“Give in to your anger. With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant.”
--Emperor Palpatine, ‘Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi’
Chapter 146 – Promises
Nangong Xie was not entirely sure that he should be grateful for the rescue. Though the giantess took some care while carrying him, every movement she made aggravated his injuries.
The smoke bomb that had covered his escape worked, but the resulting thick fumes launched coughing spasms. The man who had launched the incendiary then unceremoniously slipped a black hood onto Nangong Xie’s head. Helpless and blinded, Nangong Xie soon drifted into a troubled slumber.
He awoke with a start hours later when the hood was roughly pulled away… and immediately cursed as his startled reaction jerked his broken leg. Fortunately it was bound in a splint, a sign that he had been given medical attention while he was asleep.
The one who pulled the hood was the same man who had placed it earlier. Still clad in black, his identity was still unknown to Nangong Xie. At the corner of the unfamiliar room was the giant woman who had shed her own poor camouflage, glowering over him like some prison warden.
Like Huang Ming and Zhao Sunli, Nangong Xie had recognized the giantess from the royal banquet, but did not know her nor her master Lord Aidi personally.
“Apologies for the accommodations, but I am sure you can understand,” the mysterious man clad in black said with a soft chuckle.
“Who are you?” Nangong Xie demanded.
“You can call me your agent for redemption,” the man replied vaguely.
“What? What nonsense are you talking about?” Nangong Xie blurted.
“If I wanted you to know who I am, I wouldn’t be still wearing this, would I?” the man said sarcastically, pointing at the black mask around his face.
That simple, obvious fact embarrassed Nangong Xie. He should have realized it on his own. It took all of the Handsome Scholar’s willpower not to retort angrily, but he recognized his precarious situation at the hands of his mysterious rescuers and swallowed his anger.
“What happens now?” he asked instead.
“Obviously, you cannot stay here in Wu any longer. You will have to leave the country,” the man answered.
“What? Leave the country?” Nangong Xie exclaimed in disbelief. ‘What of my wealth… my power… all that I have built up?’
“You caused such a huge disturbance in the capital and lost a hundred men while assaulting a brothel,” the man stated mildly.
“The Prime Minister…” Nangong Xie started to say.
“You know Tong Xuan better than most. Do you really think you still have the Prime Minister’s favour after your debacle?” the man said derisively.
‘He is right,’ Nangong Xie thought dismally. Prime Minister Tong Xuan was not someone who cared too much for sentiments.
“Besides, you are still being hunted,” the mysterious man added dryly.
“Huang Ming! This is his fault!” Nangong Xie snarled. “Why is it every time I am on the brink of something great, he appears to get in my way?”
He slammed his fist down, which would have made an dramatic gesture if not for the fact that he was still on a bed and thus only made a muffled thump on the soft mattress.
The mysterious man watched on impassively as the Handsome Scholar vented his rage.
“Are you done?” he asked.
“What is it do you want? Why did you help me?” Nangong Xie asked hotly.
“Well, you still have your uses,” the man said, unknowingly echoing Huang Ming’s mocking words.
“You-!” Nangong Xie growled.
“How are you going to accomplish something ‘great’ if you are so easily provoked?” the man interrupted.
Nangong Xie raised a shaking fist, but then dropped it down limply; recognizing the futility of his anger.
“So what do you want me to do?” Nangong Xie asked slowly.
“Good,” the man in black said approvingly. “If nothing, your ability to adapt is admirable.”
“Hah,” Nangong Xie laughed harshly.
The mystery man folded his arms and matched his stare.
“North?” Nangong Xie repeated. He glanced at the giantess at the corner of the room. “You mean… to Jin?”
The man nodded.
Nangong Xie gave him a glare and slapped the thigh of his broken leg as a reminder.
“You want a cripple like me to go to a nation of horse riders? Are you mocking me?” he asked sardonically.
“Your leg may be broken, but your mind is not,” the man replied evenly as he tapped the side of his head. “There is someone in the north who would appreciate your talents… If you can show them.”
“Fine,” Nangong Xie said through gritted teeth.
“Do not be so bitter,” the man said. “You will make your triumphant return some day,” he added ominously.
“Yes… I will return…”
Nangong Xie’s eyes glinted.
Later, in another room…
“How is he?” Lord Aidi the Jin Ambassador asked languidly from his luxurious seat.
“Malleable,” the man in black replied. “He is full of anger.”
Lord Aidi smiled slyly. “Like you?”
“I trust your preparations to depart are ready?” the man in black asked frostily.
“Of course. I cannot wait to leave this country,” Lord Aidi answered. “But what if Huang Ming decides to stop us from leaving?” he asked.
The man in black shook his head. “He has no reason to do so.”
“I had thought he would insist on searching for our newest recruit,” Lord Aidi commented.
“Their rivalry is one-sided, it only exists in Nangong Xie’s head,” the man in black replied. “As far as I know, Huang Ming himself cares very little for our scholar, this situation only developed as the means towards the end of Prime Minister Tong Xuan.”
Lord Aidi narrowed his eyes. “This Huang Ming… he is a very interesting character,” he said, still smarting from the way the young man had humiliated him at the royal banquet.
The man in black retrieved a letter and passed it to the Jin Ambassador.
“This is my report on Wu. I have included notes on Huang Ming and the King of Wu.”
“What of the Prime Minister?” Lord Aidi asked with a frown.
“I do not think he would be a factor for much longer,” the man answered flatly.
Lord Aidi took the letter almost reluctantly. “Do you really think that highly of him?”
“Do not let your personal experience cloud your judgement. You know our duty. That young man could be a person of interest,” the man in black said warningly.
Lord Aidi nodded, suitably chastened.
“I will be sure to pass it on,” he said. He stood up and sighed. “Such a beautiful country, wasted by an unworthy ruler.”
The man in black’s eyes remained calm. “You will find it far more enjoyable on your next visit.”
“Yes, I will return,” Lord Aidi said, looking forward to the future.
The man in black said nothing, but underneath his mask he was smiling cynically at how Lord Aidi had unknowingly repeated Nangong Xie’s promise.
Shadowy forces in league,
For the north they intrigued.