Not turning around, Zhangsun Wuji repeated, "Escort the Empress back to rest!"
The guards hesitated but complied, only to be stopped by the Empress. "Withdraw! Is this a place for you to interfere? I come and go as I please. Let us see who would dare touch me."
Zhangsun Wuji reciprocated her gaze and laughed. "No one can touch you, Mother. You can do anything you want to, but let me remind you that I have the power to discipline people. If you make me feel uneasy, I will have no choice but to take action. Do as you deem fit."
Zhangsun Wuji grabbed Meng Fuyao and walked away. Reaching the middle of the long corridor, Meng Fuyao couldn't help but turn around. She spotted the noble lady shuddering in her bright yellow robe. From afar she no longer looked imposing. Instead, she appeared weak and fragile, like a dried leaf that was floating helplessly amid the whole palace of blooming flowers.
Meng Fuyao sighed inwardly. That was the nation's mother and son duo, and they were simply members of the imperial family, which was full of deception, opposition, schemes, and cruelty. She had always thought that as the most capable and only prince of the Five Region Continent, Zhangsun Wuji would naturally be his parents' sole source of pride and glory. Wuji royal family had to be the most harmonious family within the whole of the region continent, but the reality wasn't so. The relationship between mother and son was cracked beyond repair, and even their words for one another were cold and pressing, causing even an outsider like her to feel uncomfortable. What other unspeakable secrets were kept hidden within the multi-leveled palaces and pavilions?
King De and the empress were probably in an unusual relationship…
Was that the reason Zhangsun Wuji had given him a way out?
Meng Fuyao had unintentionally offended Zhangsun Wuji's mother and seeing that the latter couldn't wait to skin her alive, all she could feel was grief. It mattered less if she had offended God, but to offend a lady meant dire consequences…
Zhangsun Wuji sped up gradually, his light purple robe swaying in the early spring breeze. He looked like a soft, flying cloud, and staring at his feet, Meng Fuyao felt uneasy. Ever since she had known him, he had always been calm and stable, and had never, ever, lost himself.
However, now, he was clearly in an overwhelmingly complex mood, evident from his fast yet unsteady steps. Meng Fuyao was at least astonished.
'What could possibly have happened to cause him such shock?'
They followed the governor-general toward the courtyard, and the crowd around them gradually lessened as their route became more isolated. Finally, they stopped before a row of servant houses. The houses had an ordinary appearance, and colorful cloth robes were being dried outside. Three individuals passed through the laundry unit while the governor-general opened the third room door. Upon pushing it forward, a heavy metallic stench attacked their senses. The light within the room was dark and gloomy, and the tools found inside were unremarkable. Nevertheless, Meng Fuyao's attention had been caught by a simple looking oil lamp.
Indeed, the lamp turned out to be a switch to a secret door. The governor-general lifted the lamp cover, and the western wall started rising. The governor-general moved aside with a bow, not daring to advance another step. He stood at the top of the stairs as sweat poured from his forehead.
Accidentally getting involved in the royal family's secrets, the governor-general felt anything but safe. The way he looked as Meng Fuyao foolishly followed them was no different from the way he would at a goose awaiting slaughter.
The foolish goose seemed oblivious as she followed Zhangsun Wuji down the stairs. "You're not going to lead the way?" she even asked politely.
The governor-general wiped his sweat, inwardly cursing. "I'll guard the door from here," he hurriedly offered.
Without turning his head, Zhangsun Wuji waved his hand, and the secret door shut close. The smell of rust became stronger and almost nose-piercing. It was a smell Meng Fuyao was exceptionally familiar with. She felt her palms turn cold.
They proceeded down the stairs, making "tak, tak, tak" sounds as their shoes came into contact with the metal steps. Other than the echoing of their footsteps, there was no other sound. There were only dead silence, loneliness, coldness, darkness and the feeling of void as if life had fallen into permanent sleep, and as though there were countless tombs buried in there.
Zhangsun Wuji stopped at the bottommost step. He did it so abruptly, nearly causing Meng Fuyao, who was lost in thoughts, to bump into his back. She lifted her head and sucked in a cold breath.
Blood! It was everywhere!
Fresh, wet blood flowed from between the metal fences, stickily dripping down each stick like slithering scarlet snakes. It was soundless and terrifying.
The metal wall that faced them was filled with a large amount of splattered blood as well. Patches of blood flowers had bloomed generously on the wall, and in the center of these flowers were big written words. It was a sight that shocked their eyes and hearts.
"I will use my life to denounce your sin."
The words were filled with hatred, and each stroke was the size of a finger. The tip of each stroke was insufficient to bear the malice and enmity of the writer, and it was made clear by the thick accumulation of blood at the end of each line and hook. The strokes had sinisterly smooth arcs, each dragging streaks of blood to form a net that seemed to summon the greatest curse from the deepest of Hell.
King De sat upright beneath these words.
He was sitting cross-legged, with open eyes and mouth while his tongue was missing. Fresh blood was still dripping from inside of his mouth.
He sat facing the end of the stairs, which meant that visitors to this jail would first catch view of his horrifyingly bloodied mouth.
How many could actually endure such a harsh sight?
And those words… Meng Fuyao interlaced her fingers tightly, turning to look at Zhangsun Wuji. He stood, straight as a pencil, at the lowest step, never taking the last step. His sleeves moved despite the lack of wind as a cold sensation radiated from his body. It was denser than the smell of metal and fishier than the stench of blood.
Meng Fuyao walked down and stopped right behind him. That man, in this moment, appeared indescribably weak. It was the weakest state she had ever seen him in thus far. The roomful of blood-breath had seeped into his flesh and bones, and then his heart and blood.
Someone had executed the cruelest revenge. He had dealt the man, whom he ultimately had no power over, with a final and powerful blow.
This moment felt fleeting, but it also felt like an eternity.
The choking darkness, stench, and silence were finally broken by Zhangsun Wuji's drawn-out sigh.
Meng Fuyao's heart lifted. His dreary voice made her imagine a pair of strengthless hands, and it made her hold her breath.
She then heard him calling out softly, "Father."
A sky full of snow had suddenly struck the crown of her head.
Meng Fuyao could almost feel her soul shattering into a million pieces.
Meng Fuyao slammed onto the stairs but could no longer feel pain. She grabbed onto the metal railing, feeling the icy burn against her skin. Just like that, she sat numbly, wondering if she was in a dream.
King De was Zhangsun Wuji's biological father.
Earlier, when the empress had let out a hint, she had thought that King De was her lover. Who would've guessed that the blank she had left behind contained such a shocking secret?
Stars were spinning, and disorganized thoughts were colliding with one another in her head…'King De's mad concubine… insulted Zhangsun Wuji for having gained his position unrightfully… Zhangsun Wuji's patience toward and probing of King De…'
"I never thought that he would really kill me…" he had said once… his tone then was bitter and astringent…"I will use my life to denounce your sin."
To denounce his sin of forcing his father to death.
What kind of father… what kind of parents!
Meng Fuyao shuddered, her teeth chattering non-stop, not out of fear but from the cold she was feeling. The entangling and improper businesses that went on in the imperial family, together with the bloody odor that they carried, made her feel cold, from beginning to end. She felt bitter for the fine, flawless man that was Zhangsun Wuji. No one knew about his painful history, and while she felt distant, she kept her arms open for the man who did not turn back.
Meng Fuyao hugged Zhangsun Wuji from behind, just as how he had done the night he sneaked into her room. She stuck her cheek on his icy back gently, just as he had rested his chin on her shoulder that night.
That night was welcomed by spring breeze and floral fragrance as the couple laid in bed, enjoying the beautiful scenery; this night, blood filled the air, and vicious currents surrounded the room as they stood still on the steps, facing a bitter-looking corpse whose mouth was wide open in accusation.
Zhangsun Wuji stood in silence, his oversized sleeves hanging down, defeated. His usually straight back was now feeble and helpless. While he was still standing, it felt as though a slight breeze could easily sweep him over the balcony, never to be redeemed by destiny again.
He stood there for some time, and as the moonlight shone over, a tuft of hair on his temple was illuminated and given a faint luster, turning from black to grey and finally to the yellow on the moon.
A strand of white hair made itself visible in that instant.
Meng Fuyao looked at it in shock as it fluttered, resembling a metal cane that she instantly felt whipping at her heart.
Tears flowed down her cheeks unknowingly, and she felt absolutely useless. She did not own the hand that controlled destiny, and she couldn't erase the cruel sight before their eyes.
She could only hold onto him tightly, feeling the endless trembling of his back.
"Say something, Wuji… say anything…" she whispered.
"It's not your fault. It's not…"
She repeated in his ear as tears continued flowing down, eventually moistening his light purple robe. With patches of dark purple visible on his robes, it looked, from afar, as if he was soaked in spots of blood.
He finally moved.
He turned around and hugged her lightly, the iciness of his fingertips brushing against her clothes but seeping right into the deepest of her heart. She lifted her head and was greeted by his bloodless, pale-white face. "Do we all carry sins into this world… Fuyao…"