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What those weird officials from the Third Bureau meant was that Fan Xian’s body conformed to standard proportions; the equipment they had provided would fit him perfectly without the need for adjustments.
Fan Xian put on his outfit and frowned as he recalled that night when he was five years old. Fei Jie was wearing the same kind of clothes which were very resistant to tearing.
Senior Disciple Leng explained, "It is mildly resistant to fire, and it effectively reduces damage from bladed weapons. But if someone is coming at you with a great axe, young disciple, I advise that you dodge."
Fan Xian smiled bitterly and spread out his arms. The outfit was in accordance with the newest style in the capital, only it had a hood on the back.
"I shall be taking your hidden crossbow." Leng recognized the crossbow on Fan Xian’s left arm with a glance.
Fan Xian sighed as he reluctantly obliged. That crossbow had accompanied him for about five years now, rarely leaving his person.
Boss Leng judged the circumference of Fan Xian’s arm and opened a box on the table. He took out a small and delicate crossbow that was painted all black. He carefully put it in Fan Xian’s sleeve and made some adjustments. Leng then took another glance at the crossbow Fan Xian just took off. "What a piece of junk. To think you’re still using a model from seven years ago."
Fan Xian smiled sheepishly. "It works. I'm not greedy."
Leng carefully explained the mechanism of the crossbow to Fan Xian: "…This is a repeating crossbow. But due to size restraints, it only has a capacity of three bolts. Those bolts have been dipped in poison number four. You should know what it is."
Fan Xian knew indeed. Poison number four of the Third Bureau was poison obtained from the golden gourd. It was potent enough to kill as soon as the bolt drew blood. Fan Xian tested the trigger with his pinkie and frowned, "I need a range of ten meters."
"It can only guarantee three meters. At ten meters, it won't reliably hit the eyes, throat, or groin," Boss Leng said calmly. "As for your dagger, it’s Sir Fei’s favorite short weapon, and it is peerlessly sharp. You may hang on to that. Here are also some unconventional weapons, as well as some tools. Because we didn’t know what kinds of missions you will undertake, you must decide what to take."
Fan Xian knew his choices would heavily affect his operations in Northern Qi, so he took his time to look at his options before picking out a few items. One of the items he did not choose was a grappling hook that could be launched over thirty meters into the air.
One of the officials was curious. He asked, "Sir Commissioner, while I do not know the details of your mission, I assume you will have to venture into Northern Qi’s imperial palace. Their palace walls are no shorter than ours."
It was a naïve thing to say; very much like something Wang Qinian would say, in fact. This made Fan Xian laugh. He stared at the intricately-designed iron claw and shook his head without explaining anything—in this world, there was yet to be a person who could scale walls better than Fan Xian.
"Regarding poison, Sir Fei told us that your talents lie far above the personnel of the Third Bureau, so we did not make preparations." Leng checked over Fan Xian’s equipment again and nodded in satisfaction.
Fan Xian said, "But I lack ingredients for making them."
That got Senior Disciple Leng’s interest. "What do you need?"
"Maokouzi, arsenic, strychnine seeds, Southern Sea camphor."
"Maokouzi is too bitter. It also won't work well in your plan," Leng said curiously. "But arsenic and strychnine seeds are very common."
Fan Xian smiled apologetically, "With my current position, it’s really difficult to have people purchase those items for me. It would draw unwanted attention."
"Then go with some chloroform. It’s a very effective sedative. Fei Jie created it two years ago." Leng became excited. "It's better than strychnine seed."
Fan Xian was even more excited. He couldn’t stop nodding. "But arsenic is a must. I’ve tried it in Danzhou. It's good stuff—acts faster than poison arrows."
The topic of poison invoked a sort of professional excitement. The three other officials, also from the Third Bureau, joined in and began a heated debate regarding which poison would bring the slowest, most painful death, and which drug could turn the widow living under the memorial archway into the most ferocious animal on Liujing River.
All things considered, the Third Bureau of the Overwatch Council was a bizarre department, occupied by a bunch of bizarre people.
After stepping out of the Third Bureau, Wang Qinian noticed Sir Commissioner Fan wasn’t as steady as usual. His face was slightly flushed, as if having done some… things.
Fan Xian spoke excitedly: "Acting like a learned scholar every day is hard work. It’s much better to talk about useful skills at a place like this."
The bizarre senior member of the bizarre Third Bureau was currently having a cup of tea. He looked at Fan Xian in the distance with a satisfied expression.
"How about you stay with the Third Bureau?" Fei Jie walked with his disciple. "Forget going to Northern Qi, forget being a minister, forget taking over the palace treasury. A quiet life here isn’t bad at all."
Fan Xian was silent. He knew his teacher was worried for him.
"Growing up, you were always quiet. Yet you know very well what you want." Fei Jie’s eyes became somewhat misty. "After coming to the capital, your heart has become even more vigilant. But with things like power, it’s easy to become intoxicated by them. Are you clear on what you want?"
Fan Xian was silent for a while before answer respectfully, "I am."
Fei Jie suddenly cackled. "If that’s the path you wish to take, then you must learn to kill, learn to be willing to kill, learn to enjoy killing."
Fan Xian held a bitter expression. "I’m not some little psychopath."
Fei Jie blinked tiredly. He coughed twice and said, "This world is psychotic. How can you get by if you’re not psychotic in return?"
Fan Xian, standing in front of Fei Jie, felt he was once again the little kid from the past. He smiled sweetly, "There are many different degrees of getting by… By the way, Master Fei, why did the Director sigh when he saw me?"
"Hm, perhaps it was out of disappointment. You aren’t as… prideful as the Lady was."
Fan Xian was troubled. "A real man does not compare himself to women."
After that, he took his teacher’s hand and went to Yishi Tavern. Today they would drink to their heart’s content. Now that the entire capital knew his relationship with the Overwatch Council, there was no longer any need to be discreet. Wang Qinian, on the other hand, suffered. He huffed and puffed as he carried a huge collection of documents. He knew they were all top secret, so he didn't have the leisure to go to the tavern. He called a few subordinates to make some preparations and grumpily headed to Fan Manor.
The Crown Prince sat in Eastern Palace with a gloomy expression. He tightly gripped the cup in his hand, his fingers shaking. After a while, he managed to squeeze out a sentence. "How come all the women in the palace never learned how to settle down?"
Vice-minister Xin dared not interject. He knew the Crown Prince was in an exceptionally bad mood today. The events that happened these past few days angered everyone in the Eastern Palace, including the always gentle Taifu.
First it was the spring civil service examination scandal. That actually caused the Eastern Palace the least amount of setback. Among the dozen officials who were arrested, only a few belonged to the Eastern Palace. Though in the eyes of other officials, the fall of Director Guo appeared to be a huge loss for the Crown Prince, the prince gradually discovered that the Guo clan were actually lackeys of the Eldest Princess.
The Crown Prince wasn’t angry over Fan Xian taking down Director Guo. On the contrary, he was secretly elated.
"No one guessed that Sir Fan was the Commissioner of the Overwatch Council." Xin Qiwu frowned. He had drunk many times with Fan Xian. Never did he imagine that Fan Xian, with his gentle face, would be a senior member of that special organization.
Crown Prince Li Chengqian shook his head, his face still gloomy. "Fan Xian is a sensible person. He uncovered this case mainly because of his duties. Him not contacting the palace wasn’t unreasonable. He gave us enough prestige, so I do not blame him too much. Besides, Wan’er delivered a hand-written letter from Fan Xian. I believe he was not targeting the Eastern Palace
Vice-minister Xin had befriended Fan Xian because he hoped Fan Xian in the Overwatch Council would be a tremendous source of help for the Eastern Palace. The vice-minister nodded in agreement, "Indeed. While Commissioner Fan didn’t say anything beforehand, afterwards he made plenty of amends… Unfortunately he is to leave for Northern Qi soon. Otherwise I would have arranged that he meet with Your Highness."
The Crown Prince snorted and put down his cup loudly. He was enraged. "Even so, dare he still have a change of heart? News of what happened at the Hall of Justice is now all over the capital. Even though the Prime Minister and Director Fan haven’t made a move, they still know about Han Zhiwei's relationship with us. I fear the Fan clan will waste no time to loathe the Eastern Palace. Don't even mention them asking us for help."
m Xin was silent, he knew the prince was wise in how he handled this matter. But there were two masters in the Eastern Palace.
Suddenly, a eunuch’s voice rang out: "The Empress has arrived!"
Vice-minister Xin gave the prince a look and signaled him to keep calm. He then saluted the Empress, who had just entered, before taking his leave.
The Empress stared silently at her son with her thin and graceful eyes.
The Crown Prince just sat there with a smile, unwilling to start the conversation.
The Empress bit at her bottom lip. A flash of disappointment and sadness flashed across her eyes. Suddenly, she raised a hand and slapped it down!