Even your life isn’t enough to atone for all the sins you’ve committed. Tell me Gong Hua, what should I do?
Everyone’s heading towards death anyways, but would your death be enough to offset this hatred of mine?
Of course not! One measly life isn’t enough!
But you only have one life. After I kill you, it’ll be gone.
Even if I kill you, it won’t be enough. And after you’re dead, I won’t have anyone to take revenge on…
“Are you really not the one who wants to kill the peace offerings to start another war?”
Zhan ∙ West ∙ Paladin stood in front of the window in his study. When he heard the question, he turned around and said angrily, “Chris! Am I not the one who fought beside you in the war all those years ago? I know better than anyone, better than you, how tragic and devastating that war was! When Chakou fell, I was the one who led the remaining soldiers to escape. The Danyas weren’t the only ones chasing us back then, Nightclaw and his pack were also following our trail. Can you even imagine the tragedies I’ve seen?”
Contrasting with West’s anger, Chris calmly said , “Those things happened twenty years ago. People often forget to learn from past lessons.”
“There are some lessons you can never forget your entire life,” West replied coldly.
Looking at West’s chilly expression, Chris didn’t want to quarrel with him anymore. “I apologize. I simply can’t think of anyone else who has the power to do something like this. Prince Edward isn’t an incompetent prince. I’m afraid only a few people are capable of preventing him from searching out the truth of this matter.
Upon hearing Chris’ apology, West calmed down. “You and I command two of the three spiritmancer regiments. There’s also that guy, the one who has never experienced the disasters of war.”
Chris paused and looked at West. He asked, “Do you mean the commander of the Qi Sheng Regiment, Andrew Xi Jiang? The Qi Sheng Regiment is mainly responsible for protecting the capital, Qifeng. Even if a war were to happen, Andrew Xi Jiang would never receive orders to lead his regiment onto the battlefield. He doesn’t have any battle achievements at all… Perhaps he wants to utilize the war to weaken the power of Xialan and the Racing Flames?”
“That’s probably not the case.” West frowned and continued, “His sons are all in the military. One of them, Anselo, is a spiritmancer you’ve personally praised before. If a war doesn’t happen, Anselo would never rise to the rank of Xi Jiang until his father dies. Not to mention, the process of obtaining a medal is strictly-regulated these days. Even if he’s a War Marshal, he would never earn a higher title if he doesn’t obtain any battle achievements.”
Doesn’t the same apply to Owen? Chris did not voice out the thought. It was for this reason that he suspected West of wanting to start a war. Without war, soldiers had no way of obtaining any achievements. Without achievements, rising to the military rank of Xi Jiang or obtaining a title higher than War Marshal was impossible.
Owen was in the same situation as Anselo: both could only wait until their fathers retired before they themselves could rise to the rank of Xi Jiang by becoming the new commanders of their respective regiments. However, even then, it’d still be impossible for them to be receive titles higher than War Marshal.
Although West treated his son harshly on the outside, Chris understood how he really felt on the inside. West didn’t love Owen any less than he loved Mila; he was only expressing his love in a different way.
West furrowed his brows and pondered the situation. “The Danyas are matchless in their swiftness and ferocity. Even though they don’t have any spiritmancers or spirit charmers, their inherently strong physiques more than make up for that deficit. Their only weakness is their food shortages. However, they live and subsist off of war. What they don’t have they can obtain by plundering. But that isn’t the biggest problem…”
“If another war starts between our two countries, would we be able to win again?” Chris murmured.
“We both know the answer to that question!” West continued a bit angrily, “No one knows better than us the real reason why the Danyas haven’t started another war these twenty years! If they hadn’t been scared out of their wits back then, why would those belligerent Danyas be willing to maintain peace for these twenty years!”
“The Danyas weren’t the only ones scared out of their wits,” Chris said simply. “I was also scared out of my wits.”
If someone else had heard Chris, they definitely would have thought he was telling a joke. How could there have been anything that could’ve scared the calm and collected Commander Chris out of his wits?
However, West knew the man was telling the truth. He said seriously, “If another war starts, scaring the Danyas out of their wits again would be impossible as we don’t have…”
West trailed off. He didn’t know what words he should use to describe…her.
“Gong Hua.” Chris finished the other’s sentence and added, “Even if you’re scared of her, don’t avoid her name. The Danyas were so afraid of her power that they haven’t invaded us for twenty years. They’re terrified of coming across her again…her power was that dreadful.”
“It’s fortunate that they don’t know we’ve lost Gong Hua,” West replied, but felt something was off. “Are you regretting the fact that you agreed to her execution?”
“No!” Chris immediately shook his head and refuted the claim. “I never approved of using her powers back then. It’s the same now. That sort of power shouldn’t be controlled by anyone.”
“If Owen hadn’t brought Gong Hua before me, the entire Racing Flames would’ve been annihilated. The Xialan Regiment wouldn’t have fared any better!” The Owen West mentioned obviously wasn’t his son, but an old friend who had already passed away.
Chris quieted when he heard West. He couldn’t deny that if it hadn’t been for Gong Hua, Zhan Yan might have fallen into Danya’s hands… No, it would be more accurate to say that the entire continent of Xi Zong would have suffered devastating losses. The way the Danyas had been fighting back then, it didn’t seem like they would have quietly returned home after defeating Zhan Yan.
Gong Hua had only slaughtered around ten thousand Danyas. For a continental war, that number wasn’t enough to turn the war in Zhan Yan’s favor. When the war had first started, the Racing Flames had lost sixty thousand soldiers. Compared to that, Gong Hua’s ten thousand wasn’t a large number at all. Despite that, the most important thing Gong Hua had done was plant the seed of fear in the Danyas’ hearts.
For soldiers to march forward fearlessly and slaughter their enemies, their enemies had to be at least entities they could defeat, not an evil spirit who was cleaning up the battlefield like she was merely weeding the yard.
Even if Chris hadn’t approved of using Gong Hua’s powers, he had stayed silent when West had sent her onto the battlefield. In a way, that had been tacit approval. If Gong Hua were to be sent onto the battlefield, then thousands, or even tens of thousands of soldiers could be saved from dying. In war, that number was a lure that a general of an army couldn’t ignore.
“I don’t want another war, Chris. The fact that I’m in the pro-war faction is only a front for the public,” West said quietly. “Even if Owen never obtains any battle achievements or receives any higher ranks or titles, at least that’s better than sending him to die on the battlefield. The Danyas aren’t easy opponents. Not to mention, Dashi and Yi Shuang lies to our west and north. Much of Dashi is covered with deserts, and Yi Shuang is permanently covered with snow. They covet the fertile Old Zhan Plains like an eagle eyeing a fat rabbit. Even if we manage to defeat the Danyas again, Dashi and Yi Shuang might decide to take advantage of the time we spend regrouping to invade.”
“Whether we want another war or not, the final decision lies in His Majesty the King’s hands,” Chris replied solemnly. “If the king doesn’t want a war, then I wouldn’t fight back even if my opponent held his sword up to my neck. However, if the king declares war, then as a solider, it’s my duty to become his sword and cut down his enemies!”
“Your stubborn views will attract you a horde of enemies!” West replied as he shook his head.
Chris smiled in response. “My duty is to become the king’s sword. As for whether it’s an appropriate time for war, that’s your duty to explain to the king.”
“Well, what an easy job you chose!” West said irritably. “If Andrew ever comes to challenge me, you better remember to mention that you’re supporting me.”
Chris smiled and said, “Why would that be a problem? Since when have I not supported you? If you really are pro-war, then I might hesitate a bit. But if you advocate for peace, then I won’t hesitate at all.”
West smiled back at the other, but couldn’t help letting out a light sigh. The two of them were commanders of military regiments, yet if they had a choice, they’d rather not fight a war at all.
“Truly, it seems like the Danyas weren’t the only ones who were scared out of their wits.”
Yin Qie Zi expressionlessly walked down the hallway of the royal palace. The people he passed by couldn’t resist glancing back at him, but the real reason why they kept doing so had nothing to do with him. Before going to the palace, he had put on the extravagant outfit Owen had gifted him. At the palace, however, his outfit wasn’t nearly extravagant enough, so that definitely wasn’t the reason why he was attracting so much attention.
People kept glancing at Yin Qie Zi because those strolling alongside him were of exceedingly high status: Prince Edward, the only son of Warlord Paladin, and two others who had clamored to join them―Gawain and Anselo.
All of the most important, powerful, and predetermined successors of the country were gathered around him! It would be odd if they didn’t attract any attention walking down the halls together. However, the one who drew the most eyes among them was still Yin Qie Zi, mainly because he wasn’t a successor of the country. It was like someone had stuck a bun made of coarse grains amidst a feast of delicacies, but the coarse bun turned out to be more eye-catching than any of the delicacies.
It was a frustrating matter.
Gawain made a point of frowning at Yin Qie Zi the whole way down the halls while carrying on a whispered conversation with Prince Edward. The onlookers didn’t even have to think to figure out whom he was whispering about.
Yin Qie Zi’s expression was as hostile as it could be. Gawain and Anselo frowned at his reaction, while Owen seemed surprised that Yin Qie Zi hadn’t decided to turn around and leave. The spirit binder was definitely getting better at restraining himself.
Besides Yin Qie Zi, Edward was also making an unpleasant face, albeit inwardly. He’d been thoroughly occupied with the matter of assassins these past few days, but now these four were nosing in, wanting a piece of the fun by saying that they were going to protect the Leaves. Although they were all strong fighters, their families’ influence was definitely stronger than their own personal strength. It’d be troublesome if something ended up happening to any one of them. So how could he actually send them to act as bodyguards for the Leaves?
Yin Qie Zi was probably the only person Edward could use out of the four. At least Yin Qie Zi wasn’t an heir to an influential family; moreover, he was the strongest out of all of them. If something were to happen to Yin Qie Zi, however, Mila would probably have his head in return.
Though the other three couldn’t be used as bodyguards, they could be used to scout out the movements of the powerful factions within the country. That was one reason why Edward hadn’t outwardly refused to let them come along. The best way to learn everyone’s intentions concerning the looming war was to use these loose-mouthed nobles who were in the know about everything.
Yin Qie Zi suddenly stopped and turned around to regard the others. He said coldly, “I want to go and pick out a Leaf alone. I won’t trouble you all with following me anymore.”
So he’s losing his temper after all? Owen nodded to himself. This was how Yin Qie Zi should be!
“You―” Gawain’s expression froze. He had meant to criticize Yin Qie Zi’s rudeness, but he swallowed his words after glancing at the prince standing beside him. He didn’t want to become a target for criticism himself by yelling at someone in front of the prince.
Edward wasn’t all that surprised at Yin Qie Zi’s reaction. Although he had never seen the spirit binder lose his temper, he’d heard Owen complaining about Yin Qie Zi for a whole year. Because of that, he had thought of Yin Qie Zi as an odd person who was both unreasonable and bad tempered. After meeting Yin Qie Zi, however, he felt that the spirit binder wasn’t as unreasonable as Owen had made him out to be.
“Are you selecting a male or a female?” Anselo suddenly spoke up.
Yin Qie Zi turned to frown at Anselo. He didn’t really understand this person who only had a thoroughly average appearance. Prince Edward could be described as elegant, Owen as handsome, and even Gawain as cultured, but no praise could be used for Anselo. He definitely wasn’t ugly, just average. His eyes were constantly narrowed, as if he were smiling, but expressions rarely graced his face.
“Don’t tell me you plan on picking a female?” Gawain smiled and said, “That might not be good.”
“What’s not good about it?” Yin Qie Zi replied coldly. “Isn’t it even better to pick out a female and make Mila jealous?”
Gawain’s smile froze on his face. He hadn’t expected Yin Qie Zi to reply so bluntly, blunt enough that he couldn’t pretend this whole exchange hadn’t happened.
Owen immediately tried to smooth things over. “Gawain, this is just Yin Qie Zi’s personality! He’s made me speechless with anger many times already. Don’t mind him!”
Somewhat astonished, Anselo looked at him and asked, “You still want him to marry your sister even though he makes you angry?”
“…” Owen and Gawain wordlessly turned to stare at Anselo. They suddenly realized that this fellow’s ability to read the atmosphere was even worse than Yin Qie Zi’s.
“All right, all right!” Edward immediately smiled to defuse the situation. “In any case, the Danyas’ desire to gift Yin Qie Zi with a Leaf has nothing to do with us. There’s no reason for us to go and create trouble. Let’s go to the drawing room and discuss how we’ll protect the Leaves! Those assassins have had me racking my brains day and night these past few days. Now that I have all of you here as bodyguards, I finally feel lighter.”
“Are you joking?” Anselo shook his head and asked, “How can you actually use us as bodyguards?”
Owen and Gawain stared blankly at Anselo. They weren’t especially close to the latter. At most, they’d come across each other during formal banquets, but they’d never known that Anselo was the kind of person who blurted out anything on his mind. He didn’t seem like someone from an aristocratic family at all.
Edward, however, wasn’t all that surprised. He had gotten to know Anselo from an early age, so he was used to the rash things the latter often said. “It isn’t as simple as being bodyguards. With you guys here, those assassins will have to think carefully about whether they can afford to clash with you over the peace offerings.”
Anselo thought over Edward’s words and nodded in agreement.
Edward turned to Owen and said, “Owen, why don’t you take Yin Qie Zi to meet the Danya emissary first? Remember to come find us in the drawing room afterwards.”
Owen shrugged and replied, “All right, I’ll go over soon. Try not to discuss too many secrets while I’m not there!”
“Don’t worry,” Edward said. “We’ll discuss plenty of secrets without you around.”
Owen aimed a glare at Edward before calling to Yin Qie Zi. The two of them then headed towards their original destination.
“Who is Anselo?” Yin Qie Zi couldn’t resist asking.
“He’s the son of the commander of the Qi Sheng Spiritmancer Regiment. He doesn’t like flaunting and you rarely get to see him in public. However, he and Edward are friends of a sort. It isn’t strange for him to come to the palace and inquire about the current situation, though I really doubt he would be able to pry anything out of Edward. There’s a much bigger chance that Edward would learn something from him instead!”
Yin Qie Zi hadn’t expected Anselo to come from such an outstanding background. Anselo wasn’t dressed extravagantly; in fact, his outfit was much simpler than Yin Qie Zi’s own. He glanced at Owen and snapped, “Can’t you aristocrats at least dress like aristocrats? Even your personalities don’t seem like ones aristocrats should possess!”
“Haha!” Owen said while laughing, “We all come from military families. Soldiers don’t have to live under those long, rigid rules of the aristocracy. You’re the one who seems more like an aristocrat.”
“…I’m not an aristocrat!”
“True.” Owen looked around left and right and said quietly, “You’re a Flower. Does that mean you’re the king of the Leaves?”
Yin Qie Zi paused for a bit and replied sharply, “Where are you going with your misunderstanding? The Flower isn’t the king of the Leaves. The king is called the Leaf Lord.”
“Is that so?” Owen scratched his face and added, “But the Leaves should listen to your orders, right? You’re their guardian spirit. In the end, your position might be higher than your king’s!”
“…I don’t know if they’ll listen to me or not.” Yin Qie Zi frowned and said, “Flowers would never give orders to the Leaves.”
“Huh? Then does that mean Flowers would listen to the Leaves’ commands? Does that mean… Are you somewhat like a general? Would you follow the orders of the Leaf Lord to protect the tribe?”
“No!” Yin Qie Zi explained brusquely, “Don’t even try to use human systems to explain the Flower’s existence. The Flower isn’t human, nor is it Leaf. The Flower is a physical spirit! It’s similar to the Spirit of War you all believe in. Would your king command the Spirit of War? Would the Spirit of War command you?”
“The Spirit of War would never stand in front of me and speak to me. He doesn’t really exist,” Owen replied.
“That’s because you humans don’t really believe in His existence.”
“What?” Owen stared at him in shock.
“Jin Qi Er’s here. Be quiet.”
Owen turned to look. A tall and strong Danya was walking towards them. Who else could it be but Jin Qi Er?
The Danya walked right up to them and asked without any words of greeting, “I heard you’re joining the forces that will protect the Leaves?”
Yin Qie Zi didn’t know what Jin Qi Er was worried about and explained simply, “Don’t worry. No matter what happens, you’ll have your medicine in two weeks.”
Jin Qi Er frowned when he heard Yin Qie Zi’s reply, but he wasn’t in a position to say much more. He only emphasized somewhat roughly, “I hope you will uphold your promise.”
Yin Qie Zi nodded without hesitation. He really did plan on keeping his promise. Even if Jin Qi Er didn’t want to accept the medicine for some reason, he would still find a way to make the other take the medicine back with him to Danya.
“Then please follow me.” Jin Qi Er motioned with his hand.
“Yin Qie Zi, you can go with him. I have to go look for Edward and the others,” Owen said hurriedly.
Yin Qie Zi nodded in assent.
Owen turned around to leave but suddenly remembered something after a few steps. He immediately turned to yell, “Remember to let me see the Leaf after you choose one! Don’t run off by yourself!”
Yin Qie Zi replied with an eye-roll. He then added tetchily, “I have to go look for Prince Edward afterwards and see how he’s going to station the guards. How am I supposed to run off by myself?”
“That’s true!” Owen left, reassured by Yin Qie Zi’s reply.
Yin Qie Zi couldn’t help but shake his head. Owen was still concerned about which Leaf he was going to select. It seemed like Anselo wasn’t the only one unskilled at prying information out of other people. Owen probably delivered information free of charge to the prince all the time.
“Why are you here to protect the Leaves?” Jin Qi Er asked confusedly, before suggesting, “If possible, I can have one of my subordinates take your place.”
Yin Qie Zi shook his head and said, “You can’t do that. I’m being tested, for…” He hesitated, but continued, “For the hand of Warlord Paladin’s daughter.”
Jin Qi Er stared at him in surprise before understanding the reason behind Yin Qie Zi’s presence in the palace. He nodded, a faint smile appeared on his face. “So it’s for a woman. True, a man should fight for his woman by himself. Then I won’t probe anymore. I hope you will balance both of your tasks wisely.”
Is he still worried? Yin Qie Zi nodded his head impatiently.
Probably noticing that Yin Qie Zi was becoming impatient, Jin Qi Er ended the conversation and led Yin Qie Zi toward the prison where the Leaves were being held.
The prison wasn’t very far away; they arrived there merely after walking the stretch of the halls and making a turn.
Yin Qie Zi was surprised when he heard Jin Qi Er declare that they were there. This wasn’t the same prison as the one he had seen on the night he snuck into the palace. Their current location was a room right off to the left of the great hall. Although a dozen soldiers stood guard outside the room, it still didn’t make a great prison to keep people in.
Yin Qie Zi frowned and replied, “Nothing, I just expected them to be locked up in a prison.”
“They were kept in the prison before, but I had asked for a change of place,” Jin Qi Er explained. “There’s no reason to keep these Leaves locked up in a prison. They aren’t dangerous. Unless someone provoked them, they would never make the first move and attack. Moreover, the prison environment was horrible. It wouldn’t be good if they become sick.”
When they walked up to the door, Jin Qi Er greeted the guards stationed outside. A guard stepped up and opened the door for them. Besides an outer wooden door, an inner metal door also blocked the entrance. After both doors were opened for them, Jin Qi Er and Yin Qie Zi walked inside the room.
Once inside, Yin Qie Zi found his eyes drawn to the Leaves. Disregarding their lost expressions, Yin Qie Zi still found the Leaves less dazzling to the eyes than when they lived in the forests. Even so, he couldn’t avert his eyes from the Leaves.
The room they were in was especially spacious with ten beds placed inside. Some of the Leaves sat on the beds, others stood near the windows. The windows weren’t the normal ones with wooden frames and glass; instead, metal slats covered the openings. The Leaves were also bound by handcuffs and fetters around their wrists and ankles. The chains that linked their fetters together were short. Forget about running away, they had difficulty just moving around the room.
The Leaves didn’t react much to their arrival; some didn’t even bother to look at them.
Suddenly, a red-haired Leaf stood up and exclaimed, “It’s you!”
Yin Qie Zi recognized her as well. He had completely forgotten that one of the Leaves had seen him that night.
What was he going to do now?
Next: Chapter 10: Revenge… Is It You? Or Me?
Previous: Chapter 8: Mila… The Promise of the Past and the Present
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Proofreaders: Xuan, Sherry