The garden was silent once more, but this time because of the youth's sudden appearance. Together with the crowd was Ye Zhizhou, who was frightened to tears.
"You don't want to?" The youth slowly withdrew his hand, and bowed his head slightly - his jet-black hair falling onto his shoulder and cascading down onto the gold trimmed black robe. "De An, push me forward."
The ordinary faced eunuch respectfully nodded - pushing the wheelchair to Ye Zhizhou.
Previously, the youth was covered by a scenery of flowers and trees - hiding his countenance. But as he drew closer, the feeling of danger increased - and Ye Zhizhou's back stiffened by instinct. His hands unconsciously clenched and unclenched, causing the rattle-drum to send out a dull sound.
The gaze of the youth in the black robe shifted to the instrument. The hand rose once again, this time in the direction of the sound. Wide sleeves slipped down, exposing a pale and slender wrist. "This drum...." The fair and slim fingers held the back of Ye Zhizhou's hand, slightly applying pressure to the hold. "Give it to me?"
The hand that was held felt cold - He couldn't help but want to move, only suppressing his desire at the last minute. Glancing at the youth's golden crown and waistband, he could feel his blood running cold. He opened his mouth, speaking with a low tone. "Eighth prince?"
"Isn't that a given?" The youth slowly withdrew his hand, looking at the other with fixed eyes. Suddenly, both hands held the wheelchair's handrail, and he tried to stand up; a morbid red was unknowingly painted on the exquisite face due to the exertion. "Why won't you come?"
Ye Zhizhou was scared senseless by this eccentric youth. Obviously it was spring, and the scenery was great - even the air was filled with warmth. Yet, the eyes and tone of the person in front of him made him feel like he was in a frozen lake during the cold winter.
The youth who stood up became more eye-catching - and though it was obviously just a heavy and sinister robe held tight with a gold belt, there was a sense of softness that was emitted. One step after another, he slowly walked towards Ye Zhizhou - those jet-black eyes staring out at him. The youth placed his hand on Ye Zhizhou's shoulders - and slowly leaned in towards the other's heart, closing his eyes. "Caught you, you're mine now."
What the hell!
He could guess the other's identity, but Ye Zhizhou did not dare to mess with him; he stood stiffly due to the spiritual force that began to scurry around his body. "This... you want this rattle-drum? You move back a bit, and I'll give it to you." The other party was only a teenager who was half a head shorter than himself - yet the youth's strange loftiness had immense pressure, making him feel weak. Shameful! Too shameful!
The force on his shoulder slightly increased, then started moving towards his neck.
....Holding even tighter! A faint medicinal scent wafted from the youth, the warm breeze its messenger. Ye Zhizhou uneasily raised his head, looking at the middle-aged eunuch standing by the wheelchair. "Eunuch De An, his majesty is..."
He suddenly felt a faint tingling sensation run down his neck. Afterwards, his body slackened, and the spiritual force surrounding his body gradually stagnated. "You..." Ye Zhizhou was stunned. His body, unable to bear his own weight, collapsed - and the last thing he saw was the eighth prince's emotionless and sinister black eyes.
The other youngsters in the garden stared blankly at the scene, watching as Ye Zhizhou was suddenly hugged by the youth in black and forced to sit in the huge wheelchair. They were then pushed by the eunuch along the flower trail.
"Ah! Ah! Ah! An Chengle was taken away by the devil!" Liu Gongzi, who was the person previously ridiculed by Ye Zhizhou, suddenly cried out in fear. The sudden shout broke the strange calm in the garden - and the other youths looked at each other. Overwhelming panic spread out, all of them at their wits end.
A wizened palace eunuch suddenly appeared with a group of imperial guards - announcing, "Today's small feast is over. We ask that the talents leave with the imperial guards. Your majesty, the emperor, has bestowed rewards upon everyone's residences. Remember, you are not to say anything about this matter, otherwise...."
The youths, inexperienced in the ways of life, were frightened by this profound manner of speaking and strange smile. They simply bowed their heads and squeaked, resembling a quail hiding in its nest.
The eunuch smiled in satisfaction, and waved to the guards behind him - whom turned around to escort the youths out.
When Ye Zhizhou woke up, he found himself at his house - his current host's mother on the bedside, weeping silently. There was a tall man standing a few steps away from the bed, but the curtains hindered him from seeing the other's facial features.
"Yan er, I am not heartless - but the imperial edict has already been decreed. Your husband is helpless to do anything ."
Zhenguo Gong's madam, Lou Yanqi, wiped her tears. With fear colouring her tone, she said, "Is there really no other way? Le Er will soon enter the palace, and once he enters...."
"It really isn't possible..." Zhenguo Gong, An Wenhua, looked at his wife - gazing at the swollen eyes and red nose. Sighing, he approached her, patting her back. "Tomorrow, I will go ask his majesty, the emperor, if he can change the candidates. As Chengjie is better than Le Er in terms of literary talent, it shouldn't be impossible..."
Eh? Change the candidates?!
"No!" He talked too quickly, and ended up choking on his own saliva. He sat up, anxiously. "I am willing to be the eighth prince's study companion! Father must not disobey the imperial edict for me!" Under no circumstances must you allow the protagonist to go to the seventh prince's palace!
Lou Yanqi assisted him through her own distress - for hearing what he had said caused her to feel worried and anxious. "What is this child saying? What is so good about being a study companion, you are even required to live in the palace! Based on your temper, you might want to today, but in the future...." Saying that, she once again got choked with sobs, tears streaming down her face.
"Mother," Holding her hand with a serious expression, he continued to speak earnestly. "The eighth prince's temperament is eccentric - if we hastily request for a change in candidates, it's sure to make him unhappy. The emperor is paying so much attention to the eighth prince right now - if we oppose his majesty's most beloved son... father, mother, after the Spring Festival is the imperial exam; I must not drag down big brother at this time!"
Lou Yanqi heard what he said, and stared back blankly. An Wenhua looked at his second son in surprise; his serious expression softened, and he lifted his hand to touch the youth's forehead, sighing deeply. "Le Er has grown, he now knows to consider his family. But it truly will not be easy being the eighth prince's study companion, can't you rethink?"
"I've already though a lot about it - and I promise that I will try my best." Ye Zhizhou looked at Lou Yanqi, tugging her hand sightly. "Mother, you can just depend on me..."
Lou Yanqi leaned in and hugged him, feeling more depressed than before. "You foolish child...."
At last, he had convinced his incessantly weeping mother and stern faced father. He laid in bed; wiping his face with his sleeves and turning over to one side of his pillow. "Heaven?"
A black and gold embroidered pouch suddenly fell down onto his pillow. Staring blankly, he reached for the item and opened it. He saw Heaven lying inside, next to a small note; the scent of ink mixed with a medicinal smell. Ye Zhizhou scrunched up his eyebrows, and brought out the slip of paper.
'When I awake, so must you - Mingyong'
Yan Mingyong was the youngest of the emperor's eight sons - the birth mother being Hui Jieyu. At the age of eleven, he accidentally drank the poison intended for the emperor by the rebels. Although he saved an imperial life, he turned into an invalid - frail enough to get blown away by the wind. The emperor, feeling extremely sorry, practically granted his eighth son everything he asked for. Inside the palace, Yan Mingyong was one of the people one should never offend!
An invalid that could be knocked down by the wind had such skilful and incapacitating agents, ah!
"Yan. Ming. Yong." Ye Zhizhou gritted his teeth, and pressed a hand onto the puncture wound on his neck. A cold light flashed through his eyes. "Thirteen years old, yet daring to dress as if thirty-three - scaring people. Just you wait, this grandfather will show you reality!"
Fast forwarding to the hour An Chengsheng returned home, Ye Zhizhou could see his body's elder brother hurriedly rushing to his courtyard. Seeing the servants packing the luggage, he furiously said, "I, An Chensheng, does not need my younger brother's life exchanged for my future! Stop this!"
[T/N: This sounded so chuuni on MTL I couldn't stop laughing XD]
Ye Zhizhou sized up this handsome and refined, but cheap, older brother of his. He really couldn't imagine that this concerned man had became a cold-blooded brother who didn't care for his younger brother's fate in order to support the protagonist.
"Big brother," Zhizhou motioned for Chang Shun and Chang Fu to exit, then took a step forward towards. An Chengsheng, who was glaring and spitting in anger, was pushed down into a chair. "There is no leeway regarding me becoming the eighth prince's study companion. Big brother, you should calm down."
"You still expect me to be calm!" Hitting the table with his fist, An Chengsheng's face was filled with anxiety. "You aren't aware, Le Le - but this eighth prince, Yan Mingyong, is not simple at all. Before, he rarely appeared in public - but it wasn't because his body was ill to the point he couldn't get out of bed; it was because—"
The door was slammed open, and the black-robed youth in question looked straight at An Chengsheng - his eyes full of an indiscernible emotion. "Because of what, An Shizi?"
[T/N: Shizi is a common title used for the sons of aristocrats or senior officials. Unlike Zhengguo Gong, this is not an official title.]
An Chengsheng's face suddenly changed - and he grabbed Ye Zhizhou by the shoulder to pull him behind. The refined aura disappeared and turned ferocious. "His highness, the eighth prince, this one hopes that you are well."
"As do I." Yan Mingyong held onto the handrail of the wheelchair and stood up, a smile painted on the handsome face. "Southern Jiangnan's fraud case, Huainan's private salt case, the Ministry of Justice's Fang Tong, the Ministry of Appointments' Wen Qian, the Ministry of Revenue's Yuan Chunyi, West Zuoying Army's Yang Youcai.... is this enough for you?"
[T/N: A private salt case, in Ancient China, refers to salt trafficking; which was very common due to the high costs of salt. It was a common practice for both thieves and officials.]
An Chengsheng's body froze in shock, looking at the youth in horror. His body was tense, and his palms were clenched - a thin layer of cold sweat forming on his forehead. How did the eighth prince know of the secret matters buried deep with various ministries! Don't tell me that there is a traitor on our side?!
Ye Zhizhou, who was getting more and more confused, stepped out - frowning slightly. "What are you talking about?" What fraud case, private salt case? But he didn't remember any of these mentioned in the system's data? Don't tell me that Heaven is glitching again?
[Please trust the system.]
He ignored the screen pop up, and looked at Yan Mingyong - who was outside the room. Ye Zhizhou, grinning evilly, spoke in an intimate manner. "His highness, the eighth prince, have you heard of this story?"
Yan Mingyong's eyes flashed when he saw the smile. Slowly striding forwards, it was not even after two steps that he had to stop and stoop down to cough. Then, with one hand on his mouth and the other on the door frame - he collapsed to the ground.
Ye Zhizhou's smile turned stiff. Seeing the youth on the verge of returning to the West, alarm bells began to ring in his head. Darting over, he crouched down to support the frail body of the imperial prince.
"What's wrong with you? Where do you feel uncomfortable?" Under no circumstances could he die now, ah! If he died here, then the emperor would wipe out the Zhenguo Gong Fu, ah!
[T/N: Return to the West is a Daoist term referring to death.]
[T/N: The Zhenguo Gong Fu is the Zhenguo Gong's post or the fiefdom of which the Zhenguo Gong is in charge of.]
Breathing shallowly, Yan Mingyong took his hand and grabbed onto his arm - leaning forward like before. His mouth was still full of blood, but on his face was a satisfied smile. "Caught you, again... you are mine, mine."
The scent of medicine began to invade his senses again. Ye Zhizhou looked down at the blood stains on his sleeves, and then at the youth's pale and bloody face. He frowned. What to do? The eighth prince is a mental case! Being his study companion, can he still back out now?
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