The servant girl did not expect this question. She pondered for a while, then shook her head, “This servant does not know.”
An inexplicable uneasiness crept into Cheng Yujin. When one of the Emperor’s personal servants came with a summon, one would normally depart with no delay, having no time to think more about it. Cheng Yujin immediately called the eunuch in charge of gathering information for the Eastern Palace and asked, “Who entered the palace today?”
The eunuch thought for a while and said, “Replying to Your Highness, Taoist Chongxu appeared just after noon today. And yes, there is also Shou Wang.”
“Taoist Chongxu, Shou Wang…” Cheng Yujin’s intuition told her that this combination was bad news. Recently, these two had gotten very close and often worked together to confuse the Emperor. The Emperor was already a bit confused when he started to become obsessed with immortality, but after being controlled by Taoist Chongxu and Shou Wang, he increasingly separated himself from the outside world. It was to the point that no one could contact him save for Taoist Chongxu, Shou Wang, and their cronies.
According to their previous visits, after Shou Wang and Taoist Chongxu entered the palace, they would always stay with the Emperor for several hours. They had only entered the palace after noon today, which was not too long ago. Both of them should haven’t left yet. The summon that Li Chengjing received, the one that told him to go to Qianqing Palace… did it really come from the Emperor?
Cheng Yujin asked, “What’s the reason for them coming to the palace today?”
The eunuch scratched his head, hesitated, “It seems for the immortality pill. Ten days ago, Taoist Chongxu received a big reward for his merit of refining the immortality pill for the Emperor. Today seems to be the delivery day. Shou Wang entered the palace most likely for the same reason.”
“Immortality pill?” Cheng Yujin had never heard of this kind of pill before, so she asked, “Where did this pill come from? Has it been presented to His Majesty before?”
The eunuch shook his head: “No. The pill is a mystical formula that the immortals bestowed to Taoist Chongxu via his dream not long ago. Today is the first time he is presenting the pills to His Majesty.”
Cheng Yujin sat for a while, then suddenly stood up: “No!”
The servants around were taken aback, “Crown Princess, what’s wrong?”
Cheng Yujin didn’t even have time to stop and explain. She hurriedly ran out, ignoring the hem of her skirt dragged behind her, and shouted loudly, “Quickly prepare the sedan chair. I am going to Qianqing Palace!”
Cheng Yujin’s heart was beating intensely. If she guessed correctly… the Emperor should be dead by now.
Alchemy had always been a matter of luck. The practitioners, usually Taoist priests, poured all kinds of materials into the alchemy furnace, producing something dubious at best. Still, this kind of practice persisted precisely because there were demands. Throughout history, countless prominent figures consumed alchemy pills and died of poisoning as a result. Most alchemy poisonings were chronic ones, which happened slowly through repeated uses. Since the Emperor had only received the pills today, it was hard to say if he was already dead.
That’s why Li Chengjing was called to the Qianqing Palace, not the Yinghua Palace. If Cheng Yujin’s guess was correct, Shou Wang and Taoist Chongxu had accidentally poisoned the Emperor. Afraid of being held accountable, they sent the Emperor to Qianqing Palace and falsified his oral edict to call Li Chengjing over. Li Chengjing came to Qianqing Palace unprepared — if the Emperor was pronounced dead right when he was visiting, how could he prove his innocence?
Cheng Yujin could no longer think straight. Sitting in the sedan chair, her hands couldn’t stop shaking nervously. She tried to calm herself. A sedan chair was faster than walking by herself, and Li Chengjing hadn’t left for long. She might still make it in time.
At this moment, Li Chengjing entered Qianqing Palace.
The usually grand and solemn palace was surprisingly quiet at this moment, as if being suppressed by something.
Since the Emperor began to be fascinated by immortality and Taoism, the people serving him were replaced by Taoist Chongxu, and even his former personal eunuchs were stopped outside the door on the ground that they were disturbing his cultivation. As a result, the Emperor spent almost all his time under the eyes of Taoist Chongxu. In the Imperial Palace where imperial favor determined everything, the eunuchs of Qianqing Palace, who used to stand above, also lost their power overnight and hurriedly went to fawn over Taoist Chongxu.
Having successfully led the Emperor by the nose, Taoist Chongxu was now a fox wearing a tiger’s skin, abusing the imperial power as he liked.
Li Chengjing climbed up the stairs steadily. When the eunuch guarding the palace gate saw his arrival, he quickly opened the gate: “Welcome, Your Highness. His Majesty is already waiting inside. Please come in.”
Li Chengjing smiled at the eunuch, “Thank you.”
Li Chengjing lifted his robe and stepped into the high threshold. The eunuch at the gate quietly sighed in relief, but before he could restrain the expression on his face, the Crown Prince suddenly stopped and turned to ask him, “Why is the palace so quiet?”
The eunuch didn’t expect the Crown Prince to turn around suddenly. His heart almost jumped out of fear, but he tried his best to look normal as he bowed his head and replied, “After His Majesty summoned Your Highness, he went to the West Hall to rest for a while. On His Majesty’s order, there is no need to report when Your Highness arrives, and you may go inside directly.”
“So that’s the case.” Li Chengjing looked at the eunuch with a faint smile. The eunuch almost thought that the Crown Prince had discovered something, but the next moment, the Crown Prince turned around and walked towards the West Hall without any hesitation.
When the Crown Prince’s back figure was no longer visible, the eunuch finally dared to sigh openly. Fortunately, His Highness didn’t notice anything.
Li Chengjing went straight to the innermost part of the West Hall, which housed the Emperor’s private chambers. Inside the bedchamber, the bright yellow dragon bed was particularly conspicuous. A bright yellow curtain was put down around the bed, and from across it, a person’s silhouette could be vaguely seen lying on the bed, unmoving.
Judging from the clothes, the person should be the Emperor.
It indeed looked like the Emperor was taking a nap. Li Chengjing lowered his eyes, cupped his hands, and bowed slowly: “This Son greets Your Majesty.”
After Li Chengjing finished with the greeting, there was no reply for a long time. Li Chengjing stayed in place and repeated his greeting, this time louder. Seeing no movement on the bed, he said with a low voice, “Excuse me, Your Majesty,” then lifted the curtain and walked in.
Li Chengjing walked to the dragon bed and was about to lift the last layer of the curtain when a voice suddenly came from behind him.
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