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Thread: The Mandate #1

  1. #161
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    Xue Qian didn’t like the idea of hanging on a tree branch at such a height but he had little choice when he’s immobilized and if he wants to live. He wondered when Wuxin would move or say something, a signal that he could possibly regain his physical freedom.

    Time passed by most torturously and Xue Qian was starting to lose consciousness when the familiar fingers of Wuxin grabbed him by the collar again. He would have yelled in surprise had he not been immobilized.

    Wuxin travelled down the same way she did upwards. Once they hit the ground, she tapped at Xue Qian’s pressure points, releasing him from his physical prison. Relieved at his freedom, Xue Qian lets out a loud gasp and slumped uncontrollably to the ground.

    Wuxin chuckled in mirth.

    “Poor you. You can’t return to Xiwu, and most certainly can’t go anywhere where Xiwu has a foothold in. The only way you can survive is to live in obscurity, for the rest of your life. Now, do you have any idea where you’d like to settle down? I will escort you there.”

    *****

    Changsha, Kingdom of Nanxi, following post 157

    Nangong Xu had only walked out of the Great Hall when he was alerted to hurried footsteps coming towards him. He turned and smiled - a young woman was running toward him.

    “My Lady! You must not run like this!” A maid counselled breathlessly as she tried hard to keep up with her mistress but was ignored.

    “Brother!”

    “Why… your father’s just done nagging at me. Is it your turn now?” Nangong Xu teased while pretending to stifle a yawn.

    “Since when have I nagged at you??” The young woman sulked at Nangong Xu’s accusation. She was none other than Ruan Qianyu (阮纤雨), the only daughter of Chancellor Ruan Xichou and Nangong Xu’s cousin. As they were the only children of their respective houses, they grew up together as close companions. The Queen Dowager sees Qianyu as her own child and she had adopted the affectionate term of “Brother” for Nangong Xu in return.

    “I only came here to inform you something important! But if you don’t want to hear me, it’s fine! It’s really fine!” Qianyu turned away pouting.

    “Oh. I’m sorry. What is this big secret? Please do tell me.” Nangong Xu played along.

    Qianyu smiled in satisfaction. She looked around to make sure no one’s around before she leaned in to whisper into Nangong Xu’s ear.

    “That injured man we fished out of the river outside the palace sometime ago… he’s awake!"
    Last edited by Guo Xiang; 04-14-12 at 10:18 PM.
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  2. #162
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    Nangong Xu sighed lazily and feigned disinterest towards Ruan Qianyu’s words, “Oh? That’s it? That was the big secret that you came trotting down here for?”

    Ruan Qianyu’s rolled her eyes. “Well, if you’re not interested, then I suppose I don’t need to tell you the rest of the story.”

    “Good sister,” Nangong Xu smiled playfully, “I’m only joking. You know I can’t be too pleased if you are so excited when speaking of another man.”

    Ruan Qianyu’s cheeks immediately flushed to a crimson color. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! Humph!” she exclaimed in exasperation with a pout as she kicked Nangong Xu in the shin and stormed away.

    “Ouch,” Nangong Xu winced in exaggerated pain, but his mood still appeared cheerful and light without an ounce of anger. The maid smiled and bowed apologetically before turning to follow her mistress. While kicking the King would result in an immediate beheading punishment for anyone, Ruan Qianyu made a habit of it. Obviously, she is the only person in the entire Kingdom of Nanxi with such privileges. It appears she also enjoys other unique privileges, such as freely entering and exiting the Palace without permission or announcement.

    Nangong Xu stuck out his tongue and chuckled teasingly before running after Ruan Qianyu, “Hey, wait for me!”

    ************************************************** *******

    It was a small room in the Eastern Palace, where the crown prince used to reside in. However, given that the King was not even married, there certainly were no children to be Crowned Prince. Hence, this part of the Palace has been empty for more than a decade with the only people passing by being the servants who clean the Palace. It was a perfect place to hide a person.

    As the King, Nangong Xu was not usually encouraged to leave the boundaries of the Palace without a large company of guards and ministers. But Nangong Xu hated the hassle of having an army-like mass following his every movement; hence he often requests the aid of Ruan Qianyu to help him sneak out of the Palace. It happened that on one of these occasions, they discovered an unconscious man washed on a river bank with barely a hint of life left in him. They managed to rescue the man from the shores, but did not know where to place him. They did not want to alert any officials, as Ruan Xichou will eventually find out that Nangong Xu has snuck out of the Palace. The last thing Nangong Xu wanted was another lecture from this uncle of his. Ruan Qianyu could not bring the man home alone by herself, as that would cause endless rumors, especially since Ruan Qianyu is an unmarried maiden. They could not leave him at an inn outside since his medical condition would require constant attention and neither Nangong Xu nor Ruan Qianyu would be able to visit him often enough. The only solution they could come up with was to hide him in the Eastern Palace, where the least number of people passes by. Nangong Xu ordered the servants and the Imperial Physician taking care of the injured man to keep secrecy and threatened to behead them if word spreads. The physician and servants did indeed pay attention to this threat as there has been no signs of any information on this injured man being leaked. Day by day, slowly, the man’s wounds appeared to have improved, but he remained unconscious…until today.

    Ruan Qianyu knocked lightly on the door of the small room in which they kept the injured man.
    Last edited by S Beaver; 04-16-12 at 12:54 AM.
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  3. #163
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    “Who is it?” A soft voice asked.

    “It is I, Ruan Qianyu. And Brother is here with me.”

    Panicked shuffling sounds were heard within the room. In a short moment, the door opened and a maid was on her knees. “Greetings to Lady Ruan and Your Royal Highness!”

    “Dispense with the formalities.” Nangong Xu waved his hand dismissively. “Leave the room and keep watch for us.”

    “Yes, Your Royal Highness.” The maid left the room hurriedly and closed the doors behind her.

    Once they were alone in the room, Nangong Xu and Ruan Qianyu approached the man lying on the bed.

    The man’s limbs were freshly bandaged. A bandage wrapped over his right eye, and his handsome face bore light scars from wounds that had healed not long ago thanks to the care administered by the palace’s physicians. The man was awake; upon hearing the two approach, his left eye glanced over and settled on Nangong Xu and Ruan Qianyu.

    Ruan Qianyu he had seen before – he had only woke up some time ago and saw her wiping his face with a damp cloth, but she had dropped it and ran out the moment she saw him wake – the man he had not seen before.

    The room and environment was unfamiliar to him. Where is he?

    Before Ruan Qianyu and Nangong Xu could say a thing, he had spoken.

    “… Pardon my rudeness, but before we speak of other matters, could you please answer a few important questions?

    How is Donghai doing? What has become of Runan and Wancheng? Has Prince Ying become King of Donghai?”

    Although the man’s voice was calm and weak, he wore a concerned expression – one that Ruan Qianyu always sees on her father’s face. She looked at Nangong Xu and tugged at his sleeves. She never really cared about these politics, but Nangong Xu hears about these issues on a daily basis so he must know the answers.
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  4. #164
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    Nangong Xu raised one of his eyebrows to give a quizzical expression and turned to Ruan Qianyu, “So this is what we get for trying to do a good deed, eh? We drag him out of the grave and the first thing he does isn’t even to thank us but to demand answers from us.”

    Before Ruan Qianyu was able to reply, the injured man quickly added in, “I’m apologize for the rudeness. I am very greatful for being saved and will surely return the favor!” With that, he tried to push himself up with his arms to rise out of bed to perform a bow. However, he arms were too weak and quickly collapsed back onto the bed after barely lifting his back off the bed

    Nangong Xu quickly stabilized the man to make sure he did not off out of the bed. “We didn’t spend all the effort to rescue and nurse you back to life just so you can die from injuring yourself after falling out of bed. We still need you to pay us back for the favor.”

    Ruan Qianyu frowned and gave Nangong Xu a disapproving look. She knew that Nangong Xu always enjoyed tormenting others with some teasing, but given how desperate the injured man appeared, the timing of the joke was a bit cruel.

    “Alright, alright…” Nangong Xu rolled his eyes, obviously disappointed that Ruan QIanyu wouldn’t let him continue his game. “What were you asking about again? Prince Ying? Sima Ying? Ah, well…he’s doomed for life.”

    The injured man sudden grabbed his own chest and spit out a mouthful of blood. “What…What did you say?” Up until this point he had appeared calm, despite the injuries. But now, his weak voice was filled with a mix of astonishment, despair, and anger.

    “Brother!” Ruan Qianyu scolded in annoyance and slapped Nangong Xu on the arm. While she didn’t know the details of what happened to Runan and Wancheng, the news of Sima Ying becoming the King of Donghai had already spread throughout the lands.

    Nangong Xu was taken back by the strong reaction from the injured man. He quickly handed the man a handkerchief and spoke in a softer, more serious tone, “Sima Ying has taken over as the King of Donghai. He is now doomed to be tied down in the cold chamber of politics and power struggles forever. A slave to his Kingdom.“

    The injured man let out a sigh of relief. A gentle smile curved upon his face. “But what of Runan and Wancheng?” he quickly added.

    “Hmm…Runan and Wancheng…” Nangong Xu rubbed his chin. He certainly enjoyed playing up the drama with suspense. “I think they were either taken by the Kingdom of Xiwu or the Kingdom of Pan, or both. Who knows? That is Donghai’s problem, not mine.” Nangong Xu strugged his shoulders.

    The injured man sighed again, though this time with disappointment. Even though he had anticipated something like this would happen, it was still disheartening to hear that it had actually happened. After a moment of silence, he finally was able to gather all his thoughts and emotions. “I truly apologize for the rudeness earlier, but it was an urgent matter that I needed to know about. And I am truly grateful to you two for saving me life. May I know who my benefactors are?”

    “This young lady here is Miss Ruan,” Nangong Xu pointed at Ruan Qianyu. A mischievous smile spread across his face. “And I, as you could probably already tell, am her brother.”
    Last edited by S Beaver; 04-18-12 at 01:59 AM.
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  5. #165
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    Lying.

    Although the young man and woman appeared close, they did not feel like siblings. Furthermore, who would introduce his sister in such a manner? His only available eye gave the pair another good look.

    He had earlier on seen how richly built and decorated the room was. There was even a maid waiting on him. The man and woman wore robes made with top grade silk and the woman’s accessories were clearly expensive as well. The man, in fact, looked so proper and well-dressed it was as though… as though he’s a prince.

    He was sure they were no ordinary rich folks.

    "I see. Thank you for saving my life, Master Ruan and Miss Ruan," He replied, deciding to play along. If they were siblings, then it would be natural to call the young man 'Master Ruan'.

    Ruan Qianyu giggled at how Nangong Xu was addressed. Smiling at the injured man, she asked, “What’s your name?”

    // Better not give myself away before I know for certain where I am and who they are. //

    “My name is Yan He.” He replied.

    “You are from Donghai? You keep asking questions about Donghai.” Ruan Qianyu said.

    Zhou He nodded. Her words only made it plain that he wasn’t in Donghai anymore. Then where? Pan? Xiwu’s newly conquered lands of Jingzhou? Or perhaps Nanxi?

    “This is…”

    “Well, you are now in Nanxi. You are quite safe here, so don’t worry,” Ruan Qianyu said.

    Zhou He nodded with a smile. She had not asked him how he got into that bad state but the young man might ask, soon.
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  6. #166
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    “Mister Yan,” Ruan Qianyu continued, “Your injuries appear to stem from being pierced by multiple arrows. Are you a military officer of Donghai?”

    Zhou He shook his head with a helpless smile, “I am only a common citizen of Donghai but in a war between two Kingdoms, it is the civilians that suffer the most. I am but only a byproduct of the casualties of warfare.”

    Ruan Qianyu put her hand on Zhou He’s shoulder compassionately and reassured, “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of you and make sure you fully recover. Where is your family? We will try to send a letter to them to inform them that you are alive and well so they won’t be too heartbroken.”

    A sadness swept across Zhou He’s eyes, “My family…they are no longer around.”

    “Oh...” Ruan Qianyu looked down apologetically. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up your sorrows.”

    Zhou He smiled and nodded to accept Ruan Qianyu’s apology. He knew that she meant no harm, but he still wondered if his presence has been missed. Perhaps he should try to send a message to Sima Ying. If it is true that Sima Ying has taken the throne, then he would worry and wonder why Zhou He has not returned to Jian Ye. While there were many capable Donghai officials that could advise Ying, none are as trusted by Ying as Zhou He. And then, there was Lanxi, the last person he saw before he lost all sense of the world. He wondered if she tried to look for him or if she has accept the idea that he was dead and returned to Pan.

    Ruan Qianyu was about to speak again before Nangong Xu cut in, “Well, Mister Yan, you just woke up from serious injury. It is still for the best for you to rest as much as possible. If you need anything, just let the maids know. The physicians will be by to take a look at your wounds later today. Until then, eat up and rest well.”

    Ruan Qianyu seemed as if she did not want to leave and wanted to ask Zhou He more questions, but Nangong Xu placed his hands on her shoulders and gently pushed her out of the room.

    *************************************************

    After they stepped out of Zhou He’s room, Ruan Qianyu turned to Nangong Xu and asked, “Why did you have to lie to him?”

    Nangong Xu widened his eyes to act as if he was confused, “When did I lie?”

    “You told him that you were my brother.”

    “But you call me ‘brother’, so I’m only going along with what you say.”

    “I don’t mean that you are literally my brother!” Ruan Qianyu glowered at Nangong Xu.

    “Oh, you don’t?” Nangong Xu smiled cheekily. “Then what do you mean when you call me ‘brother’, eh?”

    Somewhere in her mind, Ruan Qianyi had a slight idea of where this conversation was going. A burning sensation suddenly rose to her cheeks. “Nevermind!” she shouted with annoyance and quickly walked away. “I’m going to go tell Auntie that you’re bullying me again.”

    “Go ahead! Who is scared of who?” Nangong Xu chuckled as he chased after her again.
    Last edited by S Beaver; 04-20-12 at 01:25 AM.
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  7. #167
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    The two entered the Queen Dowager’s room noisily as they squabbled with each other.

    The Queen Dowager smiled at the sight of the two of them. Ruan Xichou was there as well, sitting next to the Queen, but he stood up to greet Nangong Xu.

    “Your Royal Highness.”

    “Uncle,” Nangong Xu nodded in reply.

    “We are all family here so drop the formalities,” the Queen Dowager waved her hand. She turned to Nangong Xu and Ruan Qianyu. “So why are the two of you in such a good mood? To be playing around like that?”

    “~Auntie~!” Ruan Qianyu immediately ran over to the Queen Dowager, hugging the older woman by the arm most playfully. “Brother is bullying me again~”

    “Again? Tsktsk. Xu-er, what have you done to my darling Yu-er?” The Queen Dowager mocked a look of disapproval at her son, but the amusement on her face was unmistakable.

    “I’m so wronged, Mother!” Nangong Xu protested, pretending to glare at Ruan Qianyu. “I’m just teasing her about what a big baby she is, that’s all. Look what she’s doing to you, Mother!”

    The Queen Dowager smiled.

    “Both of you are such big babies,” She shook her head. “Just as well. Your uncle and I have just the right medicine to make the two of you grow up.”

    “What?” Nangong Xu was surprised. He glanced at his uncle who exchanged knowing glances with the Queen Dowager.

    “Xu-er, you are already 20… and Yu-er will be turning 18 in just another two months. Both of you should have outgrown the playing age. So just now, Xichou and I were discussing on… getting the two of you settled down with a proper family.”

    A sudden silence fell upon the room. Ruan Qianyu blinked in surprise as fear slowly gripped her heart.

    “… Auntie… Father… you are going to… get a wife for Brother?” She asked weakly. She dared not ask about herself, even though it was clear she was part of their discussion and that they were going to find her a husband as well.

    “Yes. And we will get you a husband as well,” the Queen Dowager replied with a mysterious smile. “So what do you think?”

    Ruan Qianyu kept quiet. She looked at Nangong Xu in despondence for a moment before she casts her eyes to the floor. Who knows what he’s thinking about? Maybe he’d be excited about getting a wife.

    Well, she isn’t.
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  8. #168
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    “A husband? For her? But who would want to take her as a wife? Unless he doesn’t want to live anymore?” Nangong Xu snortled.

    Ruan Qianyu moved her eyes off the floor and glared at Nangong Xu coldly. She torted, “Well, that would be my problem. You should worry about yourself first.”

    “We can talk about Yu’er marriage plans later, but what about you?” The Queen Dowager focuses her attention on Nangong Xu. “You know, you were already born by the time His Royal Highness, your Father, was twenty years of age.” At the mention of the former King, a glimmer of wistfulness ran across the Queen Dowager’s eyes.

    Nangong Xu smiled anxiously, “I still have too much to learn about how handle the Kingdom’s affairs from Uncle. I should spend my time concentrating on attending to the affairs of the Kingdom first.”

    The Queen Dowager smiled, “But getting married and expanding the royal family tree is also an important matter to the Kingdom. It was unfortunate that His Royal Highness, your Father, had passed away at such an early age, leaving you with no siblings at all. There is already a lack of royal descendants in your generation, so it is necessary for you to make up for it.”

    “Well, if it is a must, then I will follow Mother’s orders. But…” Nangong Xu pensively looked at his feet for a few moments before looking up at his mother to speak again, “But…I would like to be the one to choose the person.”

    “Oh? That means you already have a girl you like?” the Queen Dowager’s eyes lit up with excitement. “Who is she?”

    “Well…um…she…um…is…” the normally well articulated Nangong Xu suddenly sounded as if his tongue was swollen. His eyes darted back and forth between his mother, his uncle, and Ruan Qianyu. His mother’s eyes were filled with joyful anticipation. His uncle carried his normal solemn countenance, as if he was still discussing politics on the court. Ruan Qiany--he did not know what to make of her expression at all.

    Before he could continue on, Ruan Qian Yu suddenly spoke up, “Well, it looks like there isn’t much for me to do here. I will take my leave.” She quickly bowed and promptly left the room, as if she could not wait to get out of there.

    “Don’t be rude! Come back here!” Ruan Xichou quickly shouted after his daughter, but Ruan Qianyu paid no attention and continued walking away.

    Without even excusing himself, Nangong Xu abruptly jumped out of his chair and to run after Ruan Qianyu, “Yu’er! Wait!”

    Ruan Xichou turned to the Queen Dowager to ask what she thought of the turn of events, only to see her eyes narrow as her smile widened. She chuckled softly and spoke, “Well, Xichou, I think we have an answer.”
    Last edited by S Beaver; 04-22-12 at 12:43 AM.
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  9. #169
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    By the time Nangong Xu bursts out of the room, Ruan Qianyu was already at the courtyard. He never knew she could walk so fast. He had to start running to catch up.

    “Hey.” He caught her by the shoulder.

    “What?” Ruan Qianyu said, refusing to even look at him.

    “Eh…” He found himself tongue-tied. It was always hard when she’s upset, and her current expression was a lot unhappier than the time he secretly broke into her room and hid all her favourite toys some ten years ago.

    Noting his silence, Ruan Qianyu finally turned to look at him.

    “… Shouldn’t Brother stay and discuss your… marriage plans with Father and Auntie?” She paused for a while before adding, “I thought it might be awkward for Brother to say who that lady is if I sticks around. That’s why I excused myself, you know. If Brother likes her so much, Brother should just quickly let her know and marry her. Before… um… before someone else does so.”

    Ruan Qianyu looked down at her feet. “… I will like whoever Brother likes. She must be a very good woman, if Brother likes her so much.”
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    Nangong Xu smiled. It appeared that Ruan Qianyu’s anger has slightly calmed down and along with it, so did his nervousness. “The person I like…I’m not sure if she is a good woman, but she is definitely the one that I like.”

    “How can you not be sure if she’s a good woman?” Ruan Qianyu replied with disbelief. “They always say that everything looks perfect through the lover’s eye.”

    “Well, to start off, she’s the only child of her household and quite a spoiled brat. She’s temperamental, has no regards for manners, and can often become very physically abusive. So, I don’t have to worry about her marrying someone else, because no one would want to take her as a wife unless he doesn’t want to live anymore.” Nangong Xu’s smiled widened again, but it did not contain any element of mockery as he had displayed earlier. Instead, smile was filled with gentleness.

    Ruan Qianyu suddenly felt a fluttering sensation rising from her chest as her heartbeat began to race. Somewhere in her mind, she had a vague idea of who this girl may be. But, another part of her consciousness was afraid to be disappointed in case she was wrong. She did not know whether or not she wanted to know who this girl was.

    “Stop kidding around. This is a serious topic,” Ruan Qianyu lowered her head and her eyes darted to her feet again. She was afraid that her eyes may betray her thoughts and emotions.

    “I’m not kidding around,” Nangong Xu placed his hands on her cheeks and lifted her head upward, forcing her to make eye contact with him. His eyes were filled with earnestness and tenderness, an expression that he had never looked at her with in the past. Or had he, but she just never bothered to notice? “Still don’t know who she is?”

    Ruan Qianyu did not reply. Her throat felt too dry to speak. Her face felt burning. She was unsure whether the warmness was coming from within her own body or from the warm hands cradling her cheeks. She did not know what to reply. Her heart raced through her chest and pounded as if it wanted to jump out of her throat. She felt as if her head was spinning, as if a thousand thoughts were running through her mind, but she had no idea what any of these thoughts were.

    The next thing she knew was that Nangong Xu had leaned in to press his lips against hers.
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  11. #171
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    Ruan Qianyu’s mind went blank upon the contact, but sweetness swelled in her heart. When their lips finally parted, her cheeks were burning hot in shyness and she had trouble stopping herself from smiling happily. The classic books taught that she must be angry at this outrage of modesty but she just couldn’t help feeling otherwise.

    If she wasn’t sure before, she was now certain that Nangong Xu had been talking about her all along and that she was the one he wanted to marry. She had always been worried that Nangong Xu simply saw her as a little sister and would not ever consider her so even though it saddens her, she was also relieved that she had the privilege of shielding it with the address of ‘brother’.

    But Ruan Qianyu lost her smile when she recalled something important.

    “Oh… but… but Auntie said… she said she’d get me a husband…” She fretted.

    Before Nangong Xu could respond, laughter rang as two familiar figures emerged.

    “You silly girl,” the Queen Dowager laughed merrily. Ruan Xichou walked slightly behind her, and there was a rare smile on his face, even though it was very faint.

    “Aunt… Auntie! And, Father!” Ruan Qianyu was surprised and her face flushed even redder than before. Had they seen everything? Nangong Xu’s face was a little pink, but otherwise did not seem to be much surprised at the elders’ sudden appearance. Perhaps he already knew what they were up to?

    “I could never bear to marry you to someone else, child. When I said I’d get Xu-er a wife, and you a husband, of course I meant the both of you,” the Queen Dowager’s eyes twinkled mischievously on her triumphant face.

    “So now, shall we start arranging for the marriage already?” The Queen Dowager beamed from eye to eye, clearly delighted that everything was settled so quickly and easily.

    Her son, the King of Nanxi, is finally getting married.
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  12. #172
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    The plan was to announce the engagement of Nangong Xu and Ruan Qianyu the very next day, at the end of the morning court.

    This morning, King Nangong Xu appeared unusually attentive during the discussions in morning court. No signs of drooping eyelids or even a yawn were witnessed. He even added a few comment while the officials were arguing with each other (which he usually just sleeps through).

    Towards the end of the session, Minister Mi Xiu stepped forward.

    “Are you going to try to convince me to retaliate against Xiwu again, today?” King Nangong Xu slouched back on the throne lazily, preparing himself for another long speech.

    “Your Royal Highness, I only propose what I believe is best for Nanxi’s safety,” Minister Mi Xiu bowed as he began his speech. “There is news that King Sima Ying of Donghai has sent a proposal to the Kingdom of Xiwu for the hand in marriage of the Princess of the Northern Clouds. Originally, we had expected Xiwu and Donghai to hostile against each other since Xiwu has occupied many of Donghai’s lands during the war to reinstall Sima Ying as the King. We were had hoped that Xiwu would turn its attention to Donghai. But now, if Donghai joins Xiwu in alliance, along with Pan, then the three of them together will become an unstoppable superpower. With our current power, we can barely resist Xiwu by itself, let alone the alliance of the three of them. The Kingdom of Xiang has long been deteriorating and it won’t be long before they collapse entirely. Once Xiang goes down, the attention will be on us!”

    King Nangong Xu impatiently tapped his fingers on the arm of his throne, “So…what do you want me to do about it?”

    Minister Mi Xiu answered. “It’s obvious that Donghai is proposing the marriage to protect itself from possible further invasion from Xiwu. Why don’t we also try to protect ourselves from Xiwu and also offer an alliance in marriage?”

    “But both of the King of Xiwu’s daughters are taken,” another official blurted out. “The elder princess is already married to the King of Pan and the junior one has been given a proposal by Donghai. Are you suggesting we should fight with Donghai for the hand of the Princess of the Northern Clouds?”

    “Of course not!” Minister Mi Xiu responded back. “Competing with Donghai will only increase animosity between us and Donghai. While Donghai may be in a weakened state, the fewer enemies we have, the better. If Xiwu is willing to give their daughters to Donghai, then surely Xiwu will be willing to accept our daughters.”

    “But His Royal Highness does not have any daughters nor sisters,” another official chimed in.

    Minister Mi Xiu replied, “We may not have any daughters of direct descent from the King, but we do have daughters of royal descendants. If Your Royal Highness will award them the rank to Royal Princess, then it would mean that she would be of the same rank as if it were Your Royal Highness’s own daughter or sister.”

    “Hm…” King Nangong Xu tapped his fingers on his throne. “Any suggestions for who she should be?”

    At this point, Chancellor Ruan Xichou stepped forward and suggested, “His Highness, Prince Rui’s daughter (南宫枘), Princess Biran (南宫碧冉), is 19 years of age this year and one of the few that has not yet been engaged. She would be a good candidate given that Prince Rui is a full blood brother of His Royal Highness, King Shu (the former King) and will have the closest blood ties to Your Royal Highness.”

    “Alright then, Minister Mi, we will do as you say,” King Nangong Xu gave his approval. “You will be in charge of the formal proposal to Xiwu for the marriage alliance. Princess Biran will be awarded the title of Royal Princess Biran. Summon Prince Rui and Royal Princess Biran back from Guilin so we can have the title awarding ceremony and prepare for the wedding.”

    Minister Mi Xiu bowed and accepted his new task.

    King Nangong Xu was about to speak again about his own marriage plans until he saw Chancellor Ruan Xichou trying to make eye contact with him and subtly shaking his head. Thus, he decided to hold off on the announcement for the moment. He could always make it tomorrow.


    **************************************

    After the court disassembled, Nangong Xu quickly pulled Ruan Xichou away and asked quietly, “Why didn’t you want me to make the announcement?”

    Ruan Xichou replied, “It wasn’t good timing. Although we are elevating the rank of Princess Biran to Royal Princess, the end point is that we are trying to marry her off to a foreign kingdom for political purposes. Princess Biran is Prince Rui’s youngest daughter, one whom he treasures more than anything. Prince Rui will be more upset with the news than happy. It probably is not a good idea to announce your own good news on top of his wounds. There is plenty of time left. Perhaps we should address you and Yu’er engagement after the marriage alliance with Xiwu is done with.”

    Nangong Xu nodded. His Fifth Uncle, Prince Rui, spends most of the time in his own fief in Guilin. Therefore, he rarely saw this uncle and had no emotional attachments. Which is why he did not feel an inch of sadness or guilt to marry his cousin, Princess Biran, off to a foreign land. But, he supposed Ruan Xichou right about it being best not to hit Prince Rui's sore spot.

    Nangong Xu strolled down the sidewalks of the Great Hall, wondering where he should head to. Normally, Ruan Qianyu would show up sometime soon and drag him away somewhere. But today, she is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she thought that he would announce the engagement and was too shy to come out, afraid that the other Officials would catch sight of her?

    He continued to walk down the sidewalk, exiting the platform of the Great Hall. Perhaps he should visit his mother? But she seemed so excited at the idea yesterday that he did not want to disappoint her so quickly.

    Nangong Xu sighed. Who could he have a casual conversation with besides his mother and Ruan Qianyu? His uncle would only nag him to use the time to study more or look over more documents. Everyone else would never speak freely around him as all they see him as is the King. If only they didn’t know that he was King…

    A smile slowly crossed Nangong Xu’s lips. There was one man who in this Palace that isn’t aware of his status of King. He quickly turned his steps and headed towards the Eastern Palace.
    Last edited by S Beaver; 04-26-12 at 04:57 PM.
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  13. #173
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    While Zhou He had many questions about Lanxi, Sima Ying and Donghai, there was one thing he knew all the answers to.

    Ruan Qianyu came to visit him early in the morning to see how he was doing and to talk to him. She couldn’t stop talking about Nanxi and its beautiful sceneries which she think he should pay a visit to once he feels better, and every now and then she would talk about her brother, with whom she apparently visited those places with.

    She was so radiant with joy whenever she speaks of her adventures with her brother, it was obvious they were no siblings. In fact, Zhou He was convinced they were an item.

    Zhou He nodded as Ruan Qianyu finished another of her story. Reluctant to hear another long story, he decided to ask her something he was much more interested in.

    “So… I heard the King of Nanxi is of the same age as our Donghai’s King Ying. What is he like?” He asked casually.

    “Oh…!” Ruan Qianyu nodded, giving an odd smile. “He’s a very intelligent young man! Capable too!”

    “Hmm… but I heard that Chancellor Ruan is really the one in charge? Ah, no offense.”

    Ruan Qianyu shook her head, a troubled look on her face. Some had feared the Ruan family’s power in the Court ever since the previous King passed away. Even though her father never took power for himself, even today there were wary whispers about the Ruan family. Some, even said that the only reason the Ruan family hadn’t ousted the Nangong clan was because the Ruan household had no sons.

    “Chancellor Ruan is only in the advising position. He never eyed the throne, and the King and the Queen Dowager understands that,” Ruan Qianyu asserted.

    Her defensive stance did not escape Zhou He’s notice, but he pretended not to notice. If she’s not telling him the truth, she must have her own reasons. As of now, he sees no need to expose her.

    “I believe you,” Zhou He smiles at her gently. Ruan Qianyu beams happily in return.

    The doors suddenly opened. The maid in the room curtsied the instance she saw who it was and Ruan Qianyu jumped to her feet.

    “Brother! You are here. I was just talking to Mister Yan He… telling him about Nanxi’s best sceneries… you know,” She smiles.

    Zhou He bowed his head slightly at Nangong Xu, as he still wasn't able to get off the bed.

    "... Master Ruan. It's good to see you again."
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    Nangong Xu nodded as he waved his hand to motion acceptance of Zhou He’s bow. Judging by the way Nangong Xu waved his hand, Zhou He now even more positive that Nangong Xu was someone of royalty or high ranking official. While it is common for guests to bow to hosts out of politeness, the host usually replies in a modest fashion to acknowledge the bow. A commoner, no matter how wealthy, would not accept another person’s bow as casually and carelessly as Nangong Xu just did, as if it was natural for people to be bowing to him.

    “How are you feeling today? Better?” Nangong Xu sat down at the edge of Zhou He’s bed.

    Zhou He nodded and said, “Thank you for your concern, I’m feeling much better. It’s just that I feel a bit restless lying in bed all day. Good thing Miss Ruan was here to help me pass the time.”

    Nangong Xu shifted his line of sight to Ruan Qianyu and shook his head jokingly, “Tsk, tsk. So the first thing you do in the morning is check on an unfamiliar man? Aren’t you afraid of rumors or anything?”

    Ruan Qianyu wanted to kick Nangong Xu in the stomach but refrained from doing so in the presence of Zhou He. Instead, she decided to spite Nangong Xu and replied, “Brother Yan here isn’t an unfamiliar man. We’ve been getting to know each other for the entire morning.”

    Zhou He nearly choked on his own saliva at the sound of Ruan Qianyu calling him “Brother Yan”. No matter what the relationship between those two was, he certainly did not want to be used as a topic for bickering between them. He quickly tried to settle them down and change the topic, “Miss Ruan is only joking, of course. I am sorry for bothering you and your family for so long. Have the physicians told you how long it will take before I gain enough strength to get out of bed?”

    “A few more days, I presume,” Nangong Xu replied. “They stated that you must have practiced martial arts and have a very good base, thus you are able to heal and regain strength better than normal folks. In fact, had a normal person suffered the same injuries that you’ve had, they would have been long dead. Once you gain enough strength, I’ll have the maids take you for walks around the garden to regain your strength and ease your restlessness.”

    Zhou He nodded. It certainly would be nice to breathe some fresh outside air. Then, another question crossed his mind, “Master Ruan, if you don’t mind me asking, why do you only have maids around and not servants?”

    “Why Mr. Yan, wouldn’t you rather have pretty ladies helping you around?” Nangong Xu joked again, diverting the real answer to the question. Of course he could not have servants around, as the male servants of the Palace were all eunuchs. If Zhou He had seen them, it would be obvious where he is.

    Zhou He pretended to smile at Nangong Xu’s answer and did not pursue the question further. If Nangong Xu did not want to provide an honest answer, there must be a reason for it. There is no point in prodding the question further.

    The three of them continues to chat along and joke about trivial topics for another while before Ruan Qianyu finally says, “Well, it’s getting a bit late. I suppose I should go see…er…Mother.” Her cheeks flushed to a slight pink as she spoke.
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  15. #175
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    Chengdu - Xiwu Capital


    The Nanxi emissary Mi Xiu had just arrived in the capital with the proposal offer Princess Biran's hand in marriage to the Xiwu Prince of the Golden Spring Yue Zhong. The Xiwu officials greeted him at the city gates and escorted him to the Guest Palace.

    The attendant then informed him, "We have arranged an audience for tomorrow morning, if it pleases Your Excellency." Mi Xiu nodded in delight.

    The next morning, Mi Xiu dutifully presented his resume ahead of him. However, he was surprised that the audience was with the Xiwu Foreign Secretary Yang Tai and not the King of Xiwu. Mi Xiu cupped his hands in confusion and said, "Honoured Minister, I am under the impression that I would have the honour of seeking His Royal Highness' wise counsel? Perhaps the King is not available today?"

    Yang Tai replied, "His Royal Highness the King has deputed me to discuss the affairs between our states with Your Excellency. Anything that Your Excellency might wish to convey to His Royal Highness, you may freely communicate with me."

    Mi Xiu sensed that this was not going well, and he hesitantly announced the proposal of diplomatic marriage between Nanxi and Xiwu.

    Yang Tai looked thoughtful, then replied apologetically, "Your Excellency, I fear that we have to turn down this fantastic proposal. As Your Excellency might already know, we currently already have an ongoing alliance with Donghai, and have arranged just such a diplomatic marriage with Prince Ying."

    He paused for a moment, then continued, "Every country wishes to ally itself with strong states, both militarily and economically. For Xiwu, we already have standing bilateral ties with Pan and Donghai, and we have recently unified with Sang and Liao. We currently do not have a need to establish diplomacy with any other states."

    Mi Xiu could not help but exclaim, "But... what sort of logic is that? How would a state have a limit on the number of allies it has?"

    Yang Tai replied, "Erm, I was trying to put it delicately, but perhaps I should be more forthright with Your Excellency. Nanxi is a small state with a total population comparable to Xiwu's military strength alone, and with low grain yields and slow trade in recent years. Of course we would rather ally with a strong state like Donghai. Besides, our Prince of the Golden Spring is young, strong and dashing; would Princess Biran make a worthy consort to a mighty dragon like His Highness?"

    Mi Xiu retorted, "That is preposterous! Everybody knows that Prince Ying only recently usurped the Donghai throne, and their state is in disarray, from the capital to the countryside. Their army does not have capable leaders and no one knows how long their country can last before collapsing, why would Xiwu wish to ally with them over Nanxi?"

    Yang Tai smiled casually while sipping his tea, "Well, we think Prince Ying has the potential to be a great leader."

    Mi Xiu looked at him incredulously, but before he could object any further, Yang Tai held up his hand and said politely, "Our interview here has come to an end, and we thank Your Excellency for your precious time. Please."

    The attendants cordially escorted Mi Xiu back to the Guest Palace as he cursed under his breath, "Madness!"

  16. #176
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    Guangling, continued from Post #160

    Lady Jia gripped tightly onto a letter as she sat in the sedan that was on the way to the Pan capital of Luoyang. Unable to escape from home arrest, the day for her to depart for Luoyang arrived.

    Escorted by a 200-men strong brigade, it was clear that aside from protecting her, they were also there to prevent her from escaping. Her personal attendants were also separated from her unless during breaks. Replacing them were unfamiliar and stoic faces of stern, experienced palace matrons.

    Quietly she unfolded the letter and read it again. She had lost count of the number of times she had read it, but each time she did so she felt a heartbreaking pain. Even now she could not believe Prince Zhang had written her this letter, but the handwriting was unmistakable. There was no way she could have mistaken his handwriting, for she was always keeping him company even when he was working on administrative affairs.

    If this were what he wanted, then she would do it… At least she could make herself more useful.

    Her thoughts of distress were disrupted when the sedan came to a rude stop, and she almost fell forward and out of the sedan, had she not held on tightly to the sides of the sedan.

    “What happened?” She asked, but neither the sedan-men nor guards answered. She heard alarmed shouts and yells, and noises of brandishing weapons.

    Her chest tightens in fear. She reached out for the sedan curtain, thinking of lifting it slightly to steal a peek.

    Suddenly, the curtain was swept aside, stunning her.

    A man, with his knees bent, stared in, his eyes fixed on her face. Then he smiles.

    “You are as beautiful as they say you are, Lady Jia,” he complimented, but added, “… But your face is a little too pale. Are you scared?”

    It was then Lady Jia saw a Donghai soldier attempting to sneak on him. She wisely kept quiet and tried not to look the soldier’s way. But suddenly, a purplish blade stabbed through the soldier’s neck and she covered her mouth in shock and terror.

    “Who… who are you?” She managed.

    “Well, it’s a little difficult to talk here. Shall we go elsewhere?” The man asked. But it was clear it wasn’t really a question as he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her right out of the sedan. She couldn’t help but scream.

    She didn’t even have the chance to see what had happened to the escorting brigade. All she could register was the fact a stranger was now holding her in his arms flying through the air.

    “Ah!” She screamed, raising her fists to attack her abductor. But fingers poked at her, and she found herself paralyzed and unable to vocalise.

    “Don’t you touch the Lord,” A young woman’s voice hissed into her ear.

    The man laughed, as they continued to leap from tree to tree.

    “Now now. Don’t frighten her any more than she is now, Yushen.”

    “Yes, my Lord.” The young woman replied humbly.

    Lady Jia could only stare forward in the blurring trees in fearful uncertainty. Who is this pair of man and woman? Why are they abducting her? And where are they taking her? She feared she could never get her answers.
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  17. #177
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    After reporting to the Xiwu King of his success at brushing off Mi Xiu, Yang Tai decided to pay his friend, Internal Minister Zhang Si, a visit.

    His presence announced, the servants opened the doors to Zhang Si’s office.

    “Ah. Minister Yang. Here you are.” Zhang Si greeted.

    Having studied under the same teacher and joined government service at the same period, they were good friends and Yang Tai could easily tell that his friend was not in the best of mood.

    “Minister Zhang, what troubles you so?”

    Zhang Si sighed and gestured to a pile of scrolls on his desk.

    “What’s that?” Yang Tai asked.

    “Petitions from Zitong, Pei Cheng, Mianzhu and Ba Zhou.”

    Upon hearing the names, Yang Tai knew what the petitions were about. Jiancheng of course. Situated close to Jiancheng, Zitong, Pei Cheng and Mianzhu were frequent victims to Jiancheng’s lawlessness, but it seemed like they have now encroached on Bazhou too.

    “Ah, I see. What is it this time? The usual complaints?” Yang Tai asked casually although he knew that wasn’t the case. If it were the usual complaints, Zhang Si could easily sweep them under the rug instead of being so troubled.

    “I wish! But alas that’s not so. Do you know for the past few months, Zitong’s crime rate has spiked by as much as 30%, Mianzhu is illegally ‘taxed’ and Bazhou recently suffered an extensive property damage that will cost 3000 taels of repair fees? That wasn’t the worst – Pei Cheng now reports that Governor Wu has been… has been assassinated!”

    Yang Tai’s eyes widened. That was most atrocious. Those places have had trouble before, but nothing so serious.

    “Does the King know about this?” He asked worriedly.

    “… I dare not let him know… but how could I not? These are all serious matters that must be reported. I… I’m just worried…” Zhang Si stopped, his head hung low.

    Yang Tai knew what Zhang Si was worried about. Clearly something had gone very wrong and the King might very well punish Zhang Si for the mismanagement.

    “This is strange. Have you spoken to the Left Emissary yet?” He asked. Their main contact point in Jiancheng was always the Left Emissary, but the incumbent Left Emissary had a special meaning to Xiwu officials. She had been holding diplomatic talks with them for more than a decade, years before she was promoted to her current position.

    Unlike previous Jiancheng ‘diplomatic’ messengers who were nearly always aggressive and protective of Jiancheng’s rights, Xingye was much more amicable and willing to negotiate for a win-win deal. Her polite and intelligent approach were very different from the grunts Jiancheng used to send, and soon Xiwu officials would prefer to just talk to her instead of other messengers. Both Yang Tai and Zhang Si were very much aware that she was one of the biggest reasons why Xiwu remained patient with Jiancheng over the years despite their poor behaviour.

    “Of course I did! But she hasn’t replied to my last several letters! In fact, she hasn’t replied to any of our letters since a year ago!” Zhang Si grunted most unhappily.

    “What?!” Yang Tai was shocked. Xingye had always replied to all Xiwu letters most diligently. For her to cut off communication for an entire year was most baffling. “We… we haven’t heard anything like that…”

    “Of course you didn’t… I made sure this was covered up… What do you think will happen if the court knows that our Jiancheng correspondent has stopped talking to us?” Zhang Si sighed.

    Yang Tai swallowed thickly. Nothing good of course, he thought. The court will be startled and confused, and the officials who never liked Jiancheng will pounce at the chance to attack it. And most of Xiwu officials didn’t like Jiancheng.

    But this was a sensitive period for Xiwu which had embarked on a new foreign policy. Any internal disturbances could be disruptive to Xiwu’s plans.

    “But perhaps… conflict is unavoidable…” Zhang Si wiped his perspiring brows.

    “What do you mean?”

    Zhang Si looked at Yang Tai with a dark expression. “… In the third month of no returned communication, I sent agents to investigate... They came back reporting that the Right Emissary, with the support of Jiancheng elders, has sent the Left Emissary away to Liangzhou.”

    “I see. Even if she was away, she could still have handled diplomatic communications, but only if she was allowed to.”

    “Very astute, my friend. That is exactly the case.” Zhang Si nodded. “But the worrying thing is that Jiancheng doesn’t seem to be interested in talking to us anymore. I mean, couldn’t they just appoint someone to take over the Left Emissary’s diplomatic duties?”

    “What about Lord Jueqing? He doesn’t want to talk to us as well? That is surprising.” Yang Tai said. The Xiwu court was familiar with Jueqing, for he was the Princess of the Northern Cloud’s teacher and had defeated the court’s best warriors in proving his worth for the job. He lived in the palace for several years before leaving to assume his position as the Lord of Jiancheng some years ago. Apart from Xingye, he was probably the only other person in Jiancheng that the Xiwu court was partial to.

    “That my agents couldn’t find out. But I did receive news that he too, had left Jiancheng sometime ago and hadn’t been heard of since.”

    “What? The Lord of Jiancheng leaving his city and disappearing without a trace?” Yang Tai couldn’t believe his ears. That was another stunning news. Jiancheng lords rarely leave their lands, much less to simply disappear, for their presence holds the peace in Jiancheng, a hellish place ruled by sheer brutality.

    “I have tried sending letters to the Right Emissary instead, but he hasn’t replied either. I don’t see why, when he’s still in Jiancheng and he’s essentially the one in power now!” Zhang Si’s eyes flashed in anger.

    “… What are you going to do now?” Yang Tai asked quietly.

    Zhang Si sighed. “… One month. That’s how long I can hold off. Once that time is up and Jiancheng still refuses to respond and continues to act brazenly…” Zhang Si drifted to silence.

    There was no need for further words. Yang Tai knew the answer to it. By that time, there would only be one answer – war.
    Last edited by Guo Xiang; 05-01-12 at 11:13 AM.
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    Once Ruan Qianyu had left the room, Zhou He turned his full attention to Nangong Xu.

    “Congratulations, Master Ruan.”

    “Hmm?” Nangong Xu was surprised.

    Zhou He smiles humbly. “… Pardon my presumptuousness… but Ms Ruan is looking most radiant today, and so do Master Ruan. Might I guess that the Ruan household have some good news worthy of celebration?”
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    “Mister Yan surely has a sharp eye,” Nangong Xu smiled. He then leaned in closer to Zhou He while covered one side of his mouth with a hand, as if telling a secret, “We finally found that silly sister of mine a groom. But alas, it seems that a cousin will be getting engaged first and it’ll be rude to announce the engagement at the same time, so we’ll have to push the announcement of her engagement back for a while. But don’t worry, we will make sure that Mister Yan will be drinking the celebration wine.”

    Zhou He nodded, pretending to go along with Nangong Xu’s answer.

    Nangong Xu then quickly changed the subject, afraid that if he spoke more, contradictions may arise and Zhou He would become suspicious. “So Mister Yan, what pastimes do you care to partake in? Chess? Music? Cricket fighting?”
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  20. #180
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    Zhou He contemplates his reply. He does play chess but not so much of a past time but as a means to sharpen his mind and practice strategies. He knew how to play both the lute and the zither, but they were cultured activities his parents expected him to partake. Martial arts were a tool for him to protect his master and to exercise authority when words can’t do the job. He never had the time for cricket fighting… which sounds… juvenile at best.

    It was then Zhou He realized he didn’t know what he liked to do. His life had been pretty much routine and so focused on Donghai, Sima Ying and the Zhou family there was no room for himself.

    He thought of his past few years in Pan… even then he was preoccupied with thoughts of assisting Sima Ying and Donghai. He never really thought of what he wanted.
    “Mister Yan?”

    Zhou He looked up and smiled awkwardly at Nangong Xu, knowing that his long silence had surprised the young man.

    “… I guess… it’s hunting.” He finally said, before adding, “It’s my job.”
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