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    Back then, Qi Zhen could never have imagined that the "secret path" Meng Zong mentioned was actually Xiao Yan, nor could she have foreseen that it was Princess Yun Hua, Xiao Fu, who had rescued him.

    At the thought of Xiao Fu, Qi Zhen's grip on her fan tightened involuntarily.

    After returning from Daci'en Temple, she had dispatched people to investigate what Meng Zong had said.

    The midwife who had delivered her in the small temple and the wet nurse personally chosen by Aunt Gui were indeed nowhere to be found.

    Not only did Meng Zong know about the incident in the small temple that day, but he also knew where the child was.

    "Mistress, rest assured that the one who abducted the young princess back then was Princess Yun Hua," Meng Zong said with a slight smile. "This minister has already sent people to fetch both the young princess and the wet nurse from those days. As for Princess Yun Hua," he continued, "this minister will handle the matter accordingly. The Prince Yan's mother needs to be none other than you, Your Majesty."

    Although Meng Zong claimed he would deal with Xiao Fu, Qi Zhen had no intention of entrusting her to him.

    Pulling her gaze away from the autumn begonias outside the window, she turned to Aunt Gui and asked, "Have there been any new developments in Wutong Lane?"

    Aunt Gui shook her head. "No news as of yet. Our people are watching the place day and night, but not even a cat has shown its face."

    Qi Zhen massaged her temples. "The people around Xiao Fu were left to her by her mother, and many of them are extraordinary individuals. Send more people to investigate if anyone from the Western Regions has arrived recently."

    Nanny Gui hastily agreed but hesitated, "Your Highness, are you really going to cooperate with Lord Meng? That one from Wutong Lane was personally raised by Princess Yun Hua. This old servant worries that he might turn against you."

    "Illusory Empress" Qi Zhen said with a bitter smile, "Do you think this palace has any other choice? Why do you think my brother would listen to me and confess to the crime of swapping the imperial heir? The Qi family is already ruined, and the Xie family has been at odds with them for years. Once Xiao Yi ascends the throne, how could there be any hope for the Xie family? My brother saw through this situation, that's why he confessed. Acknowledging Xiao Yan, as long as I'm here, the Qi family can still preserve its lineage."

    Nanny Gui fretted, "This old servant fears that Princess Yun Hua has already uncovered the truth from back then. If Prince Yan finds out it was you..."

    Qi Zhen sighed, "This palace already owes Prince Qiyuan his life. If that child wants revenge for his father, I'll accept it."

    In the still of the midnight, Prince Qiyuan had appeared in her dreams more than once, asking her why she changed her heart and why she killed him.

    But she killed him not just to save Xiao Yan; it was also because of his frenzied alchemy pursuits. If given the chance to redo it all, she would make the same choice.

    Unaware of Qi Zhen's momentary distraction, Nanny Gui continued, "Will the Emperor truly believe that child is the real Second Prince?"

    Regaining her composure, Qi Zhen smiled after hearing this and said, "The Emperor won't believe it, but as long as that child is the real Xiao Yan, he will tacitly allow this palace to acknowledge him."

    Qi Zhen knew very well that Emperor Jia You doted on that child immensely.

    Emperor's authority was profound and far-reaching.

    Emperor Jia You's emotions had become increasingly concealed over the years, but whenever he mentioned Gu Changjin in her presence, his face would light up with a smile.

    Not just Emperor Jia You, though?

    Meng Zong, Lu Zhuo, and even the old Secretary serving his sentence in prison – these powerful figures all held him in high regard.

    Meng Zong had entrusted his life and fortune to her when they cooperated. In reality, with Meng Zong's abilities and cunning, whoever occupied the throne would have found him invaluable.

    He didn't need to take such risks.

    Aside from these seasoned officials, the child had the support of countless commoners and scholars behind him.

    What he did in Yang State Prefecture was now known by every citizen in the capital. Even the palace maids who burned charcoal were aware that the pirates of Four Square Island were pacified by Inspector Gu, that the explosives that severely damaged the island were planted by his team, and that during the fierce battle with the pirates, Gu Changjin sustained severe injuries, forcing him to stay in Yang State Prefecture for recovery.

    Qi Zhen put down her folding fan, her gaze turning deeper.

    Liu Yuan and Pan Xueliang had only returned less than half a month ago. For Gu Changjin's deeds to be so widely publicized in such a short time, someone was deliberately orchestrating a campaign in his favor.

    Among these people, there were those like Pan Xueliang, who had been won over by him, as well as individuals like Meng Zong and the elderly Secretary, who were determined to support him wholeheartedly.

    One couldn't help but say that this Inspector Gu was fortunate, to have so many people paving the way for him.

    Gu Changjin had heard about the shifting tides in the capital from Xie Hushen's reports. However, he had long anticipated these changes and knew full well what awaited him upon his return.

    On the eighteenth day of October, Gu Changjin and over a hundred Imperial Guards finally arrived in the capital.

    The weather in the capital after autumn grew colder with each passing day.

    Liu Yuan wore a bright red cloak and personally waited at the Golden Water Bridge.

    His injuries seemed to have drained him significantly; the crimson outer robe fluttered wildly in the autumn breeze, emphasizing his weakened state.

    As he watched the young inspector strolling towards him, the corners of his lips curled up involuntarily, and his mole at the corner of his eye appeared even more enchanting.

    Bowing respectfully, he said, "Inspector Gu, please follow me. His Majesty and Her Majesty the Empress are awaiting you in the Kunning Palace."

    Gu Changjin nodded gently and lifted his gaze to the magnificent palace not far away.

    The sun blazed high, casting shimmering golden light upon the palace road, transfiguring the path stained with countless lives into a luminous golden highway that lured many hearts.

    Once again, Gu Changjin heard the voice of the young lad in his ear.

    "I'm not actually Ni Yan. My surname is Xiao, and my name is Xiao Yan. Sui Guan, I'm about to die, and I don't want to deceive you anymore," Xiao Yan said with a smile in the wooden house on Floating Jade Mountain.

    Back then, Father and Uncle Ni had indeed found the medicine to cure the epidemic. While he recovered after taking it, Xiao Yan grew weaker day by day.

    "Guard Ni told me that if I don't survive, all of you will be in grave danger. He asked if I was willing to give you my identity," the young boy revealed, pulling out an amulet from around his neck and jesting, "Why would I object? If possible, I'd rather be Ni Yan, always Ni Yan, growing up together with you, Ah Ge, and Ah Mei on this Floating Jade Mountain. Last year, when Little Mei celebrated her birthday, she even asked if I'd be willing to be her groom. Sui Guan, how wonderful it would be if I were always Ni Yan. Being Xiao Yan is just too exhausting, too bitter."

    After placing the jade pendant in Gu Changjin's hand, Xiao Yan let out a long sigh, as if he had laid down a heavy burden. His youthful, delicate face broke into a relieved smile.

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