Early next morning, Gu Qishao and Tang Li received the news from Long Feiye that the couple would be entering the Thousand Buddha Cave incognito with the Chu Clan’s men. They were to standby outside the cave for further orders.
“Standby to wait for orders? Heheh,” Gu Qishao chuckled coldly.
“You can choose not to go,” Tang Li said disdainfully. He refused to like anyone his big bro didn’t like, either.
But Gu Qishao simply poisoned Tang Li so he couldn’t speak. At first, Tang Li didn’t even notice, then he found himself mute when he tried to mock Gu Qishao’s silence.
This is the same feeling I had when Han Yunxi made me mute!
Tang Li immediately shot his hidden weapons at Gu Qishao, but they’d hardly reached the man before a sudden flurry of vines rose up to knock them aside.
“You lackey, do you think this old man’s some sickly cat just because I don’t put on airs around your master?” Gu Qishao asked coldly. Although he was cheery and amiable in front of Han Yunxi, his true nature was that of a petty man who always held his grudges. He didn’t like to suffer the slightest loss. Even though he knew Tang Li was the young clan head of the Tang Clan, he still subconsciously called him a ‘lackey.’
Technically speaking, the entire Tang Clan was subservient to Long Feiye, but its precious young clan head had never been called a servant by anyone in his life. Ten separate weapons appeared between his fingers as he prepared to take Gu Qishao’s life.
Seeing the tension between the two, Chu Xifeng almost felt like falling to his knees. What time is it already? Why are they still arguing amongst themselves!?
“Both of you, can you do me a favor and just behave? Are you going to Thousand Buddha Cave or not? If not, I’ll just go by myself!” Chu Xifeng turned to leave as soon as he was finished. But Gu Qishao wasn’t really planning to fight with Tang Li. In this world, there was no man besides Long Feiye, and no woman besides Han Yunxi, that he found worthy of notice! He immediately followed after Chu Xifeng. Tang Li tried to call out, but found himself still unable to speak. In anger, he launched multiple needles into the air to vent!
Gu Qishao! Just you wait. Once this thing with the Wood of Ten-Thousand Poisons is over, I’ll shoot you so full of needles that you’ll turn into a porcupine! I swear upon my surname as Tang!
Gu Qishao’s trio waited for ages by the entrance of Thousand Buddha Cave before Empress Xue and her magnificent retinue finally arrived. An empress was still an empress in the end, so her procession was long and grand, filled with various people and horses. Because the Duke of Qin had said he was going to slip in as part of the empress’s honor guard, Gu Qishao and the rest remained hidden in the shadows while seeking him out with their eyes. Yet, it was impossible to find any familiar faces in that crowd.
Thanks to the cold and windy day, all of the court ladies and retainers were wearing thick scarves and hats, their heads bowed. It was practically impossible to see any of their faces. The vast and mighty guard of honor was an exclusive party, but not all of them could enter the Thousand Buddha Cave. After its stone door was unsealed, only a small portion of the group would be able to follow the empress inside. The rest would stand guard by the entrance instead. Gu Qishao and the rest stared at the doors to the Thousand Buddha Cave slowly closed behind the retinue, afraid to make the slightest move for fear of disturbing the Duke of Qin’s plan. Tang Li had been rendered mute, while neither Chu Xifeng nor Gu Qishao had anything to say. The three of them maintained an exceptional silence between them. Though none of them had any idea what Long Feiye was planning, all of them had faith in his skills.
But not long later, a guard came to deliver Chu Xifeng a secret missive from Third Elder Shen. He read its contents before he grew stunned, and cried out in alarm, “Too cruel!”
Third Elder Shen said that it was very possible that Head Elder Ling and Lady Lianxin had gone to Western Liang to induce early labor in Chu Qingge. This was Third Elder Shen’s suspicion all along, but he hadn’t dared to confirm his conjectures since it went against the medical academy’s own principles. It would be irresponsible of him to make empty accusations without any concrete proof. However, after finding out about the ingredients needed to make induced labor medicine from Medicine City’s Council of Elders, then discovering that someone had purchased those exact same ingredients recently, he was more or less able to connect the dots with a bold guess.
By the end of the letter, Third Elder Shen emphatically repeated for the Duke of Qin to be wareful. Without solid proof, there was no way he could casually bring up the topic, because offending Head Elder Ling would end up antagonizing all of Medical City. Chu Xifeng looked frightened. If not for the letter, he would probably never knew that things like induced labor existed in this world. But, premature babies like that can actually survive in the outside world? Still, leaving that aside, the whole idea was simply immoral. How could anyone force a child to leave the mother’s womb before its time? The Chu Clan and Chu Qingge have gone insane all for the sake of an imperial throne.
Gu Qishao and Tang Li both turned back at the same time to see Chu Xifeng’s shocked expression. The former swiped the letter, while the latter hurried over to read. Both were alarmed by its contents. Tang Li wanted to curse, but still couldn’t speak, and frantically kicked Gu Qishao who quickly undid his poison.
“They’re too inhumane! Isn’t Chu Yunyi afraid of earning Heavenly retribution for this? And that Head Elder Ling too, why did he even agree to this deal as the head of the Council of Elders? Is this what Chu Qingge actually wants?” Tang Li couldn’t believe it.
Gu Qishao wasn’t surprised. What hadn’t Head Elder Ling done? So what if he was the head of Medical City’s Council of Elders? Their academy head was no better!
Tang Li’s fury soon grew into amazement. “In other words, it’s almost time for Chu Qingge to give birth? The Chu Clan’s really going to fall out with Western Zhou’s imperial clan? And then take over Western Liang at their base of operations?”
“Exactly!” Gu Qishao gave a cold laugh. He had witnessed Head Elder Ling’s skills firsthand during his youth and was certain that the man had the skills to make Chu Qingge give birth early and be able to preserve the baby!
“That means that master’s efforts with Emperor Kang Cheng will all be wasted!” Chu Xifeng said hatefully.
His Highness Duke of Qin had sowed discord between the Chu Clan and Emperor Kang Cheng just so the latter could whittle down the Chu Clan’s military might. But now they’d driven the Chu Clan to making such desperate measures until they were utterly devoid of conscience.
“The Chu Clan will probably seize the chance before Emperor Kang Cheng makes his move to catch him unawares!” Chu Xifeng muttered to himself. Both Gu Qishao and Tang Li looked at him in silence.
“What are...you guys looking at?” Chu Xifeng asked nervously. Gu Qishao didn’t speak, but looked back at Thousand Buddha Cave while Tang Li slapped his thigh.
“This is bad! It’s very possible they’ll make their move right here and now to drag the Duke of Qin down with them!”
As it turned out, Tang Li was completely right!
The Chu Clan had thoroughly planned everything out ahead of time. Chu Yunyi told Gu Beiyue to kill Long Feiye and Han Yunxi as a test to see he was going to betray the Chu Clan. If he turned traitor, the Chu Clan archers that were coming with them to the Thousand Buddha Cave would shoot him as well. Even if they failed in the end, they could still expose Long Feiye and Han Yunxi’s identities to everyone else here, dragging them down with them to become eternal enemies of Western Zhou. If Long Feiye wanted to stir the deep waters of Western Zhou, he would have to pay the Chu Clan’s price!
Over half of the people accompanying Empress Xue today hailed from the Chu Clan’s archery forces. They hadn’t been idle during their stay in Western Zhou, nor did they run circles around Crown Prince Ye in vain. They had entertained the thought of turning renegade as far back as the previous emperor and were simply waiting for their chance to strike. Long Feiye had pushed them too far this time, so they had no choice but to counteract!
General Chu had already prepared the Chu Clan soldiers. As soon as the ‘accident’ happened in Thousand Buddha Cave, the soldiers were to assemble for the offensive. He had even contacted the Di Clan’s Ning family to come to their aid.
By now, Empress Xue and the rest had already gone past the forest of bodhi trees to head for the altar surrounding the thousand year ginkgo. This altar was circular in shape, with a radius of 10 meters. It was made of stone and completely bare except for the ginkgo tree growing in its center. The tree itself was the height of three men and was currently bare branched as it was winter. From a distance, it resembled a large wood block connecting Heaven and Earth, a simple but mystical sight. Surrounding the ginkgo tree altar was a circle of small shrubs and trees of unknown species that were green and luxuriant despite the cold season. The empress and her retinue walked past the lush greenery to enter the territory of the Thousand Buddha Cave. Without exception, everyone was traveling on foot.
As the empress strode on, she paused before the ginkgo tree. No matter who passed by this place, none could resist a glance back at the revered and ancient tree. It even garnered more reverence than the caves themselves, and seem to enchant people into prostrating themselves at its feet. When the empress stopped, everyone behind her stopped as well. Before her stood the monks of the temple, while behind her was a dozen or more court eunuchs and court ladies and guards.
Chu Yunyi was one of the guards in attendance, taking on the role of the empress’s personal guard in the foremost of the retinue. Right now, he was only two or three people away from her. On his right stood a towering man with a full beard, who had traveled the entire way with his head bowed to hide his face. On his left was a court lady wearing a thick muffler that hid everything from her nose down, her head also bowed. Behind him and not far away was one more guard, a rather thin and weak looking man, who also had a face full of whiskers. He hadn’t shifted his gaze from Chu Yunyi the entire time.
“It’s that tree on the right. Don’t think that the altar is empty. According to what this old man found out, three monks skilled in martial arts keep watch on the tree at all times. Without Emperor Kang Cheng’s personal command token, even someone like Empress Xue can only gaze upon the tree from a distance,” Chu Yunyi murmured.
“How are you planning to make your move?” the guard on his right asked coldly.
Chu Yunyi had barely answered when Empress Xue fell to her knees and gave a distant kowtow to the ginkgo tree. The various monks and palace servants all followed in her wake. A crafty gleam flashed past Chu Yunyi’s eyes before he suddenly stood up. “Your Highness Duke of Qin, when will you destroy the thousand-year gingko tree, if not now?”
As he spoke, he viciously shoved the tall guard beside him out of the crowd. At the same time, all of the hidden archers rose to their feet while the old mama by Empress Xue’s side dragged the empress upright and held her fast, one hand clasped around her throat.
Empress Xue’s mind went blank as she shrieked. “Ah...ahhh...ahhhhhHHHH!”