As the white foal’s mournful neighs echoed behind him, Ning Chen’s heart was like a stone, unmoving and cold.
At the end of the day, there was no one more ruthless in this world than he was, whether it was towards others or towards himself.
The black wheelchair wheeled along, clattering on the stone pavement beneath as it ploughed two unendingly long tracks behind him in the snow.
Two days later, Ning Chen arrived in the Imperial City. After leaving for three months, he was finally back once more.
In this vast city were the people he trusted, the people he feared, the people he hated and even the people who tried to kill him.
Even now, the Imperial City was still rife with the stories of his exploits. From one street to the other, the storytellers retold it a hundred times.
The marriage between Grand Xia and Zhenji ended up proceeding successfully in his absence. Thinking back on it, that princess Xia Miaoyu was, as her name suggested, proficient with the heart and brilliant with the words. She had hidden her talents extremely well up to that point. Talents whose vastness was a match for any genius.
He still remembered those pair of slender arms, reaching forth from behind him and catching that lethal arrow in a shocking display of prowess. A woman like her wasn’t one to remain silent forever; Zhenji was simply too small of a stage for her. It wouldn’t be long before this Fenghuang (TL: Chinese Phoenix) breaks her chains and soar to the sky.
The Emperor of Grand Xia wasn’t a simple man either, of that Ning Chen could be sure of , otherwise there was no way he could suppress the other formidable princes.
Within the sprawling palace in front of him was the home of that very man, the man who he truly feared, the Xia Emperor. This wasn’t the first time he thought this but the Emperor had probably wanted to kill him for a long while now.
The reason was simple: he held in his hands a technology well ahead of this era and had already demonstrated this twice.
The first one might have gone unnoticed but the second time was displayed in full view of the court. Seeing as it nearly blew up the entire Zhenqi Palace, there’s no way the Emperor didn’t notice it.
He wasn’t thinking too far ahead back then when he did that. In order to leave the palace, it was a risk worth taking and now it was time to pay the price. This seed he sowed ended up being the main reason for the dread he felt right now.
While he wanted to return to the palace, it wasn’t such a simple matter either. If he dared to openly enter the palace, he would probably never get to see Zhang Sun.
With no other option available at the moment, Ning Chen planned to hide out in Lingyan Pavilion for a couple days. Given how many people had the qualifications to enter the palace, he needed a way to bring word inside the palace.
If Qing Ning was able to make a trip outside, then it wouldn’t matter whether or not he was able to enter the palace.
By the time he arrived in Lingyan Pavilion it was already noon. Within the main hall was Li Er sitting quietly atop a stool while she took a nap, her head bobbing up and down adorably as she sat there.
It had been a while since he saw her and yet the lass hadn’t changed much, her face was as delicate, innocent and slightly silly looking as always.
Within the main hall was another girl who upon noticing the teen, suddenly jumped back in fright, her half-finished yawn forcefully shoved back down her throat.
Ning Chen beamed at the girl, that was the girl who brought him the ink and brush when he beat up Zhang Sun Yunxuan all those days ago. She was a pretty girl albeit a timid one.
Seeing that smile, her face froze as she struggled between returning the smile or crying. Choosing neither, her face turned a beet red after which she promptly turned around and went up the stairs.
Ning Chen sighed lightly; was he truly that frightening?
In that short moment, the napping Li Er began to wake up. Her dazed eyes blinked a few times as she looked at Ning Chen and stood up, her brain still addled from her sleep. She took a couple of steps forward before suddenly pausing and letting forth an “AH!” as her brain finally registered his presence.
“Li Er.” Ning Chen called out to the girl gently as he smiled at her.
Her lips scrunched up in a pitiful pout as she began crying immediately.
“There there, Li Er. Don’t cry.”
He rolled forward and gently ruffled her hair before wiping off the tears rolling down her cheeks.
With a sniffle and a snort, she calmed down and stopped crying. Yet as she did so, her downcast eyes finally noticed the black wheelchair the teen was sitting on and immediately began crying again. In an anxious voice, she asked: “What happened to your legs?”
“It’s nothing major, I just had a fall,” said Ning Chen in a soothing voice as he gave her another smile.
Having been reassured, she wiped off her tears and asked, “Have you seen a physician?”
“I have.” Ning Chen answered patiently. Not only has he seen a physician, he has already seen a Xiantian as well.
“Did the physician say when you’ll be alright?” Asked Li Er in a concerned voice.
“Soon.” If the Xia Emperor was willing to give him a Xiantian Pill, it would definitely be soon.
However, that was just as likely as him rushing northward to kill off the Mongol’s Xiantian; basically a fool’s dream.
“Young Master Ning, how have you been?”
It was then that a young lady clad in a dress as white as the moon, entered the scene and approached him. She had a tender face with crescent moons for eyes that held a faint bewitching quality though that was quickly covered up. This lady was the owner of Lingyan Pavilion, Yue Hanyi.
Having been some time since they met, he no longer harped on past matters and instead returned her greeting with his own. “I’m fine, Lady Hanyi seemed to have grown prettier since we last met.”
“Thank you for your kind praise, Young Master Ning.” Stepping forward, she smiled sweetly and said, “How has Young Master’s days in the academy been?”
His eyes narrowed at her words. The meaning behind this revelation was one that couldn’t be understated. The number of people who knew that he was in the academy weren’t that many and yet she knew.
Naturally he hadn’t expected to hide this from everyone but he definitely didn’t expect everyone to know of it either.
The sword master rushing into the palace that day was sure to alert certain people within the palace. After all, each palace had spies of their own but even so, the number of people who had spies in Weiyang Palace couldn’t be that many.
Did this mean that Lingyan Pavilion had some relationship to one of the palaces? Yue Hanyi definitely gave him another “surprise” this time.
“Lady Hanyi, it seems this one had underestimated you in the past,” said Ning Chen in a deadpan voice. That statement by Yue Hanyi was basically a declaration of her identity. Looks like the most prosperous brothel in the Imperial City wasn’t as simple as it seemed.
“Young Master is too kind.”
“Lady Hanyi, this one is slightly worn out after the long trip, is it possible to have a room prepared?”
Ning Chen abruptly halted that conversation, not wanting to continue down that train any longer. The last thing he wanted to do now was get entangled in some fight between the palaces, he had neither the interest nor time for that.
She paused for a second. She didn’t expect the teen to refuse her so flatly yet the slight unease in her heart wasn’t exposed on her face at all. With an appropriate smile, she answered, “The back hall already has a room prepared for you, Hanyi will bring you there now.”
“It’s alright, Li Er can bring me over.”
As he said that, he turned around and left for the back hall. Having stayed here for over ten days, he was naturally familiar with the back hall.
Li Er glanced at her lady for a moment before scampering off with a puzzled look. Her tiny little noggin couldn’t understand how did these two end up in a fight again.
“The room’s not bad.” Ning Chen briefly looked around the room and objectively declared.
“Not bad huh, I cleaned it myself.”
Li Er excitedly revealed her contribution with noise slightly raised into the air.
Ning Chen gave a slight smile and wheeled over to the bed. Staring at the bed filled with a teenage girl’s head adornments, he pointed at them and said, “Don’t tell me these were prepared for me as well.”
Li Er’s little face immediately blushed as she promptly removed the accessories. How could she have forgotten about that.
“These items couldn’t have been cheap, where did you get all the taels from?” Asked Ning Chen out of curiosity. A tea serving lass like her shouldn’t be able to afford all these with her pittance of a salary.
Hearing that question, her embarrassed face grew a little redder as she twiddled her thumbs. “After you were brought away by that fierce woman, Sister Yi made the decision to temporarily pass me your cut of the profits.”
Ning Chen chuckled, so that’s what happened. The little lass suddenly found herself with too much money and probably couldn’t help herself when she saw the stall full of accessories.
Seeing him not blame her, she grew even more embarrassed as she minced her words slightly, “I’ll return the money once I’ve saved enough money.”
“Haha, take your time, I’m not in a rush.”
Ning Chen said with a laugh. He really didn’t have a need for that much money. As long as she was happy, it was enough for him. Her happiness was more important than anything else after all.
Since Yue Hanyi chose to give her the profits, there was nothing much left to say. At the very least with these taels, Li wouldn’t have any money problems should she decide to leave.
With that in mind, one of his concerns had been put to rest. Glancing at the girl, an ironic smile crossed his lips. Unknowingly, this lass actually became a sugar mama of sorts.
At the side, Li Er looked at the teen with an uncomfortable look on her face as she shifted from side to side. She wanted to take her accessories and hide in a corner right this instant. “You should rest first, I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”
After she left, the smile on Ning Chen’s face slowly faded away and was a replaced instead by a cold, frightening look in his eyes. He had underestimated the spies of the palace, looks like his return had most probably been revealed already.
However, that worked out fine as well. Weiyang Palace would probably know of his return soon enough. He could simply pass the news through these spies.
With Zhang Sun’s intelligence, she should immediately understand his message.
In his blindly faithful eyes, there was nothing Zhang Sun couldn’t do. Using the words of Earth, he was her diehard fan.
Outside the main hall of Weiyang Palace, Qing Ning reached out and received the letter handed over to her by a palace maid. Giving it a glance, an astonished look crossed her face as she quickly departed for the main hall.
Looking at the Empress seated in the middle of the room, she softly addressed the regal figure, “Your Majesty, Ning Chen has returned to the Imperial City.”
Zhang Sun’s brows furrowed at that piece of news as she asked impatiently, “What’s he doing back here now, is he tired of living already?”
“Your Majesty, what about His Majesty…” she whispered in a concerned tone.
“Quiet.” Zhang Sun exclaimed in a grave tone, preventing her from continuing any further.
“Dispatch some people to watch over him, if there’s any movement, report back to me immediately.”
“Understood.” She briefly answered before hurrying out of the room to carry out that order.
Within Revelations Halls sat the Xia Emperor atop his dragon throne. As he looked over the reports in his hand, his eyes scrutinized every detail written on the parchments, taking care to ask about every single matter.
A moment later, a silhouette flickered quietly into the grand hall and respectfully knelt before the throne. “Your Majesty, Ning Chen has returned to the Imperial City.”
The Xia Emperor raised his head upon hearing that, his face calm as he said, “Dispatch some men to watch over him. Do not allow him to step foot outside of this city, if he resists, kill him.”
The shadow guard acknowledged the command and disappeared in a flash.
Within the Western Palace, the most beautiful lady in this world sat behind a set of blinds that obscured her from view. In front of her knelt a palace maid who had her head lowered in respect and fear.
“So you’re saying that the Ning Chen, who had just returned today, was the one who took away that letter?” A questioning voice rang out through the blinds.
“We found horse prints and wheelchair marks around the bandits’ campsite that day while those same tracks were also found ten days ago near where our troops died. As long as it’s not some coincidence, they were mostly likely his doings.”
Behind the blinds, a cold smile crossed her beautiful lips as she softly said, “How could there be so many coincidences in this world…seeing how many days have passed, Head Steward Liao is most probably dead as well.”
The palace maid lowered her head at that, not daring to answer her mistress.
She had previously searched in the direction that Head Steward Liao departed. Unfortunately, any traces had already been wiped out by the heavy snowstorm.
In just the short span of a minute, the three most powerful figures in the palace had each made their proclamations regarding the teen’s return. All three differed in their commands and differed even more in their motives.
Ning Chen had already guessed that news of his return had been revealed so there was no longer a need for him to hide it. After a short rest, he openly left the pavilion through the front door.
There was still some time before dusk and he wanted to make a trip to Du An Pharmacy.
Suppressing his wounds wasn’t a long term solution after all. Having seen the manager’s heaven defying skills when he saved Mu Chengxue with a couple needle pricks, he was sure that the man had some way to treat him as well.
Yet as he arrived at the pharmacy, what greeted him was the sight of someone he would’ve never expected to see here.
It was Yue Ling, the sickly girl who gave him the Ink Sword.
She still wore the same light blue dress from that day; noble yet not ostentatious. Her face was still as pale as ever, giving the smile on her face a strange sense of beauty.
At the same time he noticed her, she noticed him as well. As the pair locked eyes, they gave each other a slight smile. There wasn’t any awkwardness within that smile, neither was there any forced show of familiarity.
“Getting your sickness treated?” Yue Ling asked in a melodious and gentle voice.
“Getting my wounds treated.”
“Such a coincidence.” She sighed lightly and took her place behind his wheelchair with a natural sense of familiarity.
“Truly a coincidence.” Ning Chen nodded his head at her remark. He hadn’t expected to meet her so soon either.
Within the pharmacy, the manager had already noticed the approaching pair but paid it no heed. A moment later however, his head jerked upwards revealing a shocked expression as he recognized who it was sitting on the wheelchair.
“Brother Ning, what happened to your legs?”