He didn't know whether the palace maid from before had gone to raise the alarm, or if the female fighting master who had died by his hand had been a distraction, but Fan Xian knew that this fight—although he had not allowed the female master to make a single sound—would have alerted the real masters of the palace, so he did not bother to deal with the body. With the tip of his foot on the paving stones, he made his whole body an arrow, and flew upward toward the palace wall as he had planned.
The wall was still very high, and Fan Xian was frustrated by his speed. Once he had climbed the wall with great difficulty, he heard a humming sound behind his head, as if the space behind him had begun to vibrate.
He turned his head, stunned, then saw a space in a distant corner of the palace walls where a commander was drawing a bowstring pointed at him.
An arrow flew through the night like a ravenous ghost, headed straight for his face!
In one breath, the arrow was on the horizon; one breath later, it was within range of his vision.
The arrow seemed fierce and confident. Fan Xian howled, the black cloth surrounding his face ripped to tatters by the sound. The unnamed and powerful zhenqi that he had quietly cultivated for 16 years wildly and ruthlessly rushed into his hands at this life-or-death moment.
Filling the air with his fists, he managed to strike the shaft of the arrow!
In an instant, the powerful zhenqi in his fists clashed violently with the formidable power of the arrow. The arrow shaft broke into dust, and the dangerous arrowhead glanced Fan Xian's hair as it whooshed past, puncturing the distant night sky!
A loud noise reverberated throughout the night sky of the palace, awaking the sleeping people inside. They were astonished, as if there had been a thunderclap within the palace walls.
The arrow had been too ferocious; there was no way it could have been launched by any ordinary person. After he had blocked it with his fists, Fan Xian's body had been emptied of zhenqi and sapped of his strength. He fell down the palace wall. His black clothing fluttered in the night breeze, and he looked thoroughly miserable.
Palace commander Yan Xiaoyi, in a distant corner of the palace walls, saw this murderer fall down along the wall and squinted. His face took on a valiant expression. "He isn't dead," he said coldly. "Capture him."
"Yes sir!" His subordinates followed his order and went.
Below the palace wall, Fan Xian, clad in black, fell powerlessly. He was about to smash face-first into the ground. He forced his body to twist, supporting himself on one knee, one foot and one hand, and hit the floor with a groan. The powerful impact made him spit up blood, moistening the remaining tatters of the black cloth. Soon after, with a low roar, he ran into the woods outside of the palace walls. Just one moment before the guards appeared, he disappeared into the dark city night.
The next day, in an unremarkable room beneath the palace grounds, Eunuch Hong seemed out of sorts. His eyes half-closed, he sat in his chair, with two officers also resting with their eyes closed, none of the men seemingly wishing to speak.
Some time later, vice commander Gong Dian, who had been resting at home the night before, spoke gently. "His majesty is shocked."
Yan Xiaoyi, the commander who had launched the arrow at Fan Xian the night before, slowly opened his eyes. "A lady-in-waiting of the Eldest Princess was killed last night," he said coldly. "She is very angry."
After the two men had spoken, Eunuch Hong finaly opened his eyes. "Last night I met with a plot to lure me away from the palace," he said, his voice sounding aged. "The Empress Dowager is very unhappy."
"Who was it?" asked Gong Dian. Of course, he knew in his heart that even if they had lured him away—whoever it was—they would not have escaped from the gaze of Eunuch Hong, a unique master who h
ad a tiger's strength even in sickness.
"I do not know." Eunuch Hong smiled. "He appeared to only be of an intermediate ninth-level, but he was extremely familiar with the capital's buildings. On such a dark night, I was lured into the city and pursued him for a long time, but I finally lost track of him. He was... thoroughly remarkable."
To make Eunuch Hong say such a thing, that person must have been remarkable indeed.
Yan Xiaoyi was 35 years old, and at the peak of his strength. He was a commander of the palace guards, and was responsible for the security of the entire palace. He looked at Eunuch Hong coldly. "Where did you follow him to last, Eunuch?"
"An alleyway not far from the Dongyi diplomatic mission."
"Today's investigation has brought about a result," said Gong Dian. "Eunuch Hong's chopsticks tore through an assassin's clothing; after the Overwatch Council performed a comparison, they determined that it was Tianxiang satin."
Yan Xiaoyi closed his eyes to rest. Gong Dian continued to talk. "The Overwatch Council discovered a little while ago that the Dongyi emissaries ordered a set of clothing. Rather than using the name of the diplomatic mission, they found someone else to order it for them." "What are you saying, vice commander?" asked Eunuch Hong softly.
Gong Dian smiled. "If you were ordering clothes, why would you do it under someone else's name? It's obvious - because you were worried that someone might pick up your traces. Looking at the clues, the first time the assassin came, it must have been someone from the City of Dongyi. The only follower of Sigu Sword who could have ninth-level abilities is Yun Zhilan, who has been silent inside the capital over the past few days."
Yan Xiaoyi suddenly opened his eyes. "It isn't Yun Zhilan. If people from Dongyi had infilitrated the capital, why would he want to buy new clothes? Yun Zhilan is more the kind of person to beat someone senseless on the street and steal their clothing."
Eunuch Hong nodded. "Although that ninth-level hid his sword training, he was still using Sigu Sword's technique. So I am interested - if it was not Yun Zhilan, is it really possible that other people from Dongyi have come, and would dare to disobey Yun Zhilan's orders?"
"It's highly likely that they were shifting the blame onto somebody else." Gong Dian frowned as he listened to the two men speak. "It's too convenient. So it's possible that someone was trying to shift the blame onto Yun Zhilan."
"Who else in Dongyi could be following the teaching of Sigu Sword?"
"Including Yun Zhilan, there are three ninth-level fighters."
"So the other two are also under suspicion."
"Going back to the intruder who was shot down by the commander on the wall; I heard that the strength of the commander's arrow shocked the entire palace. It's a shame it did not kill him." By the tone of his voice, it seemed that Eunuch Hong had no particular fondness for the commander.
Yan Xiaoyi looked at the eunuch with contempt, but he knew of the deep and mysterious power that he held in the palace. He harrumphed. "The second assassin was also a ninth-level fighter. Although he was only at the lower ninth-level, if I could kill him with one arrow, then why would I not be a grandmaster?"
"Another ninth-level?" Gong Dian was astonished. He had been stuck around the upper eighth-level for most of his life, and had found it difficult to advance any further. Hearing that two ninth-level experts had infiltrated the palace the night before, he could not help but feel a number of complex emotions.
"There are only seven ninth-level fighters in all of the Kingdom of Qing, four of whom are within the capital. How can there be so many ninth-level experts in the whole world?" Eunuch Hong spoke coldly. Clearly he did not believe Commander Yan's judgement, and thought that he was evading responsibility.
This was what Gong Dian had feared the most. "His Majesty ordered me to conclude the case within ten days," he said quickly. "I'll be transferring someone from the Overwatch Council soon, and investigating the situation in all of the palaces. The first thing to clarify is why these people would take such a great risk to infilitrate the palace."
Yan Xiaoyi shook his head. "I don't know why the second person did it, but the first person definitely has links to Dongyi. So start at the Dongyi diplomatic mission and see why they really ordered those clothes. It'd be best if we can clarify the whereabouts of each item of clothing."
As they were arranging preparations for the investigation, a young eunuch hurriedly entered the room to announce a decree from the Emperor. The entire investigation was to be handed over to Ye Zhong, head of the city garrison; the palace guards were to carry on as before, and it was not to be made public. After the young eunuch left, the three men looked at each other.
Yan Xiaoyi slowly closed his eyes. He knew that the Emperor had begun to distrust one of the three of them. Eunuch Hong clasped his hands behind his back and walked out, his face peaceful.
Some days later, they had still failed to track down the assassin.
The Emperor's order had in fact helped Fan Xian, the real intruder, out of his predicament. There had been no great mistakes in the plan, but forcing Wu Zhu to wear the brown clothing, although he had thought it to be clever, had instead revealed something they wished to conceal.
Fan Xian had secretly investigated why Dongyi had bought Tianxiang satin; it was because the son of the ruler of Dongyi was fond of the classical style of clothing in the capital, and so they had ordered some. As for why it had been ordered under a different name, it was for a very simple reason - Dongyi was an intersection of all the merchants of the land. If news had broken that the ruler's son was fond of the fashions of those Qing barbarians to the south, he would perhaps have been thorouhgly condemned by some of the more audacious merchants.
Of course, Fan Xian had used several skills. Mainly, he did not believe that Wu Zhu could have completely imitated the swordplay of Sigu Sword; if he had known that Wu Zhu was capable of such strange steps, he would have used it to perfect his plan to frame someone else.
But the conclusion was fine. At least the palace still suspected the other two ninth-level experts in Dongyi; the Overwatch Council also began to investigate the whereabouts of the two intruders from that night.
No one could have linked it to Fan Xian, because on the night that the intruders came to the palace, all of the officials of the capital had seen him drink countless cups of wine as he composed his poems, making the master Zhuang Mohan of Northern Qi spit blood and curse that night. He had been so utterly drunk that he collapsed at the Emperor's feet.
This was a misconception in human thinking: not only did they presume that Fan Xian would have been unable to awake after drinking himself into a stupor; they believed that after having accomplished one shocking feat, there was no way he could have immediately performed another.
One cannot have a second climax after the first; there must always be a refractory period.