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Tang Fan nodded. “Yang-rich spring is a yang-booster recorded alongside ancient prescriptions. It isn’t at all rare, in and of itself, and can be made up with ingredients like brown stinkbug, weevilwort, rehmannia, and barrenwort. While eating a lot of it is maybe not advisable, Zheng Fu claimed that Zheng Cheng took the drug approximately two or three times a month, so that wouldn’t be enough to take a life. If thorowax is added to it, though, it’s different. Thorowax is for dispelling internal heat, but it can’t be used indiscriminately. Those with low innate qi must avoid it, as taking it over a long period of time will damage the liver and kidneys even further. Adding it into the yang-rich spring turned it from a yang-boosting drug to a death-prompting drug.”
“The people I dispatched to Weihui sent news, stating that Lin Chaodong, the Rejuvenation Hall worker that helped Zheng Cheng get his medicine in secret, hadn’t gone back to his hometown at all, and has since disappeared without a trace, nowhere to be found,” Sui Zhou said.
Tang Fan smiled bitterly. “If that’s the case, the trail has once again been cut off.”
Sui Zhou was quiet for a short time. “Not necessarily, actually. Come with me.”
He got up and went out. Tang Fan locked the courtyard door, then followed him.
Under the blue sky and white sun, the strangle-mark on his neck was really too awful, and his collar wasn’t able to cover it. With a Brocade Guard also being beside him, this led to passersby constantly turning their heads to look at him with weird gazes, like they were watching a prisoner on death row about to go to his execution ground.
Sui Zhou first went back to the Bastion Office to bring Zheng Fu out from inside, then led him to Rejuvenation Hall.
Although Shopkeep Liu and the rest had been released, their every move and word were still being monitored. Two Guards had been ordered to keep watch at the entrance of the Hall like some door guardians, which entailed that business these days had slumped by a lot. Shopkeep Liu’s group of three was sitting inside, faces anxious, and promptly stood up upon seeing the pair.
“Sir Sui, you can see that we’re just businesspeople doing our part. That guy Lin Chaodong’s affairs have nothing to do with the Hall, either, so could you…” Shopkeep Liu had wanted to complain, but a sweep of Sui Zhou’s cold eyes made him straight-up swallow the latter half of his words down.
Sui Zhou handed the prescription Tang Fan had given him over to Zheng Fu. “Do you recognize the list on top?”
Zheng Fu took a look at it, then nodded repeatedly. “This is the exact prescription for yang-rich spring. This lowly one frequently saw it back when I went to get it made for the Young Lord… huh. There had never been any thorowax in it before!”
“When was the last time you came to get it made?”
“Just around two or three months ago?”
“I want an exact date. Think back carefully!” Sui Zhou said, frosty.
Human potential was unlimited; from Sui Zhou’s one roar, Zheng Fu actually did end up remembering. “It was the eighteenth of March, I remember! The eighteenth! That’s because those pills had to finish simmering each and every time, which was more troublesome, so I would always come two days in advance to give Lin Chaodong the order, then wait until the twentieth to go back and pick the pills up!”
Sui Zhou looked at Shopkeep Liu. “You heard. After you’ve looked up the backup records for the Hall’s prescriptions dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth of March, come back and report them.”
“Yes, yes, yes! This lowly one will do that!”
He swiftly called for Gao Yazi and the present physician to go shut the Hall’s door, then began to sift through the records.
So long as doctors were visited and prescriptions made, human lives were at stake. Were one of those to go poorly, a situation where someone died would then appear, and people of the same profession fighting each other — with sinister folks in the background — would be unavoidable. For that reason, in order to prevent disputes, all apothecaries with the slightest bit of fame on any given year, like Rejuvenation Hall, would keep records like this.
It just so happened to get put to good use now.
With the exact date had, the records were speedily rummaged out. Tang Fan and Sui Zhou took a them for a look. On them were the plainly-written multitudes of allocated ingredients from those two days, with even what prescriptions they had been used for clearly recorded.
Right when they looked at the third row, they saw the name ‘yang-rich spring’, after which was a series of named substances. Thorowax root alone wasn’t there.
Looking through the two-day drug record again, there was actually no thorowax at all.
In other words, when Lin Chaodong made the drug up for Zheng Cheng, the root used in it had certainly not been taken from the Hall.
Lin Chaodong was genuinely a very cautious person, as it was. For the sake of avoiding the Hall’s discovery, he simply bought the additive root on his own somewhere else. Now, however, that had actually become a clue to crack the case.
Sui Zhou immediately gave orders to the two Guards under his command. “Take people with you both to go seek out every apothecary in the city at once. See which one had previously gotten a purchase of a large quantity of thorowax on the eighteenth!”
They accepted their orders and went.
“Gonfalon Sui, could you allow me to take a look at Zheng Cheng’s corpse?” Tang Fan asked him.
“The Office’s coroner already looked it over. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it.”
In truth, when Zheng Cheng had only just died, Tang Fan had already examined his body, and he indeed hadn’t discovered anything abnormal at that time, but he always felt that a bit more prudence didn’t hurt. Currently, it had been many days since Zheng Cheng’s demise, and if he didn’t get a look before the carcass completely rotted through, that would be a shame.
Therefore, he kept insisting. “Even still, please accommodate me this bit.”
Sui Zhou didn’t view the people of Shuntian Prefecture very highly to begin with, not having a good tone of voice even in the face of Tang Fan. Now, upon witnessing him still persevering with running this way and that with him to investigate the case while his voice was damaged and he felt unwell, his attitude eased, just a bit.
“There’s an ice room underneath the Office. The body was placed there, and doesn’t need to be worried about for the time being,” Sui Zhou gave, in a very rare explanation. “His Majesty gave the Office a deadline of one month to solve the case. After that, even if it hasn’t been solved yet, the corpse has to be handed back to the Marquis Estate. You can come tomorrow to find me.”
Everybody in the world knew that the Brocade Guard had been created first-hand by the Great Ancestor. Its initial function was to ‘take the reins of the Imperial Guard, along with all matters of royal rites’, which meant that they were to act as Imperial Guards in the presence of royalty, and were in charge of the Emperor’s safety and ceremonial tools and such when going on tour, offering sacrifices, and so forth. Later on, it also aided the Great Ancestor in eradicating many officials both meritorious and corrupt, so, in addition to its royal-safety bodyguarding as well as its responsibility for ceremonial arms, it mixed into the duties of the National Security and Anti-Corruption Offices. In the Adept Ancestor’s years, the Guard was reinstated, and the ominous name of the Bastille was known to all in the land.
In reality, though, the Guard’s role was far and away not limited to that. It assigned staff to lend a hand in making the rounds during imperial and Court exams. Due to the triennial exam itself, managed by Shuntian Prefecture, encompassing the capital region and its environs, if a major fraud instance occurred, the Guard would also have to be requested to participate. There were a further lot of other fragmentary matters, too, such as repairing roads, capturing thieves, and so on.
Very many things that originally ought to have been the Prefecture’s responsibility would frequently end up becoming the Guard’s job. When all was said and done, because the latter was more essential, the Emperor attached value to it, and it received more in funds every year. Well-trained soldier were, of course, able to do anything by force, which was much more efficient than an ordinary administrative branch like the Prefecture. Stuff like the arrests of the White Lotus dregs in order to bring the ‘demon fox case’ to its tail end were originally the content of the Prefecture’s work, but, resulting from the latter’s bailiffs being unimpressive, the Guards had to go take care of that themselves.
It was exactly due to this that the Guard’s evaluation of the Prefecture had never been above anything but average. In spite of Tang Fan’s sizable reputation, he was still just a civil official that didn’t even have the strength to truss a chicken, and generally had no association with the Guard. Once one entered the ‘Good-for-Nothing Headquarters’ that was Shuntian Prefecture, they would inevitably become a good-for-nothing employee in the eyes of others.
That was the reasoning inside Sui Zhou’s opinion of Tang Fan, as a matter of fact, and the latter was well aware of it.
This historically-bequeathed element was relevant to the Prefecture’s position itself. It could be considered the primary genre of local officials that were right before the Emperor’s eyes. Even if its executive grade was half a rank higher than other locals, there were officials everywhere, and any one of them could point fingers and gesture wildly, making its Prefect highly sulky.
Pan Bin and his couple of predecessors were not any sort of powerful. This post of a peace-keeping official was done not to seek esteem, but to seek having no faults. The instant a case got hairy, all sorts of excuses would be made — no wonder Sui Zhou didn’t view them as anything.
Tang Fan understood that point, but he hadn’t been in the Prefecture for long, and was yet only a Judge. Faced with a situation like this and helpless, he could only rely on his own meager power to perform a few things.
He sighed in relief, cupping his hands. “Many thanks to you, then.”
The nearby Shopkeep Liu, interested in currying favor with Tang Fan, came up before him and smiled. “Sir Tang, this is autumn-pear cream, and the apothecary-exclusive formula of bloodflow ointment. The former is taken orally for moistening the throat and relieving heat, while the latter is applied externally for dispelling blood stasis and improving circulation. The bruises on your neck will assuredly be no big hindrance the day after their use!”
Owing to having gotten interrupted after eating only half his breakfast, after which he followed Sui Zhou out to find people for questioning, Tang Fan hadn’t even had the time to apply medicine. After talking for the greater half of a day, his voice had already become a deathly crow. As soon as Shopkeep Liu mentioned it, he realized that the flesh of his neck was being painfully pulled, and his brows furrowed automatically.
Tang Fan accepted the medicine from the shopkeeper, thanked him, and then insisted on giving him payment in spite of his refusal, after which he went with Sui Zhou out of the apothecary.
The sun outside was resplendent, no longer the continuous drizzle of a couple days earlier.
Incidentally, Sui Zhou caught out of the corner of his eye that, on the black-haired, dark-clothed man beside him, those ten finger marks on his neck were all the more astonishing when contrasted with his elegant fairness.
He took a small bottle out of his sleeve, then handed it over. “Use this externally three times a day,” he said, aloof.
Tang Fan accepted it with a smile. “Items the Bastion Office produces are certain to be extraordinary. I’ll have to try it out.”
Sui Zhou gave a slight nod. Without another word, he put his hand on his spring-gilt sabre, then proceeded onwards.
Despite thorowax’s comparatively vicious medicinal properties, it wasn’t considered a rarity, given that it was used appropriately. In such a huge capital city, it was unknown how much of it was used inside the however-many medicinal prescriptions made everyday at apothecaries. Even so, if one desired to decoct this many pills, plus attain the effect of causing harm to someone, the necessary dosage had to be relatively large, incomparable to normal doctor’s visits and prescriptions. In conjunction with the two-day timeframe, the scope of the search immediately shrank by a lot.
The Brocade Guard’s work efficiency was, as expected, out of the ordinary. In only half a day’s time, the ranks that Sui Zhou had dispatched brought news.
Three-Era Hall in the city’s north, and Kindness Hall in the city’s east — those two apothecaries previously had someone come in and buy thorowax in bulk on the very day of March eighteenth. Sui Zhou sent people to investigate at once, and they discovered that the same individual had purchased both. Furthermore, according to the other apothecary’s description, the buyer was not that mysteriously-missing Lin Chaodong.
The Guard held the power to patrol and apprehend, so coming across something like this was an easy ride on a familiar path. Sui Zhou called a limner at once, having him portray the characteristics of the man based on the two shop assistants’ descriptions.
Not long after, a visage of high cheekbones and a slightly collapsed nose bridge appeared vividly on the paper.
Sui Zhou frowned. To be honest, he already vaguely had an orientation to follow in mind. This case was labelled as complex when it, in reality, was not. The sensitivity concerned the fact that the one involved was Marquis Wu’an’s eldest son, and his Estate was not a place that just anyone could come and go from willy-nilly.
The capital’s population was in the millions, and people came and went on the daily. Wanting to find someone like this was no different than fishing a needle off of the seafloor.
At that moment, Tang Fan, who had been silent beside him, suddenly exclaimed, “I’ve seen him before!”
Sui Zhou turned to look at him.
“I have an impression of him, but as for where I saw him, I can’t remember right now. If I do, I will let you know at once.”
Sui Zhou nodded, and looked at the sky. “It’s getting late. I came here today, so you can go find me in the Office tomorrow.”
Tang Fan smiled and stood. “Very well. I’ve reaped a lot this day, so I’ll need to go report back to Mister Prefect. I’ll be taking my leave.”
As a person, Sui Zhou looked hard to get close to, but his ability to work was top quality. Moreover, that Tang Fan was able to be bestowed a bottle of medicine by him illustrated that their relationship had improved to some extent. If the Prefecture could establish good connections with the Office, that would naturally be beneficial to later assignments.
Against expectations, Sui Zhou said, “Sir Pan is cowardly at his post. If you want something done, Sir Tang, and you’re in Shuntian Prefecture, it would end up being too bad.”
Tang Fan grinned. “Gonfalon Sui, are you perhaps wanting to mine Pan Bin’s corner by inviting me to a post at the Office?”
“If you’re willing to, you certainly can.”