In the study, Nan Xun flipped through a scroll. It was a rare day where he had no official business to attend to. He decided to spend some time working on affairs of the House of Heavenly Fiends. He worried that Jun Huang would overwork herself when she returned. He’d do anything to lessen her burden.
He quickly browsed through the organization’s accounting book with an impassive expression. Suddenly, he felt a pang in his heart. He grimaced and the book dropped from his hand. He took a deep breath with a hand covering his chest, trying to suppress his anxiety.
Something bad had happened.
Jun Huang mentioned that she was going to start drawing blood for the lotus in her last letter. Her description was intentionally vague, but he’d done his research. He knew it wasn’t as simple as she made it out to be. The knowledge filled him with a sense of dread.
“Has something happened to Jun Huang?” He walked up to the window and opened it to look outside. The sun hung high in the sky and the world seemed bright and peaceful, but the shadow of doubt lingered in his heart.
Someone knocked. Nan Xun schooled his expression and opened the door. He frowned when he saw that it was his housekeeper. “What is it?”
“Your Highness, news got out from the palace that His Majesty has collapsed again,” said the housekeeper.
Nan Xun started and narrowed his eyes. This could have serious ramifications. He led the housekeeper outside and listed out everything the housekeeper should pay attention to, who nodded agreeably and promised to keep the manor safe.
Nan Xun mounted the brown horse the housekeeper had prepared. Things had happened to suddenly, leaving him little time to think. He rode to the palace and ran into an anxious-looking Qi Yun at the entrance.
“I just came from the Court of Judicial Review after getting the news,” Qi Yun said bluntly after dragging Nan Xun to a hidden corner. “I didn’t expect Royal Father’s condition to deteriorate so suddenly. He’s been recovering! Something is wrong.”
Nan Xun didn’t immediately respond. He shook his head. “It’s not that sudden. His Majesty was poisoned. It wasn’t that surprising that the poison would act up and wreak havoc. He’s been careless assumes he’s cured. I worry that Prince Duan will use the opportunity to stir up trouble.”
“Agreed. I’ll need your help this time. Don’t give Prince Duan a chance to strike at us.” Qi Yun spoke seriously. He was no longer the young man obsessed with literature and art, but a wise man who could be a good leader. Nan Xun looked at him appreciatively. Jun Huang had picked the right person to take the throne.
“Things aren’t as simple as we thought, but we don’t have time to hesitate,” Nan Xun said calmly. “I’ll have my men guard the palace and replace the imperial army with our people.”
Qi Yun nodded. “We aren’t sure what Prince Duan is trying to do, though. It’s best to be on our guard. You should keep what you do a secret and don’t let Royal Father know.”
Nan Xun nodded. He leaned to take a look at their surroundings and said after some deliberation, “I’ll get on with that. You should stay with His Majesty.”
Qi Yun waved a hand in the air. “There’s no telling if he’ll get suspicious of me if I show up immediately. Maybe I should return to the court and wait for him to notify me.”
The emperor is a mistrustful and guarded man. What Qi Yun said made sense. However, Nan Xun thought that’d be too obvious. He proposed a more neutral alternative, suggesting Qi Yun to stay outside the emperor’s palace. The emperor shouldn’t get too suspicious of Qi Yun then.
They parted. Qi Yun went straight to the emperor’s palace, while Nan Xun rode to the training ground. Their actions were noted by Prince Duan’s network of informants and were soon brought to the man’s attention.
Prince Duan could tell what they were planning. He scoffed. He had intended to seize control over the palace while the emperor was weak, but now he had another idea. If things went according to his plan, he might be able to destroy Nan Xun and Qi Yun both.
He dismissed the troop he’d gathered in his manor, which befuddled Qi Chen. When he asked, Prince Duan only told him to be patient and wait for events to unfold.
Nan Xun quickly gathered his people and planted them around the palace. Only then did he allow himself to relax. Still, he kept his eyes sharp. A good general should always take the path with the least risk. He couldn’t rest easy without keeping watch over his soldiers in person.
Prince Duan had his men keep an eye on Nan Xun. He smiled when he heard Nan Xun had deployed his soldiers. His thoughts shifted to the young prince. “Where is Qi Yun?”
“The fourth prince is waiting outside the emperor’s palace,” said his shadow guard. “It’s said that the emperor refuses to take any visitors.”
Prince Duan thought for a moment before nodding. He turned to a confused Qi Chen and beckoned him over. “Follow me to the palace.”
Qi Chen got to his feet. “Should I put on some disguise?”
“Yes. We should avoid rousing any troubles at the time being. There’s no rush. Everything is under control. There will be a day when you can walk into the palace as yourself.”
A dark look flashed through Prince Duan’s eyes. Qi Chen’s breath hitched. He had a feeling that something big was going to happen.
He turned out to be right. The status quo was going to change.
They hurried to the palace and were stopped by Nan Xun’s men at the door. However, no one could do anything to someone with as high a status as Prince Duan. The soldiers had no choice but to let him through without searching him. They then sent someone to notify Nan Xun.
Qi Chen’s heart was beating fast. He’d put on a disguise, but he didn’t know how he should face the emperor. Even though the emperor might not be able to recognize him, it still worried him.
They reached the emperor’s palace quickly, and there Qi Yun was. He looked at Prince Duan, wondering what the man was planning. The eunuch talked to Prince Duan for a long while before entering the building to notify the emperor.
The eunuch didn’t immediately return, which prompted Qi Chen to pace around anxiously. Prince Duan kept his expression calm, masking his thoughts. Every once in a while he’d turn to throw Qi Yun an inquisitive glance, which unsettled Qi Yun. He had a feeling that Prince Duan was up to no good. The young man by Prince Duan’s side also looked strangely familiar, but he couldn’t put a name to the face.
Finally, the eunuch emerged. He whispered something to Prince Duan, who cupped his hands in gratitude. Prince Duan led Qi Chen into the palace. Once the door was shut, Qi Yun approached the eunuch and asked, “What has Prince Duan said to gonggong?”
Knowing that Qi Yun could very well become the future emperor, the eunuch’s first reaction was to tell him the truth, but what Prince Duan said gave him pause.
His reaction was telling enough. Qi Yun smiled and continued to wait under the sun. He just wanted to see how the eunuch would respond. He didn’t expect the old man to just tell him.
Prince Duan and Qi Chen knelt down on the floor and bowed to the emperor as soon as they entered. Qi Chen didn’t dare look up at the emperor. Only after the emperor told them to be at ease did he rise to his feet. He stood on the side without a word.
Prince Duan considered the emperor, who was lying on the bed. The man had aged considerably since the last time he saw him. He looked almost pitiful.
The emperor glanced at the young man who had entered with Prince Duan. Something about him was familiar, but he didn’t dwell on that.
He was suddenly reminded of Qi Chen. The young prince was his son after all, and one he once favored the most. Although Qi Chen had committed an atrocious crime, he wasn’t as angry at his son as he’d been.
Prince Duan decided to deal with Nan Xun and Qi Yun first instead of trying to win forgiveness for Qi Chen. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to say something, but stopped himself halfway.
The emperor frowned at him. “You may be frank with me.”
“This official made a discovery, Your Majesty,” Prince Duan said as he dropped to his knees, keeping his back straight. “Qi Yun has been eyeing the throne for a while. He’s had his men surround the palace already, waiting to take the throne as soon as Your Majesty passes.”
The emperor widened his eyes, staring at Prince Duan. Prince Duan met his gaze calmly like he had nothing to hide and continued, “This official is being completely honest. The palace is under the fourth prince’s control. If Your Majesty doesn’t believe me, you should have your people conduct an investigation. The fourth prince is right outside the palace. He’s going to enter soon under the guise of bringing you medicine.”