MEN Volume 3 Chapter 48

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Volume 3 – The Place Where My Heart Feels At Peace, Chapter 48: Dinner Feast (long chapter)

Qianye had his head half lowered and his back completely tensed up in a straight posture. He pretended that everything and everyone around him didn’t exist.

He was an adolescent back when he had parted ways with Song Zining, and now his height and physique were different from before. Even if he retained a third of his former appearance, he was currently in the guise of a woman. Adding that to the fundamentalistic changes brought by a vampire’s constitution, Qianye simply refused to believe that Song Zining could recognize him at first glance.

However, Qiqi’s smile had stiffened for a little. Her expression immediately took a turn for the chilly.

The Song household’s seventh young master never had too good a reputation when it came to women, and there were plenty of rumors about his loose relationship and womanizing out there. It was already very rude of him to stare blankly at her female companion, and worse, Qiqi had been Song Zining’s cousin for more than twenty years. She absolutely didn’t believe that this habitually pretentious bastard would really lose his composure over a woman. It was obvious that he was doing it to embarrass her.

It was at this moment a soft laughter rang from beside them. Ye Mulan walked two steps and stood beside Song Zining. Then, she held his sleeves and said in a brisk tone, “What a pretty little thing she is. No wonder my Zining would forget his manners for a second,” Although she was praising Qianye, her eyes were staring at Qiqi, “You could pamper such a bright and brilliant little flower in a warm and comfortable house, and it still would be a disservice to a beauty like her. You sure aren’t afraid to bring her out here to the open and show her off, Qiqi.”

Qiqi’s face immediately turned dark, for the underlying meaning behind Ye Mulan’s words was exceptionally insidious. She was literally a hair’s breadth away from accusing Qiqi of bringing her pet lover to the public. The surrounding people grew excited the moment they noticed that the atmosphere wasn’t right. They were all waiting with bated breath for a good show to happen.

Although the Yin Family and Song Family were connected by marriage, and Qiqi’s mother was a member of the Song Family herself, the fact that Yin Qiqi and Song Zining didn’t get along well with each other was an open secret. Qiqi never failed to express her disgust towards Song Zining non-stop every time they attended the same setting. However, Song Zining never lost his manners and treated her politely and cordially, even if all the responses he got were mock and ridicule.

Qiqi was not the kind of person who would just suffer an insult to the face by Ye Mulan quietly. She cast a chilly, sideway glance at Ye Mulan before saying indifferently, “Since when did a mere woman of landed gentry have the right to speak first? Have your family taught you no manners at all, peasant?”

Ye Mulan’s grip on Song Zining’s sleeve tightened, and her delicate and beautiful face immediately became distorted with anger. It would appear that Qiqi’s tongue was in no way duller than hers. Ye Mulan’s background had always been a matter of great taboo to herself, but Qiqi was the type of person who rubbed salt into the part that hurt the most. She made sure that she stepped on Ye Mulan’s greatest grievance and regret every time.

It was only then Song Zining finally recovered himself and stopped Ye Mulan from continuing the argument with a raised hand.

Ye Mulan wore a wronged look on her face. When she stared at Song Zining, her usual coolness and arrogance faded into nothingness like melting snow. With a bit of childishness, she said softly to Song Zining, “Zining, she… she humiliated me…”

Song Zining looked at her once with eyes that looked as gentle as spring water, and Ye Mulan immediately fell silent. One tantrum was fine, but two tantrums meant she lacked a sense of propriety. She wasn’t a person who would commit such a mistake.

It was only then Song Zining finally turned to Qiqi and nodded, “Long time no see, Qiqi. How have you been?”

Qiqi’s charming little pair of phoenix eyes narrowed slightly, and the shadow of a smile sprung to her lips, “I heard that you’ve gotten busy again lately, seventh cousin. I am sure you’re not as bored as I am while I was staying at that backwater place called the Evernight Continent. Thankfully though, Xiaoye is by my side,” She turned sideways a little and lifted a clump of hair from Qianye’s shoulder, twirling it twice between her fingers.

“Xiaoye?” Song Zining looked slightly startled.

But Qiqi was looking at Ye Mulan beside him. Although Ye Mulan did her best to maintain an expressionless face, the burning fury in her eyes couldn’t be suppressed no matter what.

Qiqi first raised her eyebrows in pretentious ignorance for a second. Then, she put on a look of realization and began laughing, “No, no, it’s not what you think. The ‘Xiao’ in Xiaoye’s name mean ‘daybreak’, and the ‘Ye’ means ‘evernight’,” Upon saying this, Qiqi turned to look at Ye Mulan in jubilant mood. Ye Mulan’s fury had only worsened upon hearing her explanation. By now she was certain that the reason Qiqi gave her pet lover the name “Ye (evernight)” was because it sounded the same as her own surname “Ye (Leaf)”. She did it to humiliate her.

Qiqi blinked her eyes once before she suddenly threw some oil into the frying pan, “Seventh cousin, I can give you Xiaoye if you truly like her! I haven’t used her, you know!”

The second she said this, Qianye immediately sensed the intensity and the number of stares on his person had multiplied by a thousand. He could no longer control his killing intent from leaking out of his body.

Song Zining couldn’t help but stare at Qianye a little absent mindedly once more. Qianye continued to stand as stiffly as a pillar, and his eyes never looked up once at Song Zining. In reality, he was feeling so irritated that he itched to kick Song Zining in the stomach this instant. Although Qianye was aware that Song Zining didn’t deserve his anger, there was no doubt that this whole thing had started because of him.

Ye Mulan finally could hold herself back no longer. She said coldly, “Miss Qiqi, shouldn’t you show at least some respect to Zining? Don’t you think you’re disappointing Lord Tianxing like this?”

Qiqi cast a glance at her and said, “My cousin and I are just talking about family matters, so why are you interrupting our conversation? Lord Tianxing, you say? Are you implying that seventh cousin is so certain that he would win the clan lord’s seat that he will speak only in Lord Tianxing’s presence?”

Ye Mulan was immediately covered in cold sweat the second Qiqi said this! In fact, most of the listeners who were having a great time watching the verbal sparring unfold turned pale to the point where some members of landed gentry and small aristocratic families immediately began retreating towards the distance. The conflict for the seat of clan lord was not only something they absolutely couldn’t get involved in, it wasn’t even something they could be privy to.

Ye Mulan’s face was deathly pale as great hatred swelled inside her heart. She never imagined that Qiqi would catch a single line and forcefully swing it towards such a dangerous subject.

Although the Song household’s overall style appeared unusually gentle compared to others, there were no such thing as an amiable war of successors within all aristocratic families. Its fierceness was not far behind a war of religion, and the level of cruelty and ruthlessness involved needed not be said.

The fact that Song Zining even managed to squeeze himself among the ranks of successors was already surprising enough already, and he had never expressed any sort of desire towards the seat of clan lord within his family. If he was pushed into that whirlpool because of Ye Mulan’s one line, Song Zining’s family might decide to cancel the engagement immediately. That would be an absolute disaster for Ye Mulan.

Ye Mulan clenched her fists and pressed her fingernails deep into her own palm, using the pain to quicken the speed of her thoughts. She said solemnly, “Zining had never thought of such a thing. On the other hand, you seemed to be absolutely certain of the Yin Family’s successor examination, Qiqi, and this spring hunt happens to be the key to your victory. You’d best perform well.”

However, Qiqi gave her a look that was reserved only for idiots before she smiled faintly, “What’s so difficult about a successor examination? I only need to put a bit of effort to win this whole thing, so why would I care so much about it?” The Yin Family’s situation was different from the Song household. Qiqi was now one of the top four successor candidates and there was no longer any point in feigning indifference at the last stage of the successor exam.

Ye Mulan clenched her teeth in secret when another idea passed through her mind. She said, “But I thought that someone screwed up huge during the exam and caused the expeditionary forces to suffer tremendous losses. It was a hot topic that many people had heard of!”

Qiqi said nonchalantly, “Yeah, the vampires are so bored as of late that even the descendants of their grand princes are screwing around the remote and desolate lower continent for god knows what. I led my army on a surprise attack one time and the elite guard of the Monroe clan just happened to show up and stop me. This incident did grow pretty big, but in my opinion it still wasn’t big enough. I’m going to investigate to the end and find out exactly who it was who sold our intel to the vampires. Even if that person happened to be the wife of a household descendant, there’s no way she’s going to escape the Yin Family’s grasp! Don’t you think so too, Miss Ye?”

Ye Mulan’s face turned cold, “What do you mean by that? You’d best make it clear!”

Qiqi cast a glance at her and said indifferently, “Make it clear to you? You don’t deserve to hear it!” Her words were a merciless slap to Ye Mulan’s face.

Qianye, who was pretending to be a pillar all this time felt his mind click when he heard this. He could sense that Ye Mulan’s heartbeat and blood flow had quickened a little when Qiqi said this. It would appear that the fighting and scheming involved behind the battle of Earth Castle was more complicated than he imagined, and Ji Yuanjia hadn’t told him everything.

A bit of killing intent made its way to Qianye’s heart, but Song Zining’s gaze suddenly fell on him once more, causing him to come very close from erupting into a litany of curses. He could only keep his head bowed resolutely.

“Qiqi, who else would you look up to when the Yin Family is under your control, if your behavior and conduct is this overbearing already?” Ye Mulan said through gritted teeth.

Qiqi replied coldly, “No matter what becomes of the Yin Family in the future, they will never let a tiny Ye family climb on top of their heads!”

At this point, this corner of the Martial Hall had become completely silent. The aristocratic families who didn’t dare to get themselves involved earlier had already made their excuses and left, and those who boldly stayed behind to watch the show didn’t even dare to utter a single comment right now. No one had imagined that the two women would draw daggers at each other and tear off all pretences so quickly in the blink of an eye.

The lost look in Song Zining’s eyes suddenly became replaced by an intimidating light, and he was just about to say something when a dragged out announcement rang from the entrance, “Zhao Junhong, the second young master of the Zhao household is here!”

The sharpness in Song Zining’s expression instantly faded away into the usual, spring-like smile he wore. He said, “Junhong doesn’t show up often. We should go and welcome him, third cousin.”

Qiqi nodded in agreement walked side by side with Song Zining toward the entrance. By now Ye Mulan had calmed herself down, and she nonchalantly took two steps backwards and chased Song Zining’s back. However, every time she threw an occasional glance at Qiqi, they were filled with hatred and disdain.

A group of young aristocrats walked up the stairs slowly with a group of revering followers around them. This man looked to be about twenty four to twenty five years old, and he was so handsome that even Song Zining was a shade paler compared to him. He had short, light colored hair and a pair of black pupils tinged with a bit of purple.

The moment he showed up, the crowd immediately wagged their tongues spiritedly amongst each other.

“It actually is the second Zhao young master! He’s as handsome as the rumors say.”

“I’ve long since heard that all Zhao household descendants were either pretty or handsome. Their good looks are known throughout the whole world. Also, Zhao Junhong was one of the four most outstanding young masters of the young generation!”

A dreamy looking person asked upon hearing this, “I wonder if Sir Junhong has a wife already?”

The person beside him immediately laughed mockingly, “You think your family is worthy to build a connection with the Zhao household? Stop daydreaming already!”

That person immediately turned red with embarrassment. He replied indignantly, “Nothing’s impossible. All grand households have the tradition of marrying members of landed gentry into their midst, and I happen to have have a young daughter who’s born smart and peerlessly beautiful. How can you say for sure that Sir Junhong wouldn’t fancy her?”

Another person patted his shoulder kindly and spoke in a regretful tone, “Out of the four grand households, the Zhao household is the only household that never accepted any landed gentry into their midst by marriage. They are the proudest of all men and women, and their ability to produce outstanding descendants every generation kept their fame running strong for a thousand years unfailingly. That’s why they have the right to make such a claim.”

That person immediately hung his head in silence and dejection.

Zhao Junhong paused for a brief moment when he passed through the door and took in everything that was happening inside the hall. His subordinates needed no instructions to start blocking off all the people who attempted to gather around him. The man himself walked towards Song Zining and Qiqi on his own accord, and he opened his arms and gave Song Zining a hug, smiling, “Zining, it’s been a long time since the hunting beneath the dam. You’ve gotten stronger since then.”

Song Zining smiled, “I’m still a bit weaker compared to you, Brother Junhong.”

Zhao Junhong shook his head and mocked himself, “It’s a power I earned through meds, Zining. It is not worthy of praise at all! Unlike me, every step of your progress is built firmly without a shred of outside help.”

Song Zining sighed, “You praised me too highly, Brother Junhong. There’s no one who doesn’t know that all four young masters of the Zhao Family are fated to be Champions. Whether or not you used meds doesn’t make a difference at all.”

“That ‘four young masters’ title is but a joke title. I am sorry to admit that my talents are the worst out of all my brothers.”

Song Zining immediately replied, “Of course not, you’re being too humble, Brother Junhong. If even you consider your talents poor then you won’t find more than a handful of people in this world who would dare call themselves talented.”

The duo just kept exchanging praises to no end.

Qiqi rolled her eyes once at the side and yelled, “Alright, enough! Are you guys done yet? Keep this up any longer and the sun’s going to rise!”

Zhao Junhong and Song Zining showed no look of regret of whatsoever. They exchanged a smile with each other before they finally stopped the cycle of self humbling and praising others.

Zhao Junhong greeted Qiqi with a smile and asked, “Long time no see, Qiqi. You’ve gotten even more beautiful than before. I heard that you ran into a little trouble in the lower continent? Is there anything I can do in your service?”

Qiqi immediately looked like a headache had assaulted her and shook her head immediately, “There’s no need! I totally can do this on my own!”

After that, the trio began talking about their families, their friends, the social events they participated and the plans of the future. Slowly, the arrogance ingrained into Zhao Junhong’s bones began to show. Not once he cast a glance to anyone else but Zining, Qiqi and a few other people.

Suddenly, a series of drumbeat resounded as a middle aged man who projected natural dignity and power walked out from behind a screen while surrounded by his people. He was dressed in the colors of an imperial uniform, and his index and middle finger were adorned with two huge jadeite ornamental rings. The character “Wei” was engraved onto the surface of the ring.

This man was Duke Wei and the organizer of this spring hunt.

Duke Wei swept his gaze across the entire hall, and Qianye actually felt like he was brushed by lightning when he looked by! He immediately understood that Duke Wei was a most terrifying opponent.

Qianye immediately withdrew his thoughts and maintained a steady level of energy and blood. He urged the blood energies and ability runes that had long since hid themselves into his heart to hide even deeper, afraid that Duke Wei would figure out his secret. Thankfully, Duke Wei’s gaze had swept past Qianye quickly and without pause just like everyone else. It was only then he let out a sigh of relief.

It was at this moment a maid carried over a glass of wine, to which Duke Wei held in his hand before announcing loudly, “Everyone here are the future pillars who will support the empire. I am old already, and the infinite way of stars and vast world will eventually be yours. However, the race of the black blood is as strong as ever, and we need your strength to safeguard the Empire. May the dark races be utterly eradicated from this world one day! Long live the Empire!”

Everyone raised their glasses at the same time and cried out in unison, “Long live the Empire!”

When the dinner feast was over, Qianye followed Qiqi to the courtyard before he hesitated in front of Qiqi’s bedroom. But Qiqi pulled him right into her own room and shut the door.

“I’m going to take a bath, and you should to! Once you’re done go get some early rest.”

Qiqi pointed at a door at the right side of the entrance hall. After that, she walked inside and went away to take a shower on her own accord. She seemed to be worrying about something and had lost the mood to tease Qianye.

Qianye also let out a sigh of relief. To his surprise, the master bedroom and the hallway outside had their own independent bathroom and changing room.

Tonight’s dinner feast was seriously tiring. Qianye went to his bed immediately after he took a shower and fell into deep sleep. Before he sank completely into his dreams, he was suddenly assaulted by a sense of palpitation that came out of nowhere. It was as if something bad was about to happen.

To the east and opposite side of the Yin Family’s courtyard where there was a limestone road and two sparse rows of flowers and trees serving as a line of boundary, there was an even bigger courtyard where the Song household was accommodated.

The study inside the courtyard was as bright as day. Song Zining was holding a brush and drawing on a piece of paper.  The female portrait he was drawing was roughly done. His movements were unhurried, but his wrist moved like it had an independent will behind it. The thickness, modulation, transition and shade of the brush strokes were ever changing, and the ink drawing came to life in great detail. It was as if the drawn person was about to come out of the painting.

It was a drawing method that combined both meticulous brush technique and freehand style. The woman’s posture and attire was drawn strongly and boldly, and although she was holding herself in the simplest standing posture, her presence was shockingly fierce to the point where one could almost feel a biting killing intent penetrating from the paper. On the other hand, the woman’s face was drawn with thin, mild strokes. It made even the tiny frown between her eyebrows look incredibly lifelike. As it turned out, the woman in the portrait actually looked a little like a crossdressed Qianye.

Song Zining stood tall as he held his brush. His lips were pursed into a sharp curve. His expression was solemn, and the gentle and modest quality he usually carried himself with were completely gone. Right now, he looked like an ancient soldier of gods who had drank the blood of countless enemies, and just as dangerous as the biting killing intent penetrating from the portrait.

Suddenly, he shook his head and tossed the incomplete drawing to a side. He spread out a new piece of blank paper and began drawing once more. It was the same female portrait with the same attire and posture, but the expression and features of the woman’s face differed slightly from the earlier portrait. At first glance, it still looked similar to a crossdressed Qianye.

There were five or six such discarded sketches on the other side of the table. Every paper was drawn with a woman with slightly differing facial features. Everyone of these women looked slightly similar to Qianye, where the only differences between them lay at the eyes, lips and other facial features. If Qianye himself had seen these portraits, he would definitely be shocked to find that the altered features were all places where he had put on makeup to soften the sharp angles of his face.

A cold, intimidating light suddenly flashed past Song Zining’s eyes, and the sharp aura brimming from his body instantly vanished.

A person knocked on the study’s door softly, but Song Zining looked like he hadn’t heard it at all. He continued to stare at the drawing paper and hold his brush in silence.

The door was pushed open gently, and Ye Mulan walked into the room. She was holding a tray of teapot and teacups. There was also a stewing mug on top of it. She put the items at the furthest corner of the wide study table before moving behind Song Zining softly and quietly. Then, she watched him draw quietly.

Suddenly, Song Zining accidentally made an excessively strong stroke, leaving behind a rather thick ink mark on the paper. He let out a sigh and tossed the wasted sketch to a side.

It was at this moment Ye Mulan’s gentle voice rang, “Zining, do you like this Xiaoye very much?”


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