Chapter 143 Watchtower
With a loud whistling sound, an arrow shot out from the watchtower* and scattered the group of beasts gathered under the flags, causing them to run around in panic.
* lookout points on high ground when they went hunting
Amidst the cheers of “long live the emperor,” Emperor Yu shot several more arrows before sitting down in the watchtower. Yu Dexi then waved his command flag, and the enthusiastic crowd let out a thunderous cheer.
The sound of hooves echoed as groups of people chased after their prey into the deep grass and high woods.
Mu Jingzhao wasn’t particularly interested in these activities. Moreover, he had been hunting for a few days and had lost his initial excitement. However, with the emperor watching, he had no choice but to kick his horse and join the group.
As he was about to move forward with the crowd, he caught a glimpse of Liu Zhongming out of the corner of his eye. Liu Zhongming was lazily holding his reins and seemed even less interested than him.
“Zhongming!” He called out to him. “What are you dawdling for? Let’s go!”
Liu Zhongming flicked his reins and rode alongside him. “Didn’t sleep well, my whole body hurts,” he yawned.
Mu Jingzhao sneered, “What’s there for you to not sleep well? Before, you could blame it on the troubles from the Grand Court, but now that you’ve resigned, you’re even more idle than I am.”
Liu Zhongming didn’t respond and yawned again.
He was truly tired and hadn’t slept well. He never thought that after losing the ring, he would be plagued by scenes that he didn’t know were sealed away somewhere, as if they were evil spirits released from h*ll.
In reality, it wasn’t entirely appropriate to call them evil spirits. Other than being more immersive than before, there wasn’t anything particularly frightening about these dreams.
It was like a dream in a dream, where he was walking a completely different path in another world, peaceful yet heartwarming.
Eating with that person under the corridors of the Jinxi Academy was a real memory.
The scars on the face of Chenzhou were still there, and despite being younger than they were now, they didn’t have such a sharp and cutting tongue, nor did they have such a narrow and sly smile. Instead, they looked like a shy little rabbit, delicately picking at a box of lotus root slices and taking small bites.
As the person watched him intently, his heart was filled with love and struggle.
Liu Zhongming desperately refused to acknowledge that this person, who had a completely different personality from the little fox, was actually the same person.
But when the shy young man held his hand and eagerly showed him the calligraphy for “the peach blossoms are lovely,” with the exception of the character “之,” it was almost identical to his handwriting.
He couldn’t deceive himself any longer.
Although he was fully aware that he and that Liu Zhongming were two different people, the little fox and Qu Chenzhou…were the same person.
No wonder the little fox had said that “he is me, and I am him,” and that he had all of Qu Chenzhou’s memories.
No wonder he had suddenly broken down when they were flooded in Changshui town.
He had been misled by his preconceptions and had suspected everyone but had never guessed that the person with the God-given eyes, Qu Chenzhou himself, was right in front of him.
If there was any chance of meeting Qu Chenzhou, who was now a slave, it would only be possible in this way.
He was both a dreamer and a dream guest, and Liu Zhongming could only watch.
He watched as he climbed up the tall parasol tree, holding a box of parasol flowers.
He watched as they secretly held hands, avoiding the gaze of everyone else, and shared unfamiliar yet passionate kisses, savoring each other’s taste.
He watched as he tremblingly removed the little fox’s clothes, leaving traces of love behind as he shyly sobbed without a sound.
He tangled with someone in that picturesque and scorching dream for a long time, until he was awakened by someone, drenched in sweat, and became even more aware of his own fears.
What he feared was only the deception of the little fox.
If the Qu Chenzhou in his dream was really the little fox, and they had such a strong desire to entangle with each other, even to the point of wishing to merge into each other’s flesh and blood, why didn’t the little fox just be honest with him?
At first, their identities were vastly different, but now he had even sworn to his father, uncle, and sister that he would only marry the little fox. Why did the little fox remain tight-lipped and even refused to give him a clear affirmation?
And in that dream where Bai Shilei appeared, where was the “him” who was being spat upon, the one whom he loved and hated to the bone? Could he be…
Liu Zhongming vaguely guessed that the drastic change in the little fox’s personality might be closely related to the upheavals in the Bai and Liu families.
And what he dared not face were those things hidden behind the little fox.
These days he dared not even lay his head on the pillow, afraid that if he closed his eyes, he would see something he didn’t want to see.
He was just deceiving himself.
Mu Jingzhao released the reins and trotted a few steps, then turned back to see him walking unhurriedly, and couldn’t help urging him, “What are you dawdling for? Aren’t you afraid of me being angry?”
Liu Zhongming knew that what he was afraid of was not Mu Jingzhao’s anger, but the emperor’s displeasure. He smiled and didn’t hurry.
Only two people were worried in the hunting field. Bai Shiyan was no longer by his side, and he dared not stray far from the watchtower.
His sister was up there on the watchtower.
Before departing, he couldn’t help but let Qu Chenzhou take a look around the Liu and Bai families, and nervously asked, “How is my sister?”
Qu Chenzhou pursed his lips and shook his head in silence.
He was so used to believing in the little fox that his shaking head naturally meant he didn’t know, but now that he was suddenly awakened from his dream, he realized that he had become the second Du Quan.
Qu Chenzhou’s shaking head may not necessarily mean he didn’t know, it could also mean that he refused to speak.
After realizing this, he was extremely anxious and understood one thing- after gaining his complete trust, it would be almost effortless for Qu Chenzhou to manipulate him.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” He lifted the reins and circled in place, responding slowly, “The guards have prepared the prey, there’s no need to do anything, why sweat so much?”
“It’s not about the prey, it’s about-“
Mu Jingzhao’s complaint was interrupted by a sudden commotion coming from the direction of the watchtower, with screams louder than the last.
Liu Zhongming’s mind exploded, he immediately threw aside Ning Wang and turned his horse’s head, whipping it towards the watchtower.
Other than the emperor, the people sitting on the watchtower were mostly women, including noblewomen, ladies, and children.
By the time the Jinwu Guards approached, the watchtower was already in chaos, and several things could be seen darting through the crowd.
“Protect the emperor and the empress!” Qi Wang, who was originally guarding below the platform, immediately stepped onto it and sternly rebuked.
Bo Yan held the knife in one hand, disregarding everyone else as he protected Emperor Yu and walked towards the city. When a thing flashed by, he pierced it with his knife and nailed it to the ground.
“Don’t panic! It’s just a mountain cat!”
Indeed, the creature nailed to the ground was a mountain cat, measuring more than half a person’s length. Its brownish back was soaked in blood, still alive and emitting a series of piercing screams.
Although the true identity of this creature had been revealed, the commotion in the crowd did not immediately calm down. The chilling screams sent shivers down people’s spines.
Zhu Meiren, who had been accompanying the Emperor, couldn’t be seen but one could only hear cries amidst the chaos.
“Save me! I have a child! Emperor, save me!”
Amidst the chaos, Liu Zhongming dismounted and tried to approach the watchtower, but he found it impossible to get close due to the surging crowd. He could only catch a glimpse of Liu Qingru not far from the seat, her head disappearing in the midst of the crowd.
“Don’t panic and run!” he roared loudly. “Someone, kill the mountain cat!”
Naturally, he had brought many shadow guards and attendants, but with so many people on the stage, not even the Jinwu Guards could fully deploy, let alone those below the stage. The Emperor had already been escorted away, and the Jinwu Guards were evacuating the crowd from the steps.
Unable to move against the current, he secured his sword on his back and climbed the trunk of a tree nearby where he saw two palace maids protecting Liu Qingru as they stumbled through the crowd. The frightened mountain cats let out shrill screams and suddenly rushed towards the three of them in a chaotic manner, seemingly aimless.
As Liu Qingru stumbled forward, her palace skirt tripped her and she fell. About to scream, someone supported her with one hand, the sword’s edge slicing through, spraying blood on a few people.
“Sister, don’t be afraid, I’ll protect you.”
Liu Zhongming helped her up and comforted her in a soft voice, scanning the scene quickly.
Though the ferret moved quickly, the Jinwu guards were not useless. After the initial chaos, they had killed several of the ferrets running amok in the crowd, and the rest had fled in haste.
It all came suddenly and ended suddenly.
Still trembling with fear, Liu Zhongming looked around, but in the gap between the crowds, his eyes suddenly met with a certain gaze.
That gaze was as calm as ever, not looking at him. In the blink of an eye, it moved away from his gaze, but it made him tremble like fire.
It was…Huai Wang.
The royal physician had been in the room for a long time. Liu Zhongming sat on a stone bench in the courtyard, staring blankly at his elongated shadow, lost in thought.
Something wasn’t right.
The hunting ground did not prohibit a few wild beasts, and with the protection of the Jinwu guards, these things were not a problem, but they would be the climax of the hunt.
However, mountain cats were not gregarious creatures and rarely attacked people on their own initiative, let alone ambush them from trees on the edge of the city. Unless someone outside of their group had deliberately done a lot of tampering.
And in the current situation, everyone had taken refuge in the palace, unease spreading in private.
The emperor was naturally well-protected, with the imperial physicians watching over him at all times. However, Zhu Meiren had just given birth to a child that had unfortunately passed away. From the watchtower, one could see the red commotion, and the imperial physicians couldn’t arrive in time to save the baby.
The target of this attack was obvious, but he didn’t have time to think too much about it – an unexpected situation had occurred with his sister as well. When the imperial physician checked her pulse, he immediately congratulated her.
“Congratulations, Noble Consort! You are with child, but you were frightened, and the pregnancy is still young. Your pulse is a bit unstable, and you need to rest and be carefully attended to.”
The emperor soon received the news and sent people to take care of her. This was good news that he had been waiting for a long time, but when he thought back to the chaos that had just happened, he couldn’t help but shiver.
What if he hadn’t arrived in time? What if his sister had fallen in the crowd and been trampled? What if the mountain cat had hit her stomach? What would have happened?
Bo Yan had just come to visit and he asked about the news outside, but it wasn’t optimistic.
The people sent by Qi Wang to capture the mountain cats had returned, saying that they had caught the person who was secretly manipulating it, an old citizen of Liequ.
These citizens who wished to restore Liequ were like ants hiding in damp places. After so many years, they still relentlessly pursued their goal. The emperor was naturally enraged and ordered the north and south bureau to search the surrounding areas and not let these lowly citizens escape.
As a result, Bai Shiyan was unable to meet with him and disappeared without a trace. He had sent people over several times, hoping to see Bai Shiyan when he returned, but he had never been able to do so. He couldn’t help but think of Huai Wang’s gaze, and his heart was always on edge.
The gaze was calm and indifferent, as if everything was clear in his mind, which was completely out of place with the chaos and anxiety of the moment.
It was very much like Qu Chenzhou.
Liu Zhongming’s heart was beating faster and faster.
The current situation was not in their favor. He had to stay with his sister and couldn’t leave, and he didn’t know where Bai Shiyan had gone. In this mountainous forest, it was impossible for the North and South Bureau to meet peacefully.
Was this the arrangement of Qi Wang?
He quickly denied this idea. Rather than saying it was Qi Wang’s arrangement, it was more likely Jiang Xingzhi’s arrangement, and Jiang Xingzhi…
Jiang Xingzhi had a few private conversations with Qu Chenzhou in the past, but he didn’t get a single word from Qu Chenzhou.
The only possibility was Huai Wang.
Huai Wang had no military power and could not take over Jinxiu Ying. In this way, no matter which side of the North and South Bureau had problems, it would be a windfall for Huai Wang.
Liu Zhongming shuddered. The terrifying speculation he didn’t want to admit was gradually growing in his mind, to an uncontrollable degree.
If the person Qu Chenzhou truly served was not him…
If that “Jingyan” in the extreme pleasure was the truth…
Qu Chenzhou’s cold and distant eyes seemed to still be looking at him, with a killing intent that was absent in the past.
“The ones who he bedded with…there are those who he like and those he don’t.”
Liu Zhongming inserted his fingers into his hair, suppressing himself at the brink of collapse.
This was not reasonable – the only bit of rationality reminded him that he had not done anything to hurt Qu Chenzhou, let alone had any contact with him in this lifetime, even with Huai Wang.
Love and hate were all groundless, he couldn’t understand it, even if he went to the underworld, he would still be a confused ghost.
No matter how he thought about it, he realized one thing – he had given Qu Chenzhou too much trust, exceeding the limit he could bear, and the consequence of that trust was something he could not face.
This bit of rationality held him back, preventing him from going crazy. He could only restrain his anxiety, waiting for the imperial physician to come out and for news from Bai Shiyan, who was sent out.
He didn’t know how his sister was doing, he felt like he had been waiting too long, but he still hadn’t heard the sound of the door opening. He could only lift his head and look around.
However, when he glanced over, he found himself on the street, and the signboard of the nearby store read “Nianhua Shop.”
And where his gaze fell was not a door, but the distant thick smoke.
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