Jing Yue was teasing the pair of children into talking. Both of them were only over one year old and could already say some single words. At this time, it was quite fun to listen to their babbling.
Qin Yanzhi saw that his attention was focused on the children and felt a little upset. Then, he hugged Jing Yue from behind like he did when he was a child, making the two palace maids waiting in the room blushed—Yan-xiuyi may look cold and aloof but she turned into a puddle of water in front of the emperor. No wonder the emperor fancied her.
However, in reality, the emperor’s scalp had gone numb as he felt the two soft mounds on his back. Although it was fake, goosebumps still crawled all over his body like thousands of ants.
Jing Yue was still wondering what had come over Qin Yanzhi when the other party said, “Your Majesty, I’m sleepy.”
“…” Jing Yue coughed drily and continued his doting persona, “Come here and take the prince and princess away. Yan-xiuyi and I are going to rest.”
When everyone left, Qin Yanzhi was happy. Even if Jing Yue pushed him away, he was always with a smile.
Jing Yue, “What are you up to?”
Qin Yanzhi, “I’m dedicated to my performance.”
Jing Yue, “… You don’t have to be that dedicated.”
Qin Yanzhi, “Ge, I’ll listen to you.”
Jing Yue looked at him again. He couldn’t help feeling that Qin Yanzhi was getting weirder recently, but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what.
Two days later, the wife of Marquis Luo entered the palace.
In Huaqing Hall, Guo Huizhu clutched Madam Marquis’ hands in fear, “Mother, the emperor must have found out that I’m not Guo Huizhen. What should I do?”
Madam Marquis looked at her daughter, saw that she was pale and haggard like a withered flower, and said in distress, “Don't panic, even if the emperor has suspicions, he can’t be certain of it. The art of skin painting that I taught you is not a mortal method. I also got it by chance. It’s impossible for people in the world to think of it.”
“No, Mother, the emperor really knows! He even asked me that day if I had a sister, and wanted to appoint a marriage for my sister!” Guo Huizhu cried. “I couldn't sleep all night. When I close my eyes, I could see Guo Huizhen coming to me like an evil spirit, wanting to tear off my skin! Mother, did you not kill her but just locked her up?”
Madam Marquis frowned. “I didn’t do anything to her, but she escaped.”
“What?!” Guo Huizhu stood up abruptly. “How can she escape? Is it really her who came to me?”
“Impossible. The palace is heavily guarded. How could she enter with her inhuman appearance? It's just that you've been worrying too much and caused the nightmares, that’s all.” Madam Marquis pondered for a moment and said, “You mentioned before that the emperor went out of the palace and came back with a different attitude towards you?”
Guo Huizhu nodded and was startled. “Do you suspect that Guo Huizhen saw the emperor after she escaped? She told him the truth and the emperor suspected me?”
Madam Marquis looked grave. “It’s possible.”
Guo Huizhu said angrily, “Why didn't you kill her then! Why did you keep this scourge?”
Madam Marquis, “Aren’t you the one who said you wanted to keep her to watch your rise to glory?”
“I…” Guo Huizhu was angry again, “But I didn't think that my mother couldn't even keep an eye on an invalid!”
Madam Marquis was speechless for a moment and said, “Don't panic. Even if the emperor really listened to Guo Huizhen, he couldn't have believed everything she said. Otherwise, why didn't he confront you directly but tested you again and again? Besides, Guo Huizhen is disfigured. It’s already a blessing if she doesn't scare the emperor half to death. The emperor likes your face and is most likely reluctant to ruin it. But he has resentment in his heart, so he is a little cold to you.”
Guo Huizhu, “But since the emperor knows the truth, no matter how much he likes… my face, it’s difficult to get close to me. Without the emperor's favor, what glory can I enjoy?”
“Hehe…” Madam Marquis lightly hugged her daughter. “Doesn’t he like Yan-xiuyi? What if I help you change your face again?”
“Really?” Guo Huizhu was overjoyed at first but got frustrated again. “But what should I do with my current status? As a Noble Consort, I can't just die suddenly in the palace and not let anyone see the body, right?”
Madam Marquis, “During the spring hunt next year, the emperor will take the concubines out of the palace. There will be an opportunity then. Just pretend that you are bitten to death by wild animals.”
“But I can't wait that long!” Guo Huizhu said aggrievedly. “Besides, according to the emperor's indifference to me now, I can’t be sure if he will take me to the spring hunt.”
Madam Marquis thought so too, and said, “How about this, I’ll arrange for a trustworthy person to come in and take your current skin, and you will be your Yan-xiuyi. This time, we won’t leave any loose ends behind.”
Guo Huizhu was a little hesitant, “Can anyone be trusted in this kind of thing?”
Madam Marquis was unperturbed. “The wealth and lives of the family are in my hands. Besides, letting her enter the palace as a noble consort is already several lifetimes of blessing. What is there to be unwilling?”
After being in the dark for so long, Guo Huizhu finally saw the light. She hugged Madam Marquis and acted coy, “Mother, you’re the best.”
Madam Marquis looked at her only daughter and her heart warmed slightly. “Who else can I dote on if not you?”
Thinking back, she was just an orphan girl who had tasted all the hardships of the world. She accidentally entered a tomb by mistake and got the art of skin painting from the tomb. After that, she found a chance to kill a young lady from a good family and took her place before she got the chance to become Madam Marquis.
She had status, wealth, and a daughter to continue her bloodline. She must clean up everything that stood in her daughter’s way!
In the blink of an eye, it was late autumn, and the golden leaves fell all over the ground. Early that morning, the emperor said that he had dreamed of the deceased emperor, so he took a group of ministers and went to Five Buddha Mountain to pray for blessings.
At night, Yilan Hall was silent.
Yan-xiuyi was sitting in the small Buddhist hall copying scriptures for the late emperor when a gust of wind blew out the candle flame and white smoke poured into the room. Yan-xiuyi held her forehead, swayed a little, and fell asleep on the table.
A quarter of an hour later, she appeared in Huaqing Hall where Zhen-guifei lived.
Guo Huizhu condescendingly looked at the woman on the ground, bent down, cupped the other woman's chin, and sized her up critically. “Is this the face you relied on to bewitch the emperor?”
Then, she loosened her grip in disgust and kicked Yan-xiuyi.
A woman wearing a black cloak in the room said, “Don't waste time, do it quickly. The emperor will be back in the morning.”
Guo Huizhu, “Has everyone else been dealt with?”
They expended a lot of effort to bring Yan-xiuyi but fortunately, everything went smoothly.
“Don’t worry.” The woman pointed to a nervous-looking young woman beside her. “In a moment, she will take the place of Noble Consort Zhen, while you will return to Yilan Hall as Yan-xiuyi.”
Guo Huizhu smiled and said, “Many thanks, mother.”
The woman in the cloak was naturally Madam Marquis. She handed a box to Guo Huizhu, who opened it and took out several bone needles and a porcelain bottle.
Guo Huizhu removed the stopper, put the bone needles into the bottle, and stirred them. When she pulled them out again, they were already emitting a fluorescent green glow.
She moved lightly to Yan-xiuyi and stabbed a bone needle through her Baihui acupoint. With a gentle flick, her scalp suddenly flipped over, revealing the scarlet flesh and faintly visible skull inside.
Guo Huizhu was already doing this for the second time and she was quite skilled. With a few silver needles, she peeled off Yan-xiuyi's skin little by little. After cutting with a knife, the entire skin of the face fell into her hands.
The skin in her hand carried a warm stench and still dripping with blood. Guo Huizhu was overjoyed at the thought that she was about to have this charming face.
“Mother, cast the spell quickly and help me change into this skin!”
Her excitement was beyond words, but Madam Marquis, who had always indulged her, gave a shrill laugh at this time.
“Mother?” Guo Huizhu urged in confusion, just to see the other party slowly remove her hood—it was an unusually horrible face. The facial features could only be vaguely identified by the dripping blood, but Guo Huizhu recognized it at a glance. It was her sister—Guo Huizhen!
At this moment, Guo Huizhen grinned slightly and seemed to be smiling at her.
Guo Huizhu screamed and fainted.
When she woke up again, she found that she was still lying in the room. Her hands were sticky and she was holding a piece of human skin.
In the room, many palace maids and eunuchs cowered in the corners, all looking at her in horror.
Guo Huizhu's heart jolted. What's going on? Was she in front of these people…
No way! Her secret could not be exposed. These people must die!
At that moment, a group of guards rushed into Huaqing Hall and the emperor also arrived right after.
When Guo Huizhu saw the cloaked woman next to the emperor, she was so shocked and angry that she lost her senses and yelled, “Guo, Hui, Zhen! It's you!”
She subconsciously looked to the side again and saw a person lying in a pool of blood. The entire face had no skin and this person's clothing also looked familiar to her. It seemed to be something her mother used to wear…
For an instant, she suddenly couldn't tell what was real? What was an illusion? Guo Huizhu felt like she was going crazy!
“Your Majesty! That person is still alive!”
A forbidden guard examined the woman lying on the ground and saw that the other party was still gasping for air. Tears trickled down from her bulging eyes, looking both horrible and tragic.
Even the guard who was used to seeing life and death could not help but feel his scalp tingling and took a small step back. The emperor ordered someone to call the doctor to attend to her.
When the situation stabilized, the emperor looked at Guo Huizhu again. His eyes were full of disgust, which made Guo Huizhu heartbroken. The emperor said, “Noble Consort Zhen helped outsiders into the palace, manipulated evil arts in the palace, and conspired to kill others. All three crimes will be punished and she will be banished into the Cold Palace immediately!”