The Once Glorious City
“Have you heard about the news?” A young man yelled in disbelief as he skidded down the stairs towards the chilly basement. The man ruthlessly ran down, his steps made annoying squeaking noises with the aging wooden planks.
“Doctor Li died! The disease actually... killed someone,” The young man said, panting heavily.
“I don’t think it’s deadly.” An older man with a well-shaved mustache responded, scrolling through a book. The man looks like he is in his forties, with multiple wrinkles on his face. He’s wearing a hat indicating he is an official. The man is neatly dressed and looks wise and full of knowledge. His beard and mustache build on that already wise look. The man definitely isn’t the most handsome, nor muscular man. However, his mysteriousness can attract lots of women.
“Where did you obtain the news form, Rui?” The older man asked.
“Umm.” the young man by the name of Rui stuttered. “I was buying breakfast for you, and heard it from Baozi, you know he always knows about these rumors.”
“So, it’s a rumor?” The older man questioned. “Didn’t I tell you not to believe these things?”
“Master Dee, it’s kind of a big…..”
“All things aside,” The older man interrupted. His name is Di Renjie, most commonly referred to as Dee. A well-known, respected figure in the city of Chang’an. He is an official, as well as an accomplished detective. His incredible intelligence helped solve many head-scratching cases. To many people’s eyes, Dee might just be the single most intelligent person alive. “Where is my breakfast?”
“Sorry, I forgot,” Rui quickly apologized. “I heard the news and instantly ran back, I can go back now.”
Just before Rui could make it to the stairs, Dee said, “No need.” He smiled at Rui. Rui’s real name is Murong Jinrui, he is Dee’s assistant. He is in every way inspired by Dee, aiming one day to be a detective just like him. Rui has been with Dee for several years now. In Dee’s eyes, Rui is irreplaceable, a true friend. He is smart, obedient, and is an expert at the art of Kung Fu. His help is crucial to Dee. Their friendship is strong as mountains, even a person as cold as Dee sometimes acts oddly warm around Rui.
Rui is approaching his thirties. Years ago, he and Dee met, and since then became best friends. Just like Dee, Rui also doesn’t have the most handsome look. In fact, he is a tad shorter than an average man. But Rui’s face is clean, full of justice. You wouldn’t expect a person like him to ever commit a crime. From his every move, you can see he is full of confidence and courage.
“Have a seat, we will get breakfast later,” Dee added.
The two sat side to side in Dee’s basement. The basement is like a miniature library, often Dee will be here conducting research. Previous solved, unsolved cases, books, and scrolls, ancient myths, all of these could be found. The basement is a private area that only Dee and Rui know. Upstairs it is where Dee lives; despite being an official, Dee still lives in a rather simple house just like how others would. The only thing different from the houses is that, to keep Dee safe, there are always guards protecting him. The houses here are made out of fine wood, every detail crafted to perfection. The inside is fancy, it’s large, comfortable, and warm. These buildings are perfect representations of how magnificent the Great Tang dynasty is.
Some minutes have passed, the two are still sitting in place. Rui seems to have taken a nap. Dee, on the other hand, is quietly reading a book. Recently a sudden emergence of an unknown disease struck Chang’an. Even though Dee is not a doctor, he is still very interested in the occurrence of the disease. The book is a recording of past diseases that have emerged. One particular page caught his attention. LiFeng: A disease spread by cows, causes unusual sweating, sickness, headaches, unconsciousness. The longer the patient is infected, the harsher the symptoms are. This disease occurred 100 years ago down in the south. The disease does not directly cause death. One hundred years ago, doctor Zhuo found a recipe to cure the disease. Recipe: Oldenlandia Diffusa, Ganod…. Unfortunately, the rest of the page containing the information is ripped. “Unusual sweating and unconsciousness,” Dee thought. “This disease might be what we are experiencing.”
Dee slowly stood up, yawned, and turned towards dozing Rui, “Time to make a move.”
“Where?” Dee’s sudden words seem to have taken Rui out of his dreams.
“To get breakfast,” Dee laughed. “And also, let’s go check on Doctor Li’s death, it seems a bit unusual.”
The land of the Great Tang dynasty is huge, an ancient land that’s gone through centuries of astounding history. It’s north connected with the prairie, its south, and east connected with the roaring sea, making it perfect for ships to sail in. Chang’an is the capital, located about the center of the land. It is the most popular and richest city on the land. It is a prosperous city, the most beautiful city of all. Day to night, rainy or sunny, the street would be filled with voices. To keep the road out of traffic, sky bridges are linked from building to building. Not just at ground level, routes are floating in air.
A flowing river separates the city into two. With steadily built bridges making crossways. Lily Pads and flowers sit on the tranquil water. But do not ever drink from the river, people wash their clothing here. An activity a newcomer must-try is the boats. Man-made pathways of water make it possible for the boat to travel around the whole city. Sitting still on the boat, observing all kinds of people is Dee’s hobby. Often he’d be inspired by the surroundings and generate some beautiful poems. Everyday newcomers desire to get in Chang’an, adding to the ever-growing population.
Strings attached from one building to another, across the narrow pathways. People hang their washed clothing, with drops of water dripping down. An old saying is, if the drops of water land on your head, you are guaranteed misfortune for the rest of the day. This seemingly ridiculous saying adds vitality and liveness to the beautiful sight of Chang’an.
At night, the lights of the city shine particularly bright. People hang lanterns, decorating their houses. Even with the sky completely darkened, a man could still find his way home. Architectures, palaces, the place is a piece of artwork. Every single line is drawn to perfection. It is the busiest and most charming city, the streets filled with people. Even many foreign-born visitors from the westerns are here to admire, appreciate the beauty. Festivals, celebrations happen every few weeks. These wonderful moments are just add-on’s to the already extraordinary visual feast.
“Today seems awfully quieter than before,” Dee sighed.
“Obviously the disease is scaring people away.”
“Hopefully it takes a turn soon.”
“I miss the old days,” Rui cried.
“Normally the streets are full of energy. Foreign visitors wandering around, street vendors shouting to invite customers in. Lousy conversations between neighbours, little kids running around chasing butterflies.” Rui jumped up and down, using his hand gestures to best describe the image. “Even the annoying sound of stupid carriages vanished.”
“Us two are going to retain all of those.” Dee and Rui synced as they stared into each other’s eyes. The two never lack confidence.
Doors and windows shut tightly, as Dee walked past houses he could hear people’s chatters. But when he glanced over, the sound dims, almost like it’s afraid of him. Dee is still not used to the awfully quiet streets.
For the past week, after the first case of the disease, fewer and fewer people have been seen on the streets. At first, people thought it was just a normal sickness. However, as days went by, some went unconscious, more and more of them showed symptoms. People started to be in a tremendous panic. The emperor had to step in, telling everyone that the disease will not cause death and that it will be soon cured. To further stop the disease from spreading, the emperor strongly encouraged people to stay home, be as isolated as possible. There will be guards that wander around stopping people from grouping up. She locked down the whole city, not allowing people to leave or enter without permission. Now the rumor of the disease-causing death is just scaring away more people from ever stepping onto the once busy street.
Dee could not count how many closed signs he and Rui have passed. Restaurants and shops are completely unable to operate. While on the way, there are even people littering out their windows. Dee felt disgrace seeing pieces of eaten lettuce just thrown onto the street. It’s a shame to him that the most advanced and charming place now became a place full of unpleasantness.
Dee and Rui walked for a bit before stopping at a local tavern. The tavern is called Ruyi’s tavern. It is a small two-story traditional building, another business on the side of the streets. The decoration is not imposing, rather ordinary and boring, but many still make daily visits. Dee is one of them. The place is known for its great food and drinks. People often gather here when having a celebration.
On his way to the tavern, Dee got a little surprised that the streets were this empty, many of the people he often sees disappeared. However, Ruyi’s tavern is still open. Dee and Rui entered and sat at a table. Just as they sat down, a woman came walking down the stairs from the second floor. Her name is Ruyi, the owner of the tavern. Her steps were gentle and polite. Her face, small but delicate. She is a thing of beauty, a man could die for her.
“Oh.” Ruyi seems to be a little surprised about Dee’s arrival. “I thought you weren’t gonna come Dee.”
“I had to do some research,” Dee replied. “Also, considering the circumstances as of right now, going outside could be dangerous.”
“The disease is causing lots of trouble for people,” Rui added.
“I might have to close my tavern for a bit.” Ruyi sighed. “Did you guys hear about doctor Li’s death?”
“I heard it from Baozi,” Rui replied. “Didn’t the emperor say the disease is not deadly?”
Dee did not reply. He sat silently, thinking. For the past week, since the first case of the disease appeared, Dee has been in his basement conducting his research, finding information. Small diseases here and there happen every twenty or so years in Chang’an, but a big outbreak like this hasn’t happened in a while. “Could this disease be spread intentionally or is it just a normal disease outbreak.” This thought has been troubling Dee for days. The death of Doctor Li makes the entire situation more suspicious and interesting. Dee is starting to believe that there is something much bigger hiding behind this disease outbreak. Dee is almost positive that he saw something suspicious a day before the first case, but he can’t seem to remember. Dee put his hand on his head, slowly squeezing it, forcing it to work.
It was the day before the first case. The annual celebration of the New Year in the Great Tang dynasty. On this day, the city of Chang’an will host the biggest festival of the year, the Feast of Bliss. On this day, performers from everywhere gather in Chang’an and perform for the whole city. People will put even more lanterns on their houses, blessing words paste on their doorways. Windows show shades of gleam, every corner is covered with illuminations. Sleeping this day would be a waste, as the contrast of darkness and bright lights are a sight to embrace. Unlike any other regular night, this night is bustling with lively voices. People having fun, drinking expensive bottles of alcohol, playing mahjong. They will also set off firecrackers, and at night some people will put lanterns in nearby waterways, creating a magnificent flowing river of lighting.
The Feast of Bliss is a festival for the officials, generals, and the emperor. The best of the best performers all over the world will perform one by one for the emperor. The festival is held inside the Royal Palace. The whole palace is decorated with lanterns, paired up with the luxurious gold colour of the palace. It makes the festival one of the most amazing events in the world. Many will say that attending the Feast of Bliss is like they are in heaven. The amazing sight, drinks, cuisines, and performances give a feel of extreme joyous, just like experiencing heaven. Dee, however, is not interested in these celebrations. On that day, instead, he was solving a mystery case.
“This missing jewelry is just hidden inside that wooden tray,” Dee said calmly, with confidence. People around Dee swiftly went to check the wooden tray and found the missing jewelry inside.
“Thank you, Master Dee,” A chubby man spoke in excitement. “My parents inherited these precious things, they are like my whole life.”
“Do you want to know who stole it?”
“That would be great.”
Dee started to roam around the room before stopping in front of a girl. “She did it all.”
The girl seemed to be a little shocked by Dee’s words.
“What?” The man seemed to be in disbelief.
“She is your maid, she can come into your room easily,” Dee explained. “She simply used a pill to put you asleep by serving you tea. When you are asleep she then hides the pieces of jewelry in the tray. Then, she returns and puts the jewelry in her room, grabbing the fake version of the jewelry using the same technique and putting it in your room, so you won’t notice it going missing. But, you walked up before she could do so. You can check if the jewelry found in the tray is fake.”
“Indeed is fake.” The chubby man exclaimed.
“Any evidence?” The girl did not back down.
“You can easily access both the teacup and the tray. How come you never noticed the tray being heavier?” Dee lifted the wooden tray. “The weight of it is dramatically different with and without the jewelry.”
Dee looked at the girl. The girl, however, avoided eye contact. “Now, the real jewelry is in her room, she did not have time to get it out. If you want we can go search her room right now and find another pile of jewelry, the real ones.” Dee put the final nail in the coffin.
The girl pleaded guilty, and Dee left with another solved case in his achievement. Rui did not come with Dee this time. Dee wanted Rui to enjoy the Spring Festival celebration and gave him a day off. As nighttime arrived, Dee was feeling a little drowsy and was ready to relax. On his way back home, a street performance attracted Dee’s attention. It was a show Dee had never seen before in past celebrations.
“Now I’m going to do some magic,” The performer shouted towards the audience. The performer is wearing a mask, a foreign-looking one. The performer started to speak in a foreign language. It looks to Dee like the performer was channeling a spell. After about five seconds, the stage now suddenly covered with fog. Dee could not see through the fog. However, it looks like the performer was adding things to a stove and mixing them. This time after fifteen seconds, the fog cleared out itself. In the performer’s hand, there was a pill-looking object.
“What is that thing?” Dee muttered.
“It’s all finished.” The performer said mysteriously. Walking toward the crowded audience.
“Now, this pill has a special effect. Anyone who eats it will gain enormous strength for a few minutes. Now, who wants to try?” The performer asked.
A brave audience raised his hand and stepped onto the stage. The performer handed him the pill. After a brief pause, the brave audience took in the pill. It appears to have no immediate effect.
The performer said, “Try lifting something.”
The brave audience doubtfully strolled toward the stove, lifting it easily with two hands.
“Try doing it with one hand,” The performer added.
The result is the same, as the stove was easily lifted even with one hand.
“Thank you, thank you.” The performer greeted as the audience gave applause. “Now, I also have a second pill.”
The performer grabbed another pill out of his pocket. “This is a pill that will make one weaker.” The performer shouted. “Who is the strongest here?”
“Chef Qi,” One of the audience shouted, pointing to chef Qi who is on the side cooking food. The chef was built like a mountain, boulder shoulders. He certainly looks the strongest here.
“I have to prepare dishes for people.” Chef Qi responded, looking a little awkward.
“Don’t worry, after you’ve lost your precious strength, I’ll make sure to give it back to you.”
Chef Qi didn’t move.
“Additionally,” The performer added. “If you come up I’ll give all of the audience a small gift of mine.”
The audience cheered in excitement. One of them said, “Chef Qi, just take the pill, nothing will happen.” Finally, Chef Qi came up on stage. After a pause, he took the pill.
“Try lifting the stove.”
Chef Qi walked up to the heavy stove and proceeded to lift it. “I can’t,” He shouted and collapsed to the floor, already exhausted.
“And that is the power of magic,” The performer shouted. He then turned towards Chef Qi and handed him a cup. “Inside this cup is a special kind of medicine, after drinking it, your sickness, pain, headaches will all go away. After you’ve drunk the medicine, it will cause some sweating and will feel extremely hot. But that is all part of the process.”
“This will be my gift for you,” The performer said as he gave the cup of medicines to the audience. Dee kindly rejected the seemingly nice gift.
“Thank you for watching my performance,” The performer said. In the sound of applause, the performer vanished away.
Dee turned around, ready to head back home, and suddenly he saw a group of people wearing similar masks as the performer. Sitting on the side, just observing the audience. Dee didn’t want any trouble, he just walked away.
“It is pretty hot,” A random audience said to another. “Look at all my sweat.”
“THAT’S IT,” Dee suddenly shouted out loud. It certainly scared Ruyi and Rui.
“The cup of medicine causes sweating, the same symptoms to this disease,” Dee thought to himself. “These people with the foreign mask must have something to do with this disease. But, who are they? What are they trying to accomplish? Is the death of Doctor Li also done by them?”
Dee’s thoughts got stuck here. There are still many questions to be answered, and this situation might worsen as time goes on. Dee now has a feel that Doctor Li’s death is a planned murder, relating to this group of people. A suspicious group, never seen before, suddenly came to Chang’an. Then, bad things started to happen.
“Master Dee,” Rui called. Dee was so concentrated on his thinking that he did not even hear Rui calling him.
“Master Dee,” Rui repeated, tapping Dee’s shoulders.
“Sorry, I had something in my mind.” Dee finally noticed Rui calling him. “Is the breakfast ready yet?”
“Here,” Ruyi said. “Delicious stuffed buns.”
“Rui, finish the breakfast quickly, we have to go,” Dee said in a hurry.
Dee took two bites of the stuffed buns before standing up. “Hurry, we have to go.” Dee looked at Rui.
“But, I’ve only taken a few bites.” Before Rui could finish his sentence, Dee already left the tavern.
“Wait for me, Master Dee!” Rui shouted, taking a few more bites.