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.