The Leaves didn’t want me. The Tree died. Mila died. In the end, Owen died as well.
Why did Owen have to die? Why? Why?
I don’t have anything to protect anymore. I can’t return to the Tree either. What else can I do?
Right, I still have Cas. But I killed so many of the people that he loved. I-I’m his enemy…
“If someone has killed the people you loved, then he is your enemy. You need to take revenge for them… Because Big Brother said you have to take revenge. You must make your enemy pay with blood for their crimes. That’s why you need to take revenge.”
…Revenge! West, I will make you pay with blood!
“Owen and Mila’s biggest enemy was me!”
Cas was only slightly shocked after hearing Yin Qie Zi’s outburst. With a mocking expression, he said, “Oh, so you knew? If only you hadn’t destroyed that town back then, they’d probably be still alive. My brother too…”
Cas trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished. Rather than wouldn’t, he couldn’t finish his sentence. The scorn on his face disappeared as he abruptly reached out and grabbed Yin Qie Zi’s collar. He pushed and shunted at the other, until the spirit binder’s back slammed heavily against the wall. Seeing that there was no room for Yin Qie Zi to escape, Cas leaned down and snarled, “Why did you destroy that town? Why?”
“I… I went insane!”
Yin Qie Zi gritted his teeth, but decided to explain. Cas had the right to know the truth, even if knowing the truth wouldn’t change anything.
“Back then, the Spirit Tree died. I was overtaken with immense pain and went insane. I couldn’t control my own powers and ended up destroying that town,” Yin Qie Zi said.
Cas didn’t the show the slightest bit of surprise at Yin Qie Zi’s reply.
Was he already aware of this? Yin Qie Zi paused, then understood the reason. If Mila was aware of the specificities of the Leaf Tribe’s lifestyle and even the existence of the Flower, it was natural for Cas, who had been chasing after him, to know of it as well. Moreover, Cas even tracked him to the territory of the Servile Spirits.
Cas was probably the only person on this continent who understood him the most. Cas probably knew more about him than he did himself.
Cas moved closer to Yin Qie Zi, making the latter think that his time had finally come. But Cas only stopped beside his ear and whispered, “Did you really think that would change anything?”
“No, I never had that thought.” Standing so close together, Yin Qie Zi’s attention was caught by the scar on Cas’ left eye. The scar was light, almost the same color as undamaged skin. When standing some distance away, it wasn’t noticeable at all. However, with only a few centimeters of breadth between them, Yin Qie Zi could see that the scar was sunken into the flesh. Clearly, he had given Cas more than a little scrape twenty years ago. He could even see a line of red in Cas’ eye that lined up with the scar. It too was obviously the result of the injury he had inflicted.
Yin Qie Zi turned his head away; away from Cas’ stare, away from the scar on his left eye.
Although he knew it would be useless, Yin Qie Zi still held a tiny hope inside his heart that Cas would forgive him, but apologies never worked in the end. He didn’t want Cas to know that he still yearned for forgiveness, however slight a hope it was.
“Look at me!”
Pain exploded across Yin Qie Zi’s scalp. Startling out of his reverie, he found that Cas had grabbed onto his braid. He yelled, “Don’t touch my hair!”
Rather than loosening his hand, Cas tightened his grip. He yanked backwards, forcing Yin Qie Zi to his knees.
Staring at the other’s face, Cas asked in sadistic curiosity, “Does it hurt?”
Yin Qie Zi was in such great pain that he couldn’t even hold back his tears. He gritted his teeth and suppressed his screams. He forced out a reply, “Let go…”
Seeing the tears on the spirit binder’s face, Cas finally released his grip.
Yin Qie Zi was wracked with both pain and humiliation. He knew that the assassin was completely unscrupulous and would take any opportunity to harm him; however, he hadn’t expected Cas to seize his hair.
Was it a mere coincidence or was it on purpose? Seeing the lack of surprise on Cas’ face despite his agony, the assassin had probably done it on purpose.
Cas started laughing, howling like he didn’t have a care in the world. Yin Qie Zi stared blankly at him. He didn’t understand why Cas was laughing. He didn’t understand why someone could sound so miserable, so mournful, despite laughing.
“I want you to remember this pain! In the coming days, you’ll have to live each and every day with this pain. That should be enough for you to repay your sins. Hahahahaha—”
If he hadn’t destroyed that town, Owen and Mila wouldn’t have died. Owen would never have killed Cedric, and Cas would never have turned out this way.
A slight shake of the hand and a billow of foul, grey smoke wafted out of the medicine jar in front of him. Yin Qie Zi frowned at the sight. He had messed up.
The process of making spirit medicine was precise and delicate. A slight shake of the hand could send ten hours of hard work down the drain.
Not only did a small mistake send time down the drain, it also sent down quite a fortune as well. The medicine he was making required all sorts of expensive special spirits. Fortunately, the rarest of the bunch was something he had in abundance―the hair of a Flower.
Staring at the jar that was still billowing smoke, Yin Qie Zi felt a bit helpless and tired. Obtaining a Flower’s hair wasn’t hard for him. He also had plenty of stores for the other materials he needed. However, the process of treating all of those spirits and combining them together was long and irritating.
Litelli peered over at him, a mischievous smile on his face. “Aha! Just now, you reminded me of your clumsy self when you first started learning. You broke so many jars and bowls just from making a simple healing potion.”
Yin Qie Zi started clearing up the mess in front of him. “That’s because I was having trouble moving around due to my injuries.”
He glanced around the room. Luckily, Prince Edward had made sure the room was fully equipped with all the tools he required. That should reduce the amount of time he needed to prepare a new batch of medicine.
Originally, he thought the prince would allocate him a normal room. Unexpectedly, he had been brought to a spirit binding lab. The lab was spacious and stocked with all sorts of tools used for spirit binding. The collection was so complete that it even contained extremely rare and odd tools that were almost never used. Additionally, two huge cabinets lined two walls of the lab, containing all sorts of basic spirits and other starting materials inside.
Spirit binding was a complex art that required many different types of starting materials. It would have been exceedingly difficult to compile this collection of basic spirits. The lab could not have been put together for him at the last minute. Prince Edward had probably driven out the spirit binder who had been working here to leave it open for him.
Yin Qie Zi was surprised that Prince Edward saw him in such a favorable light. Was it because Mila planned on getting married to him and the prince wanted to rope him over to his side?
It was an effective method. Yin Qie Zi couldn’t help but to admit that he quite liked the lab.
“You were injured and had a bad temper,” Litelli reminisced. “You cried and made a fuss both day and night. You even flung things all over the room when you were angry.”
Hearing the stories of his past, Yin Qie Zi turned and glared at Litelli.
Litelli continued to mumble, “Ah, you were so adorable back then. The older you get, the less adorable you become. Ah! Children are indeed children, they cease to be cute once they grow up.”
“I look the same as I did back then. The concept of growing up does not apply to me!” Yin Qie Zi coldly retorted.
“I was talking about your personality! Personality!” Litelli shouted. He glanced sideways at Yin Qie Zi. “But you do look a bit older now. Could you still be growing?”
“I’ve only grown a bit taller.” Yin Qie Zi didn’t care much about his appearance.
“You really don’t spare a thought on your appearance,” Litelli responded unhappily. “Don’t you know how hard it is for me to grow even just a little bit? If you hadn’t grown that slightest bit, no one would have been able to tell whether you were a man or a woman. Rather than seducing the beautiful Mila, it would be more appropriate for you to seduce Owen!”
“I have never seduced Mila!” Yin Qie Zi snapped.
“Oh, so you won her over without any seducing!” Litelli nodded in satisfaction. “That’s great! Then when you do start seducing people, you’ll have plenty of beautiful women to choose from.”
Yin Qie Zi decided to ignore Litelli altogether and focused on cleaning. He wanted to start remaking the medicine immediately, but the world was bent on interfering with his work. At that moment, the sound of knocking came through the door.
Although he heard the knocks, Yin Qie Zi had no plans to open the door.
“Coming!” Litelli was quite happy for the interruption. He leapt over to the door and pulled it open. A shadow immediately fell over him and he had to bend his neck until it was parallel to the ground to be able to see the other’s face. He cried, “Wow! You’re so tall!”
Yin Qie Zi paused in his movements and turned around to see Jin Qi Er standing outside. For a Danya who was above 200 centimeters and a Servile Spirit who was 150 centimeters at most, the height difference between them was like that of a father and a young child.
Despite being faced with such a laughable situation, Yin Qie Zi was incapable of laughing. Standing beside Jin Qi Er was Yan Er, the red-haired female Leaf he had met before.
Once Jin Qi Er stepped inside, the spacious lab instantly became a bit suffocating. As the Danya glanced at the piles of medicine littering the tables, a satisfied expression appeared on his face. He said, “I’ve brought the Leaf over to you. She should be able to help you out since Leaves make adequate spirit charmers. She’s already promised me that she won’t attack you or try to escape even with her fetters off. The Leaves live by their promises, so you don’t need to worry.”
I know she won’t attack me! Yin Qie Zi was a bit angry. Having a Leaf around would probably be seen as welcome help to any spirit binder in the country, but he didn’t need her help. He would only become distracted if she were around.
Yan Er stood quietly behind Jin Qi Er, occasionally stealing glances at Yin Qie Zi. She hadn’t spoken a word since entering the lab.
“She’s very beautiful.” Jin Qi Er stepped aside and motioned for Yan Er to come forward. “She also has a lot of energy in her. You’ve picked a good one. If not for the fact we that need a blue-haired Leaf, I would never have used her to exchange with you. It’s hard to find an energetic Leaf like her anymore. The Leaves are becoming weaker and weaker with every passing year.”
The Leaves are becoming weaker? Yin Qie Zi shook aside his suspicions. He asked, “There’s a blue-haired Leaf in the peace offerings, wouldn’t that one work?”
Jin Qi Er sighed. “No, that one’s a male.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Litelli yelled, “Do Danyas enjoy bulling female Leaves? Your statures are huge while they are so small. Aren’t you afraid you’ll squish them beneath you?”
To a Servile Spirit, the Leaves who range around 170 centimeters would be seen as quite tall. However, to a Danya, “small” would be an accurate description with plenty of room leftover.
“Litelli!” Yin Qie Zi spoke in a warning tone. His knew his own reaction was a bit brash, but he couldn’t keep quiet upon thinking about the aftermath of those Leaves.
Standing by the side, Yan Er shuddered.
“Don’t worry about that.” Jin Qi Er glanced at Yan Er. “Most Danyas would never force the Leaves into that situation. We only want their knowledge on plants. We also need their cooperation to allow us to have good harvests. Everything else is secondary to that.”
“Only most?” Yin Qie Zi remarked scornfully.
“Only most,” Jin Qi Er replied lightly. “The way we treat the Leaves is better than how the humans treat them. You could ask her. Does she want to stay with the humans or the Danyas?”
Yan Er lifted an eyebrow and snorted. “I don’t want either!”
Yin Qie Zi frowned at her response. In his memories, Leaves weren’t supposed to be brash and loud-spoken. Then again, he wasn’t quite sure how Leaves were supposed to act. He had never interacted with them much and after all these years, his memories were already blurry…
At that thought, Yin Qie Zi paused in disbelief. Were his impressions of the Leaves already so faded?
Despite being shocked, it was only natural that his memories had been eroded by the passage of time. After leaving the Leaves, so many things had happened. Whether they were happy or painful moments, the memories were etched deep onto his heart. In contrast, the years that he had spent underneath the Tree were peaceful and bland. There wasn’t anything that was worth remembering.
The only impression that remained from those years was the ceaseless loneliness he felt.
Jin Qi Er looked at Yan Er with curiosity and puzzlement. “You really are energetic. If every Leaf were like you, it would lessen White’s burdens. Maybe I should bring you back―”
“I want to stay with him!” Yan Er immediately hid behind Yin Qie Zi, as if deeply dreading that Jin Qi Er would take her away.
The Danya stared at her, he hadn’t expected to hear that kind of answer.
Litelli smiled and moved closer to Jin Qi Er. As if to curry favor, he said, “Isn’t my master amazing? If he wanted, thousand or tens of thousands of beautiful girls would throw themselves at him. Of course, that includes girls from every tribe!”
Jin Qi Er didn’t believe a single word of Litelli’s and responded with an offhanded “Amazing.” Jin Qi Er scratched his head and ultimately assumed the Leaf was scared of him because he was built tall and strong. He asked, “How far have you gotten in the medicine?”
“I’m still in the middle of making it,” Yin Qie Zi replied as he continued to clean up the mess on the table. He didn’t plan on telling Jin Qi Er that he had just wasted a Flower’s hair due a small mishap. In any case, the Danya wouldn’t understand what he was doing.
After tidying the table, Yin Qie Zi asked causally, “Why do you need a blue-haired Leaf? Is there a special meaning to the color blue?”
Jin Qie Er furrowed his brows, and responded simply, “It’s a gift for a friend. He likes the color blue.”
“A friend? Is he the same person you’re gifting the medicine to?” Yin Qie Zi continued to question. He was surprised by his own urgency. In order to hide his identity, he shouldn’t be asking so many questions, but he couldn’t help but to want to learn more about Indigo and Aquamarine.
“Why are you asking about that?” Jin Qi Er immediately put his guard up.
“I’m only curious about what will happen to the blue-haired Leaf that you had exchanged with me.” Yin Qie Zi forced himself to appear unperturbed. He added calmly, “She appeared to be on her last legs. If your friend is the type who likes tormenting others, then this red-haired Leaf would be more suitable.”
Jin Qi Er replied indignantly, “Indigo would never torment the Leaves. If news of anyone ever doing so reached his ears, he would never let them off!”
“Then why does it have to be blue?” Yin Qie Zi wasn’t willing to rest on the topic.
Yin Qie Zi’s relentless questions had made Jin Qi Er thoroughly wary. The Danya then noticed that even Yan Er and Litelli seemed curious about finding out the answer. Yan Er even came out of her hiding place from behind Yin Qie Zi. Her ears were pricked and she appeared to be listening attentively, afraid to even miss the tiniest detail.
Was it really only out of curiosity? Seeing the other two’s expressions, Jin Qi Er helplessly abandoned his wariness. He explained, “My friend is one of the Four Colors, Indigo. He and a Leaf had once talked about getting married. She had a head of blue hair. Eventually, she died.”
“Did she die because of poor health?” Yan Er couldn’t resist asking.
“No, she died during battle.” Jin Qi Er sighed.
That’s not right. She had died at the hands of a Flower! Yin Qie Zi lowered his eyes and started clearing away the clutter on the table. He didn’t want to know the reason for Aquamarine’s death; he knew better than anyone else how she had died.
“Danyas can marry Leaves? Can you have children together?” Litelli exclaimed.
Marriages between tribes were possible, but rare. After all, contact between different tribes were infrequent. The differences between lifestyles were also great. One also couldn’t count out the dissimilarities between body types and structure. An intertribal marriage would rarely result in children.
Jin Qi Er shook his head. “Of course not. If it were possible, we wouldn’t need to spend so much money procuring Leaves from other continents.”
“Isn’t Indigo one of the Four Colors? If he can’t have children together with the Leaf, why would he marry her?” Having traveled over the continent for years, Litelli was quite knowledgeable about the Danyas. He continued doubtfully, “A childless marriage could be considered a taboo among the Danyas. Not to mention, he’s one of the Four Colors. Wasn’t there anyone who was opposed to his marrying a Leaf?”
Yin Qie Zi glanced at him. Did Litelli voice out that question because he knew Yin Qie Zi wanted to know the answer as well? Perhaps he was thinking too much. Litelli’s curiosity was higher than an average person’s by two or three folds.
“Can you humans stop digging into things?” Jin Qi Er was irritated, but taking into account that Yin Qie Zi was making spirit medicine for him, he explained, “Indigo is very influential within our tribe. In addition, White also thinks highly of him. When Indigo had announced that he was going to marry a Leaf, nobody other than White would have been able to oppose his decision. White, however, didn’t care who he married.”
“You don’t sound like you approved. Then why are you gifting him a Leaf?” Yin Qie Zi felt the whole situation was strange. Jin Qi Er was a considerate friend and thought frequently about Indigo. Their relationship seemed better than that of brothers. But when it came to marriage, he was opposed to Indigo taking a Leaf as his wife… But now he was planning to gift a Leaf to Indigo. This was strange no matter how he looked at it.
Jin Qi Er said, “If he continues like this, forget about having children, Indigo’s going to die first! After Aquamarine died, he seemed to have died along on the inside. Now he truly is on the verge of death!”
“He won’t die.” Yin Qie Zi placed a bottle in the Danya’s hand. “I’ve finished making the first bottle of the medicine, but you’ll have to wait for two weeks before it’s ready for consumption. Though after you return to Xiasha and finally give it to Indigo, two weeks would have long past.”
“You’ve only made one bottle?” Jin Qi Er frowned. “Why didn’t you make all five at the same time?”
“I did make five!” Yin Qie Zi waved his hand in frustration. He was tired of dealing with Jin Qi Er’s never-ending suspicions. “The bottles are different in composition. I’ve written numbers on them. You have to make sure he drinks them in order.”
Jin Qi Er turned the bottle around in his hand and quickly noticed the “One” written on the glass.
“The bottles that are drunk later are more difficult to make.” Unlike usual, Yin Qie Zi made an effort to explain, mainly because Jin Qi Er had spoken quite a bit about Indigo and Aquamarine. “The fifth bottle takes at least two weeks to be completed.”
If nothing went wrong, he would only need nine or ten days to complete the fifth bottle. He was merely giving himself a buffer by saying it would take two weeks. He was thankful he did. The bottle he had just ruined earlier was the fifth bottle that would take the longest. Just a slight shake of the hand had cost him a day.
“I see.” Jin Qi Er nodded. Noticing that Yin Qie Zi was becoming slightly irritated, he quickly added, “Please don’t be angry. I’ve known Indigo since we were kids. He’s more like family to me than my actual family members. He’s also my savior. However, he’s in terrible condition right now, so I can’t help but to want to ask for more details.”
Yin Qie Zi was a little annoyed, but at the sight of Jin Qi Er apologizing to him, he felt like he shouldn’t be so petty. Besides, with his status as a high-ranking Danya emissary, Jin Qi Er had no reason to be humble to him. Jin Qi Er’s careful mannerisms also ascertained that he wouldn’t secretly sell the medicine for money, and would definitely make sure it reached Indigo’s hands.
With that thought, Yin Qie Zi nodded with satisfaction. He said, “I admire the friendship between you two.”
When he heard the spirit binder’s response, Jin Qi Er thought he had finally succeeded in melting a bit of Yin Qie Zi’s cold exterior. However, in the next second, Yin Qie Zi added, “If you have nothing else to say, then you can leave. You’ll be interfering with my work if you stayed here.”
The Danya almost coughed out blood in indignation. Although his status was below that of the Four Colors and the family leaders, it was still quite high among their tribe. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been sent to Zhan Yan as an emissary.
On the other hand, Yin Qie Zi didn’t hold the slightest bit of power. He wasn’t even part of the nobility, yet he was more arrogant than Prince Edward… No, he was more arrogant than the king! Even the king wouldn’t say a blunt “You can leave” to an emissary from Danya.
“I’m rather curious of how you’ve developed such a personality.” Jin Qi Er smiled despite his anger. “If you were faced with the king, would you still tell him ‘You can leave?’”
“Of course I wouldn’t say that to the king. But I would say it to Prince Edward, because he really is irritating.” Yin Qie Zi replied straightforwardly.
Jin Qie Zi burst into laughter. “This is the first time I’ve heard someone describe the prince as ‘irritating.’ I suddenly think you treat me rather well!”
Yin Qie Zi tilted his head. He decided that he wouldn’t tell the Danya that he thought of him as “super irritating.” Jin Qi Er was at least as irritating as Owen, and the two of them were only slightly below Litelli in the level of irritating.
“Then I’m leaving. I won’t disturb you for the next few days,” said Jin Qi Er. He turned to Yan Er and instructed, “You need to wait upon your master carefully. Don’t mess around with the medicine.”
Yan Er’s eyes held a thoughtful look for a moment. She replied respectfully, “Yes.”
After Jin Qi Er shut the door, Yan Er immediately looked at Yin Qie Zi. “Flower―”
“You’re not allowed to call me that!” Yin Qie Zi said angrily, “My current name is Yin Qie Zi. I’m not called Flower. I’m also not your Flower!”
“Yin Qie Zi?” Yan Er was shocked at the other’s behavior. She questioned, “Why is it Yin Qie Zi? That’s the Leaf Lord’s name.”
“Ah, it’s obviously an alias,” Litelli explained. “Master’s true name is Gong―”
“Litelli!” Yin Qie Zi cut in harshly with a face full of anger. He had already reminded Litelli countless times to not call him by that name, but Litelli never remembered… All it did was remind him on a daily basis that he once had another name.
However, the one who had given him that name was no longer alive. He only felt pain every time he heard that name.
“You can get out! And don’t bother coming back!”
Litelli stared at him in shock. Flustered, he said, “Master, I still have to help you make spirit medi―”
“I can make them myself!” Yin Qie Zi wasn’t willing to accept any excuses.
“Master, we are short on time! You also need to protect the Leaves in the palace. You don’t have enough time to do everything at once!” Litelli had never expected Yin Qie Zi to drive him out without considering the results. He panicked and yelled, “Master, don’t drive me out! Litelli promises that he will never bring up your name again!”
“You’ve already made plenty of promises,” Yin Qie Zi replied coldly.
At those words, Litellli knew that the spirit binder was serious. It left him as anxious as an ant on a hot pan. He contemplated left and right before taking notice of Yan Er. An idea flashed across his mind and he yelled, “Master, even if you’re not thinking of yourself, you have to think of her!” He pointed at Yan Er.
Yin Qie Zi stared at him, not understanding how Yan Er factored into the situation.
Litelli pulled on the spirit binder’s sleeves while shouting, “Master, think about how dangerous your tasks are! In those moments, do you really have the mind to take care of her?”
Yin Qie Zi understood. He also understood that Litelli was right. Unless he didn’t care about Yan Er at all, he had no other choice but to let Litelli remain with him… If he truly didn’t care about her, he should have given her to someone else right away. He could have given her to Owen or to Jin Qi Er, as long as she wasn’t here serving as a distraction to him.
“You can stay.” Yin Qie Zi surrendered in the end, but he warned harshly, “If you ever breathe a word about all the things I’ve forbidden you to mention again, you will leave immediately! And I don’t care what’ll happen afterwards!”
“Litelli wouldn’t dare,” Litelli vowed repeatedly. He didn’t forget to make himself appear as pathetic as possible. His egg-sized eyes were filled with tears, appearing quite pitiful. However, Yin Qie Zi was past the age of falling for those sort of tactics.
“Get the spirits that we need for the fifth bottle ready.”
It was a tedious job, but Litelli didn’t dare complain. For once, he diligently ran up to the cabinets and began pulling out the spirits they needed.
Yin Qie Zi turned to Yan Er and said sternly, “You can never mention my true identity out loud. You have to remember that I am Yin Qie Zi right now. I am your master and you never knew who I was before this, understand?”
Despite not being used to the Flower’s manner of speech and behavior, Yan Er wasn’t as scared after seeing it numerous times. Instead of not knowing how to respond like before, she asked quietly, “What if someone asks? Would I have to lie? But I-I don’t know what to say…”
“Then don’t say anything!” Yin Qie Zi didn’t expect the Leaves to lie, but he couldn’t let Yan Er expose his identity. He took a step forward and threatened, “If you divulge anything about my identity, I…I’ll kill you! Do you understand? I will kill you!”
Even though she understood that the Flower was acting strange, Yan Er was still struck dumb by Yin Qie Zi’s threat. A bad feeling came over her and she asked, “Will you save the other Leaves? The ones who are still locked in the prison, will you save them?”
“Why do I need to save them?” Yin Qie Zi coldly retorted. He then ordered, “Go help Litelli. Aren’t you a spirit charmer? Even if you don’t know how to link spirits, you should still be able to help him find the materials we need.”
“You are our Flower!” Yan Er exclaimed in disbelief. “You should be protecting us!”
Yin Qie Zi’s thoughts was sent into turmoil by her words. Twenty years had already passed. He no longer possessed a Flower’s power. He had long stopped thinking of himself as the Leaf Tribe’s Guardian Flower. There was nothing wrong with that decision. But right now a Leaf was standing in front of him claiming that it was only natural that he should go save the Leaves in the prison. He felt…a tremor inside his heart.
The Leaves had abandoned him. Many years had passed since he had last seen a single Leaf. Plus, his mind was filled with thoughts on revenge. Despite adding everything up, he still felt a tremor!
Yin Qie Zi calmed his heart and snarled, “No! You had abandoned your Flower by the shores of the ocean. He walked back to the Spirit Tree and died alongside it!”
Seeing the other’s feverish expression, Yan Er was slightly scared. But she asked in confusion, “You’re still here. Why do you say you’ve died?”
Leaves were truly naïve and simple-minded. Yan Er couldn’t even understand the underlying ridicule in his words. Yin Qie Zi didn’t bother explaining. He coldly stated, “You can go help Litelli or you can go back to Jin Qi Er. It’s your choice.”
Yan Er hesitated, she didn’t want to give up asking him questions. But seeing Yin Qie Zi’s cold expression, if she pressed the topic further, she feared he really would send her back to Jin Qi Er.
“I-I’ll go help.” Yan Er finally dropped the issue. She walked over to Litelli and asked, “What can I help with?”
“Hah? You can look for this one, that one, and also…” Litelli immediately pointed at the cabinets.
Despite keeping busy and handling all sorts of spirits, Yin Qie Zi couldn’t focus on the job at hand. The other two’s conversation kept drifting into his ear. He slowed down his movements, or else he would end up destroying another bottle of medicine.
“Exactly which tribe do you belong to? Are you really human?” Yan Er’s voice drifted over to him.
“I’m a Servile Spirit! Aren’t I tall?” Litelli sounded rather proud.
“Servile Spirit? You mean that tribe of spirits that specifically serve physical spirits?” Yan Er voiced out her disbelief. “Did Flower…Yin Qie Zi allow you to follow him around?”
“Of course! I’ve received his permission,” replied Litelli in the same proud tone.
“Permission?” Yan Er was puzzled. “But why would Flower give you his permission? Aside from Leaves, Flowers would never pay anyone else attention. They also don’t have a deep understanding of the world. All they are capable of doing is protecting us.”
“Who said that? My Flower even knows how to link spirits!” Litelli sounded even prouder than before.
Those two… Yin Qie Zi gritted his teeth and turned around to scowl. “Don’t you hear how you’re referring to me? Are you not capable of understanding no matter how I teach you? Why don’t I just send both of you to Jin Qi Er?”
“Your name is Yin Qie Zi!” The other two lowered their heads in remorse. Yan Er quickly explained, “I’m sorry. I’m still not used to it. Besides, Yin Qie Zi is the Leaf Lord’s name. That’s w-why…”
Yin Qie Zi felt his anger deflate at her response. The Leaf Tribe was an honest tribe. If Yan Er started calling him Yin Qie Zi without any hesitation, he’d probably start questioning his own impressions of the tribe.
“If you can’t change the way you refer to me, then you need to stay silent when there are other people around! Do you underst―”
Before he could finish his words, a knock sounded from the door. Yin Qie Zi became even more irritated at the sound. He had been interrupted time after time while he was trying to link spirits. How exactly was he supposed to focus on his job?
He glared at the other two in the room to emphasize his warning. He then called out unhappily, “Who is it?”
“It’s me! Owen! Edward told me to get you.”
The prince probably wanted to discuss how they were going to protect the Leaves. Yin Qie Zi called out, “Wait a bit. Or do you want to come inside?”
“Oh… I’ll wait for you outside.”
Yin Qie Zi frowned and instructed Litelli and Yan Er to continue their tasks. He then picked up Nightclaw and walked toward the door.
“W-why are you taking a sword with you?” He heard Yan Er’s voice behind him. He paused in his steps, but he didn’t want to explain why he carried a sword―because he had lost his powers.
The Leaves might know why he lost his powers and even how he could regain them, but Yin Qie Zi couldn’t will himself to ask despite his deep thirst for revenge. He couldn’t stand in front of a Leaf and describe all that he had gone through before he had lost his powers.
To pour out his heart to a Leaf about all that he’d done and then describe his plans for revenge… He’d rather be killed by Cas.
Once Yin Qie Zi left the lab, he saw Owen standing nearby with ramrod posture and wearing a military uniform. He seemed more like a solider than usual. Owen had probably started paying more attention to his appearance since they were in the royal palace. Puzzled, Yin Qie Zi asked, “Why didn’t you come in?”
“Aren’t you in the middle of your job?” Owen scratched his nose and replied, “Edward had warned me beforehand. If you were making the common types of medicine, then there’d be no harm in me taking a look. However, the medicine you’re making right now is one of your special recipes. As a spirit binder, it would be one of your most important trade secrets. He told me to avoid snooping around and interfering in your job.”
Hearing his reason, Yin Qie Zi snapped, “Even if you were to look, you wouldn’t know what I’m doing. If Mila were the one here instead, she might learn something from me. But there’s nothing to worry about with you around at all.”
“Hey! I’m still a spiritmancer. Am I that useless in your eyes?”
“Spirit binders don’t think highly of spiritmancers’ pathetic spirit vision. What’s wrong with that?”
“…We’re going to be a part of the same family soon. Is there a need for you to be so mean to me?” Owen scratched his nose again. He felt his days of being bullied by his brother-in-law were just around the corner.
“Who’s going to be part of the same family as you?!” Yin Qie Zi retorted.
“Haha. Of course, that depends on who’s going to marry my sister.”
“Go! We’re going to find the prince.”
Yin Qie Zi had no desire to comment any further on the topic. He walked ahead of Owen despite not knowing where they were headed. But as the spirit binding lab was situated in a corner of the palace, there was only one direction they could walk. There was no worry of getting lost.
While walking, Yin Qie Zi couldn’t resist muttering, “I don’t understand you two. My temper is horrible, yet both of you can’t stop plastering yourselves to me. And you won’t leave no matter how much I yell at you.”
Not only the twins, he couldn’t understand why Litelli wanted to stay with him either. No matter how difficult he made it on Litelli, the spirit just wouldn’t leave. However, that could be attributed to the special characteristics of the Servile Spirits. But exactly what was going on with Owen and Mila?
Despite wanting to get closer to Owen, he couldn’t lower himself to the level of showering Owen with praises in order to get into his good graces. Contrary to his expectations, Owen seemed to like his prickly behavior. He also hadn’t expected to start anything with Mila.
Owen was silent for a moment, but then replied, “You tongue is quite sharp. But after hanging around you for a while, I’ve noticed that you are actually quite soft on the inside.”
Yin Qie Zi tightened his fist and snapped, “As if! My heart is as sharp as my tongue!”
He heard muffled laughter come from behind him. Yin Qie Zi blushed, feeling that he was acting stupider the longer the conversation went on. He quickly changed the topic. “Is Prince Edward looking for me to talk about how we’re going to protect the Leaves?”
“Yes.” Owen walked in front of Yin Qie Zi and made a right turn. He said helplessly, “Edward won’t let me join. He said that although he trusts me, he can’t trust my father or my teacher. If either of them were to issue an order, I wouldn’t have any way of resisting. Because of that, he kicked me out along with Anselo and Gawain. All we can do is stay inside the palace and avoid making a fuss.”
Yin Qie Zi frowned and replied, “Is he thinking of using the three of you to control the forces behind your families?”
“Probably.” Owen scratched his nose and continued, “Edward is probably doing it as a preventative measure. He’s a very cautious person. I don’t think he would do anything to us. If he did, then all three spiritmancer regiments in the country would explode. That’s not something to laugh about.”
Yin Qie Zi paused and asked curiously, “Do you want to fight?”
Owen hesitated, but answered, “Promise you won’t tell Mila?”
Seeing Yin Qie Zi nod, Owen steeled himself. “I want to fight. When the Danyas invaded twenty years ago, so many of our countrymen had died. We still haven’t paid them back for that yet. The Danyas are a belligerent tribe in any case. Even if we don’t make the first move, they’ll bring the war to us sooner or later. If that’s the case, the one who makes the first move will take control of the war. Twenty years ago, we were caught completely off guard. If not for that, we wouldn’t have had so many casualties.”
Yin Qie Zi was silent. They continued their way to the prince’s study. Before knocking on the door, he said quietly, “The Danyas made the first move back then, but they lost the war.”
Previous: Prologue: The Flower Who Had Deviated from Its Meaning of Existence
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“Walking, walking, walking. Looking to the east and to the west, looking under every stone. Oh great physical spirit, where are you? Lequilier is searching for you. It’d be great if you’d appear, but equally great if you didn’t. Lequilier isn’t that determined to find you.”
Lequilier hummed a song to himself as he walked. It wasn’t tuneless to the point of ear-grating, but it certainly wouldn’t be able to move a person to tears.
The song reflected his current situation. As one of the Servile Spirits, logically, he should have been attending to the needs and whims of a physical spirit. His tribesmen had been urging him to find a physical spirit to serve for quite a while now. However, he had lived among the humans and been revered as a great spirit binder for far too long. Whenever the thought that he would have to stoop to serve someone else crossed his mind―even it if were a physical spirit―Lequilier was quite reluctant to accept his fate.
He also found it strange that his tribesmen were pushing him to find a physical spirit; after all, very few of his tribesmen had been successful in finding a physical spirits to serve themselves. Even if they did find one, it didn’t mean that their work was automatically over. After finding a physical spirit, they had to obtain the spirit’s permission become they could follow them around. Servile Spirits who could complete that required step of the process were few in number.
Also, quite unfortunately, physical spirits were few in number as well. Of their small numbers, most were guardian spirits who made difficult communication partners. All that the guardian spirits ever had in mind was how to fulfill their duties; they didn’t need someone to wait and attend to them. Everyone outside of their spectrum of protection was meaningless to them. It would be an impossible task to get a guardian spirit to nod his head in permission.
If the obstinate guardian spirits who didn’t know the meaning of compromise were a closed path, then most of the spirits left over to serve were the cunning and merciless spirit beasts. Lequilier didn’t want to follow such spirit beasts for the rest of his life. He didn’t want to be ordered to kill or even worse―find food for his master.
Spirit beasts didn’t consume animals or plants. Most of the spirit beasts in Xi Zong ate humans, while in Xiasha, they probably ate Danyas. Lequilier didn’t want to be ordered to capture either of those two types of “food” for his master, and then have to watch as they got crushed inside the beast’s jaw.
That would be disgusting!
Soaring Phoenix was probably the only spirit beast who had a good reputation, but he was far too difficult to find. Lequilier didn’t even know how long it had been since anyone had last heard any word of Soaring Phoenix’s appearance. It would be a foolish dream to go looking for him!
Thus, Lequilier was very troubled by his dilemma. As a Servile Spirit, it would be a lie if he said he didn’t feel any urge to serve under a physical spirit. However, he still couldn’t accept the idea that he had to serve under someone other than himself. As a result, he didn’t especially want to find a physical spirit.
Then let’s go find Soaring Phoenix! If I can’t find him, then that’s to be expected. If I do find him and become his servant however, then I’ll become a legend within my own tribe!
“A legend… Haha, that’s going to be difficult.” Lequilier laughed to himself.
His tribesmen were satisfied with his choice. Up until then, nobody within the tribe had become Soaring Phoenix’s servant. Even though Lequilier’s choice was nothing more than wishful thinking, it could also be considered as an ambitious and magnificent goal if looked in another perspective.
With the blessings of his tribesmen, Lequilier set out towards the east.
In legends, Soaring Phoenix was said to live in Xiasha. The humans and the Danyas were still fighting a war with each other and unfortunately, the battlefield was right in the path Lequilier had to take to reach Xiasha. However, it seemed like the war was reaching its end. As long as he was careful, there shouldn’t be any problems, right? Even if he did come across danger, he could just hide inside the mountains and throw a few jars of spirit medicine at anyone who dared follow after him. Who would be able to catch him then?
With that thought, Lequilier hummed to himself and continued on his foolish journey. Despite his initial bravado, his song eventually grew weaker and weaker, until he finally stopped humming altogether. He paused in his steps and stared at the thicket beside him, feeling as if some strange, bloodthirsty beast would rush out at him at any moment!
No, it would actually be better if it were just a mere beast! Lequilier pulled a long face. He hadn’t expected to find the tracks of a physical spirit so soon. Plus, it seemed like the spirit was quite close to his current location.
Servile Spirits had a special ability: They could sense the presence of a physical spirit as long as it was within a certain range. The range differed with each person’s ability, but Lequilier was very talented, making him a well-known figure within his tribe. His tribesmen had always placed high hopes on him.
After discovering the presence of a physical spirit near him, Lequilier couldn’t help but feel tense. It couldn’t be Nightclaw, right?
Where there was war, there was Nightclaw.
Lequilier’s tribe was very knowledgeable on physical spirits. If he came across Nightclaw, he knew he would be doomed! Completely doomed!
As a Servile Spirit, he had no resistance against the pull of a physical spirit; the only exception would be if he already had a physical spirit to serve. If he came across a physical spirit, he would be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Even if he were to be burned to ashes in the process, he had no way of resisting the allure of the flame.
Even if Nightclaw was one of the most troublesome spirits, many members of Lequilier’s tribe were still willing to serve him. Even worse, Nightclaw brought a large pack of beasts with him everywhere he went. Due to their large numbers, very few of Nightclaw’s pack would be averse to the idea of having an extra servant around to attend to their needs.
Did that mean he had no way of escaping once he came across Nightclaw?
The moment the question had formed in his mind, Lequilier obtained his answer. As if they had a mind of their own, his legs unfolded and sprinted toward the direction of the physical spirit. Even if he knew he was probably heading straight toward Nightclaw, he still couldn’t resist the pull.
“Woe is me!” Lequilier’s face crumpled with grief, but his legs only sprinted faster. Even if he was crying out in frustration on the surface, he was still very excited on the inside.
Although the physical spirit’s presence seemed to be close, Lequilier still had to run for a long distance. When he reached the shores of a lake, his footsteps finally came to a stop. He glanced around the lake and couldn’t help but to sigh in relief when he noticed the visible lack of ferocious beasts he had initially envisioned.
Everyone knew that Nightclaw always had a pack of beasts around him. If the spirit he had sensed was indeed Nightclaw, then there should have been numerous beasts lounging around the lake.
However, Lequilier didn’t spot any beasts even after glancing around for a while. But the physical spirit was close, very close.
Lequilier was mystified, the spirit was definitely there, but he couldn’t spot even a hint of their existence. Physical spirits weren’t hard to find. Once he had a sense of their direction, he could easily pinpoint their exact location. Rather, physical spirits radiated such an intense light that it was hard to ignore their presence.
However, everything within Lequilier’s sight was green. The blue-green of the trees, the dark green waters of the lake, and the bright green of the verdant grass, there wasn’t anything else around.
Could it be a plant-type physical spirit? But it should still shine brightly to my eyes…
Filled with suspicions, Lequilier made his way around the lake and began to search around. He even parted the branches of a small thicket to look inside, but immediately felt stupid in doing so. How could a physical spirit hide in that sort of place!
Lequilier felt more and more idiotic the longer he conducted his search. Finally, he stopped rifling around and stood still. He closed his eyes and focused on his sensing. He then moved a tiny step and paused again. Only after making sure that each step was taking him closer to his quarry did he make the next step…
Right in front!
Lequilier opened his eyes to the sight of a tree. He stared closely at the tree in front of him. There were physical spirits who took on the form of trees; the Spirit Tree of the Leaf Tribe was one example. However, no matter how he looked at the tree in front of him, it was a completely ordinary tree. It couldn’t possibly be a Spirit Tree.
What was going on? Lequilier scratched his head. The only thing he hadn’t done was knock on the trunk of the tree to see if there were anything special about it. Exactly where was the physical spirit?
“Hey!” Lequilier called out. “Is there a physical spirit around here? Answer me! Even if you aren’t one, answer me!”
Thoroughly discouraged, Lequilier had yelled without expecting a response. However, after calling out aimlessly for a few minutes, he heard a rustle come from underneath the tree. It was quiet, but there definitely had been movement.
The roots of the tree were crowded with an undergrowth of weeds that couldn’t possibly hide a person. Lequilier looked at it in surprise but couldn’t make sense of the problem no matter how he thought about it. He reached out and pulled out some of the weeds that covered the lower part of the tree. Unexpectedly, there was a pitch black tree hollow behind the screen of weeds. Lequilier couldn’t see into the hollow, but he knew there was definitely something moving inside.
Lequilier had the urge to laugh after his discovery. What was a physical spirit doing inside a tree hollow? It seemed like he had come across quite an interesting spirit. He called out, “Hey! What you hiding inside there for? Is it fun down there?”
The tree hollow was silent in response to his question. Then suddenly, a mass of black tumbled out of the hollow and crashed into Lequilier. He fell down hard onto the ground, thinking that he was going to be killed. However, after discovering that he hadn’t been injured, Lequilier quickly recovered from his shock and turned around to chase after the mass of black.
He followed the black shadow to the shores of the lake. Stepping out from the shade of the forest, Lequilier was met with a wide view of the lake. Splendid rays of sunlight struck down onto the surface of the lake, creating gleaming waves. Standing on the shores before the glittering water, there was a pitch black mass. At first glance, it appeared like a dark cloud. However, after closer examination, Lequilier discerned that it was a person wrapped in a cradle of twisting black hair.
“Hey!” Lequilier called out.
The person stiffened and turned to look at Lequilier. His hair waved about as if having a life of its own and exploded outwards in a sudden frenzy. The strands of hair morphed into knife-like shapes and danced about in the air, creating a menacing sight.
As the spirit’s black hair floated in the air, it exposed his patchy white, red, and black skin for Lequilier to see. Lequilier pondered over the appearance of the spirit, racking his brains for any memories of this kind of spirit. After examining the other’s body closely however, Lequilier discovered that the spirit’s patchy skin was actually made of burns: The wounds that were openly bleeding dripped red; the places that had been burned to the bone appeared white; and the areas that had scabbed over were black.
Lequilier’s eyes bulged at his discovery. He couldn’t believe that the person in front of him was actually a physical spirit. To his knowledge, no matter the type, physical spirits always shone with an unearthly beauty that made others unable to look at them directly.
They weren’t supposed to carry around injury-laden bodies that made them such a horrifying sight!
But the spirit in front of Lequilier was definitely a physical spirit. Being one of the Servile Spirits, Lequilier would never be mistaken about that. He called out lightly, “Y-you’re greatly injured! I have a lot of spirit medicine on me. Would you be willing to let me treat your injuries?”
The spirit didn’t respond to Lequilier’s question and instead stared intensely at him. His eyes were the same shade as blood: the pupils were red, even the whites of his eyes were threaded with red, making it appear as if he would cry out tears of blood at any moment.
Lequilier suddenly realized the danger he was in. Being so greatly injured, was the physical spirit even in a rational state of mind? Just from appearances, the spirit seemed to only have murderous rage left inside of him.
Lequilier swallowed hard and pondered over his next course of action. Should he stay and wait or should he turn around and escape for his life?
Seconds, then minutes passed, and to his grief, Lequilier found he was rooted to the ground. Even if logic was telling him to run for his life, it couldn’t win over the natural instinct of his tribe.
Fortunately, the physical spirit had yet to attack him. The spirit’s black hair still floated in the air, but the strands were no longer in the shape of lethal knives; they merely floated gently in the air.
However, if I were to move a single inch, his hair would probably instantly impale me and puncture a hundred holes in my body. Lequilier didn’t doubt the might of the other’s attacking ability at all.
The physical spirit suddenly turned around and sprinted toward the lake. He jumped and dove into the waters. Instead of moving his arms and swimming, the spirit willingly let his body sink into the depth of the lake…
To Lequillier’s eyes, he was obviously drowning!
Lequilier quickly rushed into the lake. The water near the shore wasn’t deep, so he was able to reach out and pull the other up to the surface. At first, the physical spirit was motionless as if he were unconsciousness. However, once they reached the shores, he started flailing around.
Lequilier quickly tightened his hold on the spirit, but his grip immediately dislodged something on the spirit’s body. He looked down to see a piece of skin in his hand and almost fainted at the sight. He didn’t dare use any more force, and the spirit took advantage of this and broke his hold.
The minute the spirit was free, the spirit slipped into the waters and disappeared without a trace. Lequilier was scared out of his wits. He quickly discarded his luggage onto the ground and leapt into the lake after the spirit again.
Luckily, the lake was well-illuminated beneath the surface. After swimming for a short distance, Lequilier spotted a mass of black at the bottom. He quickly swam in its direction.
When he reached the spot the spirit was at, Lequilier understood at once that he had done something unnecessary. The spirit wasn’t drowning at all.
The spirit’s eyes were tightly-closed, but he was standing straight up with his arms hanging weightlessly at his sides. As he stood at the bottom of the lake, his head of black hair drifted to and fro and fanned out around him. With the help of the sunlight that beamed down into the depth of the lake, his whole person glowed with a weak light. He appeared like…like a flower that only bloomed beneath the water.
If there hadn’t been any burns on his snow-white skin, he would probably have looked even more beautiful. Lequilier sighed in awe to himself, but couldn’t resist feeling that it was a pity that the spirit was injured.
Lequilier soon ran out of air and floated back to the surface of the lake. He looked to the east and then glanced back at the bottom of the lake. Finding that he couldn’t remove his eyes from the spirit, Lequilier swiftly made a decision.
He wasn’t heading to the east anymore.
Gong Hua opened his eyes. He knew he had been asleep for a long time; at least, long in human terms.
Despite sleeping so long, he still felt exhausted. He was surprised that he was able to wake up at all.
Although feeling fatigued in every limb, he still had important things he needed to do. Gong Hua lifted his spirits and started swimming toward the surface. Once he was floating atop of the lake, he headed in the direction of the shores.
He supported his arms on the ground and tried to crawl out of the water, but found every corner of his body wracked with pain. He glanced down at himself. His wounds had healed greatly during his time inside the lake, but that hadn’t taken away their severity. Most of his wounds were still inflamed and open; even the ones that had scabbed over still appeared red after the scab had fallen off. His snowy skin was covered with patches of black and red, making him a ghastly sight.
Suddenly, the sound of a clatter rang out on the shore. Gong Hua paused in surprise and looked in the direction of the sound. There was someone on the shore; there was even a makeshift camp.
When they had been on the run, Owen would always make a simple camp similar to the one on the shore: a campfire with two makeshift beds on the ground.
Was it him? Gong Hua quickly crawled up the shore, forgetting his pain in the process. Even if he knew it was impossible, he couldn’t help but call out the familiar name once he was near the camp. “Owen?”
The person in the camp turned around and jumped up when he noticed it was Gong Hua. The stranger couldn’t be any taller than 150 centimeters, but his voice was certainly over 150 decibels. “Oh, good morning! Master, I am Lequilier of the Servile Spirits. From today forth, I will be your servant!”
Staring at the short figure in front of him, Gong Hua mumbled in a daze, “You aren’t Owen…”
“Who is this Owen you’ve mentioned?” Seeing that Gong Hua hadn’t rejected him outright, Lequilier was relieved. He asked curiously, “Is he your target of protection? You are a guardian spirit, right? The feeling you give off is similar to a guardian spirit’s. You couldn’t possibly be a spirit beast. Were you injured so severely because you were trying to protect this Owen?”
Gong Hua ignored Lequilier’s questions and mumbled to himself, “Owen, Owen…”
Lequilier wasn’t all that surprised by their inability to communicate with each other. It only assured him of the fact that the other was a guardian spirit. However, he still didn’t know whether the spirit was willing to take him on as a servant.
“Would you like something to eat? Or rather, do you need to eat anything?”
Gong Hua seemed to not have heard the other as he stared blankly at the campfire, silent the whole time.
Is, is he crying? Lequilier was stunned. He stared as tears quietly streamed down Gong Hua’s face. Once again, he questioned whether the spirit in front of him was really a physical spirit. He seemed…too human.
“A-are you all right?” Lequilier asked, somewhat panicking. “Do you want to go find Owen? I can accompany you on your search! Can I follow you on your trip?” Despite panicking, Lequilier didn’t forget to add the last sentence; he was hoping Gong Hua would accidentally nod in agreement.
Unfortunately, Gong Hua didn’t seem to have heard Lequilier at all. He simply stared at the dancing flames. As he focused on it, it seemed as if he could still hear the screams. He could see that person turning into a pile of grey ashes before his eyes. He couldn’t resist reaching his hand out to the fire. His senses told him of the great pain he was inflicting on himself, but he merely watched as his skin started turning red, then black…
Black. Gong Hua stared as his hand gradually turned black like charcoal, turned black like Owen had.
Lequilier quickly reached out and pulled Gong Hua’s hand from the fire, but the spirit resisted his pull. Furious, he yelled, “What are you doing! That’s fire! You aren’t a fire spirit! Look at your hand. Your wounds were finally starting to look better, but look at it now!”
“No! I need to protect Owen. Owen… Owen!”
Gong Hua thrashed around, screamed, and cried. He wasn’t willing to admit that he had failed. No matter how strong he was, he wouldn’t be able to protect Owen anymore.
Lequilier used all his strength and pulled Gong Hua back from the fire, as far as he could. At first, he had been scared that Gong Hua would attack him out of anger, but then found out that the spirit had no energy to resist. He was even weaker than the average human.
Gong Hua continued to reach out toward the fire. The only thing he could do was call out that name.
Proofreaders: Rose, Xuan
Indigo: One of the Danji Yate’s Four Colors. The one responsible for leading the Danyas’ attack against the humans.
Aquamarine: A blue-haired female Leaf. Indigo’s lover.
Jin Qi Er: An emissary from Danya. Seems to be friends with Indigo.
Zhan ∙ Chris ∙ Wollier: Commander of Zhan Yan’s Xialan Spiritmancer Regiment.
Zhan ∙ Gawain ∙ Yves: Chris’ nephew. One of the candidates in line to become the next commander of the Xialan Spiritmancer Regiment.
Zhan ∙ Andrew ∙ Dinadan: Commander of Zhan Yan’s Qi Sheng Spiritmancer Regiment.
Zhan ∙ Anselo ∙ Dinadan: Andrew’s son.
Yan Er: A red-haired female Leaf.
Hong Yan: A red-haired male Leaf.
This volume was a pain to write!
I had to advance the plot while writing about the past and foreshadowing the future at the same time… Hahahaha! In the end, I still didn’t manage to finish writing about what had happened in the past. 囧!
I still haven’t finished writing about the onset of Gong Hua’s hatred and what happened afterwards. I hope everyone will wait for the next volume with a heart full of curiosity (or complaints)!
I’ll mention here that the next volume will be called “Choice.”
As the name implies, there will be many choices to be made. Gong Hua always says that he doesn’t have a choice, but now he will finally have the leeway to make a choice himself. However, it’d be difficult to say whether it would be considered good or bad if you had the chance to decide something.
In this volume, I tried writing about military matters and war. It didn’t take up too many chapters, mainly because I didn’t dare write too much. After all, military matters are one of my weak points. If I had to write about the specifics of war chapter after chapter, I think my brain would turn into a goopy mess. That is why it’s best to take it slowly.
I also tried writing about love. While going through reader comments after volume one’s release, it seemed like everyone had mistakenly assumed that the romance is between Gong Hua and Cas. However, I believe that this misunderstanding has been resolved after reading volume two, right?
I suddenly have no idea what else I want to add to the afterword. There are a lot of unfinished plotlines, but I can’t mention any of them here!
All right, let’s talk about the cover instead. The upside-down Cas on the cover is so handsome! The background is also detailed and beautiful! Monto, I love you!
To be honest, Cas’ upside-down position is rather marvelous. But what’s more marvelous is that…it totally suits his style! He’s exactly the type of deranged fellow who would strike such a mysterious pose.
How shall I comment on this?
Cas, nicely done! That upside-down position is so striking! It’ll make girls scream for you!
I’ll mention right now that one of the things Cas hates the most is when someone acts more deranged than him. (Therefore, as the author, I am the person he hates the most).
Is it okay for me, the author, to be this happy in the afterword after writing such a tragic book? What if someone tells me that the afterword ended up ruining the originally serious novel that is filled with sorrow?
I should delete every word in the afterword and rewrite the whole thing… No, I’m normally this happy in every afterword I write. If I’m not happy, then someone might as well cut me apart and allow me to reincarnate.
What? Are you asking me for the reason why the author is capable of being this happy after writing such a tragic novel?
…Well, you should try writing a novel, and only after two long, arduous months manage to hand in the finished manuscript. You’d be hopping mad with joy, I’ll tell you right now!
That is why I’m always so happy in every afterword. I’ll only be serious and emotional after writing the last chapter of a series. As there would be no subsequent volume, my happiness would always be dyed with a bit of melancholy.
Unfortunately for all the readers, this series is far from being finished. Therefore, I am very happy. I’ll ask everyone here to be tolerant of an author like me who’s more deranged than Cas, who had his entire family killed when he was young. Please don’t cut me apart and force me to reincarnate!
Off topic, I’ll be writing the seventh volume of The Legend of the Sun Knight after this. To be honest, I’m rather looking forward to writing it because it has a lot of [spoilers]. I’ve been waiting to write it for a long time now. I’ll finally have my wish fulfilled and can play around to my heart’s content.
To everyone who’s reading The Legend of the Sun Knight, please look forward to all my schemes! (Blush).
Proofreaders: Xuan, Sherry
Gong Hua, you have thousands of lives on your head. Your life is that valuable.
How could I kill you so easily? If I did, I won’t have anything left to take revenge on.
My dear baby Gong Hua, why don’t you repay your sins through a life of suffering?
I’ll hate you for the rest of my life and make you suffer for the rest of yours. But even then, this is barely enough for you to erase your sins.
“You know her?” Jin Qi Er asked in surprise.
Yin Qie Zi’s heart thumped rapidly. He immediately spoke to the red-haired Leaf in the Leaf language, “Don’t say anything!”
He then turned around and explained to Jin Qi Er, “I apologize. I’ve kept this hidden from you, but I’m actually descended from the Leaves.”
The Danya stared at him in shock, then said with suspicion, “No wonder why your hair color is so unique. So it is possible for humans and Leaves to have children together? It’s impossible for us Danyas.”
Hearing Jin Qi Er’s response, Yin Qie Zi was at a loss on how to react. He glanced at the red-haired Leaf; she was staring at him, but kept her mouth closed tight to show that she wouldn’t say anything rash. During that moment, another red-haired Leaf walked over to her and asked her what was going on in the Leaf language.
Seeing this, Yin Qie Zi turned to ask the Danya emissary, “Why do the Danyas like the Leaves so much? I wouldn’t think that it is purely because you admire their beauty.”
Jin Qi Er frowned but answered, “All right, I don’t think there’s any harm in telling you. It’s because the Leaves are knowledgeable in plants and the powers they have over spirits can increase harvest yields. My people are not well suited for farming. However, after having the Leaves with us, our harvests have become better than before.”
Yin Qie Zi chuckled. “The Leaves have such a power? Why haven’t I heard about this? There shouldn’t be that much of a difference in your harvests, right?”
“True, the difference isn’t great.” Jin Qi Er nodded in acknowledgement. “But with their guidance, our deficiencies in crop yields have decreased, which is of great help to us. My country suffers from severe shortages of food. If we were to miss two or three harvest seasons, I’m afraid we would have to rely on war and plunder other countries in order to survive.”
So that’s why the Danyas have been quiet for all these years. I didn’t expect this to be the cause. After the Leaf Tribe migrated to a different continent, the Danyas have been openly capturing and buying Leaves to bring them to Xiasha. Because the Leaves decrease their chances of having a poor harvest, they naturally wouldn’t need to plunder humans.
Yin Qie Zi nodded in understanding before putting forward a blunt request. “I want to have a good talk with them alone. Do you mind leaving?”
The Danya paused and asked hesitatingly, “You couldn’t possibly want to save them, right?”
“Don’t joke around,” Yin Qie Zi snapped. “If I had wanted to save them, I would’ve had Owen bring me here instead. I came here looking especially for you, and I even offered you the chance to stand guard outside the room. Should I also leave behind evidence for you so that you could label me as the criminal afterwards?”
After thinking a bit, even Jin Qi Er found his suspicion laughable. “I didn’t mean it that way. I apologize.”
“You don’t have to worry,” Yin Qie Zi said calmly. “Can I trouble you to leave now?”
The Danya nodded and left the room. Yin Qie Zi then turned around to face the Leaves. He looked around and noticed that every single Leaf had their eyes on him.
He intentionally avoided looking over at the red-haired female Leaf and instead directed his words to all of the other Leaves present. “I’m here to select and take one of you away. I won’t treat you as a slave, but you will have to come along with me on my adventures. Why don’t you discuss amongst yourselves to see which one of you wants to come with me?”
The Leaves looked around at each other in dismay. The other red-haired Leaf walked forward and said with a faint smile, “My name is Hong Yan. The one behind me is Yan Er. What’s your name?”
Yin Qie Zi opened his mouth to answer, but suddenly remembered that the alias he was using belonged to the Leaf Lord. If he were to utter that name aloud, he’d be in great trouble.
“My name is irrelevant.”
“What do you mean irrelevant?” Yan Er suddenly jumped out and yelled, “Your name represents everything you are. How can you call it irrelevant?”
Yin Qie Zi looked at Yan Er; she appeared to be the liveliest of all the Leaves gathered here. At that moment, Yin Qie Zi felt as though he had been transported to the past. For years, he had watched the lively Leaves walk past the Tree in high-spirits. Just simply looking at them, he had been able to feel some of their joy rubbing off on him.
Yan Er felt uncomfortable pinned by Yin Qie Zi’s unnerving stare and quickly hid behind Hong Yan. The latter looked at his sister and said, “I’ve never heard that humans and Leaves could have offspring together. You shouldn’t be a mixed descendant of human and Leaf, right?”
Yin Qie Zi was still gazing at Yan Er with a smile on his face. Hong Yan stared intensely at him, wanting to find traces of Yin Qie Zi’s supposed mixed heritage. He traced over the other’s red eyes, they seemed so familiar… Red eyes!
Hong Yan paused in shock and inspected the other’s face more closely. He couldn’t find any semblance of the proclaimed mixed heritage, but those pair of eyes and that face were becoming more and more familiar to him. Only Yin Qie Zi’s silvery-purple hair appeared off, but something like hair color wasn’t difficult to change!
Hong Yan stared dumbly at Yin Qie Zi’s face before speaking in an inconceivable voice, “…Flower?”
Yin Qie Zi froze in shock. After processing Hong Yan’s words, his expression flipped.
“I heard you were here.”
The door crashed open and Cas walked through. “Have you picked one out yet? Are you going to go with a male or a female? From what I can guess, you would probably choose the one who would make the best spirit charmer―”
Cas drifted off when he noticed the ugly expression on Yin Qie Zi’s face.
Seeing the door was open, Yin Qie Zi abruptly turned around and ran outside, even pushing aside Cas who was blocking his way.
“What the hell?” Cas frowned, then snarled ferociously at the Leaves, “I don’t care what had happened just now, but none of you are allowed to breathe a word of it to anyone else. Otherwise, you’ll be wishing for death once I’m done with you!”
After leaving behind a warning, Cas chased after Yin Qie Zi. Luckily, the latter hadn’t gotten too far away. Within a few steps, Cas managed to catch up to the spirit binder. He grabbed Yin Qie Zi’s wrist and stopped him in his tracks. However, Yin Qie Zi struggled and managed to break free of Cas’ hold, turning around to run off again.
“Stop running!” Cas spoke in a furious voice, “Do you think this is your backyard? If you really have a death wish, then continue your rampage through the palace!”
Yin Qie Zi froze, but kept his head down. He mumbled, “He recognized me as the Flower. He really recognized me.”
Cas’ expression stiffened when he heard Yin Qie Zi. He grabbed the other’s wrist and dragged him into a nearby room. After closing the door, he faced Yin Qie Zi and yelled, “Are you crazy? Do you think the royal palace is some type of secret hideout? I can’t believe you actually said that in the halls! If you’re really wishing for death so badly, then tell me! I’ll kill you right now!”
Yin Qie Zi stared distractedly into space and didn’t seem to have heard Cas.
“You good-for-nothing!” Cas frowned and asked, “Would the Leaves use this to threaten you to rescue them?”
Yin Qie Zi paused, and said dumbly, “Threaten me? How would that be possible? The Leaves would never threaten anyone.”
“Then that’s the end of that.” Cas snorted and continued, “And here I was under the impression that I would have to kill you now so that someone else doesn’t get to you first! As long as those Leaves never open their mouths, what’s the harm in letting them know about you?”
Yie Qie Zi turned to look at Cas, but couldn’t bring himself to reveal anything. For him, letting the Leaves know his real identity was worse than being killed. If the Leaves knew that he was their Guardian Flower, then they would also know that he, their guardian…had abandoned them.
“I think you’re just making things hard on yourself. You should have sent someone from the Paladin household to help you select one, but you came over by yourself and ended up being recognized by the Leaves. How could you be anything besides an idiot?”
“I only wanted to talk with them a bit…” Yin Qie Zi replied quietly.
“Would it make you happy to talk with them?” Cas’ lips lifted in a cruel smirk and he said viciously, “That’s not allowed! Don’t forget that I’m not going to let you experience any bit of happiness for the rest of your life!”
“I don’t want to anymore,” Yin Qie Zi said simply. “I don’t want to see them anymore.”
The second those words left his mouth, Yin Qie Zi knew he was in for trouble. Wasn’t Cas’ favorite pastime forcing him into doing the things he didn’t want to do?
As expected, Cas immediately ordered, “Go pick out a Leaf right now.”
Yin Qie Zi stayed silent, but then surprisingly nodded. “All right.”
After replying, Yin Qie Zi swiftly turned around and started walking toward the room where the Leaves were being kept in.
In shock, Cas stared after Yin Qie Zi for a moment before catching up to the other. He kept a suspicious gaze on the spirit binder. Yin Qie Zi’s response was a tad bit more straightforward than he liked. However, after thinking for a bit, Cas concluded that it was probably because Yin Qie Zi understood that he had no way to refuse and decided to forgo the needless struggle.
This was starting to become interesting.
Yin Qie Zi slammed the door open forcefully. The Leaves inside the room lifted their heads and turned to look at him. Unlike their previous lost expressions, a glimmer of hope now decorated their faces. Hong Yan and Yan Er immediately walked up to him.
“Don’t look at me with that sort of expression!”
Yin Qie Zi continued with a snarl, “Did you think I would rescue you? Stop dreaming!”
The Leaves stared at him in shock. But rather than saying they were dismayed by Yin Qie Zi’s words, it would be more accurate to say that they were scared of the Flower’s attitude… They had never seen a Flower roar at someone before.
Even Cas was surprised at Yin Qie Zi’s sudden outburst after following the latter into the room. He quickly turned around and shut the door tightly. If Yin Qie Zi continued yelling with the door open, Cas was afraid that every guard standing outside would end up learning about the “Flower.”
Yin Qie Zi eyed every single Leaf inside the room and said through gritted teeth, “The Leaves were the ones who abandoned me! Remember?”
Hearing him say this, the Leaves’ expressions changed.
“All of you walked by me day after day, yet none of you took the effort to pay me any attention. I sat alone under the Tree all that time! Your laughter rang in my ears constantly, yet I was forced to turn a blind eye and eat all by my lonesome!”
Yin Qie Zi stared at each and every Leaf inside the room. He was waiting… Waiting for one of them to voice out the reason why they had abandoned him: that he would go crazy after the Tree died! That he would kill them all during that period of insanity! That no one had the courage to talk to a Flower who was on the verge of starting a massacre!
Silence permeated the room. Yan Er swallowed forcefully and looked at Yin Qie Zi with tears and pity in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Hong Yan began with thick regret in his voice.
“I would go crazy. Did you all know that from early on?” Seeing the Leaves nod, Yin Qie Zi continued coldly, “Then why didn’t you kill me before leaving?”
“Kill you?” Hong Yan repeated in alarm. “How could we do something like that? You are our Flower!”
“Did you never think that I would kill people once I started going insane?” Yin Qie Zi roared at him with fury and agitation.
“Kill…people?” For a long time, Hong Yan couldn’t speak out of shock. Finally, he said, “No! We never had that thought. It’s a part of the Flower’s natural instinct to return to the Tree’s side. There wouldn’t be anyone around the dying Tree. The Flower wo-would…become insane along with the Tree and die afterwards.”
In other words, he was a Flower that should have died but had failed to for some reason?
“Flower, did you kill?” Yan Er asked in a small voice.
Yin Qie Zi chuckled when he heard the question. Quietly, he said, “I’ve killed plenty. I’m…a Flower that grew up bathed in blood.”
While the Leaves stared at him with widened eyes in shock and distress, Yin Qie Zi said to Cas, “I’ll pick this red-haired female Leaf.”
He then left without turning back.
The two of them walked down the halls one after another. Yin Qie Zi’s steps were fast and precise; Cas almost had to jog to catch up.
“Stop! What the hell were you thinking just now?”
Cas grabbed hold of Yin Qie Zi and grounded him to a halt. Cas was alarmed; no matter how much he thought about it, something didn’t seem right. The Gong Hua he knew never acted like this. Even if Gong Hua was just acting as Yin Qie Zi right now, he would have never roared and cursed at the Leaves just because they had abandoned him in the past. Because of this, Cas couldn’t help but suspiciously wonder what the other was planning.
Even though he had been caught in a hold, Yin Qie Zi didn’t turn to face Cas. He merely said quietly, “Revenge.”
Cas jolted in surprise before he growled in complete disbelief, “Revenge? Did you believe you were cursing at the Warlord Paladin just now? Don’t lie to me!” He said in a warning tone, “Give me a clear explanation!”
Yin Qie Zi turned around and said sternly, “Did you think Owen and Mila’s only enemy was West? West had nothing to do with Mila’s death!”
Cas paused in shock before noticing that Yin Qie Zi’s face was covered with tears.
“Owen and Mila’s biggest enemy…was me!”
Proofreaders: Xuan, PiKairi
Even your life isn’t enough to atone for all the sins you’ve committed. Tell me Gong Hua, what should I do?
Everyone’s heading towards death anyways, but would your death be enough to offset this hatred of mine?
Of course not! One measly life isn’t enough!
But you only have one life. After I kill you, it’ll be gone.
Even if I kill you, it won’t be enough. And after you’re dead, I won’t have anyone to take revenge on…
“Are you really not the one who wants to kill the peace offerings to start another war?”
Zhan ∙ West ∙ Paladin stood in front of the window in his study. When he heard the question, he turned around and said angrily, “Chris! Am I not the one who fought beside you in the war all those years ago? I know better than anyone, better than you, how tragic and devastating that war was! When Chakou fell, I was the one who led the remaining soldiers to escape. The Danyas weren’t the only ones chasing us back then, Nightclaw and his pack were also following our trail. Can you even imagine the tragedies I’ve seen?”
Contrasting with West’s anger, Chris calmly said , “Those things happened twenty years ago. People often forget to learn from past lessons.”
“There are some lessons you can never forget your entire life,” West replied coldly.
Looking at West’s chilly expression, Chris didn’t want to quarrel with him anymore. “I apologize. I simply can’t think of anyone else who has the power to do something like this. Prince Edward isn’t an incompetent prince. I’m afraid only a few people are capable of preventing him from searching out the truth of this matter.
Upon hearing Chris’ apology, West calmed down. “You and I command two of the three spiritmancer regiments. There’s also that guy, the one who has never experienced the disasters of war.”
Chris paused and looked at West. He asked, “Do you mean the commander of the Qi Sheng Regiment, Andrew Xi Jiang? The Qi Sheng Regiment is mainly responsible for protecting the capital, Qifeng. Even if a war were to happen, Andrew Xi Jiang would never receive orders to lead his regiment onto the battlefield. He doesn’t have any battle achievements at all… Perhaps he wants to utilize the war to weaken the power of Xialan and the Racing Flames?”
“That’s probably not the case.” West frowned and continued, “His sons are all in the military. One of them, Anselo, is a spiritmancer you’ve personally praised before. If a war doesn’t happen, Anselo would never rise to the rank of Xi Jiang until his father dies. Not to mention, the process of obtaining a medal is strictly-regulated these days. Even if he’s a War Marshal, he would never earn a higher title if he doesn’t obtain any battle achievements.”
Doesn’t the same apply to Owen? Chris did not voice out the thought. It was for this reason that he suspected West of wanting to start a war. Without war, soldiers had no way of obtaining any achievements. Without achievements, rising to the military rank of Xi Jiang or obtaining a title higher than War Marshal was impossible.
Owen was in the same situation as Anselo: both could only wait until their fathers retired before they themselves could rise to the rank of Xi Jiang by becoming the new commanders of their respective regiments. However, even then, it’d still be impossible for them to be receive titles higher than War Marshal.
Although West treated his son harshly on the outside, Chris understood how he really felt on the inside. West didn’t love Owen any less than he loved Mila; he was only expressing his love in a different way.
West furrowed his brows and pondered the situation. “The Danyas are matchless in their swiftness and ferocity. Even though they don’t have any spiritmancers or spirit charmers, their inherently strong physiques more than make up for that deficit. Their only weakness is their food shortages. However, they live and subsist off of war. What they don’t have they can obtain by plundering. But that isn’t the biggest problem…”
“If another war starts between our two countries, would we be able to win again?” Chris murmured.
“We both know the answer to that question!” West continued a bit angrily, “No one knows better than us the real reason why the Danyas haven’t started another war these twenty years! If they hadn’t been scared out of their wits back then, why would those belligerent Danyas be willing to maintain peace for these twenty years!”
“The Danyas weren’t the only ones scared out of their wits,” Chris said simply. “I was also scared out of my wits.”
If someone else had heard Chris, they definitely would have thought he was telling a joke. How could there have been anything that could’ve scared the calm and collected Commander Chris out of his wits?
However, West knew the man was telling the truth. He said seriously, “If another war starts, scaring the Danyas out of their wits again would be impossible as we don’t have…”
West trailed off. He didn’t know what words he should use to describe…her.
“Gong Hua.” Chris finished the other’s sentence and added, “Even if you’re scared of her, don’t avoid her name. The Danyas were so afraid of her power that they haven’t invaded us for twenty years. They’re terrified of coming across her again…her power was that dreadful.”
“It’s fortunate that they don’t know we’ve lost Gong Hua,” West replied, but felt something was off. “Are you regretting the fact that you agreed to her execution?”
“No!” Chris immediately shook his head and refuted the claim. “I never approved of using her powers back then. It’s the same now. That sort of power shouldn’t be controlled by anyone.”
“If Owen hadn’t brought Gong Hua before me, the entire Racing Flames would’ve been annihilated. The Xialan Regiment wouldn’t have fared any better!” The Owen West mentioned obviously wasn’t his son, but an old friend who had already passed away.
Chris quieted when he heard West. He couldn’t deny that if it hadn’t been for Gong Hua, Zhan Yan might have fallen into Danya’s hands… No, it would be more accurate to say that the entire continent of Xi Zong would have suffered devastating losses. The way the Danyas had been fighting back then, it didn’t seem like they would have quietly returned home after defeating Zhan Yan.
Gong Hua had only slaughtered around ten thousand Danyas. For a continental war, that number wasn’t enough to turn the war in Zhan Yan’s favor. When the war had first started, the Racing Flames had lost sixty thousand soldiers. Compared to that, Gong Hua’s ten thousand wasn’t a large number at all. Despite that, the most important thing Gong Hua had done was plant the seed of fear in the Danyas’ hearts.
For soldiers to march forward fearlessly and slaughter their enemies, their enemies had to be at least entities they could defeat, not an evil spirit who was cleaning up the battlefield like she was merely weeding the yard.
Even if Chris hadn’t approved of using Gong Hua’s powers, he had stayed silent when West had sent her onto the battlefield. In a way, that had been tacit approval. If Gong Hua were to be sent onto the battlefield, then thousands, or even tens of thousands of soldiers could be saved from dying. In war, that number was a lure that a general of an army couldn’t ignore.
“I don’t want another war, Chris. The fact that I’m in the pro-war faction is only a front for the public,” West said quietly. “Even if Owen never obtains any battle achievements or receives any higher ranks or titles, at least that’s better than sending him to die on the battlefield. The Danyas aren’t easy opponents. Not to mention, Dashi and Yi Shuang lies to our west and north. Much of Dashi is covered with deserts, and Yi Shuang is permanently covered with snow. They covet the fertile Old Zhan Plains like an eagle eyeing a fat rabbit. Even if we manage to defeat the Danyas again, Dashi and Yi Shuang might decide to take advantage of the time we spend regrouping to invade.”
“Whether we want another war or not, the final decision lies in His Majesty the King’s hands,” Chris replied solemnly. “If the king doesn’t want a war, then I wouldn’t fight back even if my opponent held his sword up to my neck. However, if the king declares war, then as a solider, it’s my duty to become his sword and cut down his enemies!”
“Your stubborn views will attract you a horde of enemies!” West replied as he shook his head.
Chris smiled in response. “My duty is to become the king’s sword. As for whether it’s an appropriate time for war, that’s your duty to explain to the king.”
“Well, what an easy job you chose!” West said irritably. “If Andrew ever comes to challenge me, you better remember to mention that you’re supporting me.”
Chris smiled and said, “Why would that be a problem? Since when have I not supported you? If you really are pro-war, then I might hesitate a bit. But if you advocate for peace, then I won’t hesitate at all.”
West smiled back at the other, but couldn’t help letting out a light sigh. The two of them were commanders of military regiments, yet if they had a choice, they’d rather not fight a war at all.
“Truly, it seems like the Danyas weren’t the only ones who were scared out of their wits.”
Yin Qie Zi expressionlessly walked down the hallway of the royal palace. The people he passed by couldn’t resist glancing back at him, but the real reason why they kept doing so had nothing to do with him. Before going to the palace, he had put on the extravagant outfit Owen had gifted him. At the palace, however, his outfit wasn’t nearly extravagant enough, so that definitely wasn’t the reason why he was attracting so much attention.
People kept glancing at Yin Qie Zi because those strolling alongside him were of exceedingly high status: Prince Edward, the only son of Warlord Paladin, and two others who had clamored to join them―Gawain and Anselo.
All of the most important, powerful, and predetermined successors of the country were gathered around him! It would be odd if they didn’t attract any attention walking down the halls together. However, the one who drew the most eyes among them was still Yin Qie Zi, mainly because he wasn’t a successor of the country. It was like someone had stuck a bun made of coarse grains amidst a feast of delicacies, but the coarse bun turned out to be more eye-catching than any of the delicacies.
It was a frustrating matter.
Gawain made a point of frowning at Yin Qie Zi the whole way down the halls while carrying on a whispered conversation with Prince Edward. The onlookers didn’t even have to think to figure out whom he was whispering about.
Yin Qie Zi’s expression was as hostile as it could be. Gawain and Anselo frowned at his reaction, while Owen seemed surprised that Yin Qie Zi hadn’t decided to turn around and leave. The spirit binder was definitely getting better at restraining himself.
Besides Yin Qie Zi, Edward was also making an unpleasant face, albeit inwardly. He’d been thoroughly occupied with the matter of assassins these past few days, but now these four were nosing in, wanting a piece of the fun by saying that they were going to protect the Leaves. Although they were all strong fighters, their families’ influence was definitely stronger than their own personal strength. It’d be troublesome if something ended up happening to any one of them. So how could he actually send them to act as bodyguards for the Leaves?
Yin Qie Zi was probably the only person Edward could use out of the four. At least Yin Qie Zi wasn’t an heir to an influential family; moreover, he was the strongest out of all of them. If something were to happen to Yin Qie Zi, however, Mila would probably have his head in return.
Though the other three couldn’t be used as bodyguards, they could be used to scout out the movements of the powerful factions within the country. That was one reason why Edward hadn’t outwardly refused to let them come along. The best way to learn everyone’s intentions concerning the looming war was to use these loose-mouthed nobles who were in the know about everything.
Yin Qie Zi suddenly stopped and turned around to regard the others. He said coldly, “I want to go and pick out a Leaf alone. I won’t trouble you all with following me anymore.”
So he’s losing his temper after all? Owen nodded to himself. This was how Yin Qie Zi should be!
“You―” Gawain’s expression froze. He had meant to criticize Yin Qie Zi’s rudeness, but he swallowed his words after glancing at the prince standing beside him. He didn’t want to become a target for criticism himself by yelling at someone in front of the prince.
Edward wasn’t all that surprised at Yin Qie Zi’s reaction. Although he had never seen the spirit binder lose his temper, he’d heard Owen complaining about Yin Qie Zi for a whole year. Because of that, he had thought of Yin Qie Zi as an odd person who was both unreasonable and bad tempered. After meeting Yin Qie Zi, however, he felt that the spirit binder wasn’t as unreasonable as Owen had made him out to be.
“Are you selecting a male or a female?” Anselo suddenly spoke up.
Yin Qie Zi turned to frown at Anselo. He didn’t really understand this person who only had a thoroughly average appearance. Prince Edward could be described as elegant, Owen as handsome, and even Gawain as cultured, but no praise could be used for Anselo. He definitely wasn’t ugly, just average. His eyes were constantly narrowed, as if he were smiling, but expressions rarely graced his face.
“Don’t tell me you plan on picking a female?” Gawain smiled and said, “That might not be good.”
“What’s not good about it?” Yin Qie Zi replied coldly. “Isn’t it even better to pick out a female and make Mila jealous?”
Gawain’s smile froze on his face. He hadn’t expected Yin Qie Zi to reply so bluntly, blunt enough that he couldn’t pretend this whole exchange hadn’t happened.
Owen immediately tried to smooth things over. “Gawain, this is just Yin Qie Zi’s personality! He’s made me speechless with anger many times already. Don’t mind him!”
Somewhat astonished, Anselo looked at him and asked, “You still want him to marry your sister even though he makes you angry?”
“…” Owen and Gawain wordlessly turned to stare at Anselo. They suddenly realized that this fellow’s ability to read the atmosphere was even worse than Yin Qie Zi’s.
“All right, all right!” Edward immediately smiled to defuse the situation. “In any case, the Danyas’ desire to gift Yin Qie Zi with a Leaf has nothing to do with us. There’s no reason for us to go and create trouble. Let’s go to the drawing room and discuss how we’ll protect the Leaves! Those assassins have had me racking my brains day and night these past few days. Now that I have all of you here as bodyguards, I finally feel lighter.”
“Are you joking?” Anselo shook his head and asked, “How can you actually use us as bodyguards?”
Owen and Gawain stared blankly at Anselo. They weren’t especially close to the latter. At most, they’d come across each other during formal banquets, but they’d never known that Anselo was the kind of person who blurted out anything on his mind. He didn’t seem like someone from an aristocratic family at all.
Edward, however, wasn’t all that surprised. He had gotten to know Anselo from an early age, so he was used to the rash things the latter often said. “It isn’t as simple as being bodyguards. With you guys here, those assassins will have to think carefully about whether they can afford to clash with you over the peace offerings.”
Anselo thought over Edward’s words and nodded in agreement.
Edward turned to Owen and said, “Owen, why don’t you take Yin Qie Zi to meet the Danya emissary first? Remember to come find us in the drawing room afterwards.”
Owen shrugged and replied, “All right, I’ll go over soon. Try not to discuss too many secrets while I’m not there!”
“Don’t worry,” Edward said. “We’ll discuss plenty of secrets without you around.”
Owen aimed a glare at Edward before calling to Yin Qie Zi. The two of them then headed towards their original destination.
“Who is Anselo?” Yin Qie Zi couldn’t resist asking.
“He’s the son of the commander of the Qi Sheng Spiritmancer Regiment. He doesn’t like flaunting and you rarely get to see him in public. However, he and Edward are friends of a sort. It isn’t strange for him to come to the palace and inquire about the current situation, though I really doubt he would be able to pry anything out of Edward. There’s a much bigger chance that Edward would learn something from him instead!”
Yin Qie Zi hadn’t expected Anselo to come from such an outstanding background. Anselo wasn’t dressed extravagantly; in fact, his outfit was much simpler than Yin Qie Zi’s own. He glanced at Owen and snapped, “Can’t you aristocrats at least dress like aristocrats? Even your personalities don’t seem like ones aristocrats should possess!”
“Haha!” Owen said while laughing, “We all come from military families. Soldiers don’t have to live under those long, rigid rules of the aristocracy. You’re the one who seems more like an aristocrat.”
“…I’m not an aristocrat!”
“True.” Owen looked around left and right and said quietly, “You’re a Flower. Does that mean you’re the king of the Leaves?”
Yin Qie Zi paused for a bit and replied sharply, “Where are you going with your misunderstanding? The Flower isn’t the king of the Leaves. The king is called the Leaf Lord.”
“Is that so?” Owen scratched his face and added, “But the Leaves should listen to your orders, right? You’re their guardian spirit. In the end, your position might be higher than your king’s!”
“…I don’t know if they’ll listen to me or not.” Yin Qie Zi frowned and said, “Flowers would never give orders to the Leaves.”
“Huh? Then does that mean Flowers would listen to the Leaves’ commands? Does that mean… Are you somewhat like a general? Would you follow the orders of the Leaf Lord to protect the tribe?”
“No!” Yin Qie Zi explained brusquely, “Don’t even try to use human systems to explain the Flower’s existence. The Flower isn’t human, nor is it Leaf. The Flower is a physical spirit! It’s similar to the Spirit of War you all believe in. Would your king command the Spirit of War? Would the Spirit of War command you?”
“The Spirit of War would never stand in front of me and speak to me. He doesn’t really exist,” Owen replied.
“That’s because you humans don’t really believe in His existence.”
“What?” Owen stared at him in shock.
“Jin Qi Er’s here. Be quiet.”
Owen turned to look. A tall and strong Danya was walking towards them. Who else could it be but Jin Qi Er?
The Danya walked right up to them and asked without any words of greeting, “I heard you’re joining the forces that will protect the Leaves?”
Yin Qie Zi didn’t know what Jin Qi Er was worried about and explained simply, “Don’t worry. No matter what happens, you’ll have your medicine in two weeks.”
Jin Qi Er frowned when he heard Yin Qie Zi’s reply, but he wasn’t in a position to say much more. He only emphasized somewhat roughly, “I hope you will uphold your promise.”
Yin Qie Zi nodded without hesitation. He really did plan on keeping his promise. Even if Jin Qi Er didn’t want to accept the medicine for some reason, he would still find a way to make the other take the medicine back with him to Danya.
“Then please follow me.” Jin Qi Er motioned with his hand.
“Yin Qie Zi, you can go with him. I have to go look for Edward and the others,” Owen said hurriedly.
Yin Qie Zi nodded in assent.
Owen turned around to leave but suddenly remembered something after a few steps. He immediately turned to yell, “Remember to let me see the Leaf after you choose one! Don’t run off by yourself!”
Yin Qie Zi replied with an eye-roll. He then added tetchily, “I have to go look for Prince Edward afterwards and see how he’s going to station the guards. How am I supposed to run off by myself?”
“That’s true!” Owen left, reassured by Yin Qie Zi’s reply.
Yin Qie Zi couldn’t help but shake his head. Owen was still concerned about which Leaf he was going to select. It seemed like Anselo wasn’t the only one unskilled at prying information out of other people. Owen probably delivered information free of charge to the prince all the time.
“Why are you here to protect the Leaves?” Jin Qi Er asked confusedly, before suggesting, “If possible, I can have one of my subordinates take your place.”
Yin Qie Zi shook his head and said, “You can’t do that. I’m being tested, for…” He hesitated, but continued, “For the hand of Warlord Paladin’s daughter.”
Jin Qi Er stared at him in surprise before understanding the reason behind Yin Qie Zi’s presence in the palace. He nodded, a faint smile appeared on his face. “So it’s for a woman. True, a man should fight for his woman by himself. Then I won’t probe anymore. I hope you will balance both of your tasks wisely.”
Is he still worried? Yin Qie Zi nodded his head impatiently.
Probably noticing that Yin Qie Zi was becoming impatient, Jin Qi Er ended the conversation and led Yin Qie Zi toward the prison where the Leaves were being held.
The prison wasn’t very far away; they arrived there merely after walking the stretch of the halls and making a turn.
Yin Qie Zi was surprised when he heard Jin Qi Er declare that they were there. This wasn’t the same prison as the one he had seen on the night he snuck into the palace. Their current location was a room right off to the left of the great hall. Although a dozen soldiers stood guard outside the room, it still didn’t make a great prison to keep people in.
Yin Qie Zi frowned and replied, “Nothing, I just expected them to be locked up in a prison.”
“They were kept in the prison before, but I had asked for a change of place,” Jin Qi Er explained. “There’s no reason to keep these Leaves locked up in a prison. They aren’t dangerous. Unless someone provoked them, they would never make the first move and attack. Moreover, the prison environment was horrible. It wouldn’t be good if they become sick.”
When they walked up to the door, Jin Qi Er greeted the guards stationed outside. A guard stepped up and opened the door for them. Besides an outer wooden door, an inner metal door also blocked the entrance. After both doors were opened for them, Jin Qi Er and Yin Qie Zi walked inside the room.
Once inside, Yin Qie Zi found his eyes drawn to the Leaves. Disregarding their lost expressions, Yin Qie Zi still found the Leaves less dazzling to the eyes than when they lived in the forests. Even so, he couldn’t avert his eyes from the Leaves.
The room they were in was especially spacious with ten beds placed inside. Some of the Leaves sat on the beds, others stood near the windows. The windows weren’t the normal ones with wooden frames and glass; instead, metal slats covered the openings. The Leaves were also bound by handcuffs and fetters around their wrists and ankles. The chains that linked their fetters together were short. Forget about running away, they had difficulty just moving around the room.
The Leaves didn’t react much to their arrival; some didn’t even bother to look at them.
Suddenly, a red-haired Leaf stood up and exclaimed, “It’s you!”
Yin Qie Zi recognized her as well. He had completely forgotten that one of the Leaves had seen him that night.
What was he going to do now?
Next: Chapter 10: Revenge… Is It You? Or Me?
Previous: Chapter 8: Mila… The Promise of the Past and the Present
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Proofreaders: Xuan, Sherry