Not only was Zu An not frightened by the emperor’s outburst, he almost burst out laughing instead. He’d had almost the exact same thoughts in mind, although he wasn’t thinking about a market, but a public restroom.
Honestly, though, it wasn’t fair for the emperor to berate them like this. Even though the guards had been rather ineffective, it was because their enemies had the upper hand from the start. The most notable group of assassins—the Shadow Group—and the elites of the Devil Sect had both shown up. Even a grandmaster had appeared, and yet the emperor, the most powerful cultivator, had failed to show. What were these guards supposed to do?
What the hell is this emperor doing anyway?
Zu An wondered if he should announce his arrival. He wasn’t so keen on being caught in the crossfire.
The eunuch outside spoke. “My Lord Eleven, His Majesty has asked that you enter as soon as you arrive.”
Zu An was overcome with blessed relief. “Thank you.”
He entered carefully, and was shocked to discover that the emperor wasn’t inside. Instead, a massive mirror stood in the middle of the room, with an image of the emperor on its reflective surface. It was similar to the recording mirror that he’d used to converse with Chu Chuyan, but this one was much larger.
What’s going on? He looked around and saw that no one else present seemed the least bit surprised. They seemed to accept that this was how things worked.
He quietly took a look around. By now, Zhuxie Chixin was considered an old acquaintance. He had always seemed bossy and domineering, with his nose pointed into the sky. Right now, however, he was standing obediently off to the side like a little quail, his attitude incredibly respectful.
The one who was being pointed at and scolded was another old acquaintance, Guard General Liu Yao.
He was bowing very low, and continuously begging for forgiveness. The arrogance he had shown in Brightmoon City was nowhere to be seen.
Even though he was the empress’ uncle, which made him the emperor’s senior, he did not dare bring that up before the emperor himself.
He was feeling rather despondent as well. Even though the Guard General, in theory, was the highest-ranking commander of the imperial palace, he usually lived in his own estate. The defenses of the imperial palace were overseen by the Left, Right, Guerilla Warfare, and Brave Rider Generals, as well as Zhuxie Chixin’s Embroidered Envoy and the few imperial bodyguards under the charge of the Supervisor of Attendants.
He had already discharged his duties for the day and left the palace in high spirits, before the chaos arose at night. He had been at home, enjoying a drink. How could he have reacted to the situation in a timely manner?
Zu An’s eyes moved across the room. It was filled with powerful players from the imperial court. He recognized Right General Guo Zhi and Guerrilla Warfare General Zhao Yuan, whom he’d met in the eastern palace earlier.
He’s seen one of the others not too long ago as well. This man had been pursuing Qiu Honglei, but had been stopped by his own flame blade. This was none other than Left Guard General Cheng Xiong.
Zu An did not see the Brave Rider General here. He wondered where this man was.
Another lean-looking, elderly man was present. His bronze skin gave his slim body a mysterious sense of explosive strength.
While at the academy, Shang Liuyu had given him a pictorial book that introduced the uniforms of important officials in the court. This uniform resembled the drawing of the clothing worn by the Supervisor of Attendants.
Was this the new Supervisor of Attendants, Murong Tong, the grandfather of Murong Qinghe?
No wonder that little girl had tanned skin. Was this a hereditary trait?
His back was much straighter than those of the other yes-men in the room. He was in charge of the emperor’s ceremonial bodyguards. The emperor’s cultivation was unmatched, so the bodyguards were mostly there for show. Besides, he had been transferred to this post because of other reasons, not because of the most recent assassination attempt.
Hmph, it’s all because of that brat, Zu An! He’s the reason I have to accompany these fellows and suffer through this!
You have successfully trolled Murong Tong for 723 Rage points!
The sudden influx of Rage points gave Zu An a fright. His first instinct was that Murong Tong had somehow recognized him, but after giving it some thought, he changed his mind. This old man was probably still upset about being transferred.
After going at them for a while, the emperor finally calmed down. He then said, “All the officials present will be demoted by one rank, and you will forfeit your salary for the next three years. You will all remain in your positions for now, and continue to discharge your regular duties until you make up for your failures with future contributions.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty!” All of them bowed low and expressed their thanks. For individuals with their status, things like their salary were seen as dispensable. Such a punishment was nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Zu An was the only one who was upset. Bro, I haven’t even gotten a single paycheck yet, and you’re already going to withhold three years’ worth?
Unlike these other fellows, I don’t have any other sources of income. Not only do I have to risk my life to help the emperor complete his stupid mission, I now have to work as a slave for three years?
Not even a sweatshop is this abusive!
Unfortunately, he had just witnessed the emperor’s power. Even though he was cursing in his heart, he did not dare voice his complaints.
The emperor nodded, satisfied by their reactions. “Cheng Xiong, you will be in charge of investigating the attempted assassination of the empress, and finding out who they are!
“Guo Zhi, you are in charge of the assassination attempt in the eastern palace. Eliminate all of the escaping assassins.
“Liu Yao, Zhao Yuan, you’re both in charge of locking down the capital city. You are permitted to arrest all suspicious individuals. All those who resist are to be executed!”
“Understood!” They acknowledged in unison.
Zu An was glad that Qiao Xueying had managed to flee earlier in the day. If she had been half a day late, her clansmen might not have made it out. She had patiently suffered in the capital for such a long time, finally managing to rescue her clansmen. It would have been far too tragic if it had all crumbled at the last minute.
He was much more worried about Qiu Honglei. It was already dark, and the security around the city walls was tight. She had no way of leaving the capital city. He wondered if she would manage to evade capture by Liu Yao and Zhao Yuan.
The others left after receiving their orders, leaving Zu An and Zhuxie Chixin behind.
The emperor looked at Zhuxie Chixin. “Did you capture that woman?”
Zu An’s heart skipped a beat. He knew that the emperor was talking about Qiu Honglei’s master, and his ears pricked up.
Zhuxie Chixin shook his head.
“This humble one is incompetent. We searched for her for a long time, but we were unable to discover her whereabouts. We don’t even know if she’s left the palace.”
The emperor seemed surprisingly sanguine. “The woman is a grandmaster. Even though she’s seriously injured, it won’t be easy to capture her. However, the city games are sealed shut. I’m sure she hasn’t left the capital city yet. You are still in charge of finding her.”
“Understood.” Zhuxie Chixin bowed respectfully.
The emperor then said, “You’re a very knowledgeable man. Were you able to determine who she was in your brief battle?”
Zhuxie Chixin said, “That woman used a short sword at first and fought with the strength of a master cultivator, probably because she did not want to reveal her identity. But when faced with your attack, Your Majesty, she was forced to use her true weapon, which gave me some idea of who she was.
“The weapon she wields is the Wheel of the Crescent Moon, and she is a light element cultivator who is able to slow time. These mark her as the Devil Sect’s sect master, Yun Jianyue.”
Zu An’s heart began to pound. Holy crap, she’s exposed! The ploy hatched by Qiu Honglei and the others to frame King Qi for this is probably done for. Not only that, the imperial court is probably going to go all out against the Devil Sect… Things don’t look good for them.
Qiu Honglei’s master seemed to have a name befitting her bearing, though. She had indeed looked just like a beautiful moon hiding among the clouds. 
The emperor remained silent for a while. “Did you mention this to anyone else?” he finally asked.
“This subject knows the importance of this information. I have not spoken about it to anyone else,” replied Zhuxie Chixin hurriedly.
The emperor nodded. “Good. This matter must be kept secret. You are not permitted to bring it up again.”
Even though Zhuxie Chixin was slightly confused, he did not probe any further, but acknowledged the emperor’s order. “Understood!”
Zu An was stunned. What the hell is going on? Could Qiu Honglei’s master be the emperor’s old flame or something? That doesn’t seem right, though. If she was a former lover of his, he should have realized who she was immediately after that exchange of blows.
“Withdraw. Zu An, stay behind.” The emperor’s indifferent voice came from the mirror.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Zhuxie Chixin shot Zu An a surprised look before taking his leave, but said nothing else. He withdrew quickly and closed the door behind him.
The emperor stared daggers at Zu An. “I heard that you carried the crown princess today?”
Even though he was only facing a mirror, the pressure exerted on Zu An soaked his clothes in cold sweat. “Your Majesty, we were in a critical situation. I did that to save the crown princess…”
The emperor’s gaze turned ice-cold. He did not let him finish speaking. “Which arm did you use to hold her? Cut it off yourself.”
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