Chapter 29: Eve of Change II
Translator: AtlasStudios Editor: AtlasStudios
Yun Hen turned his head and glared at Meng Fuyao, harshly slapping her hand away. A fire was burning in his eyes, as though he could burst into action at any time.
Meng Fuyao was taken aback by his abrupt change in attitude. When she saw that he was about to jump forward and take them on his own, she had simply wanted to stop him from committing suicide. “Why is he so angry?”
Meng Fuyao bit her lips, not wanting to quarrel with him at this point in time. She made a quick hand gesture, asking him to turn.
Doubt flashed across his face but because Meng Fuyao looked certain Yun Hen gave in.
Upon taking a step back, Meng Fuyao broke off a branch from a nearby tree. She held it in her hand and pared it meticulously, turning it into a long, cylindrical object. She measured it with her hand before slotting it into her sleeve.
The sky had darkened, but that wasn’t enough to cover the sudden, suspicious flash of redness across her face.
That object stuck out from her sleeve, partly fitting into the hollow of her palm. It was round, thick and long, and was rubbing against her fingers. Meng Fuyao’s face started heating up as she curled her lips and let out a helpless smile.
‘Into the muddy water I go… darn, my reputation has been soiled and will forever be buried in this cursed palace.’
It was almost evening, and candlelight filled the Qianan Palace Hall’s interior.
Qi Xunyi was yakking about the excellent skills present in Huai Zuo’s first sideshow, Martial Family, generously spilling his saliva everywhere.
He extended a hand toward the crown prince to gain his attention, to which the latter reciprocated by walking over. Qi Xunyi started, in a low voice. “There’s a beautiful virgin in that troupe, with a slim waist like no other… there are no words to describe her charm…”
“Oh?” the crown prince exclaimed, before commenting in a similar tone, “How would third younger brother know how slim her waist is if she’s still a virgin? Or…”
They exchanged a look before erupting in laughter.
At four in the evening in the Qianan Palace Hall’s garrison house…
Assistant Commander Tie was getting ready for his patrol when someone brushed the door curtain aside and entered. It was his superior, Yan Lie.
“I’ll join you.”
They proceeded together, and Tie Cangmo caught a slender shadow on the ground in front of them. He looked up to see Princess Pei advancing with a winsome smile.
At this “chance encounter”, he quickly paid his respect, and the princess supported him up.
A sword appeared in her hand as she helped him up. In the next second, she had plunged it into the assistant commander’s chest.
Naturally, he tried to retaliate, and Yan Lie simply smiled, sweeping his sleeve forward the next moment and trapping the assistant commander’s slanted body under his armpit. The victim struggled hard, aggravating his wound and losing a lot of blood in the process.
Yan Lie smiled and twisted his arm.
Tie Cangmo’s head instantly turned crooked, his bones creaking and cracking amid the eerie silence.
Upon tossing the dead body to the ground, Pei Yuan and Yan Lie exchanged smirks.
At four in the evening, at the three gates of the Imperial City…
The wind was as cold as steel and the moon, in contrast to the pieces of red decoration, deathly pale. Before the gates stood guards, armed with javelins. They were standing still with their black shadows covering the ground.
The silence was broken by a fast, clattering wave of hooves. The horsemen were dressed in embroidered gowns and were quickly revealed to be Yan Lie and Yan Jingchen.
“His Majesty has ordered for a change of guards stationed at the Changning, Guangan and Changxin gates!”
Cold light rays reflected off the weapons as the clanking of metals overtook the silence. Clouds shifted overhead, piling like layers of fish scales and crowding over the Imperial City.
Yan Lie remained on his horse, indifferently waiting for the garrison to be relieved. The garrison leader of the Changxin gate, Tie Cangmo’s trusted aide, hesitantly reached his hand out to request for an edict.
Yan Lie smiled. “Sure!”
At that, he whipped a severed head from his back and smashed it against the garrison leader’s head. Fresh blood, mixed with brain juice, flowed down and along the veined path, creating an outline of an eerie massacre map.
The tumbling head stained the street, but a trained soldier speedily wiped the trace away.
At four in the evening, at the main camp located in the suburbs of Yanjing…
Commander Fang Minghe gathered his men around and read the prince’s order aloud. The crown prince of Taiyuan had plotted a rebellion, and the army was to enter the palace to protect him. Fang Minghe had five men with him, and three instantly set off to inform their troops whereas two remained to offer suggestions.
They advised against moving recklessly without an imperial edict, to which Fang Minghe gave a small nod and a wave.
More than 10 pikes slashed through the leather tent, and in the next moment, holes could be seen through the two military officers’ bodies.
Blood shot out from the holes, splattering all over the interior of the tent and onto a spot marked as Imperial City on the map behind where Fang Minghe stood.
At the same hour, another secret mission was being carried out in a certain corner of Yanjing.
The bead curtain swayed and twinkled as a graceful male’s slender silhouette was imprinted onto the screen window behind it.
“Kill these 31 people.” He lifted a finger and smiled with much poise. “Precision, and not quantity, is the key when it comes to killing effectively. Only kill what’s necessary.”
“Go,” he added, raising his palm. As he did that a white mark was revealed momentarily before his baggy sleeve covered it once more. “My first gift to Qi Xunyi.”
As his voice fell, black figures shot out like puffs of smoke toward every corner of Yanjing. While the names they were going after seemed inconspicuous and irrelevant, the city would be thrown into a state of paralysis upon the revolt since communication would be disrupted without those figures.
The 31 names had been written on a piece of parchment with suave, black strokes.
The magistrate of Yanjing, some of the aristocrats who had private investments in weapons, the deputy of the military depot and relay station, the soldier guarding the beacon tower, the small official in charge of passing news, orders and documents from the imperial city…
Their deaths meant that no word would spread even if something big happened within Yanjing.
Admiration flashed across the eyes of the guy reading the names, but he appeared somewhat hesitant. “The imperial guards are still under the control of the crown prince. He’s been expanding privately over the past few years and has gathered ample strength, about 80,000 heads. Take a look…”
“He won’t make it in time.” The man smiled slightly. “Unless he can escape from Qi Xunyi’s assassin and rush back to camp before night falls.”
Silence fell as all knew that that was impossible.
“I don’t actually mind them starting a fight. Taiyuan hasn’t been too honest in recent years, so maybe some fresh blood would cleanse their minds,” the man added, standing before the screen that dimmed the moonlight and smiling sincerely. In contrast, his tone sounded rather lonesome as if he was overlooking everything from the highest peak in the world and unable to seek a worthy opponent.
“It’s unfortunate that Qi Xunyi won’t leave a chance for the crown prince. There’s probably no one in Yanjing that can overturn the odds against the latter’s defeat.”
He raised his hand, his gaze deep and distant, as though all he saw through the darkness was the ultimate doom.
He repeated smilingly, “Unfortunate.”
At the same hour…
The steward cum eunuch of the Xuande Palace walked out from the hall to look at the brilliant scenery far ahead. Hammering his waist with his fist, he limped toward his room. The Sixth East Palace was located there, close to the unfrequented Xin Palace, so it was rather remote and quiet. In the almost 70-year-old eunuch’s mind, the grand occasion was none of his business. He pursed his wrinkly lips and tottered his way back.
Suddenly, the old eunuch stopped upon passing by a secluded corridor. In front were a male and female dressed in a eunuch and palace maid’s uniform, dodging through a rockery path.
“Who is it!?”
A patrolling guard stopped outside the Xuande Palace Hall and looked over.
The duo turned around in panic. The guard found their faces foreign, and he noticed a redness shining through the palace maid’s yellow skin as she anxiously hid her hand behind.
In spite of his age, the old eunuch had sharp eyes and was first shocked upon spotting the cylindrical object in the maid’s hand. But he quickly understood that it was yet just another deliberate act.
The old eunuch smacked his lips as he thought about the couple jade bracelet that he had kept in his hall and let out a mischievous laugh. He gave a small wave, gesturing for the pair to be on their way and for the guard to be on his as well.
The old eunuch continued on his path when he sensed no movement coming from the duo. “Eh?” he expressed before turning around.
“Save us, please!” the palace maid pled in a hoarse voice while pouncing forward.
The old eunuch stared at her with squinted eyes and frowned in confusion.
“We’re from the Xin Palace, but… we can’t return now,” the palace maid lifted her head, sobbing. While her skin was slightly yellow, she had a beautiful pair of eyes and upturned brows. The tearful, melancholic expression she carried on her face also contained a bit of restlessness.
The old eunuch looked at her regretfully. It was her complexion that did her injustice, and he could immediately tell that she was born into a poor family. Why else would she end up in a cold palace and fake-marry a eunuch when she had the potential to become a concubine? The thought of it evoked sympathy within the old eunuch as he gazed at her hesitantly.
Over at the Xin Palace, the soldiers were pacing back and forth. Security was so tight, so it was no wonder this couple daren’t return. As an assistant manager, there was indeed a way for the old eunuch to cover for them, but why should he take the risk for strangers?
He gathered his sleeves while looking up at the sky in a daze.
Yun Hen and Meng Fuyao exchanged glances, the latter picking her brows and nodding subtly with her chin. Yun Hen frowned and let out a low hum from under his nose. Meng Fuyao immediately whipped her hand toward his waist area. Helpless, Yun Hen reached into his pocket for a sack and handed it to her.