Chapter 225: Called Out

Rong Yuehong deliberately raised her voice and emphasized Yun Ruoyan’s name to arouse attention from the gathered crowd. Even many of the returning students were attracted by the commotion.

It was clear to Yun Ruoyan and the Lin siblings that Rong Yuehong was going to pester them once more. Yun Ruoyan and Lin Qingchen were calm and cool-headed enough that they didn’t respond to her provocation, but Lin Qingxue yelled out furiously, “What pearl? Who took the pearl? Don’t malign us!”

Rong Yueshan ignored Lin Qingxue’s anger. “You don’t have to get mad at me. After all, the pearl isn’t mine. I’m just revealing what I know.”

“You’re clearly trying to slander us,” Lin Qingchen added, defending her sister, before looking toward Zhao Xu. “Miss Zhao, my cousin would never take your possession. Please don’t believe Rong Yueshan’s one-sided accusation.”

Lin Qingchen thought quite favorably of Zhao Xu, who seemed rather amenable to logic. However, Zhao Xu seemed to wholeheartedly believe Rong Yueshan’s accusation. 

“Miss Yun, I’ve mentioned that I don’t want to make this a big deal. That pearl is truly important to me, and I can’t bear its loss to my family. Please, return it to me.”

Zhao Xu’s tone was so sincere that the gathered crowd began to believe that Yun Ruoyan was indeed responsible for snatching the pearl away.

“What’s this pearl necklace that they’re talking about? It must be something more valuable than an ordinary pearl, if they’re making such a big deal about it…”

“It’s likely a fish-core pearl, made from the core of fish-type beasts that have lived for over three centuries. Only high-rank forgemasters are able to craft it at all, and it’s an unbelievably precious possession.”

Someone else added, “Holding a fish-core pearl in your mouth allows you to breathe naturally underwater. It’s very rare in the landlocked Li kingdom, but slightly more common in the Chen kingdom that borders the ocean. However, even there, this pearl is only available in very limited quantities.”

“No wonder someone would steal such a treasure! If I were the one who saw it, I would probably have taken it for myself as well…”

“It’s truly a treasure, isn’t it?”

The crowd began to make a fuss.

“And this fish-core pearl isn’t an ordinary treasure, either,” the person continued explaining. “In the Chen kingdom, such pearls are traditionally passed down the female line, and it serves as a recognition of a female heir’s position in the family. In addition, it’s also a significant part of their dowry upon marriage. If she really were to lose the pearl, it would drastically affect her future status and marriage prospects.”

“Is that so? No wonder this pair of siblings looks so anxious!”

“To ruin someone else’s future because of a moment of greed… how unethical!”

Murmurs circulated amidst the crowd, which became increasingly convinced that Yun Ruoyan was the culprit behind this theft. Given Zhao Xu’s anxiety, it was almost certain that her fish-core pearl was missing. However, that she would lay the blame on Yun Ruoyan so definitively without showing any evidence made the Lin sisters think quite poorly of her.

“Miss Zhao,” Lin Qingchen began. “I can understand why you might be upset about losing such a prized possession, but how can you claim that my cousin was the thief without any proof? I think it more likely that Rong Yueshan was the thief!”

Lin Qingchen pointed a finger at Rong Yueshan accusingly. “Wouldn’t it be just like the thief to try to pin the blame on someone else, Miss Zhao?”

“Don’t try to mislead us!” Zhao Qiang interjected. “No one else could have taken the fish-core pearl but Yun Ruoyan—my sister was kind enough to give you a chance to return it without the threat of force, but otherwise…” 

He brandished his fists menacingly.

Zhao Qiang sounded so certain that the crowd had almost been entirely convinced of Yun Ruoyan’s culpability.

“Oh? Yesterday, you were already quite certain that the thief was me.” Yun Ruoyan finally opened her mouth to defend herself. Unhurriedly, she continued, “What makes you so certain?”

She stared at Zhao Qiang with her wide, clear eyes, a hint of a smile by her face.

Zhao Qiang hesitated for a moment. Given what he knew of her, he thought it likely for Yun Ruoyan to keep trying to pin the blame on Rong Yueshan instead, or for her to plead and beg for forgiveness after finally admitting to the crime. However, Yun Ruoyan avoided both strategies. From the very beginning, she had only been watching on, as though she were only a bystander. If he didn’t have incontrovertible proof, he might even have fallen for her act.

He chuckled coldly. “If you’re so reluctant to admit your crime, I’ll reveal the evidence to everyone.” 

Zhao Qiang reached for an ornament, a white bone-shaped object to which a red string was tied. “This is an ornament made from the head of a thousand-year-old fish-type beast,” Zhao Qiang proclaimed to the crowd. “It can sense fish-core pearls. Observe!”

Zhao Qiang moved the bone ornament closer and closer to Yun Ruoyan, and it began glowing more and more brightly the closer he moved. Because most of the gathered crowd believed that Yun Ruoyan was the one who stole the pearl, this wasn’t a surprise.

“Well? What have you to say for yourself?!” Zhao Qiang folded his arms. “Are you going to take out the pearl necklace, or will I have to fight you for it?”

“How embarrassing!” Yi Qianying, who had remained silent the entire time, suddenly spoke up. “Yun Ruoyan, you’re a scion of the Yun family—how could you take part in such thievery? You’ve disgraced us all!”

There were surely those in the crowd who knew of the Yun family, and they began discussing the matter amongst themselves. 

“Is she that daughter of the Yun family? I heard that the Yun family was well-known in the Li kingdom for its moral character. Who would have thought that their daughter would be such an unrepentant thief?”

“So what if she’s from the Yun family? After all, we’re all tempted by others’ treasures. Didn’t we snatch from each other within the secret realm? It’s just that no one will admit it openly.”

“That’s true, but if she’s still denying the affair even with such proof…”

“Ha.” This time, it was Yun Ruoyan’s turn to laugh. “Your proof is just this glowing ornament? How laughable!”

“Right, it’s ridiculous!” Lin Qingxue added.

“I was an eyewitness to the crime, remember? We have ample proof, so stop trying to hide it and hand over the fish-core pearl!” Rong Yueshan’s face was adorned with a malicious smile. “Otherwise, if you’re sent off to the hall of repentance for punishment, you might not get away so easily. Your two dear cousins might be implicated as well!”

Yun Ruoyan eyed Rong Yueshan coldly, ignoring her provocative words. Instead, she turned to Zhao Qiang and Zhao Xu.

“Are you so certain that I took the fish-core pearl?”

“Naturally. My bone ornament wouldn’t be mistaken!” Zhao Qiang, for one, fully believed this claim.

“Miss Yun, please hand the pearl back. Otherwise, you’ll be the one in trouble,” Zhao Xu added, a little impatience staining her tone. She really didn’t understand how Yun Ruoyan could still continue denying the crime even though everything had been made so clear.

“I don’t have any reason to be enemies with either of you,” Yun Ruoyan continued coolly, “so I’d like to advise you to be careful with what you see and what you hear. Otherwise, you’ll easily be manipulated without your knowledge.”

“Ridiculous! Would I, Zhao Qiang, be so easily manipulated by others? If you didn’t take my sister’s fish core, I’ll kowtow to you and acknowledge my mistake in front of everyone present!”

“Oh?” Yun Ruoyan raised an eyebrow. “Do you mean it?”

Zhao Qiang was very confident in himself. He had had a bad first impression of Yun Ruoyan because she had managed to steal the amaranthine sun from his and Wang Meng’s grasp as they fought with each other, then foiled both of them with a petty trick at the end.

From then on, he had felt animosity toward Yun Ruoyan. When Rong Yueshan told him that the fish-core pearl was in Yun Ruoyan’s hands, he couldn’t wait to expose and humiliate her!

If not for Zhao Xu’s disapproval, he would have confronted her long ago. However, it seemed as though Yun Ruoyan would be unrepentant to the very end.

“A gentleman is honorbound by his words!” Zhao Qiang exclaimed. “But if you truly are the thief, not only do you have to kowtow to me, you have to proclaim your guilt at the plaza for everyone to hear. I want you to shout ten times, ‘I, Yun Ruoyan, am a shameless thief!’”

“You—You’re the shameless thief!” Lin Qingxue rebutted, furious.

“I accept!” Yun Ruoyan responded, equally loudly. “In that case, I’ll teach you a lesson today!”

Yun Ruoyan removed her own serpent-core necklace from her bosom, then displayed it in front of Zhao Qiang. 

“Do you see this? I do have a similar beast core, but it’s mine!”

The serpent-core necklace in Yun Ruoyan’s hands let out a warm glow, attracting the gaze of the crowd. 

“My goodness, can you feel its aura? This is truly a treasure!”

The serpent-core necklace in her hands was larger and more polished than Zhao Xu’s, and was far superior in quality. Her face blushed a furious red: it seemed as if she and her brother really had mistaken Yun Ruoyan—no, someone had manipulated them into doing so!

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