# 2. A Conspiracy of Monsters
Xu Xinnian knitted his brow, “What do you want to do with it?”
I want to solve the case… Xu Qi’an replied deeply, “I want to know how this case happened, so that even if I die, I die knowing why. Otherwise, I’m unwilling to go.”
If he directly said that he wanted to solve the case, Xu Xinnian would probably have thought there was something wrong with his head, thus he changed tack. After all, the original Xu Qi'an was an obstinate and stubborn character.
Xu Xinnian hesitated a moment, “I’ve read the dossier, I can narrate it to you…”
These past days he had been running errands left and right for the Xu family. The case was too big, no one dared to help, and so helpless, Xu Xinnian decided to try to chase back the lost silver, to get them out of this predicament.
Through the Xu family’s connections, as well as connections at the academy, along with a few taels of silver, Xu Xinnian was able to bribe a small official, for him to copy down the case dossier for him.
However, he did not have the reasoning and detective experience, and could only give up on it.
Xu Qi’an raised his hand, interrupting, “Write it down. There’s no point in narrating.”
All the fine details of the case were in the writing, and he must consider it, chew on it. If he were to use some of his attention to listen, then his mind wouldn’t be able to calmly ponder and analyse. Xu Qi’an’s logic and reasoning capabilities were amongst the best in his past life, outstanding amongst his peers.
In previous times, Xu Xinnian would not have even bothered with him, considering their differences were so great. But now, he agreed to his brother’s last request, quietly saying “Wait a moment.”
And left with quick steps.
As the sound of footsteps faded in the corridor, Xu Qi’an sat down, leant against the bars, heart perturbed and agitated.
He didn’t really have a way out; wanting to solve the case was just that: a want, and his reluctance was real. Considering that this was his only way of saving himself, it’s better to have a go, even if it was a last-ditch effort.
In modern criminal investigations, crime-scene investigation, surveillance, and autopsy were the three big components that could not be neglected. In the case of the lost tax silver, no one died, nor was their any surveillance in this era, and he was in prison, thus he could use none of the three major components.
At least the case file would describe the crime scene.
Simultaneously digesting the memories of the original owner of the body, Xu Qi’an forced himself to control all his negative emotions, to only keep a calm mind. Only then could he think clearly, and reason with rigour.
“Whether I live or die, all comes down to this…” he muttered.
A stick of incense’s time passed, before Xu Xinnian hurriedly returned, handing over a few sheets of calligraphy paper, the ink on it yet to fully dry.
“Time is up, I have to go.” Xu Xinnian hesitated, “Take care.”
Xu Qi’an didn’t reply, gaze already caught by the words on the paper.
Time was tight, and so the characters were written in cursive. If Xu Qi’an had never done those years of private school, he would have no chance of making out these arcane glyphs.
“Studying is useful huh… the original owner of this body wasn’t even literate… they’d be preparing flowers for his grave.” Xu Qi’an ridiculed himself.
The case of the tax silver went like this:
*Three days earlier, at 6:30 AM, Xu Pingzhi was escorting a shipment of tax silver to the capital. At 8:15, they reached Guangnan street. Just crossing the bridge, suddenly there was a unnatural wind, the horses were frightened, and fled into the river by the street.*
*Soon after, a terrific thunderous explosion sounded, the river-water was sent over six zhang[^2] tall, a gush of water that reached into the sky.*
*The people responsible for escorting the silver dove into the river to search for the silver, yet only recovered 1,245 taels, the remaining silver having disappeared…*
Apart from a recount of the situation, there were also the statements of witnesses in the area, statements from the soliders that were escorting the shipment.
In all these statements, Xu Qi’an noticed a phrase, written using red cinnabar ink: “Monsters are behind this”!
“Monsters are behind this!?” Xu Qi’an’s pupils shrank, his heart sank.
Back hall, Capital Region Government Building.
After over three days of business and running around, the three main people responsible for investigating the tax silver case met together in one hall.
Capital region governor Chen Hanguang[^1] held a white-and-blue porcelain teacup, his expression sombre. He wore a crimson robe, stitched with a mandarin square showing geese flying through clouds, displaying him as a fourth-rank official.
Sighing, he began “Two more days, His Majesty has ordered us to recover the silver before Xu Pingzhi is to be beheaded. My esteemed sir and madam, we must hurry.”
Of the two people that he spoke of, one was a middle-aged man, wearing a black uniform, with a black cape. He had a long nose, high brow, slightly sunken eyes, that were a light brown. Half a bloodline of the Southern Barbarians.
The other was a young woman with a round face, wearing a yellow dress. Her face was like a painting, her skin was creamy white, and she gave off a bright splendour. In her hand she held a stick of sugarcane, and on her waist were tied a small deerskin pouch, and a *bagua* feng-shui plate. Under her skirt hem was a pair of cloud-pattened dainty boots, swinging back and forth.
These two were assistants to the case. The middle-aged man was called Li Yuchun[^3], from that organisation feared greatly by all the officials of Feng: the Nightwatchers.
These “Nightwatchers” investigate, arrest, and interrogate. They also involve themselves in millitary matters, espionage and intelligence gathering.
They belong neither to the six ministries, nor the army. Rather, they are the secret police of the royal family, they are the guillotine hanging over the necks of all the many officials.
All officials of Feng know the phrase: “If in the day you do no evil, then in the night fear not the Nightwatchers.s”.
As to that yellow-dressed young woman, she was from the Sitian Jian[^4], and one of important status, being one of the disciples of the Sitian Jian’s grandmaster.
Wearing a silver gong sewn to his chest, the middle-aged man looked down beside his feet, at the sugarcane shards spat out by the young woman, and furrowed his brow. With a flick of his wrist, he manipulated the air currents, to sweep those shards into one neat pile.
He gently nodded his head, briefly showing content.
Only then did he turn back to the governor, with a stern face, “This case is shrouded in fog, and is extremely unnatural. Perhaps our approach is wrong.”
“Where do these words come from, Master Li?” governor Chen knitted his brow; up to now, the actors behind the case had in general been solved, being monsters causing havoc, and stealing the silver.
“We don’t have much time left, and what we need to do now is to catch those beasts. There’s no time to think about these things.” he said.
In recent years, the treasury was nearly empty, disasters happening up and down the country, 150,000 taels of silver was equivalent to a normal county’s entire year of revenue.
The emperor’s anger thus could be understood.
*I already don’t have money anyway, you now lose me even more, I cannot fucking believe.*
Trembling, Governor Chen had taken on the case, the pressure on his shoulders causing him to not enjoy his food, or peacefully sleep.
Li Yuchun shook his head, and didn’t argue back. “Any new developments from Xu Pingzhi?”
Governor Chen shook his head, “Just a martial artist, all he can do is to complain that he was wronged, he doesn’t even know how the silver was lost.”
Calmly, the yellow skirted woman said “I was watching his ‘qi’, he did not lie.”
Both Li Yuchun and governor Chen nodded, moving the conversation away from this person.
Being the main suspect of the case, Xu Pingzhi was the first to undergo investigation, interrogation, background, relations, and wealth questions, nothing was left out. Along with the Sitian Jian’s qi-watching magic, he had long since been cleared of suspicion.
Of course, the tax money was still lost, Xu Pingzhi failed in his job, a death penalty was hard to avoid.
Both Li Yuchun and Governor Chen fell silent, heart heavy.
Only the young woman, whose pressure was lightest, continued chewing her sugarcane, not a care in the world.
At this time, the sound of footsteps reached them. A constabulary runner hurriedly entered, in his right hand a small delicate bamboo tube, in his left a waxed paper bag, in which sat several large meat-stuffed bao buns, hot steam still rising from them.
He handed over the tube first.
The yellow-skirted girl didn’t take it, rather gazing at the buns, stars in her eyes.
Knowingly, the runner switched orders, and the young woman gleefully took the buns and began eating. Only then did she take the bamboo tube, and from within pulled out a piece of paper, and began to read.
“My people say that within twenty li of there, they did not see any monster qi, nor was there any trace on the banks.”
The tension in the air finally broke, as Governor Chen angrily smacked the desk, so angry that his face turned a shade of metal grey, “150,000 taels of silver, where could that be taken to? It must have gone ashore, must have gone ashore! It’s been three days, and we can’t even find any trace of them?
“Despicable, unthinkable, which monsters dare to steal our Great Feng’s tax silver. This official wills their spirits and bodies to be extinguished!”
If the tax silver couldn’t be recovered, he must take the blame, and His Majesty wouldn’t care whether or not he was done an injustice. Since he was sat in this position, then he must take the blame.
Li Yuchun slowly let out a breath of air, and returned again to his earlier train of thought, “Perhaps, our approach to the investigation was wrong, perhaps it wasn’t the monsters who did this.”
Looking at him, governor Chen inhaled deeply, supressing down his anger, “If it wasn’t them, then why that wind? When the silver fell into the river, how could it have just disappeared into thin air? How could there be an explosion many zhang tall, that shattered both banks?”
[^2]: 1 zhang is 10 chi, 3 1/3 metres.
[^4]: 司天监, “the attendants of heaven”