// Chapter 5 : Parting
27 May 2019

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The night at the inn was quiet.

Qiu Zhen laid in his bed, eyes still open.

He leaned over to his bedside and reached for a heavy object–a long sword. Its sheath was intricately designed with metallic blue patterns, the symbols ☰ engraved near the handle in gold.

Qiu Zhen closed his eyes and recalled the conversation he shared with Ling Guang under the pavilion.

*Flashback*

“What if I asked you, in exchange for freedom and your family honor, to infiltrate the Juntian Empire and assassinate its ruler, Emperor Qikun?” said Ling Guang.

Qiu Zhen did not reply.

“Are you unwilling?” Ling Guang asked.

iu Zhen thought for a moment and answered monotonously, “As long as Your Majesty commands, my life is yours.”

QLing Guang walked a few paces forward and gazed at the pond in front of the pavilion. “My messenger informed that Emperor Qikun has been buying horses and recruiting soldiers diligently. If our siege on Yaoguang is a success, this will be a big blow to Juntian’s reputation. I’m afraid he will officially declare war against us to settle this conflict once and for all.”

“With our current strength, it could not be that Your Majesty is concerned about losing to Juntian,” Qiu Zhen noted.

Ling Guang sighed. “You are right. It is not that I have no confidence in this potential war, but after losing so many soldiers in Yaoguang, I do not want to see any more of my people shed blood in vain. If any of my Tianxuan citizens die, they must die for a cause. Others may view me as cold-hearted, but I only punish those who do not do good for the country. Each individual citizen of Tianxuan is important to me. It hurts me just as much to punish my own people.”

Qiu Zhen walked closer to Ling Guang. “Others may not understand now, but one day they’ll recognize the sacrifices you have made for them.”

Ling Guang smiled gently, evoking a sense of peace and warmth.

“I know this a difficult task, but I want to place a spy next to Emperor Qikun. After much consideration, I think you are the best fit. If what the messenger said was true, find an opportunity to eliminate him before he leads his soldiers to attack Tianxuan. I will fake your escape from prison and issue a bounty to capture you so Qikun does not suspect.”

Qiu Zhen nodded.

Ling Guang continued, “If you cannot find the chance, then just come back. I will not blame you. No matter the outcome, I will convince the officials to erase your family’s crime from the history books. As a reward for your contributions, your father’s actions will not be recorded.”

Qiu Zhen lowered his head and said, “I will not disappoint.”

The following night, Qiu Zhen silently headed for the gates of the capital, carrying nothing with him except a bag of clothes, dry food, and a rusty sword.

Just as he was about to cross, a small shadow emerged from the dark. It was Ling Guang carrying a shiny object in his hands.

“Qiu Zhen…” Ling Guang muttered.

“Your Majesty, you should not have come here.”

“I… I just wanted to escort you out.”

“I will not fail Your Majesty’s orders. You needn’t worry.”

“Between you and me now, is there nothing else we can talk about besides state affairs?”

Qiu Zhen looked away and did not respond.

“This journey will be full of obstacles. I am most concerned about your safety.” He put out the shiny object and handed it to Qiu Zhen. “Take this sword. I hope it can protect you on your journey.”

Qiu Zhen ran his fingers down the sword’s sheath, which glistened against the reflection of the moon. “What a magnificent sword,” he uttered in awe.

“This sword was forged by a renowned bladesmith who resides in the mountains of Tianji.”

“Tianji?” Qiu Zhen questioned. “Could it be the eccentric bladesmith Qi Shifu* who only forges whenever and for whoever he wants to?” (A/N 1)

“You’ve heard about him as well? I was in need of a reliable weapon to keep by my side, so I ordered someone to anonymously travel to Tianji and ask this bladesmith to forge a sword for me. At first, he rejected no matter how much money he was offered, but after discovering that it was for me, he accepted. He did not even accept a single coin for his work.”

“As someone from Tianji, he should reject forging such a valuable weapon for someone from another state, let alone its ruler. Yet by looking at this, the craft and dedication he poured into making this sword are apparent. Tianji is indeed full of strange people.”

Ling Guang said softly, “Qiu Zhen, the sword is yours. I believe in you to carry out this mission successfully. Tianxuan and I will wait for your safe return.”

“Thank you for the wonderful gift. Your Majesty, you can return now.”

Qiu Zhen’s words were so cold and distant it pierced through Ling Guang’s heart like icicles. Specks of tears started to appear in his eyes. “Qiu Zhen, do you still–”

Qiu Zhen raised his hand to cut off Ling Guang. “Your Majesty, what’s done is done. I have to leave now or else people will discover me once the sun rises.”

With those words, he turned his back and began walking out the gates. Ling Guang still had many things he wanted to say, but words could not come out of his mouth. He could only watch as Qiu Zhen’s shadow disappeared into the night.

*End of flashback*

Qiu Zhen clutched onto the sword as he pictured Ling Guang one last time and forced himself to sleep.

————————-

Clop! Clop!

Murong Li felt like his world was turning. There was a pulsing ache in the back of his head. He hasn’t had a full meal and proper sleep since Tianxuan’s attack. Dehydration worsened his lethargy.

“Umph…” he groaned. ‘Where am I? Am I…moving?’ Murong Li tried to regain his composure and patted the back of his head.

Clop! Clop! Clop!

‘Is that the sound of horse gallops?’

Murong Li sat up straight and realized he was in a dark, cramp space. ‘A horse carriage?! Why am I inside a horse carriage?’

He lifted the curtains of the carriage to see the back of a man wearing a hooded cape riding the horse that was leading his carriage.

“Who are you?!” Murong Li exclaimed.

The grass road was desolate. No one else was in sight.

Upon hearing Murong Li, the man pulled on the horse’s rein, making it let out a loud neigh. The carriage stopped moving.

The man got off his horse, pulled his hood down, and immediately got down to one knee. “Greetings, Your Highness. My name is Geng Chen, dedicated to serve and protect Your Highness with my life.”

Geng Chen (庚辰, 20), a young assassin with a slender jaw and eyes that almost seemed emotionless. He carried with himself a deadly aura.

“How did you know who I am? Where are you taking me?” Murong Li’s voice was full of distress, his mind in shambles, body exhausted.

“Apologies if I had given Your Highness a scare. I was born and raised in Yaoguang. I initially was a low-ranked guard until I was recruited by Master to train and become a professional assassin,” Geng Chen explained.

Murong Li looked at him in suspicion.

“If Your Highness does not believe me.” Geng Chen took out an embroidered box from his vest. “This is the Yaoguang Royal Seal. Master instructed me to hand it to you once you are conscious.”

“Master? Who’s your master?” Murong Li reached out to grab the box. He peeked inside to confirm that it was indeed Yaoguang’s jade seal.

Geng Chen hesitated to answer. “My mast–”

Before he could finish, Murong Li noticed the sleeve color on his arm. It wasn’t the familiar red that he was wearing earlier. It was now a dull gray, like the robe that he remembered A’Xu last wore.

Murong Li’s expression changed. “…where’s A’Xu?”

Geng Chen remained on his knee.

Murong Li jumped down from the carriage and grabbed Geng Chen’s arms. “I’m asking you where is A’Xu?!!! Cai Xu! Where is he?! Why am I wearing his clothes?! Answer me!”

“Your Highness, master… he…,” Geng Chen stuttered.

Murong Li’s head became heavy. His vision was hazy and his words began to slur. He almost toppled over until Geng Chen bolted up and caught him in time.

“Your Highness! Your Highness!”

Geng Shen slightly shook Murong Li to help him regain alertness, but all he could hear was Murong Li mumble “A’Xu” repeatedly.

All of a sudden, a large group of scruffy-looking men came charging up the road with swords and sabers, yelling like barbarians.

“Hand over all your valuables now!” one of them shouted.Geng Chen snickered to himself, “At a time like this, the last thing I expected was to run into bandits.””Why are you still standing there? Did you not hear us?!” they shouted again impatiently.

Geng Chen smirked. “Even if every one of you came at me at once, you all will still not be my opponent. Run while you still have the chance.”

“Little rascal, who do you think you’re scaring?” a bandit shouted.

The crowd roared and hollered as they surrounded the two.

Murong Li’s sudden whimpers disrupted the noise. “A’Xu… A’Xu…” Murong Li was completely unaware of his surroundings, nor did he care. He was in a daze, his body still being supported by Geng Chen.

All the bandits became quiet as their attention shifted to the beauty standing before them.

A bearded man, who seemed to be the leader of the bandits, walked closer to them. “What is such a divine beauty doing out in the open like this?”

As he was about to reach for Murong Li, Geng Shen stepped back, still holding tightly onto the young prince, and avoided the man’s hand.

Geng Shen unsheathed the sword from his waist, and in what seemed like faster than a flash of lightning, sliced off the bandit’s arm.

End of Chapter 5

⚔️———————————–⚔️

*A/N 1: Shifu (师父) a title for a master or skillful person of a craft.

The votes and comments have been amazing! Thank you so much!

See you in chapter 6.

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