Domino Effect of Mistakes
“Entry into the Ministry of Justice’s prison is prohibited. What are y-, eh?”
Su Xiao beamed. “Oh, Brother Li!”
Zhonglang Li was a high-ranking official and student of Secretary Leng whom Su Xiao got to know whilst completing his work placement at the ministry. Though Su Xiao didn’t work there for long, he treated his seniors to dinner whenever he was paid, which helped him make numerous friends at the Ministry of Justice.
“It’s been a long time, Brother Su. You must be busy given His Majesty has been trusting Liu Shan Men with more jobs nowadays.”
Liu Shan Men was busy, but they were only busy with the menial tasks after the Qilin Guards were done with the big parts of jobs, such as recording testimonies, checking crime records and the sort. The Ministry of Justice, too, had their hands full due to Yi Ya’s return, or more specifically, the things he did. Zhonglang Li was just being polite to Su Xiao.
Su Xiao, of course, didn’t mind it since he wasn’t busy at Liu Shan Men. To the contrary, he cheerfully requested, “We want to see a prisoner. Please take us to him, Brother Li.”
“I can’t do that. Brother Su, you’ve worked here previously; you know how we operate. We are impartial. I can allow you passage, but only once you can provide all the paperwork.”
Su Xiao scratched his head. “What shall we do, then? We don’t have the paperwork.”
“Who do you want to say? There are literally a hundred prisoners inside. Who’s your friend?”
“He’s not a friend. I need to speak to him for business person. His name is Xiang Baxian.”
While the upper echelon had stated that Xiang Baxian’s verdict needed to be decided soon, nobody had stated how he would be dealt with, nor had they announced who would be in charge of executing the punishment.
Lowering his voice, Zhonglang Li asked, “Do you have written instructions from Vice-Captain Shen?”
Despite not knowing why Zhonglang Li softened his voice, Su Xiao followed suit to answer, “No.”
Zhonglang Li: Thought so.
Shen Yiren was well-known for being a workaholic and someone nearly as rule-abiding as Secretary Leng, after all.
Shen Yiren had apparently vanished to investigate a big case. If the upper echelon were going to send someone close to Emperor Yuansheng to question Xiang Baxian, then she would be the most suited candidate. Assuming Su Xiao was here in Shen Yiren’s place, Zhonglang Li queried, “What’s his punishment?”
Su Xiao quietly replied, “I have questions for him.”
“Understood. Please follow me.”
Since Zhonglang Li looked serious, Su Xiao nodded seriously. “After you.”
Su Xiao’s three new friends looked to each other, amazed at how much power Su Xiao wielded.
“Xiang Baxian, you have a visitor.”
Xiang Baxian shuddered whenever he heard the voice of someone from the Ministry of Affairs nowadays because they had been battering him three times a day for a confession. At first, he had no idea who his visitor was based on “her” warrior robe and porcelain-like face. Only when he put names to the three faces between “her” did he remember who the lass was. “You’re the lass who hit His Highness!”
“Watch your wretched mouth!” brayed Zhonglang Li. “This is Secretary Leng’s prized student, Baihu Su!”
Xiang Baxian’s soul almost left his body. As a mere lackey of Li Muye’s at Daren Academy, Xiang Baxian hardly knew anything about Wondrous Warrior Estate, so he’d spill nonsense to get out of beatings, framing Li Muye’s entire family – present and past eight generations – for crimes they never even committed. Little did he know Li Muye’s family became part of His Majesty’s family in their sixth generation. As a result, he ate yet more beatings. Now the lass he had a grudge with was Secretary Leng’s prized student? If Su Xiao had no qualms assaulting a Prince, what qualms would he have over beating a Prince’s lackey?
Xiang Baxian hurriedly prostrated himself on the ground for mercy.
Zhonglang Li snorted. “Good to see you know what’s good for you. Baihu Su has questions for you.”
“Th-this one will not withhold anything he knows. It is true that Li Muye was plotting an insurgence. He spouted all sorts of treasonous words every day. This one only wished he could have torn the traitor limb from l-”
“That’s not what I want to ask about.”
“Huh? Uh, this one will not hide anything.”
“Good to hear. Are you in charge of procuring Daren Academy’s vegetables?”
“Are you still in charge?”
“May… be? This one has been in charge of it for ten-odd years, so he should be most familiar with it.”
Su Xiao turned back to his friends. “He’s still in charge. What next?”
He Shi quietly instructed, “Ask if he can be released, then. We can discuss the rest once we’re back at the academy.”
Su Xiao nodded, then asked Zhonglang Li, “Brother Li, can I release him?”
Zhonglang Li: Just as I expected. That said, what’s with the excuse for his release? Vegetables?
“Of course. Please do what you need to do, Brother Su. Xiang Baxian, hear that? Why haven’t you thanked Baihu Su yet?”
If Xianj Baxian’s mouth wasn’t already virtually on the ground, it would be now. Once he finally processed everything, he cried as if Guanyin came down to save him. “Miss Su, this one shall serve you with his life from now! Just say the word, and this one will be there!”
“I’m a man!”
Needless to say, Xiang Baxian didn’t hear anything when he was crying so loudly. Su Xiao didn’t waste any more time, so he bid farewell to his old colleague and headed back to the academy.
Zhonglang Li’s shoulders felt considerably lighter after Su Xiao left. He had just poured himself a quality cup of tea and started wondering what the chef would make for dinner when another guest arrived. His mood was instantly spoiled when he identified his visitor.
Lei Bao, one of the Seventeen Hidden Dragons as famous as Long Zaitian, was another Qilin Guard vice-captain. Many referred to him as “Ion Leopard Head”, while he liked to call himself “Southern Dragon Northern Leopard” –although nobody else knew about his self-proclaimed moniker. While he was respected as a fighter, it was hard to respect him as a person. Had his mother’s elder sister not been one of His Majesty’s concubines, a town-worth of people would’ve rearranged the lecher’s face already.
“I’m here, Zhonglang Li,” Lei Bao announced with a chopstick dangling from his mouth.
“How may this one help you today, Vice-Captain Lei?”
“Since when did I need your help? I’m here to take a scumbag into custody.”
As much as Zhonglang Li would’ve loved to rub his boot all over Lei Bao’s smug mug, he had to hold it in. “Who might that be?”
Xiang Baxian? Oh, looks like the three offices are fighting for credit. I’d rather let Brother Su win than this slimy jerk.
“Heh, coincidentally, he has been released.”
“Released?” Lei Bao dropped his chopstick from his mouth. “Released, you say? Who gave you the audacity to release such an important suspect? You son of a… Why did you release him?”
“Liu Shan Men’s officers came to take him. This one is busy. You will have to see yourself out.” Zhonglang Li sat back down to resume drinking his tea.
Lei Bao riveted in place. Following some contemplating, he thundered, “Let’s go! Bring in Song Smalldong!”
Zhonglang – A rank similar to Su Xiao’s Baihu rank. Unfortunately, there is no official English translation for it (Charles O. Hucker. A Dictionary of Official Titiles in Imperial China, 2017).
Omitted detail – It was another case of another pronoun exclusive to Chinese. When Zhonglang Li tells Su Xiao to follow him inside, he refers to himself as an official beneath Su Xiao despite being half a rank higher. I omitted it because there’s no equivalent English pronoun, doesn’t impact the plot and would only break your rhythm if I had to explain it. Zhonglang Li does this because he assumed Su Xiao was carrying out a direct order from His Majesty.
Smalldong – Just in case anyone is not aware, “dong” is Aussie slang for penis.