Dancing Azalea

Shang Li's family has been murdered. Her title and home ripped from her by those who sought to destroy everything she loved. Only she survives, only she will remember, and only she has the ability to restore and avenge the ghost of what once was.


5. Part 5

The carriage ride back to the manor was quiet. Sui Feng didn’t know what to say after the meeting with his father, and I had frozen in my moment of opportunity to somehow demand the lord free Daiyu.

I’d lost potentially my only chance.

Sui Feng clutched his stomach as the carriage shook violently. Neither of us had the voice to demand they try and smoothen the journey.

“Are we going back to your manor?” I asked slowly, trying to ease back into conversation.

Sui Feng screwed his eyes shut as his face paled in discomfort. As the sickness passed he glanced over at me and stared. “My manor? I do hope you realise where you slept before was not my residence.”

A confused expression donned my face. He’d never mentioned that fact before. “Whose residence was it then?”

Sui Feng tried to snort a laugh but it came out more as a wince. “It’s Lian Cuo’s abode. Barely passes as a manor but it fits him fine don’t you think?”

Lian Cuo! My thoughts went. It was his house? No wonder he seemed so nosy the night we first met.

Answering my unaired questions, Sui Feng explained, “My harem is a little messy at the moment so I’m avoiding my estate until my concubines have settled their conflicts.” A grimace followed soon after.

“And your wife?” I questioned.

Silence. Sui Feng didn’t react for a moment, simply staring into the same space in front of him. “I don’t have a wife,” he eventually muttered.

We’d been cramped into the carriage for at least a couple of hours. Wherever we were going, we had to be arriving soon. Little conversation stemmed between that point and our moment of arrival, so when the carriage did eventually stop for good I breathed a sigh of relief and then the wave of sadness rolled over again. Diayu was now even further out of reach and I had no way to get her out alive.

“Why are we here again?” I asked as the light dulled back against my stunned eyes. I swept my eyes over the front of what I now knew as Lian Cuo’s manor. The building was small and modest but still had the character of authority that naturally someone like Lian Cuo should have. The grounds, rural and surrounded by fields and trees, were left to the devices of nature and it fit well.

Sui Feng looked thoroughly fed up as he paced off ahead of me. “I already told you. My harem is a place neither of us wish to be right now. We’ll be staying my brother until I figure out what we’re doing with you.”

I jumped to keep up with him, taking two steps at a time until we were met with the open frame leading into the house. A palace guard was standing on the door, no doubt accompanying the men sent from Lord Sui to collect the document they were cryptically discussing earlier in the day.

“Why here though? Surely you have more than one estate in the Sui,” I muttered knowing even I as Princess Shang Li had the palace and my own country estate that I had visited only twice in my life.

I got on well with my family and had never seen a reason to live anywhere but home with them. Someone like Sui Feng, however – I expected him to not only live outwith the palace in his own manor, but also have several so in situations like these he had a place to escape. He certainly didn’t strike as the type to hide out in his sibling’s house.

Inside noise was plentiful. As I walked behind Sui Feng I saw the manor in a different light knowing who the true master was. It no longer seemed like a potential prison when the person who locked me up was only a refugee.

I followed in his shadow towards the epicentre of the argument. Down the straight reception towards three openings. Inside one was what looked like an office and in the middle of the room stood Lian Cuo, head bowed towards a certain minister from before surrounded in a sea of papers.

Sui Feng grumbled to himself before the minister noticed his arrival. Taking both his hands together and wringing them out in an unspoken anger, he waited.

The minister ended his string of curses when Lian Cuo’s gaze flicked up towards our shadow in the doorway. The smaller, old man visibly shrunk back into himself.

“Sui Feng,” the robed man greeted, falling into a similar form as Lian Cuo.

Sui Feng took an imposing step closer, not once allowing the man to be at ease. “Has my brother passed on what you came for?” he finally said, head low and eyes dancing with a fire behind his pupils.

The minister peered up for a split second before returning to the floor as if Sui Feng might bite him. “I have received them,” he finally muttered in reply, grudging his submissiveness.

Sui Feng didn’t make a comment from there, finding the ministers admittance enough. He stood back and watched as the minister paid his respect to the two brothers and shuffled his way out clearing a wide berth for Sui Feng as he went.

Lian Cuo hadn’t looked up the entire time and that clearly hadn’t went unnoticed by Sui Feng. “When will you stand up for yourself, brother?” he muttered as he approached him slowly, forcing Lian Cuo to meet his gaze.

The meeker of the two grumbled under his breath before he said clearer, “it’s easy for you to say. You’re in favour with the court whilst I’m merely a stain on the family tree.”

Sui Feng shook his head in disagreement before patting him on the back. “You think too highly of me. The ministers just know that you won’t do or say anything no matter how they treat you,” Sui Feng told him off, leaning down to collect the documents, “and you never prove them otherwise.”

Lia Cuo sighed exasperatedly. “I don’t need to prove them otherwise if I remove myself from anything related to Sui or the court.”

His brother laughed like it were the funniest thing he’d ever heard and said, “That’ll be easy. We’ve all got the same father, do remember.”

It only seemed then that Lian Cuo noticed I was also in the room, lurking in the darkened doorway. He was crouched lifting some of the papers and as he rose to put them on the table ledge catching my eye. His cheeks visibly reddened at presumably the thought of me hearing their conversation before it evolved into anger, his eyes narrowing looking up at his brother.

Sui Feng seemed oblivious to his brother’s emotions like everything else and continued to talk away like it were just the two of them in the room. I knew to Sui Feng that I was no one, with no where to go, and no where to hide. I was as intruding as an inanimate object so he would say we he liked. To Lian Cuo he obviously saw it differently.

“You know what your problem is? You need to make your face known and make sure father knows that you’re here and you’re prepared to fight for him,” Sui Feng said, whilst Lian Cuo had risen to a standing position and turned fully to face me with a blank expression.

When no one replied, Sui Feng turned in annoyance and caught his brother’s gaze and followed it towards me. Playfully, Sui Feng smiled and patted his brother of the back once more. “Don’t worry about her, I’m dealing with it,” he said confidently.

It was my turn to put my foot in. Dealing with it!? My thoughts went. Dealing with what? He was holding me here with the only significant person in my life as hostage. I was dealing with him. “Excuse me?” I challenged loudly.

We weren’t in the palace – I didn’t care if the wrong ears heard here. I could say all the horrible and wretched things Id never been allowed to mutter before. I could stain my lips with curses and swears because it was no longer coming from a princess’ mouth.

Lian Cuo spat a taunting laugh as he pushed up from where he leant and stormed moodily past me. “And it looks like you’re dealing with it well. I tell you what Sui Feng, worry about your own problems before you worry about mine.”

The silence that followed was left with a sense of annoyance from both their parts. The ungratefulness of Lian Cuo visibly insulted Sui Feng, who clearly saw himself as the higher of the two no matter what he said otherwise. Lian Cuo because I’d witnessed their argument, despite Sui Feng seeing me as not a person to worry about.

Lian Cuo is smart, my thoughts went.

Sui Feng tried to brush it off but I saw what he felt lingering. His squared jaw was clenched, eyebrows furrowed ever so slightly. His left eyelid twitched. “Now he’s reminded me, we need to get on with dealing with you, Little Li,” he chimed with a false optimism.

My neck snapped in his direction, meeting his gaze with as much fire as the emperor’s dragon. “What did you call me?”

Sui Feng’s lips twitched in an evil amusement. “Isn’t that what your maid called you, Li?”

I thought back to meeting Daiyu and she had in fact called me Li. “An unusual name,” he commented, “Is it your real name?”

I shook my head in automatic response. I could have made it out like Li was my full name… But it was dangerously close to my real one. Whilst I’d have no problem adapting to using it as my full name, I’d still feel ready to respond to Shang Li. I couldn’t do that.

“Then what is your name?” he persisted when I said nothing, taking those few steps closer so he was in reaching distance using his size against me.

Sui Feng didn’t scare me.

I glared up at him from under my lashes and curled the words out from under my teeth, “I don’t have one.”

When it was just to two of us together he took zero offense to my insolence, finding it more amusing that anything else as if he’d never witnessed anything so odd in his life. Now was of course no exception. “You have no name? How convenient – because I already have one for you. I think it fits you quite well.”

I visibly soured as I watched him reach out, backing me into the wall with his approach. When I couldn’t escape any further he still advanced. His eyes softened, but the creases in the corners gave away his immaturity.

Alarms rang out all around me. I had never been put in a corner before, even literally like this. I had always been the tiger. I had always been the one who stood over the people. I felt now like a mouse in the palms of a cat, pawing at their toy, their dinner, their little friend they’d be too rough with and brutally murder.

“You’re shaking,” Sui Feng observed, now so close I could feel his breath on my cheek, breezing over my delicate skin and under the collar of my clothes.

“You would too in my position,” I muttered unappreciatively. “You’re holding me here without choice.”

Sui Feng didn’t share the sentiment and opened up the area to my right, gesturing off into the door frame. “I’m not holding anyone. You can leave if you like however I doubt you’d last long. I see it as keeping you close because I feel you may be useful.”

I rolled my head to the side, hoping to open up some breathing space. Seconds later that space was taken by his hand, holding his weight over me against the wall. “I don’t know about useful but if you keep it up I’ll bring you some real trouble.”

Sui Feng smiled dopily before he let his head fall back. “I have three concubines and even if they’re vicious to each other they’ve never been so insolent towards me. No one has, man or woman, except you. I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but it has to mean something.”

I coughed nervously, pushing my chin out and muttered, “We’re two different people. A palace rat like yourself has never lived in the real world like where I’m from.” A nervous sweat broke out across my forehead. What a lie I heard myself sing. Sui Feng and I weren’t so different but what made me so insolent as he put it was clear to me – in my head I held him partly accountable for the ruin of my family. He shared their blood. “Everyone in the slum villages of Liang is like me, you just wouldn’t know it.”

And neither would I honestly, I thought.

Sui Feng looked neither surprised nor bothered. He still donned the same expression watching my every move from inches away. “You haven’t asked what I’ve named you,” he said patiently.

“I don’t think I want to hear it.”

Air rushed between us as Sui Feng took a step back and removed himself from the wall, standing in his own space once again. “Are you not scared you might offend me?” he asked with a genuine curiosity.

I rolled my eyes as if I was speaking casually with a close friend. “Of course not, it’s impossible to offend a rock.”

I set eyes on the hall, urging my legs into action so I could escape as fast as I could without tempting the cat to chase me. Sui Feng didn’t follow though and simply called out after me, “Suyin, you will obey me sooner rather than later!”

I tossed my head over my shoulder, watching his bemused face become smaller and smaller. Suyin? That’s what he was going to call me?

“I preferred it when I had no name!” I yelled back at him louder than I ever had before.

His deep laugh echoed out towards me before it dithered to nothing.


I arrived in one of the several rooms of Lian Cuo’s manor in search of Sui Feng, finding him fifth time lucky held up behind a desk and surrounded by a couple of books. I entered through the open frame and didn’t care to knock. Sui Feng either didn’t notice or chose to ignore me.

Approaching slowly I thought about what I wanted to ask. I had the night to think; what did I want to do? What was I hanging around Sui Feng for? How could I best use these coincidental events that landed me right where I needed to be?

The obvious answer was to stay with Sui Feng and cling onto the Sui brothers – whether by acting out like a lecherous peasant or something else, I didn’t want to leave now. What better place to gain control than from the inside? Who would suspect, who would point their fingers? What I wanted to do now was gain free access to the Sui palace and then once I done that I’d reach even higher for palace of Liang and make the emperor bow down at the graves of my parents.

At the very least I was here with Sui Feng to save Daiyu. Heads would roll and I’d be the one to separate them from their bodies if harm came to her.

My violent thoughts came to sudden halt as my gaze fell on the dulled jewels sprawled on Sui Feng’s desk, nestled discreetly between the books. They look awfully familiar. To get a better look I reached out without a thought and nearly made contact with one familiar ring – a blue jewel that sparkled better than the dazzling eyes of my sister, embraced by a simple tainted frame.

Sui Feng blindly reached out and slapped my steadily approaching hand, still focused intently on his book. “Look don’t touch,” he muttered before releasing a deep sigh and sitting back.

I glanced between him and the jewels – mostly small delicate rings and a bulky pendant. “Are these yours?” I asked knowing fine well they weren’t.

The blue ring was one I’d removed from my sister’s jewellery case as I fled the palace. The necklace I’d received as a birthday gift as a child from my oldest brother. One of the most meaningful but unassuming pieces there was a small gold framed ring, intricately carved that revealed more details the closer you looked. Clasped in the centre were three similarly sized chunks of amber refracting light through the transparent body. The ring was gifted to the Shang royal family from the emperor of Liang himself. At the time any gift from the emperor was rare and even rarer to the Shang family who often sat neutral on most matters.

I was only small at the time, and no one in my family had made it a big deal. It was always however a story my oldest brother would tell as only he was old enough to recall what had happened. The other faction wives had assumed my mother would bear the gift, however it was given to me. How angry they were, the rumors they’d spread out of jealousy for our family because we received a gift and they hadn’t.

I had never been fond of it honestly. While I wasn’t a fan of flashy jewellery I looked at this particular ring and found myself turning up my nose for the fact it didn’t looked flashy enough. I wasn’t a jewellery snob, or at least not like my sister, but this particular ring had never looked good enough compared to my various other choices.

It was the ring Sui Feng found himself reached down to touch, gripping it between his thumb and index finger almost swallowing the delicate piece whole. Resisting the urge to grab it from his paws I watched grudgingly.

I remembered now something very important – when I’d woken up here after illness I’d been bathed, clothed, and my possessions removed. I’d forgotten the many jewellery pieces I’d stowed in my boots and here they were in front of me in Sui Feng’s hands.

How could I be so stupid? I chided myself. If the right person saw these things they’d know straight away where they came from. The amber ring was a dead giveaway to anyone with the right knowledge – amber was in fashion with the upper class ladies for the next two years.

I could make it out like they were stolen, I thought. If I were to play the part of a peasant, it’s not unlike a peasant to thieve from the rich. But how would I explain the amber ring, should someone realise it were the amber ring? I stole from the Shang Royal family, yeah, sure. Might as well admit I am the Shang Royal family.

“It’s very pretty. I did wonder briefly where you got such pretty jewels when I rescued you that short while ago. It’s fine, Suyin, I won’t tell anyone you stole them. I’m sure you had your reasons,” Sui Feng muttered as he gazed into the ring like it interested him, glancing up only the once with a cold steely look.

I blinked emotionlessly for a second wondering why he sounded so serious. Sure, I’d let him assume they were stolen just like how I’d let him assume I was a nameless peasant who he was allowed to boss around. “Why Suyin?” I asked quietly, changing subjects despite an aching heart in the presence of another last connection to my past life.

Sui Feng gathered up the pieces and hid them from view as I took seat on the floor opposite his desk. He looked annoyed which wasn’t an emotion that suited him, his eyebrows furrowed as he thought silently to himself before saying, “As a child one of my brothers had a pet bird who he named Suyin. He too rescued it after it was found flightless on one of our many childhood outings. Was a scrawny thing at first but it didn’t take long for its vibrant yellow feathers to show and a song to sing. I didn’t bother much for the bird but I suddenly remember the little creature last night and you did need a name.”

I rolled my eyes at the story. “And what happened to the little bird? Did it live happily ever after trapped in its tiny cage eating seed all day? Did it sign songs whenever your brother walked on by? I’m not a bird, Sui Feng, and you can’t keep me in a cage.”

Sui Feng avoided the latter part and instead explained the first, “little Suyin died – was a right shame, my brother never did forgive Sui Bai.”

I paused the annoyance thinking over what Sui Feng just said. I was named after a bird Sui Bai killed as a child. Now that was funny, that’s hilarious! “Not only am I named after a pet bird, I’m named after your murdered pet bird?” I repeated back at him.

Sui Feng wagged his finger at me. “Wasn’t my bird and you’re not named after it. You asked why I named you Suyin and I explained why – you reminded me of the little rescued creature. If you don’t like the name Suyin, why don’t you reveal your real name?”

I smiled falsely back at him and muttered through clenched teeth, “not possible when I had no name in the first place.”

“So that’s that then,” he said, standing to his feet and brushing invisible dust off his clothes. “Now stop complaining.”

From my position on the floor I eyed Sui Feng’s hands under his desk, fiddling discreetly with one of the rings he’d tried to stow away. Glancing between his hands and his eyes, I supressed an urge to leap forward and steal it back. It was mine. He knew it was mine! Whether it was stolen or not it shouldn’t have mattered.

“About yesterday,” I began hoping to gain back his attention that seemed as distant as the clouds. “We haven’t talked about it yet."

And we hadn’t spoke about Sui Bai. I needed to know more, know who he was and what he was about. I wanted to know their relationship past siblinghood and how similar they really were. I wanted to know how I could worm my way in there and make him suffer.

Sui Feng shrugged as his hands below the desk stuffed away the jewel. “What’s there to talk about? You met the most important princes of Sui, you’ve now laid eyes on the lord and lady, and they now know your face.”

“Sui Bai seemed quite important,” I said nonchalantly, watching Sui Feng’s reactions carefully.

His eyelid twitched as a rush of air passed between his lips. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“And your father, Lord Sui. He seemed fond of your other brother. What exactly is his title?” I asked, already aware of the answer. He was a Sui military commander, a subordinate of the emperor’s Liang forces. He was held in high regard by everyone with something to lose.

Sui Feng narrowed his eyes as he pushed his chair back and got to his feet, looking down on me in a different annoyance. “What does it matter to you? You’re a nameless peasant who should never have laid eyes on any prince’s face.”

It mattered more than Sui Feng would ever know, I thought, letting my voice come out meek as I replied, “I’m just curious.”

He audibly sighed, running a hand down his face as he tried to calm down, no doubt wondering why he was entertaining my questions and why he allowed me to continue. “Sui Bai is a military man. He’s got the physical and mental power. My father favours him. The ministers favour him. The emperor favours him. Just the way it’s always been. I’m sure there are stories told in the slums of his battles, fought and won.”

I shook my head. “Not that I’ve heard. There’s very little to be known about the Sui brothers anywhere in Liang actually,” I muttered, for a second a worry crossing my thoughts that I’d let something dangerous slip. How was I to know the stories whispered amongst the common people?

Sui Feng paused in thought and I could feel without looking his gaze piercing the side of my face. He knew something, he’s picked up on something I’ve let slip. What did I say, what did I say to give it away? My thoughts went over and over in the split second of silence. Sui Feng coughed awkwardly, interrupting my motionless panic. “Well, now you know,” he said without giving much else away, “but between you and me I say he’s welcome to the Sui palace and throne. He can be the emperor’s lap dog for all I care as long as I get a quiet life.”

I peered over at him as he paced the room as if avoiding an invisible demon. “From what I seen and heard he seemed like there was no voice between his ears. Blank. Emotionless. Calloused. Dead. No man to lead a faction. What mission was he discussing with Lord Sui?” I asked, for a moment allowing a trace of my true feelings to seep to the surface knowing Sui Feng would enjoy the insult towards his brother.

Right enough, a smirk evolved on his lips as he turned to face me, gradually sinking as he answered my question, “It’s just as you heard. The Shang faction have been tried as treasonous by the Liang emperor. The Shang royals were put to death and their faction redrawn.”

I feigned shock as I felt my stomach churn. Treasonous. There were those lies again. “What did they do?”

Sui Feng shrugged like it were no big deal, striding forward and offering his hand down the length of his body as if to help me up. I reached out cautiously knowing I was literally dealing with the enemy and waited for a response. “It’s been kept quiet. I didn’t care to prod in what wasn’t my business and now it’s been dealt with. As you heard the emperor will dissolve Shang into the factions Sui and Tang, then grant a politically neutral portion to my brother Sui Bai.”

Sui Feng stole off past me, leaving me to scramble after him in the dust he left behind him. I looked pathetic, I thought. I was a Shang royal and here I was walking in the shadow of a low-rank unimportant Sui prince, scrambling after him.

I’m doing this for my family. I’m doing this so I have a chance to survive.

Sui Feng twisted down various corridors ignoring my attempts to prod more until he reached the same enclosed garden I’d met Lian Cuo in on my first night here, the one that peered out over endless fields. In the daylight it looked more imposing revealing more distance than I’d first anticipated if I wanted to hide and escape. Should something happen that’d make me want to flee.

The sun basked down and reflected off Sui Feng’s dewy skin who looked considerably more refreshed and alive than in previous days, no longer plagued with a travellers sickness and the worry of meeting his father off his mind. I almost felt sorry putting a damper on what should have been a good mood.

He took a step down into the garden as I remained still on the porch, watching him venture through thigh-high overgrowth. “I hate to break your mood again,” I muttered knowing he’d probably think me sarcastic, “but I wasn’t finished.”

He’d already given up protesting my imprudence and instead rolled his eyes before turning back around to face the sun. “Continue out here then. Maybe the wind will answer your whining.”

“The ladies in the hall. Who were they?” I called off as I leant back against a post.

Sui Feng remained motionless as he announced towards the open skies, “The blind lady is officially known as Lady Sui, however since her impairment she’s become more a figure for show. The ladies in her shadow are Lord Sui’s favoured concubines and do a lot of Lady Sui’s work for their own gain of course. I like neither of them, but Lady Sui has always been pleasant. She thinks of herself as spiritually blessed – as you witnessed. She may not be able to see through her eyes yet she sees everything better than you and I, I can vouch for that.”

In a moment of stupid curiosity I asked, “You mean, she has powers?” I’d never met anyone who claimed to have magical powers, however living in the palace my whole life I was sure there were many fanatics living day to day in the cities.

Sui Feng let out a hearty laugh at the suggestion, breaking the peaceful glass around him. “No, she just has good sense about her. It’s rare she ever takes to someone so well so I imagine next time I’m summoned to meet my father they’ll be interested to see you too. Which is another reason why after yesterday I reckon it’ll be a bad idea to just let you leave. Not now they know your face however common it might be.”

I joined his side as I hopped down the steps. “They really got taken in with the good luck charm stuff, huh.”

Sui Feng glared as he muttered, “Yeah, well, that’s all your fault. You have no one to blame but yourself.” His eyebrows collapsed over his lids, crossing his arms firmly over his chest.

I mimicked the stance and stood by his side. “You could have just told them the truth,” I countered, not quite sure myself what the truth was.

Sui Feng peered down his shoulder at my expectant form waiting on a reply. He curled his lip and visibly began to tense. “Tell Lord Sui that I let a peasant enter the palace because she wants to free her friend that would go down great wouldn’t it?”

“You didn’t have to let me come with you.”

“But you wouldn’t shut up about it!” Growing red in the face by the second, Sui Feng acted like he had an answer for anything.

I rolled my eyes and replied, “So if I kept asking for half your estate, you’d eventually just give it to me?”

I felt like it was unfair to keep going when I knew I could out-logic him every time, despite it not fitting with my peasant persona. We both knew now that I could beat him with all these mind games and I almost felt cruel playing them with him.

Sui Feng allowing me to accompany him to the palace was his mistake. I mean, it was to my benefit being acquainted with Sui royals so I wouldn’t complain however now the Sui’s knew my face Sui Feng couldn’t brush me off like the dirt he liked to think me of. And that was where Sui Feng was getting mad – this was a web of lies and exaggerations building up around a peasant girl he now had to keep by his side.

Disturbing the tense silence, Lian Cuo’s steps echoed towards us from across the porch as he called out after us, “I didn’t think the lord and lady were that taken with your friend. Let her leave – they won’t care.”

“I’m not leaving,” I replied before he could finish the sentence.

Simultaniously Sui Feng spat out, “She’s not going anywhere.”

Lain Cuo held up his hands in surrender as he rounded the fencing and descended the steps into the overgrown garden. “Was just a suggestion,” he muttered as he stood in line with his brother, peering up at his slightly taller stature and smiled. “Sui Feng, I’m going into town to collect some things and meet with a business partner. I was wondering if you’d like some peace and let me take your lady for a few hours? It’s not a problem.”

I glared at their backs as Sui Feng tossed and glance over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed and nostrils flared. Turning back to his brother he replied, “Please do.”

Crossing my arms I watched as Sui Feng turned on his heel and stormed off past me, giving me a wide berth. I tried to ignore it and that’s what I did. Eyeing him as he disappeared around a corner.

Lian Cuo stood opposite, waiting expectantly as he waited for me to speak first. “This isn’t your business to put your foot in,” I said monotonously.

He smirk tilted as he licked his lips, glancing up towards the sky. “My brother didn’t seem to mind and that’s all that mattered. If it happens in my manor then it is my business,” he shot back. “Now come. I need the help towing back a few things anyway. You may as well be of some use.”

He stepped towards me and gestured outwards with his hand towards the steps leading back indoors. His hands were rough and cracked, the skin thick with callouses from years of labour unlike his brother who looked like he’d never touched a piece of dirt in his life. Sui Feng clearly didn’t know hardship… But neither had I until recently.

Lian Cuo was different. He was a prince of Sui, admittedly a very different faction to the one I was used, but he was a prince none of the less yet looked more like a middle class country bumpkin. It intrigued me.

I made my way forward and moved towards the steps, hearing Lian Cuo’s satisfied laugh from behind knowing he’d won this time. I wasn’t going because I had no choice though or because he’d won – but because I was curious to see what would come of this distant prince. Keep him close to know where we both stood.

But a trip into the local town? I could become acquainted with the area. Meet people I could use. All without raising any suspicion.

Friends kept close, enemies kept closer. I hadn’t determined which yet Lian Cuo would be, but I was sure I’d soon figure that out.

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