Chapter 74: Bad News

Ning Chen’s uncompromising nature once again gave her wrinkles in her forehead. However, Zhang Sun chose not to push this matter too much. After all, she knew how hard it was to get this boy to budge — killing him was a lot easier.

“Since you aren’t willing to share it, this Empress won’t force you either, however, should the need arise, this Empress hopes that you will give her face and aid Grand Xia.”

Those words were already a substantial concession on Zhang Sun’s part. Knowing that, Ning Chen naturally wasn’t going to act like a heartless ingrate and reject her request. Nodding his head, he replied, “Your Majesty please be at ease, Ning Chen understands.”

Having said that, he fell into thought for a second before posing a question in a slightly unsure tone, “Your Majesty, has Grand Xia ever dispatched an assassin to kill the Lady Strategist of the Mongols?”

In his opinion, that person had a terrifying ability that could even decide the outcome of this war. The earlier they got rid of her, the better it would be for Grand Xia.

Without a doubt, he recognized the strength of her abilities however, those abilities were only limited to the intellectual realm. So as long as she wasn’t a Xiantian, killing her was always a possibility.

Zhang Sun was shocked for a second before promptly shaking her head, “We haven’t yet.”

Hearing that, Ning Chen was struck by a sudden sense of helpless annoyance. No wonder Grand Xia was in such a terrible state having lost battle after battle, he mused to himself. Their opponent had already thrown the kitchen sink at them, whether it was massacring a city or colluding with other countries, in fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if the attempted assassination of the Emperor had something to do with the Mongols. Compared to that, Grand Xia was basically static in their approach; it would be stranger if they weren’t losing!

In actuality, war was a battle of money, manpower and of course, plots.

As for what plotting entailed, it was mostly about being shameless. Ning Chen’s understanding of the word was that whoever could put aside their dignity and use any means necessary, no matter how extreme it was, that side would gain the initiative in the war.

“Then has the Third or Tenth Prince been put under house arrest?” Ning Chen asked, his heart not yet willing to give up hope.

“No.” Zhang Sun shook her head.

“…” Ning Chen finally lost all hope. The Rebellion of the Seven Cities had almost extended its claws to the Imperial City and their side still hadn’t made a move yet. While it hadn’t been proven that the two princes had a hand in the rebellion, there was definitely no disadvantages to locking them up.

“Your Majesty, honestly, now’s not the time to be picky about our methods.” said Ning Chen in the most tactful tone he could muster.

Hearing that, Zhang Sun’s expression grew darker as she nodded her head. Not doing so was an error on her part.

Ever since the Xia Emperor went missing, the Grand Dukes took over the court sessions. The head of the Grand Dukes was Duke Taishi, the head of the Confucius School; such methods were naturally beneath him.

“Ning Chen, you truly have a bellyful of sinister thoughts.” Qing Ning chimed in beside him.

“Haha.” He rubbed his nose embarrassedly. Was that so? Somehow, he felt the same as well.

Seeing that, Zhang Sun couldn’t help but let out a resigned laugh after which she promptly spoke up once more, “Ning Chen, what are your thoughts on this war?”

Ning Chen paused for a moment, giving the matter some thought before answering, “Based on the current situation, the Mongol Horde is our biggest enemy closely followed by the Eternal Night Cult after which it’s the Rebellion of the Seven Cities. However, one should always take care of the weakest first.”

“The Mongols and the Cult aren’t problems we can solve in a day or two, thus, taking care of the rebellion should be our top priority.”

“Do you have any solution for that?”

The best solution would be to quietly snuff out the Third Prince, the Tenth Prince and Prince Yue. Naturally, Ning Chen only dared to entertain such a thought in his head.

“Separate them, then take them all out in one fell swoop.” He paused for a second before continuing, “Since the seven cities didn’t revolt at the same time — in fact, three of the seven only revolted once the Emperor was declared missing — that means that they aren’t as united as it would seem. Furthermore, the one pulling the strings in the background can only influence them but not command them.”

“After all, being a Dragon’s Guard only mattered if you were alive to enjoy it. First off, we need to place the two princes and Prince Yue under our control after which we can work on the three cities who showed the weakest resolve so far. Bribes, threats, promising the position of military marquis, ensuring their lives and whatever else they want, as long as one of them cracks, we can leave the backstabbing to that guy.”

“Regarding backstabbers, one stab is more than enough. No matter who it is, traitors are the most despised people ever, at the same time however, they are also the most feared people. The moment one city betrays them, the other six cities would surely gang up on that city. At the same time, they would start to second guess each other. All we have to do then is spread some rumors. Such a tactic is the speciality of the Lady Strategist, just look at how she almost killed me.”

“Naturally, the moment they try to siege down that city, Grand Xia must step in to save it, and it must do so in the flashiest way possible to let the whole world know. Once we’ve done so, it would be hard for the other six not to waver.”

“That’s all I can think of for now, the gaps can be filled in at a later date.”

Having said all that, his throat was starting to feel a little parched. Yet when he wanted to ask for a cup of water, he found that Zhang Sun and Qing Ning were giving him an extremely strange look as if he was some kind of monster.

“What’s the matter, did I say anything wrong?” Thinking back on what he said, he couldn’t find anything sacrilegious.

“Who taught you to be such a conniving schemer?” Zhang Sun asked in a strange tone.

“Haha.” Ning Chen gave an awkward laugh before saying “An old daoist”, clearly not intending to put any effort in his excuse.

“Qing Ning, record down his words as is and send it to Duke Jingwu.” Instructed Zhang Sun as she promptly turned to look at Qing Ning without paying attention to his feeble excuse.

While Ning Chen’s words bordered on sinister and were extremely direct, it was only his words that were rough, not his logic. Extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures. As long as Duke Jingwu wasn’t some foolish hardliner, he would definitely think of a more practical strategy.

“Understood.” Qing Ning nodded her head respectfully.

“Reporting!”

It was then that a hurried knocking could be heard from the door, followed swiftly by the sound of someone kneeling. In an anxious voice, “Urgent news from the frontlines, this one beseeches an audience with Her Majesty.”

Hearing that, she immediately rose to her feet, opened the door and asked in a grave voice, “What’s the matter!?”

Looking at the bloodied soldier, his heart sank as his instincts told him to prepare for bad news.

“Reporting, Her Majesty. Last night, three assassins ambushed the army camp. Two generals have died and Marquis Taiping was severely injured in the process!”

“What!”

Suddenly beset by such bad news, Zhang Sun’s legs gave way as the days of pent-up fatigue and anxiety finally got the better of her. Eyes rolled back, she blacked out for a moment and collapsed backwards.

“Your Majesty.” Alarmed, Qing Ning immediately rushed forward to support her.

“Set off for the army camp.” She barely managed to squeeze out that last bit of instructions before passing out a second later.

At the side, Ning Chen’s expression was noticeably darker. Could there be any worse outcome than this?

Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that there would be an attempted assassination of a military marquis. The number of people who could even attempt such a feat were far and few between. Excluding the Xiantians, the remaining people who could do so could be counted on one hand.

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An hour later, an ornate carriage was seen leaving the manor of Qinghe rushing off towards the north where Marquis Taiping’s camp was located.

Three days of non-stop rushing later, the carriage finally arrived in the army camp. Despite her weakened condition, Zhang Sun immediately hopped off the carriage and left for Marquis Taiping’s tent.

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Behind her was a worried Qing Ning who was in the midst of pushing an equally worried Ning Chen. Both of them knew extremely well how much of a shock that news was for Her Majesty especially given that she hadn’t eaten much these past few days.

“Long live the Empress, may she live for a thousand years and another thousand more!” Upon her arrival, the astonished soldiers immediately knelt down and paid their respects.

“Arise.”

With her mind completely fixated on her injured elder sibling, she threw down that command in an offhand manner before promptly pushing apart the tent flaps and walking in herself.

The sight that greeted her immediately caused her legs to go weak and nearly collapse. Thankfully, Qing Ning was already prepared and managed to catch her in time.

Laying atop the bed was the sickly figure of Marquis Taiping. On his left chest was a ghastly wound that ran so deep his ribs were nearly visible. Beside him, the physician who accompanied the army, was in the midst of changing out his bandages and medication. Seeing Zhang Sun enter, the man hurriedly kneeled.

“*ugh*” As she walked up to the bed, the sight of her injured brother caused her heart to ache even more with each step she took. They had only been separated for a few days and yet the next time she saw him, he was in such a state.

“How are his wounds?”

“This lowly official has already done his best, however, the Marquis’ wounds doesn’t seem to be getting better.” As the physician answered her question, he trembled in fear.

Suppressing the grief in her heart, she forced herself to put on a steadfast front before giving out her command in a solemn voice. “Get up, and continue treating him!”

“Many thanks, your Majesty.” The physician hurriedly got to his feet. Amidst the wild thumping of his heart, he promptly resumed the treatment.

Looking at the pile of blood drenched bandages beside her brother, her heart sank even more. There was no lack of high-grade pills and poultices in the army. The fact that he hadn’t awoken yet meant that he must have injured his Heart Meridian.

Sitting atop his wheelchair, Ning Chen’s eyes narrowed as he inspected the wound, “It’s a sword wound.”

Qing Ning nodded her in agreement. There was no mistaking it, it was definitely a sword wound.

“Is it the work of the Mongol Horde?” Qing Ning asked in a doubtful tone.

Shaking his head, Ning Chen said, “Doesn’t seem like it, there aren’t many expert swordsmen in the Mongol Horde, even their Xiantian doesn’t use a sword. While the Fourth Sword is a swordsman, there’s no way someone of his level can injure the marquis to this extent. Besides, I faced his sword before, his aura isn’t like this at all.”

Hearing that, Qing Ning’s expression grew graver. If it wasn’t the Mongols, then that meant that Grand Xia had gained another terrifying opponent.

Truth be told, Ning Chen already had a suspect in mind. However, with no proof in hand, he couldn’t be sure of it either.

According to what that soldier reported previously, the three assassins were all practitioners of the sword. In this world, the place with the most sword practitioners had to be Sword City. Furthermore, the only place which had the power to assassinate a military marquis of Grand Xia was Sword City as well.

That revered Sword in Sword City once accepted three people to be his disciples. As of now, they were all at the peak of the Ninth-grade. If all three of them were to combine forces, their chances of assassinating a military marquis were high.

One mustn’t have a destructive heart but at the same time, one mustn’t lack a doubtful heart. Even if it meant that he had to sully his noble heart, this Sword City was a place he must guard against.

However, such words couldn’t be openly shared. Leaning into Qing Ning’s ears, he whispered his suspicions.

Hearing that, her eyes opened wide in shock for a second. She promptly walked over to Zhang Sun and whispered the same words into her ears.

Still in the midst of her grief, she wasn’t in the right mind to consider much. However, upon being reminded by Qing Ning, she immediately came to her sense.

More than anyone else, she knew of the origins of Sword City. Without a doubt, it had to be Sword City. Though it still wasn’t an ironclad fact, the likelihood of it being them was at least 80-90%.

Who would’ve thought that the Lady Strategist would actually be able to persuade Sword City to act and continually attempt to assassinate the important officials of Grand Xia. This was a blatant attempt at destroying the foundations of Grand Xia!

Waving her hands, she dismissed the other people in the tent, including the physician who was still trying to treat the Marquis. In a grave tone, she sent out her instructions: “Pass down the edict: Marquis Ziyang is to increase the surveillance on Sword City. Should be there any movement at all, he is to report back immediately!”

“Understood.” Having accepted her mission, Qing Ning hurriedly left the tent.

Now that her edict had been passed down, Zhang Sun was beset by another wave of fatigue. In just this month alone, Grand Xia already had to deal with enemies from all fronts. The Mongols in the north, the Cult in the west, Sword City in the east and the Rebellion of the Seven Cities which even came from within Grand Xia.

The only thing worth celebrating was that the normally disruptive Zhenji was being remarkably well-behaved. Having lost over twenty thousand warhorses, it was unlikely that they could recover from this hefty blow in time to raise troops.

With that in mind, the look she had when she turned to Ning Chen was a lot softer than before. Thankfully, the kid was still by her kid even in their darkest hour…

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