Although Shopkeeper Ye did not understand why his young boss was interested in the people who had plundered Qingyu Hall, he nodded in response. Those seventeen shopkeepers had long gotten used to life in the capital, following the orders of the princes' estates; although they had no way of doing their own business, they lived lives of riches and honor.
"Deal with what?" asked Fan Sizhe curiously.
"Do you know what Qingyu Hall is?
"Of course I do." This shopkeeper Ye was the one that Fan Sizhe had spent a large sum of money on to invite back. Of course he knew. "This is a shopkeeper from the former Ye family. I can go into business and have a team of capable people under me. It’ll be better."
Fan Xian was surprised, and increasingly felt that he had been acting too cautiously. It seemed that the name of the Ye family had become ancient history, and that the people of the capital no longer saw it as taboo. When the carriage came to pick him up, he found that Ruoruo was sitting inside it. Fan Xian blamed himself. "If I'd known you were coming, I'd have left sooner." Fan Sizhe looked at his sister and felt an inexplicable fear. "I just came to look," he explained. "The business has nothing to do with me. Don't tell father."
Hearing this, a smile broke out across Ruoruo's cold face. "We are family," she said. "Who would want you to get in trouble?"
Dongchuan Road had quieted down after its noonday bustle. The Fan estate carriage rolled along toward the east side of the city with the family's three children inside it. The sun set in the west, and the carriage's shadow lengthened, spilling out onto the paving stones. Springing up from the tiny undulations of the paving stones, a slight chill seemed to struggle to escape from the slates, throwing itself into the fiery twilight.
There was one more thing. Fan Xian felt that his family life had been happy as of late. When one has grasped a few strands of happiness, one must hold on tight. So when it came to the attempt to assassinate him, Fan Jian—Count Sinan— was bound by his status as an official. It was not possible to find out the truth, so there was no choice but to endure it for the time being. And Fan Xian was a free and unfettered soul, so he had no misgivings.
In order to achieve the three goals that he had set for himself after his rebirth, he could not accept being in a dangerous environment. In his previous life, the United Nations had once said that people had the freedom to live without fear. Although Fan Xian did not understand politics, he thought that even if he had passed through to the next life, there had to be some sort of human rights.
Wang Qinian sat ashen-faced at a table. The building was a place rented with Fan family money before leaving the city; it was in an unremarkable location, where no one would pay any attention to it.
Fan Xian quickly gave him some tea. "My apologies."
He noticed that he was using formal language. Wang Qinian did not dare accept. It was his duty to report immediately. "As the master expected, as the group with Si Lili returned to the capital, they were intercepted on the road. But the state had prepared for that. The enemy was defeated. According to the master's instructions, after they came out of Cangzhou, the subordinates had followed the state's troops and were pretending to be highwaymen, but after their retreat they found evidence that they were soldiers."
Fan Xian was shocked. He wondered how soldiers could have gotten in. "Was it soldiers from the state capital or someone else?"
Wang Qinian thought for a moment. "We aren't sure. According to the master's instructions," he continued, "they were only tracking them, and finally found that the officer in charge had escaped to Wuzhou."
"Correct. That night that officer met with the army in Wuzhou." Wang Qinian suddenly thought of something else he had to explain. "There was someone else following them at that time," he hurriedly continued.
Fan Xian suddenly realized. "You were talking about him before. At the time, Zong Zhui was just as well-known as you. Didn't you say he was always by Director Chen's side?" Suddenly, he understood. It seemed just the same as him. The Overwatch Council had used Si Lili as a pretense to track down clues behind the scenes.
"Correct. That day I saw Director Chen's carriage from afar. The Black Knights were also there. If they weren't, they would have been unable to hold back the cavalry." Wang Qinian was somewhat uneasy as he asked. "Master Fan, since the state has already tracked them down, shall we continue?"
"Mm. Do not worry too much about them. Which official joined the army at Wuzhou?"
"Be careful. His surname is Fang and his given name is Xiu. He has no background; he is just a distant relative of General Fang of the city guard."
Fan Xian frowned as he thought. This official of the city guard had indeed acted disgracefully in this matter, but how could he dig himself out of this hole? Or rather, should he really dig himself out of this hole? If too many people were implicated, matters would come to a difficult end. Someone who had been commended by the palace for his bravery such as himself might be forced to play the role of someone else.
He sighed deeply. His lips went slightly pale. "When will Si Lili arrive?" he asked quietly.
"Tomorrow." Wang Qinian looked at him and suddenly opened his mouth to speak. "The Director will also return tomorrow. Master Fan, do you wish to ask the Director for advice first? Si Lili will face the death penalty."
"And Master Fei?"
"It seems he was not present."
Hearing that Fei Jie had not returned to the capital, Fan Xian felt slightly disappointed. But when he thought about Chen Pingping's imminent return to the capital, he was inexplicably worried—although his mother had single-handedly created the Overwatch Council, it had been many years, and men's hearts might have since changed. But the scene that he saw when he was reborn into this world and the careful teaching that he had received from Fei Jie had convinced Fan Xian that the Council was neither an enemy nor a friend... but they were their own people.
He felt like a bullied, motherless child after fighting with a group of strong older boys, a young child wiping away tears and thinking: screw you all, who would dare to bully me when I come to the capital?
At that moment, Wang Qinian suddenly laughed. "Congratulations, sir." It seemed that even someone who had just returned to the capital was aware of the news that Fan Xian being given the title of Functionary of Taichang Temple. But most people did not know the person inside the palace that he was to marry. Fan Xian had no choice but to smile. He said nothing.
There was a saying amongst the bureaucracy in the Kingdom of Qing: "There's nothing that the Overwatch Council can't find out; even if it's money hidden in a chamber pot." Fan Xian could believe it. His father hadn't found the slightest clue, but if there was anyone else left who could find out, it was Chen Pingping. For the purpose of safety, Fan Xian allowed Wang Qinian to temporarily cease his activities so he could gather some manpower. He closely followed every movement of the estate.
When Director Chen returned to the capital, the entire bureaucracy responded. The night they heard that Chen Pingping was to return, they were hurriedly called to the palace by official decree. They discussed matters long into the night as an already somewhat weary Director Chen returned to the capital. The civil and military officials envied how Director Chen remained a favorite of His Majesty. On the one hand, they silently cursed the old man for how his labors had led to sickness. They thought that he should retire.
When the Director was in the palace, the Overwatch Council's activities were meticulously carried out to the letter. Later that evening, a large team of Overwatch Council officials burst into the office of the city guard ferociously and began to search the premises, and another team headed directly to Fang's official residence.
Outside the official's residence stood a tall tree. Fan Xian firmly grabbed onto a branch. The zhenqi flowed slowly throughout his whole body, quietly fading into the many leaves as he hid himself among them. His eyes looked coolly upon the chaos inside the house.
Not long after, the activity ceased.
Disappointed-looking Overwatch Council officials came out of the manor. They carried with them a dispiriting sight: city guard official Fang had committed suicide to escape his punishment, just half an hour before the Council had arrived, by hanging himself from the roof beams.
Fan Xian sighed and waited for them to disperse, then slipped down from the tree. On the quiet street at night, his mind was preoccupied. Fang was a military general. Even if he had colluded with Northern Qi and had decided to kill himself after his plot was discovered, a knife to his own throat seemed a more appropriate method for a military man. Hanging was too much for a palace grievance. Perhaps he hadn't wanted to do it.
His heat skipped a beat, and he had no way of controlling it. He headed directly to the address that Wang Qinian had left. Wang's house was in the south of the city in an alley full of commoners. At night, old men would lie around outside to cool off and sip tea while their wives remained indoors. Fan Xian slipped away from the street unnoticed, found the right place, and disappeared into the shadows of the alleyway.
Although Wang Qinian was only a low-level official, he was still a member of the Council. The reason he had seemed so destitute after leaving his job was because all of his savings had been used to buy this house.
When Fan Xian entered, Wang Qinian was lovingly watching over his son with a large palm-leaf fan in one hand. He heard something unusual and turned his head sharply. When he saw Fan Xian's handsome face, he couldn't help but feel shocked.
"Shh!" Fan Xian gestured with his hands, and quietly moved into the peaceful space.
Wang Qinian did not think that his young master had come to discuss his performance during the day, but unexpectedly, he had come to find him immediately. "Master, what has happened?" he asked, filled with suspicion.
Fan Xian told him about Fang's suicide. Wang Qinian frowned. "You are quick indeed. It will be difficult to handle."
"Take me to the prison," said Fan Xian. "I want to see Si Lili."
"There's an ongoing investigation. If we get involved, won't it cause misunderstanding?" Wang Qinian was more thorough in his way of thinking than Fan Xian.
Fan Xian thought about it for a while. "Director Chen was summoned to the palace," he said grudgingly, "I'm worried something might have happened in the prison."
Wang Qinian wanted to establish the truth more firmly first. "Master," he said respectfully, "you don't want to dirty your hands with such matters. Let a subordinate take care of it."
Fan Xian shook his head. "Let's go together," he said. To tell the truth, he had always been curious about the prison of the Overwatch Council. Of course, he was also curious about Si Lili.
Night had already fallen upon the capital. The ink-black darkness was sprinkled with bright glowing lights, and the Liujing riverside looked magnificent, even more so than Wanong Alley. And in the darkest part of the pitch-black darkness was the Overwatch Council. That evening, Wang Qinian led a mysterious man, clad head to toe in dark-grey robes, into the prison of the Overwatch Council.