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    For the past month or so, she and Luan Yan had been staying at a women's martial arts academy within an alley.

    This academy was a legendary institution in Ciying Lane, run by a woman named Tian, who was the inheritor of the Tian family's martial arts style, only accepting female disciples to carry on the Tian family's legacy. The girls in the academy were all skilled fighters, and most of the graduates went on to work as bodyguards in escort agencies or for wealthy families' ladies.

    It was one of Tian's disciples, who worked at an escort agency, who delivered Rong Shu's letter to her mother.

    Luan Yan, who had grown up in the Mu family and practiced their spear techniques, was intrigued by the Tian family's style. Whenever they had free time, she would often spar with Master Tian, and over time, they became acquainted.

    On their way back to Shen Yuan, Luan Yan whispered to Rong Shu, "I think Master Tian has feelings for Inspector Lu."

    Rong Shu was taken aback.

    Master Tian had never married, could it be that she had been waiting for Uncle Shi Yi all this time?

    But Uncle Shi Yi was waiting for her mother.

    In her heart, she wished for her mother to find a good home after leaving the marquis residence, and Uncle Shi Yi was an excellent choice.

    Yet, if Uncle Shi Yi truly wasn't waiting for her mother and decided to marry Master Tian instead, what would happen?

    Despite her regret, she would never stand in their way; instead, she would genuinely bless them from the bottom of her heart.

    After all, no one in this world has the right to ask another person to wait indefinitely.

    In a daze, she recalled what Gu Changjin had said to her under the camphor tree on the 15th day of the lunar month.

    He had mentioned that his current situation didn't permit him to love someone.

    What kind of situation was he in now? Why did it sound as if his current position was perilous?

    Could it have something to do with Empress Qi?

    At the mention of Empress Qi, the excruciating pain from her previous life surfaced in her mind.

    In the past, whenever she recalled that scene, the pain felt as if it still lingered within her, causing her distress.

    But now, when she thought about it, the pain seemed to have lessened significantly.

    Consequently, the events of her previous life took on a hazy quality, transforming into a dreamlike existence.

    But how could it be a dream?

    Everything she remembered, the people and events, were identical to reality.

    The only difference was that some people's destinies had changed.

    Like Xu Li'er, like Pan Xueliang, and like the thousands of civilians in Yang State Prefecture who were supposed to have perished.

    Rong Shu shook her head, dispelling the confusion in her mind.

    The carriage swayed along the road, finally arriving at Shen Yuan in the late afternoon. Earlier, Manager Jiang had taken a group of elderly servants from the Shen family back to their ancestral home, leaving only a group of guards to watch over the entrance. After the quarantine in Yang State Prefecture was lifted, he returned to Shen Yuan.

    After updating Rong Shu on the situation at the ancestral home, he said with a smile, "I've heard that Miss has done many good deeds for the people of Yang State Prefecture. The ancestors at the ancestral home have asked you to visit them in a few days and will present you with a generous red envelope."

    Rong Shu smiled and replied, "Alright, I'll rest for a few days first. Once I'm feeling more energetic, I'll pay my respects to the ancestors. Oh, Manager Jiang—"

    She pointed at the Three Reflections Hall and asked, "Why is Uncle's study locked? I was hoping to use these idle days to continue searching through my grandfather's diary in the study."

    Hearing this, Manager Jiang dipped his head and fished out a large bunch of keys from his waist. "Sir's study holds many of the Old Master's belongings. When we left Shen Yuan, I was afraid something might happen to it, so I had it locked. I'll go unlock it right away."

    Rong Shu wasn't in a rush to visit the Three Reflections Hall. After bidding farewell to Manager Jiang, she headed for Yi Lanzhu.

    The place was filled with all sorts of flowers and plants. With her absence for over a month, the ground was now covered in dead branches and leaves.

    Mama Zhang was supervising the servants and maids as they cleaned up. Upon seeing Rong Shu, she hurriedly approached and took her hand, examining her up and down. She spoke gently, "Miss must have gone through a lot these past few weeks. You look even thinner."

    Indeed, Rong Shu had lost some weight. She smiled and coaxed, "I didn't find it too tough, but I've been quite craving food. Today, Mama, please steam some sheep curd, simmer some deer meat, prepare some crab-filled oranges, and also cook a small pot of pear soup."

    Mama Zhang agreed with a smile.

    Preparing these dishes would require considerable effort. If they wanted to enjoy them before dinner, they needed to start selecting the ingredients now.

    Mama Zhang glanced at the sky and said, "This old servant will head to the main kitchen." With that, she called two servants and quickly left Yi Lanzhu.

    Rong Shu watched Mama Zhang's departing figure, slightly dimming her smile.

    After changing into fresh clothes in her chambers, she picked up two travelogues and told Lao Yan, "Come on, let's go to the study."

    Chapter 62

    In the Three Reflections Hall.

    Just after noon, the afternoon sunlight pierced through the thin paper of the windows, casting a long diagonal shadow on the floor.

    The study was dimly lit, shrouded in a veil of gray.

    Rong Shu gazed at the wall hidden behind the bookshelf and approached with a lantern in hand.

    As she ventured deeper, the light grew weaker. When she reached the paintings, she stepped onto a footstool, using the lantern to inspect them from top to bottom, inch by inch.

    All three paintings were hung on wooden rafters on the wall. Rong Shu's gaze settled on the shorter middle plank, which had more abrasions than the other two. This indicated that the middle painting was frequently taken down.

    Was it for closer appreciation or some other reason?

    "Senior Sister Luo Yan, please hold the lantern for me."

    Handing the candle lantern to Luo Yan, Rong Shu climbed onto a stool and carefully removed the middle painting, laying it flat on the desk for a closer examination.

    "Sister Luo Yan, take a look at this painting. Is there anything peculiar about it?"

    Luo Yan was not well-versed in the refined arts and treasures of the literati. After examining it closely under the lamp for a moment, she replied, "I can't tell, it just looks like an ordinary painting."

    "I can't see anything unusual either."

    Rong Shu furrowed her brows. That night, it was while she was studying this very painting that Mother Zhang suddenly appeared behind her.

    Her uncle often took down this painting, and Mother Zhang seemed reluctant for her to view it too closely. She had assumed there was something amiss with the artwork.

    But she truly couldn't find anything out of place.

    Luo Yan was right; it was simply a painting.

    If there was anything remarkable, it would be the exceptional skill of the artist, deserving of the title of a master's work.


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