The guards exchanged worried looks. “Zu An has been appointed a baron by His Majesty, and he is also the crown prince’s secretary. Would it be…”
King Qi’s voice was indifferent. “There’s nothing to worry about. You only need to bring him here.”
Seeing that they didn’t have to do the deed themselves, those guards sighed in relief. They clasped their fists and left to carry out the order.
King Qi looked in the direction of the eastern palace, his lips turned up with a hint of ridicule. The crown princess’ intention to raise a right-hand man for herself didn’t escape his notice. He would not let it happen that easily.
Meanwhile, Zu An had just left the eastern palace, but was stopped by Piao Duandiao and Jiao Sigun.
“What’s wrong?” Zu An said curiously. The two of them clearly wanted to say something to him, but were hesitating.
Piao Duandiao remained quiet for a long moment. When he was sure that no one had noticed them, he said quietly, “Lord Zu, you have to be very careful for the next few days.”
“Why would you say that?” Zu An was slightly alarmed by how serious they seemed.
“Do you know why the two of us were able to become lesser guard leaders within eastern palace?” asked Jiao Sigun.
Zu An couldn’t help but smile when he looked at these two. “Because the two of you are hidden dragons within the eastern palace?”
They froze momentarily, not understanding his turn of phrase. However, they still carried on. “There should have been no way for anyone with qualifications like ours to rise through the ranks so quickly. Our predecessors were both top-notch imperial guards in terms of qualifications and cultivation. They were also full of spirit, out to make a name for themselves.
“Once, though, they behaved rather… arrogantly… towards King Qi. They provoked him to his face. King Qi didn’t say anything at the time, but the next day, they did not report for the morning roll call. Everyone went looking for them. Eventually, they found two headless corpses.”
“The subordinates who followed their lead and took part in criticizing King Qi all had their heads removed as well.”
“The matter caused a rather large uproar, but it died down without any real conclusion.”
Zu An was stunned. No wonder everyone in the eastern palace had been shaking like quails. Such a thing had happened before.
King Qi seemed like a refined and scholarly individual. It was unexpected that he would have such a vicious side to him.
No wonder he had managed to spar with the emperor for this long. They were both blood brothers. Clearly, the viciousness and paranoia ran in the family.
He suddenly noticed that the two guards were looking at him strangely, and was taken aback. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Those two didn’t leave King Qi as badly burned as you did earlier on,” they replied. “Good luck.”
They sighed and walked away, as if he were a dead man, beyond saving.
Zu An stared at their retreating figures numbly.
He had to admit that, despite being so amusing, these two men were rather loyal. They had at least done their best to warn him. They hadn’t let him down.
However, he wasn’t all that terrified. After all, offending King Qi was part of his plans.
The Right Guard General Guo Zhi just happened to be on his patrol when he arrived at the imperial prison. He immediately flashed a friendly smile when he saw Zu An. “Oh my, Brother Zu! Which wind has blown you back here today?”
This fellow had solved such a difficult problem for him back then, so he found him rather pleasing.
Zu An smiled, and the two exchanged several conventional greetings. He then told Guo Zhi of his intentions, which rather surprised the general. “Didn’t we already obtain oral confessions from them? Why do you still need to investigate?”
“The crown princess has asked me to question them further,” replied Zu An “It’s just routine business.”
Guo Zhi had a look of understanding. “No problem, Brother Zu. You can question them as much as you want. I’ve actually been in a dilemma as to what to do with these fellows. Now that Cheng Xiong’s case has already concluded, they’re already useless, and keeping them here is a problem too. Many times, I’ve just wanted to…”
He drew his thumb across his neck. Then, he said, “But His Majesty never gave the order, and I don’t dare go too far on my own. Brother Zu, if you could, could you sound out His Majesty’s attitude towards them? Find out how I should deal with these fellows?”
“Why haven’t you asked him about it yourself, Brother Guo? You’re much higher-ranked than I.” Zu An was shocked to discover that the emperor actually hadn’t told him that he was going to let them go. This made his following plans much more difficult.
Guo Zhi grew annoyed. “I wouldn’t dare take such a risk! His Majesty has already berated us several times in the wake of the attack on the palace. Now, given Cheng Xiong’s fate, it’s only reasonable that I should be lying low as well. But you’re different, Brother Zu! His Majesty told me that you’re allowed to enter the prison freely, and to cooperate with any request you have. I’m honestly quite envious. Brother Zu has only been here a few days, yet you’ve already obtained His Majesty’s favor!”
Zu An cursed inwardly. The emperor was being way too tactful. Guo Zhi might not be able to get the hint. Looks like I’ll have to figure out a way to save them on my own.
After some thought, he said, “For now, please withdraw all of the experts from the prison.”
Guo Zhi was shocked by his request. “What if the prisoners escape?”
“We’re inside the inner palace,” said Zu An. “How can they escape? Besides, they’re still restrained by the Soul-Reaping Chains of the Embroidered Envoy.”
Guo Zhi was quite troubled. “But why are we suddenly removing the guards?”
Zu An pulled him to the side and said quietly, “I want to create an illusion for those prisoners, to make them misunderstand, and think that there’s a chance for them to escape. If they are given a hope of survival, they may begin to treasure their lives and let their guard down. This will allow me to gain more information.”
Guo Zhi’s eyes lit up. “Brilliant, as expected! No wonder you were able to get so much information out of them last time.”
With that, he quickly moved to withdraw his subordinates, leaving behind only the lowest-ranked jailers that maintained the prison’s basic operations.
After completing all this, he rushed over to Zu An and said, “Brother Zu, go ahead and do what you have to. We’ve tightened security around the imperial palace after the recent attack, and I need to continue with my patrol. I won’t be keeping you company.”
Zu An clasped his fist. “I’ll invite you for a drink next time, Brother Guo.”
“Sounds good!” Guo Zhi waved and left with his men.
Zu An remained silent for a moment. This fella seemed rather simple, but no one= in his position could be this stupid.
Ever since he’d almost fallen to Cheng Xiong’s machinations, he didn’t dare underestimate the intelligence of these officials.
Guo Zhi had probably deduced what he was trying to do, which was why he was going as far away as possible. He didn’t want anything to do with this matter.
Of course, if not for the emperor’s instructions to him beforehand, he wouldn’t have withdrawn his men so quickly.
Zu An sorted out his thoughts, then walked straight into the prison.
In the deepest level of the prison, several individuals were whispering amongst themselves.
“Elder, Lord Fire, why hasn’t anyone come to save us even after all this time?” It was Gu Yueyi who spoke. His hopes were as high as the heavens these days, and the higher they climbed, the more restless he became.
Elder Sun Luzhen opened his eyes. “Do you think it’s that easy to rescue someone from the imperial prison? Have some patience,” he said. Even though he was covered in blood, his eyes were still bright.
“What if he never planned to save us? What if he lied to us?” As Gu Yueyi said this, his face slowly drained of color. This thought seemed much more likely.
Sun Luzhen and Solitary Fire also fell silent. They had clearly entertained this possibility as well.
Sun Luzhen managed to retain his composure. “Cease your complaints.”
Solitary Fire added, “Indeed. We were all prepared to die during this assassination attempt. If he can save our lives, then we will be thankful. If not, then so be it.”
Gu Yueyi’s expression flickered. The two of you are already so old, so you’re obviously content with your lives. But I’m still young!
He harbored the thought that, if Zu An really went back on his word, he would confess everything to Lord Guo. This secret might just be worth his own life in return.
A clear voice rang out. “I didn’t expect Solitary Fire to still be so open-minded. That’s truly admirable.”
This group of prisoners turned around, both shocked and pleasantly surprised. When they saw Zu An nearby, they all sighed in relief.
Even though they did not regard their own lives that highly, survival was obviously more preferable to death.
However, when they noticed the group of jailers standing behind him, their faces all paled. “You… you’re not here to silence us, are you?” asked Gu Yueyi, a quaver in his voice.
Zu An chuckled. He was just about to reply when there was a sudden burst of noise, and several jailers were pushed down the stairs.
Eight golden-armored imperial guards strutted in and viciously berated them. “You blind fools,! How dare you stop us from bringing King Qi the one he wishes to meet?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter