Jingfei was surprised by Hei’s serious atmosphere.
But she decided to answer anyway.
“I have a marriage that I would like to get out of.”
‘Exactly as I had foreseen.’
Hei had expected something like this from the moment he heard Jingfei’s request. It was the typical damsel in distress scenario.
In most of the stories he had read, there would be a young lady who was being forced into some kind of marriage that she didn’t want to be part of.
After the main character came, he would rescue her from the situation, but it would leave a strange atmosphere between the two.
Hei wouldn’t be letting that happen this time.
“And how does my being here help you.”
Hearing Hei’s words, Jingfei was unable to respond for a short while.
When she finally did, her words were not what Hei was expecting.
“I was thinking of declaring you as my fiancé.”
Hei raised a brow as he leaned back into his chair.
Jingfei nodded her head in response.
Hei didn’t quite expect this kind of situation. He had initially thought she would ask him to defeat her husband-to-be, but instead she was asking him to replace him.
“Before we agree on anything, tell me how this situation came about.”
He felt that this entire situation was odd. Especially given what he knew about the sect, and the fear Jingfei seemed to have of men.
He would ask about it later, but right now, he wanted to see what he was working with.
If it was too sticky, he would just let it go. But if it was something manageable then he would come up with an appropriate fee to charge.
Jingfei paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. After having decided what she wanted to say she began.
“If you want the full story then I have to go back to around two years ago.”
She checked to make sure Hei was still interested and after he nodded his head, she continued.
“Actually, it began a while before that. Ever since the incident which sparked the creation of the Radiant Jade Sect, every now and then, a disciple would go missing.”
Hei nodded his head.
“At first it was seen to be just a series of unfortunate isolated events, but as the years went by it became clear that something sinister was happening.”
“And the last straw was around two years ago. A group of elders who had gone out on a mission failed to report back to the sect.”
Jingfei seemed to have trouble saying the next part.
“After waiting for a long time, the sect leader took a few elders to search for them as well as the missing disciples. However, at some point, even the sect leader and the elders failed to report back to the sect.”
At this point, Hei had a question. He thought there was something Jingfei was withholding.
“Are you related to any of the missing elders?”
Jingfei looked at the ground before nodding her head.
“The sect leader?”
This was Hei’s assumption.
It would be strange if she weren’t related to one of the bigger elders in the sect at this point.
She was even the peak leader of the man peak.
While it may not be the most prestigious of positions, it was still a high position within the sect.
Jingfei seemed to be surprised by Hei’s guess.
After a moment, she nodded her head.
“What is the relation?”
“She is my mother.”
‘Sounds about right.’
This was also what Hei was assuming. There was nothing strange about this situation at all, it was perfectly in line with his predictions.
“So how does this connect to the marriage?”
“A few months ago, a boy appeared with a marriage contract which was apparently signed by my mother. After the contract was confirmed to be genuine, the vice sect leader agreed to the marriage.”
“Vice sect leader?”
“Mm. Since the sect leader is currently missing the vice sect leader has taken over as the acting sect leader, for the time being, she is the one in charge. That will be the case until my mother returns, or a new sect leader is chosen.”
Hearing this, Hei grew suspicious. Second-in-command always had a motive to get rid of the leader.
But he also had a question.
“Why does the vice sect leader have any sway on your marriage? Can’t you just reject it?”
Hei needed to know why Jingfei couldn’t get out of the situation by herself.
“Well, the vice sect leader doesn’t have any sway per se. But it becomes complicated because my mother’s signature is on the marriage contract.”
“Again, why does that matter? Why can’t you just refuse the marriage?”
Jingfei raised a brow in response to Hei’s question. What was he failing to understand about the situation? Obviously, if her mother’s signature was on the contract, the marriage was to occur.
“If I were to refuse the marriage, it would bring great shame to my family. How could I do that to my mother has raised me lovingly for all these years? Would you do that if you were in my position?”
“So, you are bound by social constraints?”
Jingfei was still confused. Wasn’t this basic knowledge?
Even more than Jingfei, Hei was confused. If she was bound to this marriage, then how was she able to seek another fiancé? Wouldn’t that be the same thing as rejecting the marriage?
Hei was unfamiliar with the customs of this world. Xiulan had not been a very good guide for these kinds of things, and the books did not mention much about social conventions.
He decided to just ask.
“So, you are allowed to seek another fiancé while in a marriage agreement, but you are unable to reject the original marriage? How does that make any sense?”
Hei’s words only worked to further Jingfei’s confusion.
She raised a brow as she responded.
“Obviously, if I choose a new fiancé, then the families of both fiancés will compete among themselves for my hand.”
“Eh? But you told me that rejecting the marriage would mean shame for your family. How is it that finding another fiancé doesn’t bring shame?”
“Rejecting the marriage brings shame because it means that I do not trust my mother’s judgement.”
“But doesn’t finding another fiancé also mean you do not trust your mother’s judgement?”
This was where Hei’s confusion lay.
He had already assumed it was something like this. If the daughter decided to reject a marriage proposal that her parents had already agreed to, then it would look like her parents were unable to choose an appropriate partner for her.
He wanted to know how it was any different when the daughter went out and chose another fiancé when she already had one.
Jingfei looked at Hei as if he were someone from another planet.
“It’s not that difficult to understand, Young Master Hei. Finding another fiancé does not mean I do not trust my mother’s judgement, it simply means that I’ve seen another alternative. Not only that but the competition between the families means that I am desirable, bringing honour to my family.”
“Eh? That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Both Jingfei and Hei were unable to understand each other.
To Jingfei, this was normal everyday stuff. There was no need to even ask these questions. Everyone knew the answers.
But to Hei, these were very foreign concepts. In his original life, it would have been quite strange for a fiancé to find a new partner.
But then again, he had little experience with arranged marriage. Most of the marriages he had heard about were decided upon by the two in question.
Hei decided it was time to move on.
“So, your intention is to have me compete with your fiancé’s family in order to obtain your hand in marriage?”
Hei covered his face with his hand. This was nothing like what he had expected.
“Okay, that isn’t going to happen. I already have one fiancée and I don’t need another one.”
“You’re not looking deep enough, Jingfei. There are much bigger things going on right now. If I’m not mistaken your mother has been captured by the same people who have been abducting the juniors and elders.”
Hearing these words, Jingfei is expression dimmed. She had also been having these thoughts, but she tried to remove them from her mind.
“I wonder. How much do you know about this vice sect leader?”
Jingfei’s eyes opened wide.
“The vice sect leader? Are you saying she has something to do with this?”
Hei nodded his head in response.
“You shouldn’t say such things, Young Master Hei. The vice sect leader’s own sister was one of the elders that had gone with my mother. She is also missing.”
“Oh? You think just because her sister was among the missing elders, she can’t be involved in this?”
Jingfei seemed to be angered by Hei’s words.
“You’re only saying this because you don’t know her story. She was just like the founders. She and her sister, and a few other elders joined the sect as victims of abuse. Ever since they joined, they have taken an active role in guiding the juniors. There is no way they would do something like that.”
Jingfei took this personally. She had always viewed the vice sect leader as an aunt, so when Hei accused her of treachery, she had to defend.
Hei just leaned back comfortably in his chair. He wasn’t particularly interested in what Jingfei had to say, because he had already decided what kind of situation this was in his mind.
After Jingfei had said her piece, Hei continued.
“You know, the ones who we think could never harm us, have the greatest potential to do just that.”
“Let me ask you, is there something in your possession that the vice sect leader covets? Any item, any symbol of authority or any treasure. Anything that she has asked for, that you have not given her.”
This was a nice little indicator for treacherous allies.
Whenever there was something the ally wanted but could not obtain, treachery was a common outcome. Such was the way of the world.
At first, Jingfei wanted to deny it. But then she recalled something.
“Before my mother left, she gave me half of the sect leader’s token. And after finding out that my mother had gone missing, the vice sect leader asked for it. But that makes perfects sense because, without the sect leader’s token, the formations within the sect cannot be manipulated.”
“Sect leader’s token, is it? So, if it’s a reasonable request why did you refuse it?”
“… Before she left, my mother warned me that she felt something was strange. When she gave me the token, she told me to keep it safe and to stay safe myself.”
Jingfei seemed to be thinking about this seriously. She had never had the slightest doubt in the vice sect leader, but she was still unwilling to hand over the sect leaders token.
Hei decided to move on.
“If you ask me, a strong possibility, and a very strong one at that, is that the vice sect leader’s sister lured your mother and the others into a trap.”
“Well, I would assume it’s because of the sect leader’s token. They probably tried to acquire it from her but failed. After failing, they came to you.”
Jingfei was shocked by Hei’s wild accusations. It would be one thing to be suspicious of the vice sect leader and her sister, but it was another thing entirely to weave a tale.
“The only question is, why haven’t they forcefully taken it from you? Is there something preventing them from doing so?”
This was the thing Hei found interesting about the situation. If his deductions were correct so far, then Jingfei shouldn’t have been able to move freely in the sect like this.
The only explanation he could think of was that the enemy was unable to take the sect leader’s token from Jingfei by force.
“Well, the token itself has been fused with my body using a technique, meaning that it can’t be taken from me without my permission.”
“This was a safety measure the founders included in the sect leader’s token, and also why it is able to be split in half in the first place. If the sect leader feels she is in danger, she can split the token in half so that at least part of it can remain.”
Hearing this, Hei understood the situation a little better. If it was like this, then Jingfei’s still being okay was understandable.
But these situations never lasted forever.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Jingfei. They have probably already found a way to extract it from you forcefully. That is what I would assume this whole marriage thing is.”
“Think about it. All of a sudden, somebody came with a marriage contract, which was signed by your mother, who is currently missing. If your mother was out there searching for the missing disciples and elders, where would she find the time to find you a husband?”
“I also found it strange, but…”
Jingfei couldn’t really continue her sentence. This was always a strange thing to her, but things like this had happened previously as well. It wasn’t the first case of such an incident.
Hei decided to tell Jingfei his interpretation of the entire situation.
“Listen, Jingfei. I believe your mother’s life is hanging by a thread, and that thread is called Jingfei. That is, if these people managed to obtain the half of the sect leader’s token from you, your mother will die shortly afterwards. And vice versa, if they are able to extract the sect leader’s token from your mother, you will die shortly after.”
Jingfei was shocked by Hei’s interpretation of the events.
Hei leaned forward again. He rested his chin on his thumbs and continued.
“You originally invited me here to help you out of your marriage, but as you can see, this thing is much bigger than you thought. Well, that’s if my deductions are correct.”
Hei waited for a response, but Jingfei remained silent.
“As such, the price of my assistance is quite steep. Here is my offer. Not only will I help you out of your marriage, but I will also rescue your mother from her captivity, and free the sect from the influence of the vice sect leader.”
Again, Hei waited for a response, but there was none.
“The price for this is your body mind and soul. That is, you will become my maid for life until I choose to free you.”
He felt that he was being a bit too direct here, but he rolled with it. He increased the suppressive aura he was releasing and spoke in a calm, emotionless voice.
“Here are your options. You can wait for the marriage, giving your enemy what they want, ending the lives of both you and your mother. You could also willingly hand over the sect leader’s token, also ending the lives of you and your mother. Or, you could try to escape the entire situation, leaving your mother in captivity, forever remaining unaware of her situation.”
Hei withdrew his suppressive aura before he continued.
“Or you could become my maid, and all of your problems will be solved.”
Hei waited for a moment, and Jingfei seemed to be in thought.
“Let me make it a little easier for you. I’m quite fair you know? If we come to find out that what I’ve said is wildly inaccurate, then you’re free to go and I’ll come up with some other payment.”
Jingfei thought for a long while before she responded.
“So, you’re basically saying that you will help me to escape the marriage, as well as find out what happened to my mother. And in exchange, I am to become your maid for life?”
“And if you’re wrong about my mother, then I won’t have to become your maid, but will have to pay another price instead?”
“That is the gist of it.”
“What will the price be?”
“The price? I don’t really know. Do you have anything of value?”
“Well, you would have won my hand in marriage at the very least.”
Jingfei said this very seriously. It clearly wasn’t a joke, or something said to lighten the atmosphere.
“Uh… No thanks.”
Hei struggled to come up with another payment, but he really couldn’t imagine anything material that he would want or need.
“You know what? If I’m wrong, there won’t be any price. I can’t think of a single thing that would be valuable to me that you own or could acquire. I’ll just take it as my loss this time.”
Of course, Hei was fully confident in his deductions. He couldn’t see too much possibility for variance here, given his experience.
“Then I will agree. If my mother really has been captured and you are able to rescue her, then I will become your maid.”
Hei smiled brightly.