The rain developed for the worse, pouring heavier and heavier. Rain in winter was unpredictable. However, rainfall was always heavier in mountain and forest regions. The stores in the town closed shop earlier during the day. The only things visible on the streets were the lights households had lit up.
There was a drenched drunkard waddling his way along a street. Despite the rain bucketing down, he laughed heartily: “Big Head, Big Head doesn’t need to fear getting wet. He has an umbrella to shield him from the rain. Still, I can easily smash his brains! Hahaha!”
The drunkard’s walk almost caused him to trip face first into a pile of dog faeces. He continued marching in a drunken state, knocking on homes futilely.
“Fuck, man! I just want to use your toilet! Oh, this place isn’t too shabby.”
The drunkard ended up entering the inn. A man in the inn went over to support the drunkard and dragged him off to speak elsewhere.
The drunkard was Long Zaitian. The man who helped Long Zaitian was Tie Hanyi.
Tie Hanyi asked, “What did you find out?”
Long Zaitian sobered up a tad and replied, “The thorns are prickly (code for “The enemy is dangerous).”
“What exactly did you find out?”
Long Zaitian furrowed his eyebrows: “Bizarre. I did a lap outside, shouting, causing a ruckus and doing tricks, yet not one townsfolk came to check on me.”
Tie Hanyi peered outside: “If my guess is correct… there are no more than ten actual residents in this town.”
“Who are the rest, then?”
“Maybe… they are all martial world warriors in disguise…” Tie Hanyi wore a grave expression as he elaborated, “There’s no doubt we have enemies on all sides. We need to hurry back to guard His M- , Master Li!”
“This endless rain is not a good sign,” bemoaned the Emperor, sighing and carving a secret signal on a bamboo pipe with a small knife.
Emperor Yuan Sheng didn’t neglect the imperial court’s business despite going on tour. His entourage already established a secret contact method with those stationed in the imperial palace, allowing the Emperor to send orders even from afar. The majority of those accompanying the escort were downstairs. A few followed the Emperor indoors, but he was alone in his room. He couldn’t have others hanging around while he was writing a secret message that could impact the entire nation.
After deliberation, the Emperor muttered, “Kong Duan suddenly disappeared without a trace from the prison. Secretary Zhang insists there is more to it than meets the eye. I’m sure he’s just shifting blame… Feng Sage Faction’s two leaders are scholars and have developed the imperial court’s scholars all this time. Despite Kong Duan’s countless students in the imperial court, since Kong Duan’s status as a sage’s descendant has been dumped, one faction has begun to crumble…
The Ministry of Personnel’s Qian Wuque is a pragmatic individual, so, while he, Kong Duan and Zhang Chunfeng seem to get along harmoniously on the surface, he favours a different approach to them. I can give him a bigger role to play. Kong Duan may be alive, but he’s essentially crippled. His group is no longer a threat with him ousted from power. Zhang Chunfeng has deep roots in the imperial court and is an upright man. Even if he was to have a silly moment, he wouldn’t cause catastrophic damage to the nation. You mustn’t punish him too harshly. You must grasp each individual’s value.”
The Emperor liked reading aloud what he wrote whenever he wrote. The edict he wrote was sincere and unlike a command. Rather, it resembled a lesson. He continued, “Chi’er, when you return to the capital, bear these things in mind. I must stress it again: bear these things in mind.”
The Emperor passed the bamboo pipe to his secret agent once he was done.
The Emperor prepared sufficient men despite the rush and was composed the entire trip because he already had a move in mind. He had plans to visit Master Luo even if Shen Yiren didn’t run into trouble. He wanted to discuss the Seven Champion White Princes’ future with Master Luo and see how Jiangnan was doing. At the same time, he wanted to use his absence to test Red Prince, the Prince with the highest likelihood of being enthroned as the next Crown Prince and was on his way back to the capital.
With the Emperor absent, all matters in the imperial palace would be Red Prince’s duty once he returned. The Emperor’s edict in the palace was for Red Prince to manage the imperial court and nation as a Prince while the Emperor was visiting Empress Dowager on Mount Zisheng. If the Red Prince failed to live up to expectations in that time frame, he would be considered an embarrassment as the oldest Prince. By the same token, he wouldn’t have any qualification to be the next monarch candidate.
The strategy would’ve been deemed unviable if it was months ago, as Orange Prince was still in the capital. The eldest son and the Empress’ son were two brothers who couldn’t get along. No matter who was chosen as the Crown Prince, turbulence was bound to plague the imperial court. If Red Prince was assigned administration duty, Orange Prince would do everything in his power to give Red Prince grief. Were the nation’s welfare and its military tools for two Princes to play around with in their power struggle? Additionally, the capital was the heart of the nation; there was no room for mistake there.
The Emperor’s soft-heartedness was evident. On one hand, he wanted Red Prince to tackle problems. On the other hand, he wrote a letter warning his son to be careful.
The Emperor shifted his gaze to a row of seven copper coins sitting on the table. He was stuck in a long and deep thought.
“A-Hu is now one of Gold and Silver Clan’s next patriarch candidates… I guess that means Gold and Silver Clan are showing gratitude for not pursuing Jin Wangsun’s act of treason and sparing A-Hu. I am the one who instated A-Hu, and he doesn’t have a faction in Gold and Silver Sect supporting him. In fact, his background as a slave is bound to stir the clan. He has no choice but to ally with the imperial court. He’s going to be a good piece for conquering Zhenjiang in the future.”
The Emperor grabbed one of the copper coins, leaving six on the table. For some reason, he stared at the remaining six and spaced out.
“The Seven Champion White Princes collect their own taxes and raise their own private military. Ruling Jiangnan for a century sure isn’t an easy task… If it truly was hard to keep the reigns for a century, my Li Clan would’ve fallen long ago. Though you seven are said to be guards, how are you any different to an army pressing its attack on all fronts…? Your imperious reign has lasted for too long.”
Suddenly, the Emperor melancholically murmured, “Yiren…”
Shen Yiren was a perfect example. Besides being Liu Shan Men’s vice-captain, she was also a Rank One Warrior, yet she went missing in Jiangnan, the last place anybody would expect someone an unorthodox sect faction to attack her. It was absurd – even inconceivable – to think they could sneak into Jiangnan and hide there without the Seven Champion White Princes being aware. If the Seven Champion White Princes genuinely wanted to hunt down Evil Spirits, there was no fathomable way the latter could evade capture. More importantly, why would Evil Spirits risk their lives to rob the escort? Yes, the presents were valuable but by no means precious or rare.
The Emperor wasn’t convinced the entire attack was Evil Spirits’ idea alone. He believed there had to be a bigger goal that required them to ambush Shen Yiren and try to capture her alive. Subsequently, the Emperor had no doubt the Seven Champion White Princes were implicated in the entire plot.
Angry and suspicious of the Seven Champion White Princes, the Emperor clutched his knife with a vice-like grip and discharged his true qi, lowering the temperature in the room. The knife was no ordinary knife; it was an heirloom passed down to the next monarch in line and used to carve text.
“I never should’ve had you personally escort the presents… You seven better pray Shen Yiren is safe and sound. Otherwise, I’ll make sure no trace of you remains!” thundered the Emperor.
Tang Ye and the others outside heard the Emperor’s last remark. There was no doubt in their minds he cared about Shen Yiren.
“Make sure no trace of the seven remains, you say? I guess the bar for arrogance has been raised,” remarked a male outside.
A shiny blade flitted across the Emperor’s eyes. The individual in black zipped across and unveiled his three metres long blade!