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Chapter 495: The start of unrest

    Chapter 495: The start of unrest

    The sudden explosion in the middle of the night alarmed the entire city! Gu Qishao had no idea where it came from when he jumped to his feet, but seeing that the Han Estate was unharmed, he simply laid back down again.

    He had never been a curious type, nor did he have the time to spare for frivolous pursuits. Even if all of Tianning's capital city fell into chaos, or the entire country descended into madness, or Cloud Realm Continent lost all reason, it had nothing to do with him. His childhood reverie had been interrupted, so it was unlikely he'd visit those memories again aside from dreams. He could never allow himself to think of them while he was still conscious.

    His pupils reflected the clear, star-filled skies as his world grew still. But after this explosion, all of Tianning Country descended into an unstable crisis! A groggy Han Yunxi was jolted from her sleep and assumed she'd been having nightmares, but when she heard the commotion outside, she realized something major had happened. The explosion was so intense that it rocked all the houses in Tianning capital. Without a doubt, the location of the explosion was someone near the city, perhaps even within the walls themselves.

    The explosion at Sky Domain Black Market was enough to alarm the capital, much less one right by their doors. Han Yunxi rushed outside in time to see that the rest of the Han family were all awake as well. Meanwhile, the streets were filled with all sorts of clamor and uproar.

    "Xu Donglin! Xu Donglin, come out!" Han Yunxi shouted. She knew there were guards stationed nearby.

    As expected, Xu Donglin materialized instantly. "Esteemed wangfei, I hope you didn't suffer a fright. Shall we go back to the estate? It's safer there."

    "What's going on?" Han Yunxi asked instead.

    "This subordinate isn't clear. His Highness ordered us to guard here without budging an inch." Xu Donglin was clearly spewing lies. His status amongst the guards wasn't high enough to speak directly with His Highness Duke of Qin!

    But Han Yunxi didn't see through his lies and said anxiously, "This is serious. Hurry back to the Duke of Qin's estate and see how His Highness is doing. Check to see if there's explosions there, too."

    Xu Donglin suddenly grew alarmed himself, and ordered a few guards to watch the place while he hurried off.

    Where did the gunpowder for the explosion come from?! Han Yunxi creased her brows in thought. Perhaps the search parties had forced the Chu Clan's people into a corner, thus making them retaliate against Long Feiye with explosions. Aside from Great General Mu's estate, the only other people in possession of gunpowder would have to be the military Chu Clan.

    Currently, Long Feiye had just arrived back at the Duke of Qin's estate. He too, was shocked by the turn of events.

    "Your Highness, it came from the military depot on the west side of the city," one of the guards reported promptly.

    "The military depot...very interesting." Long Feiye's pupils glimmered with the light from the explosions as he fell silent. Finally, he ordered, "Tell Chu Xifeng that your lordship is going into seclusion for two days and divvy up forces to look after the Han Estate."

    So speaking, he headed for his quarters without mentioning the explosions again.

    Does His Highness Duke of Qin have no views on something so serious? The guard was very curious, but he would never chase to ask his master. He rushed off to find Chu Xifeng instead.

    The entire capital city was bathed in lights. Both the civilians and the nobles were all filled with fear. Of course, Emperor Tianhui was panicking most of all. He had just been in the imperial study, asking Great General Mu and Mu Qingwu about the turncoat guards, when the sound of an explosion caused him to drop his tea. The cup shattered into pieces on the ground. Great General Mu immediately sent people out to investigate, thus leaving the occupants of the room in silence.

    Emperor Tianhui was sitting bolt upright, his hands clutching his armrest as his taut, cold face turned stern. He had allowed Great General Mu to send off his men without a murmur until now. Before him stood the crown prince Long Tianmo, Great General Mu, and Mu Qingwu, all of them with their heads bowed and ghastly expressions on their faces.

    Leaving aside the mystery of the culprits behind the explosion, the very fact that it'd happened at the capital made for a heavy strike against Mu Qingwu, the head commander of the imperial guards and capital city security. Moreover, Emperor Tianhui had found out about the traitor guards right before this explosion happened and was lecturing Mu Qingwu on the incident. At such a critical juncture, another explosion had occurred-so wouldn't he accuse Mu Qingwu of dereliction of duty?

    The room was silent. Emperor Tianhui's breathing was heavy and labored, while Long Tianmo and the Mu father and son were shaking with fright inside their hearts, anxious and alarmed. The imperial guards had yet to return with a report, so they were still unclear on the current situation. How could anyone keep calm in this state?

    Of course, Long Tianmo was the most nervous of all, sensing a faint uneasiness within him. Over the past few days, he and Mu Qingwu had exerted effort to convince the emperor that the crossbow archers were connected to the black market gunpowder case. Their purpose was to threaten the capital city itself. But someone had been whispering into the emperor's ear until he summoned the Mu father and brother to the palace to ask in detail about the turncoat soldiers. After they'd turned traitor, Mu Qingwu had killed their young commander in a fit of impulse. The two captains had been detained and interrogated in turn. Everyone knew about this, but who would care while they were preoccupied searching for the crossbow archers?

    The emperor had only given the incident a cursory glance in the past and told the torturers to take care of interrogation without any further input. But now he suddenly wanted to know all the details. Moreover, there had been an unexpected explosion tonight. Wasn't everything too much of a coincidence?

    Suddenly, hasty footsteps sounded from outside the study, the sound of the guard back from his scouting. In a flash, the nervous group grew even more tense. What's the situation now?

    Eunuch Luo had hardly showed the guard inside before Emperor Tianhui snarled, "Where was the explosion? Just what's going on?"

    "To reply Your Majesty, it was the military depot in the western part of the city that exploded. The explosion ruined two storehouses' worth of weapons and armor. They're still counting the deaths and injuries, but the army doctors are already hurrying over to the scene."

    Long Tianmo, Mu Qingwu and Great General Mu all raised their heads at the same time, shocked until their faces turned white.

    The military depot exploded! How could that be?!

    The military depot in the west was where Head Commander General Mu had stationed his imperial guards. It was a large storehouse for military weapons and armor, an important stronghold with strict security. How could an explosion happen there? Moreover, they hadn't stored any gunpowder there in the first place!

    The three kingdoms of the continent all entrusted gunpowder to their various military powers. Tianning Country's gunpowder was under the command of General Mu's estate. Because it was a precious commodity, its quantities were limited. Unless there was a major war going on, they would hardly touch it. Even the calvary and naval forces could only petition General Mu for gunpowder use after they reached the battlefield.

    Emperor Tianhui regarded Great General Mu coldly, his icy eyes filled with wrath and doubt.

    "Imperial father, these people are simply too reckless! They actually provoked our Tianning military! As your son sees it-"

    "Great General Mu, why would a perfect good military depot suddenly explode? Where did the gunpowder come from?" Emperor Tianhui interrupted angrily.

    All of Tianning's gunpowder was spread out throughout the country, while the capital's share was stored outside of the city walls. Without Emperor Tianhui's express permission, even Great General Mu couldn't move the stores. Where had the gunpowder that caused the explosion of the military depot come from? Did someone put it there on purpose, or had the depot been secretly storing gunpowder all this time until it was accidentally ignited? This was hard to tell.

    "Imperial father, it has to be the same culprits of the black market explosion. I'm afraid they wanted to cause a panic and distract us while allowing the crossbow archers to escape! These people must be part of the same crowd. Imperial father, Tianning's gunpowder stores are guarded so closely that these were probably transferred in by foreign forces!" Long Tianmo explained in a rush.

    Although he didn't give a specific name to the 'foreign forces,' anyone intelligent could figure out what he meant. Such a sensitive shipment could only be smuggled across the frontier borders. Northern Li and Tianning weren't on friendly terms enough to trade, while Western Zhou and Tianning had a booming border business. Unfortunately, Emperor Tianhui didn't even spare him a glance, making Mu Qingwu anxious. He prepared to speak when Great General Mu shot him a glare to shut up.

    In the end, the crown prince and Young General were still too inexperienced. His Majesty had summoned him to personally inquire about the turncoat imperial guards, which meant that the emperor already suspected them. Under these circumstances, pushing the blame to the Chu Clan like the past would only cause the opposite effect and increase his suspicions.

    Great General Mu stepped forward and fell on his knees. "Your Majesty, this soldier is guilty!"

    Seeing this, Mu Qingwu followed his actions, while a complex look flickered past Long Tianmo's eyes as he kept silent.

    "Your Majesty, this soldier neglected his duty, thus causing the assassins to go on a rampage and the citizens to panic. I know that I cannot escape such great blame. But whether the military depot was storing gunpowder in secret, or someone else arranged this as a provocation still merits investigation. No matter the case, this soldier still bears the crime of lax security. Both of this soldier's crimes are a monstrous transgression and cannot be pardoned. May Your Majesty mete punishment!"

    His words seemed to be admitting the error of his ways, but revealed two possibilities for the depot explosion in a mild and roundabout way. Emperor Tianhui's rage receded somewhat, he but still gave a cold snort.

    "So you know you're to blame too!"

    Great General Mu kowtowed against the floor, afraid to say any more. By his side, Long Tianmo and Mu Qingwu didn't dare to offer a peep. Emperor Tianhui pounded a fist on the table before he fell silently. Finally, he declared, "Zhen will give you three days' time to get to the bottom of this. Otherwise...hmph, don't think Zhen won't touch you just because you've been a senior official of two successive dynasties!"

    "Thanks to Your Majesty for your grace!" Great General Mu bowed to express his gratitude.

    "Mu Qingwu, Zhen will give you three days' time as well. If you still can't catch those crossbow assassins, you can go to the imprisons and keep those two captains company!" Emperor Tianhui commanded coldly.

    "This soldier accepts the decree!" Mu Qingwu didn't dare to say anything else.

    The trio withdrew from the imperial study before exchanging glances. Afraid to make any comments right there, they left the building behind before Long Tianmo burst out, "Young General, what happened with those traitor guards? Don't tell this crown prince that you had no idea!"

    How could His Majesty have grown suspicious until those turncoats showed up?

    Mu Qingwu's gaze turned evasive again, but Great General Mu was still serious. "Your Highness Crown Prince, the two captains of those guards are still locked up in the imperial prisons and wanted to seize the opportunity to throw more rocks at people stuck in a well. It's unavoidable that His Majesty would harbor suspicions. If there's anyone to blame, blame Qingwu for getting too excited and killing off that young commander!"

    Long Tianmo had no way to pursue the matter once Great General Mu had spoken his piece. He heaved a heavy sigh. "Right now, the most important thing is to find evidence. As long as we can prove there were no hidden stores of gunpowder originally at the depot, this crown prince believes that imperial father won't simply sit by and watch! Anyone who dares to sabotage the military depot-hmph, is sick of living!"

    It was still very easy to prove that the gunpowder explosion hadn't come from originally existing stores of the stuff. The security at the military depot was so tight and staffed with all of Great General Mu's men. Nobody would ever betray him. Thus, Great General Mu was confident that the explosion must have happened outside the depot itself.

    As long as they could track down the origin of the blast, the crown prince could keep on biting at the Chu Clan's heels. For Great General Mu, who had watched after the depot for years, finding a blast origin was an easy task.

    However, after the three of them split up to do their tasks, a certain woman began to panic. This was none other than Mu Liuyue.

    Just what had she done?
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