the city gates, it means we’re not too late.” Xiao Pingjing got up, walked to the open window and looked out.
“Seeing that the weather is so clear, the moon will be very bright tonight.
Why don’t we take a stroll over to the government office?”
Lin Xi caught on his line of thought.
“You’re suspecting that besides Officer Qian, the mayor is also involved?”
“Although those who can mobilise fifth-ranked offers are not limited to just the mayor, with such an extensive reconnaissance exercise, I don’t believe the mayor is completely ignorant.” Xiao Pingjing turned back, his eyebrows raised, and he asked with a smile, “What do you think? Such a beautiful day is rare.
Miss Lin, shall we stroll together arm in arm over to the government office and gaze at the moon?”
Lin Xi frowned at him, and said coldly, “Please look again Second Young Master! Today is the first day of the month.
What moon and beautiful day are you talking about?”
Despite Lin Xi’s cutting retort, Xiao Pingjing was only half joking, and his deduction was not wrong at all.
Datong’s mayor Zhang Qingyu was already knee-deep in mud and unable to extricate himself.
Right now, he was as anxious as an ant on a hot pot.
This elected mayor first started out as a deputy magistrate who could only rely on his annual performance to slowly work his way up the ranks.
Later on, after he heard about a chief examiner who had found favour with the previous Emperor and was promoted to a minister, he did all he could to re-establish their “teacher-student” relationship.
With the additional leverage of such a mentor, coupled with his diligence in fulfilling his role, after twenty years of anxious anticipation, Zhang Qingyu finally became the mayor of a state prefecture at the age of fifty.
This made many of his colleagues with similar qualifications and experience very envious.
Because of such a history, he didn’t think twice when a message arrived from his mentor in the capital city, instructing him to carry out an assignment in secret.
He immediately summoned his most trusted aide, Officer Qian, explained things to him and entrusted him to make the necessary arrangements.
At first glance, this assignment didn’t seem like a big deal.
Just before the war started, the Ministry of Defense allocated military supplies to pass by Datong Prefecture via the eastern waterway.
The captain of the first ship happened to be a Datong local whose son was a gambler.
Using the son’s substantial loans as leverage, Officer Qian pressured the captain to deliberately cause a collision at Huwan Gorge in order to delay the delivery of military supplies by a few days.
Zhang Qingyu actually didn’t understand why he was asked to do this.
He thought it was just a result of politics between the different ministries in the capital city – if you step on my foot, I’ll pinch you, and other such matters.
In any case, the Ministry of Defense is responsible for the transportation of military supplies, so even if delays happen as a result of accidents, the repercussions on subordinate governments would not be too serious.
By doing this, he hoped to win favor with his mentor and put himself in good stead for a promotion when the dust settled on this matter.
The plan was successfully executed, but the result was totally unexpected.
The collision didn’t cause the three ships to run aground, but instead, they sank right to the bottom, completely blocking off the waterway for the better half of a month, severing all military supplies on the eastern passage.
Unfortunately, it was at this time that the enemy’s main force suddenly turned on Gannan, almost breaking through Daliang’s easternmost line of defense along the northern border.
After the news of the Changlin heir’s close brush with death, Zhang Qingyu never had a night’s peaceful rest.
He knew better than anyone else that the capital city will be sending a covert imperial envoy to the north.
If he is unable to handle this, let alone a promotion, his whole family may not even be able to live to see the new year.
After more than half a month of panic and anxiety, his mentor finally sent his personal assistant over to deal with the aftermath.
For Zhang Qingyu, who was on the brink of collapse, this was a desperate lifeline.
The personal assistant, surnamed Qin, arrived three days before Xiao Pingjing.
A little over forty, he had a slim figure and bright eyes.
He seemed to carry himself with some elegance, without the usual fawning air that is common across assistants to court officials.
This wasn’t his first time in Datong Prefecture.
He had also been the one to communicate the instructions leading to the incident.
Being well-acquainted with Zhang Qingyu, he immediately offered words of comfort as soon as they met.
“The most urgent task at hand is to cover up the shipwreck as an accident and avoid being caught by anyone with evidence.
Even if he’s angry, Prince Changlin must have a basis for accusation right? Daren, please tell me honestly, have you cleaned everything up?”
Zhang Qingyu’s lips trembled and he didn’t immediately reply.
Don’t leave any evidence behind – he didn’t need someone to come all the way from the capital city to teach him this.
When the three ships collided that night, Fufeng Hall’s small passenger boat happened to be following behind.
The doctors on board tried their best to rescue as many people as they could from the water.
With events unfolding beyond his control, Zhang Qingyu knew that couldn’t keep anyone alive who might carry tales and immediately dispatched Officer Qian to tie up the loose ends.
Even though they ultimately managed to capsize the passenger boat, three doctors still managed to flee with their captain.
If the four of them fled into the wild with neither food nor silver, hunting them down would not have been difficult.
Unfortunately, they were all locals.
If they managed to escape into this big city and find refuge, how could they possibly find them in such a short span of time?
In desperation, Zhang Qingyu sealed the city, ordered their portraits drawn and had men secretly investigate their whereabouts.
Despite the turmoil, when Master Qin arrived, they still hadn’t caught the whiff of a shadow.
As soon as he confirmed there were still four surviving witnesses, Master Qin actively took over the search.
Everyone who could be deployed under the territorial jurisdiction was sent out as sentries, without exception.
Anywhere that was remotely linked to these four people was immediately turned upside down.
Even the reputable Fufeng Hall, which they had initially not dared to touch, was searched thoroughly with a pretext.
These actions were executed with such fanfare and with so little restraint to the extent of being conspicuous, making Zhang Qingyu feel a little uneasy.
“It has already reached this point.
How does daren intend to avoid suspicion? Do you think if you pretend it has nothing to do with you, others won’t suspect you?” Master Qin did not hold back when faced with Zhang Qingyu’s complaints, but soon after said comfortingly, “The war has just ended.
The Changlin heir is seriously injured, and the old prince is still in the northern border and hasn’t made any moves yet.
When I leave for the capital this time, deploy all your most able men.
I will place them along every main road that bypasses the northern border.
Changlin is a military family.
What do they know of undercover investigations? Even if he suddenly acts, we will have advance notice and can take the necessary precautions.”
His hard and soft approach finally calmed the panic-stricken Mayor Zhang.
Unfortunately his words merely sounded nice to the ears, but were empty talk.
Master Qin’s aggressive methods yielded no better results than before.
Three days later, they had still not found the missing persons nor did they find more reliable clues to their whereabouts.
Each day’s disappointment accumulated in his heart, making it difficult for Zhang Qingyu to breathe.
He didn’t know how much longer he could withstand it.
As winter approached, the sun set earlier, and the sky was already dark by the time dinner ended.
Lin Xi did not invite Xiao Pingjing to stay at Fufeng Hall, but the second son of Changlin did not seem to need an invitation.
He took it for granted that he would stay there.
Shopkeeper Huo also went to prepare a comfortable guest room for him.
Neither of them thought to ask Lin Xi first.
Then, Aunt Yun came over to ask “What does Second Young Master like to eat?”
Under these circumstances, even if her shifu had not already instructed otherwise, to drive Xiao Pingjing out now would be unreasonable.
Lin Xi, who was already suffering a slight headache, decided to keep her peace and let them make whatever arrangements they wished.
After dinner, Xiao Pingjing slept for two hours, then got up, rinsed his face and changed into all-black clothing.
After putting on a soft pair of boots, he tied a long sword behind him, then silently left through the back door of the medicinal herb garden.
It was a moonless night, filled only with the specks of stars scattered across the night sky.
Xiao Pingjing easily evaded the night patrol and made his way to the rear wall of the government office.
The layout of the Datong government office was basically similar to other government offices.
The front housed the office while the back housed the residential area as well as a garden and library.
Like the rest, Zhang Qingyu’s study was located in the southeast courtyard by the garden.
After another fruitless day, Mayor Zhang was exhausted.
Though he had laid in bed for a long time, he couldn’t sleep.
He got out of bed impatiently and summoned Master Qin to his study.
“When Master took over the search operations, Master guaranteed that we would succeed in a few days.
What do you have to say now?”
Considering Master Qin’s feelings, Zhang Qingyu’s tone was polite, but he did not conceal his reproach, and his facial expression was unpleasant.
Master Qin pretended not to notice it but instead asked, “To not be able to find anyone using these search methods is very unusual.
Could they have already fled Datong Prefecture?”
The first thing I did that night was to seal off the entire place.
Word has it that the passenger boat’s captain sustained some minor injuries.
If they had tried to escape, Officer Qian would have caught up with them before they even reached the boundary, so they can only sneak back into the city to wait out the storm.”
Master Qin frowned.
“But we’ve already thoroughly investigated everyone with close links to them and none of them exhibited any suspicious behaviour.
If there’s no one helping them, how can they possibly stay hidden?”
“How would I know?” Zhang Qingyu gritted his teeth, slowly losing control of his emotions.
“We can assume the Emperor’s imperial envoy has already left the capital.
Someone may also arrive from the northern border in the next few days.
Our time is running out.
Are we really just going to sit back and wait to die?”
Master Qin looked coldly at him.
“Lord Mayor, right now we’ve lost a few witnesses only.
There is still quite a bit of room for manoeuvring.
Isn’t it too early to say we’re just waiting to die?”
Zhang Qingyu drew a ragged breath and did not respond.
The room fell silent and the atmosphere was a little oppressive.
By this time, it was almost midnight.
Other than the lanterns of the night patrol, the only other light came from the study.
Crouched on the wall, Xiao Pingjing naturally headed in that direction after peering around.
There was a weeping willow in the middle of the courtyard.
Xiao Pingjing leapt up and tapped his toes lightly against the top of the tree to quietly landed on the southern eaves of the study.
In the study, Master Qin’s expression suddenly intensified and he quickly stood up.
Zhang Qingyu thought it was because he suddenly had an idea, and was about to ask when Master Qin gestured forcefully for him to stop.
On the eaves above, Xiao Pingjing stood on the blue tiles and took two steps towards the rear window, his footsteps light, without a sound.
Master Qin’s lips curled slightly in a chilly manner.
Flipping his wrist over, he grasped the copper candlestick and threw it upwards with force, shattering the roof tiles exactly where Xiao Pingjing was standing.
Caught off guard, Xiao Pingjing leapt backwards, overturning the eave tiles.
Before he could find his footing, the shadow of a palm appeared before him, heading swiftly and forcefully towards his face.
Though it took him by surprise, this young man had trained at Langya, and managed to evade it.
However, the palm still brushed past his shoulders, causing him to stumble back as he hurriedly drew the long sword from behind him.
Soon after, the two of them began to fight in earnest along the corridor, and both were taken aback when it was clear that neither was able to gain the upper hand.
At that moment, Zhang Qingyu dashed out of the room, shouting wildly, “Assassin! Catch the assassin!”
The guards on duty outside the courtyard ran in when they heard the alarm.
Xiao Pingjing dared not continue fighting, and after attacking twice with the sword, he found an opportunity withdraw and leave the courtyard.
Master Qin gave chase.
Seeing the wall before him, he impatiently leapt up, and stepping onto the shoulders of the guards below, he drew a spear and threw it at Xiao Pingjing with all his might.
Hearing the sound of the spear whistling through the air towards him, Xiao Pingjing had no time to look back.
Based on the sound, he leapt up, and using that momentum, stepped onto the spear shaft as it flew by, propelling himself over the high wall, quickly disappearing into the night.
Master Qin knew he wouldn’t be able to catch up, so he stopped and calmed down, muttering to himself, “He’s got really good technique.”
Zhang Qingyu slowly crept over, then after a spell, rushed forward in a panic to ask in a trembling voice, “Master Qin….that….that’s…..”
Master Qin replied coldly, “Such an expert must be from the northern border.”
“Someone from the northern border?” Zhang Qingyu’s face paled, and he shrieked, “Didn’t you say that Prince Changlin has yet to make a move, that you have scouts who can give us advance warning?”
Master Qin’s eyes narrowed.
Almost as if he was talking to himself, he said, “Most of Changlin’s generals are military men.
Under normal circumstances, they shouldn’t get here so fast…..this young man, who could he be?”
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