Things grow tense when Da Qing gets caught trying to sneak into the Dijun archives to get the information they came for, but Zhao Yunlan is quick to smooth things over and avoid an incident. (Of course he does, who can say no to this charming rogue?)
Just as they are leaving, the Regent introduces the boy selected to become the new king. To everyone's surprise, it's An Bai, the ringleader of the three stooges that had harassed Yunlan the last time he came to Dixing. We see in flashback how the three of them had been sentenced to death for their crimes until An Bai offered his life to save the others. The Dixing King is the one who interfered, dumbfounding even the Regent when he declares the boy fit to serve as his replacement. (There must be a catch right? How can this ruffian be fit to be king?)
The King's Secretary leads Da Qing and the Chief to a dimly lit room for the night. Yunlan wastes no time at all before drilling Da Qing for answers about why he tried to attack Shen Wei outside the door to Dixing. (Nothing seems to get past this man….BTW doesn’t this remind those who have pets of when they introduce their live-in-lover to them? Especially cat owners?)
Da Qing explains how he recovered a memory of Shen Wei that makes him believe there's a lot more the Professor hasn't told them and, therefore, cannot be trusted. Yunlan shrugs it off saying only that he has decided to trust that Shen Wei will explain everything when he's ready. Da Qing offers to follow Shen Wei anyway, and Yunlan relents.
Moments later, Da Qing tails Shen Wei to the open area with the pillar that confines Ye Zun. He does a (comically) poor job at remaining hidden while he listens to Shen Wei confront Ye Zun. Shen Wei vows to stop Ye Zun even if it costs him his life (These kinds of heroic declarations, we can do without, thank you.).
A dark cloud of energy sails right at Da Qing who barely manages to dodge it in time. Shen Wei immediately goes to defend him and saves him from the black clad assailant's second attack. He assures the Deputy Chief that they both feel the same way about protecting Yunlan, but Da Qing wants more than just his word. He asks Shen Wei, the great Black Cloak Envoy, to make the most sacred of vows - a pinky promise. (Hahaha! This kid is just too much.)
Now back in the throne room of the palace, Da Qing, Shen Wei and the Chief discuss the likelihood of a mole in the Palace as someone has removed every reference of the Merit Brush from the archives, leaving them with no further leads. When Yunlan laments about how he's never greeted the king in person, the Regent interrupts their musings to offer them such a chance. But when he goes to speak with the king, he finds the old man has been murdered! Shen Wei is the first to reach him and finds that the King was killed with a single blow. The Secretary suggests that the most likely culprit is An Bai as he overheard the boy having several arguments with the King. The Regent issues an order to have the boy brought before him.
While most of the palace is searching for them, the three stooges take shelter in the local pub (Way to lay low, guys.). An Bai explains to the others that he doesn't even want to become king as the old king had explained to him that he had aged decades after only a few years as king. An Bai laments that he has no desire to share that fate. (There’s the catch...who knew being King is an early death sentence. Which makes one wonder if the previous King was also a criminal as well.) (Good point. An interesting way to run a nation.)
Two palace guards spot the three of them still sharing drinks and try to take them into custody. During the chaos that ensues, the Secretary calmly passes through the room and stabs one of the guards. (It's ludacris, I know. Just go with it.) All three of them are immediately blamed for the guard's death.
The Secretary has the three prisoners prepared for a public execution, but An Bai remembers that he was not alone the last time he met with the king. Shen Wei uses this detail to cast doubt on the whole trial and insists the prisoners be taken to the palace for questioning.
Shen Wei gives An Bai parchment and asks him to draw the person he saw in the king's room, but the moment he leaves the room, the Secretary enters and drags An Bai out. He tosses him at the foot of the pillar that contains Ye Zun and gloats about how awesome his plan was to kill the king and have the boy take the blame for it. Just as the Secretary goes to kill him, the boy rolls away and a cloud of black energy dissipates from his body, revealing a smug Zhao Yunlan in his place. (He's ridiculously pleased with himself, isn't he?)
Shen Wei and Da Qing appear and reveal how the two of them figured out that the Secretary was working for Ye Zun. He immediately attacks them, but between Shen Wei's spear and Yunlan's gun, he doesn't stand a chance. Defeated, he kills himself. Yunlan finds the missing information from the archives on the Secretary's body, and the three of them return to the Regent. With some careful persuasion and a promise to spare his friends, An Bai agrees to take over as king.
Finally back at the SID, Shen Wei and Yunlan try to decipher the cryptic words written on the scrap of parchment. Shen Wei explains that the Merit Brush can erase any trace of dark energy from detection and significantly increases a Dixingian's power, making almost anyone into a formidable foe.
That night, Shen Wei insists on making Yunlan something to eat while he rests and recovers his strength. Yunlan, ever the one to accept a free meal, acquiesces without complaint. But when he gets up to follow Shen Wei into the kitchen, a strange barrier shimmers in the space between them. The moment Yunlan goes to touch it, Shen Wei turns and the barrier disappears. As Shen Wei seems unaware of what just happened, Yunlan returns to his bed perplexed.
The Chief wakes up later on to find Shen Wei still in the kitchen. As soon as he speaks, he startles Shen Wei who looks drained and exhausted. Yunlan demands to know the truth of what he did to heal his eyes. He asks meif Shen Wei linked his own energy to Yunlan's in order to stop the dark energy erosion.
Although Shen Wei hedges and doesn't really answer, he does admit that the process caused him a severe injury and that he is trying to heal himself. Yunlan erupts in anger asking why he should so casually owe Shen Wei his life, but his response only perplexes Yunlan when Shen Wei assures him he's merely repaying a debt that is owed. (The level of acting in this scene is one of the best in the whole drama. I highly recommend watching it more than once to catch all of the nuances.)
The following day, Xiao Guo goes to lay flowers at his parents’ grave and to visit Li Qian's grandmother's grave. A young girl watches him but runs away before he spots her. Behind him, Wang Xiang Yang, the Merit Brush owner, sits at his wife and child's grave, planning his revenge.
An Bai (new King of Dixing)
“I'm gambling that he has his own difficulties...He likes to suffer in silence. So I can only wait. Wait until the weight of it is too much, and he tells me about it himself.” Zhao Yunlan
“You underestimate me. As long as I can get rid of you, so what if I sacrifice myself?” Shen Wei to Ye Zun
“Forgive me. There are some things I cannot say right now. But I can guarantee you, I will never do anything that is harmful to Zhao Yunlan. I believe, in protecting his heart, we are the same.” Shen Wei to Da Qing
“You are not immortal. Why should I so casually owe you a life?” Zhao Yunlan
“This life...is what I am returning to you.” Shen Wei
Episode 22 "Stolen Youth"
*Italic Blue - MiniOrchid
Guardian Fanfic: Untold Stories Episode 23