Imperial Calendar, Year 779, December 10th, the Council of Elders erupted into applause when Central Army Commander – Stirling and Headmaster – ZiChuan Shen Xing entered the Assembly Hall. Everyone stood on their feet and welcomed their arrival. The storm of applause lasted for several minutes, then followed by waves of cheering: “Compliments for our invincible general!”
“Long live Stirling!” Thousands of gazes were focussed on one man. Everyone came forward to shake his hand; it didn’t matter whether they knew him or not.
The Speaker of the Council, Xiao Ping spoke: “Sir Stirling, please step up to the podium! So everyone can see you! Everyone wants to hear from you!”
Being on the receiving end of such warm welcome made Stirling feel uneasy. He came here together with the Headmaster, but he ended up being the center of the attention, all the while Headmaster was being neglected. How would that make ZiChuan Shen Xing feel? Besides, there were two other higher ranking officers here as well, the Supreme Commander – Luo Ming Hai and the Inspector General – Di Lin. It would be rude if he addressed the council before them.
ZiChuan Shen Xing seemed to have detected what was troubling Stirling, he smiled to him: “Go ahead. It is not just for you. You are here on behalf of the hundreds of thousands soldiers fighting on the Far Eastern Front. You are doing this for them. You should be proud.”
Seeing all the eager faces looking his way and shouting: “Get up there! Stirling!” he gave in. Feeling slightly embarrassed, he apologized to ZiChuan Shen Xing: “Sir, pardon my manners.”
ZiChuan Shen Xing patted his shoulder with a smile, giving him encouragement.
Stirling walked up the podium, and thunderous applause resounded in the Assembly Hall. Stirling humbly lowered his head. When the applause started to die down a little, he gestured with his hand, hinting that he was about to speak. Instantly, the applause died away, leaving only Stirling’s clear voice echoing in the Great Hall: “I’m very grateful, for the invitation to attend the Council of Elders. Thank you all for giving me this opportunity!” (Another wave of applause)
“Just now, I received an incredibly warm welcome from the Council. I have to thank everyone again. I’m truly honored. However, the Council is holding me at too high of esteem. I’m but a soldier. I do not deserve such honour. If there is anything I have done, it was only possible thanks to Headmaster – ZiChuan Shen Xing’s infinite wisdom, Supreme Commander – Luo Ming Hai’s strategies and the sacrifices made by the brave soldiers fighting on the frontline. While for me, I merely didn’t make any noticeable mistakes. I’m not worthy of such praise.”
“The sky above House ZiChuan is still enveloped in a cloak of darkness. What choices do we make? War or peace? Live or die? Everything depends on the decisions you make here. You hold the future of House ZiChuan in your hands!” Therefore it is of utmost importance that we work together and make the right decision, for ZiChuan, and for the millions of people supporting us, trusting us!
“As for me, I can only say that, the army will always remain loyal to the House! It has always been, it is now, and always will be! I promise you, we’ll be ready to carry out your next order! No matter what the Council decides in the end, whether it is war or peace, we will carry it out without fail! Our army will forever be the most loyal blade in the hands of ZiChuan. We will always be ready to defend the House in times of need and spill the blood of our enemies on the field of battle!”
Stirling’s short speech had ended, but the applause and cheers continued for a long time.
Stirling wanted to step down, but the applause retained him, making him feel obliged to stay and pay tribute to the crowd. He was modest, but also proud: As a soldier, could there be an even more glorious moment than this?
While everyone cheered passionately, Luo Ming Hai watched apathetically on the side. Stirling gave him a simple nod, showing respect. Luo Ming Hai nodded back with such stiffness in his neck, it was as if he had twisted it this morning. Stirling chuckled slightly, knowing Luo Ming Hai was probably not happy about any of this. He shifted his gaze again, and found Inspector General – Di Lin.
Di Lin smiled back at him, holding up his thumb in approval. Di Lin was truly glad for Stirling. Not only because Stirling was his good brother, but also because Stirling’s success would make Luo Ming Hai suffer. In this mind: Out of the three Generals currently in command of a large army, he already blackmailed Fang Jin to side with him. Now with the rise of Stirling, Luo Ming Hai only had Ming Hui Left on his side, not to mention Ming Hui was known for being an unreliable coward. Of course, given Stirling’s gentle nature, he would not want to actively take part in his political struggle against Luo Ming Hai, but at the very least, Stirling would remain neutral. If the situation did escalate in the future, and Stirling was forced to make a choice, Di Lin was certain that he would choose his.
Who would have thought, that he had somehow gained the upper hand in the Army?
An idea popped into his head: Why don’t I help Stirling take the position of Supreme Commander from Luo Ming Hai? It is not impossible. Stirling has the reputation, the accomplishments to back it up and the support of the army, the council and the people. He even has Headmaster’s favour… If he succeeds, I would have dealt a fatal blow to Luo Ming Hai.
Something else suddenly caught his attention. He chuckled, thinking: “So Stirling has mastered the art of political speech as well! That was such an eloquent and passionate speech, yet he didn’t really say anything of importance. Was he advocating for war or for peace? He managed to avoid the question entirely, not offending either side. When did he become so masterful? Who taught him?”
The night dawned and today’s assembly came to an end. Stirling and Di Lin hastily left the hall, feeling relieved.
Gesturing for their escorts to leave, the duo walked casually side by side in the late autumn streets of Di Du.
Stirling exhaled: “It’s finally over!”
Di Lin smiled: “Yes, for now. There is more tomorrow. Patience, brother. I thought you were about to lose it back there. I could hear your knuckles cracking from miles away.”
Stirling laughed: “Was I? I must be looking really scary then. Those elders from the province of Locke were physically shaking. But honestly, they were getting on my nerves when they started questioning me about every little detail written in Logistic Department’s ledger. I remember one asking me: ‘Look, it says here, the Logistic Department has supplied the Central Army with fifty thousand bundles of arrows in September. Where are they now?’ I told him: ‘we used them to shoot rebels.’ And he asked me with a straight face: ‘Where, when, and who did you shoot? What were their names? Where did the arrows hit them? Were there medic reports? No? You don’t have any of the evidence. How can you proof you didn’t steal them for your own gain?’”
That was when I started shouting back: “How can I possibly ask those dead rebels for their names? What is the point of stealing fifty thousand bundles of arrows? I can’t even use them as firewood.”
Di Lin laughed: “More patience. Haven’t you heard? There is a way to tell when a genius has been born into this world: All the idiots would band together and attack him. They don’t really have anything against you per se. It is simply what happens when you are the Champion of the war favouring faction. The peace favouring faction wants to hurt the war favouring faction by hurting you, and you are letting them win by getting angry.”
Stirling had calmed down a little: “I get it now, but what does the council want? War or peace? I don’t care which, but they need to make up their mind quick! Several hundred thousand soldiers are waiting on their decision. The daily expense alone is costing almost a hundred million!”
Di Lin shook his head: “As you know, the Council has always been divided into two opposing camps, the Far Eastern Faction and the Core Region Faction. Normally, the nobles from the Far Eastern Faction hold the majority, but many of them died during the recent rebellion in the Far East. Most of their territory and wealth vanished along with them, which greatly affected their hold over the council. As a result, many of the nobles from the core region have been trying to snatch the vacant positions in the council, hoping to gain the majority. Naturally, the Far Eastern Faction is fighting back, and thus we have a stalemate! The whole situation regarding war or peace is in fact a battle for control between those two factions!” What Di Lin didn’t mention was that, it was also an important battle between him and Luo Ming Hai.
Stirling seemed to understand, asking: “Why don’t they just call for a vote? They would know the answer within an afternoon!”
Di Lin smiled: “A political warfare is no different than a real battle. Both require tactics and strategies. Calling for a vote is like entering a battle to the death! Imagine if you are in a situation where you are facing an equally powerfully enemy, will you deploy your entire army in an all out battle?”
Stirling shook his head: “I won’t. I will wait, until either the enemy shows its weakness or my reinforcement arrives. At the same time I will send out skirmish parties to distract my enemy, then hit him on the flank. Once I’m certain I have the absolute advantage that is the moment I will deploy the bulk of my army for a decisive battle.”
Di Lin nodded: “It is the same here. Both factions are trying to avoid a frontal confrontation; they are both waiting for reinforcements. Meanwhile, they are trying to win over the elders who haven’t chosen a side yet, or bribe the elders from the opposing faction; just like how you would exploit an enemy’s weakness. The whole investigation into you is basically their way of attacking the flank of the war favouring faction. Once one side is convinced that it has the absolute majority that is when it will call for a vote.”
Stirling finally understood, lamenting: “Hundreds of thousand lives, billions in military expenses, who would have thought, everything happened because of something so petty!” There was something else Stirling didn’t say: No wonder, even though we have the most powerful army on the continent, several generations of brave and wise Headmasters, and countless capable generals, towards west, we can’t defeat House Liu Feng, towards east, we can’t push back the Demons. House ZiChuan’s territory has not changed since the third Headmaster.
He looked towards Di Lin: “Brother, I have another question for you, but I’m not sure…” He hesitated.
Di Lin halted his steps, turning around towards him. The duo looked each other in the eyes; Di Lin’s gaze was so crystal clear: “You want to ask me why I advocate for war? Am I like those elders? Do I also have some ulterior motive?”
Stirling admitted honestly: “Yes.” Then protested: “But, I didn’t say anything about having an ulterior motive, you said that yourself!”
Di Lin laughed: “You can’t even be honest with your own brother. That makes me sad.”
His tone turned serious again: “The reason I’m advocating for war is because the rebels are not being sincere. They say they wanted peace, and everything was forgiven, but they wouldn’t give us a straight answer regarding any of the important questions. For example, we demanded that they hand over the traitor Lei Hong, but they kept telling us they don’t know where he is; we told them to stop harassing our supply line, they said it wasn’t their problem, and the allied army of all races was not responsible for the wrongdoings of the bandits, which was clearly a lie, since most of the bandits were part of the Rebel Army before they became bandits.”
“When we asked them: ‘since our army are holding their current position, shouldn’t the Rebel Army show their good faith and remain where they are as well?’ They gave us the excuse that their soldiers needed to return home to help with the harvest… I’m quite certain once they disband the army and send them home to every villages in the Far East, while we are still waiting here like idiots, they will already be busy recruiting and mobilizing more manpower to fight us again next year.”
“They were also saying that they wanted to create a peaceful paradise in the Far East for both the Humans and the non-Humans, but no one knew how. Who will be in charge? Will they recognize House ZiChuan’s authority? Do they still belong to House ZiChuan? They won’t give us answer to any of those questions, and therefore I don’t think they are being sincere at all.”
“In other words, the rebel’s goal for the peace talk is very obvious: They know the winter is coming, all the rivers in the Far Eastern Regions will most likely be frozen; digging trenches will be much harder. Their army is useless once they come out into the open. No matter how many men they may have, they are no match for our lancers. Their goal is to buy time, waiting for the spring to come, when the rain will soften the earth. By then our heavy cavalries will no longer reign supreme. Our hooves will get stuck in the mud like lambs waiting to be slaughtered.”
“Against a group of aggressive races like theirs, where anyone could become a soldier at a moment’s notice, killing several hundred thousand wouldn’t even tickle them. As long as they are willing, they can easily come up with several millions more. After the peace talk, we will only grow weaker. When they come at us again next year with an even larger army, and besiege Fort Warren. How are we going to stop them then?”
The words sent chill down Stirling’s spine, he asked: “So that is the first reason, what is the second?”
Di Lin continued arrogantly: “Committing treason is the worst crime of all. They cannot be forgiven! Yes, the Far Eastern Nobles may have been too cruel; they may also have been too greedy, but we must let everyone know: no matter the reason or cause, rebelling against House ZiChuan means only one thing – death! If we spare the Far Eastern Rebels today, tomorrow we will be facing the second, the third and the hundredth Far Eastern Rebellion, and soon House ZiChuan is going to crumble like the Empire of Light did, hundreds of years ago!”
Stirling shook his head: “The Far Eastern population is in the tens of millions, killing them all is impossible.”
“It is impossible. In the end we’ll have to spare some of them, but that must come after we have obtained the victory. As the victor, we can be merciful. We can show them the benevolence and kindness of House ZiChuan, and that will not tarnish the House’s honour. However, if we rush to negotiate peace given our current situation, we can forget any of that. We will only be seen as laughing stocks. The whole world will know how weak we are. We are only going to bring an even bigger disaster upon ourselves!”
“Stirling, you have the power. The elders respect you. Your words hold weight. When the time comes, you have to side with me. This is for the future of House ZiChuan! Luo Ming Hai’s appeasement policies won’t work.”
Stirling had already decided to remain neutral, but after hearing Di Lin’s earnest plea, and well-thought-out reasoning, he wasn’t sure anymore. He pondered for a while, finally saying: “Ok. If I have no choice but to choose a side, I will side with you.”
His promise wasn’t much of a promise, but it was good enough for Di Lin. He knew Stirling’s character. Once he made a promise, he would never break it, and that was simply the best he could do for the time being, which worked out in Di Lin’s favour.
While the conversation continued, they had arrived at a crossroad.
Feeling relaxed, Di Lin halted his steps and asked: “How about it? Want to pay your sister-in-law a visit? She kept asking me about you and Xiu, how have you guys been in the Far East? So, are you hungry? Do you want to try her cooking?”
If it was any other day, Stirling would have jumped on the opportunity, but today he kindly declined: “Another time perhaps. I’ve an appointment.”
Even Di Lin was surprised when Stirling declined his invitation. He looked him up and down, then burst out in laughter: “I see. When the moon mounted to the tops of the willows, two lovers kept their tryst after the yellow dusk.[] I was wondering, what is with that smile on your face the whole time. I get it now: The spring is in the air, and the absence makes the heart grow fonder. I must be getting in the way!”
Stirling’s cheeks flushed red, still trying to deny: “What are you talking about. It is nothing like that.”
“Fine, I won’t pry, but…” Di Lin came closer with a very serious look on his face: “As an older brother, it is my responsibility to warn you.”
“Be careful with the manual labor; don’t overexert yourself, or it could become problematic if you are too tired to mount the horse when you are ordered to return to the Far East!” Di Lin spoke every word with a frown, as if he was really worried.
It took a while before Stirling realized what he meant. By the time he went after him with his fist, Di Lin was long gone, leaving behind only one short sentence: “When you have time, come around to my place with Li Qing and have a dinner with your sister-in-law. We are families; there is nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Watching Di Lin’s shadows slowly disappearing in the distance, a dark cloud of worries floated above him: “Li Qing! Right, I almost forgot. I still have a virtuous fiancé at home. What should I do?!”
Soon, Stirling arrived at the promised pavilion in the park. After seeing Ka Dan’s elegant shadow, all his worries and unhappiness instantly vanished. In order to avoid any unwanted attention, Ka Dan had donned her scarf and veil. In the early winter, her appearance did not seem too out of place. Stirling approached her from behind, wrapping his arms around her tightly.
Ka Dan jumped from the sudden touch. Seeing it was Stirling, she put her hand in front of his chest, saying: “You really scared me.” Her scare was quickly replaced by a smile, a smile that made his heart skip a beat. Just as he was about to kiss her beautiful lips…
“Warning, the following content contains scenes of a sexual nature, parental guidance is advised for viewers under the age of eighteen.”
ZiChuan Ning’s voice rang out from behind. She sat on the wooden railing of the pavilion, swinging her feet lazily with her neck extended, watching the couple get intimate. She called out in an indolent voice, “Please do continue, pretend I’m not here.” Stirling was too focused on Ka Dan; somehow, he didn’t notice her there at all.
Stirling was greatly disappointed. He let go of Ka Dan and looked at her questioningly: Why did you bring that rascal?
Ka Dan’s cheeks flushed in embarrassment, whispering: “I didn’t know the way.”
Stirling sighed in defeat. The only reason he and Ka Dan agreed to meet outside was to avoid having ZiChuan Ning around. Her annoying nature came directly from ZiChuan Xiu. In the end, he still couldn’t get rid of her.
“I’m sorry. I was late. Do you have to wait for long?” Stirling held Ka Dan’s cold hands close to heart, asking with concern.
Ka Dan shook her head slightly: “Not long.”
“Liar!” ZiChuan Ning interrupted angrily: “He was late for over an hour! I counted, on average I’m getting bitten by a mosquito every ten minute. Look, one, two… there are eight of them in total!”
Stirling didn’t bother to look, and continued to ask: “Are you hungry?”
Ka Dan shook her head again: “I’m not.”
“I am!” ZiChuan Ning hurriedly added, but they both ignored her.
Stirling asked: “Are you thirsty?”
Ka Dan shook her head out of habit, then finally nodded: “Just a little.”
Naturally, ZiChuan Ning wouldn’t wish to be left out: “I’m thirsty as well.”
Stirling faked a smile worthy of an elder from the Council: “How about it, Lady Ning. Are you thirsty? Here, take my money and go get yourself something nice!”
Stirling grabbed a bill worth thousand and said: “Here, keep the change!”
ZiChuan Ning: “But the drink I want is very expensive!”
Stirling added another thousand: “Fine, here. Don’t worry about it!”
ZiChuan Ning: “I heard it is made of something very special!”
Stirling added another thousand.
ZiChuan Ning: “What about the money for the tissues?!”
Stirling reached for his wallet again.
“How am I supposed to go home on my own?”
Stirling wanted to pay, but his wallet was already empty. He sighed: “Ning, what do you want? There is a limit to how much you can extort, ok?”
ZiChuan Ning showed her sweet and loving smile: “Don’t be like that! I just don’t want to see you make the mistake that is all. You know how the young couples are like. Remember, don’t pluck the forbidden fruit before it is ripe!”
Stirling muttered softly: “But I already did, so what else do you want?”
Ka Dan’s cheeks turned purple as she kicked him hard from under the table.
ZiChuan Ning uttered in surprise: “What?!”
Stirling instantly corrected: “I mean, of course not. You have nothing to worry about!”
Seeing he couldn’t get rid of the rascal through conventional means, Stirling showed his trump card: “Right, someone wanted me to deliver a message to you from the Far East. Hold on, don’t get too excited yet. So what did he say again? It sounded important. Damn, my memories have been failing lately. I can’t seem to recall. How unfortunate, but fear not, if I could just get some alone time I’m sure I will start to remember again.”
Ka Dan laughed until she could barely stand straight: “That was so mean. How did you come up with something like that?! The moment you mentioned Sir ZiChuan Xiu, she instantly melted! But, did Sir Xiu really tell you to deliver the message?”
Stirling reminisced the day he spoke to ZiChuan Xiu in the Far East, and he did ask him whether he had anything he wanted to tell Lady Ning. ZiChuan Xiu was silent for a long time before he answered: “If she asks about it, tell her that you never saw me.”
What happened between those two, he wondered. Stirling shook his head: “Nope. I haven’t seen him at all, but don’t tell Lady Ning that. Or this trick won’t work again. So, did something happen between those two?”
Ka Dan gave him a look, her expression unreadable. Stirling asked curiously: “Did I say something wrong?”
“Stirling, you just lied! If you haven’t seen Sir Xiu, then you wouldn’t have noticed the strangeness between them, and you wouldn’t have asked that question. Is it possible that you have seen him and he told you to not tell anyone that you did?”
Stirling was shocked. He never expected that Ka Dan would uncover his lies from a single small slip-up, and figure out the truth all by herself. Out of all the people he had met, in term of reaction speed and critical thinking, Di Lin had always been the number one. But now, perhaps even he was no match to the Demon Princess – Ka Dan!
A thought came to him: Luckily we have captured her. If she is still with the Demons and is entrusted with important tasks, she could very easily turn out to be another powerful enemy like Liu Feng Shuang! If all the Demon Commanders are as clever as she is, then the Far Eastern Army will be in serious trouble. No matter what, we can’t return her to the Demons.
He suddenly realized how ridiculous his thoughts sounded: Ka Dan loves him; she would never be his enemy.
Seeing the unsteady look on Stirling’s face, she hastily added: “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have accused you. Are you angry with me?”
Stirling exhaled deeply, purging all the unnecessary thoughts from his mind. He smiled: “No. I didn’t tell you the truth. I was wrong.” He told her the whole story, but reminded her: “Don’t say anything to Lady Ning!”
“Anyhow, can we stop talking about them? Let’s talk about us. Ka Dan, you have been living with us for so long, are you getting used to living here? How are you feeling?”
Ka Dan hesitated: “I’m not sure how to say it. When I first got here, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything is so wonderful! The weather is neither too cold nor too warm. There is an abundance of resources, providing so much comfort in life.”
Stirling asked out of curiosity: “Really? What is it like being over there?” He immediate regretted asking once the words escaped his lips.
As expected, Ka Dan only shook her head, not saying a word. Stirling, you wouldn’t understand. Compared to us, Humans practically live in paradise. The nature is a cruel mistress. Our lands are barren; there are deserts everywhere. Our weather is harsh, the morning is unbearably hot and the evening is insufferably cold. Natural disasters are common occurrence for us. Earthquake, typhoon, snowstorm, sandstorm, and even the hail can destroy a year of harvest we worked so hard to protect, striking the realm with famine. Stirling, even if I told you, you still wouldn’t understand. Death for us is as common as the air we breathe, the sky and the earth we see. It is always, and everywhere. My land is a place of sorrow. Death is a part of our daily life. Stirling, if you only know what it is like, then you will understand why we keep invading the Westland time and time again. We are not doing this because war is in our nature; we are only doing this because the only way for our people to survive is to take the food and rich soils from the Humans! Humans are so fortunate! Why do they not need to bleed, or die to have such gentle weather, clear sky and flowers in full bloom? And I, soon to be living as a Human, will get to share all of these with my beloved. Why can’t I forget the darkness in the sky, the endless desert and my father? My heart aches! My home…
Ka Dan’s eyes were brimming with tears. Stirling could feel her pain as he tried to comfort her: “Don’t worry. Once we pacify the Far East, I will take you home to see your family.”
“But then, I won’t be able to see you again. I will be even sadder.”
Stirling smiled: “How so? Didn’t we promise to never leave each other? I will go with you.”
Ka Dan stared eyes wide: “Impossible. My Father and Brothers will kill you! They are always saying the Highborn and the Humans cannot coexist!”
That had him startled: He almost forgot the father of his beloved was the current invincible Demon God King!
Ka Dan comforted him back: “Besides, it has been so long since I was captured. My families probably think I’m already dead. Let’s keep it that way. They will be sad, but the sadness will eventually pass. I have also gotten used to the life here.”
Stirling was deeply touched. The girl standing in front him was willing to give up her majestic stature as the princess, give up her families and her home in order to be with him. Where else would he find a truer love than that? In his gentle voice, he told her: “Don’t worry. This life, I’m yours. I vow to always love you and honor you for all the days of my life! If I break my vow, let me die with a thousand arrows through my heart!”
Ka Dan hurriedly put her finger against his lips, not letting him speak. Their eyes were filled with joy, and their hands intertwined, sharing each other’s warmth. However, Ka Dan’s face revealed a hint of worry. Stirling immediately asked: “Is something wrong? Aren’t you happy?”
“No. I just thought, I’m a Demon princess, while you are a high ranking officer of House ZiChuan. If you marry me, it may affect your future…”
Stirling smiled: “I don’t think that is going to be a problem. The Headmaster has always been kind to me. I’m certain he will allow it if I asked him.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Then I will resign.” Stirling replied without hesitation; his voice was unequivocally clear.
“It is not much, but after all these years, I have managed to save up a small amount, enough for us to open a bakery somewhere. And I will be the Master Baker… I guess I haven’t told you. I’m quite a baker! And you can be the Madam, handling the customers. Since you are so beautiful, I’m sure we will have many customers…” Stirling looked at her as he spoke with a shade of regret in his voice: “Just that, you deserve better.”
Ka Dan kissed him softly, whispering with flushed cheeks: “What are you saying? I’m not pretty at all, and I’m very clumsy, I hope I don’t scare the customers away.”
“A peaceful life without violence, intrigue and worries, would you like that?”
Ka Dan put up a serious look: “Let me think about it… Hmm, what if we start hiring pretty waitresses later? Will you flirt with them? Master Baker Stirling?”
Holding up his chin, Stirling pretended to be give the matter a serious thought: “Let me think about it too… How pretty are we talking about? Madam Baker Ka Dan?”
“You are done for! You better not let me catch you!”
The loving couple immersed themselves into the sweetness of each other. They never noticed the pair of gloomy eyes watching them from behind the bushes in the distance.
While reading the scout’s report, Luo Ming Hai slammed on his desk, instructing: “I don’t care what you do or how much it cost, I want to know everything there is to know about that girl!”
The next day, a report containing Ka Dan’s birth, background and her involvement with Stirling was delivered to Luo Ming Hai’s desk. Luo Ming Hai asked coldly: “Is the information accurate?”
“Yes, Sir. We bribed one of ZiChuan Ning’s servants. It cost us two-hundred-thousand, but I’m confident he won’t lie to us.”
Another ominous smile appeared on Luo Ming Hai’s face: “This is worth every penny! I’m going to see the Headmaster now.”
After the usual daily work report, Luo Ming Hai casually mentioned the news to ZiChuan Shen Xing: “Sir, last night when I was taking my habitual stroll through the garden. I happened to run into Commander Stirling and his female companion. They were quite fond of each other!”
ZiChuan Shen Xing smiled: “How long has it been since Stirling last saw Li Qing? I suppose it is about time they get together! Hoho, it is good being young. He makes an old man like me jealous sometimes!”
“But,” Luo Ming Hai added: “I don’t think it was Banner Master Li Qing!”
“Oh?” ZiChuan Shen Xing seemed more interested: “Who was it?”
“I’m not sure, Sir. Would you like me to find out?”
ZiChuan Shen Xing pondered for a while, then spoke slowly: “Very well, it doesn’t hurt to know.” Even though he sounded uninterested, they both knew, he did not take the decision lightly.
In less than two hours, Luo Ming Hai had “finished” his investigation. ZiChuan Shen Xing listened to his report in silence, then responded calmly: “I see. I don’t suppose it is a big deal, but it is best if we keep this to ourselves. Was there anything else?”
Luo Ming Hai looked disappointed. He didn’t expect ZiChuan Shen Xing to be so unconcerned about such important finding. He never realized that the moment he had left, ZiChuan Shen Xing immediately instructed his servant: “Tell Banner Master Li Qing to come and see me at once.”
After an hour of conversation with Li Qing, ZiChuan Shen Xing’s visage was cold as ice, but his voice was still so gentle and kind: “Why don’t you ask if Commander Stirling has time tonight, if he is willing to dine with an old man like me?”
[]Part of the poem by Ou Yang Xiu, “The Lantern Festival”.