What did the Chu Clan do?
Everyone had assumed that it would take around a year to clear up charges against General Chu while Emperor Kang Cheng slowly dealt with the Chu Clan. But the Chu Clan actually brought up Crown Prince Ye and said it was him who misappropriated the funds in the Chu Clan’s name! Not only that, they then had even provided irrefutable proof of his misdeeds!
The courts and people were in an uproar after the revelation. Empress Xue spent day after day crying at the doors of Emperor Kang Cheng’s study. He didn’t want to depose the crown prince, but now he had no choice if he wanted to appease the masses, much less the army!
“The Chu Clan’s really made a striking move!” Han Yunxi was genuinely impressed.
“Indeed, it was brilliant!” Long Feiye praised generously.
Emperor Kang Cheng had publicized such accusations in the first place because he wasn’t planning to spare the Chu Clan. Instead of finding Crown Prince Ye to plea mercy on their behalf, the Chu Clan simply made him their scapegoat, thus forcing Emperor Kang Cheng to handle the case impartially. With this, the Chu Clan would at most be accused of accomplices in a crime, while the crown prince stood to lose his very claim for the throne! Misappropriating funds for the military was no mere common crime, but a serious offence that could cost the trust of the entire army. Historically speaking, there existed sovereigns who didn’t fear losing the people’s hearts, but all of them dreaded the loss of military trust!
If Emperor Kang Cheng wanted to revoke the Chu Clan’s military power, he would have to weaken the crown prince first. Without a doubt, this had become Cloud Realm Continent’s biggest joke. Of course, the Chu Clan still wouldn’t get a good end out of everything. Emperor Kang Cheng might not be able to touch the Chu Clan with this case, but he could always attack them from a different angle. The Chu Clan was simply playing with fire! At this rate, they were destined to irrevocably irritate Emperor Kang Cheng!
Just what are they planning?
“Could it be that they’re aiming for us? They had no way to guarantee that they could get the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons, so they decided to cut ties with Emperor Kang Cheng first before we revealed their secret identity as the Nether Clan?” Han Yunxi wondered.
“They shouldn’t have wanted to go that far. Chu Qingge still has four months of pregnancy left. With Emperor Kang Cheng’s temper, he’d eliminate their clan within two months!” Tang Li declared.
Even if the Chu Clan wanted to break all ties with Western Zhou, they’d still have to wait until all preparations were complete in Tianning. Otherwise, they’d have no way to retreat!
“Still no news from Gu Beiyue?” Gu Qishao asked. Judging by how things were going, the Chu Clan really was going to make a move against Chu Qingge’s stomach!
“Doctor Gu wasn’t at Pill Fiend Pharmacy. He said he went to one of the branch stores, but we’ve yet to find him,” Chu Xifeng dared to answer thus since he’d been given the all-clear from Long Feiye.
Perhaps Gu Beiyue was too good of an actor, because neither Han Yunxi nor Gu Qishao had ever suspected him of being something else. The two of them didn’t even find anything peculiar about Chu Xifeng’s report. Meanwhile, Long Feiye was still waiting for word from Third Elder Shen.
“Even if the Chu Clan can withdraw to Tianning, aren’t they still worried about the secret of the Nether Clan coming to light?” Han Yunxi didn’t get it. Something about this whole situation was off. With their chip against the Chu Clan, that family shouldn’t dare to try anything against them! Once news of the Nether Clan’s existence became public, it was very possible that West Qin Dynasty supporters would come to seek revenge. Moreover, the various power factions in Cloud Realm Continent would never tolerate the rise or expansion of such a prominent noble clan from the old days. If all these groups united to suppress the Nether Clan, how were they supposed to resist?
“They really don’t have any advantages against us,” Tang Li muttered to himself.
At this moment, a guard came in with an urgent message from the Nether Clan Head, Chu Yunyi! Long Feiye opened the message and skimmed through its contents before handing it to Han Yunxi, who read it and passed it over to Gu Qishao.
Gu Qishao had hardly read it before he exclaimed, “Strange!”
It really was odd! The Chu Clan had thoroughly infuriated Emperor Kang Cheng, but just sent word that they could successfully enter the Thousand Buddha Cave on the 19th day of the 11th month---Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara birthday. As long as Long Feiye and Han Yunxi agreed to help, they’ll be able to get their hands on the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons.
“How do we reply then?” Han Yunxi asked.
“We don’t,” Long Feiye replied. They ended up ignoring Chu Yunyi’s letter, but a few days later brought about new developments. Empress Xue had given up all of her make-up and cosmetics fun to issue an allowance to every member of the army. She hoped to enter Thousand Buddha Cave to pray and live on a vegetarian diet for three years in order to bring good fortune onto Emperor Kang Cheng and Western Zhou’s people. She had also plead with the emperor to give Crown Prince Ye another chance. The imperial uncle’s estate, consisting of the Xue Clan, also donated a vast amount of silver to plea on the crown prince’s behalf.
Emperor Kang Cheng had wanted to protect the crown prince anyways, so he seized the chance to approve of Empress Xue’s plea. He would delay the issue of deposing the crown prince until one year had passed. Then he accused the Chu Clan of failing to report what they knew about the crown prince’s misdeeds and reduced the pay to their army for half a year as punishment! Here was already a big step against the Chu, but it was likely Emperor Kang Cheng would make his true move next year!
Despite this, Chu Yunyi sent Long Feiye and company another letter. Apparently, there was now no need to wait until the 19th of next month. The last day of this month was an excellent chance, because the empress would be formally entering its temple! Moreover, a map was included with the latest message.
“Heheh, the Chu Clan can still manage to pull their weight!” Gu Qishao chuckled.
“There’s still five days left…” Han Yunxi mused. “Is there still no sign of Gu Beiyue?”
Chu Xifeng shook his head in reply. Han Yunxi had no time to chase after Gu Beiyue’s whereabouts either, so they could only choose whether to follow the Chu Clan into the caves or to refuse them. She looked towards Long Feiye for his decision.
Long Feiye fell silent before saying, “For now, don’t reply to them.” Then he added, “Your lordship assumed that we’d be in Western Zhou for awhile, but it looks like...there’s no need for that anymore!”
Both Han Yunxi and Gu Qishao exchanged confused glances. While she puzzled over the words, Gu Qishao simply gave up thinking on the matter altogether. He was too lazy to care about the Chu Clan beyond the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons. He’d get involved, but Long Feiye could do all the thinking. Gu Qishao would just show up and fight when called!
That night, Long Feiye asked Chu Xifeng again, “Is there still no news from Third Elder Shen?”
“He sent a letter saying that the entire situation seems fishy, but he refuses to draw any rash conclusions. He’ll need more time to think it over,” Chu Xifeng replied honestly.
The Chu Clan’s recent movements had been nothing short of strange. They clearly had a plot afoot, but even Chu Xifeng himself couldn’t read his master’s thoughts. Whether or not they’d follow the Chu Clan into the caves was still up for debate. It was highly possible they’d fall into a trap if they went. But if they didn’t, they would lose a golden opportunity to enter the Thousand Buddha Caves.
Long Feiye didn’t speak nor sleep the entire night. He spent the whole time guarding Han Yunxi while staring blankly at the map of Thousand Buddha Cave. No one could tell what he was thinking.
Three days passed. There were only two more days before the empress cloistered herself for prayer, but the Chu Clan had yet to receive any replies from the Duke of Qin. This time, Chu Yunyi remained calm and didn’t send any more messages.
“How is the situation with Witch Aunt?” he asked.
“The child can definitely be born successfully next month. Arrangements have already been made,” General Chu replied.
“Heheh. Duke of Qin, you’re the one who forced our hand. Don’t blame our Nether Clan for being ruthless!” Chu Yunyi laughed coldly.
Chu Yunyi didn’t even receive any letters the day before the empress’s trip, but Long Feiye and Han Yunxi both showed up at the Chu Clan’s courtyard that very night. General Chu had quite a fright before delight overtook him. “Heheh, Your Highness Duke of Qin, our clan head has been waiting for a long time.”
The first thing Chu Yunyi did upon seeing them both was ask, “Your Highness Duke of Qin, esteemed wangfei, will we be traveling together tomorrow?”
“Your lordship wants to know why it’s necessary at all? Your lordship is guarding the secret of your Nether Clan, but the Nether Clan Head wants your lordship and wangfei to risk themselves to steal the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons. Your Nether Clan isn’t the Di Clan. Aren’t you a little too skilled in making deals?” Long Feiye mocked.
Chu Yunyi replied in a helpless tone, “Your Highness Duke of Qin, you should know that it’s difficult to enter the Thousand Buddha Cave! For the sake of going in early, my Chu Clan utterly offended Emperor Kang Cheng!”
“What do you mean by that?” Long Feiye asked while Han Yunxi sat quietly by the side, extremely curious.
“Has Your Highness Duke of Qin seen the map sent by this old man?” Chu Yunyi asked.
“I have,” Long Feiye took out the paper.
“Your Highness Duke of Qin, take a look at the entrance to the bodhisattva's cave. Then compare it to the position of the thousand-year ginkgo tree.”
Long Feiye glanced at the map and saw that the distance between the two points was very great. While the ginkgo tree was located at the foot of the mountain, the cave entrance was nearly halfway up the same peak.
“Your Highness, this old man only gave up on the original date after I saw this map! The day of worship for Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara will open up the west gates of the Thousand Buddha Cave, which is located farthest from the ginkgo tree. This time, the empress is withdrawing to pray right in the Thousand Buddha Cave located directly behind the tree. If she wants to go into the temple by the cave, she’ll have to pass by the ginkgo tree to get there!”
After Chu Yunyi finished speaking, General Chu piped up, “Your Highness Duke of Qin, for the sake of forcing the empress to withdraw for prayer, the Chu Clan even cut down Crown Prince Ye, our main pillar of support! For the sake of the Chu Clan’s good faith, please help us out! Moreover, you wouldn’t gain anything by our failure this time, would you?”
So the Chu Clan had implicated Crown Prince Ye of misappropriating military funds all to force Empress Xue into seclusion at the caves?
Han Yunxi had long heard of Western Zhou’s empress and her custom of prayer and abstinence from meat to atone for her sins. The Chu Clan’s methods did make sense on paper, but her instinct told her that there was still something suspicious about the whole thing. However, she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She looked over at Long Feiye and saw him nod.
“Your lordship had been wondering why the Chu Clan wouldn’t fear retaliation from Emperor Kang Cheng after cutting down Crown Prince Ye. So this is it…” he smiled coldly.
“We had no choice but to sacrifice the Chu Clan’s military power in exchange for keeping the secret of the Nether Clan,” Chu Yunyi sighed. His eyes flashed with a sinister light, however, as he reckoned that his words had dispelled all of the Duke of Qin’s suspicions.
Indeed, Long Feiye only asked, “What are your arrangements for tomorrow?”
“When the empress enters Thousand Buddha Cave, there will be an old mama by her side---one of our Chu Clan’s agents. She’ll arrange for every single one of the footmen and retainers that accompany the empress. I’ll have to trouble Qin Wangfei to disguise herself as a servant girl and follow them in. As for the Duke of Qin, I hope you’ll condescend to make the journey disguised as a guard. This old man and General Chu will accompany you both with the Chu Clan’s top archers to enter the caves, after which…”
Chu Yunyi paused to point at the map before elaborating in detail how he’d planned out the mission. The gist of it was to cause a disturbance to attract everyone’s attention while a portion of their men accompanied Qin Wangfei to hunt for the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons. Han Yunxi listened while marveling at the fact that the Chu Clan could even install spies by the side of the empress. Their plan for tomorrow looked solid as well, but she still felt it was unreliable. Although time was tight, she was certain Long Feiye wouldn’t agree to the plan so easily, but he simply accepted without a word. He even agreed to stay overnight at the Chu estate tonight, all the better to prepare for tomorrow’s trip.
Han Yunxi kept quiet until they reached their rooms before she asked him in a low voice, “Long Feiye, we’re really going?”
“We are!” Long Feiye replied simply.
Just what would happen tomorrow?