27 Into the Palace
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Nian Ming Yi — or Shadow, as he preferred to call himself — peeked through the window, his gaze darting to both sides of the room. It seemed that nobody was in.

"Lucky!" With a happy smile on his lips and a tilt to his voice, he pushed the window open, swung his legs over the edge, and then leaned down to the ground. Landing on his feet, he jumped back up and rubbed his hands. This had gone really well. If things continued to be like this, then he should really be worried about the state of their intergalactic Empire. How could it be that easy to break into the palace?

He shook his head and then went to one of the cupboards, pulling out the drawers and rifling through them. "That youngest prince of theirs should have some valuables, shouldn’t he?" Just when he said so, he stumbled upon some jewelry. Smiling to himself, he put it into his pocket and then continued to look around.

Standing in front of the wardrobe, Nian Ming Yi raised his brows and shook his head. "Wearing something like this … Isn’t that wasteful?" Even though he said so, he still pulled one of the robes out of the wardrobe and put it on. Mn, the feeling was pretty good. He could kind of understand why they would want to wear something like this. There was definitely worse stuff around.

He shook his head and closed the wardrobe again, wandering through the room as if he was the owner. Anything that looked even remotely valuable made its way into his pockets.

Sure enough, coming to the palace had been a great idea! Thankfully, he had gotten the information early on that the prince wouldn’t be in for today. Otherwise, even he probably wouldn’t have had the guts to attempt this. But with everybody preoccupied with today’s festivities, he wouldn’t get disturbed. This was basically a walk in the park.

He laughed to himself and picked up a ring that was lying on the desk, admiring it for a moment. It really was a beautiful one with delicate carvings and a couple of gemstones. Probably worth a lot. With a shrug, Nian Ming Yi put it on his finger and turned away to continue looking.

Speaking of that celebration, he wondered if the news of the reason behind it were true. From what he had heard, the youngest prince was to marry the commander of the empire’s Starfleet. That sounded like he had gotten quite the shorthand, actually. Nian Ming Yi had no idea how old the commander really was but considering that he had heard news about his successes his whole life, that guy should be pretty old by now. That was something he didn’t even want to think about.

Nian Ming Yi shook his head and then went into the bedroom adjacent to the room he had just searched. As for that wedding or whatever, he just put it to the back of his head. That kind of thing should take a whole day.

While Nian Ming Yu didn’t think about it any further, that commander of the Starfleet he had dubbed an old man was arriving at the harbor of the capital city of the Royal Star. His expression didn’t look good at all and the two men standing next to him couldn’t help but exchange a glance.

"Commander … It’s not that bad, is it? The youngest prince is rumored to be handsome and mild-mannered. Also, he does have some accomplishments."

He Lan just scoffed. "And how exactly am I supposed to find solace in that? If I do have to get married, then I’d much rather it be to somebody who could keep up with me. Not somebody who likes to sit in a study and read books."

His vice-commanders couldn’t help giving a wry smile. "Well, nothing can be changed about that anymore. Unless you want to fall out with the royal family."

The commander shook his head. "Calling it a fallout really sounds nice. You wanted to say unless I do want to commit treason and risk a civil war, don’t you?

"Don’t worry. It’s not that bad. I’m just not happy about it. Anything I enjoy doing, he’ll probably find distasteful. What am I supposed to do with somebody like that?" He shook his head and then sighed. "Well, I’m unlikely to spend much time here. So I guess whether we’re married or not, it won’t make a difference after a while of keeping up pretenses. Let’s just not talk about it further. I’ll be able to get through this. Heck, I’ve managed to get through worse."

He straightened up and then went over to the door of the starship, alighting as soon as they opened. He gave a noncommittal smile when the onlookers erupted in cheers, and then walked past them toward the palace, his two vice-commanders behind him.

The three men stopped at a respectful distance from the staircase leading up to the gate. On top of the stairs stood the members of the royal family. He Lan scanned the faces of these people. He had seen pictures of everyone but the reclusive youngest prince. Unfortunately, there was no unknown face in this group. He had to begrudgingly admit that nothing could be seen of that fiance of his as if he couldn’t think less of him and their wedding.

He Lan tightened his lips into a thin line, obviously showing how displaced he was. He wasn’t very thrilled about the prospect of marrying that guy either but at least he had shown up. What was it with this prince not even returning him the courtesy to appear? Anyway, they were about to get married.

The king glanced in all directions, finally stealthily elbowing his oldest son in the side. "Where is your brother?" he muttered under his breath, prompting his oldest son to turn around and raise his brows at him.

"What did you say, father? I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch that."

The king furrowed his brows and gave his son a disgusted look for being useless. What was he making such a fuss for? Even if he couldn’t understand, he should be able to figure out what he was asking based on the situation! Now, he wasn’t able to give a satisfactory answer to the commander. If they really had a falling out over this, then who could they blame?

Since his oldest son had already ruined his plan, the king could only turn back to the front and then descend the stairs, going to greet the commander himself. "Commander He! I’m so happy to see you. I hope you had a pleasant journey."

He Lan gave him an insipid look. He really didn’t care about the journey. "Thank you for your concern, Your Majesty. Even if it had been a rough journey, all would be well as long as I’m able to see my fiance soon." He couldn’t help the monotony of voice while his gaze once again traveled over the faces of the people present. No, however he looked at it, none of them was his fiance. Don’t tell him that guy wanted to bail?

The king sweat-dropped when he saw the commander’s expression. The two of them had had some interactions in the past but with the commander normally being outside of the capital, staying with the fleet, and coordinating things from the battlefield itself, it hadn’t been much. Just a few interactions had let him realize that this guy didn’t have much patience for pleasantries and didn’t like to be kept waiting.

It wasn’t a wonder considering that things had to go fast at the battlefield. Naturally, he loathed if people were not on time. That might make the difference between winning and losing a battle.

Right now, there wasn’t that much at stake but still, it wasn’t a good look for his son not to show up. It seemed he would only be able to give some excuse and hope that the commander would accept it.

He gave a cough and then motioned toward the palace. "Why don’t you come in then, Commander He? I’m sure that you also want to meet your fiance as soon as possible. I’m sorry that he isn’t here to greet you. You see, he was so excited about the prospect of marrying you, that he … wanted to make sure that he was not just presentable but would leave the best possible impression on you. I’m afraid he might have overdone it a bit."

The commander gave him a look, not indicating whether or not he believed it. After a moment, he finally gave a hum. "I’m sure he doesn’t need to." Anyway, the whole family was beautiful. How bad could the youngest prince look?

The king gave a strained smile in return. "You flatter me, you flatter me. Anyway, let’s just go in." He motioned again and then stepped forward while the commander followed along. The other family members stepped aside to let them through before following them inside as well. Only the two vice-commanders remained outside, not wanting to disturb what was a family matter now.

The king’s second son turned to his older brother, lowering his voice. "Seriously though, where is he? He wouldn’t want to bail on the wedding, would he?"

In the front, He Lan perked up.

The oldest son just raised his brows though and turned to look at his brother. "Why are you asking me something like this? Didn’t you hear what father just said? Obviously, younger brother went to prepare for the wedding. Is that really so odd?"

The second son’s lips twitched and he finally just sighed and shook his head. It seemed that there was nothing to be gained from talking to his brother. He’d just have to wait to see the show.

He Lan lightly puckered his lips, unhappy that he still hadn’t heard anything newsworthy. It seemed he’d have to wait until he actually met that prince to figure out what was going on. Well, it couldn’t take that long anymore.

Speaking of which … The commander turned to the king, plastering a smile on his face. "Your Majesty, I might be presumptuous but you probably know that I’m not too patient. Would it be possible to meet with His Highness right now and get wedded so I can be on my way again? We’ll be gone for half a year so I feel that it’s better to leave early."

The king’s smile was just as strained as his when he nodded. "But of course! Why don’t you let my older son show you the way to his rooms? I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see you!"

He Lan gave a faint laugh and turned to the oldest prince that had refused to say anything about his younger brother’s whereabouts. He wouldn’t be having a problem with bringing him over, would he?

The king also gave a faint laugh and turned to his son as well, widening his eyes and staring at him as intently as if he wanted to burn a hole into his head. "You don’t have a problem with doing that, do you?"

The eldest prince smiled amicably. "How could that be? Commander He will be my brother-in-law in just a few minutes. Naturally, it’s my pleasure to show him the way." He turned to He Lan, his smile still just as brilliant. "Commander He, let’s go then."

He Lan watched him motion toward the door and since nobody in the family reacted strangely, he finally nodded and followed him over. Anyway, he likely wouldn’t dare to trick him, would he?

Well, it was hard to say. The youngest prince had always stayed in the palace so there weren’t any pictures of him and all that he had heard about him were a few rumors. He had no idea if that fiance of his was actually good-looking and really the kind of gentle and studious person that he was described as. Well, it seemed he could only be ready for a surprise however that might turn out.

Finally, the two of them arrived in front of the door and the oldest prince stepped back. "Well, I wouldn’t want to intrude on the time that you lovebirds spend with each other. Just knock and go on in. He probably won’t mind." Giving another nod, he already turned away and left.

He Lan raised his brows and couldn’t help but feel a bit regretful that his two vice-commanders weren’t there. He’d really like to get a second opinion right now. Well, since there was no way to talk it through with anybody he just did as he had been told and knocked.

Inside, there was a thud, and something shattered on the ground, making He Lan furrow his brows. Not thinking about it too much, he opened the door to check what was going on. As a result, he saw a young man looking at the shards of an expensive vase with a queer expression, holding what seemed to be a bracelet in his hand as if he had really been preparing for meeting him. He Lan raised his brows at that.

Nian Ming Yi slowly turned around, prepared to be attacked at any moment. Oh shit! He had actually been discovered. As expected, breaking into the royal palace wasn’t that easy after all.

Most likely, he had taken too long to rifle through the prince’s chambers and the celebration was already coming to an end. Now, people were going back to their usual tasks. This guy … looking him over, Nian Ming Yi concluded that he could only be a guard of some sort. That type of guy should be very formidable at fighting. His chances of escaping weren’t good. Like, at all. He needed a plan to get out of here!

He Lan raised his brows even further when the prince didn’t say anything. He huffed and closed the door behind him. Anyway, while he hadn’t seen a picture of the prince before, the same couldn’t be said in return. His picture had been broad-casted several times over the years, at least every time another battle was won under his command while there were a few strewn into the news even when he hadn’t done so recently. There was no way that the prince didn’t recognize him. Anyway, he didn’t want to take him into consideration. "So you really were here. Put that on and then let’s be done with this. You’re not getting prettier even if you prepare longer."

Nian Ming Yi still stared at him in a daze.

He Lan frowned and then walked over, taking the bracelet from his hands and putting it on his wrist. "There. Now, let’s get married."

Nian Ming Yi’s eyes widened, watching with an unbelieving expression as He Lan stretched out his arm with the identity token, and opened the interface with the wedding option.

There was only one thought in his mind: What! The! Fuck!

He Lan frowned even more at him when he didn’t move. "What is it? Your Highness, you do realize what not marrying me will result in, don’t you? Anyway, even if you don’t like the idea, you don’t have any other choice. You’d better marry me now and follow me back to the base for half a year. After that, you can return here and we can just see each other whenever I return from the base for appearance’s sake. Nothing more." Anyway, he himself also hadn’t been fond of the idea. He could hardly fault the prince for doing the same now.

Nian Ming Yi slightly turned away and tried to understand what was going on. In the end, he came to a very terrifying conclusion: The one in front of him wasn’t some guard but Commander He Lan of the Intergalactic Empire’s Starfleet. In other words: He was toast!

If this guy figured out that he wasn’t the prince, then he’d have some very uncomfortable questions to answer. For one, what was he doing wearing the prince’s clothes? Second, why were his pockets filled with the prince’s belongings? And third — and probably most importantly — where the fuck was the prince?!

The first two could be explained but not without admitting that he had committed quite a few crimes today, not to speak of the ones from his past that would likely also get revealed but the latter was a complete mystery to him as well! He simply hadn’t even seen the prince!

Since he couldn’t answer, he could only stretch out his arm, open the wedding form of his identity token and then just brought it up to that of He Lan. Between marrying a stranger and being executed for the crimes of thievery and the murder of a royal family member he knew what he had to choose.

Since He Lan wasn’t very interested in this marriage anyway, he didn’t bother to read anything and just accepted, giving a nod when the confirmation popped up that the two of them were now a married couple.

"Great. Then let’s return to the fleet."

Nian Ming Yi nodded with a pale face and then just followed after him, ignoring the broken vase on the ground, as well as the people outside that they passed by. He couldn’t help but wonder about one thing: Just where was that youngest prince? And how had he gotten swept up in this? He really didn’t want to have any part in a royal’s life! Especially not snatching away his husband. But as it turned out … It was already too late for that.