The Brothers Four: Rise of the Augury (Book 1)

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Weisheng of the Chi

The young prince woke early in the morning to the sounds of the gardeners working outside. He could hear them shouting, their annoying voices piercing his ears unwantedly. Irritated, he pulled a pillow over his head and made a gruff noise.

Someone stirred next to him, rolling out of bed and letting her bare feet hit the floor.

Weisheng rolled over to the other side, removing the pillow from his face.

“And where do you think you’re going?”

The young palace maid slipped on her shoes and turned to him. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you, your highness. I have to go clean one of the upper chambers this morning.”

Weisheng sat up, rubbing his bare arms. “I think I might go on an archery hunt today.”

When she didn’t respond, Weisheng looked over at the young palace maid that was still trying to get herself together in his bedchamber.

He’d fooled around with several house maids and other servant women. However, this particular one he constantly found himself going back to. Whether it was a matter of preference or convenience, he did not know. She was the only one whose named he could remember, actually.

She remained standing in front of the mirror, pulling her hair back.

“Naoki,” he said, a certain amount of huskiness to his voice.

She turned, looking undaunted at him.

“Won’t you stay with me for a few more moments?”

The prince knew of his charm and his gift when it came to women.

He looked on Naoki with haughty eyes and a devilish smile, one that he knew the effects of well.

But Naoki turned to face the mirror again. “I can’t.”

Weisheng took in a breath and frowned, looking out the window at the light of the morning.

“Can I summon you out to the garden later today?” he asked, although it wasn’t posed as a question.

Naoki nodded in his direction and then bowed. “If that’s what you wish.”

Weisheng watched her leave and then laid back down in bed, his arms folded behind his head.

The young prince was tall and built and had the look of his mother, with long black hair that fell just above his shoulders. He was self-aware when it came to his good looks and even more so with the smooth nature of his speech.

Naoki was always this curt with him. The other maids seemed to fall all over themselves for him, but Naoki was different. Their time together was completely on her time and terms. In fact, she was not shy about refusing him and did so often. Perhaps he enjoyed her more than others because it was more of a conquest. But still, Weisheng enjoyed the perks of being a prince of the Empire.

After lying in bed for a few more moments, Weisheng got up and dressed himself. Going on a hunt was the only thing that seemed to be on his mind until he began to wonder where Liwei was. He supposed that he was in council with their father.

Weisheng felt the same jealousy burning inside of him for as long as he could remember.

His brother was still just as weak as he was when they were boys. Weisheng knew that he had the upper hand to Liwei in almost every capacity. He was better looking, stronger, faster, a better shot and sportsmen. Weisheng also knew that he was more ruthless and aggressive.

Liwei was too soft and the young prince often thought of his older brother as weak.

But he was the eldest and therefor heir to the Empire.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door.

Weisheng sauntered over to the door, opening it to reveal one of his father’s soldiers.

“Your highness,” the young soldier greeted him. “The Emperor requests council with you.”

Weisheng nodded and waved him away. “Right.”

He closed the door behind him and made his way across the palace. The council room sat in the very heart of the palace. The floors were covered with extravagant red rugs ornamented with yellow and black trimming. Suits of armor were lined up against the eastern and western walls, and were polished daily. The Emperor’s throne sat against the northern wall, made entirely out of gold, with red cushions that likened that of the color of the rugs.

Upon his arrival to the doors of the throne room, the young prince watched Liwei exit, nodding and talking with his father. The Emperor had aged considerably within the last 3 years but still ruled over the empire with great power.

The time was approaching for the Emperor to die and Liwei to ascend the throne.

Just thinking about that angered Weisheng. These feelings seemed to follow him every day.

As Liwei approached, he waved, a contented smile upon his face. He looked very much like their father, thin with a wide frame and broad chin. He always seemed pensive and calm, something that irritated Weisheng to no end.

“Brother, how are you?”

“Oh, I’m alright. Never better, actually.”

Liwei raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Oh yes, you just got back from an imperial conquest, didn’t you?”

Weisheng held his arms behind his back and raised his chin. “Yes. Father let me lead the third regiment into Hairo.”

His brother nodded appreciatively, slightly uninterested. “Congratulations.”

Weisheng nodded back at his brother, his chest rising proudly.

“Where we you this morning at breakfast? I think mother particularly missed you.”

“She was probably high on opiates this morning anyway. I’m surprised she even remembers what breakfast is.”

“You shouldn’t talk about mother that way.”

When he said nothing more, Weisheng shrugged, bored. “I was tired from the journey.”

His brother cocked his head to the side. “In other words, you were entertaining some palace service women till late this morning, yet again?”

Weisheng smiled even bigger. “Maybe. But you know, brother, I wouldn’t expect you to know anything about such things.”

The jabs about their mother and women seemed to be enough for the older brother.

“I hope one day you learn,” Liwei said, shaking his head in disappointment.

Weisheng laughed again. “Learn what, exactly?”

“I will not have this argument again,” his brother said, walking past him and down the hallway.

“Just something else I’d win at, I suppose,” Weisheng called after him, but he did not turn around.

Particularly pleased with himself, Weisheng walked into the throne room still smiling confidently. He approached his father and bowed slightly, looking upon the Emperor.

“Father.”

“Weisheng, how was the conquest?”

The young prince stood up straighter. “Excellent, father. Everything went according to what you requested. The people of Hairo suffered justly from our efforts and now comply with the new taxation law.”

His father nodded slowly, his long white beard remaining straight. “Is that all?”

Weisheng said nothing more and watched as his father ran a slow finger up and down the arm of the throne.

“One of the knights of the third regiment expressed some concerns of your… escapades in Hairo.”

Weisheng gritted his teeth, awaiting his father’s elaboration.

“Would you care to explain?”

“Of what escapades did he express concern?”

The Emperor continued to focus on his long slender finger stroking the golden arm of his throne, his tone of voice passive. “Several escapades with women, and a few unjust murders, I gather.”

Weisheng took in a breath slowly, his eyes narrowing at his father. “I did what you asked of me and delivered in full fashion. Yes, I did carry out your request in my own… style,” he said carefully, trying to will the Emperor’s gaze. “Forgive me, but I only expected that your request of my involvement in this particular imperial conquest meant that you were fully aware of my preferences when it came to how I would carry it out.”

This made the Emperor smile faintly, his gaze still away from the young prince. “I was and continue to be well aware of your style and preferences, my son.” After he said this he finally looked up, his cold eyes meeting Weisheng’s.

“Then what—“

“I only thought it suitable to inform you that one of your knights seems to lack a certain, respect, shall we say, when it comes to having you as an officer of the regiment.”

At this, Weisheng stiffened. “And you will tell me who it is?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” the Emperor answered coldly.

“One of Liwei’s… friends,” Weisheng muttered through his teeth.

“Yes, it does seem to me that your elder brother has quite the influence over some of the knights.”

“He has no right to undermine me and inspire distrust and disrespect between me and the knights.”

The Emperor remained silent for a moment and Weisheng waited for him to say something more. He raised a hand to his eyebrow and ran a finger over it, his cold eyes still locked with his son’s. “You and your brother inspire different reactions in different people. You have always been the more… confrontational one.”

“A quality that he lacks,” Weisheng finished.

The Emperor nodded. “Your brother will be ascending the throne soon. I think it wise that you ensure that none of the other knights undermine you again.”

Weisheng nodded.

He admired his father. Despite the jealousy he felt towards Liwei, Weisheng always had the feeling that their father wished that he would be the one to take the throne in his place. They were very much alike. They knew how to control the people and put them in their place. They could be the authoritative and ruthless one, something Liwei could not.

“I have nothing more for you,” his father said.

Weisheng bowed his head. “Father?”

“Yes, my son?”

He hesitated a moment. “Are you proud of who I am?”

The Emperor’s lips pulled into a small smile, but his eyes were still cold. “You have always reminded me of myself.”

When he said nothing more, Weisheng bowed his head again and left.

Weisheng walked back from council with his father with his hands folded behind his back.

He felt anger seething from within him still. He kept imagining Liwei and the soldiers, talking about him and disrespecting him.

He ought to teach them a lesson.

As he began to turn a corner, he noticed the door to his mother’s social room sitting wide open. She usually kept it shut, hiding from everyone what she was doing.

He hoped that for once she might be coherent.

When he walked inside he found that his mother was seated at a table, leaning up against one of the chairs. There was a pot of tea and a few cups. The window was open as well, a fresh breeze blowing idly.

Weisheng noticed that her eyes were closed, her breathing slow and steady.

“Hello mother.”

The Empress’s eyes fell open slowly, though she didn’t move from her position.

“I thought I closed that door,” she half-whispered, her eyes cloudy and dead.

The prince said nothing, just walked closer to his mother. “Hello mother. It’s me, Weisheng.”

Her eyebrows raised, though her gaze was still blank and lifeless. “My Weisheng, you are back.” She reached a cold hand and touched his face. “My boy.”

Weisheng kissed her palm and then set it back down at her side, looking upon the remains of what was once his mother. Her hair had grayed immensely, her skin had grown paler and thin like paper. Her eyes were gray now, too, almost always dead and lifeless.

“I thought I shut that door,” she said again.

The prince nodded, unable to tear his eyes away from her ghost. He remembered when he was younger, how she would chase him and his brother around the halls, laughing and calling after them. She used to host grand parties with music and food. She had always been smiling.

“Oh, I’m sorry, your highness,” came a voice from behind him. He turned to find one of the palace maids, her eyes wide.

Weisheng shot daggers at her with his gaze. “What are you doing in here? Get out!” He shouted, getting up from a kneeled position and pointing towards the door.

His mother yelled suddenly, bursting into hysterical tears as the frightened maid backed out of the room quickly.

“No, no, mother,” Weisheng stammered, trying to calm her.

She continued to wail senselessly, her arms flailing all over the place. She had knocked away a few cups of tea, shattering them to pieces.

Weisheng turned around as another female servant rushed through the door. Naoki hurried past him and knelt in front of the Empress, firmly but gently setting her hands down by her sides.

His mother’s screaming turned into large sobs that waned away until it was just her chest rising and falling. Naoki continued to hold her arms down and Weisheng watched, simply standing a few feet away.

She then took a damp cloth that she had brought into the room and gingerly wiped the Empress’s forehead. After a few more moments Naoki stood, avoiding the gaze of the prince.

“Naoki.”

She turned back and looked at him, her eyes unreadable.

“I’ll be going out to the garden soon.”

She nodded and then bowed before leaving the room.

Weisheng walked over to his mother and leaned down, kissing her on the forehead. He thought he saw the glimpse of a smile on her face.

As he traveled through the halls, he felt his mind draw blank. He felt angry, but he knew not why. He almost always felt angry.

After ordering some servants to gather his hunting and archery equipment, the Prince made his way outdoors to the back garden.

Outside there was a large patio, with various sets of furniture and decorations. A number of koi ponds were scattered throughout, and beyond there was a field and a larger pond. There was also the forest that surrounded the back of the empire, directly behind the great palace.

Weisheng stepped outside onto the red and black tile of the patio. A few of the soldiers were conversing by one of the ponds, laughing and carrying on. He noticed that some of them were friends with his brother and felt his hand clench into a tight fist.

The prince also observed some of the female servants and palace maids gathered by a few of the flowers, but Naoki was not among them.

Liwei was nowhere in sight so he made his way over to the soldiers.

At the sight of him they all moved into a line and stopped their conversing. They bowed to him and stood straight, blinking into the sunlight.

Weisheng nodded at them, signaling a greeting.

“I was just in council with my father,” he informed them, pacing back in forth in front of their queue. “We were discussing our recent conquest and it was brought to my attention that perhaps there is someone among you that is displeased with my methods.”

Weisheng studied their expressions closely.

“Would any of you like to speak on that?” He questioned, his tone calm but malicious.

When they didn’t answer, Weisheng smiled. “Get me my Tanzo sword!”

Quickly one of the servants rushed over to the prince’s equipment and pulled out the sword. He hurried over to Weisheng and bowed as the prince removed the sword from its sheath.

He brandished it skillfully, the blade glimmering in the sunlight.

One of the soldiers, Mao, had not shown a glimmer of emotion. Weisheng knew him to be Liwei’s closest friend and confidant. He also knew that he was close with his younger brother Yao, another soldier in his regiment.

“Yao.”

The young soldier almost jumped at the sound of the prince calling his name. But he stepped forward nervously, bowing before Weisheng.

“Kneel.”

Weisheng watched as the sweat poured from his forehead, almost trembling in fear. He then observed the change of demeanor in Mao. His hands were balled into fists, his jaw tight with tension.

“Have you been displeased with my leadership?” He asked the young soldier.

Yao shook his head furiously. “No— No, your grace.”

“Hm…” he mused, handling the blade carefully in the sunlight. “I should hope not.”

Yao’s eyes were wide when Weisheng looked into them. They looked scared and weak.

“It seems as though I have had some respect taken from me. It would only be fair then that I too take something in return. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“I, uh—Yes, uh, of—of course.”

Weisheng laughed, pointing his sword straight towards Yao, the tip of the blade only a few inches away from his face. Everyone in the garden had turned their attention to the prince and the soldiers.

“Well since no one is being generous in coming forward I think I’ll make an example out of you to inspire a little sympathy.”

Yao gasped as the prince drew back his blade.

“Hold out your right hand.”

He hesitated and Weisheng whipped the sword. “Do it!”

Yao held out his right hand weakly, trembling.

The prince drew back his Tanzo sword and a helpless whimper escaped the soldier’s mouth, everyone in the garden now looking at them.

“Stop!” Mao yelled, stepping forward. His eyebrows were furrowed, his eyes dark.

Weisheng smiled, halting his sword. “Ah, Mao. Come to save your brother? How nice. Can’t say I would have done the same.”

Yao trembled before the prince, frozen in fear.

“I was the one. I brought my displeasures before the Emperor.”

Weisheng dropped his sword and smiled at Mao. “Honesty. A noble trait wouldn’t you agree?”

Mao stared at Weisheng, an irritated look of confusion on his face.

“Wouldn’t you agree, Mao?” Weisheng asked, holding the sword against Yao’s neck.

The young soldier closed his eyes as the blade pressed into his skin.

“Yes,” Mao hissed, his knuckles turning white.

At this reaction Weisheng grinned with pleasure. “More noble than allegiance? Or loyalty, perhaps?”

“Perhaps,” Mao said, his gaze steady.

Weisheng smiled again and paced about in front of them, the garden eerily quiet. He then looked at Yao and ushered him to stand up, setting him back in line with the other soldiers.

Mao remained standing and the prince circled him slowly. He hit the butt of his sword against the soldier’s neck, forcing him to his knees.

“Tell me, Moa. What have I done to lose your respect?” Weisheng whispered, kneeling in front of the soldier.

Mao clenched his teeth. “There were many things that took place in Hairo.”

“Such as?”

“Senseless killings.”

“Ah, I see…” Weisheng relented. “That bothered you, did it?”

“It brought shame to the Empire.”

A large smiled spread across the prince’s face as he locked eyes with Mao.

“Shame,” Weisheng repeated, mocking him.

Some of the servants laughed, a few other people in the courtyard as well.

“Here,” Weisheng said, extending a hand to him. “You see this ring? You see this sigill?”

The prince knelt down in front of him. "I am the Empire.”

The soldier frowned, challenging the prince’s gaze. “No. Your father is. Your brother is. But you never will be.”

Weisheng stood, his entire body rigid with anger. From behind him came a distant voice.

“Weisheng.”

He turned as Liwei was walking over to him slowly.

“Ah, brother. So nice of you to join us. I was just having a little chat with some of the soldiers in my regiment.”

Liwei’s face looked grim. “What are you doing?”

“Taking back what is mine,” he hissed, his eyes dark.

“Respect is earned, not freely given,” Mao spat from beneath him.

Stealthily Weisheng whipped the sword beneath Mao’s chin, gritting his teeth. “Yes, but when it’s your life that I have beneath my sword none of that matters much, does it?”

Liwei stepped closer to them, his demeanor quiet but heated. “Haven’t you had enough?”

“Hm…” he pondered, slowly lowering his sword. “No. I don’t think I have,” Weisheng said before slicing his sword through the air and removing Mao’s left ear.

Blood spattered across the ground and in the air as he cried out. Several of the servants in the garden gasped and then looked away, trying to busy themselves with work.

“Clean this up,” the prince ordered to a servant.

The prince began to clean his Tanzo sword with a cloth as Liwei followed him. “Weisheng,” he said firmly.

“Not now,” he said, waving behind him. “I have other things to tend to.”

“I hope one day you change,” he called after him.

At this, Weisheng stopped dead in his tracks to turn around and face him. “For your sake, brother, I hope you’re right.”

Liwei’s expression did not change. He turned away and walked back off in the direction of the soldiers. They were all crowded around Mao who was still wailing, blood seeping through his fingers.

Weisheng leaned his sword against his other equipment and then leaned back into a chair. A few of the maidens came over, offering him food and other amenities. He could see the slight fear in their eyes, but also the desire.

The prince waved them all off after basking in the attention. Naoki had walked out into the courtyard a few moments earlier. She was carrying a pitcher of water, the same one she had been carrying earlier in his mother’s social room.

She walked over to him and Weisheng urged her to sit on the chair before him.

“I heard there was a disturbance out here just before I arrived,” she said, not making eye contact with him.

Weisheng sighed, watching her wring out a cloth into the pitcher. “You didn’t miss much.”

Naoki pressed the cloth to his forehead, wiping away some sweat and a few specks of blood.

“Do I scare you?” The prince asked, his eyes willing her to look at him.

Naoki found his eyes willingly, her expression honest. “No.”

The prince sat up a little and stroked her arm. “Should I expect your presence later this evening?”

Naoki thought about it for a moment, putting the cloth back in the pitcher. “Yes,” she said, finally.

Weisheng kissed her cheek slowly and then stood.

Suddenly a shadow was quickly cast over him. He looked up, searching the skies and saw a falcon hovering above the garden. It then perched on a branch, its feathers glistening in the sunlight.

“Fetch me my bow!” He called, his eyes never leaving the bird.

The prince’s specialty was archery. He excelled in the art and often went on lengthy hunts in the forests behind the palace.

A servant brought it over to him and Weisheng wielded the bow, pointing the head of the arrow at the bird.

Before he could release it, it flew off across the direction of the garden.

The prince began to run, chasing it. His boots hit the tile mutedly, his eyes never leaving the falcon. He knew if he could get it to perch that he could take it down.

Weisheng did not know the reason for his determination of chasing the bird, but it felt a little familiar to him.

He was so focused on the falcon that he didn’t realize that he had broken the tree line into the forest. He began jumping over fallen trees, ducking under low branches, all the while his eyes were fixed on the falcon.

His bow was loaded and ready as he ran, when abruptly he lost sight of the bird. But then a flash of light reflected off of its wings redirected Weisheng’s course and he continued to sprint through the trees.

His breath was heavy, his lungs burning, but he knew he couldn’t stop.

As he glided through the air, clearing a giant tree trunk, the ground stopped and below was a small cliff of about a 25 feet drop.

Weisheng’s feet cut through the branches and he was unable to stop himself as he fell down into the crevice, a large white light overcoming him.

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