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    He met Liao Rao's dagger-like gaze and laughed heartily. "Your wife! That carriage I blew up belonged to her! Since I'm not going to survive today anyway, having the Governor's wife accompany me in death is not a bad deal!"

    As his words fell, Liao Rao's previously calm eyes gradually turned bloodshot. Veins popped on his neck, and with a cracking sound, Uzhda's throat was snapped by Liao Rao.

    Uzhda's eyes widened in agony, resembling a chicken with its neck wrung. He let out two hoarse gasps before falling silent.

    Liu Yuan did not expect Liao Rao to actually kill Uzhda right here.

    With Liao Rao's intelligence, he must have known that it would be advantageous for him if Uzhda survived. Killing Uzhda at this moment might appear to others as an attempt to silence him.

    "Liu Eunuch, Uzhda is a criminal wanted by the imperial court. One of my missions was to capture him alive," Liu Yuan said calmly. "Why has Governor Liao taken such action? Could it be that what Uzhda said wasn't fabricated but true?"

    "Did I or did I not conspire with the Water Dragon King, Eunuch Liu?" Liao Rao slowly released his grip, his voice hoarse. "In any case, once I leave the Exquisite Silk Pavilion, you would have killed Uzhda and framed me. So, I decided to do it myself to save your hands from getting dirty. But now, I'm going to lead troops to fight the bandits. Will Eunuch Liu stop me?"

    Upon hearing this, the warriors behind Liu Yuan watched Liao Rao warily, their hands resting on their waist swords.

    Fixing his gaze on Liao Rao, Liu Yuan slightly raised his hand, signaling them to stand down.

    "Governor Liao, please proceed!"

    Liao Rao's left hand remained curled, mimicking the grip that had just severed Uzhda's throat. Lowering his eyelashes, he spoke methodically, "The thing you desire, only Fan Jinshu knows its whereabouts in this world."

    With that, he turned and strode away decisively.

    Each step was steady, and as his feet touched the ground, the ferocity on his face gradually dissipated.

    For some reason, an image from many years ago surfaced before his eyes. She had pushed open the study door and asked, "Liao Rao, have you betrayed Great Yin?"

    He had pulled her into his embrace, solemnly swearing to the heavens that he would never betray Great Yin.

    She likely had her doubts but simply looked up at him calmly, saying, "He who plots with a tiger will eventually fall prey to it."

    He who plots with a tiger will eventually fall prey to it.

    Back then, she had been so earnest. But what had he thought? He believed that the Water Dragon King, that old rascal, was nothing more than a powerless creature in the water. He could crush him with a mere gesture – how could such a person retaliate?

    Even if there were retaliation, he would accept it.

    From the moment he took that half-jade pendant from the Second Prince, he had chosen this path.

    The former Minister had been his superior, and he had arranged for Feng Jinshu to marry him, hoping that the literary and military factions in the court would unite in harmony, with a common enemy, to bring about a prosperous and tranquil era for Great Yin.

    How admirable such an aspiration was!

    He had once held the same hope.

    The Emperor had split the military power in two, giving the Ministry of War authority to mobilize troops but also forcing them to draw a clear line between themselves and all the martial officials in the capital.

    They had become the Emperor's people, no longer mere military officers.

    Rejected by the martial officials, they could not assimilate into the literary officials either.

    Their only reliance was the Emperor.

    But what if the Emperor passed away?

    The one who could ascend to the throne would need the support of either the martial officials or the literary ones.

    As someone caught in the middle, offending both sides, whom could he rely on in the future?

    Even the old Minister of Rites had eventually chosen Crown Prince, so how could he not seek his own escape route when the Emperor was on his deathbed?

    He was, after all, a military general.

    The victor rules, and the loser is doomed – if Second Prince were to fall in the future, he would accept his fate!

    But if there was to be any backlash, it should be directed at him!

    How could it possibly involve Fan Jinshu?

    Liao Rao halted in her tracks, staring blankly at a distant point in the air.

    She had forbidden him from entering her chambers, and he had acquiesced.

    She had forged letters and colluded with the old minister to bring him down – he had accepted that.

    He had even pretended not to notice her efforts to conceal Gu Changjin and Pan Xueliang's movements.

    He had allowed her to vent her anger, after all.

    In any case, the emperor's days were numbered. When the Second Prince ascends to the throne, she would realize that he was the right choice.

    By then, by then...

    The Exquisite Silk Pavilion belonged to Liao Rao.

    Today, he had brought only two trusted subordinates, both of whom were now injured. Liu Yuan, seemingly intent on extracting information from them, refrained from killing them.

    Looking at them, Liao Rao deceived herself, hoping that tonight was the Mid-Autumn Festival, and perhaps she might stay in the temple to burn paper clothes for the deceased, perhaps she wouldn't venture out, and perhaps she wouldn't board that carriage.

    "You return to the governor's mansion and see if Lady is there. If she is, tell her that pirates from Four Square Island have arrived, and I may not be back for ten or fifteen days," his voice rasped severely. "Tell her not to be afraid; I won't let those people set foot in Yangzhou."

    At the Exquisite Silk Pavilion.

    After Liao Rao left, someone stepped forward and said to Liu Yuan, "Lord Liu, will Liao Rao really go to reinforce General Liang? I'm worried he might use this opportunity to escape."

    "He will go," Liu Yuan replied nonchalantly. "Investigate whether Lady Liao was truly in that carriage. If she was—"

    He paused. "Give her a proper burial."

    "Yes," the man acknowledged and left promptly.

    Liu Yuan gazed down at Uzhda's lifeless body.

    Liao Rao was right. Indeed, he had planned to kill Uzhda and frame Liao Rao for the crime. Not only Uzhda's death but also his own were to be blamed on Liao Rao.

    When he arrived at the Exquisite Silk Pavilion, he had already ingested a secret order from the Second Prince, which, of course, was fake. This risky ploy was a gamble; it remained uncertain whether he could exploit this false order to topple the Second Prince.

    It would depend on Gu Changjin and Liang Xiao's capabilities, whether the old Minister could hold on until his corpse was transported back to the capital, and ultimately, the Emperor's intentions.

    Now, however, with Liao Rao's recent revelation, there was no need to sacrifice his life. Recalling the taste of the wax-coated paper in his stomach, Liu Yuan sighed softly, "All for naught."

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