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    When the Emperor dispatched him, he was explicitly ordered not to provoke further public outrage.

    Yet, faced with this gruesome scene, he was momentarily at a loss on how to deal with these citizens.

    If there were only three or five of them, it would be simple – he could just arrest them and throw them into jail. But he was confronting tens of thousands of furious civilians; it was impossible to imprison such a massive crowd.

    Xie Hushen felt overwhelmed, as if the imposing armor he wore had lost its intimidation.

    Catching a glimpse of a figure in blue, an idea suddenly struck him, and he spoke with full authority, "Lord Gu, could you perhaps enlighten this general on what exactly transpired here just now?"

    Gu Changjin emerged from the ancient locust tree by his side, bowing deeply and saying, "The Ministry of Punishments received word a quarter-hour ago that countless commoners have gathered at Donghua Gate to petition, demanding severe punishment for the Eastern Depot officers who forced Miss Zhong Xueyan to her death. I was hence dispatched by the High Minister of Justice to investigate. At that time, the Chief Constable Hu Wei, in charge of punishments, utterly disregarded the people's grievances and drew his sword against the petitioning civilians. Left with no choice but to defend themselves, the people were compelled to take action against Hu the Thousand Household Officer."

    Zhong Xueyan's father was once a scholar who, in a bout of intoxication, ventured a few unguarded remarks about the state of politics. This landed him in the clutches of the Eastern Depot. Despite Zhong Xueyan's efforts to vindicate her father, his case never saw a retrial - he succumbed to the tortures within the prison walls before justice could be served.

    Upon hearing the tragic news, Zhong Xueyan hanged herself in the bustling marketplace that very night, leaving behind a letter stained with her blood, railing against the injustice of heaven for allowing villainy to run rampant.

    News of this incident spread like wildfire, reaching every household in the capital in no time. The common folk felt a sense of shared apprehension, fearing that they might be the next to lose their life over a misplaced word.

    At some point, someone incited the masses, and suddenly, thousands of commoners stirred up a tremendous commotion in the Eastern Depot.

    Xie Hushen had heard about Zhong Xueyan's incident beforehand. Upon hearing Gu Changjin's words, his dark face couldn't help but twitch.

    Well, these scholars truly possessed sharp tongues that could sway the world.

    Petition? Self-defense?

    When had citizens seeking justice needed to bring weapons? Look, they even brought laundry bats, thinking he wouldn't notice them just because they were hidden behind their backs.

    And for over ten thousand people to beat twenty-odd soldiers to death with their fists, all in the name of "self-defense" and "forced necessity"?

    Xie Hushen was genuinely convinced.

    With Gu Changjin paving the way for him, he naturally had to follow through. He nodded solemnly and said, "If that's the case, once the Obeying Heaven Mansion arrives, let Lord Zhu take the involved citizens back for questioning. As for the rest of you... leave peacefully and don't cause any more trouble. The Emperor cares deeply for the well-being of all living beings and has repeatedly instructed this general not to harm our Great Yin's citizens. Now that I'm aware of your petition, I'll report it to the Emperor."

    The citizens had initially thought that, with thousands of iron cavalry charging in, they would be spared from imprisonment but not from physical punishment.

    To their surprise, after Gu Changjin's few words, the stern commander let them off lightly.

    The citizens hurriedly kowtowed and chorused, "Thank you, Your Excellency, for your mercy."

    Upon closer inspection, the majority of the commoners were kneeling in the direction of Gu Changjin.

    Xie Hushen's lips twitched slightly. When a villager passed by him, he could no longer hold back. Pointing at the hidden kitchen knife the man was slipping into his clothes, Xie Hushen earnestly advised, "His Majesty is merciful and often says that if the people have grievances or complaints, the officials in the court cannot ignore them or turn a deaf ear. You may appeal, but next time, do not come armed."

    What was the difference between coming armed to appeal and rebelling?

    No matter how merciful His Majesty was, he would never tolerate such disorderly behavior a second time.

    The commoners muttered their assent.

    The crowd receded like flowing water. Soon after, several hundred bailiffs rushed over, led by a man in a bright red official robe adorned with a peacock badge.

    It was Zhu E, the Prefect of Obeying Heaven Mansion.

    Zhu E had previously served as Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Yun-Gui. If not for being recalled to the capital by the Emperor, he might have already been promoted to Commander-in-Chief by now.

    When Zhu E was leading troops to repel enemies in Yunnan, Xie Hushen was still playing in the mud naked. Now, seeing the great general he had admired since childhood, how dare Xie Hushen posture as an arrogant official on horseback?

    Swiftly dismounting his horse, he bowed respectfully and said, "This humble official has come to pay respects to Lord Zhu."

    Zhu E nodded slightly but avoided making eye contact with Xie Hushen. Instead, his sharp gaze rested unwaveringly on Gu Changjin.

    In the case of Li'er, Yang Rong had turned the tables while in prison, accusing Xu of wrongful judgment. Although the Northern Inspectorate did not dare to apprehend him, the scandal had indeed tainted Xu's reputation.

    After Gu Changjin's appearance in the Golden Hall, the Li'er case was reopened. Once the verdict was revised, the Emperor announced the new judgment to the world.

    Zhu E had also perused the revised judgment. Upon reading it, he sensed a keen edge to the writing, each word like a sharp blade, leaving a profound impression. It dawned on him why the Emperor held Gu Changjin in such high regard.

    Zhu E's stern features softened slightly as he said, "Today's incident requires Lord Gu to accompany this official back to Obeying Heaven Mansion for a record."

    "Indeed," Gu Changjin replied with respect, striding forward to follow Zhu E.

    Several bailiffs rolled up the corpses on the ground with straw mats, carefully placing them onto stretchers. He cast a glance at one of the bundled mats, then indifferently shifted his gaze away.

    The Head of the Punishment Division in the Eastern Depot, who was Yang Xu's right-hand man in the agency, was the same person who had inflicted harsh tortures on the Jins back when they were under the Northern Supervisory Ministry.

    ……

    The fervent "petition" of the masses had thus come to a tranquil end.

    But Gu Changjin knew that this was merely the beginning.

    Those who wished for Yang Xu's demise still had more tricks up their sleeves.

    And he was likely one of the pawns in their scheme.

    As Gu Changjin left Obeying Heaven Mansion, twilight had already settled in.

    Heng Ping drove the carriage back to the Gu residence. Just as they turned into the Phoenix Tree Lane, they noticed an inconspicuous carriage parked beneath the old, sprawling phoenix trees at the end of the alley.

    Heng Ping recognized it as the carriage from Liu Yuan's private residence.

    "Master, Eunuch Liu is here," Heng Ping reported.

    Gu Changjin was not surprised in the slightest. The moment the carriage stopped at the entrance of the Gu estate, he alighted and headed straight for Liu Yuan's carriage.

    At the same time, the carriage curtains were drawn open from inside, revealing a delicate and alluring face that defied gender classification. The crimson mole between the person's brows added a touch of mystique to their appearance.

    Liu Yuan greeted the man approaching under the moonlight with a warm smile, saying, "Lord Gu, it's a pleasure to finally meet you. May I ask if I could have the honor of inviting you into the carriage for a conversation?"

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