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    Chapter 80

    080

    The Cat

    As Lancelot's chamberlain, Nick Elden never imagined that Blue Stripe Star would one day transform into this.

    Following the king's orders, he went to the harbor for an errand. On his return journey, he saw the faint blue protective shield gradually shrink and fade away until it vanished completely.

    His trusted subordinate, who was driving, turned around in panic, "Sir, we won't make it in time!"

    The king had instructed them to hurry back, but with the expeditionary force closing in on their doorstep and the harbor personnel ignoring or secretly defying them, he had still been delayed. Now, he was too late.

    But why did the shield dissipate from the inside instead of being broken from the outside?

    This question lingered in Nick's mind for only a moment before he found the answer... Perhaps, it was the king himself who had removed it.

    The entire Blue Stripe Star, including himself who was working for the king outside, likely no longer held any significance in the king's heart.

    At this moment, he should hasten his pace and return to the palace before the shield completely vanishes, thus fulfilling His Majesty's command and seeking shelter under its protection.

    Yet, Nick hesitated.

    He pondered whether it was still worth following this monarch, given the current circumstances.

    The Empire was different from the Alliance. The Alliance's Chief could not have absolute control over the nation; many decisions had to be reached through discussion. In contrast, the Butler family clearly held a monopoly in the Empire, a tendency that had been vaguely evident during Augustus's time... It had become increasingly apparent under Lancelot's rule.

    Having served by Lancelot's side the longest, he was naturally aware of the sovereign's secret. In truth, he was not Lancelot; his real name should be Augustus Butler.

    Augustus consumed the potion to assume his son's identity.

    Yet, while it granted him a youthful appearance, it seemed not to have truly restored his youth. Unbeknownst to himself, over the years, he had become increasingly radical and stubborn. He seldom heeded others' advice, making all decisions from his own perspective, utterly disregarding the feelings and interests of others.

    He cared even less for the empire's citizens.

    He wasn't like this when he was young... Why, why had he changed?

    If the young Augustus were here today, he wouldn't have made the decision to shrink the shield... No, if the young Augustus were here, he would never have allowed Jing Baiyuan, or Bai Yuanting, to launch an attack on Blue Pattern Star so swiftly.

    Nick gazed upon the palace where he had spent most of his life, and eventually let out a long sigh. "Your Majesty, you... have only lost to yourself."

    With that, he turned to his subordinate and said, "Let's go, find someplace... there's no need to return here anymore."

    ---

    Within the palace, Lancelot was still unaware that he had been deserted by all, or perhaps he knew but no longer cared. He hurried through the empty corridors, opened a hidden door at a corner, and stepped into a secret tunnel.

    The tunnel was narrow and damp, with an elusive scent of blood hanging in the air. Undeterred, he strode hastily forward.

    Within the compound lies numerous cells, each harboring figures barely recognizable as human. Most of them are young Omegas, their tainted eyes quivering in fear as they retreat at Lancelot's approach, clung together for solace.

    In the innermost cell of the dungeon, there resided a young man who enjoyed a singular privilege—the entire cell was reserved solely for him.

    The cell door was unlocked, yet he didn't dare approach it, behaving like a domesticated beast abiding by the 'master's' imposed rules.

    Lancelot strode to the door, kicked it open with a swift motion, and hurried inside. He reached down, pulling the young man up from the ground and bringing him close, his teeth clenched in anger as he hissed, "Isn't he your brother? Go find him now and make him come out to see you!"

    It turned out that the one captured was Chu Heyang, who had disappeared from school several months ago.

    Only today did Chu Heyang realize the true face of the "gentleman" in his heart. Not only had he never imagined being together with him... he had also secretly conducted such cruel experiments behind closed doors, using these very items he had scavenged as "experimental materials."

    Omegas, with their sensitive bodies, were more suitable for such roles.

    No wonder he had been so gentle and meticulous toward him before. He was merely an "experimental material"! To make him comply, he would naturally give him whatever he wanted.

    He still wanted to see Chu Li.

    He had always wanted to see Chu Li.

    When Chu Heyang didn't understand why, he had assumed that the other person was also interested in Chu Li and had jealously prevented them from meeting. Now, when he recalled his past actions, they seemed utterly ridiculous.

    Despite his fear, he yelled at Lancelot for the first time, "I don't know where he is! He's not my brother... He's just an orphan we took in. He has no parents... No one knows who his birth parents are... Don't ask me, I don't know, I don't know... I don't know where he is, and he wouldn't come to see you because of me!"

    "Useless trash!" Lancelot pushed him back to the ground, his eyes cold and devoid of any pity for Chu Heyang. He even gave him another kick. "Wait here to die!"

    Lancelot's last chance was lost. Gazing at the iron bars of the prison cell window, he suddenly smiled.

    Aren't we supposed to be trapping him? Then let's perish together.

    He had nurtured the palace for two generations. No one could take his life in this place that belonged to him without paying a price.

    Want him dead? They were welcome to try.

    ---

    Outside the palace, Jing Baiyuan first sent his men to surround the entire complex. The expeditionary force assembled in the square before the palace, their sole target being Lancelot. To avoid involving others, they enforced a strict lockdown, forbidding anyone from entering the area.

    Days earlier, the entire Blue Pattern Star's network had collapsed, leaving people unable to contact anyone else. Hiding in their homes with fear and uncertainty, they awaited their ambiguous fate.

    The advance team had already entered the palace but had yet to locate Lancelot himself.

    Ya Lan reported to Jing Baiyuan, "It's strange. Our people entered the palace without encountering any resistance... It seems the protective barrier has also been removed. What is Lancelot up to?"

    Jing Baiyuan replied calmly, "He's waiting for us to go inside."

    Ya Lan furrowed her brow. "Then what should we do? Stay outside and guard it?"

    In any case, Lancelot had no way out. His troops were either disbanded, captured, or had defected.

    It was normal for no one to be willing to follow a king who had spent two decades solely focused on extending his own life while neglecting all other state affairs. Throughout their year-long conflict with the Blue Stripe Star, many from the empire had defected to Qian Yun's side, as if Qian Yun was the rightful ruler of the nation, while Lancelot was merely a thief who had stolen the throne through family inheritance.

    Jing Baiyuan Yuan Ting frowned and said, "We can't wait."

    After all, they lacked legitimacy. Their swift victories in other regions were largely due to the momentum they had built. But momentum was fleeting; once it waned, so would their support.

    Delays could lead to unforeseen changes; it was best to resolve this quickly.

    After a moment of contemplation, Jing Baiyuan Yuan Ting said, "He might be waiting for me... Let's go meet him."

    The palace was the fruit of Lancelot's labor, equipped with the most advanced weaponry and defenses. If he was determined to resist the expeditionary force, he could hold out for a long time alone. Now that he wanted to see Jing Baiyuan Yuan Ting, it might be worth giving him a chance.

    Ya Lan sensed something amiss, but she was accustomed to following Jing Baiyuan Yuan Ting's orders. Despite her misgivings, she didn't question him further and instead went to make the necessary arrangements.

    As for Jing Baiyuan Yuan Ting... He had to admit he was somewhat anxious, having been away from home for almost a year.

    Calculating the dates, Chu Li's rut was approaching.

    He wanted to return and see him before that moment arrived.

    The expeditionary force marched through the main entrance of the imperial palace, believing they were about to negotiate with Lancelot... But no one expected that as soon as the entire army entered the grand hall, explosions would ring out from all directions, surrounding them.

    There were twenty-five people in the team that entered the palace that day. In the crucial moment, Jing Baiyuan only managed to activate a protective shield, barely managing to shelter everyone within it. He himself, however, stood at the edge of the shield, directly facing the blast.

    The day after the explosion, the expeditionary force conducted a thorough sweep of the entire palace, discovering hidden tunnels beneath and the prisoners confined in the dungeons... Emperor Lancelot was nowhere to be found. Some said he had escaped, while others claimed he had been reduced to dust in the explosion, leaving no remains.

    ---

    It snowed in October in Deer Harbor.

    While the snow fell, Chu Li was in the corridor discussing the latest experimental data with Bai Xian. The two were stubbornly holding onto their own opinions, unable to reach a consensus. As they talked, Chu Li suddenly felt a jolt in his heart. He forgot what he was going to say next and looked up at the window, seeing snowflakes gently descending...

    "Li?" Bai Xian tilted her head, confused. Chu Li abruptly snapped back to reality, looking down at the documents in his hands. For some reason, he couldn't focus on a single word.

    Suddenly, he felt an overwhelming panic. His hand holding the paper trembled slightly, and tears started rolling down his cheeks.

    "Li!" Bai Xian was startled and put aside the experiment, rushing to support Chu Li. However, his legs went weak, and he leaned against the wall, gradually sliding to the ground.

    "I... What's wrong with me..." Chu Li wiped his tears in confusion, unaware of the reason behind his tears.

    Bai Xian's heart skipped a beat. There was an inexplicable bond between AOs after they marked each other, and the deeper their relationship, the stronger this connection.

    Chu Li had been completely normal during their discussion earlier, showing no signs of distress. His sudden collapse and floods of tears made Bai Xian fear the worst – could something have happened to Jing Baiyuanting?

    Her son was like a precious treasure she had lost and found again. She wanted to help but was powerless to do so. If anything happened to Jing Baiyuanting now... Bai Xian's vision darkened, and she nearly fell just like Chu Li.

    But she didn't dare voice her concerns. Instead, she supported Chu Li, saying, "Perhaps you've been too exhausted lately. Take half a day off. Go back and rest."

    Chu Li himself wasn't sure what was happening. Suddenly, he lacked the energy to resist. With a heavy heart, he hesitated before nodding in agreement.

    Bai Xian arranged for someone to escort him home and turned to Hong Feng. "Help me contact the frontlines."

    ---

    Chu Li returned home alone. As he entered, Little Key was sprawled on the sofa playing with its toys. The moment the door opened, the kitten knew its owner was back and scampered over, paws tapping on the floor.

    "Meow~" Little Key looked up at him with a soft cry. Chu Li bent down to pick it up, but the kitten didn't nuzzle against him as usual. Instead, it gazed at him with wide eyes, seemingly sensing that something was amiss with its owner.

    Chu Li managed a weak smile before settling down on the sofa with the small key in his arms.

    After sitting for a while, still feeling uneasy, he summoned his personal terminal and opened the communication channel with Jing Baiyuan Ting.

    Jing Baiyuan Ting's last message was from seven days ago, stating that he had arrived near the Blue Vein Star and would return to Deer Harbor soon.

    Since they became a couple, their time together had been scarce. Chu Li eagerly awaited the resolution of the Blue Vein Star issue so he could reunite with Jing Baiyuan Ting and live a peaceful life.

    But fate often didn't align with one's wishes, and accidents kept happening.

    Chu Li knew Jing Baiyuan Ting was formidable and believed he could handle the situation smoothly... but with him being far away, he couldn't help but worry. He had been suppressing these emotions, striving to maintain composure.

    To support Jing Baiyuan Ting on the home front, he needed to be stable first. Otherwise, his fear would only instill more panic in those beneath him, eroding their trust in Jing Baiyuan Ting.

    However, upon seeing no response from Jing Baiyuan Ting this time, his anxiety could no longer be concealed. A wave of negativity engulfed him instantly...

    During his half-day of rest at home, Chu Li attempted to call Jing Baiyuan Ting, but failing that, he turned to Ya Lan and Feng Yidun.

    He was aware that the front-line battle was intense, and he shouldn't have insisted on bothering them. But his inner panic was uncontainable; the more he couldn't reach them, the more his mind wandered into irrational thoughts.

    For as long as he had rested, he had been in a daze. He hadn't been able to fall asleep even after nightfall, and it was only at the break of dawn that he dozed off, half-asleep.

    Upon waking up, he had a headache and a sore throat, as if he was coming down with an illness.

    Chu Li was perplexed by his state. He was no longer a child; why was he scaring himself over nothing? His rationality finally regained some semblance of control, allowing him to calm down. After washing his face upon waking up early, he prepared to head to the base to ask Hong Feng and the others about what happened.

    To his surprise, as soon as he opened the door, he saw Ya Lan, whom he had been unable to contact the previous day.

    Ya Lan was covered in dirt and blood, as if she had just returned from a battlefield. In her arms... was a cat.

    A beautiful calico cat with a patch of fur rubbed clean off its forehead meowed happily when it saw Chu Li, as if it was saying,

    Hey there, biped, we meet again!

    Chu Li: "..."

    ---

    Chu Li invited Ya Lan into his home. Through sobs and sniffles, she recounted the events that had transpired. The situation on Blue Stripe Star had been resolved, Lancelot was dead... but in the end, an accident still occurred, resulting in Jing Baiyuan Yuanting being injured and turning back into a cat.

    Ya Lan spoke, and by then, the little Li Hua Cat had already leaped away from Chu Li's embrace, ignoring its "severe injuries" as it engaged in a fierce tussle with the small key.

    When Jing Baiyuan was human, a tall man over six feet tall would have felt awkward arguing with a cat. But now, alas, he too was just a feline.

    The two cats met like sworn enemies, slapping each other and kicking with their hind legs. For a moment, cat fur and meows filled the air, intertwined with the sounds of slaps and hisses... It was an epic scene, to say the least.

    This initially sorrowful plot now took on a comical twist.

    Ya Lan was initially racked with guilt, but as the little key and the little Li Hua Cat continued their fierce battle, she was left stunned, sitting on the sofa in a daze. "Well... perhaps we should separate them first."

    Chu Li didn't have time for grief either and hurriedly tried to mediate between the two cats. Considering Jing Baiyuan's "critical condition," he locked the little key in the bedroom and held the victorious Li Hua Cat in his arms.

    The Li Hua Cat, having won the fight, was ecstatic, purring contentedly in Chu Li's embrace.

    Chu Li: "...."

    He truly didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Originally, it should have been a laughing matter, but he couldn't bring himself to smile. It was also a situation that called for tears, but seeing this scene, who could possibly shed any?

    In the end, he could only stroke the cat's head, laughing through his tears. "Oh you... how could you do this..."

    Promises were made not to be harmed, promises to return safely.

    Yet, seeing Chu Li like this, Ya Lan felt even more guilt-ridden.

    Because there was still something she hadn't told Chu Li.

    That was...

    "But... I'm sorry, before we came here, we arranged for the Marshal's awakening... but... it didn't work, he didn't wake up."

    Chu Li was slightly taken aback, as if he understood and yet didn't.

    As Ya Lan spoke, she could no longer hold back and bowed deeply to Chu Li, "I'm sorry! We failed to protect the Marshal! When I came from the base, Doctor Li Yunhua said that perhaps the Marshal's body hasn't fully recovered, which led to the failed awakening. He planned to let the Marshal rest for a while before attempting the awakening again, so I brought him here... I'm sorry! Really sorry!"

    Only after Ya Lan rattled off everything did Chu Li slowly come back to his senses. He still seemed a bit dazed as he slowly said, "No... This has nothing to do with you."

    After saying that, he lowered his gaze, seemingly lost in thought for a moment, before continuing, "It's okay, I understand... You all... You should go back first."

    He might need some time to come to terms with this.

    Ya Lan, aware that he might need solitude, excused himself and left. It wasn't until Ya Lan had gone that Chu Li realized Jing Baiyuan Yuanting must have been severely injured, and the others couldn't have been in a better state. Ya Lan had rushed over without even changing his clothes, and he'd forgotten to inquire about their condition...

    Looking at the innocent, carefree kitten in his arms, Chu Li's heart ached. He pressed his head against the kitten's stomach and whispered, "Jing Baiyuan Yuanting, you're quite the masterful liar."

    ---

    Perhaps due to concern for Jing Baiyuan Yuanting, more medicine was delivered in the afternoon, accompanied by Li Yunhua, who personally informed Chu Li about Jing Baiyuan Yuanting's injuries.

    In his human form, the damage was severe – burns covered his head and back, and several ribs were broken. His organs had also suffered severe trauma.

    Ordinarily, medical equipment could have treated these injuries, but after transforming into a cat, such devices were no longer effective.

    Fortunately, the injuries appeared less severe in feline form, and regular medication would suffice for recovery.

    Chu Li spent some time learning how to care for an ailing cat, mastering all the necessary techniques before Li Yunhua left. There was still much work to be done on Blue Stripe Star, which the expeditionary forces had just conquered. Ya Lan and the others, undoubtedly anxious and grief-stricken, didn't have time to pause for respite. They seamlessly joined in the ongoing efforts to wrap up post-battle tasks.

    It was a unanimous decision to entrust Jing Baiyuan Yuanting to Chu Li.

    Chu Li was also heartbroken, but with everyone taking this stance, he found the strength to carry on.

    Putting away the medicine from Li Yunhua, Chu Li turned around and picked up Little Li Hua Cat from the ground. The cat had no idea what was happening; it had just snatched the cat treat with the small key and then didn't eat it, dragging it behind the sofa to hide.

    Chu Li stroked its head and whispered, "Yuanting, everyone is putting in effort. I need to do the same... You should too."

    Things will get better. Everything will be fine.

    That evening, Chu Li gave Little Li Hua Cat a bath. While washing it, he carefully checked for any injuries. Thankfully, there was only a small one on its forehead.

    He left the bathroom door open, and as Xiao Key passed by, it saw the cat sitting obediently in the bathtub. It meowed at it, taunting, "Aren't you so mighty? Yet, you still have to follow the two-legged beast's orders for a bath!"

    Little Li Hua Cat meowed back, "Of course I have to behave during the ultimate massage service from the two-legged beast! Don't you? Humph, the two-legged beast locked you in your room earlier and carried me in their arms – I won!"

    Xiao Key instantly became agitated. "Meow! Meow! Meow! Meowwww!"

    Before you came back, I enjoyed the ultimate massage service too! The two-legged beast loves me!

    Little Li Hua Cat replied, "Meow! Mew!"

    I arrived before you; I'm his first cat! In the world of two-legged creatures, they say the first love is like a bright moon in the sky. Do you understand what that means, Moonlight?

    Little Key: "Meoww!!"

    Chu Li: "..."

    How could he forget? These two cats loved to fight. With no choice, Chu Li had to put down the still-soapy Li Hua Cat and turned around to pick up Little Key, settling him on the sofa in the living room.

    Then, he crouched beside the sofa to lecture Little Key: "You can't quarrel with Li Hua Cat. He's your... older brother. If you're not well-behaved, I'll have to send you away temporarily."

    Little Key, feeling aggrieved: "Meoww—"

    Am I really not your favorite cat anymore?

    Chu Li: "..."

    Can one truly have both the big cat and the small one?

    Two-legged creature, think carefully! You can't have your paws in two cats' bowls at once!

    Chu Li: "..."

    Chu Li felt a headache coming on and gently stroked the aggrieved little key's forehead. "Mm-hmm, of course you're my favorite cat."

    After all, the other one wasn't a cat in the strictest sense.

    "But it's injured now, its forehead is bald. Can we let it have this, okay?"

    Little Key: "Meow."

    Well, seeing how sincere the two-legged creature was, it would reluctantly accept it!

    Little Key generously expressed to Chu Li, "Meow—"

    They should go give it a bath first.

    Chu Li didn't understand cat language and had no idea if Little Key was agreeing or disagreeing. Assuming they had reached an agreement, he sighed and rushed back to the bathroom to bathe Li Hua Cat.

    After the bath, he took out some ointment and applied it to the bald spot on its forehead.

    During the journey, Little Key emerged from a room and, upon seeing Little Li Hua's bald spot, exclaimed with disdain, "Meow!'

    Little Li Hua: "!!"

    Author's Note:

    Others: The harem is on fire.

    Chu Li: The cat palace is on fire.

    Guess what Little Key said to the Supreme Commander Cat in the last sentence.

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