Chapter 125: The villainous Ning Clan forefather Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
If Ning Xiaoyao could figure out that the Grand Sacrificial Ceremony was a good opportunity to get rid of her, then so could Grand Preceptor Xie. He hadn’t paid much attention to the event until he found a suitable doppelganger. This was a chance he couldn’t miss to get rid of me. One of the Grand Preceptor’s messengers had been stopped in the imperial palace, but he eventually was able to get his message delivered to Empress Dowager Xie’s hands. After reading the missive, Empress Dowager Xie lifted her head to look at the eunuch who had delivered the paper. It was currently noon, but the bright and beautiful sunlight outside did nothing to dispel the sudden chill she’d felt at those words she’d read. It was the kind of cold that came from an icy, snow-filled world.
The eunuch messenger muttered, “Esteemed Empress Dowager, the Grand Preceptor’s still waiting for your reply.”
“If he’s certain he’ll succeed, then we’ll do it,” Empress Dowager Xie crumpled the message into a ball in her hand. “But tell the Grand Preceptor that this Dowager won’t be able to protect him should something amiss occur.”
“Yes,” the eunuch bowed before leaving the palace.
Empress Dowager Xie tossed the crumpled piece of paper into her censer and muttered to herself, “Don’t blame me. Since you weren’t filial, Ning Yu, don’t fault your mother for being unkind.” (Author: Hey hey, you were never kind in the first place, alright?!)
Oil Jar ran past the roof tiles over Empress Dowager Xie’s head, determined to report the news to Xiaoyao. Currently, Ning Xiaoyao had taken Big Boss Black with her to check out the ancestral hall located in the southeast corner of the imperial palace grounds. Since a fight was on the horizon, she had to familiarize herself with the layout of the battlegrounds first.
“This is the main hall,” Big Boss Black raised a paw to point at the building before them.
Ning Xiaoyao raised her neck for a look to see a palace-like structure covered with colored glaze and golden tiles. It had upturned eaves and corbel brackets, carved dragons and painted phoenixes, a shimmering sight beneath the sunlight that was bright enough to blind onlookers.
“It’s only a mourning hall,” Ning Xiaoyao ridiculed to Big Boss Black. “Did they need to dress it up so much?”
This was the first time Big Boss Black had heard anyone call a proper ancestral hall a ‘mourning hall’ instead. He swished his tail and asked her, “Mourning hall?”
“Where you enshrine memorial tablets,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “What else would you call it, if not a mourning hall?”
Big Boss Black thought that this made sense. “Your ancestors sure were wealthy.” What else could they be, if they could afford to deck out their mourning hall so lavishly?
Ning Xiaoyao only chuckled. If the Ning Clan’s ancestors really were keeping their eyes on their kingdom, they’d probably be spitting up blood by now! They had to be regretting the fact that they didn’t leave all the money invested in this building to her instead! (Author: The Ning Clan ancestors had no idea that you’d show up, either. o(╯□╰)o)
The roof eaves overhung a very narrow porch that cut off the flow of sunlight into the hall. When Ning Xiaoyao pushed open the doors and walked inside, the wind whistled in her wake, sending the lanterns in the hall flickering.
“Great Immortal was right,” Big Boss Black said as he stared at the ceiling. “There’s no ceiling rafters in this building.”
Ning Xiaoyao looked up as well and saw that was the case. “What’s the deal with that?”
“Dead people’s tombs have no ceiling rafters,” Big Boss Black explained. “Great Immortal said so. Houses like this are called Yin dwellings[1. Yin dwellings (阴宅) - yinzhai, in which the ‘yin’ comes from Yin Yang and represents the dark, cold, negative forces in the universe. Its opposite would be a Yang dwelling (阳宅), where presumably the living stay.], miaow.”
Yin dwelling or not, Ning Xiaoyao didn’t care. She looked at the rows of memorial tablets arranged before her in a pyramid with golden characters carved onto their surfaces. After finding the memorial tablet of the late emperor, Ning Xiaoyao gave it a scolding. “Stupid bastard, do you regret it now? You feel like dying again, even though you’re a ghost now?”
The black lacquer memorial tablet simply faced Ning Xiaoyao wordlessly.
“A emperor like you is better off dead, though,” Ning Xiaoyao said, suddenly seized with an impulse to pour out her thoughts. How many people had this idiot killed?
Big Boss Black grew impatient. “Aren’t you here to examine the place?”
Ning Xiaoyao finally went to circle around the entire hall before going back outside to look over the tall flights of stairs leading to the building. “Everyone outside will be able to hear me if I so much as shout in a place like this. How is that jerk of a Grand Preceptor planning to finish me off?”
“This cat doesn’t know,” Big Boss Black replied.
“.........” said Ning Xiaoyao. Do you have to be so blunt?
“Look around some more?” Big Boss Black suggested.
Ning Xiaoyao returned to the shrine for the late emperors and stared at Emperor Yuanzong’s memorial tablet again. “Shouldn’t you help me out? Can’t you show some fatherly love here?”
The hall was quiet aside from the pair, its air filled with tendrils of incense smoke. There were no hint of spirits here at all. A sudden gust of strong wind blew into the area and noisily blew out all the candles. Ning Xiaoyao hugged Big Boss Black, who had jumped into her arms. “I guess that was an evil wind. Looks like that stupid bastard has a temper, too.”
Big Boss Black’s fur was all standing on end. “Don’t scare this cat. Did you see a ghost?!”
Ning Xiaoyao gave a faint sigh. She actually wanted to see one for real.
“W-who’s there?” a trembling voice called from outside. One human and one cat turned to meet the sound. In the darkness of the hall, Big Boss Black’s round green eyes were as bright as glass spheres. The wind had sent Ning Xiaoyao’s dragon robes fluttering in its wake, and together they painted a ghostly picture against the backdrop of the late emperors’ memorial tablets. The eunuch in charge of overseeing the ancestral hall clutched his chest and fell to the ground in a dead faint out of fear.
“Meow?” Big Boss Black ran over to take a look. Why had that human fainted? Ning Xiaoyao went to examine the jade beads that had scattered around the eunuch’s body when he fell. They seemed to be part of a bracelet, but the string had snapped and sent the jade beads rolling all over the place. Jade was money too, so Ning Xiaoyao crouched down and began to pick them up. Even if she couldn’t figure out how the Grand Preceptor was planning to kill her, bringing back a few dozen jade beads would still make this trip worthwhile. When her fingertips suddenly scraped against a chink in the ground, Ning Xiaoyao felt a light breeze wafting up from its cracks.
Ning Xiaoyao placed her hand against the crack and felt the breeze again. She felt around herself but didn’t find anything that could pry it open. Then her gaze shifted to the unconscious eunuch. Since he was a guard here, he carried a sword. Ning Xiaoyao ran over and grabbed his sword before shutting the door to the hall.
Big Boss Black squatted by Ning Xiaoyao’s side to watch her prying at the floor. “Xiaoyao, are you sure about this?”
“I’m sure,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “There’s wind coming from below, so there has to be basement or something down there.”
“Then should we call someone to help?” Big Boss Black asked. A single floor tile in this hall was equal to the size of an Eight Immortals table.[2. Eight Immortals table (八仙桌) - baxianzhuo, a traditional square table said to seat eight people via benches on each side. The “Eight Immortals” is also a reference to a group of famous Daoist cultivators often found in ancient Chinese folklore.] How is the ninny supposed to pry it open by herself?
“If there really is a basement underground, then there has to be a switch for the door,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “But it’s fine even if we don’t find the switch. I don’t care!” As she placed emphasis on the last word, she successfully pried open the floor tile as wide as two Eight Immortals table with her bare hands.
( ⊙ o ⊙ ) , went Big Boss Black.
“Hah,” Ning Xiaoyao said said smugly as a square-shaped tunnel about five meters squared appeared before her eyes. “See that? A basement!”
Big Boss Black perched on the edge and peered down. “So deep.”
Ning Xiaoyao leapt into the hole.
“Miaow!” Big Boss Black’s fur stood on end in fear again. They weren’t even sure how deep it went, so how could that ninny simply jump in?
Ning Xiaoyao stood at the bottom of the basement and patted the four walls around her. She realized that this was nothing more than an isolated space with no interlocking tunnels. Instead of a basement, she should call this a dungeon instead. Undaunted, Ning Xiaoyao laid prone on her stomach to feel around the floor, but there was no passage underfoot, either.
“Xiaoyao?” Big Boss Black called from above.
Ning Xiaoyao stood up and stared at the stone walls around her. Then she kicked off a few times from the glossy rock surfaces until she climbed back out into the hall again.
“Xiaoyao,” called Grandpa Ash, who was standing next to Big Boss Black.
“Grandpa Ash, why did you come here?” Ning Xiaoyao crouched by their side.
“The forefather of your Ning Clan made this,” Grandpa Ash said solemnly to Ning Xiaoyao.
“Grandpa Ash, you’ve seen the Ning Clan ancestors before?” Ning Xiaoyao asked. Just how old is this mouse? Had he turned into a spirit already?
“I heard it from my grandfather,” Grandpa Ash said as he glared at Ning Xiaoyao. “Listen to me without interrupting.”
“Oh,” Ning Xiaoyao dropped her head. Big Boss Black disdained the fact that Ning Xiaoyao had been lectured by a mere mouse. A ninny like that would never have prospects for a bright future. (Author: Then why can’t you close your jaws around that mouse? o(╯□╰)o)
“Back then, your Ning Clan forefather had a brother born from the same parents,” Grandpa Ash told Ning Xiaoyao. “Both of them conquered the lands together, but there was only one place on the throne. Thus, the Ning Clan forefather constructed this dungeon in the ancestral hall. He put his younger brother--that is, your ancestral uncle, Xiaoyao--into this place and starved him to death.”
“..........” said Ning Xiaoyao. The very first generation of this imperial Ning Clan was a villain!
“Aside from the emperors of the Ning Clan, no one else knows of this dungeon’s existence,” Grandpa Ash said. “Xiaoyao, you haven’t seen your imperial father before. That’s why you don’t know.”
“Heheh,” said Ning Xiaoyao. It was a good thing they hadn’t met, or else she would’ve killed her father for sure.
“No ‘heheh’ing,” Grandpa Ash said as he brandished a claw. “However, the Grand Preceptor knows of this place.”
Ning Xiaoyao rubbed her chin as she thought. She could believe that the late emperor really had loved the Xie Clan.
“You have to be careful,” Grandpa Ash said as he jumped onto Ning Xiaoyao’s shoulder.
“Does the Grand Preceptor want to learn from the old forefather and lock me in there to starve to death?” asked Ning Xiaoyao. Why is that old geezer so venomous?
“If he’s planning to kill you on the day of the Grand Sacrificial Ceremony,” Grandpa Ash said with a nod, “Then that’s exactly what he’d do.”
“Then that’s fine,” Ning Xiaoyao plopped onto the ground. “A dungeon like that can’t keep me trapped.”
Grandpa Ash had seen Ning Xiaoyao jump down and back up with his own eyes, so he knew it wasn’t an empty boast. He simply reminded her, “Then you have to be extra careful. That Grand Preceptor is a very wicked man.”
“Right, that old geezer’s completely rotten!” Big Boss Black said.
Ning Xiaoyao carefully nodded. “Right, I need to be careful.” Even if she knew how he’d kill her, she still had to take caution. When dealing with zombies---ah, no, when dealing with villains--a single moment of negligence could still spell death even for herself. After restoring the dungeon to its original state, Ning Xiaoyao woke up the unconscious eunuch before ducking to hide beneath the shrine altar. She wanted to see what he’d come to do here in the first place.
The eunuch sat upright as he blinked and stared at the great hall before him. Everything seemed normal, and there were no black figures in his line of sight. Neither was there that pair of demonic looking eyes. At most, the lights in the ancestral hall had just gone out.
Did my guilty conscience make me see things?
“I want to bite him to death!” Big Boss Black bared his fangs as he watched the eunuch staring sneakily around him.
“Shh,” Ning Xiaoyao muffled Big Boss Black and murmured, “Let’s see what he’s planning first.”
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