“Hongchen, what are you suspecting?” Xie Lingbi’s voice carried the weight of an elder’s counsel.
With patience, he explained, “Although the identities of these four thieves are unknown, we can roughly guess their backgrounds. Who would dare act so boldly without the support of the Celestial Court? As for their intentions, it’s a puzzle that troubles me.”
Xie Hongchen collected his thoughts, and in the face of his master’s explanation, he couldn’t shake off his guilt. He said, “Based on the traces left by the thieves, I have identified one of them. It should be He Xijin from Shuzhong.”
“He Xijin…” Xie Lingbi frowned, pondered for a while, and said, “That old thing. What is he up to?”
Xie Hongchen replied, “I’m currently investigating.”
Xie Lingbi nodded and said, “Regardless, the Celestial Court openly punishing our sect’s outer disciples with flogging is an unacceptable matter.”
Xie Hongchen lowered his gaze and said, “This disciple understands.”
“How do you plan to handle it?” Xie Lingbi persisted. With his temperament, he would never tolerate being humiliated.
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In the capital, within the inner city.
By the time Di Yiqiu and Li Lu returned to Black Tortoise Hall, it was already lunchtime.
The teacher in the academy hadn’t finished class yet—Di Yiqiu left Huang Rang here and didn’t dare to leave.
He had to watch her carefully. He knew better than anyone how mischievous this half-grown child could be. The artifact resembled a woman and was stunningly beautiful, almost indistinguishable from reality. It looked exceptionally valuable.
If that naughty child couldn’t control himself and accidentally bumped into Huand Rang, what would happen?
He was a cautious teacher, hmph…
Huang Rang had been listening to classes all morning and had gained some understanding of the current situation in crop breeding. After all, she had been imprisoned for ten years, and the world changes quickly. There were already some variations she had never heard of.
Outside the door, familiar footsteps could be heard, and Huang Rang knew it was Di Yiqiu.
They had only spent one day together, yet she could already recognize his footsteps. Then she suddenly realized that the morning had passed by so quickly. It felt like it had disappeared in the blink of an eye.
For the past ten years, time has crawled slowly for her. Suddenly, she was surprised by this moment.
Di Yiqiu nudged her, while Li Lu followed silently, carrying a bunch of bottles and jars.
He had always known that women spent money extravagantly. But who would have thought that even a doll would be so costly? These few things cost as much as half a month’s salary!
White Tiger Hall.
As soon as Li Lu entered, he heard someone muttering, “Strange, master should have returned by now.” Carrying big and small packages, Li Lu sighed inwardly—if he hadn’t spent so long browsing the rouge shops, wouldn’t he have returned earlier?
Di Yiqiu pushed Huang Rang inside. At first glance, Huang Rang saw a tall, strong man dressed in a sheepskin coat with a large knife hanging from his waist. He was holding a large bowl and shoveling rice into his mouth.
“Master!” Upon seeing Di Yiqiu, the man immediately stood up, choking and rolling his eyes.
Di Yiqiu seemed unfazed, waved his hand, and said, “Keep eating.”
“Oh.” Bao Wu squatted in front of the main hall and continued eating his rice.
Di Yiqiu pushed Huang Rang into his study and moved the warm basin closer, placing it by her feet. Huang Ran had a good view from this position, able to oversee the entire room.
In the corner of the room, there was a pot of flowers. In this season, it was surprising to see them still in bloom. The vines climbed the flower rack with green leaves and pink trumpet-shaped flowers.
It looked quite similar to a variation of morning glories.
Next to it was a window, but it didn’t seem to like the light.
As Huang Rang was observing the flowers, Di Yiqiu squatted down, straightened her skirt, and held her hand, saying, “I need to go out for a while. I’ll be back soon.”
“Huh?” Bao Wu, who was eating outside the door, responded. When he turned to look inside the room, he realized that the master was talking to that doll. He glanced at Li Lu, confused, but Li Lu gave him a meaningful look, indicating not to speak!
Bao Wu immediately understood and asked, “Who is this girl? Haven’t you seen her before? Is she new here?”
Li Lu rolled his eyes at him, not bothering to answer.
Di Yiqiu also ignored him and instructed, “Take care of this place until I return.”
After saying that, he turned and left.
As soon as he was far away, Li Lu placed the rouge and powders inside. Bao Wu also entered the room since it was cold outside and the room was warm and sheltered from the wind.
Bao Wu approached Huang Rang and observed her for a while before suddenly reaching out and poking her cheek!
Li Lu rushed over in a flash and forcefully opened his hand, saying, “Deputy Chief Bao! Do you want to die?!”
Bao Wu clicked his tongue in astonishment. “It’s soft and warm. Is it the new magical artifact made by the master? Has he finally started to be more human?”
“What are you saying?” Li Lu, after all, had some camaraderie with Bao Wu and advised him, “Say less in front of the master from now on.”
Bao Wu rolled his eyes but still remained curious about Huang Rang. He asked, “Can you hear me? I’m a deputy chief. If you can hear, blink your eyes.”
Huang Rang stared at the strong man in front of her, unable to respond in time. Her body was out of her control, and only her eyes could move slightly, but even blinking was extremely difficult. By the time she blinked, Bao Wu had already looked away.
Bao Wu wanted to pull Huang Rang’s hair, but Li Lu quickly rushed over like a dog, keeping him away and not allowing him to get close to Huang Rang.
The two of them were waiting for Di Yiqiu when suddenly, footsteps were heard from outside.
Li Lu and Bao Wu froze, and Huang Rang also recognized that it wasn’t Di Yiqiu’s footsteps. Sure enough, a man walked in.
“Lord Wu,” Li Lu greeted him with a smile, bowing to show respect.
Bao Wu appeared much colder and only performed a slight bow. It seemed that he didn’t hold a favorable view of this person.
The man looked around the room and asked, “Where is your Di Yiqiu?”
His tone carried arrogance, indicating that he held a prominent position. Perhaps even higher than Di Yiqiu. Huang Rang speculated to herself.
“Master has stepped out for a moment, and he will return soon. Lord Wu, please wait a moment,” Li Lu said cautiously, showing great care.
The man then walked behind the desk, preparing to sit down, but his gaze swept over, and he saw Huang Rang in the wheelchair. He walked over, causing Li Lu’s heart to skip a beat.
Li Lu accompanied him and explained, “This is a little gadget recently made by the master.”
The man reached out and abruptly lifted Huang Rang’s chin upward.
Only then did Huang Rang get a clear look at his appearance. He was not wearing official attire, just a common robe with gold and red patterns, a jade crown on his head, and a sash around his waist. This attire should have exuded wealth and elegance, but he was too thin—so thin that he seemed to have lost his human form.
Thus, the clothes on him appeared as if draped over a skeleton.
His fingers were slender like withered claws, and his whole person gave off a feeling of being like a withered tree.
My goodness. Huang Rang couldn’t help but inwardly comment, “Even after enduring the soul-locking bone-setting needle, I didn’t become as thin as him. Who is this Lord Wu? He looks more like a ghost than a human.”
He stared at Huang Rang, scrutinizing her with a cold sneer. “This face… Haha, he proposed to this woman and was rejected back then. Unexpectedly, even after a hundred years, he still can’t forget her. It’s truly pitiful.”
His voice was filled with mockery, and Huang Rang’s chin was pinched painfully, but she couldn’t do anything about it.
And this Lord Wu was about to carefully examine Huang Rang. Just as he was about to pry open her mouth to have a closer look, Bao Wu angrily exclaimed, “The master is not here, so it’s better for Lord Wu not to touch his magical artifact!”
Once Bao Wu said this, Li Lu knew it was not good.
Sure enough, Lord Wu kicked out, cursing angrily, “Who do you think you are, daring to obstruct me?!”
Bao Wu, after receiving the kick, was even more defiant, his hand trembling as he moved toward the large knife at his waist. But in the end, he didn’t dare to make a move. Lord Wu sneered, “You, a dog, still want to draw your sword against me?”
Li Lu quickly said, “How could he dare? He is accustomed to being rude and uncivilized. Lord Wu, please forgive the offense. Li Lu will apologize on his behalf.” As he spoke, he was about to kneel, but how could Lord Wu allow it?
He pointed at Bao Wu and commanded, “Kneel!”
Bao Wu was furious but tremblingly held the knife. Li Lu kept signaling to him with his eyes, and the two sides were at a standoff. Just then, someone outside said, “It seems Lord Wu is quite free today, actually coming to the White Tiger Bureau to discipline my subordinates on my behalf.”
Di Yiqiu had returned. He was holding a roll of snowy fur when he entered the room, casually placing the fur on the table.
Li Lu’s anxious heart instantly dropped back into his stomach. He let out a long breath and knelt on the ground. This time, Bao Wu didn’t need him to pull him down; he also knelt and said, “Master.”
Di Yiqiu had already noticed the marks on Huang Rang’s face. She hadn’t seen sunlight for ten years, and her delicate skin was different from ordinary people’s. And this fifth brother had quite a strong grip. Therefore, these red marks were particularly prominent.
Di Yiqiu’s gaze turned cold, but his smile became even stronger on his face. “Fifth Brother, why have you come today? Does His Majesty have any instructions?”
“Fifth Brother, His Majesty…”
A flash of realization struck Huang Rang’s mind. She suddenly remembered that Di Yiqiu’s background was not low. He was the son of Emperor Shi Wenyu of the current dynasty, making him a legitimate prince.
However, Shi Wenyu had many children, and there were princes everywhere, so they were not highly valued.
What was even more peculiar was that Shi Wenyu pursued the elixir of immortality and did not establish a crown prince for a long time. He even worried that his sons might harbor rebellious intentions, so he forced these princes to change their names and expelled them from the imperial family one by one.
As a result, the identity of this prince, Di Yiqiu, became even less noteworthy.
Beside him, Di Yiqiu’s Fifth Brother sneered and said, “I heard that you had a conflict with the disciples of the Yuhu Immortal Sect at the Caishi Market today. His Majesty naturally sent me to see how mighty you, Lord Chief, are.”
“So, that’s the matter.” Di Yiqiu didn’t mind and smiled, saying, “I am just following His Majesty’s decree and enforcing the laws of the court.”
“Hmph. If you provoke them, you better think about how to deal with the trouble they will bring. The elixir of immortality is about to be presented, and His Majesty does not want any disturbances because of it.” As he spoke, he reached out and touched Huang Rang’s face.
“You have made this gadget quite exquisitely.” Although he praised it, his tone was disdainful. “Xie Hongchen holds a real person, while you are here embracing a lifeless object. It’s quite interesting.”
Huang Rang wanted to avoid his hand, but she couldn’t. She disliked this person, both in attitude and appearance.
Di Yiqiu’s fifth brother, on the other hand, seemed to deliberately humiliate her. He pointed his finger downward, sliding it across Huang Rang’s neck, attempting to open her collar. Di Yiqiu walked over slowly, his voice as gentle as a spring breeze: “Since Fifth Brother likes it, I will send someone to deliver it to your residence later.”
…You’re kneeling so quickly… Huang Rang couldn’t describe it. Indeed, he still wants to retaliate against me. She silently thought to herself.
“Haha, you do know how to be sensible. Very well.” The man readily agreed, saying, “Then let Bao Wu personally bring it to me.”
He clearly held a grudge against Bao Wu’s previous actions, but Di Yiqiu’s intervention quelled his anger. This puppet may be fake, but it is also incredibly lifelike.
With her delicate skin and enchanting features, it truly piqued his curiosity and anticipation. He walked away, speaking as he went, “How is the production of the elixir of immortality going?”
Di Yiqiu casually spun the wheelchair, and Huang Rang’s gaze followed suit. Soon, she was facing the wall, unable to do anything but stare at it.
Li Lu and Bao Wu kneeled at the door as Di Yiqiu accompanied his fifth brother outside.
He moved his right hand slightly, and his voice was warm. “The production of the elixir of immortality is going very smoothly. I will take Fifth Brother to see it now.” As he said this, his voice paused. Then his right hand moved like lightning, striking the man in front of him directly in the heart.
The fifth brother reacted, roaring in anger. Scales began to grow all over his body, but it was too late! A crisp sound of bones breaking could be heard, and both of his hands were already broken. He could only retreat until his back hit the wall.
Di Yiqiu’s attack was swift. With two fingers, he pierced through the scales and hit his heart, causing a series of explosive sounds within his body.
As blood surged from his throat and dripped from the corners of his mouth, Di Yiqiu retracted his right hand. His entire right hand had unknowingly been covered in green snake scales!
At this moment, the snake scales on Di Yiqiu’s hand gradually faded, and he smiled faintly, saying, “Success comes from diligence, failure from idleness. Fifth Brother should practice diligently.”
“Di Yiqiu, you! How dare you… Aren’t you afraid of His Majesty?” The fifth brother could hardly believe it. However, his words came to an abrupt end. He collapsed to the ground, his legs gradually transforming into a snake’s tail.
He had turned into a half-human, half-snake monster.
“Master…” Bao Wu seemed to realize the seriousness of the situation only at this moment. Even he, as a martial artist, couldn’t help but lower his voice. Obviously, things were extremely serious.
Di Yiqiu took out a handkerchief and wiped his hands. On the ground, his fifth brother’s lifeless body lay limp, a bit of blood seeping from his chest. It seemed that a seemingly insignificant prick from Di Yiqiu’s fingertip had actually shattered the indestructible snake scales.
Li Lu seemed to realize the situation at this moment. He quickly got up and closed the door, saying, “Master, if His Majesty finds out that the Fifth Lord died here, he will surely investigate!”
His words were filled with urgency.
Di Yiqiu carefully wiped his hands once again and then said, “I didn’t intend to bid farewell like this either, but my fifth brother is impatient and can’t wait for a moment.”
As he spoke, he pointed to a pot of flowers in the corner of the room. The thick vines of the flower were entwined around a wooden support, and the flowers were vibrant and beautiful, resembling morning glories.
Li Lu understood and exchanged a glance with Bao Wu. Bao Wu was still in a daze but finally realized the situation. Together, they lifted the lifeless body from the ground and dragged it in front of the flower.
Initially, the flower was quiet, like an ordinary vine. But as soon as it touched the body, the entire flower bloomed. Its vines slowly wrapped around the body, spiraling and twisting, quickly dragging the monstrous corpse into the flowerpot.
Only then did Di Yiqiu sit behind the desk and ask Bao Wu, “How is the public sentiment outside?”
“Ah?” Bao Wu quickly replied, “I have traveled through three counties in the past month. The Yuhu immortal sect has been propagating the path of cultivating immortality, causing people to neglect farming and pursue immortality. Moreover, there have been numerous cases of poisoning caused by fraudulent elixirs made by folk alchemists. The court should punish them severely.”
After speaking, he handed over the documents from various regions.
Di Yiqiu gestured for him to place them on the table and said, “The Yuhu immortal sect is deeply rooted and not easily shaken. We can only gather evidence and wait for the right opportunity.”
Bao Wu knew very well that they were a legitimate sect. Their senior cultivators could live for hundreds or even thousands of years. Although the Celestial Court had only been established for a little over a hundred years and had attracted some talented individuals, how could they directly confront such a powerful sect?
He could only say, “I understand. By the way, during my journey, I encountered spies from the Yuhu immortal sect. They were secretly inquiring about a woman who is said to be the younger sister of their sect leader’s wife. She went missing, and her appearance resembles that of the sect leader’s wife. The Yuhu immortal sect has been searching for her for many years. It seems that Xie Hongchen, their sect leader’s wife, cares deeply about her. It’s just a sister-in-law, yet they dispatched spies to investigate.”
Di Yiqiu made a sound of acknowledgment and glanced at the corner where Huang Rang was. He didn’t say anything else. He opened the fur on the desk, and Bao Wu couldn’t help but examine it closely. It turned out to be several pieces of well-tanned rabbit fur. The rabbit fur was pure white and smooth. These were the furs that the Celestial Court brought back from the imperial hunting grounds last time.
Bao Wu didn’t think much of it and continued to recount what he had witnessed along the way.
Li Lu brewed tea for both of them, and the three of them rarely sat leisurely in the room.
“Recently, when I passed through Sihe County, more than ten households reported missing children. I conducted a detailed investigation and discovered that some people were impersonating disciples of the Yuhu immortal sect. They used the promise of joining the sect as bait and abducted these children. When the parents arrived at the Yuhu immortal sect hoping to see their children, they realized that such a thing never happened,” Bao Wu said with a heavy tone.
Di Yiqiu connected the dots while sewing the rabbit fur with an ice silk thread, embellishing it with pearls. His hands were one of the treasures of the Celestial Court and even the entire imperial court. He was particularly skilled in creating various delicate and exquisite artifacts. Drawing diagrams of artifacts or doing embroidery work was a piece of cake for him.
Now, using the ice silk as thread and pearls as decoration, he embroidered snowflakes between the two pieces of rabbit fur, creating a beautiful and intricate pattern.
He focused on sewing the rabbit fur, and Li Lu couldn’t help but ask Bao Wu, “Didn’t you investigate the imposter’s whereabouts?”
Bao Wu clicked his tongue and straightened his chest, saying, “Nonsense! Am I the kind of person who turns a blind eye? I immediately dispatched people to investigate, but those imposters left no trace whatsoever.”
Li Lu turned to look at Di Yiqiu, his expression solemn. “Recently, similar incidents have occurred in many other places. Initially, the county magistrate treated them as ordinary missing cases and only sent constables to investigate without reporting to the Celestial Court.”
Di Yiqiu remained silent for a long time, while Bao Wu couldn’t hold it in any longer and said, “Master, I will go to various places to collect the documents, consolidate these cases, and investigate them thoroughly. I refuse to believe that these imposters can disappear without a trace.”
However, Di Yiqiu continued to sew the rabbit fur, and after a while, he suddenly asked, “What’s the latest situation with the Yuan Rong Tower?”
—He always liked to contemplate while making artifacts, effortlessly multitasking without any impact.
“The Yuan Rong Tower?” Li Lu frowned. The current emperor had been seeking immortality through immortality pills for many years and hadn’t attended court for a long time. Now, he resides in the Yuan Rong Tower. His heart skipped a beat, and he whispered, “Does master suspect that this matter is related to His Majesty?”
Di Yiqiu didn’t answer directly; he simply said, “Both the Celestial Court and the YuHu immortal sect have numerous eyes and ears. Since the imposter dared to impersonate a disciple of the Yuhu immortal sect and yet managed to leave no trace, they must have relied on something. Let’s not startle the snake. Retrieve the documents and investigate secretly.”
Li Lu agreed and left with Bao Wu.
Only after they left the room did Bao Wu say, “Fifth Lord finally hit the jackpot today. It’s strange, though; this damn dog has always been arrogant and insolent in the Celestial Court for quite some time. Why did the master suddenly…?” He made the gesture of slitting his throat.
“Hush.” Li Lu made a gesture to silence him, indicating not to mention it again.
Bao Wu thought about the appearance of the Fifth Lord’s death and chuckled, “Regardless of the reason, this damn dog should have died a long time ago. It barks recklessly all the time, but it couldn’t even last a round against our master’s hands. Ha, let me tell you, today, our master truly pulled off a fishing net trick and surprised me, Bao Wu!”
“Deputy chief Bao,” Li Lu looked helpless, “Your language is too vulgar!”