As the luminescent lamps blazed outside Weiyang Palace, team after team of armor-clad Imperial guards patrolled its premises in an impressive show of security.
The thunderous rumblings of a carriage’s wheels echoed in the silent night as Ning Chen drove his carriage towards the exit. Just as he left Weiyang Palace, he stumbled upon a passing guard who immediately stopped him.
“Little Gong gong, may I know what you’re up to?” The guard asked in a polite tone. Seeing that Ning Chen had just come out of Weiyang Palace, he didn’t dare to trouble the little eunuch too much.
“Her majesty has given this one an urgent task outside of the palace. Unfortunately, this little one might not be able to accomplish this task on time. The security in the palace is simply too strict at the moment and I can’t come as go as I please. I hope that this officer would be able to help this one leave the palace easier.”
His eyes darted across the field, anxiously staring at the armed guards before him for a moment before immediately turning back to the patrol leader in front of him.
The patrol leader said in a hesitant tone, with a slightly awkward expression on his face.
Due to an assassin breaking into the Imperial Study at night, he was given the order of patrolling the premises. Logically speaking, he shouldn’t leave this post without permission at this moment.
However, her Majesty’s matters were important as well, and mustn’t be delayed. If he were to reject this request, the master of Weiyang Palace might become displeased with him.
“If this officer doesn’t believe me, here is the keepsake given to me by her Majesty. This officer may show this to her Majesty for verification at a later date.”
As he said this, the anxiety on his face became more apparent. He took out the crescent jade pendant and handed it over to the patrol leader while continuing to hurry the man.
“Alright then, this one will send Little Gong gong off on his journey.”
Upon seeing her Majesty’s pendant, the patrol leader’s doubts were immediately dispelled and he nodded his head in a show of assent. This was, after all, the keepsake her Majesty usually carried with her. All the guards in the palace had seen her do so, there shouldn’t be any mistake about this.
Ning Chen quietly breathed a sigh of relief at this; his plan seemed to have succeeded in winning the trust of this guard. He had gone out of his way to approach that guard in order to lower his vigilance against him. After all, no matter how vigilant one was, there was always a blind spot in one’s knowledge. As long as he was able to take advantage of this, creating an airtight alibi was easy.
The guard leader ordered the other guardsmen to continue their patrol before hopping onto the carriage. He took the reins of the carriage and as he drove, he casually chatted with Ning Chen.
“Little Gong gong seems to be really young. Are you new in the palace?”
Ning Chen nodded his head, slightly embarrassed. He replied, “ I entered the palace a few days ago and had the fortune of receiving Miss Qing Ning’s care. Now, I take care of the chores in Weiyang Palace.”
“Little Gong gong is so lucky. Her Majesty is well known for her benevolence, and it is said her subordinates enjoy the greatest of latitudes.” The patrol leader said with a kind smile on his face.
“It is as this officer says.”
Ning Chen gave a superficial smile as he replied. In his heart, he thought the exact opposite. This silly man had been cheated by Zhang Sun. Whether or not she was benevolent, he did not know, but she definitely wasn’t generous with her subordinates. Thanks to her, he had to run about the palace several times. If it wasn’t for her interference, he would’ve been leading a carefree life outside the palace instead of having to rush about in the middle of the night.
“Oh, isn’t this Little Ning. What are you doing out and about at this time of the night?”
A while after their trip began, a voice that sounded like male duck rang out ahead. His heart skipped a beat as he quietly cursed to himself.
As they turned towards the source of the voice, a figure wearing a blue robe embroidered with cranes slowly walked towards them. He carried a horsetail whisk in his hand and wore a jewelry studded hat that had a peacock feather stuck in it. As he looked at Ning Chen, he flashed a smile that was neither feminine nor masculine, “What a coincidence.”
“Zhao Jin Gong gong.” The officer recognized this person and cupped his hands in a polite greeting of sorts.
“Officer Ling.” Zhao Jin returned the greeting before continuing his questioning with a wide grin on his face, “May I know where Officer Ling and Little Ning are headed to?”
“Little Gong gong is under the orders of Her Majesty to complete a task outside the palace. This one chanced upon him, and decided to send him off. Zhao Gong gong is acquainted with this little Gong gong?”
Ling Xiao was slightly surprised that Zhao Jin actually recognized Ning Chen. After all, Zhao Jin’s status was vastly different from this little eunuch who had just entered the palace. He had served by the Xia Emperor’s side for almost 20 years.
“Just a chance meeting.” Zhao Jin gave him a superficial answer without any further explanation before turning to Ning Chen. With a sinister smile, he said in a devious tone, “Little Ning, this one had initially planned on arranging for you to work beside this one. Who knew that Her Majesty was even faster than this one and had already dispatched you to Weiyang Palace. Such a pity.”
“Ha ha.” Ning Chen gave a silly looking laugh and glossed over the matter. He knew that there was no point in answering this question. Either way, he would offend someone. If Zhao Jin really wanted him, he could go fight for him with Zhang Sun.
Zhao Jin circled around the carriage and gave an extremely superficial smile as he said, “The palace is in a state of chaos right now, Officer Ling had better do a thorough job of checking; it would be bad if anything were to slip through the cracks.”
Ning Chen’s heart fell as he heard this. With a slightly pale face, he cursed the old pervert for wrecking his business.
Ling Xiao looked at Ning Chen with an awkward expression on his face. He was in a dilemma right now. Normally, matters involving Weiyang Palace weren’t matters he wanted to interfere in lightly; but now that Zhao Jin had spoken, he had no choice but to inspect the carriage. If he didn’t, it would be a dereliction of duty on his part.
“Officer Ling, just proceed according to the rules, however, please be careful.” Ning Chen replied in a grave tone.
Ling Xiao nodded and headed up into the carriage, ready to inspect the insides.
The insides of the carriage was full of chests stacked on top of each other. As he opened the outermost chest, the sight of several porcelain vases entered his vision. Continuing on, he opened another chest and found it to be full of porcelain as well.
Having worked in the palace for almost 10 years, he naturally recognized these items. They were items commonly found throughout the palace, and while they were exquisitely crafted, they were only worth that much.
Weiyang Palace was full of treasures that these porcelains simply couldn’t compete with. If someone wanted to steal the treasures in the palace, these would probably be the last item on their list.
“Ahh, be careful Officer Ling.”
Just as Ling Xiao moved one of the chests aside, Ning Chen abruptly shouted, while the expression on his face suddenly changed.
A moment later, the sound of a chest opening along with several loud crashes echoed in the air. The bottom of the chest had opened up causing the porcelain within to roll out and crash onto the floor.
Ning Chen revealed an anxious expression as he turned to the officer, “Ahh, I forgot to mention that these chests were slightly faulty due to their age. When Her Majesty handed this task to this one, she had hastily mentioned this, but also said that with this pendant this one would not have to undergo inspection; so it would be alright. In the heat of the moment, this one forgot to remind this officer.”
Ling Xiao’s face fell as he saw the shattered porcelain on the ground. While they weren’t some rare treasure, they were objects belonging to Weiyang Palace. Furthermore, Her Majesty seemed to be in a rush to move these porcelains; so they must have some important purpose. As this thought crossed his mind, he glared at Zhao Jin. That damned old eunuch, if it wasn’t for him, he wouldn’t have caused such a major blunder.
At the base of the carriage, Ning Chen lightly sighed and said with a bitter look on his face, “Officer Ling, please proceed with your inspection. This one still has to hurry back after completing this task to receive his punishment from Her Majesty.”
Upon hearing that Ning Chen didn’t intend to push the blame onto him, his impression of Ning Chen significantly improved. Compared to the gloating Zhao Jin beside him, who was more trustworthy was clear for all to see.
With this in mind, he closed the chest and hopped off the carriage. In a strict tone, he said, “There’s no need to inspect any further, Little Gong gong should continue with his task. Don’t delay Her Majesty’s tasks because of this inspection. Regarding the porcelain, if Her Majesty wishes to punish you, Ling Xiao will definitely be there to bear the punishment with you.”
“Many thanks, Officer Ling.”
As he flashed him a smile of gratitude, he felt a pang of guilt in his heart. Was it really alright for him to cheat such an upstanding person?
Of course, this guilt only last for a while before disappearing without a trace.
In Buddhism, they have a saying: If this one doesn’t sacrifice himself, who will? 
Too bad for them, Ning Chen’s motto has always been: If this one doesn’t sacrifice himself, someone else will!
Besides, a lowly eunuch escaping from the palace was hardly a serious matter. It definitely wouldn’t be a matter of life and death.
However, if he was really caught, he would literally be sent to hell!
At the side, having seen that nothing was amiss with the inspection, Zhao Jin gave them a cold smile before turning around to leave, his annoying haughtiness had not decreased one bit.
It didn’t require much thought to know why this eunuch had it out for him. He had only met with Zhao Jin twice and they definitely had no grudges between each other. In fact, Zhao Jin had even intended to recruit him on their first meeting. This drastic change in attitude could only be due to his relationship with Zhang Sun.
Such was palace intrigue, choosing one’s side was of utmost importance. From today’s incident, it was highly likely that Zhao Jin stood on the side of the Western Palace. This was why he went out of his way to hinder Ning Chen.
Unfortunately, Ning Chen was in a rush to leave the palace, if not he would’ve definitely wanted to teach this old eunuch a lesson.
He shook his head regretfully before turning towards Ling Xiao: “Officer Ling, it’s time for us to head off.”
Seeing the change in Ning Chen’s expression, he mistook it as him being worried about the punishment he would face once he got back. What he didn’t know was that Ning Chen was merely ticked that he wasn’t able to punish that old pervert.
Unbeknownst to Ning Chen, in these short few days at Weiyang Palace, whether it was his actions or thoughts, they were all squarely made on the side of Zhang Sun.
Even if his mouth wasn’t being honest with itself and constantly grumbled about Zhang Sun, his heart couldn’t tell a lie. While it might look like he was flippant about leaving, deep down in his heart he hadn’t cut off all ties to Zhang Sun.
The road out of the palace was relatively smooth. With Zhang Sun’s keepsake and Ling Xiao’s company, most of the inspections were merely cursory.
What they all didn’t know was that this same little eunuch who had escorted the Empress back to safety was now escorting the assassin; who had tried to assassinate the Emperor, and had just broken into the Imperial Study.
Upon leaving the palace, he immediately made his way towards Du An Pharmacy. His poker face finally crumbled, revealing an anxious expression as he sped off in a trail of dust.
After two hours of traveling, the carriage finally reached its destination. Ning Chen opened up the bottom most chest, revealing the injured figure of Mo Chengxue. He carried her out and hurried into the inner courtyard.
“Manager, there’s a person in need of help.”
Given the ruckus in the front, the manager had naturally been alerted to his presence. Just as he was about to burst into a fit of rage, he saw that the perpetrator was Ning Chen and immediately suppressed his anger.
As he turned to look at the lady in Ning Chen’s arms, his calm heart was stirred up once more.
“Hurry into the room.”
He immediately told Ning Chen after noticing the severity of Mo Chengxue’s condition. The moment Ning Chen put her down, he immediately began diagnosis.
“Go to the front hall and grab my silver needle for me. Hurry.” He anxiously said as he looked over her body.
Ning Chen immediately sprinted to the front hall, not daring to waste any time.
A short while later, Ning Chen was back with the silver needle. He handed it over and quietly retreated to the side to watch over her, the anxiety on his face still as heavy as ever.
“Don’t just stand there, go heat up some water and bring it over, the hotter the better.” He barked at Ning Chen as he took out the silver needle.
“Alright.” Ning Chen nodded before rushing off to the kitchen to boil some water.
A few minutes later, the water was boiled and was swiftly transferred into a large basin. As he entered the room with the basin in his hands, he saw the manager performing acupuncture on Mo Chengxue with a focused look on his face.
Beads of sweat rolled down his face and back as he went about his delicate work. His sweat soaked clothes clung to his body, painting a disheveled picture of a man.
The manager hadn’t called for him so he merely stood by the side awaiting further instructions, all the while maintaining his silence in order not to disturb the manager.
This tense silence continued for another minute before the manager stood up, fatigued. As he did so, his body swayed from light headedness, almost causing him to fall.
“Is the hot water ready?” He asked as he steadied himself.
“Mhm. It’s heated up.” Ning Chen anxiously replied.
“Undress her and bathe her.” He continued in a tired voice.
“Me…?” Ning Chen was taken aback by this sudden request, as he pointed at himself as he stammered.
“If not you, who else?” The manager threw out these words before leaving the room in a matter-of-fact fashion.
“The water mustn’t be too hot, lukewarm is fine. Monitor the time, ensure that it’s not too short, but make sure it’s not longer than two hours.”
“Alright…alright…” At the side, Ning Chen was too stunned to say anything else as he dumbly nodded.
Footnotes: Rulai Buddha once gave Dizang Bodhisattva an important responsibility which resulted in him swearing this oath which consists in part of the following, “Until the masses have been enlightened, My bodhi (enlightenment, wisdom etc.) will not be proven; Until the hells are emptied, I’ll swear off Buddhahood.” This is the basis for the saying “ If I don’t descend into hell, who will descend into hell?”
In short, it means sacrificing oneself to save others when used in a non-buddhist context.
Dizang Bodhisattva is also known as Jizo in Japan and is also known as the lord of the six paths of reincarnation.
The quote appears in the <