“Do you guys remember the day they were investigating the incense?” Ling Miaomiao crunched the peanut between her teeth, “Guo Xiu, Lu Jiu and Imperial Physician Song were all at the scene. Amongst them, Imperial Physician Song’s performance was rather normal in comparison to Lu Jiu, who seemed to be completely ignorant of everything. If we were to say that he was scared of becoming involved in power struggles, then we could understand the matter of hiding the bone ash. But what about the hallucinatory additions to the incense? How could an incense master possibly miss the addition of hallucinatory herbs in the incense? Moreover, even if he didn’t say anything, Imperial Physician Song would immediately discover it right after him. Sooner or later, the truth would’ve come out into the open so why didn’t he just say it out?”
Mu Yao’s gaze immediately changed: “He reminded me before that the matters hidden under the surface were very complicated. That it was not advisable to dig deep into them. He looked like someone who was easily scared, someone without any guts. But now, from the looks of it, there was truly something off about Lu Jiu’s performance that day…”
Liu Fuyi had been listening with rapt attention and suddenly opened his mouth now: “He wasn’t scared. He was afraid of the consequences. He couldn’t say the things that Imperial Physician Song could say. Was he afraid of something retaliating?”
Mu Sheng had just nailed the guess on its head. They all spoke up in unison: “Guo Xiu?”
“That goddamn Lu Jiu! Get your ass out here!”
A troop of people came out of the eastern side of the street, rushing over like a high tide. Then, they spread out with experience. The ten black clothed Imperial Guards carried blades on their waists as they surrounded the two floor high Zhixiang Store in the blink of an eye.
The one standing in front of all of them, stocky and strong like a tiger, was Guo Xiu. He stood in the middle of the encirclement as he shouted out profanities.
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“Fs xydu Rxrlakyz Qwyaep…”
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This wait lasted an hour.
In the end, a thin, small manservant came down from the building, nodding acquiescingly and fawningly: “Sir, may I ask who you are…”
He had only spoken half of his words when Guo Xiu grabbed his collar and lifted him off the ground with his eyes as wide and fierce looking as a bull: “Where is Lu Jiu?”
The small manservant’s collar was pulled out of place and his entire person shook terribly, trying to shrink into a curl: “Lu……Lu….. Boss Lu…. Is…. On…. second floor…..”
“Hah! How arrogant!” Guo Xiu furiously looked over at the calm and unmoving window on the second floor. His clenched fist let out cracking sounds and when this small framed manservant looked like he was about to become a punching bag, a call suddenly appeared from behind him: “Sir Guo came here with such fanfare, please excuse this Lu for not coming out to greet you.”
The little manservant had been tossed onto the ground. He was rubbing his shoulder while crawling away on the ground. Before he ran off, he looked very worriedly at the person who had come.
Lu Jiu waved his hand at him, indicating that he would be alright as he walked over to them.
His face was pale and he had grown even thinner. His cheekbones seemed extra pronounced. Even under the hot summer sun, he wore a long white robe while donning a faint smile on his face.
Guo Xiu squinted at him: “Surnamed Lu, I’ve looked down on you too much. I thought you were merely a rabbit at first. I never would’ve thought that you could bite.”
The small smile on Lu Jiu’s lips didn’t fade in the slightest: “If Assistant Minister Guo says I’m a rabbit I’m a rabbit then. This Lu is merely a coarse merchant. How could I understand your words?”
The two of them were chatting within the encirclement of dark-clothed Imperial Guards. Guo Xiu’s face was far from friendly. It looked like a black cloud pressing down on them. Lu Jiu’s appearance was equivocally unperturbed. He even reached out with his fingers to caress the corners of his clothes.
The guesses and whispering of the onlookers immediately collated in the blink of an eye.
“Stop trying to play dumb in front of me! Speak! Were you the one to add those ‘materials’ into this bundle of incense?”
Lu Jiu raised his head in shock. His expression looked innocent as he spoke: “This Lu is merely a commoner. Naturally, anything sir asks of me I have to listen to.”
“You….” Guo Xiu’s face turned dark red from holding in his anger. After managing to hold down his anger a long time later, he lowered his voice: “My paternal aunt felt ill at ease and thus went to worship Buddha and burn incense. I was doing it all for them! I wanted you to add some herbs that could help one calm down and fall asleep easier! Why did you add hallucinatory herbs?!”
Lu Jiu smiled at him without saying a single word. The crows feet at the far ends of his eyes seemed just like blade scars.
Guo Xiu was completely and utterly infuriated. He pulled fiercely on Lu Jiu’s collar and forcefully stared into his eyes with his blood shot eyes: “You already knew that there was the bone ash of dead people in there. Why didn’t you say anything? Did you want to secretly harm me? Hah?!”
“Being in charge of the incense for worshipping Buddha was the juiciest job Guo Xiu had landed himself in. On one hand, he wanted to lower the manufacturing costs and swipe some ill-gotten gains for himself, but on the other hand, he didn’t want to lose this wonderful opportunity the Dowager Consort had given him. Because of this, he acquired that batch of incense from Li Zhun in Jingyang Slope at a low price. After that, feeling insecure, he very likely would look for someone knowledgeable to reassure himself. Even if it required extra work to deal with it and increase the quality. In order to protect this secret, this person he sought out naturally couldn’t be from the palace but also had to be experienced and professional enough. I think, in all likelihood, he found the Incense Master Lu Jiu.”
Mu Yao immediately frowned: “Lu Jiu… he knew from way back that this batch of incense had problems with it….”
“Not just that.” Miaomiao slowly swept her gaze over them as lightly as a feather. “It might not necessarily be wrong. After all, he added the hallucinogens into the incense with his own hands.”
Liu Fuyi’s expression turned very serious as he tossed out a few coins as a tip: “Let’s move out now. We have overlooked the relation between Lu Jiu and this matter.”
”Pa—–” Lu Jiu forcefully slapped away Guo Xiu’s hand and took a few steps back. Under the other’s furious glare, he slowly soothed and placated his collar that had been pulled out of place: “Sir, rather than causing a great fuss out here in the open, why don’t you go pay more care to the apple of Dowager Consort Zhao’s eyes?”
Guo Xiu looked at him incredulously: “What are you saying?”
Lu Jiu looked at him and faintly smiled. This smile of his was a rather indisposed one as a sharp sneer that had never appeared before on his face surfaced on his usually polite and thin face: “Well I’ll be. Something happened to Princess Diji— Congratulations sir, you’re the first in the entire palace to learn of this.”
Princess Duanyang was missing.
When the main leads had turned around lacking information they came across Guo Xiu; He was galloping back at full speed, as if there was a fire on his butt.
Upon seeing Liu Fuyi and Mu Yao, he looked as if he saw his own beloved mother and father. As if he had seen his savior, he unceremoniously rolled down from the back of the horse. His massive frame landing on the ground caused a great cloud of dust to fly into the air and Miaomiao subconsciously took a few steps back.
Guo Xiu crawled over to the main leads in just a few moments. His hair was in a mess and his clothes were soaked with sweat. He completely disregarded his own face as he wailed like a ghost: “Exorcist Liu, Exorcist Mu! I beg of you all to save the princess! This lowly person…. This lowly person really has no way to solve this!”
Fengyang Palace was a blessing on the eyes with beautiful gardens, plants and nature. It was calm, without the slightest omen for anything that had happened.
When Princess Diji woke up from her afternoon nap, she dressed and groomed herself. She put on the tribute from Jiangnan: wide sleeved iridescent silk, before leaving the Fengyang Palace in high spirits. After that, she evaporated like mist, disappearing from the massive palace.
“That Lu Jiu made me take it. Even after I used all kinds of methods, he wouldn’t spit out a single word. He… he is purposely making it difficult for the imperial family! This lowly person originally wanted to go make a report to her highness Dowager Consort Zhao but who would’ve thought that His Majesty and Dowager Consort Zhao would be in Liuyue Palace talking?
It was clear to see that Guo Xiu was truly anxious at the moment.
He had previously bought a batch of incense at low-cost and then Lu Jiu played some tricks behind his back. Who would’ve known that this business partner that he had found was someone with a hidden agenda, causing a huge mess within the palace walls…
If something untoward were to happen to the princess this time, punishment would fall upon his head. The official career he had gained through familial relations would be completely over. If Dowager Consort Zhao were to take out her anger on him, he might not even have the chance to keep his little life.
No wonder that he was so terrified he still didn’t dare to report to Dowager Consort Zhao. He could only desperately hope that before things were exposed that he could find the person.
Liu Fuyi tightly scrunched up his brows: “Have you carefully checked Fengyang Palace?”
“I have, I have… below the Princess’s dressing table I discovered…” Guo Xiu looked at him, seemingly wanting to say something but hesitated. Then, he took out a yellowish letter from his robes and handed it to Liu Fuyi with his arms trembling.
On the envelope was a single ‘Min’ character, it made one want to slowly open it. Liu Fuyi took out a letter paper from his clothes that still kept some of its dried petal fragrance on it.
The paper was completely empty except for a mottled ‘Yi’ character that seemed to be somewhat fading into brown. It was a clear mocking of the main leads.
Liu Fuyi held the letter tightly. He was infuriated to the point his face turned green. Who was it that had the guts of a leopard to dare use his name and write a love letter to the Princess? If they used this to get her out of the palace and secretly harm her, that would truly be….
”They used special ink. After its period of effectiveness passes, the ink will start to fade away. No one would ever know what was written on the letter.” Mu Yao sneered: “How ridiculously arrogant.”
Guo Xiu looked between them, back and forth, and anxiously spun around like an ant on a hot stove: “Sirs and Madams… can I please ask you all….”
“Go. Capture that maidservant called Peiyu in Fengyang Palace.” Mu Sheng interrupted him. His words were clear and he completely disregarded Guo Xiu’s tear streaked face, “And then go to the prison and inform Lu Jiu.”
Mu Yao and Liu Fuyi looked each other in the eye, nodding to each other with approval.
Mu Yao nodded: “Before, we weren’t completely sure but to be capable of overtly placing this letter on the Princess’s dressing table within the rigidly secure Fengyang Palace could only be people from Fengyang Palace itself. “
Guo Xiu was somewhat hesitant: “But there are many maidservants in Fengyang Palace…”
“Sir Guo. I’m afraid you still don’t understand.” Mu Yao looked at him, “The second time the Princess had a nightmare in Fengyang Palace, I personally checked the Soothing Incense within the hall. The Soothing Incense Peiyu lit up didn’t have any bone ash. Even the hallucinatory material was sprinkled on the outside. It was clear that it was only added in afterwards. Peiyu accused Peiyun before because she was purposely trying to dig a hole for her to fall in.
Liu Fuyi continued: “The Princess had a nightmare that time because someone sprinkled bone ash on her shoulders. Before that, Peiyun had already been punished and sent outside of the room. The maidservants of Fengyang Palace gave evidence of Peiyu helping the Princess dress and also helped massage her shoulders. We have long been suspicious of this little maid. We didn’t mention it before because we didn’t want to scare away the target.”
As Guo Xiu listened to Liu Fuyi speak, his face turned white. His heart was in utter confusion: “A small maid, how could…”
How could she become the centerpiece of this entire affair?
Miaomiao spoke up: “This move of Peiyu was 1: Using the maidservant Peiyun to get near Princess Duanyang’s side to make it easier to entice her. 2: She would sit in the middle of the fire and draw away attention using Peiyun and the hallucinatory herbs. She did this several times with Lu Jiu cooperating on the outside. Did you think that this matter had no relation to Lu Jiu at all?”
With this point becoming clear to Guo Xiu, he suddenly felt as if he had been enlightened, piecing two faces together who originally should have had no relations with one another.
Coincidentally, Lu Jiu had cheekbones, a high bridge on his nose, and thin lips… Peiyu’s malnourished appearance also had high cheekbones, a high nose bridge, and thin lips….
He felt his mind shudder for a moment before he leaped on his horse to turn around. He kicked onto foot into the horses side: “Thank you very much for the reminder! This lowly… lowly person will return and investigate!”
Liu Fuyi sent him off with his eyes, watching until he disappeared into the distance. His face was hard to look at: “They’re taking action so quickly, we’ve already lost the initiative. The last thing we should do is sit around and wait. According to the Princess’s nightmares, the very last place she should’ve gone to is the old temple. The reason these people racked their brains so hard to make the nightmares occur regularly, was it all not so that they could turn the nightmare into reality?”
Mu Yao immediately approved as she pulled Ling Miaomiao over. The four of them got into a tight bundle: “We’ll do this. Liu Fuyi and I will go ahead to the old temple to look for the Princess. To guard against the unexpected, A Sheng you will take Miaomiao with you and wait here for Guo Xiu to finish reporting. Only after hearing all of Lu Jiu’s confession can you move.”
”Sis…” Mu Sheng frowned, “Let me go with you to the old temple. Let Young Noble Liu stay here to accompany Miaomiao.”
“We can’t do that.” Mu Yao crisply rejected him. “The old temple is bound to be filled with many demons and ghosts. We have to depend on Fuyi’s Demon Restraining Pagoda to subdue them. Besides, we need someone to stay here in case Dowager Consort Zhao brings out the jade tablet. A member of the Mu family must accept it with their own hands.”