The center of Great Yong, the golden city of the hegemon of Shattered Star continent. With just the inner city spanning over thirteen kilometers in diameter, Jiang’an was a paradise of wealth, knowledge, and influence.
And at the epicenter of the inner city sat a massive palace of gold, one that towered over all other buildings in the city.
No other building or structure could match its height, size, or prestige.
Large inscriptions of dragons and phoenixes carved on its walls, with ‘Yong’ guarding the gates, the palace was the Imperial Palace of Great Yong, its imposing aura and nobility displayed to the finest.
Inside the palace raced several streams of palace maids and eunuchs scurrying about the various pavilions and courtyards, carrying an assortment of objects ranging from brushes to jade trays.
Climbing up the three hundred steps of silver were legions of officials adorned in red, green, blue, or black robes, each headed towards the Imperial Court.
With the Imperial Court and Ancestral Palace as the domineering spearhead, the courtyards and palaces of the emperor’s backyard decorated the rear confines of the Imperial Palace, providing an illusion of serenity and peace behind the deadly spear.
The afternoon bell struck twice to indicate the passing of the Goat Hour, inviting the cacophony of the Western Monkey. Hearing the pounding ring, the various officials loitering around the entrance of the Imperial Court all scrambled inside, fighting to stand at their proper position before the emperor sat on the throne.
As long as they managed to get into formation before he sat, none of them would lose their lives.
“His Majesty arrives!” A high-ranking eunuch cried.
The shrill cry mercilessly exterminated the officials’ conversations, a deafening silence filling the Court. Hearing a set of valiant and powerful footsteps resound from the recess of the Court, the officials all hunched their head into a full bow, their eyes shut.
“We pay respects to His Imperial Majesty!”
Three hundred voices spoke as one, swelling and quelling at the same instant. Subsequently following was an organized clutter of fabric rustling against the carpet ground as the officials lowered themselves into a respectful kowtow.
“Rise. We accept your greetings.”
From the rear entrance of the Imperial Court, a young man stepped forward, heading for the throne. Dressed in a golden robe inscribed with flowing dragons and tigers, the man appeared to be in his twenties, his features handsome and majestic.
Rigid eyebrows, golden irises immersed in mirth as well as that slight smirk gracing his lips, the man leisurely sat on the throne, casually waving towards the officials paying their respects.
“Thanking His Imperial Majesty!”
The officials roared before resuming a standing position, each clasping their memorial before them.
The emperor smirked, leaning forward on the golden throne as he raised an eyebrow.
“Alright, alright” he spoke with a languished tone.
“The hour of the Monkey has come. You know what to do, let’s get it done with and go home!”
“Yes, Your Imperial Majesty!”
The officials struggled to retain a solemn expression as they all pressed tightly on their quivering lips. This emperor of theirs, ah! Five hundred years since he ascended to the throne and he still retains the same playboy attitude since his youth as a meagre Eighth Prince.
Although, it was indeed a pity that such free and careless attitude was displayed only during the Hour of the Monkey. A middle-aged official dressed in a green robe stepped forward, bowing to the emperor.
“Your Imperial Majesty ah…” the official began, his eyes shifting around.
“The Finance Bureau received the edict yesterday for this year’s management of taxes…but we have absolutely no idea on what to do…” His voice trailed off, the official’s knees prepping to drop into a full kowtow upon the slightest inclination of rage.
“What do you mean, absolutely no idea?” the emperor questioned.
“We thought that the instructions provided were sufficiently detailed and comprehensive enough. What do you mean, you don’t understand?”
“B-but…it’s just that the adjustments…simply don’t make sense!” The official cried.
“Reducing every tax to three percent for the year in celebration of Your Imperial Majesty’s five-hundredth birthday, that will cause significant damage to the Department of Revenue! The national treasury can’t withstand such a strain!”
“Why is that?” The emperor raised his eyebrow, gazing intently at the official.
“Didn’t Li Ming bring back three major salt mines and deposited them into the treasury a few months ago? Since you know that, why are you still confused?”
“This-this…because salt mines don’t bolster the economy until a significant time has passed, ah!” The official pleaded.
“Your Imperial Majesty, though the salt mines indeed possess great economic potential, they require time for the people to actively purchase from the venue. Unlike gemstones and precious metals, property grants don’t possess much initial value, nor will they sustain the empire’s expenses!”
“Then…you must have a solution, no?” The emperor inquired, his voice turning quiet.
The official was about to nod his head and fire back a reply, when those nearby subtly reached over with their foot to harshly prod his back. His pupils constricting as realization struck him, the official trembled as he quickly dropped and kowtowed, his wails piercing the slightly gloomy atmosphere.
“Your Imperial Majesty, please forgive this subject!” he lamented, striking his head against the floor.
“Please forgive this subject! This subject crossed the line!”
Taken aback, the emperor narrowed his eyes as he carefully inspected the sniveling official, tilting his head to the right in confusion. After a few moments, the man opened his mouth, the obvious undertone of laughter carried within.
“…what are you even doing? This is the Court of the Monkey Hour, has my dear official forgotten the rules?”
“Please forgive this-ah?” The official paused, rapidly blinking as he stared agape at the seated emperor.
Turning his gaze around, he discovered his fellow officials hiding their snickers and laughter behind their long sleeves, their eyes radiating a gloating look.
“Hahaha!” the emperor roared in laughter, repeatedly slapping his knee.
“You officials are truly great, this joke never ceases to fail! This emperor has successfully been amused, all may go home early! Scram, scram!”
“Thanking His Imperial Majesty!”
With a boisterous bellow, the officials quickly departed from the Imperial Court as they congratulated the official who had pleased the emperor via self-harm, patting the fuming man on the back. Shaking his head whilst chuckling, the emperor too stood from the throne to leave, when he paused to glance at the floor from the corner of his eye.
“Oh? Seeing Minister Wei tarry behind is as rare as the Sun shining brightly at midnight!” he joked, gesturing for the official to draw near, ignoring the chief eunuch’s cry of surprise.
“Greeting Your Majesty.” Wei Xuan bowed.
“Speak then,” the emperor replied, perching on the edge of the golden seat as he assessed the minister.
“Something that forces someone like you to seek a private favor, what is it?”
Wei Xuan paused, his brows knit in thought for a moment. Closely inspecting the minister’s gaze, the emperor noticed a glance of turmoil locked within Wei Xuan’s eyes, causing him to raise an eyebrow in surprise.
Before the emperor could respond, the conflicted gaze had stilled, and Wei Xuan bowed once more.
“Your Imperial Majesty,” he began, his voice steady and unhurried.
“As you may have gotten news of, my fourth daughter recently opened her eyes for the first time. However, the physicians this minister received guidance from all concluded that my daughter would not live longer than a year…unless she either consumed an Eight-Petaled Violet Yin Herb aged at least a thousand years-“
“An Eight-Petaled Violet Yin Herb aged for a millennium?” the emperor interrupted, his brows twitching in surprise.
“Minister Wei, do you know that the Eight-Petaled Violet Yin Herb has been confirmed as extinct since three millennia ago? Well? Did they state an alternative?”
“They indeed did,” Wei Xuan responded. “The only other alternative I received was to have my daughter practice in a cultivation technique of the highest purity in Yin Essence-“
“Pure-Yin oriented cultivation technique!?” the emperor squawked, startling both Wei Xuan and the chief eunuch. Ignoring the minister and eunuch gazing at him in fear, the emperor began on a tirade, his body trembling from agitation.
“Minister Wei, your daughter is truly biting more than she can chew, ah!” the emperor complained with bitterness and resentment.
“A pure-Yin oriented cultivation technique, that is one of the empire’s closely guarded secrets, managed directly by the Old Emperor! Even We can’t peruse cultivation techniques of such quality without special permission, much less your fourth daughter!”
“This…” Wei Xuan’s voice trailed, unsure on what to reply with. Before he could begin explaining his thought, the emperor had already waved his arm towards him.
“That request of yours, don’t even start!” the emperor lamented with a bitter tone.
“If you were to leverage your daughter’s astonishing beauty to marry her to the Crown Prince, then this Emperor would be able to attempt persuading the Royal Ancestors to allow her to peruse the Hidden Mausoleum. Other than that, forget about persuasion, perhaps your family be exterminated, and this Emperor given a severe, probably lethal beating. What, now you’re scared?”
Glaring at the silenced Wei Xuan, the Emperor felt a lingering sentiment of pity.
Just as he was about to speak words of consolation, a palace servant quickly broke into the Imperial Court. Speedily kowtowing to the emperor, the servant sprinted to Wei Xuan, whispering into his ear.
Hearing the servant’s words, Wei Xuan’s countenance darkened before turning ashen, a deep terror and unease evident in his gaze.