Ning Cheng was thinking of none other than Myriad Merchant Hall’s Fifth Elder!
Unlike the other elders, Fifth Elder was completely subservient to West Qin and a diehard loyalist. Ning Cheng couldn’t even guess what would happen after his letter reached Fifth Elder’s hands, but he knew it was a better choice than anyone else. At least, Fifth Elder’s position and temper would prevent him from doing anything rash. That would buy him some time. Meanwhile, as long as Bai Yuqiao’s spent silver drafts made their way to the elders at Myriad Merchant Hall, things would get easier.
Under Jun Yixie’s scrutiny, Ning Cheng quickly picked up his brush and began to write. Not a single word came easily. With the man staring down his back, he couldn’t reveal the true circumstances of his confinement here, or order the Di Clan to keep pledging their loyalty to West Qin and cooperate with Han Yunxi. At the same time, he had to create falsehoods for Jun Yixie to read so that the man believed he wholly wanted to let the Di Clan oppose Han Yunxi and Long Feiye.
The three major subsets of the Di Clan included Myriad Merchant Hall, Cloud Realm Trade Consortium, and the army. He controlled them all and knew their elders and deputy generals thoroughly. Although Long Feiye and Han Yunxi had killed Bai Yanqing and uncovered the misunderstanding between East and West Qin, it wasn’t enough to convince everyone. Even if Bai Yanqing told the world with his own mouth about the Wind and Black Clans colluding against the Great Qin Empire, there would still be doubters amongst the Di Clan’s elders who refused to accept it. Those old men were as stubborn about their old grudges as Ning Cheng himself. Actually, if Ning Cheng hadn’t heard the admission from Jun Yixie’s own lips, he would be suspecting Han Yunxi and Long Feiye now too.
Moreover, those elders were all part of the Di Clan’s senior figures. Their loyalty to the Di surpassed their loyalty to West Qin. Most of them had selfish motives to some degree and hoped that the Di Clan could render outstanding service in restoring the West Qin Dynasty to its former glory. They harbored hopes that perhaps one day, the Di Clan could even enter the royal clan through marriage, thus defending its status in the dynasty forevermore. Now that Han Yunxi and Long Feiye had publicly made up, the elders of the Di Clan would worry that Long Feiye would be their master. No matter what, they would definitely rebel.
Under these circumstances, if Myriad Merchant Hall hadn’t received his silver drafts yet, they wouldn’t know the truth. With Jun Yixie’s 30,000 battle horses in their hands, they wouldn’t hesitate to start a war. After some thought, Ning Cheng used his brush to write a single line:
Accept the battle horses from Sky River. Await orders for everything else and prepare 500 million’s worth of soldiers’ pay and provisions to Prosperous Heaven Private Bank under the Northern Li account.
“Await orders for everything else” was the sole leeway Ning Cheng left the Di Clan, and the most he could do for Han Yunxi’s case. The part about pay and provisions alleviated Jun Yixie’s worries. Even if 500 million were transferred to Prosperous Heaven’s Northern Li account, no one could take it away before he showed up in person.
“500 million?” Jun Yixie arched a brow. “Our agreement was 1 billion!”
“Once the battle horses arrive, I’ll pay 500 million first. That’s enough for you to use. We’ll be working together for a long time, so what’s the rush?” Ning Cheng asked.
Truthfully, 500 million was indeed enough for Jun Yixie to rise again. He didn’t demand more after seeing the hard-won sum from Ning Cheng, who next sealed the letter away and addressed it to “Fifth Elder” on the envelope.
Jun Yixie took it away with the parting words, “I’ll be waiting for your payment!”
Ning Cheng watched him leave before rubbing his face a few times to clear his mind.
“A reunion between a married couple?” he chuckled softly and muttered to himself. “Han Yunxi, it’ll be up to Heaven to decide whether we remain friends or enemies.”
If his silver drafts reached the Di Clan before the battle horses, then he could count as truly uniting with Long Feiye and Han Yunxi this time. Otherwise, once the Di Clan revolted, he’ll never be able to wash the filth clean in this lifetime. Ning Cheng stood by the doorway a while before Bai Yuqiao suddenly dashed over.
“Ning Cheng, come with me to the prisons, quick!” she cried desperately.
Ning Cheng only gave her a languid look and prepared to enter his rooms when Bai Yuqiao caught him by the arm. “There’s a human life at stake!”
Ning Cheng’s eyes chilled. He prepared to shake her off when Bai Yuqiao blurted out, “Su Xiaoyu’s almost dead! Come over and coax her. Maybe you can convince her to live!”
Ning Cheng’s heart chilled even as he rudely shoved Bai Yuqiao’s hand off him. He was wondering whether this was all a trap set by Jun Yixie and Bai Yuqiao to test his limits. But Bai Yuqiao only declared, “Ning Cheng, Su Xiaoyu is Han Yunxi’s favorite servant girl. If you can save her life, Han Yunxi will definitely feel grateful to you! Then she’ll have a better impression of you! Hurry and talk to her, she won’t even drink her medicine anymore.”
With Bai Yuqiao’s excuses before him, Ning Cheng headed over with long strides. The girl immediately followed and gave him a brief summary of events. In short, Su Xiaoyu had fallen sick and refused to take her medicine. Right now, her life was in danger. At the entrance to the prisons, Bai Yuqiao stopped and said, “I’m not going in. You go on alone. Lie to her if you have to, coax her if you need to, but do something to make her believe you!”
When Ning Cheng went in and saw Su Xiaoyu, he couldn’t help but suck in a breath. The girl was no longer tied to a rack, but left to lie on a stone bed. Her clothes were ragged, her face and hair a mess. She was skinny to begin with, but now resembled nothing more than a sack of skin and bones. Her eyes were tightly shut, her hands clenched into fists. Even though the illness had started affecting her internal organs, she was pulled taut. It was uncertain whether she was tense or simply on guard. Her tiny, ashen face had no traces of blood, but still held onto that stubborn, obstinate expression. Even an unfeeling man like Ning Cheng felt pained by the sight. If Han Yunxi saw this child like this, her heart would ache.
Abruptly, Ning Cheng realized that amongst all the people at Sky River horse farms, only he and this little girl were on the same side.
Because she didn’t want to reveal anything or become a hostage, she was choosing the path of death?
If one day he couldn’t continue and only ended up as Jun Yixie’s puppet, would Su Xiaoyu’s future turn into his own?
Ning Cheng made sure the coast was clear before crouching down by her side. He’d never been so soft or gentle in his life as he carefully brushed aside the hairs on Su Xiaoyu’s forehead. “Girl,” he murmured, “Work with me. If you want to die, big brother will join you in death.”
Su Xiaoyu didn’t budge, but Ning Cheng clearly saw her eyelashes flickering.
He dropped his voice and added, “My name is Ning Cheng. I’m the leader of the Di Clan.”
Su Xiaoyu’s eyes flew open at the words. Although both of them had been kidnapped to Skyriver City, she hadn’t had a single chance to meet with Ning Cheng yet. However, she knew that he too was a victim. Back at Blacktower, she heard the disguised shadow guards speak of him. He was a loyalist to the West Qin faction as well as Long Feiye’s enemy.
“St...stop calling yourself big brother, I’m...I’m not familiar with you!” Su Xiaoyu was still stubborn despite her feeble state.
Ning Cheng smiled. “At least you’re willing to talk to me.”
Su Xiaoyu soon noticed the phoenix wing mask on his face. It seemed familiar, but she couldn’t put her finger on why. “That’s...that’s a phoenix wing?” she asked with effort.
Long ago, Su Xiaoyu had seen a sample of this phoenix wing when Chu Tianyin showed her a picture prior to her mission by Han Yunxi’s side. Of course, she’d forgotten that by now, but she also knew the West Qin princess was supposed to have a phoenix wing birthmark on her back.
“Yes,” Ning Cheng admitted.
“What happened...to your eye?” Su Xiaoyu asked.
“I saw something I shouldn’t have and now it’s blind.” Ning Cheng actually laughed at that. Su Xiaoyu was completely lost, but she didn’t have the energy to press the issue.
“Did they...did they tell you to come?”
Ning Cheng couldn’t help but sigh internally. This girl was really mature and intelligent for her age. Compared to some full-grown servant girls, she was stronger in spades.
“Yes, to coax you to take your medicine,” Ning Cheng admitted.
Su Xiaoyu laughed. Although she didn’t have the strength to laugh out loud, her expression showed as much. “You, just you...on what grounds?”
Loudly, Ning Cheng replied, “On the grounds that I like your master!” Then he suddenly drew closer and whispered in her ear. “Live another month. If I can’t save you by then, we’ll die together!”
Then he withdrew and rose to his feet. Su Xiaoyu finally realized how tall and imposing he actually was. She stared at him before secretly nodding her head. One month didn’t matter much.
Once Ning Cheng emerged, Bai Yuqiao hastily asked, “How is it?”
“I convinced her by saying I’d save her to get Han Yunxi’s favor. She believed me,” Ning Cheng remarked. He was about to leave when he stopped and added, “Whenever you’re doing interrogating her, send her to me. Han Yunxi will definitely enjoy a gift like that.” It had to be said that Ning Cheng acted his part exceptionally well.
Bai Yuqiao didn’t think much, but had the soldiers go brew more medicine and personally took a nurse inside to start acupuncture treatment. Su Xiaoyu laid there with eyes open, not moving a muscle. Bai Yuqiao didn’t waste words with her but stood on the sidelines. Once the nurse finished taking the patient’s pulse, she had Su Xiaoyu take off her clothes and lie on the stone bed. Su Xiaoyu was so weak that she even lacked the strength to raise her hands. Because the army lacked servants, much less female ones, Bai Yuqiao could only do it herself. She quickly took off the clothes and turned Su Xiaoyu on her back, only to give a start.
The nurse had just started applying needles to Su Xiaoyu’s back. The girl herself had shut her eyes and felt exhausted after moving just slightly. She felt completely sapped of energy and desperately wanted to sleep. Seeing this, the nurse sensed something amiss. “This is bad!” she cried.
She quickly turned Su Xiaoyu over and pressed against her philtrum. “Child, you can’t go to sleep! Don’t fall asleep! Child, wake up!”
Bai Yuqiao recovered her wits and grew flustered. “What’s wrong with her?”
“If she falls asleep, she’ll never wake up again! Is the medicine ready yet? If not, get some sweet soup here first, hurry!” the nurse was frantic as she pressed on the philtrum a few more times and even lifted Su Xiaoyu’s eyelids.
This wasn’t their first time applying emergency treatment to the girl, but Bai Yuqiao was so apprehensive that her face turned white as a sheet. She stood in place, completely at a loss as tears poured down her cheeks.
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