Chapter 659: Hanging by a Thread

Zu An felt his mind go blank. For the emperor to seek him out at such a time… It couldn’t be for anything good.

He didn’t press Eunuch Wen further on what the emperor could want. He was already grateful that he had told him about this, and it was not right for him to trouble this man any further.

Besides, he probably wasn’t privy to the emperor’s true thoughts.

The two of them arrived at the imperial study, and Eunuch Wen went ahead to announce his arrival. He quickly came back out and told Zu An, “His Majesty invites Lord Zu inside.”

After saying this, he gave him a meaningful look, wishing him the best of luck. Zu An chuckled bitterly. There was nothing to do but to brace himself and enter.

When he entered the imperial study, the bronze mirror was gone. Instead, the emperor himself was sitting at a desk, reading a report.

The emperor showed no reaction when Zu An entered. It was as though he was made of empty air.

Zu An stood to the side and bowed. “This subject pays his respects to your majesty.”

The emperor still didn’t respond. Zu An swallowed. I’m finished. This fellow is probably unhappy because of me.

He stared straight down without saying a word, remaining silent in order to prevent the situation from getting any worse.

A moment later, the emperor glanced up at him. Observing his behavior, the emperor was so angry that he laughed. “Usually, court officials will be standing there, quaking in fear and awe, yet you’re standing there as though nothing’s happened.”

“I was afraid that I would disturb Your Majesty’s concentration,” replied Zu An.

“Your tongue is slick, as usual,” the emperor said with a snort. “How goes the investigation that I assigned you?”

Zu An mulled over his words, then slowly said, “I’ve already made some discoveries. Left Guard General Cheng Xiong colluded with the assassins, using his son Cheng Gang as an intermediary. He exchanged information with them in the government brothel…”

The emperor remained expressionless after hearing his explanation. “Then what about the motive?”

Zu An replied, “Cheng Xiong is an important member of King Qi’s faction. I believe he planned the assassination to get rid of the crown prince, so King Qi can succeed the throne.”

The emperor fixed him with an icy glare. “Are you accusing my own younger brother, a respected and wise king!? How brazen!”

You have successfully trolled Zhao Han for 444 Rage points!

Zu An snorted inwardly. Was the emperor really going to put on such a pretense, even in such a situation? Everyone in this world knows that you and King Qi are like fire and water, and that you’re itching to get rid of him. Who are you putting on this performance for?

All mockery aside, he’d be courting death if he said any of this out loud. He could only follow the emperor’s lead. “This subject does not dare to rashly accuse King Qi of being the one behind it all, but this is the most suitable deduction.”

The emperor tossed the report in his hands onto the table. “You’ve found an excellent explanation, and you’ve even given me a reasonable motive. Anyone else might have believed what you just said. Unfortunately, I know that King Qi would never do something so stupid.”

Zu An was stunned. Wasn’t King Qi the greatest beneficiary of the crown prince’s death?

The emperor seemed to have guessed his thoughts. “I have many sons, many of them intelligent and powerful individuals. Why then, did I choose this one to be the crown prince?”

Zu An’s mind began to move at lightspeed. He quickly recalled what he’d discussed with Chu Chuyan while on the way to the capital.

King Qi had a legitimate claim to the throne because of who the previous emperor had been. To preserve the throne for his lineage, the current emperor could only lean on the right of succession of the oldest son. The current crown prince was the emperor’s oldest son, which was why he was seen as the heir apparent to the throne. The law was on his side, and King Qi’s faction had no choice but to acknowledge this fact as well.

However, if the emperor did not take this path, but chose to designate a crown prince based on strength and wisdom, who among his sons could compare to King Qi?

The emperor said coldly, “You’ve got brains, so I’m sure you understand. If something happened to the current crown prince, I would have a justifiable reason to choose a more talented person as the new crown prince, because he is the next in line. Do you think King Qi would do something so foolish?”

Zu An immediately broke out in a cold sweat. He knew what was going on now. King Qi likely didn’t want the current crown prince to die either.

It was precisely because of the poor mental faculties of the crown prince that so many knowledgeable and experienced members of the court were worried about their future. This was the foundation for their allegiance to King Qi.

If someone intelligent became the crown prince… No, even if a man of ordinary talents—one who could preserve the work that had been done by his predecessors—was designated as the crown prince, none of these subjects would willingly go against the most powerful man in the world, the emperor. Why would they side with King Qi?

It seemed Yun Jianyue had miscalculated as well. No matter how hard she tried to frame King Qi, the emperor knew that it was not King Qi’s work.

“You are both wise and brilliant, Your Majesty,” said Zu An quickly. “This subject will continue searching for the culprit.”

“Heh, you’re going to continue with your search?” The emperor lost his smile. “You’ve already colluded with the Devil Sect to take down the Left Guard General. Who are you and the Devil Sect planning to frame next?”

Zu An’s heart skipped a beat, and he was drenched in cold sweat.

The emperor knows everything!

Wait, calm down. He could be testing me.

As such, he pretended to be completely innocent. “What do you mean, Your Majesty? This subject is slow-witted, and does not understand.”

The emperor nodded in admiration. “You have a keen temperament. Even now, your mind has yet to collapse.”

Zu An sighed in relief, but the emperor’s expression grew as harsh as a winter storm. “Unfortunately, the proof is undeniable. Whatever excuse you pull out next will only seem even more laughable.”

He pushed the report that he had been reading over to Zu An. “Take a look for yourself.”

Zu An swallowed, then opened the document in front of him. This was clearly a confidential document, yet as he read its contents, an explosion went off in his head. Every single cell in his body was quivering.

His dealings with Qiu Honglei in Brightmoon City were written out in detail. It even highlighted how Qiu Honglei had taken the initiative to try to marry herself to him.

It also pinpointed Qiu Honglei as the one who had led the Devil Sect’s experts in their attempt to seize Zu An as he was being transported to the capital.

According to various sources, Qiu Honglei was the Lady Saint of the Devil Sect.

The report also highlighted the long-haired female grandmaster as the Devil Sect Master Yun Jianyue, and that Qiu Honglei was her direct disciple.

A woman resembling Qiu Honglei had been seen going in and out of Zu An’s estate in the capital over the past few days. It was soon after that when Zu An visited the government brothel, and Cheng Gang was crippled. Immediately after that, the case of Cheng Gang colluding with individuals within the government brothel was brought forward…

Even without witnessing what had happened, any person could make reasonable deductions given all this information, and their deductions would be practically the same as reality.

He could tell from a single glance that this was Zhuxie Chixin’s handwriting. That bloody bastard…. He called me a brother to my face but stabbed me right in the back.

However, he knew that it was meaningless to blame Zhuxie Chixin. It was probably the emperor who had him investigate him. Dammit. They’re all ruthless old foxes.

“It seems Cheng Xiong wasn’t wrong. It was you who let an assassin escape after all.” The emperor’s cold eyes enveloped him, and he seemed as though he was looking at a dead man.

In that instant, his aura erupted. Zu An felt as if the air around him became incredibly viscous, and he couldn’t even move a finger. He felt as though a single thought from the emperor would be enough to reduce him to ashes.

Zu An’s mind moved quickly, trying to find a way out of this mess. His first reaction was to deny it to the very end, because no conclusive proof had been recorded.

However, he immediately rejected this idea. Investigation and proof was only necessary to convince the general populace. This was the emperor. As long as he believed something happened, he would never let anyone go just because there wasn’t any proof.

Wait, I didn’t receive that many Rage points from the emperor earlier on.

Also, why is he telling me all of this? If he really wanted me dead, he could have just killed me. Why spend all this time talking?

The mission that the emperor had assigned him came to mind, and a flash of inspiration struck him. “This subject has committed a mortal crime,” he declared immediately, “but I did not collude with the Devil Sect! I only did what I did because I ran into Qiu Honglei. She saved my life before, so I couldn’t just watch her die without doing anything. That’s why I let her live!”

He spoke in half-truths. There was no way he was going to mention how he had saved Yun Jianyue. The emperor would never permit a grandmaster to slip through his grasp.

The emperor looked at him impassively. “Oh? So you were just repaying a past debt. Should this emperor reward you for that?”

“This subject doesn’t dare insinuate that!” said Zu An hurriedly. “I should be subjected to death by a thousand cuts. I will let His Majesty determine how to proceed.”

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