Yan Xun froze. He could not see the young lady's expression, only hearing her words. He let go of her hand slowly. Either she did not understand or she might not have taken this matter into consideration.
Yan Xun nodded silently, "Okay then. You be careful yourself."
Chu Qiao nodded in reply. "Don't worry. As for the banquet later, I will not follow you there. You're alone, remember to be extra careful."
As she turned to walk out, Yan Xun's voice suddenly echoed deeply from behind, "AhChu."
The young lady was dazed and she stopped in her tracks.
"Anybody can betray me or leave me, but not you."
Chu Qiao did not reply. She stood at her position silently. Then, she pulled the door open and exited the room.
Yan Xun closed his eyes slowly and leaned on his chair. He muttered to himself, "If you left, I'd be left with nothing."
There was light snow in the courtyard. The young lady wore a light green gown and the white robe given to her by Yan Xun. The wind lifted her long hair, making it fly about in the air. She turned behind, looking at the shadow on the window. It stayed there for a long time, not disappearing.
The mood outside Ying Ge court was very different from that inside. On the outside, many imperial clansmen were present and the mood was joyous. Colorful jade statues were placed in front of Ying Ge court, forming a row which led all the way to Duan Mu pavilion which was owned by the Eighth Princess Zhao Chun'er. Carpets were placed on the snowy ground. The palace maids on both sides were flamboyantly dressed, and the pavilion was brightly illuminated.
Early in the morning, everyone gathered at Duan Mu pavilion. The Emperor personally graced the occasion, and the guests were all in a happy mood. The noisy sounds of the sizhu drifted over from Duan Mu pavilion. On Chang Hua Road, whose atmosphere was cold and lonely, a war horse stood at the side silently. The young lady, dressed in a military-style outfit and a green cloak. She turned back and looked at the bright lights in the distance. Her expression was calm and plain.
The sky was pitch-black and the winds were icy cold. The world appeared lonely all of a sudden. The cold winds blew at the loose strands of hair on her forehead, making her face appear even frailer.
I chose this path for myself. From the start, this was a path of no return. The only way is forward. Life never gave me the power to regret. I will not let my emotions get in the way of your progress. Before revenge is exacted, the stability of the empire is not guaranteed. How could there be thoughts of future generations at this moment?
Yan Xun, I will not leave you. I'll stay by your side as long as you need me, waiting for the day that you conquer the empire. Only cowards feel sad and only incapable people complain. I will not. I am not sad and never have been.
The loud sounds of the clock echoed. Fireworks were set off into the sky. The sounds of the sizhu accompanied the clock echoes. Sounds of lively chatter from Duan Mu pavilion drifted towards her direction from afar, in celebration of this joyous occasion.
"Giddyup!" In the cold wind, the frail, young lady cracked her whip. She stiffened her lips and rode away into the distance.
The night was cold. In the lively palace, Yan Xun stood up and stared at the pitch-black sky outside, remaining silent for a long while.
In the cold, lonely Ying Ge court, a snow-white robe lay in front of a table in a room. It looked brand-new with no traces of dust.
"We've known each other for eight years. We've been through life or death together. Everything will end soon. When everything here is settled, we'll go back to Yan Bei and let's…"
Let's… Let's get married. Let's be together and never leave each other…
Those words and thoughts which had never been verbalized had never been made known. They were buried deep in his mind, never to be thought of. Destiny was like a big fire. Most of the time, there was only that one chance. Once it had passed, it could never be found again.
The interior of Sheng Jin palace was bustling with life. Suddenly, outside the palace, earth-shattering cries of agony echoed from the northwest direction! Zhao Che was shocked. He dashed out of the tent before putting his boots on, looking at the sky towards the northwest. It was chaotic. There was the sight of dangerous fires and massacres. The army, which had set out to repair the road, swiftly surrounded the Dauntless Cavalry Camp.
Something big had happened!
Zhao Che raised his eyebrows. He ordered the soldiers standing to his side, "Fetch the weapons!"
"Hold on," a cold voice suddenly commanded. Zhuge Yue walked out from the tent, and said, "You cannot go."
Zhao Che stared coldly at this fellow who had invited himself. He retorted, "Why are you here?"
"Look there. Whose residence is that?"
Zhao Che stared into the distance. He dreaded to think of the name of the clan that came to his mind.
A white colored bird perched itself on Zhuge Yue's arm. Its mouth was sharp and it had red eyes, very similar to the species that Yan Xun had strangled to death the other day. The bird stood gently on his arm, pecking at his finger. He entertained the bird while saying, "Muhe clan was involved in a corruption case. Muhe Yunye knelt in front of Sheng Jin palace for an entire afternoon, asking for the Emperor to see him, but to no avail. Why was this the case? This thing happened suddenly. From the tip-off to the investigation, to the charges, everything only took half a day. It was not planned. Who would have believed this? The Eighth Princess, Zhao Chun'er, is getting engaged tonight. The Emperor did not summon you to the palace despite this important occasion. Even if you were not close with the Empress Dowager, Zhao Chun'er is your biological sibling. Why is this the case? Muhe clan, which is affiliated with you, being attacked… You being in charge of the army, should have total control over the situation. Why is it that the troops outside are disproportionate to your forces? They don't hold a candle to you. What are they waiting for? Don't you understand?"
Zhao Che realized what was going on. "You're saying, it's Father…"
"Not necessarily," Zhuge Yue replied with a laugh. "The Emperor left you at the Dauntless Cavalry Camp probably to test you. He wanted to see whether your surname was Zhao or Muhe. As for the people outside, they may not have been sent by the Emperor. However, I do know that those outside are the ones who yearn to see your downfall."
Zhao Che was smart but anger clouded his judgment, causing him to lose his rationality for a moment. Thinking back, everything made sense. He broke out in a cold sweat.
"That person wanted you to lower your guard. He purposely sent a small army to surround the camp. However, the moment you stepped out of the camp, you would be considered a traitor. The people who would be after you then, would not just be this small group."
Zhao Che's frowned. He thought for a long while before replying, "Why are you helping me?"
"Because you're Muhe Nayun's son. After the downfall of Muhe clan, the influence of Zhao Qi has been on the rise. His mother is part of the Wei clan. Coincidentally, I'm not affiliated with the Wei family." Zhuge Yue laughed, staring at him. "You see, in the blink of an eye, we have a common enemy."
Zhao Che sneered and retorted, "Even if Muhe clan was exterminated, what makes you so sure that I will cooperate with the Zhuge family?"
Zhuge Yue looked at the sky, his arms outstretched. The bird flew out of his grasp. He did not look back, walking outside while saying, "If you couldn't even see the stakes, I wouldn't have appeared here tonight."
Zhao Che lowered his head and thought for a long while. He caught up with a few steps and remarked deeply, "You usually tend to ignore these things. Why are you involving yourself this time?"
By this time, Zhuge Yue had walked into the distance. He said softly "I just don't like that fellow, Zhao Qi."
An entire night had passed but the chaos had not subsided. The civilians of Zhen Huang City stayed in their houses, too scared to watch what was unfolding outside. The shouts carried on all the way from dusk till dawn without stopping. The scenes of fires, thick smoke, and cries of despair were tragic.
The extermination of Muhe clan had been expected for a long while. Even if they had not anticipated the gravity of the situation—that their entire clan would be killed, that the Emperor would carry out a mass genocide—the Wei and Zhao factions would have forced them into this predicament.
The Muge clan was not prepared. Even though they had established themselves over hundreds of years, they were totally annihilated by the troops of the royal army and without any room for retaliation.
As first light broke, the battle was nearing its end. The trio of Muhe Xiweng, Muhe Xili, and Muhe Yunxiao were killed on the spot. Over 2000 troops from the Muhe clan perished. Muhe Yunye and every single member of the Muhe clan, ranging from his elderly mother to his newborn son, was captured alive. The capital prison was instantly overpopulated.
At the same time, the city gates were sealed shut. Movements of the citizens were restricted. Led by Zhao Song, the Thirteenth Royal Prince, troops set out carrying the Muhe family's token and a fabricated official declaration to visit the 23rd and 26th armies of Dong Chui, the Southeast Field Army, and the 16th Army of the Southeastern Navy. Their motive was to spread the news that Muhe Yunye, the head of the Muhe clan, had passed away due to illness. This was so that they could summon Muhe Xichi, Muhe Xisheng, Muhe Xiyu, and Muhe Yunye's smallest grandson, Muhe Jingran, back to the capital to decide who should succeed him as the clan leader.
As the commanders of the four armies stepped into Zhen Huang City, they were captured by the royal troops. Muhe clan's last hopes were obliterated and they were utterly defeated.
However, on the same night, Song Duan, Muhe Yunye's grandson, escaped from the heavily guarded capital prison. He managed to break out of the city gates and escape towards the east on his horse.
The Muhe family rejoiced. Muhe Yunye was dumbfounded. After a long while, he closed his turbid eyes slowly and shed tears, all while saying that he had let his ancestors down.
Three days later, General Meng Tian's grandson and foster daughter, Meng Zhan and Meng Feng, led the Meng army towards the east in pursuit of the Song clan, who had rebelled with the Muhe clan. The Song clan, hearing the news, panicked. The leader of the Song clan decisively offered Song Duan and Muhe Yunye's daughter, Muhe Minglan to the Meng army. The Meng army rejected the offer. After a flurry of arrows, the army continued their massacre. In less than five days, the Song clan, the number one clan in Huai Dong, had been exterminated.
In an instant, the two big clans in alliance with each other had been massacred. On the 28th day of the third month, in front of Jiu You platform, more than 4000 people of the Muhe and Song clans were executed. Five generations of the Muhe clan, bar the Empress Dowager, Muhe Nayun, were eliminated entirely. Even the Ting Concubine, Muhe Nari and the Xiang Concubine, Muhe Lanxiang, were served poisoned wine and murdered.
On the day of the massacre at Jiu You platform, the citizens of Zhen Huang City fought to see the spectacle. In an instant, Zhen Huang City bustled with life, like never seen before in previous years.
Entire clans, along with their past achievements and glory, were buried deep in the soil, vanishing into the turbulent times. They became yet another sacrificial product in the shift of power towards the royal capital. Influential and esteemed figures within the clan, who enjoyed a luxurious life previously, also met their doom as their heads fell to the ground at the hands of royal capital. All the talk about a prosperous, peaceful utopia crumbled to dust.