Chapter 88: The banished Empress
The leader collapsed and coughed out a mouthful of blood. Seeing this, the other five men rushed to help him up.
Nan Xun has not demonstrated his full power yet, the leader thought. He had been through enough fights himself to tell that this was far from Nan Xun's limit. They were bound to be defeated if they didn't cut their losses now.
"This is only the beginning, Nan Xun," said the leader. He got to his feet with the help of his underlings. They escaped before neither Nan Xun nor Jun Huang could react.
Jun Huang snorted. She took a deep breath with a hand on her chest to focus her mind. "They aren't that good at fighting, but they sure have mastered the art of fleeing."
Nan Xun knew that Jun Huang was trying to lighten the mood, but he couldn't force himself to laugh. He helped Jun Huang get to the two men who had collapsed earlier. Under the masks were two unfamiliar faces. From the veins in their foreheads, it was clear that they were trained in martial arts.
The last thing the leader had said was ominous to say the least. Something was going to happen, but what it was was beyond them.
They could both feel the dangers looming over them. It was an unpleasant feeling they could not afford to ignore.
Jun Huang looked up at Nan Xun. "Do you recognize their fighting style?"
"No, I don't recognize any of the moves they've used. That concealed weapon is an unfamiliar one as well. I don't think I have ever seen one like that."
Jun Huang fell into a deep contemplation. She didn't like where this was going.
The moon was now covered by clouds. It was most likely going to rain the next day. She felt an indiscernible feeling rising in her heart.
Her time was limited. Her body was getting weaker and weaker as the poison continued to spread. Sometimes she found herself falling asleep in random places. The medicine she brewed herself didn't make her condition any better. She couldn't help feeling a little lost and afraid.
Her eyes turned cold as she looked down at the unconscious men. She clenched her teeth. I am going to get my revenge, she swore to herself. I won't let anyone stop me. Anyone. She would take mercy on these men if they didn't get in the way of her revenge. If they did – If they would be an obstacle to her cause – she would not let them live.
Her tensed expression worried Nan Xun. "Are you alright?" he asked. "Are you feeling unwell?"
His voice pulled Jun Huang out of her trance. She gave him a long look before shaking her head and curving her lips. "What do we do with them?"
"I'm not going to kill everyone who has ever tried to kill me," said Nan Xun. "Besides, I don't know why they are here yet. Like I've said before, I don't kill people without knowing their identities. Leave them here. They'll go away once they regain consciousness." It was clear from moments like this that Nan Xun was a good general. Men like him would be a hero respected by generations to come.
Jun Huang smiled a little. She darted her eyes to the lamps behind him. The warm glow of the light reminded her of Western Que. Western Que was no more. And Jun Huang had cast aside her past self after its destruction. Now there was only Feng Baiyu, a man who lived and died for revenge.
"Jun Huang." Nan Xun grabbed her cold fingers with a frown. He hoped he would be able to get through to her with the warmth of his hands.
Jun Huang almost lost herself to her inner demons. If Nan Xun hadn't called out for her in time, she didn't know what would have happened to her.
She looked up at Nan Xun with unfocused eyes. It was clear that he was worried. She inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself. Then she pulled her hand away. "I'm fine. Only a little tired."
Nan Xun was not convinced, but he wasn't going to interrogate her. If Jun Huang didn't want to talk, he wasn't going to ask. He could try to find the answer himself, or he could wait for Jun Huang to tell him willingly.
"Come on, I'll walk you back."
Jun Huang nodded and trailed after Nan Xun.
At midnight, the men they left behind slowly came to. They disappeared into the dark like wandering spirits.
Jun Huang didn't invite Nan Xun in for tea when they returned to her place, and Nan Xun didn't stay. He had to find out who those men were. It was obvious that their target was him. What were they trying to achieve?
"Nan Xun, no matter what happens, no matter what you find out, you must tell me immediately," Jun Huang said in a steely voice. "Even if we weren't friends, I have the right to know as your ally."
"Of course," Nan Xun said without hesitation.
They were completely clueless as to what those men wanted. That was why it was an urgent matter for them to investigate the men. Jun Huang stood in the hallway watching Nan Xun walk away until he disappeared at the corner of the street. She returned to her room after a moment of thinking.
Little Girl widened her eyes when she saw Jun Huang by the candlelight. She couldn't do anything but admire her looks. How could a man be so good looking? Her balant staring reminded Jun Huang that she still had makeup on. She ordered Little Girl to find her something that could wash away the rouge.
Little Girl couldn't help sneaking glances at Jun Huang. She was scared into looking away when Jun Huang raised an eyebrow at her.
After wiping her face clean, Jun Huang sat on the empress chair and thought carefully about the current situation.
The imperial court of Northern Qi used to be split into three factions. After the death of Qi Yin, a majority of his supporters had found a new master to serve. There were still some people who remained loyal to Qi Yin, but what could they possibly do without him? They held no real power in the court.
Nevertheless, there must be some people Jun Huang could use. If she succeeded in manipulating them, Qi Chen's influence in the court would be diminished. She could help Qi Yun gain a foothold and attract more supporters.
If she could take Qi Chen's title as the crown prince away from him, Northern Qi would become unstable. From her understanding of Eastern Wu, she was sure they would seize this opportunity and invade Northern Qi. Then the two countries would go into war.
Eastern Wu was ambitious. They would not let this perfect opening slipped through their fingers.
Once the war broke out, she would help Northern Qi eliminate Eastern Wu once and for all and push Qi Yun onto the throne. It would be her parting gift to her friend. Without Eastern Wu, Northern Qi would enjoy centuries of peace.
If Northern Qi couldn't conquer Eastern Wu in one swift attempt, however, Qi Chen's people would fight back. The imperial court would become a muddy mess again. Even if Qi Yun became the emperor then, he would be under threats from various forces.
She didn't have a lot of time left. She couldn't plan for the long run. Her top priority was to undermine Qi Chen's position and distablize Northern Qi. Everything would fall into place after that. Hopefully, Northern Qi's power wouldn't weaken too much, and it would still stand a high chance of winning against Eastern Wu. She didn't want to put the interest of a country at risk for her own revenge. She remembered the looks of despair on Western Que's people's faces. She didn't want to see something like that again.
The first thing she had to deal with was Qi Chen. He was the crown prince now. It wasn't easy to make a move on him. In addition, Qi Yin was no longer here to serve as his rival. And the empress had been banished to the Cold Palace.
Jun Huang's eyes lit up. She remembered that Consort Zhen had talked to her about the banished empress. She must have been trying to win the emperor over again. Even though Consort Ping had lost her place in the palace, there must still be people who remained loyal to her.
She had to get in contact with the empress and struck a deal with her. The smile on Jun Huang's face deepened and her fingers tightened around the teacup until her knuckles went white. The short rest had been helpful. She looked a lot less like she was going to faint.
Her mind was made up. She didn't want to drag this on for too long. It had been a while since the last time she saw Rou'er, who was Qi Yun's spy in Prince Chen Manor. It was time that they had a chat. There were things Jun Huang couldn't do that Rou'er could very easily achieve.
Deep into the night, it was silent save for the sound of crows cawing outside. The nightwatchman had walked past her house a while ago. The street was now empty. After sending out a message, Jun Huang left her place dressed in all black.
When she reached the west district of the city, Rou'er was already waiting for her. She was dressed in a black dress with a veil covering her face. She blended into the darkness so well that no one would be able to spot her unless they knew what they were looking for.
"Why is the gentleman so eager to see this subordinate?" Rou'er asked without preamble.
Jun Huang knew that they must finish this conversation quickly. She forewent the smalltalk and said, "I need you to help me enter the palace."
Some days ago, Qi Chen had taken Rou'er to the palace to greet Consort Zhen. Rou'er was a charming woman. She had gained Consort Zhen's affection in the span of a conversation. Afterwards, Consort Zhen gifted Rou'er with a token awarded by the emperor. With the token, she would be able to enter the palace freely.
Surprised, Rou'er asked with a frown, "What is the gentleman trying to do? Does the fourth prince know?"
"I assume you have talked to Qi Yun tonight," said Jun Huang. "I'm not going to beat around the bush here. Qi Yun doesn't know what I'm going to do yet, but I can assure you that it will only benefit him. You don't have to worry."
Rou'er was only half convinced. She couldn't make herself commit fully just yet. She didn't respond.
Jun Huang was good at spotting people's weaknesses. She knew how to use them to get what she wanted. "Fret not, you only have to visit Consort Zhen and have a casual chat with her tomorrow," she said gently. "I'll disguise myself as a servant and go in with you. I promise to not cause any troubles. I'll meet up with you after I've done what I have to do."
Rou'er was worried. "You're sure there won't be any troubles?"
"Of course not," Jun Huang said confidently. Her tone could compel anyone to believe in her words. Rou'er still felt a little hesitant, but her doubts melted away when she saw the look on Jun Huang's face. Sometimes, trusting a person was as simple as that.