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Helian Yi and Jing Qi shot each other crisscrossing looks at flying speed, both quickly getting their own plans. Jing Qi took a step back, playing deaf and dumb and not getting involved, while Helian Yi knelt onto the ground with a plop, taking the lead in making his standpoint known. “Father Emperor is as insightful as a clear mirror; how could second brother do such a thing as this? This serving son is the first to disbelieve it!”
It stood to reason that, under these circumstances and as the heir apparent, it was best for Helian Yi to play deaf and dumb as well — he knew well on the inside that Helian Qi’s vile affairs were all true, and also understood that if he spoke up to aid him in this instance, it would be excessively stupid, and circumvential of the law on behalf of a relative. If he aided Jiang Zheng, though, things would be even more grave; he would obviously be seizing the chance to do away with a dissident, and thus was thinking about eradicating his own brother without even being the Emperor yet.
And they all knew that the one sitting on the throne was poles removed from words like ‘wise ruler’.
Helian Pei didn’t want to hear of a bit of whose son was dead and whose son was alive, nor of who was sneaking funds or who was keeping private troops. Those things were immensely important, of course, and would normally be enough for him to smack the table, stand up, and bellow for a thorough investigation, but there was only one thing remaining in his eyes at present — that Jiang Zheng and his group of not-dead-yet things joined up to force him to punish his own son.
This was compulsion! This was rebellion!
In response to this, Helian Zhao immediately came back to his senses. Knowing that he had been a step slower, he had hidden regret in his heart, but could only follow the Crown Prince in agreement. “Father Emperor, what the Crown Prince said is quite correct. This serving son doesn’t believe this, either. This is no small matter, and I hope that everyone will speak and act cautiously to take our time in making a decision.”
Jiang Zheng was evidently a dead pig that didn’t fear going into boiling water, speaking up in a methodical matter upon hearing this. “Wise Emperor, this subject has Sir Zhang Jin’s personally-written blood letter here, and all sorts of ledgers and contact letters. His Second Highness had detained Young Master Zhang in a small courtyard in the northwest of the capital, which I have already investigated and verified from capturing more than thirty attendants and such. I would not dare to deceive the sovereign. Whether this is true or false can be known from one investigation by the Imperial Clan Court.”
Helian Pei had a rumbling noise in his head straight from the beginning, and it was only after Helian Yi spoke that he lightly tasted the betrayal. He hung his eyelids, looking at his disappointing son, Helian Qi. As soon as he saw how he was, he understood almost everything, and knew that the majority of what Jiang Zheng had said was true. Half of his heart went cold, his qi and blood billowing; he wished that he could push his son back into his mother’s womb and act like he had never been born.
In the blink of an eye, he then noticed that Jiang Zheng and the rest were kneeling, but with extraordinarily straight backs and almighty, motionless expressions. The old Emperor got another idea, coldly thinking: Ah, okay. Today, they compel us to punish a Scion, so tomorrow, they’ll compel us to vacate this throne, yes? Great!
He was silent for a long time before he managed to steady his voice. Knowing that this matter necessitated an explanation, he thus had to stifle his anger. “Come, arrest unfilial son Helian Qi,” he forced out. “We decree… that the Imperial Clan Court investigate.”
Today’s morning Court was swiftly over. After Helian Pei finished speaking, he appeared disinclined to look much at anyone else. Every time he announced that he was withdrawing from Court, he would get up and leave in stride; when he stood up now, his body uncontrollably swayed. Luckily, Eunuch Xi acted quickly and held him up, disallowing the Dynasty’s Son of Heaven from prostrating himself on the ground.
Helian Zhao viewed Helian Yi from a distance, bowed to him compliantly — his intention unclear — and then turned and left. Jing Qi stood to the side, pensive. Helian Yi lightly grabbed him. “We’ll go to your place.”
Their group exited the palace quietly. Jing Qi and Helian Yi were respectively taciturn. Lu Shen was some amount of apprehensive. Only He Yunxing was in the midst of jumping up and down with passion, having quite an air of a newborn calf that wasn’t afraid of tigers, and also wanted the world to burn. It wasn’t until Jing Qi’s head hurt from his hubbub that the former sighed. “Junior Marquis, could you not for a while?”
Only then did He Yunxing realize that he was the only one present that was blindly pumped up. He couldn’t help but be a bit embarrassed, after which he felt it was wrong to be, and thus spoke in full confidence. “You all saw how Helian Qi looked today, too. I think even the Emperor mostly believes it. One who sins cannot live, and he went walking at night too much, finally bumping into an old hanged ghost like Sir Jiang. Isn’t that a good thing?”
Jing Qi glanced at him, very sensibly electing to shut up.
Seeing as absolutely no one was paying him mind, He Yunxing blinked, then thought hard about it for a good spell, followed by him slapping his thigh in enlightenment. “You’re all worried for Sir Jiang, right? As I see it, he hasn’t said a word into people’s ears for so many years, and wouldn’t make life hard for the Emperor over anything trifling just to get arrested then chastised by him. Besides, Helian Qi provoked the anger of the crowd this time around, lots of gentlemen accused him of misconduct, and the Emperor is angry. Can he still deal with so many of them together?”
Helian Yi turned a deaf ear to him, wholly pretending someone like him didn’t exist. Arriving at the Prince Estate, he asked Jing Qi, “In your regard, what is the most serious result of this?”
Jing Qi brought them to sit in the study. At this moment, Ping An snuck over to speak into his ear. “Young Master Zhou has come. The Shamanet is also here, and this servant took him to the garden.”
“Bring Young Master Zhou in,” Jing Qi ordered in a low voice. “The Shamanet… let him entertain himself for now…”
Ping An accepted his orders and left. Jing Qi returned to Helian Yi’s question, muttering out, “Stopping free speech is worse than stopping flowing waters, but faithful advice is ultimately grating on the ear… and those that listen to it are rare. I’m afraid that, since the Emperor has been bitten by a snake, he will overcompensate for it in the future, then truly refuse to be lenient.”
He paused there, and in that moment, even He Yunxing understood his meaning — the Emperor disliked censors to begin with, so, in the case that he was shamed to anger after going through this, there might no longer be speaking censors in Court in the future.
He Yunxing was taken aback. “That… can’t be, right?”
No one said anything, including Zhou Zishu who had just come in, as each of them were ruminating on Jing Qi’s hypothesis. They all knew that this wasn’t an impossibility. Anyone else wouldn’t have done it, but that didn’t mean that their long-lived lord that sealed a bird as a Great General wouldn’t.
A long white later, Helian Yi sighed. “A step forward is a step forward, I guess…”
“This is exceedingly treacherous to Helian Qi,” Jing Qi picked up, “but it isn’t without a route of survival.”
Zhou Zishu was shocked. “Where are you going with this, Prince?”
Jing Qi unconsciously rapped on the table as he carefully explained to him, his enunciation very slow. “Zishu, do you understand what it means to ‘open one side of the net’ when allegedly doing things?”
A person as intelligent as Zhou Zishu went mute for short moment, promptly after which he got a grasp on it — the ‘net’ that came out of his mouth naturally wasn’t referring to nonsense like ‘the Heavens cherishing life’ or whatever, but the particularly-chosen military tactic of ‘a cornered enemy cannot be pressed; the surrounding army must leave an out.’ If an opponent was placed in a mortal position, they would inevitably resist in a desperate struggle. When the time came, it would certainly be easy to sink their boats and make them fight with their backs to the water, but the losses would instead outweigh the gains, as it was also easy for the opponent to go in for making a destructive last stand.
For instance, Helian Qi presently looked absolutely horrible, but the fact that the previously-mentioned long-lived lord, His Majesty, suffered his face getting thrown away in Court couldn’t be forgotten, and the main culprit behind that was Helian Qi. Were the Emperor slated to hate Jiang Zheng to the bone, then, for his second son that had done something like this, his spot of father-son affection was likely also in approaching peril.
If the higher officials compelled him too urgently, however, the Emperor would have quite a sense of crisis, and a sense of crisis related to authority was deadlier than anything else. If his heart flipped over completely, and then he looked at his son’s current sorry state, he likely would not only not spurn him, but also have a subtle feeling of sympathy.
Lu Shen couldn’t resist looking at Helian Yi, who was mumbling to himself, and mentally prostrated all the more towards the Crown Prince; he had come to see through this layer in such a short period of time, then made the prompt decision to stand by Helian Qi, irrespective of right and wrong or black and white. He thereupon opened his mouth to ask, “Your Highness, what should we do now?”
Helian Yi didn’t answer at first, instead asking Jing Qi, “Beiyuan, what do you think?”
Not waiting to formulate a proper response, Jing Qi subconsciously kicked the ball back to him. “This will entirely rely on your decision, Your Highness.”
Helian Yi glared at him. “You’re still a sneaky little… Shenru, send a manifest up tomorrow—“
Upon calling Lu Shen over, he debriefed such and such to him once through.
Once he understood, Lu Shen instantly took his orders and left with He Yunxing, going back to draft a manifest.
Helian Yi sat for a moment. Noticing that Jing Qi and Zhou Zishu both looked to be absent-minded, he also thought that this was boring, and hence remembered that it was still the middle of fasting months. Were he to leave the palace for too long at this critical juncture, it would be easy for people to denounce him, so he brought his guards back with him to the East Palace.
Prior to his departure, he cast Zhou Zishu a glance, who immediately understood, said goodbye to Jing Qi, then caught up with him. Once out of the Prince Estate, Helian Yi gave him a hushed order. “I had him send a manifest up for the purpose of safeguarding Old Jiang. For so many years, there hasn’t been many people that can handle things practically.”
Jiang Zheng had never before mixed in with the business of wresting power from the legitimate son, not relying on several sides. Not understanding what he was going to say, Zhou Zishu had no choice but to nod.
Helian Yi suppressed his voice even lower. “However, if it’s no use, and we’ve exhausted our human resources, then we still need to obey the mandate of heaven…”
He paused, tilting his head to look at Zhou Zishu. Helian Yi didn’t resemble an heir apparent at all, as he looked not awe-inspiring, but bookwormish, cultured, and refined, always having a bit of a smile that made one feel like they were cleansed in a spring wind — but the look in his eyes made Zhou Zishu feel a chill in his heart. “If it’s no use,” he heard him continue, “the blame of slaughtering a loyal subject needs to be carried on Father Emperor’s behalf by my filial second brother.”
Zhou Zishu knew what he meant. “This subordinate understands,” he quietly responded.
They said nothing the whole road.
The incense stick in the Prince Estate’s study noiselessly burned, visibly shortening piece by piece. Jing Qi reclined against the chair, eyes slightly closed and fingers still rapping against the table unconsciously. He could nearly envision what Helian Yi would say to Zhou Zishu in the middle of their journey. Others wouldn’t have heard it, but he understood. The order Helian Yi gave Lu Shen was, on the surface, trying hard to protect Jiang Zheng, yet he knew the reality thoroughly; no one could protect Sir Jiang this time around…
Looked like the Crown Prince had already set his plan. Since Sir Jiang insisted on showing loyalty to the nation to his very end, he would make the fullest use of that.
He was in the middle of being lost in thought. Once he wasn’t paying attention, he suddenly felt two fingers lightly press on his temples. Jumping in fright, he opened his eyes, only to find out that Wu Xi had come in to silently stand behind him at some unknown point in time, and was now rubbing his temples.
Jing Qi felt somewhat ill at ease, thereupon giving him a glossing-over smile. “When did you come in? Why do you make no sound, like a cat?”
Wu Xi hushed him. “Don’t move.”
He rapidly reached out to push him to stop, then massaged several spots on his temples.
Jing Qi hissed, feeling that the areas he pressed on seemed to have a force that was boring into his body, unendingly sore and numb. He went to dodge it, but was held firmly down by Wu Xi. “Focus. Remember what I say.”
Immediately after that, he started to recite a set of simple mantras. Jing Qi had also practiced some amount of martial arts, so, once he heard them, he knew that this set was for arts of exercising qi and resting, and thought it quite novel. Following along his mantra plus the strength of the acupoint massage, he opened his eyes not long after, yet his whole body felt awfully comfortable, more so than if he had woken up from a nap.
Only then did Wu Xi release him, the remnant, crisp fragrance from Jing Qi’s clothes seeming to be on his fingers. The grandeur he had just now from scrupulously giving a lesson suddenly vanished like smoke. Inexplicably getting the feeling that he had taken a small advantage of the other, then fearing that Jing Qi would harbor a grudge, he gave him an explanation while slightly blushing with shame. “You… were thinking too hard. Your qi and blood stagnated. I was just alleviating it for you…”
That pure-hearted, cautious look of his abruptly amused the Prince, whose mind had been in an abominable mess a moment ago. Jing Qi wasn’t sure why, but he couldn’t resist laughing. He’d been extremely good-looking to start with, though his jaw was a bit pointed, he always looked a little thin, and the color of his lips was meagre, which made his appearance seem ill-starred. In this moment, as he laughed, both his eyes and brows curved, and there was a bit more flush to his cheeks.
Wu Xi was right at the age of being young and spirited. Watching him blankly, his brain was an out-of-control mess, and he thought obsessively: He really does look good. What if, in the future, a lot of people like him, and he refuses to leave with me? Then… then I’ll knock him out, tie him up, and bring him back. Once past the miasmatic forest, not even any birds can fly away. I’ll see where he can run to, then.
The translator says: Alright, well, don’t actually do that, buddy.