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Only after getting caught did Si Lili find out that her each and every move was being watched by the Overwatch Council. She couldn’t help but feeling a sense of horror toward this organization of the Qing emperor.
Seeing that they were about to resume moving again, Si Lili suddenly screamed at the top of her lungs, "You better kill me now! Or that someone from your Imperial court will certainly come to my rescue!"
The official merely raised his eyebrows. "More like come to shut you up for good." As soon as he said that, over the hills in front of them, some bandits on horses appeared. The traveling group had been expecting robbers, but they weren’t expecting to encounter raiders from the northern border and the surrounding va.s.sal states. There were dozens of them, all brandishing swords. Against the Council’s group of only over ten men, the outcome of this clash seemed obvious.
While the highwaymen weren’t that many in number, they did appear only two hundred and fifty kilometers away from the capital without the Qing military’s knowledge. If the civilians knew this, there would be no rest in the Imperial court. Now Si Lili’s face was pale with fear. She wasn’t exceptionally intelligent, but she was smart enough to know that she’d lose her life for certain if she were to fall into their hands.
The Council officials also couldn’t believe this conspiring official in the Imperial court would somehow have connections with the raiders near the nation’s border. Looking tense, the leading official leaned towards the jail cart. "Si Lili, looks like you and I both won’t be making it out alive. Since we’ve gotten to this point, how about you tell me who the traitor is? If some of my men manage to escape, they can report it to the court and avenge us in the process."
Si Lili looked down, her life flashing before her eyes. She was about to speak before noticing something wasn’t right. She raised her head and said, "You’re bluffing."
The official wasn’t expecting her to see through his plan and made a hardly noticeable frown.
Si Lili then continued in a sad tone, "You should know what I do for a living. I’ve learned to notice faint signs on people’s faces since I was a child. Your voice was shaking slightly, but your hand on this cart was steady and relaxed. You obviously aren’t as concerned about this matter as you say. You probably already saw this ambush coming."
"Well done." Only now did the official start to feel this woman truly had the talent to be a spy. With a smile, he said, "If we couldn’t antic.i.p.ate something like this, then the Overwatch Council wouldn’t be the Overwatch Council."
As they were talking, dozens of horse riders came charging down the hill, their killing intent fouling the sky. This front obviously did not belong to ordinary highwaymen.
Around the jail cart, the men of the Council formed a defensive semicircle. However, as they were few in number, their defensive formation looked pitiful. Facing the incoming onslaught, despite it being a life-and-death situation, the men all held solemn and respectful expressions.
"Ho…!" The leading official clenched his right fist tightly, coldly eyeing the wave of riders. He had just given the signal to keep everything steady. Had Fan Xian heard the signal, it would surely have reminded him of the English word "hold" he often heard from foreign movies in his previous life.
As the hors.e.m.e.n closed in, the leading official suddenly took a step back. Straightening his right arm, he shouted, "Ready!" The semicircle formation suddenly readjusted into a wedge. More terrifyingly, the men all took out crossbows—seemingly from out of nowhere. Raising the crossbows to eye level, they took aim at the hors.e.m.e.n in front of them!
The distance between them was too close. The leading rider’s eyes showed panic as he pulled on the reins of his horse. The entire group managed to turn to go around the crossbowmen. They had been galloping at full speed; in order to come to such a sudden stop and then immediately change directions, their horsemanship must be superb.
"Fire!" The commanding official gave the order just as the lead horseman started to turn his horse.
A rain of crossbow bolts launched into the air. Although it wasn’t a dense volley, each bolt flew with exceptional speed due to the power of the crossbows, ripping through the air with a chilling hiss. With several grunts, the foremost hors.e.m.e.n were hit and crashed heavily to the ground. The riders behind them wanted to overwhelm the crossbowmen while the men were reloading, unaware they were using repeating crossbows!
The repeating crossbow appeared in this world about twenty years ago. Each magazine held eight bolts. That weapon was the bane of light cavalry. Seeing what was happening, the entire group of riders panicked. They split into two branches and went around the crossbowmen from both sides, ready to carry out a pincer attack.
Had they continued to charge straight on, they might have gotten better results. But there weren’t any what-ifs in this world. A few more hors.e.m.e.n fell while attempting the pincer attack. To the horror of the other riders, they discovered that in the hills behind the jail cart, an ambush was waiting for them!
Upon seeing the camouflaged ambush party, the hors.e.m.e.n lost their wits and no longer cared about killing the woman in the cart. They scrambled and fled in all directions.
The ones lying in wait were part of a cavalry unit made up of riders wearing black armor. It was the same unit Fan Xian saw immediately after opening his eyes for the first time in this world. Those cavalrymen were a.s.signed by the emperor himself while Director Chen was away from the capital on official business; they were none other than the emperor’s personal cavalry unit—the Black Knights!
Those Black Knights rode after their targets like a wolfpack ripping into a flock of sheep, completely surrounding the enemy hors.e.m.e.n before making quick work of them with swift sword strikes.
"Leave some alive! Leave some alive!" Fei Jie yelled out in a hurry while watching the slaughter in a carriage behind ranks of Black Knights. "Don’t kill all of them!"
One of the curtains on the carriage was lifted by a dry and withered hand. An elderly gentleman surveyed the surrounding situation before coldly saying, "Fei Jie, don’t get too worked up over these whelps. I doubt they even know who their master is. Just capturing their leader will do."
Fei Jie cursed, "Sir Fan took little Fan Xian into the capital while we were gone and you know what almost happened. How could I not get worked up?"
The elderly man grunted. Smoothing out the fleece blanket on his lap, he said, "I was visiting my home. Your ran out on your own. You only have yourself to blame."
Even a decade later, Fei Jie still retained his strange look; his hair was broken up by white patches and his eyes were the same shade of brown. Frowning, Fei Jie said, "Who knows what Sir Fan is planning. Your Highness, after we get back to the capital you must go have a chat with Count Sinan."
That elderly gentleman was none other than Chen Pingping, a man who held vast hidden authority. He was smiling while looking at the enemy leader in the distance. "Naturally, I understand what Fan Jian was thinking. But I must say, his thinking is… absolutely chaotic! All in order to gain these; I’d rather not have them…" He repeated again, "… I’d rather not have them."
While the two of them were talking, the enemy leader rode off into the distance and became a small dot on the horizon. He knew he had been ambushed by the Overwatch Council. However, he could not figure out why Chen Pingping appeared outside Cangzhou City to the north of the capital when he should be visiting his home!
He knew all was lost as soon as he saw the Black Knights. Against the ruthless and sinister Director Chen, even his real master could only focus on self-preservation, so he had to get away first. This was also the reason he didn’t get as close to the Black Knights as the rest of his men. The Black Knights began to tire after chasing for about a kilometer, and the distance between them and their target lengthened. They had no choice but to give up their pursuit.
"I’m a.s.suming Zong Zhui is already on the move?" Chen Pingping quietly asked his aide.
The aide bowed in confirmation.
At the same time, from the woods in the distance, a rider on a grey horse darted out, silently chasing after the fleeing enemy.
"That’s not Zong Zhui." Fei Jie frowned.
Chen Pingping suddenly laughed after staring at that grey blur for a while. "Since he hid himself from us, he must be one of ours… Considering how he was able to keep up with Zong Zhui’s skills, I believe there was someone like that in the Council many years ago."
"Indeed." Chen Pingping smiled. "Looks like that brat we were worried about finally learned something."
After dispatching w.a.n.g Qinian from the capital, it became inconvenient for Fan Xian to go out because of his wounds. He even stopped frequenting the still in-progress bookstore, opting to live a secretive and simple life for a period of time. By now, he had already become famous in the capital, especially due to those two poems which didn’t match his experiences at all. The poems further made him a source of controversy. Those who supported him viewed him as a genius poet, while those in opposition accused him of forcefully expressing scenes of grief in his poems—however, no one knew even that phrase was brought to this world by Fan Xian from his past life.
There were also rumors of plagiarism going around in the dark, but the line "Ten thousand miles in sorrowful autumn, always a guest" was overly flashy to the point that no one was shameless enough to claim it, and therefore those rumors never went anywhere. However, Fan Xian knew that day would come eventually. The father of Guo Baokun was the Director of the Board of Rites, and their entire household always dealt with influential figures in the literary circle. Fan Xian, however, never liked to a.s.sume the worst in… so-called "scholars".
It was precisely due to his controversy and fame that the scholars who frequented the poetry gatherings at King Jing’s manor often came to visit. While on the surface they came offering get-well wishes, they were actually there hoping that Fan Xian would compliment their poems.
Fan Xian patiently greeted each one of his guests, but he was quite stingy while evaluating their poems. After all, he was far above the "literary world", just like how Zhang Xianlian started his own business. Still, he didn’t believe he had the privilege. At only sixteen years old, he made it thus far thanks to his wits from his past life. To gather some poet following just because of that would be too absurd!
Compared to his reputation as a poet, what really made his name stand out in the capital and earned him praise was the a.s.sa.s.sination incident on Niulan Street.
Some of the details of the investigation could be accessed by the general public. Once those leaked out, Fan Xian, as the victim under such grave danger, not only preserved his own life but also initiated a counterattack, killing his a.s.sa.s.sins from Northern Qi, one whom was an eighth level master. Those facts raised Fan Xian to a whole new level in the eyes of the people. No longer did people accuse him of unjustly beating up others. Instead, everyone spoke of him as the Young Master Fan who was endowed with both literary and martial virtues, who had bravely slain his a.s.sa.s.sins.
"Civil enough to compose poetry, martial enough to kill; doing both in seven steps. That, is Young Master Fan."