# 5. To Solve the Riddle
About fifteen minutes later, two servants brought in the items requested, and placed them in the hall.
The three investigators looked at the instruments brought, before turning their heads to look at Xu Qi’an.
Governor Chen began sternly, “Everything that you wanted is here. I expect a satisfactory conclusion.”
His attitude was somewhat changed.
In that fifteen minutes, this fourth rank official racked his brains, and could not but admit, that Xu Qi’an’s deductions had merit, however there was still much left that needed to be explained - such as the fact that the silver did indeed fall into the water.
What hidden mysteries lie within, he could not figure out.
Xu Qi’an nodded, squatting down in front of his items. In front of him, was a candle, salt, bowl, and iron wire. What he wanted to do was very simple, merely high school chemistry: extract metallic sodium.
Being in an ancient era, there was basically no way to extract sodium, due to two main points: electricity, and the melting point of sodium chloride.
However in this world, Xu Qi’an knew that there was one class of people that could do the job: the sixth rank of arcanists of the Sitian Jian: the Alchemists!
The Masters of Alchemy were well known by all throughout the Great Feng, their many numerous inventions and creations have long entered common use.
Xu Qi’an wasn’t sure if the exploding silver was really metallic sodium or not, but this was not important. What was important was opening a new direction of thought that could explain all the events that had happened.
In solving a case, making bold assumptions and careful deductions were essential. Then, one must prove one’s assumptions, and find evidence.
In his previous life, he had gone through a murder case that left a particularly deep impression on him. The investigators worked overnight, finding new approaches and new leads, making many different predictions, and using these as a basis, went out to look for evidence.
Then, it was again back to reasoning and deduction.
There was a chance that the tax silver was not metallic sodium, however it was very much within an alchemist’s ability to do such a thing.
And that’s all that’s needed.
To guide these important people back onto the right path, he had to do this. As long as the path was right, one could follow the trail to its end, and find the real perpetrator behind the crime.
If they were still struggling in the theory that it was yaoguai, then the case would never be solved. Even if it were eventually solved, he would already be sent far far away by the crown.
He dissolved the rough salt in the water, stirring it, before covering the bowl opening with paper, and pouring the salt water into it.
After filtering, he put the bowl on top of the candle to heat, using a bamboo slip to stir it constantly.
Soon after, the saltwater had evaporated, and the crystals that grew within the bowl was purified sodium chloride. In essense, recrystallising salt to remove impurity.
Governor Chen, Li Yuchun, and the extremely beautiful Caiwei stood beside him, looking at his work with full concentration.
Xu Qi’an raised his head, cracking a smile at the yellow-skirted girl, “Madam, you must be a disciple of the Sitian Jian, right?”
He had noticed the feng-shui plate at her waist. This little thing, apart from the Sitian Jian’s disciples, no one would ever use.
She “mm”ed affirmation, before saying grinningly, “My teacher is the Grandmaster of the Sitian Jian.”
That fine, beautiful oval face, like a shiny round egg, white with not an imperfection.
*A disciple of the Sitian Jian… how big her breasts are I guess doesn’t matter as much…* Xu Qi’an carried on with a kindly tone, “If you wouldn’t mind, could you help me melt these crystals.”
The melting point of sodium chloride was roughly 800 degrees celsius.
The yellow-skirted girl pursed her lips, “Controlling fire is only an ability that the Masters of Alchemy have. I’m only a Feng-Shui Master.
“However, I have this magical item that my teacher gave me.” She suddenly switched tones, and from her waist pulled off her feng-shui plate, and played with it a bit with jade-like fingers, sending qi into the plate. The character for “fire” suddenly lit up.
Xu Qi’an immediately retreated, as soon after, a eye-wateringly bright tongue of flame burst from the plate, consuming the bowl.
“Stop!” Xu Qi’an immediately yelled for her to stop, before quickly inserting the two metal wires into the bowl, shouting “Now electricity - no - lightning! Make sure to control the voltage … um … this step is rather difficult, maybe we’ll fail several times.”
She turned her feng-shui plate, and tapped the “lightning” character. The air suddenly cracked with a few bolts of lightning, as they crashed into the metal wires.
Hissss…. the melted sodium chloride underwent a violent chemical reaction.
Xu Qi’an held his breath, leaning forward to look into the bowl, as a nugget of shiny silver metal lay within, surrounding it some not yet melted crystals, and impurities.
*We succeeded first time… the voltage was perfect…* Xu Qi’an was pleasantly surprised.
To extract metallic sodium using electrolysis, the voltage must be between 6 to 15 volts. He had already made mental preparation to fail several times.
But he never thought that heaven was smiling on him today, and let him succeed on the first run.
Governor Chen and Li Yuchun couldn’t resist any longer, rushing over to look. In the cup, lay a nugget of silvery metal. At first glance, it had some similarity to white silver. Chen’s pupils shrank, as he felt a deep shock and disbelief. Li Yuchun forcefully closed his hands into a fist, staring blankly at the silvery metal nugget, as in his mind, there was as if a bolt of lightning had shot through it, and scattered all the mist.
“Good sirs, please look.” Xu Qi’an picked up the metallic silver, wrapping it in paper, and weighing it in his hand.
“This is much lighter than silver, however on the outside it looks extremely similar. If a person were to try pass these off as real silver, could they not succeed in his aim? Please, hold it and see.”
He gave the metal to Governor Chen. At this time, the shininess of the metallic sodium had faded, and it looked almost identical to silver.
Li Yuchun took it from Governor Chen, weighed it, and with flashing eyes exclaimed “It really is much lighter. Supposing that they were escorting a shipment of this, then everything lines up. Miss Caiwei, try it.”
The yellow-skirted Caiwei took the metal from Li Yuchun, and made a similar motion, before staring at Xu Qi’an with a strange look on her face. “You- you’re an alchemist?”
*No, I’m not, I’m just following the principles of chemistry.*
Scholarly minds were after all sharper, as after Governor Chen’s surprise faded, he suddenly shook his head, “No, no, even if the silver was swapped with this thing, then what’s explaining the explosion? Unless there were yaoguai in the river, why would this fake silver explode?”
Xu Qi’an didn’t respond, merely reaching out and taking the metallic sodium, waking over to the desk, and dropping it in the pen-washing cup.
An intense flame shot up, smoke rolling through the air.
The metallic sodium reacted violently with the water, as many small cracks formed on the container that held the liquid.
“This- this-” Governor Chen was stunned.
“When this fake silver touches water, it will explode. This can explain why when the silver fell into the water, it exploded with such vigour.” Xu Qi’an explained.
The middle aged man muttered, “From the start, we were misled. The perpetrator behind this used magical wind and the explosion, to make us think it was yaoguai causing this, shifting the investigation to catching these monsters.
“No wonder the qi-seeing magic did not see any trace of them.”
Xu Qi’an added, “After the silver fell into the water, the escorting soliders only recovered just over a thousand taels of silver. If my guess is correct, this silver was all on the outermost layer, to fool people.”
A perfect fit, and a perfect conclusion. All fell into place.
“Xu Qi’an!” the middle-aged man exclaimed approvingly, “good, very good!”
Suddenly he frowned, his gaze fixating on Xu Qi’an’s crooked collar. he made to pat Xu Qi’an’s elbow, simultaneously pulling his collar straight.
Xu Qi’an felt somewhat shocked and flattered, that this man would praise him like so.
With a furrowed brow, Governor Chen piped up, “If the silver was fake, where did the real silver go?”
Hearing this, Caiwei let out a serious look, “From when the silver left the storehouse to entering the capital, it changed hands many times. If we were to find who was responsible, numerous officials would have to be put into jail. The difficulty of recoving the silver now is no less than finding a needle in a haystack. Plus, this is beyond our given scope, we must report to His Majesty.”
Chen nodded, he had the same idea.
Li Yuchun however had a different opinion, “On the path the silver took into the capital, it changed hands many times. If the silver was fake, then it should have been discovered ages ago. The only possibility could be that it was swapped recently.”
Governor Chen’s eyes lit up; this drastically reduced their area of investigation.
“Servants! Prepare the palanquin, quickly, prepare the palanquin, this official must set out.” he hurriedly ran into the inner hall.
The middle aged man swiftly followed.
Xu Qi’an quickly shouted, “Governor Sir! Please, don’t forget your promise to this lowly commoner!”