At dawn of the second day, Ning Chen left for the Imperial Palace with little Ming Yue, hands held together. As always, she had on her cloth hat that completely hid her long hair. Looking at her from a distance, she had a rather silly, charming and adorable look.
As the first light of dawn broke over the horizon, it casts its gentle warming rays over the earth and painted it in a faint shade of yellow.
Stepping through the gates of the southern palace, they were greeted by columns of forbidden guards who stood at attention from the gate all the way till Revelations Hall. Armor glittering in the morning sun, each of them exuded an oppressive aura that couldn’t have come from an ordinary man. Without a doubt, these were all elites.
Seeing that, little Ming Yue couldn’t help but tighten her grip around the teen as if she didn’t want to let him go for even a second.
As of right now, a thousand years of domination was on full display in the imperial palace. Every step one took was an immeasurably tense one for the pair –this was something no other dynasty in this world could replicate.
Even so, the pair walked straight down this razor’s edge, backs straight and heads held high.
One was the son of Grand Xia and the other the Great Khan of the Mongols. To them, their lives were expendable but their dignity wasn’t!
Finally arriving in Revelations Halls, they found the Xia Emperor seated high above the court as always in his dragon throne. By his side sat Zhang Sun and further down was where the three Grand Dukes stood. All in all, the five most powerful people in Grand Xia had gathered together in one place to quietly await the arrival of these two youngsters.
Thus they arrived, hands held together and as their silhouettes slowly came into view, the entire hall seemed to freeze up at that instant.
The eyes of Zhang Sun were filled with concern as she watched the approaching boy. Normally, she shouldn’t even be here at all as the Imperial Harem wasn’t allowed to interfere in governance by their ancestors’ decree. However, she simply couldn’t allay her fears regarding this meeting.
Of those present today, the attitude of the Xia Emperor had to be the biggest variable present; no one was able to predict what would happen with this volatile monarch on the throne.
Ning Chen turned towards the worried empress and smiled just like before, ever so shyly and ever so unnaturally.
Seeing that, she discreetly shook her head as if to signal to him to act cautiously and not be rash.
It was at that moment that the Xia Emperor finally broke the tense silence with a flat declaration: “Ning Chen, hand over the Great Khan along with the formula of that thing and we won’t pursue your past transgressions.”
“Then there’s nothing more to discuss.” He coldly declared. “Men, arrest this rebel.”
As those words were said, a pair of team leader-class shadow dragons stepped out of the shadows and closed in on the teen. From the outside, the deafening clangs of the forbidden guards resounded through the vast halls of Revelations after which the exits were all sealed up by a sea of metallic black.
Immediately the faces of every official changed, especially Zhang Sun whose grip tightened so much her nails began to bite into her resplendent chair. Yet at the same time, one could spot a hint of worry within her furious eyes.
How was this even a negotiation!
Standing in the center of the hall, Ning Chen’s expression had grown noticeably colder while around him, the temperature began to plummet as his True Qi started to skyrocket. It was as if winter itself had come to the halls of Revelations.
Seeing that, the two shadow dragons frowned in concentration. Both of them knew that this teen wasn’t going to be an easy target.
Standing opposite each other, their own cultivation bases began to discreetly activate as they prepared to strike.
Right now, the situation was noticeably stacked against Ning Chen. However, it wasn’t because the both of them were Ninth-grade experts, neither was it because there was an entire contingent of forbidden guards stationed outside, rather, it was because he didn’t have a sword.
In this entire world, no was allowed to bear a sword during an audience with the Xia Emperor except for Prince Yan.
Glancing at each other for second, the two shadow dragons finally made their move together. Ninth-grade cultivation fully activated, they struck out palms brimming with Qi.
Around them, the heavens and earth themselves seemed to pale in fright from the terrifying burst of Qi that threatened to swallow the mountains and rivers.
Ning Chen immediately retreated and with eyebrows furrowed, fully activated the Scroll of Life within him. Instantly, the frost in the air began to swirl violently around his arms. Arms revolving, he swung his arms out spread eagled and clashed with the shadow dragons.
The winds raged and yet in midst of that, there was the undeniable sound of blood dripping. Focusing their eyes, one could see the dribble of fresh blood flowing down the corners of their mouths. After a round of palm strikes, both parties ended up injured.
Atop the dragon throne, the Xia Emperor couldn’t help but narrow his eyes. Allowing the tiger to escape had created a huge danger in the end. In the past, he was merely a junior eunuch who didn’t know any martial skills yet he was now able to stand up to two shadow dragons at the ninth-grade.
Odds still stacked against him, Ning Chen didn’t wish to drag this fight out any longer. Flexing his arms, the silvery light dissipated from his palm and was immediately replaced by waves of ocean blue Qi that soon converged into a giant tsunami. It was the secret art of the Zhang Sun Clan!
“Waves of the World Converge Eastward.”
An awe-inspiring divine pressure descended on Revelations Hall, covering it in a pall of ocean blue that seemed more like a towering tidal wave.
Seeing that, the two shadow dragons didn’t dare to take any chances and activated their ultimate skills as well. Activating their skills simultaneously, a burst of green and blue exploded forth and forcefully smashed against that astonishing tidal wave.
The grounds of Revelations shook as if they had received a heavenly punishment. All around the hall, stone tiles smashed against the ornate pillars of the grand hall while the resulting fragments rained down upon the officials.
Immediately, the three grand dukes stepped out ,eyes immeasurably solemn, to shield the Emperor from the shockwaves.
Amidst the residual shockwaves, the two shadow dragons could be spotted retreating several steps backwards after which they grunted and promptly spat out a gout of blood.
The shadow dragons had actually lost that clash.
Merely retreating one step, Ning Chen spread his arms out and shielded little Ming Yue from all the stone fragments flying her ways. As he did so, he felt a sour sensation rush up his throat but he swiftly suppressed it.
It was then that a hoarse voice echoed from behind the dragon throne after which a wizened ,almost skeletal figure slowly stepped out of the shadows. Despite his pale and gaunt countenance, the man’s aura was imparted an immeasurably heavy pressure on those who looked at him.
Eunuch Pei! The true expert of the palace.
The wizened figure disappeared and an instant later, appeared once more before Ning Chen, fingers extended outwards in a simple yet unavoidable claw.
In that moment of danger however, Duke Taishi, who had made his preparations long ago, finally made his move and in a flash, stepped in between the two parties. Majestic Qi surging, he struck out with a palm strike of his own.
The halls shook once more and the both of them retreated a step, neither side gaining an advantage over the other.
“What is the meaning of this, Duke Taishi?” Came the slow, hoarse drawl of the eunuch, brows furrowing as he did so.
“I promised him before, should you make a move, I’ll be in charge of hindering you.”
At that, the old eunuch’s brows tightened even further. Truly this was a troublesome situation for him. The grand duke had a special position in the court and couldn’t be compared to any ordinary official.
“Teacher, is this your decision?” The Xia Emperor asked in a flat tone.
Turning to face his former student, Duke Taishi sighed lightly before saying, “Your Majesty, your old subordinate wishes to reiterate this, Grand Xia needs peace and right now, Ning Chen is most likely person to bring about said peace.”
Not replying to that, the Xia Emperor turned around and asked, “My Empress, what about your views?”
“What the duke says is your empress’ stance.” As she said that, she had a grave look on her face.
“Haha…very good.” The Xia Emperor coldly laughed before stepping down from his throne and walking up to Ming Yue. Briefly gazing at the girl, he continued:
“Ning Chen has rendered meritorious service by bringing back the Great Khan, he shall be conferred the title of Marquis Zhiming and shall also be conferred a manor in the Imperial City.”
It was a sudden change of tone, one that stunned almost everyone present. Whether it was Zhang Sun or the three grand dukes, all of them thought that they had misheard the Emperor.
At the side, Ning Chen’s eyebrows couldn’t help but violently twitch as the unease within him grew. No matter how he looked at it, things couldn’t be as simple as it seemed.
And yet in the midst of his disbelief, the imperial edict was promptly issued and now that everything had been set in stone, he had no choice but to believe it.
After issuing that edict, the Emperor left the court and soon Zhang Sun left as well. However, even as she left, her eyes were still filled with suspicion and concern. With a quick glance, she signalled for him to be extra careful.
Ning Chen nodded and after pondering for a moment, left with little Ming Yue in tow.
Back at Taishi manor, the grand duke stood before his study desk, face solemn as he mulled over any potential mistakes he could have missed out.
The Emperor’s change of heart was simply too sudden to be believed. One moment he was out to kill the teen and another he rewarded him with a noble title.
It was at that moment that Xia Ziyi entered the room, posture and aura exuding a regalness befitting of this righteous prince. Step after step, his footstep echoed against the stone slabs ever so slowly and ever so forcefully. Behind him, his white robes fluttered like snow while above, his hair painted a stark contrast of black and gold as it remained pinned neatly within his crown.
His face had a cool handsomeness to it that seemed all the more accentuated by his stiff as a statue back and lean build that brimmed with stalwart power.
This was the prince, whom amongst all the other princes, had the greatest chance of succeeding the throne.
“Teacher.” He respectfully bowed.
Ever since he was young, he had been under the tutelage of the grand duke; if there was anyone who deserved to be called a teacher, it was him.
The grand duke nodded and didn’t seem all that surprised by his arrival.
“Ziyi, are you able to get a read on His Majesty?”
The prince lightly shook his head and said, “Not for now, Royal Father has undergone a huge change in personality as of late. His methods are no longer the same as before and I’m afraid that other than Eunuch Pei, no one in this world is able to fathom what he is thinking right now.”
“Doubt, doubt, doubt, doubt!”
The grand duke lightly sighed and penned down those four words with a swift stroke of his brush. As he did so, he turned his bewildered gaze towards the direction of Revelations Hall and wondered, exactly what was the the Emperor thinking right now?
Back at Weiyang Palace, Zhang Sun was in a similarly bewildered mood. Eyebrows furrowed since that court session, she still couldn’t figure out the Emperor’s intentions.
Guarding her quietly at the side was her maid, Qing Ning who had also learnt of today’s happenings. Ning Chen being conferred a title should’ve ordinarily been a joyous occasion and yet as all the signs showed, this wasn’t a simple situation.
If the Xia Emperor was able to put aside his murderous instincts so easily, Grand Xia wouldn’t have ended up in this state in the first place.
The Xia Emperor today was no longer the Xia Emperor of yester years. Ever since the battle between the two dynasties, he had changed to the point where no one could recognize him.
Without a doubt, the Xia Emperor fully intended to kill Ning Chen today so why did he suddenly change his mind?
With the matter of his marquiship set in stone, a junior eunuch visited Ning Chen’s inn on the next day and led the pair to the manor prepared by the Xia Emperor.
While the title of Marquis might have sounded impressive, it wasn’t really that much in actuality. Ever since Grand Xia was founded one thousand years ago, there had been as many nobles as there were furs on a cow’s back; only the position of military marquis was worth paying attention to in this vast empire.
Stepping into the manor, he found that it had already come fully staffed with servants and wasn’t all that small either. Furthermore, he wasn’t able to spot any irregularities even after a thorough inspection of the manor grounds.
Such a manor was a dime a dozen in the Imperial City and numbered at least in the thousands.
However, the unease in his heart refused to go away. He still couldn’t bring himself to believe that the Xia Emperor would let him off so easily. There had to be something amiss here.
Having done his job, the junior eunuch left for the palace and the servants of the manor got down to their work as usual. Everything was as normal as normal can be. In fact, it was so normal, it was unnerving.
As time passed by, the unease in his heart grew stronger. No longer did he allow the little girl to leave his side, going so far as to accompany her for meals, sleep and even restroom breaks.
Ming Yue could clearly see the unnaturalness in his behavior and merely complied with his wishes as much as she could, choosing not to move about whenever possible.
Night fell and the skies darkened. Back within the Imperial Palace, the Xia Emperor could be seen slowly strolling towards the front of Revelations Hall.
That spot was the highest point in the Imperial City and allowed him to overlook every corner of his city.
“Pei Old Dog, do you think he will like the gift we gave him?” A cold smile crossed his lips as he said that.
“If Your Majesty wishes him to like it, he has to like it.”
“Hmph, we are the emperor of Grand Xia, if anyone dares to defy our will, he must die!”
As he said that, the smile on his face grew colder and gained a hint of madness that sent shivers down the spines of those who saw it.