His Majesty’s Firm Stance
Aiming his finger at the mirage above, Emperor Yuansheng firmly asserted, “You won’t have your way! I know exactly what you’re aiming for. You want to blackmail me into abdicating in exchange for their lives. You can forget about it! Even if I step down, you still have my sons and my vassals’ family members in your hands. That’s the same as giving you the throne. You’ll then start hunting my family down in the midst of the chaos and then impose your will. Meanwhile, I’ll be stuck between a rock and a hard place, just as you want. You think you can force me to submit with a hostage strategy? You’re dreaming!
“If I don’t abdicate, you’ll sow discord between my vassals and I. I may not be able to control a man’s loyalty, but I refuse to let you lead me by the nose. It’d be my fault for being a fool if I didn’t understand your ploy. Since I do know, you can forget about your mind games. If I were to have any irrational softness left in me, I’d be the worst sinner in the world!”
Despite how long they had known Emperor Yuansheng for, the imperial court’s officials saw him in a new, more positive, light after his unwavering speech.
Emperor Yuansheng turned back to his vassals and, without any signs of hesitation, told them, “My trusted aides, I cannot submit now. I shall accept any criticism you direct toward me. However, I have made up my mind. I hereby offer you my sincere apologies.”
The officials with family members at the mercy of Jiang Chen’s whims knelt down.
“You are at no fault, Your Majesty. His Highness Red Prince was kidnapped, as well. Your sacrifice for the world is no less than anyone’s. How can you be a sinner?”
“You owe none of us an apology, Your Majesty. Compared to the lives of the entire world, the life of your subject’s unbridled son is not worth a mention.”
With his torso bent over, Prime Minister Li advanced to the front to convey, “Since the dawn of man, it is the fault of the vassal if his master is threatened. To let Your Majesty’s name be smeared in spite of knowing your sacrifices for the country is an even worse negligence of duty. What right would such a vassal have to complain? Gentlemen, is there anyone among you who does not comprehend His Majesty’s pain?”
“But… But…” The only one who was in opposition to His Majesty’s stance was his weeping wife.
Orange Prince had been living a miserable life without the support of the imperial family since his exile. Every time Her Majesty’s informants reported back to her about his life outside the palace walls, her heart would ache, yet she didn’t dare to send him a penny. Honestly, she was content if he could just live out the rest of his life. The last thing she expected was for her son to become a hostage and his father to sacrifice him.
“Your Majesty, he… he…”
Emperor Yuansheng asserted, “My Lady! We cannot yield to criminals! You need not say more!”
Her Majesty finally succumbed to the stress and passed out.
Emperor Yuansheng had Bai and Jin Clans’ daughters take care of her before turning his attention back to Jiang Chen, who appeared to be meditating. Containing his sorrow whilst maintaining a straight face, Emperor Yuansheng yelled, “Listen carefully: you should’ve done better research if you were going to try overthrowing me. Since my ancestors’ time, not one of us, from elders to children, has any of us ever surrendered?!”
Emperor Yuansheng didn’t care that a mirage didn’t have an audible voice; he didn’t even care that it was just a mirage; he didn’t care of Jiang Chen knew what was taking place in real time. “Since it’s my life that you want, I’d rather die standing than live on my knees! After you kill me, you’ll have to go through my sons, my daughters and my sons-in-law. Even if you wipe out my entire bloodline, you’ll have to kill every single loyal vassal of mine, and then their descendants will continue our fight. You’ll have to kill and kill until there’s not a single one of us left. You will never hear me say, ‘I surrender!’”
A ray of light pierced through the white puffs, contorting the mirage of Jiang Chen.
“I look forward to hearing your answer five days from now.”
Once the ray shone through the mirage, it rippled away.
A long silent permeated in the plaza until Emperor Yuansheng turned to his vassals.
“You are most wise, Your Majesty.” Song Chi knelt down first, and then the other descendants of the Seven Champion White Princes followed suit.
Emperor Yuansheng pulled Song chi up. “Zi Li, why are you suddenly saluting me?”
“In the heat of the moment, Zi Li forgot his priorities and wanted to send a letter home to Yangzhou to request a negotiation with the rebel. Had Zi Li not heard your rebuttal that foiled the rebel’s plans, he would have erred. He is grateful for your wise judgement.”
The others followed suit to express appreciation for the correct call.
Had it been under different circumstances, Emperor Yuansheng would’ve been unhappy to hear that Song Chi prioritised his family over the imperial court in troubled times. Under these circumstances, however, he felt Song Chi spoke from the heart. In fact, Emperor Yuansheng was confident it was the first honest thing the five had said since they arrived in the capital.
“Zi Li could learn from your strong will to do what is right despite having to sacrifice your family. Zi Li would like to declare that, on behalf of Song Clan, we will do everything in our power to assist you. If you could try to rescue Zi Li’s uncle from peril, he would be immeasurably grateful.”
The reason Fiends’ Genesis was so tough to locate was due to the fact that there were a lot of places in Jiangnan that wasn’t linked with the imperial court’s intelligence network. It might’ve appeared as solid as a fortress, but those with insider information would know how abundant the ways to avoid detection were. Therefore, if Song Clan were to lend a hand, they’d provide a much-needed boost to the uncovered areas.
“It is my duty to crush vermin. Allow me to express my thanks in advance.”
After hearing the other four express the same wish, Emperor Yuansheng was revving to go.
“Get up, Zi Li. You four, too. I know the reason for your visit. I truly do. All of us have important people to us whom have been taken hostage. If we continue second guessing each other and plotting behind each other’s backs, we would be playing into his trap. If we don’t unite, he will have the last laugh. The Seven Champion White Princes and imperial court were one to begin with. Had the seven not deviated from their original path, I would never cut them off or even think of stripping them. Does that reassure you?”
Those in the capital for their families were relieved to hear that directly from Emperor Yuansheng. “May we always safeguard the capital!”
Emperor Yuansheng stroked his beard. “Excellent! Summon Ye Yun and Yi Ya. I need to hold a strategy meeting with them.”
Not long after, Eunuch Wang reported, “Your Majesty, the two of them seemed to have expected your summon, so they sent messengers. The messengers said… they have gone to hunt the criminals.”