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Xue Ling grumbled inwardly. When he had left, Sui Zhou had just been found by Mister Millarch for a talk, and thus nonchalantly ordered him to go invite Tang Fan over. The time he had been following Sui Zhou wasn’t short, so he naturally understood that a command like that wasn’t urgent in the least. Who could’ve known that Boss Sui would be sitting here in wait, though?
“Brother, Sir Tang has arrived,” he quickly said. “I’ll withdraw beforehand, if there’s nothing else?”
Sui Zhou gave an mn. Xue Ling, as if he had caught amnesty, skedaddled with haste, not neglecting to toss Tang Fan a look that said ‘good luck’ prior to his departure.
Tang Fan coughed lightly. “I haven’t yet thanked you for the ointment you granted me, Gonfalon Sui. After I applied it thrice, the marks completely vanished. It worked very well.”
Sui Zhou’s gaze swept over the restored patch of fairness just above the other’s collar. With a “Follow me,” he stood up and walked out.
Tang Fan trailed behind him. Passing through a courtyard, they came before another building, and after going in, they went all the way down a flight of stairs. The further they went, the lower the surrounding temperature got compared to ground level.
Due to never seeing daylight year round, the environs were extremely dark, but not damp. The candles on both sides flickered, as if there was a possibility that they could go out at any time.
It was quiet, here. No one stood guard. As they tread on the steps, their footsteps resonated far in the empty space, automatically making one tense in their wake.
This area had been used to store some of the Office’s torture implements and weapons, but now, there was an extra corpse in it.
In order to preserve it, Sui Zhou had ordered a lot of ice chunks moved over and heaped up around it.
Saltpetre-made ice originated from the late Tang period, and by the Ming era, ice-making technology had become quite developed. Every summer day, peddlers would sell cold drinks and food on the streets, while rich families would use ice cubes to enjoy cooling off. As for the wealthy and imposing Bastion Office… well, that didn’t need to be said.
“Zheng Cheng?!” Tang Fan didn’t conceal his astonishment when he saw the corpse, nor his slight pleasant surprise at the unexpected.
This wasn’t him having some sort of abnormal psychology where he had a special ‘interest’ in the corpse of a hedonist, but rather because he had believed the corpse had been burned to nothing when the Eastern Depot caught fire. He hadn’t foreseen that Sui Zhou had long taken precautions to relocate the real body.
“This Tang admires your foresight very much, Gonfalon Sui.”
Lots of people were able to think that maneuver up, but the ones that dared to do it were truly few.
If the Eastern Depot learned that it had initially carried away a ‘fake Zheng Cheng’, quite a lot of them would definitely come over to heckle Sui Zhou.
Though, with his background, he probably wouldn’t need to worry about that, anyway.
Despite hearing his praise, Sui Zhou had no special look of pride on his face. “We didn’t find anything on his body at all.”
Tang Fan’s line of sight fell upon Zheng Cheng. The coxcomb that had been lascivious and dissolute by nature whilst alive had now turned into a silent corpse. All of his clothes had been completely shucked, and he laid there peacefully. Due to the cool temperature preserving his carcass, a strange blue-white color imbued him, but he was overall in good condition, with no putrefaction.
In truth, on the night the man had just died, Tang Fan had already done a thorough examination of him, and the coroner at the time also said that he hadn’t found anything. Sui Zhou and the rest not figuring anything out afterwards was normal, too. If it weren’t for the doubts being too many, fixing his cause of death as ‘shedding of yang due to excessive debauchery’ would have certainly conformed to reason.
His gaze carefully gave a look over the corpse, his inspection procedure even more exhaustive than that previous night.
Witnessing him personally set to task without being repulsed by the foulness, Sui Zhou’s expression uncontrollably shifted a bit.
Subsequent to this Dynasty’s foundation stabilizing more by the day, the importance of military officials took a step down, and the giant country was thereupon governed by a conglomerate of civil officials. That then led to the overwhelming majority of officials who had used the imperial exams to advance in life, like Tang Fan, having an inherent feeling of superiority in their bones. They studied hard and strenuously for decades; once they assumed a leader position, they’d be called a ‘good official’ so long as they were capable of not exploiting the common folk, let alone concentrating on business, loving their jobs, and considering their positions as specialized fields of research.
The reason for Sui Zhou’s surprise was that he had seen far too many officials that were more or less Tang Fan’s position who wouldn’t ever go investigate a dead body with their own hands, as they would frown and keep far away so as to not even look at it. All the work would solely depend on the subordinates below them, but due to the higher officials not being familiar with such things, anything the subordinates said consequently wouldn’t generate doubt, causing everything to ultimately be left in the dark in an especially severe case of multi-level deception.
In contrast to this, Tang Runqing could be labelled as an industrious type of official. Even if he wouldn’t have any understanding towards the autopsy, his spirit of being willing to do it himself was alone enough to make someone view him in a new light.
Tang Fan had since examined the body once more, not even letting the palms and soles slip past him. His eyes slowly moved cun by cun over Zheng Cheng’s body, going up from his navel to flit past his chest, neck, chin, nose, and forehead, and then to ultimately land on his crown.
Zheng Cheng had his hair down when he died, but now, it was bound into a bun as usual.
His face held no obvious wounds. Coupled with the previously-guessed cause of death, one was made to focus their attention more at the neck or lower, overlooking the top of the head.
“Who put his hair up?” Tang Fan asked.
“He was like this when he was brought back from the Estate.”
Not saying anything else, Tang Fan went and undid Zheng Cheng’s bun, stuck his fingers into the other’s hair, then slowly felt around.
All of a sudden, his hand paused, and his expression became a bit odd.
Sui Zhou spotted that immediately. “What is it?”
“Come and feel right here. Top of the head, at the baihui acupoint.”
Sui Zhou reached out and did as he was told. Following a short moment of feeling around, his brows furrowed deep.
“The acupoint’s area is slightly sunken in.”
Tang Fan had some comprehension of medical principles, muttering to himself, “As I recall… if the baihui acupoint is punctured, it has a soothing, mind-cleansing effect.”
As someone learned in martial arts, Sui Zhou knew more about this field than him. “It’s the point where the extraordinary meridians, three yang groups, and hundred channels meet, thus getting the name baihui, ‘Hundred Meetings’. Striking it hard could cause a coma with serious injury, or death.”
“But only the maid Ah-Lin had been present on the night of the incident. She’s a weak woman, and he was sober and awake, so it would be impossible for him to just let her strike him down. Moreover, Ah-Lin herself intended to seduce him, indicating that their relationship was genuinely mutually consensual, and I can’t claim that there was an iota of reluctance. She wouldn’t have had the need to desperately resist.”
Sui Zhou nodded. “There is another situation that could happen where a heavy blow isn’t needed, given that you know the acupoint well. When it’s rapped with moderate strength on the daily, the one that’s getting rapped won’t lose consciousness and die straightaway, but after a long stretch of days, their channels will go into disarray, then fatally rupture.”
In that theory, a pillowmate of Zheng Cheng’s that interacted with him all the time was the most probable murderer.
Tang Fan shook his head. “No wonder this hadn’t been easy to discover, since his hair was obstructing the top of his head, and the manner of his death didn’t immediately make people think in this direction.”
“You’ve met his harem before?”
“Yes. On the way here, I discovered something else, too, which I’ll share with you.”
“I just bumped into the thorowax buyer from the portrait, and then remembered where I had seen him before.”
Sui Zhou’s gaze sharpened.
“He’s someone from Marquis Wu’an’s Estate.”
Tang Fan nodded. “I didn’t see wrongly. The night of the event, the Estate was in chaos. There were so many people at the time that it merely made me think that he seemed familiar beforehand, but after I just saw him again, I remembered that I had seen him in with the Estate’s servants.”
This was an extremely important discovery.
They left the ice cellar, and Sui Zhou ordered someone to bring Zheng Fu over while Tang Fan went to wash his hands.
Touching the corpse just then had been a necessary task forced by circumstance. The cleanly Mister Tang nearly scrubbed a layer of skin off his hands before he was done.
Zheng Cheng’s boyservant, Zheng Fu, had been detained in the Office this whole time, so he was found rather quickly. Despite the Brocade Guard being famed for its Bastille, one would need to be a certain level to receive its treatment; there was no need for them to use any of their various methods to get by with such a nobody, and he had merely been locked up since Zheng Cheng’s death, the extreme mental stress of this making him wan. His quick-witted appearance from when Tang Fan had first seen him practically seemed like a different person’s.
Zheng Fu knew nothing upon initially looking at the portrait. Upon hearing Tang Fan say that he was someone of the Marquis Estate, though, he let out an ah. “This lowly one remembers! He really is from the Estate!”
Sui Zhou’s expression darkened. “How come you didn’t say that before?”
Zheng Fu kowtowed repeatedly. “There are a lot of people in the Estate! Even though I was at the Young Lord’s side, I still might not recognize all of them. Furthermore, this man isn’t technically of the Estate. He’s a distant relation of Aunt Hui’s maternal family that came seeking shelter, and has always stayed in the outer courtyard. I’ve only seen his face once or twice…”
“How long has he lived there?”
“About half a year. I heard the Young Lord say that he genuinely was an authentic relative. At the time, Aunt Hui came to beseech him, saying that everyone from her natal family had died except for one such cousin, and she hoped that he could get some job at the Estate so he could have a bite to eat. The Young Lord agreed, and sent him to the stables to lend a hand there. The Young Lord rarely rode horses and always sat in sedan chairs to go out, so I rarely saw this man before, but I heard that he was an honest person that didn’t stir up any trouble. If it weren’t for your prompting, Sir Tang, I really wouldn’t have remembered!”
Sui Zhou didn’t say much more, quickly having Zheng Fu be taken back by someone else, then ordering Xue Ling and crew to prepare to leave for the Marquis Estate.
However, Tang Fan, who had been quietly sitting to the side and watching him interrogate Zheng Fu all this time, suddenly spoke up. “Wait!”
With that sound, not only did Xue Ling stop in his tracks, but even Sui Zhou looked over.
“Have you thought through the aftermath of this outing, Gonfalon Sui?” Tang Fan asked.
No matter how fast his response time was, Sui Zhou still wouldn’t be able to comprehend that out-of-nowhere sentence. “What do you mean?”
“From what Zheng Fu said, we all know that Miss Hui’s relative is the one that bought the thorowax that killed Zheng Cheng. She definitely isn’t free of connection to this, but she’s a married woman that stays deep in residence, and can’t even read. How could she know that adding thorowax to yang-rich spring would take a life? Someone else must have planned and instigated this behind the scenes, and that implication might draw secret information out from within the Estate. Marquis Zheng Ying doesn’t possess any real power, but he’s still the descendant of a merited official that had once quelled disaster. This will be a huge disturbance of no gain to you.”
Sui Zhou’s face went cold. “If you’re scared, Sir Tang, then do as you please. I’m not going to force you.”
“We’ve found out this much, and we’re about to go catch the murderer — why would we give up halfway?!” Xue Ling also hollered. “I’ll say this, Sir Tang: if you’re really going to be this cowardly, you’ll have no choice but to drift along in life like Sir Pan!”
Tang Fan shook his head. “You’ve all misunderstood. I’m not scared, I was just advising you to think clearly about this before anything else. This issue was ultimately incited by Shuntian Prefecture not doing its best to handle this case at the onset. If there’s any credit after the fact, I will absolutely never snatch it from the Northern Bastion Office, but if blame needs to be shouldered, please consider me a part of that.”
From those words, Xue Ling was first dumbstruck, then started to laugh, giving a thumbs-up. “Alright! You’re a respectable man, Sir Tang! I like it!”
That previous bowl of wontons had been the preliminary foundation of their friendship, but it wasn’t a secure type of friendship at all. Now, after hearing Tang Fan’s words of some self-responsibility, Xue Ling had a trace of respect for the erudite official.
These day, lots of people fought to snatch credit, but very few were willing to bear blame.
Sui Zhou’s expression eased, as well. “I have a plan for this. Don’t worry.”
With Sui Zhou’s background (as previously explained by Pan Bin), if he said such a thing, then it likely would not be an issue.
The Brocade Guard ruled dictatorially, truly having no need to look upon the faces of those powerless nobles.
Thinking of this, Tang Fan nodded and said no more.
Those were the words he had needed to say. If others didn’t appreciate them, then that was their problem.
However, this attitude of his had actually won Sui Zhou and Xue Ling’s good regard.
Sui Zhou stood up. “Come. Let’s go to the Estate.”
The translator says: Some people are objecting (and rudely! where’s your manners!) to the way I translate. I regret to inform them that I simply don’t care at all what they think. I go with my gut when translating, and have fun with terms as I see fit. This is how I’ve always done it. Nothing I do isn’t without valid reason behind it.
If you’re trying to be persnickety n’ pompous with terms in a foreign novel you’re reading for free, by a translator who’s doing this voluntarily, from a language you probably aren’t even proficient in since you’re here instead of just reading said novel in its original dialect… rethink your whole self, it’s ugly.
 I’m not great at conceptualizing TCM, myself, but I’ll try: there are purportedly three acupoints of yang and yin each in every one of one’s limbs, which is the ‘three yang groups. ‘Channels’ are like invisible, spiritual veins circulating qi through one’s body, and are where acupuncture points are supposedly located on. Where and which meridians are where, and how many there are, largely depend on which quack you’re talking to.