Chapter 1: A Murder
sorry if there’s any mistakes, i typed the entire thing on my phone on a road trip in oregon
Qiu Jianluo’s funeral was a quick, quiet affair. There was little ceremony as his casket was lowered into the ground, joining the morbid row of similar graves that lined the edge of Qiong Dong Peak.
Among the mourners, Qiu Haitang alone wept. Behind her, an assembled gathering of grave-faced cultivators stood in uneasy silence.
It was to this scene that Shen Yuan first regained consciousness. He was standing in the back row of the motley audience, his hands clenched into fists so tight his fingers had turned a blanched white, and there was a faint wetness in the inner corner of his eyes.
Almost out of habit, he whispered a few words under his breath; the tears faded from his eyes in the next moment, leaving him as composed and blank-faced as always.
Suddenly, as forcefully as the truck that had barreled into him a short few minutes ago, Shen Yuan blinked and realized that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
Shen Yuan had been no stranger to xianxia novels, and the transmigration trope had been a long-abused plot point he had encountered no small amount of. As a result, his newfound transmigration left him with little surprise but a great deal of confusion.
He possessed some memories of the old owner of the body, Shen Qingqiu, although they were faint and few in number. It was enough, however, to familiarize himself with the world around him.
His new identity was the second disciple of the recently deceased Sect Head. Shen Qingqiu’s memories of his old master mostly revolved around training montages and the occasional excursion down the peak. Shen Yuan tried to poke around a little more, but found that any more thinking in this regard resulted in a piercing headache.
Qiu Jianluo had only taken in two disciples. Shen Yuan had a faint impression of the elder disciple, Yue Qingyuan, who he had seen comforting Qiu Haitang at the funeral. The previous owner hadn’t seemed to be fond of him, although his memories indicated that the two interacted infrequently.
Also in the sect were the Sect Head’s martial brother and sister. Shen Qingqiu quarreled frequently with his martial uncle, the Sect Head’s younger martial brother Liu Qingge. He also seemed to have a healthy dislike for Qi Qingqi, who in one particularly notable memory Shen Qingqiu had called an “unfeeling whore”.
...as a matter of fact, Shen Qingqiu seemed to like few of his fellow sect members. Shen Yuan had the faint impression that Shen Qingqiu was a particularly cynical person, capable of seeing only the worst in others.
Which, of course, just happened to be the person that Shen Yuan transmigrated into.
(Whoever wrote this kind of plot was too f**king lazy! Just because their surnames were both Shen didn’t mean that they needed to cross fates!!)
Still, Shen Yuan prided himself on his adaptability; he had survived in cutthroat Beijing, and he was determined not to end this second chance at life any time soon.
He’d read enough transmigration webnovels to know that all protagonists (and wasn’t that strange, thinking of himself as a protagonist) were summoned for a purpose, whether to enact revenge, realize a dream, or fight for a cause. As long as he could find out why he had ended up in Shen Qingqiu’s body, and somehow fulfill the requirements of his transmigration, there would be a chance to return home.
Because... even if home was discarded ramen cups and endless bills and empty rooms, it was still home. He didn’t belong here, not in this world of murder and wonder and casual bloodshed. Beijing, for all its cruelty, was safe in its familiarity.
He looked down at his hands, and then reached up to trace his fingertips against his foreign face again.
First, he needed to find out why he had been summoned. Everything else could come after.
In fact, whatever higher power had written this shitty script seemed to take pity on him.
“Master was murdered,” Yue Qingyuan said solemnly. His voice was gentle, in stark contrast to his grave tone.
There were seven of them gathered around the mahogany table of Qiu Jianluo’s office altogether. Shen Yuan recognized Liu Qingge and Qi Qingqi from the mix, but none of the other faces were familiar.
“Nonsense,” said one of the men. He was a tall, blue-robed man with a domineering face. “Pill Master Mu personally inspected the body—“
Another man held up his hand, a cold-looking man with embroidered bamboo robes. “I didn’t want to start a Sect-wide panic, Sword Master Wei,” said the man, presumably the Pill Master Mu in question. “The Sect Head had long extinguished his inner demons — it would have been impossible for him to die of Qi deviation.”
Qi Qingqi frowned. “Then—”
Pill Master Mu cleared his throat. “It was an assassination. The murderer was clearly after vengeance — his Nascent Soul was crushed and his eight meridians destroyed.”
There was a collective moment of silence in the room.
“How?” asked Liu Qingge, speaking up for the first time. “His sword techniques were infallible.” There was an undertone of grudging respect in his words, although it was masked by the general apathy of his voice.
“Not only that, but the killer is in our sect.” Pill Master Mu coughed, looking around the small office.
Qi Qingqi bristled. “Mu Qingfang, you’re going too far,” she snapped. “How can you accuse your fellow sect members of murdering our Sect Head?”
Mu Qingfang shook his head. “He was murdered by his own sword technique,” he said. “The marks left behind from the Cangqiong Sword Art are obvious. The only people who were taught the art, other than the Sect Head, are gathered right now in this room.”
Shen Yuan peered around the room curiously. The only people who had yet to speak were himself and another small, cowardly-looking man.
“I’m not making any accusations yet,” Yue Qingyuan said mildly, surveying the room. “The murderer could be anyone, even myself. None of us possess alibis during the event of the crime except Younger Martial Brother Shen.”
Six pairs of eyes suddenly looked at Shen Yuan. He blinked, not knowing what to say while on the spot.
“That’s correct,” Mu Qingfang affirmed. “Martial Nephew Shen was suffering from Qi deviation, and recuperating in a spirit vein in the mortal world. It would have been impossible for him to travel to Cangqiong Sect, murder the Sect Head, and return within the span of a day in time for us to inform him of the news.”
“Then the murderer must be one out of the six of us,” Sword Master Wei said. He paused. “I don’t like this probability.”
Mu Qingfang gestured something at Yue Qingyuan.
“Of course,” Yue Qingyuan said, and turned back to the room. “I have a proposition to make.”
“What is it?” Qi Qingqi asked.
“The only person who is completely innocent within our number is Younger Martial Brother Shen,” Yue Qingyuan said. “I would rather this matter not spread to anyone else in the Sect, lest we create more trouble than its worth. Instead, I’d like Younger Martial Brother Shen to do an investigation on the murder, and for all of us to trust him to find the truth.”
“Trust him?” Liu Qingge sneered, furrowing his forehead. “I’d sooner trust a rogue cultivator.”
Yue Qingyuan sighed. “I’m afraid it’s the only option we have now,” he said, then turned to Shen Yuan. “What do you say, Younger Martial Brother Shen?”
Shen Yuan hesitated, not wanting to say anything that would out him immediately as an imposter.
Apparently, silence was an characteristic enough response. After a few seconds, Yue Qingyuan seemed to take his lack of denial as assent.
“Then it’s settled,” Yue Qingyuan said. “From today on, Younger Martial Brother Shen will be in charge of the investigation.”
There was a series of quiet murmurs around the room, but no one dared — or was willing — to oppose Yue Qingyuan.
“Thank you for your time today,” Yue Qingyuan said. “May this matter be settled quickly.”
As the cultivators shuffled one-by-one out of the office, Shen Yuan’s eyes settled on the cowardly-looking cultivator who had not spoken once during the entire exchange.
Well. At the very least, that was a start.
Shen Yuan looked at the empty office, and released a slow, tired sigh.
Chapter 2: A Fever
1. shidi = younger martial brother (less formal)
The next day, Shen Yuan was struck with a sudden high fever. Any plans of investigation were immediately put on the side in favor of recuperating.
Shen Qingqiu's personal servant was a young inner disciple by the name of Ming Fan. He was a tall, unassuming youth with a wide-set face, and though he had a somewhat dull air to him he certainly looked reliable enough.
"Master," Ming Fan said, wringing a wet cloth in a rather foul-smelling medicinal soak. Mu Qingfang, who was evidently the resident pill master, had sent it over that morning.
Shen Yuan briefly toyed with the notion that Mu Qingfang was the murderer and had poisoned the medicine to silence him. A second later, he discarded the absurd thought; it would have been too obvious if he were to die of poisoning.
"En," he replied indifferently.
"Don't you think it's strange that the Sect Head died of a Qi deviation?."
So the rumors were already beginning to form.
"Why do you say that?" Shen Yuan asked.
Had what had transpired yesterday already leaked out?
Ming Fan folded the cloth neatly, before gingerly placing it over Shen Yuan's forehead. Shen Yuan resisted the urge to wrinkle his nose at the smell. "I thought he was known for having destroyed all seven emotions when he transcended to Nascent Soul."
"So," Ming Fan began, slightly flustered. He paused, and then continued, "Doesn't Master think it strange that someone with no emotional connections failed his ascension because of internal demons?"
Shen Yuan reconsidered his evaluation of Ming Fan. The youth in front of him looked dense, but it seemed he was more perceptive than Shen Yuan had given him credit for.
No wonder Shen Qingqiu had recruited him as a personal servant.
"And what of it?"
Ming Fan blinked. "Well, what does Master think happened?"
Shen Yuan's lips curled downwards into a grimace.
"Don't play with fire," he said coldly, "unless you wish to get burnt."
That line was really too cool™!
Shen Yuan had read it in a web novel once, where the main character had spewed those lines before accepting a duel. At the time, Shen Yuan had gone as far as to bookmark that page permanently, just to look back from time to time at how cool™ the stallion MC was.
Although the effect was somewhat diminished by the fact that he was currently immobilized and feverish, it didn't change the fact that it still added +10 Coolness™ points immediately!
Ming Fan looked convinced enough, either way.
"It's as Master says," he said, nodding vigorously. "This servant understands."
As for whatever meaning Ming Fan had gleamed from that cryptic statement, who knew. Shen Yuan, still basking in the glory of his sageness, didn't pay any more attention to the youth in front of him.
Instead, he was instantly reminded of the task at hand. His attention returned back to the cowardly-looking cultivator from the day before.
Who was he? His standing in the sect was obviously high, to have learned the Cangqiong Sword Art, and yet nothing in the original Shen Qingqiu's memories indicated that he knew of this man.
Either way, it was clear that this man was his first clue in investigating the murder.
All in due time.
In the late afternoon, Yue Qingyuan dropped by to visit him. Shen Yuan, still in the haze of sleep, wasn't aware of the man's presence until a cold hand pressed itself against his forehead.
"Your fever must be serious," Yue Qingyuan said, a visible frown on his face. "Normally, you would have protested against my presence here before I even arrived at the Peak."
He was talking mostly to himself. He seemed to think that Shen Yuan's silence was indicative of a severe illness, although Shen Yuan's lack of response was mostly because he had been too distracted to notice anything before, and now didn't know to proceed without exposing himself as too OOC.
Although, having thought about it, Shen Qingqiu probably would have been paranoid enough to be on guard at all times.
Shen Yuan sighed, but decided that perhaps Yue Qingyuan's arrival was a blessing in disguise. After all, there were gaping gaps in Shen Qingqiu's memory, and knowing more about the cold, indifferent man who had once resided In this body would make it easier for Shen Yuan to adapt.
"It's been a long time, shidi, since I've seen you so vulnerable like this," Yue Qingyuan continued monologuing. The hand on Shen Yuan's forehead trailed down the side of his face, until it lingered at the curve of his cheekbone. "Ever since you were young, you've always resisted other people seeing you in a weakened state. Although, perhaps I'm to blame..."
What kind of plot development was this? Being given hints by NPCs was one thing; being trapped in bed and forced to listen to a man rant about how the previous owner of this body wasn't was a cute enough shidi was another.
"...I should have done more..."
Just where was Yue Qingyuan's hand touching? Shen Yuan's eyes furrowed slightly, but he remained still.
Wasn't this too close for two brothers? Do normal brothers usually caress each other's neck like that?
"...Ah Jiu, you've suffered a lot, haven't you?..."
Could this be considered sexual harassment of an infirm person? Yue Qingyuan ah, I didn't know you were this kind of beast!
"...I should have done more for you regarding Shifu..."
Hold on, what was that last part?
Shen Yuan's mind suddenly sprang back into overdrive. It seemed like the plot writers hadn't failed him after all; the first clue regarding Shen Qingqiu and his old master had been delivered neatly into his lap.
Yue Qingyuan noticed Shen Yuan's change in expression.
"So it seems shidi still hasn't forgiven this Martial Brother for that," he said, sighing.
Shen Yuan reminded silent.
It wasn't like he wanted to; rather, he wanted nothing more than to question Yue Qingyuan now and drag all of the answers regarding Shen Qingqiu's tumultuous relationships out. However, that would definitely be OOC to the MAX, and he'd be struck down by Yue Qingyuan's sword before he could even get the odd word out.
"Then this Martial Brother won't disturb you rest," Yue Qingyuan sighed. "This Martial Brother can only hope that you recover soon enough. But you will not be faulted if the investigation goes nowhere."
The last part of the sentence seemed to carry some hidden meaning to it, of which Shen Yuan was unable to grasp.
Yue Qingyuan's hand patted Shen Yuan's shoulder fondly, and he sighed again.
And, with only those words, he was gone.
In the evening, Ming Fan returned to change the medicinal soak. This time, a large scowl was present on his face.
"That bastard Liu is definitely plotting something," he cursed, taking the cold towel off of Shen Yuan's head and replacing it with a warm, newly-pungent one.
Shen Yuan thought for a while, before realizing that Ming Fan was referring to Liu Qingge.
"Don't," he said, and coughed. His voice was hoarse from the fever, and the smell of the herbs was strong enough that it was a struggle not to gag. "Don't disrespect your Martial Grand-Uncle Liu."
Now that Shen Qingqiu was gone, it was time to amend all of the relationships the former him had destroyed. After all, he needed all of the suspects' cooperation to find out the truth, and keeping old grudges was one way to destroy any chances of returning back to his old world.
Ming Fan, however, was staring at him like he had seen a demon.
"Master's fever must have been worse than I thought," he muttered to himself.
Shen Yuan coughed lightly. "What was it that you wanted to tell me?"
Ming Fan walked over, sitting at the small stool beside the bed. "He's been stalking around Qingjing Peak all day. I even heard that he cursed Master to death at least thrice."
That was certainly a good start to their harmonious relationship as Martial Uncle and Nephew. Shen Yuan thought back to the cold, acerbic man in green robes that had sneered at him yesterday, and wondered if anyone had a positive relationship with him.
Perhaps it would be best to question Liu Qingge last.
"Has he tried to talk to you?" Shen Yuan asked. He wondered if Ming Fan was a target solely for his association with Shen Qingqiu. In that case, Shen Yuan would personally involve himself in the matter; he hated people who used lowly tactics the most.
Ming Fan shook his head. "I haven't seen him personally, but some of the shidi's did."
Without a reliable witness, it was impossible to know why Liu Qingge had been near the vicinity of Qingjing Peak. It could have been anything. What if — he was the guilty party behind Qiu Jianluo's death, and was here to dispose of evidence? Or better yet, of Shen Qingqiu himself?
He had heard Luo Qingge's sword work was some of the best in the continent. If he wanted to get rid of Shen Qingqiu, perhaps even Yue Qingyuan would be unable to save Shen Yuan's puny life.
But then, the truth would have been exposed, and perhaps whatever broken system had sent him here would be able to bring his soul back.
Disposing of evidence was a weak reason, as well. The only thing left behind at the crime scene was the injury on Qiu Jianluo's body, and it would have been a simple thing to clean the sword before the crime was discovered.
But what other reasons could it be?
Shen Yuan was slightly resentful of that fact that he was already bed-ridden on the first day. He had once heard the saying that the best time to solve a crime was when it happened, and the next best time was immediately afterwards. One day of having accomplished nothing could delay him out of so many clues.
And he couldn't even start questioning people out of the blue without looking ridiculous.
Although, what if —
A sudden thought occurred to him.
Hadn't people been mentioning how high his fever was all day?
Didn't fevers change some people's minds?
What if —