Following the source of the voice revealed the impressive and dignified form of an exceptionally graceful and refined lady. She was none other than Ning Cheng’s other little sister--Tianning’s youngest noble consort, now titled Grand Concubine Ning--Ning An.
Unlike Ning Jing’s sharp temper and keen experience, Ning An was a very introverted, wise sort of woman. Despite being Ning Cheng’s younger sister, she seemed more like his elder sister instead. Chu Qingge was the empress dowager while she was the grand concubine. Chu Qingge wore luxurious and extravagant clothes, while she preferred simple and unadorned robes. Still, Ning An possessed the air and gravity that a reigning mistress of the imperial harem should have, something that Chu Qingge sorely lacked.
Her personality was serene and quiet, but that didn’t mean she was docile. To conceal herself at Emperor Tianhui’s court for countless years in the position of noble consort without ever stirring up trouble or vying for attention was a remarkable feat.
“It’s already so late, but you’re still out for a stroll?” Ning Cheng asked. He treated Ning An differently from Ning Jing as well, because Ning An’s innate serenity was able to put him completely at ease.
“I came specifically to find you. I heard about what happened with Empress Xue,” Ning An replied.
“It’s not a major issue. I wasn’t planning to keep Chu Tianyin anyways,” Ning Cheng said nonchalantly.
Although he didn’t like losing the Chu Clan soldiers, he wasn’t going to keep them around if their leader was untrustworthy. Over the past few days, he had been watching Chu Tianyin. Although he’d found nothing suspicious, he still worried about the man. Neither was he willing to hand over the Chu Clan to Long Feiye for free. Thus, giving them to Western Zhou to destroy them utterly was the clearest solution.
Ning An walked closer and looked at him carefully. “Even the Duke of Qin can’t break your front lines. Why has a trifling acupuncture needle made you lose your temper?”
“My subordinates did their jobs poorly, so your lordship is simply lecturing them,” Ning Cheng answered as he turned to leave.
“Truly?” Ning An pressed.
“It’s late. You should go back and rest. Find a solution to the thing I told you about last time. Your lordship doesn’t want her to live past this year,” Ning Cheng stated coldly.
“I’ve already made arrangements,” Ning An said, before asking again, “What do you need that acupuncture needle for? Another scheme?”
Finally, Ning Cheng lost his patience with her. “Just do your own job well. Your lordship doesn’t need to explain my matters to you!”
“Big brother!” Ning An grew anxious at his reply, but Ning Cheng simply ignored her and stalked away. She shook her head at the sight. Ever since their father and mother passed away, they were forced to play the roles they’d been assigned. In the past, her big brother would always talk things through with her--whether it was related to the consortium or various clan matters. This was the first time he’d treated her so callously.
She didn’t have the skills to catch up to him. Still, she worried--would that needle not only ruin Ning Cheng’s plans, but wound his heart as well?
“Master, the person sent by Miss Jing is still waiting outside the palace. Will you see them?” her court lady murmured.
“I won’t,” Ning An replied lightly.
“This...is improper, isn’t it?” the court lady started to look worried.
“Without a doubt, she only wants me to speak up for her in front of the Duke of Ning. But look at him just then. Do you think this concubine’s words will have any impact?” Ning An’s tone was very calm, but the court lady was too scared to say any more.
“This servant will dismiss the visitor right away.”
Once she was gone, Ning An started running after her instead. She was an elder sister who had gone through a marriage experience herself, after all, so she didn’t want her little sister to try for something useless.
“Tell Jing’er that it’s better to endure for one year than for an entire lifetime,” she murmured. After all, Jing’er had chosen her own man. For better or worse, she would only have to suffer the consequences for a year.
When she was young, she had no choice at all. The only thing she did choose was to take the medicine that rendered her barren for the rest of her life. She neither vied for favor nor power, which was why she was allowed to remain in Emperor Tianhui’s harem undisturbed and steady as she prayed to Buddha.
Ning An took off one of her light green jade hairpins and added, “An elder sister is like a mother. This can count as my contribution to her dowry. I won’t be there for the day of the wedding.”
The court lady withdrew, and Ning An exhaled. She only hoped that West Qin’s heir was still alive so they wouldn’t disappoint the Ning Clan’s ever-shining loyal hearts…
Meanwhile, the sole descendent of the West Qin Dynasty was sitting in the carriage of the East Qin’s imperial prince. Despite her intelligence, she was still clueless about her true origins. Han Yunxi and Long Feiye were on their way back to . Duanmu Yao and Emperor Kangcheng’s reactions were about as they expected.
Han Yunxi said, “Ning Cheng only has one path left, and that’s to push all the blame onto the Chu Clan and hand Chu Tianyin over to Emperor Kangcheng.”
Long Feiye nodded. “And the two elders of the Chu Clan?”
“Leave them, of course. They’re the key to pressuring Chu Tianyin as a filial son,” Han Yunxi smiled.
Chu Tianyin might die in Emperor Kangcheng’s hands, but what if he didn’t? For better or worse, he was still the successor of the Nether Clan! Long Feiye took Han Yunxi’s hand and patted it. “You’re getting smarter and smarter.”
“I was smart to begin with, alright?” Han Yunxi said with the air of a tsundere.[1. tsundere (傲娇) - aojiao, to present as unfriendly and blunt, but warm and tender inside. A loanword from the actual Japanese translated into Chinese--and now English.]
Long Feiye gave a start before laughing out loud. He had seen his share of narcissistic women, but he didn’t mind the one before him right now. No matter how much she loved herself, it was still self-confidence in the end.
Han Yunxi made sure to remind him, “Long Feiye, if you really want to save those two old men, you must keep them in your hands.”
“You’re getting more and more despicable, too,” Long Feiye said.
“I was desp....” Han Yunxi stopped mid-way and cast him a scornful glance. “Can’t help it. Being close to such a dark influence blackens me too.”
Outside, Uncle Gao nearly led the carriage towards the wrong path at those words. His masters might be all talk and no action, but it sounded like His Highness Duke of Qin had lost this round. After all that chatter, there were still business matters for them to attend to.
“The Chu Clan’s fate rests in Chu Tianyin’s hands. Whether or not he lives is up to him,” Long Feiye said coldly. Chu Tianyin was in a terrible plight right now. He not only had to face Emperor Kangcheng and Duanmu Yao’s hatred, but also Ning Cheng’s suspicions and Long Feiye’s test. If he wanted to create a path out of these three impressive forces so he could continue living, he would have to make a choice. In the end, it all depended on what he would keep and what he would throw away.
Long Feiye was quite anticipating Chu Tianyin’s performance. After all, Chu Tianyin was the one who started the chaos in Tianning. Most likely he would move within the next few days.
Han Yunxi suddenly asked, “Long Feiye, why would Chu Tianyin think of contacting you?”
Although neither allies nor enemies lasted forever, Chu Tianyin didn’t have to look for Long Feiye if he wasn’t his last resort! Long Feiye was halfway responsible for the Chu Clan’s current straits.
“Because no one besides your lordship can help him.” Even though it was Gu Beiyue who connected the two men, Long Feiye was still speaking the truth.
A few days later, Han Yunxi and Long Feiye arrived at their estate in Yaoshui. As soon as they dismounted the carriage, Chu Xifeng came to report. “Your Highness, esteemed wangfei, Chu Tianyin admitted it!”
“He admitted his guilt on his own?” Long Feiye didn’t understand.
“More or less. He admitted that he was the one to kill Empress Xue and threatened Western Zhou with passing through his Chu Clan troops first if they want to send soldiers to Fenglin!” Chu Xifeng replied.
“Now what kind of tune is he singing?” Han Yunxi was perplexed at this turn of events. If she didn’t know that Chu Tianyin was already planning to defect to Long Feiye’s side, she might have thought he was a loyal ally to Ning Cheng. Ning Cheng hadn’t even blamed the man before he accepted the guilt himself.
“Interesting...let’s just wait,” Long Feiye said with amusement.
After entering the courtyard and eating a bit, Han Yunxi hurried to wash up and sleep. Long Feiye naturally went to visit Gu Beiyue.
“Did you give Chu Tianyin the idea?” he asked the man.
Gu Beiyue shook his head. “If he can’t even solve a problem like this, then Your Highness has no need to keep him.”
This was the answer Long Feiye was looking for. He sat down and poured himself tea while Gu Beiyue smiled. “Your Highness Duke of Qin, is there anything else you want to discuss?”
Long Feiye wouldn’t sit down without reason. Every time they had talked, he had left as soon as he finished speaking, not wasting a word.
“Your dantian was ruined, so how did you reject your lordship’s true qi by force?” Long Feiye had wanted to ask about that for ages, but this was his first real opportunity.
“This one has been pondering that question recently, too. Unfortunately…” Gu Beiyue sighed and only said, “A doctor can’t treat himself. Ah, well.”
“Hand,” Long Feiye commanded coldly.
Gu Beiyue was slightly surprised but quickly offered his hand. He never expected Long Feiye to take his pulse a second time. Long Feiye spent a long time testing his pulse but found nothing conclusive. Still, he held onto Gu Beiyue’s hand until their palms were touching, and channeled another sliver of true qi into the man’s body.
Soon enough, the true qi was bounced back again. If Long Feiye hadn’t been sitting firmly in his seat, it might have rebounded and forced him straight out the door. Gu Beiyue hadn’t felt what happened the last time, but this time he had shut his eyes and carefully analyzed the rejection process of his dantian.
Long Feiye simply waited while drinking his tea. Gu Beiyue seemed to have discovered something because he tried circulating his qi. It was smooth going at first, but soon enough he spat out a mouthful of blood and grew pale.
“What’s the situation?” Long Feiye asked coldly.
Gu Beiyue stared at him for a long time before he said seriously, “This one’s dantian might still have hope after all.”
“What do you mean?” Long Feiye was surprised.
When Gu Beiyue was first injured, his dantian had been choked with blood from the grievous wound, thus destroying all of his internal energy. After so much time had passed, now that didn’t seem to be the case. Instead of being choked up with blood, his dantian felt blocked by qi instead. Both situations could cause a serious injury to the dantian, but the consequences were different.
“It’s possible that true qi has blocked the dantian, thus making it hard to circulate energy and use martial arts,” Gu Beiyue hypothesized.
As a pro in the field, Long Feiye understood what he meant with that one sentence. Gu Beiyue’s true qi and inner energy might still have traces existing within his body. But because true qi was congesting his dantian, he couldn’t use any of his skills. If his true qi could be allowed to circulate freely, then his dantian might recover, and his inner energy would recover along with it.
“So the congested qi was responsible for rejecting your lordship’s true qi?” Long Feiye asked.
“Very possible,” Gu Beiyue’s eyes danced with joy. It was already a blessing that he could stand. If he could recover his martial arts skills and the shadow arts with them, then it would be a blessing among blessings.
Don’t cry over the losses, but be grateful for the gains!
Long Feiye’s gaze grew complicated. “How certain are you of recovering?”
Dissolving congested blood was not hard for Gu Beiyue; in that case, he’d lose his true qi and martial arts, but without affecting much else. However, dissolving a qi congestion around his intact true qi and internal energy was like unclogging a pressure valve. Once the qi started circulating freely again, the true qi could be used to nurture his dantian and slowly recover his internal energy. Controlling the circulation shouldn’t be a challenge for Gu Beiyue, right?
Yet he didn’t answer Long Feiye’s question, choosing instead to ask with a smile, “If this one recovers, will Your Highness still be at ease with me?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter