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The guards were already prepared, and in a moment with weapons in hand they surrounded Ci'en Temple, and rushed into every room to begin their search.
All the monks inside and outside the worship hall had been arrested, even Master Zhiyuan had been pressed outside the door. One of Liu Xujie's subordinates attempted to arrest Shan Chao, and right now the Crown Prince was unable to speak, so Xie Yun loosened his hand and went with the flow.
Yet Shan Chao turned around and stopped the guard approaching him: "Stop! The Crown Prince cannot hold on until the Snow Lotus arrives, I have a way to stall for time!"
The Imperial guard's pace stopped, but Liu Xujie had yet to speak when Xie Yun spoke: "Arrest him."
"The same bowl of dessert, you drank it without problems, but the Crown Prince drank it and was poisoned, how would we know if you played a trick within? ― Arrest him, escort the Crown Prince into the inner room to await the Imperial Physicians."
Xie Yun's order obviously had more force than Liu Xujie, and the Imperial guards were about to step up again, only to hear Shan Chao sternly rebut: "That is because my body is trained in martial arts and can resist the toxicity, His Highness' situation is critical, I have already used internal force to force out half the poison, but if we do not continue, the excess poison would follow the blood and enter the five viscera and six organs, and then it will be useless even if the Immortals come!"
Liu Xujie hurried forward to check, only to see that the Crown Prince's face was like gold paper, his lips black, the toxicity obviously stronger than he had thought by how many times, and for a moment he was taken aback.
Xie Yun said coldly: "Who can guarantee that you would use internal force only to help the Crown Prince drive away the poison?"
These words truly hit the nail on the head, yet from the start Shan Chao did not take note of him at all: "If the Crown Prince truly came to an accident before everyone here, everyone cannot escape responsibility, do all my lords wish to a.s.sume this responsibility?"
His steady and powerful gaze swept around the surroundings, and everyone who came in contact with it evaded without exception.
Shan Chao coldly said: "―I will clear the Crown Prince of poison before the Imperial Physicians arrive, if the Crown Prince has an unfortunate death, I am willing to be buried with him on the spot!"
n.o.body had expected that all the powerful and influential officials could be struck dumb by a monk, and after the hall was silenced for several breaths, Liu Xujie finally made a firm resolution, stamping his foot with a grunt: "Go quickly! Commander Xie, this is currently a moment of life and death, we'll have to trouble you to keep watch from the side!"
Xie Yun did not respond, only shooting a glance at Shan Chao.
If he continued to obstruct them Xie Yun would be too suspicious, so he could only say nothing - Shan Chao also understood this, and in an instant he felt a thread of loathing.
The dissension in the Court and the conflicts of the Palace were unavoidable, but to look on unfeelingly as a youth of ten or more years went through a deathbed struggle right before his face, not only remaining aloof, but also thwarting other people from reaching out to save him, how hard and cruel a heart would be needed to get this done?
Yet this moment was not the time to investigate, Shan Chao quickly walked before the Crown Prince, speaking concisely: "Your Highness, forgive the offence!" As he spoke one hand pressed onto his throat.
Although the Crown Prince's consciousness was not too clear, in the vagueness he still seemed as if he knew that Shan Chao would be able to save him, his lips parting for a few times, his eyes showing an entreating light.
He did not know if it was due to their resemblance or some other reason, but under this gaze, from his heart Shan Chao's heart suddenly swelled with a feeling akin to pity - he dispersed this feeling with some self-mocking, and manipulated internal force to press down, the Crown Prince's veins trembled, and spat out more mouthfuls of black blood.
The colour of the poisonous blood gradually turned lighter, and right at the end it seemed almost bright red, when the Crown Prince gave a sharp cough, saying weakly: "Water…"
"Your Highness!" "His Highness is out of danger!" "Quick, quick, someone get water!"
The hall immediately erupted in jubilation, who knew how many officials had breathed a sigh of relief, their faces involuntarily showing smiles. Liu Xujie quickly came up and pulled at the Crown Prince's hand, sobbing: "My lord gentleman…"
He turned towards Shan Chao, about to open his mouth and give thanks, when the main doors opened with a crash, and a head eunuch staggered in: "Pavilion Elder! Bad news, the Palace Guard has found something from the room of Master Zhiyuan's disciple Xin Chao, please look!"
Everyone was stunned when the exclamation had ended, and Shan Chao's expression quickly changed.
Liu Xujie gasped: "What?"
The eunuch immediately knelt down, holding aloft a tray. This time everyone craning their necks to look could clearly see, that there were two things upon the tray ― one was a bit of red powder wrapped in golden yellow paper, the other was shockingly a jade pillow. Inlaid with gold and jade, the weaving delicate, and nine lifelike phoenixes woven with vermilion thread, n.o.body could fail to recognise a model of Inner Palace manufacture.
To claim to be a motherly model of the nation within the royal household, and allowed use of the phoenix, it could not be clearer as to whose was it.
Everyone's face turned ugly in that moment - during the reign of the previous Emperor, the Princess Gaoyang had had an affair with the monk Bianji, and only because a thief stole from the room of Bianji the princess' jade pillow, was the affair revealed to the world. From then on there were many n.o.blewomen who had affairs with senior monks, and even more raised monks or Taoist priests as male companions, that for a period of time it was common practice.
The reigning Empress Wu owing to her wish of holding Court and listening to politics, had been unhappy for a long time with the Crown Prince who was an obstruction to her bid for power, this was an open secret up and down the Court. If Empress Wu truly had some ambiguous relationship with this handsome monk Xin Chao, and if poisoning the Crown Prince had any connection to the Empress…
A bone-biting cold instantly entered everyone's back in an instant, and the whole audience was silent.
Liu Xujie practically fell over himself to move before the eunuch, one shaking hand pinching the vermilion powder.
"…a.r.s.enic," He hoa.r.s.ely crowed, "a.r.s.enic!"
"Brazen evil monk!" Liu Xujie suddenly turned around, bellowing: "Guards! Take away this monk who has polluted the Inner Palace, and conspired to murder the Crown Prince!"
The guards were already dumb, and only hearing this bellow did they seem to awaken. Shan Chao subconsciously backed away half a step, and immediately clenched his teeth as he grabbed the table to stabilise his mind, yelling: "Where is the evidence? I do not own such things, these things did not come from my room!"
"The same bowl of sour fruit soup, you drank it without problems but the Crown Prince was poisoned, what evidence is still needed?!" Liu Xujie violently berated the Imperial guards: "Go quickly!"
The guards hurried forward, Shan Chao once again took a step back, almost stepping on the dying Crown Prince behind him.
The a.r.s.enic was not his, the jade pillow was fict.i.tious, at this moment only did Shan Chao realise that without any warning he had sunk into a terrifying trap.
So ― his knife-sharp gaze narrowed, but his brain moved quickly: from the moment Master Zhiyuan ordered that he should serve the sour fruit soup to the moment the a.r.s.enic and jade pillow were discovered, was the entire conspiracy directed at he himself, or randomly locked on any monk who would serve the Crown Prince's food and drink?
If it was directed at him, then what was the motive behind the conspiracy?
More importantly, why was the Crown Prince poisoned, yet against reason he was not?!
It was a pressing moment, and did not allow him to think further. Very quickly a few Imperial Guards dashed up, and Shan Chao's first reaction was unexpectedly not to let himself be captured, rather - to fight back.
He himself did not know in that instant where did the violence exploding from his spirit come from, seemingly the instinct of an animal at bay had been deeply planted in his bones, only that two years of life under the Buddhist monastic practices had temporarily concealed it, yet at crucial junctures, it would still awaken screaming in every inch of his blood.
Shan Chao's hand left the table side. n.o.body noticed in that instant that a black gleam shone from his hand, and was about to rise forward -
Xie Yun spoke: "Hold it."
Shan Chao's gaze shivered.
Yet Xie Yun did not look at him, only getting up to walk towards everyone, and every guard headed forward immediately stopped walking.
Xie Yun's pace did not slow, and his vision did not stop on any individual. He ignored Liu Xujie's bitter and hateful gaze, stopping directly before the eunuch offering up the tray, asking: "Who said that the Empress has defiled the Inner Palace?"
His voice was so flat, yet it aroused a chill in people's hearts.
"The testimony and evidence are all present, not so long since the Bianji affair, what are you trying to justify?" Liu Xujie trilled: "Although everyone in the capital knows that you, Commander Xie, are the Empress' man, but there's no need to quibble before ironclad evidence!"
The implication in his words seemed to point elsewhere, and Xie Yun gave a strange laugh: "Pavilion Elder Liu, you're speaking nonsense again… I seem to hear you imply that I too serve the Empress in defiling the Inner Palace."
Liu Xujie choked, and then he was about to indignantly reply, but Xie Yun did not give him the chance: "You just said that the testimony and evidence are present, where is the testimony?"
"Isn't the evil monk here!"
Xie Yun lazily asked: "Monk, do you admit it?"
Shan Chao stood beside the Crown Prince, and coldly said: "No."
Liu Xujie opened his mouth, but Xie Yun asked: "And the evidence?"
"Isn't the Empress' pillow before your eyes?!"
Xie Yun did not deny, only nodding, before he picked up the pillow from the tray and handed it before Liu Xujie: "Look carefully."
Liu Xujie spoke in suspicion: "What?"
"All things manufactured in the Palace, will have an imprint of the royal household, otherwise they are undoubtedly a forgery. But look at this pillow, where is the imprint?"
Liu Xujie had yet to react, reaching out to point at a gold lacquered insignia on the pillow's lower corner: Isn't it…"
He had yet to finish speaking, when Xie Yun's slender finger connected with the imprint, and lightly wiped it.
Liu Xujie's expression instantly changed.
After Xie Yun's finger moved away, the rugged design on the gold had been unexpectedly smoothed down with internal force!
Xie Yun asked with a smile: "Where is it, Pavilion Elder Liu?"
Liu Xujie abruptly glowered at Xie Yun, his chest rising and falling, for a few times opening his mouth only to forcibly stop himself. Yet as expected from a Pavilion Elder, a moment later he forced himself to resume his cool, and though his voice was somewhat hoa.r.s.e the next time he spoke, he was still somewhat calm: "Commander Xie has reached the pinnacle of martial arts, this Liu1 has gained first-hand knowledge this day… only that there is still the a.r.s.enic found in the Zen Room, what are you going to say, that could it be that this Liu is trying to frame this monk?"
"I wouldn't dare, wherever Pavilion Elder Liu said it was found, so there it was found."
Xie Yun paused, and then continued tonelessly: "Yet it seems unfair to search only Ci'en Temple, after all it is known that the entire way here the Crown Prince has been in the same place as Pavilion Elder Liu, completely inseparable, if we merely talk about laying poison, those with the chance to access the Crown Prince's food and drink are not only within Ci'en Temple…"
"Exactly what are you saying?!"
Xie Yun lightly threw the jade pillow back to the tray, the movement smooth and gentle, so much that it seemed just right.
"Pavilion Elder Liu," he said, "Today this farce of poisoning the Crown Prince and imputing the Empress, ought to stop before going too far?"
Everyone there simultaneously felt their hearts skip a beat.
Liu Xujie's expression also froze for a moment, and then he reacted, immediately interrogating in quick-fire succession: "What is Commander Xie's meaning? Could it be that the Crown Prince's poisoning was not due to drinking this bowl of sour fruit soup, could it be the a.r.s.enic in the temple was placed by myself for a one-man show? You yourself tested it just now, once that silver needle touched the sour fruit soup, it immediately turned pitch-black…"
"The sour fruit soup does not contain poison." Xie Yun interrupted, and smirked before everyone's speechless stares: "If it were not for you overdoing it, and trying to frame the Empress, this performance would have probably deceived even me."
Not waiting for Liu Xujie to react, he turned towards Shan Chao and lightly asked: "Hey, monk, how is your sour fruit soup made?"
Shan Chao was also slightly bewildered, but upon hearing what was said immediately replied: "Fresh peaches, honey-melons and kiwis and so on, mixed with sugar syrup, green plums and all kinds of spices, iced for more than twelve shichen2―"
Xie Yun gave a sigh, nodding as he said: "So it's like this."
He suddenly turned towards the main seat, and everyone had yet to come to terms, when they saw him arrive before the Crown Prince, pick up the jade bowl, and before the surrounding incredulous gazes raised his head to drain the remaining sweet soup!
Shan Chao was the closest, and in a split second he had dashed over yelling: "Are you crazy?! Stop!"
With a brittle crash, Xie Yun easily smashed the bowl into pieces, turning his head to smile at Shan Chao. That smile was gentle, sad beyond words, and in this Buddhist temple with danger in the four corners, actually had evil-repelling, soul-shaking attractive force.
"Stupid," so he said with a smile, "―there was no poison in the dessert at all."
1 ZH: 刘某 - common term of first-person p.r.o.noun, translated as '(surname) random person'.
2 ZH: 时辰 - a Chinese unit of time, approximately two modern hours.