Fu Bie completely disregarded the words spoken from the dragon throne, still clutching onto Fu Nian tightly. “Senior Brother, let’s talk outside. There are too many people here——”
Fu Nian didn’t wait for his junior to finish speaking and hurriedly covered his mouth.
Saying there are too many people here in front of the emperor, did he think the rules in the palace were too lax?
“Don’t hug me, stand properly!” Fu Nian lowered his voice and tried to shout with more authority, “You ran on your own, and then came back shouting that you want to see the emperor. Now it turns out—”
“Who wants to see that old fox? From the beginning, I said I wanted to see Senior Brother, only Senior Brother. But in the end, they completely ignored me. Finally, I thought that you should be working around this old fox, so I changed my words!”
What a good changed my words.
Fu Nian gritted his teeth.
“Cough, cough, cough.” Chu Zhaoyi coughed weakly, trying to speak, but the sound that came out when he opened his mouth was so hoarse that even Li Gonggong standing beside him couldn’t understand.
The first time Chu Zhaoyi was ignored, his face dimmed slightly. Now, being ignored again and seeing this mud-covered monkey hugging Fu Nian and not letting go, his pupils couldn’t help but contract. He gave a few instructions to Li Gonggong beside him.
Before Fu Nian could say anything, four strong and powerful imperial guards entered the room, forcibly pulling Fu Bie away from him.
“Little Brother Fu, this disrespect in the imperial presence is a grave offense. Moreover, is there something you can’t say in front of the people here?” Li Gonggong approached Fu Bie, reminding him with a touch of helplessness.
Fu Bie struggled a couple of times but couldn’t break free from the four men’s strength.
He then looked at Fu Nian with pleading eyes and tried to control his emotions. “Fu Nineteen, Nineteen Senior Brother. He has awakened.”
“What?” Fu Nian was stunned for a moment, then quickly leaned in. “Explain in detail.”
“I, when I was taking care of him, I gave him the usual medicine to prevent body decay, wiped his body with a towel, just like always. While I was halfway through giving him the medicine, Senior Brother Nineteen suddenly grabbed my wrist… I was startled and shouted ‘ghost.’ Then the grip on my wrist loosened. I approached the stone coffin, and Senior Brother Nineteen was still lying there just as before, motionless with his eyes closed, no signs of breathing.” Fu Bie rushed through his explanation, finally letting out a breath. “Just when I thought it was an illusion, I saw a few tears streaming down from the corner of Senior Brother Nineteen’s eyes, real tears…”
Fu Nian stood there, expressionless.
Fu Nineteen… still alive?
If he were to say he felt that Fu Nineteen had moved, it might be an illusion. But how could someone who had been dead for so long shed tears?
“Who have you told about this?” Fu Nian asked again after collecting his thoughts.
“I only told you. When I saw that Senior Brother Nineteen showed signs of waking up, I didn’t have the chance to tell Master. Then I saw Master…” As he spoke, Fu Bie’s expression, which had been relatively normal until now, suddenly turned painful. He stared at the ground, and his mouth twitched uncontrollably out of fear.
Suddenly, Fu Bie summoned an unexpected burst of strength, breaking free from the restraint of the four burly men. He rushed toward Fu Nian and hugged him tightly. “Senior Brother! Save me, save me!”
Fu Nian: “What happened afterward? Take your time and explain, no need to rush,” Fu Nian said, trying to comfort him in a soft voice.
Fu Nian knew that Fu Nineteen probably had a high chance of still being alive. However, judging from Fu Bie’s demeanor, there seemed to be more hidden secrets.
As he was being held, Fu Nian cast a worried glance in the direction of the dragon throne. He noticed that Chu Zhaoyi was staring at them intently. Fu Nian quickly averted his gaze.
“I will save you. Let go of your hands,” Fu Nian said, attempting to pry open the hands clasping his back with his prosthetic limb.
Unfortunately, after struggling for a while, he couldn’t manage to break free.
While Fu Nian could have easily stabbed Fu Bie or exerted enough force to kick him away, he decided against it.
“Don’t cling to me, let go! If you keep this up, I won’t save you,” Fu Nian growled in a low voice.
Upon hearing this threat, Fu Bie hesitated for a moment.
Then, he suddenly shouted at the top of his lungs, echoing throughout the grand hall, “Why is it that the old fox is allowed to hug Senior Brother and Senior Brother won’t even yell at him!”
Fu Nian: ?
Almost instantly, he felt that everyone in the hall had suddenly become alert, as if they had heard something extraordinary.
Clearly, Fu Bie wanted to shout something else.
However, this time, before he could say anything, the Imperial Guards swiftly delivered a punch to the back of Fu Bie’s head.
Watching Fu Bie being dragged away, Fu Nian took a moment to adjust his lightweight armor.
Seeing that the noisy one had been taken away, Li Gonggong approached Fu Nian and conveyed a message from His Majesty, “His Majesty says he won’t hold accountable those who are not in their right minds. Moreover, due to your familiarity with him, he has only ordered him to rest in the prison cell. He will receive twenty strokes as a lesson.”
“Thank you Your Majesty for your benevolence,” Fu Nian replied on behalf of the Junior Brother he had picked up.
It was already quite lenient. Despite repeatedly ignoring Chu Zhaoyi’s words and boldly calling him an old fox, Fu Nian was still anxious for this young man who seemed oblivious to his place.
Afterwards, Fu Nian noticed that Chu Zhaoyi continued to cough intermittently, looking quite distressed.
“You may leave now. His Majesty will summon you later to convey what that young man said earlier. Currently, His Majesty is not feeling well and is resting. He had no choice but to come out and deal with this matter due to the disturbance caused by that young man,” Li Gonggong explained.
“I understand. May I inquire, Li Gonggong, what has happened to His Majesty? Has he caught a cold or some other ailment?” Fu Nian couldn’t help but ask.
In the past, Chu Zhaoyi would always summon him even if he couldn’t sleep, but now he was seriously ill. Fu Nian had heard no news of it.
“It’s an old ailment; you need not worry.”
“What old ailment?” Fu Nian asked again.
Li Gonggong did not answer and simply said, “Imperial Guard Lian, please leave.”
Seeing this, Fu Nian decided not to pursue the matter further and took his leave.
After midnight, since Chu Zhaoyi did not summon him, Fu Nian headed to the Ministry of Punishments, where Fu Bie was being held.
Even though it was late at night, many convicts were still working tirelessly within the prison.
Fu Nian showed his waist badge to the guards, explained his purpose, and was directed to the cell where Fu Bie was held.
Upon seeing Fu Bie lying on the ground, beaten and battered, Fu Nian sighed. “I know you’re awake,” he said, tossing a jar of ointment toward him. “Listen, maybe you should consider leaving the palace. Your insolence will only lead to your execution sooner or later.”
“…Senior Brother, which side are you on? Why are you siding with that old fox?” Fu Bie’s voice was filled with resentment. “Last time, I noticed clear bruising on your neck, and it was evident that someone had strangled you almost to death. At first, I thought it was one of the Imperial Guards who had done it in a fight, but later, I found out that the handprint matched that old fox’s.”
Fu Nian: …
He wanted to curse but found himself at a loss for words.
Could the strange insights of their sect really be passed down through generations?
“Also, when you’re sleeping at night, that old fox sneaks into your room and just holds onto you,” Fu Bie continued.
Fu Nian couldn’t hold back any longer and growled, “What business is it of yours to observe these things? I can handle my own affairs! If you keep your focus on me, be careful I don’t make you die in a foreign land.”
“…Master asked me to observe. I just wanted to remind Senior Brother that he’s not a good person,” Fu Bie said, his face still filled with resentment.
Fu Nian warned him again before steering the conversation back to the main topic. “Speaking of which, what happened that scared you so much? You even ran to the palace to find me instead of returning to the Distant Moon Sect.”
“…” When asked this, Fu Bie appeared somewhat conflicted.
“I always believed in my master. After all, he’s the one who took me in, raised me, and taught me martial arts. But…”
Seeing Fu Bie hesitating, Fu Nian leaned in closer and gestured for him to speak freely.
The more Fu Nian listened, the deeper his frown became.
Although he had long realized that Fu Zhen wore two different masks, one in public and another in private, hearing Fu Bie’s account, while not entirely surprising, was still hard to accept without any reaction.
“In short, it’s like this. Master has done something unimaginable to Senior Brother. It’s hard to believe…given that Master always said that Senior Brother Nineteen was the child he had the deepest affection for all these years…” Fu Bie paused here, collecting his thoughts. “And this time, after I secretly observed and then fled, Master found out and won’t forgive me lightly. Last time, when I didn’t keep a close eye on you, and let you burn down Distant Moon Sect, it was already Master’s last straw…”
“Understood,” Fu Nian replied calmly.
Now, he could be sure that Fu Nineteen wasn’t completely dead. The next step was to follow Chun’e’s advice and talk to the person directly involved.
Fu Nian asked Fu Bie a couple more questions to confirm that Fu Nineteen’s “corpse” was still in its original stone coffin.
Fu Nian pondered how to sneak Fu Xixian’s “corpse” back to a safe place or perhaps find a way to awaken him immediately.
However, the thought of going to the stone chamber, which felt like a purgatory on earth, sent shivers down his spine.
“Senior Brother, you won’t let me die, will you?”
Fu Nian: “First, I am not your Senior Brother. Second, if you continue to be disrespectful, I might kill you to eliminate future problems. Third, if you dare to listen to that old fox’s words again and spy on my daily life…” Fu Nian didn’t finish his sentence but gripped the concealed Fuguang Blade in his sleeve, implying a threat.
After delivering the warning, Fu Nian, to “prevent future trouble,” crafted a convincing explanation for Fu Bie. The fabricated story essentially covered all of Chu Zhaoyi’s unusual behavior as symptoms of an illness, highlighting the emperor’s competent rule and the need for understanding and tolerance due to his ailment. This narrative would both deter Fu Bie from speaking out of turn and gracefully bypass any ambiguities in the relationship between Fu Nian and Chu Zhaoyi.
“I understand,” Fu Bie nodded thoughtfully after hearing the explanation.
“That’s good. If you need to find Senior Brother Nineteen when you leave the palace, I will come to you. Before that, stay in the prison. The dungeon is the safest place, and as long as you don’t run around, that old man won’t find you, understand?”
After giving his orders, Fu Nian hastily left the prison cell.
Back at the Chengyuan Palace, he found an eunuch waiting at the door. “His Majesty has summoned you to the study.”
On the way to the study, Fu Nian contemplated whether he should be honest with Chu Zhaoyi about his intention to retrieve Senior Brother Nineteen’s “corpse”.
If he didn’t say anything… and if he didn’t return alive, given Chu Zhaoyi’s eccentricity, the situation might escalate to the point of political turmoil.
However, if he chose to be honest…
After some thought, Fu Nian decided to yield for now. If Chu Zhaoyi disagreed, he could still leave the palace forcibly later.
Upon entering the study, Fu Nian heard Chu Zhaoyi and Ze Wang’s voices abruptly stop.
He walked around the folding screen and greeted, “Paying respects to Your Majesty. Greetings to Your Highness, Ze Wang.”
“Zhen summoned him to inquire some things, and Royal Uncle should listen as well,” Chu Zhaoyi said in a hoarse voice before Ze Wang, who had intended to stand up, settled back down.
After discussing matters with Ze Wang, Chu Zhaoyi finally turned his head, his voice still raspy. “After summoning you for so long and not seeing you, we found out you were in the prison delivering medicine to your dear junior brother. Such deep brotherly affection is truly admirable.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Fu Nian saw Ze Wang turning his head to hide his smile.