Chapter 168: What's happened to you, Empress?
What was wrong with the empress?
Han Yunxi stopped her questioning and looked towards the empress, who immediately averted her eyes. Long Tianmo helped her sit down on one side, filled with concern. "Muhou, are you all right? Is it too tiring?"
"Someone, call for an imperial physician!" the empress dowager said.
Yet the empress stopped them both, her voice steady. "I'm all right, there's no need..."
Feeling unconvinced, Han Yunxi resumed her questioning of Shuang Hong. "Shuang Hong, think it over carefully. You can't leave anything out."
Shuang Hong had no idea why Han Yunxi was asking these questions. She didn't even need to think about the answer. That night, Princess Changping sent her to fetch something at the same time she told her to take something away. It was just one object, and a very particular one at that, so she remember it very clearly.
The empress sat on one side with her eyes fixated on Shuang Hong. Perhaps her gaze was too fierce, but Shuang Hong sensed the stare. She timidly looked over and had a big fright, before quickly averting her eyes. Now she felt uneasy. Why was the empress looking at her this way? Could it be that that object...
She hesitated until Han Yunxi said coldly, "Shuang Hong, this is of monumental importance. Think it over carefully! If you lie, once the investigation's through..."
This was a reminder as well as a warning. Han Yunxi didn't finish her sentence. Shuang Hong hung her head, her heart pounding. She stole another peek at the empress, still hesitant. It was at this time that the silent Long Feiye spoke up in an icy voice.
"You need to think this long for something that happened only a few days ago?"
Shuang Hong raised her head and met Long Feiye's cold eyes. In that instant, her soul fled from her body! Heavens, the Duke of Qin was looking at her and even personally interrogating her! Too terrifying!
How could Shuang Hong dare to hesitate any further? She hastily replied, "Your servant remembers, remembers now! That day Princess Changping had your servant take away a wooden Buddha statue that belonged to the empress. Your servant left it in a room up ahead and hasn't had time to put it back yet!"
Her words seemed to suck the very souls out of the empress, who completely collapsed.
It belonged to the empress?
Han Yunxi was surprised. When she saw the empress's reaction, she seemed to realize something. A complicated look flitted past her eyes as she spoke. "Where did you put it? Take me to it right now."
"It's in a little room on the right. Your servant didn't touch it again after I left it there," Shuang Hong said truthfully.
Without another word, Han Yunxi walked over with Long Feiye close behind. The empress dowager and Long Tianmo were filled with even more doubts. What was going on now? What did Han Yunxi find out without telling them a thing? And yet, while grandmother and grandson were still puzzled, the empress suddenly jumped to her feet and chased after them.
"Muhou!" Long Tianmo shouted, finally realizing that his mother was acting strange. Although her feelings had been unstable for the past five to six days, today she was really...
"What's wrong with her?" the empress dowager fretted.
Long Tianmo didn't know what to say, but hurried after her with the empress dowager. By now, Han Yunxi was in the room that Shuang Hong pointed out, but she hadn't found a thing.
"I clearly put it here. I didn't move it afterwards."
"When that happened that night, I even fell sick. I didn't have a chance to come back!"
"Nobody would dare to move esteemed empress's things! That was a new Buddha statue that the empress recently obtained!"
Shuang Hong was very anxious, afraid that the blame would fall onto her. Han Yunxi and Long Feiye looked around the room, only to see the empress standing by the doorway, staring at them both.
"Esteemed empress, do you know where that Buddha statue went?" Han Yunxi asked.
"I don't," the empress replied.
"In other words, it's been lost?" Han Yunxi asked again.
"There's no way such a thing can be lost, especially when it belongs to the empress! Shuang Hong, you better think it over clearly!" Long Tianmo said as he walked over.
Shuang Hong immediately knelt on the ground. "Your Highness Crown Prince, your servant didn't remember wrongly. I placed it in this very room. Princess Changping wanted to personally carve a stone Buddha for the empress dowager as a New Year's gift, but she didn't have enough time. She hadn't even finished engraving the lotus throne, so she told your servant that morning to borrow a wooden Buddha statue from esteemed empress as a model. Later on, the princess told me to fetch some gold powder and put the wooden Buddha away, so I put that here!"
So speaking, Shuang Hong suddenly added, "That's right! Your servant remembers, that night your servant told the western wing's Xiao Yue, she should know this was here, too!"
"Someone, summon Xiao Yue here!" Long Feiye ordered immediately.
The empress's face turned green as she remained silent. Instead of Xiao Yue, it was Qian mama who came instead. "To report to these masters, court lady Xiao Yue caught a foul disease two days ago. She's already no more..."
Before she finished, Han Yunxi had narrowed her eyes. Something so convenient had come from fishy circumstances. If she didn't understand this much, then she would've lived this long for nothing!
"Where's the body?" she asked.
Qian mama darted a glance at the empress but managed to remain calm. "The body's long been cremated."
Han Yunxi's smile was cold. "Then where is the item? Qian mama, you supervise the western wing of the palace, don't you? Where did esteemed empress's wooden Buddha statue go? Which one of your underlings has the guts to steal her things, are they looking for death?"
"This...this...this old servant is unclear," Qian mama turned timid. She couldn't understand how Qin Wangfei knew to look for that exact item.
"What kind of supervisor are you if you're not clear?" Han Yunxi pressed.
Frightened, Qian mama's face turned queasy as she fumbled for a reply. Han Yunxi looked towards the taciturn empress and asked, "Esteemed empress, don't you know to look for something when it's been lost?"
An unhappy Long Tianmo was quick to rebut Han Yunxi's words. "How would muhou be in the mood to look for anything? Imperial Qin Aunt, just what do you need that thing for?"
"Han Yunxi, you're here to investigate poison. What does it matter if they've lost something here?" the empress dowager was displeased as well. Of course, she and Long Tianmo could tell that something was amiss, but they couldn't figure out how these two things were related. Or perhaps they were afraid of the terrifying truth it implied. At this point, it was clear that the empress was involved in some way.
Han Yunxi ignored them both and looked coldly at the empress, who bit her teeth and met her eyes with the last of her reason. But Han Yunxi suddenly announced, "That wooden Buddha statue is the source of the poison..."
An uproar came at her words, startling even Long Feiye. He knew that Han Yunxi was looking for the statue because of its connection to the poison, but never thought that the statue itself was poisonous!
"N-no...no, that's not it..." the empress murmured to herself as she began to shake her head.
Han Yunxi continued to speak. "Changping had an injury on her hand and was poisoned by natural means after accidentally touching the source of the poison. There's no such things as coincidences in this world. Whoever's trying to hide the Buddha statue is the one who knows the truth! In other words, the one who hid the statue is the person who killed Changping!"
These words were like a cudgel that smacked the empress's head. Finally, the empress who was falling apart couldn't take it anymore and shouted out, "I'm not the killer! I'm not!"
Everyone was momentarily stunned. Why...why was the empress saying these things? Wasn't this just like burying 300 taels of silver and putting a sign on top that said 'No silver buried here?' So the empress was the one who'd hidden the statue?
While everyone was still digesting the news, the empress threw herself at Han Yunxi, shouting at the top of her lungs. "It's not true! It's not like that! You're the murderer! You are! You didn't save Changping, so you're the killer!"
The quick-footed Long Feiye seized the empress by her hand and shoved her harshly towards Long Tianmo. But like a woman possessed, she struggled wildly towards Han Yunxi, still denouncing her, "Why didn't you save her? Why?!"
"Han Yunxi, aren't you very impressive? Why didn't you save her?"
"Why couldn't you have gone over earlier? Why didn't you help her? If you were a bit earlier, she wouldn't have died, sobsob..."
"Han Yunxi, you must have let Changping die on purpose! You're the one that hurt Changping, not me...not me..."
The empress's reaction went beyond everyone's expectations. Long Tianmo could only stay stunned in place. How could this be? It was the empress?
"Impossible, a tiger wouldn't eat its cubs, so how could the empress do such a thing! Han Yunxi, don't slander others!" the empress dowager fell into a violent rage. How could she believe such a thing?
Although Han Yunxi had started harboring suspicions after she found out about the statue, she was still startled by the empress's behavior. For a second, she didn't know how to reply. Only Long Feiye was calm enough to speak out. "Qian mama, where is the item? Hurry and bring it out!"
Qian mama didn't know this item was related to Changping's death, but seeing the empress's reaction had robbed her of all her courage. Her teeth chattered as she replied, "It's b-buried...buried in the back garden! Your servant didn't know a thing, esteemed empress, she... She told your servant to bury it back there!"
Qian mama's words were a decisive judgment against the empress. The empress dowager staggered back a few steps until she bumped into the door, looking at the empress with disbelieving eyes. The empress was still paralyzed in Long Tianmo's arms, crying uncontrollably.
Long Feiye brought along Qian mama to personally retrieve the statue. He didn't touch it directly as it was wrapped up tightly in a cloth bundle. As soon as it was brought in, Han Yunxi's detox system alarms started blaring-this thing had poison! She personally undid the wrappings and saw the statue, before her nerves snapped!
Heavens! This was poison arrow wood!
This statue had been carved from the roots of an Antiaris toxicaria tree. Although the roots and bark of such trees had their uses, they had to be soaked first for multiple days to eliminate the poison. But the statue before here hadn't been thoroughly treated at all. Small traces of poisonous tree sap remained in the wood, and upon closer examination, the base of the statue was still moist. This poison would only take effect after it entered the bloodstream, so not everyone would get poisoned from a simple touch. But an injured hand would definitely absorb the poison and lead its owner to death!
Of course, those who'd never seen poison arrow wood before found the conclusions hard to believe. Long Tianmo couldn't control his emotions and demanded, "How do you know this is the source of the poison?"
Instead of replying, Han Yunxi had someone catch her a live chicken. A thrashing rooster was delivered into the room, and Han Yunxi personally took hold of it to slash a small cut on its claw. Then she touched the base of the statue to the injury before letting the rooster go. In an instant, everyone saw the rooster take a few steps before it toppled to the ground.
 lotus throne () - a Buddha's seat in the form of a lotus flower.
 Xiao Yue () - Xiao is "dawn, daybreak, to know," Yue is "moon."