# 174. A Nearly Exposed Identity
“Accompany you?” Xu Qi’an’s heart said: *No that’s not happening, if it were just you, sure, maybe, but with that toxic Auntie of mine absolutely not.*
“I know it’s a really tall order, with big brother having work tomorrow too, but mum made me come here to persuade you to come guard our door.”
*Guard the door… Uncle is definitely at the Jiaofangsi enjoying life, and yet I have to guard over his wife and daughters…* Xu Qi’an sighed, replying helplessly: “Alright.”
He put on his clothes, and just to give Auntie and his sister some sense of security, brought along his long sabre.
“I’m going to sit out here, you can go to sleep now.” Xu Qi’an tapped on the door with a finger.
“Alright, thanks big brother.”
“Thank you, Dalang.”
From within the room came Lingyue and Lü’e’s voices, soft and gentle. Auntie however was too stubborn to speak.
Xu Qi’an sat cross-legged, simultaneously cycling his qi, and practicing visualisation. After a while, his ears picked up Auntie’s quiet voice:
“Will it come in from the window, what if Ningyan goes to sleep.”
“… mum, don’t say things like that, big brother has his sword with him.”
Hearing that her nephew was armed, Auntie’s nerves suddenly relaxed a great deal.
For a long time, there was no conversation in the room, with only the rumbling of snoring coming from Xu Lingyin. One could imagine her laying spread-eagled on the bed, mouth open, drooling slightly, deep in slumber.
After a while, Auntie called out: “Ningyan?”
Xu Qi’an replied grumpily: “I’m here.”
Henceforth every while he would cough, and upon hearing his deep cough, the women in the room were no longer afraid.
His auntie and sister did have reason to be afraid after all, since this house was indeed haunted; that wasn’t some old wives’ tale.
But as time crept forwards, this fear would slowly be forgotten.
After another while, Auntie’s complaining tone floated over: “Lingyue, don’t lie this close, it’s too warm.”
“Mum~” came Xu Lingyue’s upset, kittenish tone.
In the end though, Auntie did love her daughter greatly, and so didn’t press the issue. After another while though, she suddenly lowered her voice: “Lingyue, you’ve grown so big already?”
Xu Qi’an’s ears twitched. Upon first hearing this he thought nothing of it, but Auntie’s tone was incredibly strange. Listening closely, as expected he heard Lingyue’s embarrassed voice:
“Mum, don’t make fun of me, they’re not as big as yours.”
“Rubbish, mum has already given birth to three children, but at your age mine weren’t to this extent.” Auntie said, before sighing,
“You’ve reached marrying age.”
Xu Lingyue remained silent.
*… poor Lingyue, such a young age, and yet such a large weight on your chest.* The corner of Xu Qi’an’s mouth twitched, nearly laughing out loud at his own lampooning, thinking that guarding the door wasn’t so boring after all.
Auntie continued: “Living next to Dalang, when washing yourself remember to be cautious, a martial artist’s eyes and ears are extremely sensitive, you need to protect against that.”
“Mum, you think big brother would spy on me bathing?” In the dark, Xu Lingyue’s eyes sparkled.
*I will not, I most certainly haven’t, don’t wrong me… in the Jiaofangsi I always bathed together* with *Fuxiang, I would not stoop so low as spying…* Xu Qi’an felt that Auntie was as venomous as ever, and even if she couldn’t browbeat him to his face now, she could work behind his back, and break down the innocent brother-sister relationship between him and Lingyue.
“So Dalang not peeking means you won’t guard against anything?” Auntie criticised her daughter, before turning her head to look at the bedroom door. Hearing her nephew’s occasional coughs, she happily continued talking.
Xu Qi’an did not sleep the entire night, rather cycling his qi, refining his spirit, and when dawn broke, he was in as high spirits as ever.
Xu Pingzhi returned during breakfast time, in full military attire, without sour green oranges in hand. Seeing this, Xu Qi’an believed that he was indeed on night shift, and not at the Jiaofangsi.
“Lat night Lingyin got up in the middle of the night, and fell asleep by the well…” Auntie told Uncle about the events last night, “Luckily we still had Ningyan, if he wasn’t there, and it really was haunted…”
As she spoke, the timid auntie became fearful again. She was merely scaring herself at that point.
Uncle Xu nodded towards his nephew, asking: “What was Lingyin doing by the well in the middle of the night?”
Xu Qi’an said: “It’s all auntie’s fault for telling her that if you deep fry a ghost it’s more delicious than anything else. Caused a craving for her.”
“Oh.” Uncle Xu nodded, thinking that that was indeed the type of thing his youngest daughter would do, and so there was nothing to be surprised at.
After moving into the new house, Xu Qi’an could wake up later in the morning, and the constabulary was only half an hour’s ride away, all in all very convenient.
Arriving at the constabulary, he went to Li Yuchun’s Spring Breeze Hall for morning role call as usual, and after confirming that there was no other tasks assigned to him today, went on street patrol with Song Tingfeng and Zhu Guangxiao.
The marketplace was full with a river of people, salesmen darted through small allies and crossed through the flow, shop customers came in an unending stream. The bustle of the inner city far outpaced the outer part.
Xu Qi’an planned to go visit the welfare hall with Song Tingfeng and Zhu Guangxiao, but his two brothers absolutely refused to go.
Thus he went alone to see Six, and upon seeing that the “black dog” child’s situation was making a turn for the better, let out a sigh of relief, feeling as if a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
“Sir Xu, this poor monk has something I would like to ask.” Hengyuan said with palms together.
“Please speak, master.” Xu Qi’an grinned, mood light.
“When Sir Xu first met that boy, Sir said something…” Hengyuan looked at him closely, “Sir Xu said: this is that boy?
“It seems that Sir Xu knows him, yet from this poor monk’s memory he has never met you.”
*… bugger, the shock I received that day was too great, and my tongue slipped…* Xu Qi’an smiled, making out to be as steady as an old hound, yet inside he was beginning to panic.
*Six shouldn’t be doubting that I’m Three right… taking about that, that day I’d picked up silver right in front of his face… mn, merely picking up some silver would not be a red flag, who hasn’t ever been lucky… but Six is bound to feel that I’m not that normal, perhaps he’s already beginning to attach me to the identity of Three.*
*But the identity of a confucian scholar that I’d made should have stuck deep into the Heaven and Earth Society’s members. The first impression is the most important, the least able to be changed, so the most Six would be is suspicious…* thinking this, Xu Qi’an sighed:
“I’ve heard Number Three mention it.”
He did not explain further, leaving the rest for Hengyuan’s mind to fill in. Firstly, Hengyuan was bound to become suspicious of the “superior/subordinate” relationship that Xu Qi’an had. Even though the Heaven and Earth Society was not a secret society, on its surface it was still made up by the Earth Sect Daoists, and lead by Jinlian Daozhang.
But the Heaven and Earth Society made of the earth book fragment holders was the real secret society. Three could never just casually mention its goings on to any subordinates.
Then, Hengyuan will investigate him based on this suspicion, and little by little, he would discover that Xu Qi’an in reality had a younger cousin, a student at a Confucian academy.
At that time, Hengyuan would think that he had hit the jackpot.
As expected, Hengyuan did not say anything, merely nodding lightly with a grave expression.
*…In reality if my identity is exposed, that wouldn’t be a big issue, as Number Six is a good person. Mm, really the biggest issue is that I’ve bragged too much online… if it’s revealed that it’s me, how embarrassing would that be.* Xu Qi’an bade him farewell.
Returning back to the constabulary, Xu Qi’an received a letter delivered by a white cloaked arcanist, saying that Chu Caiwei had made a tremendous breakthrough in her alchemical study, and that Song Qing wanted him to go to the Sitianjian to discuss this.
*… this quick?* Xu Qi’an got on his horse, and rushed to the Stargazing Tower.
In the medicine lab on the seventh floor he met Song Qing and Chu Caiwei, seeing two pairs of heavily bagged eyes.
“Miss Caiwei, you need to take care to rest.” Xu Qi’an’s heart said: *or rather also become one of those productivity people.*
Chu Caiwei, with heavy black bags around her eyes and a somewhat lifeless gaze, seemed even more comical yet endearing. She replied tiredly: “I haven’t slept in three days…”
Song Qing drew out a porcelain bottle from his sleeve, and gave it to Xu Qi’an: “Take a look.”
Xu Qi’an took off the stopper, and poured some onto his hand. Within the mushroom powder were many tiny crystalline grains. He licked it, and felt a huge wave of umami rush over his taste buds, along with a slight burning spice.
“How did you make it?” Xu Qi’an was stunned.
“Fermented grains, along with honey, then purified…” Song Qing waved his hand, not wanting to explain further, “If you want to know the method, I’ll get Caiwei to write a copy down for you sometime. More importantly, is this what you’re looking for?”
Xu Qi’an thought for a while: “It tastes very similar. Is this thing toxic?”
“Then you’ve got it.”
Song Qing nodded, “This thing is more precious than salt. If we were to spread it out, the crown would definitely want to monopolise it.
“All products produced by the Sitianjian are usually given to the crown to manage and sell, and the Sitianjian gets thirty percent of the revenue every year. I’ve talked with Brother Yang, you will get ten percent.”
The reason why he only got a tenth is that Xu Qi’an only provided the general concept for MSG, as well as a few theoretical steps. Some of those steps were correct, but others led Song Qing and Chu Caiwei down a fair number of wild goose chases.
In this new field of alchemy, Song Qing and Chu Caiwei’s contributions were extremely significant.
“A fair split.” Xu Qi’an nodded, before tentatively asking: “So, how much would I expect to earn in a year? Uh, obviously I know it’s hard to base it off any data, Brother Song you can just give a rough estimate.”
“It depends on how the crown decides to sell it,” Song Qing thought, “for one tenth, perhaps several thousand, to over a dozen thousand taels of silver? I’m only talking about the capital region, of course.”
As he finished speaking, he found that his hands were being clutched tightly by Xu Qi’an. This Bronze Gong said with heartfelt emotion and adoration:
“I wish our friendship will last as long as the heavens and seas.”
“You’re… you’re too kind.”
The imperial gardens.
Wei Yuan walked with Emperor Yuanjing through the imperial gardens, the warm sun shining down. This nearly twenty acre royal garden was home to all manner of precious flowers, trees, and other plant, yet the scenery in winter and that in spring were like two different worlds.
“Frost suffocates the myriad grasses, the flower and trees wither. Although this scene is a desolate one, if one were to look closely, it has its own beauty.” Emperor Yuanjing had his hands behind his back, sighing with some emotion.
About half a step behind him walked Wei Yuan, who after some thought, said: “Your Majesty, desolation has never been one for scenery, from ancient times until now.”
Facing this azure cloaked eunuch’s rebuttal, Emperor Yuanjing merely laughed, replying without much mind: “When spring comes in the new year, naturally will the flowers bloom.”
Wei Yuan seemingly was just there to argue: “When spring comes in the new year, the season is still young, and who knows when this desolation will continue up to.”
Emperor Yuanjing glanced at him from the side of his eye: “Then what does Lord Wei think?”
Wei Yuan replied warmly: “The blooming of flowers in spring is indeed beautiful, yet to no avail spring will fade and winter comes again, and that beauty fades to nothing… Your Majesty, take a look at this evergreen tree, no matter in spring gales or under autumn moon, under summer sun or winter frost, it still remains.
“To remove all the varied yet seasonal flowers, and keeping only those evergreen trees, is this the eternal Dao.”
Emperor Yuanjing restrained a developing smile, maintaining a cold sidelong gaze. The great azure cloak merely smiled lightly, his eyes kind, not backing off even half a step.
The ruler looked at his servant for a long time, before he finally spoke: “A few days ago the Empress caught a cold. Although she had recovered, her appetite is still not good, she has barely eaten in several days.”
Wei Yuan finally cast his gaze aside, bowing deeply: “What sayeth the Sitianjian arcanists?”
“Although she lacks appetite, her body is healthy, she should relax and look after herself.” Emperor Yuanjing said, “yet the Empress has thinned significantly. Wei Yuan, help us to ask after her.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”