Emblem of the Phoenix

Emblem of the Phoenix

Chapter 1 - Late Night Entry to the Palace

In the deep of night in Chang'an, the gates of the Shangguan family residence were suddenly barged open by a group of imperial guards from the palace. The head eunuch Zhang Kuo, a trusted confidant of the Emperor, stood in the center of the Shangguan family hall holding an imperial decree. In a shrill voice and expressionless face, he announced: "The Emperor decrees - Shangguan family's youngest son Mingde is to enter the palace immediately!"

Shangguan Mingde had just woken up moments before the imperial decree arrived. He was an illegitimate son in the family. His mother had passed away and the first wife had given birth to a string of sons. Although he was not mistreated, in the eyes of everyone, there was a clear distinction in status. The young master came out wearing a half-worn cotton jacket in the dead of winter.

Shangguan's father was shocked and flustered. He barely remembered the existence of this son and had no idea why the Emperor would suddenly summon his young son who held no official position.

Seeing the young man walk up expressionlessly, Zhang Kuo stepped aside and said, "Young Master Mingde, please."

Shangguan's father hurriedly bowed and discreetly stuffed a heavy piece of silver into Zhang Kuo's hand, "Eunuch, won't you have a cup of tea?"

Zhang Kuo smiled half-heartedly and returned the silver, "Sir, there's no need for this. We are all serving the Emperor. How could I dare let you spend money like this."

Shangguan's father broke out in a cold sweat. Being an official in the capital, one could become extremely wealthy and noble in an instant, or be utterly ruined the next moment. The Emperor's will was unpredictable. Who knew what his true intentions were with a single decree?

"Eunuch, you see, my young son is inexperienced. Why would the Emperor..."

Zhang Kuo still had that insincere smile, "Sir, the Emperor's intentions, how could we servants dare to inquire about them?"

Having said that, without regard for Shangguan's pale face, he turned and walked out.

Shangguan Mingde was standing outside the residence gates. In the dead of winter, wearing a thin old garment, his cotton-white figure stood in the snowy shadows, so bleak he seemed like he could scatter with the wind at any moment. The prosperous red lanterns in front of the residence gates did not cast any warmth on him. Only his young profile could be vaguely seen in the shadows, elegant and cold.

Zhang Kuo walked up, bowed deeply, pulled open the curtain of the green sedan chair, and said softly, "Young Master Mingde, please."

Shangguan Mingde did not move. In a flat voice, he said, "In the middle of the night with such a show of force, are you planning to raid the house?"

Zhang Kuo said, "How would we dare."

Shangguan Mingde still did not move. After a while, Zhang Kuo sighed and gestured, "Young master, it's best you go into the palace and ask the Emperor yourself. I only have one life and one head, how many times can they be chopped off?"

Lianyi Palace was built on the edge of the Furong Garden in the winter corner of the palace city. Although it was on the outskirts of the inner palace and no concubines visited regularly, it was still an awkward place.

Although it was the dead of winter, bursts of warm fragrance of lotus flowers drifted out from inside the palace gates. Shangguan Mingde got off the sedan chair and was about to enter when Zhang Kuo discreetly pulled him back.

He turned his head and saw Zhang Kuo point inside the palace gate, whispering, "...Just go along with it."

Shangguan Mingde let out a cold laugh, shook off Zhang Kuo's hand, and pushed open the palace gate.

Chang'an was prosperous, not to mention the palace city, and even more so the inner hall. Through layers of green gauze corridors, steaming warmth could be vaguely seen, and rare flowers in full bloom gave off an enchanting fragrance. At the end was an exquisitely crafted small study, with a floor of gold and jade, and orchids winding around the beams. Palace maids dressed in splendid attire silently opened the door to the study. Mingde stepped in and heard the door quietly close behind him.

Mingde was thinly dressed. As he walked in, the cold air he brought with him pushed back the warm air for a moment. Without raising his head, he knelt down upon entering and respectfully said, "Your subject Mingde pays respect to Your Majesty!"

The Emperor's voice came from the seat above, but he was not speaking to Mingde, "...Noble Consort, you said Shangguan Mingde and Zhaoyi have a private affair. Now I have brought him here. How do you plan to confront them?"

Shangguan Mingde slightly raised his head. Behind the gauze curtain sat a beautiful woman adorned with jewels, radiating noble grace and charm with just a glance. The Emperor sat in the first seat, looking at the curtain, his tone gentle but his face showing a hint of a cold smile.

The Noble Consort's voice came out, sounding a bit weak, "...Your concubine is terrified. Your concubine does not dare to usurp power and control the inner palace, but moral principles cannot be disregarded. As the Noble Consort, your concubine should..."

The Emperor interrupted her, "If you have something to ask Shangguan Mingde, ask him directly."

Noble Consort lowered her head and respectfully said, "Yes." Then she turned to the young man kneeling on the ground behind the gauze curtain, her tone turning haughty, "Young Master Shangguan, did you enter the palace on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival last month?"

The carpet was soft, but it was still uncomfortable for Mingde to kneel. He slightly shifted his knees before saying, "Yes."

Noble Consort asked, "As an official without rank or position, you can only enter the palace by imperial decree. Did you have a decree?"

Mingde was silent for a moment. "No."

"According to the imperial guards' report, you went directly to Xia Zhaoyi's palace when you entered. Is this true?"


"You took advantage of the chaos during the Mid-Autumn Festival to sneak into the inner palace and left at dawn. What punishment do you deserve!"

"This subject deserves death."

Noble Consort abruptly stood up, "Your Majesty! Shangguan Mingde has defiled the palace, deceived his sovereign, and Minister Shangguan failed to discipline his son strictly. This is a crime punishable by execution of nine familial relations! Xia Zhaoyi is wanton and shameless with irrefutable evidence. She has brought shame to our imperial family and absolutely cannot be allowed to stay!"

The Emperor did not speak for a moment, and the study fell into a brief, dangerous silence. After a cup of tea's time, Shangguan Mingde slowly spoke, "...Then please decree for your subject's execution, Your Majesty."

With a crash, the Emperor had thrown down his tea cup. Noble Consort immediately knelt, "Your Majesty!"

The Emperor asked in a low voice, "...Noble Consort."

"Your concubine is here."

"Xia Zhaoyi is favored, so you resent her, fine. But what has Shangguan Mingde done to you that you must put him to death?"

Noble Consort's face instantly turned deathly pale. But she still struggled to support herself: "Your Majesty! Shangguan Mingde infiltrated the inner palace, with both witness and material evidence, it's not something I fabricated out of thin air!"

The Emperor said softly: "What if he did come to the inner palace, but that matter had nothing to do with Concubine Xia?"

The Consort's face turned pale, on the verge of collapsing: "How is that possible? What witness, what material evidence is there? Even if he has nothing to do with Concubine Xia, what was he doing in Concubine Xia's palace all night? Your Majesty! You can't condone Concubine Xia for doing such a shameful thing!"

The Emperor wanted to say something, but was interrupted by Shangguan Mingde: "This official has no evidence," his voice was even very calm, "-- Your Highness can punish this official however you see fit."

The Consort suddenly raised her head, but the Emperor laughed: "My beloved consort, don't listen to this man's nonsense."

"Your Majesty! ..."

"I can testify for him," the Emperor said lightly, as if the ferocity that flashed in his eyes for a moment was just an illusion, "-- I'm telling you, on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, he really had nothing to do with Concubine Xia, he didn't even see Concubine Xia's shadow."

The Emperor stepped forward and personally helped the Consort up: "Now you can rest assured?"

The Consort only felt that the big hands pulling her arms were terrifyingly forceful, and for a moment she even heard the creaking sound of her own bones. She felt dizzy and didn't dare to look at the Emperor's expression. The Emperor was smiling, but that kind of smile was even more frightening than a knife.

She no longer had the courage to say anything, and the Emperor waved his hand lightly: "You may take your leave."

The Consort staggered to her knees and hurriedly fled.

The study returned to silence, with only the clear sound of the night water clock ticking away.

Shangguan Mingde felt that this kind of carpet was uncomfortably prickly on his knees, so he moved slightly again and asked flatly, "Does Your Majesty have any other orders?"

The 30-year-old Emperor Li Ji of the Celestial Dynasty sat expressionlessly on the upper seat, with one hand resting on the table. If one looked closely, one could even see the whiteness of his knuckles from using too much force, as if it was not a tabletop under his hand, but someone's neck.

Emperor Li Ji smiled and asked, "Come to think of it, I do remember one thing. I heard that Prime Minister Xia was quite fond of you recently, and he planned to betroth Concubine Xia's younger sister, his second daughter, to you. Is this true?"

Mingde replied expressionlessly, "He mistakenly favored me."

"How is it a mistake?" Emperor Li Ji stood up and walked over. "You, Shangguan Mingde, are young and handsome, talented in both civil and martial arts; your family background is not bad, and you are also promising. You have served as a secret guard in the palace for two years, and once you are promoted, you will have a bright future ahead of you... With such a young talent like you, how can you not be worthy of the Prime Minister's precious daughter?"

Mingde's chin was suddenly grabbed and forced to look up by a large hand.

Emperor Li Ji carefully examined Mingde's face. "That young lady of the Xia family is very beautiful, right?"

Mingde suddenly laughed, "Your Majesty is over thirty but lacks heirs. I heard that the young lady of the Xia family has good fortune. Your Majesty can consider making her a concubine, maybe she can give birth to a few dragon sons--"

Before he could finish, there was a loud slap across his face, so hard that Mingde's head was turned to the side.

He slowly turned his face back, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth. Seeing him like that, Emperor Li Ji was in a very good mood, his tone light and casual, "Mingde, you ranked in the top three among the palace experts back then, right?"

Shangguan Mingde lowered his head and replied obediently, "This official is ashamed."

"You carry the secret guard token and can enter and exit the inner palace freely, right?"

"This official thanks Your Majesty for your trust."

"So you came to the inner palace on imperial orders, and although it was a concubine's palace, it shouldn't be to the point that your whereabouts would be discovered -- right?"

This time Shangguan Mingde did not speak. Emperor Li Ji pinched his chin, forcing him to look up, "-- Mingde, the Consort is just pregnant, when did I ever say I was going to depose the Empress? Why did you deliberately reveal your whereabouts to the Consort? You clearly knew... clearly knew that she would scheme against you, that she would take the opportunity to complain to me, right?"

Shangguan Mingde closed his eyes, "...Your Majesty knows in your heart, why bother saying it out loud?"

Emperor Li Ji slowly nodded, "You succeeded, Mingde. I am indeed very annoyed with the Consort now. Congratulations, the Empress has once again kept her position!"

Although the study was filled with warm fragrance, the atmosphere was even colder than outside. Mingde pressed the Emperor's hand that was pinching his chin, slowly prying it off finger by finger, "...Your Majesty couldn't find a reason to depose the Empress, but if you harbor resentment, you can take the opportunity to convict this official of a crime. As a secret guard, this official is directly under Your Majesty's jurisdiction. Whether Your Majesty wants to beat or kill me, no one else can interfere...

"There are countless ways to make people suffer in this world. The secret manuals of torture in the Ministry of Punishment are always available for reference. As long as Your Majesty doesn't have the intention of deposing the Empress, what's so difficult about letting this official suffer a little in private?"

He looked straight at Emperor Li Ji, his expression cold, but with a kind of spring color after the passing of prosperity in his eyes. That feeling was very subtle, not deliberately showing off its lushness, but inadvertently stirring the soul, yet unaware of it himself.

Emperor Li Ji knelt down in front of him. Mingde was originally kneeling, but he was young, and after Emperor Li Ji half-knelt, he was still a little taller than him. The Emperor leaned close to his ear and whispered with a smile, "...You're right, but I'm not going to torture you... You performed well on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, so consider your merits and demerits canceled out..."

Mingde, who had been motionless, suddenly tried to stand up in a hurry, but was forcibly pressed down by the shoulders by Emperor Li Ji.

At some point, a soft and sweet scent had been mixed into the incense, making people weak and powerless. As soon as one tried to use force, they would feel dizzy and lose clarity.

Shangguan Mingde collapsed silently into Emperor Li Ji's arms. The young man, not yet of age, with his soft old clothes and cold handsome face, just a bit of the beautiful lines on the side of his face, seemed to have exhausted the splendor of an entire spring night.

Shangguan Mingde trembled slightly as the Qianqan Emperor slowly tore open his outer garment and pressed him down on the carpet, asking in a low, amused voice, "You seem to particularly dislike this kind of floor, don't you?..."

Mingde reached out and weakly grabbed the Qianqan Emperor's wrist, but was immediately seized and forcefully pinned beside his ear. His arm skin chafed harshly against the carpet, likely breaking the skin, and a slight itch was followed by pain.

The Qianwan Emperor wantonly kneaded his arm with heavy pressure. The young, delicately raised skin was exquisitely smooth to the touch, the thin, well-defined muscles from martial arts training supple and beautiful, carrying the unique pride and sexiness of a young man.

The Qianwan Emperor felt himself visibly harden, the clamoring desire making his whole body seethe. He was already in his prime years past thirty, yet no matter how beautiful and alluring, no one could ignite his most vigorous, conquering desire like the young man beneath him.

It was almost a beast-like desire to want to tear him apart and devour him alive.

However, just then there was a knock on the study door, and Zhang Kuo's slightly panicked voice said, "Your Majesty, the Empress seeks an audience!"

The Qianwan Emperor abruptly stood up. "Deny her!"

"The Empress is already on her way here!"

"Tell her to scram!"

Suddenly, Mingde laughed and said lightly, "I invited her..."

The Qianwan Emperor swiftly looked down at him. Mingde lay limp in his arms, outer garment loose, barely covering a large expanse of skin from shoulders to chest, a hint of his neck peeking out from his hair, unimaginably beautiful.

The Qianwan Emperor was so furious he laughed. "You notified the Empress before coming in?"

Mingde's expression was even quite relaxed. "Yes."


"While in the sedan chair, there and back, even the chair bearers didn't notice..."

"Very good! Very good!" The Qianwan Emperor was enraged. "Looks like next time I'll have to put iron chains in the sedan chair to lock you up when you come!"

The sound of the Empress' entourage announcing her arrival was already approaching the door. The Qianwan Emperor loosened his grip, and Shangguan Mingde managed to stand up leaning against the wall, head raised, expression calm. "This subject takes his leave."

Just like that, he backed away, step by step, cautiously exiting the study door.

The Qianwan Emperor Li Ji sat in the wide armchair, the desire in his lower body still clamoring, almost burning him up. But that person was no longer there.

Li Ji laughed coldly. "...You slipped away fast..."

But, forget it, he had already fallen into his hands anyway, so why force it too hard?

If he was pushed into some mishap, wouldn't it still be his own person that suffered?

The Emperor stared in the direction the person had left, his eyes deep and unfathomable, yet always carrying an unmistakable harshness.


Heya! I'm Leafy. My passion for stories is matched only by my love for the outdoors. As I translate, I draw inspiration from the tranquility of nature. Whether I'm translating or tending to my garden, I'm always finding new stories to share with you.

Give me feedback at moc.ebircssutol@yfael.