// Chapter 11 : Rumors
01 Jun 2019

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Qiu Zhen’s aim was swift and accurate. There was no room for mistakes. He only had one chance to take the Emperor’s life with one stab.

Blood soaked through his armor as Qikun fell to the ground.

The once orderly files of soldiers were now in scrambles. They did not expect an attack to take place under the watch of Juntian officials, especially from one whom the Emperor just announced his betrothal to.

“Assassin!!! There is an assassin!”

“Protect His Imperial Majesty!!!”

The soldiers and guards yelled as they unsheathed their swords and prepared to charge towards Qiu Zhen.

“Stop!” Qikun shouted.

All the subjects stopped their movements.

Qikun’s devastated eyes never left the person before him; blood slowly trickled down the corners of his mouth.

Qiu Zhen withdrew his sword from Qikun’s chest, “Your Imperial Majesty, I’ve wronged you.”

Qikun grunted with his struggling breaths, “Aiqing, you… why…”

Qiu Zhen, “I owe Your Imperial Majesty for taking me in and recognizing my abilities. In the past year of accompanying you, I discovered that you are a good ruler. But I cannot reciprocate the things you have done for me… as I am a Tianxuan citizen… and I only serve one king. And that is His Majesty, Ling Guang.

“Qikun, “Y-you… are very true to your heart. I was foolish to believe I could change you.”

Qikun gave Qiu Zhen one strong push, causing him to retreat a couple of steps back, away from the aims of the soldiers’ sharp swords. “LEAVE! NOW!”

Qiu Zhen hesitated to budge. Overwhelmed with mixed emotions, he knelt down on one knee and bowed to the man who has trusted him wholeheartedly.

Qikun realized he could not hang on any longer as blood splurted from his mouth. “Why are you still here?! GO!”

Qiu Zhen glanced at Qikun one last time. He knew his mission has been accomplished as he watched Qikun, the Emperor of Juntian, a man who once held the world in his hands, fall back helplessly onto the ground. His extravagant golden armor now stained red with blood.

Qiu Zhen didn’t have time to think much as the soldiers, at the reaction of their ruler’s death, aggressively charged towards him, letting out loud battle-cries of grief and anger. He took a quick look at the thousands of soldiers surrounding him with glares as if they wanted to shred him to pieces.Qiu Zhen rushed towards the crowd and tried to fight his way out. They aimed at him mercilessly, first tearing off his cape and then penetrating his armor and gashed his back shoulder. Qiu Zhen knew he could not win against these soldiers just based on numbers. He lunged forward and hopped on one of the warhorses at the scene.

“Chya!” He pulled on the horse’s rein and quickly escaped out of the camps.

The soldiers persistently chased after the fugitive through the woods on their horses for half a day. Arrows from behind flew towards him endlessly.

“Tianxuan criminal! Give up now!” one of Juntian’s generals shouted from behind. He lifted his bow, pulled on the drawstring, and shot his arrow. The arrow pierced the leg of the horse, causing it to flip over.

Qiu Zhen fell down from his horse and stumbled over; his body rolled down a small slope and landed beside a lake. Working to regain composure, he glanced back at the wrathful soldiers that were nearly approaching him. Knowing he had nowhere to run, he leaped into the murky lake just as the soldiers have reached his location.

The soldiers studied the waters but Qiu Zhen was nowhere to be seen. They shot some spare arrows into the lake before defeatedly returning to their base.

“Tianji’s Duke is still missing?” Ling Guang asked from his throne in the Royal Court of Tianxuan.”

Replying to Your Majesty, the High Priest of Tianji has sent men to search every corner and household of Tianji’s cities, but their Duke is still nowhere to be found,” said the informant.

“Jian Bin has disappeared for so long and yet, still no news of him. Is it because Tianji’s men are incompetent or is he planning something in secret?” Ling Guang murmured to himself.

He turned to the elderly subject standing below, “Chancellor, what are your thoughts on this?”

The old Chancellor stepped up to the center of the court, “Your Majesty, Tianji’s Duke’s sudden disappearance, and the failure of his subjects to successfully find him after months of attempts are indeed suspicious. But Tianji’s geographical makeup is very hard to navigate. It is full of mountains, valleys, and forests. Tianji’s officials are forced to conduct their searches under the excuse of locating a runaway thief who stole a historical relic to prevent their citizens from panicking. I believe because they are trying not to draw much attention, their competencies are being hindered. The fact that they are still unable to locate Tianji’s Duke up until now is not too unreasonable.”

Tianxuan’s spies were abundant. Being a cautious person, Ling Guang sent out spies throughout Juntian to keep watch on enemies’ movements while gathering information that would be crucial to the safety of his kingdom. Ling Guang also had groups of highly trained informants and death warriors under his sleeves. Death warriors, or specially skilled assassins, are sent out to complete specific missions and are prepared to sacrifice their lives at any moment. Therefore, Ling Guang could be considered the most updated and informed person when it came to receiving news.

Ling Guang nodded. “You’re correct. I’ve also heard that Jian Bin and Tianji’s High Priest do not have a very good relationship. I doubt their High Priest is putting his best effort in locating his ruler. But Tianji is not a state I can underestimate. I must still take precautions. Commander!”

An armed general emerged from his position, “Your Majesty.”

“I order you to send some death warriors to Tianji and locate their Duke. I want you to locate him before his men do. I don’t care if you bring him back dead or alive, but I do not want to see him return to the Palace. Remember, everything must be done in secrecy. Leave no traces.”

“Yes, Your Majesty!” The armed general then excused himself out.

Another informant suddenly appeared at the door, ran down the hall, and lowered his head, “Reporting to Your Majesty, news broke out from the Juntian Empire that Emperor Qikun has been assassinated in Lingshui. His death has been confirmed and his army is retreating rapidly.”

Ling Guang bolted up from his seat, “That’s wonderful news!” He glanced at the end of the hall as if looking for someone. “Where is Qiu Zhen? Why hasn’t he returned? I have revoked the bounty on him a while ago. He should have no problem entering our borders.”

“Responding to Your Majesty, after Qiu Da-ren* succeeded in his assassination, he lit the signal to notify us. We have sent men to search the entire Lingshui area and hundreds of li* beyond to assist him, but we could not find him. We will continue to search for him and bring him back immediately.” (A/N 1, A/N 2)

“Useless!” Ling Guang flung his arm in the air.

All the officials in the court fearfully knelt down.

“Only hundreds of li? Do you call that trying your best?! If something were to happen to him, go tell your commander to not even bother returning.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” The informant retreated from the court.

Ling Guang raised his voice to all the officials in the hall and announced sternly, “To have Juntian’s army completely disassemble their camps and retreat from Lingshui, saving thousands of innocent civilians from losing their lives, is all due to Qiu Zhen’s credit. Chancellor, send some reliable people and continue to search. I believe Qiu Zhen is still alive. I want all the citizens of Tianxuan to speak good things about him.

“An official, Minister Yan, remarked, “Your Majesty, as far as I know, Qiu Zhen is the son of a criminal family and later became a fugitive. Perhaps sending out men now to actively search and praise him will confuse the people.”

The Chancellor turned to his king. “Minister Yan does have a point. Your Majesty, if you wanted to reward those with merits, you should let the citizens of Tianxuan know the entirety of the situation.”

Ling Guang, “It seems like Chancellor already has an idea in mind.”

The Chancellor humbly spoke, “Your old subject was thinking of organizing a banquet to make the announcement. That way, Your Majesty can personally appear to address any rumors and clear the situation. This will diminish any prejudice that court officials have towards Qiu Xiansheng and also prevent people from saying disgraceful things behind Your Majesty’s back.”

After thinking to himself for a moment, Ling Guang said, “Then we shall proceed as Chancellor suggests. Make this banquet lively and grand. By the time Qiu Zhen returns, I want him to feel welcomed.”

A few days later, Qiu Zhen was wandering the bustling streets of Tianxuan’s capital city. He had successfully treated his wounds and made his way back. Luckily, the distance between Lingshui and the capital city was not far, allowing him to return safely on foot within a short matter of time.

He ran into several groups of soldiers on his way back. Although he wasn’t completely sure what their urgency was, Qiu Zhen safely assumed it was Ling Guang sending men out to search for him. However, he didn’t know why he didn’t want to return the Palace yet and report that he was safe and alive. He even purposely avoided the soldiers to prevent them from finding him.

There wasn’t a single day in the past year that he did not think of Ling Guang. He missed his king’s beautiful face, his soft voice, the long, curly hair that flowed down his back and the silky purple robes that he liked to wear.

But at this moment, he didn’t know why he couldn’t bring himself to see Ling Guang. It was as if something was holding him back.

Qikun’s last words haunted his mind; even in his dying breath, the man he betrayed was still concerned about his safety, yelling at him to leave before the soldiers got to him.

Qiu Zhen sat down at a small vendor on the side of the street and ordered the waiter to bring him a jar of wine. As he began to pour himself a drink, the conversation between three young scholars at the table behind him caught his attention.

“The Emperor was killed by his trusted subject! It was a spy!” one of them said.

“Spy? News broke out saying that the Emperor was assassinated. I wonder where the assassin came from?” the other scholar replied.

The third one leaned in closer and said quietly, “I heard it was His Majesty who conducted the assassination. You two want to know what’s more unbelievable?”

The other two’s ears perked up.

The third scholar continued, “I heard the assassin was the son of High General, Qiu Tianhao, whose family died from a mass execution a year ago. What’s even more interesting is that apparently, the Emperor announced he wanted to get married to this person the day he died!”

“How complicated!” one of them gasped.

Another man who appeared much older stepped over and joined their conversation. Qiu Zhen continued to listen attentively at his table.

“These young folks, I just came from the north. Let me tell you. The Juntian Empire is most likely going to disperse,” the man said.

One of the scholars said, “Hey, Da-shu*, I think you are wrong. Juntian, after all, is a huge empire. How could they disperse so easily? Even if Emperor Qikun dies, someone will succeed in his place.” (A/N 3)

The man shook his head, “You scholars, all you know how to do is read. Have you ever heard of the Seal of Juntian?”

“Of course we have!”

The old man said, “Then think about it. Legend says he who possesses the Seal of Juntian will rule the world. But Emperor Qikun died so abruptly. Who now knows the whereabouts of the Seal of Juntian? Without the Seal, there will be no ruler. Tell me, how can the Juntian Empire continue to stay afloat?”

“Then doesn’t that mean His Majesty is directly responsible for the fall of the Empire?!”

The two young scholars immediately hushed their friend. “Sssshhh!! Are you crazy? How can you say such disgraceful words out loud?!”

“We cannot blame His Majesty before the situation becomes clear. I heard there is going to be a grand banquet three days from now where His Majesty will personally appear to address the situation,” said the old man.

One of the scholars replied, “Indeed. It is too early to make assumptions against His Majesty. After all, Emperor Qikun was outside of Lingshui, ready to launch an attack on our land anytime. His Majesty was just preventing innocent bloodshed.”

The one beside him suddenly exclaimed in excitement, “I heard this banquet is going to be even more exciting than the banquet from the founding year!” He squeezed his friend’s arm. “We must go early to get a good view! I’ve never gotten to see His Majesty before! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

The other scholar chuckled, “His Majesty’s exquisite beauty is well-known throughout all of Juntian. It’s going to be a sight to see! Of course we won’t be late!”

Qiu Zhen was now too lost in his own thoughts to mind the scholars’ honeyed words. ‘The assassination has garnered discussions among Tianxuan’s citizens. Perhaps, all of Juntian is aware by now. Theserumors will only get worse and not benefit His Majesty at all. I am unsure how His Majesty will regard them. I fear tyrannical accounts of His Majesty will increase. It is better if I take it upon myself. I cannot keep hiding. Seems like my attendance at this banquet is inevitable.’

End of Chapter 11


*A/N 1: Da-ren (大人), a title for respected superiors or officials

**A/N 2: li (里), a Chinese measurement for distance; approximately a half kilometer or 1/3 mile

***A/N 3: Da-shu (大叔), uncle, but can be used to address a male that is around one’s father’s age

Oh boy, we’re finally nearing the end of the first arc!!! I’m so excited!

Sorry this came out later than usual. Exams are nearing 🙁

I love reading your comments/discussions and votes!

Lastly, happy birthday to Zhu Jian (the actor who plays Zhi Ming)! 5/4 <3

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