Chapter 255: Truth reversed
The military barracks soldiers still hadn't shown up at the palace gates two hours later, but Grand Preceptor Xie still managed to comfort Elder Li with the words that transferring troops took time. But when there was still no sign of the soldiers four hours later, Grand Preceptor Xie lost any words of comfort for either of them. Something must have gone wrong.
"Go to the barracks and take a look," Grand Preceptor Xie ordered one of his guards. "You must make sure to find Chen Lu."
The guard obeyed and left on horseback.
Shadowbolt entered the watchtower and leaned down by Lou Zigui to whispered, "The Lord Protector's messenger came to report. Chen Lu was rescued by four masked men in the Wenjia Lane."
Lou Zigui turned to look at him.
"The Wenjia Lane is located off Wufu Street, close to the main military barracks of the capital," Shadowbolt added hastily.
"Where does this lane lead to?" Lou Zigui asked.
"Many different places," Shadowbolt shook his head. "I've never been there, so I'm not very clear."
"Map," Lou Zigui said simply.
A Black Frost Cavalry general quickly took out a map of the city streets and spread it out for Lou Zigui on the table.
"There's Wenjia Lane," Shadowbolt pointed at the spot.
Lou Zigui stared at the maze of lines on the map and furrowed his brows. "All of these alleyways are interconnected," the general on his right said softly. "If we want to track someone down, we'll have to sweep the entire area."
"That's almost the entire southern region of the capital," another general fretted. "How many men can we spare right now?"
Lou Zigui's mind wasn't on capturing Chen Lu anymore. He asked Shadowbolt, "Did the Lord Protector's messenger say anything about the identity of those four men?"
Shadowbolt shook his head.
"They must be skilled, to wrest a man from the Lord Protector's hands," one of Lou Zigui's generals remarked.
"Supreme Commander, what are your orders?" Shadowbolt asked.
Who would be able to know of Chen Lu's ambush ahead of time? Lou Zigui stared at the map in thought. Which person in the city would want to save Chen Lu's life? Moreover, to have the skills to perform a successful rescue? Lou Zigui's finger moved over the map before he suddenly came to a stop. His heart gave a thus. If it was Xie Wenyuan who rescued Chen Lu, then…
"Supreme Commander?" Shadowbolt asked again.
"Go call in that messenger," Lou Zigui replied. "I want to question him personally."
Shadowbolt muttered an assent and soon brought in the guard from the Lord Protector's side. He was a little nervous in front of Lou Zigui and tried to go down on his knees.
"No need for formalities," Lou Zigui waved a hand at him. "Was Chen Lu injured?"
The guard nodded. "Yes, and quite seriously. He was struck with three arrows and a cut from my master's sword across his right shoulder."
"And his guards?" Lou Zigui asked.
The messenger replied, "All of Chen Lu's guards were shot by arrows. Six of them died, but the three still living were taken on my master's orders to the Nine Gates Infantry Commander's estate. This one saw that two of them were seriously injured, they probably won't last past the night."
"Before you released the arrows, did Chen Lu take any precautions?" Lou Zigui asked.
The messenger thought back before replying, "No. If he did, Great General Chen should have avoided them, right?"
"Tell me everything that happened back then," Lou Zigui requested.
Both the two Black Frost Cavalry generals and the fourth commander of the Dragon Guards were at a loss to Lou Zigui's methods. Why was he asking about so many details? Could it be that Chen Lu had gotten injured on purpose? Or did Lou Zigui suspect that the Lord Protector had let him go on purpose? But that was impossible, ah.
The messenger explained how Chen Lu was injured and escaped to the narrow alleyway, then how the four masked men had saved him, all in fine detail.
"It doesn't seem like Chen Lu prepared for this ahead of time," one of the generals remarked.
It certainly doesn't, Lou Zigui mused as his fingers ran over the map again. If Xie Wenyuan was expecting this move from us, why wouldn't he remind Chen Lu to be careful before he left? Or is rescuing Great General Chen in his moment of peril supposed to strengthen his loyalty to Xie Wenyuan? Lou Zigui shook his head again. There's no need for Xie Wenyuan to bestow any more favors to Chen Lu. The man's already offended His Majesty, so his only way out is to follow Xie Wenyuan. Why would Xie Wenyuan take any extra pains for his sake?
If Xie Wenyuan was planning in advance against my moves, then that old slippery fox could simply seize the chance to send men against the Lord Protector. Lou Zigui knit his brows. Something's wrong.
"Supreme Commander," the two Black Frost generals grew tense at their commander's strange expression.
When Lou Zigui looked up again, his face had already returned to normal. He smiled at the anxious messenger and said, "Go back and tell your master that I understand now. Forget about catching Chen Lu, it's more important to bring the military barracks under our control."
The messenger obeyed and looked at Lou Zigui before daring to ask, "Supreme Commander, what if Chen Lu doubles back to the military barracks?"
"He's severely injured," Lou Zigui said slowly, "For now, he won't show up again. Your master will have nothing to fear if he gets the barracks under his command by the time Chen Lu reappears."
Hearing this, the messenger grew at ease and bowed before withdrawing.
"Supreme Commander, has something happened?" one of Lou Zigui's generals asked once he was gone.
"Nothing," Lou Zigui waved at them before looking at the open window by his side. The scene beneath him was as clear as day. Because he fell silent, Shadowbolt withdrew as well. The two generals tried to ask more questions, but Lou Zigui only stared out the window. In the end, they shut up and realized now wasn't the time to talk.
It could only have been Xie Wenyuan who sent the rescuers after Chen Lu. Lou Zigui made flying calculations in his head. If Xie Wenyuan could guess that I wanted Chen Lu dead, then he should already guess that I don't fear him transferring his troops to the capital or meeting him in battle. What does this mean? Lou Zigui's hand on the map shook. This means that Xie Wenyuan already knows that the Black Frost Cavalry is coming.
But Chen Lu's rescuers hadn't seized the chance to kill the Lord Protector, which meant that Xie Wenyuan didn't want to cause a commotion with his plans. What did that mean? He knows my Black Frost Cavalry is coming, but he's mystifying things on purpose to raise my suspicions against his knowledge. This way, he can upset my plans? But what advantages does that give Xie Wenyuan?
He sat down to think deeper on the subject. Suppose it isn't Xie Wenyuan trying to blindside me at all? If anything changes with the Black Frost Cavalry's plans to infiltrate the capital and stop those 5,000 men from entering the capital, it would be simple enough for Xie Wenyuan to transfer his troops and kill everyone in the Lord Protector's estate. Why should he be in a hurry to kill the Lord Protector now? So in that case, did he decided to prioritize Chen Lu's life first?
Lou Zigui's breathing hitched as he broke out into cold sweat beneath the summer sun.
Xiaoyao is a girl.
By now, the entire capital knows that His Majesty's passed away after the empress shouted about the assassin. Even if Xiaoyao re-appears unharmed in the public eye again, Xie Wenyuan could expose her gender to the world. What would be better than this to prove that Ning Yu was already 'dead,' and Xiaoyao was just a fake replacement? Even if the empress dowager speaks up, she'll simply be accused of trying to favor a fake emperor just to preserve her own life if her baby son takes the throne.
And if people question why I, Lou Zigui, would be so idiotic to put a girl on the throne, Xie Wenyuan could simply point at Xiaoyao's face and said I used her looks to do something of the highest treason.
In the end…
Lou Zigui slowly spread open his hand and pressed it against the map. Xie Wenyuan can even accuse me and Xiaoyao of stealing the throne and killing the original emperor?
The whole situation seemed preposterous, but Lou Zigui was in no mood to laugh. He had forced himself and Xiaoyao onto a dead end. When he realized this fact, his first thought was to get her out of the city as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the guard that had ridden off to search for Chen Lu had returned to kneel at Grand Preceptor Xie's feet.
"Grand Preceptor, bad news! Great Genearl Chen was ambushed at the Wufu intersection and has currently gone missing. The military—the military barracks have fallen into the L-Lord Protector's hands."
Grand Preceptor Xie grew alarmed.
Elder Li asked sternly, "Is this true?"
"This one dare not speak nonsense," the guard muttered back.
"Without Lou Zigui, how could the Lord Protector have possibly caught His Majesty's eye?" Grand Preceptor Xie told Elder Li, who gave a start.
He countered, "But there are many subordinates of Chen Lu within the barracks. How could Pei Yi have taken over within such a short amount of time?"
Grand Preceptor Xie's face was grave. "Did Elder forget? The Lord Protector's former subordinates were all summoned to the capital. They aren't kindly types at all."
Elder Li felt absolutely helpless at those words.
"This old man wants to transfer troops to the capital," Grand Preceptor Xie said. "Otherwise, we won't only lose the chance to see His Majesty, but probably see this entire capital be named after the Lou instead."
Elder Li's body swayed as he looked speechlessly at Grand Preceptor Xie.
"Just waiting here won't yield us any results," Grand Preceptor Xie said before he turned to get on his sedan chair. His eight men picked it up and 20 or so attendants swarmed around him as the whole ensemble left the palace gates.
"Xie Wenyuan has left," a general reported to Lou Zigui from the watchtower.
Lou Zigui had been sitting there unmoving for half a day now. His low hn could be counted as an answer before he finally said, "Call over Fifth Song."
The general didn't dare ask questions and went to do as he was told. He went downstairs and into Supreme Splendor Hall to find Song Jin's fifth brother, Song Xu. Soon enough, the man was standing in front of Lou Zigui.
"The rest of you withdraw," Lou Zigui told his two generals, who quickly left the room.
Song Xu bowed towards Lou Zigui, looking natural and at ease rather than conscience-stricken. Lou Zigui gestured for him to sit and said, "How are your wounds doing?"
Song Xu smiled. "Many thanks to Supreme Commander for your care. I only obtained some minor injuries on the road and I'm alright now."
Lou Zigui nodded. Song Xu and Song Jin were both born from the same mother and looked very similar. But this fifth young master of the Song Clan was too weakly to do any martial arts, so instead of entering the army, he went to become a tutor for the rest of his brothers. Since he and Song Jin were brothers by blood, they got along very well. Lou Zigui had finally figured out his own unfavorable plight, but still couldn't figure out what excuses Song Xu had to betray him.