The Rise of Phoenixes - Chapter 251

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Chapter 251: Chapter 251

After so many years of suffering and hardship when all of plans and maneuvering finally paid off, why was His Highness not celebrating with joy?

Thick purple-blue curtains line with golden thread covered the windows of the study, keeping the room a dull twilight even in the height of day. Ever since Ning Yi had returned from Minnan, his eyes seemed particularly sensitive, pained in light and wind. The original bright green curtains had long since been switched to darker colors.

A quiet shifting of papers filled the study alongside an ambergris incense fragrance.

“Assistant Minister Wu in Ministry of Works was the Crown Prince’s wet-nurse’s son.” Ning Yi said in his calm, emotionless voice as he silently flipped through a thick file. “Replace him.”

“Yes.” Xin Ziyan replied, no trace of his usual playfulness as he sat at attention. “Any particular angle?”

“Does he not enjoy collecting rare metals and precious books?” Ning Yi replied indifferently, “You hold the compilation of the Records of Tian Sheng. If you wish to charge him, is it difficult?”

Xi Ziyan raised an eyebrow at the mockery and sarcasm in Ning Yi’s voice.

“Your Highness.” He began, lifting his eyes to look into Ning Yi’s. “In that matter I...”

“I tire.” Ning Yi said, interrupting the man. He looked up from his file, his elegant eyes weary and sunken; he shut his eyes and rubbed his brow, not giving Xin Ziyan the opportunity to finish speaking. “We’ll finish here.”

His eyes still closed, he leaned back in dismissal.

Xin Ziyan refused to back down. Ever since Ning Yi had returned to Dijing, Xin Ziyan had suffered under Ning Yi’s strange temper and he had had enough. Ning Yi was losing himself, throwing himself into work day and night and exhausting himself in his manipulations of the Imperial Court. Though the man never stirred from his study, he never let himself rest, and he refused to speak of any matters outside those of the Imperial Court. This would be the tenth time that Xin Ziyan had been interrupted and ignored on this particular topic.

When Ning Yi had returned to Dijing in his triumph and entered the Golden Palace, His Majesty had idly lamented over the unfortunate timing — if Ning Yi had returned just a touch sooner, he would have been able to bid the new Shunyi King farewell. When His Majesty went on to explain who the new King and Queen were, Ning Yi had trembled, his face paling.

As soon as they had taken their leave from the Imperial Court, Ning Yi had commandeered the first horse in sight and galloped out towards the city gates. He was only partly through the city when he pulled up, and for a long while he stood still, staring blankly at the horizon. Finally, he quietly turned his horse around.

After that, Ning Yi showed no more signs of disturbance and only Xin Ziyan and a few of the prince’s closest ministers understood that this apparent equanimity was the largest sign that something was wrong.

Xin Ziyan watched Ning Yi, his thoughts tangled. Since their return from Minnan, Ning Yi and Ning Cheng had begun keeping certain matters from him and the prince had immediately revoked his command of the Golden Feather Guard. Clearly he was being punished for the matter of the Feng Family, but Xin Ziyan did not understand what he had done wrong. His Majesty had entrusted the Golden Feather Guard to Ning Yi with the sole purpose of capturing the Da Cheng Emperor’s orphan, and it had been clear to all of them that the task was a test for Ning Yi. Clear evidence had already been discovered and reported to the Emperor, and if they had shown any hesitation in their investigation, the consequences would have been disastrous.

But none of them had expected the orphan to be someone other than Feng Zhiwei.

Was this for good or ill? Xin Ziyan shut his eyes and sighed to himself — what strange and unexpected turns...

Xin Ziyan opened his eyes and looked once more upon Ning Yi’s weary face, anger welling up inside him.

“If you are tired you need not open your eyes while you listen!” He suddenly exclaimed, standing furiously and slamming his hands on Ning Yi’s desk, his eyes burning. “You will listen to what I have to say!”

“No need.” Ning Yi replied, never opening his eyes. “You are the greatest scholar in Tian Sheng and His Majesty’s most beloved minister. Since you chose to follow me all those years ago, you have devoted yourself heart and soul, blood and bone. Nothing you’ve done and nothing you’ve planned has ever gone wrong, and so you have nothing to explain and I have nothing to complain about. That is all.”

“Then I will complain about you.” Xin Ziyan said, his lips curving into a cold smile. “Why have you forced Ning Cheng away? Do you not feel pity when he climbs walls and pacing the rooftops around your mansion everyday? Even if you are unmoved, I cannot be when he stops my chair everyday to cry. Let him back!”

Ning Yi opened his eyes, his gaze cold and heartless.

“You are not my subordinate; you are my teacher and my friend. I will not move against you, and I do not intervene in your choices.” Ning Yi replied emotionlessly. “Ning Cheng serves me, and he is under my power. Do not intervene in my matter.”

“Then if I were your subordinate, would you force me away as well?” Xin Ziyan demanded coldly.

Ning Yi watched him silently.

Xin Ziyan stared into the prince’s eyes and disappointment filled his eyes. Finally, he spoke: “If you are going to destroy yourself over a woman, unraveling the decades of pain and struggle when we are one step away from victory, then I can do nothing except admit my own blindness.”

Why would I give up?” Ning Yi replied, finally opening his eyes and meeting Xin Ziyan’s gaze, a mirthless, cold half smile on his lips. “The world is strange, and no matter where you sit, there will always be matters that go against your will. Since this is so, I am even more curious of that unique and inimitable seat and whether it will allow me to do as I please.”

Xin Ziyan could almost taste the loneliness and despair in Ning Yi’s calm words and he stared at him silently for a long time before quietly sighing and saying: “I would rather you restrain your heart... some people cannot be but enemies, and now that we’ve gotten to this point, refusing to accept this will only hurt you.”

“Am I not restrained?” Ning Yi smiled, the corner of his eyes arcing into a smooth and dazzling curve, cold and deadly. “Have you not seen the gift I’ve prepared for the Shunyi King?” He said, gesturing to a delicate gift basket.

Xin Ziyan examined the elegant basket and its delicate wrapping, unable to decipher its contents.

“I am even preparing a letter in my own hand congratulating the Shunyi King and his Queen.” Ning Yi smiled, spreading the letter paper and wetting his ink stone. He lifted his brush, poising it while staring silently into Xin Ziyan’s eyes.

The scholar sighed, nodding and taking his leave, shutting the door behind him.

The last rays of light narrowed and disappeared with the shutting of the door, and the world outside the thick curtain was now dark night. The man sat in the smoke of the room with brush in hand as he stared down at the exquisite white and gold paper.

He stared silently, unmoving.

As time passed, the ink on his brush’s head pooled downwards on the brush tip and drooped, the black drop clinging to the delicate hair for a long moment before finally falling earthwards.

“Pa.”

A drop of black ink sank into the soft paper and radiated outwards into a black sun.

Ning Yi stared at the somewhat savage mark of ink.

The days had been like nights... since she had left.

What was supposed to be a temporary separation had suddenly become a looming chasm filled with impassable mountains and vast, boundless seas, as if the unbreachable gates between life and death.

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