By sundown, An Sun and his men arrived in front of Tongshu's gates. Greeted by a pair of guards, he expected to be stopped but was surprised when they willingly allowed him entrance. The guards offered to transport their horses to the stable while directing them where to go. Doing as told, An Sun and his men dismounted before walking inside the wall's stone hall.
Huge lanterns burned on the sides of the walls, filling the stone tunnel with light. Fan Mingli and the others nervously glanced around. Despite willingly following An Sun to defend the Western Empire, they couldn't help but grow apprehensive at their unexpected fate.
Oddly enough, An Sun's neutral expression gave the men a huge sense of relief, calm without a ripple of shock, appearing as if it would all be fine.
When they exited the tunnel, they stepped into a large open area, tall buildings surrounding them with lit lanterns lighting the domain.
An Sun raised his head slightly as his gaze swept the surroundings. Yet all he saw was a bunch of soldiers gazing at him and his group wearily.
"You must be the man Advisor Lan spoke of." A deep, raspy voice said behind them.
Shifting his gaze to the source, An Sun stared at the man walking toward them. The left side of his face was scarred, the skin drooping over his eye as if it were melting. An Sun didn't dwell too much in the tall man's appearance and took in his words.
He had called Rin by Advisor Lan. It looks like she was back to using the name Lan now. If that was the case, then…
"Sun," Although the soft voice was not loud, it drifted into the ears of An Sun.
Turning around, his gray eyes met with a pair of shimmering emerald gems. The figure in front of him still didn't have the masculine and dignified appearance of a man, still carrying a feminine softness. Their silk-like skin was white and tender, and big, emerald eyes staring back at him.
Once more, Rin was disguised as a man. A feminine looking man at that.
It had been six months since they last saw one another. Although not too long, it was enough for both to feel as if years had passed. The journey they both experienced seemed to extend time.
A sudden silence descended over the two before An Sun was the first to speak.
"What you wrote in that letter…is it true?"
An Sun saw Rin's expression change along with the contours of her face beneath the fragile light. Then she sighed gently.
"We'll discuss it after you all wash and eat something. You must have had a tiring journey after rushing here."
The eyes of Fan Mingli and the other men changed slightly. In fact, they had long been tired from their travels. As Rin said, they had rushed, leaving little to no time for sleep. The smell that engulfed them was so unusual and humid they almost gagged. It was brutally offensive.
However, before they could celebrate long, An Sun's words cut their joy short.
"I want to discuss it now."
Rin raised her eyebrows slightly before sighing.
Stubborn as always.
"Very well. But the least you can do is clean yourself." She looked at An Sun's appearance up a down, and a rare look of teasing showed on her face. "You smell."
An Sun couldn't suppress the corners of his mouth from twitching.
"All right." Hearing An Sun's words, the men behind him secretly let out a sigh of relief.
There was a hint of a smile in Rin's eyes as she turned around to escort them to the baths.
After they had finished cleaning themselves, they were invited to eat in the dining hall. An Sun didn't have any objections this time after seeing his men's faces. They looked like they were on the verge of crying if he declined.
Besides, he was in the mood for wine.
In the dining hall, An Sun settled at a table in the far corner after grabbing a bottle from the kitchen. Opening the lid with a pop, he poured the red wine into his cup and then drank. The sweet, fruity taste of summer wine filled his mouth and brought a smile to his lips.
At the sound of footsteps walking toward him, his eyes raised, and by then, the person was already sitting across from him. Emerald eyes fixed on him, observing in his movements. The two were enveloped in a blanket of silence. It was not a heavy silence but a serene and calm one. An Sun finished his cup and grabbed the bottle for more.
"Want some?" He raised his brows to Rin.
"No thank you." Rin shook her head with a light smile.
He hummed and poured the wine into his cup before taking another sip.
"Seeing how you've taken a position in the Western Empire, you seem to be doing well." An Sun said.
"So do you." Rin looked at the group of men who came along with him. "Are they your comrades?"
Unknowingly, the ice on An Sun's face melted away, leaving only a tiny, warm smile on his lips.
"Subordinates." He smirked.
Rin was stunned for a moment before she revealed a trace of a smile from the corner of her lips.
"I see. Then you're doing very well for yourself."
An Sun grunted and licked his wet lips. The cup in his hand settling on the wooden table with a sharp sound.
"Is it the An Clan?"
Not surprised by his question, Rin calmly nodded her head.
"Yes. From the looks of it, it seems to be your brother, An Ruo."
An Sun said nothing in response. His long fingers tapped the wooden table in deep thought.
"Is Manchu with them?"
Rin paused for another moment, trying to decide how best to explain. She raised her head and glanced over at An Sun. She didn't say a word but gently nodded.
Once more, there was a prolonged silence between them. Only this time, An Sun could no longer hide his foul mood. His body was extremely tense.
"Have you tried contacting him?" An Sun asked.
Rin shook her head. "I've considered it. But right now it's too dangerous. I wouldn't want to put him in more risk than he already is."
An Sun's jaw clenched. He knew her words were right. If she did happen to reach out to Manchu and his brother found out, Manchu without a doubt would be killed.
"An Ruo…he probably forced him to join him." An Sun spat maliciously.
"I know," Rin said, and her eyes fell briefly. "But he is on the enemy lines."
"Against his own will." An Sun pointed out harshly and saw an understanding flicker in those emerald eyes, which rose suddenly to meet his once more.
"I know," Rin repeated in a softer tone and looked at him seriously. "Even so, you must consider his position in these circumstances. Whether he was forced or not, he's on the enemy's side. The side we must fight against."
An Sun narrowed his gray eyes as a cold glint flashed by. He clenched his fists tightly, trying to restrain and suppress the frustration rising within him. But for the most part, he felt helpless. The feeling of powerlessness was like a huge wave that had crashed onto the shore.
"Are you saying I should fight against him?"
The moment he finished those words, Rin was left stunned. Not just surprised, but slightly hurt. To imply she wanted An Sun to fight against his very own friend…it hurt her. Her hands resting on the table clenched. She could not even utter out a single word, her throat too tight to speak.
The look in An Sun's eyes was complicated, it looked as if he wanted to say something but when he looked up and saw her face, all the words that were at the tip of his tongue were instantly swallowed back.
The pain from his words was visible on her face, which gradually turned pale.
Rin took a deep breath, and her gaze became extremely resolute. She raised her head, and in her cold eyes, there was a strange sense of calm within.
"After eating, you should rest." She stood up from the table and looked at An Sun one last time. Her eyes were smiling and her lips gently raised. "Despite everything that has and will happen, I'm thankful you came, Sun."
"Rin…" An Sun hadn't bothered calling her by her disguised name and stood up from his seat.
But Rin had already given him one last glance before she walked out of the dinner hall. Fan Mingli and the others noticed the scene between the two but hadn't been able to hear what the discussion was about. From the dark, brooding looking on An Sun's face, it couldn't have been pleasant.
The hands by An Sun's side clenched tightly.
Thank you all. Please rest well, eat well, and stay strong
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