Jun Huang paused. "Tonight?"
Rou'er nodded. "Qi Chen has told you of his plan, but he hasn't told you when. To my knowledge, it's not because he doesn't trust you. He just worries that Prince Nan will break his promise."
Jun Huang scoffed. "Even if they storm the palace today, Nan Xun is prepared. It'll be more worrying if he doesn't do anything."
"The gentleman should inform the prince all the same," Rou'er said worriedly. "This is a serious matter. Nothing can go wrong."
Jun Huang nodded. After a pause, she continued, "Have you seen Prince Duan in their rank?"
Rou'er thought carefully and shook her head. "No."
Jun Huang nodded. She ordered someone to take Rou'er back before going to Nan Xun. They went to the palace together.
Qi Chen's men were in high spirit after having some wine. Satisfied, Qi Chen led the soldiers towards the palace with great confidence.
He'd arranged for those loyal to him to guard the entrance today. They entered the palace without troubles. Qi Chen took a deep breath standing before the door to the emperor's bedroom and unsheathed his sword with a frosty smile. He charged inside with his men in tow.
The royal guards guarding the palace were his, but the guards stationed outside the emperor's chamber were loyal to the emperor. Met with a large group of intruders, the guards drew their weapons and fought them head on, but it was akin to knocking an egg against a stone.
Qi Chen killed his way to the emperor. The emperor jerked awake by the noises and propped himself up. He coughed and called out, "Guards! What's going on?"
"Who is Royal Father summoning?" Qi Chen approached his father with a smile, his sword dripping blood as he walked. The emperor froze. Even the densest man would have figured out what was happening.
He pointed at Qi Chen with shaky finger, his voice seized by anger and his face flushed. He swallowed down the lump of blood threatening to come up his throat.
Qi Chen smiled as he approached him, unperturbed by his fury. The young eunuch assigned to guard the emperor couldn't possibly let his master be harmed. He tackled Qi Chen.
Qi Chen slit his throat easily, his eyes cold. The eunuch fell to the floor with wide eyes, his blood splattered all over the emperor's face. The metallic smell assaulted his sense. During the decades he spent sitting on the throne, he'd never experienced anything like this. He almost lost conscious, and was only prevented from falling by the old eunuch at his side.
"Do… Do you know what you're doing?" the emperor demanded, pointing a finger at Qi Chen.
Qi Chen laughed mockingly. "Royal Father doesn't change the way you treat me even in this state. How hurtful."
"This son knows exactly what I'm doing, but what other choices do I have?" he said softly, his tone gentle as if he didn't want to disturb the souls lingering in this palace. His eyes, however, were icy. His gaze was not one of a son looking at his father, but of a man looking at his worst enemy. "Royal Father should remember that I am the crown prince. The throne is meant to be mine. I just want to let Royal Father retire earlier. I'll take care of the mundane affairs."
The emperor's heart seized up in fury, his face going red. Qi Chen continued laughing like he hadn't noticed.
The other people in the room dared not make a move recklessly. The trouble storm couldn't have passed soon enough.
"You should surrender, Royal Father," Qi Chen said as he approached, grinding his teeth together. "Haven't you sat on the throne for long enough? Or are you waiting for someone to save you?" An unhinged series of laughter escaped his mouth. "Don't think about it, Royal Father. No one is coming. We should end this ordeal sooner rather than later. I won't be so patient tomorrow."
The guards couldn't wait anymore seeing the emperor in danger. Their duty was to protect the emperor. They couldn't possibly stay on the sideline while the emperor was threatened by a villain. They exchanged a look and drew their swords, intending to fight to their death.
Qi Chen was prepared for that. His men drew their bows and shot the guards in the hearts before they could react. They fell to the floor, their eyes wide.
"Fools," Qi Chen spat, glancing at the dead guards.
The emperor sat frozen on his bed, his fingers cold. He was the emperor, but he'd led a luxurious and peaceful life so far. He'd never been subjected to such cruelty. Trapped in the web of his son's making, he slumped down in resignation and sighed. "Fine. If you want the throne so much, take it."
Qi Chen could no longer suppress his smile. He ordered a man to prepare ink and a writing brush and helped the emperor to the desk. "This son admires Royal Father for your decisiveness. Rest assured, Royal Father, this son won't make your life difficult. After I take the throne, you'll be the emperor emeritus. Your life will be as easy as it is now, and I'll make sure you live in a residence even more extravagant than the palace."
The emperor glared at Qi Chen. Qi Chen didn't mind. He held onto the emperor's trembling fingers with so much force, one could almost hear the joints grinding together. The emperor broke into cold sweat in pain, but he was helpless against the vise grip. He sat on the throne and pushed Qi Chen away. "Let go. I don't need your help."
Qi Chen shrugged and motioned at his man to hand the empty decree to the emperor. "As Royal Father wishes. This son knows Royal Father is fond of fourth brother. Don't worry. I won't lay a finger on him. Once you retire, I'll send him to the royal garden with Royal Father. You can live the life of a celestial together."
The emperor's head snapped up. "What have you done to Qi Yun? What do you want? He's your younger brother!"
Qi Chen chuckled. "Royal Father is indeed fond of fourth brother. You don't have to look at me like that. I didn't hurt him."
The emperor relaxed somewhat. He knew Qi Chen brought Qi Yun up as a threat, and he recognized he had already lost. Qi Chen had come prepared. There wasn't anything he could do.
With a sigh, he took the brush with trembling hand and started writing. Qi Chen was pleased. Things went more smoothly than he expected.
No matter how slowly the emperor was writing, he couldn't drag on forever. He stared at the decree he'd written against his will, his heart filled with sorrow and helplessness.
Qi Chen's men had found the imperial seal. They placed it on the desk.
Qi Chen raised an eyebrow when the emperor failed to react. "Does Royal Father need me to hold your hand?"
The emperor pushed Qi Chen away in rage and broke into a coughing fit, his face getting pale. Qi Chen had a trace of sympathy left in him. He knew there wasn't anything his father could do. He quietly watched his father pick up the seal.
The sound of weapons clashing came from the outside. Qi Chen immediately knew that something was wrong. He had to get the decree now.
The emperor had heard the noises as well. As if reading Qi Chen's mind, he poured the ink all over the decree. The yellow fabric was dyed black. Qi Chen pushed his father sideway in rage. Caught off guard, the emperor fell off the throne and knocked his head against the floor.
Qi Chen nervously bent down to help him up. He'd treated the emperor like a father for many years. Even now, he never wanted the man to get hurt. The emperor shoved him away, denying his offer to help.
Qi Chen took a deep breath and looked down at the emperor calmly. He sighed. "This son is going out to check the situation. Weapons don't know mercy. Royal Father should stay here."
Once he was out of the door, he finally realized that he was the mantis unaware of the oriole behind while he stalked the cicada. With gritted teeth, he stared at Nan Xun, who was standing among the soldiers in battle. He realized how naive he'd been when he saw Jun Huang behind Nan Xun.
Jun Huang looked at him calmly. She'd been waiting for this day, but when the day came, she felt nothing but pity for the man before her.
Qi Chen tightened his hand around his sword. He wanted to tear Jun Huang to pieces, but he knew this was a fight he couldn't win. He snorted and shouted, "Didn't expect you to be waiting for me here!"
Nan Xun glanced at him, his presence strong and unwavered. "Do you see your crime, Qi Chen?"
"My crime? What does Royal Brother mean?" Qi Chen bit out. He wasn't going to make it easy for Nan Xun.
Nan Xun frowned. "How obstinate of you."
He raised his spear and charged at Qi Chen, who gave as good as he got.
Qi Chen had made all the preparations he could make . Whatever happened, happened. The worst fate he could suffer was death. There was nothing for him and his men to be concerned about.
Qi Chen calmed all of a sudden. He joined the fight between his men and Nan Xun's. It was a large-scale and thrilling battle.
Qi Chen could only be considered a mediocre fighter. If he hadn't been guarded by his guards, he'd be dead already. Nan Xun and Jun Huang, on the other hand, fought like they were born to fight together. Their concerted dance under the moon made Qi Chen's eyes turn red.