"Lady!" The civillions on the road dispersed in fear as a horse galloped forth. Covered in fresh blood, one could no longer tell Ah Jing's clothes' original color.
"The prince is retreating from the Zi Jin Gates, heading towards the West gates. Follow me, with haste!"
Quitely, Chu Qiao nodded. Throwing aside her problems, she trailed behind Ah Jing.
Heartrending cries could be heard along the entire street. Turning around Zi Wei Square, one could see the Iron Eagle war flag of Yan Bei fluttering in the night sky that was a tinge of crimson. Countless soldiers stood on the street in from of the Zi Wei Square, with their glistening blades drawn and ready to strike. A man in black robes rode on a horse proudly, with his gaze fixed to the front. His face was a pristine white and his eyes exuded confidence. Handsome and elegant, he was like a drawn blade, beautiful yet emitting an overwhelming murderous intent.
Chu Qiao was stunned and stopped still in her tracks, as if she was stranger. Startled, Ah Jing reminded her, "Miss, why are you not going?"
"Oh, never mind." She replied in such a small voice, that under the chaos of the night even Ah Jing found it inaudible. Even then, that man who was over a hundred feet away suddenly raised his eyebrows, and twisted his head around. Like a sharp sword, his gaze pierce the lady. The grim expression vanished like mist, and was replaced by a grin. Yan Xun steered his horse toward her and loudly called, "Ah Chu!"
It has been eight years since Chu Qiao last saw him smile so brightly. Putting all stray thoughts behind her, Chu Qiao exhaled slowly. Whatever. Even if it was a path littered with bodies, even if it was a path filled with dangers and difficulties, she resolved herself to walk together with him. At this moment, how could she be focused on any minor details? As long as he was around, as long as he was fine, as long as they could still peek into each other's eyes and smile, everything was well.
The lady maneuvered her horse forth, and on her face was also an overwhelming smile. It was just then, crackling of the hooves resounded from the direction of the Zi Jin Gates. Both Chu Qiao and Yan Xun were startled. At this time, was there still anyone exiting the palace?
"Brother Xun!" A lady dressed in bright red wedding dress jumped off the horse, and blocked off Yan Xun's path. Her eyes were bloated, and her expression was pale. Stuttering, she said, "No, don't do this! Chun'er would not marry you anymore, Chun'er would not force you anymore, run away! My father would kill you! Wait, no, go and apologize to my father! Brother Xun, it's my fault! It's my fault!"
Yan Xun's brows furrowed slightly, and he looked at Chu Qiao in confusion. Chu Qiao's heart sank, and she turned to face Zhao Chun'er with pity. Chun'er's hair was a mess, and her face was pale as a sheet. Chu Qiao's past dislike towards Chun'er disappeared without a trace. This stupid lady, even now, does she not understand?
"Brother Xun, do not do stupid things!" The lady started crying in anguish, and feebly sat down on the ground, covering her face with both hands. Tonight, she had really gone through too much. Big drops of tears seeped through her fingers, and dripped onto her beautiful red dress.
"Yan Xun! You madman, you dare to rebel? To think that I had thought of you as a friend all these years, look what you've done!"
Another horse bolted over. Zhao Song, donning a robe of green, dashed forth. Spotting Zhao Chun'er, his expression turned to that of rage, and he exclaimed, "Chun'er, why are you still there? This man planned to rebel, and you are still following him?"
Zhao Chun'er stood up in a panic, and turned to face Zhao Song. Although scared, she did something that shocked all. Slowly opening up her frail arms, she stood in front of the massive army, and stubbornly shook her head, "Thirteenth Brother, it is like this. He just refuses to marry me, and wants to protest against our father..."
"Dumbass!" Zhao Song bellowed. "He is doing this to control Yan Bei's army! You dumb sister!"
Zhao Chun'er frowned, and her face was pale. Quietly, she replied, "Control of the…army?"
"If you do not believe me, ask him!"
Like a puppet, Zhao Chun'er slowly put down her arms. Turning around, her eyes widened in disbelief as she softly asked, "Brother Xun, he is lying, you are not trying to rebel, am I right? You just want to talk it out with father, am I right?"
Standing in the chilling wind, her small figure looked so frail, as her face looked drained of blood. Looking at Yan Xun, she seemed as if she was looking at her last vestige of hope in life.
Yan Xun's eyebrow raised slightly, and he looked slightly impatient. Finally, he declared, "It has been a long time since I wanted to rebel, and it was completely unrelated to you. And I had never thought of marrying you either."
"Such an ungrateful dog! I dare you to say that again!" With one swift motion, Zhao Song drew his blade. His green robe fluttered in the frigid night wind, like a ferocious eagle flapping its majestic wings. Usually so easy-going and compassionate, his gaze now turned sharp and unforgiving, and his expression gave off a murderous aura. It was as if the royal Xia spirit was suddenly rejuvenated within him!
Yan Xun too, was not in his usual peaceful mood. His stared somberly at Zhao Song from his corner of his eye. Behind him was the pitch black darkness of the sky. Under his soldiers, the entire royal capital was trembling, and he could almost hear the sounds of collapse of the rotten palaces. Slowly raising the corner of his lips, his voice still piercing like a blade, he replied, "Ungrateful? Yan Bei and the Xia Empire, what gratitude is there supposed to be?"
Zhao Song snorted, and sternly declared, "Our father raised you for over ten years, and viewed you as his own child. Not only bestowing the title of the King of Yan Bei, but he even married Chun'er to you. How big a favor is this! Yet you returned his favor with treason, and massacred the civilians in the royal capital. Yan Xun, you have the heart of a dog, and you deserve to die!"
With his black robe still fluttering in the cold wind, the man smirked, "Raised me for ten years, and viewed me like his own child? The bones are still in the battlefield, and blood is still flowing on the execution stand. Zhao Song, is this the overwhelming favor from the royal family that you were referring to?"
Taken aback for a split second, Zhao Song swiftly stuck back, proclaiming, "The King of Yan Bei was plotting a rebellion in the chaos, and the royal army set out for a rightful crusade…"
"Enough!" Yan Xun loudly barked, his face full of irritation. Coldly, he announced, "You need not waste more words. History is forever written by the victors. All these right and wrongs will eventually be determined by our descendents. We need not debate here. Zhao Song, considering our friendship for all these years, I will let you leave. Return, and tell your dad, I, Yan Xun, have rebelled."
It was just then, a firecrackers shop in the south had been set ablaze by someone, and with a huge boom, the fireworks exploded into the sky, lighting up the sky a deep crimson red. In that afterglow, Yan Xun's eyes shone brightly in the dark backdrop of the night like a bright star, full of life, and firm like a mountain.
Eight years of plotting all for this day. Could this enormous Xia Empire withstand such furor?
"Zhao Song!" a clear female voice echoed out. Chu Qiao brought her horse forward, and sternly said, "Go back."
"Ah Chu? You are also going to stand as my enemy?" With a pained expression, Zhao Song frowned.
Chu Qiao looked into Zhao Song's face. Beside her were iron-blooded soldiers, and behind her was the capital that had sunk into the inferno. It was as if everything was just a fleeting dream, as time sprinted past. She was reminded of many years ago, in the gardens, when a young prince arrogantly shouted at her, "It is you again! Yes, I am talking to you!"
In the blink of an eye, so many bloody years had passed. She raised her eyes, and firmly stared at the other man on the horseback, and slowly replied, "I never wanted to be your enemy. Eight years of being by my side, I will never forget."
Zhao Song exhaled in relief, as his expression loosened up, and he quickly continued, "Then that is fine, Ah Chu. Go back with him. Don't leave with him, I will explain to…"
"But I will become the enemy of the Xia Empire," leaving no room for compromise, the lady firmly declared. Zhao Song was completely stunned, only to see Chu Qiao bring her horse next to Yan Xun's. "You should understand my perspective. I never changed from the start."
"Very well, seems like my eyes were rotten." Zhao Song hoarsely replied and laughed miserably with bloodshot eyes. With a loud screech, Zhao Song brought his blades down, leaving a white mark on the marble tiles on the street. His face was dead serious as he affirmed, "From now on, I, Zhao Song, break all ties and relationships with the two of you! If we meet again on the battlefield, we will be nothing other than enemies! Chun'er, come with me!"
Zhao Chun'er's eyes were hollow, and was unresponsive like a lifeless doll. Hearing Zhao Song's voice, she raised her head, and her eyes were still misty. Stretching out her hand, she wanted to hold Yan Xun's boots. The man on the horse furrowed his eyebrows, and pulled his horse back causing her to miss. The pale hand remained stretched out, and there was still a streak of dark red left on it. That streak of blood, was from the messenger that she had killed. It was the first time she had ever killed someone in her life.
Suddenly, Zhao Chun'er kneeled down, and started to vomit. The stomach acid poured out of her mouth and stained her beautiful dress, dirtying the pair of mandarin ducks that were supposed to symbolize eternal fidelity.
"Why did it turn out this way?" The young woman, with her unhealthy white face, looked as miserable as a furless puppy in winter. Her tears, like opened floodgates, once against started flowing. Her voice did not tremble, but gave people an acute heartache. As if everyone around her no longer existed, she spoke to herself, "It was all me, it was all my fault… Yan Xun, why was Chun'er not by your side when father killed all of the Yan Family?
"All these years, I was always regretful. If I was there back then, even if I could not save the Yan Master, but I could at least protect you from being bullied. But Chun'er was still too young. Mother locked me up in the palace, and regardless of how much of a tantrum I threw, she refused to let me out. Xiao Tao helped me stack up wardrobes so that we could step up and flip open the roof tiles, wanting to escape from above, but I carelessly fell down, alerting mother."
Zhao Chun'er started to sob, and her voice started to tremble. Her tears became even more torrential. "And then…and then, Xiao Tao was beaten to death by Mother's servants. I…I saw it with my own eyes, her waist was broken, and blood poured out from her mouth, flowing…flowing so far that it soaked into my shoes. It felt so hot, like fire.
"Yan Xun, I am really so useless, I will never escape again. Even the first two years after that, I did not dare to look for you in your house. I was scared, I was timid, and I always got nightmares. I dreamt that Xiao Tao's blood engulfed me, covering my neck, my mouth, and even my eyes."
Zhao Chun'er hugged herself tightly and shivered, as if blood was really about to drown her. She bit her lips and raised her head. Her tears continued to pour out from her tear ducts, but her soft voice transmitted across the chaos of the night audibly and clearly. "But Yan Xun, do not rebel, please? Father will kill you. Chun'er does not want anything, and will not force you to marry me. As long as you continue to live, even if it is somewhere far away I cannot see, as long as you continue to live happily, that is all I ask for."