"Had you known, you wouldn't have gotten injured and been forced to hide and seek help, is that right?" Meng Fuyao cast him a glance. "You're from the Yun Family?"
"Yun Hen. An adopted son," he introduced simply.
Meng Fuyao's eyes flickered as she thought about the fact that the feud between the Yun and Pei families had been caused due to Yuan Zhaoxu and herself.
Guilt led to digression. "Isn't Qi Xunyi skillful?" she threw a rhetorical question, flicking the map of the Forbidden City that Yun Hen had given to her. "He doesn't control the troop, does he? How will he act then?"
"I have no idea," replied Yun Hen, deep in thought. "I suspect that someone is assisting him."
After a brief pause, he answered, slowly and gravely, "Zhangsun Wuji."
Meng Fuyai raised her brows in astonishment and asked, "He's a prince from another nation. Why would he get involved in Taiyuan's matters?"
"The Xuanyuan Nation has been reorganizing its army and feeding their horses with the intention of expanding their territory," Yun Hen shared. "However, with Zhan Beiye as their neighbor, Xuanyuan won't be able to touch Tiansha. Their target will most likely be Wuji. They need to borrow Taiyuan's path in order to sneak an attack from Wuji's border. Since the Taiyuan crown prince's concubine is also the princess of Xuanyuan Nation, Zhangsun Wuji would very much want someone else as the crown prince."
"Does having a different crown prince remove all threat for the Wuji Nation?" asked Meng Fuyao. "To think that Zhangsun Wuji's known for his wisdom... what bull."
"He's not as simple as you think.' Yun Hen shook his head. "He must have his own plans."
"Aren't you putting him on a pedestal," Meng Fuyao commented, her eyes flashing suddenly. "What does he look like? Any distinctive features?"
Yun Hen shook his head again. "Heard he's ugly and seldom shows his real face."
"Oh," Meng Fuyao muttered before getting on her feet. "Let's go."
Sunlight seeped in, hitting onto a slightly protruding mirror lens and forming a white beam that illuminated another recessed wall. A relief sculpture of decorative design gradually appeared on it. Meng Fuyao walked over and ran a finger through the veined pattern in a circular motion and clockwise direction.
Squeakish sounds disrupted her movement, and shortly after, a hidden door opened slightly.
There were no arrows, which allowed Meng Fuyao to heave a sigh of relief. A black light flashed by, and countless guns nudged forward like poisonous snakes.
Just as she was about to fall back to evade the situation, she recalled that Yun Hen was behind and defenseless.
That moment of hesitation led her to lose the chance as the guns were already through the door.
The wind whistled sharply, causing their eyes to ache.
Someone had darted forward, instantly reaching two guns and opening his arms to clasp them under his armpits. He then whipped around and in the process gained control of the guns, pulling the triggers and filling the place with gunshot sounds.
It was Yun Hen who had made that move. Following which, he slid forward in a smooth motion and twisted the neck of one of the gunmen. Before the victim fell, he had already moved on to the next one. Spine-chilling cries could be heard, one after another, until there was only one head left. Unfamiliar with such a ruthless method of murder, the last man standing was absolutely stupefied, only snapping out of his shock and attempting to flee upon realizing that everyone else was dead.
Yun Hen held his sword horizontally, its reflected light glistening and blinding the man in an instant. He flashed a grin before casting the sword forward and piercing the man's throat.
Fresh blood spurted from his wound as he staggered forward before convulsing and collapsing onto the ground.
The moment he retracted his sword and held it against the ground, he leaned on it, gasping for breath. Meng Fuyao stared at him in amazement. His skills weren't the absolute best, but he was undeniably precise. His footwork was as smooth as flowing water, and his speed and manner of execution were practically an art.
After taking a consecutive line of men down, Yun Hen was exhausted. He breathed loudly, but a dripping sound could still be heard as blood oozed out from a fresh wound on the back of his hand. The color contrast between his skin and blood was piercing.
Meng Fuyao rushed over to him and frowned. "Split open."
Yun Hen straightened his body, his pale face suddenly turning flushed. In a slightly hoarse voice, he mumbled, "Not a big deal. Let's go, quickly."
Meng Fuyao understood why he was feeling anxious. The gunmen who laid in ambush were proof that someone had already reported their encounter with Yun Hen to Qi Yunxi, who then fortified the security within the palace and made sure that he couldn't get to Qianan palace safely.
"This won't do." Meng Fuyao shook her head. "Yun Hen, you probably can tell that my inner energy's been sealed. With this and the fact that you're heavily injured, there's no way we can go far. Instead of risking our lives to guard Qianan Palace, why not think of a way to get the crown prince out?"
Yun Hen's eyes lit up, and he narrowed them. "It's His Majesty's birthday, so he's expected to stay inside the palace as a sign of respect."
"What if there's a rebellion?" Meng Fuyao smiled leisurely. "Who will be in charge of handling it? What are the rules stipulating?"
Yun Hen whipped his head up, his voice strengthening. "You're saying..."
"A rebellion," Meng Fuyao emphasized. "Strike before Qi Xunyi, and the crown prince will be forced to exit."
Just like that, on the birthday of the Taiyuan emperor, which was also the 23rd of September, internal disorder fell upon the city. This would be later coined as The Chaos of Yanjing.
Nevertheless, Chinese historians would also privately call it The Double Chaos.
It was an extremely peculiar incident – in one night, two hostile powerhouses had led a rebellion to Yanjing Imperial City one after another.
One moment, fresh blood splattered across the street; the next moment, the blood was cleansed by yet another wave of blood rain.
There had never been an event like this in history. A royal family had never been revolted against twice before.
This bizarre event appeared to be a battle for supremacy between the crown prince of Taiyuan and Prince Qi. No one knew that a particular girl was responsible for triggering it, and hence shaking up the foundation of the imperial court and implicating nations far and wide. She had basically taken the first step in altering the ultimate political fate of the the Five Region Continent.
However, at that point, she was still a nobody with no chance of rising up amongst the influential figures of all seven nations.
Nevertheless, since the Phoenix had spread its wings over the Taiyuan Region, it was only a matter of time until one particular girl unfolded hers and wrote her own epic story.
An almost starless and dim night fell over the Imperial City as clouds rolled around energetically, compromising the tranquility of autumn days.
Starkly juxtaposed with the ominous sky were the resplendent streamers that hung from the palace lanterns in the Imperial City. Embroidered silk was tied to all trees, and every three steps stood a blooming chrysanthemum tree, from which a deep-red lamp was suspended. The faint glow from within produced a beautiful contrast, which enhanced the bright color of the flowers. It was a dazzling sight.
On the water pavilion in front of the Qianan Palace Hall was a jade-pillared pontoon bridge that ran across a lotus-shaped lantern-filled pond. Above the pavilion was an illuminated pearl that shone down on a table full of fresh fruits and delicacies, ready for consumption upon the emperor's arrival.
The respective princes had already reached the Qianan Palace, and while waiting, they engaged in merry discussions and friendly talks.
Qi Xunyi leaned on his chair after picking up a small bunch of grapes. As he ate them, he kept his eyes on the sand grains in an hourglass seated on the table.
It was mid-afternoon.
The Sixth East Palace, which was located a distance away from the Qianan Palace, was cheerless in comparison. Not much space was occupied since there weren't many concubines residing within. In spite of the seasonal decorations, the whole place was unlit, and hence, radiated a certain coldness. The colored lamps hanging from the eaves swayed in the wind, drawing red halos that appeared like blood in the night sky.
However, a pair of black figures was scurrying toward the Xin Palace. They were dressed in the outfits of a eunuch and palace maid.
They moved urgently and hid in a dark corner whenever guards passed. Their movements were light and quick, never once causing an alarm.
They halted upon arriving at the Xuande Palace Hall.
Crossing the Xuande Palace Hall, in which the old concubine from the previous dynasty resided, would bring them to the unfrequented Xin Palace. Going through the alleyway of the Xin Palace would then lead them to the east entrance of the Imperial City, also known as the Death Gate. It was the gate from which dead bodies of offending concubines and servants were dragged out. According to legend, it was a place that sunlight never reached, and its sinister vibes deterred passersby.
But it was different that night.
Before the walls separating the Xuande and Xin Palaces stood a swarm of troops, fully armored and occupying the alleyway like snakes. They patrolled without rest, guarding the area thoroughly so that even a rat might not pass through.
The duo exchanged glances and caught the fear evident in each other's eyes.
The Xin Palace's wall was just 10 meters ahead, but that distance had become an uncrossable ocean that night.
Yun Hen raised his head anxiously to look at the gloomy sky. The southern skies hadn't completely left summer behind so the approaching storm clouds blew gusts of moist wind that seemed to condense upon touch.
There was roughly an hour left to the start of the feast.
Yun Hen's face was ashen-colored as he stared at the guards' incessant footsteps, which gradually transformed into blurry images that emerged from within the deepest of his mind, floating through the months and years of memories and through the Meng Po River to resurface before his eyes.
Jumbled footsteps, cold and hurried, flashed past his field of vision. He took a breath and extended his hand, attempting to grab onto something for support, when a boot landed on his. He lifted his head up in pain, but the pressure on his feet slowly increased.
On that fateful night, at a mass grave site where owls flew from tree to tree, their wings rustling against the leaves as they let out disquieting hoots, he lay on his stomach on the wet ground, looking at the shiny shovel. The blood-stained mud splattered onto his face as it was dug up, obstructing his vision and preventing him from seeing clearly what was in the pit...
Yun Hen's breathing gradually turned urgent.
When would he be redeemed from these nightmares that had been confined by the long, sunken years?
A light spark appeared within his eyes and exploded intensely in the next moment. Yun Hen tightened the grip on his sword and got ready to make his move when someone pulled him back.