Book 1: Winds Begin to Blow in Tai Yuan
Chapter 33 – Mountain Rain Will Soon Come
Evening fell, thickly covering over the air above the imperial city. Tonight the stars were faint and the moon dim, while layers of clouds coiled and swirled, without any of the refreshing atmosphere that belonged to the autumn season.
The weather was bad, but the Tai Yuan imperial city shone with even more magnificence and brightness. The whole palace drifted with colorful ribbons and lanterns, and on all the trees were tied silk brocades. Every three steps, a bowl of imperial chrysanthemums in full bloom was hanging from a deep red palace lantern. The halo of red illumination made the flowers more gorgeous, their myriad colors bedazzling one’s eyes.
On the water pavilion in front of Heavenly Peace Hall, a jade arc bridge floated, and blue waters sent out ripples. The whole pond was drifting full of red lotus lights, and the pavilion ceiling was hung full of luminescent pearls. On the table were already prepared dried and fresh fruits as well as many delicacies from the land and the sea, only waiting for the Emperor to come and feast in the early evening, after he finished placing incense at the temple.
The various princes had already arrived at Heavenly Peace Hall, waiting at the side chambers for his Highness to arrive. Between them conversations and laughter arose like the wind, cheerful and warm, a scene of a royal family full of friendliness.
Prince Qi Xunyi was slightly tilted as he leaned against a chair. He picked up a grape and slowly ate, at the same time slanting his eye to look at the hourglass inside the glazed bottle.
Right now, Shen hour was just entered.
Relatively distant from Heavenly Peace Hall was the Six Western Palaces. Compared with the Main Hall, these palaces were much more desolate. The old Emperor didn’t have many concubines, so the palace had many vacancies, dark and unlit. Although the buildings were also decorated for the occasion, there was still some gloomy coldness that managed to seep through. Wind blew the colored lights hanging under the eaves to drift and float; the slight red glow was absorbed into the dim night, seemingly bleak but beautiful, like blood.
A pair of black shadows hurriedly headed towards the direction of the Letter Hall. From their dress, it looked like a eunuch and a maid.
Their movements were rushed, and often when guard troops passed by, they would flash behind various corners. The two figures were agile and did not alarm anyone along the way.
Arriving at the front of Xuande Hall, the two stopped their steps.
In front, past Xuande Hall where the old imperial concubine of the previous dynasty lived, was that cold palace, the Letter Hall. Past the palace alley of the Letter Hall would be the imperial city’s west gate, often called “Death’s Door”. This was because those concubines who died under house arrest, as well as those palace servants who were beaten to death for their crimes, would have their corpses dragged out from this gate after death. It was rumored that the palace alley would not see sunlight all year round, and cold winds would blow with melancholy, so very few people would pass through here.
However, today was different.
At the separating wall between the Xuande Hall and the Letter Hall, weapons formed a forest and armor glinted with light. Troop after troop of guards were stuffed in that narrow passageway like black snakes, unceasingly marching while sweeping their visions back and forth. The security was impenetrable, and even a rat would not be able to tunnel past.
The two people looked at each other, both seeing worry in the other’s eyes.
Letter Hall’s palace wall was just ahead, but that short distance of ten meters had now become a great chasm – even flying past would be impossible.
Yun Hen anxiously raised his head, glancing at that layer of dense clouds. In the south, the tenth month would still have some hints of summer. When a storm is about to come, even the wind would gust with downcast oppressiveness. With this type of humid wind blowing on one’s face, it seemed like with just a squeeze of a hand, water would be wrung out.
There still remained three half-hours, before the imperial family banquet.
Yun Hen’s face was ashen while he fixedly stared at the front. The non-stop, swift steps of the guarding soldiers slowly transformed in his vision. Some images deeply buried in his memories, crossed through many years and months, crossed through the river of forgetfulness, and materialized in front of his eyes once more.
… it was also a jumble of legs, passing through his upward gazing vision. Those hurried legs indifferently walked before him. He gasped for breath and held out his hands, in an attempt to grab onto something he could rely on, but instead he was stepped on by some unknown boot. In pain he raised his head, but that boot only, slowly, crushed down.
It was the mass of graves that night. An owl flew past from the forest branches, its wings brushing against and rustling the tree leaves, while letting out a deep sigh that was broken like ghostly wails. He lay on the wet ground, seeing bright glow of the steel shovel as it dug out the bloody mud and splattered it on his face. It blocked his sight, and he couldn’t see clearly, couldn’t see clearly that inside the pit was …
Yun Hen’s breathing, gradually became rushed.
These nightmares sunk deep into the countless moons of the past – just when would they find their final redemption?
The spark of star fire hovering in his eyes, exploded into a raging inferno. Yun Hen suddenly tightly gripped the sword by his waist, and with a step he wanted to stride out. Yet, someone suddenly pulled him back.
Turning back his head, Yun Hen stared at the Meng Fuyao who had stopped him, and coldly flung her hand away. The star fire twisted and soared in his gaze, as if it could fly out at any moment.
Fuyao was also startled by his unexpectedly cold and piercing gaze. She had seen that Yun Hen looked like he was going to impulsively charge out alone, and so she quickly pulled him back. She had good intentions, not wanting him to go charging to his death, so what was he doing being so angry?
Pursing her lips, Fuyao decided not to argue with him right now, only swiftly making a couple hand gestures to signal for him to turn around.
Some doubt flashed in Yun Hen’s eyes, but seeing Meng Fuyao’s sure expression, he still did as she said.
Meng Fuyao retreated back a step, furtively cutting down a tree branch from a flowering tree beside her. Holding it in her hand, she attentively whittled and scraped at it, making some kind of long cylindrical object. After weighing it in her hand and inspecting it, she then indecently hid it up her sleeve.
The weather was dim, but that still couldn’t cover up the suspicious pink blush that suddenly flushed on her face.
That thing held in her palm was round and thick and long, coarsely rubbing her fingertips. Meng Fuyao’s face burned hotter, and she curled her mouth in a helpless smile.
Kao, it was true that a moment of impulse would stir one into muddy waters. It looks like the reputation of this woman’s entire life was going to go down the drains in this preposterous Tai Yuan imperial palace ——-
Shen hour, second half-hour.
Inside the brilliantly candlelit Heavenly Peace Hall.
Qi Xunyi was currently waxing eloquent with sweeping gestures, talking about the superior techniques of the number one performers “Martial Troupe”. His spit flew out as he spouted out an unceasing flow of words.
He lightly smiled while extending a hand to gesture to the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince was very cooperative, and leaned his head close. Qi Xunyi softly said, “Crown Prince, in that troupe there is a lovely lady, who is even a virgin. Her waist is lithe and her appearance peerless, extremely mesmerizing, bewitching …”
With an “oh?” sound, the Crown Prince lightly said, “Since she is a virgin, how does third brother know that her ‘waist is lithe’? Could it be …”
The two brothers looked at each other, then with a “ha ha” sound, they laughed together ——
Shen hour second half-hour, Heavenly Peace Hall’s guard garrison.
Deputy Guard Commander Iron was preparing to go out to patrol, when with a lift of the door drapes, his superior officer General Yan Lie entered.
“This old fellow will go with you.”
The two walked shoulder by shoulder, when they suddenly saw a slender shadow in front. Commander Iron lifted his head, seeing the Pei family Princess charmingly smiling, standing facing the wind.
Commander Iron immediately went up to bow and pay his respects to the “coincidentally encountered” princess, while Princess Pei smiled and pretended to help him up.
In the hand going to help him up, an extra sword suddenly appeared. With a flash of sword light, it had already embedded itself into the commander’s heart.
Commander Iron instinctively wanted to retaliate, but the Duke Yan Lie besides him smirked, suddenly stretching out his arm. In a coil of his robe sleeve he had already crushed Commander Iron’s skewed body under his arm, while Commander Iron’s head unwillingly thrashed underneath Yan Lie’s armpit and stained his body full of fresh blood.
Yan Lie smiled as usual, and while smiling his arm twisted.
The skull of Commander Iron immediately abnormally skewed to the side. The crunching sound of neck bones fracturing sounded, and then was swallowed by the chilly deepness of the night.
Throwing the corpse onto the ground, Pei Yuan and Yan Lie looked at each other and laughed ——-
Shen hour second half-hour, at the Three Gates of the imperial city.
The night wind was like iron. Hoof sounds shattered the ghastly pale moonlight before the scarlet palace gates. The guards in front of Tai Yuan imperial city’s Three Palace Gates stood straight like javelins, their vague dark shadows crisscrossing on the ground surface, unmoving.
Those swift horses broke through the stillness of the night, galloping over while scattering the wind. The people on the horses wore silk robes and swords, while a mass of people followed behind them, numerous like clouds. It was the holders of authority over the palace guards – the Yan family father and son.
“His Majesty’s verbal instructions, Changning, Guangan, Changxin, the Three Palace Gates must change guard garrisons immediately!”
The soldiers’ weapons reflected chilly glints, and the clear, loud noises of iron armors colliding with each other sounded out. Layers of clouds on the horizon drifted, each one heavily piling up like fish scales, pressing down towards a corner of the imperial city.
Yan Lie overlooked high on his steed, his cold eyes waiting for the troops to switch out. The minor unit commander of the Changxin gate, a trusted subordinate of Iron Ashdesert, hesitantly extended his hand to ask for the personal order of Commander Iron.
Yan Lie said in a deep laugh, “I do!”
With a fling of his arm a head blasted over, forcibly smashing that unit commander’s head into pieces. Hot blood mixed with brain as it slowly flowed through the channels on the road surface, depicting a savage scene of massacre.
The rolling human head stained the royal streets with blood, in an instant being wiped away by those well-trained bodyguards —————
Shen hour second half-hour, at a military camp on the outskirts of the capital.
Commander of the capital city troops Fang Minghe convened his various generals and read out the personal orders of Prince Qi. It said that the Crown Prince plotted to rebel, and the capital troops were to immediately enter the imperial palace to guard the Emperor and show loyalty to the throne. Of the five subordinate generals under his command, three instantly obeyed the orders and went to move their armies, while two raised objections.
Fang Minghe calmly listened to the opposite’s opinions that talked about how without an imperial edict they could not act rashly. Calmly nodding his head, he then waved his hand.
Many tens of long spears suddenly penetrated into the cowhide command tent, piercing seventeen or eighteen holes into those two military officers.
Fresh blood sprayed out with each streak splattering onto the tent canvas, crisscrossing and flying in the air. A patch of blood landed on the Tai Yuan map behind Fang Minghe – its position, was precisely on the imperial city ———-
During the same hour, at a certain secluded residence in Yanjing.
In the azure screen window was hung beaded drapes and jade curtains. Bright pearls fluoresced, shining onto the tall, slender back figure of a dignified man.
“Kill thirty one people.” He pointed his finger upwards, his smile elegant. “Killing people isn’t the more the better. Only killing accurately, killing when needed, can be considered true kills.”
“Go.” He lightly lifted his palm, revealing a white-colored mark in a brief flash. The next instant, it was covered by large wide robe sleeves. “This is a gift I am giving to Qi Xunyi.”
Before the sound of his voice had fallen, the dark shadows had shot out from inside the room like smoke, shooting towards various corners of the massive Yanjing city – perhaps the places they were going to, and the people they were going to kill, were not conspicuous, and were seemingly irrelevant and non-crucial. However once they truly began to affect the essential situation, after the events in Yanjing broke out, orders would be disrupted, information would be obstructed, and in the fastest time possible the situation would sink into a paralyzed state.
The name list of those thirty one people, was written in elegant stylish words on top of the ink paper sprinkled with gold.
Yanjing government administrators, the section of aristocrats who had private armies, postmasters of troop and post stations, beacon tower guards, on-duty minor officials of the imperial secretary department that was in charge of communicating information and orders to the outside …
The death of these people would, once a situation appeared, cause the entirety of Yanjing to have no one to control, and no orders to deliver.
The eyes of the man leaning over to read the names list revealed an admiring expression. However, he still had some doubts. “The imperial guards are still controlled by the Crown Prince. These years he has secretly expanded them, and their size has already surpassed the authorized quotas. With eighty thousand in number, do you think …”
“He won’t have time.” The man’s smile was vague. “Unless he can escape from Qi Xunyi’s killing hands, and rush to the main camp before Xu hour.”
A stretch of silence. Everyone knew, that was impossible.
“Actually, I do not mind them fighting. These years Tai Yuan has been too well-behaved, and it is the right time to use fresh blood to wash their heads.” The man stood in front of the window screen of scattered plum flowers and faint moonlight, his sleeves lightly drifting and his dark hair dispersing in the wind. His smile was like the blooming of the udumbara flower, while his voice had a bit of loneliness, as if he resided at the summit of the four seas and was overlooking the world, without any equals.
“It’s unfortunate, that Qi Xunyi won’t give the Crown Prince any opportunity. Right now in all of Yanjing, there shouldn’t be anyone who has the ability to reverse the coming fall of Crown Prince Qi …”
Clasping his hands behind him, his gaze was deep and distant, like he could pierce through the darkness and see some long inevitable conclusion.
Faintly smiling, he said again:
1) What thing did Meng Fuyao carve using that tree branch? Please guess for yourselves, I find it too embarrassing to explain in clear writing. As for its use, it will be useful.
2) The split scene writing method for the palace coup, I will explain more clearly for my dear readers: two major camps, Qi Xunyi versus the Crown Prince. Qi Xunyi has Yan and Pei families under him. Yan clan is responsible for changing the assigned guards for the Three Palace Gates, Pei family subordinate Fang Minghe will command fifty thousand capital troops to enter the imperial city from the capital outskirts, forcing the Emperor to abdicate. Also, a certain friend is helping from the shadows. These events all happen at the same time, Shen hour’s second half-hour.
The side of the Crown Prince: Eighty thousand guard troops stationed inside the imperial city guarding the Letter Hall, and bodyguards in the East Hall. As of now he is still in the dark about all this, still waiting to see that performing troupe inside which is concealed an assassination plot.
If there are still people who don’t understand, tell me, I’ll see if I should just make a concurrent, updating outline explanation of the whole text.Footnotes Shen hour, 申时, is the time period from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m (15:00 – 17:00). Just entering it means it is currently 15:00. It is 4:00 p.m. (16:00) Xu hour, 戌时, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (19:00 – 21:00)