Husband and Wife to Battle – Early Bird Gets the Worm
Kong Duan was dressed and sitting at his work desk before the first bird chirped in the morning. Officials who attended the imperial court rose at the wee hours of the morning. Some woke as early as eleven at night. That was why older officials had a habit of sleeping in when they didn’t need to attend conferences as a means of catching up on lost sleep. Kong Duan was an exception to the popular practice. Kong Duan woke at the same time every day regardless of how late he turned in the previous night and repeated his daily procedures as if they were rituals he never grew tired of.
Kong Duan didn’t light a candle in his study. He went over to the window and opened the bamboo window to allow sunlight in. He remarked, “You’ve arrived, Long Cheng.”
Long Cheng awaited Kong Duan in the room for a long time already. One word from Kong Duan, and the former would immediately help Kong Duan fight for the throne.
Kong Duan found the sunlight too stimulating for his eyes, since he spent too long in the dark. His wrinkles represented all the thinking he did and paths he had walked in life. With a helpless smile, he remarked, “It’s finally time.”
Long Cheng took a moment to respond: “It is finally time to realise the dream?”
“Huh?” Kong Duan irritability fumed, “Did I tell you to respond? Where are Old Lie and Lu?”
Kong Duan’s subordinate saluted him with a hold-fist salute: “Having set out early, they should be arriving at Feiyun Hall as per the original plan. Lu Shangfei is reportedly ready.”
“Everything is in place, then,” commented Kong Duan, smiling confidently. He brushed his robe and commanded, “March!”
Kong Duan’s group advanced toward Wuhua County.
Kong Duan’s relationship with Secretary Lie and Lu was always tense. However, he didn’t risk everything to assassinate the two. Firstly, the consequences would be dire if it was revealed he orchestrated it. His entire clan might be exterminated. Ambitions, ideals and politics were useless if he was dead. Secondly, despite differences in political stances, they served the Emperor. There was no reason to take the leap of fate and risk everything to assassinate officials of equal rank. Moreover, he was the representative of civil officials, Confucius’ descendant and the Ministry of Rites’ leader.
To circumvent the risks, Kong Duan sent a secret letter inviting Secretary Lie and Lu to Wuhua County. No matter how baffled or suspicious they were, assassination would never cross their minds. Liezu and Feng Sage Factions fought in the imperial court, true; however, nobody would expect Kong Duan would go as far as taking his competitors out via such drastic measures.
Once the targets arrived, Kong Duan intended to let Yang Lianhua and his adepts from Beijiang execute the mission. To counter Secretary Lie’s combat prowess, he prepared poison beforehand as a countermeasure.
Once Yang Lianhua completed the job, Kong Duan planned to reveal the true ace up his sleeve: his secret army at Feiyun Hall. They would “clean up” the aftermath. Kong Duan would then cast all the blame onto Beijiang’s men. Add Yang Lianhua assassinating Lu Xiazou beforehand to the equation, and he had a more convincing argument that Evil Spirits specifically targeted the imperial court’s officials. As such, Yang Lianhua’s conjecture of Kong Duan’s plans was spot on for the most part. He, however, never thought Kong Duan would stick one in his back so fast.
Kong Duan’s team arrived earlier than usual despite heading out later than scheduled, as he rode the horses Yang Lianhua imported from Beijiang. Kong Duan had Yang Lianhua’s three adepts, a broadsword wielder and two empty-fist fighters put on a performance. Once satisfied, he said, “Once I give the order, just execute the mission.”
Secretary Lie and Lu arrived a while later. Sitting inside the main building, Kong Duan heard Secretary Lie come in: “What the heck is this place? It’s more dead than dead. If I had my men with me, I’d burn this place down before it spooks people out.”
When Secretary Lie saw Kong Duan sitting inside, he fumed, “You must be bored out of your skin on this cold day to be all the way out here. What’s the big idea? Can’t you say what you want to say at the capital? Man, I’m tired.”
“Old Lie, shut it,” said Secretary Lu, in a calm voice. “I’ve heard enough from you on the way here. Since Secretary Kong invited us out here, he will naturally provide us with an explanation. Are you going to die or something if you wait? Am I right, Secretary Kong?”
Secretary Lu was a man with white skin, a well-kept appearance, a tall nose and green eyes; he certainly didn’t resemble someone from the Central Plain. That being said, his pronunciation of the Hans’ dialect was beyond perfect. Needless to say, his eyes were often a topic of discussion. He played Secretary Lie’s strategist.
Secretary Lie calmed down after Secretary Lu told him to pipe down. He touched his head and mumbled, “Fine, but only because you asked me to.”
When Secretary Lu glared at him again, Secretary Lie finally stopped grumbling.
Kong Duan laughed: “You are most certainly right. Please take a seat. It is not appropriate to discuss this subject in the capital. That is why I invited you here. Please take a seat first.”
Secretary Lie and Lu sat down. They were offered tea as they were supposed to be. Secretary Lu grabbed Secretary Lie’s hand the moment the latter picked up his teacup. The gesture startled Secretary Lie; he thought he was going to be punished for making a mistake of some sort. Secretary Lu expressed, “We’ll pass on the tea. Secretary Kong, please say what you have to say. I came here to be enlightened. If this is predicated on business, why not discuss it at the capital. If this is a private matter, hah…”
Secretary Lu’s snort was akin to a hook that grabbed Kong Duan by the neck and suspended him in the air. Secretary Lu then went on: “What commonalities do we share in our personal lives? I’m from the Western Region; I don’t have any knowledge pertaining to this sort of activity. Please enlighten me.”
Kong Duan was aware Secretary Lu was no fool, far from one. The latter was never fond of conflict. Since the two of them refused to drink, Kong Duan couldn’t force it on them. Nevertheless, he smiled without feeling hindered and went on: “Secretary Lu, why do you find it questionable? Despite this old one not sharing your views in regards to politics, he has always admired you as human beings. Do you suspect this old one poisoned your drink?”
“I have always been forthright and tolerant. If you are a man, why are you performing detours and mincing your words? A man should have the courage to articulate his thoughts without reserve.”
Secretary Lu’s response earned Kong Duan’s ire. Kong Duan grumbled, “This old one invited you two to reduce our two factions’ conflict. However, owing to the sensitivity of the topic and potential eavesdroppers, this old one invited you two here. What led to you misunderstanding my intent, Secretary Lu?”
Secretary Lu wore on a wry smile: “Reduce our two factions’ conflict? Okay, may I ask where Zhang Chunfeng is? Your faction is referred to as Feng Sage Faction; the character Feng and its positioning indicates Zhang Chunfeng is your leader, while sage is merely an alias. As we can all see, Zhang Chunfeng is the only authority in your faction. You want to discuss with us? Discuss what exactly?”
Little did Secretary Lu know he struck Kong Duan’s wrong nerve. Kong Duan was absolutely furious; he almost lost his composure.
Lie Jingchan wasn’t remotely a fan of Kong Duan; nonetheless, they were all officials serving the Emperor. He didn’t want to let their relationship turn confrontational. He, therefore, rose to his feet and intervened: “Okay, enough. Are we really just going to argue? Arguing in court not enough for you? Old Kong, if you have something to say just s-“
Lie Jingchan suddenly saw the room spin. He sat back down in his chair: “Eh? What the heck? I feel dizzy. Were the two pots of wine last night something else…?”
Cognizant of the fact Lie Jingchan could hold his liquor impressively, Secretary Lu frowned: “Old Lie, y-“
Secretary Lu discovered he couldn’t exert any strength; standing was a no go. As a quick thinker, he immediately came up with a solution: “Men!!”
It was a no-brainer for Secretary Lie and Lu to bring men along with them. They just had to say the word, and their men would show up. There might be an argument for Secretary Lu’s men being weak. In Secretary Lie’s case, on the other hand, his men were soldiers from the army. Unsurprisingly, they calmly sparked Kong Duan’s men and rushed to their masters.
As the group of men raced over, Long Cheng, donning black, zipped over from behind Kong Duan at high velocity. Upon landing in the centre of the hall, he massacred ten men as soon as he started his swift attacks. He returned to Kong Duan’s side before the two secretaries could see him make his move.
Swift attacks and retreats were one factor that made up an adept, and Long Cheng certainly qualified as one. There was still no explanation for why he served Kong Duan. After his retreat, several men went over to restrain the two secretaries.
Lie Jingchan, upset over his men’s death, reverted to his old speech habits and screamed toward to ceiling, “Motherfucker! Let’s see who dares lays his hands on this nation’s genera!!”
Lie Jingchan swung his arms to catch two heads and slammed them together, shattering their skulls upon impact. He wrestled them to the ground and tackled the other six who tried to restrain him. He raged, “Bring it on! I’ll run my fists through your heads for three hundred rounds!”
Rage could only power him for a moment. Once his adrenaline subsided, Lie Jingchan fell backwards and couldn’t budge a finger again. He remarked, “Motherfucker. What the fuck is going on…? Hey, Old Lu, can you move?”
Kong Duan laughed: “You two were careful enough to not drink my tea. Unfortunately, my ‘infinite haze’ is a secret Confucianism poison. It’s tasteless and invisible. It paralyses its consumer. Secretary Lie, that was impressive. Normally, top adepts in the martial world would be out of commission as soon as it hits their system. I’ve never misjudged dosages, yet I almost failed to immobilise you.”
Secretary Lu remained level-headed throughout the ordeal. Since Long Cheng went and killed their men without any hesitation, there was no question Kong Duan wouldn’t stop until he killed them both. He questioned, “You want to kill us? Kong Duan, what are you planning?”
“You’ve proven yourself perceptive once again, Secretary Lu. Lie Jingchan wouldn’t have been a threat all these years if it wasn’t for you.”
Kong Duan walked over to Secretary Lu and knocked his hat off, revealing thick and black hair. Secretary Lu, head of the Ministry of Rites, turned out to be a woman – a beautiful one for that matter. Kong Duan grabbed Lu Boan by her hair and smiled condescendingly: “Those not our countrymen are bound to be traitors. You vixen, I knew you were a venom to our nation the moment you came here from the Western Region. I never thought it’d take me so many years to do away with you.”
Secretary Lu revealed a ridiculing smile: “If only His Majesty agreed with you, huh…? Sad for you; he can tell right from wrong, so he listens to my suggestions.”
“That’s the most nonsensical thing I’ve heard today!” exclaimed Kong Duan, throwing Secretary Lu to the ground. “Had His Majesty not kindly accepted you, Lie Jingchan that blithering moron probably wouldn’t have amounted to anything. If it wasn’t for you impelling Lie Jingchan to wage wars, His Majesty wouldn’t have kept the repulsively barbaric three law enforcement offices’ system until today. Once we Confucians gain power, we can teach the people better. The misery and tragedies across the lands are your fault for the most part. Without you war mongers and the three barbaric offices, the world would be a considerably more peaceful one.”
Secretary Lu bled from her head, and her hair hung down after it collided with the ground, giving her the appearance of a female ghost, yet she never once complained despite not being a martial artist. She derided Kong Duan with a chuckle: “Coward…”
Anger flitted across Kong Duan’s condescending countenance: “What did you call me, foolish woman?!”
“You claim Old Lie and me are war mongers, yet you refuse to look beyond your bubble of ignorance. You do realise the Western regions’ seven kingdoms and Beijiang’s two countries are eyeing our nation and preparing to eager to march on us? You all know how to blather righteousness and reason until the enemy marches in. Can you drive foreign enemies out with your mouths? You have your head in the dirt; you think you can deceive the world after denying reality? What you’re doing is called being a bystander, coward.”
“Nice claims! Old Lu, brilliant!” Kong Duan breathed so heavily and radically his face turned purple. Instead of getting violent, however, he laughed: “You have a sharp tongue, but you think I have free time to discuss righteousness with you? One of you is a war monger who wants to fight solely to satisfy his desires, while the other is venom from one of the Western region’s fallen kingdom. Neither of you try to improve the nation; you two are conspirators who bring calamity to the nation. I have no need to waste my breath on you.”
Secretary Lu snickered: “Oh, and you’re enacting righteousness now… Considering today’s scheme, I’d say you’re doing very well in that department.”
“He who accomplishes great deeds must be willing to forego the minor details. This will set the nation’s foundation for generations to come. Future generations will agree. Unfortunately for you, you won’t live to see that day,” said Kong Duan, smiling with an obvious intent to kill. “Men, kill them!”
“As you command!”
The three adepts behind Kong Duan swiftly took action. One slipped right. The other slipped left. They kicked and punched the men around him to the ground. Kong Duan thundered, “What are y-“
A sabre exited its sheath, sliced the air and stopped right at Kong Duan’s neck. Tone jolly, the wielder said, “No. Moving!”
“As per His Majesty’s decree, Liu Shan Men has taken over the case of the head of the Ministry of Rites’ assassination attempt on the Ministry of Works. All those involved are to disarm and place their hands behind their hands. Those who resist shall be executed on the spot!”