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    The shop assistant was already acquainted with him and promptly poured a warm porridge, warmly greeting him, "Young Master, do you still want five donkey meat buns today?"

    Chang Ji chuckled and said, "Make it ten this time. My brother will be joining us later."

    The "brother" Chang Ji referred to was Heng Ping. Unfortunately, Heng Ping had no appetite for the donkey meat buns today. He had already had his breakfast on his way from Hejing Alley.

    With dark circles under his eyes, Heng Ping pushed the plate of five donkey meat buns back towards Chang Ji and told him, "I'm not hungry. You can have them."

    Chang Ji sipped his warm porridge and asked, "What's wrong? You've been devouring them as if you couldn't get enough, wanting to eat ten or even more in one go these past few days. Why aren't you eating now?"

    "When I left Hejing Alley, Eunuch Liu sent over two boxes of freshly steamed pastries and fruits, saying that I've been working hard lately."

    The 'Eunuch Liu' mentioned by Heng Ping was none other than Yang Xu's adopted son, Liu Yuan.

    This Eunuch Liu currently served as the Left Junior Inspector of the Royal Horse Supervisor under the supervision of Chief Eunuch Gui Zhong at the Royal Horse Supervisor.

    Like Yang Xu, Gui Zhong was also an adopted son of the Grand Eunuch Pei Shunnian of the Supervisor of Ceremonies. However, unlike Yang Xu, Gui Zhong was not favored by Pei Shunnian. When Yang Xu took charge of the Eastern Depot, Gui Zhong was assigned to the Royal Horse Supervisor.

    Back then, the Royal Horse Supervisor was merely the Imperial Stables, responsible for the imperial horses without being part of the twelve imperial departments within the palace.

    However, Gui Zhong's luck was good. The year he joined the Royal Horse Stable, Emperor Jia Yu promoted it to the Royal Horse Supervisor and selected strong soldiers from various regional garrisons to form two elite troops under its command, with the Royal Horse Supervisor in charge of their training.

    As a result, the Royal Horse Supervisor gained military authority, becoming a "mini-Ministry of War" within the palace.

    Of course, Gui Zhong's power couldn't compare to Yang Xu, who oversaw the Eastern Depot. Yet Yang Xu, always cautious, had transferred his trusted aide Liu Yuan from the Imperial Supplies Bureau to the Royal Horse Supervisor to keep a watchful eye on Gui Zhong at all times.

    Liu Yuan owned a private residence in Hejing Alley, which Heng Ping had been monitoring these days.

    Upon hearing Heng Ping's words, Chang Ji's eyes widened as he stared at the empty-handed man. "You actually ate the snacks and fruits that person gave you? Weren't you afraid of being poisoned?"

    Heng Ping replied expressionlessly, "He wanted me to deliver a message to our master. How could he dare poison me?"

    Chang Ji choked, his eyes rolling. Curious, he asked, "What kind of snacks and fruits were they? How did they taste?"

    With disdain, Heng Ping glanced at Chang Ji. "I'm going back to take a nap."

    Seeing the bloodshot veins in Heng Ping's eyes, Chang Ji waved him off. "Go, go. Master said you don't need to tail that person anymore starting today. Since he sent someone to give you snacks and fruits, he probably knows it's your last day on surveillance duty."

    Biting fiercely into a roasted donkey meat bun, he narrowed his eyes. "He's quite a clever one."

    ...

    Liu Yuan's message for Gu Changjin was concise yet poignant:

    "Since Lord Gu desires Li'er's life, then I shall yield it to him."

    That night, after Gu Changjin finished his duties, he listened to Heng Ping's report without showing any sign of surprise. He simply nodded calmly and said, "There's no need to keep an eye on Liu Yuan anymore. When the time is right, he will come to me."

    Chang Ji, intrigued, inquired, "If Eunuch Liu knew that Heng Ping was watching him, why wasn't he angered at all? And besides, wasn't that assassin from his faction yesterday?"

    Liu Yuan was originally the chief eunuch in charge of the Imperial Household Agency, responsible for managing the emperor's personal items. Since Emperor Jiayou favored dragon's saliva incense, it was a small eunuch from the agency who delivered it daily to the Qianqing Palace.

    Over time, these young eunuchs would inadvertently absorb a hint of the fragrance.

    The master's instruction not to investigate households in the capital using dragon's saliva incense likely stemmed from the suspicion that the assassin was connected to the Imperial Household Agency.

    At such a crucial moment, deliberately arranging for Xu Li'er's hanging and forging a bloody letter to stir up the people's hatred towards Yang Xu and the Eastern Depot – it all seemed to point to a deep-seated enmity with Yang Xu!

    These eunuchs, who were all on their best behavior, calling Yang Xu "father" with such affection, were clearly not the benevolent sort.

    "Right now, this man is Yang Xu's most favored adopted son. If Yang Xu can smoothly inherit the position of the Grand Secretary, leading the Supervisor of Ceremonies, he will naturally rise to prominence as well. Not to mention the Royal Horse Supervisor, even the position of the Eastern Depot's Director would be within reach. So why does he seem intent on destroying Yang Xu? Isn't that like tearing down one's own fortress?"

    Chang Ji shook his head and tsked as he spoke.

    Gu Changjin remained silent, tapping his long fingers on the desk. "Any news from Shiiun?"

    "Not yet," Chang Ji replied. "After all, it's been over a decade. Many traces have likely been erased, making it difficult to uncover the truth of that time. Of course, given Shiiun's nature, the more challenging a task, the more determined he is to get to the bottom of it. I'd say in another ten days or so, we should have some leads."

    Back then, among the five people closest to their master, Shiiun was the sharpest-minded. Otherwise, the master wouldn't have allowed Shiiun to fake his death and leave the Gu family.

    Chang Ji considered himself an intelligent and resourceful person, but compared to Shiiun, who was full of cunning tricks, he still felt inadequate.

    Well, that's what being a good-natured person gets you.

    "Let's not rush this matter," Gu Changjin rubbed his forehead and said, "Go brew me a pot of cold tea, make it strong."

    Again with the cold tea?

    Chang Ji cast a glance at Gu Changjin and withdrew upon hearing his instructions. As he was leaving, Gu Changjin added, "Find an appropriate time tomorrow to visit the Songsi Courtyard and inform Yingyue and Ying Que. Xu Lier has already departed for Daci'en Temple after her interrogation at the Ministry of Punishments today. With imperial attendants accompanying her, there shouldn't be any further incidents."

    Chang Ji was taken aback but quickly realized that these words were intended for the young madam.

    Yingyue and Ying Que were merely servants; any news they obtained would ultimately be reported to the young madam.

    Indeed, the young madam had personally gone to the post station to see Xu Lier yesterday and had spent half the night conversing with her, showing genuine concern. By informing the young madam, it would likely alleviate some of her worries.

    Chapter 26

    The pot of cold tea that Chang Ji had prepared went unused.

    For Gu Changjin hadn't had a single dream throughout the night, and slept soundly.

    Whenever he thought about not having had any dreams the previous night, his thoughts would naturally drift towards Rong Shu.

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