Chapter 373: Defeat

Phoenix Ascending

Once Nan Jihan was seated, Ji Bo gave the dancers a pointed look. Without missing a beat, the two women approached Nan Jihan and each took a side. Their delicate fingers found their way to Nan Jihan. One of them poured wine for him. The other massaged his shoulder.

Disgust flashed through Nan Jihan’s face. Barely managing to stop himself from throwing them out, he seized the hands wandering all over his body. The guard stepped out to dismiss the girls. The dancers had no choice but to go back to serving Ji Bo.

Ji Bo drank some wine and laughed. “It’s said that Your Majesty never lays a hand on the stunning women in your harem. An uninformed mind would’ve assumed you are into men. However, I know you must have grown to dislike the impure women since you’ve seen the most stunning beauty.”

Nan Jihan could tell that Ji Bo was testing him. He put on a polite smile. “That’s not the case. I simply don’t like women of other tribes.”

Ji Bo laughed. “Your Majesty hasn’t experienced how soft and seductive they can be, or you wouldn’t have been able to let them go.”

Nan Jihan didn’t want to continue the conversation. He changed the subject. “You’re clever to have earned everyone’s trust back in Northern Qi. Even after fleeing to Eastern Wu, you’ve gained your foothold. How impressively flexible you are.”

Ji Bo wasn’t fazed. The mockery had no effect on him. He took it as an insult to the stupidity of Northern Qi’s emperor and Eastern Wu’s royal clan.

They both had their own agenda, and they mixed truth with lies. Nan Jihan got tired of talking in circles. He spoke up, “I’ve been meaning to ask where the imperial seal is. That’s why I’m working with you. If you don’t have it, I’m not letting you trick us into doing your bidding.”

Ji Bo’s eyes darkened. He took a sip of the potent wine and smiled. “Why would I lie to you? However, I can’t give you the seal at the moment. We’re at a disadvantage. If I give you the seal now, you may betray me and destroy my force. Then the deal will be for nothing. I’ll give you the seal after we defeat Nan Xun.”

He sounded genuine, and there was no flaw to his logic. However, Nan Jihan wasn’t easily fooled. He pulled his lips tight and almost lost his temper. Thinking better of it, he took a deep, calming breath. “I hope you’ll honor your word.”

He shot to his feet and gave Ji Bo a look before storming away.

Ji Bo relaxed his guard once he saw Nan Jihan’s dark expression. It’d be suspicious if Nan Jihan was able to maintain his calm. The fact that he’d gotten angry made him believe that Nan Jihan was actually going to work with him.

Ji Bo sighed in relief and slumped back onto the divan. The dancers leaned towards him, but he’d lost his interest. He pushed them away. They lost their balance and almost fell, but they quietly followed the others out of the tent.

Ji Bo drank in his own company. Potent alcohol left a burning trail down his throat. He seemed completely sober, and his eyes were unusually bright.

The shadowguard returned after making sure Nan Jihan and his men had gone back to their tent. By then, Ji Bo had finished the jug of wine. He carelessly discarded it. The shadowguard went up to him. “Are you really going to hand the seal to Nan Jihan after everything, Sir?”

Ji Bo laughed. He stared at the shadowguard intensely. “I thought you’d become smarter after following me for so long.”

“Forgive me for being dense,” the shadowguard said, unfazed. “I hope you’ll enlighten me.”

Ji Bo put down his empty cup, his eyes cold. “That’s just a bait. The seal is crucial to rebuilding our nation. Why would I hand it to a country that cannot survive on its own? Besides, if we give the seal away, the descendents of Tianyu will be considered illegitimate.”

The shadowguard nodded in understanding. Ji Bo relaxed, which caused the alcohol to finally take effect. He slumped down on the divan and closed his eyes.

The shadowguard helped him to the bed and put him to sleep before standing guard outside the tent.

Nan Jihan knew he was followed as he made his way back to his tent, so he and his men put up a front. Only after the shadowguard left did he write a letter to Nan Xun and Jun Huang, saying that he’d earned Ji Bo’s trust. The show was going to start.

Jun Huang read the letter without a word. Nan Xun didn’t show much of a reaction, either.

After a long while, Jun Huang broke the silence, “Do you think we can believe him?”

Nan Xun didn’t immediately respond. He knew how Nan Jihan felt about Jun Huang. Although he was hesitant, he had a feeling that Nan Jihan was telling the truth. Besides, they didn’t have a lot of options. They had to put their trust in Nan Jihan at the moment.

Early the next morning, when Ji Bo was still asleep, Nan Jihan had already gathered his troops and marched out. The shadowguard barged into Ji Bo’s tent and woke him up.

Ji Bo rubbed at his throbbing forehead and said angrily, “What is it?”

“Nan Jihan marched out,” responded the shadowguard.

Ji Bo was surprised by Nan Jihan’s eagerness, but then he realized why Nan Jihan would be in such a rush. Ji Bo scoffed, silently mocking the young emperor for his overconfidence and hopeless dream.

The shadowguard could tell what Ji Bo was thinking. Without making any comments, he asked Ji Bo if he’d like to go rally the troops. It was the Southern Mu’s army. It’d be remiss of him not to show them some decorum.

Ji Bo agreed. He put on some clothes and hurried outside. Nan Jihan had anticipated Ji Bo’s arrival. He put on a good act and cupped his hands at Ji Bo. “Why didn’t you rest for longer?”

Ji Bo smiled. “I hear you’ve deployed your troops. It’s only right for me to check on you.”

Nan Jihan’s eyes flashed. Without a word, he took Ji Bo to the camp. Nan Jihan had put a lot of focus on their military after he took the throne, and he’d cultivated quite a few excellent generals. To gain Ji Bo’s trust, he’d taken with him many talented men. Ji Bo was pleased, assuming that Nan Jihan was trying to get on his good side.

Ji Bo leisurely watched them march out, waiting to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Nan Jihan scoffed inwardly. The man would one day suffer a terrible fall.

Nan Jihan and Nan Xun had discussed what they were going to do. Nan Jihan ordered his officers to restrain themselves and treated the battles as drills.

Nan Jihan and Nan Xun fought with seemingly great ferocity. Ji Bo had believed that he’d be the last to laugh after they destroyed each other, and only supervised the battle the first few times. Later, he let Nan Jihan took the reign, unwilling to give him even a soldier. Nan Jihan laughed sharply. Ji Bo certainly dreamed big. He began to plan how he was going to take Ji Bo down.

Ji Bo had let his guard down. He lost himself in alcohol and women. Nan Jihan gained control over the situation without him noticing. When he finally realized it, he’d lost contact with Eastern Wu, and he hadn’t seen his shadowguard for a long time.

He pushed the dancer in his arms away and rubbed at his temples. At the corner of his eye, he spotted a pack of medicine falling off from the dancer’s sleeve. His eyes widened. Now he knew why he’d lost track of reality.

In a fit of rage, he put his hands around the dancer’s delicate neck and said through gritted teeth, “Talk! Who sent you?!”

The dancer struggled, her face flushed. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Ji Bo tightened his grip and finally killed the dancer.

He pushed the dancer away and stumbled outside. He felt weak and almost fell. Finally, he was able to push open the door. He found himself on top of the city wall. The sun was blindingly bright.

He shielded his eyes reflexively. When his pupils finally adjusted to the brightness, he saw a sea of enemy soldiers swarming the city wall. His heart seized up. He went weak in the knees and fell to the floor, his face pale. When he looked up, he was met with a smiling Nan Jihan.

Nan Jihan looked calmly at him. After a pause, he said, “You’ve finally woken up from your sweet dream. We’ve been waiting.”

Ji Bo’s expression darkened. He saw Nan Xun and Jun Huang walking his way. He tightened his fists. “No, you can’t be here. Even if Nan Jihan is a traitor, you can’t just break into the city.”

Muttering, he turned to Nan Jihan and grabbed him like a lifeline. He’d forgotten how he’d called Nan Jihan a traitor only a second ago. He struggled to grab onto Nan Jihan’s arm with a look of disbelief. “Don’t you want the imperial seal? If you drive them away, I’ll give you the seal immediately.”

Nan Jihan’s eyes were cold. He didn’t even waver, and instead knocked Ji Bo’s hand away. “I’ll find the seal myself. Eastern Wu must be destroyed.”

Ji Bo widened his eyes. He’d thought Nan Jihan was an incompetent man who cared only about his little patch of land. He staggered back, stricken by the young emperor’s declaration.

Nan Xun walked up to him and grabbed his collar. “Where is Jun Hao? If you tell us now, we’ll give you a quick death.”

Ji Bo laughed and pulled away from Nan Xun, staring at Jun Huang. “I’ll never tell you,” he bit out viciously. “You’ll never find him!”

His maniac laughter rang in the air.

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