fourth son of its first wife. No matter how badly he made mistakes, he’d never get in trouble as long as his older brother---the eldest son of the first wife---let him off.
The spot closest to the right hand side of the seated figure was empty, but next to that stood Ouyang Ning Jing. She was the second young Miss, also born from the first wife. Unlike other girls, she typically dressed herself in men’s garb and tied up her hair in a bun. She wasn’t hiding her gender on purpose, but simply felt that women’s clothes liked to get in the way. Men’s clothing were much more efficient and to the point. Her figure was quite average, with a middling height and slim form. Because of that and the fact that she never wore any accessories, everyone had grown used to the sight of seeing her in men’s clothes despite knowing that she was a woman. Her quiet and thoughtful eyes belied her young age, making her appear quite capable, experienced, and reliable.
The empty spot next to her belonged to the eldest young Miss, who was never present at the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium meetings. This time was no exception. Naturally, the man sprawled in the chair was the Di Clan’s eldest son by the first wife as well as the current clan head. His name was Ouyang Ning Cheng[1. Ouyang Ning Cheng (欧阳宁承) - Ouyang is a two-character surname, Ning is “peaceful, tranquil,” while Cheng means “to bear/hold/sustain, undertake contract/continue, be indebted to, granted a favor.”]---or more accurately, his real name was Ning Cheng. When the “Cheng” in his name was combined with Ouyang Ning Nuo’s “Nuo,” the two of them made a phrase: chengnuo, or “an oath or promise.” Of course, there was a deep meaning to that phrase, but only the pair knew the story behind it.
“Big bro, everyone’s here!” Ouyang Ning Nuo announced.
Ouyang Ning Cheng ignored him, still lost in his own thoughts. Before Ouyang Ning Nuo could speak up again, he saw Ouyang Ning Jing glaring at him and shrugged in silence. Just like that, everyone remained standing for two whole hours before Ouyang Ning Cheng rose to his feet and tossed out, “All dismissed.”
Then he left.
Just like that, Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s most top-secret meeting ended without any conclusion. Everyone leveled questioning looks at Ouyang Ning Jing. Since she was their president now, she owed them an explanation. Ouyang Ning Jing only swept her gaze across them and declared coldly, “What’s with all the impatience? The clan head naturally has a plan to deal with this!”
“President Jing, then Medicine City…” someone couldn’t help but to ask. Multiple supplies from the city had all but halted recently, all of them items in high demand. If this kept on, it’d affect their business in the drug trade.
Ouyang Ning Jing didn’t hesitate. “Spread orders to stop all business with Medicine City immediately. Since the city’s violated their agreement with us first, it’ll have to make reparations! Before we settle claims, Medicine City won’t get one iota of Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s medicinal ingredients!”
Everyone was alarmed by her proclamation.
“President Jing, please reconsider!”
“President Jing, without the drug trade, we’ll be the ones who suffer the greater losses!”
“President Jing, now isn’t the time to be stubborn. You’ve been in Medicine City for so long, wouldn’t this waste all your efforts?”
As the clamor rose in the room and threatened to drown Ouyang Ning Jing in protests, she stood there loftily, her chin raised high as she aimed icy glares at those present. Her boldness, aura, and determination were no less inferior than a man’s. Gradually, her prolonged silence made her detractors shut up as well. Ouyang Ning Jing settled to sit on the table and crossed her arms.
“Those against the idea can step out. This president will give you one year’s time to negotiate terms with Medicine City. If you can get to an agreement, the president’s spot is yours! Does anyone want to do it? Come out!”
Silence greeted her words. Nobody dared to step out. Although none of them knew the exact situation between the Chu Clan and the Duke of Qin, all of them knew that Han Yunxi was the Pill King’s disciple. Medicine City, in turn, revered the Pill King, so they wouldn’t dare to offend Han Yunxi. The best way to keep her on good terms was to cut off cooperations with Cloud Realm Trade Consortium and offer all their products to Pill Fiend Pharmacy instead. Ouyang Ning Jing had failed to break through with them after months of talks. How could any of them do any better? Even a decade wouldn’t be enough!
After waiting for a while with no results, Ouyang Ning Jing asked coldly, “Since you all know that it’s impossible, why are you still wasting time debating about it?”
One person timidly said, “President Jing, although negotiations aren’t going well, you can’t sever agreements just like that. We may not lose any money, but in the long run…”
“In the long run?” Ouyang Ning Jing cut him off. “How long would that be? Do you know how many branch stores Pill Fiend Pharmacy has opened up already?”
“53 shops…” the man answered.
“Wrong! Yesterday another shop opened up in a seaside city in Tianan Country! Now there are 54! How many shops do you think Pill Fiend Pharmacy needs to open before it controls the entire medicine markets across Cloud Realm Continent?” Ouyang Ning Jing asked next.
“They should need about 300 shops,” the man said again.
“Wrong! 100 stores will be enough, because Pill Fiend Pharmacy began selling wholesale last month. Its retail shops are already supplying smaller drugstores! Moreover, they’re selling their goods at an extremely low price. Not only are they not making any profits, they’re paying for transportation fees out of their own pockets.”
Ouyang Ning Jing’s words stunned the crowd. Even Ouyang Ning Nuo, who hadn’t spoken a word, found himself shocked. Pill Fiend Pharmacy’s methods were too clever. Like this, they would take over all of the medicine market within half a year!
“Compared to fruitlessly negotiating in Medicine City, it’s better to stop now and accuse them of reneging on their contracts, so we can keep all profits made in the interim to ourselves!” Ouyang Ning Jing declared.
The profits made between Cloud Realm Trade Consortium and Medicine City’s trades were always split at the end of the year. The consortium typically took away the cost of transportation and fees before giving the net profit for their business to Medicine City. Currently, that amount was still sitting in their hands! Compared to Ouyang Ning Nuo, Ouyang Ning Jing was quite shrewd and more decisive!
The crowd was sincerely convinced by her argument. Still, Ouyang Ning Jing’s next words raised their admiration even more, because she said...