"Oh, I see. Then it’s fine," the emperor said lightly. He had brought the topic to such attention, and he had now put it back to rest just as simply..
The other officials initially feared that Director Chen had fallen out of favor of the emperor. But after later developments, they understood the reason for Chen Pingping’s lateness and the fact His Majesty was trying to clear the department. However, at the mention of Si Lili, the officials were shocked; it was their first time hearing about an abduction attempt on an escorted prisoner. Perhaps there really was someone in the Imperial court collaborating with Northern Qi to inflict chaos onto the political system.
"Put Si Lili aside for now and focus on solving the case of the prime minister’s son first." the emperor stared at Chen Pingping coldly.
Cheng Pingping stretched his body. He took a look at Lin Ruofu, before smiling in reply, "Those two cases… are actually one and the same."
"How so?" Not only the emperor, but all the other officials became intrigued by what Director Chen just said. Only Lin Ruofu thought of something and appeared uneasy.
"The prime minister had just lost his son, and so there is something that would be inappropriate to say now. But I also wouldn’t dare hide anything from Your Majesty, so please pardon my insolence."
The emperor frowned. "Speak."
Clenching his dried-out hand into a fist, Chen Pingping raised it to his mouth and coughed, as if to get rid of all the phlegm from his lungs. Finishing, he said, "When the second son was killed, he was with Wu Bo’an."
"And who is this Wu Boan? Be clear."
Wu Bo’an was quite well-known among the political circles in the capital. The officials present all heard of him. However, they always thought he only hung around the crown prince and the second prince; for him to be with the son of the prime minister had been unexpected. They started to get worried. After all, everyone here were civil officials; if that rabid dog Cheng Pingping exposed something, it would be a blow to all of their dignity.
Lin Ruofu still sat on the round stool. His eyes were still red, but otherwise he didn’t look worried.
"During the current investigation, Si Lili confessed that the one conspiring with Northern Qi was none other than Wu Bo’an. The one who let the archers into the capital was the leader of the city patrol, Fang Daren. The raiders we encountered outside Cangzhou City were led by a subordinate of Fang Daren’s distant cousin Fang Xiu… from the look of this, Wu Bo’an was the planner, while Fang Xiu and Fang Daren carried out the plan. As for why the bodies of the archers were cremated with such haste, that remains a mystery.
"What are you trying to say."
"Nothing else other than curiosity as to why the prime minister’s second son would meet up with the main culprit of the Fan Xian assassination case at the manor beneath the mountains."
The other officials gasped upon hearing this. Guo Youzhi, the director of the Board of Rites, was the first to speak on the prime minister’s behalf, "More like that Si Lili couldn’t handle torture and threw out a name as a scapegoat, even if Wo Bo’an was connected with the previous case." Turning to the emperor, he said, "Please forgive my act of impulse. I genuinely do not believe it was suspicious in the slightest for the second son to be with Wu Bo’an. After all, Wu Bo’an was a high-achieving scholar from twenty years ago with many connections in the capital. For Director Chen to make such baseless accusations despite the prime minister’s pain is too… unbearable! Unbearable!"
Lin Ruofu stood up and bowed to His Majesty. He spoke in a pained voice, "My son was not the most-disciplined and unpredictable. But to accuse him of anything traitorous, I refuse to believe it no matter what." He then added, "I have met that Wu Bo’an. He was indeed a man of talents. I traveled with him before to visit the various sights of the capital. Should he have a mortal enemy, wouldn’t I too be likely targeted?"
"Indeed." Another official shook his head. "I too have met him. The man appeared proper and formal. If he really turns out to be an absolute scoundrel, why would it concern the second son? Director Chen should be more mindful about his words."
Lin Ruofu was suddenly moved. "Should I have any connections with this incident, may I be damned! Damned!" Seeing the prime minister make such a serious statement, the officials knelt together. Seeing them, the emperor gave Chen Pingping a look, his eyes showing his amusement. Suddenly, His Majesty’s expression turned icy. He gave the officials the permission to rise and said, "Chen Pingping had already asked for pardon. Furthermore, he’s not yet finished. Please allow him to continue."
Chen Pingping had always dominated the Imperial court alone, while the other officials huddled together. Chen Pingping glanced at Lin Ruofu and said, "I beg your pardon, prime minister. I merely don’t understand. The Overwatch Council could not find Wu Bo’an after days of searching, but your son was able to chat with him over alcohol. It’s natural to want to know what’s going on."
"Regardless, we don’t know if Wu Bo’an is the main culprit at the moment. Perhaps he made plans to go to the mountains to sightsee with the second son. Chen Pingping, put the matter aside for now." The emperor suddenly stopped Chen Pingping’s explanation.
Seeing His Majesty taking their side, the other officials breathed a sigh of relief. But Lin Ruofu was hit by the last sentence and felt a chill. He knew His Majesty was warning him not to exaggerate the matter.
This was a trade which both sides were aware of. Lin Ruofu believed in Yuan Hongdao’s judgement. Gong’er’s death should be unrelated to the Fan household. He fell silent as he accepted the facts. If the Overwatch Council really do investigate along the current trail, his position as the prime minister would be at grave risk.
"You said the two cases are actually one; what did you mean?"
Chen Pingping looked at his colleagues mercilessly. In response to his venomous gaze, the officials uncomfortably cleared their throats. Director Chen said quietly, "During the autopsy for both cases, the victims’ wounds all suggest that the killer was a practitioner of Sigu sword style. That was the reason why I suspect the two cases are connected."
Hearing those three words, even the officials without any knowledge of martial arts shuddered. That would explain how a single killer was able to kill over ten highly-skilled bodyguards without causing a commotion, not to mention killing every one of them with a single strike. Only Lin Ruofu’s expression remained unchanged, as if he knew from the beginning.
"Eh?" the emperor frowned. While the Four Great Grandmasters still weren’t something worth his concern, they were still the strongest martial artists. To the prestige of the Imperial court, they were intolerable existences.
"Among the assassins sent to kill Fan Xian, the two females, according to Council records, should be disciples of the Sigu sword school in Dongyi City. Months ago, it was reported that Sigu sword style is not in Dongyi City. I suspect that sword freak has come to Qing."
The emperor slowly closed his eyes. "Why didn’t he go after the Fan child, but Wu… Boan instead?"
"Everyone knew that Sigu Sword was obsessed. His disciples were killed in a counterattack, and he would most likely admire the opponent instead of holding a grudge. But someone like him would also despise underhanded tactics and forbid his disciples from taking part in political struggles. Maybe Wu Bo’an managed to bribe those two female assassins. I’m afraid that Sigu only sees Wu Bo’an as the one responsible for the deaths of his disciples."
There wasn’t even the slightest change in Chen Pingping’s expression as he lied.
A long time later, the dignified voice of the emperor could be heard reverberating throughout the room. "It will be done as thus: demote Yi Mei for a year; have the Overwatch Council go investigate the patrol division and relieve Jiao Ziheng’s of duty. The ministry of justice will continue to work on the two cases. Afterwards, have Dongyi City hand over the culprit."
After declaring so, the emperor offered some words of consolation to Lin Ruofu and left the room.
After the other officials withdrew, Chen Pingping had a palace girl push him in his wheelchair to the deeper parts of the palace. The palace people were used to seeing this; they never even imagined receiving the same privilege. That was also the reason why they grouped together to oppose the authority of the Overwatch Council, which also meant they were opposing the authority of the emperor himself. This seemed to be deeply imprinted in the minds of various officials since the day Qing was founded.
Some of the officials even wondered if it was because that rabid dog Chen Pingping received His Majesty’s trust due to being paralyzed and without an heir.
Deep inside the palace complex, there were no servants around, only the emperor and Chen Pingping sitting across from each other.
The emperor raised his teacup and took a sip. As if unhappy with the temperature, he smashed the teacup to pieces before Chen Pingping’s wheelchair. The tea splashed onto Chen Pingping’s pants; after all, the man cannot move his legs. Unlike previously, the emperor’s voice was exceptionally icy and crushing. "Sigu sword style? Don’t you think you are being a bit too absurd?"
Chen Pingping pretended not to notice what just happened, still smiling. He answered respectfully, "I dare not fool Your Majesty. The wounds point to Sigu sword style. The entire Council and the ministry agree."
The emperor gave a slight smile. Suddenly, his eyes flashed. "Is Old Wu in the capital?"
Chen Pingping slowly raised his head. He opened his mouth but didn’t speak until moments later. "Correct, Sir Wu is currently in the capital."
As if tired, the emperor massaged his eyebrows. "How much more are you hiding from me?" His Majesty then sighed, "Forget it. But, if you dare to hide things from me, then you must be able to hide it from the world. Let none of them discover Old Wu’s existence."