Life or death hung in a single moment!
Gu Qishao was about to speak when Ning Cheng beat him to it. “Ning An, don’t be rash! Release her or face consequences by clan rules!”
Ning An stopped her hand, unable to believe her ears. But Ning Cheng had even brought up the “clan rules,” so she had no choice but to cease. The thorny vines around Ning Cheng’s body were still tightening their grip, covering him from view. All anyone could see was the fresh blood seeping from the cracks between the vines. Ning An felt her heart break at the sight as she recalled a scene from many years ago.
That had been Ning Cheng’s third time going out on an expedition. By the time they carried him back to the barracks, his body was covered in blood--so much that he might as well been made of it. Back then, Ning Cheng had only been 15 years old. At this moment, Ning An suddenly remembered that she was the older sister--a sister who could protect her younger brother!
As more blood flowed, Ning Cheng remained aloof and indifferent. “Why haven’t you released her yet?!”
The guards hastily let go of Mu Linger, leaving her safe and sound. With her freedom restored, Gu Qishao exhaled in relief as well.
“Gu Qishao, Han Yunxi is the West Qin princess and the master of my Di Clan. I want to know where she is even more than you do. I want to see her more than you do! I don’t want to make you an enemy. If possible, we can search for her together!” Ning Cheng said sincerely.
Gu Qishao didn’t say a word, but Ning Cheng clearly felt the vines stop constricting him. Outside, the night was still, but nothing was as silent as Gu Qishao himself. He remained like this for a long, long time until everything seemed to stop except for Ning Cheng’s dripping blood.
Ning Cheng’s voice rose out of the hush. “Gu Qishao, love...is pledging one’s heart and soul, is submitting oneself to the rule of others. If you really like the princess, then why not join me?”
At his words, all of the vines on his body shriveled up and fell at his feet. No space of skin on Ning Cheng’s body was untouched, but he was smiling brilliantly. No one imagined that such a high and lofty man could have such a beautiful expression, radiant enough to illuminate the long, dark night. He walked in front of Gu Qishao and extended a bloody hand, but Gu Qishao ignored it.
“I only want to find her. If there’s any news, inform me. Send the letters to Pill Fiend Valley!” Gu Qishao said as he prepared to leave.
Ning Cheng stopped him. “Ning Jing, she...what happened to her?”
“Long Feiye told me that Ning Jing confessed. I don’t know any other details,” Gu Qishao said as he pulled Mu Linger after him and left.
“Ning Clan Head, hurry and treat your wounds. We can discuss out matters tomorrow, there’s no rush,” Bai Yanqing spoke up.
Ning Cheng nodded before arranging to Ning An to send Bai Yanqing and his disciple away. After treating his wounds, he went to meet Han Yunxi late at night and told her everything. She exhaled a huge breath of relief before saying urgently, “Hurry, send someone to search. Go to the inns, he’ll definitely be drinking!”
Ning Cheng smiled helplessly. “Princess, aren’t you confident in your subordinate’s methods? I’ve already sent people to follow him. Right now, Gu Qishao should be on his way back after finding out the truth.”
Han Yunxi was thrilled. Ning Cheng had turned the Gu Qishao disaster to their advantage. They had to face off against Bai Yanqing, so adding him to their ranks would increase their strength! Seeing Ning Cheng covered in cuts and bruises, Han Yunxi felt compassion for him for the first time. He didn’t have it easy either, treating the West Qin like his own child.
“That Uncle Bai must be Jun Yixie’s master and a member of the Wind Clan,” Ning Cheng said seriously.
Han Yunxi nodded and lowered her voice. “Since we’ve lowered his guard and Gu Qishao’s here, how about making our move tomorrow?”
Ning Cheng had risked his life tonight just to convince Bai Yanqing. As long as the man believed them, he’d be less cautious and give them their chance. As Ning Cheng remained silent, Han Yunxi urged, “We need to act quickly! Ning Cheng, each day you delay is a closer day of travel for Jun Yixie and the battle horses. How are you supposed to fight against him then?”
Actually, Ning Chng had been conflicted ever since meeting Bai Yanqing tonight. He and Han Yunxi had long agreed to lure Bai Yuqiao and Uncle Bai here, eliminate their suspicions, and strike. Ning Cheng had enough men to trap Bai Yanqing and his disciple. No matter how formidable the man’s skills might be, he couldn’t fight against the thousands of archers lying in ambush around the palace! And in terms of poison skills, Han Yunxi had promised Ning Cheng to take care of things from her end.
After capturing Bai Yanqing, they could expose his sinister plots. It was all too easy to do that as long as they made him use his poison skills and the poison storage space. That would convince the public as well. A member of the Poison Sect bloodline who didn’t acknowledge her, a descendant of the Poison Sect, would only be displaying infidelity, wasn’t that right? As long as they handed Bai Yanqing over to the Northern Li imperial clan, he could tie down Jun Yixie’s actions!
Han Yunxi had long understood Northern Li’s political climate from Long Feiye’s scouts. The Northern Li crown prince had been injured in Wintercrow Country and died en route to the capital. The second imperial prince also died within the Wintercrow Clan. How could the Northern Li emperor trust Jun Yixie now? He had so many battle horses in his possession, but if the emperor didn’t provide soldiers for the steeds, they were all useless!
All they had to do was deliver this master of Jun Yixie’s to the Northern Li emperor to give him enough collateral to threaten Jun Yixie. Once they started fighting amongst themselves, they wouldn’t bother with the south, and the Ning Clan troops would have nothing to fear. Everything had been settled, and yet here was Ning Cheng hesitating again!
“Princess, 100,000 cavalry forces are enough...to crush the south central regions,” Ning Cheng revealed his misapprehensions. His current forces weren’t on par with Long Feiye’s own, so he didn’t want to expose Bai Yanqing so soon. All he wanted was to send the man into the barracks to stall for time until he found a better way to use Jun Yixie’s forces.
Han Yunxi smiled coldly within her heart. How could Ning Cheng not be moved in the face of 100,000 cavalry forces?
“Ning Cheng, I heard everything you told him just then. It’s impossible for that surnamed Bai to leave Bai Yuqiao behind and go to the army himself. It’s even less likely that he’ll help you stop the fighting. If you force him, it’d only make him suspicious. Think it over carefully. But I’ll tell you this--if things are ruined, we’ll have to shoulder the consequences!”
Han Yunxi’s voice was as cold as ice, causing Ning Cheng to bow his head. “This subordinate will listen to everything princess says.”
After discussing and understanding all the details, Ning Cheng went to check on all his ambushed forces before returning to the secret chamber. Han Yunxi hadn’t slept, but was leaning against the bed with her eyes closed to recover her energy.
“Your Royal Highness, everything’s been arranged. We’ll go according to the plan tomorrow,” Ning Cheng said seriously.
“Mm. Is there anything else?” Han Yunxi asked.
Ning Cheng shook his head. Han Yunxi had nothing to say either, so she waited for him to leave. But Ning Cheng didn’t budge. She gave him a questioning look that he avoided with his eyes. “Gu Qishao’s almost back. This subordinate will wait a while.”
Han Yunxi ignored him and continued to rest. Ning Cheng started out by drinking some tea, but he couldn’t help casting glances at Han Yunxi every once in a while in silence. Beneath the flickering candlelight, the room was silent. It was only now that Ning Cheng’s world felt a hint of peace and quiet, allowing him to forget his identity, duty, hatred, and logic.
Why didn’t we meet earlier?
Why couldn’t we have never met at all?
Why not in our next life? Why this life, this moment of all times? Why did I only find out who you are after I started liking you?
Ning Cheng withdrew his gaze and rested them on his hand. A single acupuncture needle was hidden in his left palm, separated by a single layer of skin. Thanks to that, he couldn’t even form a fist with his left hand anymore, much less carry anything. It was all but crippled, but hiding it there meant that he’d never lose it again.
Soon enough, Gu Qishao and Mu Linger arrived. The whole way back, the guards had already explained everything to the pair. Gu Qishao had been looking for his Poison lass like a madman, but once she was standing in front of him, all he wore was a silly smile. His heart had been conflicted before, unable to know how to face her, but now that they’d met, nothing seemed important anymore.
As long as she was safe and sound, then that was redeeming enough.
“Poison lass…” Gu Qishao started, then stopped. Such a bewitching and seductive man had been reduced to an adorable little fool.
“We’ll deal with Mute Granny’s debt another day,” Han Yunxi said first. She didn’t want Ning Cheng to know too much.
Gu Qishao saw the difference in her gaze and immediately nodded. “Done! Qi gege will help you deal with that surnamed Bai first. You can settle accounts however you’d like!”
“Mute Granny is…” Ning Cheng began curiously.
“Private matters between Poison lass and I. Ning Clan Head needn’t worry about that,” Gu Qishao stated unhappily.
Ning Cheng only pretended he never asked. He spread open a map and began to explain the locations of his ambush parties in earnest while Gu Qishao listened intently. Han Yunxi saw Mu Linger’s disappointed expression and gave her a cup of tea. “Little sister Linger, drink some tea to refresh your spirits.”
Mu Linger abruptly looked up at Han Yunxi in disbelief. What did she just call me?
“As your elder cousin, I have a duty to protect your safety. Tomorrow, just stay here instead of running about, alright?” Han Yunxi said matter-of-factly.
Mu Linger finally reacted. That’s right, Lady Tianxin was Mu Xin, my aunt. That means Han Yunxi is my elder cousin!
“You’re my elder cousin...big sis? You…” Mu Linger’s bright eyes widened even further as she stuttered. It wasn’t until Han Yunxi put the teacup in her hands that she recovered her senses with a sniff. “Hmph, don’t think about looking after me! An elder cousin isn’t a biological sister.”
“I’m definitely looking after you!” Han Yunxi said without a trace of modesty.
Mu Linger felt stifled, so she sat to one side to drink her tea. She and Han Yunxi had always been abrasive with each other. Very rarely had they acted like sisters that nestled together in silence. But she knew Han Yunxi treated her better than any of her other related “sisters.” Despite their sisterly bond, this wasn’t the reason she didn’t fear Han Yunxi stealing her Qi gege. She knew full well that Qi gege wouldn’t like her even if Han Yunxi didn’t exist…
The whole palace was still asleep early next morning when Bai Yanqing groggily woke up. He immediately sensed the silence around him and urgently got off the bed. After some hesitation, he leaped up and broke through the roof, startling Bai Yuqiao awake. She quickly followed him out.
But in a flash, they’d been surrounded on all sides and heights by a circle of archers ten rings wide. Their storm of arrows forced master and disciple back to the ground!
“Ning Cheng, you tricked this old man!” Bai Yanqing raged. If he hadn’t figured out the truth by now, he might as well kill himself.
Ning Cheng didn’t appear, but a fresh rain of arrows greeted Bai Yanqing’s outburst!
“Little Yu’er!” Bai Yanqing shouted, and Bai Yuqiao quickly pulled out her sword to block the weapons for her master. Bai Yanqing shut his eyes and began to feel for the direction of the wind.
Hidden nearby, Ning Cheng muttered, “The Driving Wind Arts...he’s about to use poison!”
“Don’t be afraid of him!” Han Yunxi gave a cold snort.Previous Chapter Next Chapter