The moment the words were expelled from Wei Xuan’s lips, the pavilion fell into a momentary silence.
The empress raised an eyebrow, the attractive eyelashes lowered as she directed a thoughtful glare towards the indignant minister.
The palace maidservant clenched her fists, her countenance reddened with righteous anger, but dared not to utter a single word.
Underneath the serene pavilion and overlooking the scenic background of the man-made lake, two influential people stared at the other in a silent, cold war.
Their countenance was neutral and without inflection, their eyes conveying a myriad of intentions and exchanges of information.
One was a common third-ranked official of Great Yong in the Ministry of Defense, but possessed a unique identity as a close and direct affiliate with the emperor.
The other was but a woman, yet her words alone could forcibly alter Lu Jing Yi’s actions and decrees without a single word of doubt.
One wielded the memorial whilst the other masterfully utilized the pillow to its utmost; the two represented the two sides of the Imperial Court, forcing the usually isolated regimes to collide in a brutal impact.
A golden fish leaped out of the lake to bask in the momentary sun and lunge at a pellet of feed floating nearby.
When the flowers had fallen and the flames snuffed to the ground, the empress finally opened her mouth, a curious expression blooming on her countenance.
“Bengong wishes to know,” Feng Yu Xin slowly uttered, her gaze carefully examining each and every action of the minister.
“On what basis is bengong being identified as the perpetrator for your daughter’s unwilling enlistment?”
Wei Xuan revealed a thin smile, his countenance gradually splitting to display a profound smile.
Before the palace servant’s astonished gaze, the minister raised the index finger of his right hand, tapping onto the table covered with snacks at a hypnotizing, rhythmic pace.
“All members of the Taiyi Sect present within Great Yong possess an Elder’s writ of authority,” he slowly spoke.
“Thus, they are obliged not to spread any fictitious matters or information; otherwise, their elders would directly sentence them to death. Similarly, the person who enlisted my daughter’s name possessed the token of the Imperial Palace’ backcourt, but not only did he register my daughter’s name, other officials of a rather… interesting group had their daughters’ names engraved onto the black monolith.”
“The conjecture regarding the member of the Taiyi Sect is rather interesting,” the empress smiled, a cold glint suffused within her eyes.
“However, Minister Wei, that does not serve as concrete evidence, no? By the laws of Great Yong, information obtained from foreign persons do not constitute as evidence.”
“Your Imperial Highness introduces a fair point; Great Yong indeed has this restriction.”
Wei Xuan lapsed into a period of silence, before suddenly reaching into the chest pockets of his official’s robe with his left hand.
Toying with the cold object clamped tightly between his fingers, the minister flashed a calm smile towards the bemused empress and palace servant.
“However, has Your Imperial Highness not discovered a rather intriguing aspect regarding this issue?”
“Oh?” Feng Yu Xin narrowed her eyes. “What intrigue does Minister Wei deign to seek?”
“Nothing of much value,” Wei Xuan airily waved his hand.
“However, this minister could not help but roam around the streets of Jiang’an before seeking His Imperial Majesty’s presence… on the numerous black monoliths established by the Taiyi Sect, there are quite the interesting names. The families of Fellow Cheng, the Right Imperial Censor, the ‘Hammer of the Western Providence’ General Huang, and Ministry of Rites’ Meng are just the most prominent of the thirty families targeted by this mysterious person.”
“These people, myself included, are privy to the exquisite dislike Your Imperial Highness holds towards those few… and is it not interesting that out of all of the officials’ families who presented a family member to partake in the Taiyi Sect’s special opportunity… only us few have not done so willingly?”
“Is Minister Wei accusing bengong of being a petty woman?” Feng Yu Xin coldly leered, a turbid aura peering from within her body.
With the indirect agitation of the empress’ spiritual essence, the atmosphere of the lakeside pavilion immediately deflated with a dense sour tinge. The palace servant quivered as the fluctuations of spiritual essence rocked her body, her countenance pale as a sheet of exquisite calligraphy paper.
“Your Imperial Highness is indeed talented; truly worthy of the title of ‘Hong Yu’,” Wei Xuan praised, appearing completely unaffected by the colorless turbulence.
The minister even displayed a contented smile, as if the merciless intent dispersed within the wind was nothing but a beautiful woman’s tender massage.
“This minister is not labeling Your Imperial Highness as a petty woman, far from it. It is only that… this minister ultimately did catch up with this mysterious person, and experienced a wonderful surprise.”
“…has Your Imperial Highness ever heard… of the Faceless Token?”
Scarlet light exploded from the empress’ body as a phoenix quickly took towards the heavens, the crimson flames leaving trails of destruction and rebirth behind its wake.
Feng Yu Xin did not even bother to display a calm and unaffected expression, the beautiful countenance possessing nothing but a penetrative gaze as she bored holes into the minister.
“Speak. When did Minister Wei become privy to such information?”
Wei Xuan did not say a single word, instead extracting the object clasped between his fingers. Setting it onto the table, the minister crossed his arms before his chest, a contented expression on his countenance.
The cold object laid onto the table was a small silver medallion, no bigger than an adult’s index finger curled onto itself. On the surface, faint inscriptions of a person’s countenance could be perceived, though the medallion’s surface was completely unblemished and smooth.
A harmless medallion by appearance, yet to two people within the pavilion, it was an ultimate offensive indefensible by any means. Whilst the palace maidservant scratched her head in confusion, the minister and empress were engaged in a gamble of high-stakes.
As for what exactly the silver coin entailed, only a small group of people were the exclusive privateers to such information.
“Faceless… to think that between the officials that Jing Yi had distributed the tokens to, you would be the first to utilize your first token. This means to say that you’ve reach the utmost bottom line of your tolerance, is it?”
The empress dryly remarked, her lips puckered to release a heavy sigh.
With a wave of her hand, the palace servant scurried out of the pavilion, completely unaware that the inevitable descent of the sun in a few hours was the last she would witness.
Having heard of the Faceless, uninvolved persons could not be permitted to live; although she felt pity for the little servant that she had gotten fond of in the past few years, Feng Yu Xin did not dare break tradition in the face of pity.
The empress and third-ranked minister stared at each other with a lofty expression on their countenance, all distinction between royalty and subject dispersed with the passing of the wind.
Before the token of the Faceless, it mattered not whether a person was of royal blood or commoner descent; the two souls were to be judged as equals.
“Speak,” Feng Yu Xin began to mirror Wei Xuan’s pattern of tapping the table with her delicate finger.
“Just what have you in mind for me? Utilizing one of your three vitally important death pardons, surely you haven’t come for a petty demand, no?”
“Naturally, I have no desire to head against the Imperial Family. Thus, though I similarly have enough compelling evidence not only to accuse you of treason, corruption, and perfidy, I can bring even the Emperor down from his throne and condemn his entire family for nine generations, if not more, if I were to disseminate what I have found before seeking you.”
“However, that would seem unnecessary, and I believe that I do not need to explain any further, no? This death pardon does not mean much compared to the future of my daughter,” Wei Xuan thinly smiled, his countenance quickly hardening into a mask.
“However, I do want a little favor. The other fellows can submit their Faceless tokens, but I want you to remove Wei An Fei from the black monoliths of the Taiyi Sect.”
The empress fell into a long period of silence, her eyelashes quivering as she murmured underneath her breath.
Ultimately, Feng Yu Xin’s gaze shot back up to become level with Wei Xuan, her eyes displaying little intention to budge.
“That is impossible to complete. Do not request the Imperial Family to tarnish their reputation before the public.”
“Then I want a guarantee,” Wei Xuan immediately countered, a similar predatorial expression leering towards the empress.
“Guarantee?” the empress mouthed back, her eyes slightly widened in an inquiring motion.
The minister clasped his hands on the table, his gaze traveling out from the pavilion to gaze upon a secluded mountain village.
Though his expression and tone had returned to their serene and tranquil counterparts, his next words were sufficient to work the empress into a fit of anger.
“Then you shall be An Fei’s bodyguard. You dug my little girl into this, now you should dig her out with your own spade.”
“That’s similarly impossible!” Feng Yu Xin roared, the phoenix in the air releasing a shriek of indignation and vengeful wrath as it glared at the river of silver light with an unquenchable thirst for blood.
The woman affixed a terrible glare upon the minister’s countenance, her hands curled into tight fists.
“You want the Empress of a nation to become the bodyguard of an official’s daughter? You take this too far, even if it is in exchange of a Faceless token!”
“But I am indeed submitting a Faceless token; one of three death pardons, and the only three I will ever see in my entire life,” Wei Xuan refuted, his finger stabbing towards the silver medallion resting on the table between him and Feng Yu Xin.
“Back then, you and His Imperial Majesty directly stated that this medallion could issue any request short of the throne. Why do you decline two of my requests without even batting your eye?”
“Wei Xuan, you take this too far! This, I will only acquiesce into guarding the little girl until she arrives safely at the Taiyi Sect, but I will never become her bodyguard. This is the farthest I will retreat, and you can expect no more!”
A scarlet glow blazed onto half of the silver, unblemished medallion, and the main wife of the emperor of Great Yong directed a provocative glare towards the minister.
Wei Xuan could only smile.