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    He usually wore a smile on his face, but now, with the grin concealed, his opulent and delicate features took on an air of masculinity.

    Liang Xiao recognized Liu Yuan's token at once. Without hesitation, he bowed in military salute and declared, "This officer accepts the order."

    After that, he pointed at his fellow lieutenants and exclaimed, "Follow me to battle!" before hastily departing in a flurry of energy.

    Once Liang Xiao left, only Liu Yuan and Gu Changjin were left in the room.

    Gu Changjin fixated on the spirit tablet in Liu Yuan's hand, gritting his teeth lightly. After a moment, he whispered his instructions, "Heng Ping, stay close to General Liang and ensure his safety at all costs. Shiiun, assemble your men immediately and head to the Small Qinhuai River. Find her and escort her to Pingnan Street."

    Liu Yuan knew instantly whom Gu Changjin referred to as "her."

    With a swift mental calculation, he understood why Gu Changjin was determined to visit the Exquisite Silk Pavilion.

    The pavilion was located by the Small Qinhuai River, where the girl from the Rong family still was. He intended to personally protect her.

    Liu Yuan curved the corners of his lips slightly, tucked away the token, and reassured, "Lord Gu, have no worries. I'll dispatch someone to safeguard her."

    As he spoke, he glanced at Qi Xin, "Qi Xin, your time to atone has come."

    Qi Xin promptly responded, "I shall risk my life to protect Miss Rong, without fail."

    Gu Changjin watched Liu Yuan and Qi Xin silently, nodding his head in gratitude.

    "I'll head to the military supervisor's residence to fetch Scholar Pan," he said, striding out swiftly. But after a few steps, he paused and turned back to look at Liu Yuan seriously. "With the presence of a dragon and a phoenix, Liao Rao's guilt is not yet a foregone conclusion."

    Liu Yuan froze upon hearing this, his fingers stilled on the jade ring he was twirling. After a moment, he smiled and said, "Lord Gu, please take utmost caution on this journey. The old Secretary is counting on you to return Pan Xueliang safely to the capital."

    Liu Yuan bestowed upon Gu Changjin half of the Valor Camp's men, while personally leading the remaining half to the Exquisite Silk Pavilion.

    The carriage departed from the Defense Commander's office and swiftly made its way to the Exquisite Silk Pavilion.

    Inside the carriage, Liu Yuan lifted the curtain and gazed at the bustling Yang Zhou City. Addressing Qi Xin, he said, "Do you still remember what I told you when we arrived?"

    At once, Qi Xin's eyes brimmed with tears as he nodded, "I have kept your words in mind, sir."

    Liu Yuan withdrew his gaze from the window and looked at Qi Xin, "Find an opportunity to convey to Lord Gu that when Yang Xu was accused, the evidence against him was held by that Chief Censor in the Board of Supervisors. It was Meng Zong who was testing him. As for why he was being tested, I haven't uncovered that yet."

    Qi Xin acknowledged the instruction.

    Liu Yuan pondered for a moment and continued, "The former Minister has always been wary of Meng Zong. If I were to pass away, you would take charge of the Royal Horse Supervisor and continue serving Meng Zong. Keep an eye on him and immediately report to Duke Guizhou if he shows any disloyalty."

    Qi Xin couldn't bring himself to respond to this.

    "Sir, this subordinate... is willing to take your place and die," Qi Xin choked out, speaking slowly.

    Liu Yuan's slender phoenix eyes lifted slightly as he said, "The former Minister has tarnished his own reputation just to overthrow the Qi family and the Second Prince, reclaiming the military power in Jiangzhe for the Emperor. He set up this entire scheme to force the Emperor to make a decision. I cannot let all his efforts go to waste."

    Everything had been progressing so smoothly, just one step away from their goal.

    Yet, it was precisely this final step that proved to be so challenging.

    Having been taught by the former Minister and having navigated the treacherous waters of the imperial court for so long, Liu Yuan could already envision how many officials would seek to exonerate Liao Rao once he and Liang Xiao successfully defended Yangzhou and defeated the pirates of Four Square Island.

    As long as Liao Rao insisted that the Water Dragon King had already surrendered to him and was his informant within Four Square Island, the evidence they had painstakingly gathered over these past few days, with the intervention of the Second Prince, would become worthless.

    In the struggles within the court, black could always be spun into white, depending on whose chair one sat upon.

    As for the truth, even if those seasoned politicians knew it, they would feign ignorance.

    The outcome was uncertain, and nobody knew who would ultimately ascend to that seat of power.

    No one dared to oppose the Second Prince at this juncture.

    Therefore, the credit for defending Yang Zhou City couldn't be given to Liao Rao. They couldn't afford to let him have any chance of redemption.

    Gu Changjin was right; they needed the soldiers under Liao Rao's command.

    More precisely, they needed Liao Rao and Liang Xiao to spare no effort in defending Yang Zhou City.

    Liang Xiao was adept at strategic deployment, while Liao Rao excelled in naval warfare. Both were renowned naval commanders. If the two of them could cooperate seamlessly tonight, Yang Zhou City would undoubtedly be safeguarded.

    But Liao Rao couldn't be credited with this defense.

    To strip him of this glory, he must set a trap with his own life tonight.

    "Lao Shangshu always criticized me for lacking patience and being too impetuous. He had a point. I can't wait any longer. If my life can be exchanged for the lives of the Second Prince's faction, it would be a worthwhile trade," Liu Yuan said with a slow smile as he looked at Qi Xin. "Do you remember what I told you when I first arrived?"

    Tears welled up swiftly in Qi Xin's eyes.

    "Remember, Master mentioned that you've always wished for Yang Zhou City to be your final resting place," Liu Yuan said with a teasing smile. "Why are you crying? Isn't this wish finally coming true? You used to beg me to sing a tune. Well, I'll sing one for you today."

    Leaning lazily against the carriage wall, he slapped his thigh and began to sing slowly: "A man's life in this world, strive for fame and glory; Once fame and glory are achieved, the kingdom is built. The kingdom built, the land is tranquil; The land tranquil, the world enjoys peace. In a peaceful world, I shall indulge in wine, Drunkenly dance with my sword in the frosty moonlight."

    These were the lyrics of a warrior role, the last performance his adoptive father had given on stage.

    His adoptive father was the most renowned martial actor in Yang Zhou City, and Liu Yuan had always dreamed of following in his footsteps as a great martial actor.

    But his adoptive father insisted he had the natural voice of a female lead, compelling him to pursue the role of a female character.

    Years of practicing headstands, splits, and vocal exercises were both bitter and blissful.

    If Yang Zhou City fell tonight, Liao Rao would undoubtedly bear the blame.

    Traitorously betraying one's country, resulting in the loss of a city – such a crime might warrant death a thousand times over.

    This plan was cunning and ruthless, yet it would work.

    Throughout history, countless individuals have chosen this underhanded path to destroy their political foes.

    Liu Yuan could have taken such a route as well.

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