Inside the provincial office of Guando, Rin, Wei Jingyi, a prime minister and a few additional generals and soldiers, gathered around the room.
"What do you mean we're surrendering? Where's Governor Tao?" A general creased his brows roughly.
Rin, now thin and frail with a delicate and weary expression, standing in front of the broad table, lightly coughs before staring at the group of men with inscrutable eyes.
"Governor Tao is dead."
Following her words, the entire room became hushed - everyone's complexioned whitened, eyes widening.
"W…What?" The general mumbled.
"Governor Tao is dead. His final words were for us to surrender and offer his head as a peace treaty for the survival of the citizens." Rin responded casually.
The general hearing her words again stumbled backward with his gaze on the floor. Clenching his fists tightly, the general's cold eyes glance up toward Rin.
"You…You let him…"
"General, I hope you understand as someone who served Governor Tao, I had no right to interfere in his decision on defending his people. From the beginning, this was his fight, not mine." Rin coldly cut him off.
Grinding his teeth hatefully, the general continues to glare at Rin, straightening up his stance. Rin set her eyes on the general with indifferent eyes, unnerved by his threatening aura.
Noting the tense air, a soldier speaks up.
"Even so, surrendering…We can't just do so after everything we've done. We've won two battles between the Tuhan. There's still a chance."
Coolly glancing at the soldier who spoke, Rin narrows her eyes. "Have you forgotten whose captain here? Not to mention our initial victory was based on luck, our second was due to timing and reinforcements. Right now we have no reinforcements and are certainly not going to fight based on luck."
"Do as Captain Bai says." A woman's frail voice sounded.
Everyone looked in the direction of the soft voice. Standing in front of the entrance was a slim middle-aged lady – a maidservant supporting her as she walked.
Compared to her previous elegant and dignified appearance, the woman's complexion was slightly pale and her eyes were dimly lit without a trace of light - it was as if she were a walking corpse.
"Madam Tao." Everyone courteously lowered their heads upon identifying the woman.
Lifting her frail hand, the governor's wife calmly shifts her jet-black eyes toward the general.
"Release the order to our surrender."
Sharpening her black eyes, the woman softly speaks. "Do you wish for my husband's sacrifice to be in vain? He gave up his life to defend his people. If those were his final wishes you will not hesitate to follow them through."
The general lowers his head gently. "Yes, Madam Tao."
Casually, the woman shifts her gaze toward Rin – a faint glimmer of pain hidden in her eyes, along with another emotion that was unseen by the rest of the men.
"Captain Bai I thank you for everything you've done, you granted us the strength to fight until the very end."
"Madam Tao." Rin stared uneasily at the woman with a complicated expression. Parting her lips, Rin hesitates to speak before she quietly lowers her head. "Thank you for your sincerity."
Examining the young boy respectfully bow before her, Madam Tao quietly nods her head and departs out of the building with the help of her maidservant.
Looking sternly at Madam Tao's direction, Rin's eyelids lowered – a new form of ruthless determination in her eyes.
"As Governor Tao's final wish, we'll surrender to the Tuhan. Send word to their commander of our surrender and offering of Sir Tao's head." Rin ordered the general.
Stiffening up, the general raises his eyes to look into Rin's.
"Yes, Captain Bai."
"En." Rin gently spoke, her eyes lifting up to look around at the men. "You all fought hard and gave it your all. Remember, we may have lost today, but it is merely temporary. Learning from a failed battle is a situation you should choose to study and learn from. Not everything will go as we planned, it's best to learn from those losses then dwell in them."
All the men in the room listened as Rin spoke, the agonizing feeling in their hearts somewhat eased, however, the loss of their governor continued to create a weighing sensation inside.
He was their leader and the compass to their ship. Without him, they were lost and powerless to fight.
"I'll send out word to the Tuhan's commander." The prime minister spoke up.
Bobbing her head lightly, Rin turns her body around to exit the provincial office – Wei Jingyi trailing behind her.
Unseen by the rest of the men in the room, Rin's lips quivered and her eyes lowered dangerously. For they had not known the emotional and physical torment their loss had caused the young captain.
"They're surrendering?" A masculine and throaty voice rang within the tent.
In the Tuhan camp, An Sun who was currently cleaning his sword halted his movements upon hearing Manchu's words.
"It seems so," Manchu smirked as he looked down at the scroll in his hand. "Apparently to prove their surrender, they're offering Governor Tao's head."
An Sun's strong and clean hands raised his sword up, its glowing blade reflecting in his eyes.
"I didn't think they'd surrender so soon." An Sun lowered his head with an enigmatic smile. "A very honorable move of Tao Guozhi, I have to say it's a shame to lose such a respectable man."
Shrugging his shoulders, Manchu looks at An Sun. "It's expected of people from the north. They're not as eager to allow their people to suffer as much as the other empires, which is why their military is regularly so weak."
The flawlessly attractive man with satin, black flowing hair stiffened his rosy lips. All emotions on his face were void, unable to be seen no matter how long a person looked.
"You're right." An Sun's jade-like hands wiped the sword once again. "That Captain Bai of theirs...He doesn't fight like a northerner, his tactics are too dirty and well planned to be from the Northern Empire."
Listening to An Sun speak in a low voice, Manchu smirks devilishly.
"I was thinking the same thing. Who knows, maybe there's more to him that others don't know." He snickered.
An Sun's eyes suddenly spark with a dark light, his eyes turning to look at Manchu.
"How're our men in the eastern mountain doing?"
"Everything is fairing well, they have the Bai army in the sight and are ready for your orders."
Coldly, a wide sneer spreads across An Sun's lips. A deep chuckle echoed throughout the room.
"That's good. Tell them to keep watch and to stay hidden."
Manchu merely nods his head in agreement. An Sun's head turned back to his sword.
"We'll accept their surrender in two days." An Sun said, not mentioning anything more on the previous subject.
Hiding his snicker, Manchu decides to exit the tent and leave the man alone. Things around the camp were definitely about to get more interesting.
Sitting inside her room that was faintly lit with a flaming lantern on her desk, Rin comfortably wrapped the soft blankets around her. The girl's delicate face paled with beads of cold sweat pouring down her forehead.
With a brush in her hand, Rin quietly writes down her reports and observations.
Light coughs escaped her mouth as she wrote, the small falcon nestled beside her closed its eyes peacefully as it slept.
Now with their loss, Rin had no choice but to write letters informing the Northern Empire's capital about the situation, including the people of Guando.
Informing the citizens of their surrender would not only ensure their safety but their corporation. Rin could only hope the governor's head as an offering would be enough for the Tuhan to spare the citizens.
Coughing lightly once more, Rin pulls the blanket closer toward her, careful not to disturb the small bird resting against her folded legs.
Ever since the first of winter came, Rin found her body to be slightly sluggish and much weaker. She'd occasionally cough, yet the sight of shedding blood hadn't startled her.
If anything, she was well aware of her body's state.
Ever since the night of her escape from Li Chang's men, Rin found her body to be relatively weaker during the winter.
Including the times when she grew up in the Bai household.
Being the worrier he was, her grandfather quickly called a physician the first time Rin fell ill, and just as Rin told him, it was a minor cold.
However, her grandfather would still worry. A couple of times she'd even cough up blood, scaring the poor old man to death.
Since then, he was always careful for Rin's health during the winter, always advising her to dress warmly or to limit her time outside - if he could control her well, make her not go outside at all.
Therefore, Rin knew this illness of hers would pass after the winter.
When winter came so did the storm brewing within her.