Within the Imperial Physician’s pharmacy…
As Ling Xiao sifted through the mountains of remedies, he grumbled, “Ning Chen, are you sure that this will work?”
“Of course it’ll work, why else would I look for you then?” Ning Chen stuck his head out of a pile of remedies and replied.
“*cough cough* I swear I’ll suffocate to death before that.” Ling Xiao violently coughed from the pungent medicinal scent.
“Next time, don’t find me for this kind of work, I rather fight another person than do this. So much less of a hassle.”
“How crude.” Ning Chen silently raised a finger, hidden behind the mountain of remedies.
“Officer Ling, how much longer till you enter into the realm of Xiantian?”
Ling Xiao coughed once more, this time however, it wasn’t from the pungent medicinal smell but rather because of his startling words.
“Xiantian my ass, do you think that Xiantian’s are a bunch of cabbages you can find anywhere? You can’t just enter it just because you want to. According to what I know, no one within our Grand Xia is able to enter that realm except for the headmaster of Ashen Heaven Academy.”
“Then what realm are you in?” Ning Chen asked as he pulled out a piece of saltpeter.
“Houtian 8th Grade.” He replied proudly.
“I scorn you.”
Ning Chen raised his finger once more. Only 8th grade? That’s not even an appetizer for Qing Ning.
“What do you know.”
He couldn’t be bothered to argue this point. An 8th grade Houtian was already enough for him to become a general within the amy. The only reason he was this low-key was because the palace was filled with experts.
“I’m already a first grade and that’s just two days ago.”
Ling Xiao was left speechless by this revelation. He simply had no rebuttal for that. Heavens knew how much he had to suffer just to step into the first grade of the martial path. Who would’ve thought that this fellow would be able to stumble into the first grade without knowing a thing.
“That’s called luck.” He couldn’t help but say, clearly not convinced by what he heard.
“Luck is an important part of one’s abilities as well. Just look at that emissary from Biscuit Land, isn’t the next round a battle of luck.” He said while giving his sore waist a quick massage.
“I guess so, but why do you call it Biscuit Land?”
“Isn’t it obvious? It’s because each and every one of them have a face as large as a giant biscuit.” Ning Chen answered in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Brother, you’re a genius.” Ling Xiao quipped as he stuck out his thumb.
“You’re too kind.”
“By the way, why are we looking for these things.” Ling Xiao pinched his nose as he asked.
“You’ll know soon enough. Officer Ling may I ask a favor of you?”
“Can you keep what we did here today a secret? Even if it’s Zhang Sun…I mean Her Majesty, you mustn’t tell her. Just push the responsibility onto me.” He lifted his head and stared at the officer with a serious glint in his eyes.
“Why?” Ling Xiao asked, startled by this sudden request.
“Do you know about plagues?”
“If this matter is to spread around, the consequences will be worse than a plague. The greed of men knows no bounds; sometimes a person might resort to drastic measures in order to accomplish his goals.” Ning Chen said with a heavy sigh.
Ling Xiao’s eyes widened in shock but he soon nodded his head after some deliberation. The hidden meaning within Ning Chen’s words was clear to him. If what he said was true, this matter must truly be kept under wraps.
While he trusted the integrity of Ling Xiao, he naturally took some precautions as well. Even if this matter was to be exposed, it would require quite a bit of effort on the part of Zhang Sun or the Emperor in order to discern the formula.
This was why he made sure to camouflage his true target within a plethora of unnecessary remedies.
There was no certainties in this world. In order to guard against the unlikely, he had to adopt this detestable attitude towards Ling Xiao’s show of faith.
Truth be told, the sole and most important reason he did so was because he didn’t want to die. With this formula as a safety talisman, his life was guaranteed as long as he had this trump card in his head.
And so, the pair continued rummaging through the Imperial Physician’s Pharmacy for the better part of the day. By now, the pharmacy had been thoroughly ransacked. However, with Zhang Sun’s keepsake in hand and her verbal edict backing them, the physicians didn’t dare to question them.
Since she didn’t ask for it back, Ning Chen intended to make full use of her jade pendant. Not only was it able to bully anyone he saw, it functioned as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.
In actuality, it wasn’t that she forgot about this pendant. Instead, she had tacitly allowed this with his welfare in mind. She knew about his penchant for troublemaking and was worried that one day she might not get there in time to save him. At that time, this pendant would at least be able to safeguard his life.
“*cough cough* That’s about all I need, let’s leave.”
Having found what he needed, he grabbed another bunch of random materials before getting up immediately.
Ling Xiao was more than happy to oblige this command. He got up and left without saying another word.
He suddenly stopped in tracks after taking a couple of steps. He scratched his head and asked a disdainful Ning Chen. “Where to?”
“The craftsman section.”
“That far?” He replied with a reluctant tone.
“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. Nobody is forcing you to come along.” Ning Chen nonchalantly answered. You are free to leave if you have the guts to do so.
“Haha, I was just joking.”
Ling Xiao laughed bitterly. There’s no way he dared not to follow. Ning Chen was one thing but the person above him was a totally different matter.
With no time to lose, the pair rushed off to the craftsman section.
Back at Revelations Hall…
The palace maids were busy pouring wine for the officials. With a swift wave of her hand, Zhang Sun “accidentally” knocked aside her half-filled cup, staining her hand in wine. She glared at the palace maid and reprimanded her. As she did so, she quietly wrote the word “delay” behind her wine cup with her wine stained finger.
At that location, the Zhenji emissary is unable to notice her actions due to the angle he was sitting at. The Emperor, on the other hand, had a clear view of it from his dragon throne.
“Oh Emissary, how about thee increase the wager with this Emperor. This Emperor is willing to increase the stakes by 50%; Four and a half years of lease in exchange for thirty thousand warhorses on your part.”
The Xia Emperor calmly declared, stunning the gathered officials. At that moment, even the grand dukes were surprised by what they heard, throwing the Emperor a strange look each. It was already such a disadvantageous bet and yet he wanted to increase the wager even more? Wasn’t this just benefiting them even more?
The emissary’s brows jumped at the offer, he mulled over the terms for a moment but was unable to discern the Emperor’s intentions in the end.
Logically speaking, the Xia Emperor was either bluffing or was supremely confident about winning.
Zhenji’s warhorse count was slightly under forty thousand and that was after years of accumulation and purchases. Wagering twenty thousand was already pushing it for them.
While he had absolute confidence in the five behind him, he didn’t dare to rashly raise the bid.
“Xia Emperor, please allow this one some time to consider this.” He asked in a serious tone. Up till now, he still couldn’t figure out where the problem lied.
Beneath the dragon throne, Zhang Sun coldly chuckled. One’s position determined one’s field of vision. Zhenji’s narrow vision had already determined the fate of its emissary. No matter how exceptional he was, he could never overstep this boundary.
Grand Xia’s vast territories span more than 10,000 li (one li equals half a km); they were more than able to shoulder the consequences of this wager.
As the Zhenji emissary pondered, the other officials were similarly pensive as well. For the first time ever, they came to the realization that they didn’t know as much as they thought about their Emperor.
Time slowly ticked by as the Emperor patiently waited atop his dragon throne. Below, the emissary’s face had already gone through a gamut of changes as he considered the alluring proposal. Nearly five years of lease was an offer that was hard to reject yet at the same time, the price was equally as difficult to accept.
Warhorses weren’t just horses after all. Zhenji faced the same problem as Grand Xia: they weren’t able to breed warhorses at the same rate as the Mongols. An additional 10,000 warhorses could only be found within a pool of over 100,000 horses.
The ratio had always been higher and never lower than ten to one. If it wasn’t for this fact, Grand Xia would’ve never wagered such an important piece of land.
After a long deliberation, the emissary finally sighed in resignation. He had to admit that he wasn’t able to convince himself to take on this wager. Zhenji simply couldn’t compare to Grand Xia in size, such a huge price was something they couldn’t bear.
“Your Majesty, it’s ready.” It was at this moment that Ning Chen quietly came in.
Zhang Sun nodded before turning to the Xia Emperor, signalling that the preparations were complete.
“Has this emissary come to a decision?” He asked in a steady voice.
The emissary stepped out and in a grave tone, replied, “This Emperor’s proposal is very attractive however this one was sent here with a mission and is unable to change the country’s views on this matter. This one prays for your understanding.”
“If that is the case, this Emperor won’t insist on this matter, the wager is the same as before. Men, prepare the sedan, we leave for Zhenqi Palace.”
“We understand and comply.”
The officials knelt and immediately backed out of Revelations Hall, forming a grandiose procession on their way towards Zhenqi Palace.
Zhenqi Palace was a peculiar palace created by the craftsmen of the previous generation. It had four entrances on the north, south, east and west cardinals. From a glance, it looked like an ordinary palace but only those who entered, knew how far this was from the truth. Unless one had already marked the path back, it was likely that they would never find the way out.
This round was a simple one. Each side chose a gate to enter from and merely had to exit from a different gate.
The emissary dispatched one of the five confucian scholars as his representative. As for Grand Xia, this task naturally fell onto Ning Chen.
Ning Chen walked up to his chosen gate, with a giant backpack on his back. Within it were dry rations, water, jerkies and etc., all of which were borrowed from the Imperial Kitchen.
The Zhenji emissary coldly smiled at this sight, completely disinterested in this matter. It didn’t matter if he packed ten days worth of rations in there. These five diviners had already made their predictions regarding this. If everything went smoothly, their side would exit the maze within the hour.
Zhang Sun raised her eyebrows at his overstuffed backpack and in a chiding tone, said, “If you lose, you don’t have to come out.”
“If I win, will you let me out of the Palace?” He asked for the last time with a shy smile on his face.
“We can talk about it then.” She calmly replied, not stating her position overtly.
He grumbled silently in his heart, not that he was particularly disappointed in this outcome. After all, he had already expected this. Either way, he had secured a route out of the palace. By the time she finds out about this, it would be too late for her to stop him.
The two sides entered at the same time. Behind the Zhenji emissary, the remaining four scholars took up position at each of the four gates. As each of them adopted a cross pose with their hands, a burst of light shot out of their bodies and connected to each other, linking up their individual senses. With the their senses linked together, the scholar within was able to plot out a rough direction based on the changes in distance.
“The Unified Heart Technique.”
These words escaped the mouths of the stunned martial officials who had finally realized what they were up to. At the front, a knot tightened in the hearts of the Xia Emperor and his queen. They had underestimated the emissary. With these five navigating the maze, their chances of victory was slim.
“My queen, are you sure of this?”
He asked in a grave tone.
Zhang Sun blinked her eyes as her mind struggled with the possibilities. However, she firmly nodded her head as she calmed herself down with a glance at Ning Chen. With a sigh, she said, “Your consort believes in him.”
The Xia Emperor nodded his head without saying another word.
Suddenly, an earth-shaking explosion shook the palace grounds as a thunderous boom echoed from the maze in front of them.
A series of explosions rang out within the palace grounds in close succession. Before the crowd had even regained their senses, a dusty, haggard figure could be seen walking out of the western gate.
*cough cough cough*
Having struggled out of the wreckage, he didn’t have much time to fix his bearings as he walked out, coughing and patting off the dust on his body at the same time. The black powder was even stronger than expected, thank god he was quick about escaping.
Outside the palace, the crowd was still in a state of shock. Not only were the officials of Grand Xia stunned, the emissary was left speechless as well, still reeling from the earth-shattering explosion.
“Your Majesty, we’ve won.”
It was at this moment that a grin flashed across the face of Zhang Sun as she gently declared their victory.
He declared in a deep booming voice while enduring the shock in his heart. As long as they had warhorses, the men of Grand Xia wouldn’t have to fear anyone!
At the side, the emissary had paled considerably as he trembled uncontrollably, clearly unable to grasp what had just happened.
How did a guaranteed victory turn into this?
What was that explosion? Such terrifying power could’ve only come from a Xiantian expert, there’s no way another person could do so.
But, that little eunuch was definitely not a Xiantian expert. Furthermore, he didn’t sense the oppressive aura of a Xiantian expert in the palace.