In a blink of an eye it’s the twelve lunar month, the imperial city blanketed in glittering white.
After handling the political affairs, Zi Wu returns to his bedchambers, and I’m here slowly following behind him. These past few days, there have been local reports of increasingly powerful snowstorms in the southern region, he’s very worried, unable to sleep for a good few consecutive days. Such is the cause of those bluish-black circles forming under his eyes.
After a while of reading, the drowsiness gets to him, as he lies on the study desk, unknowingly drifting into sleep. How much I want to drape a layer of blanket over him, but can only “want” to.
Outside the windows, is once again the su su sound of descending snow. It is but a very gentle sound yet still manages to wake him. He gazes out the window, and with a sound of sigh, covers himself in a big coat, before leaving the doors. Rejecting the eunuch’s following, he alone holds an umbrella and carries a lantern as he steadily takes a stroll through the imperial palace. His steps leisurely slow, seeming to not have any destination in mind.
With no stars nor moon, an entire sky filled with drifting snow, the areas inside and out of the imperial city seemingly dressed in ominous mourning clothes, and he, carries the light seeming to become the sole colour within this world.
From behind him, I match the rhythm of his steps as I follow, one human one ghost. I think I want to continue accompanying him like this, watching over him as he ages through the years isn’t bad either.
Not sure for how long we’ve walked, he suddenly comes to a stop, silently standing before a set of palace doors. I also follow in stopping, one glance upon raising my head, I couldn’t help sinking into an absent mind.
Su Lu Ge [洬录阁]
Emperor of Zhao, the reigning monarch of the last era upon learning of Zi Wu’s betrayal, later had me confined within the palace. Before my death, my final days were spent staying here, staying here for one entire year. Back then, those past happenings that had me experiencing such pain of being better dead than alive, thinking back to them now, I actually find that the memories are already unbearably blurred, only vaguely sensing slight stuffiness inside, unwilling to remember.
Xiao Cheng was extremely diligent in telling the world how I spend life in the palace, he wants to use my pain and suffering to force Zi Wu into giving up. Yet he has never considered, why would this man with such vigorously ambitious heart, be willing to give up the world for one woman.
Zi Wu pushes open the heavy doors, one foot treading inside. Seeing the scene inside the courtyard, he appears to be stunned. This place has never been cleaned by anyone, entering the eyes is but a scene of complete mess, time here seems to still be stuck on that night the last reigning era had perished.
With so many rooms within the imperial palace, after becoming emperor, he very rarely comes to the back palace. Nor does he usually show much concern to the internal matters within the palace, every day, the people in the palace will only clean the areas he goes to, so how would they think of cleaning up this place?
In the courtyard, the snow accumulates in thick layers, his every step leaving a deep footprint, walking with slight difficulty. Coming up to the centre of the courtyard, he silently stands for a while, suddenly calling out:
I instinctively sound a response, but was immediately hit with the realisation, how could he possibly hear my voice?
He alone speaks to himself: “Did you ever call out to me like this also?”
Naturally I have, when Xiao Cheng’s military affairs weren’t going smoothly, he would like to take it all out on me. Every time, the harm inflicted were so unbearably painful, so I would call out his name, thinking back to the misty rain and the Marquis of Chang Ye Estate in Jiangnan, this way the pain will lighten up a lot.
He pushes open the doors and enters the building. Raising the lantern to light it up, inside is filled with dust. Flipped over stools, fallen candleholders, smashed cups, not one thing does not tell of the despair of those days.
I can still remember, a scene of panic inside the imperial city that day, very early do I dress myself in that bright red wedding gown, sitting in front of the mirror, allowing my personal maid, who was trembling all over, to help me pull up a beautiful hairstyle, just like a readied appearance for a wedding.
And later the soldiers enters, taking away the maid who served me all my life, beating her to death, then captures me to the city tower.
He sits on the dust covered couch-bed. Hand stroking across the quilt that’s as hard cold as iron, fingers trembling, he hazily speaks: “Every triumph, will always be accompanied with news of your suffering. Xiao Cheng indeed achieved it, every time I stand on the battlefield, what I think of first is not what good comes from the victory, but what kind of pain you have to endure this time.”
A burst of sourness softens my heart. I cannot bear to see such look on his face.
“But where is the path to retreat? The war has already started, striving forth, still contains a glimmer of hope, and should I give up, not even a glimmer hope will be left.” His voice is very tightly stretched, carrying hoarseness like sorrow, like pain:
“Sang Ge, yet you were too stubborn to even give me the chance to save you.”
I lower my eyes as I silently stand by the doors, such heart like stagnant water giving rise to tidal waves, sour and astringent, also containing that damned hidden warmth.
He sits on the bed, slowly falling asleep. I walk up, kneeling down by his side, repeatedly getting a close look at his face. He’s gotten a lot older, among the black there are already strands of white hair, wrinkles also forming at the corners of his eyes. But I still find him good looking.
I silently eye him, as though I could never get enough.
Up until a ray of morning light passes through my body, shining on his face.
His brows slightly knits together, softly sounding a hum. His childish actions draws out a little laugh from me, all of sudden, his eyes open, within his look there still carries the haziness of early waking: “Sang Ge.”
The haziness quickly disperses, he steadily locks his eyes onto me, within that pair of sparkling black eyes, there shows irregular flickering, making me fail to see though his thoughts: “Sang Ge.”
His breathing becomes extremely light, as though afraid of frightening me, expression also becomes extremely tender: “This year’s seventh-seventh festival, I set off a lantern for you.”
I nod with a smile: “I saw.”
“Sang Ge, take me away.” These words put me at loss, unable to laugh or cry, I don’t even know how to leave myself, how am I to take him along?
And how much abandoning is hidden behind this word ‘away’, I cannot possibly imagine, just that seeing his current expression, I sense the swelling pain in my eyes as though I’m still capable of crying.
I shake my head.
As though unable to bear it, his voice unravels slight panic: “Are you still angry at me for leaving you alone in the Capital? Are you still resenting me for not coming earlier to save you? That day on the city tower I……”
“Zhi-ya” sounds, the doors to the courtyard were pushed open. I instinctively lean out wanting to see who’s come, the morning light revolves around my body, and ears suddenly catches the sound of him falling from the bed-couch: “Sang Ge!”
He desperately reaches forward, hand passing through my body, only managing to scoop the empty air into his embrace.
“Not allowed to leave!”
I look back at him, only seeing his red eyes, pale complexion.
Lightly letting out a sigh, I close my eyes, unable to bear seeing the dejection filling those orbs.
Outside comes a few eunuchs who came in search of him, seeming to have been frightened by his cry, only after waiting for a long time do they dare take trembling steps in: “Your majesty……it’s time for morning assembly.”
He fiercely raises his head, the murderous intent in his eyes like a biting chill: “Just now, who opened the doors?”
The three eunuchs all drops to their knees, entire bodies violently shaking, cold sweat directly flowing down. No one dares to answer. The look in Zi Wu’s eyes extremely cold: “Who?”
Finally one eunuch, with a hoarse whisper, says in despair: “It’s……it’s this servant.” He does not say anything, standing up and walking past the doors, that eunuch had just let out a sigh of relief, only to hear a voice containing not a trace of emotion sound from outside:
The eunuch’s body turns limp, collapsing to the ground.
I lightly sound a sigh, the heaven’s will is always fooling with people. I and he are already life and death apart, clearly no longer able to come in contact with one another, why must the heaven’s let him see me again?
Why let him suffer the pain again?
Third year of Yong Ge, the emperor is greatly enraptured in Taoist sorcery, gathering sorcerers from across the lands into the palace, with the desire to call upon the spirit of Empress Yong Yi.
 Slow slice or líng chí / 凌迟 – death sentence by dismembering of the body.