# 112. Broken Lead “Sir Xu, where are we going?” Min Shan asked. “To arrest a suspect!” Leaving the conference hall, Xu Qi’an did not have any qualms, immediately explaining himself. Yang Feng and the other bronze gongs looked at Xu Qi’an in surprise. Zhu Guangxiao and Song Tingfeng had thoughts of their own; they had taken part in both the saltpetre mine case and the Jinwu guard case, and so they knew much more than the others. If Li Yuchun was here, he could also have understood the thought process, but he had gone to ask after Chu Caiwei. “Boss hasn’t come back in so long, does it take all morning to ask for someone?” Xu Qi’an said, brow furrowed, “Did he encounter some difficulty?” He had just left the Ministry of Law, and gotten on his horse, when he saw two riders galloping towards them, being exactly Li Yuchun and the yellow-skirted Chu Caiwei. Li Yuchun explained, “Miss Caiwei wasn’t at the Sitianjian, she had gone to the palace. I waited by the imperial city gate for a long time, she had just left…” *You’ve gone again to get food with the eldest princess? You food-eater… in the future sooner or later I’ll have her taste me big old stick.* Xu Qi’an smiled warmly, “Miss Caiwei, long time no see, you’ve gotten even more beautiful.” Chu Caiwei’s smooth round face wore a sweet smile. She was just about to reply, when she remembered her own status and the watching Nightwatchers around her, and so made a stiff expression and hummed acknowledgement. The situation was urgent, and so Xu Qi’an told long story short: “Silver Gong Min, take my golden token to the imperial city gates, and arrest Baihu Zhou Chixiong. “Everyone else come with me to the Zhou Manor.” As he did not know if Baihu Zhou was on duty today or not, he had to split his army down two roads. Xu Qi’an had a reason to arrange thins as he did; the imperial city was at the foot of the son of heaven, and usually wouldn’t see any major altercations, as no one even dared. But at the same time, one couldn’t just say they wanted a person and got them; they must show authority to do so. So one silver gong was sufficient. As for going straight to Baihu Zhou’s home, he was likely to try vault the wall in desperation. Xu Qi’an had just used his One Blade from Heaven and Earth, and so his fighting power was at a low, thus needing two silver gongs to accompany him. … On the other side, Lyu Qing was reporting on the situation. “Lord Liu, good sirs, if things go as expected, this matter is very likely to involve the yaoguai.” These words made all the officials present change expressions. The Ministry of Law’s Minister Sun also frowned. One Ministry of Law official did not believe her, saying, “What evidence do you have?” “Several days ago, this subordinate and Sir Xu had worked together to investigate a case within Taikang County. The one with the Yao monster eating huihu in the Great Yellow Mountains.” “Yao eating huihu?” Eunuch Liu knotted his brow. “Yes. During the middle of the year, there appeared a monster at the river by the foot of Great Yellow Mountain, which ate several hundred huihu that lived in the area. This subordinate and Sir Xu worked on this case together, and discovered a fully depleted saltpetre mine up on the mountain…” Lyu Qing described in detail the events of the case for everyone. This was an extremely good way to delay time, because what she said was not empty words, and so all the important people listened with much intensity, without trying to rush her. “So earlier when this subordinate was talking to Sir Xu, after layers of analysis and deduction, we discovered that the gunpowder may not have come from the Ministry of Industry, rather being to do with the saltpetre mine on Great Yellow Mountain.” Lyu Qing said. The Ministry of Law and the Prefecture office’s officials all wore serious expressions. This case had implicated the Yao, and on Jiuzhou there were two major groups of Yao: The northern Yao tribes, and the Wanyao kingdom of the southern marches. The Wanyao Kingdom had long since been destroyed in the sixty-year demon extermination, with the left over remnants still dragging out their feeble existence. The northern Yao clans and the northern barbarian clans had an alliance, together fighting against the Great Feng, and the many states of the west. *But which camp was behind the saltpetre mine?* Eunuch Liu looked at Governor Chen, the latter exclaimed “oh”, and said on behalf of his subordinates, “There was indeed this matter. The constabulary had only taken on this case several days ago, and the person responsible for carrying it out was Constable Lyu.” Eunuch Liu’s expression was gloomy, “If we could have found out about the saltpetre mine earlier, then the Sangpo Lake case may not have happened. The monster appeared in the middle of the year, why was it kept quiet until now?” Lyu Qing was just about to scold Taikang County’s office for not performing their duty, and ignoring the huihu’s lives, but was stopped by a gaze from Governor Chen. Old Chen sighed, “The monster’s strength was immense, Taikang County also struggled with it.” Eunuch Liu snorted, “We will report this matter to His Majesty.” Minister Sun spoke, glancing at Lyu Qing, “What has Xu Qi’an gone to do?” He seemed to have realised that Lyu Qing was delaying them, and so immediately brought out the problem, not wanting her to dawdle on. Hearing this, Eunuch Liu hesitated, saying “Given that the Yao have gunpowder, then how could they have gotten past the Great Feng’s royal guards and the city guard, taking the gunpowder all the way to Sangpo Lake?” “This involves another case.” Lyu Qing replied. “Another case?” Everyone was shocked. The Sangpo Lake explosion involved this many different events? Lyu Qing said “The day before His Majesty’s ancestor worship festival, a lieutenant of the Jinwu Guard, Liu Han, died without known cause in his home. This case was also carried out by Sir Xu and I. At that time, Sir Xu had deduced that he had been silenced, but at the time this didn’t have any relation to the saltpetre mine case, so I didn’t join the two together.” *A Jinwu guard lieutenant was silenced… gunpowder being smuggled into Sangpo…* All present were clever, and they didn’t have any more doubt. “Then that Xu just…” some the Ministry of Law and Prefecture Office officials stood up violently. “Just then, Sir Xu thought of this matter, and suddenly all the pieces fell together. This is why he left in such a hurry.” Lyu Qing said. Minister Sun said solemnly, “Send an order to arrest all the Baihu of the Jinwu guard, go quickly!” With a clatter, everyone rose, and rushed out of the conference hall, fighting to be first, not caring about flipped tables or chairs. The case having been dissected to this level, everyone was very clear that to catch the spy within the Jinwu guard would be to get the most merit. Lyu Qing slowly let out a breath. She had tried her best. If it was a fair fight, then Lyu Qing would not have helped Xu Qi’an this much, but his situation was precarious; this case was his only hope for survival. Lyu Qing thought that as a friend, if she could help then she should. She followed her colleagues from the prefecture constabulary out of the hall. Within the vast conference hall was left only Eunuch Liu and the other eunuchs that accompanied him, Minister Sun, and Governor Chen. Eunuch Liu stretched out his hand, and the accompanying eunuch immediately blew dry the ink marks, and handed over the document to him. Liu read through its contents carefully. Initially were the discussions of the Ministry of Law and the Prefecture Office, which was mainly arguments and debates, and was rather dry. Only when Xu Qi’an joined in, did the case start to become clear, and within the time of a stick of incense, they managed to pick up on a suspect. The progress of the case was so quick it shocked Eunuch Liu. According to past experiences, joining up the Great Yellow Mountain’s saltpetre mine, and the death of the lieutenant would have taken two or three days. *From this, it seems that His Majesty’s choice of picking Xu Qi’an to be the lead investigator of the Nightwatchers had some deeper meaning…* Eunuch Liu had a realisation. “Little Yun, from today you will stay at the Nightwatchers Constabulary, and be responsible for supervising their work. You must inform me of happenings in a timely manner.” Liu said. “Yes sir!” The note-taking eunuch replied. … Zhou Manor. The black lacquered door was closed tight. Song Tingfeng, under Xu Qi’an’s command, stepped onto the porch, and banged on the door. “Nightwatchers, open up!” From within came an old voice, “Master Baihu is ill, and is not seeing visitors. Please return.” Song Tingfeng continued to bang on the door. The person within played dead, not responding. *Being a debt dodger?* Song Tingfeng laughed coldly, and with one foot kicked the door. In a huge boom, the thick wooden door crashed off its hinges, as shards of wood flew. An old man, wearing light blue clothes, trembled in the corner, looking at these uninvited guests with a frightened expression. “Leave two to guard the main door. Everyone else, follow Silver Gongs Li and Yang inside.” Xu Qi’an waved his hand, ordering the Bronze Gongs to advance. He and Chu Caiwei would stay behind them. “You’re the lead investigator, why don’t you go?” Chu Caiwei tilted her head, looking at him. “In the war of the Mountains and Seas Pass, did you see His Majesty lead the charge?” Xu Qi’an returned her gaze. Chu Caiwei did not know how to respond. She knew clearly that he was twisting logic, but she was not so clever, and so couldn’t think up of any rebuttal. “I was originally wanting to give you a great strength pill, it’s whatever.” “A great strength pill?” “To restore your health and vitality, et cetera.” Chu Caiwei explained. As a Feng-Shui Master of the Arcanist path, when she was tending to the ill Xu Qi’an was still in his courtyard lugging rocks. She only had to glance at Xu Qi’an’s qi to know that he had a massive deficiency. “Give me one, and tonight I’ll invite you for dinner.” Xu Qi’an poked her with his elbow. Chu Caiwei stepped back with some disdain, and pulled out a porcelain bottle from her deerskin pouch, chucking it to him, “That’s enough for you to use for a while.” Strong willed Chu Caiwei, Xu Qi’an just loved girls with this kind of attitude. He headed inside, at the same time tipping the bottle and pouring out a brown pill. The pill had a strange smell, and when he chewed on it, a rush of spice hit him. Xu Qi’an swallowed it down, and a few seconds later, felt his stomach become warm, and very comfortable. The feeling of weakness improved substantially. “Let me say in advance, that this is a side effect of my special martial art, and not because I’m a Ruan Xiao’er.” “What’s a Ruan Xiao’er?”[^1] “Not a good thing.” He walked and talked, and came to the inner courtyard. Li Yuchun and Yang Feng met him, shaking his head, “He’s gone.” The latter added, “Anything of value in the manor has also gone.” Song Tingfeng dragged over the old gatekeeper, his sabre on the man’s throat, shouting, “Where’s Zhou Chixiong?” “Master Baihu he… he and his wife and the young masters and misses left the city to visit relatives.” “Then why did you say he was ill?” “That’s what Master Baihu told me. This little man- this little man did as he ordered…” the old gatekeeper had a frightened expression on his face, his legs were trembling, and it didn’t look like he was lying. Xu Qi’an asked, “When did he leave?” “On the day of the ancestor worship ceremony…” the gatekeeper gulped, and pleaded “Wh- what crime has Master Baihu committed? This small man doesn’t know anything, doesn’t know anything!” Xu Qi’an waved his hand, indicating for Song Tingfeng to release him. He then lead the others inside again, and searched room by room. Apart from some rather valuable old artefacts and paintings which had been taken, everything else on the manor was as it once was. “Baihu Zhou has fled!” Li Yuchun said darkly. “It may be too early to say that.” Xu Qi’an looked at Chu Caiwei. The round-faced beauty seemed to mysteriously get his intention, and gracefully leapt onto the roof, her eyes filling with clear light, as she scanned every corner of the Zhou manor. She was not trying to find anybody, but rather to find something else, focusing on the garden and the stone well. After a short while, Chu Caiwei jumped down, shaking her head, “There are no corpses hidden on the manor, recently no one has died here… mm, perhaps it could have been hidden by special measures. You can dig the ground three feet, and have another check.” “No need,” Xu Qi’an sighed, “Dead or fled, this lead has broken.” But, there was an 8 out of 10 chance that he fled. After all, the people that still remained saw Baihu Zhou and family leave with their very own eyes. Leading everyone out of the main door of the manor, Min Shan arrived with a few Bronze Gongs. With no time to rein in his horse, he shouted, “After the ancestor worship ceremony, Baihu Zhou asked for a long holiday.” He saw that everyone else was gloomy, and his heart sank. “He’s fled.” Yang Feng let out a turbid breath. … Just as Xu Qi’an lead his party away, the Ministry of Law and the Prefecture Office’s people arrived to the manor. Seeing the broken-down door, they were rather surprised. After asking all the servants on the manor, they received word that the Nightwatchers had just come up empty-handed, Baihu Zhou had fled. Complicated emotions arose within the two groups; they did not know whether to feel happy, or sorry. … Dusk! Eunuch Liu made it back to the imperial palace before the gates closed. Under assistance from his “sons”[^2], he bathed, and changed into more comfortable clothes, and was just having his pre-supper tea. A small eunuch hurriedly entered, and said in a soft voice, “Father, His Majesty has sent for you.” Eunuch Liu rubbed his temples, and grunted “I know!” He took another sip, before summoning his sons for a change of clothes. Changing into his dragon robe, he had just crossed the threshold when he thought of somehthing. “Give us our dossier, the one we brought back today.” The small eunuch went and retrieved it. They came all the way to the Tranquil Heart Palace, and after notifying them of his presence, was lead inside. He saw the Daoist robe wearing, long goatee flying Emperor Yuanjing. Emperor Yuanjing was not meditating nor doing work. In his hand he held a book, yet his thoughts were elsewhere. “Liu Rong, we have sent people to supervise the case. It has been one day, has there been any news.” Emperor Yuanjing’s tone was calm and emotionless. Eunuch Liu’s blood ran cold. He’d served in the palace for decades, and knew well Emperor Yuanjing’s temper. The more he acted like this, the more angry and annoyed he was inside. “Your Majesty, this is a summary of today’s report. Your servant was just about to bring it to you.” Eunuch Liu pulled out the thin dossier from his sleeve. --- [^1]: 阮小二, Ruan Xiao’er, or Ruan the Second, a character in *Water Margin* [^2]: Possibly younger subordinate eunuchs. It seems that within eunuchs they use familial terms to refer to superiors/inferiors.