Chapter 158 – Si Tian Guan
When summoned into the Yangxin Palace, Liu Zhongming saw Qi Wang still kneeling in front of the palace. The situation was peculiar, and neither of them greeted each other.
Qi Wang may still be clueless, but Liu Zhongming understood it very well.
The trouble caused by Ren Rui this time couldn’t be easily dismissed with just a statement of indiscriminate killing.
The Northern and Southern Bureaus were already at odds, and no matter who revealed the truth this time, no one would believe it. Ren Rui dared to take matters into his own hands and target Bai Shiyan.
As a result, the incident at Jinping Village was also inevitably linked to Qi Wang.
Whether intentional or not, Qi Wang couldn’t easily escape this time, let alone the other two lurking predators.
After the imperial physician exited, Liu Zhongming lifted the curtain and entered the inner hall.
In just a few days, Emperor Yu appeared noticeably haggard as if he had aged suddenly. When he saw Liu Zhongming entering, he attempted to speak several times, only to be interrupted by coughing fits.
There was no one else in the hall. Yu Dexi brought a chair over, and Liu Zhongming thanked him before sitting down.
The results of the interrogations had just been submitted. Since Emperor Yu summoned him, there couldn’t be any other matter. Liu Zhongming looked into Yu Dexi’s eyes and took the initiative to speak.
“Your Majesty, all the members of the Left Valiant Camp have confessed. Chengfeng hunting ground Chaos in Jinping Village was orchestrated by Ren Rui, who had prepared to use mountain cats in advance, targeting the child in Concubine Zhu’s womb.”
“Afterwards, they encountered Bai Shiyan during their search in the mountains. Seeing him alone, Ren Rui had an evil thought and ordered an attack on him. Bai Shiyan managed to escape through a gap in the mountains.”
“However, they didn’t give up and continued their pursuit southward, where they stumbled upon a village in the mountains.”
“According to their accounts, there were guards in the village who injured them. Ren Rui then ordered the slaughter of the village, decapitating its inhabitants and pretending them to be the old residents of Liequ.”
“The thirty-eight members of the Left Valiant Camp were interrogated separately, and their testimonies are consistent. I request Your Majesty to review them.”
“Review! Review!” Emperor Yu suddenly swept the documents off the desk, enraged. “They all have such audacity! They don’t have any proper intentions, yet they know how to scheme and deceive me! They even targeted an unborn child! Have they grown the hearts of bears and the guts of leopards? Who gave them such audacity!”
Liu Zhongming hurriedly knelt down and said, “Your Majesty, please calm down! I have indeed interrogated them thoroughly, and they all claimed to have personal grudges with Concubine Zhu’s maternal family.”
Emperor Yu’s face turned red, as if he would suffocate in the next moment.
“Personal grudges! Do three or four dozen people all have personal grudges with the same family? And they don’t even know that the child in her womb is my own flesh and blood?! Do they think I’m a fool? What about Bai Shiyan? Why didn’t he say a word when he came back!”
“Your Majesty, I have also questioned Bai Shiyan. He said he hurriedly escaped and it was too dark to distinguish the assailants, so he couldn’t confirm who they were. If he were to come back and baselessly accuse the Southern Bureau, it would only cause unnecessary trouble for Your Majesty.”
Emperor Yu grew even angrier. “He is the commander of the Northern Bureau, and he was chased and beaten like a stray dog, yet he didn’t dare make a sound! Is he still a man of courage? Bring him here! What about Ren Rui?”
“Your Majesty, Ren Rui has bitten his tongue and committed suicide.”
Emperor Yu took a deep breath, about to say something, but suddenly leaned sideways and fell, frightening Yu Dexi, who quickly reached for the mint scent on the table and sniffed it under his nose before being pushed away tremblingly.
“Zhongming! Go and interrogate them again. If you bring back these unclear testimonies, don’t come and see me!”
“Your Majesty!” Liu Zhongming kowtowed deeply, then suddenly straightened his body. “Please forgive my frankness! If this matter is further investigated, I’m afraid… I won’t be able to handle this responsibility.”
Emperor Yu turned his gaze towards him. “What do you mean?”
“Your Majesty, the soldiers of the Southern Bureau are under the command of Qi Wang. This time, when I went to arrest them, many people were already dissatisfied and privately discussing the matter. If we dig deeper, I’m afraid…”
Liu Zhongming made a firm decision before continuing, “I’m afraid it will implicate a certain Wangye. I can’t afford to bear that responsibility.”
“In the past, I would have fearlessly faced it, but now my sister is also carrying Your Majesty’s child. If I persist relentlessly, others will probably slander and accuse me, saying that I have ulterior motives and evil intentions.”
“I am young and ignorant, and I am not well-versed in the affairs of the court. If there is no consideration of the consequences, I may face great blame and even death. At that time, I hope Your Majesty will remember my loyalty and not blame my sister.”
Liu Zhongming spoke with great emotion, and then kowtowed again.
“Your Majesty has shown me great kindness, and I dare not disappoint. I only ask that Your Majesty understands my sincerity. If there is blame in the future, I am willing to bear it all.”
Emperor Yu remained silent as he looked at Liu Zhongming, sighing deeply after a long time. “Get up.”
Yu Dexi hurried to support him.
Liu Zhongming, his eyes red, stood up.
“I’ve watched you grow up. How can I not know your temperament? I gave you command of the Jinxiu Ying precisely because of your youthful enthusiasm. Do whatever needs to be done, and if anyone comes to me to speak ill of you, I will make the decision for you.”
Liu Zhongming sniffled and kowtowed again, saying, “I am willing to give my life for Your Majesty!”
As he turned to leave, a voice from behind called him back.
Liu Zhongming quickly turned around and asked, “Does Your Majesty have any more instructions?”
Emperor Yu played with the mint scent for a while before raising his eyes and asking, “Jinping Village… Have you investigated it thoroughly?”
“Jinping Village…” Liu Zhongming was momentarily stunned before realizing, “Your Majesty is referring to the village that was massacred? I did see that plaque in the village. We searched the village but found no survivors. We haven’t figured out who the people inside were yet. I have sent people to inquire around, and I believe we will have results in a few days.”
Yu Dexi stood attentively, watching Emperor Yu intently. After a while, he met the tired gaze that was directed at him.
“Shizi,” he tiptoed down the steps and pulled Liu Zhongming aside, whispering, “Since Shizi has investigated that village, there’s no need to hide it. The people living in that village are the thirty-five sin-born children.”
Liu Zhongming seemed momentarily unresponsive, and after a while, he was shocked, “Those people Ren Rui killed…”
He glanced quickly at Emperor Yu and didn’t dare to continue speaking.
As if to confirm his thoughts, Yu Dexi spoke in a low voice, “This matter is of great importance, but it cannot be known to others. The sin-born children are indispensable. Shizi, we will rely on you.”
Liu Zhongming half-turned his body and bowed to Emperor Yu, proclaiming loudly, “Your Majesty’s favor is immense, and I will definitely live up to your trust!”
“Zhongming,” Emperor Yu raised his eyelids slightly, “It’s not easy to find these people. Later, you will take an imperial decree to the Ministry of Revenue and obtain some silver. If there is a shortage, inform me. This matter must be handled properly.”
“Your Majesty has shown great favor towards me. It is my honor. Over the years, I have accumulated some wealth. There is no need to trouble the Ministry of Revenue!”
“Just take it if I tell you to. I won’t touch your personal wealth. Get the job done, and I will naturally not treat you unfairly,” a rare smile appeared on Emperor Yu’s face. “I know you are quick and clever, and you won’t make any mistakes. Tell me, what would you like me to reward you with?”
Liu Zhongming was confident and didn’t refuse, saying, “Your Majesty, I have no other requests. I only beg you to return the slave that His Highness took from me. Not to mention that I raised him for several years, he is also an exceptional individual. Just because His Highness took him away, my friends have teased me a few times. I can’t accept it.”
The warmth that had filled the inner chamber just moments ago suddenly dissipated.
Emperor Yu closed his eyes for a moment and, upon opening them, he saw Liu Zhongming still standing there while looking extremely tired. He waved his hand dismissively, saying, “You may leave.”
Before Liu Zhongming could say anything else, Yu Dexi already flicked his sleeve and extended his hand, indicating the way out for him.
The coldness outside the door seemed even more biting than before. Liu Zhongming couldn’t help but shiver and respectfully bowed to Qi Wang outside the door before descending the steps one by one.
It was the time of the setting sun, with its bright orange glow casting long shadows that stretched backward on the steps, winding like some strange creature clinging to his back.
Liu Zhongming felt exhausted. The vitality he had displayed earlier seemed to have depleted all his energy in advance. It felt as if he had sandbags tied to his feet, dragging him down with each step.
By the time he reached the bottom, he spaced out, lost in his thoughts for an unknown period. Then, inexplicably, he turned around.
On the high platform of the Yangxin Hall, a figure was wrapped in a heavy cloak, briefly appearing in the gaps of the white jade balustrade.
Liu Zhongming stared blankly as the figure disappeared, slowly exhaling a few breaths. The warmth condensed into white frost on his eyelashes.
He raised his hand to wipe his eyes and turned to leave.
In the scent of Wuchen Incense, Qu Chenzhou slowly awakened, opening his eyes to the familiar pattern on the canopy.
Everything felt like a lifetime ago, as if nothing had ever been reborn.
There were faint movements outside the canopy, and the sound of the door opening was particularly clear. Someone outside asked, “Has he awakened?”
He fainted in the Qingxin Residence in front of the Emperor.
Since being dragged back from Shili Pavilion, his body was riddled with injuries, and he never expected to survive the night.
But in the end, he managed to endure.
The scars on his body were evidence of his estrangement from Liu Zhongming, and he didn’t have time to slowly recover from his injuries.
The Jinping Village massacre had happened a long time ago, and if it was discovered prematurely, he would lose the best opportunity to gain the Emperor’s trust.
Fortunately, everything was still within reach.
He was familiar with the Emperor, knowing all his weaknesses, and he knew that the phrase “Jinping Village was slaughtered” was a sensitive point that the Emperor couldn’t ignore.
However, the one thing he didn’t anticipate was Liu Zhongming’s arrival.
From the moment Liu Zhongming knelt outside Qingxin Residence and spoke his first words, Qu Chenzhou keenly realized the change in Liu Zhongming’s attitude. He must have known something.
He knew Emperor Yu’s suspicions better than anyone.
He had long prepared himself to endure the interrogation and torture, and in that fit of tantrum and argument, they disappeared into thin air.
The remaining strength left him no room to think about anything else. He only remembered himself desperately clutching his clothes, revealing the wounds on his body, and only heard the echoes of his own sobbing.
“Your Majesty, it’s not slave betraying his master! I dare to ask, who would willingly be a slave for a lifetime! Who would willingly be a slave for a lifetime!”
He didn’t know who angrily shouted at him in his ear, nor did he know who was dragging him away.
Qu Chenzhou only knew that he had exhausted his last bit of strength. He couldn’t even risk crawling a few more steps forward and lost consciousness completely.
Everything he experienced became blurry, as if his soul had once again detached from his body and floated in the clouds.
He tried hard to open his eyes, but in vain. It was unclear how much time had passed before he faintly sensed someone moving his body.
“Take note, whip marks on the back of the legs… chest… frostbite on the feet…”
Someone was speaking by the bedside, the words falling intermittently into his ears. “Laceration… severe burns on the lower back…”
He suddenly twitched, and the needle inserted in his neck was quickly pulled out.
“Residual toxins in the body…”
The person lifted the blanket, grabbed his ankle, and examined it with a few probing fingers.
Qu Chenzhou couldn’t help but cry out in pain, trembling as he tilted his head back.
“Torn… severely injured…”
He was thoroughly examined by someone inside and out, then weakly fell back onto the bed, losing consciousness once again.
He didn’t know how long he had been in a coma.
The curtain was lifted, and the setting sun’s hazy light shone outside the window. Someone leaned down slightly and asked, “Are you awake?”
He slowly turned his eyes, was supported by someone to sit up, and was given a few sips of water. Finally, his parched throat uttered a sound.
Yu Dexi examined him up and down, a slight smile on his face. “Qu Chenzhou, I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you better answer truthfully. If you utter a single lie, don’t blame me for sending you back to Shizi.”
Qu Chenzhou anxiously clenched his hands at the edge of the bed and replied in a low voice, “Master, feel free to ask. I, your servant, never tell lies.”
Yu Dexi was satisfied with his obedience.
“First, can your eyes truly see the fortune and misfortune of the future? Did anyone tell you about the matter at Jinping Village?”
“Replying to Master, when I was young, I fell seriously ill. After recovering, I could see some divinations. I can divine for the same person every five days. In the past, when I sold myself at Qisheng Tower, the shopkeeper once hung a sign for me. Every divination I made came true. As for the matter at Jinping Village… no one told me. It was the Emperor’s divination.”
“Hmm…” Yu Dexi nodded. “You were bought by Shizi. Is he good to you?”
Qu Chenzhou lowered his eyes, and tears suddenly rolled down his cheeks. “Shizi did indeed educate me meticulously. He even taught me how to read and recognize words. But, Master, have you ever seen the scars on me? Shizi only regards me as a plaything. Whether he is good to me or not, you can ask Ning Wang.”
Seeing his tears rolling like pearls, Yu Dexi sighed. “Enough, stop crying. Since you were hanging divination signs at Qisheng Tower, did Shizi ever ask you to divine for someone?”
Qu Chenzhou carefully wiped away his tears and bit his lower lip.
“Master, Shopkeeper Du treated me harshly. When I was young, I couldn’t bear the beatings, so I earned a lot of silver by divining for him. But he still wouldn’t spare me and almost beat me to death several times. Gradually, I stopped speaking…”
“When Shizi bought me, my sign had long been taken down, and it had been a long time since I divined for anyone. Shizi doesn’t believe in ghosts and deities, and I refused to speak, so… I never divined for Shizi.”
“I never let him know about my divination abilities.”
He sobbed softly, sliding down from the bed and prostrating on the ground.
“Master, you can see through it. Since I gained these eyes, I can no longer tell lies. Master, you see through it.”
“Master, please have mercy. I have answered truthfully. I beg you not to send me back to Shizi’s hands; my life would be in danger.”
Yu Dexi fell silent for a moment, then suddenly smiled.
“What nonsense is this? Indeed, we have heard from His Highness and Ning Wang about it. If they believe you, then so do I.” He personally helped Qu Chenzhou up. “Forget about the ‘servant’ talk. The Emperor has ordered us to not only remove your slave status but also…”
He turned around, and several palace servants waiting outside the door entered, kneeling before Qu Chenzhou with trays in hand.
Another servant unveiled a brightly colored embroidered crown with seven patterns.
“Congratulations,” Yu Dexi unfolded a scroll of golden imperial decree in his hand, a smile in his eyes. “Congratulations Qu Sitian, Qu Sitian, receive the imperial decree!”
Qu Chenzhou immediately knelt down and kowtowed.
The evening sun’s last rays fell not far from Yu Dexi’s boots.
Yu Dexi loudly recited the imperial decree, unaware that…
—Qu Sitian, the person who manipulated the winds and clouds, had returned to the world once again.
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