This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
In a dim room, Qi Lian sat on ground covered in hay. His hair was in disarray as it fell on his back. His light-colored brocade robe was also dusty, and he looked wretched.
He looked darkly at the narrow window above his head and was able to discern dots of starlight.
Footsteps came behind him. He turned the head to look. When he saw the newcomer, he first stilled and then laughed mockingly, “As expected—it is you.” Other than him, who could silently take him from a Gaoluo border city all the way to the Feng capital?
“The prime minister of Gaoluo disappeared suddenly; Gaoluo is in a state of chaos, and the parties are fighting.” The newcomer stood outside the cell doors and looked expressionlessly at Qi Lian. “Does Prime Minister Qi Lian feel the drama is a good one?”
“I think myself a villain, but in front of you, I am embarrassed.” Qi Lian stood up and patted off the grass stuck to his clothing. “When did you start to suspect me?”
“I suspected you from the start.” The newcomer did not grow angry at Qi Lian’s scorn. He walked to a nearby table and sat down. “Ten years ago, you suddenly appeared in Gaoluo, then became their adopted son, and the youngest prime minister of Gaoluo.”
“If your Jin Clan did not destroy the bridge after crossing, would my Lin Family have fallen to this point?!” Qi Lian lost some control as he looked at the person outside. “The Lin Family members, regardless of gender or age, were all executed. If not for loyal servants, I would have died under the executioner like my family. You tell me—what mistake did the Lin Family make?!
“When he favoured my aunt, he raised the Lin Family to glory. In one moment, the empress lost her child and the traitorous concubine just said a few words, and he thought my aunt the culprit in killing the imperial son.” Qi Lian grabbed the bars of the cell, snarling, and looked with red eyes at the newcomer. “Dozens of members of the Lin Family, dozens, were beheaded. When I think back to their eyes filled with injustice in the middle of the night, I want to eat your flesh and drink your blood!
“Your Jin Family members are all ruthless, but like to pretend to be loving.” He breathed heavily, like an enraged lion who had lost its mind. “You are the same. You are not in love with the Gu daughter—you are just using love to have the empress dowager and Gu Family help stabilize your country. Jin Yang, how are you different from the last bastard emperor?”
“Shut up!” He Ming scolded from behind Jin Yang. “Do not speak nonsense!”
“I speak nonsense.” Qi Lian laughed mockingly. “See how well you pretend—even your personal servants think you are in love with the empress. Pity the Gu daughter, treasured by her family from birth, now married to a false man who she thinks is in love with her. So laughable and pathetic.”
He Ming heard the words and was stunned. He couldn’t help but turn and saw His Majesty had no expression on his face, as though Qi Lian’s words had not affected him at all. Could it be…
Coldness spread through his body from his back. His legs weakened and he unconsciously knelt on the ground.
“What does the truth of my love for the empress have to do with you?” The newcomer raised his hand and the torch on the wall lit up. A perfect face was exposed in the firelight.
He was tall, dressed in a light-colored robe with dark patterns. His hair was tied up with a jade coronet, and he looked like an elegant young man.
He just stood there, yet became the most dazzling existence in the cell because he was too noble and handsome.
“Back when I fled to Jin Prefecture, you were as wretched as I am now—no, even more wretched.” Qi Lian saw his appearance and laughed. The laughter echoed through the cell, exceptionally scornful and dissonant. “You were on the ground like a dog, being ridden by that younger brother of yours. Let me think of your eyes then… unwilling, resentful and ruthless.
“Such a terrifying pair of eyes. At first glance, I felt that those were not the eyes of a person but of a mad dog.” Qi Lian looked dismissively and disdainfully at Jin Yang. “But those aristocratic families praise you for your good conduct and elegance. How blind they are.”
Slowly turning the jade ring on his thumb, Jin Yang expressionlessly listened to Qi Lian finish, and then looked up. “So what?”
Qi Lian saw the other’s icy eyes and stilled. Yes, so what? So what if this person was vicious and good at pretending? At least, he became the emperor of Great Feng, with power over the world. Even those proud aristocratic families had to bow in front of him now.
He smiled in self-deprecation and walked to the corner. He sat down, not caring that the hay was slightly damp. “You should have married that Sima Xiang—that woman is like you in her bones. She will do everything to succeed. If the two of you were together, you would have many common interests. Why would a lunatic like you go provoke the miss from the Gu Family who is like a delicate flower?”
When he said this, he shook his head and smiled. “I forgot. People like you like those clean and beautiful things even more. Because you are dirty all over, and smell of blood. You are exceptionally interested in those that are beautiful. I fear that people like you will tarnish those beautiful things.”
“Zhen did not imprison you here to hear you waste words.” Jin Yang stood up and walked to the door to look down at Qi Lian. “There is no need for you to review Zhen‘s methods. At least, Zhen did not sell the country for glory, or serve for another country. If the Lin ancestors knew you prepared to work with Gaoluo and Prince Rui’s Establishment to rebel and cause chaos in the world, do you feel you would have the face to see them?”
“What does the world have to do with me? When the Lin Family was wronged and ransacked, who in Great Feng stood up and spoke for the Lin Family?!” Qi Lian said viciously. “The world treats the Lin Family so—why should I care about the world?”
Jin Yang looked at Qi Lian’s face twisted madly in hate. “Who said no one pleaded for the Lin Family?”
“You are right. Back then, the Gu Family and the Yang Ducal Establishment spoke for the Lin Family.” Qi Lian calmed slightly. He looked down for a moment and then suddenly looked up at Jin Yang. “But what’s the use? The Gu Family is loyal to you, but you used love to fool their daughter. The Yang Ducal Establishment is an honorable family, but you stole Young Master Yang’s sweetheart. So you Jin males are all so disgusting. You appear so magnificent on the surface, but are foul inside. Aren’t you afraid of karma?”
“You are a prisoner—why consider whether or not karma will come for me.” Jin Yang looked down, and placed a white finger on the bar. His movement was gentle, like he was caressing a lover. “The wrongs of the previous emperor are not a reason for you to sell your country and cause a war. Do you know how many innocent people would suffer hardship if war started? They did not harm the Lin Family nor make trouble for them. Don’t you feel any unease?”
“I do not know how you managed to secretly catch me, and I do not want to know.” Qi Lian leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. “You do not need to say more. I wait at your leisure for torture and execution. I know what you want to know. I won’t give it to you.”
Jin Yang put his hands behind his back and glanced at him. He said calmly, “Even if you cannot provide evidence that Prince Rui’s Establishment betrayed the country, Zhen can make the Prince Rui Establishment be unable to lift their head.”
“Of course you can do it. But people like you who are dark inside but like to look beautiful always like to find proof before taking action,” Qi Lian said without opening his eyes. “Your Majesty, please leave. Forgive this one for not seeing you off.”
Jin Yang expressionlessly walked out of this secret prison. He Ming and a few quiet eunuchs immediately followed with lanterns.
“Your Majesty, careful of the steps.” He Ming moved the lantern closer, so the road ahead would be seen more clearly.
Jin Yang took out a handkerchief and covered his mouth, coughing. Then he said, “In the next few days, do not let anyone talk with Qi Lian. Other than delivering food, do not do anything.”
“Yes.” He Ming acknowledged hurriedly.
Jin Yang took a few more steps and suddenly felt his neck was cold. The jade droplet hanging from his neck had fallen out. When he walked, it swung and hit the skin of his neck, causing him to feel coldness.
He paused in his steps. He gently touched the jade droplet with his finger, tucking it back into his clothes and then speeding up towards Purple Imperial Hall.
When he returned, he found that Gu Ru Jiu was not in the hall. He frowned and asked the palace attendant inside, “Where is the empress?”
“Your Majesty, the empress went to Luanhe Palace.”
Jin Yang frowned and nodded. “Zhen knows; you all leave.”
He Ming looked up at the emperor, bowed and then withdrew with the others, even closing the room door for Jin Yang.
The room was deathly silent. Jin Yang walked to the soft couch that Gu Ru Jiu usually liked to recline on and pulled out two books from underneath the couch. There was a bookmark in the novel. It appeared the owner had not yet finished reading before leaving.
He opened the first page and saw written, “There was a mountain a hundred years ago, called Xiu Mountain. There was a white fox in the mountain…”
The writing was rough, but the plot was slightly interesting. This beautiful fox demon fell in love with a noble young master, giving up her cultivation for him, willing to become a mortal. But this noble young master appeared to be in love with the beautiful fox demon, but in reality just wanted to get her heart blood to create an immortality pill to give to the emperor so he could marry the princess.
In the end, the young master got the heart blood while the fox demon cried herself to death. But the young master did not have a good outcome. The emperor ate the immortality pill and died.
The blood of the fox demon was so domineering that the emperor, as a mortal, could not withstand it, and died.
There were many holes in the plot, but the ending was different from all other novels. Other novels always pursued a happy ending, but this one ended in death.
He closed the book and looked at the flickering candle on the table, his eyes dry.
In Luanhe Palace, Gu Ru Jiu sat at the front, with Dowager Consort Qian and Dowager Consort Sun sitting below her. There were fine pastries placed in front of the trio but no one touched them.
Gu Ru Jiu smiled as she looked at the pair and said, “Sorry to trouble dowager consorts. I invited you two here today for a chat to pass the time.”
Dowager Consort Sun smiled upon hearing this and said, “We are happy the empress is willing to talk to us—this is no trouble.”
Dowager Consort Qian smiled and agreed. She looked at the tea and pastries in front of her but didn’t dare to touch them.
“You are my elders, and have stayed in the palace for many years. You understand the rules of the palace better than I.” Gu Ru Jiu sighed. “A fortnight ago, I imprisoned a naive palace maid. Who knew… she died in captivity four hours ago.”
“There is such a thing?” Dowager Consort Qian looked surprised. “She killed herself out of fear?”
“It is unclear right now.” Gu Ru Jiu shook her head. “This matter should technically be handled by the Court of Justice, but the inner palace is the place where His Majesty rests, and we are all women. It likely is inappropriate for the people of the Court of Justice to come.”
“Your Majesty’s words make sense. It is not appropriate for the Court of Justice officials to come to the inner palace.” Dowager Consort Sun smiled and said after a pause, “Also, this is a palace maid who had committed a crime. The possibility she killed herself to escape punishment is high.”
“Be that as it may, I still feel anxious.” Gu Ru Jiu’s worried expression intensified. “If this palace maid was killed by someone else, then the inner palace is too dangerous.”
Dowager Consort Qian and Dowager Consort Sun did not speak and had solemn expressions, as though they were afraid of the matter of the palace maid’s death.
“I think since the inner palace is not very peaceful and the two dowager consorts are noble in status, the empress dowager and emperor will be worried if something happens. How about Dowager Consorts go to the Lin’an Palace to live temporarily before this matter is cleared up? When the matter is finished, I will receive Dowager Consorts back,” Gu Ru Jiu said and then sighed. “This is an action out of helplessness. Dowager Consorts, please have consideration.”
Dowager Consorts Qian and Sun changed expression. What did the empress mean? She was driving them out of the palace to Lin’an?
Lin’an was the secondary capital of Great Feng. Many of the consorts of previous emperors who did not have children or receive the emperor’s favour would be moved to the Lin’an Palace, but this was something that would only occur when the new emperor’s inner palace was full. But now, the emperor had no woman except the empress. The empress was still going to drive them out?
But no matter how discontent they were, could they say no?
Dowager Consorts Qian and Sun knew that if the empress insisted on sending them away, they could only go to the Lin’an Palace to die alone.
“It is late. Dowager Consorts, return to your palaces and rest.” Gu Ru Jiu seemed not to see the ugly expressions of the two dowager consorts, and stood up. “This palace is a bit tired.”
The dowager consorts could only stand and bow. “Farewell, Your Majesty.”
Seeing the empress leave, the pair walked out of Luanhe Palace. Dowager Consort Sun’s smile slowly faded. “Consort Qian, you are so rash in your actions. If not for you, why would the empress plan to send us to Lin’an Palace?”
The palace in Lin’an was a grave for living people. It was not the cold palace, but more of a cold palace. After entering, other than dying, there was almost no chance of coming out.
She had heard that decades ago, one noble consort had been favoured and was jealous. So the emperor sent all the women in the inner palace to Lin’an Palace and only favoured the noble consort.
Some candidates entered the palace, and before they even saw the emperor, they were sent to the Lin’an Palace. Until death, they were just ordinary palace maids.
“Don’t just talk about me. Were you not involved in this matter?” Dowager Consort Qian glared unpleasantly at Dowager Consort Sun and then stormed off in a huff.
Dowager Consort Sun’s expression changed. In the end, she ground her teeth. “What a good empress!”
“Your Majesty, you really prepare to send the two dowager consorts to Lin’an Palace?” Qiu Luo was slightly worried. In the past, the consorts who had been sent away were candidates from ordinary families. But Dowager Consort Qian and Dowager Consort Sun’s paternal families were all aristocratic families in the capital, especially Dowager Consort Sun’s. Her paternal family wasn’t just prominent—they had marriage ties with the Sima Family. If the court made trouble, they would likely use this matter to force the emperor to take a consort.
“This matter depends on whether they are willing to go to Lin’an Palace,” Gu Ru Jiu smiled and looked up at the moon in the sky. “If they are not willing, they have to show their sincerity.”
Qiu Luo had an expression of realization after thinking for a moment.
Bao Lu looked in confusion at the empress and Qiu Luo before bowing her head.
“Your Majesty, you returned.” He Ming saw Gu Ru Jiu and enthusiastically welcomed her, bowing. “The emperor has been waiting for you for a long time.”
Gu Ru Jiu entered the room and saw Jin Yang flipping through the books she hadn’t finished reading. She smiled. “Chenjun, is the story interesting?”
Jin Yang pulled her into his arms and said with a smile, “Too many plot holes, but it is rare for a fox demon to be so honorable.”
“Pity that no matter how honorable she was, she encountered a heartless man.” Gu Ru Jiu had not finished reading and asked, “What is the ending?”
“I just scanned it.” Jin Yang threw the book to the side and put his head on her shoulder. “The man was pulled apart by wagons and his soul was sent to the eighteenth level of hell.”
“This outcome is good.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “I just dislike seeing men hurting women all over, and in the end, after crying two tears, they would receive forgiveness, and then have riches and children.”
Jin Yang hummed.
Gu Ru Jiu gently stroked the back of his head and said sarcastically, “If two tears can achieve forgiveness, then the feelings of innocent women are too cheap.”
“Jiu Jiu will be different from these women.” Jin Yang lightly kissed her neck.
“Of course I am different from them.” Gu Ru Jiu’s index finger fell to his neck and sensed his pulse. The warm blood caused tremors as it pulsed through. She murmured, “If you dare become a man like that, I will pull you to die with me together.”
Jin Yang looked up into her eyes. From her dark eyes, he saw a flickering flame and his own face.
“All right.” He smiled and gripped her hand. He bowed his face and said, “I know, Jiu Jiu is different from everyone else.”
In the early summer, the nights were not hot. When a roar of thunder sounded, Dowager Consort Sun sat up on the bed in terror.
The silk covering swayed gently, and there was a dark shadow.
She panted and said hoarsely, “Someone come.” There was another roar of thunder which covered her voice.
Dowager Consort Sun was slightly afraid. She pulled the blanket up. She seemed to see someone standing in the corner of the room. Her terror grew and she even stopped breathing.
At this time, a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. She saw the black shadow heading towards her. When she saw the face, she couldn’t help but scream.
“Dowager Consort, Dowager Consort!”
In the pouring rain, two eunuchs were running. They were completely soaked but didn’t dare to wipe the water off. One of them tripped and fell but climbed up and continued to run.
They were running in the direction of Purple Imperial Hall.
Gu Ru Jiu was awakened by the thunder. She saw Jin Yang sleeping next to her and when the lightning flashed, she reached out to cover his ears.
When the next thunderclap sounded, she heard footsteps outside. Then Bai Xian’s voice came. “Your Majesties, something has happened at Jingan Palace.”
Feeling Jin Yang move, Gu Ru Jiu gently patted his back. “Sleep first. It is the dowager consorts—I will go see.”
“The rain is so heavy. Let’s leave the matter until tomorrow.” Jin Yang sat up as well. He frowned upon hearing the heavy rain. “Don’t go—what if you get rained upon?”
“If it were not something major, Jingan Palace wouldn’t have sent someone.” Gu Ru Jiu called servants in to help her change. She had no time for her hair, so she just kept it loose. “I want to go see. If there is nothing, I will come back.” She walked to the bedside, pressed Jin Yang into the blanket and then tucked the blanket under his chin. “Lie down and wait for me to return.”
It would be inconvenient for Jin Yang to go to a dowager consort’s palace, so he could only pull the corners of the blanket and nod.
The carriage had been prepared. Gu Ru Jiu lifted her skirts and sat in. “Quick, to Jingan Palace.”
The rain rattled on the top of the carriage. Gu Ru Jiu tucked her hair behind her ears and expressionlessly lifted the window curtain.
The palace lantern was hung outside the window, but it appeared hazy and a bit colder in the rain.
Gu Ru Jiu bent and got off the carriage when it arrived at Jingan Palace. With just a few steps, the rain floated under the umbrella and dampened her dress. But she could not care about that at this time because Dowager Consort Sun’s screams came from inside.
She speeded up her footsteps into the palace. She saw Dowager Consort Sun, hair messy, holding a palace maid, trembling all over and muttering something.
“Dowager Consort Sun, what is it?” Gu Ru Jiu raised a hand to stop the others in the palace from greeting her. Then she walked close to Dowager Consort Sun and whispered, “Dowager Consort Sun, are you all right?”
Lightning flashed. Dowager Consort Sun suddenly screamed again. She grabbed Gu Ru Jiu’s hand, her eyes wide. “Ghost, ghost—she came.”
Gu Ru Jiu frowned, her hand in pain. Just as she was about to speak, she heard Dowager Consort Qian’s voice from behind her.
“Inside the imperial palace, at the foot of the Son of Heaven, there are no ghosts. Dowager Consort Sun, careful of what you say!”
Gu Ru Jiu turned and saw Dowager Consort Qian in deep-colored robes, her hair pins swaying in her hair and her stern expression slightly discontent.