It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!
Why does my chest hurt so much? My other injuries are more serious, but why does my chest hurt much more than all of them combined?
What do I need to do to stop it from hurting?
Would it stop hurting if I took revenge?
Revenge—Kill West, just like Cedric had planned to kill me.
It would be easy. I can use the vines to kill him in a split second.
Even if a battalion stood in front of me, I can kill them all. Like before, when Owen was still here, I only need to use the vines to kill everybody, and then take the head of the “General.”
Owen had often said to look for the General and kill him first. The battle would end faster that way… Would it also end my pain?
Where are you?
When he stepped into the study, Yin Qie Zi immediately noticed Cas. When the door shut behind him, he turned to see that Owen hadn’t followed him in.
“Don’t panic,” said Edward from behind the desk. He smiled. “I told Owen to stay outside. We’ll be discussing the strategies that we’ll employ to protect the Leaves. It’d be best if fewer people knew of our plans.”
“You don’t trust Owen, but me?” Yin Qie Zi wasn’t under the impression that he had such a good relationship with the prince.
“It’s not a problem of trust. From birth, Owen had been destined to be Warlord Paladin’s successor. Later on, he also became Commander Chris’ student.”
Edward continued, “From my current knowledge, Warlord Paladin and Commander Chris have reached an agreement on a certain subject. However, I have yet to discover what this subject entails. If they belong to the pro-war faction, then Owen would undoubtedly be pro-war as well. I have no other choice but to take precautions against him, lest holes develop in our plan to protect the Leaves.”
“I currently live at the warlord’s estate. I’m also good friends with Owen. If my guess is correct, Owen has also been trying to set me up with his sister. Despite all this, you don’t consider me as one of the warlord’s men?” Yin Qie Zi replied.
Edward smiled and stood up. He walked around the desk and stopped beside Yin Qie Zi. He indicated with a hand that the spirit binder should take a seat.
The prince picked up the intricate teapot sitting on the table. “Do you like black tea? I’ve heard from Mila that you rather like tea.”
Instead of feeling flattered from the attention, Yin Qie Zi had a great urge to escape from the room. He had a nagging feeling in the back of his mind. A normal person probably craved the chance to get into the prince’s good graces, but Yin Qie Zi would rather the prince treat him as if he were invisible. He didn’t want any branches tripping him up on his road to revenge.
While pouring two cups of tea, Edward explained unhurriedly, “Mila is a very opinionated girl. Her actions are not controlled by Warlord Paladin. Owen, however, is the opposite. If he wants to succeed the Racing Flames, he cannot go against his father.
While the prince’s eyes were on the teapot, Yin Qie Zi snuck a glance at Cas. Having not taken a seat, the assassin was standing behind the prince.
He noticed the smirk on Cas’ face. He didn’t understand why Cas was smiling, but if the assassin was smiling, then whatever was coming up would probably make him want to cry.
Edward picked up a cup of tea of took a sip. Seeing this, Yin Qie Zi followed suit and picked up his own cup. The black tea was especially fragrant and delicious, but Yin Qie Zi would much prefer it cold than piping hot. After one sip, he placed down the cup.
“I’ve heard Owen say that the quality of spirit medicine has been dropping lately. It’s practically impossible to buy a bottle of good quality stuff these days. The problem has become too serious to leave it alone. I’ve already informed my father. He has decided to initiate a full-on investigation and punish the spirit binders who have been selling low quality goods.”
Yin Qie Zi frowned at the prince’s declaration.
“You don’t agree with my decision?” Edward noticed the minute changes in the other’s mood.
Yin Qie Zi nodded and explained, “There is a market for low quality spirit medicine. Not every spirit binder is capable of producing high quality goods. Additionally, there isn’t an exact line separating spirit medicine into high and low quality. Spirit binders wouldn’t know where to start.”
Edward proposed, “What if we used your medicine as a standard?”
“Then two-third of the spirit binders in the city would be out of a job. They are incapable of making anything that would meet my standard. If you really are determined to do it, then the amount of spirit medicine on the market would drop greatly,” Yin Qie Zi said.
Edward looked more perplexed the longer Yin Qie Zi explained. He asked, “Then what would you do?”
Yin Qie Zi looked at Edward and made sure that the prince was actually asking for his advice instead of merely testing him. He answered, “I would introduce three quality tiers into the market, each with their own set price. For each tier, I would pick out three medicine and make a sample bottle as a standard to measure against. Anything that falls short of the standard would be prohibited from sales. I would also send spirit binders out for quality checks at regular periods. Spirit binders whose medicine meet the required standards should be awarded a certificate and praised for their good work.”
Edward’s eyes brightened at his suggestion.
“I’ve spoken to Owen about this before, but the problem with decreasing quality hadn’t been as severe back then. He’d probably forgotten all about it.”
Yin Qie Zi’s voice was calm, but he was a bit irritated on the inside. He and Litelli had spent such a long time investigating the situation, all for the sake of catching Owen’s interest. Who knew that Owen wouldn’t even pay any attention to him! His goal had been completed in a roundabout way, but he couldn’t help but feel that all the energy and time he had poured into the investigation were wasted.
Edward thought to himself and felt that Yin Qie Zi’s plan could work, but he still had questions. “Your plan seems like it will work. But even with the sample bottles on hand, how difficult would it be to determine the quality of a medicine?”
“It’s very easy for spirit binders to determine the quality of a medicine.” Yin Qie Zi knew the crown and military had spirit binders in their employment. The number probably wasn’t small either.
“If the plan works, then I will report back to my father about your contribution.” Edward reached for the tin box on the table and opened it to reveal the biscuits within. He pushed it toward Yin Qie Zi. “Would you like a biscuit?”
The prince had poured him a cup of tea because he’d wanted advice on how to solve the matter of spirit medicines and their decreasing quality. What did he have in mind with the biscuits?
“Your Highness, exactly what do you seek from me?” Yin Qie Zi couldn’t stand the testing way the prince had been phrasing his questions. He tried to be respectful with his tone, but Owen had always told him that people could easily see through the thin layer of respect in his words down to what he really meant.
Edward smiled. Knowing that the other didn’t like to beat around the bush, he said directly, “I want you!”
“Me?” Yin Qie Zi was a bit shocked. He asked in confusion, “Why would you want me? I’m only a commoner, what can I offer to you the prince?”
“Only a commoner?” Edward’s smile disappeared. “News of your duel with Commander Chris has already spread within Qi Feng. Everybody’s talking about how you had broken the commander’s sword and made him lose completely.”
Yin Qie Zi paused, and explained, “I made my move when he was unprepared. It wasn’t during the actual duel. That doesn’t count at all!”
Edward took a drink from his cup. “That doesn’t matter for the citizens. It counts for them. Commander Chris and Warlord Paladin have aged much over the years. What the people need now is a hero of the new generation.”
Yin Qie Zi wasn’t willing to accept the mess that the prince was trying to push toward him. He quickly offered up other names. “Owen, Anselo, and Gawain are good choices.”
Edward shook his head. “They all have fathers in high positions. Everything they achieve in their life will be attributed to their fathers’ influence. They can never become true heroes in the people’s eyes. Unless they are truly outstanding, like Commander Chris had been. The three of them are good, but not enough for people to see them differently.”
“They’ve already been taken into different spheres of influence. They aren’t suited for what His Highness has in mind,” Cas added unexpectedly.
Edward turned to look at his guard. He was surprised that the man had spoken out loud.
Left Eye never liked drawing the attention of others. If anyone beside him was present in the room, Left Eye would never speak out loud. Why did the assassin decide to do so this time? Did the topic raise his interest? Or was it the person…
At that moment, Yin Qie Zi finally understood why the prince called him here. The prince wanted to build an organization that was purely under his power. He was a stranger who had turned up from nowhere. A stranger who could become Mila’s husband in the future. To the prince, he was the ideal person. Additionally, he had “defeated” Commander Chris… He shouldn’t have broken the commander’s sword. Yin Qie Zi greatly regretted his impulsiveness back then.
Edward stared at Cas with an odd feeling in his heart, but the latter had already returned to the calm impassivity of a guard. He couldn’t guess at what the other was thinking, but Left Eye’s personality was strange to begin with. This wasn’t the strangest thing he’d done, so there wasn’t a need to make a mountain out of a molehill.
The prince turned his attention back to Yin Qie Zi. The spirit binder appeared a bit irritated. He obviously didn’t appreciate all the focus that the prince was giving him.
The other’s reaction was within Edward’s expectations. The spirit binder was a candidate to become Warlord Paladin’s son-in-law. Coming into contact with the royal family would be a must for Yin Qie Zi in the future. It wasn’t necessary for him to be surprised at the spirit binder’s reaction. Yin Qie Zi had a cold personality to start with. In Owen’s eyes, Yin Qie Zi was a stubborn spirit binder who wouldn’t listen to anyone, but Edward thought it was more accurate to describe Yin Qie Zi as gifted.
He tossed out another specially prepared lure: “We have a total of three spiritmancer regiments protecting the Zangxia Gates, the Old Zhan Plains, and Qi Feng. Our forces are strained tighter than we’d like. Lately, my father has been in talks of starting a fourth regiment under my authority.”
The king wanted to start another spiritmancer regiment. Yin Qie Zi frowned at the news. Was the king truly pro-war?
Edward smiled. “You are young, but I like you. I would like you to join the regiment that I’m building.”
“I am not an aristocrat.” Yin Qie Zi didn’t plan on getting involved in more complicated matters. Plus, he hated anything having to do with war. He didn’t want to be dragged into a war again.
“You will be one after you marry Mila.” Edward smiled, not giving Yin Qie Zi a moment to argue. He added, “But that’s all in the future. At the moment, our task is to protect the Leaves. As long as we complete our task, my father will elevate you to the title of Warrior, skipping War Solider entirely.”
Yin Qie Zi’s expression flipped, but Edward quickly explained with a smile, “Don’t think too much into it. The only reason we’re giving you a title is because you can’t marry Mila honorably without at least a title of Warrior.”
Since when had his marriage to Mila been officially settled? Yin Qie Zi was a bit puzzled. He was sure that Mila didn’t know about it either. If she knew about it, she would probably be furious rather than happy.
Yin Qie Zi asked, “Does Mila know that you and Owen have been blatantly trying to set us up? Does she know that you’re trying to rope me over to your side?”
“Uh…” Edward looked a bit sheepish. He implored, “Please don’t tell her that I’m trying to rope you over to my side. She’d be furious!”
Yin Qie Zi finally understood why Owen and the prince were good friends. Edward was too amiable and easy to approach for a prince. It was too easy for him make friends.
Was it the same for Cas? He glanced secretly at Cas.
“You seem interested in my guard.” Edward caught Yin Qie Zi’s glance. He asked curiously, “Do you know each other?”
Yin Qie Zi’s heart skipped a beat, but said calmly, “I don’t know him, but Jin Qi Er mentioned that he’s very strong.”
“Is that so? It seems I haven’t introduced you two yet,” Edward said with a smile. “He’s my guard, a very strong one. He doesn’t like using his real name, so you can just call him Left Eye. I shouldn’t have to explain why he’s called Left Eye, right?”
The prince continued with a joke, “But don’t try to ask where he got the injury on his eye. I’ve been asking him for years, but he hasn’t answered me at all. He gets angry at me all the time.”
Left Eye. Yin Qie Zi nodded and took caution to remember the name, lest he accidentally called the assassin “Cas.” As for the prince’s reminder, he didn’t bother taking it to heart. He knew that he wouldn’t ask after the origins…of the scar that he had created himself.
“Left Eye, you need to take good care of Yin Qie Zi from now on,” the prince said earnestly. “I expect good things from you two. You have to get along.”
Cas’ lips lifted in a smirk as he nodded.
Yin Qie Zi nodded as well.
Edward said to the two of them, “I’ve already given Left Eye total responsibility on the matter with the Leaves. I’ll leave it to you to discuss your next steps with him. The Leaves’ safety is tightly connected to the peace between our country and the Danyas. I hope you two can work together to complete this important task.”
Work together with Cas? Despite the strange feeling in his heart, Yin Qie Zi forced himself to say, “Don’t hesitate to give me any advice.”
Cas lifted an eyebrow. “There’s no need for that! You will do whatever I tell you to do.”
Yin Qie Zi stared at him in surprise. He’d thought that Cas would at least pretend to be amiable to avoid rousing the prince’s suspicions. He hadn’t expected the assassin to act like always and speak to him as if he were asking for a fight.
“His personality is like this. Don’t take any offense,” the prince said apologetically.
Did Cas act like this normally? Yin Qie Zi replied, “Don’t worry. I’m not the easiest person to get along with either.”
Edward felt a sense of defeat come over him when he heard Yin Qie Zi. He also had an urge to sigh at the heavens. Why did he always have to take a liking to people with strange personalities?
Yin Qie Zi followed Cas out of the prince’s study. The two of them were silent on their trek to the prison. Occasionally, people who recognized Cas as the prince’s favorite guard stopped to greet him, but all Cas gave in return was a cold nod in acknowledgement. He didn’t even bother to speak.
“Warlord Paladin wanted to test me, which is why he told me to join the current efforts to protect the Leaves.” When the two of them were finally alone, Yin Qie Zi started to explain. He didn’t want Cas to think that he had asked to join the mission himself. If Cas were to misunderstand and think that he still had lingering attachments to the Leaves, then it wouldn’t pose well for the Leaves in the prison.
“The warlord?” Cas stopped and turned around. He glanced at Yin Qie Zi from head to toe, making the latter want to squirm in discomfort. He chuckled coldly. “It was the prince!”
“The prince?” Yin Qie Zi asked in confusion, “He wanted me to protect the Leaves?”
“Would a single person like you make a difference in the efforts to guard the Leaves? If you still had your powers, then maybe,” Cas remarked harshly. He then explained, “His Highness wants to take advantage of the chance to pull you over to his side. He suggested to Warlord Paladin that you should join the mission to guard the Leaves. The reason being that the prince himself wants to test whether you are qualified to be Mila’s husband.”
Was that the case? The reality of the situation suddenly dawned on Yin Qie Zi. It made sense. The prince was the only one who seemed motivated about protecting the Leaves, whereas the warlord had only met with him once on the subject.
“The prince has gotten along well with Owen and Mila since a long time ago. They can be called childhood friends. Warlord Paladin saw no reason to question the fact that the prince wanted to test you. If you could gain the prince’s respect and support, the obstacles blocking your way to marrying Mila would be greatly lessened. During your task, you would also become closer to the prince. That’s why the warlord gave his approval.”
“I thought the prince and the warlord didn’t like each other.” Yin Qie Zi didn’t understand. A moment ago, the prince had been talking about how he would like to start up another spiritmancer regiment. He obviously didn’t see the forces under the warlord as his own.
“What nonsense!” Cas scoffed. “The prince and the warlord get along fine. Then again, the prince is friends with pretty much everyone. He’s a rather capable prince really. He has a hand in practically every circle of influence there is in the country.”
“Do you have a good relationship with the prince?” Yin Qie Zi asked curiously.
“A good relationship… Hah! I was a fool to think it was good!” Cas’ expression darkened. Disregarding whether Yin Qie Zi would understand him, he muttered angrily, “I thought he would let me go after he succeeds the throne, but all he really plans to do is control me from a different position! So what if my job changes from that of an assassin to a spiritmancer’s? When the time calls for it, I would still have to go out and assassinate someone!”
Yin Qie Zi opened his mouth to speak, but didn’t know what words he could say. No matter what he said, it would be wrong. If Cas hadn’t met him all those years ago, he would never have become an assassin. He might have become a well-known spiritmancer instead.
When Yin Qie Zi’s eyes darkened at his words, Cas knew he had successfully hurt the other. He sneered and said, “Although the prince is talented, he is still too naïve. The only proper place for assassins is the dark. If he wants me to face the light of the world, then he’ll have to pay the price sooner or later. As for you…”
Cas glanced at Yin Qie Zi. The spirit binder stood in nervous anticipation. To his expectation, Cas added harshly, “If you could forget everything having to do with Owen and Mila and forget about taking revenge for them, you might have a bright future waiting for you.”
Hearing Owen and Mila’s names fall from Cas’ lips, Yin Qie Zi was silent. No matter how much he owed Cas, the assassin wasn’t allowed to tread upon Owen and Mila’s names with disrespect.
“That’s right! The only obstacle to that future is you!”
Cas stood still at the unexpected answer.
“You’ve been provoking me at every turn. Do you really think I’m incapable of silencing you?” Yin Qie Zi pulled Nightclaw from its sheathe. The cold blade reflected silver light off Cas’ face, making the assassin narrow his eyes out of reflex.
“Hah… Then do it!”
Cas smiled and stepped forward. He rested his neck against the edge of Nightclaw. Yin Qie Zi felt his heart tighten at the sight, but it wasn’t long before a wave of anger took its place instead.
He snarled, “Do you think I wouldn’t do it? Don’t provoke me!”
Cas’ smile deepened. He leaned into the blade, the sharp edge effortlessly made a cut on his skin. His bright blood followed the edge of the blade and dripped onto the ground below.
The assassin reached out and wiped a finger on the sword. His skin came away bright red.
Yin Qie Zi gazed with widened eyes as the other licked his finger clean of blood.
Cas smiled and said, “Aren’t you going to do it? What are you waiting for? My neck is right against your sword. Only a slight cut and there won’t be any obstacles in your way. Your future would be bright and…” Cas’ voice had been calm, but then he added ferociously, “Do it! Why haven’t you cut my neck yet?”
The wound on the assassin’s neck deepened in his agitation. His blood poured out in a big gush and soon dyed the entire blade red.
Yin Qie Zi quickly sheathed his sword, preventing Cas from injuring himself any further in his frenzy.
“Are you insane?” Yin Qie Zi said furiously. He quickly pulled out a jar of healing medicine and poured its whole contents on Cas’ neck. He pulled out another jar and handed it to the assassin. “Drink!”
Cas shrugged and accepted the jar. He swallowed the liquid and felt a warmth spread within his stomach and neck. He felt the skin on his neck with a hand; all that remained of the wound was a thin scab.
“This medicine actually works!” Cas was shocked. As an assassin for the crown, he’d drank his share of spirit medicine, none of which had worked well. He examined the empty medicine jar in his hand. Rather than a “Jar,” it was more accurate to describe the container as a “tube.” He asked, “Why is the container so small?”
“I’ve concentrated the medicine. It’s easier to carry around this way.”
Cas lifted an eyebrow. He asked, “Is it all healing medicine? Do you have any that can raise speed?”
Yin Qie Zi shook his head. “I don’t have any on my person. I only carry healing medicine around with me.”
Cas said disdainfully, “Assistive medicines are the key to protecting your life during a battle!”
“Spirit medicine don’t work well on me.”
Cas understood the meaning of Yin Qie Zi’s words and smiled with ill-intention. He said deliberately, “It’s not a good idea to tell me that. I have information I can use against you. I also know your weakness. Now I even know that spirit medicine doesn’t work on you. Killing you would be too easy!”
Yin Qie Zi was silent. He then said calmly, “You don’t need to go that far if you simply want to kill me.”
He pulled out a small leather bag and handed it to Cas. The assassin stared at it in confusion before opening it to see five tubes of medicine.
Cas stuffed the bag into his pockets. “Remember to bring me some speed medicine next time.”
Although Cas’ tone of voice wasn’t the nicest, Yin Qie Zi didn’t bother arguing with him. He asked, “You don’t need any for strength?”
“I’m strong enough that I can pierce a person’s heart with just one strike. There’s no point in getting stronger. They’ll be dead whether I pierce only the front or pierce through their back. I can’t make a person die twice. So what’s the point in more strength?”
Cas had a point. Yin QIe Zi was a bit envious of the assasin’s strength. What he lacked the most was strength, but spirit medicine practically had no effect on him. Even if he wanted to augment his strength through medicine, it wouldn’t work. He could only train to improve his techniques.
“Do you need any smoke medicine?” Yin Qie Zi said snappily, “Assassins always come asking for it!”
Cas wanted to say that he had plenty of smoke medicine in stock. And he truly did have a cupboard full of the medicine. Poisonous, not poisonous, ones for escaping, ones for choking the enemy, he had a stock of every kind. But Yin Qie Zi’s medicine was truly better than most. The effect of the smoke medicine he made was probably even better.
Moreover, Yin Qie Zi’s medicine was the concentrated sort, yet the quality hadn’t dropped at all during the process. Small objects were easier to carry and hide. It was a definite plus for an assassin.
“What is it?” Yin Qie Zi glanced at Cas. He didn’t understand why the other was quiet all of a sudden.
“What kind of smoke medicine do you have?”
He was thinking about the types of smoke medicine? Yin Qie Zi rolled his eyes. He snapped, “I have every kind you can imagine!”
“Well, aren’t you talking big!” Cas said, “Then give me some of every kind!”
Yin Qie Zi felt he had just dug himself into a hole. Then again, he didn’t have any time to make smoke medicine right now. Litelli would end up making most of it. He didn’t have to worry about anything.
“Let’s go. We’ve wasted too much time. The prison is over here.” Cas pointed toward the turn in the hallway.
“The location changed again?” Yin Qie Zi asked in suspicion.
“We had to change. Assassins had broken into the previous location again. It was just a normal room. It wouldn’t be able to protect against anything. It’s all those stupid Danya’s fault. The royal prison was just fine, but they were adamant about changing it to a normal room¾”
“More assassins?” Yin Qie Zi interrupted. “Are the Leaves safe?”
“One is injured. But it’s a small injury. He’ll be fine after drinking some medicine¾”
“Leaves aren’t built as strongly as humans!” Yin Qie Zi interrupted again. He said angrily, “Even if they look fine on the outside, they might still be injured on the inside. They could experience residual pain!”
Yin Qie Zi ran in the direction of the prison. When he made the turn, he noticed the two guards standing in front of the door. He walked up to them.
As he approached them, the guards readied their weapons. If not for the fact that Yin Qie Zi appeared more like an aristocrat than an assassin, they would’ve already attacked. Assassins had been coming after the Leaves one after another; the guards were unavoidably tense.
Yin Qie Zi didn’t dare approach any closer. He didn’t want to get into a meaningless battle. He looked back and saw Cas strolling over. The assassin said calmly, “Not that one, it’s the room over there.” He pointed at a room on the opposite side.
Yin Qie Zi stared at the room in question. There weren’t any guards in front of the room. How could they keep the Leaves there?
Cas said to the guards, “This is Yin Qie Zi, a new helper His Highness has given us. Remember how he looks. Don’t do anything to offend him. The prince has taken a liking to him. If you even harm a hair on his head, you’ll have to face the consequences!”
Yin Qie Zi stared with surprise at Cas. He couldn’t believe that the assassin was joking around with the guards.
The guards, on the other hand, wasn’t the slightest bit surprised at Cas’ words. They smiled rascally, appearing radically different from the serious guards they were before. They saluted Yin Qie Zi like they were putting on a show. “Please look after us! Commander.”
“They are my subordinates. They’ve been with me for a long time.” Cas pulled out a set of keys and opened the door opposite of the guards. “The one with brown hair is Andon. The black-haired one is Wynter.”
Yin Qie Zi glanced back at the guards. Andon looked especially mischievous with his wink. Wynter was slightly more serious. Compared to actual spiritmancers however, the two of them appeared less disciplined overall. Despite that, when they’d been standing seriously in front of the door a moment ago, they didn’t seem all that different from the royal spiritmancers.
When Cas opened the door, Yin Qie Zi immediately rushed in. Cas didn’t even have time to hold him back. “Wait¾”
The second he stepped into the room, Yin Qie Zi saw something bright flash before his eyes. He quickly dodged sideways, but a silver light sped in his direction… It was the metal tip of an arrow!
He leapt sideways and rolled across the ground. An arrow shot in his direction again and he spread himself flat on the ground to avoid it. He knew if would only become harder for him to avoid the arrows if he were lying down, but he didn’t have any other choice. In truth, if not for his speed, the first arrow would have hit him.
“Stop!” Cas yelled.
Cas’ shout halted the arrows. Yin Qie Zi stopped dodging, but cold sweat streamed down his back. He finally noticed the three archers with crossbows inside the room. The three of them had shot in turns, which was why there had been no spaces between the arrows. If Cas hadn’t stopped them, Yin Qie Zi wasn’t sure if he could continue avoiding the arrows.
“You idiot!” Cas yelled. “If you want to die, then tell me! I’ll kill you right now!”
Yin Qie Zi was a bit ashamed, but the focus of his attention wasn’t on Cas or himself right now. He looked left and right. The beds were arranged in orderly rows around him. The Leaves were sitting or standing around the beds, staring at him with wide eyes. They obviously didn’t know how to react to his sudden entrance.
Yin Qie Zi looked over the Leaves. He even noticed the blue-haired Leaf from the auction in a corner. However, he couldn’t tell which Leaf was injured. He asked, “Who’s injured?”
The Leaves stared at Yin Qie Zi, their gazes finally regaining some clarity. Cas understood the importance of the situation and yelled, “Everybody get out! Go conceal yourselves outside and wait for my orders!”
Beside the archers, a fourth person stepped out from his hiding place in the closet. Another person then came out from behind the curtains, then another from underneath a bed. Counting the archers, ten people had been hiding inside the room.
When the guards walked out and closed the door behind them, Cas finally turned to frown at Yin Qie Zi. The spirit binder was still questioning the Leaves. “Who was the one injured in the last attack?”
A red-haired Leaf walked over. “It was me.”
“Hong Yan?” Yin Qie Zi stared at him in surprise. He hadn’t expected it to be Hong Yan. He quickly asked, “Did you cough up blood when you were injured?”
Hong Yan was slow to react. When Yin Qie Zi asked his question again, the Leaf quickly replied, “I didn’t. It was only a knife wound. It has already healed, so please don’t worry.”
“You didn’t experience any physical beating? None at all?”
Seeing Yin Qie Zi’s serious expression, Hong Yan didn’t dare answer carelessly. He thought back to the attack, and said with confidence, “None at all.”
Yin Qie Zi examined Hong Yan’s face. The Leaf’s complexion was better than the last time he had seen him. He finally let the tension and worry flow away. He then heard a loud laugh come from behind him.
“I’ve never seen an idiot like you who lies to themselves. I can’t believe you can say that you don’t care for the Leaves. Who are you trying to fool?”
Yin Qie Zi understood that he couldn’t fool anyone with his actions. He had wanted to control himself, but he’d reacted like a bird startled by the snap of the bow-string. When he’d killed Aquamarine with his own hands, he’d been wracked with so much pain that he’d wanted to destroy everything in his path. After that, he couldn’t stand to see a Leaf die in front of him. Otherwise, he would surely go crazy.
Hong Yan stared curiously at Cas, and then at the Flower. He’d guessed that Cas was aware of the Flower’s true identity, but before he was sure of that, the word “Flower” could not pass through his lips. If humans became aware of the existence of the Flower, then the Flower would be in danger.
“I’m going by the name of Yin Qie Zi right now,” Yin Qie Zi told the Leaves of his alias. If Hong Yan accidentally refers to him as Flower, then everything would be over.
“The name of our Lord?” Hong Yan exclaimed. He looked at Yin Qie Zi’s hair and asked in confusion, “Are you pretending to be the Leaf Lord?”
“No,” Yin Qie Zi replied sheepishly. “I’m pretending to be human. The name was something I’d come up with on the spot. It was the only name I could remember…”
“So that’s why? Did the Lord tell you his name personally?” Hong Yan said with distress, “The Lord has always carried a sense of guilt toward you. He was so tortured that he didn’t have the courage to talk to you. He felt that if he did speak with you, then he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to leave you behind. Did he give in and speak to you in the end?”
Didn’t have the courage to talk to him…
“If he did speak with you, then how could he abandon you? That isn’t like him,” Hong Yan remarked.
Yin Qie Zi quickly explained, “He’d only spoken with me before he boarded the ship.” He was surprised by the hoarseness of his own voice.
“I see.” Hong Yan asked, “What did he say?”
“He told me his name…” And what else? Yin Qie Zi was sure that the Lord had told him something else, but he couldn’t recall what it was at all.
“What kind of person is the Leaf Lord?” Cas suddenly asked.
Yin Qie Zi frowned at Cas. He didn’t understand what the assassin was trying to imply with his question. He didn’t believe that Cas was actually interested in the Leaf Lord.
Although Hong Yan thought it was a bit strange that a human would be interested in the Leaf Lord, he didn’t ask anything. He knew that the assassin was aware of Yin Qie Zi’s identity. If the Flower trusted him, then there was no need for him to be suspicious.
Hong Yan thought for a moment before replying, “The Lord is someone who makes the heart ache.”
The Leaf’s answer raised not only Yin Qie Zi’s, but also Cas’ interest. He had expected the Leaf Lord to be on the same plane as the human king. However, the truth seemed to be different… No one would say that the king was someone who made the heart ache.
Cas asked, “What makes you think that?”
“The Lord is very young, yet he must carry the future of the tribe on his shoulders. Seeing him busy about every day, my heart truly aches for him.”
“He’s young?” Yin Qie Zi was a bit surprised, but then he didn’t understand his own surprise. He didn’t even remember the Leaf Lord’s appearance, much less his age.
“Yes.” Hong Yan nodded. “When the Lord assumed his post, he was a little above a hundred years old. Even now, he isn’t over one hundred and fifty years old.”
“How is a hundred years old youn¾” Cas paused mid-sentence. He finally recalled that the person in question wasn’t human. There had been rumors that the Leaf Tribe led very long lives. He asked out of curiosity, “How old would that be in human years?”
Hong Yan smiled wryly. “Maybe around fifteen or sixteen years old.”
Cas burst into laughter at the number. “You let a kid be king?”
“We did have other choices, but…” Hong Yan looked at Yin Qie Zi. “The Flower chose Yin Qie Zi. That’s why he is the Leaf Lord.”
Yin Qie Zi stared at him in surprise. He then said in realization, “Are you talking about another Flower?”
“No, I’m talking about you.”
“You don’t remember?” Hong Yan asked in bewilderment, “How can that be possible? Flowers never forget anything. You guys should remember everything.”
Never forget anything… Yin Qie Zi clenched his fists. He snarled, “I’ve forgotten many things, so what?”
“So you don’t remember me either?” Hong Yan asked perplexedly. “I’d been responsible for bringing water to you. Although the Tree had plenty of water around it, a newborn Leaf must taste the water from all possible sources within our territory. That way, once you grow up and patrol the grounds, you can determine whether you’re still within our land by testing the water quality. Flowers would never leave their own land. They are incapable of drinking unfamiliar water.”
Yin Qie Zi was speechless. He couldn’t recall Hong Yan at all. He didn’t even know that the water he’d drank had been brought to him by the Leaves.
“I miss the old days,” said the blue-haired Leaf from the auction. “The Flowers always looked at us quietly from the side.”
“What do you mean quiet?” The Leaf beside her smiled. “I remember a Flower that especially liked to talk. Even when she was alone, she talked to herself nonstop.”
“Oh, I’ve never seen a male Flower before. When I was born, there weren’t any male Flowers left.”
“Is that so?” The blue-haired leaf said sadly, “I’ve seen two male Flowers. Both of them died while protecting us. Kui was the last Flower. After she returned to the Tree, it became weaker and weaker. It couldn’t give birth to another Flower.”
The other Leaves lowered their heads in remorse at her words. Hong Yan picked up the conversation and continued explaining to Cas and Yin Qie Zi.
“We lived for a long time without a Flower. It was a difficult period. Without the Flower’s protection, danger could be found everywhere in the forest. When Leaves became sick, we didn’t have the Flowers to heal us. In the end, selecting the next Leaf Lord became a problem as well.
“A Leaf Lord’s term can be long or short, it depends on the lord himself. If the lord is aging or wants to leave his post, then it would be up the oldest Flower to select the new lord.
“The lord at that time was already old, but he couldn’t leave his post as there wasn’t a Flower to select the next lord. When you were born, we were at our wits’ end, but the lord still conveyed his wishes to leave his post to you.”
At wits’ end…
Yin Qie Zi was silent. He couldn’t resist asking, “Did the Tree give birth to me to decide the next Leaf Lord?”
His voice came out in a burst, but the words were already out, he couldn’t take them back and say them again.
Hong Yan jumped at Yin Qie Zi’s accusation. He quickly said, “No… I don’t think that’s the case. Truthfully, we don’t understand why the Tree had given birth to you. If the Tree hadn’t, then it might have lived longer.”
Yin Qie Zi couldn’t listen to him anymore. He turned abruptly and left the room.
“Flower?” Hong Yan stared at Yin Qie Zi’s back. He felt that the latter was acting strange, but due to the fetters on his ankles, he couldn’t chase after him. He watched as Yin Qie Zi left the room and slammed the door behind him.
“Nice job! You didn’t disappoint me!” Cas laughed out loud. He remarked scornfully, “You’re more capable of hurting him than I am.”
“Hurting him?” Hong Yan repeated in shock.
Cas ignored him and left the room. He ordered the guards outside to hide themselves in the room again. He also asked the direction that Yin Qie Zi had left, before chasing after the spirit binder.
He soon found Yin Qie Zi in the garden. As it was the afternoon, the garden was filled with light, the heat rising in the air. Practically none of the aristocracy were outside viewing the flowers.
Yin Qie Zi was standing underneath a tree with his head upturned, staring at some unknown spot up in the branches.
Cas walked over and stared silently at Yin Qie Zi’s back. He waited for a while before grabbing the other’s shoulder and forcing him around.
“Did you think I would cry?” Yin Qie Zi expressed no signs of sorrow on his face. Rather, he appeared to be making fun of Cas. “I’m sorry that I’ve disappointed you.”
Cas’ expression darkened. He snarled, “I’m only here to warn you. You’re working under me at the moment. Who allowed you to leave without permission? Go back and take up your post right now!”
If Cas was determined to act like a superior, then Yin Qie Zi would act like his subordinate. He saluted the assassin. “Yes!”
Cas felt his anger rise at Yin Qie Zi’s answer. He deliberately added, “Everyone’s tired lately. I’ll give them a few days off, so you can go guard by yourself for two whole days.”
Yin Qie Zi knew that Cas was making things hard for him on purpose, but he didn’t care. “I don’t think I’m enough to guard the entire prison.”
“Of course not!” Cas scoffed. “Do you think you’re still the Gong Hua from back then? No one’s counting on you to guard the whole prison alone. I will have people work a day and night shift in turn. You have to be there for both shifts. You’re not allowed to enter the room. Stand in front of the door facing the prison and pretend to be a guard!”
Yin QIe Zi nodded and walked in the direction of the prison.
The minute Yin Qie Zi turned around, Cas’ expression darkened further. He knew that Yin Qie Zi didn’t want to see the Leaves right now, but he couldn’t allow Yin Qie Zi to stand guard inside the prison. If Yin Qie Zi were to change his mind and give up on his revenge and choose to escape with the Leaves instead, then everything would go to hell.
He couldn’t let Yin Qie Zi vanish from the face of the earth again.
“Gong Hua, I will never let you escape from me again!”
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