The next day, there wasn't a council meeting. Rather, everyone was preparing for the invasion of Luoyang. Of course, Zhen already had her armor and her bow and quiver ready. After all her things were packed, there really wasn't a whole lot left for her to do. So she spent her final two days in Xuchang with her children. Zhang Liao on the other hand, he was never in the same place for more than a few moments at a time. He shouted orders from afar and instructed everyone in uniform to go and do something whether it be hauling a crate or bringing certain weapons. It was utter chaos and the battle hadn't even began yet. After watching for a few minutes, Zhen decided that Zhang Liao did have control over the situation and decided to leave him to it.
As a result of everything, Zhen and the children were all in her chambers. Rui and Xiang played on the floor with some of their toys. She had Xie wrapped up in her arms.
She would miss this while she was away, being with family, the family that mattered most to her. The only problem was, Cao Pi wasn't here. He had been the one to really start all this and he started it with those unforgettable looks at her first wedding.
Once again she found herself thinking about Cao Pi. What would her life have been like if they never meet? Would she have died with the Yuans? If she had somehow lived through the massacre, what then? Would she have been taken as a slave or a concubine? If she escaped one of those fates, then could she have somehow made it back to Zhongshan? Would Wang Bo still have been interested in her? Probably not considering she had been married to Yuan Xi, for only she and Lang Shui knew that he had been interested in other men.
No, she had to stop thinking about how Cao Pi saved her when she had run out of options. She had to stop thinking so much about him or she'd go insane. That was hard considering she saw him every time she looked at Rui. Rui had those same eyes…
She had to mentally slap herself back into reality. Right now was about the children. If everything went as she planned, she would see them in Luoyang, but if they didn't, she might never see them again.
She drew Xie closer and leaned down to kiss the top of his head. She closed her eyes against the bitter sweetness of the moment as a tear flowed down her cheek. She wasn't even gone and she was already missing them.
The next morning, everyone that had anything to do with the invasion had been summoned to the front courtyard. Unfortunately, Lady Guo was also included in that group. Sima Yi, Zhang Liao, Cao Ren, Xu Huang and the other generals were in the front on their horses.
It was quite a sight to see.
Zhen was dressed in decorative armor. She wore a white long sleeved dress with silver splint armor. She also had black riding boots that reached her thighs. The slits in the dress over each leg would allow her to ride comfortably. Her belt wrapped neatly around her waist. Her bow and quiver were strapped to her back. She had pulled the top half of her hair away from her face. The other half fell as far to the small of her back. She didn't wear any jewelry or any hair ornaments. The time for those things was long over.
She was standing at the top of the steps, just under the hoof of the castle. When she stepped out into the daylight, everyone turned to watch. She kept her shoulders square and her chin high. No emotion showed on her face. She imagined she looked regal, which came strangely easy for her since it was Cao Pi to be born to this kind of setting and not her.
She made her way to the front of the lineup. A stable boy brought Storm out. Cao Pi's old warhorse was clad in elaborate silver armor.
Zhen put her foot in the stirrup and swung into the saddle the way she had seen Cao Pi do dozens of times on this very same horse. Some of the soldiers cheered out. The generals were touched by the fact that she was taking Cao Pi's horse. It hadn't been a hard choice. Cloud had been a part of battles before and all, but Zhen left her here for Rui to ride. Shadow was a wonderful mare, but Cao Pi gave her the mare only because he needed her to confirm her identity as Lady Yin. Storm on the other hand, he had been there as a part of their story since Yecheng. He had been there to carry Len, Jia and Rui out of Xuchang during the rebellion and he took them to Zhongshan. Not to mention all the times Cao Pi had ridden him in battle.
Now she would ride the flawless white colored stallion into battle.
From out of nowhere, Rui came running over to her. She bent down in the saddle to tell him to go back to Len and Jia, but he spoke first.
"They told me to give you this."
Rui held up a cloth pouch. She took it and unwrapped it. She took a sharp intake of breath. It was the bit with the Wei character Cao Pi was given at their wedding.
She looked at Rui.
"Where did you…?"
"Len." He simply answered. "Good luck, Mommy!"
With that said, he ran off. Zhen rewrapped the bit and tied the pouch to her belt. Then she looked up at the road ahead. She gathered the reins and shifted in the saddle so she was sitting up straight. Lastly, she squeezed Storm's sides with her heels.
"For Cao." She whispered as the entire force began to follow her out of the city gates.
Later that evening, Zhen stood in the main tent of the temporary camp they had made. She had both her palms resting on the table with the maps of Luoyang. She studied it closely, trying to figure out the best course, but she was no strategist. So she pulled out Storm's bridle and began taking it apart so that she could put the gold bit on it and ride him with it.
Outside the tent, the wind howled and the rain pounded down on anything in its way. The small flames of the candles struggled to stay lit.
Sima Yi came in the tent. He brushed his hands over his robes to smooth them out. However, they were already wet. So it was an uphill battle and considering that they were already facing one of those, he gave up.
"This rain will make our victory harder." He stated.
As if she didn't know that!
Instead of showing her frustration, she only nodded as she retied the leather so that it was wrapped around the ring of Cao Pi's gold bit.
"We won't be able to use ladders to scale the walls of the city. It will be too hard to find solid ground to place them with the rain washing the roads out." He explained as he moved to the other side of the table from her.
She looked up at him from her work.
"I thought we were going to send a task force to open the gates and storm the city. They're big boys. They can figure it out."
He didn't seem affected by her criticism.
"I don't want them messing everything up." He countered.
At least no one was here to see that he clearly knew what he was talking about, whereas she, did not. However, if this was going to turn into some kind of dominance war, she wasn't going to lose so easily as this.
"Are you recommending that we use grapple hooks?" She challenged.
"No." Sima Yi answered coldly.
"Good. Grapple hooks would clang around and make too much noise. They would draw more attention than if we fired a volley of arrows into the city."
Sima Yi didn't respond. He was waiting for her to say something stupid, or even more stupid. That, or he was waiting for her to tell him to figure it out himself. That would be handing him his little victory over her.
She wasn't sure way, but she got a sick feeling in her gut. She feared for her children, but they were safe. Sima Yi wouldn't make his move on them until Shu was finished. As he said himself, she had risen morale beyond what it's been for years and they all needed that to take out Shu.
She brought herself back to the present situation. She had to find a way to get the task force into the city.
"I prefer simple methods, Sima Yi."
He gave a look of annoyance. As if she was teaching him or reminded him or something in his schooling that he had forgot. She gloated in it.
"Send the task force in dressed as commoners looking for shelter from the storm."
Sima Yi smirked.
"You always do prefer… deceiving your enemies. You trick them into believing what you want. Then you attack. Like a snake."
She kept a steady gaze fixed on him. She knew he was referring to the suicide letter she had forged in Cao Pi's name. She decided to go along with it. He needed to know she wasn't some common woman.
"Of course, some snakes only pretend to be dangerous. When really, they're of no harm to anyone." He finished.
He was comparing to her to snakes. He was trying to figure out if she was dangerous or not with a very dangerous method, asking her. She would give him the response he wasn't expecting.
"Tell me, Sima Yi. Would you let yourself be bitten by a snake just to find out if it was venomous or not? Is it worth the risk?"
He looked at her long and hard, but she didn't falter. She kept her ground and she didn't back down. If he was sizing her up, she wanted him to be able to get an accurate assumption.
He wasn't going to say 'no'. That would tell her he was backing down and would submit to Rui's rule and hers until he took over. If he said 'yes' he may as well tell her that he was going to rebel once more.
Sima Yi turned his back to her.
"Maybe, but a cornered snake is always more dangerous than a comfortable one. However…"
He turned to face her again.
"I wonder what it would take to corner a comfortable snake. I suppose it would mean taking away everything that was ever important and putting them in a place that was unlike anything they've known."
Zhen's throat tightened. She had had enough of this 'code talk'.
"I'd rather focus on the task ahead than on an imaginary snake."
As soon as those words were out of her mouth, she knew that they had been a mistake. She had just caved.
Suddenly, the annoying tapping and thudding of the rain on the tent stopped and not a moment too soon.
"Quick, send the task force out now! We might be able to get into the city before it starts up again."
Sima Yi marched off since he didn't have time to waste with getting in the final word. Zhen was right about this. They had to hurry or else they would have to charge into the city during a pouring rain.
Zhen grabbed her bow off of the table as well as Storm's bridle and rushed outside. The cold air was a shock to her lungs and skin. The misty air made her hair begin to curl, slightly. Not that she had time to worry. They were going to assault their own capital city.
Storm was brought out for her. Since there really wasn't any place to go quite yet, she only took the lead and thanked the stable boy. Then she put the new bit in the stallion's mouth and tied the leather into place. The stallion mouthed the new bit. He chomped it several times, as if to test it to see if it was any good or not. When he was finally satisfied with the new bit, he stopped chomping at it and held it quietly in his mouth.
Her thoughts wandered to Cai Wenji and the Liu sisters. Were any of them alive? Were they in danger of being murdered by Sima Yi as well? Maybe not Cai Wenji, but since the Liu sisters were supposed to be Cao Pi's consorts, they could be.
She shrugged off this line of thought, but what would happen if she met them again? They knew her as Lady Yin. What would they do when they learned she was actually Zhen Ji? They thought that she just took over Rui's care. They didn't know that she was actually his mother.
Just then the rain began to pour down. She was instantly soaked.
"Empress!" A foot soldier shouted above the noise of the rain.
Zhen turned as he stopped in front of her.
"What is it?"
"General Zhang Liao sends word, we're ready to move into the city!"
"Yes! He says that the gates of the city were left open for any civilians that needed shelter from the storm!"
Zhen turned to Storm and swung into the saddle. Storm chomped at the bit and pawed the ground with high anticipation. She gave the stallion a soothing pat on the withers.
"And so it begins. Tonight, we attack our own city."
She looked up at the sky as a bolt of lightning erupted from the clouds. Then the thunder crashed and rumbled. The rain drops stung her face. She closed her eyes and parted her lips.
"For you, Cao." She whispered.
She opened her eyes and looked at the lights that were lit in Luoyang. Then she lightened up on the reins. Storm took off at a high stepped lope. He kept his head held high and arched his muscular neck.
When Zhen reached the front lines, she found that they were ready to invade the city. Regardless of the pounding rain, they all stood at the ready. The city stood before them, completely unaware of what was about to happen, but before it did, Zhen addressed the soldiers.
"You all know why we're here. So I'm not going to remind you about the death of our emperor. These Shu barbarians murdered him. They claim to be loyal to the Han and yet, they would bring down the man that former Emperor Xian commended to rule. Kill every man in a green uniform, but remember. Those are our people down there. The women and children are innocent. Do not harm them!" She warned. "Now let's take our home back!"
The soldiers smiled and nodded in agreement since they were given strict orders not to shout. It would give their position away.
They slowly began to make their way to the open gates. When they were within range of the archers, they charged so that none of the Shu soldiers could get it closed on time.
The Wei soldiers flooded into the city like a wave.
The soldiers ran down the streets and deeper and deeper into the city. By the time they made it into the castle grounds, the alarm had finally been rung, but it was too late. The city was taken and there was no way for Liu Shan or Jiang Wei to fight back.
Zhen Ji and Sima Yi sat on their horses in the courtyard. The soldiers ran all around them.
"This won't be remembered, but we'll remember." Zhen stated.
"Why don't you think history will remember such a one sided victory?" Sima Yi questioned.
"Because this is a relatively small scale battle compared to others." She reasoned.
Her mood had been considerably lighter since the fall of the city.
Among the chaos, there was a loud shout.
"CALL OFF YOUR MEN!"
They both looked and saw Liu Shan standing on one of the upper level balconies. The entire courtyard fell silent.
"Call off your men, or the emperor dies!"