Standing stunned in place, Rin was at a loss for words. Usually in her disguise as Bai Lan she'd ordinarily capture the eyes and hearts of a few young women, some even bold enough to court her.
However, none had been a little girl like the one in her arms. Staring at the girl in her arms, Rin notices the little girl continuing to gaze at her with big eager eyes.
Parting her lips to speak, Rin's words are interrupted by the sound of a woman's voice.
"Lixue! Lixue, dear where are you?" An elegant noblewoman walks around the grand garden with anxious eyes.
Following behind her was a tall middle-aged man dressed in a long silk purple gwanbok. Despite his slightly wrinkled bearded face, his aura was both calming and powerful as he walked.
Straight away, Rin took notice of the man and woman's resemblance to the petite girl in her arms.
These must be her parents…
"Papa, Momma!" The little girl said while waving her plump hands.
Turning in the direction of their daughter's cheery voice, the little girl's mother is stunned by the sudden scene before her. Gently holding her little Lixue in his arms was a boy no older than fifteen.
Handsomely dressed in a long-sleeved white and light green robe, he stares at the male and woman with steady eyes. What stood out the most to the two was exactly his bright and serene emerald eyes.
Behind the young boy was a tall man with a tall bun and long bangs concealing his left eye, along with a set of two soldiers in armor with the emblem of a fierce lion.
Beside them was the Governor's elite soldiers who looked keenly at the situation with an awkward gaze.
"Lixue!" The little girl's mother said with a concerning voice.
Walking towards her dear daughter with brisk elegant steps, the graceful woman comfortably reaches for her daughter in the young boy's arms.
"My sincere apologies for Lixue's behavior. I hope she didn't trouble the young Master." The lovely woman spoke eloquently in a soothing delicate voice, her black eyebrows slightly wrinkled.
"Not at all. The young Miss hasn't troubled me in any way," Rin said politely with a lowered head.
"Mama! Lixue wants to marry the pretty big brother!" Lixue looked up at her mother with glittering eyes.
"Lixue!" The woman stared at her daughter with troubled eyes, completely stunned by her brazen words.
"Haha, it seems like my daughter's been quite the handful towards the young Master," A man's deep voice said from behind the woman.
Approaching from behind to stand beside the woman, the man stares at the young boy with amused eyes.
Lifting her head to stare at the source of the voice, Rin's eyes are met with the previous tall man in the purple silk gwanbok. On the top of his head, revealing the sides of his dark hair was a black-cloth hat.
"Governor Tao," Rin cups her hands with a slight bow.
"No need formalities boy. After all, we're going to be working together quite a lot starting today, Bai Lan." Governor Tao chuckled with a smile.
Looking up at the smiling middle-aged man, Rin's eyes brighten as she lifts her head flashing a dazzling smile.
"En, Sir Tao Guozhi." Rin bobs her head.
The little Lixue who had keenly watched from the side in her mother's graceful arms twinkled her dewy black eyes at the young boy's charming smile.
"Papa, please let Lixue marry the big brother!" Lixue gazed admiringly at her rather with innocent eyes.
Everyone stared at the petite girl in silence. The two soldiers behind the group sighing helplessly.
Best of luck young Miss Lixue.
Inside Governor Tao's office, two figures quietly stood, both radiating off an aura of knowledgeable power. Xu Mujin, who was currently outside of the office, waited patiently for them to finish, leaving both the Governor and Rin alone.
"I hear from your grandfather, Bai Han, you're quite knowledgeable not to mention skillful in the military," Tao Guozhi said.
Standing with calmly in front of the man's desk, Rin expresses an awkward smile.
"My grandfather, unfortunately, speaks too highly of me Sir," Rin sighed helplessly. "I merely know what I was taught and how to utilize it the best to my ability."
Heeding the boy's pleasant words, Tao Guozhi's smile widens brightly.
"Haha! You're not only skillful but also modest. That's admirable in a young boy like yourself." He laughs joyously.
As his hearty laughter settles down, Tao Guozhi's eyes suddenly flash with a trace of seriousness. His hands folded firmly on his desk.
"I naturally take it your grandfather has informed you of our current situation as well." He said with stern eyes.
Curling an attractive smile on her rosy lips, Rin bobs her head.
"Yes. I understand the situation here in the North Borders." Rin said gently with an incomprehensible smile.
"Good. Then I'll have you accompany me and my men's military meeting tonight. It wouldn't hurt to have an extra opinion on the scene." Tao Guozhi grins.
Continuing to bestow a broad smile, Rin silently agrees towards the man's words. After discussing a few more subjects, Rin stares at Governor Tao with an apologetic expression.
"If Sir Tao doesn't mind, I'll be retreating to stay at a nearby inn. I'm quite tired after all this traveling." Rin said solemnly.
"Don't be silly my boy, of course, you'd be tired after such a long and tiring trip. There's also no need to stay at an inn, you and your personal guard can rest at our house. I'll have a servant set a room for the two of you. As for the Bai soldiers with you, they can stay in our military camp's guest rooms." He offered graciously.
Looking slightly stunned towards the Governor's words, Rin once again flashes the man a humble expression.
"I thank you Sir Tao for your kindness. It will certainly not be forgotten." Rin cupped her hands gently with her head carefully lowered.
After Rin exits Governor Tao's office, immediately a servant shows up to escort her and Xu Mujin to their private rooms.
Once settled in, Rin summons Xu Mujin into her room, calmly drinking a fragrant cup of tea on a rosewood table by a nearby window.
"What are young Master's plans?" Xu Mujin respectfully asks standing beside Rin.
Calmly drinking her tea, Rin gently places the dainty cup down on the polished smooth wooden table with vacant eyes.
"It seems like he doesn't completely trust me yet," Rin chuckles, her bright eyes dimming slightly.
Xu Mujin furrows his brows as he listens attentively to her words.
Seeing her personal guards wrinkled expression, Rin lets out a gentle laugh.
"No worries. I don't blame him, after all, it's merely my grandfather's words with no partial evidence." Rin said gently as she subtly shifts her gaze towards the sunlit window. "Besides, all of that will change tonight."
In the beginning, once Rin heard the Governor's invite for her to join in on their military meeting she knew for sure he was intentionally setting her up for a test.
A test she'd be sure not to fail.
Deep within the Northern Empire's stone mountains, in a secluded area in the forest was an unmarked cave.
Inside was a deep beautiful misty spring with heated steam flowing through the cave's air. The water was colored a clear luminous blue revealing the cave's rocky bottom and edges.
However, within the misty hot spring was the figure of a man leaning back onto the hard rocky walls, his elegant eyelids gently shut. The man's long black flowing hair drifted softly in the water - almost as if it were black blood.
Across from him, sitting comfortably on a flat rock in the steamy cave's entrance was another man with neck-length brunette hair, his legs comfortably crossed.
With a set of papers in his hand and his chin propped up by his other hand, he calmly scans the written reports.
"Commander An Sun, General Jinhai and his men had already departed towards the North Borders. By the time we depart, they'll already be ahead of us." The man seated on the flat rock reported in a lazy manner. "He said he would show you what it means to possess 'true power'."
The man called Commander An Sun's eyelids quiver slightly, his eyes fluttering open revealing a pair of dark gray eyes blazing coldly.
"Just leave him be." The man's low dark voice replied with a tinge of evident irritation.
Standing up calmly from the deep blue water, the man gently dunks his head into the glistening water to carefully drench his hair further - delicate strands of water seductively sliding down his muscled chest and back.
"Don't forget, he's a member of the Gan bloodline. His armies capabilities aren't to be looked down upon." The brown-haired man sighed as his eyes lazily flipped through the pages.
"There's, moreover, the issue with the Hong provinces governor sending us forty taels, five boxes of the 'finest' gold, and alcohol, and one-thousand sheep. He also added ten beautiful women and his skilled strategist from the distinguished Hong family." He continued with a mildly amused expression.
Gathering his drenched hair upward to prevent it from falling in front of his face, An Sun raises his head from the water, an unreadable expression seen on his face.
Loose strands of black hair gripping warmly to his white toned chest - a deep scar slashed across the top his smooth muscled skin.
"Kill the sheep for meat and fur and send the boxes of gold and alcohol to our main camp." He ordered with an indifferent tone as he rung out his hair. "As for the women, after the men had sex with them, kill them."
Once done wringing his hair, the man pauses before speaking again.
"Also, kill that strategist from the Hong family." An San said after some thought.
"We can't kill him, unfortunately. He is an official member of the Hong family." The man seated on the rock stared at An Sun helplessly.
Towards the other man's words, An Sun became silent an unpleasant expression formed on his face.
"Damnit." He muttered irritably.
"Don't worry, I already informed him not to get close to you." The other man chuckled. "I'm very aware of your dislike towards Hong's people."
"Good." He grunted before standing up to walk towards the smooth rocky ground.
Exposing his firm bare muscled body to the other man without a care, he reaches for the set of armor and clothes nearby - small drops of water dripping down his long jet-black hair to his toned back.
"Let's head back." He ordered, already walking out of the cave.
"Ah, hey wait for me!" The brown-haired man called out gathering the papers in his hand as he rushed out.
The only sound remaining is the gentle breeze swirling through the mountains, the blue steamed water gently rippling.