The Mingcui Valley had never been as famous and as crowded as that day.
The people had flooded the banks of the shallow stream and the valley, and human figures were everywhere. The noise from their footsteps and conversations made a huge hubbub throughout the valley.
The magic guards of the imperial court blocked the two ends of the ten mile-long valley. The light glinting from their fearsome swords and magic treasures shot upwards, and reflected against each other in the sky.
It had become a forbidden land here.
More than ten thousand soldiers and hired hands were searching the fields and mountains for the tiniest clues across an area of seventy square miles.
Officials from the Pure Heaven Bureau were investigating a few key spots.
People dressed in official uniforms could be seen in the ruins of the Daoist temple by the stream and under a wild tree at the deepest end of the valley.
Wei Chenzi's corpse was still under that wild tree, his eyes screwed shut, his body as cold as a rock.
He was still widely known, in both the Cultivation world and in Zhaoge City. Now his corpse was exposed in the wildness, uncared for.
This was a major event, a catastrophe, so no-one had dared to move his corpse, in case they destroyed the evidence.
Quite apart from the appearance of the demons of the Underworld with their deadly schemes, the assassination attempt itself was serious enough to shock the land.
An elder of the Center Sect in the Yuanying State set up a trap to assassinate the Shenmo Peak Master of the Green Mountain Sect.
Zhao Layue was so well-known and so highly regarded that the assassination attempt on her could not be treated too seriously.
What was most important was that the imperial court had to show it took the assassination attempt seriously, because everybody was worried about how the Green Mountain Sect would react.
As a sidelined official of the Pure Heaven Bureau, Shi Fengchen has been put in charge of the case. But working on it would show it was impossible to please everybody, whether he was able to solve it or not.
He pulled back his gaze from Wei Chenzi's body and walked to the cliff's edge, gazing over the valley lit up by tens of thousands of lights, though he himself remained silent.
Zhao Layue had actually survived the assassination attempt.
The assassin of the Old Ones had died instead, at the hands of the demon of the Underworld who for many years had not risen to set foot on the Land.
The assassin actually was an elder of the Center Sect!
This development was far beyond Shi Fengchen's imagination.
What was happening was far more complicated than he had could have believed.
Now Shi Fengchen sensed that there was a pair of eyes watching him in the distant mountain.
The pair of eyes had no emotion.
His body had grown cold.
In Zhaoge City.
Standing by the window, Jing Jiu looked at the Thoughtless Sword lying quietly in his hand, as a thought passed through his mind.
Illuminated by the dusk of the setting sun, the Thoughtless Sword looked even redder, as if it had just slain someone.
At the critical moment, Zhao Layue broke off her connection with the Thoughtless Sword, letting it come back to Zhaoge City and ask for aid from her colleagues.
After having finished its mission of sending Sword Letter to West Mountain Residence, the Thoughtless Sword was unsure where to go, so it followed Jing Jiu's energy to return to his hands.
It was then that he knew something had happened to Zhao Layue.
Yet in his current Cultivation state and despite the speed of the riding sword, it would be too late by the time he got there. So he did not go.
When the moment passed, regardless of whether Zhao Layue was alive or dead, Jing Jiu had no need to go there - all he could do was wait for the result.
The wall behind the bookshelf silently slid open, and State Duke Lu walked out from the opening, his expression solemn and sweat visible on his sideburns.
He walked behind Jing Jiu, who reported, "The peak master has already been sent back to Zhao Manor House, guarded by Gongfeng Jing himself. The rest went back to the West Mountain Residence."
State Duke Lu was famous for his coolness and his low-key manner, but he was stunned speechless after having learned the news, and he hurried back to the imperial palace.
This wasn't because of the relationship between Zhao Layue and Jing Jiu, but because of Zhao Layue's status and the significance of the assassination attempt.
If the Green Mountain Sect couldn't keep their heads cool, how would the Center Sect react? If conflict occurred in the Cultivation world, how could the imperial court keep the peace? What about the people in the mortal world?
Jing Jiu remained silent.
He was standing under a patch of bloody light.
State Duke Lu didn't know the red light came from the Thoughtless Sword, thinking that it was from the setting sun outside the window.
Watching Jing Jiu's back, he felt nervous for reasons he could not fathom, so he instinctively bent his back a little lower, as though to avoid something.
As far as Stade Duke Lu knew, Jing Jiu was the heir of the wooden board owner, was still very young, and in a low Cultivation state.
However, for some strange reason he found Jing Jiu standing there peacefully oddly stressful.
"It's good that she is okay. You can go back now," Jing Jiu said.
State Duke Lu didn't dare reply, and left through the underground tunnel after bowing courteously.
Jing Jiu stepped away from the window, both of his hands trembling slightly. The Thoughtless Sword turned into a sword rope again and landed on his wrist as a bracelet.
He walked to the front of the bookshelf, and took down the iron sword. He then left the house after putting the sword on his back.
The lights were bright in Zhao Manor House.
Nobody could be seen in the street, but the agitated and violent atmosphere was so thick that it felt as though a murder could happen any minute.
Innumerable high-level swordsmen of the imperial court were hiding, unseen, in the dark, including many disciples of the Green Mountain Sect.
Jing Jiu walked to the front door of Zhao Manor House and onto the stone steps. The energy in the dark places of the street had changed a little, he felt, and then returned to its normal state.
The door of the manor house was pushed open, and a caretaker glanced at Jing Jiu a few times, looking both frightened and nervous. He stammered, "Something happened today in the house…"
Before he could finish speaking, he saw the face and recalled the rumor he had heard at the second house three days ago. He was startled and hurriedly stood aside to let Jing Jiu enter the house.
Inside, Zhao Manor House was very quiet. The maids and servants must have been ordered to stay in their rooms, so Jing Jiu couldn't see anybody or hear the usual noisy talk and laughter in the house.
The caretaker left Jing Jiu as they came to the door of a small courtyard located in the innermost part of the house. Jing Jiu went through it and saw a short and fat man.
The man wore clothes made from golden cloth, which glittered in the dark night.
But of course he would shine in golden light even if he wasn't wearing the golden cloth, as his energy was strong and bright enough.
Jing Jiu knew this person was Gongfeng Jing in the imperial palace. On two occasions he hadn't seen him by the Emperor's side, but the Emperor had mentioned him to Jing Jiu. It was widely said that he was loyal to the royal family.
It looked like this Gongfeng Jing had a strong Cultivation state.
The fact that he had been asked to guard Zhao Layue that night meant the Emperor wanted to say something about the affair.
Of course, Jing Jiu knew that it also meant the Emperor has begun to have suspicions about some people.
Jing Jiu wasn't concerned about Gongfeng Jing, and paid him little attention. Instead he looked at Zhao Layue's parents, and nodded to them in greeting. His glance stayed on her mother's face a little longer, and then he entered the room.
The atmosphere at West Mountain Residence was even more intense than in Zhao Manor House: it was more depressing, and utterly quiet even though there were many people in the room.
Sitting in a chair, Nan Wang's expression was as cold as ice. All the disciples of the Green Mountain who had not gone to Zhao Manor House were present, with solemn expressions on their faces.
State Duke He had gone there to represent the imperial court, and he had stayed since noon. Another noted monk of the Fruit Formation Temple had gone with him.
It was interesting to note that this monk was the principal justice of the Fruit Formation Temple, and that he had a close relationship with the Green Mountain Sect.
The chief commander of the Pure Heaven Bureau came back from the Mingcui Valley. He entered the room with a solemn expression, and cupped his hands in courtesy in every direction. After updating everyone with the latest information, he added, "We have used the borrowed Heaven-line Scope from the imperial palace to ascertain the case. It was indeed the underworld fire that killed Wei Chenzi, and it is a high-level fire. For the rest, we need to wait until the investigation is completed."
Nan Wang said emotionlessly, "That isn't what I want to hear."
Hurriedly, State Duke He said, "Gongfeng Jing is guarding Zhao Layue himself, so the peak master is safe for sure. And Zhaoge City is quite safe as well. As for the investigation, the Pure Heaven Bureau will do their best."
Nan Wang looked at him as though he were an an idiot, and said, "The person who wanted to harm our peak master is an elder of your Center Sect. Everybody knows the relationship between the Center Sect and the imperial court. How many external disciples of the Cloud-dream Mountain are serving in the magic army? If I remember correctly, this commander is also a disciple of the Center Sect. Now you are telling me Zhaoge City is safe. As for this case, letting the Pure Heaven Bureau investigate it is the same as letting the Center Sect do it. What the hell can they find out?"
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