# Xu Qi’an, the Flawless
Without another word, Zhang Kaitai lead the way into the main hall. Xu Qi’an wanted to rush ahead along with Gold Gong Zhang, but was nowhere near as quick. As he rushed into the room, he saw Zhang Kaitai, sword in hand, slice in half the last of the paper figures. The floor was littered with bits of cut paper, and at the side were nearly ten paper men. Further more, two young boys lay lifeless on the floor, their throats cut open, blood pouring everywhere.
“What’s happened?” Xu Qi’an exclaimed in shock.
“Paper men suddenly burst out from these two people’s bodies, intending to silence the victims, but were stopped. “The Silver Gong guarding the victims replied, though he targeted his reply towards Zhang Kaitai.”
“What about the perpetrator?” Zhang Kaitai asked, his gaze scanning the room, falling on the middle-aged man being guarded by several Bronze Gongs, who was crouched in the corner with his head buried in his arms, hiding his face.
“Hey, it’s over.” One of the Bronze Gongs kicked him, and the middle aged man limply slumped to the floor.
Everyone’s faces turned, as that Silver Gong rushed over, checking the man’s pulse and breath. With an ugly look on his face, he clasped his fists and bowed towards Zhang Kaitai, voice panicky:
“This lowly officer has failed in his duty, please may Sir sanction me!”
Zhang Kaitai’s whole aura became dark and depressive, as a vein bulged on his forehead in anger. He became silent for a few moments, before letting out a slow breath: “It’s not your fault.”
He walked towards the corpse and grabbed the man’s collar. With a gentle shake, there came the sound of ripping fabric, as his clothes tore themselves into pieces.
The naked body of the man was exposed to the crowd, and they could see a bright red mark on his chest.
“This is a warlock’s curse of death. He takes someone’s hair, blood, nails, or the like, and along with their birth and horoscope, and can kill them without a trace.” Zhang Kaitai shook his head.
This could not be guarded against, especially by martial artists, who were only good at hitting things.
“Then what about the paper men?” Xu Qi’an asked.
Zhang Kaitai knelt by the corpse, and thought for a long time, “These paper dolls remind me of something. The Church of the Warlock God have many sly and mysterious techniques - they have death curses, they can kill people in their dreams, and they have the ability to control souls and corpses.
“As for these paper dolls, they are made by someone sealing dead spirits into a paper body, and thus control them.”
Xu Qi’an, so sharp of mind, immediately understood what Zhang Kaitai meant, exclaiming: “So that well in the back courtyard… it was used by the Warlocks especially to raise ghosts?”
This explained why it was sealed, and not completely purified.
“Then that warlock is nearby”
“But he must have already left. Our ambush caught him off guard, thus he hid in the surrounding area, and cast his curse of death. Now that the man has died, he won’t continue to stay.”
“Gold Gong Zhang, can even you not sense these paper dolls? Earlier we didn’t even realise that they were hiding on these two boys.”
“One, a martial artist can only sense what is about to cause danger to himself; two, a paper doll is both an article possessed by a ghost, and also a seal on it - it can block outside senses; three, paper dolls are not particularly well suited for killing, they are usually used to run errands, not kill enemies.”
In a rush of anger, Xu Qi’an cursed, as his black-gold sabre came out of its scabbard, and under a cold flash of the blade a roof pillar split in two, as broken wood and tiles rained down. The women and boys all fled, seeking shelter, as screams broke out in waves.
In the shadows of the neighbouring street, a figure hid in the darkness. Seeing the fallen-in roof from afar, and the commotion that followed, he let out a “heh”, and sank back into silence…
Manor of the Minister of Industry.
In the master bedroom, the Minister of Industry hugged his concubine, and slept sweetly. His wife had passed many years ago, and he had never remarried.
A paper doll floated in on the wind, and lightly landed on the courtyard floor. A few seconds later, it climbed up, and with great difficulty squeezed itself through the crack in the door.
It carefully avoided the charcoal brazier, and stepped with stiff steps over to the bedside. It gathered a wisp of wind, and floated onto the bed, landing beside the pillow of the minister.
Shakily, it stood up on the pillow. Gathering up its strength, it drove itself headfirst against the Minister’s face. The Minster of Industry, who normally slept very lightly, frowned, and slowly opened his eyes. After seeing the paper doll though, all traces of sleepiness vanished.
He first observed his concubine, and confirmed she was sleeping soundly. Then, he picked up the paper doll, stood up, and came to the table. He lit the candle, and opened the paper doll, reading the tiny tadpole-like characters within.
As he read, the Minister’s face suddenly turned, as his long moustache started trembling. As he finished, however, he let out a long sigh of relief, and his demeanour became calm and relaxed.
After burning the paper doll in the candlelight, the Minister of Industry returned to his bed. Looking at the sleeping concubine, he hesitated for a moment, before slowly picking up the pillow, and tightly covering her face…
The next day, the Ministry of Law.
The Minister of Law woke early, and personally came to the prisons, inspecting the imprisoned Nightwatchers.
The corruption case involved the Nightwatchers from Bronze Gong to Gold Gong, forty-six people in total, and they were all held at the Ministry of Law.
According to the roles, the three offices should have equally taken a portion, and independently question them. However the Wang Clique lost two core members during the tax silver case and the Sangpo case, and were irreconcilable with Wei Yuan. Thus, to be able to kick Wei Yuan when he’s down, the Ministry of Law was even more enthusiastic than the Qi Clique’s High Court.
“When people act, heaven watches, do you think that silence will allow you to escape the king’s law?” The Minister of Law laughed coldly, shaking his head, “This official has already investigated your assets, and drafted an account. After His Majesty has approved it, don’t think any of you can escape.
However, this official nonetheless wishes to give you an opportunity. Who is it who ordered you to embezzle silver, and abuse the common people? Is it Wei Yuan?”
No one answered.
Suddenly, someone laughed coldly: “Embezzlement? May the Right Honourable Minister tell me, how much silver did I embezzle? I’ve been in the Nightwatchers for over a decade, I haven’t taken a single copper coin.”
*Hmph, and you dare to speak out…* the Minister for Law followed the sound, walking over, and saw the man who spoke out. His gaze however, fell not on the figure, but on the spotless clean cell around him.
All the debris, weeds, and other refuse were swept neatly into one corner, the spider webs that usually adorned the corners were nowhere to be seen, the grass mat that served as a mattress was still tattered and worn, yet it was aligned tidily on the wooden bed. Every detail was perfectly accounted for.
Somewhat bewildered, the Minister of Law inspected the man. He was a Nightwatcher with a stiff expression, and even though he wore a prisoner’s uniform, he gave one a sense of cleanliness and order. His hair was brushed meticulously, and the rolled up sleeves on his left and right arms were extremely symmetrical.
Looking at this man, looking at this cell, many Ministry of Law officials, including the Minister himself, could not help but feel a strange sense of relaxation…
“What is this person called?” Minister Sun asked his attendant.
“How much silver has he embezzled? How many houses does he have in the inner city?”
The official started flicking through his dossier, searching intently for some time. Only when Minister Sun glanced over, did he say in a low voice:
“In the inner city he has a single house, a rather poor one at that. Living there is only his old mother, and his pregnant wife. As for money… the Ministry only found fifty taels of silver in his residence.”
“Fifty taels?” Minister Sun was stunned; a Silver Gong he was, yet his family wealth was only fifty taels of silver?
“How did you search?” Minister Sun felt that the ministry’s men had just done a half-rate job. The official whispered into his ear for a moment, and after Minister Sun had listened to his words, he fell silent. As if he couldn’t be bothered with this cleanliness-loving man any more, he turned and left.
In the newly silent dungeons, Jiang Lyuzhong leant against his cell wall, and sighed.
“Old Jiang, do you have a plan?” The neighbouring Gold Gong tapped on his wall, asking.
“What plan can I have? We’ll just find some other way to make a living. I won’t go undercover, my wife and children are all in the capital.” Jiang Lyuzhong replied grumpily.
“Heh, I have no wife or children, maybe I’ll go wander the Jianghu. I’ve gotten bored with the capital.” the other Gold Gong said.
“Bullshit.” Jiang Lyuzhong laughed coldly, “Just earlier you said you planned to marry and have children, and settle down in the capital. I only regret not taking more earlier, and only occasionally skimming here or there, then being thrown in this cell wouldn’t be an injustice!”
“Heh, then you might as well just become a bandit after getting out.”
The worst outcome would be to be terminated, their lives at least weren’t at risk. As long as high-rank martial artists did not commit anything too egregious, the crown will usually not send down capital punishment.
As a high-rank martial in rage was a terrifying force indeed.
“Eh…” there was another round of sighs, followed by a long silence.
Leaving the dungeons, the Minister asked: “Why haven’t I seen that little piece of trash surnamed Xu?”
“It seems he escaped.” The attendant responded.
“Have we put out a wanted notice?”
“It’s already been drafted. When the Ministry stamps its seal, we can send it out.”
Minister Sun nodded in satisfaction, “How many taels of silver did the rascal embezzle?”
“Yesterday, we sent people to search the Xu House, we found only several hundred rolls of silk, but not much silver.”
Minister Sun grunted in agreement, “Take the rolls of silk for now, when all is said and done, distribute it to people in the constabulary.”
“This uh… we didn’t dare confiscate the silk.” The official said in a low tone.
Minister Sun’s gaze suddenly sharpened: “Mn?”
The official laughed bitterly: “Those, uh, those were given by His Majesty, nobody dares to take them, lest afterwards that Xu Pingzhi reports them…”
“…I’ve heard that that rascal often goes to the Jiaofangsi?” Minister Sun tried to find another point of weakness.
“Yes sir, we’ve sent people to ask the matron of the Jiaofangsi, she said that in the span of two months Xu slept with eight oirans, and was close with the Reflecting Plum Pavillion’s Fuxiang.”
“That’s it then!” Minister Sun felt a wave of excitement, “He’s spent all the silver on women, we can use the statements made by the women in the Jiaofangsi as evidence.”
With great awkwardness, the official replied: “But the women’s statements were all the same…”
Minister Sun turned to look at him with a questioning look, as the official continued indignantly: “Those women all said, they admired Xu’s talent, and willingly served him for free.”
Minister Sun’s body swayed, as he nearly fainted in anger.
“Bastard thing! If there’s no flaws about him, then we’ll make flaws! If he has no money we’ll give him money!” Minister Sun exclaimed darkly: “This official will never let this little bastard go!”
He angrily stormed back to his office, downed a cup of tea, yet his chair wasn’t even warmed when a clerk rushed in in a hurry, reporting:
“Minister Sir, a message from the Palace, His Majesty has summons.”
Minister Sun eyed the water clock in the corner. At this time of day, the morning court had already long gone. If His Majesty was summoning him, then either there’s an urgent matter, or it was a small court.
*What is His Majesty being so diligent about, summoning civil servants practically every day…* the Minister of Law nodded: “Arrange the carriage.”