The Shadow Clan!
Ning Cheng never expected Chu Qingge to bring up those words. The Shadow Clan were the shadow guards of the West Qin imperial clan and the most loyal of the Seven Noble Families. When Chu Yunyi had first told him about the secret of the phoenix wings birthmark during their alliance, Ning Cheng had asked him about the Shadow Clan but Chu Yunyi hadn’t told him a thing.
Now it looked like Chu Yunyi had tricked him! Of the Seven Noble Clans, only the Chu had exposed their identity to the public. They’re the only clan who knows about the Ning Clan’s secret, too. Ning Cheng had worried that Chu Tianyin would expose their identity, but the man had been preoccupied with nothing but battles after colluding with Long Feiye. He didn’t mention anything about the Di Clan or their alliance.
But did the Nether Clan long know of the Shadow Clan’s whereabouts, or had the Shadow Clan’s descendents found them after the Nether Clan’s Chu family exposed their own identity?
“What do you want to say?” Ning Cheng coldly demanded.
“What do I want to say?” Chu Qingge smiled icily. “That depends on my mood. If I’m feeling good, I’ll say a little more. If not, hehe…”
Ning Cheng understood her words and immediately dismissed all the guards in front of the door. But Chu Qingge still kept him in suspense. Ning Cheng’s attitude had proved to her that her Witch Aunt’s words were right. The ace in her sleeve could fully suppress Ning Cheng. She didn’t know how Witch Aunt had found out that piece of intel, but she was certain that her father and uncle--even her own older brother--had hid plenty of secrets from her. Thinking back now, Chu Qingge realized that she’d been nothing more than a pawn all along. Now that Witch Aunt, the woman who doted on her, was gone, she came to a decision.
From this day on, I’ll live only for myself and my revenge!
With the advantage in her court, Chu Qingge calmed down and began to toy with her nails in amusement. Slowly and leisurely, she asked, “Ning Cheng, neither of us was happy at all with our last deal. Tell me, how am I supposed to keep working with you?”
Ning Cheng’s expression was frosty, but he bore it for the sake of the Seven Noble Families. Of all the different clans, he only trusted the Shadow. If they still existed in this world, that meant the West Qin imperial clan had to have a living heir. No matter what, he had to find that person!
Once again, Ning Cheng recalled the secret of the phoenix wings birthmark. Do the descendents of the Shadow Clan know about this? Have they been searching for the heir all these years just like the Nether Clan?
“How do you want to cooperate?” he asked patiently.
“Very simple. The day you hand over Han Yunxi to me is the day I tell you the secret,” Chu Qingge laughed out loud, before adding, “Of course, you can kill me right now too. Then you won’t have to wait for anything.”
Ning Cheng’s hands balled into fists inside his sleeves, but his face was still as calm as ever. “Someone come and escort esteemed empress dowager back to her palace!”
Chu Qingge knew then that she was safe. She elegantly turned and strode out with her chin in the air. Once she was gone, Ning An couldn’t suppress her joy.
“Big brother, we’ve finally gotten news of the Shadow Clan! We should hurry up and send someone to kidnap Han Yunxi!”
The path of the Di Clan had been too long, too bitter, and too lonely in their search for their masters. This was especially true for Ning Cheng. As the clan head, he needed companions he could trust. Devoted and loyal allies who were willing to risk their very lives.
“Han Yunxi is on Celestial Mountain. Are you going to go?” Ning Cheng sneered coldly.
“Celestial Mountain?” Ning An was surprised. “How do you know that?” Isn’t she with Long Feiye at the south central region’s commander-in-chief’s estate? When did they go to Celestial Mountain?
Ning Cheng ignored him and asked back, “Long Feiye conquered the City of Daughters recently. Tell me...once they’re off the mountain, who do we send for the kidnapping?”
Ning An was rendered speechless. It was practically impossible to kidnap anyone from Long Feiye’s grasp unless they separated the couple.
“Go to the Three-Way Black Market personally and repeat Chu Qingge’s words to those old coots. Tell them that your lordship only needs to borrow the red coat cannons for one month. After destroying Western Zhou and Tianan, your lordship will take the soldiers south and force Long Feiye to hand over Han Yunxi!”
In other words, Ning Cheng will bring an army to snatch a woman? Does he need to go that far?
“This matter requires further thought and discussion. As long as we can plot to separate Han Yunxi from Long Feiye, there’s no need to worry about whether we can capture her,” Ning An reasoned.
“Your lordship doesn’t plan to play dirty with Long Feiye! Your lordship will wage a battle against him. If he loses, he hands over Han Yunxi. If your lordship loses, I have other arrangements in place,” Ning Cheng said.
Ning An only looked incredulously at her older brother. Chu Qingge just cursed him for being a blackguard. Now he’s insisting on acting upright? She couldn’t figure it out. In the end, she decided that he simply wanted to use the Shadow Clan as an excuse to bargain with the Council of Elders and have them deliver the cannons. After all, no matter how important the existence of the Shadow Clan could be, it paled in comparison to the double threats facing them now.
“Big bro, how about leaving Han Yunxi to me? You just focus on the battles. It’ll be three more months before autumn comes. If they can’t find enough grain by then, they’ll have a hard winter ahead of them!” Ning An suggested calmly.
Ning Cheng only shot her a resentful glare. “Keep your nose out of Han Yunxi’s business.”
After that, he simply had one of his guards go to the Three-Way Black Market to negotiate with the elders. Ning An only felt that he was acting exceptionally odd about the whole thing, though she couldn’t place her finger on why. Knowing that any further coaxing would be useless, she simply chose to withdraw.
Maybe Ning Cheng has a grudge against Han Yunxi? Ning An mused to herself. Not only does he want to kidnap her, but publicly humiliate her as well? After all, last time Han Yunxi had splashed wine all over Ning Cheng. News of that incident had spread throughout the Ning Clan troops as well as the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium, causing him to be massively humiliated.
After Ning An left, Ning Cheng ordered a few more guards to keep an eye on Han Yunxi, then others to investigate the Chu Clan and search for hints of the Shadow Clan. Then he buried his head into a thick stack of war reports. The room grew silent for another hour before Ning Cheng asked simply, “Any updates on jin zhen?”
Who was Jin Zhen?
The bodyguard by his side gave a start before coming to his senses. Jin zhen (金针) could also mean “acupuncture needle,” after all. He quickly recovered and said, “There shouldn’t be any news yet. If they’ve found it, they’ll definitely immediately deliver it here.” Ning Cheng didn’t speak, but remained flipping through his reports.
Late at night many days later, he finished his military affairs and was preparing to leave the study when he stopped right by the door.
In a cold voice, he asked, “Have there been any news you’ve been keeping from me recently?”
“None. All of the military reports were delivered. The Council of Elders is still undergoing deliberations, and there’s been no progress in the investigations on the Shadow Clan,” the guard replied.
Without a word, Ning Cheng left the room, expressionless. Meanwhile, his guards began to talk amongst themselves.
“It’s been much more peaceful these days without Chu Qingge raising a row all the time!”
“Aiya, finally! We don’t have to keep hearing ‘Han Yunxi’ all the time, it’s so annoying! Women are scary when they hate other women.”
“Aye, do you think Chu Qingge knows about our master being splashed with wine? All she did everyday was bring up Han Yunxi, it’s no wonder master wanted to kill her.”
“Serves her right!”
“Aish, but it really feels like we’re missing a bit of something without Chu Qingge barging in all the time.”
While Ning Cheng was investigating the whereabouts of the Shadow Clan, Gu Beiyue was at the Duke of Qin’s estate. He split his time between looking after Grand Concubine Yi, studying maps of Cloud Realm Continent, and carefully keeping tabs on the movements of the three nations at war--especially Tianning’s Ning Clan troops. Gu Beiyue knew that they were the toughest foes compared to the Chu or Mu Clan armies, because they had the backing of the Cloud Realm Trade Consortium.
Meanwhile, Baili Mingxiang had placed taboos on herself ever since Gu Beiyue moved into the estate. Once Han Yunxi and Long Feiye were gone, she often lived at Pill Fiend Pharmacy, acting as Mu Linger’s companion. Without the Duke of Qin’s orders, no one could step into the ancestral hall. Su Xiaoyu wanted to match Gu Beiyue and Baili Mingxiang, but didn’t dare to violate the rules one bit. She was always on the lookout for chances to draw Gu Beiyue out, then bring Baili Mingxiang to him.
Today, for example, Zhao mama was going to deliver medicine to the ancestral hall. Su Xiaoyu blocked her and asked, “Mama, can Doctor Gu stand up yet?”
Zhao mama looked at her doubtfully, “Aiya, when did our little Yu’er start thinking of others?”
“I don’t care about anyone except master. If Doctor Gu can stand, then master will definitely be very happy,” Su Xiaoyu spoke the truth, although her words carried multiple meanings. Unfortunately, Zhao mama failed to seize the essence of her words.
“So you don’t even care about an old bag of bones like me?” she asked. Zhao mama had always doted on Su Xiaoyu like a granddaughter. After the girl had lost her memories, she took it as Heaven’s will and began to treat her as family in earnest. But Su Xiaoyu had been an heartless, unconscionable girl to begin with--at least on the surface.
She simply examined Zhao mama and said, “Why should I care about you? Aren’t you perfectly fine?”
Zhao mama jabbed her on the nose. “Stinkin’ girl with no conscience!”
“You haven’t told me how Doctor Gu’s doing yet,” Su Xiaoyu persisted.
“He can stand for short periods of time now. By the end of the month, he should be fully recovered,” Zhao mama said happily.
“Then that’s great. We have to celebrate!” Su Xiaoyu was thrilled. “Mama, your cooking skills are so great, everyone likes your food. When the doctor can stand again, let’s call everyone over and have a feast!”
If we have a celebration banquet and call over Baili Mingxiang, I’ll have plenty of chances after getting them drunk!
Zhao mama was pleased to be praised for her cooking and immediately agreed. “Done. I’ll go tell that little Chu all about it!”
The “little Chu” was none other than Chu Xifeng. If they were going to gather everyone for a feast, they would need the agreement of the head guard. Su Xiaoyu’s face was wreathed in smiles. She knew that Zhao mama would convince Chu Xifeng for sure. Her eyes watched her leave while still grinning, unable to contain her happiness. As long as Baili Mingxiang marries Gu Beiyue, she’ll have to move to live in Pill Fiend Pharmacy. Then she’ll never see His Highness Duke of Qin again.
When time passes, Baili Mingxiang will stop thinking those inappropriate thoughts. As long as that’s true, she won’t be able to hurt master or disappoint her since master saved her life and gave her shelter.
What was the best way to forget someone? Have them get used to someone else! Su Xiaoyu was so cheerful that she simply skipped out the door to race towards Pill Fiend Pharmacy. But very soon, she spotted a familiar figure in a certain alleyway again.
“Lady Helian?” she muttered to herself. The woman was currently talking to someone else, so Su Xiaoyu could only see her back. She had no idea who the other figure wreathed in shadows could be. After some hesitation, Su Xiaoyu silently approached them…
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