# 105. Explosion Xu Xinnian swapped back his cousin’s possession for thirty taels of silver. Stuffing the small jade mirror into his sleeve, he left the prison, and at the doorway came across Song Tingfeng and Zhu Guangxiao, who had been waiting for a long time. Song Tingfeng said: “We’ve already got the permit for entry into the Imperial city. You haven’t been there before, so how about we take you.” Xu Xinnian bowed and expressed his thanks. Song Tingfeng waved, “As long as we can save him, anything can do.” The three of them rode on quick horses to the Imperial City gates. Song Tingfeng took out the entry permit from the Nightwatchers, and was easily permitted entry. On the way, they were interrogated non-stop by any Jinwu guards they met, followed by the Yulin Guards. They finally reached the palace, and was stopped again. The Nightwatchers’ entry permit could only get so far. To go further, would be the Imperial Palace itself. Even though it was very large, it was nominally the Emperor’s home. Xu Xinnian said, “This one is a student of the Cloud Deer Academy, and has known the eldest princess for a while. Please send the message that I ask to meet her.” Everyone knew that the eldest princess studied at the Cloud Deer Academy, so the guards did not make things hard for him. After asking the three of them to wait, he went off to find her. After fifteen minutes, the guard returned, saying “Follow me.” He led the three of them into the Imperial Palace, warning, “Be careful of where you look, what you speak, take care of your words and actions.” Xu Xinnian slightly lowered his head. Song Tingfeng and Zhu Guangxiao knew the rules, and walked with quick footsteps with their heads lowered. Even though they have entered the Imperial Palace, they were still only permitted to walk along certain routes. If they took a wrong turn, and got questioned by the royal guards, if a permit book didn’t come out then blades quickly followed. After walking for a long time, they finally came to the eldest princess’s Embracing Moon Palace, where she lived. There were already two palace maids waiting by the great red doors. The palace maids greeted them, and after Xu Xinnian returned the greeting, led the three of them into the palace.. Through corridors and courtyards, the three of them were led to the ornate drawing room. A beautiful woman in royal dress was sat at the table facing the door, one hand holding a book, the other a cup of tea, sipping it in an elegant and carefree manner. “Your Highness, the guests are here.” The maids said, before turning to leave. Xu Xinnian bowed and cupped his hands, saying loudly, “Xu Xinnian of the Cloud Deer Academy greets the eldest princess.” The eldest princess smiled lightly, “For what has Cijiu come today?” She new Xu Xinnian; when she was in the Cloud Deer Academy studying, they had met a few times. But only on that day when she ordered people to investigate Xu Qi’an, did she have a deeper impression of this student. *Cijiu…* Xu Xinnian was stunned for a moment; he wasn’t surprised that the eldest princess remembered him, this princess was naturally clever and talented above her peers. She had an eidetic memory, and knew very well how to keep talent around her. What he was surprised by was that the eldest princess actually remembered his courtesy name, yet he had never had a formal meeting with her. The eldest princess calling him like this was in reality somewhat unbefitting of her status, but undoubtedly pulled closer their relationship, making Xu Xinnian feel very appreciated. Xu Xinnian himself wasn’t a simple man either, and very quickly calmed his mood, replying earnestly, “Cijiu’s elder cousin is in dire trouble, please may the eldest princess help him.” The eldest princess’s expression froze for a second, as her delicate and elegant face betrayed a hint of surprise, “What’s happened.” Xu Xinnian told the eldest princess what had happened, with Song Tingfeng and Zhu Guangxiao filling in some of the gaps. Afterwards, Xu Xinnian cupped his hands again, “My Cousin’s actions were indeed rash, but they were undoubtedly righteous. If he had not acted, then that poor child would have suffered silver gong Zhu’s abuse. “Righteousness is such, that it does not bias for power, it does not care for profit.[^1] Even though my cousin is not a scholar, this morality fills all us scholars with deep respect and admiration.” The reason why he quoted from the classics, was to cause the eldest princess to relate to his arguments. She was at least half a scholar. The eldest princess thought for a moment, before asking “What punishment did Wei Yuan give?” “Silver gong Zhu would be terminated, and never employed again. My cousin… he will be chopped at the waist in seven days.” Xu Xinnian said solemnly. The eldest princess became silent, her inner thoughts undetectable under that calm cold face. Xu Xinnian sighed in his heart; this princess wasn’t any soft feeble woman, she had a strong sense of independence, sometimes even verging on domineering. That type of person always has her own ideas. “This is a letter from my teacher, Scholar Mubai, and scholar Youping, asking the eldest princess to help.” Xu Xinnian decided to use his trump card. From his sleeve he pulled out the three great scholars’ letters. “Clang…” As the letters came out, the jade mirror also slid out from his sleeve. Xu Xinnian picked it up unhurriedly, stowing it safely, before handing over the letters. The eldest princess took them, and after reading through them, said calmly, “I know. But though the Nightwatchers serve the royal family, they only listen to His Majesty my Father alone. I can only try my best.” Xu Xinnian took a deep breath, “Thank you, princess.” The maids saw off Xu Xinnian and his group, and when they came back, the eldest princess ordered, “Send someone to the Nightwatchers constabulary to ask Duke Wei, find out the details behind the altercation between bronze gong Xu Qi’an and silver gong Zhu Chengzhu.” “Yes!” the maid replied. … Leaving the palace complex, leaving the imperial city, Xu Xinnian and the two bronze gongs bade farewell. He rode on his horse, slowly travelling towards the outer city, a cloud of worry over his face. *I can’t put all my chips on the eldest princess. Though she’s agreed to this matter, how much effort she was willing to put in is as yet unknown.* *Father has gone to the Sitianjian, but I don’t know if those arcanists have any way of saving big brother…* *In the coming spring examinations I must pass, I must climb higher, control more power and influence, otherwise I can’t do anything.* Xu Xinnian took off his waterskin, and washed his dry mouth. Through his clothes he touched the jade mirror. When he got to the East city, it was nearly dusk. The east city’s welfare home was in the poor slums. Here were gathered the bottom of the capital’s society, peddlers abound, pickpockets a-plenty. The people he met on the way all wore worn and tattered winter clothes, with thin faces, and the expression they had when looking at him was like wolves eyeing their prey. But Xu Xinnian’s Confucian robe made these peasants who were on the precipice of hunger keep clear heads. The mud houses of this area were all worn and broken down, placed with no rhyme or reason. Everywhere on the side of the road was rubbish, and through the air floated a light smell of urine and feces. It was clear to see that in the summer, flies would abound. A young boy with a sallow face, plucking up his courage, came up and stopped Xu Xinnian’s horse. “Master, please could I have some money… I’ve not eaten for seven days.” the boy said. *If you hadn’t eaten for seven days, you’d’ve starved to death…* Xu Xinnian instinctively wanted to mock him, but then swallowed it back down. From his wallet he took out a nugget of silver, and threw it over. This boy’s face was sallow, his eyes listless, even if seven days was a bit much, but he had certainly not eaten for a long time. Seeing this, it was not just the boy whose eyes lit up, but also the other peasants, old or young, at the side of the street. Greed and desire shone in their eyes. Seven or eight boys followed the first one’s example, and surrounded Xu Xinnian’s horse. The older peasants started to crowd over silently. “Master, could I have some spare change.” “I haven’t eaten for ten days.” Both adults and children surrounded his horse, very much making to not let him go until he gave them money. Xu Xinnian’s sharp eyes beat back a man that had tried to reach out to grab at his wallet, as he shouted “Quiet!” The clamour stopped in an instant, as everyone all unconsciously stopped talking. “Sod off!” Xu Xinnian gathered his qi in his *dantian*, and shouted again. The adults and children who surrounded his horse suddenly all felt a strong sense of fright, that instinctively pushed them away from the horse, not daring to let them get closer. The eighth rank Confucianist “Self-cultivatior” could to a limited extent control the speech and manner of others, being able to make laws follow words in the shallowest sense. Xu Xinnian shook his head helplessly, and urged his horse on. Not long after, he came to the welfare home. He dismounted, and fearing that his horse would be stolen, lead it across the threshold. In the yard, an old clerk was currently tidying the courtyard. He raised up his old wizened face, asking, “Young Master, for what are you after?” Xu Xinnian said, “Is there a monk in the home?” The clerk replied, “You mean Master Hengyuan… he left, it’s been about two days…” Xu Xinnian frowned, “When will he come back?” “I don’t know, he said he had news of his sect-brother, and needed to leave for a few days.” the old clerk shook his head. Xu Xinnian left the welfare home in disappointment, leaving the east city. … Dusk. Finishing dinner, the eldest princess summoned to her study the captain of the guard in her palace; the captain had gathered information from the Nightwatchers’ constabulary. Wearing a resplendent dress, the eldest princess stood by the window, giving the captain an unbelievably beautiful shadow to look at. She listened quietly to everything he had to say, before asking, “Did Xu Qi’an originally have any grudges with silver gong Zhu?” The captain shook his head, “Your servant has already asked around, the two of them shouldn’t have known each other. However that silver gong privately did harbour resentment and jealously to bronze gong Xu Qi’an.” “Were Minster Cheng’s family sentenced by association, and sent into the Jiaofangsi?” the eldest princess asked. “They were not.” the captain replied. The eldest princess didn’t continue, thinking for a while, and said casually, “What do you think of this matter?” The young captain hesitated, “Your servant has asked around, in role call, bronze gong Xu Qi’an did not turn up late, but still suffered a beating from Zhu Chengzhu, showing that he wanted to provoke matters… in these years, the Nightwatchers have indeed again and again committed acts such as assaulting criminal families’ women. “Some were meant to be sent to the Jiaofangsi anyway, thus they are not of concern, but even those who had no such sentence still commonly suffered to the demon’s claw.” Similar matters happened time and time again, it was only just that nobody wanted to represent these women of convicted criminals is all. Convicted officials were criminals anyway, if the wall fell everyone was happy to give an extra push. The captain continued, “Your servant has also found out, that at the time silver gong Zhu had the idea to force Xu Qi’an to act first. He succeeded, only that…” The eldest princess laughed lightly, “Only that he never thought that a small insignificant bronze gong could unleash that much energy in one blow. “Alright, you are dismissed.” The captain left the study. The eldest princess sat by the window, staring into the quiet courtyard, her eyes dark and deep. … Late at night. The moon scattered down a cold radiance, the calm Sangpo Lake reflected its shadow. The clanking of armour, the tidy thud of footsteps echoed around Sangpo Lake, coming from the patrolling royal guards. The cold night wind blew by, blowing ripples into Sangpo Lake, breaking up the silver pieces of light. A delicately cut paper person, about a palm’s width in height, rode the wind, floating down over the lake’s surface, landing on the platform in its centre. It lay silent for a few seconds, before shakily standing up, and with its small legs came to the temple door, squeezing in through the door cracks. After a few seconds, a very dim firelight could be seen lighting up through the cracks. Soon after, came a “Boom”, like thunder striking, as bright searing flame swallowed the Temple Eternally Supressing Mountains and Seas. The frenzied force sent waves of water many metres high, sending broken roof tiles, stone bricks, timber frames scattering out several dozen metres far, crashing into the lake surface. The sound of the explosion was heard several hundred li away. The royal guard near Sangpo Lake felt at the same time an earthquake, as well as saw the tongue of fire that rose into the sky. --- [^1]: *Xunzi*, Honour and Disgrace