Both sides became enemies in a civil war that led to two sides sticking to their version of the argument. Han Yunxi knew that Ning An’s account would differ from Long Feiye’s, but she never expected the changes to be so great.
In Ning An’s words, East and West Qin had marked differences over how to fix the flood, thus resulting in West Qin’s decision to start a war.
“Your Royal Highness, there was a large dam in the middle of the Sandy River back then that stopped the progress of the flood, thus preserving a large prefecture and its countless villages and fields downriver. That year, there were countless rainstorms and flash floods in the mountains upriver, submerging many villages and threatening an iron ore mine. That mine was under the jurisdiction of the East Qin crown prince. For the sake of protecting his assets, the prince destroyed the dam and redirected the water downriver, thus sacrificing the lives of the villagers there. At that time, the East Qin emperor was ill and his princes were vying for the throne. The crown prince was eager to forge military weapons with iron from his mine, so he had commanded the military to destroy the dam. Without a choice, West Qin had to send out its troops in defense. Yet East Qin accused our army of attacking them deliberately to steal their ore and raised a full army to retaliate. The Black Clan’s troops were sent to destroy our West Qin. If the Di Clan hadn’t pretended to turn traitor and leave the battle, it’s unlikely that princess would now…” Ning An’s tone was calm, but her eyes gave her feelings away.
Han Yunxi could see her indignation and wrath. They were very similar to Long Feiye’s own rage when he had narrated the same historical account from East Qin’s point of view. Both of them had been sincere with their emotions. It was natural for each side to stick to their argument, but it was strange for either side to have differing details. Long Feiye had mentioned the severe floods in the southern regions, but why did he never bring up the big dam or the iron ore mine? According to the East Qin account, it was West Qin’s conspiracy that started East Qin’s internal struggle for power, which allowed them to loot a burning house in its wake
According to the West Qin account, the struggle all began over the defense of the big dam and its subsequent destruction.
What was the truth?
Han Yunxi pondered briefly before she probed, “I remember Gu Beiyue telling me that during the chaos of war, rumors spread in the disaster areas about the East Qin crown prince being a reincarnated star of disaster? Did that ever happen?”
Silently, she apologized to Gu Beiyue for making him the scapegoat. If she said that Long Feiye had told her those words, Ning An would only get angry. She could only borrow Gu Beiyue’s namesake to keep the conversation going!
Ning An laughed coldly. “That was a rumor started by the East Qin imperial princes to vie for the throne. As things stand, that East Qin crown prince really was a star of disaster! If he hadn’t insisted on protecting the iron ore mine, then West Qin wouldn’t have sent out their troops so rashly.”
Han Yunxi nodded thoughtfully even as a frightening thought popped up in her head. Suppose everything in the past had resulted from a massive misunderstanding instead?
But she was quick to deny the idea. How could she trust any of Long Feiye’s explanations? The man had long known she was the West Qin princess, so why would he tell her the truth about the past? It was more likely Ning An that had no reason to hide the facts. Han Yunxi sat only a while longer before returning to her rooms. She had to take the time while Long Zun was still around to finish writing her letter. She already knew what to say, but since she couldn’t bear to use a pitiful child, she was going to wrong someone else instead.
Han Yunxi hadn’t left Ning An’s quarters long when Ning Cheng arrived. When he heard about her departure, he prepared to leave as well, but Ning An called him back.
“You’re leaving right after you came? So you didn’t come to see me,” Ning An intoned.
But Ning Cheng actually confirmed her statement with a simple “Mm,” and continued to leave. Ning An grabbed him and said, “Clan Head, you should know your place!”
In the past, Ning An followed court customs to call Ning Cheng the Duke of Ning; now she had switched to Clan Head to remind Ning Cheng of his status and responsibilities, as well as what he could and couldn’t do.
“Get out of the way.” Ning Cheng’s tone was devoid of feeling and filled with frost like a thousand li iceberg. It was impossible to see through the layers and find his heart within. He would only show joy, anger, or impatience in front of Han Yunxi. Everyone felt that the high and lofty Ning Cheng had no choice but to throw away his haughty airs in front of their respected princess, but Ning An knew better. Ning Cheng wasn’t submitting himself respectfully to his ruler, but simply disordered and lost.
Perhaps this was the reason why, unlike Chu Qingge, Han Yunxi saw no similarities between Ning Cheng and Long Feiye.
After finding their master, his ecstasy should have long died down and returned to his usual prudent, steady, and coolheaded self. He controlled everything in the Di Clan--it was his by mandate, while the West Qin princess was only a source of faith that couldn’t control anything. The last thing he needed to lose was his own self-control. All of Ning Cheng’s actions since his return had been noticed by a worried Ning An, who couldn’t help but remind him.
Ning Cheng’s icy face fell into a deep silence before he asked coldly, “Is there anything else?”
Ning An told him about Long Zun, but Ning Cheng highly approved of Han Yunxi’s argument. In a low voice, he added, “Arrange for two spies to go along. I haven’t heard from Ning Jing in many days, I need a clear report from her side.”
“Understood,” Ning An had some thoughts of her own. “Jing’er will...be alright, right?”
“She and Tang Li were still making a fuss when I left. Nothing serious will happen.” Compared to Ning An or Ning Nuo, Ning Cheng trusted Ning Jing more. “Urge Ning Nuo to hurry up with the army provisions. Don’t have him drop the ball at the critical moment!”
Although the south central regions controlled most of Cloud Realm Continent’s agricultural fields, Cloud Realm Trade Consortium was no easy foe. It too, had amassed a large quantity of grain. In this world, there were plenty of people without conscience who’d seek to make a profit from war. Moreover, more would be willing to cooperate with them after Cloud Realm Trade Consortium’s identity as the Di Clan had been revealed.
The hidden powers of the Tang Clan have never involved themselves in secular struggles, Ning An mused to herself. Moreover, this is a big fight between two imperial clans. Now that the Tang Clan elders know of Ning Jing’s Di Clan status, it’s unlikely they’ll agree to a weapons trade with her.
If Ning Jing couldn’t complete her mission within a year, it was unlikely Ning Cheng would give her another chance to return to Cloud Realm Trade Consortium. But neither she nor Ning Cheng knew that the youngest daughter of the Ning Clan and the Consortium’s sharpest president was currently suffering through her own torment.
Tang Li said he’d give her a night, but he actually gave her two days and two nights. During this time, all she got was water and no food. Ning Jing was left hanging from the rafters, making it impossible for her to sit down. Luckily, she was close enough to sit on a table. If not for that, she would have given out in half a day. She neither fussed nor fretted, but remained exceptionally calm with a stormy face. She looked fierce and not cute at all. Over the past two days, Tang Li had gone off doing something else and forgotten about her entirely.
She had no idea what was going on in the world outside while cooped up here. Had Ning Cheng’s movements been exposed? Did Long Feiye and Tang Li forget her because they were off chasing him instead? Thinking up to here, Ning Jing knitted her brows and grew anxious. But she quickly recovered her calm. There were too many things she couldn’t control, so she might as well go with the flow. The only thing she could control now was herself. If she could let Tang Li forget her until she died peacefully here, that was good, too.
She had no idea that Long Feiye was long gone, or that he’d left the search and rescue team work at Medical City to Tang Li in his place. Yet instead of hunting for Han Yunxi, Tang Li had spent all his time sitting right outside while spacing out. While Ning Jing had been sipping water over the past two days, he hadn’t had a drop to drink. His wan and sallow form filled with grief left looking nothing like an immortal, but more like a crestfallen lover about to turn into ashes from his bitterness.
Abruptly, Tang Li stood up and pushed open the door as he entered resentfully. Ning Jing was startled by his appearance, but hid it well. Her heart didn’t start beating fast until she spotted the familiar silhouette by the door.
“Heheh, I was so busy the past two days that I didn’t have time to care about you. Count yourself lucky!” Tang Li declared as he remained by the door. “You should give me an answer now, right?”
Ning Jing only looked at him in silence. This forced Tang Li to come closer until he was standing right in front of her. “Answer me!”
“Kill or cut me to pieces, whatever you want!” Ning Jing said coldly.
“Someone, come!” Tang Li didn’t hesitate. The guards immediately rushed in as he personally took down the chains hanging from the rafters and handed it to them. “Hang her up by the south city gates. Don’t let her die, but torment her slowly.”
Ning Jing had no reaction and simply followed the guards outside.
“Jing Jing, you don’t need to be afraid. Your good big brother will definitely save you,” Tang Li smiled icily. Heaven knows whether he was trying to comfort himself, or probe Ning Jing.
Finally, Ning Jing stopped. “Tang Li, I’ll tell you a piece of information if you spare me, how’s that?”
“What information?” Tang Li asked without a thought as he dismissed the guards.
“Something very beneficial to the Tang Clan, as equally important as Han Yunxi’s whereabouts,” Ning Jing spoke like a merchant negotiating a sales pitch, wearing a very respectful smile.
“Spare you? To what extent?” Tang Li asked instead. He could never let Ning Jing go.
“To the extent of giving me a good death,” Ning Jing got straight to the point.
In a flash, Tang Li’s eyes turned sinister and stormy, enough to make one fear the sight. Unfortunately, Ning Jing was standing by the door and didn’t see. It was just like when Tang Li had stood by the entrance and missed the flash of joy that had flashed across Ning Jing’s face upon recognition.
“Alright, speak,” Tang Li finally agreed.
“Ning Cheng still doesn’t know the relationship between you and Long Feiye. Only I do,” Ning Jing admitted.
Tang Li was stunned, but he quickly grew suspicious. “Who are you trying to fool?!”
“I lured you to the Apricot Woods only to sound you out. As expected, you brought Long Feiye with you.” Right now, Ning Jing matched her namesake perfectly--calm and serene. She had her suspicions as early as the Apricot Woods Conference, when Tang Li had supported Han Yunxi. Later on, their cold war was only a pretence for her. She had met with Ning Cheng multiple times, but never voiced her suspicions to him. She needed to confirm the facts, so she snared Tang Li to the Apricot Woods after Ning Cheng left. She had dearly hoped that it was Tang Li who had followed her there, but unfortunately, the man turned out to be Long Feiye.
Without a doubt, Tang Li had led Long Feiye to her.
“You were sounding me out...Ning Cheng doesn’t know the relationship between m and Long Feiye…” Tang Li muttered to himself before he finally understood. “In other words, Ning Cheng’s long left Medical City! He didn’t know you lured me to the Apricot Woods!”
If Ning Cheng was still at the medical academy, he would be observing Ning Jing’s movements in secret the whole time. However, he wasn’t, and Ning Jing hadn’t gotten the chance to report her findings to him.
Ning Jing smiled. She had never thought Tang Li to be as intelligent as he was now. “Tang Li, now I’ve told you wo secrets. Kill me with one blade.”
Tang Li gave a start, but he quickly dashed out of the door. “Xu Donglin! Xu Donglin, dismiss all of the defenses. Tell your master that Han Yunxi’s at Tianning!”
He didn’t go back after rushing out of the building. He ordered people to loosen Ning Jing’s bonds and keep her locked up inside without killing or seeing her.
Once Long Feiye received Tang Li’s news, he prepared to deploy a rescue party when Baili Yuanlong’s secret missive reached him with a mention of Gu Beiyue…Previous Chapter Next Chapter