"Sun, do you plan to rebel against the clan?" Manchu asked from behind.
An Sun calmly shifted his gaze, "And if I do?"
Manchu sighed heavily, "Naturally, I'll still follow you. But…are you doing this because of the little strategist?"
An Sun's face was impassive as he stared into the contents of his cup. Scenes of the youth's gentle smile before his small body fell down the cliff, and his final words were all engraved into his mind.
[I know, someday you will become a noble leader, An Sun.]
The pain in An Sun's chest became acute. For as long as he could remember, Bai Lan was the first person to say those words to him.
All his life, he aimed to collect trusted men from the Tuhan army who believed in him.
Whether he went on the path of a commoner or a king, they followed him. It was trust like this he valued.
Yet, not once had someone told him he would become a great leader. As if his fate was now set in stone by the youth's words.
After a brief period of silence, slowly spoke, his cold voice had a trace of pride and displeasure. "During my worst time, An Hongyu took me in. For that, I have always been grateful, I still am. But there's only so far gratitude can go. I never complained, I never fought for authority. All I wanted was to become strong and make something of myself. I thought this would be enough for him, for both of them. But because of my hope...I failed to protect a comrade. There's only a limit to how much I can bear."
"The peace I have tried to keep with the An Clan will no longer be. I will personally eradicate every single of them. This decision, I'm not doing it because of him, I'm doing it for him. I must spill yet more blood, to not make the blood already spilled be in vain." A Sun's voice was tainted with venom.
Manchu was surprised for a moment. The man's eyes were narrowed and coated with frost as his murderous intent filled his surroundings. The look in his eyes, it was so driven and fierce.
Manchu helplessly sighed. "It's about time you've realized that, idiot. Besides, I don't see a problem in seeking a little vengeance on behalf of the little strategist."
An Sun sounded a hum in response. As if he suddenly thought of something, he cast a glance toward Manchu without any expression.
"Since we already planned to head back to the main camp, have the troops tell everyone in the clan I died in the ambush."
Manchu's eyes widened. "What? You mean you plan to go into hiding?"
An Sun nodded seriously. "Yes."
"But…" Manchu choked out.
An Sun responded simply. "If I am to become stronger and gain more power, I'm going to need to be off the radar of An Hongyu and An Ruo's people."
Manchu was stumped.
"How long do you plan to train?"
"Three years or less."
Manchu nearly choked on his unspoken words.
Three years or less?!
An Sun looked at Machu's bothered expression, his gaze deepened slightly.
An Sun's tone lightened. "Still want to follow alongside me?"
Manchu's face sunk before he sighed loudly.
"Hey, hey, cut me some slack! This is a lot to take in all right?"
An Sun gave a slight grin.
At that moment, the tent's flaps opened. Dressed in silver armor, both men stared at the elderly commander leisurely entering the tent.
Bai Han's old, wrinkled face looked as if he had aged a few years. The lights in his silver eyes were now dark and hollow.
It had merely been an hour and the strong, sturdy Commander Bai already looked tired and frail.
"Bai Lan's body…I…I would like to see him." Bai Han's throat was dry, it made speaking seem painful.
An Sun stared at Bai Han with a calm face, "I've ordered my men to retrieve his remains from the cliff. I promise to give him a proper and honorable burial."
Bai Han absently grunted in response. He stared numbly at An Sun; the rims of his wrinkled eyes were slightly red and dark.
"My grandson risked his life to protect you…what was he to you?"
Bai Han felt discomfort in his chest, as unhappiness filled it when the thought of Rin risking her life for this man. Whenever he saw the young man's face, he couldn't suppress the feelings of resentment, anger, and confusion.
What exactly was so special about their relationship that she felt the need to die for him?
An Sun bore a sincere expression on his face as he said earnestly: "I consider Bai Lan a brother of mine. He not only saved my life twice, but he was a faithful comrade. Your grandson was a real man, a decent man."
Bai Han: "…"
Was this young man trying to wound his pride by reminding him that his granddaughter wasn't a fragile dainty flower but like a brute man?
Bai Han did not even bother thinking about how his granddaughter must have felt when hearing these words.
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Bai Han looked up at the sound of An Sun's voice. He was stunned to meet the young man's intense, steady gray eyes.
"The day Bai Lan chose to stay by my side, I swore to protect him and everything he cared for." An Sun's expression was clear and firm. "Even with his passing, I am still set on following out that promise. No, I am even more certain now. I will fight hard to grow stronger and become a man worthy of your grandson's life and trust."
Bai Han was taken aback.
He hadn't expected such deep words from An Sun. To promise such a thing, it appeared his wreckless granddaughter was equally important to him.
Bai Han's face furrowed at the thought.
"Lord An! The troops have come back from the cliff!"
The three men's expressions turned alert at the sound of a soldier's voice. Without a second thought, An Sun strode out of the tent.
Upon coming out, they saw a Tuhan soldier with his legs and arms soaking wet, his body trembling.
But no body.
An Sun's eyes turned dark. "Where's Bai Lan's body?"
The soldier stepped forward, his body bathed in cold sweat from his commander's cold glares. In his trembling, pale hands, he stretched out a light green color ribbon.
An Sun's eyes flashed at the familiar ribbon in the soldier's hand.
That ribbon…It was Bai Lan's!
Unknowingly, his steps underneath him quickened.
"I…" Before the soldier could speak, the ribbon was snatched from his hand and into An Sun's.
An Sun stared at it with burning eyes before he glanced up at the soldier.
"Where did you get this?"
The soldier was surprised by his commander's intense stare but still managed to respond.
"Reporting to Commander An. It was discovered at the bottom of the cliff near the river. The troops and I carried out your orders and searched for Advisor Bai's body. When we looked, however, Advisor Bai's..."
The soldier stopped upon feeling various cold, biting stares on him. He glanced up and found an old man staring intently at him. On the side, a middle-aged man in armor along with a group of unfamiliar troops also gazed at him.
Too many scary eyes!
An Sun grew impatient. "Speak!"
"Y-Yes…" The soldier gulped. "We followed the upstream in hopes of finding him, but Advisor's Bai's body…it's gone!"
The air turned stiff, everyone at the scene held their breaths. For a brief moment, Bai Han's still eyes lit up.
He walked toward the soldier and gripped his shoulders, his silver eyes penetrating deep into his.
"What do you mean gone?"
The soldier stuttered, "I-I mean we searched everywhere, but were unable to retrieve Advisor Bai's body. It's almost as if it vanished!"
An Sun's eyes narrowed up, a deep chilling glint flashed within them. His throat tightened. He couldn't say the words, but he thought them.
If they discovered the body, then it could only mean he was dead.
However, it was missing.
Either his body was far-gone upstream, or Bai Lan was still...
As if thinking the same thing, Bai Han turned to look at General Guo.
"Send our men out to search! Look at every area for Bai Lan's remains if they can't be found start searching neighboring towns!"
Manchu's brows furrowed, he couldn't help but steal the man in front of him a glance. Meanwhile, An Sun's dark, gray eyes were locked on the green ribbon in his hand.
"Sun, do you think Bai Lan could still be alive?"
An Sun didn't respond. His eyes staring at the pale green ribbon in his hand deepened slightly, his fists clenching.
Even if there was a possibility that the youth was alive…he'll take his chances.
An Sun's head raised, and he turned to look at his troops.
"Help them search and send others to the nearby villages. The rest of you start heading back to the main camp, I'm staying here."
The Tuhan troops were stunned.
"But Lord An…"
"I am no longer your lord. From now on, you can consider Lord An dead. Inform An Hongyu your Lord An tragically died during the camp's ambush attack. Do you understand?"
Though confused, the troops could only nod. An Sun couldn't help but soften his gaze while looking at his men.
"I don't harbor any regrets. If I hadn't met all of you, my life would have had no meaning. I'm glad I had the chance to be your lord and commander."
Toward An Sun's heartfelt, strong words, the Tuhan troops smiled in return and felt their hearts burn. Lowering their heads deeply, they yelled.
"It was an honor, Lord An!"
An Sun arched up an eyebrow as he stared at the men's expressions who was turning more and more serious and let out a rare laugh.
Meanwhile, on the side, Bai Han glanced at the young man and his troops with a complicated gaze.
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Inside a tent, An Sun leaned tiredly against a chair beside a warm brazier, a cup of steaming water set in front of him.