Qi Yun didn’t look pleased, but Nan Xun had said what he wanted to say. Jun Huang was still waiting for him outside. He walked away without a word.
Watching him go, Qi Yun’s expression relaxed somewhat. He sighed and called out for the captain of the imperial guards he’d sent for.
“What has Your Highness summoned this official for?”
“Take your most trusted men and surround the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility,” Qi Yun said. “Don’t let anyone leave.”
The captain looked at Qi Yun in shock. “Why? It’s the empress dowager...”
“Oh, do you think I need your permission to do anything?” Qi Yun’s face clouded. The captain accepted his order obediently and left.
Not long after, the palace was surrounded by the imperial guard. All entrance and exit were restricted. The empress dowager almost fainted when she heard. She spat, “Bastard! Is he going to make this my prison? Not even my son had done that to me. How dare he?!”
The maids were too afraid to even make a sound. The old caretaker smoothed a hand over the empress dowager’s back to help her breathe, worried that she’d black out from her fury. “You have to take care of yourself, Your Royal Highness. The prince has only committed such an atrocity because he’s blinded by anger. Don’t forget that he’s known for his filial piety. Once he finds out the truth, he won’t make things difficult for you.”
“Ha, piety?” The empress dowager scoffed, dismissing the caretaker’s words. “Do you think I don’t know how my unfortunate son died? I have eyes.”
The maids broke into a cold sweat, terrified. The old caretaker dropped down to her knees with a loud thud. “There are always unwanted ears listening in, Your Royal Highness. You must not say something like that. If the prince hears it, he...”
The empress dowager realized her mistake before the caretaker finished. Her clothes were drenched in sweat, and her breathing quickened. She wiped her forehead with the handkerchief the caretaker handed her.
It had been an eventful day. Those in the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility soon fell asleep. Under the moonlight, a person dressed in black rushed to the wall by the door. Once they made sure no one was around, they slipped something through the bottom of the wall and left.
The imperial guards had been watching. The captain waited until the person left before quietly making his way to the door.
Slipped through the crack beneath the wall was an envelope. The captain swapped it with an empty one and had his people keep watch. He would find out who had been getting intels from the mole within the palace.
“Your Highness, the captain of the imperial guard asked for an audience,” the eunuch said.
Qi Yun looked up from the reports and let the captain in, who handed him the letter without a word. Qi Yun’s expression clouded as he read it.
Written in detail was what had happened to Jun Huang in the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility. He narrowed his eyes and huffed. “Did you catch the one recieving the message? How about the mole?”
The captain held his breath and shook his head. “Forgive this official for my incompetence. I was too far away, and whoever it was had disguised themselves. To avoid alerting them, I kept my distance. And no one has shown up to take the letter yet.”
Qi Yun kept his questions to himself and dismissed the captain, telling him to keep a close eye on the palace. If no progress had been made, he’d go to the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility himself to investigate tomorrow.
That night, no one showed up for the letter, and they still didn’t know who the mole within the palace was. Enraged, Qi Yun took his men to the palace. He didn’t want to worsen his relationship with the empress dowager, so he summoned only the servants and didn’t notify the empress dowager.
The servants exchanged a puzzled look. Qi Yun looked them over with a dark expression.
“Who among you left the palace last night?” he asked in a frigid tone.
The servants shook their heads. Qi Yun frowned. He couldn’t tell who the suspects could be, but the issue was too serious for him to not take action now. It could easily come back to bite them.
Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Qi Yun waved the captain of the imperial guard over. “Take care of them. Keep everything a secret. Reassign some of the servants in my palace here for the moment.”
The captain nodded and watched Qi Yun go. He shifted his gaze to the servants. They trembled in fear, but their pleading was lost on a man with a hardened heart. The captain made his order to his subordinates and left.
The screams woke the empress dowager up. When she made her way to the main hall, she saw her caretaker and other confidantes lying dead in a puddle of their own blood. She fainted in shock.
Those who had heard the screams didn’t dare say anything. They’d been warned that if they spread the news, the same fate would befall them.
Nan Xun received the news when he was having a meal with Jun Huang. Qi Yun briefly described what had happened in the palace and told him to be careful. There might be threats lurking in Jun Huang’s circle. Nan Xun kept it to himself and told Jun Huang not to worry about what had happened in the palace, especially not about Qi Yun.
Since Jun Huang and Nan Xun returned to Northern Qi, Ji Bo had been visiting her frequently to talk about what was happening in the world. Jun Huang seemed disinterested. She didn’t want to get close to Ji Bo, and she didn’t know much about the happenings in the world. She wasn’t in the mood to humor him.
Nan Xun noticed Jun Huang’s dislike for Ji Bo. He didn’t understand why, but it planted the seed of doubt in his mind. He remembered then that Ji Bo was the one who had told him and Jun Huang to turn to the House of Heavenly Fiends. Now that he knew the organization was suspicious, what role did Ji Bo play in all that?
The more he thought, the more suspicious he was of Ji Bo. He sent his men to investigate. He exercised the highest caution and assigned only his most trusted men to the task. He also reminded them to watch out for the House of Heavenly Fiends. Therefore, Ji Bo didn’t know anything about what he was doing.
Today, Ji Bo visited without being invited again. Jun Huang played the zither in the pavilion, turning a blind eye to him. After about an hour, she stopped and realized that Ji Bo was still here. She pretended to only notice him then. “When did the gentleman come? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Ji Bo wasn’t sure if Jun Huang had truly not noticed him. He shook his head with a smile. “I’ve been here for a while. I didn’t want to disturb you since you seemed to be having a good time.”
Jun Huang gave him a faint smile and poured him a cup of tea. “Is there anything you need?”
“No, the prince asked me to check on you,” said Ji Bo. “I know a thing or two about medicine. May I take your pulse?”
Nan Xun happened to arrive at this moment. It wouldn’t do them any harm to let Ji Bo check on Jun Huang. He spoke up, “Thank you for the kind offer. Please go ahead.”
Jun Huang wasn’t going to object. She let Ji Bo take her wrist. After careful inspection, Ji Bo said, “You’ve recovered well. I’ll take my leave with that knowledge.”
He rose to his feet and cupped his hands before leaving.
Nan Xun looked at him thoughtfully, wondering what he was up to.
Jun Huang frowned at his bemused look. “What’s wrong?”
“I just visited Qi Yun,” said Nan Xun. “If he was worried, he could’ve asked me. Why would he send anyone? There’s something wrong with Ji Bo.”
Jun Huang fell silent. She didn’t have an answer, either. They agreed that the best thing they could do now was to keep their distance from Ji Bo.
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Jun Huang looked up at Nan Xun and said, remembering the woman who had tried to hurt her. “What happened to Shangguan Yue?”
Nan Xun pursed his lips. “She got what she deserved.”
“In what way?” asked Jun Huang.
Nan Xun didn’t want to say anything, but Jun Huang’s gaze told him that she wouldn’t stop wondering if he didn’t tell her. She might even try to investigate herself.
It wasn’t a secret he had to keep. He didn’t want Jun Huang to waste her time and effort on an irrelevant woman. He sighed. “After what happened, the empress dowager cast her aside and offered her to me. Qi Yun and I decided that a quick death would only be a mercy for her, so we left her to the empress dowager and let her reap what she sowed.”
“Qi Yun had locked down the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility, and the empress dowager no longer cared about Shangguan Yue. Therefore, her face ended up ruined without timely treatment.”
“She should’ve left when Sir Shangguan was apprehended. It was the empress dowager who gave her a place. And yet she did something foolish and lost the empress dowager’s protection. She was nothing but a useless mouth in the palace. She had been a prideful woman. After her fall from grace, the maids and servants who harbor resentment for her bully her every day. Her life isn’t going to be easy.”
There were things Nan Xun had left unsaid. Jun Huang didn’t ask. There was an indescribable feeling in her heart. She wasn’t sure what it was.