Chapter 995: Who set off the fire?

Ning Cheng handed over his secret message to Bai Yuqiao. “Immediately deliver this to Myriad Merchant Hall. Also, if news of Ning Jing’s pregnancy leaks out, our alliance ends!”

Bai Yuqiao still had plenty of power even if she couldn’t get anyone out of Tiger’s Prison. It was easy enough to arrange her own people to guard Ning Jing and Mu Linger. At a time like this, even if Han Yunxi and Long Feiye could rescue them, they couldn’t act rashly. Otherwise, Jun Yixie would definitely notice and act even more prudently. Thus, all Ning Cheng could do now was protect Mu Linger and Ning Jing as best as he could presently.

He, Ning Jing, and Mu Linger were lucky that Bai Yuqiao sought refuge with him. Without her help, nobody would know how things would develop now. Having no other choice, Bai Yuqiao snatched the letter and slipped it into her sleeves. “Ning Cheng, remember your words today. If my senior brother dies, I’ll definitely make you pay with your life!”

As she hastened away, Ning Cheng exhaled in relief. He knew that things were settled now, so all they had to do next was wait…

If Jun Yixie ever found out that he had allowed Ning Cheng and Long Feiye to become allies one day, how deeply would he regret it all? 

By the time Han Yunxi’s group received Ning Cheng’s final letter, it was already morning of the next day and Northern Li’s civil war had begun. The group received both Ning Cheng’s letter along with the latest war news, finally placating their tense hearts. Things had turned out better than expected, leaving them a few days ahead of schedule. As long as Ning Jing and Mu Linger were safe for now, they could set off south with no worries. Bai Yuqiao not only sent people to deliver Ning Cheng’s message, but one from Ning Jing as well. It was addressed to Tang Li, who read it while crouching in a corner by himself. The contents were sparse, but he read the whole thing three times before re-reading it from the beginning again.

“Tang Li, what does the letter say?” Long Feiye asked.

“It’s written for me!” Tang Li shot back. With that, everyone knew the info had nothing to do with the big picture, but was simply a private correspondence between husband and wife. Actually, while Ning Cheng’s letter didn’t mention the location of Tiger’s Prison, Ning Jing’s message outlined it clearly thanks to her careful questioning of Bai Yuqiao. It was unclear what else she wrote, but Tang Li was very calm as he spoke up. “Big bro, you guys should leave early and get back soon. I’ll wait for you here and tell you as soon as something comes up.”

Although he knew his wife had been locked up, he could still remain calm. Just what kind of excuse gave him such strength? What had Ning Jing written? Everyone could connect Tang Li’s attitude with her words, but it wasn’t convenient to ask. 

“Princess, Your Highness, this subordinate will be a burden if I accompany you south. How about I stay here as well? I can help the Tang Clan Head and take care of matters at Medical City and Pill Fiend Pharmacy,” Gu Beiyue said.

Three-Way Black Market really did need someone here to keep in touch with Myriad Merchant Hall. Tang Li was the most appropriate choice as a son-in-law of the Di Clan, but he was impulsive and impatient. With the steady Gu Beiyue at his side, Han Yunxi and Long Feiye felt more at ease. Both of them nodded to agree. The sooner they went south, the faster they could return to launch a rescue mission.

By the time spring arrived, Jun Yixie would have more or less finished his battle with the Northern Li emperor. They had to rescue the hostages first before dealing with him slowly. Actually, Long Feiye was even more impatient than Tang Li to tear Jun Yixie to shreds to avenge Han Yunxi’s humiliation. But all this he hid in his own heart. 

Lightly, he replied, “We’ll set out tonight. No one’s allowed to tarry, we’ll try to make it to the Qingzhou Water City within half a month!”

Although they’d thought out all their plans, Bai Yanqing was an uncalculated risk. He could pop up to disturb their movements at any time. Thus, they were pressed for time for an important task. Not only did they have to find the Qi Sha dagger, but also look for news regarding the Fire of Ten-Thousand Poisons. The best way to deal with Bai Yanqing was to obtain all elements needed to break through the Perplexing Butterfly Illusion.

Night fell. Han Yunxi’s group bid farewell to Tang Li’s side before secretly leaving East Origin Hall. Even Myriad Merchant Hall didn’t know that they’d gone. Their movements represented their security, so Long Feiye wouldn’t reveal it unless absolutely necessary. Despite the rush for time, he’d still arranged for carriages to Han Yunxi wouldn’t be too exhausted. Their carriage led while Baili Mingxiang and Xu Donglin followed behind them. Gu Qishao disliked carriages and simply took the lead for everyone on horseback. He was exceptionally fast; fortunately, Uncle Gao and Xu Donglin were good horse handlers that could catch up to his pace. Long Feiye’s carriages were sturdy enough to take the speed as well, or else they’d overturn ages ago.

Day after day, they galloped south while Northern Li’s civil war grew more and more heated. Exactly 15 days later, Han Yunxi’s group arrived at the Qingzhou Water City. It was located in the border between the south central regions and Tianan. Officially speaking, this was Tianan territory. As an ancient town with long history, it was also the region’s extremely famous “water city.” The name came from the hundreds of tributaries that crisscrossed about the town. Everyone household had a stream by its door; thus, a boat was required for travel. In fact, nearly all of the transportation within the city was done by boat.[1]

However, unlike other water cities, Qingzhou Water City was unique in that its layout resembled a bagua with eight main channels flowing into the town to create an intricate matrix. Its six city gates were located at each of these six main water channels. The center of the town was a sizable lake called Yinyang Lake. (阴阳湖)[2] All of the buildings surrounded this lake in concentric circles that spanned towards the city walls. If you stood at a high point and looked down at the houses at night, you would see a marvelous sight just like a glowing bagua.

It was currently evening. Han Yunxi’s group had already entered the city and was sailing on a boat to an inn. The city’s water channels were extremely festive and adorned with lights. Boats and laughter crowded the streams, with many people signing folk songs as they rowed along. But the closer they drew to the city center, the less lanterns there were. The channels too, grew quiet and still. Logically speaking, it should be most lively in the heart of a city, but Qingzhou Water City had it backwards. 

Two months ago, Long Feiye’s agents had reported that a strange incident had happened here. Every few days, a woman would be murdered. By now they’d already claimed six victims. All of them had died the same way: with their stomachs slit. The weapon used was undoubtedly a dagger. However, when the coroner examined the corpses, they discovered that the women hadn’t died from the slash, but from excessive bleeding from their seven orifices on the head. The reason behind the blood loss was still unknown. Currently, all of the bodies were being kept in cold storage at the justice department. Han Yunxi’s group had chosen the inn located right next door.

“Why are there less and less people now?” Han Yunxi wondered.

When nobody replied, the old boatman spoke up. “Yinyang Lake has seen strange things since ancient times. Nobody dares to get too close. There’s been plenty of feng shui masters who say that the geomancy’s no good close to that lake. It’s never been lively in the city center, but these recent spate of deaths have made it even quieter.[3]

“Fellow guests, this must be your first time at Qingzhou Water City? There’s nothing fun over here. This old boatman urges you to go back if you have nothing else to do.”

Han Yunxi’s group had disguised themselves, but their noble bearing was unmistakable. Anyone could tell at a glance that they were extremely rich guests. The old boatman hadn’t dared to speak up at first, but gave them a reminder after Han Yunxi’s question. Naturally, Han Yunxi’s group had already investigated the cases of death before coming to the town. She spoke up because she wanted to verify the facts she’d heard from the boatman himself. As expected, it was more or less the truth.

All of the victims were women who died the same way. That meant the culprit had to be one person. They only needed to confirm whether the women had been bleeding poisoned blood next. If the bodies still existed, then it was easy enough for Han Yunxi to confirm that fact. 

After settling into the inn, Han Yunxi planned to go to the justice department straight away, but she was afraid that visiting so late at night would only delay her dual cultivation and gave up the idea. Gu Qishao was too restless to stay still, so he silently slipped away once he saw the couple enter the same room…

Constant days of travel, even when riding in a carriage, was exhausting. However, Han Yunxi didn’t abandon her poison storage space cultivation. Once she and Long Feiye finished their dual cultivation training, she simply fell asleep. The next morning they were woken by cries and noisy shouts outside. After getting dressed, she and Long Feiye went out to see Xu Donglin and Baili Mingxiang already waiting outside.

“What’s going on?” Long Feiye asked.

“Your Highness, the justice department’s caught on fire!” Xu Donglin replied.

Alarmed, both Long Feiye and Han Yunxi shot out of the building. By standing on the balcony of the inn, they could see the justice department blazing nearby, now long swallowed up in a sea of flames. It was easy enough to put them out with a water channel right behind them, so why was it burning so fiercely?

“When did this happen?” Long Feiye asked.

“Just then. It suddenly caught on fire before anyone could put it out,” Xu Donglin replied.

“Did they use oil?” Han Yunxi asked. “Long Feiye, let’s go take a look.”

No matter the reason, it had to be a case of arson. Most likely, whoever set the fire wanted to destroy the corpses inside. If time wasn’t so tight, they would have gone over for a look last night.

“Where’s Gu Qishao?” Long Feiye asked. The noise should have woken him up as well.

“I haven’t seen him all morning. Maybe he’s long gone over there?” Xu Donglin suggested.

Gu Qishao was the last person in the world Long Feiye would worry about, so he didn’t ask any more question. Very soon, he brought Han Yunxi to the justice department building. Han Yunxi could smell the thick stench of oil as soon as they drew near. Someone must have used vast quantities of lantern oil to get the fire so big. Even frozen corpses would be burnt to a crisp under these circumstances.

“This fire’s too much of a coincidence,” Han Yunxi said, upset.

Long Feiye was regretful as well, but they couldn’t have ignored their dual cultivation session last night. “Let’s go. See if we can find some clues nearby.”

Han Yunxi refused to budge. “Wait a while. If they can even leave some bones behind, I might try checking those.”

Bleeding from the seven orifices indicated a hypertoxic poison, which could easily seep into the bones. This was Han Yunxi’s only hope left. They ended up going to sit at a nearby tea shop to wait for people to put out the fire. It ended up dwindling somewhat only when night fell. Meanwhile, Xu Donglin had spent the entire day searching for Gu Qishao with no success. 

He hurried back and muttered, “Your Highness, princess, Gu Qishao’s disappeared!”

1. This reminds me of Venice, or maybe Giethoorn in the Netherlands, but realistically speaking we’re probably talking about a place like Suzhou.

2. Yinyang Lake - yin is “moon, shade, gloomy, sinister/ghostly, negative principle,” Yang is "male, positive principle."

3. I did not forget a quotation mark here, check out this confounding grammar rule for details. Yes, the boatman is still speaking in the next paragraph.

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Ruyi's Thoughts

So once again, we go into a mini genre shift as PGC turns murder mystery with a dash of missing person! Hohoho~

Edit: Updated "Yinqing" to "Yinyang Lake" following author corrections in later chapters.