“Furthermore,” The emperor paused and smiled coldly, “If he really had the chance to get to you, he might be just as happy to kill you as to save you.”
Zu An remained silent. He also knew that that was true. He had faced assassins from King Qi’s faction on the way to the capital. Even though the two of them had never met, there was already a great enmity between them.
Of course, the emperor wasn’t bringing this up time and again out of the goodness of his heart. He was clearly trying to portray himself as benevolent, and that he cared more about Zu An. But was that really the case?
Wei Dan was the emperor’s trusted eunuch, and had served him to the best of his ability. However, the emperor hadn’t yet asked a single question regarding his death.
His death was likely linked to Zu An, so he was deliberately avoiding this issue. After all, Zu An was currently more useful to him.
He did not know if the emperor would seek to settle this matter in the future. However, regardless of what would eventually happen, the emperor was definitely a cold and decisive man.
“Then what should we do?” Zu An knew that the emperor definitely already had a plan, and was quick to show his cooperation.
The emperor gave him a token of authority. Zu An turned it about in his hands, and noticed the engraving of what seemed like a unicorn on it. This was the mythological animal, the xiezhi, a creature known for its ability to discern between good and evil. He had seen it before on the uniforms of the Embroidered Envoy, but this one was golden, and seemed to carry much more authority.
The emperor said, “I will grant you this golden token, which symbolizes the status of an Embroidered Envoy, placing you only beneath Zhuxie Chixin. You may use it at your own discretion as necessary.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Zu An was overjoyed. He quickly put the token away. This is good stuff! Those embroidered envoys had honestly seemed pretty badass as they carried out ‘heaven’s will’. Most importantly, he was now highly-ranked, even among the Embroidered Envoy. Wasn’t he now free to do whatever he wanted?
As if reading his thoughts, the emperor said, “You should not expose this identity. After all, you have a special mission to carry out. Once someone finds out that you are an embroidered envoy equipped with a golden token, your death may come even more swiftly.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty, for your reminder.” Zu An reminded himself to stay alert. The Embroidered Envoys were the emperor’s most trusted aides. If King Qi’s faction found out that he possessed this command token, they might not trust anything he said.
The emperor continued, “This is merely a hidden identity that I am granting you, out of consideration for your safety. Do not tell anyone else about it. I have to give you another public identity. Hm… Since King Qi is currently the crown prince’s imperial preceptor…”
He thought for a moment, and then he called in a eunuch. “Pass down the order. Because Zu An has offered up the Phoenix Nirvana Sutra, he is to be granted the title of Baron for his contributions. His title is…”
He paused for a moment, as if deciding on what would be most appropriate. His eyes quickly lit up. “His title is Phoenix Man.”
Zu An felt his jaw fall to the floor.
“Your Majesty, please give me a different title!” Zu An’s face had turned green. How the hell was he supposed to face anyone with the nickname ‘Phoenix Man’?
The emperor seemed displeased. “Nonsense. You’ve offered up the Phoenix Nirvana Sutra. What else would I call you if not Phoenix Man?”
He wanted to use this title to provoke King Qi’s faction, so he was not so easily put off. He continued, “Furthermore, appoint him as the crown prince’s palace secretary. He will supervise and accompany the crown prince in his studies.”
Zu An immediately understood what the emperor was thinking. The crown prince’s palace secretary was equivalent to a study partner, although he would hold a higher status. He would also concurrently hold the positions of secretary and chamberlain. Since King Qi was the crown prince’s imperial preceptor, they would both be serving as officials within the eastern palace. Contact would be unavoidable, and it wouldn’t draw any suspicion.
In his heart, Zu An was secretly ridiculing the whole situation. King Qi and the crown prince are going crazy fighting over the right of inheritance, yet you made King Qi his goddamned teacher? I wonder which genius came up with that idea.
Of course, that wasn’t even the main point. He still did not want to be known as the bloody Phoenix Man!
The emperor wasn’t in the mood to discuss this with him any further. He dismissed him with a wave of his hand, as he already discussed almost everything that had to be discussed. As an emperor, he had many matters to deal with. He couldn’t waste any more time on Zu An.
Zu An wanted to complain some more, but the eunuch assigned to escort him was so frightened that he quickly tried to drag him out.
The eunuch was obviously not strong enough to manhandle him, but with a wave of the emperor’s sleeves, an invisible force pushed Zu An out of the room.
The instant he was forced out, he saw the emperor pick up the green hat and put it on again. He stroked the hat as he fell into deep thought. It was clear that, even though he sounded as though he did not actually care about this, the temptation of immortality was not so easily brushed aside, especially when he was close to death.
Zu An’s lips curved into a smile. Hmph, you said that you didn’t want it, but your actions are betraying you.
At this moment, Zhuxie Chixin’s voice came from outside. “Congratulations, Phoenix Man!”
The emperor had not prevented those outside from hearing the latter part of his conversation, which was why Zhuxie Chixin knew about this.
Even though his words were congratulatory, his tone was cold, which sent an instinctive chill through Zu An’s body.
Zu An’s eyelids twitched. “Just call me by my name. Don’t use this title.”
Zhuxie Chixin was confused, but he wasn’t about to argue. “Follow me. I’ll escort you out of the palace.”
He turned around and led the way.
This was truly a pain in the ass for Zu An. Just walking with this person left him feeling extremely uncomfortable. He opened his mouth to speak several times, but hesitated each time. He wanted to announce that he was an Embroidered Envoy too, but his companion’s expression was so unapproachable that he had no chance to do so.
They left the imperial study and wandered around the palace. Zu An suddenly realized that they were still within the inner palace. Clearly, Zhuxie Chixin was allowed inside, so why had he hand Zu An over to Elder Li earlier on?
He was probably in cahoots with the emperor, and they were both trying to lure the snakes out of their holes. They were probably looking to catch the hidden conspirators in one fell swoop.
King Qi’s faction had truly suffered disastrous losses as he had made his way to the capital. He had probably cost them a great deal during his journey.
After walking for a while, Zu An suddenly observed, “This isn’t the way out of the palace.”
Zhuxie Chixin replied, “The words earlier were meant for the eunuchs. His majesty has already secretly identified you as an Embroidered Envoy, so I am bringing you to your residence within the palace first.”
“I’m going to be living in the palace?” Zu An was well and truly surprised.
“The Embroidered Envoy are His Majesty’s most trusted agents,” replied Zhuxie Chixin. “It’s only natural that they have to maintain a constant presence within the palace.”
“Oh.” Zu An was actually a little excited. He was going to live in the imperial palace! This was the dream of countless keyboard warriors!
The imperial palace was such a mysterious place. There were all manner of beautiful concubines and princesses living here…
Pah! I’m a decent person! I’m nothing like them.
“Even though the Embroidered Envoy are the emperor’s personal agents, granting them the freedom to enter and leave the inner palace, they are not permitted to enter the inner palace on their own, without an imperial command,” warned Zhuxie Chixin. “Anyone found to have violated this will have all of their possessions confiscated, and their clan will be eradicated. I hope that you bear this in mind.”
Zu An nodded. This made much more sense. How could the emperor completely let down his guard against him?
The path Zhuxie Chixin chose was rather secluded, and they did not encounter any concubines or maids.
Soon afterwards, they reached a quiet and remote residence. Zhuxie Chixin handed him a key token. “This is your residence, and this is the key that unlocks the restrictions around this courtyard. Remember the path you took to get here from the imperial study. His Majesty will summon you to his study often.”
As a cultivator, his consciousness was much more formidable than an ordinary person’s. Once a cultivator reached a certain rank, they would naturally develop a highly retentive memory. That was why Zhuxie Chixin wasn’t worried that Zu An would forget the route, despite only walking through it once.
“Then what about the rest of the compound? I’m not too familiar with this place. Can the Chief Commander show me around?” Zu An asked.
Zhuxie Chixin gave him a warning glare. “The other compounds are where the concubines, the princess, and the young prince live. You should not be going to those places. What are you trying to do?”
Zu An’s heart skipped a beat. “I was just asking about it… haha… Thank you for your reminder.”
Zhuxie Chixin dismissed his behavior as the curiosity of someone from a poor background. “Familiarize yourself with your residence here. After that, I’ll take you to your residence outside the palace.”