Chapter 10: No Shame in Asking
Translator: Nyoi_Bo_Studio Editor: Nyoi_Bo_Studio
Over the year that passed, young Fan Xian began to learn all that Master Fei knew about poison. Occasionally, they would find the time to leave the city, searching high and low for poisonous ingredients like strychnine trees and purging nuts, as well as tasting various types of fungus. There were countless times when Fan Xian was overcome by such a powerful stomach ache that he would have feared for his life if he didn’t have such a grandmaster in poisons by his side.
Of course, in order to fully pursue his studies, under the command of Master Fei, his young and delicate hands were responsible for the deaths of innumerable rabbits, and toads would flee at his approach.
That year, Fan Xian turned five.
Strangely, after Fei Jie had arrived in Danzhou, Wu Zhu no longer made the effort to avoid Fan Xian. Every time Fan Xian slipped away to Wu Zhu’s shop to drink wine – which, as a child, he shouldn’t have been drinking – Wu Zhu made him a few bar snacks to go along with it.
Fan Xian was curious. Wu Zhu was a servant of his mother’s – why didn’t he care that he drank wine?
Fan Xian knew that his mother was no ordinary lady, and that was why she’d had such a dedicated and powerful servant as Wu Zhu. But he couldn’t be sure that the blind boy’s strength and skill would always protect him.
Without even realizing it, Fan Xian had gotten accustomed to Wu Zhu being close by to guard him. He’d gotten used to occasionally sighting Wu Zhu down some alleyway or next to some street-side tofu seller, his eyes covered by that length of black cloth.
Over the year, the zhenqi within Fan Xian’s body continued to make slow, steady progress. He was on the verge of making a breakthrough, but the powerful zhenqi that accumulated in his sleep became somewhat unstable and began to affect his moods.
He knew that there were many unknown dangers in this still-unfamiliar world, and that there were many things about Count Sinan’s estate in the capital that he did not understand.
After he awoke, he set himself a goal: “Live well and make progress every day!”
And because of this “grand” goal, in order to keep himself alive so that he could some day carry out his three “grand” missions, he dedicated himself to his practice.
In his past life he was paralyzed as a result of his debilitating muscle disease. So to find himself able to move freely in this new life made him value it all the more. Every day he rose early to strengthen his body, climbing up onto every surface he could, working so diligently at it that it began to perturb Fei Jie.
Unfortunately, he could never find a truly appropriate way to train himself physically. He showed far more diligence than any other child, but he usually consoled himself with the fact that, being a young man in his twenties, it was only proper that he be more committed than those other snot-nosed brats.
But nobody knew the truth. He wasn’t born this committed; he was just hyperactive. He’d been confined to a bed for over a decade – there was no way he’d let himself get lazy now.
Night fell, and Fei Jie sequestered himself within his private room. He leant on his writing-desk as the oil-lamp flickered. The white hairs on his temples seemed to have turned darker since he came to Danzhou. With a goose-quill in his hand, he wrote something down on white paper.
A knock came from outside. “Come in,” Fei Jie said softly, not bothering to lift his head.
Fan Xian pushed open the door, lifting his feet over the high door threshold. He scratched his head and approached with a big grin. “What are you writing, sir?”
Fei Jie didn’t seem annoyed in the slightest. He pushed his paper to one side and turned around. “What’s wrong?”
He’d spent the better part of a year in the company of Count Sinan’s baseborn son, and he wasn’t sure why, as the poison master of the Overwatch Council, feared by corrupt officials and underworld criminals alike, he felt some sort of warmth and kindness when he laid eyes on the kid. He was young, but he was tough and hardworking. He didn’t look at poison with the contempt and disgust that most people did, and that pleased Fei Jie.
And most importantly, he was smart and thoughtful, so much so that he didn’t seem like a five-year-old child at all.
“Master Fei.” Fan Xian scrambled up onto a chair with some difficulty, finally managing to plant his buttocks on it. “I would like to know what my father is like.”
This wasn’t the first time he’d asked about the pasts of Count Sinan and his mother, but every time he had, Fei Jie had refused to say a word.
“Your father is an incredible man,” replied Fei Jie. “Of course, your mother was even more so.”
The words meant nothing. The Overwatch Council was responsible for investigating the kingdom’s biggest criminal activities and probing into official corruption. It was greatly feared throughout the land, and Fei Jie had been a member since its earliest days, rising up to the lofty post of director of the Third Bureau, feared even by the capital’s criminal underworld.
And such an imposing figure, a grandmaster of the use of poison, had come to the far-away town of Danzhou to tutor Count Sinan’s baseborn son, simply because the Count had ordered it.
It was clear that Count Sinan wielded great power in the capital, but it was hard to say whether that power stemmed from his official status or from other, less upright means.
Fan Xian still knew nothing about his mother, who died on the day he was “born”, but his intuition told him that she was no ordinary woman. He didn’t know why – maybe it was the blood, her blood, that ran through his veins – but he had always felt a vague yearning for this woman he had never seen.
Fei Jie did not seem like he wanted to carry the topic any further. “Now that the Count’s concubine has given birth to a son, you have no chance of inheriting his estate. So what are you planning to do?”
Fan Xian smiled sweetly. “You taught me how to use poison, and how to cure it. I’ve learnt quite a lot about medicine. Worst comes to worst, I could be a doctor.”
Fei Jie stroked at his beard. “You’re right,” he said with a hint of pride. “Even the doctors of the imperial palace don’t know any more than me about medicine. As my only student, you could easily become a physician.”
They discussed the option of becoming a doctor, but deep down, both knew it was little more than a pipe dream.
“Teacher, I’m having problems with my zhenqi practice,” said Fan Xian suddenly. “I was hoping you could help me. That’s why I came here tonight.”
Fei Jie was unparalleled in his mastery of poison, but that was all he would teach Fan Xian. “Life is limited,” he told him, “but there is no limit to methods of killing. Therefore, we should devote our limited lives to the limitless pursuit of the most efficient method of killing.”
And to Master Fei, poison was the most effective method for killing.
Fan Xian had the world’s greatest master of poison as his teacher – why was he bothering with zhenqi? When it came to this sorcery that Fan Xian couldn’t stop worrying about, Fei Jie felt the same as any other citizen of the Kingdom of Qing – it was of very little use when it came to combat.
But this was the first time in a year that Fan Xian had brought it up, and Fei Jie couldn’t help but feel curious. He stretched out his fingers and took Fan Xian’s pulse. Then he went pale.