Phoenix Ascending

Chapter 12

Chapter 12: Third Prince Qi Yun

“This commoner and Prince Nan were but chance acquaintances. I was so lucky as to receive Prince Chen’s recognition and now have the chance to serve him,” Jun Huang responded noncommittally. She’d known that Qi Yin would be sure to test her. She’d saved Prince Nan, and his protection of her had been obvious at his manor. She’d arrived at the Qi capital for less than a day before throwing herself under Prince Chen’s banner. Qi Yin would certainly suspect a relationship between Nan Xun and Qi Chen.

“You are too humble. I am well aware of your abilities.” Qi Yin snorted and changed the topic before Jun Huang could respond. “It’s the royal hunt today and so I will not intrude further. I hope the gentleman will have a good time.”

“Many thanks to Your Highness.” Jun Huang frowned imperceptibly. It was apparent that in saving Nan Xun, denying Qi Yin face at the Prince Nan Manor, and then entering Second Prince Qi Chen’s camp, she had thoroughly offended Qi Yin. Jun Huang could now absolutely guarantee that the one who most wanted her dead in the entirety of the Qi capital currently was Crown Prince Qi Yin.

The hunt began soon after the brief interlude with the crown prince. Emperor Qi Qiang led the crowd, a group of princes and officials following close behind. Jun Huang stood in the rear, silently observing Qi Yun send off the group with a smile. He coughed a few times after covering his mouth and slowly drifted off in the direction of the tents.

Jun Huang thought for a moment and followed in his footsteps. Indeed, her target wasn’t Crown Prince Qi Yin, or Prince Qi Chen, but Third Prince Qi Yun. The third prince was the most unfavored in the palace, and it showed in the remote location of his tent. Her heart couldn’t help but ache when she followed far behind the prince.

She and Qi Yun were actually old acquaintances. When she was young, Qi Yun had once come as an envoy to Western Que. He’d spent two years in Western Que, and the two had become the closest of friends during this time due to congenial personalities. This was how she’d come to know of the hardships of his life. Qi Yun’s mother was a commoner and had been forcefully taken as a noble consort due to the emperor’s favor. She was titled Consort Yu and gave birth to Qi Yun a year later.

However, the imperial harem was rife with plots and discord. Consort Yu had enjoyed the  exclusive favor of the emperor and thus had attracted much jealousy from all quarters. Therefore, the mother of the crown prince, Consort Ping, and mother of the second prince, Consort Zhen, came together in a rare alliance and doomed Consort Yu to death. And so Qi Yun lost his mother when he was young, and given Consort Yu’s lack of background, it was easy enough to imagine how difficult his life in the imperial harem subsequently had been. In order to eke out a life, Qi Yun could only continuously pretend to be sick and shore up his reserves in private, hoping and wishing that one day he could have the chance to obtain revenge for his mother.

Qi Yun had already entered his tent while Jun Huang was lost in her recollections. She retrieved her wandering attention and also lifted up the tent flap to enter. Immediately after she took a single step in, a hand cut through the air. Before she could blink, her neck was caught in stone-like grip.

“Who are you? Why are you following me?” Qi Yun was completely different from his previously sickly persona. His eyes were cold and calculating as they stared into Jun Huang’s, and he seemed to willing to snap her neck without hesitation if she said the slightest wrong word.

Jun Huang was only momentarily surprised. She didn’t even grow angry when she took note of her situation. A smile floated onto her face instead. It seems like Qi Yun hasn’t been gathering his strength in vain all these years. Although I was restrained because I was distracted, it’s a good thing that he’s so alert.

Qi Yun’s gaze darkened a bit when he saw that Jun Huang was refusing to respond. He increased the strength in his hand, “Speak!”

“Does the third prince wish to seek revenge for Consort Yu?” Jun Huang came back to her senses and responded unhurriedly.

Qi Yun started, his hand subconsciously loosening a bit, which allowed Jun Huang to break free of his death grip. “Who are you and why do you know this?” Qi Yun frostily sized up Jun Huang, his expression so dark that it almost blended in with the shadows of the tent.

“This commoner is Feng Baiyu and wishes to help Your Highness gain the throne. Then, those who’ve hurt you will yearn for death!” Jun Huang knelt on the ground and spoke in a low voice.

“You and what army?” Qi Yun snorted with disdain. Revenge? What an easy thing to speak of. He’d thought of revenge for more than a decade now, but no such opportunity had ever risen in front of him. And now, this fragile, willowy man in front of him dared speak of it like a bauble bought in a street stall?

Jun Huang hadn’t planned on immediately winning Qi Yun’s trust. She took out a jade pendant. “Does Your Highness recognize this?”

Qi Yun’s expression instantly changed as he snatched the pendant. The murderous intent in his eyes frothed even more as he glared at Jun Huang. “Who are you?!”

Jun Huang sighed. “Your Highness once stayed in Western Que and was good friends with the princess. You left this pendant before your departure, and the princess has always thought well of you since then. She was worried of your circumstances in Northern Qi, but it was a pity that she never had the chance to see Your Highness again before her passing.”

“So, you’re a refugee from Western Que?” Qi Yun paused.

“This commoner was once the Western Que princess’ bodyguard. Now that Western Que has fallen, this commoner is willing to assist Your Highness in seizing the throne.” Sorrow and anger colored each of Jun Huang’s words. “This commoner only requests that when you ascend the throne, please take revenge for Western Que on behalf of the princess!”

“Jun Huang… how… is she?” Qi Yun’s voice trembled.

“The princess… was forced off a cliff to her death by Eastern Wu’s armies.” Jun Huang suddenly seemed to travel back to the day when her country was destroyed. That day, she’d watched her royal father die horrifically, her mother take her life in front of the throne, and her own brother force her off a cliff. The heavens had left her a life, and on her back she carried a deep seated hatred that stemmed from blood debt. What right would she ever have to go home if she didn’t exact her revenge?

The tent fell into silence as both of them walked through their memories. Qi Yun was the first to break the silence. “That you’ve come to find me means that you have a plan?” He had a rather complicated expression on his face when he looked at Feng Baiyu. Jun Huang had been his only friend in the last ten years, and when he’d heard of Western Que’s destruction, he couldn’t help but worry for her. He knew that the chances of survival were slim, but he’d still wished for a miracle. And now… now that he heard of Jun Huang’s death with his own ears, he could only feel a purposeless sense of loss grip him.

Jun Huang cleared her mind of emotions and gathered her thoughts, explaining her plan in detail. Before they’d set out for the hunt, she’d come to Qi Chen with a plan. The second prince should find a viper to bite the emperor during the hunt, upon which Qi Chen would lay down his own life to save the emperor. The emperor was certain to highly value Qi Chen if the prince is willing to be poisoned in his stead. What Qi Yun was to do to was provide an antidote for Qi Chen after the poisoned second prince is brought into the palace. Qi Yun would then quietly leave when the second prince wakes. “Although Prince Chen will save the emperor, the emperor is no fool. He is certain to have his suspicions about the entire matter. On the other hand, Your Highness’s long habit of taking medicines is widely known. It’s quite normal for you to carry antidotes about you. In leaving quietly after saving Prince Chen, you will leave only the image of a good brother in the emperor’s mind.”

“What other plans do you have afterwards?” Qi Yun narrowed his eyes, quietly changing his assessment of Jun Huang. He’d thought this person to be weak and fragile in body and mind, and hadn’t thought that he’d have such stratagems to him. This man had announced his desire to help the third prince, but had thrown himself in front of Qi Chen’s doors upon arriving in the Qi capital. It was impossible for Qi Yun to not suspect something else afoot.

Jun Huang curved her lips in a smile. “Amongst the current Northern Qi princes, Crown Prince Qi Yin and Second Prince Qi Chen’s factions are the strongest. Your Highness will only have a chance if both of them are wounded.”

“Hurry! Hurry! Something’s happened at the hunting grounds!”

“Doctors!! Where are the doctors!” At that moment, a loud hubbub arose on the outskirts of the tents.

Jun Huang and Qi Yun looked at each other, with the former offering up a pill. “Your Highness, that should be the sign of the second prince’s success. You need only enter the palace at noon to deliver this medicine.”

Qi Yun’s eyes narrowed as he accepted the pill, his expression difficult to read.

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