The young lady's expression was serious. Coldly, she uttered, "Get out of my way."
"How naive!" Zhuge Yue sneered.
With a swoosh, Chu Qiao dashed forward swiftly, clenching her fists and twisting her back. Zhuge Yue obliged, retaliating with a few blows of his own. Both of them were agile, their strokes exquisite, matching each other blow for blow. With the cold wind blowing onto them, their fists landed on each other's chests with considerable force. Both of them let out a grunt, taking two steps back, further showing that they were evenly matched.
"Yan Xun will never succeed with his rebellion. Ba Lei and Wei Shuhua have laid down traps. Traitors that oppose the royal capital will only die."
Chu Qiao sneered. She used her hand to wipe off the sweat on her forehead, saying, "Slave!"
Zhuge Yue was enraged. He replied in a low voice, "What did you say?"
"Zhuge Yue, I thought you were a self-centred, inhuman, egotistical noble in the past. Today, I realise that you are a slave, a lackey with the surname Zhao."
Zhuge Yue maintained a stoic expression. "I am not loyal to the Zhao family, but to the Xia Empire."
"Is there any difference?" Chu Qiao sneered, continuing, "Cut the crap on traitors. Only the winners matter. Who knows, the history books in future would describe you as a lackey, an accomplice? History is solely based on the words of the victorious."
"You have confidence in him," Zhuge Yue sneered. "I would like to open my eyes and see how he manages to escape from the gates of Zhen Huang."
Chu Qiao squinted, replying, "I'm afraid you won't have the chance to."
The murderous aura was overwhelming. The young lady drew her dagger and started to exchange blows with Zhuge Yue. Under the moonlight, the two shadows leapt around with unparalleled agility, fighting amongst the grass.
"If you follow him, you will eventually die too!" Zhuge Yue reciprocated and drew out his dagger, advancing forward.
"Thank you for your concern, but do look out for yourself first!" Chu Qiao somersaulted in the air, landing heavily on Zhuge Yue's shoulder. She stuck out her knife and prepared to sink it into his shoulder with a merciless blow.
"The unjust is doomed to destruction. Don't force me to take action!"
"We are sworn enemies. There's no need to show any mercy."
"Who's there?" Untidy footsteps suddenly echoed in the distance. The two of them froze, stopping in their tracks and running towards the thick and dense bushes on their left. As they started to run towards their cover, they noticed that the other had followed in the same direction. Momentarily, they forgot that they were being chased and continued to exchange blows. "Towards the east, let's follow!"
The palace guards approached rapidly. Zhuge Yue frowned and grabbed Chu Qiao's wrist, hissing, "Do you want to die? You still want to fight?"
Chu Qiao raised her eyebrows and retorted, "Why are you following me?"
Zhuge Yue retaliated in anger, "Who's following you?"
"In front, quick!"
With a swoosh, Chu Qiao kicked Zhuge Yue in the calf. Zhuge Yue looked her fiercely in the eye and berated, "Crazy woman, you don't know your boundaries!"
The young lady, half-knelt on the ground, replied coldly, "Vile stalker!"
"Quick!" The sound was approaching from within ten steps out. Both of them, shocked, stopped fighting each other and rolled into the thick, dense bushes.
"Where is it?"
"Boss, you must have heard wrongly."
The guard commander shook his head cautiously and said, "Impossible. I saw a few shadows here."
"Boss, it must have been a cat. There are plenty of them in this courtyard."
"No. I saw it for myself." The leader said in a low voice, "Search the premises. It's Your Majesty's birthday tonight, make sure there are no mistakes."
"Yes!" The group of guards slowly walked away. Two pairs of wary eyes stared cautiously towards the outside, until the guards disappeared out of sight.
A thud suddenly rang out. Zhuge Yue felt an acute pain in his stomach. Before he had any time to react, Chu Qiao leapt on top of him, subduing him on the ground. Zhuge Yue did not expect her to strike at this moment, being caught off-guard by her sudden movement. Chu Qiao was agile and highly skilled; a small distraction on Zhuge Yue's part was enough for her to capitalize on the opportunity. Her knee made contact with his stomach, causing him to nearly yelp in pain. In the next second, he was already tied up by her.
"On account of you not bringing more people to catch me, I'll spare you today." Chu Qiao stood up, looking down at the enraged Zhuge Yue. She replied coldly, "Zhuge Yue, you didn't expose me eight years ago, choosing to spare me. I'm grateful for that, but that doesn't write off the enmity between us. As a member of a noble family, killing a few slaves is nothing to you. However, these few people are the ones that I treasure. You injured Yan Xun, preventing us from escaping from the capital and caused us to be imprisoned for eight years. We were enemies from the start, and it will remain so until the end, never to be changed. I hope you understand. I won't kill you today, but it doesn't mean that I won't kill you in future. You'd better be careful the next time you see me."
Zhuge Yue was seething with rage. As he saw her leaving, he replied, "You will surely die if you walk out of the capital now. How will you kill me in future?"
Chu Qiao turned back, smiled, and calmly said, "Do you not have confidence in him? I don't think so. Why don't we have a bet?"
Zhuge Yue stared coldly at her, giving a sinister smile, but remained silent.
"You bet that we won't be able to escape from here, losing our lives instead. I believe that not only can we walk out, but we will walk out openly. We will let the entire world, and all of Yan Bei know that their ruler is back!" Chu Qiao declared.
At that instant, the young lady's face sparkled brightly just like the sunset. In the darkness, she was ever so mesmerising. It was an indication that she trusted Yan Xun wholeheartedly, without an ounce of suspicion or fear. Suddenly, Zhuge Yue felt that her smile was an eyesore. He felt a sense of resentment. Why was the person being trusted not him?
The young lady looked at him and declared confidently, "Zhuge Yue, wait and see!"
That night was an indelible night for Zhuge Yue. Even after years, he would not be able to forget the young lady's expression when she left, and her confident words. Zhuge Yue, wait and see.
Indeed, he stood there and watched her disappear from his sight, just like a gust of wind and a cloud, similar to the scene eight years ago where she shouted, "Zhuge Yue, Lin Xi will not die in vain!" She was one who walked the talk. When things changed and chaos erupted back then, interrupting their lives and dashing their dreams, he would always regret what happened that night. If he knew what would happen after that, would he have just stood there and watched her leave? Would he have released her without saying a word? However, there were no ifs in this world. He lay quietly in the icy cold grass, watching the young lady disappear into the shadows, like an arrogant phoenix entering a whole new world.
Bright lights suddenly appeared on the horizon!
"Your Majesty!" A flustered voice suddenly echoed from outside the pavilion. A eunuch ran inside slowly, knelt on the ground, crying, and said, "Your Majesty, Princess Chun, Princess Chun… she…"
"What happened to Eighth Sister?" Zhao Song stood up and berated.
The eunuch was on the floor. He replied loudly, "Princess Chun, she ran away!"
"What?" Noble Consort Shu raised her eyebrows, chiding, "How did she run? Where did she run to? There are so many people watching her, yet you still let her run away! What good is there in keeping all of you?"
"I deserve to die, I deserve to die!" the old eunuch cried out. "Your Majesty, please spare my life!"
As the wedding neared, the bride had eloped. Everyone stared at each other in disbelief.
Zhao Che stood up, stating in a deep tone, "Shut up. Make yourself clear. When did the princess run away, and where did she run to?"
As the old eunuch prepared to speak, he was interrupted by the sounds of drums from outside. A sharp, shrill siren rang out. Amidst the urgency, a storm was about to brew.
"What's going on outside?" the Emperor frowned, asking in a deep tone.
"Reporting!" A long sound echoed from afar. An imperial guard, dressed in green, barged into the pavilion without notice, and said firmly, "Your Majesty, Imperial Concubines, Royal Princes and all elders, please proceed to a safe place. A fire has broken out in the palace. It is a big fire, and it is out of control."
"On fire?" The third prince, Zhao Qi, froze. He remarked in disbelief, "Where's the fire? Where's the Water Bureau? Why is there no one putting out the fire?"
"We have sent someone to the Water Bureau, but there is no news from them. As for the location of the fire, I do not know. I only see flames everywhere. Your Majesty, let's go. The fire is spreading to Fang Gui Pavilion."
"How brazen!" Zhao Qi berated. "Does Sun Yunpu not want his job anymore?"
"It's pointless to pin the blame on anyone now. Father, the fire is getting out of control, let's leave this place," Zhao Che remarked deeply.
The Xia Emperor frowned and nodded, preparing to stand up. The two eunuchs on his side rushed forward to straighten his sleeves, but before they managed to do so, another shout echoed. Another soldier, kneeling on the ground, shouted, "Your Majesty, please do not leave Fang Gui Pavilion. It's not safe outside. A group of assassins has just infiltrated the palace and killed over sixty of our men. The death toll is still rising!"
Hearing these words, the officials further panicked. Sounds of discussion started to surface.
Zhao Che frowned, questioning, "Who has been killed?"
The soldier replied, "Lieutenant Colonel He, commander of the Yulin army, Lieutenant Colonel Lu from the western gates, Commander Yu from the northern gates, the messengers stationed at the outposts, Master Sun Yunpu, head of the Water Bureau, the soldiers guarding the southwestern gates…"
As the soldier recited more and more names, Zhao Che and the war veteran, General Meng Tian, looked each other in the eye. What they saw was an incomprehensible fear in each other's eyes. Although the people who were killed were seemingly unrelated, upon further analysis, it revealed the perfect setting for a rebellion to take place. With the deaths of these people, the middle-ranked leaders were all wiped out, greatly weakening the big royal army and cutting off the relay system between the higher ups in the royal capital. Orders issued could no longer be conveyed
On this night, what other thing, unbeknownst to them, had happened?