One by one, the princes took the test. However, none of their blood mixed with the emperor’s. The onlookers sucked in a breath. The emperor felt his blood boil.
Worried, the royal doctor rushed to the emperor and helped him breathe. He didn’t expect that none of the princes was the emperor’s. His fingers trembled slightly.
The son of the most favored consort could barely believe his eyes. He stared at the bowl. The two drops of blood refused to mix, illustrating their lack of biological connection. His clothes were drenched and his face was pale.
After a pause, he looked up. Before anyone could react, he grabbed a guard’s sword and attacked the emperor. His intention was clear.
The emperor was quick enough to react, catching a glimpse of the blade from the corner of his eye. He raised his sword to block the attack and kicked the prince in the stomach. The prince fell to the floor. The guards quickly restrained the other princes.
The emperor didn’t anticipated that the son he’d raised for years would even think about killing him. His pupils contracted and his eyes turned bloodshot.
What had happened went beyond everyone’s expectations. They didn’t know what they should do. Not everyone should be privy to such scandals about the royal family. They kept their mouth shut lest they anger the emperor or get caught in the crossfire.
A low chuckle broke the silence. It sounded almost offensive in the silent main hall. The emperor had been struggling to control his anger. The laugh tipped him over. His gaze swept over everyone in attendance. It seemed as if they were all mocking him.
He growled and slashed at everyone around him. A few eunuchs got hit by his blade and cried out in pain, holding onto their injured arms.
The main hall fell into chaos. The emperor seemed to have lost all senses and reasons and attacked everyone like a mad dog. The guests scattered and fled, but didn’t dare fight back.
The emperor’s personal eunuch was too afraid to get closer. He looked at his master from afar and tried to comfort him. “You must calm down, Your Majesty. You - ”
His words were cut short by the emperor’s sword. The blade hit the eunuch’s fat cheek and left a long bloody cut. The open wound was an ugly sight. Before the eunuch could react, another slash landed on his arm, cutting off a piece of flesh. The macabre scene further driven everyone to hysteria.
The emperor marched toward his consorts. They had all grown up in esteemed families and couldn’t take the blood and gore. Some with weaker will had already lost consciousness.
The emperor laughed cruelly. With a bloodthirsty smile, he grabbed one of the women’s hair and yanked. The consort cried out in pain as her hair got torn off her scalp. Blood gushed out from the spot and streamed down her forehead. Her face became as pale as a ghost’s.
Jun Huang watched everything play out from a distance. An indescribable feeling filled her heart. She sighed and turned around. Nan Xun didn’t seem at all affected. Even as an outsider, she couldn’t help being stunned. Her calm mask was cracking. Nan Xun, however, looked they way he’d always been. It was as if he’d foreseen everything.
Realization dawned on Jun Huang. She regained her composure and asked in a voice only the two of them could hear, “Is this your doing? Have you planned everything?”
Nan Xun shook his head with a smile. “I’m not that powerful. I simply help things along.”
His tone was casual, but Jun Huang wasn’t convinced. She silently swore to never anger Nan Xun and shed some metaphorical tears for the emperor of Eastern Wu.
It was truly laughable for an emperor to end up like this.
A large group of people rushed into the palace. Jun Huang didn’t recognize any of them. She turned to ask Nan Xun who they were. He said they were the royal clan of Eastern Wu. Jun Huang nodded. They were the only ones who could get the situation under control.
The leader of the group was a grey-haired elderly man. There was an inherent air of nobility to him, and his eyes were chillingly piercing. He surveyed the room and finally settled his gaze on the emperor, who had been subdued by his men. He scoffed faintly.
“What happened today must not leave this room,” said the patriarch of the royal clan, his voice frigid. “Otherwise the royal family will not let you off the hook. Watch your tongue.”
All the guests nodded obediently, too afraid to question his order.
The patriarch threw a derisive glare at the tied up emperor and pursed his lips. He had someone get him a chair. Once seated, he cleared his throat and said, “All officials above the second grade, come forth.”
The officials exchanged a glance but didn’t dare disobey. They rushed forward and dropped to their knees, awaiting the old man’s order.
“His Majesty has fallen seriously ill. In order to keep everything in order, you must work together and deal with affairs of the court. Do you hear me?”
His voice wasn’t loud or urgent, but the main hall was so quiet, everyone had heard what he’d said and understood the reason behind his words.
Jun Huang believed the emperor’s “illness” would soon be known all around Eastern Wu, not by accident, but by the patriarch’s design.
The banquet ended in an unexpected manner. The guest had arrived joyous and cheerful, but left with a heavy heart. They kept everything that had happened a secret to avoid getting in trouble.
The patriarch didn’t make things unnecessarily difficult for them. He waved a hand to dismiss everyone. Jun Huang threw the emperor a glance. In the end, she sighed silently and followed the mistress back to the Grand Chancellor’s manor.
No one said anything on their way back home. The young mistresses and masters had a lot of questions, but were stopped short by the mistress’s fierce glare.
“You’re too young to understand the gravity of what happened,” the mistress said seriously as soon as they stepped into the manor, her eyes focusing on them. “No matter what, do not say a word of what you witnessed. Pretend that nothing happened. Understand?”
They nodded, too intimidated by the mistress’s grim expression to ask any questions. The mistress allowed herself to relax. She waved them away. “You must be tired. Go to bed.”
With that, she left with the old caretaker.
Back to her residence, Jun Huang curled on her bed and looked out of the window at the cloudy sky, her chin rested on her palm. A storm was coming. She didn’t know how she knew, but it put a weight on her mind nonetheless.
She reached out for her cup of tea, but instead felt a hand. She jerked up and only relaxed when she saw that it was Nan Xun’s. Her pale face regained its usual color.
Realizing that he’d scared Jun Huang, Nan Xun put his hand over her back to soothe her. After a while, Jun Huang gestured at him to tell him that she was alright. Still, she appeared to be weighed down by her concerns.
Nan Xun poured her a cup of tea and asked quietly, “Still thinking about what happened today?”
Jun Huang didn’t plan to hide it from Nan Xun. She nodded and asked what she’d been meaning to ask. “Things like these should have been kept as the top most secret. According to the dancer, she’d been trapped in the palace ever since she was taken away, surrounded by the emperor’s people. How did you find out about her?”
“I don’t understand how an outsider would be able to get wind of such secret affairs happening in the palace. The emperor didn’t even know himself.”
“I got the information from the House of Heavenly Fiends,” Nan Xun said without going into the details.
Jun Huang remembered Nan Xun saying that there was little the House of Heavenly Fiends didn’t know. There was no telling what the organization was planning. Still, such a scandal wasn’t difficult to find out for them.
Exhaustion set in once her question was answered. She yawned, her eyes shining with tears. Nan Xun took her into his arms on impulse and picked her up before she could react.
The sudden elevation startled Jun Huang. She reflexively put her arms around Nan Xun’s neck. He chuckled, the sound putting a faint blush on her cheeks. He stopped himself from teasing her. He knew she would be embarrassed.
“Alright, it’s getting late. A lot happened today. You should sleep.” Nan Xun gently placed Jun Huang on the bed. She nodded, looking up at Nan Xun.
Nan Xun reached out to touch her nose and cover her eyes. Quietly, he murmured, “Sleep tight.”
She closed her eyes, listening to his tender voice, her eyelashes tickling his palm. A warmth that shouldn’t be possible for a stoic general to feel rose from his heart and spread through his body.
He sighed, his lips curved into a smile. When he pulled his hand away from Jun Huang’s eyes, she’d already fallen asleep, her breathing long and steady. She must have been exhausted.
Nan Xun watched her quietly. Sleep eluded him. He couldn’t stop thinking about the House of Heavenly Fiends.
He was sure that there was something wrong with the organization, but he didn’t know what it was. It frustrated him that he hadn’t been able to find anything useful.
After sitting by Jun Huang’s bed for a long time, he let out a breath and snuck away from the manor. Through an alleyway, he reached one of his hideouts.