Chapter 231: Counterbalance

In the end, Qi Chen concluded that Jun Huang should be informed, but not about the whole truth. He told her to come to the manor the next day. He had something important to tell her.

Jun Huang was still reeling from the fact that the third prince was able to go to such distance when he put his mind to it. Qi Chen’s voice jerked her out of her trance. She nodded.

He patted her on the shoulder and told her to rest well. She nodded again and took her leave. She had things to take care of.

She knew Qi Chen was going to reveal something to her, but she wasn’t sure what that something was. The possibility that Qi Chen’d tell her about his secret benefactor didn’t even cross her mind. He was mistrustful. Even though she had served him for quite some time, he didn’t consider her part of his inner circle yet.

The next day, she went to the crown prince’s manor. When Qi Chen told her that he had a secret force supporting him, she was dumbfounded.

She widened her eyes, unable to process his sudden honesty. He looked at her and told her that the force supporting him had great power.

Jun Huang listened without a word. The fact that Qi Chen was willing to tell her this indicated that he had relaxed his guard towards her. She risked attracting his suspicion if she asked any questions. She’d rather investigate afterwards than to try finding out from him.

She made her way to Prince Nan Manor in a daze. Nan Xun had just returned from the training ground. He spotted her from afar. In her contemplation, she failed to notice a coach rushing her way. He dashed to her and pulled her into his arms, avoiding the coach by a hair.

The coach came to a stop on the side of the road. The page boy came up to them and asked if they had been hurt. Jun Huang stared at the coach with her brows furrowed. It looked familiar. She must have seen it somewhere.

Nan Xun noticed her gaze after sending the page boy away. He whispered, “That’s Prince Duan’s coach. He should be the one inside.”

Jun Huang’s gaze snapped to Nan Xun before she turned to the coach again. A wind brought up the curtain before the coach sped away, revealing Prince Duan’s profile.

“What’s wrong? What are you thinking about?” Her thoughtful look worried Nan Xun. He didn’t want her to think herself into a corner again.

She looked at the pedestrians walking the street. “This is not a good place for us to talk. Let’s go back first.”

Her expression told him that this was not a trivial matter. He nodded and returned to his manor with her. Once he’d dismissed all the servants, he turned to her, awaiting her explanation.

She told him about what Qi Chen had said and concluded, “I suspect Prince Duan to be his secret benefactor.”

“Why?” Nan Xun asked curiously.

“It’s my gut instinct,” she said. “Also, Qi Chen and his relationship are unusual. All signs point to something big, but I can’t find the evidence.”

Nan Xun sighed. “Qi Chen asked you to look into the third prince’s treacherous actions, didn’t he? You should take care of that first. Then you can worry about the rest.”

Jun Huang agreed. Prince Duan had hidden himself well. She wouldn’t be able to find evidence anytime soon. She might as well deal with the third prince first.

She asked Ji Bo to meet her in a tea house. She was doubtful about the content in the letter. She had to get confirmation from him first.

Ji Bo bluntly told her that everything in the letter was true, which shocked her. Her eyes turned cold as she said frigidly, “I didn’t expect a cowardly man like him to be bold enough to commit treason.”

Ji Bo snorted. “He only did so because he had no other choice. Even I didn’t expect him to go that far. It’s uncharacteristic of him. I thought he’d do something serious enough for Qi Chen to set him up and put him down, but he went further than that.”

She scoffed. “These men truly are willing to do anything for the throne, consequences be damned.‘

Ji Bo knew she despised people like the the third prince, so he didn’t comment on that. He told her to make her move now. The third prince believed he was going to succeed, so he had pushed Ji Bo aside and refused to listen to him. It was imperative for them to take out the third prince now to avoid future troubles.

If the third prince was left to his own devices, there would be a civil unrest in Northern Qi before Eastern Wu fell into chaos. Then it would be difficult for Northern Qi to fight back when Eastern Wu struck.

She also wanted to convert those Qi Chen had assigned her for the investigation. She planned to use Qi Chen’s men and funds to help Qi Yun. Qi Yun held the least influence in the imperial court at the time being. If she didn’t do anything, he would end up being a puppet ruler even with the third prince and Qi Chen out of the picture. She didn’t want that to happen.

“Qi Chen told you to get to the bottom of this,” said Ji Bo. “You should seize this opportunity. I’ll help you.”

Jun Huang nodded. “That’ll be ideal. We want them to fight each other. Even better if both sides end up harmed to the point of no recovery.”

Qi Chen planned to take action against the third prince after Jun Huang gained the evidence, but the third prince was getting out of control. He mocked and insulted Qi Chen openly during meetings. Qi Chen wasn’t someone who could swallow such treatment. He got into an argument with the third prince in public.

“Everyone knows that second brother has been recruiting courtiers to his side. I didn’t say anything when you insult me in public, but how dare second brother do whatever you want just because you’re the crown prince? Royal Father is healthy. You’re blatantly challenging his authority. Or perhaps second brother is planning to force him to abdicate?”

The third prince lost control after being subjected to humiliation from Qi Chen. His thoughtless accusations caused a ripple of shock in the room.

Qi Chen narrowed his eyes at the crown prince and huffed. “Third brother is merely trying to change the subject. I don’t know I’ve ever recruited any officials to my side. Where has third brother heard the rumor?”

It didn’t seem like they’d stop anytime soon. The emperor’s temples were throbbing painfully. He slammed the desk with great force, making the two princes jump. They fell silent in face of the emperor’s rage.

“Enough!” the emperor growled. “Do you know where you are? This is no place for you to quarrel!”

His health had been bad ever since he was poisoned. Anger pushed him into a coughing fit, turning his face pale.

Qi Yun frowned. It seemed like Qi Chen and the third prince were going to start arguing again. He was worried about the emperor’s health. He decided that this couldn’t go on. He took a step forward. “Please don’t be mad, Royal Father. Second brother and third brother were simply trying to shoulder your burden. You should put your health first.”

The emperor shot a glare at Qi Chen and the third prince before beckoning Qi Yun over. With Qi Yun’s help, he walked away.

Qi Chen calmly watched them go, while the third prince gritted his teeth and stomped as the meeting concluded.

Outside the palace, the third prince stopped Qi Chen from leaving and said, “Is Royal Brother’s dark mood a result of me exposing your plan?”

Qi Chen looked at him coldly and huffed. “You’ll get what you deserve one day, brother.”

“What do you mean?!” The third prince felt exposed. He had done what he thought Qi Chen had done. He was unable to respond with a forceful comeback. He tightened his jaw and glared at him.

“Third brother should know better.” Qi Chen pushed past him and walked away. The third prince felt unease sprout in his heart as he watched Qi Chen go.

Jun Huang hadn’t found anything even after days of investigation. The third prince must have grown cautious. He hadn’t made an obvious mistake.

Ji Bo noticed how she hadn’t been eating and sleeping well. He was worried about her health. She would drive herself to the ground if she continued. He decided to offer her some advice.

“You don’t have to do everything on your own,” he said after drinking some tea.

Jun Huang looked up at him with a frown, puzzled. “Does the gentleman have a better way? I was going to ask you for help, but as you said, the third prince has gotten out of control. He’s been keeping things from you.”

Ji Bo placed his tea cup on the table. “Don’t forget that there’s nothing the House of Heavenly Fiends can’t find.”

His words were a wake up call. She shot up to her feet and nodded in agreement. “The gentleman is right. How can I forget about them? I’ve been so busy that my head hasn’t been clear.”

She smiled awkwardly. Ji Bo didn’t say anything.

With the help of the House of Heavenly Fiends, she stopped doing everything on her own. Those Qi Chen had assigned her didn’t dare question her.

Nan Xun was pleased that she had stopped running herself to exhaustion. He bought Ji Bo a drink to show him his gratitude.

The House of Heavenly Fiends had many sources of information. They quickly found evidence proving that the third prince had secretly bought iron ores to craft weapons and cultivated his own army, which led to the discovery that he had sold positions and titles in exchange for money and support.

Qi Chen couldn’t stop smiling when she gave him the evidence. He wanted to show the emperor, but he worried that the emperor, being the mistrustful man he was, would question the validity of the evidence. He had to find something even more convincing.

Qi Chen hadn’t turned in the evidence to the emperor, but the court was already in shambles because of the feud between the two princes. The emperor had fallen ill in his rage because of them. He hadn’t attended the morning meetings for a while. But even when he was resting, the news that the two princes had been attacking each other openly and under the table still reached his ears. His health continued to deteriorate.

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