k he would act like this?”

Old Ghost chewed it over.
Suddenly, his expression changed.
{Is it because it’s impossible for him to negotiate in good faith? Have my people already been killed?} he growled out, his voice dripping with killing intent.

“No—it’s more likely they were never in his hands in the first place, and he has no right to decide whether to let them go.
Don’t worry, neither Zuo Yang nor Gunfire will kill them unless they have to,” Lian Jun reassured him.
“They are their bargaining chips.” 

Old Ghost calmed down a little.
As he thought about Lian Jun’s words, he frowned.
{So according to you, the situation right now is that Nine Eagles wants to return my people to me and bring an end to this incident, but Gunfire—who captured them in the first place—isn’t willing, and they’re in conflict?}

Lian Jun nodded.
“Gunfire is a local organization, with a stable foundation and deep roots in the region.
Even if we harass them as we’ve been doing, they won’t compromise just like that, and I have no doubt they’d attempt to bite back.
My guess is, Nine Eagles and Gunfire can’t agree whether to fight with us or not.
When you add that to Nine Eagles’ failure to help Gunfire gain a foothold in China, it makes me think that their cooperation started having problems long ago.”

Old Ghost couldn’t help slamming the table and saying with a snarl,  {Good, let the dogs tear into each other!}

Lian Jun glanced at him and poured cold water over his temper: “Their alliance might have problems, but it doesn’t mean it’s broken.
Right now, Zuo Yang wants time and breathing space to negotiate with Gunfire, so he needs you to sit still.
Once they’re done negotiating, this war will come to a head.”

Old Ghost frowned.
He took a deep breath to get a hold of his emotions, and asked, {So what should I do now?}

“Keep pressing, the harder the better—don’t give Zuo Yang any chance to rest, force him to clash with Gunfire.
Their disagreement can have only three possible outcomes: first, Gunfire completely throws in with Nine Eagles, helps it resist your attack, and keeps fighting with us; second, Nine Eagles convinces Gunfire to compromise, let your people go, and settle this situation peacefully; third, Nine Eagles and Gunfire can’t reach an agreement and their alliance breaks down.
Anyway, any one of these results is advantageous to us.”

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{Any of them? Even if they decide to fight?} Old Ghost asked, brows knitted.

“Of course.
Gunfire has many enemies.
We just have to weaken it enough and somebody will seize the chance to stomp on it and finish what we started.
While both we and Gunfire suffer in this war, we’re fighting on their home ground, this is where their foundation lies.
That’s why, in the end, Gunfire’s losses will be much heavier than ours.”

His words completely convinced Old Ghost.
{Okay, then I will continue to attack them! Thank you, Lian Jun.}

Lian Jun didn’t acknowledge his thanks.
“We’re both just taking what we need, that’s all.”

Old Ghost, however, didn’t seem to agree.
He gave Lian Jun a profound look and cut off the video chat.
He decided to do his best to minimize Annihilation’s losses in this conflict.

“What the hell, that look in his eyes just now was creepy. Brrr,” Gua Two said, rubbing his arms in an exaggerated manner.

Gua One threw him a warning glance, then turned to Lian Jun.
“What are we going to do next, Jun-shao?”

Lian Jun also looked at Gua Two.
Having made sure he was going to behave himself, he replied, “Stop with the cleanup in the outer region for now.
Zuo Yang contacting Old Ghost wanting to get a ceasefire definitely pissed Gunfire off—they’re going to put in double the effort in striking back at us.
Make our branches in the Southeast reinforce their defenses, then gather troops and start dealing with Gunfire forces here, in L country.
Ensure that Gunfire is weakened enough for anyone to see, and break off all business routes leading outside.” 

“All of them? The hidden ones too?” Gua One clarified.

“All of them—Gunfire won’t become ‘sensible’ unless it suffers enough losses,” Lian Jun said.

Gua One nodded, acknowledging the order.
Seeing that Lian Jun had no other instructions, he was about to take the others and leave, but Lian Jun stopped him.

“Wait—this time, bring Shi Jin with you.” Not looking at the teenager sitting by his side, who whipped around to stare at him, he continued, “In addition to Gunfire, you should take care of that organization Long Shi had been hiding in these past few years.
Be careful though—with his character, he wouldn’t have chosen it if there wasn’t something special about it, so don’t let down your guard.”

Gua One eyed Shi Jin, who clearly had something to say to his boyfriend.
He exchanged quick glances with the others, and in tacit understanding, he and the rest left the room. 

The moment the door closed, Shi Jin grabbed Lian Jun’s palm.
“Lian Jun, you…”

“This should be good training for you,” the older man interrupted.
He turned to face him and said, “Shi Jin, I’m giving you an opportunity to grow, and myself time to adapt.
Learn well from Gua One and the others—and don’t make me regret this decision.”

All sorts of feelings welled up in Shi Jin’s heart.

It turned out that when Lian Jun had said “Give me some time,” it wasn’t just to appease him.
He was also serious about learning how to make their relationship work.
After discovering an issue which might create discord between them, he didn’t try to convince Shi Jin to let it go, but thought about how to solve this problem, and chose to compromise in the end. 

Shi Jin’s heart swelled close to bursting—this man was so earnest and considerate

“You shouldn’t waste your talents taking care of me—doing chores like that will only wear you down and consume your spirit.
That’s not what I want to see.”  Lian Jun seemed to notice the storm in his heart; in a second, his expression had softened, and he leaned over to kiss his eyes.
“Shi Jin, hurry up and grow into yourself—I’m waiting for the day that you and I can stand side by side.”

Shi Jin couldn’t stop himself from squeezing Lian Jun tight, rubbing his cheek against his chest.
“I’ll learn as fast as I can… Wait for me.” I’ll become my own person soon and help you share the burden you have to bear.

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Lian Jun smiled and stroked his hair.
“Alright, I’m waiting for you.”

After his conversation with Lian Jun, Old Ghost really ignored Zuo Yang’s attempts to negotiate and began to crush Nine Eagles’ industries at an even faster pace, tearing Nine Eagles’ Southeastern business net almost to shreds.

Zuo Yang all but went mad with fury.
After finding out that another of Nine Eagles’ outposts had been destroyed, he smashed the receiver down and screamed, “Fucking Ghost, is he crazy?! Just for a few subordinates, he gave up all of his businesses in the Southeast! Does he want us to go down together?!”

“Let’s just give Old Ghost’s people back to him, Boss,” his deputy suggested again.
“Not only did we fail to kill Lian Jun last time, but we pissed off the officials too, so they’re suppressing our businesses in China.
If things here in the Southeast get any worse, our whole network could completely collapse.” 

“You think I don’t fucking want to give them back?! Gunfire keeps fucking playing with me, I can’t do anything!” Zuo Yang was fuming with rage.

The deputy hesitated for a moment.
“Maybe we should change sides? Phantom only dares to fight like this because it has Annihilation’s support.
If we compromise and cooperate with Annihilation to help Old Ghost get his people back from Gunfire, we’ll be able to settle things,  wouldn’t we?”

“Are you an idiot?!” Zuo Yang grabbed him by the collar.
“If we betray Gunfire at this point, Gunfire will find and kill every single member of Nine Eagles.
Stop being such a chicken, Annihilation isn’t that frightening!”

In the face of his anger, the deputy shut up, not daring to refute.
Inwardly he grumbled, If it isn’t, then how come everyone always gets beaten like dogs?

Zuo Yang released his collar and pushed him away, beginning to pace around the room.
All at once, he calmed down again, strode to the desk, and dialed a number on the landline.
“I need you to keep an eye on someone—the new Gua Four Lian Jun brought to the conference this year… Yes.
I heard them call him Shi Jin, it should be his real name… Ok, I’ll send you a photo later.” Then he hung up.

“That kid? Why are you interested in him, Boss?” the deputy asked, puzzled.
“He seemed to be newly promoted; no one’s seen him do anything on behalf of Lian Jun.
He should be just a rookie.”

“‘Just a rookie’? For Lian Jun, this ‘rookie’ is more important than even Gua One! And since he’s still inexperienced, he’ll be much easier to handle than one of the other Guas.
Use your brain sometimes, will you?” Zuo Yang sneered in reply.
He recalled Lian Jun’s interactions with Shi Jin, and thought he’d finally be able to vent all his resentment somewhere.
He growled under his breath, “You think you’ve got me at gunpoint? We’ll see!” 

“Achoo!” Shi Jin rubbed his nose, wondering, “Is someone talking about me?”

Gua Two knocked on the table.
“Don’t get distracted.
Have you memorized what I just said? Armed conflict is different from covert missions—what’s important is decisiveness and knowing the overall situation at all times.
You need to get rid of this habit of letting your thoughts wander.”

Shi Jin let his hand drop and replied, “I didn’t get distracted and I’ve heard and remembered everything you said.
By the way, have you discussed who I’m going to follow first, and what my first assignment will be?” 

“Yeah, it’s settled, you’re going to come with me and Gua Three.
As for the mission objective—here, it’s this.
Are you satisfied, dear customer?” Gua Two pulled out a file and handed it to Shi Jin, gesturing for him to see for himself.

Shi Jin took it and scanned through the information inside.
Seeing the name of their destination, he was taken aback.
“Lishui? Isn’t that the hospital where Long Shi was holed up all that time?” 

“It is.
I know you’ve always been concerned about this, so I discussed it with Gua One, and we’ve decided to let you go there first,” Gua Two answered.
He reached out and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Organizing the personnel won’t take longer than one day.
We will leave for the hospital tomorrow morning, so you should hurry up and familiarize yourself with the details of the information.” 

Shi Jin threw him a nod to show it wouldn’t be a problem, thanked him, and plunged himself  into reading through the documents. 

Gua Two was somewhat amused seeing him in such a hurry, but then remembered the reason why he was so anxious, and another emotion appeared in his eyes.
He poured a glass of water, put it within Shi Jin’s reach, and quietly stepped out of the temporary classroom.  

Translator’s Notes:

“Saving a life is beneficial in boundless ways” –  idiom 救人一命勝造七級浮屠, literally “saving a life is more meritorious than building a seven-floor pagoda.”

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