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 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 them 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 Cloud Realm Trade Consortium for quite a while now, even before Ouyang Ning Nuo colluded with Jun Yixie at Fishery Island. Their inquiries were a result of Long Feiye’s suspicions. Cloud Realm Trade Consortium relied on its business dealings at the borders to make them money, but their notoriety had increased within the span of a few years, allowing them 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 possible? How could any business rise out of the blue without investors?
The Duke of Qin had once suspected that Cloud Realm Trade Consortium was either controlled by the Di Clan, or it was a front for 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 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, intrigued. “Chu Xifeng, write a letter to the commander-in-chief’s estate in the south central regions. Tell them 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 desired 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 ran 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, so raising the taxes any further would force the merchants to help the government profit.
This would be quite a blow to Cloud Realm Trade Consortium!
It would be perfectly justified to stop all grain sales to the Consortium. Once news of their allegiance 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 mere suggestion?
No. They would take it as a direct order and put it into immediate effect.
“Xu Donglin, send word to Medicine City’s Council of Elders. 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 felt the circumstances called for a gentle nudge. 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, exercising extremely firm methods to prohibit all grain trades with Cloud Realm Trade Consortium! Both Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were a little taken aback at the speed of this development. People in the south central regions seemed to crave nothing short of chaos, all 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 typically held in a large conference hall, but this time they met in the secret chambers of a luxurious house. There was no reason aside from the Di Clan Head personally attending! Indeed, 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 shadow. He wasn’t sitting with his back straightened, but with both legs jutting upright 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 professional appraiser would be able to tell the ring was made from Cloud Realm Continent’s most precious material, purple jade crystal. His face was hidden behind a cast-bronze mask that covered him from chin to nose. He seemed very young, with strong eyebrows and big eyes that were staring absently at something in the darkness.
In spite of this, his gaze was nothing short of haughty!
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. Regardless of his continuous mistakes, he would never get into trouble as long as his older brother---the eldest son of the first wife---pardoned him.
The spot directly 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 of her station, 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 instead found women’s clothing cumbersome. Men’s clothes were much more efficient and straight to the point. Her figure was quite average, with a middling height and slim form. Due to her unassuming appearance and lack of accesories, everyone had grown accustomed to her choice in clothing. 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 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 again, he saw Ouyang Ning Jing glaring at him and shrugged in silence. Just like that, everyone remained standing for two hours before Ouyang Ning Cheng rose to his feet and barked out, “All dismissed.”
He left without another word.
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 acting president, she owed them an explanation. Ouyang Ning Jing swept her gaze across the room and coldly demanded, “What’s with all the impatience? The clan head naturally has a plan to deal with this!”
“President Jing, our trade with Medicine City…” someone couldn’t help but to ask. Multiple supplies from the city had nearly halted as of late, and all of them were items of high demand. If this continued, it would affect their business in the drug trade.
Ouyang Ning Jing didn’t hesitate. “Spread orders to stop all business with Medicine City immediately. Since they violated their agreement with us first, they will have to make reparations! Before we settle our 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 protest, she stood there loftily, her chin raised high as she aimed icy glares at those present. Her boldness, aura, and determination were no different than a man’s. Gradually, her prolonged silence made her detractors follow suit. 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 any one of you can draw up a successful agreement, my position is yours! Does anyone want to do it? Speak up!”
Silence greeted her words. No one dared step up to the task. Although none of them knew the exact situation between the Chu Clan and the Duke of Qin, everyone 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 terminate their agreement with Cloud Realm Trade Consortium and offer all their products to Pill Fiend Pharmacy instead. Ouyang Ning Jing had failed to make a breakthrough with them, even after months of talks. How could any of them hope to do better? Even a decade wouldn’t be enough time!
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 it?”
One person timidly said, “President Jing, although negotiations aren’t going well, you can’t sever an agreement 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 market across Cloud Realm Continent?” Ouyang Ning Jing demanded.
“They should need about 300 shops,” the same man offered.
“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 ignoring the need to make a profit, but they’re also paying 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 contract, so we can keep all profits made in the interim!” 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 claimed the cost of transportation and miscellaneous fees before giving the net profit to Medicine City. Currently, that amount was still sitting in their hands! Compared to Ouyang Ning Nuo, Ouyang Ning Jing was quite shrewd, and much 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...
Reuploaded with Edits: 12/12/2020