A long time ago, before anyone alive today could remember, it was said that the kingdoms of Zui, Su, and Xin were only one: the mighty kingdom of Zhu.
The causes of the split varied according to who was asked.
Those from Zui said it was all the fault of those cunning Xin foxes, always greedy for more.
The people of Xin blamed the rapacious Zui wolves, who plundered what they could and licked their maws clean afterwards.
The mortal men of Su blamed both Zui and Xin and insisted they had nothing to do with any wars, past or present. They were always quick to point out their weak human constitutions, which were no match for the divine beasts that inhabited the lands of Zui and Xin.
One thing everyone was certain of: no matter how united they used to be in the past, there was no chance of the three kingdoms ever uniting under one same banner again.
The border skirmishes and incursions were a constant, each feudal lord constantly trying to annex enemy territory and gain favour with their king.
The Chu clan was the current ruling family of Xin. They were one of the oldest nine-tailed fox families in Xin, and since the country existed, had always been attached to the throne.
The current King was Chu Yun's paternal uncle, King Chu Song. So, when Chu Yun received a summons from his uncle to go to the Royal palace at once, he didn't dally.
"This humble subject greets His Majesty," Chu Yun said, kowtowing to his uncle under the steps of the dais leading up to the nine-tailed throne.
The Xin King's throne room was lavishly decorated with sumptuous carved wood panels, wall-hangings, and watercolour paintings depicting the kingdom's most noteworthy and breathtaking landscape.
The centrepiece was of course the throne itself, made of exquisite mutton fat white jade, and carved in the shape of nine fox tails, curving delicately over each other in an harmonious arc.
Nine-tailed foxes were well-known for indulging in beauty, and being great appreciators of art and music. The Chu palace alone was home to several priceless treasures.
The King, dressed in his royal brocade robes, stood in front of his throne with his hands clasped behind his back, his keen gaze fixed on his nephew.
"We have called you here due to a matter of grave importance."
Chu Yun stood up, but his head remained lowered in deference. Eyes glued attentively to the floor.
Chu Yun was tall and slender, with a scholar's refined bearing. His features were elegant and harmonious, his smiles always generous with a touch of decadent hedonism. It was only the flinty steel of his beguiling fox eyes that betrayed his sharp wit and cunning nature.
He painted a convincing picture of a disciplined and respectful member of the royal family's younger generation -- the King knew better than to believe his act.
"As you know, those Zui dogs have been causing trouble for our great Xin. Our trade routes have been compromised by their recent incursions, and access to the Yellow River is limited at the moment."
Chu Yun was well aware of all that, on account of his father not shutting up about it. Along with his mother's admonishments that he should take the opportunity and get more involved in court matters.
She must have been delighted to hear that Chu Yun had been personally summoned by the King.
"His Majesty's great wisdom will see our great Xin through this trial," Chu Yun said, diplomatically.
With his head lowered, Chu Yu didn't see the smirk that stole across his uncle's thin lips.
"Indeed, we have," he said, his tone weighted by gravitas. "There have been extensive talks with Zui, in order to achieve a compromise." He paused for dramatic effect. "A marriage alliance has been proposed."
Chu Yun's expression froze. His mind immediately went to his youngest omega brother, Chu Hean.
Why else would the King call him here, if not to inform him he would be accompanying his brother's wedding procession into the odious kingdom of Zui?
Chu Hean was considered a peerlessly beautiful omega, one of the most beautiful in all of Xin. Ever since he was introduced to society, there had been no shortage of infatuated alphas declaring their undying love for him in the form of terrible poetry, and even more terrible music for the zither and flute.
Some unscrupulous shops in the capital, Lanzhou, even claimed to sell perfumes that perfectly mimicked Chu Hean's scent. So that other omegas could at least smell like him since they would never resemble him.
It was only a matter of time before reports of Chu Hean's outstanding beauty reached those perverted Zui dogs.
And now someone in the royal house of Zui wanted him.
"This lowly subject begs that his Majesty please reconsider, Hean is merely-"
The King cut him off briskly. "Cease your complaining. Your brother isn't being considered for the marriage alliance."
With slow, measured steps, the king climbed down the dais and came to a stop in front of Chu Yun, who finally raised his eyes.
The King's dark eyes shone with a cold, calculating glint.
"The Zui King wants to find a spouse for his second alpha son, Xiao Zai."
Chu Yun nodded in understanding, but his sword-sharp brows knitted in confusion. If this wasn't related to his younger brother, why had the King summoned him?
"We have decided that you are the ideal candidate."
The king's words fell on the throne room like the strike of a hammer on an anvil.
Chu Yun couldn't hide his shock. "But, I'm an alpha too."