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w.a.n.g Qinian looked at the pastry stand. Smelling the spicy aroma, he almost cried. His life hadn’t been so good recently, having gotten himself kicked out of the Council. Not only had he lost simple things like income and pension, he was also barred from all other government positions due to his time with the Overwatch Council. He knew neither how to use an abacus nor start a shop; he only knew how to investigate criminal cases and use tools of torture.
When he first joined the Overwatch Council, his haughtiness was off the charts as he cracked one case after another. The offenders under his charge were all forced to confess the truth. Who would have thought he too would have ended up like a stray dog? He was getting old, with a wife and daughter back home to support…
Dispirited, he left while feeling the broken bits of silver in his pocket. He pondered who he had offended to deserve this fate.
In truth, he knew the reason—a very simple one. Supposedly, his master’s master’s master went to the temple incognito for a stroll, but a reckless young man also made his way in, and all the guards stationed along the roads and in the palace pa.s.sed out at once. The palace was enraged and began investigation. Agents of the Overwatch Council also tagged along to help.
This incident originally had nothing to do with Wan Qinian. But after asking around street by street, the inner ministry found out that young man had went to the Overwatch Council before going to the temple—a major development. Without Director Chen, the Council was like a fatherless child. The higher-ups in the Council all wondered how they would possibly explain once the palace found out that youth had connections with them.
Toward the end of the investigation, w.a.n.g Qinian’s name was revealed. On the accounts of many Council officials, after entering the Council, that youth talked the most with w.a.n.g Qinian, who then agreed to be investigated, despite being in a state of complete bewilderment. He confessed everything they brought up, except for the fact that the youth was Fei Jie’s student. Ultimately, the inner council didn’t find anything wrong with w.a.n.g Qinian, but still found an excuse to kick him out, having finally found a scapegoat.
"Once old Fei returns, I’ll go make a complaint," w.a.n.g Qinian said with a dejected face, his head meekly supported on his shoulders. He walked into the distance.
"Mr. w.a.n.g." An official appeared from around the corner, his face all smiles. He blocked w.a.n.g Qinian’s path.
w.a.n.g Qinian recognized Mu Tie. He had heard Mu Tie was in charge of the investigation of the Niulan Road a.s.sa.s.sination case. But they normally didn’t talk to each other; why did Mu Tie decide to seek him out now? With a suspicious expression, w.a.n.g Qinian greeted Mu Tie. "Sir Mu, how may I help you?"
Mu Tie showed an almost flattering grin and said in a soft voice, "Congratulations, Mr. w.a.n.g. Congratulations."
Mu Tie had thought he could climb to greater heights via the platform that Fan Xian apparently provided him with, and didn’t think the opportunity would go to someone else instead. But since Young Master Fan had given the task to him, there might still be chances in the future. Mu Tie had always lacked emotions, especially when it came to official business. However, with his advancing age, he had no choice but to start planning for his future. Seeing Fan Xian’s badge made him connect the bits and pieces he had overheard years ago, convincing him that Fan Xian was someone of extreme importance. He thought w.a.n.g Qinian might be Fan Xian’s trusted aide, which was why he was being so polite.
Unfortunately, for the ever-stoic Mu Tie, being this expressive was a first. His smile was a bit stiff and unnatural.
That stiffness greatly alarmed w.a.n.g Qinian. Had Mu Tie been sent here to eliminate him after all?
With some lingering fear, w.a.n.g Q
inian found himself sitting in a secluded room. Facing him was a handsome young master. No matter what had happened, w.a.n.g Qinian would always recognize the face of the one who got him kicked out of the Overwatch Council. Upon seeing the badge, he knew he was right to make that gamble. This young man was not only Sir Fei’s student; he also commanded a terrifying status.
Fan Xian genuinely did not expect this badge to have such terrific commanding power. He squinted and began to reflect upon the time he spent with Fei Jie. That cripple from the Overwatch Council was the one who saved him after he was reincarnated. It was very obvious that the Council took care of him for his mother’s sake. Fan Xian decided that he must put this advantage to good use.
"What I just said, did you understand?" Fan Xian smiled at w.a.n.g Qinian. The official was getting a little old, with a child and wife back home, which happened to be just what Fan Xian was looking for. He didn’t have any experience ordering subordinates around, so he had to learn how. That was why he wanted his first aide to be someone he met by coincidence; someone without too much ambition.
"I understand, Master Fan." w.a.n.g Qinian chuckled, his fingers on his belt. In his belt pocket, other than the few bits of silver, there were many bills which weren’t in there before. "Excuse me, it should be Sir Fan."
"I’m still new to the capital, so I don’t have many subordinates to count on, and my teacher isn’t around." Fan Xian thought for a little bit, and then said, "I have another aide named Teng Zijing. But he’s injured and probably won’t recover for a few months. Once he does, I’ll introduce you two."
"Yes sir." w.a.n.g Qinian didn’t say too much. Compared to when Fan Xian first came to the Council, he got a lot better at it.
"Then go and gather some people." Fan Xian was trying out such things for the first time and felt he was out of his comfort zone; he had no choice but to learn step by step. "Can people like you and I really rea.s.sign people from the Council?"
Suddenly, w.a.n.g Qinian said unsettlingly, "Your Highness, actually I… had to resign."
Fan Xian was shocked; how could things have gone so wrong? He asked, "Why?"
Working up his courage, w.a.n.g Qinian told Fan Xian about the investigation and the temple incident, taking care to emphasize the fact he didn’t expose Fan Xian’s ident.i.ty, so as to demonstrate his foresight and his "predetermined loyalty".
Fan Xian asked with a frown, "My current position is that of a department head, would that have the authority to help you?"
Certainly." w.a.n.g Qinian was overjoyed, realizing he had followed a person fated for greatness in the future. "There are just some procedures to follow. Your Highness could send out an order first and reappoint me. I would return to my post after a few days."
"Very well, I’m going to have that taken care of as soon as possible." Looking at this slightly elderly man, Fan Xian couldn’t help but have doubts; how useful would this person be as an aide? He asked gently, "Sir w.a.n.g, may I ask your area of expertise?"
"Tracking, while keeping myself hidden." Upon hearing "expertise", w.a.n.g Qinian’s spirits elevated immediately. After listening for a long time, Fan Xian discovered that he had stumbled upon an amazing person. During his younger years, this w.a.n.g Qinian was a thief who operated alone in the northern parts of Qing. He thoroughly enjoyed sneaking from one va.s.sal state to another, between Northern Wei and Qing. Then he would bring the goods he stole from one va.s.sal state to another and sell them. Because he never exposed the origins of the stolen goods, and due to his natural skill at hiding his traces, over the years he operated without incident. Eventually the officials in those va.s.sal states couldn’t take it anymore and conducted a manhunt. Left with no other choice, he was forced to stay in Qing. Unexpectedly, he ran into Director Cheng Pingping, who was ordered by the emperor on the northern expedition. w.a.n.g Qinian submitted on the spot and gave up his ways as a thief, whereupon he became a government official.
Looking into his eyes, Fan Xian said lightly, "Si Lili is being taken back to the capital. There might be people trying to rob her or kill her. Whatever happens, do not interfere. You only need to observe the traveling party and find out who their last contact was." Fan Xian paused a little before continuing, a bit embarra.s.sed, "I came up with such a dumb plan because you said you are good at tracking, but not martial arts."
w.a.n.g Qinian laughed, "When I was young, the Council wasn’t this big. Zong Zhui and I were the best trackers in the Council. But he later followed the Director, while I got lazy and switched to a civil position… But Your Highness can rest a.s.sured, despite my old bones, tagging a few people shouldn’t be a problem."
"I’ve got a lawsuit on my hands and can’t leave the capital, or else I would definitely go watch your skill with my own eyes." Fan Xian then began to chuckle. "Mr. w.a.n.g, above all else, you must preserve your own life. That is of utmost importance."
After a.s.signing w.a.n.g his mission, Fan Xian went directly back to Fan Manor. Grimacing, he asked his younger sister to re-bandage his injured shoulder. He had mixed some medicinal powder out of motherwort himself. It was amazingly effective at stopping bleeding and promoting muscle growth. He didn’t want doctors to operate on him, on one hand because he did not trust their abilities in treating poison, and on another hand because Ruoruo’s slender yet soft fingers were far cuter than the callous-riddled bear paws of those clumsy old men.
Fan Xian then went to the study where Count Sinan was. Seeing his father’s greying hair, he saluted with some difficulty. He then asked his father directly, "Father, I need some men."
Fan Jian looked at his son and couldn’t keep back his smile. "What have you got your eyes on?"
"The eldest princess’s mansion; the living quarters of the prime minister’s servants; the brothels frequented by the prince; the second prince’s favorite polo court… King Jing’s winery?" Fan Xian shrugged. "You know I’m not very familiar with this type of thing, so I was hoping you would lend me some experts. Once I have their advice, I could come up with a plan to investigate."
Fan Jian shook his index finger. "We don’t need experts. But you were right in that we need to make some arrangements. A bunch of experts, as long as they’re being directed by someone inexperienced, still wouldn’t do a good job."
"Father, please give me your advice." Fan Xan was exceptionally humble.
Fan Jian looked down and went back to reading his book. "Actually, people are already keeping an eye on the places you just mentioned. I just find it strange that you know about these places even though you haven’t been in the capital for that long."
Fan Xian grinned, knowing that his father was only telling him to bear with it on the surface; he had already begun investigating in secret. "Such things are easy to find out when you chat a bit with the servants."
Fan Jian raised his head slightly, although his gaze was still fixated on his book. "But you must be prepared; the investigation in the capital most likely won’t get you any results."
Fan Xian frowned after hearing that.
Fan Jian continued, "You still have to pay attention to things over on Si Lili’s end." He paused briefly. "The two female a.s.sa.s.sins you killed… It seems that they were disciples of the Sigu Sword Sect from Dongyi City, and from what I heard, the the Sigu sword style hasn’t been seen in Dongyi City for a long time. You must be more careful." Fan Xian replied with worry, "If a great grandmaster were willing to risk it all to kill someone, who would be able to escape?" Fan Jian nodded in agreement. "True. However, there shouldn’t be any reason for him to go after you. Relax. This is only some useful information."
Over ten days later, about two hundred and fifty kilometers to the north of the capital, a traveling party was progressing southward against the cold morning wind. The party consisted of people from the Fourth Bureau of the Overwatch Council. After being in pursuit for several-thousand kilometers, they finally apprehended Si Lili before she could escape the country. Presently they were taking her back to the capital. They had been walking south for a long time. They would reach the capital in a few days. The leading official handed a steamed bun to Si Lili in the jail cart. "Eat."
Si Lili’s face was thin and pallid. Her long hair was a mess, blowing in the wind. There was also some dust on her cheeks. Had Fan Xian seen her now, he definitely wouldn’t believe that she was the most popular entertainer with whom he had "slept" with. Chewing the tough, dried-out bun, Si Lili suddenly raised her head and said ferociously, "Even after going back to the capital, I will tell you nothing."
That official gave her a look, his eyes full of mockery. "You think we’re sending you back to get to you to confess something? I don’t understand, are the officials over at Northern Qi bored out of their minds? Putting an idiot like you in the capital."
Indeed, Si Lili was a spy of Northern Qi. But every day she had presented herself as a courtesan who was showered by compliments and praises. Never before had a man so coldly called her an idiot. Her voice trembling, she said, "Of course I know you aren’t after a confession, since that would plunge the Qing Imperial court into chaos for a long time."
The official replied cynically, "Actually, your best choice of action was towards the beginning, on the day when the a.s.sa.s.sination attempt occurred. You should have turned yourself in immediately. This way, you could have exposed who was conspiring with Northern Qi, which would be enough to accomplish Northern Qi’s goal. Your escape only showed that you value your life more than your mission."
Si Lili lowered her head in admittance of this fact. She gripped the tough bun in her hand tightly, leaving behind deep marks.