"My men and I have searched along the edge of these mountains, yet there were no traces of footprints or any possible movements that could lead to being human." An Sun's deep voice was calm as he explained their recent findings.
"I suspect Bai Rin may have moved further down the stream to rest somewhere. It is possible someone from the village took her in."
General Guo stared at the map deeply and nodded his head.
"If that's the case, we will proceed to check the villages and woods."
Duyi Zhong chimed in as well, "I can ask some of the nearby province governors if they or their people have seen her."
Bai Han, who listened to the side, frowned, but he remained silent. An Sun nodded his head in agreement. He moved his fingers and pointed to an area of villages.
"I can request my men to search and ask the civilians if they've seen her. However…" An Sun paused.
He seemed to be deep in his thoughts. A moment later, he turned to look at Bai Han and said, "To do this I will require more assistance. Due to the incident with my father, I had no choice but to send the majority of my men away."
A tiny wrinkle developed on Bai Han's brow, his face looking seemingly surprised. The look in his eyes quickly turned sharp, his features tensing up subconsciously as he looked at the young man with guarded caution.
"Are you asking to take some of my men to lead them?"
"Yes. To dispatch orders and receive feedback, I'll need their cooperation with your permission." An Sun blinked innocently as his tone didn't change.
Bai Han's eyes narrowed as the corner of his mouth curled up coldly. "Why? To gain the trust and control of my troops?"
Bai Han stood with his arms behind his back, his cold gaze filled with disdain. "Has been your motive all along in helping find her? Had you not thought to kidnap my granddaughter and fail to protect her, we wouldn't need to search for her!"
The room was silent.
Everyone's expressions besides An Sun's and Bai Han's filled with surprise. General Guo glanced at the old commander beside him and couldn't help but frown. Duyi Zhong too revealed a look of disapproval.
An Sun's expression had not changed, his clear, dark eyes staring back into Bai Han's. Met with such clear eyes, Bai Han's chest felt uneasy and he felt a slight regret for his words. Yet at the same time, he felt what he spoke was the truth.
Did he say something wrong?
The mix of thoughts in his head made him uneasy.
So immersed in his thoughts, Bai Han has overlooked An Sun's gaze which contained a swirling mixture of emotions. As his dark lashes cast a shadow over his eyes, no one noticed the glint of pain that flitted through his gaze.
An Sun remained silent for a while and then suddenly said in a cold voice, "I understand you hate me and I can live with that. But, for the sake of your granddaughter, do not allow your hatred toward me delay us from finding her. If you're not going to give me some of your soldiers, then I understand. I will issue out the order for my men to search."
An Sun leaned away from the table and walked out the door. Manchu followed behind him, not before shooting Bai Han a sharp glare.
With only the three men left in the room, General Guo let out a heavy sigh. When he shifted his gaze to Bai Han, he noticed that the old commander had his head lowered and didn't dare to meet his eyes.
The old commander interrupted him. "I know what you're going to say. That I am too hateful and mistrusting of him. But…"
The image of a young girl flitted across his mind, causing his fists by his side to tremble.
"If it weren't for him, Rin would have never…"
Suddenly, General Guo's gruff voice cut him off. "Bai Han. An Sun may have kidnapped Rin, but her fall was not his fault. Her emotions, her decisions, only she can choose. He didn't need to help us find Rin, yet he did because he cares for her in some way."
General Guo's eyes stared deeply in Bai Han's as if wanting him to grasp every word he spoke.
"He's young, but he knows how to lead. He has a good heart. I hope you can put aside your own guilt and give him a chance."
After voicing his words, General Guo turned to exit the room, leaving Bai Han stunned. It had been the first the cold-faced general had spoken such words to him.
It had left an unpleasant taste in his mouth.
Bai Han huffed and crossed his arms.
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What did he mean An Sun had a good heart? The young man was nothing but trouble that sought power!
What guilt? He wasn't guilty about anything!
While Bai Han gloomily sulked, Duyi Zhong observed the man from the very beginning with a hesitant look. After a while, he finally sighed and reached inside his robe to pull out a letter.
"Bai Han…what General Guo said, I believe to be the truth as well." Duyi Zhong spoke in a gentle tone. "Initially, I too had my doubts on An Sun. However, the young man's actions have proven to be sincere."
Bai Han snorted contemptuously. "Sincere? For all, we know he could be acting this way to get what he wants, power. Is that not what he fought for when he battled against Rin? Is that not the reason why he kidnapped Rin - to gain more power?"
Duyi Zhong didn't continue speaking. He stared at the white letter in his hand with serene eyes. Bai Han seemed to detect Duyi Zhong's movements and shifted his gaze to where he was looking.
Upon identifying a piece of paper as to what appeared to be a letter, his body stiffened.
"What…What is that?" The slightly hoarse voice was tinged with anticipation.
Duyi Zhong didn't respond, his actions patient as he shifts his gaze to stare at his old friend.
"Your granddaughter, Rin, gave this to me after she decided to stay along An Sun's side. She wanted me to deliver it to you."
Upon heeding Duyi Zhong's words, Bai Han had thought he would feel joy at hearing his granddaughter left him a letter. Yet at that moment, he felt nothing but a tormenting feeling within his chest.
She chose to stay by An Sun's side.
Duyi Zhong sensed the turmoil of emotions in Bai Han. His lips raised into a soft, wrinkled smile. He walked over and placed the letter in Bai Han's hands.
"Your granddaughter is a clever girl, trust her judgment."
With that, Duyi Zhong walked around him and left. Left alone, unease blossomed from within him. He glanced down at the letter he now clutched with quivering hands.
The room fell silent, only the mere sound of his heart pounding in his ears could be heard.
Bai Han's rough, wrinkled fingers ran across the surface of the letter softly. Without hurrying, he opened it. Upon seeing the first sentence written on the paper, he burst out into a loud, harsh cackle of laughter.
Foolish girl. For the sake of one man, she was willing to write him a long letter.
She was foolish, no—he was foolish.
He was a foolish old man.
Inside Governor Duyi's provincial office, five men surrounded a large, broad table, a map set in the center.