Thirty years ago, Princess Tai An perished in a great fire that broke out in the Weiyang Palace.
Sometime before the rebellion, Tai An had already sensed something unusual.
Her only brother had passed away three months ago, due to an accident when he was riding his horse. Her father, deep in grief for losing his only son, fell severely ill and was unable to get out of bed.
Soon after, ministers of the imperial court divided into two factions. Half of them intended to support her young male relative as the successor to the throne, whereas the other half, wanted to crown her as the Crown Princess to endorse her as the successor, which completely went against established customs.
Tai An felt distraught. She kneeled by her father’s bedside, holding up a book entitled ‘The Ancestors’ Teachings’ and pleaded, “Father, please understand. All my life, I wished for father to enjoy a peaceful, healthy life. I never desired any silly titles, let alone the title of the ‘Crown Princess’… I just want you to get better!”
Her father did not speak a word in reply. He merely waved his hands slightly, gesturing for her to stop kneeling. But, this could not quell the uneasiness in her heart. After pondering for a while, she asked her husband, Li Yanxiu, the Prince Consort to meet her outside the Weiyang Palace.
“Yanxiu, I do not wish to be some silly Crown Princess. Let’s not get ourselves involve in this fight for the throne, please. It might cost us our lives! I beg of you.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “Let my relatives recommend a young boy to fill the position. I’ll live the rest of my life as a princess, while you be by my side as my Prince Consort, alright?” Tai An tugged tightly on his sleeve.
Li Yanxiu’s eyes were grim. She could not tell what he was thinking at the moment. After a moment, he said, “We are powerless, Tai An. We are like meat on a chopping board waiting to be ripped apart. What happens next is no longer up to you and me to decide. But, trust me. I will protect you at all costs.”
On the night of the rebellion, Tai An’s father could no longer ingest food. Tai An crouched by his bedside and watched as he breathed his last breath.
She had waited long for the imperial doctors to arrive, but they never came. Suddenly, a fire broke out in the palace.
Tai An rushed out and peered around. There were soldiers holding up flags, imprinted with the surname “Li”. Unaware of what was truly happening, she thought that it was General Li of the Five Cities Military Department who had led an army to help her father, for some unknown reason. But until the very last moment, as the gilded pillar of Qingliang Hall collapsed and crashed into her, she did not see her dearest Prince Consort, Li Yanxiu, who wholeheartedly promise to protect her.
As the flames engulfed her entire body, she suddenly thought of something. Realisation had dawned upon her, but it was too late, as the fire scorched every part of her skin.
Tai An felt detached from her body as if she was floating up in the air.
She saw herself hovering above the Imperial City, looking down at the ministers who were kneeling on the ground in front of the gilded palaces, surrendering to the rebels.
Then, she closed her despair-filled eyes.
When Tai An opened her eyes once again, there was nothing else, but peace and quiet.
The engravings on the pillars and the paintings on the ceiling in Weiyang Palace were just as before. What caught her attention was a young boy, around the age of twelve or thirteen, that was standing silently before her. His eyes filled with distaste as he stared straight at her.
“Who are you? Why have you come here?” She pointed frantically at the boy. Suddenly, from the corner of her eye, she noticed, her pale, slender hands had somehow become as thin and fragile as the wings of a cicada.
Her hands quivered as she jerked backward. She flipped her hands around to check again. Then, she realised, her hands were like a piece of paper, turning her hand over was like flipping a page.
“I have turned into…a paper?”