July 13, 1402

Zhu Yunwen cracked open the thin wooden doors that led to the hall to West Gate. The eye-watering smoke flooded his senses. The monk robes he wore got caught on the edge of the door as he tried to slip past. He tugged at the robes before pulling away and moving down the smooth stone path. He looked back at the palace several times, fearing that somebody would catch him. An unmistakable fire was eating away at the precious zhennan wood pillars, climbing into the thin windows and smothering nearby shrubs. The palace of gold and red was being taken by the fire.

The red and gold robe was lighter than his usual attire, and he was able to run down the walkway. Heart thrumming painfully in his chest, he glanced behind him again. A group of Zhu Di's men were coming around the large palace. A few spat into a palace pond. The eununch said that he'd have time!

One of the Zhu Di's soldiers caught sight of Yunwen, and he froze as the man shouted at him to halt. The soldiers dashed toward him, wielding lances. He turned and dashed down the path, ignoring the soldier's barks. The beads at his neck bounced as he ran, and he almost tripped as he encountered a small bridge. The water bubbled quietly as he ran down. He was already panting by the time he reached the gates; he had slowed the soldiers at the narrow bridge.

He pushed open the gate and took one last look at the Ming Palace, which had descended into flames and smoke. People who were running out were slain or taken captive; it was a miracle he survived. Or a few well placed bribes by his advisors.

A small man was waiting for him at the door. His eyes were almond shaped and slanted, and his skin seemed smooth other than a hint of stubble. His posture was one of confidence and power, not unlike that of the nobles and royals... but it was a different kind of power. The man seemed to emit a calm aura. He too was dressed in the red and gold robes of a Buddhist monk. "Come, Majesty. We must hurry."

Not needing to be told twice, Yunwen quickly walked away from the palace, following the smaller man. His own breath came in pants, and with the sun still positioned high in the sky, he found it hard to follow the man.

"Wait," he panted. "Xiasu, wait." His advisors had told him that a man named Xiasu would be helping him. Hopefully, this was the man.

The man turned around. "Emperor Jianwen... but we must leave immediately. Your life is at risk."

Yunwen took a breath before nodding. "Alright." He followed the small man down the cobbled paths. The palace was quite a stretch away from the surrounding city, and the fleeing prince cast his eyes around nervously, waiting to be betrayed by his advisors or caught by Di's men.

The two were silent as they neared another building. The man said to him, quietly as if not to disturb birds, "You must get to the Yangtze River. There, I will help take you to the Buddhist monks, where you will find amnesty from the Prince of Yan."

Yes, his advisors had told him this already, over and over.

"The empress will meet you before then, along with your two sons." Xiasu dodged a risen stone in the path, and Yunwen almost tripped on it. "I will accompany you if I can. Those who are loyal to you will be gathered, and we will attempt to retake power from the usurper."

Yunwen nods at this. His uncle must pay.

The clear path brought them to another gate, and the small man paused. "Beyond this is a strip of trees. We will come across commoners. They are very different from aristocracy, and you must not trust these people."

The emperor processed this information with a questioning expression. "These are the people that create the things that we use? I have encountered them before. It is no big deal."

Xiasu shook his head. "These people are different, Majesty. They are just sand and clay while you are gold. We must not mingle with them."


The two men entered the woods, and the emperor followed.

"Can you run?"

"Who do you think I am?" he snapped, unwilling to admit that he couldn't. He was so, so tired. The heat and the running from earlier...

The man started to job, his shaved head bobbing as they both dashed through the woods. The ground was somewhat wet from the shower of rain last night, and he feared that they'd leave footprints in the earth. He could hear himself pant, and the small man, hearing it too, slowed.

"I'm fine!" Yunwen ground out, pressing forward. What was he doing? His life was in danger. Despite his struggles, the other man did not dare say a word.

By the time they made it to a long strip of shimmering but somewhat murky water, Yunwen's was sweating heinously. "Do you have water?"

The other man nodded and untied a small gourd from his waist and handed it to him. Yunwen looked at it distastefully before sipping, licking his lips at the bland taste.

“This is the moat, and if we cover another distance a little longer, we’ll get to Qinhuai River,” Xiasu told him.

The emperor nodded. A twinge of pride made him say, “There should be a break in the moat a little south, where we can get through and get to the Qinhuai River. There is a temple there, and I can get some rest there.” He knew this after hunting with his father, who had believed that any good leader must know his weapons.

Xiasu nodded, as thinking over this information, and Yunwen could tell that he was hiding his surprise. I am not a fool, Shen Xiasu.

“Alright. We must get there quickly, then."

DAYS is 0.
MONEY is 0.
MOVES is 0.