Aunt Ru was convinced that no one would be able to uncover the truth as long as Duanmu Yao didn’t betray her! Actually, she hadn’t wanted to expose Kong Xi, either. Her plan had been perfect, a mutually beneficial trade with Duanmu Yao that didn’t expose any secrets. She even helped out the Tang Clan by making Duanmu Yao promise to stop pursuing the matter of Tang Li escaping his previously arranged marriage. She would only say good things about them to Cang Qiuzi instead. Meanwhile, Aunt Ru herself had given Duanmu Yao the idea to injure herself on purpose so she would have to seek Long Feiye for treatment.
Duanmu Yao loved her suggestion, but she was still ignorant as to the exact connection between Long Feiye and the Tang Clan. She thought that Long Feiye and Han Yunxi would never notice that their Yaoshui estate location had been compromised, but they didn’t let go of that detail. Long Feiye asked about traitors as soon as he returned, which meant the issue needed an ending--or a scapegoat to take the fall.
Thus, she had sought out Kong Xi.
She promised him that she’d take good care of Grandmother Kong and his friend Jin Se in exchange. This too, was simply another way to put pressure on the boy. She could predict that Long Feiye would want to personally interrogate the prisoners, so she had Kong Xi put up an act. But Long Feiye simply found the boy’s grandma and forced him to commit suicide before leaving behind a clue. That led them to Kong Xi’s best friend, Jin Se.
But she’d only blackmailed Kong Xi, not Jin Se. The girl and the grandmother had no idea about the full extent of her schemes.
“Kong Xi has a friend?” Aunt Ru feigned surprise.
“Yes! It certainly took me time to track them down!” Chu Xifeng sighed before getting serious. “Aunt Ru, Kong Xi would rather kill himself than expose the traitor, so whoever blackmailed him must surely have something to hold over him. His Highness told me to investigate the boy thoroughly and leave no clue untouched! I discovered that Kong Xi and his grandmother depend on each other to survive and have no relations. Moreover, the boy was very introverted, so he had very few friends…” Chu Xifeng trailed off here on purpose. “Aunt Ru, I have to say, the traitor really knew how to pick targets. A boy like Kong Xi is perfect for a scapegoat, right?”
“He really is,” Aunt Ru said calmly.
“Haha, although that shameless traitor could pick the right target, I, Chu Xifeng, am no easy opponent either! Kong Xi’s friend is named Jin Se from the needle grinding house. She’s known him for two to three years now, but their relationship has been top secret. Nobody knows anything about them, even Grandmother Kong!” Chu Xifeng smiled.
Aunt Ru was unhappy at being cursed so blatantly, but held her anger in check as she probed, “Then how did you find her?”
“I have my ways! If the traitor could find those people, so can I!” Chu Xifeng declared.
Aunt Ru grew impatient. “So where is she? Did you interrogate her yet?”
“Not yet. We’ve just locked her up. Let’s have the Duke of Qin and the Tang Clan head interrogate her together, how’s that?” Chu Xifeng asked expectantly.
“Is it of any use even if we do?” Aunt Ru asked coldly. “The traitor was putting pressure on Kong Xi. That girl might not know anything at all.”
“You can’t be sure. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t,” Chu Xifeng said seriously.
“The traitor wouldn’t be stupid enough to contact Jin Se directly, right? One more person who knows the truth is one more source of danger,” Aunt Ru said next.
Chu Xifeng smiled. “Of course the traitor wouldn’t be stupid enough to expose their identity, but Kong Xi might have leaked the secret to Jin Se.”
An icy smile rose in Aunt Ru’s heart. Despite revealing no secrets of the Tang Clan, colluding with Duanmu Yao was already a heinous crime. She would have been prudent enough to leave no traces behind. When she chose Kong Xi as her target, he’d already been locked up in the prisons. There would have been no chance for him to get in contact with Jin Se. How would the girl know the truth?
Chu Xifeng might be capable, but no matter how they searched or questioned, it’d all be for naught! For Xifeng to tell me this much about Jin Se means that Long Feiye must have really stopped suspecting me. She pretended to come to a sudden realization.
“That’s right, why didn’t I think of that?”
“This is the last clue!” Chu Xifeng said with feeling. He called for a guard right then and there to summon the Duke of Qin and the Tang Clan head right in front of her. “Aunt Ru, let’s go wait first.”
Aunt Ru agreed easily, and the two headed for the prison while discussing the case amongst themselves. Chu Xifeng rambled about minute points and details, but Aunt Ru finally grew curious enough to ask, “How did you find out that Kong Xi had a friend?” She herself only knew after asking Kong Xi personally.
“Hehehe,” Chu Xifeng grinned mysteriously.
“Stinking brat, keeping me in suspense?” Aunt Ru was unhappy.
Chu Xifeng gave a sly smile. “I’m not that capable. Someone else spilled the beans.”
“Who?!” Aunt Ru grew tense. “What happened?”
“It was the old lady locked up next door to Kong Xi. She said she had heard the sound of hidden needles being shot into the air for a few nights. Then I went to inspect Kong Xi’s cell and found this.” Chu Xifeng revealed his fingers, which were wearing a harness used to shoot needles. It was one of the Tang Clan’s assassination weapons--not very strong, but very easy to hide.
“What does that prove?” Aunt Ru grew bewildered. “This little thing comes from the needle grinding house, but plenty of Tang Clan disciples carry them around for fun. It’s not strange at all for Kong Xi to have it too.”
“Would Kong Xi be in the mood to play with this in his cell?” Chu Xifeng challenged in reply. Aunt Ru grew guarded as she stared at him in silence. Chu Xifeng’s smile became even more mysterious before he revealed a small, balled-up piece of paper. He placed it into the weapon before clicking a switch which then shot the paper ball high up in the air.
Now Aunt Ru grew alarmed. Before she could ask for details, Chu Xifeng picked up the ball of paper and opened it up for her to see. There was a row of writing there from Jin Se to Kong Xi, telling him not to worry, and that she’d take good care of Grandmother Kong. Aunt Ru halted in her tracks as cold sweat broke out on her back!
“This hidden weapon was found in the jail cell, while the paper was hidden in one of the air vents. If my guess is right, Jin Se must have shot these balls of paper at Kong Xi from outside his cell. Because she missed her mark, it got stuck on the window.” Chu Xifeng sighed. “Thank goodness that old woman was there. Otherwise, the slip of paper might have remained undiscovered forever.”
Now Aunt Ru was restless. She wanted to keep calm, but that was impossible. Her mind grew blank except for a single thought: silence the witness! Before Chu Xifeng found Long Feiye and Tang Zijin to interrogate Jin Se, she’d have to kill the girl herself! Otherwise…
Kong Xi had simply been an exception, but Jin Se was an exception of the exception! The boy had actually been exchanging secret messages with Jin Se. Now that she’d written such words, it was obvious Kong Xi had told her the truth about everything!
She wouldn’t allow another exception to occur again.
“It’s strange though. We rounded up the suspects on the pretext of assigning them special tasks. How did Jin Se know to find her way to the prisons?” Chu Xifeng mused. Aunt Ru realized the problem when he brought it up as well. But because Chu Xifeng had brought up this doubt, she didn’t suspect him of trickery. The piece of paper was already enough to make her panic, so she had no other thought beyond finding a way to delay Chu Xifeng and buy some time.
After walking a while further, she finally spoke up. “Chu Xifeng, go and pick up Grandmother Kong. We should let her know about this. Comfort her on the way so she doesn’t get too agitated.”
Cold laughter flickered past Chu Xifeng’s eyes before he rejected her offer. “I’m slow of speech and don’t know how to comfort others.”
Aunt Ru rolled her eyes at him. “Then I’ll go.”
“Then I’ll go find esteemed wangfei. As I see it, we’re about to crack this case! Once we ferret out that traitor, heheh…” Chu Xifeng’s expression grew vicious, which gave Aunt Ru a chill. Fortunately, the man left first, or else she might have bolted right then and there. She exhaled and prepared to send someone to kill the girl, then changed her mind to go and do it herself. No other person would again be allowed to know a single detail of this matter! She had to finish it on her own!
It was important to kill the girl first so the truth could die with her. It didn’t matter whether they suspected her after that. Without proof, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi wouldn’t be able to do anything even if the entire world found her suspicious. Aunt Ru found a detour and entered the prison ward from the back door. She was quite familiar with the cells and easily evaded all the guards on duty to arrive in the tiny room holding Jin Se captive. Three stone walls and a set of metal jail bars surrounded the girl on all sides. She was about Kong Xi’s age and currently curled up into a corner, crying softly to herself. She hadn’t even noticed Aunt Ru’s approach.
Aunt Ru’s patience was limited, so she said coldly, “Girl, come over here.”
Startled, Jin Se turned to see Aunt Ru with a face full of confusion before shrinking back into her corner.
“Get over here, do you hear me?!” Aunt Ru was about to lose it.
“Y...you, who are you?” Jin Se cried.
It would be simple enough to kill the girl with a single needle, but Aunt Ru was smart enough to know that she couldn’t use weapons that could leave a clue. She suppressed her own ire and panic to coax, “You’re Jin Se, right. Come here and I’ll tell you how Kong Xi died.”
“Kong Xi died?!” Jin Se exclaimed. She only knew that he’d been assigned a special task to create a secret assassination weapon and thus had to leave for a few days. She had been waiting for him this entire time, resisting the urge to run off and ask Grandmother Kong for details. The old woman had no idea about the relationship between her and Kong Xi, so she dared not take the risk. She could only wait in silence.
But last night, she’d suddenly been brought here. The scary guard had told her to keep talking no matter who came to visit her. Scared to death, she only wondered what kind of crimes she had committed. She never thought Kong Xi would be related to this, but...but the frightful woman had just told her that he...was dead!
Jin Se ran towards the cell door, too busy to worry about her fear. “What did you say? What did you say?!”
Aunt Ru was waiting for this very moment. Her movements were quick and vicious, one hand circling around her neck while the other muffled her lips. Jin Se was terrified and tried to break free, but it was useless. A sinister look rose in Aunt Ru’s eyes as she pressed Jin Se against the bars and squeezed her neck.
Jin Se’s eyes widened. She couldn’t breathe and was about to asphyxiate when a hidden dart came flying at Aunt Ru’s hand! Alarmed, the woman let go and sucked in a breath at the sight of the dart! She turned back and saw...