“I have some things to tell.” Dee gathered all members of the crew around a table. “There is something that needs some discussion around.”
Dee’s words attracted everyone’s attention. Dee can tell many are still not in the mood. “I need some volunteers to go on a brief trip to the northern border.”
“I can volunteer.” Rui jumped up.
“Rui and……” Dee scanned across the room. Some are injured from the fight last afternoon. “Yuchi?”
“Emmm.” Yuchi showed some unwillingness, he looked around helplessly.
“Master Dee,” Rui said. “I don’t think Yuchi is comfortable going, he’s injured.”
“If that’s the case, I just need someone to go assist Rui.”
“How about,” Rui suggested. “I go by myself.”
“I don’t think that is an appealing idea,” Dee rejected Rui’s suggestions.
“Let the others stay in Chang’an, who knows what comes next,” Rui enthusiastically said, trying to make his point across. Dee took a deep breath, he is finding it difficult to make a decision. Is not that Dee doesn’t trust Rui, in fact, Dee thinks Rui is very capable and reliable. Even though with this in mind, Dee still feels insecure sending Rui alone. Dee does not want to risk Rui’s safety.
“Master Dee, just trust me.” Rui confidently patted his chest. “I promise nothing bad will happen.”
“Fine.” Dee chose to trust Rui, he believes Rui could easily complete the mission. However, some parts of Dee still is unsure of this decision, but Rui seemed really committed to his idea.
“I’ll for sure complete whatever the mission is.” Rui raised his voice, making a statement.
After less than no time, the crew went past another noon. Counting today, there are still five productive days left before the Lantern Festival, which supposedly is still going to be held even with the presence of this disease.
Dee led Rui out of the house, it’s time for him to make a move to the border. “Be careful.” Dee reminded Rui before he rode off on his horse. Rui could be too hot-headed and energetic sometimes.
“I’ll be back in about less than two days,” Rui shouted while leaving off toward the north.
Dee waited until Rui was completely out of his sight before turning around. Now, Dee has to complete his own quest as well. Dee seated down, wondering what he could do. “YuXian,” He muttered. Dee rushed down to the basement, flipping through pages of books. None of which had anything to do with YuXian. Their story is very much unknown, hidden in the breeze mist.
Dee ordered Yuchi to return to Dali, which Dee hopes has some recordings of YuXian. Yuchi badly hurt his left arm, which got painfully stabbed yesterday. Dee watched as Yuchi vanished, a feeling of loneliness struck him despite many still around. However, Dee knows this is not the time to feel down. Quickly reorganizing his feelings. There is not much for Dee to do, maybe only reading. Dee still has some pages to go with YuXian’s sacred manual given by Tianlan. For the entire afternoon, Dee focused his mind on finishing off the book. “What could the white powder be?” Dee thought.
Dee spent many hours finishing the book, yet he did not find what he wanted. Dee thought he might’ve missed something, so he scrolled through every page again. Just as Dee is about to give up, a thought came through his mind. “What if the white powder is just a distraction?” Thinking about it, this actually would make sense. The white powder was only present near the window, inside the room only the letter had the white powder on it. If the dropping was accidental, then there should be some white powders inside the room, spread on the floor.
“If this is really the case, what would have poisoned General Sha?” Dee asked himself. From the top of his head, Dee could not figure an answer right away. It won’t be time-efficient for Dee to just sit here deliberate an answer, the best way is to revisit the mansion yet again.
Dee brought only Shun with him while letting the others rest for a day. It felt weird not having Rui beside him, at least Rui would be back very soon. After talking to the guards, Dee entered the mansion like usual, bringing the invaluable manual with him. At the request of Dee, the death scene would be kept exactly identical before the Lantern Festival.
From top to bottom, shelves to desks, Dee rummaged the whole room making more of a clutter. He kept a note of what could’ve poisoned the victorious general. The leftover tea on his desk, a wooden flute stored on the shelf, the poison could even just be food he ate during dinner. All of these are potential causes, but Dee is still a hundred miles off of knowing what is for sure. Dee put his hand over his face, rubbing it to extrude a moment of frustration.
“Clank.” A loud blast from behind cut off Dee’s already disconnected thought process. Shun apparently unintentionally knocked something down. Dee looked behind, Shun disorderly hasted to put the object back in its place. However, he was in too much of a hurry, the object wobbled before accelerating to the floor for the second time. Shun reacted almost instantly, fixing his mistake by snatching it right as it was about to hit the floor.
Dee just stared on the side, with a moment of confusion. He watched as this time, Shun successfully returned the object to its place. Just as Dee moved his sight away, he skimmed with the side of his eyes, something interesting. Dee stood up from his crouching, moving straight there.
A clay-constructed incense pot, with some burnt-down incense, caught Dee’s attention. After taking a close look, Dee instantaneously grabbed the manual put it right beside him. He flipped through the pages at lightning speed, while not leaving out any crucial information. “Found it!!!” Dee almost shouted out but kept it to himself. A long-lost smile appeared on his face.
Phantom Maze Incense, a product of many different materials. Some harmful, others not. Ancient people use this drug as a way to please themselves. The smell of this poison is fragrant and addictive. Although not deadly, the drug has caused many people to pass out, it was officially banned for any use in the year 597. “Seventy years ago.” Dee referred to this drug. Dee skipped through the middle of the page, straight down to the symptoms section. Listed symptoms: Hallucinations, coughing, headaches, inability to move, difficult breathing, weakness.
“This is exactly it!” Dee remarked while double-checking the page. The illustration as well as the symptoms suggest that the incense is the source of poison. Then, this also suggests that the white powder is just a smart distraction these killers used. Although finding the source of poison does not directly indicate where these Yu’s are, now Dee can figure out the whole murdering process.
Dee lightly touched the burnt-out incense, it crumbled down with the lightest of touch. However, leaving some red pieces of scraps. Dee picked up one with his finger, it stuck right on. Dee wondered what this is. Looking beside at the rest of the unused incense, he realized. This is what killers wrapped the incense with, camouflaging it with the rest of the incense.
The whole process unexpectedly popped into Dee’s head. While no one is in this room, the killers snuck in, secretly exchanging the regular incense to this poisoned one. Then, all they have to do is wait for the incense to burn and affect General Sha.
Organizing all the clues so far, Dee felt the truth is right in reach. Both of the murders are done using poisons. The first group of assassins also used poisons. The keyword here is poison. YuXian’s Sacred Manual suggests that the Yu’s definitely has the knowledge about these poisoned. Not to mention the symbol of the village and the masks of those suspicious people. Dee is more than one thousand percent certain the Yu’s are those killers. Just knowing who they really won’t help, these people could be using a fake identity right now living amongst others. More information about them is absolutely essential.
Thinking about it, Dee suddenly remembered a crucial piece of evidence. The suspicious liquid served by the masked performer. Dee believes this is the source of the spreading disease, this is how Yu’s got everyone infected. What is blowing Dee’s mind is, these Yu’s have the skill to plant diseases within liquids. If they got more hidden powerful skills, it would be difficult to recast the city’s former light of glory.
To elaborate even further, Dee made a thoughtful guess. Someone in the Yu’s must’ve known General Sha really well. Because they somehow knew General’s routine of burning incense in honor of his fellow dead soldiers. Either the Yu’s have inquired about General’s every move, or the Yu’s already knew things only close ones would. This made Dee suspect people previously working in this mansion. Working for General Sha, these people definitely have an idea of his routines. Additionally, it would be a piece of cake for these people to secretly exchange the incense while General is gone. The bad news is, the mansion has been sold, these workers have all left. Making it difficult for Dee to find them in the future.
Also, the Manta Roses advise that the Yu’s also have some deep connection with Doctor Li. The poisonous flower was probably submitted as a gift for the now-dead doctor. If this really is the case, there must be spies within the Royal Palace. Which is making Dee extremely worried about the safety of emperor Wu. These spies are hidden in the midst of darkness, dishing out information to their mates. To this day, Dee is still unsure how those assassins knew about their trip to Zundian.
The conversation with Xun today has answered many seemingly unsolvable problems, Dee thanked Xun once again in his heart. Going with his previous theory, it’s speculated that the Yu’s are exiled away from the country, growing hate emerged in their broken hearts toward the emperor. Revenge is their purpose, the motives behind all of the mess. In terms of Doctor Li and General Sha, they might somehow be related to Doctor Wan’s attempted assassination, the event that caused the hate. But their end goal would be to eventually kill the emperor. The Yu’s seem to have quiet down recently. In Dee’s mind, these people are waiting for the best chance, the day of The Lantern Festival.
Dee would remain in the mansion for another while, before heading back. Dee tried his very best to find General’s secret, which is bothering Dee still to this point. He had no choice but to take the frustration home. Dee has undecided what the next step would be. As of now, he knows who the killers are, but Dee doesn’t have a clue of where they are hiding. The joyous of finding out the killer is buried with the fact that Dee knows nothing about where the Yu’s are at.
Dee gathered everyone in Ruyi’s Tavern for a late dinner. While others are focusing on eating, Dee shared his new findings and thoughts of the cases. The others appeared amazed by Dee’s finding today alone. “Wow, I think we can definitely easily finish this case soon,” One member exclaimed, clapping in applause for the case’s progression.
“I’ve never heard of the Yu’s, they seem outstandingly smart in your words, Master Dee,” Yuchi said. “Also, sadly Dali doesn’t seem to have anything about these Yu’s.”
“Our next step would be to find where these Yu’s are hiding,” Dee noted. “We must utilize our best efforts to protect the emperor.”
“No problem.” Yuchi lightly pounded his chest. “On the day of the festival, I and Shun will beat up every enemy in our sight.”
“Love the confidence.” Dee put on a smile, padding on Yuchi’s shoulder.
“Mission accepted,” Shun said in his signature monotone.
“But, that will be the plan for the festival day.” Dee suddenly became serious, dragging everyone back to reality. “In the present time, we have lots to accomplish still.”
Everyone nodded. “We can all rest for the remainder of today, but make sure to be ready for tomorrow,” Dee emphasized. The fatigue the crew went through the last few days triggered Dee’s decision, it’s a good period to take some time off. Dee dismissed everyone, who all went to mind their own business.
“Rui should be there soon right?” Yuchi asked the awakened Dee. Time has flashed by fast, already tomorrow morning. The crew got up early, dining in the tavern.
“With his speed, I think he arrived a while ago,” Dee calculated. “We should receive his letter sometime around night.”
“He will be back here on festival day right?”
“It depends on the situation.” Dee gave an unclear answer. “I might let him stay near the border for a while.”
“So, what would be our plan today boss?” Yuchi inquired.
“The plan is plain and simple,” Dee said. “Let us find where these foes are hiding.”
Yuchi smiled, “That’s not an easy task.”
“I do know that.” Dee looked down at the ground and let out a deep sigh. Intentionally hiding the sign of grief. He is feeling abnormal amounts of pressure right now, he is anxious that these YuXian’s would actually destroy the whole city. Although inches away from the truth, Dee’s confidence in catching these people is shrinking as more time goes by. The only step waiting to be finished is catching the Yu’s before the festival, but as Yuchi said, this would be a difficult task. Dee did feel delighted after he figured out both of the cases, but knowing who the killers are and catching them are different ball games. Dee gulped before continuing on, “It would be a miracle if we catch them today, but any information would help at this point.”
“But where do we start, Master Dee?”
“I don’t have an answer.” Dee sighed again. There aren’t any clues of where the Yu’s are hiding in Chang’an, or if they are really in Chang’an at all. “They probably are hiding somewhere, waiting until the Lantern Festival day.”
“Then it would be impossible to find them,” Yuchi said. “How about we forfeit trying to find them.”
Dee froze for one moment, in his head flashed through how this plan would run. “How would this…. help?” Dee could not think of a reason to give up this early.”
“I mean,” Yuchi explained. “Instead of searching our hearts out for some traces, we could conduct a plan on festival day, we just wait for these clueless rabbits to fall into our dug holes.”
“Too risky.” Dee didn’t want to risk anyone’s safety. “Then, we must predict every step correctly.”
“Their goal is to assassinate the emperor, right?” Yuchi argued. “So we just put the steadiest defense around her and everything will be fine.”
“True, but I could not overlook the fact that they could also harm innocent’s safety,” Dee said. “We must protect the emperor, but also the innocents.”
“I guess I was thinking too simple.” Yuchi sighed, a sign of grief flashed across.
“It’s best if we can find them first,” Dee continued. “Yuchi, you are right. It’s essential that we generate a plan that will secure everyone’s safety. While we let the plan marinate we could use the rest to find traces.”
“That sounds like it would work beautifully.”
“Well, with everything revealed and laid in front of us.” Dee raised both of his hands up to the ceiling, stretching his upper body. “Why not gather everyone, report what we got so far to the emperor.”
“Yes sir, I’ll get Master Xun.” By everyone, Dee means people that are related to the solving of these cases. Not just the crew, also Dali and the Dragon Guardians. With the groups forming a unity, Dee is confident that whatever the Yu’s want will not be gained easily.
“Silence.” Master Yao directed the order as the emperor slowly walked in from the back. Everyone noticed and bowed down in sync. The emperor gave a gesture signaling to stand up. She difficulty seated down at her spot, as she seems to be experiencing some pain. The heavy makeup she put on could not cover up her worried face. She’s got shadow-like circles around her dull eyes, that have lost all the lively sparkles.
“My honour, throughout the past few days we have figured out who those killers are,” Dee said.
“Good news, go on.” The emperor’s voice is still loud and imposing, the kind of voice that can freeze people in thrill.
“It’s the Yu’s.”
“The Yu’s?” The emperor shouted in disbelief, putting behind all of her manners. She slapped his chair in fury and sprang out of it. “What are these people aiming to do to my dynasty?”
“I am afraid their target is to get revenge on you, my emperor.”
“Revenge?” The emperor laughed, her inner anger flaming out. “I was being kind to not slain them all.”
“I believe they will take action on the upcoming festival day,” Dee claimed.
“No way would I ever cancel the festival, it’s a lost-lasting tradition.” The emperor cooled off a bit, she resettled down at her spot. “Don’t worry, we have this many talents protecting me, in no way am I ever going to encounter danger.”
“We would use all powers to protect your safety.” Ke joined in. With the dragon guardians taking on duty, Dee can order the rest to protect the innocents instead.
“Master Dee claims that these filthy human beings are still hiding in Chang’an.” Xun too joined in. “As the leader of Dali, I will send full strength patrolling around the city. If they dare to make a move, their heads would be cut off.”
“It would be best if we catch them before the festival, but there’s nothing to worry about, we have full control.” The emperor straightened the hefty accessories on her head, which almost fell off due to the emperor’s frantic actions. “I will also send some guards to assist. Our eagle eyes will spot these people down.”
“May I whisper something important to you, my emperor?” Dee asked with slight hesitation.
The emperor gestured for Master Yao to deliver the secret message from Dee. Dee moved his mouth close to Master Yao’s ears as he came by. “Let the emperor know to be cautious of spies around her,” Dee whispered to Master Yao. He kept his volume to the lowest as he didn’t want to alert the spies.
Master Yao delivered Dee’s message to the emperor. After hearing the words, the emperor stared at Dee for a split second, before looking elsewhere. Seeing no one else talking, the emperor stood up and dismissed everyone before disappearing. The dragon guardian’s followed in her footsteps.
At the square in front of the colossal-sized palace, Xun approached Dee. The two walked shoulder by shoulder but no words were spoken. The surrounding atmosphere filled with suffocating awkwardness. Desperately trying to break the freeze Dee brought up a random topic. “You have confidence we can catch them?”
Xun simply gave a little nod. His eyes wander to the far wild, and his mind seems uninterested to chat. A few ticks of silent awkwardness lasted before Xun finally decided to talk. “You think there are spies?”
“How do you know I think that way?”
“The way you acted so cautious around people,” Xun explained his reasoning. “If you trust them, you wouldn’t be that introverted.”
“Do you agree with me?”
“I think I have to.” Xun suddenly stood in place. Then, he holds onto Dee’s arm, slinging him to a corner, away from the lousy crowd. Xun is undoubtedly a strong man, Dee’s arm throbbing with slight pains. The unexpected act left a red mark, a bruise on Dee’s arm. Just as Dee is about to query about Xun’s agitated act, Xun struck first. His voice is low and heavy. “There is for sure an undercover spy in Dali.”
“What makes you that convinced?” Dee asked.
Xun circumspectly scanned their surroundings, before giving his reasoning. “Yesterday after we had a chat about the Yu’s, I told all my people about it. I had a conjecture that they are hiding in Chang’an. So I decided to secretly investigate with some of my trusted people, without telling anyone else.” He again scanned cautiously. He kept his volume to only Dee can possibly hear.
“Go on,” Dee impatiently hurried him.
“We patrolled around the city, seeking for anything out of the ordinary. We proceeded to chase a guy down a narrow pathway. But after we made it to a crossway, suddenly a bunch of others jumped on our back. I believe this was a trap.”
“You for sure didn’t tell anyone else?”
Xun nodded. “I believe somebody leaked my every move to these Yu’s. This is the only reason why they were able to lure us into their trap.”
“If they were unaware of your investigation, it wouldn’t logically make sense for them to set up a trap beforehand,” Dee elaborated.
“Exactly what I thought,” Xun said. He then bridged his hand across Dee’s shoulder. The two old friend’s eyes met together. “Dee, these Yu’s are everywhere. Do not easily trust anyone in your crew.”
After giving some last advice, Xun left without hesitation. Leaving Dee stoned in place. “Spies,” Dee murmured. Dee had thoughts about spies within his crew, but after the two near-death experiences, they all gained Dee’s trust to some degree.
Dee decided to ditch riding the carriage, instead, he walked back with Yuchi and Shun beside him. Dee wanted to embrace the fresh air, maybe along the way they can be lucky enough to find some significant traces.
Oddly enough, despite the sun shining brighter than ever, a thin layer of refreshing mist covered the whole skyline. Blocking away some of the light, making the city feel as gloomy as the nights. It’s almost like a devastating storm is about to strike. As Dee got closer to his house, the mist thickened, only a few sun rays could shatter through the thickening mist.
The mist left some vapors on Dee’s body as he passed through, cool and exhilarating. As more time drifted away, it seemed the mist is layering thicker and thicker. The mist enfolded the whole city, everything around is grey and colorless. The clammy mist almost reaches ground level, covering the entire rooftop of every building. The particles softly touched on Dee’s face, a faint sniff of sweetness and fruitiness climbed in Dee’s nose.
“Unusual phenomenon,” Yuchi commented.
Indeed, Dee has never seen a sight close to this. Occasional fog and mists would appear on a normal basis, but this huge amount of smoke is unseen before. The three are able to direct themselves home, despite the mist blinding their sight.
As Dee’s left foot is about to step inside, a high-pitched chirping sound attracted his attention. From far away, a pigeon wobbled while flying amongst the mist. The bird flew at a rather slow pace, with only one wing flapping against the wind. Little by little, the bird seems to lose its already low speed. In his best effort, the bird could not move any bit forward, flapping his wings in place. Dee noticed the bird’s tough situation and reacted, he used his utmost energy sprinting to just under the wobbling bird. The bird took a straight dive, whirling down from a high altitude, by good fortunes falling right in Dee’s lap.
The other two appeared to be stoned, puzzlement wrote all over their faces. “What was that?” Shun asked Dee. The two rushed over to check on Dee, who hit the ground hard being the savior of the pigeon.
To Dee’s best protection, the bird landed softly. A few weak chirps might be expressing gratefulness towards Dee’s action. From the first look, Dee recognized this pigeon being his precious one. When Rui left he took this pigeon with him, it is a messenger that Dee often uses to contact people from far away. And to his expectations, there indeed is a folded letter wrapped around its branch’s thin leg.
“I’m all good.” Dee stood up by the helping hands of Shun and Yuchi. He patted the dust off of his arm, which fused in with the mist. He softly petted the hurting pigeon, there are clear bruises on its left wing. Dee slipped the letter in his pocket, before rushing to aid the aching pigeon. A few wraps of bandages certainly ease the pain, some rest will ensure the pigeon can continue traveling in the blue blue sky. Dee mushed some wheat, feeding it to his little pigeon.
“The pigeon must’ve hit something because of the layers of mists,” Yuchi suggested.
“It’s unfortunate for this little creature to encounter such a situation.” Dee tickled the pigeon’s head. “It’s always dangerous in places where we can’t clearly view our surroundings.”
“This applies to birds and humans.” Shun appears to have understood the meaning of Dee’s words.
“The mist acted like a whole new world for the pigeon to explore,” Dee exclaimed. “In it are hidden mysteries, dangers, and struggles. But the joyful part is the rewarding feeling when you make it to your destination.”
“Oh, I get it!” Yuchi yelped, hopping out of his chair. “Master Dee is comparing our journey with it.”
“Correct.” Dee smiled. “We are put into this mysterious layer of mist too, where we encounter many ups and downs, obstacles and struggles. Many things slowed us down, but we found hints leading to the end destination.”
“I’m glad this pigeon made it here,” Yuchi said. “This little guy has grit and determination.”
“Let’s see if we can make it too.”