Joy of Life - Chapter 297

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:48:10]
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Chapter 297: Prostitutes, Pedestrians and a Downpour Assassination

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

The shopkeepers in Qingyu Hall were always assisting the palace treasury, and they also lent aid to other manors in their business dealings. That being said, it had been many years since they had last shown their faces. But this Lady Si Qing’er, if she could have come as far as she did, starting out as a lowly prostitute and becoming a pimp, she was clearly a woman who was willing to learn, a woman who was inherently motivated and was someone with a high interest in the managing of a business establishment. She knew about the old men from Qingyu Hall, and as long as they were businessmen, she showed them great respect and admiration that stemmed from her bones. It was a reflection of the respect scholars of this world had for Zhuang Mohan.

So when Si Qing’er saw the third shopkeeper approach, and she immediately shelved her thoughts of cheating with the ledger. She patted herself down and began her feminine stride to meet the coming person, taking a deep, low bow as came before him.

Judging from his looks, the third Ye shopkeeper was around 50 years old, his beard taking on the color white. Seeing Si Qing’er’s pretty face, he nodded in his approval of the gesture.

Shi Chanli was standing nearby, wondering why Fan Xian had sent this horny old man here.

The third Ye complimented her by saying, “This lady must be the manager of this establishment. Looking at where the house is situated, and at lighting and decor of the interior, I must say I like it; in fact, I greatly admire it. If the lady is willing to remain in the house, there is no need for my presence here; I will return to Fan Xian, for my talents won’t surpass hers.”

Si Qing’er’s face was now one of surprise, and she said, “You compliment the wrong person. Everything you see in this place is of the Big Owner’s design; it has nothing to do with me.”

The third Ye shopkeeper displayed a look of disappointment as he mournfully told her, “Then the owner of this place truly was a genius of business. How could he have possibly offended Fan…?” Even though he was old, he wasn’t stupid, and already he realized he had said too much. With an abrupt end to his dialogue, he caught the stare that Shi Chanli was giving him. If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought he was seeing a monster before his eyes. He shook his head, but in a bid to seem natural, he slowly warped it into an act of looking around and admiring the room.

The manner in which they conducted their business could be seen in the finest of details. To Qingyu Hall, whose shopkeepers had been running merchant establishments for 20 years, the Bao Yue house was a shady business. But despite that, the brothel looked bright and clean, and there was a pond in back and a lovely patio. The workers and waiters were well-trained and polite, and the same could be said for the women whose services were being offered. They weren’t trashy street walkers; they were women who cleaned up well, dressed elegantly, and possessed virtue and manners. This is what the customers sought, and the hostess that maintained these standards must have been someone with a tremendous amount of talent.

The old shopkeeper continued admiring the place, and Shi Chanli could do nothing but shake his head and think to himself, The second master of the Fan family is no average noble kid. It is a wonderful thing for the Fan brothers not to be the run-of-the-mill sort.

There had been no word from the palace, so Si Qing’er did not dare do anything with the shares of the third prince. But the repossession posse had already arrived, and she had no choice but to bring out the ledger for their inspection. Although it was common for merchants of the Qing Kingdom to own two ledgers, one that was legit and one that was illegitimate, before the third Ye’s shopkeeper, Si Qing’er did not dare play tricks. Not long after, the Bao Yue house’s funds were all calculated and deemed clean. The 30 percent of shares was also attached the figure of a measly 1,000 coins, so they took a hold of the shares and corresponding figure and sent it to the third prince. Now all they had to do was await a response. For all intents and purposes, the entirety of the Bao Yue house would now belong to Shi Chanli.

After doing all this, Si Qing’er was happily thinking that the manager of the Bao Yue house would now become the property of the third Ye shopkeeper from Qingyu Hall. What she did not expect, was the old man to suddenly turn around, return to his carriage and drive off. She was suddenly frightened.

What shocked her the most was that there was going to be a new manager for the Bao Yue house, and the person who was to take up the job was someone with a familiar face – and one who had just walked through the door.

“Sang Wen!?” Si Qing’er was petrified for a moment before snapping out of This Sang Wen was bailed out of the Bao Yue house by Fan Xian, and there hadn’t been any news of her since. But now there she was, back for revenge.

Shi Chanli took note of her expression and commented, “Very good. This Lady Sang will be the manager of the Bao Yue house from henceforth.”

Si Qing’er grudgingly bowed before Sang Wen. Not long after the Bao Yue house was established, Sang Wen had become a famous and prominent figure. It was because of this, and the fact that was cold and unyielding and as such, Si Qing’er always picked on her. But to now see her become manager of the Bao Yue house, she knew for sure that she would not have much luck and with a forced, painful swallow of her pride, she hastily made for her room so she could begin packing her bags.

Sang Wen was actually quite nervous. Mister Fan had performed an incredible service for her, and with the opportunity to manage the Bao Yue house, she knew she could not let him down. With great worry, she was determined to run the building flawlessly. Another bit of apprehension clouded her judgment, and that involved the possibility of it being third prince’s toes she may be stepping on. Seeing Si Qing’er back out, however, brought her mind some element of ease.

Shi Chanli, watching Si Qing’er hasten for the door, called out, “Oh, Lady Qing’er, you cannot leave!”

Si Qing’er laughed maniacally and said, “I did not sign a single contract with the Bao Yue house, so please, do tell me under what power can I be apprehended and be made to stay within these walls?”

Shi Chanli looked troubled. He unfastened his collar and explained, “I have never run a brothel before; and Lady Sang is just a singer. If you leave, then I’m not sure the Bao Yue house can retain its current status and earn the money it always has…”

Si Qing’er thought that she was needed, and with a snide and boisterous expression, responded. “If…”

She wasn’t even given the time to begin her sentence as Shi Chanli cut her off, saying, “Mister Fan said if you haven’t been given the permission to do so, you are not allowed to leave.”

Si Qing’er sighed, realizing that she wasn’t actually needed. They just wanted her trapped. She was just a woman, and despite having a minor relation with the third prince, it was the commissioner of the Overwatch Council that had demanded her to stay. Even she would not dare defy his order. In this world, there wouldn’t be a single officer willing to help a former prostitute, especially one who had been in conflict with the commissioner. Even the princes didn’t help her, as there would be no benefit involved for them. If Commissioner Fan wanted to ruin the life of someone like her, to do so would be easier than stepping on an ant.

“What are you keeping me here for?” she asked, visibly confused.

Shi Chanli told her, “Mister Fan… I mean…. I am preparing to implement a few minor changes to the Bao Yue house. For this, I believe Lady Qing’er will have a use at some point. Perhaps every brothel in the Qing Kingdom is going to need these changes.”

Si Qing’er was shocked. The Bao Yue house’s business was doing great, and the thought occurred to her that the new big owner was planning on establishing more branches of the Bao Yue house across the kingdom. While it would make for a fine suggestion, the Bao Yue house was still fairly minor and not a big part of the prostitution trade in the Qing Kingdom. And in regards to any possible changes, the brothel business had been static for quite some time. Unless the big change was about the big boss ran business, was Fan Xian aiming for sainthood, throttling the industry and attempting to stop prostitutes from selling their bodies?

The problem was, if the prostitutes weren’t selling their bodies, and if the pimps weren’t drawing in customers, could such an establishment still be deemed a brothel?

Shi Chanli couldn’t guess what Si Qing’er was thinking about, and he was merely planning to do as his teacher told him. He listed them off, “First, the ladies’ contracts are going to be flexible going forward. Also, the duration of the contracts is five years, and following that, they are free to do as they please. Secondly, there must be a doctor on station at the Bao Yue house at all times so they can tend to the women whenever they are sick. With quicker recovery, the women can go back to accepting more customers whenever they are better. And as for the third change…”

He did not get to finish his sentence before Si Qing’er cut him off with a look of confusion. She asked, “Is it necessary to make the contract flexible?”

Shi Chanli explained by saying, “Mister Fan…*cough* wrong again… I think that adhering to this manner of business for five straight years would be enough. You must always provide people with hope for the future. If they believe that their entire life is on a leash, handled by someone else, then the average prostitute would be less inclined to perform their services to the best of their abilities. With a brighter outlook comes greater happiness, and with greater happiness comes a better experience for the customer .”

Si Qing’er mockingly retorted, “Five years is your deal? After this, will those poor girls be unable to do the business anymore? After that, who is going to scrub away their notoriety as a prostitute and elevate their social rank?”

In the Qing Kingdom, performers and prostitutes were different. In the social stratification of the kingdom, once someone’s social status hit rock bottom, a position which frequently included prostitutes, one could never recover. The only way to elevate your status was to be bought by someone of a higher status, or have a decree referencing you from the Royal Court. From what he had just said, prostitutes would have to quit the Bao Yue house after five years and remain like so in seedier environments, just to make a living. As for her question, she received no response. It was something that had crossed Shi Chanli’s mind in his discussions with his teacher, but Fan Xian had told him it was something he would sort out.

Si Qing’er continued her mocking, by saying, “and the doctor part of your reformation is ridiculous. The ladies in the house are cheap and of little concern to others; no doctor would be willing to come here. It is already hard enough to find a doctor as an ordinary person, what doctor would be willing to stay here, day in, day out? Do you think any doctor could handle such shame?

Sang Wen, who had remained quiet the entire time, smiled and said, “Mister Fan said there are many doctors in the Third Bureau of the Overwatch Council. It would be no problem for them to bring a doctor here.”

Si Qing’er had a wry smile on her face, and in her heart she thought, The Third Bureau of the Overwatch Council is of the poisonous Yamen that everyone fears. Are they planning to change their ways so that they can become doctors? She was of the mind that Mister Fan was someone who liked to fantasize a great deal about things. Tauntingly, she said, “So what? Even if there are doctors, and the girls are clean, who can promise that the customers who come here are free of sexual diseases?”

Shi Chanli was starting to get a headache a symptom of her continued annoyance. He said, “I don’t have a solution for that.” It wasn’t that there was no solution, it was because Fan Xian’s suggestion of a mass-produced product such as a condo, was quite possibly the hardest thing to sell.

“You should hear what else I have to say first.” He coughed twice and continued saying, “From now on, there is no more forced buying and selling. If this ever happens again, I am coming straight for you.”

He stared into Si Qing’er’s eyes until she averted her gaze and looked down towards the ground.

“Also, no more undergage prostitutes.”

“We should establish finer cuts of pay to take from the girls, a cut that is gauged by their appearance and skill.”

“The ladies should also be given three days off a month, so they may do as they please.”

Big Boss Shi kept on talking, giving no one’s ears a single moment of reprieve. It wasn’t only Si Qing’er who looked to be suffering, but Sang Wen as well; as he droned on and on, she began to feel dizzy. After a long, long while, there came a point where Si Qing’er could no longer stand it, and so she coldly spoke out, “The way you keep going on like this—have I mistaken this brothel for a charity place?”

Shi Chanli looked at her and said, “Fan Xian told me that you are the one who was raised by Yuan Meng. We should take care of you as well. But seeing that you were born poor,and have worked hard to elevate your status, we have kindly decided to give you an opportunity for redemption. There is no need for you to concern yourself with whether the Bao Yue house is a brothel or a charity place; all you need to do is perform your duties diligently and follow Sang Wen’s lead. If this whole plan does truly work and we can create a franchise for the Bao Yue house that expands across the world, there may very well be half a million brothel ladies working in your favor. That would account for your redemption, and that would most certainly make your life worth sparing.”

It wasn’t until now that Shi Chanli avoided speaking Fan Xian’s name.

Si Qing’er did not say anything, and to guess what she was thinking would have been an impossible task, but there was one thing for certain – she looked afraid.

Shi Chanli actually possessed a great amount of fear in his heart also. Even though the Bao Yue house already had Sang Wen, who was now secretly enrolled within the First Bureau of the Overwatch Council to oversee the management of the brothel, Shi Chanli himself was only a scholar; a student of Fan Xian. He was afraid that after today, he could no longer be an officer and would instead have to stay in the brothel, becoming a pitiable owner who spent his days barking orders at women, telling them to satisfy the demands of horny customers.

He looked at Sang Wen and discovered that the female singer, who may have looked weak, was of a calm disposition. She didn’t seem to be troubled by the proceedings in the least.

An autumn rain had soaked the few days following this encounter, and it turned the weather from cool and dry, to wet and cold.

The Bao Yue house had now been taken over by Fan Xian completely. The second prince was brought discomfort, and was overwhelmed by an ominous feeling; for this, he began arranging something. For Fan Xian, however, he had enjoyed the past few days for the respite and relaxation they had provided him. He had not visited the First Bureau’s office for a few days and he hadn’t gorged on those buns from the Xin Feng restaurant. Instead, he had spent his time in the Imperial College, bringing a bunch of young teachers with him to aid in the sorting of the books he had brought with him from the Northern Qi Kingdom.

The wind blew strong and the raindrops that clung to their drunken clouds finally let go, bringing with them a downpour. It wasn’t a worrying amount, but its persistence over the past few days had become annoying. If you took the road to the north from the Danbo bookstore, you would arrive at the Imperial College, and the entire area belonged to it. The Yamen that had been built during the founding times of the Qing Kingdom had already been torn down.

Fan Xian was holding a black umbrella and walked between the students who accompanied him to the Imperial College. He nodded to each student that politely waved at him. Although his identity had changed in recent times, the Emperor had not taken away the five ranks of his career. The Emperor had even told him that, if he ever had the time, he should return to the Imperial College so that he could receive more lessons.

Although Fan Xian was not fond of being a teacher, he hadn’t come for lessons; it was his career’s prestige that allowed him to visit the Imperial College and read its trove of books. It was a getaway for him, a chance to be momentarily free of the

day-to-day bustle.

The first day he came to the Imperial College was a delightful surprise for the students there, for it had been over a year since his last visit. When the students thought of how the young officer was from the Overwatch Council, however, they were a little frightened. It was why their initial friendliness towards him had waned somewhat. That being said, it didn’t take longer than two hours for them to find out that Fan Xian was as cheery and nice as ever, and their fears were lessened, the cordiality between them both was restored.

He entered the study room that the Imperial College had prepared for him and put away his umbrella. He turned to look back at the dreary skies and couldn’t help but frown.

There were a few Imperial College teachers already in the room sorting and organizing the books that Zhuang Mohan had left them. The books there were of great significance to the Qing Kingdom and the Emperor treated the matter with profound concern. It was for this reason that the Imperial College did not to delay these proceedings, and so they worked their hardest to copy the books and maintain the original source material with the finest of care.

They saw Fan Xian walk inside, and so they stood up and bowed.

Fan Xian smiled and bowed in return to the people that he had seen working diligently. It was quite the strain to perform these tasks alone, and so he had called upon these people to work together and get it done. The results had so far been quite successful, for they all got along well and made great strides in the progress of their assigned task.

The black, soaking umbrella was left in the corner, and a puddle of water formed on the ground. Slowly, it coursed its way to the fire in the stove. All of a sudden, Fan Xian felt humid and uncomfortable. He loosened his collar and spoke, “It’s too humid, and not cold enough for this. I know we have to trudge through, but is there any way to shut the stove off?”

One officer responded by saying, “We need a certain temperature to storage books. If it’s too cold, then there’s no way of preserving the parchment.”

Fan Xian knew this, saying, “It is not winter yet. It should be okay to keep these books in the room as they are; humidity should be your greatest concern right now.”

Everyone agreed and got back to work. The Imperial College carried the traits of the Qing Kingdom, performing their appointed tasks with quiet diligence for work of a higher quality. Quite a big difference existed between the Qing Kingdom and Northern Qi Kingdom in this regard. Fan Xian sat down at his table to begin working, but before he could start, someone requested a meeting with him

“Why have you returned to the Imperial College?” Fan Xian was surprised, seeing the Big Scholar Shu Wu sitting in a chair. Fan Xian bowed before him.

His father in law, the prime minister, had stepped down from his position, and after the Board of Rites’ minister was hanged, the officers in court were in disarray. Many of them chose to follow Fan Xian, whereas others decided to follow the eastern palace. But the second prince, whose popularity was not as strong last year, received the most followers – this was due to the amount of years he had spent in court.

Scholar Shu was a famous individual, and he had been a student of Zhuang Mo Han. He was so prestigious that no other could ever hope to replace him and replicate his qualities. He did his exams in the northern Wei Kingdom, but he had become a Qing Kingdom officer. Because of this, problems frequently arose. In the fifth year of the Qing Calendar, he had accidentally received the greatest benefit that came about from the turmoil. Although his career in the Imperial College was made void, he was able to assume Scholar Tongwen Ge’s position after he was fired, following the spring exam incident.

Scholar Tongwen Ge was clean and rich, and after the prime minister was fired, there had yet to be a new one. So he joined the business of politics and entered the Qing Kingdom’s court. The authority of his position was very close to that of a prime minister. Even though Fan Xian was powerful, compared to him, he was little more than an average, run-of-the-mill officer.

Of course, Scholar Shu Wu was not so stupid as to treat or regard Fan Xian in the same manner. If he was, he wouldn’t have come calling for Fan Xian today.

“So, you can come back to the Imperial College, but I cannot?” Shu Wu was joking with Fan Xian, whose age was the same as his own son. “Outside it is cold and it is raini. You young ones know how to make the most of your life, by coming here to the college. What? You aren’t keen on the Overwatch Council’s missions, that might keep you in the rain?”

Outside, it was indeed raining and cold. Fan Xian did not know whether this Scholar Shu Wu was joking or not, and so he did not answer; merely smiling.

After Shi Chanli claimed the Bao Yue house, Yan Bingyun had put into motion his plan. First, he used the Overwatch Council’s power to force the Ministry of Punishment to bypass the capital government and issue an APB right away, for the apprehension of Yuan Meng.

But this Yuan Meng had proven herself effective at hiding. Under the protection crown of the crown prince Hongcheng, no one knew of where she might be found. As troublesome as this may have sounded, Fan Xian was in no particular rush, because the issuing of an APB was the beginning of the process that would establish something else soon after. The longer it took to capture Yuan Meng, the better. In Yan Bingyun, he had long deliberated and meticulously laid out the proceedings for every stage of this scheme. His allowance to do so was only if he could ensure that the end result that Fan Xian sought could be achieved.

Over the past two days, certain rumors circulated within the capital, saying that the Ministry of Punishment’s 13th Yamen captured the brothel manager Yuan Meng, who was actually a mistress of the King Jing’s crown prince Hongcheng.

Rumors spread like wildfire, but it was true that Yuan Meng and Li Hongcheng were having an affair, and as such, it became a hot topic within the capital. Li Hongcheng’s reputation was like the rotting of roadkill on a hot summer day; something that was beginning to get stinkier with each passing moment.

Li Hongcheng and the second prince were friends, and this was something everyone was aware of. Not long after, there were rumors about the infamous Bao Yue house in the capital, and that its secret owner was in fact the second prince. The Yamen of the Ministry of Punishment was investigating the missing prostitutes, whose association with the nobles and royals were becoming increasingly difficult to disregard.

The rumors spoken sounded real. Like the rumor that Yuan Meng was the most popular prostitute at the Liu Jing River, but except for the crown prince, no one ever saw her accept other customers. There were other rumors too, ones that made mention of the crown prince having a long talk with Fan Xian outside the Bao Yue house. No one knew what they were talking about, but the day after, the Fan family sold their shares to a mystic merchant known only as “Shi”.

These rumors were formulated and spread by the Eighth Bureau of the Overwatch Council. In the beginning, Fan Xian was forced to bring attention to the cases of the spring exam, and in the end, he became an idol for the students. Behind the scenes, it was the Eighth Bureau that created this rumor as well. They were experts at enhancing one’s image in the public eye, but they were even better at tarnishing one’s reputation.

Of course, in the process of creating rumors that the whole population was to be made aware of, everyone had to know that the big owner was the second master of the Fan manor. The Fan family’s reputation had indeed been affected by this.

The source of the rumor was from within the Fan family, and the story was told to particularly talkative individuals. The stories included the details of Fan Xian beating his brother, the minister using family discipline, the screaming of relatives and the Fan family’s ridding of their association with the brothel. It was shocking to all who heard it in the capital. As time elapsed, however, the rumors faded from commonspeak.

In regards to controlling the rumors, what Fan Xian did was what may be considered a “masterpiece move”. Back then, he requested that Wu Zhu Shu write out a few thousand leaflets to kick the eldest princess out of the palace. This time, they were only dealing with an amateurish second prince. So now, they thought that the second prince and the crown prince had nothing to do with Bao Yue, despite them being the ones who were behind it. Fan Xian was painted as the innocent one, and there was no way they could explain all this.

What Yan Bingyun was going to do next was focus on the money being transferred between the second prince and the Cui family. The specific method to do so, wasn’t even clear to Fan Xian, but he believed in Yan Bingyun’s power and abilities and didn’t seek to question or concern himself with that he was going to do.

Scholar Shu Wu looked at him worriedly and said, “You should know that the capital government has already taken charge of the case involving Bao Yue house. Your little brother’s crime is quite grievous. He has several homicides, witness silencing and forced prostitution of women and underage girls on his rap sheet. Today would have been the trial.”

Fan Xian had a wry smile and said, “it is unfortunate for our family to know we have birthed such a bad seed.”

Shu Wu shook his head and told him, “But the capital government still hasn’t searched your manor for his whereabouts. Perhaps they are considering doing something else? Master Fan, these charges are serious and the likelihood of your brother being let free is slim to none. If the capital government really wants to proceed with the trial and alerts the Emperor, it will not end up well.”

After this conversation, Fan Xian knew where this scholar stood. He came here to tell Fan Xian the opinion of the officers in court. He was convinced that the Fan family and the second prince could come to a peaceful resolution without the need to fight each other. It wasn’t about the reputation of the government. These big scholars thought that if two people were fighting each other, it was inevitable for one person to end up wounded. Fan Xian and the second prince were the young elites of the Qing Kingdom. It would be a great loss if either of them were to be made to suffer and lost their prestige because of the squabbling.

Of course, many people thought that Fan Xian could not compete with the prince. And though he was the Overwatch Council’s commissioner, that fact was something he himself understood, and he knew that the big scholar in front of him was suggesting that he made peace with the second prince for his own sake. For this, Fan Xian was touched. With his gentle smile, Fan Xian told him, “I thank you for your reminder. I can only presume that you are indeed acquainted with the second prince.”

Shu Wu nodded. Ever since Fan Xian came back from the Northern Qi Kingdom, he had been butting heads with the second prince. The Overwatch Council had also apprehended many people who followed the second prince. If Shu Wu wanted to make peace, then he would have to consult with the second prince first. He didn’t expect that upon meeting with the second prince that he was quite nice and had politely requested that he speak to Fan Xian so that they would both be willing to take a step back.

Hearing what the Shu Wu scholar had to say, Fan Xian coldly laughed in his head. The second prince’s nickname was “Stone”, for he wasn’t an easy person to get along with. They were already deep in conflict, and Fan Xian was forced to send his little brother to a foreign country. There had to be an explanation for Fan Xian’s father-in-law being fired due to the conspiracy between the eldest princess and the second prince.

A spy of the First Bureau of the Overwatch Council now approached, bringing with him word that the second prince had already hid the three hitmen of the Bao Yue house who had escaped and brought them back to the capital. They were being prepped for an appearance at court, to testify against Fan Sizhe.

The second prince asked Shu Wu to deliver the message as a way to temporarily soothe Fan Xian, but Fan Xian was not so stupid, or so easy to fool. He politely poured tea for Scholar Shu, saying, “This entire ordeal has nothing to do with the Overwatch Council, and it has nothing to do with me. These past few days, I have remained in the college in the unfortunate event that someone was to misunderstand.”

Shu Wu could not help but wear a bitter smile. His face seemed to express grave sorrow, and all he asked was, “Why even bother fighting? Does it truly matter if you win? It does not matter how many times you win, it means nothing when compared to what is truly important: the Emperor’s happiness.”

Fan Xian’s heart jumped, knowing that the words spoken were ones that rang true and made absolute sense. He appreciated what the scholar in front of him had said. Although he was thinking of something else in his heart, he gently said, “If you have already said this, then I have nothing more to say. I only need the capital government to ensure that the reputation of my family is not tarnished, and as for the case with the Ministry of Punishment, that they don’t look any deeper.”

In Shu Wu, the old scholar’s eyes, it was clear that Fan Xian’s temperament had soured somewhat. In the field, everyone knew how to hide themselves. Who would say something that was obviously illegal in front of someone who was as high up the ladder as a prime minister? But he also knew that this was simply how Fan Xian was. He was satisfied, and smiled, but did not say anything more. He averted his gaze towards the window to observe the rain that continued to fall.

Three miles away from the capital’s office on Yu Shan road, the rain continued to fall.

The case of the missing prostitute in Bao Yue brothel had already concluded its investigation. Although the bones had not been discovered, the capital government had already apprehended her murderer. If the three perpetrators were arrested, and a confession could be obtained, they could point their fingers at the Fan family and certify that it was the second master that orchestrated these crimes. This would be a tremendous blow to the family’s reputation and it would also clear away the dirt that associated the second prince with the Bao Yue brothel.

These three hitmen were pivotal to the development of this case, but the second prince’s party still didn’t understand why, after the conclusion of the family discipline, Fan Xian would still send these three to the government. Wouldn’t he be incriminating the family and bringing it harm?

But it wasn’t until the Fan family sold the Bao Yue brothel, began investigating Yuan Meng, and pointed their fingers at Li Hongcheng did the second prince finally understand that Fan Xian was just using those three to comfort him and opt for a peaceful resolution. Because of this, his reaction was a few days slow, but the second prince still believed that Fan Xian had done something most unwise. As long as these three people were in their hands, where could that fat pimple boy run?

Now the second prince was truly angry, thinking that Fan Xian did not know his place. He actually dared to do something to him? Everyone knew that the rumors circulating in the capital were made up and it made Li Hongcheng feel disheartened, as well, with nothing he could do about it. He was physically unable to visit the Fan manor to fight Fan Xian as he might have desired. This was because King Jing had become extremely angry upon hearing of these events, and brought his wrath down on his son, having him lashed and restricted to the Li manor. At the very least, it meant he could avoid the madness engulfing the capital these days.

“Watch them closely. Do not allow anyone to have any contact with them. We can’t let them withdraw their confessions now.” Fan Wujiu, who was one of the eight personal guardians of the second prince, wore a gloomy visage. He further told the servants of the capital government, “If you fail in this task, be afraid for your life.”

Each of the capital government’s Yamen servants nodded their heads, each with a nervous look on their face. They were not nervous about failing to accomplish this task; they merely trembled at the sight of the guardians of the second prince. Yu Shan road was only three miles away from the capital. If not for avoiding suspicion, Fan Wujiu would have taken these three hitmen to be locked up in prison himself.

The carriage started moving through the dark autumn rain. Fan Wujiu watched it go from a distance. The carriage was passing through the rain like normal, and there weren’t many people occupying the streets. There were only those who held an umbrella, making their way to where they had to get to with hurried paces.

It was in this moment that the rainswept civilians brought their umbrellas down to the ground and unsheathed black weaponry that were concealed within the handles. In a strangely calm manner, they struck their new weapons through the sides of the passing carriage.

Fan Wujiu, who was still watching, was greatly shocked, and so he rushed over there. But over the distance he had to traverse to reach the carriage, and the speed at which the assassins moved, he knew he wouldn’t be able to get there in time.

The pikes that they were revealed to be wielding were extremely sharp and they pierced through the side of the carriage as if it were made of tofu, killing the three men inside.

They withdrew their spiked weaponry and returned them to their umbrellas without making any unnecessary movement. They darted into the allies of the street and disappeared.

Blood trailed out from out of the carriage, and when Fan Wujiu reached it, he did so with a cold face. He pulled back the curtains of the carriage and his face changed. The wounds inflicted were of a clear indication that the people who had committed this atrocity were professionals. They were calm, simple strikes from the outside, and the people within lost their lives.

Fan Wujiu could not help but gasp at the sight, and panicked at the thought of the second prince. It was already difficult enough to assassinate three people in the carriage as quickly and cleanly as they did, but the scarier part was that they knew when and where their carriage would be coming through. He imagined that there had to be many spies of the Overwatch Council embedded within the second prince’s party. How else could they have obtained the precise details of when and where to attack?

This assassination was devised cleverly and carried out perfectly. The way it unfolded was all too natural, as if watching someone eat a meal; it was not at all frightening.

Only the elites like Fan Wujiu could comprehend the eerie chill that enveloped this quiet assassination.

He did not have to think about who had committed this act; he already knew who did.

Aside from the assassins of the Sixth Bureau, those who always dwelled in the dark, who else could have executed this so effectively? His face grew pale at the thought. He was imagining that if those few assassins also planned to take him out, could he survive this?

It seemed as if the second prince’s party had underestimated Fan Xian’s power. It was because the young ones of the Qing Kingdom did not truly know how scary and dangerous the Overwatch Council was.

Fan Wujiu was trembling, and he clenched the dagger hidden in his sleeves. This was the first time in his life that he thought of leaving the second prince’s side – in fear for his own life.

“Your chess skills are quite impressive. When I play chess, I am not inclined to eat all the pawns.” Fan Xian looked embarrassed when he said this.

Now, he was playing chess with Shu Wu in the Imperial College. Today’s court ended early, and the disaster relief for the south was almost brought to an end, so Scholar Shu now had the time to spare for two rounds of chess. He found out that Fan Xian, who was an intellectual scholar, was somehow quite terrible at chess. His face warped and began thinking that even though he was winning, winning this way was no fun.

Shu Wu sighed and said, “Fan Xian, I see you do everything so intelligently, but why are you so bad at chess?”

Both of them then began talking about the events at court this day. Because Fan Jing never discussed court matters at home, and the Overwatch Council never investigated the arguments Fan Xian had at court, Fan Xian was eager to hear of what Shu Wu had to say. He was interested in the major events of court that his lower rank prohibited him from learning about. He also sensed something. Yan Xiaoyi was viceroy in the north, but he kept asking for money. In the south, there were minor wars unfolding, and because of this, the Qing Kingdom was in need of something funding.

Fan Xian’s heart went calm. So long as the Emperor needed money, the palace treasury would truly end up in his care next year, and while the eldest princess’s people were excellent at the formulation of conspiracies, they were not very good when it came to making money through business ventures.

The rain began to recede. Fan Xian did not have what it took to convince the old man to have dinner with him, and he politely sent the scholar out. He turned around and went back to the room, thinking to read through the legendary books that had been given to him by Zhuang Mohan. Even after the teachers had all left, he remained where he was. He did not turn a page, but sat there engrossed in thought.

He knew of what had happened in the capital today, but did not bring himself to think of it. The three men were pretty much dead already, but the families of the dead prostitutes went to the capital and testified against the Fan family.

Of course, Fan Xian wouldn’t dream of murdering those innocents. But the three dead men he had assassinated had been hidden by the second prince, and their removal from his hands would not be something the second prince would make public. Although Fan Xian was not inherently good, he did not think of murdering the testifying women.

He actually knew that no matter what identity he was to be portrayed as, he was the commissioner of the Overwatch Council. He had the resources and authority that greatly exceeded that of the second prince. If there weren’t any further hindrances in his fight with him, Fan Xian believed his victory was assured.

It was just that the people did not know this. The only thing that made Fan Xian care was the attitude of the Emperor in the palace. If the Emperor believed that their game was of no great concern, then he could play along. Fan Xian truly understood the Emperor’s line of thinking, but the second prince was just a whetstone to train the crown prince. He was also being used to train Fan Xian, the commissioner of the Overwatch Council. It looked as if the method and ideas Fan Xian had employed so far were a good choice.

Of course, if Fan Xian’s methods were too harsh, the problem could still be solved by the palace. He was not worried that the Emperor would do anything of grave concern towards him, for his involvement in all this. In a self-deprecating manner, he said to himself, We are all bastards.

The rain had now come to an end in the capital. He quietly avoided the gaze of all and exited the Imperial College. He went into a clothing store and removed his coat, revealing the work uniform he was wearing beneath. He then received an ordinary coat from a lowly shopkeeper. He wore it, pulled up the hood to conceal his face and then returned to the street.

The rain stopped. The clouds in the sky were thawed by the sun’s reappearance, becoming thin and plain. They separated from each other, splitting up into numerous whiffs in the sky, each drifting in different directions. Seeing the return of a blue sky was like a victory.

The sunlight shone outside the capital’s Yamen, and a few shafts of light pierced the entry. It illuminated the big plate in the center of the room that had the words “fair and square” engraved upon it.

There were many people who wanted to watch the action of the proceedings, and so they had all gathered outside the capital government building. They were for the prefect to arrive and become the judge of the Bao Yue brothel, which had become a popular topic in the city. This case was a vast one: it had homicides; it involved prostitutes which made people think of naughty deeds; and it all took place in a brothel. It tingled the curiosity of all the civilians, and that’s why there was such a great interest in its resolution. After dinner, if there were people who weren’t aware of what had been going on, they wouldn’t dare join in the chat. And as for the carriage drivers, if they did not know much about this case, they would feel embarrassed when accepting passengers.

Fan Xian was disguised as a nobody, and he cloaked himself deep in the crowd that had gathered. He looked into the Yamen and began feeling strange. The capital government was an important Yamen, and there had been a lot of changes in the government over the past two years – but these changes were all associated with him. He was only afraid that if he failed today, this capital prefect would have to end up resigning and relinquishing his position.