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Chapter 652: Chu Qingge offers advice

    The tall and magnificent building was high enough to look down over all of West Jing city. Ning Cheng lounged on the balustrade, completely indifferent to the prosperous sight of the brilliantly lit capital beneath him. His faraway look and the acupuncture needle hanging out of his mouth made him seem preoccupied. Right now he neither resembled the Ouyang trade consortium leader or the cold and veteran official of the royal court. His icy, handsome features showed a trace of wicked indolence, the lips curved into an amused and somewhat disdainful smile. It was a complex expression that made one wonder what had piqued his interest and scorn simultaneously.

    But that was something he kept to himself.

    "So Your Highness Duke of Ning was hiding here the whole time. This Ladyship certainly had to hunt to track you down," Chu Qingge said as she suddenly ascended the tower.

    Ning Cheng only glanced at her before continuing to look down at the city.

    "Your Highness Duke of Ning, has my elder brother come to find you? I heard that Duanmu Yao's been missing for days. She's still yet to return." Chu Qingge added. The girl was originally investigating the cause of Empress Xue's death at the barracks until she suddenly left them. Since she hadn't come back, the entire case had been delayed.

    Chu Qingge was very interested in this incident and wanted to meet with Chu Tianyin multiple times to offer suggestions of her own. But her brother refused to see her. In his eyes, she was nothing more than a traitor. She was too lazy to explain her circumstances or debate. She knew she'd done the Chu Clan a grievous wrong, but they were the ones who mistreated her first, weren't they?

    Even if Chu Tianyin ignored her, she still had Ning Cheng! As long as he gave a nod, Chu Tianyin would have no choice but to agree. Even now, the two elders of the Chu Clan were still locked up in prison. Chu Tianyin was such a filial son that he'd never do anything to antagonize Ning Cheng.

    "What, you've started worrying about the Chu Clan soldiers now?" Ning Cheng looked down at her with a ridiculing smile.

    Whenever Chu Qingge saw him, it was either to ask about Long Feiye or Han Yunxi. He had long gotten sick of her by now. If he hadn't been so distracted to miss her footsteps coming up the stairs, he would've hidden himself away by now.

    "The Chu Clan soldiers?" Chu Qingge went to sit on a railing, her resplendent empress robes still paling before her naturally cold and lofty air. Even now, she held her heart high and proud. "This Ladyship is only concerned for Your Highness Duke of Ning. After all..we share our successes and failures hand in hand. As for the Chu Clan soldiers...that's for my brother to take care of."

    She rose lazily to her feet and took a step towards him, her tone self-mocking. "A married-off daughter is nothing more than spilled water, after all."

    If this was the past, Ning Cheng might even glance at Chu Qingge again and compare her to Han Yunxi. Both of them were women who liked Long Feiye after all, so there shouldn't be many differences. As an undefeated general, he would have tried to understand the women who liked Long Feiye even if he couldn't study the man himself. But now he was too lazy to spare her another glance, much less allow her to draw near. He'd never thought about women before, but he didn't understand. How could two females around the same age be so vastly different from each other?

    "Duke of Ning?" Chu Qingge called out, recalling Ning Cheng to his senses. He'd been spacing out again.

    Dammnit! Although his temper was simmering, his face was icy as ever. He distanced himself from Chu Qingge and asked, "Stop wasting words. What did you find your lordship for?"

    Chu Qingge was waiting for these very words. She got straight to the point and declared, "If my elder brother can't best Duanmu Yao, why not let me try instead?"

    "You?" Ning Cheng was surprised.

    "Mhm!" Chu Qingge nodded confidently. "I grew up with Duanmu Yao. We studied and practiced martial arts together, so I know her personality better than anyone else."

    Ning Cheng would have forgotten this detail if Chu Qingge hadn't brought it up. Women would always understand other women better than men. Thus, using a female to fight another female should be much easier.

    "What kind of scheme are you planning?" he asked.

    Chu Qingge smiled and beckoned him closer. Unfortunately, he refused her advances. "There's nobody else here. You can say it out loud."

    Another self-mocking smile rose to Chu Qingge's lips. Maybe I miss that man too much, so I keep trying to find traces of him in Ning Cheng.

    "As long as we put the blame for Empress Xue's assassination on Han Yunxi, Duanmu Yao will definitely believe it. Moreover, she'd investigate it to the end!" Chu Qingge declared.

    She resented Han Yunxi as much as Duanmu Yao hated the same woman, if not more! Moreover, Duanmu Yao could use the accusation as a pretext to tattle to her master. That would cause Han Yunxi no end of trouble even if she did have Long Feiye's protection. She'd long heard Duanmu Yao speak of how much Long Feiye respected his master. He never disobeyed his commands, and the two friends had chatted multiple times about a potential marriage that left Duanmu Yao pleased with herself. She said that her master would be the judge of that-in other words, the old man already had a mind to pair senior brother and junior sister together.

    "Duke of Ning, as long as you cooperate with my elder brother nicely and take out some evidence, Duanmu Yao will definitely believe us." When Ning Cheng didn't respond, she added, "This Ladyship is sure that Duanmu Yao will not only believe us, but add fuel to the flames. She'll make it a fact that Han Yunxi was a criminal. This way, she'll end up fighting with her while you and Chu Tianyin watch from the sidelines."

    "You're that certain?" Ning Cheng grew interested.

    He had been keeping tabs on Empress Xue's case as well. Though Long Feiye had yet to make a move, he had long suspected the man of having a hand in the murder. Aside from Western Zhou, Long Feiye was the sole enemy against the Chu and Ning Clans. Ning Cheng didn't consider Long Tianmo a threat, so the man was a nonentity in his mind.

    Western Zhou wouldn't be cruel enough to kill their own empress just to pit the Chu Clan against Celestial Mountain. Thus, Long Feiye remained the most likely suspect. Chu Tianyin had been cooperating with Duanmu Yao's private investigation while sending out his own inquiries. Unfortunately, he'd yet to find any proof yet.

    "Duke of Ning, how about...we make a bet?" Chu Qingge smiled, hiding her fear that the man would refuse.

    But Ning Cheng only nodded easily. "Fine, this is exactly what we'll do!" He immediately ordered someone to fetch Chu Tianyin while Chu Qingge hugged herself in delight.

    "Then this Ladyship won't disturb you two." As soon as she turned around, however, her face fell. Before, Ning Cheng had agreed to help her deal with Han Yunxi as long as she betrayed the Chu Clan. But after all this time, he'd been nothing but ambiguous with his promise. Even now, he hadn't formulated any plans to deal with the woman. She finally realized that he'd only been humoring her before to make her happy. Rather than wait for him to strike, it was better to take matters into her own hands. As long as he cooperated, things would be fine.

    On the surface, it looked like she was helping the Chu and Ning Clans resolve their problems, but she was really pushing Han Yunxi into a deathtrap. She trusted that Duanmu Yao would make a fuss all the way to the sword sect master's doors as soon as she "discovered" that Han Yunxi was Empress Xue's murderer. Judging by how much the old man doted on the girl, even Long Feiye wouldn't be able to protect Han Yunxi then!

    She descended the stairs step by step, the knot in her heart finally loosening a bit after two long years. She would wait. After finally climbing her way to the seat of Tianning's empress, she wasn't ready to settle for something as simple as taking Han Yunxi's life.

    Long Feiye, one day I, Chu Qingge, will have the right to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you!

    -

    Chu Tianyin arrived not long after Chu Qingge left. Unlike his sister, who rose and sat as she pleased, he fell on one knee as soon as he came. "Greetings to Your Highness Duke of Ning."

    With his father and uncle in Ning Cheng's hands and their man at his sway, Chu Tianyin had been nothing but deathly loyal before the man's face after his rescue. Ning Cheng remained sitting on the balustrade as he looked askance at the man. Without letting him rise, he said, "I haven't seen you in the barracks these past few days. Where did you go?"

    "I went to do a perimeter of Yaoshui. Long Feiye's garrison troops only number 3,000 strong," Chu Tianyin admitted openly.

    "And his other troops?" Ning Cheng finally grew serious.

    "They're all south of Yaoshui. But 3,000 men is already enough. He won't give Yaoshui Prefecture back to Western Zhou at this point," Chu Tianyin said.

    "Obviously!" Ning Cheng laughed coldly. Chu Tianyin kept his head bowed and his anger hidden deep within his eyes.

    "Has Duanmu Yao returned?" Ning Cheng asked next.

    "No news yet. The circumstances of Empress Xue's death is suspicious. No injuries or signs of illness were on the body, nor was there any hint of poison. It'll be hard to convince her that foul play was at work," Chu Tianyin said next.

    "You'll need to take care of that." Ning Cheng's words were an order that allowed no negotiation. Instead of letting up, he next went to ask, "Any news of the Shadow Clan after all these years?"

    "Duke of Ning, you have a solution for Empress Xue's case?" Chu Tianyin only probed back.

    But Ning Cheng only ignored him. "Answer your lordship's question."

    The Shadow Clan? Only Gu Beiyue's left from that, and he's my only hope! How could Chu Tianyin ever sell out the man? He was still hoping to borrow Long Feiye's strength through Gu Beiyue to thoroughly thrash Ning Cheng! From what he understood of this man, he would never let father or uncle go. Then the Chu Clan would be doomed to accepted a position inferior to the Ning Clan troops, thus making the Nether Clan subservient to the Di Clan as well.

    He couldn't accept that!

    Ever since Chu Qingge's marriage alliance with Tianning, he'd been facing off against Long Feiye and finding ways to poison and bewitch Emperor Tianhui. He'd arranged Chu Qingge's path every step of the way while father and uncle had even invited Head Elder Ling from Medical City to do something as base as inducing early labor. All of their careful planning, time, and sacrifices were done to extricate themselves from Western Zhou's imperial clan and set up a foothold of their own in Cloud Realm Continent. Tianning was supposed to be their stronghold from which they would revive the great West Qin Dynasty by assembling talents and claiming power throughout the land.

    Instead, all of their efforts went to help Ning Cheng instead. In other words, Ning Cheng had stepped on the corpses of their Chu Clan archers to become the prince regent lording over them all.

    He refused to submit, much less accept such terms!

    He knew that the Chu Clan was presently incapable of winning anything else at this point. His only motive now was to seek revenge! Even if he had to cooperate with his former enemy Long Feiye, he wanted Ning Chen off the throne and thoroughly crushed beneath his heel. When father and uncle had first discovered that the Ning Clan was the Di Clan of old, they hadn't told Gu Beiyue the news. Nor did they reveal Gu Beiyue's origins to Ning Cheng.

    Even when Long Feiye was torturing him, he never revealed Gu Beiyue's identity. He wouldn't betray the man for Ning Cheng now, either. Looking into his eyes, he stated clearly, "The descendents of the Shadow Clan all died out ages ago."

    A flash of grief flitted past Ning Cheng's eyes before he feigned indifference with a laugh. "That's truly a pity. Do you have any clues to the West Qin imperial orphan, then?"

    Translator's Note: The Chu Clan might be pitiful now, but remember that they only wanted the West Qin heir for their own ambitions, while Ning Cheng...seems genuinely set on reviving the dynasty for its royals' sake. In fact, one of the reasons Ning Cheng turned on the Chu in the first place was because they were getting too power-hungry, haha. I'm sure it'll be interesting to see how dynamics change when the truth comes to light some day...
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