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In the Flying Dragon Guard’s courtyard, there was heavy solemnity.
Sir Yan entered it full of spirit. Looking at the crowd that lay all across the ground like dead dogs, he wondered aloud, “Did you all go thieving last night?”
Wei Xuzhou lifted his head like a dying man on his last breath. “Sir, if you came back just a bit later in the evening, we brothers would have since parted with you forever…”
“Is that right?” Yan Xiaohan spun back around on his heel. “Then I’ll go out for a stroll so you can all leave in peace.”
“What about Shen Jizhi?” Yan Xiaohan sat before a desk in the hall. “Did the drug I had him test yesterday have results?”
“Don’t even talk about that drug of yours. Doctor Shen is still passed out and hasn’t gotten up yet,” Wei Xuzhou replied. “You didn’t see yesterday’s devastation, Sir. Yang Hexuan’s death wasn’t at all wrong.”
Shen Yi’ce struggled to make words come to him, his face white as a living ghost with dark bags under his eyes. Yan Xiaohan was intensely shaken by this mug of his. “Quickly move a chair over for him,” he said hurriedly.
Tang Guo deftly aided Shen Yi’ce in sitting down, standing behind him to knead his shoulders.
Shen Yi’ce spoke tiredly. “Yesterday, I used a few death-row convicts in the North Prison to test the drug on. It was powdery, processed, and had an uncommon fragrance to it. Ingesting it wasn’t lethal, only making the person feel numb all over. Later, I guessed that the drug might not have been used via consumption, so I found a copper dish, put the powdered drug on it, then put a fire underneath to roast it, wanting to see if I could make its properties present.” He seemed to recall something dreadful, pausing for a short while before continuing. “After that thing was roasted, it turned into something salve-like in the dish, and its aroma rushed the nose and cleared the mind. Those prisoners all had a face of intoxication. I was standing nearby, and carelessly inhaled a mouthful of it…
When the coroner previously did an autopsy, he said that Yan Hexuan had no signs of being poisoned, nor was there an excess of taken aphrodisiacs. I didn’t believe that at the start, but later on, I understood that he had died from this packet of drugs.
I won’t hide it from you all; with only one breath, it was like I was in a dream, and I had even forgotten my surname, my given. It was like I was drunk and obsessed, light and airy as if I had ascended to paradise. My body felt a dry heat and I wanted to roar and shout, feeling like there was nothing I couldn’t do. That sort of sensation is hard to describe, more blissful than bliss. Without relying on this drug, ordinary folk would likely never come to know in their whole life that there could be such joy in the world.”
He pressed on his temple, smiling bitterly. “After that, thanks to Xiao Tang’s standing watch outside, he noticed the situation was off and rushed in to haul me out. However, as soon as the door opened, that scent wafted out, spreading to General Wei and the rest and infecting them. Though it wasn’t as strong to them, it likely made them unable to sleep well all night. Those few prisoners were like mad, and none of them could be controlled. Those with slightly weaker constitutions have since collapsed this morning.
Do you know what the most awful aspect of this drug is, Sir?
All people are greedy. Once they get a taste of the flavor of bliss, they’ll have an unrivaled craving for it, and will try over and over and over again to chase down that joy.”
Yan Xiaohan’s pupils shrank. “It’s addictive?”
Shen Yi’ce nodded. “Furthermore, when Xiao Tang collected the copper dish for me, the drug in it was already gone —— to say it was ‘burnt up’ wouldn’t be very accurate. What should be said is… that it was just like dew drying up in the sun, and had completely vanished.”
For their group of investigators, that property was even more formidable than ‘being addictive’.
It killed with no form, and after its use, it didn’t leave a trace behind. It didn’t even leave any sort of hint on the corpses, the symptoms being indistinguishable from death by sexual exhaustion or sudden death by an illness flare-up.
Yan Xiaohan abruptly recalled those few sheets of IOUs in Yang Hexuan’s boot wallet.
He had thought them odd at first glance. The Empress was Yang Hexuan’s paternal aunt, his father and brothers all had positions in the Court, his family was extravagantly wealthy, and he himself had an official’s salary that wasn’t meager; why would he go borrow money from someone else? Fifty taels was a medium amount, and for someone like Yang Hexuan, it would only be a few meals’ worth.
But what if that money was… for buying drugs?
Quitting addictive drugs was difficult to deal with, so the only option was to purchase them non-stop. In the end, the family funds would be hollowed out without a word, then they’d fall into an assload of debt.
“Boxu, what did the Imperial Doctor say about those drugs you brought back yesterday?”
Jiang Shu took out a sheet of paper and handed it over. “Imperial Doctor Song identified them one by one and wrote the names of each on here. They’re all common aphrodisiacs, and they can’t kill someone if a lot is ingested.”
Yan Xiaohan looked over the entire list, then folded it up and placed it to the side. “Boxu, Daoxuan and you will take a few people to the Shuntian Estate and look for some cases of dead persons in brothels these past three months. Transcribe a detailed report back to me.”
General Tao Beiming of the Right Divine Pivot stepped out of the ranks, acknowledging the command and heading out with Jiang Shu.
General Cao Fengchen of the Right Divine Pivot stood up to take his orders.
“Research where Yang Hexuan had been to these days, keeping a heavy focus on where he frequented, who he went with, and those who were near to him.”
“Are you quite familiar with the Yang family, Brother Wei?” Yan Xiaohan asked. “Let’s go drop by for a visit.”
Wei Xuzhou scowled sullenly. “Unfortunately, I’m not.”
“Think hard about it. You must have just forgotten —— it’s impossible for there to be any aristocrats or nobility that your family hasn’t married into,” Yan Xiaohan consoled.
Wei Xuzhou: “……”
“Jizhi, you… nevermind. Have a good rest.” Shen Yi’ce’s residual effects wouldn’t get better in such a short time, and Yan Xiaohan didn’t have the heart to wring him. “Look after him a bit more, Xiao Tang.”
The day before, he said that they needn’t use a great amount of manpower. Today, every one of the Flying Dragon Guard’s elite were consolidated into this case. Yan Xiaohan took up his brush and wrote a notification, recounting the case’s details and present findings, repeatedly emphasizing that this drug had never been seen or heard of before, and once it spread, the problems it caused would be endless.
A notification from the Royal Inspector Envoy could be passed directly to the imperial seat. After Tian Tong’s departure, there was no imperial eunuch that had the inkling to dare obstruct him. The Emperor speedily approved him authority on basis of emergency. Yan Xiaohan took up the Sword of Dominion, then, without stopping for rest, confidently brought Wei Xuzhou with him to visit the Estate of the National Uncle.
The place was as difficult to deal with as anticipated. Sexual exhaustion wasn’t a glamorous illness; the entire Yang Estate was as tight-lipped as a sealed bottle, and Yang Xu’s expression was further poor from start to finish. Yan Xiaohan patiently cross-examined them for half the day, and only then did he get clarification that the family had actually detected Yang Hexuan’s abnormal condition early on, yet no one took it seriously.
Yang Hexuan was a naturally loose man. Still unsatisfied with the troves of wives and concubines in his rear court, he would often go flower-picking outside, hollowing himself out at a young age. The family had once sought medical treatment for him, but old habits died hard, and over time, no one was willing to look after him anymore. By coincidence, the family was preparing for his eldest brother Yang Sijing’s marriage recently, and the budget in the Estate was a bit tight. When Yang Hexuan couldn’t draw out any silver, he flew into a rage, made a ruckus in the home, and left in fury.
The family heard that he was always spending the night at Apricot Blossom Lane when he lost his temper, but what they didn’t expect was that when they heard news about him once more, he had already passed on.
Violent, easy to anger, and a body burning up with lust… all of that was consistent with the symptoms of the drug explained by Shen Yi’ce. Yan Xioahan surveyed carefully; the Yang family was likely unaware to this day that he had died of drug usage, and all of them believed that it was an accident.
If a clean-living person died of sexual exhaustion, it would definitely be seen as fishy, but for a consistently unrestrained person dying of that, even their closest family members wouldn’t suspect a thing.
If Yang Hexuan’s mishap didn’t happen to come about right after Mu Boxiu’s, thus attracting the Flying Dragon Guard’s investigation, a drug like this would have always been hidden right underneath the current, wordlessly spreading around, drawing in countless folks into a craze, ultimately perforating the entirety of the Great Zhou from the inside.
How many people had died from it? Was Yang Hexuan an innocent, unlucky devil, or was he the chosen firecracker wick?
Two days later, all the Flying Dragon Guards convened once more, but the situation wasn’t very optimistic. The deceased all had different statuses; though their families all described them in life as similar to having taken the drug, no remnants could be found as evidence. Furthermore, not one of those people had any relation to Yang Hexuan. The only thing they had in common was that they loved visiting brothels, but they all went to different places, and their favorite girls weren’t the same. According to the information from Cao Fengchen’s research, none of the Young Masters who were friends with Yang Hexuan were also under its addiction, and no one had ever seen him use a copper dish to heat up any sort of drugs.
The trail of clues for the case were completely cut off. Yan Xiaohan had the mind to do a thorough investigation, but he had none of the times, people, or places in order, and as there was yet a major event that needed preparing for, he had no option but to temporarily shelve the Golden Crow Guard’s case.
The Vast Longevity Festival, third of March.
The Yuantai Emperor visited the Ancestral Temple, gave offerings to the heaven and earth, then ascended to the Royal Peak Hall to receive congratulations soon after. A hundred officials gave thirty-three bows, congratulatory addresses were given, Left Minister Pei Ke raised a goblet in hope for longevity, and the Yuantai Emperor bestowed tea to the officials. At the ceremony’s completion, all were driven to the Stunning Spring Hall to be bestowed a banquet at the time of the Horse.
At today’s Vast Longevity Feast, apart from the Emperor’s main part, the most eye-grabbing of returns to the Court was that of the Marquis of Jing Ning, Fu Shen’s. In several months of parting, the Marquis’s elegant bearing surpassed what it had been in the past, remaining able to hold up to the term ‘Courtly eminence’. The Emperor conceded to him that he needn’t kneel on the ground in kowtow, and after giving him a few warm words of consolation, bestowed him imperial wine and fresh fruit. The ruler and his subjects were in happy harmony, the harmoniousness almost making even Fu Shen take it as the truth.
The Stunning Spring and Royal Peak Halls were a good distance apart. The Emperor could take the royal carriage, while the officials could only slowly walk on over. With a young imperial eunuch pushing his wheelchair from behind, Fu Shen politely finished dealing with the social niceties that came at him from every direction. All of a sudden, he squinted and looked forward, tilting his face to the side to question the eunuch behind him. “Hey, that one with his head down up ahead — isn’t that Imperial Censor Gu Shanlu of the Inspectorate?”
The eunuch hadn’t expected that he’d talk to him of his own volition and jumped a bit. “Answering the Marquis, that is indeed Sir Gu.”
“Come. Let’s go over and say hello.”
The eunuch looked at a loss, likely having never seen a first-rank military official try to worm his way into being pals with a fourth-rank literary one. “…Uh, okay.”
Gu Shanlu had just had his head lowered in thought. Upon hearing someone call for him, he lifted it back up to look —— and saw no one.
“……” Fu Shen was depressed. “I’m here. Look down.”
Gu Shanlu did so; having never dreamed that it would be him, he rushed to cup his hands in salute. “I’ve been disrespectful, very disrespectful; pardon my crime, Marquis.”
Fu Shen didn’t take it to heart, instead being courteous. “I heard that Censor Gu had always been running about for the sake of this Fu during the Eastern Tartar’s envoy case. I should have visited to express my gratitude long ago, but there were a lot of complications, and sickness had enveloped me, delaying it all the way until just now when I could meet you today.” He cupped his hands and bowed, speaking seriously. “This Fu has engraved the sentiment of Censor Gu’s deep virtue into his heart. Many thanks to you.”
Gu Shenlu returned the gesture in a fluster. Fu Shen regarded him as overcautiousness and amusing, casually chatting with him a bit more. “I noticed that you look worried, Censor Gu, and don’t seem to be very happy… did something happen?”
“You may simply call me by my courtesy Zhongxiu, Marquis. I won’t hide it; my teacher, Mr. Zeng Guang, was arrested for a statement he made the day before, and there’s still been no pardon as of today. He’s an elder getting on in years and his body is weak, so this lowly official is really concerned, and… ah, feel free to laugh at me, Marquis.”
“Zeng Guang?” Fu Shen thought it over. “Was that the one who was implicated in the Kuangshan College case from last winter, Mr. Xixian?”
“That’s him. This lowly official once studied at the College. My school has suffered, and my respected teacher has gone to prison; how could a student dare to sit by and watch with his hands tucked into his sleeves?”
Fu Shen didn’t seem to be listening very carefully, though. Gu Shanlu saw out of the corner of his eye that he had suddenly raised his head and looked off into the distance, apparently smiling, immediately after which he halted the subject. “You don’t need to worry so much, Zhongxiu. Heaven helps worthy teachers, and it’ll be able to turn misfortune into a blessing.”
Gu Shanlu thanked him in a daze, unsure what caused the Marquis’s abrupt change in expression. As they spoke, the crowd came up ahead of Stunning Spring Hall, two rows of sabre-equipped Imperial Guards lining either side of the path. Their leader stood high above on the steps with his hands behind his back, his countenance grim and grave, and his ice-cold eyes making one’s legs go soft when they swept over.
Fu Shen heard two Hanlins murmuring in fright behind him. “So terrifying… who provoked him this time?”
The young eunuch pushed the wheelchair up before the stairs. Yan Xiaohan took quick steps down with a calm face, his eyes sharp as knives as leaned over to pick Fu Shen up. “What are you staring at?” he said to the dumbstruck eunuch. “Go up there.”
The numerous officials below the steps spoke in hushed whispers. “Look at his face, and those bulging veins on the back of his hands… no wonder he’s in a bad mood. You said he shouldn’t want to strangle General Fu, right?”
Yan Xiaohan carried Fu Shen up the flight, asking him in a low voice as they went, “What were you talking about with Gu Shanlu just now? You were smiling so happily.”
Fu Shen remembered the look he had thrown him from far away and resisted the urge to grin, responding to him in a complete deadpan. “I told him that I ‘wasn’t being careful right then, and accidentally overturned a jar of stale old vinegar’.”
The translator says: Mark the occasion; the entire Court ate dog food, in broad daylight, at the Emperor’s birthday party.
 尚方宝剑 – Shangfang Baojian, aka a sword of state. A literal sword used to symbolically represent granted, at times unclear power.
 国舅 – lit. “the country’s maternal uncle”. From my understanding, members of the Empress’s family, when said Empress has a son, are called the “nation’s (insert relation to the crown prince here)”. This is the Empress’s brother’s home, thus the relation to the Crown Prince, and thus the title.