Emblem of the Phoenix

Emblem of the Phoenix

Chapter 5 - Desperate Struggle in the Night

The guards at the Eastern Palace of the Crown Prince seemed to hear the faint clashing of swords in the night sky. However, the sound was so easy to overlook that by the time the guard looked up with his mouth agape, the night had already returned to stillness, as if nothing had happened.

"I must be too tired..." The guard yawned long and hard, and returned to his post listlessly.

Shangguan Mingde stood on the roof ridge with his sword propped on the ground, his body blocking the path of three uninvited guests entering the Eastern Palace.

A crescent moon hung like a sharp blade, slowly moving to the center of the sky. The night wind howled, stirring up his robes and making the sword wound on his arm throb with pain. Blood flowed down his arm to his fingertips, making him feel very uncomfortable with the wetness.

But Mingde did not move. He could not move, for if he gave way even slightly, a gap would open up to the gate of the Eastern Palace. His whole body had entered the most perfect state of readiness for battle. A little pain and blood actually made his mind even clearer.

The three assassins exchanged glances. The one in the lead smiled and said, "Brother, judging from your attire, you don't seem to be from inside the palace. May I ask how I should address you?" His voice was hoarse and aged, his accent stiff, not sounding like he was from the Central Plains.

Mingde did not reply. Instead, one of the men behind the leader, who seemed to be his subordinate, said in a low voice, "Black robes, black cloak, silver mask - it's the attire of the royal secret guards. Brother, since when have the hands of the royal secret guards reached into the territory of the Eastern Palace?"

The leader who had spoken first said, "Secret guards? No wonder... Second Brother, what do you think, is this going to be a bit tricky?"

The one called Second Brother chuckled a few times, "If he's a secret guard, he should have some skills; you see, this brother has been slashed on the arm by my 'Tri-color Blade', but does he show any sign of discomfort?"

The leader then fixed his eyes and saw that the black-robed secret guard was standing sideways, with a crescent moon behind one side of his body, while the other side was deeply merged into the boundless darkness. His entire being seemed to be carved out of stone, without the slightest wavering.

The leader clapped his hands and laughed, his voice hoarse, "Good! Good! I'm afraid before we pay our respects to that Crown Prince, we'll have to take some effort to send this secret guard brother on his way first." With that, he leapt into the air with a whoosh, spreading out like a great roc and enveloping Shangguan Mingde.

When top experts cross swords, life and death are decided in an instant. Light and shadow, position, state of mind, line of sight - the slightest inconsequential change can lead to victory or defeat. Mingde's position was extremely exacting, three parts light, three parts shadow, seven parts blocking the way, so that anyone who wanted to pass had to go by his side.

The leader was well aware of the danger of infiltrating the palace at night and knew that he had to deal with this secret guard in front of him as quickly as possible. So his first move was his signature killing technique; a flash of blade light from his sleeve shot straight towards Shangguan Mingde's throat under the mask!

At the same time, his subordinate Second Brother had already taken the opportunity to make his move. Mingde's eyes flicked and he saw the tri-colored blade light slithering like a spirit snake, alternating between near and far from the leader's side, clearly intending to form a pincer attack from left and right. Judging from the momentum of the blades, they had already cut off his path of retreat!

Their coordination was extremely tacit and fierce. The leader let out a grating sound and laughed hoarsely, "Good brother, be on your way!"

However, before the words had finished, he felt a chill on his wrist. The chill was a slight touch on his wrist, as light as the quietly falling night frost, yet as heavy as a thousand-pound blade chopping down in front of him.

In that instant, he suddenly discovered that the sharp blade in his sleeve was no longer in its original place; his sleeve was empty. His eyes had barely glanced down when his whole body turned cold: his renowned "sleeve blade" had quietly slid away and landed steadily in the hand of that royal secret guard!

This had all happened in a flash. He had not intended to let this secret guard in front of him live, so when he pounced, he had used ten times his normal speed. Now he didn't even have time to pull back. The tip of the blade was steadily pointed at him, and he was rushing towards it with unstoppable momentum, about to crash his own chest onto the blade point!

The leader's first thought was, how could this secret guard's hand be so fast? His second thought was almost one of despair: Heaven is destroying me!

In fact, Heaven was not destroying him. At this moment, Second Brother's tri-colored blade had already pressed up to Shangguan Mingde's arm, the tip of the blade even barely piercing the surface of the skin. Shangguan Mingde felt a sharp pain and exhaled forcefully from his throat. Gathering his inner energy, he lifted his leg and kicked Second Brother flying with one foot!

The speed was so fast that Second Brother only had time to push the leader away with his palm. There was a faint sound of the blade tip sliding inside a body, and then the two men tumbled away to the left and right.

The leader was sent flying three zhang away by Second Brother's desperate palm strike. He barely stabilized his stance when his hand hurriedly felt his chest. He realized that his night clothes had been sliced open by the blade energy, and underneath was his still-beating heart.

He lowered his head and opened his wrist, his weapon already dropped by someone in one move. On his wrist was a deep cut that went from shallow to deep, as if made by a long fingernail.

Years of cultivation undone by someone in one move, he was furious and resentful. He smiled sarcastically and asked, "What, is this secret guard actually a woman?"

Second Brother was sent flying by Shangguan Mingde's kick and crashed onto the roof ridge. He felt a sweetness in his chest as a mouthful of blood spurted out. He had no time to answer when the third person, who had been silent and had not made a move, suddenly said mildly, "He is not a woman."

After a pause, he continued, "I can probably guess which of the secret guards he is. He is still young, with extraordinary speed. In a couple more years, he will likely attain great cultivation. But no matter, with the three of us joining hands tonight, it will be enough to slay him here."

Shangguan Mingde, with another wound on his shoulder and his energy center roiling in his chest, glanced at the third person upon hearing this. The three assassins all had their faces covered in black cloth, their features indiscernible.

Shangguan Mingde was slightly startled in his heart: who was this that was so familiar with the internal composition of the secret guards? The number of people in the world who knew his identity could not exceed ten. Who was this person?

The Zhengtai Palace was shrouded in a heavy darkness, with a few strands of moonlight penetrating through the thick curtains, only to fade weakly into the endless night. All the daytime splendor and luxury had fallen silent. The royal gold and jade were too cold, and in the deep of the night when no one was around, they seemed particularly lifeless.

The Qianwan Emperor sat alone at the table, lost in his own thoughts. The Tieguanyin tea beside him had just reached the boiling point, perfect for drinking.

A pair of eyes appeared on the palace's roof beams, staring intently at the cup of tea. Ordinary people wouldn't be able to see much at this height and visibility, but for a master skilled in using poison and night attacks, this level of observation was nothing.

The Qianwan Emperor seemed completely unaware as he picked up the tea and took a sip. After a short while, his head tilted to the side, as if he had already lost consciousness.

The dark figure leaped down from the roof beams with a cold laugh, "The Emperor of the Celestial Dynasty, is this all you've got? No wonder they sent three people to kill the Crown Prince. One is enough for me to kill the Emperor."

As he approached to check, he suddenly realized with a start that the Emperor's body beneath his hand still had signs of life!

Before this shock had passed, his hand was grabbed. The assassin shuddered and broke free. In that one-millionth of a second, a bowl of tea was splashed in his face. Instantly, he thought to himself, it's over, it's over.

The tea was the very same poisoned Tieguanyin he had prepared. The poison was so potent that upon contact with the skin, it would corrode the flesh down to the bones. There was absolutely no chance of survival.

The Qianwan Emperor watched the assassin collapse to the ground with a cold snort. He stood up and brushed his sleeves, "With these little tricks, you dare call yourself an assassin? Is Xiwan out of talent?"

He called out, "Someone, come!"

Zhang Kuo hurried in from outside the hall and lit a lamp. Seeing the corpse on the ground, he showed no surprise, "Your Majesty, what are your orders?"

The Qianwan Emperor waved his hand, "Drag it out and bury it."

Zhang Kuo bowed, "Yes." He then asked, "Your Majesty, judging from what this man said, the situation with the Crown Prince must be extremely dangerous. Should we send someone to support him?"

The Qianwan Emperor remained silent for a long time. The flickering candlelight cast on his face, the shadows making his expression somewhat distorted and unclear. After a while, he said, "...I have long intended to depose the Crown Prince..."

Zhang Kuo's expression changed slightly.

"The Crown Prince is indecisive, has the kindness of a woman, and lacks the ability to govern the country. If he ascends the throne in the future, it will not bode well for the nation. Unfortunately, the Crown Prince has Mingde's unwavering support, so I have been unable to remove him."

Zhang Kuo said, "Your servant dares to ask for Your Majesty's wise decision?"

The Qianwan Emperor said, "As a father, I cannot bear to personally kill my son, so let others do it for me."

If the Crown Prince were to be deposed, he would only be confined to the Imperial Clan Court. If the Crown Prince died at the hands of assassins, at least he could still enter the Imperial Mausoleum with honor.

Zhang Kuo bowed deeply, "The current Emperor is truly merciful!"

It was already late at night, but the Crown Prince had not yet gone to sleep. He sat on the edge of the bed, holding a book, reading it with fascination, "Those who wish to become Celestial Immortals must accumulate 1,300 good deeds. Those who wish to become Earthly Immortals must accumulate 300 good deeds..."

The senior palace maid (a female official) in a goose-yellow palace attire presented tea and said softly, "Your Highness, please rest early."

The Crown Prince was deaf to her words. The Grand Chamberlain endured and said loudly, "Your Highness! The war at the front is not over, and there are undercurrents in the court. His Majesty already has the intention to depose you! How can you still read about the way of immortality so calmly?"

The Crown Prince was stunned for a moment. He put down the book and sighed, "Ah Zui, you know very well that there's no point in me being the Crown Prince. If possible, I would have long ago... long ago..."

The Grand Chamberlain put down the teacup heavily and said sternly, "What kind of words are you saying, Your Highness! Is being the Crown Prince something you can choose to be or not? How will you face the Empress and Lord Shangguan!"

The Crown Prince was left speechless. He could only close the book and drink his tea with a long sigh. Suddenly, there was a clashing sound of metal from outside, followed by a scream. The Crown Prince was so startled that his hand shook, "Ah! What happened? What's going on?"

The Grand Chamberlain's eyelids twitched, but she was much more decisive than this weak and incompetent Crown Prince. She pressed down on the Crown Prince and said, "Your Highness, please remain calm." Then she called out loudly, "Someone, come! Protect the Crown Prince!"

The guards broke in and surrounded them, "What's the matter, Grand Chamberlain?"

Before they could finish speaking, there was another sound of clashing swords outside. The guards quickly drew their swords, but before they could rush out, they heard a cry of pain. Then, a person broke in and flew towards the main hall.

The way the person flew in was strange. He didn't come in on his own but was kicked in the chest by someone. Then, a black-clothed, silver-masked royal secret guard leaped down. He was covered in blood, but his movements were fierce. With a single stab to the chest, his short dagger ended the life of the previous person.

The Crown Prince screamed in terror, "Ah! Murder! Murder!"

The Grand Chamberlain covered the Crown Prince's mouth. Unfortunately, it was too late. Another assassin pounced in from the main hall's entrance and stabbed at the Crown Prince with a knife.

The royal guard rushed forward with a clatter, but the assassin leaped into the air, jumping out of the encirclement. In mid-air, he attacked. The royal secret guard looked up and, despite his severe injuries, immediately exerted his strength to sprint towards him.

His speed was incredibly fast. In the critical moment, he reached out and grabbed the assassin's blade with his bare hand. Seeing the situation was unfavorable, the assassin didn't linger. He fiercely pulled out the knife and turned to flee.

The Grand Chamberlain shouted, "Chase him!"

The guards followed closely behind in pursuit. The royal secret guard took a sharp breath. His palm was sliced open by the blade, the wound so deep that the bone was almost visible. Coupled with his severe injuries all over his body, he looked like he could barely stand.

At this moment, the Crown Prince showed a rare moment of courage. He rushed over to support the secret guard and asked in shock, "Mingde! Mingde, are you alright?"

Shangguan Mingde looked up and scolded, "Your Highness, what are you still doing here? Hurry up and get inside!"

The Crown Prince hesitated, "But Mingde, you must see the imperial physician. I will summon the imperial physician for you. Quick, quick, someone go and request the Empress..."

Mingde raised his hand and slapped him, "Do you want to make this known to everyone?"

The Grand Chamberlain dragged the Crown Prince, "Your Highness! Your Highness, please leave quickly! Hurry!"

Just at this moment, Zhang Kuo's shrill voice came from outside the door, "The Emperor has arrived!"

The palace gates opened one after another, and the palace lamps were lit one by one. Everyone was stunned. The Emperor's bright yellow palanquin was right before their eyes.

Everyone knelt down on the ground until the Emperor's yellow embroidered dragon soft boots stepped on the Eastern Palace's bright red carpet. Only then did they hear the Qianwan Emperor's cold voice, "What's going on in this chaos? Crown Prince, are you trying to rebel?"

The Crown Prince was so frightened that his voice trembled, "Re- Replying to Imperial Father, your son, your son..."

The Qianwan Emperor impatiently interrupted, "Grand Chamberlain!"

The Grand Chamberlain immediately stepped out, bowed, and said, "Replying to Your Majesty, an assassin came to the Eastern Palace. Fortunately, the secret guard took action to protect, and the assassin has been killed."

The great hall fell into a silence that made people anxious. After a long time, the Qianwan Emperor asked softly, "Where is the assassin? Why can't I see them?"

The Grand Chamberlain was startled. Not only her, but even Mingde was frozen in place for a moment.

The assassin's corpse was on the floor of the Eastern Palace's great hall, yet the Emperor blatantly denied it?

"Crown Prince," The Qianwan Emperor said word by word, "It's late, go and rest."

The Crown Prince tremblingly kowtowed to the Emperor and slowly retreated under the escort of the crowd. Mingde was prostrate on the ground and did not get up, stiffly staring at the Qianwan Emperor.

No wonder when he sent out the secret guard distress signal, no one came to support him; he originally thought it was because the secret guards did not enter the Eastern Palace's territory, but that was not the reason at all!

It was because of the Emperor, because the Emperor did not allow people to come and support him!

Because the Emperor wanted to use the assassin's hand to eliminate the Crown Prince and even the Empress!

The pain that had been ignored during the fierce battle came back with a vengeance. He had probably lost too much blood, causing him to feel dizzy.

His face must have looked terrible, as the Qianwan Emperor stepped forward and reached out to hold him, "Mingde..."

"Don't come over."

Mingde leaned against the wall and stood up, retreating half a step.

When he stood up, a small pool of blood had already accumulated on the ground. The Qianwan Emperor only felt his heart suddenly ache and shouted, "Summon the imperial physician!"

Mingde interrupted him, "This subject does not dare. This subject is unharmed and does not dare to trouble the imperial physician."

The Qianwan Emperor half-knelt in front of him, one hand pressing on his shoulder and the other pressing in vain on the knife wound above his left heart. His movements were hasty, and his fingers were even trembling slightly, "You call this unharmed? You call this being unharmed?"

"This subject is fine, Your Majesty need not worry." Mingde pushed the Qianwan Emperor away, leaned against the wall, and slowly brushed past him, "...Tonight, everything is well in the Eastern Palace. This subject is on duty in the palace and has not discovered any abnormalities... So, this subject should be 'completely unharmed'."

He turned his head to look at the Qianwan Emperor, smiling slightly. That smile was indescribably beautiful, indescribably cold, and if you looked carefully, there was a bit of vented hatred.

"Since Your Majesty has decreed that everything is well in the Eastern Palace tonight, then this subject can only show Your Majesty that I am 'well', right, Your Majesty?"

He turned around, one hand spasmodically holding the heavy and luxurious wall of the Eastern Palace, staggering slightly, step by step down the resplendent nine-dragon gold and jade steps. His blood-soaked black clothes fluttered in the night breeze and then silently disappeared into the darkness.


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.