Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were waiting for the Chu Clan to make a decision. Currently, Chu Yunyi and General Chu had just gotten news from their agents in Western Liang and found out that Chu Qingge had teamed up with Ning Cheng to betray their clan!
The news sent their fury soaring to the skies. If Chu Qingge was here this moment, they wouldn’t be satisfied even if they shot her to death 100 times over!
“That treacherous demoness!”
“She ruined all of Tianyin’s painstaking hard work! Completely destroyed it!”
“This old man’s going to kill her with my own hands!”
“I never knew our Nether Clan’s Chu Family would give birth to such a traitor. Her crimes are unforgiveable!”
The two of them paced back and forth in their tent, unable to calm down for ages. After all, the only reason they’d exposed themselves at Thousand Buddha Cave and deployed troops to cause chaos was because they’d discussed everything with Ning Cheng ahead of time! Everything they did was because they could rely on the support of their two mountains, Ning Cheng and Tianning Country! Otherwise, the Chu Clan would never be impulsive enough to engage in a last-ditch battle when none of their preparations or plans had been complete. Now Ning Cheng hadn’t sent any reinforcements, nor did they gain Tianning Country. They only had their own soldiers on hand and the three eastern prefectures, but Youyun and Yaoshui were about to be overwhelmed.
What were they supposed to use to fight against the Duke of Qin and Emperor Kang Cheng?!
Ning Cheng had tricked them tragically, while Long Feiye was pressuring them bitterly!
“I’ve long said it, that Ning Cheng fellow is unreliable! But you insisted...aye, if you hadn’t handed Gu Beiyue to him, we would still have a counter in our hands! But now…” General Chu couldn’t hide his discontent.
Chu Yunyi was still incredulous that he’d miscalculated at all. “Ning Cheng...Ning Cheng…”
“Big bro, can’t you see that Ning Cheng fellow’s ambitious heart yet? We wanted to borrow the West Qin Dynasty’s name to aim for a kingdom. Why wouldn’t Ning Cheng want the same thing? Don’t forget that his Di Clan has ample means to vye for the world! His Di Clan’s wealthy and military resources is rich enough to contend with any country on Cloud Realm Continent! Heheh, all of our hard work in Tianning is now his successes and achievements!” General Chu said angrily.
Hearing this, Chu Yunyi finally came to his senses. The Chu Clan’s ultimate goal from the start had always been to make Tianning their stronghold while searching for the West Qin heir and pulling other noble clans to their cause. They never planned to expose themselves as the Nether Clan this early in the game. However, Long Feiye had forced them until they had no other choice. Once the fighting started, the control over the chessboard had long escaped their grasp, and all their decisions went counter to their initial goals! Chu Yunyi quietly thought back to everything that had happened and realized that they’d been driven along by circumstances ever since Long Feiye made his trip to Western Zhou. All of their decisions had been on impulse rather than reason.
He couldn’t help but ask himself, “How can this be?!”
But such knowledge through hindsight was already too late…
“In the end, it was all Long Feiye and Han Yunxi who forced us!” General Chu was so angry that he was panting for breath.
Chu Yunyi kept all his rage bottled up in his heart, but he added in a heavy tone, “It’s useless to say such things now. Think up a counter strategy instead!”
At this moment, military missives from Youyun and Yaoshui both arrived. General Chu knew that they had no hopes of keeping either prefecture, but seeing the actual facts in print still made his heart lurch. He tossed the reports to Chu Yunyi. “Counter strategy? Heheh, we’re surrounded in the north, south, east, and west. Aside from abandoning this city, what else can we use as a strategy?”
When it rains, it pours. Just as Chu Yunyi and General Chu were realizing they had reached a dead end, both Ning Cheng and Long Feiye’s letters arrived. The two brothers read them together and ended up with black faces after the contents!
With Chu Tianyin as his hostage, Long Feiye had given them a 10-day deadline to consider their options. It was as much a threat as a call to surrender. Meanwhile, Ning Cheng had also given them the same 10-day deadline to give up. But he added that if they did, he’d be willing to trade Gu Beiyue to Long Feiye’s faction in exchange for Chu Tianyin. This too, was a call to surrender as much as a threat. Though Ning Cheng didn’t put it in such precise words, his meaning was clear to them all.
Now was the time to make a choice.
With a decision hanging in the balance, both Chu Yunyi and General Chu calmed down. They exchanged glances, but neither of them spoke. Both Long Feiye and Ning Cheng had given them 10 days. Without a doubt, many events would happen during the interim.
After a long time had passed, Chu Yunyi finally intoned, “Think it over carefully!” Then he left the tent, leaving General Chu to press against his aching arm as he fell into deep thought.
The 10 days passed by very quickly.
By Day 3, the armies who had won at Youyun and Yaoshui began moving south and north respectively to join with Long Feiye’s forces and surround Fenglin Prefecture from the north, south, and west.
By Day 5, Ning Cheng’s soldiers had arrived as well with three regiments of crack troops in charge of defending Tianning’s western border. They hemmed in Fenglin’s eastern borders.
Day 7 marked the first seven days since Emperor Tianhui’s death.
Day 8 saw Chu Qingge carry her baby the crown prince, who was still less than a month old, up the steps to the throne where he was crown. His title was given as Guangyong, or ‘Eternal Light,’ while Empress Chu herself became Empress Dowager Chu to hold court from behind the curtain. Ning Cheng was conferred to the title of Prince Regent and kept ‘Ning’ as his new title. He was to assist the court in affairs of state.
That very same day, the acting regent Duke of Ning swore his eternal allegiance to Tianning and the Eternal Light Emperor on bended knees before al the civic and military officials of the general court.
Today was Day 9. Chu Yunyi and General Chu had finally gathered all the various Chu Clan elders and military advisors into one place to discuss their options. But neither of them had spoken up at the meetings. Meanwhile, the elders and advisors had gotten into heated arguments amongst themselves.
“Ning Cheng is untrustworthy. Are we going to be tricked by him again after the first time? How laughable!”
“And when has the Duke of Qin been trustworthy? Don’t you forget, it was all his work that led to everyone knowing about the Driving Arrow Arts! Ning Cheng just wants to take this chance to seize a leadership role. As I see it, the Chu Clan should continue to cooperate with him. After all, Tianning’s crown prince has half of the Chu Clan’s blood flowing in his veins!”
“Heheh, are you certain Gu Beiyue is enough to exchange for Chu Tianyin? What a fantastic idea! He’s nothing but a trifling physician!”
“Gu Beiyue is our Chu Clan’s counter chip. Now he’s in Ning Cheng’s hands and become their means to get us to surrender? Hahaha! Clan Head, where is our Nether Clan supposed to leave our face?”
Hearing this, Chu Yunyi and General Chu still remained mute. One furrowed his brows while the other looked serious.
“Whether it’s the Duke of Qin or Ning Cheng, both are only after our archers. No matter who we yield to, they won’t release the young general! We’ll be used and restrained for the rest of our lives. As I see it, we should just give up this city. The Chu Clan’s strength will make escaping as easy as turning the palm of our hands!”
“Heheh, is something planning to desert?”
“That’s improper and inappropriate. We’ll just end up offending three separate factions and have nowhere else to go!”
“As I see it, let’s yield to the Ning Clan! We’ll still have their secret in our hands!”
“Hmph, the Ning Clan probably doesn’t even care if we expose them as the Di Clan! In my view, that kind of threat won’t hold much sway over Ning Cheng!”
“Then are we supposed to yield to the Duke of Qin instead? Does he have the wealth and military power to defeat the Ning Clan?”
Fireworks flew in the air as the debate intensified. Finally, Chu Yunyi silenced the talk by furiously slamming the table with his fist. He looked at General Chu and said, “What do you think?”
General Chu swept his gaze across the crowd before saying in a heavy voice, “There’s no need to entertain the idea of abandoning the city...it’s not because this old man’s set on rescuing Chu Tianyin, but because we’re surrounded by enemies on four sides. Everyone should know how things stand.”
The Chu Clan’s strength was capable of getting them around the Duke of Qin and Ning Cheng’s encirclement, but their escape would end up provoking those two as well as Western Zhou. Their successive battles with Northern Li in the past had already made them a thorn in that country’s eye. Meanwhile, Tianan Country and Long Tianmo were as antagonistic as fire and water.
Medicine City was already in the Duke of Qin’s hands, while Carefree City and the City of Daughters were mercenaries who only worked for money, not alliances. As for Medical City, it was likely that Ning Cheng and Chu Qingge had already bribed Head Elder Ling, who was staying in their capital. Then there was Celestial Mountain. Leaving aside the fact that it rarely interfered in worldly affairs, they would still never help the Chu Clan. After all, the favorite female disciple of its Celestial Mountain Sword Sect was Duanmu Yao, whose mother Empress Xue was in their hand as a hostage.
Somehow, the Chu Clan had ended up making enemies of all the major powers in Cloud Realm Continent. If they didn’t choose between the Duke of Qin and the new Duke of Ning, the Chu Clan...would become public enemy number one, with no place to go!
What a miserable fate!
If they hadn’t provoked Long Feiye, they wouldn’t have been betrayed by Ning Cheng. The Chu Clan wouldn’t have ended up in such dire straits, either. In the end, General Chu loathed Long Feiye and Han Yunxi most of all. When he saw that nobody else spoke up, he stood up and said coldly, “Heheh, since our Chu Clan still has a choice, then there’s still room for negotiation! As this old man sees it, we should let the Duke of Qin and Duke of Ning fight with each other instead of our faction picking a side! The Chu Clan can simply be the old fisherman who reaps the rewards of the aftermath!”
Silence greeted his words. General Chu was right. Both the Duke of Qin and the Duke of Ning were vying for the Chu Clan right now. They could seize the chance to raise their value instead of choosing first! Why hadn’t any of them realized that after days of debate? General Chu was to be commended for his confidence and creativity at a time like this. Soon enough, everyone was praising him as the group collectively exhaled in relief. Chu Yunyi’s thoughts matched General Chu’s exactly. He complimented the general right then and there for giving everyone a hint of hope.
That very day, General Chu sent off letters to both the Duke of Qin and the Duke of Ning, tell each side the terms that their enemy had offered. Ning Cheng saw through General Chu’s strategy as soon as he read the missive. After being made prince regent, his air had turned daring and energetic. The white robes he wore now gave him a respected, noble air. Currently he was sitting with his legs cross and one foot poised in the air, leaning casually against the sprawling dragon throne in the imperial study like a sovereign of the entire nation.
By contrast, Empress Dowager Chu Qingge, who was in charge of holding court from behind the curtain, was simply sitting on one side. Ning Cheng tossed the letter in his hands to her with a mocking tone. “Your father’s certainly a greedy man!”
Chu Qingge glanced through the contents and knew at once what was up. She only laughed coldly and said, “Ning Cheng, this time you’ll lose!”
“Do you know your father too well? Or perhaps…” The scornful lilt of Ning Cheng’s lips rose as he continued, “Or perhaps...you’re overestimating that Duke of Qin?”
He had already learned of Chu Qingge’s crush on Long Feiye after interrogating Witch Aunt. He’d never worked together with a woman before, so he had to understand her thoroughly for his first-ever female ally.
Chu Qingge felt his scorn quite provoking. What she hated the most was anyone looking down on her feelings for Long Feiye. In a huff, she replied, “I’m only considering the matter based on its merits. You won’t be able to beat the Duke of Qin.”
“I’ve already won against him once,” Ning Cheng said carelessly, as if he didn’t mind what Chu Qingge thought. But her next words left him uncertain, because...