Chu Tianyin had already retreated to defending the last city. Ning Cheng would need 10 days to take it fully, but if Chu Tianyin lost this place, Emperor Kang Cheng would definitely tell him to stop fighting and surrender. After all, it was a straight path beyond its walls to Western Zhou’s capital.
As Ning Cheng studied the battle map spread over the table, he was calm and cool-headed as always. There was no rashness to his actions as he thought it over and said coldly, “Spread my orders, attack the city!”
The deputy general was greatly alarmed. He thought the Duke of Ning had called him over to discuss how to finish up the last battle brilliantly, not conquer a city.
“Your Highness Duke of Ning, are we attacking the city...tonight?” the deputy general asked.
“Exactly so!” Ning Cheng didn’t hesitate.
The deputy general had never gone against the Duke of Ning’s orders, especially military ones. But this time, he still risked his all to ask, “Your Highness Duke of Ning, please consider this as extraneous talk by this soldier, but tonight isn’t the best time to attack.”
After all, their last battle was a fierce struggle that took over ten whole days. The fighting only ceased the day before yesterday, so their comrades were still catching their breath. They were still counting the number of injured and restocking their military supplies. Although they’d won countless battles and used morale to finish without stopping, they still needed to rest two to three days!
“Your Highness Duke of Ning, although such rash actions can catch the enemy unprepared, it’s no guarantee that our army will claim the upper hand,” the deputy general coaxed.
It didn’t take much analyzing or reminders to bring Ning Cheng back to his senses. He knew better than the deputy general of the best time to strike. Now he stood with hooded eyes on the map, his gaze drifting across the paper. It was unclear what he was thinking about. The deputy general observed his silence and didn’t dare to urge any further. He only stood waiting on the side. After a long time had passed, Ning Cheng waved a hand to dismiss him. Despite his silence, storms raged within his heart.
He had shocked himself with his decision just then. As a seasoned soldier and strategist, what stirred him into making such an impulsive choice? If not for his deputy general’s reminders, the consequences of his orders would have been unthinkable! Was he so impatient to end the fight with Western Zhou just so he could attack South Ning? Why?
He circled around the huge map, his fingers resting against the table edge before he walked back to his starting point. I must be too impatient to compare myself with Long Feiye again. And too anxious to find out about the Shadow Clan.
He quietly drank a few cups of wine before murmuring, “How are things progressing?”
Only the people by his side had any idea what he meant. An attendant replied, “They’re still looking, it’s just that…”
“It’s just what?” Ning Cheng’s impatient tone betrayed his calm exterior.
“It’s just that...that thing is truly hard to find,” the attendant looked hard pressed to reply. The men sent out to hunt for a single acupuncture needle had traced every single place that Han Yunxi had walked in the past. They even visited all the people she treated before, but didn’t find any clues.
It was hard enough finding a single person within a sea of people, to say nothing of a single needle.
“Would your lordship need you all to look if it was easy to find?” Ning Cheng was unhappy.
The attendant felt helpless, so he said, “Master, if you want Han Yunxi’s acupuncture needle, won’t you be able to get one from her after she’s in our hands? It’s uncertain that we’ll find it even after taking such pains to search.”
Ning Cheng slowly turned around at these words. When the attendant saw his gaze, a chill ran down his back. He felt as if goosebumps had broken out all over his skin. Not daring to meet his gaze, he lowered his head and silently withdrew from the room. Now there was no one left in the large tent except for Ning Cheng. He cradled his cup of wine as he caressed its rim with his lips, deep in thought.
Ning Cheng was eager to take his troops down south, but Chu Tianyin was holding onto his last nerve. He had already received orders from Gu Beiyue to hold Ning Cheng back no matter what until the end of this month. Chu Tianyin had been stunned by Han Yunxi’s identity, but he had no idea what Long Feiye and Gu Beiyue were planning. Since the former controlled him, he had no choice but to follow orders. Still, if Long Feiye and Gu Beiyue could thoroughly thrash Ning Cheng in his place, he’d still be very happy.
Unlike Ning Cheng and Chu Tianyin’s delight or worries, Long Tianmo, who had already surrendered, found himself more relaxed in exchange. It wasn’t that he lacked the skills, but that he’d already wasted too much of his manpower amongst his military. The fact that the Mu Clan troops had already lasted an entire month after all those red coat cannons was enough to make him proud. He lost four big cities to Ning Cheng, leaving him thoroughly backed into the eastern corner of the continent.
“Great General Mu, tell me, when will the Duke of Qin leave Celestial Mountain?” Long Tianmo asked. Many others were debating the same thing.
After news of the Poison Sect spread, Long Feiye’s activities on Celestial Mountain had ben the source of rumors everywhere. He still hadn’t publicly declared his stance on Han Yunxi’s identity as a Poison Sect descendant. Moreover, no one knew why he was still staying on Celestial Mountain to this day.
“He shouldn’t have any reason to stay there, right?” General Mu was uncertain as well.
Anyone who hadn’t seen Great General Mu in a while would realize that he had changed. There was less of the resolute, steadfast, blood-boiling military man in him and more of the astute and cunning ways of a civil official. But Long Tianmo didn’t think this was the case. He had always understood the eternally neutral party of Great General Mu in Tianning’s imperial court. After the man married off Mu Liuyue to him, Long Tianmo was more than certain that the man excelled in other matters besides battle tactics. By contrast, Mu Qingwu seemed much more simple and pure.
Of course, these were thoughts that Long Tianmo kept to himself and shared with nobody else.
“But we still haven’t heard news of him leaving Celestial Mountain. Nor has there been any major movements from South Ning’s commander-in-chief’s estate,” Long Tianmo said.
Great General Mu just smiled. “Your Majesty, Han Yunxi is the descendant of the Poison Sect. Have you never considered that the Duke of Qin would simply toss aside a chess piece like her?”
Long Tianmo didn’t get to respond before Mu Qingwu quickly cried, “He wouldn’t! His Highness Duke of Qin would never do such a thing! In his eyes, Qin Wangfei isn’t just some chess piece!”
Great General Mu glared at him. “What are you getting so excited about?”
“I’m only speaking the truth,” Mu Qingwu muttered.
“Hehe, Zhen trusts that the Duke of Qin wouldn’t be so cruel either. After all, he’s not the type of man who’ll show weakness to Medical City,” Long Tianmo chuckled.
“Your Majesty, no matter if it’s Medical City or South Ning’s commander-in-chief’s estate, our current strength can’t afford to offend either side. By no means should you respond to Medical City, nor can you defend Han Yunxi,” Great General Mu reminded him carefully, sticking to his neutral stance as always.
It was obvious that neither Long Tianmo nor Mu Qingwu liked his style. Rather than being neutral, it felt like they were simply going whichever way the winds blew. Long Tianmo was about to retort when Great General Mu cut in again to change the topic.
“Your Majesty, there’s been much discussion of sons recently at court. You’re not young anymore. When the late emperor was your age, he already had three imperial sons.”
After Long Tianmo made Mu Liuyue empress, the empress dowager had helped him find a few imperial concubines over the past two years as well. Unfortunately, he treated everyone coldly and had never given the imperial harem any glad tidings. Gossip both within and without the palace even said he preferred men instead.
“Mm, Zhen understands.” Long Tianmo used the same answer as always to reply Great General Mu. He knew that the man wasn’t just urging him to grow new blood for the imperial court, but also hinting him not to bully Mu Liuyue too much. It was no different from a threat in Great General Mu’s mouth.
“It’s good that Your Majesty understands,” Great General Mu said before bidding farewell. But he neither left the palace nor went to visit Mu Liuyue. Instead, he headed for the empress dowager’s quarters. Long Tianmo had been curious and followed him a few times, but noticed that nothing of note ever happened between the two. At most, they would only play a game of chess.
The three nations of Cloud Realm Continent were busy with their own affairs. Meanwhile, the distant emperor up in Northern Li had no time to attend to any details because his crown prince had died!
The Northern Li crown prince had been grievously injured during a clash with the Wintercrow Clan. Jun Yixie had accompanied him back to the capital, but the man had succumbed to his wounds before they ever reached their destination.
Currently, the capital city of Northern Li was shrouded in dark clouds that ended in a violent rainstorm. Lightning and thunder flashed across the skies. In the imperial study, Northern Li’s emperor had smashed to bits his favorite white porcelain incense burner right against Jun Yixie’s head. Its pieces shattered as they fell to the ground. Jun Yixie had already been kneeling in front of him for three days and three nights, his body riddled with wounds. The most glaring one was the fresh cut on his head. Much blood flowed from the currently clotted cut that appeared indistinctly beneath his hair. His naturally vicious face looked even wilder with the ghastly injury.
The Northern Li had already cursed and raged at him all he could. They were the only two people in the study as a monarch before his subject, one sitting, one kneeling. After staying silent for the whole day, the emperor was finally weary. In a hoarse voice, he asked, “Where’s your master?”
“Erchen doesn’t know. Master’s movements have always been a mystery, imperial father knows this as well,” Jun Yixie replied honestly.
He really had no idea where his master had gone. He thought the man would be waiting for him at court, but there was nothing but Northern Li’s rage and beatings over the past three days and nights. It would be a lie to say he wasn’t disappointed. If master was here, at least the Northern Li emperor wouldn’t have lost all reason. This whole scheme had been cooked up by his master in the first place. He always thought his master would make all the arrangements, but never expected to face everything alone when he returned.
Still, it would be another lie to say that he was too disappointed. Jun Yixie knew that his master must be doing something absolutely necessary. Otherwise, he wouldn’t leave him to deal with the emperor alone at a time like this.
Of course the crown prince had died by his hands. No matter how stupid Northern Li’s emperor was, he would still suspect as much! It wouldn’t be easy to pass through this trial.
“Even you don’t know, heheh!” the Northern Li emperor broke into a cold laugh.
Jun Yixie didn’t answer. He was considering how to win over the emperor’s trust without his master here. According to his plans, the second imperial son would die by the Wintercrow Clan’s blades soon. If the Northern Li emperor didn’t trust him, he wouldn’t be able to return to the Wintercrow Clan and recover the body. It’d be harder to buy back those horses, too.
In the end, the Northern Li emperor walked out of the imperial study. But he didn’t let Jun Yixie rise, so he had no choice but to keep kneeling.
Various powers in Cloud Realm Continent were all expressing their views. Meanwhile, Long Feiye remained on high in Celestial Mountain, observing movements from all ends. Today, he had just finished a game of chess with the sword sect master when an attendant came to report that Baili Mingxiang had arrived…
1. Notes on Great General Mu’s personality change was referenced as early back as when Tianan first broke off from Tianning, specifically details pointing out whether his obtuse, hotheaded general personality was all just an act. Hmm…
Guys guys Mu Qingwu's a verified Yexi shipper hahaha
Also publishing this a bit early today because I'll be busy. :9