Court of Judicial Review, Gale and Thunder Hall.
He Fei kneaded the space between his eyebrows as he poured through the documents relating to the Peony Pavilion murder case. He wasn't worried about the number of deaths. After all, he had even reviewed a major case involving the massacre of over a hundred villagers. What was worrying was the lack of evidence left behind, as if the victims had truly died of snake bites.
"Is it possible?" He Fei had once asked himself.
His answer was a resounding no. On the surface, these people might have died of snake bites but there was surely a perpetrator. Otherwise, why would those in the Peony Pavilion be the only ones who died? The inhabitants of the neighboring buildings were left intact. Moreover, they couldn't even find the shadow of a snake within a hundred meters. These snakes were like an army, in terms of their strict organization, clear-cut task delegation, and orderly movement.
"Lord, how do you think we should handle this case? So many people died, after all. If we can't get to the bottom of this, we won't be able to explain to our superiors. Why don't we say it's a snake epidemic?"
"Snake epidemic? Isn't that a little too concentrated in the Peony Pavilion alone? Do you think our superiors are fools?" He Fei scolded in a cold voice.
"But it's true that we found no evidence at all. How do we even investigate without a clue at all?"
He Fei didn't answer his subordinate's question. He once again read the documents in the file from start to finish with a frown. Suddenly, a detail caught his attention. "Besides the owner and his staff, the account book notes 28 guests. But why were only 25 corpses found in the guest rooms? Shouldn't there be three more people in the tavern?"
"Based on statements from diners yesterday as well as the identification of the corpses, there were originally three more people indeed. One of them was the Young Master of the Qian Manor, Qian Shuxiao. He brought a foreign woman to stay in the VIP room. The other one was called Ye Que, also a foreigner who came to Luoyang to visit relatives. The only thing was that Qian Shuxiao and Ye Que left together afterward and the rooms were charged to the former. From the looks of it, he didn't return home for the entire night."
"Qian Shuxiao? Ye Que?" He Fei muttered. "What about the woman?"
"We're not sure. We questioned quite a few diners yesterday, but all said they didn't see her coming downstairs. No one would remember incorrectly since the woman is incredibly beautiful."
"Did she register her name?" He Fei asked.
"No. The room was registered under Qian Shuxiao's name. The word 'two' was scribbled next to it."
He Fei tapped the desk with his fingers before bringing his palm on it and standing up. "Go and investigate Qian Shuxiao and Ye Que. I have a feeling there's a problem with these two."
"Oh right. Did you mention the Qian Manor earlier? Which Qian Manor?"
"The first manor on the Vermilion Bird Street. The number one merchant family in Luoyang. That Qian Manor."
"Got it. Work carefully. Don't inadvertently alert the perpetrator. Furthermore, don't cause unnecessary trouble for the Court of Judicial Review. You must find clues to solve the case within three days. Don't let the Imperial Censor laugh at us."
While He Fei had settled everything on his end, Ye Que had just awakened from his cultivating state. Taking in the Spiritual Force of the world was more refreshing for him than for an ordinary person to sleep. The painting demon must have spent a long time cultivating inside the landscape for it had accumulated great amounts of Spiritual Force. If all the Spiritual Force inside was given to a martial artist, it was basically enough to promote him to a whole new rank.
Coupled with the Spirit-stealing Formation Ye Que lay down last night, he basically wasted no Spiritual Force at all. Thus, his Realm essentially stabilized overnight, and he also saw a small growth in his Divine Energy. Ultimately, he only tricked the painting demon last night because he didn't have a lot of True Force in his body. If he were to do it again now, he wouldn't waste his time talking.
If things couldn't be solved with one sword attack?
Then he would deliver two sword attacks!
"Thud, thud, thud."
"Thud, thud, thud."
The sound of urgent knocking resonated through the green bamboo forest in the Qian Manor.
"Is someone inside?"
"Are you awake?"
Unexpectedly, such loud knocking was the work of a woman.
Ye Que, who had just waken up, frowned. "The Qian family is considered an influential family, but why is their maid so rude? Does she have to knock so loudly? It's not like their guest is deaf. Didn't I tell Qian Shuxiao last night that I like the quiet and detest noise?"
Ignoring the urgent knocking on his door, Ye Que calmly tidied his bed before rolling up the landscape painting on the desk and placing it in a corner. He carefully neatened his clothing before walking to the door to open it. Right then, the door was knocked so much that it was on the verge of collapse. Moreover, the knocking became more and more urgent and the voice became louder and louder.
With a creaking sound, the door finally opened. Nearly at the same time, a figure threw herself into Ye Que's embrace.
With a shift of his feet, Ye Que subconsciously got out of the way. Having undergone countless battles, he basically didn't have to think before performing certain actions.
The sound of flesh crashing onto the floor was accompanied by a loud screech.
Lowering his head to take a careful look at the person, Ye Que was surprised to find it to be the Eldest Young Lady of the Qian Manor, Qian Shuhua, whom he saved last night. He had found the girl to look dignified last night. She had exuded an extraordinary temperament when she picked up her brush to paint. The second time he saw her, she was sitting on the floor with her legs wide. She kneaded her shoulders as hard as she could while grimacing in pain.
It took Ye Que one glance to understand why Qian Shuxiao was so sure that his sister wouldn't touch a paintbrush. From her violent knocking early in the morning, aggressive disposition, fierce temperament, barging into the room when the door wasn't opening, she was basically a masculine woman. Ye Que thought this girl shouldn't be named Qian Shuhua (T/N: "Shuhua" meaning painting and calligraphy) but Qian Shuba (T/N: "Ba" meaning a tyrant) instead.
Ye Que looked doubtfully at Qian Shuhua. Though he didn't talk, the implication was clear. "What are you doing?"
Glancing at Ye Que, Qian Shuhua said vigorously, "Stop looking. Help me up."
To Ye Que's surprise, she was extending her hand to him without care for propriety between men and women.
Of course, Ye Que wouldn't touch her hand. Most cultivators were perfectionists. No matter how tender her hand was, he wouldn't take the initiative to reach for a hand that had wiped the ground. "Get up on your own."
"Would I ask for your help if I can get up on my own?" Qian Shuhua retorted loudly. "It hurts! Didn't you see that I fell? Don't you know how to speak up when you're opening the door? I knocked so many times earlier. Can't you hear me?"
"I'm not deaf."
"If you're not deaf, why aren't you opening the door then?" Qian Shuhua raised her eyebrows.
Ye Que slightly raised his foot and kicked, causing the chair next to the dining table to fall steadily next to Qian Shuhua's hand. He was indicating her to use the chair to get up. Naturally, he wouldn't bother answering her question why he didn't open the door earlier.
Ultimately, she had to use the chair. She was even using her hand. Qian Shuhua wasn't picky. She propped herself up using the chair. The moment she got back on her feet, she patted Ye Que on the shoulder. Perhaps it was because of their close proximity or perhaps Ye Que hadn't expected it at all but Qian Shuhua actually managed to hit him. "Thanks for last night. I heard what happened from A Xiao. He told me it's you who saved me. No wonder I kept feeling lethargic recently and my wrist was hurting too. It turned out that a demon had put up a spell over me. It even made me paint day and night. How did the demon even think of that? I..."
Qian Shuhua gesticulated as her speech became more and more vigorous. However, before she finished talking, she noticed Ye Que's expression becoming increasingly displeased.
Then, she noticed the gray palm print on Ye Que's shoulder. She compared the print with her own palm and smiled awkwardly. "I'm sorry, so sorry. I didn't notice. I just didn't."
While smiling, she added, "I'm here to express my thanks."
"Your brother has already thanked me."
"He and I are different people."
"Alright. Express your thanks, then."
Qian Shuhua sneakily fished out a book from within her sleeve. Moreover, she solemnly placed it in front of Ye Que. "This is a book of secret records that I procured after spending huge sums of money. I was going to use it myself but after learning that you're an expert among experts, I think it's better that you use it first."
"How about it? This is enough sincerity, yes?" Qian Shuhua said vigorously.
Ye Que took one look at the book of secret records before turning around to leave at once. He didn't even say a single word.
"Hey, you're turning down a book of secret records? Why don't you stop calling yourself Ye Que and call yourself dim-witted (T/N: from the word "Que") instead?" Qian Shuahua then carefully put away the "secret records" and said, "Forget it. It's not like I want to give it to you! I'll gift it to my Yunhai later. He'll definitely like it."
The moment Qian Shuhua put away her "rare book", one could see the words "Ultimate Rare Book!" written in powerful calligraphy on the yellowed cover of the book.
Ye Que couldn't bring himself to deal with this strange Eldest Young Lady. "Calling me dim-witted? What a joke. Even an idiot can tell that thing is obviously a scam. What family would give the name 'Ultimate Secret Records' to their secret records? Isn't that a complete joke?!"
He hadn't walked far when he met Qian Shuxiao, who had rushed over to his room.
"Sir, did you rest well last night?" Qian Shuxiao must have something to deal with, considering how rushed he was. Even so, he still paid his respects to Ye Que.
Thinking of the lunatic-like Qian Shuhua, Ye Que swiftly replied, "No."
His brief answer put an end to their conversation.
"Tell me what happened." Ye Que could tell that Qian Shuxiao was struggling to hold back what he wanted to say.
"The flower-viewing drinking banquet will begin today. Let's leave at once. It's a little far away and we need to take a boat there. I'll have to inconvenience you during the journey, Sir." Qian Shuxiao took out a red invitation card and handed it to Ye Que as he spoke.
Rain drizzled all over the streets of the capital. The grasses were green from afar, but upon closer look, they were pretty sparse. Now was the best time in spring, much better than when the city was full of green willows.
Luoyang, the capital, was unimaginably beautiful after being bathed in spring rain. Outside the city, the surface of Luo River was rippling. Red flowers and green trees lined the river. Qian Shuxiao and Ye Que sat on a luxurious pleasure boat as it flowed down the river. According to Qian Shuxiao, the flower-viewing drinking banquet was held in different venues each year. This time, it was held on an armored dragon boat on the lower reaches of Luo River.
While Ye Que was on the boat, the doors to the General's Manor also opened and Ye Yunhai led a group of men out. In his hand was a red invitation card. Similarly, there was also a boat waiting for him by Luo River, where a young woman was waiting. Her every frown and smile were deeply beautiful.
Thousands of miles away in Chang'an City, there was an eighteen-story building with a plaque reading "Star-plucking" hung in front.
Right then, on the top floor of the eighteen-story Star-plucking Building, a red-eyed old man stared blankly at the thirteen copper coins standing erect in front of him. "Change in the stars, mountains of skeletons, tens of thousands of demons everywhere, an Immortal emerges from a river."
"The heaven is fickle. Where's our path to survival?"