Chapter 685: Returning home; the three suspects

Just who would kidnap Grand Concubine Yi? And for what purpose? 

Han Yunxi and Long Feiye returned to the Duke of Qin’s estate in as quickly as possible to review the scene of the crime. More men were sent off to in Tianan Country to check on the status of Murong Wanru at Marquis Pingbei’s estate. No matter the kidnapper’s motives, they had to build up their defenses ahead of time. That meant protecting anything that could be used to threaten Grand Concubine Yi into spilling her secrets. Although Murong Wanru was nothing more than a human vegetable now, she was Grand Concubine Yi’s reverse scale.

They arrived late at night. Grand Concubine Yi’s temple dwellings were in the bamboo forest located at the rear of the estate. It was a quiet and secluded spot. Han Yunxi and Long Feiye hadn’t visited her since she moved in, so this was their first time there. All of the dead guards were still on the ground, their bodies littered the area. The candlelight from the ancestral hall flickered in the darkness. Instead of its usual solemn and holy light, it only highlighted the horror of the scene. Han Yunxi and Long Feiye checked the bodies as they made their way to the hall. All of the victims had been killed with a single stab through the throat. They discovered that the hall itself was neat and untouched, with no signs of struggle or fighting. It felt as if nothing had happened, and Grand Concubine Yi could emerge from a hidden spot at any moment.

However, three teams of shadow guards had been utterly wiped out beyond its walls. Moreover, the deed had been done without alerting any of the estate’s other guards. What kind of skills were those? How quickly did the killer move to accomplish such a feat? 

Long Feiye narrowed his eyes and asked, “Where’s Gui mama?” 

Chu Xifeng immediately brought out the old woman. She was the only servant left in the hall, kept to wait on Grand Concubine Yi.

“This servant greets Your Highness Duke of Qin and esteemed wangfei,” Gui mama  greeted while shaking in fear as she bowed her head. She was the one who discovered that Grand Concubine Yi was missing.

“When was the last time you saw the Grand Concubine?” Long Feiye questioned coldly.

“I only left her long enough to make a single bowl of noodles. Your Highness Duke of Qin. This whole affair is too strange! This old servant was by Grand Concubine Yi’s side all day. When dusk fell, she said she wanted to eat some noodles and had me cook for her. I didn’t tarry any longer than that, but she was already gone by the time I returned. I couldn’t find her around the ancestral hall no matter where I looked,” Gui mama explained.

Han Yunxi glanced doubtfully at Long Feiye. He knew she was doubting the woman’s words. Anyone who could silently kill off the shadow guards and kidnap their target would have great difficulty without insider help… but he only glanced at her with a look that said don’t worry. Gui mama had served Grand Concubine Yi for years and was utterly loyal to her mistress. She had plenty of times to betray her mistress in the past; it would make no sense for her to do it now.

“Has anything been moved in this ancestral hall?” Long Feiye asked next.

Gui mama looked around before declaring, “Your Highness Duke of Qin, nothing has been moved.”

Chu Xifeng added, “Your Highness, this subordinate has checked both the interior and exterior. The kidnapper must have just come directly to the ancestral hall.”

“In other words, even the Grand Concubine didn’t notice the chaos happening beyond its walls?” Long Feiye wanted to ascertain this fact.

If Grand Concubine Yi had noticed the massacre outside from an assassin, she would have cried for help. Even if no help came, she should have left signs of a struggle. Few in the Cloud Realm Continent could boast the skills to kill 100 guards in the span of time it took to make a single bowl of noodles while attracting no attention from Grand Concubine Yi in the ancestral hall. 

“Your Highness, could it be Cang Qiuzi?” Chu Xifeng asked doubtfully.

“Why would he kidnap Grand Concubine Yi without reason?” Han Yunxi asked, causing Chu Xifeng to shake his head. 

“He’s merely a suspect,” Chu Xifeng replied. “Only six people in the world have this level of skill.”

“Which six?” Han Yunxi grew curious. She didn’t know much about the experts of the martial arts circles.

“Celestial Mountain Sword Sect’s grandmaster; Cang Qiuzi; City Lord Lady Leng Yue from the City of Daughters; City Lord Qi Zonglin from Carefree City; and the Tang Clan’s former head Tang Zijin,” Chu Xifeng replied.

“What about the last one?” Han Yunxi asked.

“That would be His Highness Duke of Qin himself…” Chu Xifeng said helplessly. Actually, if Gu Beiyue hadn’t lost his martial arts skills and  Yunyi wasn’t blinded, they’d be ranked up with the others in speed, too.

His Highness Duke of Qin, the sword sect grandmaster, and Tang Zijin could be easily eliminated from the list. Of the remaining numbers, Cang Qiuzi, Lady Leng Yue, and Qi Zonglin were the primary suspects. Unfortunately, all three of them fought with swords.

Since all of the shadow guards had been killed with a single stab, it was difficult to determine what kind of sword arts the perpetrator had used. There was nothing particular about the wounds themselves, nor any unique signs of how the killer wielded his or her weapon. Thus, they were stuck between three potential suspects. Of course, it might also even be someone else entirely. Those three simply had the highest possibility of being guilty. 

If it was Cang Qiuzi, their problem would be simple to resolve. If it was Lady Leng Yue or Qi Zonglin, however, the situation would be more complicated. The City of and were both mercenary cities that killed for money. If either two assassins were the culprit, they would have to find the person who put out the request. 

“Your Highness, we should’ve silenced her long ago,” Chu Xifeng muttered. He had never harbored a good impression of Grand Concubine Yi, who hankered after nothing but glory while fearing death.

Long Feiye had been cruel and ruthless in his own way. Not only did he place Grand Concubine Yi under house arrest in the ancestral hall, he also forbade her from ever leaving a step or going to visit Murong Wanru. Despite this, he wasn’t inhuman enough to kill his own foster mother so easily after calling her mufei for over a decade. While they were lost in thought, news arrived from Tianan. Apparently, Murong Wanru was still at Marquis Pingbei’s estate. Nothing was out of place there.

Long Feiye paused before he said coldly, “Chu Xifeng, make a personal trip to set a trap.”

Murong Wanru had teamed up with Empress Dowager Li in the past to murder Grand Concubine Yi and pin the deed on Han Yunxi. In the end, she ate her own bitter fruit and succumbed to a fatal poison that left her in a permanent coma. The only reason she was still alive was because of Han Yunxi’s monthly deliveries of medicine. As long as Murong Wanru didn’t fall into the kidnapper’s hands, Grand Concubine Yi would still hold back.

“Send people to inquire around the City of and as well,” Long Feiye added.

“This subordinate understands. I will do so immediately.” Chu Xifeng acknowledged and left. 

“You don’t seem to suspect Cang Qiuzi,” Han Yunxi observed.

Long Feiye nodded. Cang Qiuzi didn’t have enough of a motive for the crime. Moreover, he didn’t need to rely on Grand Concubine Yi to threaten Long Feiye. As long as no one knew he was going to visit , Cang Qiuzi would continue to leave him alone. Right now, the man’s main headache must be the wedding agreement with the Tang Clan. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to face off against them and Cloud Realm Trade Consortium simultaneously, so it would benefit him to retreat gracefully from the scene.

“If the culprit was aiming for your birth origins, then we might not hear anything about Grand Concubine Yi again. Otherwise…” Han Yunxi’s eyes flickered with complex emotions. “We just need to wait for them to deliver a ransom letter.”

Although the situation was grave, both Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were calm enough to sit and wait for further developments. 

“Clean up the bodies and prepare for their funerals. There will be no further discussion of the matters at the ancestral hall!” Long Feiye instructed his guards before leaving the scene with Han Yunxi. They held hands while they strolled through the small paths in the Duke of Qin’s estate. Soon, they reached the Hibiscus Courtyard and its wooden winding corridor. ’s Duke of Qin’s estate was built from a model of the original. Here, Han Yunxi could almost mistake them for standing in the same estate back in Tianning two years ago. Back then, they would single-file with one behind the other, but now he held her hand as they strode side-by-side. As the saying went, affairs of the human world were always unpredictable, but it was the humans themselves who were truly inscrutable. 

At last, they reached the same fork in their path. The right led to his quarters, while the left went to her Leisurely Cloud Pavilion. He didn’t stop there anymore, but escorted her all the way back to her room. The distant lights of Leisurely Cloud Pavilion’s courtyard were still lit in the middle of the night, while the rest of the area had already been plunged into darkness. Han Yunxi assumed that Zhao mama and the rest had already gone to sleep, but was surprised to hear the sounds of sobbing by the courtyard gate.

Someone’s crying!

“Who’s there?” Han Yunxi asked in a low voice.

Long Feiye simply kicked open the door without a word. With Grand Concubine Yi’s kidnapping, it was clear that the estate wasn’t as safe as it appeared.

“Who is it?!” The crying turned into a question, and Han Yunxi recognized the voice as Baili Mingxiang’s. Soon enough, the woman herself walked out from a corner and grew blank at the sight of Long Feiye and Han Yunxi. By the time she recovered, Han Yunxi had already walked to her side.

“Mingxiang, what’s wrong? Who bullied you?” Han Yunxi asked. Although the lighting was dim, she could still see Baili Mingxiang’s puffy eyes. Heaven knows how long she’d been crying.

Before Baili Mingxiang could answer, Long Feiye threw out some instructions, “Rest early. Tomorrow we’ll pay a visit to ’s commander-in-chief’s estate.” Then he turned to leave. 

At the exit, he called over his shadow guards and ordered, “Dispatch more guards around the estate, especially surrounding Hibiscus Courtyard.”

Baili Mingxiang stood with her head hanging and her hands clenched into fists. She told herself to stop staring, because it was already fortunate that she could hear his voice. She couldn’t look at him anymore. 

Yet in the end, she couldn’t resist lifting her head for one last peek. Unfortunately, his chilly back was already gone by then. She quickly averted her gaze when she realized Han Yunxi was still staring at her. “Esteemed wangfei, you..when did you guys come back?”

“Who bullied you?” Han Yunxi asked unhappily. “How long have you been crying? Do you want to lose your eyes?”

Baili Mingxiang recalled her haggard state and quickly wiped away her tears. “No...I was... I just missed my mother. Today is the anniversary of her death.”

“Really?” Han Yunxi asked doubtfully. “Were you wronged at Pill Fiend Pharmacy? Or...did little Yu’er do something to you again?” Su Xiaoyu, that damned girl, she’s got a sharp tongue. It’s not like she hasn’t tormented Baili Mingxiang before.

“No, no!” Baili Mingxiang instantly denied her assumptions. “Esteemed wangfei, little Yu’er is still a child. She wouldn’t be enough to make me cry. I really was just missing my mother.”

Actually, Su Xiaoyu had shamed her once again tonight in an attempt to chase her away. Ever since Gu Beiyue left , Su Xiaoyu had sought no end of trouble with Baili Mingxiang. She was only a little girl, yes, but not just any ordinary child. Within the short span of a month, she had dumped cold water on Baili Mingxiang, scared her with snakes which she caught with her bare hands, put dead mice in her personal belongings, and even tripped her multiple times. Baili Mingxiang could bear all of that, but the little girl’s tongue was a vicious, venomous thing. She could humiliate a person to death just with her words.

Although Baili Mingxiang had been raised in a boudoir since her youth, she wouldn’t fall prey to a little girl’s bullying. It was just that Su Xiaoyu held an advantage over her with the knowledge of her one-sided crush. 

Han Yunxi decided to accept that Baili Mingxiang wasn’t crying from Su Xiaoyu’s bullying. But suddenly, Su Xiaoyu herself burst through the door…

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