“House lords, His Majesty is summoning you!” After a six hour long wait, a guard finally came to this remote room.
The three sighed as if going to their funeral and followed the guard without any dissent.
Soon they came upon the palace’s gates. The guard bowed and gestured for them to enter. With a deep breath, the three slipped into the hall.
They saw the emperor dignified on his throne, with Sima Hui next to him. At the end of the stairs, in front of the throne, stood the tall and mighty Marshal Dugu.
The three swallowed dryly, feeling as if their hearts were in a vise when these men’s gazes landed on them.
“Valley Lord You, Hall Lord Yan, House Lord Lin, greets Your Majesty!” They showed utmost respect to the emperor.
The emperor nodded with a winning smile, “House lords, can you guess why I have summoned thee?”
“Uh…” They all shook their heads, “Your Majesty, we do not.”
With a clang, three jade slips landed in front of them. The emperor tone dropped lower, “Humph, so you don’t know? Then do you at least know these jade slips?”
The three started sweating like pigs as they shivered a nod.
“In that case, do tell me why are you explicitly defying my edict, going into the area I deemed forbidden? Not even you, the seven houses, founding fathers of the empire have such rights!”
The emperor slapped the armrest of his throne, making the three slump into pleading on the ground in their knees, “Spare us, Your Majesty!”
This was unprecedented. The seven houses, house lords were, for the first time, on their knees before the emperor. The emperor raised an eyebrow, feeling freer than ever. As if returning to the time of his ascension to the throne, when all officials showed him utmost respect.
As a matter of fact, he was far more moved than before.
When has there ever been a case in the long history of Tianyu Empire of an emperor getting the seven house lords kneeling before them? It may very be the very first time since this nation came together.
Such honor lifted him above all other emperors before him.
However, he couldn’t let it show, or these three blokes would milk him for it!
So the emperor kept a hardened and cold face, though his tone sounded softer, “Thou are all ministers loyal to our nation. You are unlikely to resort to such disgraceful behavior without rime or reason. Please share with me your motives so I can judge if your actions were indeed unintentional mistakes!”
The three’s eyes lit up. [Is the emperor giving us a way out? All that we’ve been doing is because of that Zhuo Fan! As long as that fool dies, Luo clan and Windgaze City are of no importance.]
But before they could explain, Dugu Zhantian barked, “Speak, who’s behind you all?”
Shivering, the three choked on their words. They peeked at the emperor, only to see him sporting the same cold and calm face.
That was tantamount to saying Dugu Zhantian was voicing the emperor’s intentions. Since he couldn’t outright say it, he had Dugu Zhantian play his proxy.
The meaning was crystal clear. The emperor didn’t care why they went to Windgaze City, only wanting to know by whose orders they marched.
The emperor was aiming for Regent Estate and they were the means to an end, mere pawns.
They instantly broke out in cold sweat.
The emperor, a tiger cooped up in the palace all his life, was ready to go out and maul someone. But the problem was, Regent Estate wasn’t an easy target either, a fierce tiger on its own!
The three houses were now smack in the middle of the Regent Estate and the imperial family’s power struggle. Their only fate, sacrifices!
[Curse it to high heavens! How did we end up in this mess? If only we hadn’t listened to Regent Estate and attack Windgaze City. The imperial family would have no excuse to look for us.]
They now faced the heavy burden of choosing to let the emperor maul them or be used to maul the Regent Estate. But would the Regent Estate ever let them go afterward?
[Any choice promises death!]
The three were overwhelmed with regrets. They bit their lips, unsure what to say.
“Speak, who is behind you?” Dugu Zhantian barked and pressured them with his powerful soul.
If it were any other occasion, the three peak Profound Heaven experts could’ve stood firm, since they were on the verge of advancing to the Radiant Stage. But now, however, they were frightened, their spirit shaken. And this show of force broke through their mental walls, making their clenched jaws relax.
But then, a loud shout echoed.
“Regent Estate Lord, Huangpu Tianyuan and Prime Minister Zhuge Changfeng are requesting audience!”
Eyes widening, the emperor and the other two men were shocked.
For the Estate Lord to burst in at such a crucial time, his intention had to be premeditated. More importantly, why was he coming along with Zhuge Changfeng?
This spelled trouble.
The three house lords heard Huangpu Tianyuan was coming and re-tightened their jaws.
[Thank god Regent Estate was scared of getting involved in this so they came to the rescue. We’d been done for otherwise!]
You Wanshan breathed in and calmed his heart.
The emperor narrowed his eyes, “Let them in!”
“This damn tiger can no longer sit on his mountain!” Sima Hui muttered. The emperor nodded with a grave expression.
“Estate Lord Huangpu Tianyuan, Prime Minister Zhuge Changfeng, Regent Estate’s Steward Leng, and Regent Estate’s High Venerable Huangpu Fenglei greets Your Majesty!”
Four people entered the hall. Walking behind Huangpu Tianyuan and Zhuge Changfeng, were two more. One of them was an old yet stout man that made even Divine Dragon Sima Hui’s eyes tremble.
[What is Regent Estate’s number one expert, High Venerable Huangpu Fenglei doing here?]
Sima Hui gasped, feeling the peak Radiant Stage power the old man was releasing. His cultivation was not one bit less than the five Divine Dragons’.
Huangpu Fenglei noticed Sima Hui as well, giving a smile in return, one with mockery and taunt!
“Oh my, house lords, the seven houses have always been on the same footing as the imperial family. I know you all respect Your Majesty so, but there’s no need for you to kneel! Others might grossly misunderstand and think His Majesty intends to suppress the seven houses, going against ancestor’s rule and bringing him shame. Up up up, come now, you can’t have His Majesty suffer such injustice!”
After bowing to the emperor, Zhuge Changfeng went to help the three house lords with a smile. The emperor clenched his fists and gnashed his teeth.
The emperor didn’t allow them to rise, but Zhuge Changfeng dared help them out of his own initiative. His intentions couldn’t be clearer. But since Zhuge Changfeng’s reason was very sound, the emperor could do nothing to vent his anger.
This was how Zhuge Changfeng usurped the emperor’s prestige, while raising the three house lords’ by getting them to their feet. That was because they had the Regent Estate backing them, helping ease their fears.
At that moment, the emperor group’s pressure exerted on the house lords went up in smoke. Using the same excuse again would no longer work.
[You’re good, Zhuge Changfeng, I’ll give you that!]
The emperor cursed inside but didn’t let it show. He turned to Huangpu Tianyuan laughing, “Cousin, you’ve been away from the imperial capital for decades. What could have brought you here today?”
“Your Majesty, I have come to confess!” Huangpu Tianyuan bowed.
The emperor’s brow shook. Despite not understanding, he added, “Cousin, I do not understand! Regent Estate is kin to the imperial family and always proper, defending the Caged Dragon City in the imperial family’s stead. What possible reason is there for you to confess? What crime?”
“Your Majesty, your patronizing tone terrifies me so! “
Huangpu Tianyuan clenched his fists and said humbly, “The seven houses have assisted the imperial family for a thousand years and bring peace to Tianyu. But the three houses dared defy your decree, entering the area Your Majesty deigned forbidden and causing the people to lament. I, Regent Estate, the head of the seven houses, have failed in my duties and deserve to be punished!”
The emperor’s fingers let out a sudden sound, as his face only sank lower.
Since the founding of the empire, the seven houses and the imperial family had been at peace, but the duty of reining in the seven houses fell to the imperial family. But for Huangpu Tianyuan to dare utter such responsibility, he did no damn crime. He was overreaching in his power play to gain more status.
But over the millennium, the Regent Estate had been the head of the seven houses, a truth the emperor could not refute. His only choice was to stew in anger!
“Cousin this is too much of a burden for you. How can I let you take the three houses’ crime onto yourself?” The emperor stated.
“Yeah, Estate Lord Huangpu. Regent Estate may stand at the top of the seven houses and should indeed take responsibility for them. But since lord wishes to take their crimes onto yourself, you’d be placing yourself in peril. Furthermore, the three houses’ crime may not be as heavy for you to take it upon yourself!” Zhuge Changfeng revealed a wicked grin as he eyed the emperor.
Widening his eyes, the emperor smiled coldly, “Is the Prime Minister implying that I am wrong?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Your Majesty is not wrong in the least. Just that this matter is so minor…”
Zhuge Changfeng’s contempt was clear to all. The emperor was enraged, on the verge of blowing a fuse…