Fan Xian took a deep breath, and allowed the powerful zhenqi in his body to begin slowly circulating. His clothes began to ripple, and the ruyi scepter fastened to his waist, a gift from the Empress, began to flash. He looked coldly at the bailiffs of the 13 offices who surrounded him. He knew that today was not going to go as he had planned. As his opponents had dared not to allow the Prime Minister and his father to save face, and had indeed ordered people to beat him with staves. It was certainly simpler than using torture!
He took two steps forward, and kicked the two staves to pieces. He looked coldly at the two officials who tried to remain calm, and knew that he had made a huge mistake: he had forgotten about that madwoman, far away in her fiefdom of Xinyang. But he wasn't sure whether Han Zhiwei was involved in all that, and whether it was the Crown Prince who had been angered by his behavior, or the Empress who had learned of some terrifying things.
It had been some time since the incident at Niulan Street. The picture of Fan Xian that people in the capital had was one of a talented scholar-official. It seemed they had forgotten that he was an expert martial artist.
The people gathered in the courtroom were shocked. There was the sound of a knife being unsheathed, a terrifying sound, and countless blades were pointed toward Fan Xian, who stood proudly in the middle of the hall.
The punishment staves used by the 13 offices of the Ministry of Justice were specially made. The average seventh-level master, beaten with such staves, would cry out in pain. But no one knew how forceful the powerful zhenqi in Fan Xian's body was. He did not attempt to dodge the blows, but faced them, and the rods snapped in half!
The scene shocked the bailiffs of the Ministry of Justice. Now they finally remembered that this seemingly weak-looking scholar-official had once slit Cheng Jushu - the eighth-level master of Northern Qi - from belly to breast.
The dozen bailiffs unsheathed their swords, and in the cold hall of the Ministry of Justice, the sinister light glinted off them. They encircled Fan Xian. Fan Xian took two steps back, and the bailiffs, frightened, also took two steps back.
Fan Xian frowned as he looked at Han Zhiwei and Guo Zheng. "Have you considered the consequences of your rash decision?" he asked quietly.
Han Zhiwei and Guo Zheng's blood ran cold. Though the young man had spoken calmly, his words were sinister. Though Prime Minister Lin Ruofu's influence in the royal court had diminished in the wake of the incident with Wu Bo'an, he was still the head of the bureaucracy of the Kingdom of Qing. On top of that was the Minister of Revenue, who was a childhood friend of His Majesty. Han Zhiwei felt a sudden regret. He should not have followed that nobleman's command.
Guo Zheng had been angered by Guo You's fall from power, and furthermore, he had the backing of the Eldest Princess. He knew that since this business had already started, it was not going to have a peaceful ending. He gritted his teeth. "I am investigating this case on the orders of the Emperor. What consequences will there be?"
Things had already gotten this far, and Han Zhiwei felt he had no leeway to back out. He steeled himself. "Very well, young Master Fan," he said coldly. "If you are willing to admit your involvement in the exam scandal, then we will not torture you. If you are not willing to confess, then in accordance with the laws of Qing, we may use torture."
Fan Xian pursed his lips and gazed at him with something like a smile that was not a smile. "15 great crimes..." He shook his head and sighed. "If I get the chance, I'm changing that law."
Who could change the law? Only the Emperor, of course. Thankfully, he spoke very quietly. Otherwise the others around him might have heard, and on the basis of his utterance, they would have executed the entire Fan family.
frowned. "Take this criminal official away!" As soon as he spoke, the bailiffs of the 13 offices encircled him, and in a whirl of blades, two knives were at Fan Xian's neck, forcing him to submit.
Fan Xian groaned. His hands shot out of his sleeves, soft but with unmatchable speed, turning to mist, attacking the wrists of the two bailiffs near him, quickly catching their fists and driving them back into their own torsos.
The series of moves was too quick for anyone to see clearly. A moment later, they heard the sound of snapping, a whacking sound, and cries of pain!
The snapping sound was the bailiffs' wrists, and the whacking sound was the sound of their blades being thrown into the air by zhenqi. They flew upward, and embedded deep into the corners of a Ministry of Justice plaque above the doorway which read "Just and Honorable". The two blades, stuck above the sun in the doorway, made it look like it had the horns of a demon!
And the bailiffs, who Fan Xian had pushed gently in the torso, both flew backward and fell onto two chairs, smashing them into pieces and letting out screams of pain.
Everyone was shocked. They did not imagine that Fan Xian's strength would be quite so great. Unthinkingly, they took a step back.
Guo Zheng was neither worried nor angry. He smiled as he gazed at Fan Xian. "Assaulting an officer of the court. Another crime."
Han Zhiwei understood his meaning. Whether they could use torture was a trifling matter. The more crimes they could saddle Fan Xian with, the better - the less he was willing to be restrained, and the more intensely he resisted, better still.
Guo Zheng smiled as he looked at Fan Xian. "Young Master Fan, be a little more honest. I know that you are a master of the pen and the sword. If you wished to escape the court of the Ministry of Justice, it would not be difficult. But... don't tell me that you wish to start a rebellion? That is treason against your father and your ruler." His finger lightly tapped the table. Thoroughly pleased with the current situation, he spoke softly. "Young Master Fan, should you rebel, your heart is filled with evil; if you do not rebel, then you will be tortured."
He had one more thing to say. "Should you wish to murder your way out of the Ministry of Justice, then go ahead, but it would be a pity... a pity indeed, for such an illustrious poetic master, an idol to the scholars, to become such a criminal, to cause such chaos in the government, and to drag your name through the mud."
Fan Xian looked at him calmly, then suddenly spoke. "Old man, you are scared."
He spoke from his experience of dissecting corpses every day when he was young. He thought of what Guo the censor had just said, which had the elegant manner of Stephen Chow in his film Hail the Judge in Fan Xian's past life. There was a cold glint in his eye that he immediately held back. He knew that he could not murder his way out of the Ministry of Justice, but he was not willing to submit to torture. All he could do was stall for time, until the people who supported him could react. "Killing my way out of the Ministry of Justice would be a great crime indeed. Very well, I shall chat with you both for a while."
Having said this, he went to the side and sat in a chair. His eyes drooping, he spoke gently. "If you wish to torture me, I shall resist. If you will not torture me, then I don't mind sitting here. Sirs, when your investigation is finished, please do inform me; I would like to return home for some rice porridge."
"The insolence!" cried Han Zhiwei. "Bring him to me!"
This was the third time that he had yelled in that day's investigation proceedings. There was no expression on Fan Xian's face. He gently tapped on the side table next to him, the zhenqi in his palm released as gently as a cloud. Suddenly, the wooden side table had smashed into countless pieces!
Then he looked at the bailiffs surrounding him. Brushed by his gentle gaze, they considered the terrifying power that young Master Fan had shown. These bailiffs from the thirteen offices, who usually did not fear even demons and gods, did not dare to take a step further!
Since the founding of the nation, there had never been such chaos within the halls of the Ministry of Justice. It didn't seem like something that could happen in reality. It seemed more like a scene from a drama that Fan Xian had seen glimpses of in his previous life and couldn't make sense of - the defendant calm in the midst of chaos, sitting on a wooden armchair, surrounded by bailiffs who did not dare to advance. The prisoner was not willing to murder his way out, and the others had no way of apprehending him.
In all of Fan Xian's life in this realm, the chairs and stools he had sat on had always, by chance, indicated his approach - possibly angry, or perhaps waiting to strike. In Danzhou, when he was 12 years old, he had stepped onto a stool to smack the second housekeeper in the face. The day he had entered the capital, he was underneath a side door, sitting in a wooden armchair, suppressing his anger, preparing to greet the daggers behind his father's wife's gentle words.
Today, in the great hall of the Ministry of Justice, he still sat calmly on the wooden armchair, his face tranquil as he looked at the two high officials who wanted to teach him a lesson with cudgels. He began to calculate who else, other than the Eldest Princess, might also be behind this.
The Ministry of Justice once more fell into a standoff. Looking at the bailiffs of the 13 offices who surrounded Fan Xian with their knives drawn, censor Guo was not worried. He knew that Treasury Minister Fan Jian and Prime Minister Lin Ruofu were being delayed by other matters today. They had plenty of time to wait for Yang Wanli to enter the court and give his testimony. He smiled. "Tomorrow I shall bring today's matters before His Majesty, and we shall see if you will still wield your father's influence so arrogantly. Do not presume I cannot charge you with your crimes. In a moment, Yang Wanli will arrive to testify. Minister Han still wants to see you detained. If you still dare to resist, then do not be surprised if we ask for an imperial decree declaring you guilty of treason."
"Master Guo," said Fan Xian calmly, "since both sides have dealt each other a blow today, then I wish to say that if there are problems with Yang Wanli, you should be prepared for what happens next."
This was a bare-faced threat. Since the founding of the Kingdom of Qing, Fan Xian was the first fifth-level official who had dared to threaten a minister of the royal court and an imperial censor in the court of the Ministry of Justice!
Sensing the danger behind Fan Xian's calm words, Han Zhiwei felt an inexplicable chill. The corner of his eye twitched ominously. "Fan Xian," he said coldly, "you should know that as an official of the court, you should not establish your strength with a sword. I look forward to seeing how you will end all this chaos in the Ministry of Justice today."
"The Ministry of Justice has tried in vain to obtain confession under torture," said Fan Xian calmly. "You are angered by Minister Guo's departure of his office mired in scandal, and are making a futile attempt to retaliate. I do not know what kind of officials you are. Tomorrow, I shall write a vast essay on today's affairs, and circulate it throughout the land. I shall show the people what the officials of the Kingdom of Qing are really like, and I shall also enlighten the Emperor. Who will the officials of the court listen to?"
"Say what you like," said Guo Zheng. He knew of Fan Xian's reputation, and such a thing was entirely possible. "If you knew the details of the scandal, why did you not report it to your superiors and allow the royal court to investigate and handle the case, rather than handling matters through the Overwatch Council? In brief, you are guilty of the crime of holding the royal court in contempt. I shall see how Minister Fan explains this matter to the royal court tomorrow!"
His words were menacing, and a sudden murderous intent flashed across Fan Xian's face. He stood up and fixed the two high officials with a cold stare. The bailiffs surrounding him tensed, and pointed their sharp blades toward Fan Xian's vital parts. As the dangerous situation unfolded, there was the sudden sound of Yan Ruohai's chilling voice from outside the Ministry of Justice. "The Overwatch Council has received an imperial decree. When have we ever needed to explain everything to an imperial censor?"
Fan Xian smiled, let out a sigh of relief, and shook his head. It was a pity that someone from the Council had not arrived sooner.