Chapter 45 Rising Wind: Ailao
The entrance to the tunnels running underneath the streets of Chang’an is located on a small street between the yamen and the Imperial Prison. Troops of soldiers occasionally patrol the area, but it was never deemed as something in need of being guarded. Following behind Cong, Feng Luodi and Situ reached the entrance to the tunnels and was just about to go down when they heard calls from behind them.
“Your Grace, please wait for us!” Feng Luodi turned around and saw a few men dressed in the scrubs of the royal physician’s running towards them, led by Physician Zhou, whom she had met before.
As the physicians approached them, Feng Luodi saw that they each held a few masks in their hands. However, it was a little different from the masks she had seen before.
“Your Grace, please put this on before going down. The poison in the area beneath the statue would be unimaginable, I’ll have to go down with you guys to come up with a suitable antidote.” Physician Zhou handed out the masks to Situ. “Put these on, they can purify the air you breathe in.”
“Okay.” Situ passed the masks to Feng Luodi and Cong, carefully putting it on his face.
“Physician Zhou.” Feng Luodi curtsied towards the physician, and glanced at Situ. I had forgotten to thank him for what happened the other time! But it seems that there is no need for such courtesy between the two of us.
“Miss Feng.” Physician Zhou smiled at her.
“Now that everyone has arrived, let’s head on in.” Situ said to the attendant.
Following his lead, the group of them headed into the dark tunnels. Cong was evidently familiar with the tunnels, as he led them through the endless maze of dingy corridors and corners that all looked alike. Finally, he paused in front of a door, and turned to face the rest.
“The room containing the base of the statue is behind this door, and the materials used for the regular maintenance of the statue is kept inside as well.” He took the key from Situ, and unlocked the door.
A puff of pink cloud came rushing towards their faces as soon as the door was open, and Feng Luodi’s eyes widened in fear. Thank god we had met up with the physicians before we came down! Imagine the amount of poison we would’ve inhaled if it weren’t for these gas masks!
The few physicians stopped Situ from going in immediately, and instead went in ahead themselves. Before long, they quickly backed out of the room and signalled for the entire group to retreat out of the tunnels. The attendant looked at Situ for his approval, and Situ nodded without hesitation. He had known the physicians personally, and trusted their judgement. Cong locked the door, and led the way to the surface again, the rest filing out behind him. When they finally reached the air, all of them ripped out their masks and breathed in the fresh afternoon air.
Physician Zhou spoke up urgently. “Sir, the situation inside is very bad. The various poisonous parts of oleander had had their toxins extracted and left in the room, creating the extremely poisonous cloud that we saw in the room. There were holes bored at the base of the statue, and they were all filled to the brim with oleander juices.”
Physician took in a deep breath, and continued. “The juice in the holes have long since diffused into the entire statue, and evaporated into the air when the sun shone onto the statue in the day. These poisonous toxins were spread through Chang’an with the seasonal winds, afflicting many of the citizens. However, using this method caused the poison in the air to be greatly thinned out, and that was why the traces of poison we found in the patients’ systems were inconclusive. Luckily, the poison had also dissolved into the rainwater that ran down the statue during the light drizzle just now, where it immediately turned the water red.”
Another physician chimed in. “Your Grace, please catch the people responsible for this as soon as possible! This is nefarious!”
Physician Zhou added. “Yes. The only way to stop the poison from spreading throughout the city would be to destroy the city, and to cleanse the entire area around the North Plaza.”
Situ’s face was grim. “The statue represents the roots of our kingdom, and it will be ominous if we destroy it, regardless of the reason. It’s not the citizens of Chang’an that I’m worried about, but the people from the other provinces. When stories spread, the truth is often twisted, and the rumours become exaggerated.”
“What should we do, then?” Worry was obvious on the faces of the few physicians.
“That’s something that the Administrator and I should be worrying about, not you. All you have to do now is to focus on treating those in the city already poisoned by the oleander toxins, and to come out with a plan to destroy the source of the poison.”
“Of course, sir. We will see to it immediately.” The physicians excused themselves, and left hurriedly to find an antidote for the poison.
Situ called the attendant over. “Tell the Chief Minister to send all information he has on the two aides to my household. Do not bring them in immediately, I have other use for them.”
The attendant nodded, and quickly left to report to the Chief Minister.
Meanwhile, Feng Luodi looked on as Situ gave out clear and concise commands to the physicians and the attendant, her eyes starry and full of admiration. When Situ turned to look at her, she quickly looked away, and pretended to be interested in the scenery.
“Let me send you back. Come to the Jiang household if you wish to know how the case develops over the next few days; I’ll be there.” Situ suggested.
Feng Luodi poked fun at him. “Aren’t you going to order me around as the Duke of Anping, or do I get a pass?”
Situ smiled. “Do you want me to do that?”
“Nope.” Feng Luodi shook her head, and grinned. “Then we wouldn’t be equal anymore.”
The two of them looked at each other, and laughed out loud. The journey back to the Feng household was now one filled with laughter and smiles.
As soon as Feng Luodi entered the household, Situ snapped his fingers. Seemingly out of nowhere, three of the Covert Guard1 appeared behind him.
“Were you listening to our earlier conversation?”
“Good. I want you to investigate the background of the two aides as well. Keep a close watch over them, and report to me immediately if you see anything suspicious.”
It was a few days later when Feng Luodi visited the Jiang household. As she entered Jiang Moyin’s courtyard, she saw two men reading the bamboo slats in front of them intently. One was dressed in a casual white robe, misty clouds embroidered along the front of the robe. He sat by the stone table, a concentrated expression on his face as he read the scriptures carefully. The other was dressed in clothes black as night, golden embroidered drakes crawling across his robe. He leaned casually against a stone pillar by the corridor, a bamboo slat open in his hands. Rays of the morning sun filtered through the buildings and bathed them in a warm light. I’ve never seen Situ reading before; he looks so quiet and serious when he reads.
Feng Luodi placed the lunchbox in her hands on the stone table, drawing the attention of the two men. Situ put down his bamboo slat, and walked over to the stone table, casually opening the lunchbox, revealing snacks and wine from Autumnal Ombre.
Jiang Moyin smiled, and looked up at Feng Luodi. “Since when did you pick up the habit of constantly feeding others with food? Is it because you’re fed up with being fed by Miss Qi?”
Feng Luodi sat down and poured two cups of Autumnal Ombre. “Hey, don’t say that! I enjoy being fed by her! My resentment is at the fact that she has started feeding others instead of me.” She looked pointedly at Jiang Moyin.
Jiang Moyin laughed. “My, my. Haven’t you become much more witty?”
“Nothing compared to you.” Feng Luodi passed a cup of wine to him, and handed another to Situ.
“I’d thought that you’d be very concerned about the development of the case, seems like I was wrong.” Situ said nonchalantly.
“You would have gone on to investigate the case regardless of whether I was there or not, so there was no reason for me to come at all.” Feng Luodi avoided his eyes, and did not give a reason.
Situ did not reply, his eyes looking intently at Feng Luodi.
Feng Luodi’s eyes widened. “Were you really waiting for me to proceed with the case? Oh! How was I supposed to know that!”
“Is that my fault, then?” Situ’s voice was flat.
“Nope, it’s on me.” Feng Luodi looked away, feeling as if she was being disciplined. “Let’s proceed with it as soon as possible, then! Do you have the required manpower to do it?” Feng Luodi smiled, trying to make up for it.
Situ did not react, and continued staring at her. Feng Luodi started panicking, and glanced at Jiang Moyin for help. That was the last straw for Jiang Moyin, who could not contain himself and burst out laughing. “Just look at her expression! Stop teasing her already!”
Situ’s face softened, and a hint of mischievousness appeared in his eyes. Ignoring the burning gaze of Feng Luodi, he calmly took another swig of wine. Feng Luodi was perplexed, and turned to Jiang Moyin. “Why is he teasing me? I always thought he’s a solemn and serious person!”
“Perhaps,” Jiang Moyin swirled his cup of wine, and tried to contain his laughter, “he is just bitter that the cold medicine that he took so much effort to prepare had been wasted.”
Feng Luodi blinked, and thought for a while. I remember catching a cold a few days back when we investigated the statue, but even I’d thought nothing of it. Did Situ prepare the medicine for me? She quickly put on her best puppy eyes. “I’m sorry, Situ. I should have teared and gratefully accepted your kindness and came by the next day.”
Situ rolled his eyes, and continued drinking his wine, ignoring Feng Luodi’s plea for updates on the case. Feng Luodi sighed, and looked at Jiang Moyin. Seeing that smile on her brother’s face, she quickly snatched the cup of wine out of his hands and kept it out of his reach. “You’re sick and not to drink any alcohol!!” She huffed loudly.
Jiang Moyin was dumbfounded. “But I’ve completely recovered! Look, fit as a fiddle! What’s more, you’re the one that poured this wine!”
Feng Luodi looked away, hugging the cup of wine close to herself.
“Fine, fine. I’ll tell you what I know.” Jiang Moyin laughed. “The yamen did an autopsy on Chief Sun’s body, and concluded that he had died of oleander poisoning. We suspect that his two aides murdered him.”
“What about the poison in the statue?” Feng Luodi was more concerned about that.
Jiang Moyin pluck the cup of wine from her hands, and refilled a cup for himself. “The two aides planted it there after they had taken over the key from Chief Sun. They had been spotted interacting frequently with the Ailao2ambassadors that are currently in the capital.”
“The Ailao ambassadors?” Feng Luodi was confused. “Is that a country?”
“It’s a country off to the west of our kingdom. They had encroached on our territory many years ago, but had quietened down after the Defender-in-chief3 had repelled their advances forcefully with his troops.”
“Oh, I see.” Feng Luodi nodded, deep in thought. “Then why didn’t we bring in the two aides immediately for questioning? We will be able to learn more after we interrogate them. Anyway, doesn’t the situation escalate much more if it involves the Ailao ambassadors?”
“But we need to catch them in the act; it’ll serve as much stronger evidence.” Situ interjected casually.
Jiang Moyin nodded. “We have been informed that the aides had left the city in the morning, heading for the oleander plantation in the hills. We believe that they will soon deliver the extracts to the base of the statue, and that’s when we’ll catch them red-handed.”
“Indeed it will – but how will you do that?” Feng Luodi raised a concern. “Wouldn’t they know that the entire North Avenue has been evacuated? Will they be silly enough to walk right into the trap?”
Jiang Moyin smirked. “If they were smart, they wouldn’t have collaborated with the Ailao ambassadors right under our noses.”
Feng Luodi kept quiet as she pondered his words, and took a sip of the wine she had brought.
“Argh. It’s so strong!” Distracted, she had forgotten that she wasn’t drinking the sweet osmanthus wine of Manchun Tang, but the stronger homebrew perry of Autumnal Ombre.
“Not a trace of humility, huh? Praising the wine from your own shop.” Situ’s voice floated over lazily.
Feng Luodi rolled her eyes at him. Is the man sitting in front of me the Situ I know? Seems like an imposter to me…
Jiang Moyin watched from the side as the two of them stared at each other, his smile much smaller than it was.
At this moment, Lu Bo walked into the courtyard. “Grand Tutor, the Administrator had sent word that him and a few of his officers are bringing in two men to the household.”
“Let them come straight to my courtyard.” Jiang Moyin answered.
“Yes, sir.” Lu Bo quickly left to prepare for the arrival of the Administrator and the suspects.
Jiang Moyin smiled at Situ. “You’re the first person to use my private household as a temporary yamen. Do you really think that this is the way to treat a sick patient who needs his rest?”
Situ looked at him coolly. “Patient? I wonder who was the one who just declared he was fit as a fiddle a few moments ago?”
Jiang Moyin was speechless, and Feng Luodi burst out in laughter at his expression. It seems that Situ is the wittiest, out of all of us.
- Members of a group of secret agents/soldiers under the command of a powerful institute/person in old days. The Chinese characters translate directly to “Dark Protectors”, which I felt was a little too fantasy-ish. ↩
- A historically factual country that had popped up in Ancient China. ↩
- Father of Xue Yiqi. ↩