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    In Zhu's estimation, the Second Prince's future was undeniably bright. Last year, the Second Prince had even written to her, mentioning that the Emperor was coughing up blood, indicating that the day of his ascension to the throne was imminent.

    So why, in less than a year, had the situation in the capital suddenly shifted? The Crown Prince was not the First or Second Prince, but rather an unexpected figure, Gu Changjin.

    Zhu was familiar with Gu Changjin. Back when Zhaozhao was to marry him, she was likely the only one in the Cheng'an Marquis Estate who had supported Shen and Zhaozhao's decision.

    Back then, Zhu felt that this young man possessed exceptional intellect, tactics, and capability, and he did not engage in political factions within the court. If anything happened to the Rong family, Zhaozhao, as his wife, would not be implicated.

    Emperor Jia'you had only two sons. Either the First or the Second Prince would ascend to the throne.

    Years ago, the Qi family secretly instructed Shen Zhi to use the Water Dragon King to purchase firearms, hiding them in a villa in Wanping County. This was in preparation for the event of Emperor Jia'you naming the First Prince as the Crown Prince, giving them a chance to vie for power.

    The Qi family had an army, and both the commander of Liaodong and the governor of Jiangzhe, Liao Rao, had secretly pledged allegiance to the Second Prince. In the event of a rebellion to seize the throne, with these firearms and elite troops, even if the First Prince had the Imperial Guards and the Imperial Bodyguards, it was uncertain who would emerge victorious.

    Emperor Jia'you had recalled the former vice-commander of Yunnan-Guizhou, Zhu E, to the capital and dispersed tens of thousands of skilled soldiers through the Royal Horse Supervisor, secretly hiding them in the capital to prevent any future rebellions.

    The Second Prince had sworn to Zhu that even with Zhu E around, the outcome would remain unchanged, and the Second Prince would inevitably ascend to the throne.

    Zhu had believed him, as the situation had indeed seemed promising.

    Unexpectedly, a wild card named Zhu E had appeared, derailing the carefully laid plans of Qi Heng and their family after years of preparation.

    Now that Qi Heng had confessed to his substitution scheme and the confusion of the imperial bloodline, Xiao Yu was forever branded as a member of the Qi family, with no chance of redemption.

    Zhu was unwilling to accept this outcome.

    She refused to believe that Gu Changjin was truly the son of Empress Qi. These past few days, she had tried every means possible to uncover the truth, but to no avail.

    That was why she came to Lianfu Temple to seek out Qiu Shiyang, hoping to learn if the Qi family still had any hidden cards up their sleeve.

    So what if the second prince was indeed a Qi family member?

    With sufficient military power and wealth, they could still turn the tide!

    Every founding emperor in history had seized power from another, and it was always the victor who wrote history. Whether one was labeled a traitor or a restorer of order was ultimately decided by the one sitting on the throne!

    Zhu's gentle eyes shimmered like flickering ghost flames in the dark, fueled by a feverish hope bordering on madness.

    Qiu Shiyang replied, "Two days ago, Lord Zhening sent a letter, advising us to sever all ties with the Qi family and erase any trace of our previous interactions with them."

    "Is Rong Yu afraid now? It was he who asked if I wanted to help Brother Ze reclaim his title and make the third branch of the family suffer the consequences. Now, he's retreating at the slightest turbulence?" Zhu said with a cold expression. "The Qi family hasn't fallen yet. As long as Shen Zhi can transport that batch of firearms to the capital, we can still turn the tide! What about Shen Zhi? Any news?"

    Qiu Shiyang shook his head. "Shen Zhi seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. Even Lord Commander hasn't received any word from him. Lord Commander is precisely worried about something going wrong with Shen Zhi, which is why he ordered me to inform you to erase all traces of your dealings with the Qi family. He wants me to tell you that there will be plenty of time in the future for Master to avenge his grudge!"

    Zhu's vision blurred, and she leaned against the wall for support, her figure looking haggard.

    What a long future indeed.

    They had been plotting for fifteen years, thinking that their wish would come true in another year or two. But now, they could only swallow their bitterness! How could she accept this? How many more fifteen years did she have left to wait?

    Brother Ze was already twenty-two, with only the title of a scholar.

    Although the child had never slacked in his studies, and they had used the Qi family's influence to send him to the Imperial Academy, it was no easy feat to rank high in the imperial examinations.

    She could wait, but Brother Ze couldn't. Zhu had originally planned to help Rong Ze reclaim his title and marry him into a prestigious family.

    Seeing her grim expression, Qiu Shiyang couldn't help but add a few more words of consolation. "Empress Qi has already abandoned Qi Zuo Duwei and the second prince to preserve the Qi family. The situation in the capital is unpredictable, and the newly emerged crown prince is even more enigmatic. Lord Commander is simply being cautious."

    He glanced at the sky outside before continuing, "I should leave now. Lately, I've had the feeling that someone is watching us from the shadows. It's not advisable to stay at Lianfu Temple for too long."

    Madam Zhu also knew that if the head of the manor, Qiu Shiyang, remained too long, it would arouse suspicion. She nodded slightly and allowed him to leave first.

    Once Qiu Shiyang was gone, she returned to the quiet chamber, gazing intently at Rong Jun's memorial tablet on the high case. In a gentle voice, she said, "Rest assured, I will avenge you, and I will reclaim what was rightfully yours."

    Incense smoke curled upward, delicate white tendrils rising slowly from the incense burner.

    The memorial tablet on the rosewood high case stood silently, and Madam Zhu looked at it for a long time. It was only when a gray-robed nun knocked on the door, inviting her to a vegetarian meal with the abbess, that she left the quiet chamber.

    The moment Qiu Shiyang left Lianfu Temple, Chang Ji followed him back to the teahouse.

    "That head of the manor is a martial arts practitioner. I was afraid of alarming him, so I didn't get too close. As of now, I haven't been able to overhear their conversation," Chang Ji scratched his face, looking a bit embarrassed.

    "No need to worry," Rong Shu smiled. "Discovering that your elder aunt is indeed in cahoots with the headman is already a gain. Tonight, we'll find an opportunity to subdue him and thoroughly investigate what's hidden in the manor."

    Chang Ji promptly agreed.

    That night, they knocked out Qiu Shiyang, took him away for interrogation, and then, accompanied by a dozen others, they combed through the entire manor. This occupied them for two days until late afternoon on the third day, when Chang Ji returned to the inn to report to Rong Shu.

    "I've examined every brick and tile, and apart from some moldy old grains and freshly harvested vegetables and fruits, there's nothing else inside."

    Knowing that the manor was spotless and devoid of any hidden weapons, Rong Shu genuinely breathed a sigh of relief.

    In her previous life, Gu Changjin's visit to Wanping County was most likely due to Shen Zhi having concealed the weapons imported from overseas within this very manor.


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