Han Yunxi didn’t bribe Cao Tong, so wasn’t she afraid of him exposing the truth? Ning Cheng was very curious as well. He knew Cao Tong didn’t accept bribes and was quite certain that Long Feiye was the true killer, so how did Long Feiye and Han Yunxi find the resolve to go through with the autopsy?
After Empress Xue died, Chu Tianyin had found many coroners to determine the cause of death, but it was all for naught. What was the real murder method? Were Long Feiye and Han Yunxi so certain that Cao Tong wouldn’t find out the truth?
In the end, Ning Cheng’s gaze rested on Han Yunxi’s back as his lips curved into a wicked grin. Even when her form was swallowed up by the crowd, his eyes still lingered in her direction. He had disguised himself in the crowd along with a few of his retainers, all of whom were equally bewildered by recent events. His Highness Duke of Ning had many things to take care of, so why did he travel to Yaoshui for two days without rest? The Ouyang Trade Consortium had called upon him multiple times regarding Ning Jing’s marriage affairs, but he had ignored them in favor of this event. It wasn’t like he could publicly show up here. What was the difference between witnessing it firsthand and hearing reports back in the palace?
Empress Xue’s body was resting in a courtyard at the end of an alley. Duanmu Yao wouldn’t expose it to outsiders, so all unrelated personnel was left to wait outside the doors. Ning Cheng and his retainers silently slipped away from the crowds so they could stand vigil on the surrounding rooftops instead. The empress’s corpse lay in the center of the courtyard in a special coffin. Duanmu Yao stood at its head, her face pale and expression grieved. She dearly regretted that she hadn’t come down from the mountain in time to save her mother. She trusted her father’s love for imperial mother, that he would find a chance to save her instead. Tragically, her mother’s death proved that her father still loved his own country most of all.
The Clan were the chief culprits of imperial mother’s death. After she ascertained Han Yunxi’s guilt and took care of her, she wasn’t going to spare any of the Chu Clan, either---including Chu Qingge!
Under the watchful eyes of those present, Duanmu Yao carefully lifted the cover of the coffin. Besides Long Feiye, everyone else stepped forward to take a look. The Duke of Qin wasn’t afraid of corpses, but he disliked the whole affair. Empress Xue had been dead for almost two months now. If not for the chilly temperatures and a special medicinal brew used to preserve her body, she would’ve been covered in adipocere by now.
Although precious drugs had been used to maintain her countenance and prevent smells or liquefaction, the body had long since deformed. Her face and hands exhibited classical signs of livor mortis, hinting at the state of rot beneath the skin. Only experts could tell how much she’d started to decompose.
Cao Tong only glanced at the body before a helpless look rose to his eyes. He was in no rush to examine the corpse, but asked, “Princess Duan, can this one take another look at that acupuncture needle?”
“Of course!” Duanmu Yao carefully handed it over. “There’s still poison on the tip, so be careful.”
Cao Tong scrutinized the needle, then asked, “What kind of poison is this?”
Before Duanmu Yao could answer, Han Yunxi spoke up, “Scorpio Poison. Touching it won’t have any ill effects as long as it doesn’t pierce through the skin.”
Duanmu Yao gave a cold snort. “You sure remember it well!”
Han Yunxi couldn’t be bothered to argue back. Duanmu Yao wouldn’t believe her words, anyways. She had invited Cao Tong here just so the coroner could speak in her place.
“Where was this needle found?” Cao Tong asked next.
“At the bottom of her foot,” Duanmu Yao knew that much from Chu Qingge’s reports.
“So, Princess Duan believes that Empress Xue died from poisoning?” Cao Tong asked next.
“Yes, from the poison of this very needle from Han Yunxi!” Duanmu Yao didn’t forget to blame the wretched girl at every chance, almost as if she’d witnessed the murder happen firsthand.
Cao Tong nodded, then asked, “Princess Duan, this one is unfamiliar with poisons, so I brought a specialist with me. Can we let him in?”
Cao Tong’s reputation and public praise preceded him, so even though it was Han Yunxi who’d invited him here, Duanmu Yao still trusted him implicitly. She agreed to the request without a second thought. The poison specialist inspected the needle, then Empress Xue’s foot, and said, “This is Scorpio Poison. Victims afflicted with the toxin will die without a doubt within three steps.”
“Han Yunxi, do you still want to play coy?” Duanmu Yao immediately raged.
Han Yunxi only gave a snort of contempt and didn’t say a word.
The poison specialist hastened to explain. “Princess Duan, there are two things that this one can ascertain. One, the poison on the needle is Scorpio Poison, and two, esteemed empress’s foot was indeed pierced and poisoned by this needle. However, whether or not she really died from Scorpio Poison, this one…”
He shot a helpless glance towards Cao Tong, who waved a hand and indicated that he should withdraw.
“Great Coroner Cao, what...do... you mean by this?” Duanmu Yao asked.
“Princess Duan, esteemed empress passed away quite some time ago...there’s no meaning to examining her body anymore,” Cao Tong replied mildly. His tact implied things that everyone listening could understand.
There was only a point to examining a corpse within seven days of death. Empress Xue’s body might have been preserved with medicine, but it was still pointless to check her corpse now.
“Princess Duan, judging from the present evidence, esteemed empress had a high possibility of death by poison. But there’s no way to perform a more thorough investigation. Thus, this one is unable to draw any final conclusions,” Cao Tong finished.
Duanmu Yao knitted her brows. “What did you say?”
Cao Tong was as earnest as ever. “Princess Duan, esteemed empress was indeed poisoned, but this one cannot guarantee that she died from poisoning. I ask Princess Duan to consider thrice before maligning an innocent while sparing the true culprit!”
Duanmu Yao’s expression grew complicated. She shot a doubtful glance towards Han Yunxi, who didn’t speak and allowed her to stare. After a while, she exploded. “What’s so uncertain about this?! The evidence is as solid as a mountain! She was the one who did it!”
“Yes, yes, yes, so it was me! I’ll admit it, how’s that?” Han Yunxi suddenly said impatiently.
Duanmu Yao was caught off guard, but Cao Tong grew incensed. “Esteemed wangfei, if you’re going to admit your guilt, then why invite this old man to inspect the corpse in the first place?”
“What happens now that you can’t check the body? The needle’s mine and there’s a wound in the foot. If I won’t admit to the crime, who will?” Han Yunxi shrugged her shoulders helplessly.
“Esteemed wangfei, this old man just said that although the body is poisoned, and there’s material evidence on hand, it doesn’t necessarily mean that esteemed empress died from poisoning. It’s impossible to find any other cause of death, too, so we can’t draw any conclusions. Do you understand?” Cao Tong was growing anxious. He’d already explained himself twice, but why did neither of these two women listen? Once was Western Zhou’s princess and ’s disciple, while the other was Qin Wangfei. Neither of them were supposed to be idiots!
Seeing Han Yunxi remain silent, Cao Tong added, “Esteemed wangfei, do you understand?”
Third Elder Shen had helped him many times in the past before asking him for this favor, but he hadn’t been able to accomplish anything! Moreover, he’d done autopsies for half his life already without ever pinning down the wrong culprit. He’d broken his own seclusion to leave the mountains this time, so he couldn’t afford to ruin his integrity in his later years! Just because the autopsy was inconclusive didn’t mean they could point fingers! This was a postmortem, not some question of ‘maybe this, maybe that.’
“I understand. Unfortunately, someone still doesn’t. Aye, some people are just too stupid, I suppose,” Han Yunxi smiled.
She didn’t name any names, but Duanmu Yao immediately claimed the insult with a snort. “Who said I didn’t understand?! Great Coroner Cao, if there’s no other proof, then we can simply name her as the culprit! Don’t you understand logic like that?”
Cao Tong pursed his lips. He could tell that Qin Wangfei was no fool, but he wasn’t so sure about Princess Duan anymore.
“I don’t understand,” he said with a shake of his head.
Duanmu Yao grew serious. “Why can’t you understand something so simple? If the true murderer isn’t Han Yunxi, then why would the acupuncture needle have been found in my imperial mother’s foot? Could it be that someone was framing her? Are you implying that someone stuck the needle into my imperial mother’s foot after she was already dead?”
Long Feiye was the first to break out into silent laughter at her words--not because of Duanmu Yao herself, but because of Han Yunxi. Han Yunxi had been waiting for Duanmu Yao to say these exact lines. Gu Qi Sha and Mu Linger were secretly guffawing as well. Cao Tong was the only person who actually laughed out loud.
“Princess Duan, you’re absolutely correct! Suppose this needle was added afterward? Drawing a hasty conclusion today would only send the true murderer into stitches.”
Duanmu Yao stood stunned, frightened by the words she’d just blurted out. If Cao Tong or Han Yunxi had been the ones to suggest the idea, she’d reject it instantly. But after all that arguing, she was the one who said it first, which merited reconsideration. Thinking back to Cao Tong’s repeated statements and Han Yunxi’s reactions, she felt her heart wavering once again. “ Qingge…” she muttered to herself.
“Princess Duan, you can’t leave esteemed empress to rest without peace!” Cao Tong declared.
“It’s only an acupuncture needle. This wangfei can admit to it, even though I don’t accept it!” Han Yunxi said coldly.
Duanmu Yao looked at her before finally relenting a step. “Then what do you want to do? We can’t perform the postmortem anymore.”
“Princess Duan, this old man does have an idea. However…” Cao Tong trailed off with difficulty.
“Say it!” Duanmu Yao spoke earnestly.
“This old man remembers that there was a miracle drug called the Rising Dead…”
Duanmu Yao was moved by his words. “The Rising Dead?”
“You’re going off into flights of fancy. The Rising Dead is a miracle drug in defiance of the natural order of things. It can temporarily revive a corpse to its state right before death, but once the time is up, the body will melt into blood and water. In other words...you’d lose the remains of the dead completely!” It was Mu Linger who spoke next. She knew much of the miracle drugs of the world.
“It’s no wonder that you’re ’s genius. Excuse me for my lack of manners in acknowledging you!” Cao Tong smiled as he bowed with his hands clasped.
“I dare not accept such praise,” Mu Linger said modestly, before turning to Duanmu Yao. “It’s difficult to obtain such a drug, nor could we find it in such a short time.”
“As this one understands it, the drug comes from ’s Medicine Hut..” Cao Tong looked towards Han Yunxi. “I don’t know if esteemed wangfei…”
Han Yunxi cut him off easily. “What’s there to fear? As long as the Medicine Hut has it, this wangfei will definitely get it from my master!”
Cao Tong gave a start before losing himself in confusion. He wasn’t asking whether she dared to ask, but whether she had the capability to get His Excellency Pill King to give up the Rising Dead. What was she so excited about?
Han Yunxi’s excitement was obvious in Duanmu Yao’s eyes. She didn’t want to entertain the thought that Han Yunxi was innocent, but the woman’s reactions moved her heart again and again.
Did I really denounce Han Yunxi on false charges?
Did Qingge really trick me?
The two questions spun round and round in her head until she grew restless.
“Princess Duan, then...shall we use that drug?” Cao Tong asked.Previous Chapter Next Chapter