After a brief moment, Dee opened his eyes. Sweat dripping down his troubled face. His breath is heavy and short. He was surprised not to get stabbed. Dee looked around, the enemy that was in front of him ready to stab his sword has now ended up on the ground. There were tons of enemies beside Dee, but now only piles of dead bodies. It was the other four who came to the rescue. Dee rubbed the dust off of his body and painfully got back up. He wiped all the sweat and a few tears away, taking a breath of relief. From not far away, Rui and Yuchi are destroying the other enemies. In just a matter of seconds, the enemies who had the number advantage, are now either fleeing or have already lost the ability to move.
It seems Dee’s plan has worked out at the last second. His plan was to let the other four coil around the enemy backline. When the enemies all jumped Dee, the four would come from the enemy’s backside and counter-attack, surprising the enemy. It’s definitely a bold plan, Dee and others have to buy enough time, hold long enough that they could fully coil to the back. Dee took a risk and almost paid for it, nearly getting stabbed. However, the rescue came just in time. The enemy could not react to this counterattack, fleeing in defeat.
On the far side, Rui and Yuchi are just finishing off the last few enemies. “Leave them alive,” Dee yelled to them. Dee, instead of killing these enemies would like to capture them. Doing this can give them a chance to interrogate, maintaining very useful information.
“Sorry, I almost forgot,” Rui apologized as Dee walked over.
“Check if there are more of them still alive.” Dee gathered everyone and ordered.
“These assassins again,” Rui said frustratingly.
“I don’t think they are the assassins we encountered in Zundian,” Yuchi claimed. “ But I’m not completely sure.”
“Agree,” Dee said.
“Is there any evidence that they are different people?” Rui questioned.
“The assassins last time were using spears and have used poisons,” Yuchi answered. “Also, I think they are wearing different types of clothing. Most importantly, you heard them speak our language right, Rui?”
“I think so.”
Yuchi continued, “The assassins last time spoke a foreign language.”
“Did they?” Rui seemed confused. “I didn’t notice it.”
“I heard them talking in a foreign language,” Dee said. “I forgot to bring up this information.”
Dee briefly thought about the fight in Zundian, something seems a bit off. However, connecting all the pieces together, Dee can now make a good assumption. The assassins speaking a foreign language, to the masked people, to now this village. These three things connect flawlessly together. Dee guesses that those assassins are the masked group seen during Spring Festival day, and these people originated from this now abandoned village.
“Who could these assassins be then?” Dee wondered. He agrees that these people are most likely not the assassins from before, but there is no great evidence to support this bold claim.
Looking at them appearance-wise. These assassins are dressed all black, with some mask covering their faces. Similar to the previous group of assassins, nothing out of the ordinary. Dee closely examined the clothing in specific. By touching it, the fabric felt like cotton. Dee remembered the assassins from before who wore silk-made clothes. One thing Dee found odd, is the mask. The patterns on these masks are unusual, it looks like something on porcelain. Maybe this is indicating something, however, it did not spark anything.
“It’s all done,” Shun interrupted Dee’s train of thoughts. They have gathered all the lived assassins, only two lived, capturing them.
Dee walks over, he plans to get some information out of their mouth. “What’s your name?” Dee asked one of the assassins. Dee did not get a word out of him. The assassins kept his mouth shut. He seems to be really hurting, blood dripping out of his stomach area. “Get him some bandage.”
“Get off of me!” The one assassin finally spoke, as Rui tried to bandage him. He resisted Rui’s help, pushing him away. In the process, his mask fell off, showing his face. He is just a teenage boy.
“Back off for now, Rui,” Dee said, seeing that it was only a young boy. Dee certainly does not want to harm him, his purpose is to learn who these assassins are, and what their purpose is. “We are not going to harm you, just stay calm.”
The boy gulped, still a bit frightened. “Then why did you capture me? Make me a slave and sell it to locals in Chang’an? What a joke,” The boy sneered, showing no signs of backing down.
“Hey, you show some respect,” Rui scolded.
“It’s fine Rui.” Dee calmed Rui down. He walked right in front of the boy and squatted down. “Where are you from?”
“You wanna know?” The boy taunted. Dee squeezes out a smile, it appears the boy has no interest in having a conversation. Dee looks beside, the other assassin captured. He is older but still appears to be a very young man. He stayed quiet this whole time, avoiding any interaction with Dee.
“We are not going to tell you, you know that right?” The assassin finally spoke, his voice showed no fear from being caught, calm and steady. He seemed like a fearless young man.
“Do you guys know who he is?” Yuchi asked, pointing at Dee.
“Of course.” The boy sneered again, talking in a disruptively loud voice. “The famous detective Dee, all those mysterious cases that sound amazing. But in reality just a lackey of the emperor.”
Dee can clearly see Rui’s face turning red. Just as he saw Rui open his mouth Dee interrupted in. “What’s wrong with that? Working for the emperor.”
“Oh, the great Wu Zetian.” The boy laughed. “I don’t get why you people love her so much. You guys only saw the good side of her. The other side is an innocent killing, fake, vicious tyrant.”
The other assassin stopped the boy from further ranting at the emperor. At this point, Dee now knows something. This group of assassins is people that extremely hate the emperor. There are many that dislike the emperor, however, overall wise, she is very beloved in the country. These people might have had past or current issues with the crew, as they are coming after them. It’s still not clear what their purpose is, and who they are yet towards Dee.
“Why are you guys following us around?” Rui angrily asked.
“How about you give us a moment to talk amongst ourselves.” The other assassin proposed.
Dee said, “That’s fine.” He brought the two into a small village hunt. The crew guarded outside, preventing the two from escaping.
“Why would they attack us?” Rui curiously asked.
“Maybe they hate one of us,” Yuchi said. “Or we are doing something that is hurting them.”
“From what they said, I think they really hate the emperor,” Dee added.
“But how is that related to us?” Rui kept asking.
“We are going to find out.”
The crew has waited for some time. The sky is almost completely dark, the two assassins still no signs of finishing. One thought started rising in Dee’s head, he instantly ordered to check on the two. Just as Dee thought, the two have suicided in the room.
“They bite their tongue,” Yuchi helplessly said, showing grief.
“They really don’t want to tell us anything.” Rui sighed.
Dee just turned around, walking out of the hunt. At last, their purpose might end up as a mystery. Dee felt sorry that he couldn’t save the two from suicide, especially that the two are so young. They probably have bright futures if they haven’t entered this dangerous route. Dee will always stay loyal to the emperor and will have no mercy for those that don’t.
“Let’s head back, it’s getting too late,” Dee ordered all. He was afraid that these assassins would attack them again if they stayed too long. Everyone made their way to the carriage, luckily the two coachman are still alive, they are unaware of any assassins. They hop on the carriage, getting out of this unpleasant place.
“What’s wrong?” Dee poked his head out, asking the coachman. The carriage suddenly stopped after only riding for a bit. Dee was continuing to read the book, almost finishing it already.
“Master Dee, there’s a horse blocking our way,” The coachman replied.
Dee jumped down, followed by the others. Dee carried a lamp in order to see clearly. Indeed a tall horse blocking the only route back to Chang’an. The horse is attached with lead to a nearby tree.
“Should we move the horse away?” One member asked Dee.
Dee did not respond right away, this horse is sort of weird in a place like this. “Just hold on for now,” Dee responded.
“Why would there be a horse here?” Rui had the question Dee had.
“The assassins,” Dee simply answered with.
“I would agree with Master Dee,” Yuchi added. “Is only us and the assassins who came to this abandoned village that no one knows about.”
“It’s attached to a lead so it can’t be a wild horse.” Dee further explained his reasoning. “When we first came here, there were no horses. It has got to be those assassins.”
Dee squatted down, on the dirt ground are clear footprints from horses. “Footprints,” Dee murmured.
“There are lots of footprints,” Rui said. “It has to be from multiple horses.”
Dee closely examined those footprints, there are swarms of them. From all those footprints Dee did find something. There are only two types of footprints, with one being the clear majority. These footprints seem rather newly formed, very deep and clear.
Dee told the coachman to hold the horse’s leg. Not the horse blocking the road, but their own horse. Dee took a quick look at the horse’s feet, matching them with the footprints. He then did the same thing with the horse blocking the road. Dee determined that the majority of the footprints are from those types of horses. While their horse had way fewer footprints. This did make logical sense, as if every assassin had a horse, there would be at least ten of them. The majority of footprints are from the horses ridden by the assassins.
“Why would there only be one horse here?” Rui asked another question. “Many of the assassins were slain, so where did their horse go?”
Dee did not answer, however, he does have one in his mind. He brought Yuchi and Rui with him while telling the others to not move. After walking a few yards forward, like what Dee had thought, they found another horse. It’s not attached to any lead, free and running.
“I’m guessing they unattached some of the lead,” Dee told the two. “The horse wandered off by themselves.”
“These horses seem bigger in size than normal.” Rui pointed out.
“I think these are Mongolian horses,” Dee claimed. “Bigger in sizes runs lightning-fast, never seems to be tired.”
“All of their horses are Mongolian, these people probably live in the north, near the horse’s habitat,” Yuchi contributed.
“These horses are so rare in our land,” Rui said.
“That’s because Mongolian horses are most commonly used in wars,” Dee explained. “In the peaceful in-land, there’s no need for them. They are more common north on the land of the Turkic.”
Up north, the big prairie is referred to as the land of the Turkic. Although named this way, Mongolians and other cultures also live freely there. They are completely different cultures that are controlled by their respective rulers. The Mongolians along with some other small cultures have always been jealous of the Great Tang dynasty. Often invading the border, trying to conquer lands. The Turkic are more protective, they won’t offend anyone. But if somebody offends them first, they will start a war.
“These people somehow have access to this many Mongolian horses. They’ve got to be northern people,” Yuchi betted.
“From the north…..” Dee murmured.
“Why is every day so stressful and tiring,” Rui complained while hopping out of the carriage.
The crew managed to squeeze back just before sleep time. Dee can use the rest of the time to reorganize his messed-up thinking. There is so much information and events for him to take in. These unbearable thoughts stuck with Dee for the whole night, and despite being exhausted, Dee just could not shut down his thinking. For a long time, Dee stayed conscious, rolling over and over on his bed. Finally, the fatigue got to Dee, everything quieted down and became a place of peaceful darkness.
Soon, the sounds from reality would kick Dee out of his own world. Dee was unaware of the fact that he had slept. He woke up feeling dizzy, his mind all over the place. He could barely open his eyes, every part of his body is begging for more rest. Dee is unsure of what has woken him up. But very soon, the sound reappeared. It seems someone is at Dee’s doorway.
Dee unwillingly stumbled down the wooden staircase, wondering who would come this early. With a few slow and heavy movements, Dee opened the door. An utter surprise shook Dee completely out of his sleep.
“May we come in?” It is a familiar face, an old friend. The leader of Dali, Xun, along with a few of his people. Xun’s arrival is a pleasant surprise, considering his character and his relationship with Dee. For his old body to come this far, there must be something very important for him to tell.
“Indeed, you may.” Part of Dee wants Xun out of here immediately, but it’s not nice to just reject guests. Remembering that Xun and he are responsible for these murder cases together, Dee did not get affected by personal reasons.
“You are certainly welcomed.” The two exchanged meaningful glare before the guests entered Dee’s place. Xun found a place to seat, right across from Dee.
Their conversation at the doorway seemed to have disturbed the others as well. Just like Dee, Rui sleepwalked down the stairs, with one eye open. “Hmm,” Rui murmured some words, seemingly unaware of the situation.
“Rui?” Xun asked. Although the two don’t have an existing conflict, Rui and Xun haven’t interacted for a while now.
“Master Xun?” Rui rubbed his squinting eyes. After seeing Xun’s face clearly, Rui bowed showing his respect. “Good morning.”
“I’m going to have a private talk with Dee, please avoid,” Xun told everyone else.
“Rui go make us some tea,” Dee ordered.
After the others left for a good distance, Xun opened his mouth. His face straight, as serious as one could be. “So, how is the investigation?”
“I won’t lie.” Dee sighed. “We found lots of evidence, but the chances of finding these killers are looking slim.”
“Well, the emperor told me to check on your progress.”
“Is that what you are here for?”
“Partially. But if you need any assistance don’t be reluctant to ask for help.”
“Speaking of help,” Dee said. Yesterday at the village, Dee generated lots of curiosity that maybe Xun could answer. “Have you heard about YuXian?”
Referring to the book name “YuXian’s sacred manual, Dee wondered what the word YuXian is. Could it be someone’s name, or could it be what those masked people are called?
“Could I get some information about them?” Dee asked.
“From my knowledge,” Xun said. “The Yu’s are a group of people that lives in a village near Chang’an.”
“That’s the shortened name for Yuxian.”
If Xun’s claim is correct, then the masked group Dee tried so hard finding is probably just the Yu’s. “How come I’ve never heard of the Yu’s?”
“I only know them because of one thing.”
“Five years ago,” Xun told. “The Yu’s tried to murder the emperor, but failed.”
“Oh my,” Dee exclaimed, never expecting this kind of story. “Attempt killing of the emperor results in the slaughter of all its family members.”
“For some reason, the emperor was kind enough to only exiling the whole clan out of the country” If one tried to harm the emperor, its family members, even though innocent, will either be brutally executed or exiled completely out of the country. This is a rule that was inherited from past dynasties.
“The whole clan,” Dee muttered. “No wonder why the village is now abandoned.”
“And I think they also took some relic thing.”
“I think it’s some flower used for medication,” Xun claimed. “It was like an additional punishment.”
“They were lucky enough not to be killed if really tried to assassinate.”
“You know Doctor Wan?” Xun looked at the distracted Dee, who seemed to have wandered into his own world again. “I think it was him who attempted murder.”
“Doctor Wan is a Yu?” Dee questioned.
“Of course.” Xun smiled. “That’s the reason why the whole of YuXian is gone.”
It would make sense that Doctor Wan is a YuXian, as Dee remembered he is the author of the sacred manual. The whole thing is starting to wrap around nicely. “Doctor Wan got executed?”
“I believe brutally so.”
“I thought he was a really nice person.” Dee thought about the past. The few encounters Dee has with Doctor Wan suggest that he is indeed very likable. “How come he’d do such a thing.”
“Beyond my knowledge.” Xun shrugged.
The Yu’s being exiled by the emperor might have grown hatred in them. This certainly could be the motives of the two murders committed in the present day. Dee is almost certain these killers are the Yu’s, however, they are still probably hiding inside Chang’an so the case is far from over. Just knowing who they are is not enough, Dee’s gotta catch them.
“Tea for you, and for you.” Rui came in with two delicious cups of tea, serving them to Dee and Xun. Dee is still immersed in his thoughts, completely ignoring Rui’s existence.
“So,” It had to be Xun who brought Dee back to reality. “I also have another thing to tell.”
“Without General Sha,” Xun said. “Some odd things are happening near the border.”
“Thank you for the help today,” Dee thanked Xun while leading him out of the house. Xun just nodded, without speaking another word, he turned and left.
“What did you two chat about?” Rui curiously asked.
“We exchanged some useful information,” Dee said, then he briefly summarized their conversation to Rui. From today’s conversation, Dee has gained a lot. He has vaguely identified the two groups of assassins, who they are, what their purpose is. A big step launched Dee to almost within reach of the desired truth, but the danger is far from clear yet.