General Chu’s suggestion earned Chu Yunyi’s approval, but before the former could go out to discuss a deal, another surprise report reached their ears.
“General, news came from Western Liang. Emperor Tianhui’s passed away!”
“What?!” Chu Yunyi was shocked. After all, Witch Aunt had told them just a few days ago that Emperor Tianhui wouldn’t die that easily. But today, why had he…
There were a few eunuchs and imperial physicians on attendance in Emperor Tianhui’s rooms who worked for the fourth imperial prince. Witch Aunt didn’t have chances to plant agents of her own, so she could only wait for the man’s eventual death…
“When did this happen?” General Chu asked in a rush.
“The messenger hawk will take an hour at the longest to deliver the message. It should have happened about an hour ago,” the retainer replied.
“What else did the letter say?” General Chu asked.
“General, it was only a single message on a piece of paper. There was no letter.” Otherwise, the retainer would have presented it already!
Unease settled in General Chu’s heart as he glanced at Chu Yunyi, whose gaze turned dark. “Wait a bit.”
Witch Aunt was always dependable with her work. Perhaps she’d sent them a preemptive message in haste first. They should get a full account of the details soon. With Emperor Tianhui dead, the situation in Tianning would change. In fact, everything would change. Still, no matter what happened, this could only be to their benefit. At a time like this, they need to calm down and figure out the situation before doing things like exposing Gu Beiyue or dealing with the Duke of Qin’s demands.
“Ning Cheng should have gotten the news by now too. Noble Consort Ning should have made some moves, too,” Chu Yunyi remarked, before personally lifting a brush to pen Ning Cheng a secret missive. Then he wrote another message to Witch Aunt and had both sent off by flying messenger hawk. Both letters were asking for help and reinforcements.
Once the crown prince took the throne, Empress Chu could start holding court from behind the screen and even issue military orders to transfer Tianning’s troops to the western borders to assist the Chu army. They didn’t need to wait for the Ning Clan’s reinforcements then. Although Tianning didn’t have many soldiers stationed in the west, even the thinnest forces could add meat to their ranks. Both Youyun and Yaoshui were in desperate straits right now!
Flying messenger hawk was the quickest way to deliver messages in Cloud Realm Continent, but Chu Yunyi still hadn’t gotten an answer from Ning Cheng after four hours. Even as the first glimmer of dawn rose in the east, they didn’t get any replies from Western Liang, either.
General Chu finally grew restless. “Could something have happened at Western Liang?”
“That couldn’t be! The forces that Tianyin left in the city are ample enough to suppress the fourth imperial prince. Moreover, Noble Consort Ning’s a formidable foe herself!” Chu Yunyi said earnestly.
General Chu’s gaze grew complicated. Although he didn’t want to suspect, he still couldn’t help but ask, “Big bro, could Ning Cheng….could he have…”
“Impossible!” Chu Yunyi denied before he could finish. “This old man even gave him Gu Beiyue. He would never betray the Chu Clan at a time like this!”
Ning Cheng was a loyalist to West Qin. After Chu Yunyi verified his identity, he also told him about the survival of the West Qin imperial heir and the fact that all their daughters by the first wife carried a phoenix birthmark on their backs. Upon hearing the news, Ning Cheng had been happy for three entire days and nights, speaking no end of praise for the Nether Clan’s stratagem in the past. There was no question that his loyalty was genuine, so he had no reason to refuse an offer to work with the Nether Clan. He had even less reason to turn his back on them now, especially if it only hurt the West Qin Dynasty’s chances at revival!
Chu Yunyi kept waiting...until it grew light.
But neither Ning Cheng nor Witch Aunt replied to his missives. General Chu grew even more uneasy. “Big bro, do you think Ning Cheng might have discovered something…”
Chu Yunyi stared at the map of the battlegrounds in silence.
At the same time, Han Yunxi woke up in Long Feiye’s arms, unaware of everything that had changed overnight. She remembered them pitching a camp last night and talking around a stove before she grew tired and somehow fell asleep. By the time she woke up, Tang Li and Chu Xifeng were both gone, leaving just her and Long Feiye in the tent.
Long Feiye didn’t know she was awake yet. Currently, he was staring at the stove, his eyes dancing with their flames as he pondered something. Nestled in his lap, Han Yunxi could only see his chin and Adam’s apple, both looking quite sexy. Whenever this man grew quiet, he always resembled a flawless statue made by some uncanny craftsmanship. There wasn’t a speck of imperfection about him no matter how many times she stared. She never got tired of looking at him.
Eventually, she murmured, “Long Feiye, how did I end up running into you?”
Of all the people throughout these 3,000 years, why you? What kind of good fortune did I fall upon?
Long Feiye snapped out of his thoughts and looked down at Han Yunxi, gently stroking her hair. “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” It’s fine if he didn’t hear me. I don’t think he’d answer it if I asked, anyways.
Han Yunxi lazily got to her feet while Long Feiye only said faintly, “Tianhui passed away.”
His voice was very calm, but Han Yunxi was shocked. “Passed away? When?”
“Last night. Chu Xifeng’s already hurrying over. The situation...doesn’t look good,” Long Feiye replied.
Han Yunxi understood the serious implications of his words, which was why she was so stunned. Although they were still in the battlefield, they were keeping tabs on Western Liang as well. Long Feiye had to stand guard against Great General Ning in case he took over the capital there. Though Noble Consort Ning had been quiet throughout this entire thing, it didn’t mean she had no power. Thus, Long Feiye had to watch out for both her and Chu Qingge. The agents he’d planted in the palace sent word out yesterday that Emperor Tianhui should last for the rest of this year, so why did the man die last night?
“Someone must have done something!” Han Yunxi was convinced.
As soon as she spoke, Tang Li rushed inside the tent in alarm. “Big bro! We’ve been tricked! Great General Ning never sent troops to the three eastern provinces! His two other generals long headed south instead. Moreover, he’s transferred half of his cavalry forces to the east, and they’re on their way now to guard against Long Tianmo instead!”
“And the situation in Western Liang?” Han Yunxi asked urgently.
Long Feiye and Ning Cheng had agreed to a three-way mobilization between their armies and Western Zhou’s troops. Long Feiye and Emperor Kang Cheng had moved their armies early to get to the three prefectures ahead of time and suppress the Chu Clan. But more importantly, they did that to lure Ning Cheng’s troops to their locations.
Long Feiye naturally wanted to prevent Ning Cheng from attacking Tianning itself. He had planted failsafes within Western Liang as well, so they would expect an advance from Ning Cheng if he headed towards the city. But his men had yet to take the capital for themselves, which was why Han Yunxi was concerned with the status there.
Tang Li’s face was all worry. “Chu Qingge formed an alliance with Noble Consort Ning!”
Even Long Feiye was caught off-guard by his news. “Is that true?” he asked.
“Without a doubt, big bro! Those two women aren’t easy foes! If they team up, then their power combined with the Ning Clan troops will make it impossible for us to take Western Liang,” Tang Li said helplessly.
“How could this be? Since they’ve formed an alliance, Ning Cheng should be bringing his troops to support the Chu soldiers instead!” Han Yunxi didn’t understand. The man had so many men but hadn’t sent any divisions to his allies. All of them were stationed within Tianning borders instead. How is he supposed to work with the Chu Clan like this? Chu Qingge has more power and influence than Noble Consort Ning at the court. Is she willing to be controlled by the Ning Clan just like that? And sit and watch the Chu Clan trapped in the eastern three provinces?
Long Feiye had concentrated all his energy on the eastern three prefectures just because he was expected Ning Cheng to arrive!
“I don’t get it either! But that’s what Chu Xifeng reported back, he wouldn’t have made a mistake!” Tang Li said seriously.
Finally, the ever silent Long Feiye spoke his piece. “Chu Qingge betrayed the Chu Clan and went to seek refuge with Ning Cheng. Chu Yunyi was tricked as well”
“This….” Han Yunxi couldn’t believe it. But Long Feiye’s guess was enough to answer all their questions.
Chu Yunyi was still foolishly waiting for aid from Ning Cheng just as they were expecting the man to come with reinforcements. But Ning Cheng had teamed up with Chu Qingge instead and act from the inside out. Taking control over Western Liang would have been as easy as blowing dust, then all of Tianning from there on.
“In other words, Ning Cheng’s two generals weren’t sent to Western Liang, but southwards to defend against us and the Chu Clan?” Han Yunxi came to a realization.
General Ning only had one road if he went south, which eventually branched off into two paths. One led west to the border between Tianning Country and the eastern three prefectures in less than a day’s worth of travel. The other led east to West Su Pass. Anyone who controlled that pass could control the defenses southwest of Western Liang.
Ning Cheng left Western Liang in the hands of Chu Qingge and Noble Consort Ning while sending his troops east and west. Instead of provoking Long Feiye or rescuing the Chu Clan, he was planning to defend Tianning Country against them instead!
“Big bro, what do we need the three eastern prefectures for? Let’s hurry up and transfer troops to Tianning! Have General Baili deploy his soldiers as well, up the river from Yaoshui. The mermaid soldiers are fast enough to reach Western Liang in time! We won’t lose if we set the navy against them!” Tang Li was visibly excited.
But Long Feiye only glared at him coldly. Rather than excitement, he only saw impulsiveness in Tang Li’s words. The mermaid soldiers were Long Feiye’s ultimate trump card. How could he expose their existence so lightly?
Disappointed and resentful, Tang Li nevertheless lost the nerve to open his mouth again.
A layer of frost flickered past Long Feiye’s eyes. Though none of his anger showed on his face, it was clear that he was very unhappy. He had calculated tens of thousands of possibilities, but never expected Chu Qingge to betray the Chu Clan, much less Ning Cheng to join her in an alliance. This was the first loss he’d ever suffered---and it was in Ning Cheng’s hands! Even if he transferred all his troops from the three eastern prefectures to Tianning now, it would already be too late!
Long Feiye’s face grew gloomy. Han Yunxi’s expression wasn’t any better as she said hatefully, “I really underestimated that woman, Chu Qingge.”
If Chu Qingge hadn’t betrayed the Chu Clan, Ning Cheng would never had been able to take Western Liang! In the end, she was a crucial piece of the puzzle. By now, another guard had arrived with Chu Xifeng’s latest report. Long Feiye opened up the missive and glanced at its contents before handing it to Han Yunxi. The letter detailed how Ning Cheng had lined up over ten red coat cannons on the eastern defense line of Tianning, tying up Long Tianmo completely!
Naturally, all of these cannons came from Cloud Realm Trade Consortium. In other words, there was no need for more guesses: Ning Cheng really was part of the Di Clan! Neither Han Yunxi nor Tang Li could accept these turn of events and were waiting for Long Feiye to transfer his troops and salvage the situation. But he only stood there expressionlessly, making it hard to tell whether he was angry or reluctant to lose.
It was impossible to guess his feelings.
He only ordered Tang Li coldly, “Go pressure Chu Yunyi a bit more. Tell him that your lordship will give him ten more days to consider the situation. If he doesn’t surrender by then, your lordship will cut Chu Tianyin’s hand!”