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Once outside the capital, the sun started to set. The envoy slowly made its way north along the main avenue, under the gazes of willow and poplar trees.The accompanying city guards returned after about nine kilometers. Guard duty for the rest of the journey fell on the Commander of Defense. For this diplomatic mission, the most important vehicles were horse-drawn carriages. There were dozens of them; other than carrying people, many were carrying gifts as well.Xiao En was still in shackles, locked in the second carriage. In it with him was an official of the Overwatch Council who took care of his daily necessities. That official was all smiles as he carefully wiped the prisoner with a towel. The towel was very soft, it wouldn’t cause any harm to Xiao En’s already withered face."If I catch you and use you to threaten that Fan youth, would it work?" Xiao En’s old and dry voice rang out with the sound of chains. He said this in a nonchalant manner, as if he already guessed the answer.The official smiled warmly and said, "Mister Xiao, since they a.s.signed me to take care of you, of course I am prepared. As a loyal subject of Qing, if you were to hold me hostage, I could only ingest poison so that I wouldn’t cause unnecessary trouble for my higher-ups in the Council."
Xiao En closed his eyes. The chilling aura surrounding him seemed to be fading a bit. He said lightly, "My hair is too long, help me tie it."As they talked, they seemed to be overlooking one thing—Xiao En was still restrained. How could he do anything to this official? Perhaps they both knew that once they were far from the capital, those shackles couldn’t restrain Xiao En forever.The official walked over to Xiao En and took out a comb from a small cabinet. He then carefully combed Xiao En’s waist-length white hair. His hand was incredibly steady.Many decades ago, Xiao En was one of the few ninth-ranked masters in the world. Had he not been imprisoned for twenty years by the Overwatch Council and subjected to torture and poison, he would have been at the level of a grandmaster by now.Even so, an ill tiger is still a force to be reckoned with. From the way he stepped out of prison, and the natural aura he gave off, one could tell this old man still had terrifying power.If Xiao En decided to make a move now, that official would have no chance of resisting. But with his calm smile, Xiao En knew his resolve must have been firm. Once captured, he would immediately ingest poison. Xiao En did not know where the poison was hidden."Is Qing really that good? Good enough for you to happily accompany a demon like me?" That was something Xiao En never managed to understand. Despite Qing’s political circle being equally rotten, the nation was illogically powerful. In comparison, the Imperial court of Northern Wei split apart, although it was partially due to Xiao En being captured with Master Zhan Qingfeng.The middle-aged official said respectfully, "Should I die, the council will take care of my family. Once my child turns twelve, he will be awarded. Besides, I believe Sir Fan will help my family. He is very rich. This cheap life of mine can be exchanged for so much. It's a great deal."Xiao En moved his wrists, the sound of the chains accompanied his annoyance. "Same old tricks… What is your name?"The middle-aged official chuckled, "My name is w.a.n.g Qinian."Fan Xian opened the curtains of his carriage and looked at the second carriage of the envoy. He summoned a Tiger Guard and asked, "How is the person that was a.s.signed next to the carriage doing?"What were the Tiger Guards? That topic would have to go back to when Count Sinan talked with Director Chen Pingping for the second time outside the palace. In any case, with his son about to leave to a foreign nation, Director Fan finally could not hold back the hidden strengths he held and a.s.signed a detachment of Tiger Guards to the envoy.Each one of the Tiger Guards was quite strong. While they couldn’t compare to the Fifth and Sixth Bureaus, they were still carefully chosen for the job. Their loyalty to their master was unquestionable, to the point of being indescribably ferocious.Fan Xian had vaguely guessed that his father was actually taking charge of the Tiger Guards for that emperor deep within the palace. They might even help to keep the Overwatch Council, but obviously it wouldn’t be just them doing the controlling. In order for Count Sinan to dispatch seven Tiger Guards to follow his son, he must have gotten permission from the palace.The leader of the Tiger Guards was named Gao Da. He answered respectfully, "Rest a.s.sured, Young Master. Even though no one is from the Sixth Bureau, we can guarantee safety."Because these Tiger Guards belonged to Director Fan’s private forces, Gao Da called Fan Xian "Young Master" rather than "Sir". But Fan Xian still wasn’t used to it, so he laughed.The soldiers of the Commander of Defense surrounded this strange envoy, slowly making their way north. They were silent in their armor; for them, it was a rather casual trip. But the leading military officers who knew the details felt unpleasant. Their silence represented a type of humiliation.For the past dozen years, under the leadership of the current emperor, the Qing military had never suffered a single defeat; winning had become a habit for the soldiers. Last year as well, in what was deemed to be a "border conflict", Qing had still been the victor. However, now the victor was forced to back down—for a severely despicable reason—and return Xiao En to Northern Qi!As if given wings, Fan Xian’s propaganda had spread to every corner of the capital, so those military officers knew about the Eldest Princess’s detrimental involvement. All of the military’s dissatisfaction toward the royal family seemed to be focused on that beautiful yet insane woman.Fan Xian was still troubled by that—the Eldest Princess, while insane, was not stupid. What good could she gain by selling out Qing’s leading spy, Mister Yan, to Northern Qi? If she had done it only to have Zhuang Mohan come to the capital to embarra.s.s Fan Xian, there was no way Fan Xian would believe that; he didn’t believe he was that important.If the Eldest Princess called for Northern Qi’s aid for the struggle for the throne, wouldn’t it severely offend the majority of the military? No matter how one looked at it, this was not a profitable deal.The envoy had journeyed for half a day. As the sun descended behind the mountains, and the light grew dim. The group stopped by the edge of a vast forest to take a rest. An a.s.sistant officer came up to Fan Xian. According to regulations, the envoy should stop by the courier station one and a half kilometers ahead and settle for the night.Fan Xian shook his head. He ordered to discuss the matter later and have the group rest here for now. He then got out of his carriage, stretched his body, which was getting numb from long periods of sitting, and walked toward the back.That leader of the Tiger Guards followed Fan Xian in silence, his hand on the hilt of his long saber. Fan Xian noticed the length of that saber was a bit absurd, so he asked, "Won't it be difficult to draw from the scabbard?" Wu Zhu had taught him the importance of reaction speed in combat. The longer the weapon, the slower its wielder would react.Gao Da raised his long saber to Fan Xian and explained, "There is a mechanism that enables a quick draw. Because of our guard duty, all seven of the Tiger Guards use these extra-long sabers. The extra range is all we need."Fan Xian nodded, signaling to Gao Dao not to follow him. He had already reached the second carriage. Slightly sniffing the air, Fan Xian thought he felt a chilling aura and smelled the faint scent of blood. He smiled as he thought of the possibility of w.a.n.g Qinian going crazy from staying with that old monster for the entire trip.As he had expected, as soon as he got into the carriage, w.a.n.g Qinian was standing at the entrance with a pained expression. "Sir, when may I take a break?""In two days." Fan Xian patted him on the shoulder and then asked, "Did Xiao En make any strange moves?"w.a.n.g Qinian shook his head and calmly reported Xiao En’s every move to the young Sir Fan. Fan Xian listened quietly, knowing all w.a.n.g Qinian said would be heard by Xiao En. But he wasn’t worried. After some time, he told w.a.n.g Qinian quietly, "I’m going in to take a look.""It’s dangerous." w.a.n.g Qinian shook his head in disagreement. "A sickly tiger is still a tiger. While he may not be his former self, he was still once a ninth-ranked master. If you aren't careful and get taken hostage, what are we going to do?"Fan Xian replied, "Be at ease. Xiao En is not stupid. We are not yet ten kilometers from the capital, for him to make a move now would seal his death." Of course, Fan Xian knew how scary Xiao En could be. What does it mean to be ninth-rank? Fan Xian had experienced the power of one through Yan Xiaoyi’s arrow on the night when he infiltrated the palace."There’s still a long way to go. I'll have to see him eventually." Fan Xian laughed.In the dark carriage, the cold Xiao En kept a gloomy expression. His white hair had already been tied back. Fan Xian held a small box and entered. "Mister Xiao, the journey to Northern Qi is a long one. Please have some food and water."Xiao En slowly opened his eyes. Their cold bitterness flashed for a brief instant. He smiled and replied, "Please, if Sir Fan would go through the trouble."Fan Xian didn’t appear to be afraid in the slightest as he opened the box with a bright smile. Carefully, he held a pastry up to the old man’s still-withered lips. He then gave the old man some water.There was silence for a while, and then Xiao En suddenly spoke. "Those poison are useless."