[If you’re not reading this on chichilations, then you’re reading a stolen copy. Reposts are not allowed anywhere or for any reason!
Links for mobile viewers: Ko-fi Donation — Chichi’s Twitter — Project Index — Digital Version Library
I see all your likes and comments~ Thanks in advance~
The sponsor of this medium-sized chapter is: lila (7)! Thank you, love!
(Click here for details on how sponsored chapters work.)]
In spite of Tang Fan having a brilliant tongue that could say words as beautiful as lotuses, he got choked into speechlessness by that phrase.
He had obviously proposed collaboration with full-on sincerity, yet, in the blink of an eye, he was turned into a homicide suspect. Could it be that he had forgotten to look at his Yellow Calendar today?
Everyone claimed that the Brocade Guard had terrorizing might and gave nobody any face — sure enough, its reputation was not in vain!
Tang Fan wasn’t sure how to react to this. Right when he thought to speak, he heard Gao Yazi cry out in surprise, “Shopkeep Liu, you’ve come back!”
Shopkeep Liu came in in a rush, then couldn’t help but be gobsmacked as soon as he caught sight of the three Brocade Guards in the room.
Gao Yazi stepped forward, introducing him to Sui Zhou, Tang Fan, and the rest. Shopkeep Liu bowed to them one after the other. “I have troubled all you gentlemen with waiting here!” he admitted anxiously. “This little old man is unsure of what crime he has committed; please state it clearly!”
Noticing that he was panicked, Tang Fan gave him warm words of comfort. “Shopkeep Liu, there’s no need to worry—“
“Is there somewhere quiet here?” Sui Zhou asked coldly, cutting him off.
“There is! There is!” Shopkeep Liu quickly replied, leading them into an inner room.
The room wasn’t big, but it was quieter, unlike the ruckus outside.
Shopkeep Liu invited Tang Fan and the others to take their respective seats, had Gao Yazi fetch tea again, then promptly asked, “You gentlemen have come here for what purpose…?”
He was, in the end, not as inexperienced as Gao Yazi, and could tell from one glance that out of these people, Tang Fan was the best to talk to. For that reason, though his words were directed at everyone, his eyes were looking at him.
“Shopkeep Liu, did someone from the Marquis Wu’an Estate come previously for a prescription here?” Tang Fan thus said.
The homicide case, after undergoing these days of fermentation, had long since been stirred into a buzz, and there was no one in the capital that didn’t know about it. Once Shopkeep Liu heard this, he suffered a fright, shaking his head over and over again. “No such thing, no such thing!”
Tang Fan stared at him. “There was truly no one?”
Although Sui Zhou and his group said nothing, they were also glaring like tigers from the side.
Shopkeep Liu smiled painfully. “Sirs, why would I dare to lie? Rejuvenation Hall does have some fame, but it’s ultimately not as much as Kindness Hall’s long-standing corporate reputation. With the sort of people in that Estate, how could they ever come running to this place, seeking out our medicine?”
“Think carefully about this, Shopkeep Liu. Don’t neglect anything major. If you’re covering something up, you will inevitably pay dearly for it! I may as well tell you that Zheng Cheng’s boyservant informed us that he used ‘yang-rich spring’, and it was made up here, by you all. The one that helped him make it up was a tall and thin fellow of a little more than twenty, with a mole under his lip.”
The other let out an ah. “Is it that punk Lin Chaodong that he’s talking about?!”
“Correct. The worker originally in charge of making up prescriptions here was him. He acted as Doctor Shang’s apprentice for a few years, who is the same doctor that’s now taking pulses outside. He had been skilled at his job, too, but last month, he said that a relative had passed away in his home region, and he wanted to hurry back for the funeral so he could lend a hand in taking care of its arrangements. I didn’t expect for him to still not be back yet, so now I’ve promoted Gao Yazi here after he left.”
“Where did he come from? How long has he been at this Hall?”
Shopkeep Liu told all he knew. “Purportedly, he’s of Weihui Prefecture in Henan. He’s been employed here for three years. At the time, he had come to the capital to seek shelter with relatives, but I later noticed that he was both diligent in his actions and capable of recognizing a couple of characters, so I had Doctor Shang teach him how to differentiate materials and make up prescriptions.”
There was no need for Tang Fan, Sui Zhou, and the rest to explain themselves, as Shopkeep Liu called Doctor Shang and Gao Yazi in of his own accord. What they stated was no different than he; neither had given the Marquis Estate any sort of yang-enhancement meds, nor had they even seen anyone from there come over. There were lots of people that came and went from the Hall every day, so even if someone of the Estate was within them, they wouldn’t know, because they hadn’t made their identity known.
Tang Fan could tell that they didn’t appear to be putting on an act, and judging from Shopkeep Liu’s behavior, he genuinely didn’t know anything about this. That then left one possibility: Zheng Cheng had gotten the medicine made here, but that Lin Chaodong was the only one he had had contact with.
That seemed right, too. Having to use yang-boosting meds at a young age was something Zheng Cheng had naturally wanted to keep hidden, out of fear that others would know about it.
When these few people finished taking their turns disclosing what they knew, they watched Tang Fan and them with apprehension, and pitiful looks of waiting to be dealt with; of course, they were looking at the three Brocade Guards more.
“Do you have anything else you want to ask, Gonfalon Sui?” Tang Fan asked.
“Take them all back and interrogate them thoroughly!” said Gonfalon’s thin lips coldly stirred to say.
The two behind him affirmed, stepping forth to detain them.
Shopkeep Liu and crew begged for mercy at once, yet also didn’t dare to resist.
Watching the three be taken away, Tang Fan said, “Sir Sui, the most urgent matter as of now is merely to find Lin Chaodong and bring him back for questioning. Leaving people behind to keep watch in this Hall would have been fine; what need was there to arrest them? Such a small-scale operation isn’t likely.”
“The Guard was imperially ordered to handle this case, and is not obliged to explain anything to Shuntian Prefecture. If you’d also like to take a trip to the Office, Sir Tang, you’re naturally more than welcome to.”
Confronting someone as insensitive as this made Tang Fan somewhat exasperated. “Sir Sui, I don’t have any malice. There’s no need to be aggressive. For this case, if the Guard is willing to work with the Prefecture, both parties would benefit.”
“If the Prefecture wasn’t incompetent, why else would it hastily conclude the case, allowing the Western Depot to grab that handle and get it pored over it once more?” Sui Zhou asked, frosty. “That was nothing other than your Sir Pan not wanting to offend the Marquis Estate, and also fearing that His Majesty would assign him the blame, so he thought up this terrible idea to get everything going his way. He’s calculated his optimistic ideals on his abacus well, but he needs to not end up smashing his own foot with a boulder, instead!”
As the evil progenitor of that ‘terrible idea’, Tang Fan didn’t feel his face flush. If he had to do this like that again, he would.
However, he hadn’t expected that the other party would be able to make out the crux of the situation from a glance. No wonder this Gonfalon had been chilly and poorly-toned towards him from the start — he had apparently long been assigned to the class of ‘incompetent’.
He had exceptional self-restraint, able to keep his expression and intonation as mild as ever after the other mocked him. “Things have already gotten to this point, Gonfalon Sui. You getting angry about it still isn’t going to change the facts. Presently, the Western Depot is glaring like a predator at the side, the Eastern Depot can’t stand your Guard, and the Ministry of Justice along with the Court of Judicial Review are watching the excitement, and can’t wait to blow the matter up bigger. Only the Guard and the Prefecture are actually hoping that the rocky shore of this case will be visible when the tide recedes. For that reason, cooperation would have all sorts of advantages, with not one loss.”
“Even without the Prefecture, the Guard will discover the truth the same,” Sui Zhou answered icily.
Seeing that he had turned and was about to leave, Tang Fan promptly said, “Can you let me take a look at Zheng Cheng’s body, then, Gonfalon Sui?”
Pan Bin, the Shuntian Prefect, was really unreliable as one. Tang Fan had asked the Estate for the corpse, but it didn’t hand it over, and Pan Bin didn’t dare to ask, resulting in the body getting straight-up carried away by the Guard now that the Emperor had made a decree. The Prefecture had been a step too late, not even getting to touch a single strand of its hair.
Sui Zhou stopped in his tracks, then threw out two ice-cold words: “No way!”
Would you take a look at that. Those men of the Guard… were just so pompous!
Again, in comparison to his schoolmate-slash-superior, Tang Fan was stifled and speechless.
They had both come out to mingle. Why was the disparity in treatment so huge?
Beijing was the capital of the realm. Everyone, given that they had a bit of knowledge and a bit of qualifications, would sharpen their minds in thought of cramming into the capital. Even if they were to act as an official, a lot of people would rather be a seventh-rank capital official, and refuse to be a sixth-rank local one. Residence of the Son of Heaven, location of the Imperial City — those words alone possessed boundless glamor.
However, its assets were not merely that. In the opinions of epicures, living in the capital meant that one could eat fine food from all across the land; from the southern Jiangnan’s exquisiteness to the north’s boldness, a multitude of distinct flavors could be taken in all at once.
Just like right now, where in Immortal Guest, a diner was looking at the crystalline tripe grasped in his chopsticks and sighing in dejection. “I fear that after I leave the capital, it’ll be hard to get such delicacies to eat again!”
“You’re right in the prime of your life, Brother Ziming. Why the need to give a sigh of lament?” the one sitting opposite him asked. “The Heavens will drop huge responsibility upon us humans, but our will must first be stressed, and our bodies troubled. After three years, you’ll see the capital again, and will definitely get high-grade marks.”
Ji Min shook his head. “Three years, then another three years. A human lifespan is only a brief couple of decades, how many threes of years can it have? Ah, Runqing, I’ll be honest, I really admire you; proud as a teen, and now you’re a little over twenty, yet already a sixth-rank capital official. No need to even compare yourself to me, someone that’s flunked the exams and lost hope; even when compared to those of the same division as you, you’re excellent!”
Whether an official post was good, or its position high, was, in Tang Fan’s opinion, solely determined by whether it could do more things for the sake of the country and its people. However, saying words like that in front of Ji Min’s face wouldn’t free him from doubt and sarcasm, so he didn’t follow up on that, simply pouring wine for him. “Brother Ziming, on this trip back, the mountains will be tall and the waters far. We will likely have to wait three years to meet up, so take this meal as my send-off to you. I hope you don’t dislike it!”
Three years ago, Tang Fan and Ji Min entered the capital together to take the imperial exam, and became close friends due to their complimentary natures. Ji Min just had a unique situation; at the time, he had been a popular candidate for the top division, but, unexpectedly, he had fallen behind Sun Shan, surprising everyone. His heart was not resigned to this. Three years after, he caught up with this year’s exam again to inevitably make a booming comeback, yet, against expectations, when the roll of candidates was released two months prior, the name ‘Ji Min’ was yet again not in the new division of Palace Honorates. Due to that big blow, he came to forget himself like this in Immortal Guest.
Being seventy-percent intoxicated, Ji Min raised his head, only to witness that, under the lantern’s shadow, candlelight flickered, shining upon Tang Fan’s features that seemed to be covered in the splendor of jewels — a sort that would be difficult to depict with a brush and ink. He couldn’t resist reaching out to tightly grip his hand. “Runqing, ever since I dropped off the roll, of those that had both made friends with me beforehand and then made the roll, not a one hasn’t steered a three days’ march clear of me. Only you are still willing to warmly comfort me. Adding flowers on already-pretty brocade is easy, sending charcoal in the midst of snow is hard… this friendship is something I, Ji Ziming, will never forget all my life!”
“Brother Ziming, you’re accusing Yuqiao and Jizhi unfairly. They had once invited you to a banquet, but you didn’t go. They don’t call on you anymore because they were afraid of you misunderstanding.”
Ji Min waved him off. “Runqing, you don’t need to speak up for them. I understand. I understand it all on the inside. I’m already over thirty, and I’ve come to the capital three times, though I missed the mark the first time. I was famous in my hometown when I was a young study, but I didn’t expect that I would now end up in such a plight. My old mother at home is ardently awaiting me… how could I go back with the face I have, how…”
Before he got to finish, he faceplanted onto the table.
Tang Fan called a restaurant waiter over to help Ji Min into a room on the second floor for sleep. Tomorrow, the latter would set out for home. They had said at the start that they would stay together in wake and sleep tonight, talking through it by bright candlelight, but now that Ji Min had collapsed drunk, chatting was naturally no longer doable.
Ji Min settled into bed, yet Tang Fan was bright-eyed and awake. Thus, he went out the restaurant, and slowly, leisurely, walked along the street.
The time was now late. Even though it wasn’t curfew yet, the road was already quite sparse of pedestrians. The capital city, woven with passersby in the daytime, now appeared to have some nighttime loneliness. A couple of brothels and bars down alleys wouldn’t close throughout the night, which was convenient for pleasure-seeking dandies like Zheng Cheng, but the majority of ordinary citizens had already put out their lights and gone to bed.
Several nearby lanes had lanterns gently swaying in their depths, the sound of dainty talking and laughing faintly coming from them to enter the ears. Tang Fan didn’t give any charmed or ambiguous expressions, but instead brought the Marquis Estate’s case to mind.
The case had been somewhat complicated to start with, but in his view, it wouldn’t be too difficult if one wanted to solve it. Surprisingly, Sir Pan had been overly afraid of trouble, wasting a lot of time and effort for no reason, and now the corpse had been taken away by the Guard without room for discussion. It might have even started to rot. On the matter of the pills, Lin Chaodong couldn’t be found, either. Tang Fan had already dispatched Shuntian bailiffs for Weihui Prefecture, but he had a vague premonition that they would find no one, with near-total certainty.
He pursed his lips, got rid of his turbid state of mind, and returned to his senses. Only then did he discover that he had unwittingly taken a shortcut — this was the road he typically took during the day, but at this moment, there was silence all around. There were no lanterns at all, with even the moonlight concealed by heavy layers of clouds, making it pitch-black whilst uneven crag was underfoot.
Luckily, there were several tiny lights faintly showing from the distance. He supposed that there were still people who slept late, and they hadn’t yet put out their lanterns so that they wouldn’t feel like they couldn’t see their hands in front of their face, feeling that they had fallen into a world of endless darkness.
Despite the faraway, feeble illumination, it was still difficult to recognize the path surrounding him, especially since the environs were so desolate, without even a single drop of sound. The distant echo of a dog’s barking gave a sort of contrasting unrealness.
Tang Fan kicked a rock unawares, stumbled a bit, then quickly grabbed onto a low wall nearby to steady himself. He subconsciously lowered his head to look at what was under his feet, but, all of a sudden, he felt an indistinct chill against his neck, as if someone was blowing air onto him.
Dots of goosebumps arose on his skin in a second. He jolted, turned his head to look, and caught sight of a white figure pouncing at him!
Tang Fan had absolutely no time to react, his entire body getting pressed against the brick wall by the one in white.
The next instant, his neck was gripped tight!
The translator says: And then he DIED*
 From Mencius’s Gaozi II.
 Sun Shan is someone who famously came in last in the imperial exams, and when a neighbor asked if their son had passed, he said ‘I came in last, and your son was after me.’ What a jerk.