However, when Baili Jinchuan pushed open the door and saw that there was no one in the room, he gritted his teeth indignantly, and a surge of evil fire suddenly surged from the bottom of his heart. He kicked the flower rack beside the door and flipped it over, roaring in exasperation, "Shen Ninghua! You’re really something."
Baili Junyi had just walked to the edge of the West Sixth Palace when he heard a palace maid’s cry, "Assassins!"
He quickly walked over to the palace maid. "Where are the assassins?"
"They headed towards the Cold Palace."
Baili Junyi leaped towards the Cold Palace. Along the way, there were endless cries of alarm. All the Masters of the various palaces rushed out to see what was going on, and the once deserted Cold Palace became lively.
When Baili Junyi arrived, he found two bodies in black clothes lying on the ground. Baili Jinchuan, whose body was stained with blood, was standing at the entrance of the Cold Palace.
"Second Royal Brother?"
"Hey. When I arrived, I happened to meet these two assassins, and I’ve already executed them on the spot."
Baili Junyi narrowed his eyes and looked at Baili Jinchuan with a cold gaze. "You killed them before interrogating them?"
"I wanted to ask about Ninghua’s whereabouts after subduing them, but when I restrained them, they committed suicide. Many assassins and men of sacrifice are like this. Fifth Brother, you should be clear about this, right?"
The corners of Baili Junyi’s lips curled into a cold smirk. "That’s weird. After that incident, your martial arts were crippled. How did you subdue these two assassins? After all, they were quite capable and skillful because they were able to break into the heavily guarded imperial palace."
Baili Jinchuan’s eyes twitched slightly. "Fifth Brother, what do you mean by that? Yes, I lost my martial arts skills, but I’m not useless. I have no problem subduing two thieves. Are you implying that I have something to do with these assassins?"
Baili Junyi coldly shifted his gaze away. "True blue will never stain. If you’re righteous, you won’t mind answering a few questions, right?" Knowing that he could not get anything out of Baili Jinchuan, Baili Junyi went up to check the corpses of the assassins after he finished speaking. Yet, he could not find any symbolic things.
He stood up, looked at the imperial concubines who followed him here curiously, and thought, "Ninghua, where exactly are you?" The light in his eyes dimmed.
In Chengqian Hall, Baili Qingcang sat on the throne. The womenfolk had already packed up and returned. The hall had also been tidied up and restored to its original appearance. After a long time, the eunuch finally came in to report, "Your Majesty, Royal Prince De and Prefectural Prince Yi are back."
"Summon them in."
"Greetings, Father Emperor."
"Alright, rise. Have you found Ninghua?"
Baili Junyi’s eyes trembled. "No, not yet. However, we found two bodies of assassins that were executed by Second Royal Brother on the spot."
Baili Qingcang looked at Baili Jinchuan. "What happened?"
"Father Emperor, I checked and inquired the imperial concubines in the harem upon your order when I suddenly saw two black shadows heading towards the Cold Palace, so I chased after them. There were two assassins. I subdued them and wanted to hand them over to Father Emperor for interrogation, but they committed suicide right there and then."
Baili Qingcang frowned, and the dignified aura he emitted was intimidating. "They committed suicide?"
A dull and heavy atmosphere spread in the main hall. Everyone stood quietly and held their breath, not daring to make a sound. They were afraid that they would be implicated in this mess. Royal Prince De, Prefectural Prince Yi, Princess Zhaohua… Any one of these three people could cause a turbulent wave in the imperial court, not to mention that the three of them were implicated in this matter.
On the other hand, the Crown Prince, the Third Prince, and the Fourth Prince sat leisurely at the side. Although they looked as if they were on friendly terms with each other, they wanted to kill each other. They looked forward to the Second Prince and Fifth Prince attacking each other. It would be best if both sides were eliminated because it meant that they would have two fewer opponents.
Among them, the Third Prince wanted to see Baili Junyi suffer the most. He had just had a setback at Baili Junyi’s and Shen Ninghua’s place earlier. At this moment, he hoped that Shen Ninghua would be raped. Only then would he be thrilled.
Baili Qingcang took a slight breath and said coldly, "Since they have committed suicide, send their bodies to the Ministry of Justice for further examination. The most important thing now is to find Ninghua quickly!"
Yang Yingxue’s expression was gloomy. She had clearly seen the Second Prince’s people apprehended Shen Ninghua. According to the plan, they should have revealed the news that Shen Ninghua had been raped and forced Prefectural Prince Yi to divorce her. But why did it suddenly become the news of her disappearing? Did something go wrong somewhere? Thinking of this, she couldn’t help but look at the Second Prince. Just then, she met his almost crazy cold eyes. She was shocked, and her forehead was covered with a layer of cold sweat.
Yang Yingxue knew that although Baili Jinchuan wanted to ruin Shen Ninghua’s reputation, if something really happened to Shen Ninghua, she would end miserably. What should she do? What should she do now?
Suddenly, a cry came from the door. "P-Princess Zhaohua?"
What? Princess Zhaohua? Everyone looked at the door and saw Shen Ninghua, who was dressed in a long white dress, walking in slowly. When she entered the door, her dress swayed slightly, like a flower blooming on the ground. She was like a fairy stepping on flowers step by step, so beautiful that it was fascinating.
Baili Junyi called out in a daze, "Ninghua…"
Shen Ninghua looked up and smiled warmly when she saw his nervous appearance. Then, she bowed to Baili Qingcang, "Greetings, Father Emperor. I just came back and found that everyone in the Palace has been looking for me. It’s all my fault. I’m sorry for making you worried, Father Emperor."
"Where did you go just now?"
"I went to the palace gate. Oh, this was what happened. Second Prince’s Side Concubine Yang said that she had a new set of clothes in the carriage that was parked at the palace gate. She asked me to help her fetch her clothes. I suddenly remembered that I also prepared a new set of clothes in my carriage. Although it was not a palace dress, it was better than wearing a dress stained with blood. After all, this was a New Year’s Eve banquet. A bloody dress was the worst omen. Hence, I went out to get changed."
Baili Jinchuan sized Shen Ninghua up and hoped that he could see right into her heart. His men had clearly succeeded in drugging her and bringing her to the Cold Palace. How did she escape?
"Did you go out and change into a new dress?"
Shen Ninghua calmly looked at Baili Jinchuan. "Yes. Why do you ask that, Second Prince? Do you have doubts? When I came back, I felt quite peculiar since all the palace servants were looking at me in a strange way, so I asked them. Only then did I find out that there were rumors that I was kidnapped by a thief. Haha! It’s very funny and amusing. How did the news spread in such a short period of time?"
Baili Qingcang asked, "What did you say? There were rumors in the Palace?"
"Yes, Father Emperor. Moreover, this rumor spread very quickly. If I hadn’t returned in time, I’m afraid that even the people of the capital would have known about it." Shen Ninghua swept her gaze over the people who were sitting. "Fortunately, I rushed here as soon as I heard the rumor, or I would have lost my last bit of reputation."
Baili Junyi cupped his hands in salute and said in a low voice, "Father Emperor, I suspect that someone is targeting me and Ninghua. Otherwise, how could the rumor spread so fast? Moreover, what assassins dared to break into the Palace at this time and died so easily? I suspect that someone is manipulating this."
Baili Jinchuan turned his head. "What did Fifth Brother mean when you said that the assassins died so easily? Are you implying that their death happened quickly or it’s all part of my act?"
"I don’t dare to. I just felt that it was strange. The assassins entered the Palace with great difficulty, but they ran to Xuanhua Hall. When they were discovered, instead of trying to escape from the Palace, they ran in the direction of the Cold Palace, which is located deep in the harem. Why would they do that? Don’t you find it strange?"
A wave of suspicion flashed through Baili Qingcang’s heart. This was right, the assassins’ actions were a bit too strange.
At this time, the Crown Prince stood up. "Father Emperor, there are indeed many questionable points in this matter, but since we can’t find any clues at the moment, why don’t we put it aside for now and focus on the important agenda? It’s better to continue the New Year’s Eve feast first. Moreover, didn’t all the officials just discuss that there will be a New Year’s prayer ceremony tomorrow? There are still many things to prepare, and this has been delayed quite a bit…"
Baili Qingcang nodded. "Crown Prince, you are really thoughtful. This incident will be handed over to the Ministry of Justice to handle. Where is the minister of the Ministry of Rite?"
"I am here." Zhang Yun, the Minister of the Ministry of Rite, stood up.
"Time is of the essence. Let the Ministry of Rite start the preparation immediately. Tomorrow’s prayer ceremony must be prepared accordingly and perfectly."
The Minister of the Ministry of Rite pursed his lips in concern. There were only a few hours left until dawn. This was the prayer ceremony that the Emperor would personally preside, so the scale and procession must be as grand as it could be. However, it was almost impossible to complete the preparation overnight.
"Yes, Your Majesty. However, time is too tight, so I need more people…"
Baili Qingcang nodded, knowing that it was an impossible task for the Ministry of Rite. Suddenly, he looked at Baili Junyi and remembered something. "Prefectural Prince Yi, you’re working for the Ministry of Rite now, right? I will hand over two hundred Dragon Scale Army soldiers to you. You must help the Ministry of Rite prepare everything."
Baili Junyi nodded, and a cold light flashed in his eyes. "Yes, I obey the decree."
The thrilling banquet finally ended. When the ministers walked out of Chengqian Hall, they all felt like they had just survived a disaster. They hurriedly left with their families. Before they left, they cast a sympathetic glance at the Ministry of Rite’s officials. These colleagues were really having a hard time. The Emperor was tormenting them directly by ordering them to prepare such a grand scale of a ceremony overnight.
Zhang Yun grabbed Baili Junyi’s arm and looked at him as if he was looking at a life-saving float. "Prefectural Prince Yi, how do you think we should prepare this?"
Baili Junyi’s expression was cold. "Lord Zhang, you are the person in charge of the Ministry of Rite. You should have enough experience about the process after preparing all the ceremonies for so many years."
Zhang Yung frowned in agitation, "Yes, but those ceremonies were prepared one or two months in advance. There are less than four hours before dawn. It’s impossible to make it."
"Instead of talking to me, why don’t you hurry up and move the things used to worship the heavens from the Ministry of Rite’s storage room?"
"Yes, yes, this is the most important thing. I’ll get someone to do it right away."
At this time, Shen Ninghua and Baili Jinchuan stood facing each other, their expressions cold like a cold lake. "Second Royal Brother, I will remember what happened today."