In the back gardens of the Imperial Palace, fatty dismissed all his servants, except Fang Qiubai, as he walked with Zhuo Fan down a secluded path through the woods.
Fatty sighed, “Brother, do you recall the time we swore brotherhood in Windgaze City? I was a prince and you were a servant of a ruined clan. But look at us now. A monarch of a nation and the true ruler of Tianyu. Doesn’t time just whistle by…”
“Get on with it.” Zhuo Fan groaned, making him awkward.
With an ahem, fatty continued, “What I mean is, you walk alone with me around the Imperial Palace, with no guards. It proves our brotherly trust.”
“Nah, you just don’t have anyone good enough to finish me off. You take me for Zhuge Changfeng, so weak that I need to resort to treachery to stay alive?” Zhuo Fan mocked.
Fatty choked. Fang Qiubai grew red too.
Zhuo Fan wasn’t pointing fingers but did hit quite close to home. Not even Divine Dragon Fang Qiubai could scratch Zhuo Fan from the shadows; the rest of Imperial Palace didn’t count.
He was that confident.
Fatty sighed, “Brother, I know you are cunning and powerful across all the lands, but can you not sting me every time you open your mouth? I had the whole friendship speech going here, to get closer, yet you dumped it all in three lines and ruined the mood.”
“Get closer? Fawning without reason proves you’re up to no good!” Zhuo Fan mocked, “Say it, what do you want from me?”
Fatty’s beady green eyes steeled, “Zhuo Fan, it’s just us here so I’ll be frank. Does our brotherhood stand?”
“Of course it does. Did I ever break a promise?” Zhuo Fan stuck out his chin.
Fatty nodded, “That makes us brothers still. But you can’t always pick on your brother. I am a monarch here. Taking my power has many implications, but you don’t even treat me with respect. Could you at least spare my imperial self? Let me have something to survive with.”
“What would a puppet emperor need power for?” Zhuo Fan raised an eyebrow, “Didn’t your pops ever warn you to sit back like a good puppy? Forget about the world, or it will soon come to burn you and your entire clan.
“This, here and now, is much better. Living the high life of an emperor, uncaring for its problems and taking on more serious matters, like losing that extra fat; you’re like an immortal. What’s not to like?” Zhuo Fan patted fatty’s wobbly belly.
The fatty bit back, “I am an emperor with an ideal and ambition, not to live in obscurity. And when we became brothers, I didn’t offend you so you can’t do the same to me. Now, are you going to ruin my clan for my words?”
“Fatty, you can say whatever you want.”
Zhuo Fan squinted, “If I wanted to kill you all, I’d have done it by now. I just don’t want to throw the lands in chaos and mess up my plans. And I still recall us never overstepping our bounds in those days. But how come you just asked for your power back? Sure, I can give it to you, all of it, though mind the consequences. “
Fatty was erect with worry.
Fang Qiubai interjected, “Empire’s three guardian sects?”
Zhuo Fan nodded, “Late emperor’s plan brought danger to his lands by encroaching on the sects’ interests. If all had gone well, he’d be holding the power and the sects wouldn’t doubt him. But since he failed, they’ve lost all faith in Yuwen clan, looking into Tianyu for a replacement representative.
“Talking about fame and power, only Luo clan fits the bill, thus we took all the power and benefits of the empire. In the off chance that we didn’t become the shadow emperor, the sects would’ve just raised another clan and you’d still end up a puppet. It’s all a matter of getting a handler here.”
Zhuo Fan smiled, “We’re all old pals here. Your clan and mine know each other well. Shuang’er, young miss and Princess Yongning are very close. Any trouble you may have, we can help you out, being flexible too. While with some other clan, how much better do you think you’ll fare?”
Fatty trembled and sighed.
He took Luo clan as his only opponent. Taking back his power from their grasp, he’d become a real emperor. Only to find his real adversaries were those sects, always in the shadows, always in control for thousands of years.
The fatty’s hopes sank.
“Father wouldn’t have carried out the Secret Pearl Order if he knew.”
“Secret Pearl Order?” Zhuo Fan asked, “Yuwen clan actually has it? I thought the emperor was just messing with the board to play his hand.”
Fatty sighed, “As the Yuwen clan is doomed with its plight, the Secret Pearl Order has lost its meaning. It is an order passed on to the next emperor on the previous’ deathbed. It’s only for the emperor’s ears and a standard of conduct, roaming dragon enjoying the pearl.”(StarReader: funny enough, it’s the name of a dish.)
“What’s that?” Zhuo Fan asked.
Fatty sighed, “It is a secret path father prepared for me. To throw the pearl and let the dragon play with it. All Yuwen emperors have done in the past millennium is to incite chaos among the factions, in order to weaken them. We all have to pursue this creed, or create the situation if one couldn’t.
“The war of the houses a thousand years ago, Gu Santong wrecking Tianyu three hundred years ago, are prime examples. Even Luo clan’s emergence, pushing the factions to fight. In simple terms, the emperor sat on his throne enjoying the play. While unity of factions will make the throne unstable.”
“That makes sense.” Zhuo Fan nodded, “The way of rulers is all about checks and balances, impossible without hatred. Does that make the story about Windgaze City’s three ancient houses a lie?”
Fatty shook his head, “No, didn’t I say, if you don’t have the conditions, create them. To make it believable, everything had to be true. Just that, the founder’s words were a catalyst, with each emperor paving the way for the next in case they didn’t succeed. The three clans of Windgaze City were Tianyu’s officials once.”
“Planning for a thousand years. Your clan is of imperial stock. Two-faced and using your posterity to exhaustion.” Zhuo Fan sighed.
Fatty nodded, “An emperor leads a solitary path, surrounded by enemies. Even if an emperor is kind, it is seen as weakness, and he will ultimately be put down. Yet our clan lost to you regardless. The roaming dragon enjoying the pearl has come to a close, ruined at the outrageously strong hands of Soaring Demonic Dragon killing us all.”
The two kept a long stare, then laughed.
Fatty said, “Brother, could you help me with something?”
“What is it?”
“Proposal!” Fatty grinned, “You know how fond I am of little Kui. I vowed that the day I ascend I will make her empress through any means. With the current reversal, Veiled Dragon Pavilion will look down on the Yuwen clan. So I ask you, brother, to help me.”
Zhuo Fan nodded after a while, “No problem. I can ask them, but it’s out of my hands if they refuse. If you plan on using my name to steal a wife, think again.”
“Ha-ha-ha, the great Steward Zhuo’s mind is a maze. How could I ever use you?” Fatty said, “I do not want your name, just for you to help me. The Quanrong emperor sent a letter not long ago, to redeem Tuoba Tieshan and the others by ceding Quanrong’s most fertile lands. I can only accept it with my seal. You will have to kill me to sign it, though. I’ll never do it without little Kui.
“I want to give this land to Veiled Dragon Pavilion. Veiled Dragon Pavilion would probably accept the proposal with open arms. But they have few men and the lands are at the border. They’re sure to come to you for help. You have the Dugu Army and can use it to absorb the Veiled Dragon Pavilion completely to achieve peace. We’ll each get what we want.”
Zhuo Fan nodded, “Nice one. You’re just as wise as your father. Be honest now, have you ever thought of attacking me?”
“Never!” Fatty’s response was quick. Zhuo Fan stared at him for a good while and nodded, “I will help you. But leave the talks upto me, I can squeeze more conditions. I can’t have you lose out with just a wedding.”
“Ha-ha-ha, to you it might be nothing, but to me that wedding is everything.”
Fatty sighed, “I can see my lands are forfeit, but I won’t lose my love as well. I’d rather have the beauty over the lands.”