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“Absolutely not.” The voice was calm though the words cut brutally into the fragile hope Jing Beiyuan had been building in himself for the last year.

“Lord Zhou, please, I know we don’t know each other well, but you’re my only hope.” The Beiyuan from before might have balked at begging a near stranger for help. The Beiyuan from before had not been skinned alive by his soul mate. It made a difference in what a man was willing to do to get what he wants. “The Shamanet does not understand the politics of the capital. He is a vulnerability to everyone, but most of all himself. Does this attack not prove that?”

Zhou Zishu did not need to know that the ones who had attacked Wu Xi were none other than his own kinsmen. In fact, the less Zhou Zishu knew, the better. They would owe him the favor of a lifetime if they made it out of this nest of vipers alive, that would have to suffice.

Beiyuan could read the agonized indecision in his old friend’s eyes if not his face. He had once been excellent at telling what Zishu was thinking and feeling, and though the skill had dulled somewhat, it was still plain the other man did not truly want to deny him this favor. The Imperial City was a dangerous place for even the most skilled players and Wu Xi was not the most skilled of players by any stretch. The question came down to, where would Zhou Zishu decide his loyalties lay? With a near stranger who was innocent enough to deserve it or the tiger had pledged himself to even despite its stripes?

In the end, the decision had been made as soon as Beiyuan had clutched Wu Xi’s hand to his chest and begged Zhou Zishu for aid without sparing a thought to what it could cost either of them.

The two were gone from the city within the week.