A group of women in pink dresses emerged, their bodies alluring and their movement captivating. Their faces were covered in red silk, revealing their crinkling eyes. Their unclothed waist swayed as they walked. The silk they wore danced in the air and the bell on their ankles rang with a hypnotizing rhythm.
A faint fragrance permeated the air. Those who had gotten some alcohol into their system laughed without restraint. The emperor of Eastern Wu had completely forgotten himself and drummed a pair of chopsticks against the jade plate in concert with the dance, making a staccato of clinks.
Something about the scene alerted Jun Huang. She frowned, trying to figure out what it was. Nan Xun chuckled. He could almost read her mind. He stayed silent and pretended to be oblivious when she turned to him.
Jun Huang’s gaze shifted to the dancer at the middle. Her eyes widened. Before any words could leave her mouth, she noticed something glinting around the dancer’s waist.
“There’s something wrong with that one,” Jun Huang said, making sure not to let anyone overhear.
Nan Xun raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“Look at her calves,” she said. “They’re obviously stronger than her companions’. Although she’s purposefully made her movement softer, she’s rigid. She also has a bendable sword wrapped around her waist. She’s up to something.”
Nan Xun looked at her and smiled without a word. Jun Huang calmly watched everything play out as an outsider.
As soon as the performance reached a crescendo, the dancer Jun Huang had suspected drew her sword and stabbed at the emperor of Eastern Wu. The other dancers unsheathed their swords as well, their gaze frigid. They were ready to strike.
That Jun Huang didn’t expect. She’d thought only one of them was an assassin.
Everything happened too quickly for the guests to react. However, the emperor wasn’t completely useless. With his pupils contracted, he picked up a jade plate and threw it at the first dancer to attack before her blade could reach him. While she dodged, he leapt to the side and unsheathed his bodyguard’s sword, slashing at the dancer.
She dodged it by a hair, but the blade still managed to cut her skin. Crimson blood streamed down her arm and dyed her pink dress red, but she gritted her teeth and kept going.
The other dancers charged at the officials in attendance. Jun Huang hurriedly moved away. Nan Xun kept her safe as they retreated to an unoccupied corner. While Jun Huang was observing everyone, Nan Xun leaned closer and whispered, “Things have only just started. Stay here and enjoy the show.”
His breaths hit her neck, warm and tickling.
Jun Huang heard his unspoken words. She turned to him and saw the smile on his face. Realization dawned on her.
Nan Xun turned away from her inquisitive look and focused on their surroundings. He didn’t want anyone to hurt Jun Huang by mistake.
The main hall was in chaos. The sound of blades clashing pierced through the air. The leading dancer charged at the emperor again, and the emperor gave as good as he took. Neither were able to gain the upperhand.
Finally, the guards outside heard the commotion and entered the main hall to help. They quickly subdued all the dancers. A man dressed like the general flew to the emperor and apprehended the lead dancer. She slashed at him, but the general hit her arm with a knifehand strike first. She cried out in pain. Her sword dropped to the floor with a clink.
The general had amazing strength. He threw her off the throne. She flew a great distance before landing. Fate had not been kind to her.
Her back hit a table. She muffled a cry and struggled to get up. Soldiers quickly trapped her with their spears. The dancer smiled sharply, ignoring the blood dripping from the corner of her mouth. She stared at the emperor with eyes so vicious they sent a shudder down one’s spine.
“Do you really think you can gain the world? A despicable man like you?”
“You indulge in carnal desires and rule over your nation with an iron grip. You’re lecherous and incompetent. If someone like you gain the world, it’ll be a great misfortune to all. When you die, you should be banished to the eighteenth level of hell, never to be given a new life...”
Before the dancer was finished with her speech, the emperor gave the general a pointed look, who nodded and hit her stomach with a staff. She staggered and collapsed to the floor, holding onto where she was hit.
Blood rushed out of her mouth. Her face turned as pale as a sheet.
“Where did you come from, fool? If you dare spout off any more nonsense, there will be nothing left of you to bury.”
The general then hit her back. She managed to keep herself upright with her elbows.
Her eyes blazed with hatred, the fury chilling and frigid. She met the emperor’s gaze and said clearly, “Do you deny the fact that you’re lecherous? I was a peasant woman married to a loving husband. You killed him and forcefully took me to the palace. You threatened me with my children and had me… sleep with you. What did you do next? You had my children killed! They all died at your hands! Have they ever visited you in the small hours of the night?”
Her voice grew deeper and deeper until it was but a hellish growl. The emperor was caught off guard. Although no one dared say anything before him, he knew they were all judging him.
He widened his eyes and took the wooden staff from the general to hit the dancer with all his might. She fell into a puddle of her own blood, battered and weakened, curling into herself and crying out in pain. Then, in a frail voice, she continued, “I’ve waited so long to avenge my family and have you pay with your blood...”
Suddenly, she shot to her feet and lunged at the emperor. He staggered back and snapped at his guards, “Stop her! Take her down!”
The guards raised their spears at her. Like a woman possessed, she kept going even after the spears had buried into her torso, her blood gushing out and painting her dress back. She kept her gaze focused on the emperor. Before she took her last breath, a vibrant smile bloomed on her face. “Don’t you know? I’ve long given you a medicine that made you infertile… You can’t have your own offspring...”
Blood gushed out of her mouth and splattered all over the emperor’s face. He widened his eyes at the dancer as her head drooped lifelessly. Her dying words rang in his head.
Surprised, Jun Huang shifted her gaze to the princes and princesses in the room. Further inspection told her they bore no resemblance to the emperor. The implications were clear.
The emperor stood rooted to the spot and considered his sons. Doubt festered in his heart. He’d remembered the dancer. She was someone he’d met when he first became the emperor. She was known as the tender beauty of her homeland, pretty, and caring. It was love at first sight. He wanted to take her to the palace. Hearing that she’d married already made him burn with jealousy. He had her husband killed and her children kidnapped before taking her to the palace.
He’d been using her children as leverage for her compliance. It didn’t take long before he started to resent her children as well and had them killed. Somehow, the woman got wind of it. They had a fight. The next day, however, the woman seemed to have calmed down. She stopped turning him away.
He’d thought the woman had surrendered to him, and he didn’t object when the woman said she wanted to learn how to fight to protect herself. That turned out to be part of her revenge plan.
He’d considered himself superior to everyone else. He didn’t take the possibility that none of his children were his well.
“Get me a royal doctor!” he exclaimed, his eyes red.
Everyone looked at him in surprise. His personal eunuch didn’t dare make him wait. He quickly retrieved the doctor the emperor trusted the most. It seemed that a test of blood was in order.
The consorts were scared witless. They exchanged a worried glance. Eventually, the most favored one took a step forward and said with a smile, “Don’t be so angry, Your Majesty. Women like her insist on stirring up troubles even after death. Who knows if she was telling the truth? Don’t let that anger you to the point of making yourself ill. Of course your children are yours. There’s no need for a test.”
The emperor threw her a fierce glance. Her knees went weak and she almost fell to the floor. It was only her maid’s timely support that stopped her from making a scene.
“If so, there’s no harm in having a test,” the emperor said coldly.
The empress, who had been silent, spoke up, “Your Majesty is right. What she suggested is a great humiliation if true. Even if her words are false, we should prove it to everyone. The easiest way to do that is a paternity test.”
She’d thought it was her fault that she’d never given birth to a child. If her family hadn’t been powerful, she’d have been replaced by another consort. The woman’s claim was a wake up call. With a cruel smile, she waited for a good show.
The consorts’ expression grew ashen. They’d mocked the empress for not having a child. They didn’t expect things to turn out this way. If they had known, they’d have done things differently.
The royal doctor soon arrived. The princes were in despair. They clung to the hope that they were the emperor’s sons after all and gritted their teeth as they squeezed out blood from their fingers.
The emperor was still burning with fury. He was going to see for himself if he’d raised children he wasn’t a father to for years due to the consorts’ deceit.