Chapter 157: The refugees riot again
“Go find the refugees,” Lou Zigui told the messenger. “Tell them what happened here, then tell them where the culprit is.”
The messenger nodded before running into the crowds.
“Supreme Commander,” one of his generals stepped forward. “Old Huo’s brought more men.”
Meanwhile, a team of soldiers from the capital’s barracks had run over to help with the fire. When their leader saw Lou Zigui’s group standing in the streets, he had them halt, not daring to move any further. Lou Zigui brought his men to stride past the team of soldiers, only glancing at their leader. The motion was almost enough to make the man go for his sword.
“Why aren’t you putting out those fires yet?” one of the Black Frost Cavalry generals hit the leader of the soldiers. He staggered back a few steps, angry yet too timid to talk back.
Meanwhile, Old Huo’s men had brought Xie Laibao with them to one of the large halls in a merchant’s house. Xie Laibao looked around him and shivered as he asked Old Huo, “Just where is this place?”
Old Huo didn’t say a word before he walked out of the room.
All alone in the room, Xie Laibao felt as if the furniture and earthernware themselves had grown eyes to stare at him. He covered his face with his hands, too afraid to peek. Not long later, Lou Zigui entered the room to sit across from Xie Laibao at the table.
“Su, Supreme Commander,” Xie Laibao tried to smile when he looked up at saw Lou Zigui, only to fail miserably. His face was frozen stiff.
“Speak,” Lou Zigui intoned. “Were my father and elder brothers done in by Xie Wenyuan?”
Xie Laibao’s body froze as he looked at Lou Zigui in shock.
“The battle in the wastelands that year,” Lou Zigui said coldly. “Xie Wenyuan went to meet with Modou. What did they talk about?”
Xie Laibao’s body tilted sideways before he tumbled out of his chair to fall at Lou Zigui’s feet.
“Tell me the truth,” Lou Zigui sat there unmoving.
Xie Laibao remained lying on the floor for a long time. If Lou Zigui can ask these kind of questions, then he must have heard something. Am I supposed to hide my master’s misdeeds? When he thought of the fate lying in wait for the Poison Sect, Xie Laibao looked at Lou Zigui and nodded his head.
“Supreme Commander, this, this humble one doesn’t know much, only that the Northern Hu’s Wolf King really did m-meet with my master.”
“What did they talk about?”
“The Wolf King said his warriors couldn’t die in vain,” Xie Laibao looked up, raising his hands in a pledge, “This humble one speaks the truth!”
His words matched Lady Xiang’s account perfectly. Lou Zigui sat for a long time in his chair without saying a thing. There was only a single oil lamp lit in the room, and its light didn’t reach Lou Zigui where he sat. In the darkness, Xie Laibao could only hear Lou Zigui’s knuckle cracking with the effort of clenching his fists. He quickly forced himself to crawl backwards, afraid that the man would kill him in a pique of temper.
A long while later, Lou Zigui slowly exhaled and relaxed his fingers. “Who else knows about this?” he asked Xie Laibao.
“N-no one,” Xie Laibao replied in a fluster.
“Did Xie Wenyuan do it on imperial orders?” Lou Zigui asked.
Xie Laibao opened and closed his mouth.
“I want the truth,” Lou Zigui’s eyes turned ruthless.
“The late emperor did give my master a secret message,” Xie Laibao admitted, “B-but the idea came from the Northern Hu, who had found my master first. Then my master went to find the late emperor. It...it was possible that the late emperor didn’t want to prolong the fight against Northern Hu anymore, so, s-so…” Xie Laibao didn’t dare finish the thought. His Grand Preceptor already had a grudge with Lou Zigui, so how could the late emperor not be guilty in killing the Lou Clan father and sons?
Xie Laibao pressed his face against the ice-cold ground and thought it over before saying, “Supreme Commander, regarding this matter, His...His Majesty doesn’t know of it.”
Lou Zigui fell into a long silence again. Outside the building, the streets were filled the shouts of people, a marked contrast to the deathly silence within. It was as if they were in a completely different world.
“Is there anything else you need to tell me?” Lou Zigui finally spoke up.
Xie Laibao proceeded to tell Supreme Commander about Grand Preceptor’s plans to eliminate the Poison Sect. Lou Zigui’s hands rapped lightly against the table, the steady beat making Xie Laibao even more nervous than he already was.
“I don’t care how you do it, but leave a live one for me,” Lou Zigui said. “Will you remember my words?”
Xie Laibao looked anxious. “Supreme Commander, if I leave a survivor, it’ll be hard to explain things to the Grand Preceptor.”
“Shift the blame to the capital barracks soldiers,” Lou Zigui replied. “Put Tao Yu[1. Tao Yu (陶语) - Tao is a surname meaning “pottery, earthernware,” Yu is “language.”] in charge of the assassination.”
Xie Laibao knew Tao Yu as the concubine-born younger half brother of the Xie Clan’s third son-in-law, Tao Chen. Tao Yu was later summoned back to the capital to act as the deputy general of the capital barracks soldiers. But to ask him for that? Is Lou Zigui marking Deputy General Tao for death? Xie Laibao first nodded to say he understood, then asked, “Supreme Commander, this, this humble one doesn’t have enough brains. How am I supposed to pull this off?”
Lou Zigui stood up, and Xie Laibao hastily backed away.
“You can only live peacefully once Xie Wenyuan is dead,” Lou Zigui told the head steward of the Xie Clan. “You have to manage the Poison Sect business well.”
“Yes, yes,” Xie Laibao crawled over in front of Lou Zigui and kowtowed.
When Lou Zigui left the building, the air outside was already hot and choked with smoke. Fang Tang ran in from the streets, shaking his head at the sight of Lou Zigui. “The winds are big tonight, it’ll be hard to put these fires out. The capital’s soldiers are taking care of the houses at the end of the lane so it doesn’t spread across the streets.”
Lou Zigui tightened his collar and told Old Huo, “Take Xie Laibao back.”
Old Huo hastily nodded. Lou Zigui then returned to the previous intersection with Fang Tang following close behind.
Meanwhile, a crowd of refugees had gathered outside the doors of the Nine Gate Infantry Commander Tao Chen’s estate. The doorkeepers shouted at them to get away. “Do you think you can linger in a place like this? Hurry up and scram!”
But the refugees simply ignored his words and stayed put. A few of the doorkeepers attempted to drive them off, but realized that the numbers of refugees gathering before their doors was increasing. Eventually, a literal mob of people had filled up the entire lane, scaring the doorkeepers to death. They hastily ran into the estate and shut the doors fast before hurrying with a report to the back courtyard. There resided Tao Chen, still bedridden after Ning Xiaoyao had broken his bones by chucking a wall at him. He was currently speaking to Xie Anshi.
A steward quickly asked for an audience by the door before reporting everything that was happening outside. Tao Chen couldn’t believe it. What kind of refugees had the daring to block the Nine Gate Infantry Commander’s door?
When the steward came inside, his face was drawn with worry. “Master, this servant thinks that there’s something fishy about all this.”
“Wasn’t it just a fire?” Tao Chen said, perplexed. Two streets had caught on fire, but why were the refugees looking for him?
Xie Anshi’s face, on the other hand, was deathly white.
“What happened?” Tao Chen hurriedly asked Xie Anshi.
“I killed a few refugees,” Xie Anshi had nothing to hide from his elder brother-in-law, so he explained how he’d ordered his men to trap the refugees who badmouthed his father in an alley and burned them to death.
As soon as Tao Chen heard his words, he sat up despite his serious injuries, completely alarmed. “How could you do something like that?!”
Xie Anshi didn’t think he had done anything wrong and said in a dismissive tone, “They were only some refugees.”
“Hurry,” Tao Chen didn’t waste time talking with Xie Anshi anymore, but went to order the steward instead. “Call for Her Ladyship, we’re leaving through the back door!”
Xie Anshi asked, “Brother-in-law, you’re afraid of some paltry refuges?”
If Tao Chen wasn’t severely injured, he’d punch Xie Anshi right now. “Those ‘paltry refugees’ had the guts to charge straight into the palace. What makes you think they won’t mob my estate as well?”
Xie Anshi still wasn’t concerned. The refugees had only invaded the palace with his father’s instigation. How would they ever had the courage to charge in the Nine Gate Infantry Commander’s compound?
Outside the doors, a simple and honest-looking man shouted, “Xie Anshi is right inside!”
“Those who kill need to pay with their own lives. Aren’t refugees’ lives human lives as well?”
“The father wanted to kill us, and now the son does, too. Just what enmity does the Xie Clan hold against us all?!”
Angry cries rose incessantly from the crowd. A few of the younger refugees rushed to the door and began slamming against it with their bodies. Meanwhile, ten or so retainers blocked them with their lives from the other side.
“Everyone, together!” someone shouted in the crowd.
The horde of refugees surged forward.
The sound of their impact against the doors made Tao Chen even more anxious as he urged his guards to hurry up. Third Young Miss Xie, Tao Chen’s wife, was sitting with him in a sedan chair, while a nanny behind them held their youngest son in her arms. Their eldest son was walking on the other side of the sedan.
By now, Xie Anshi had started to panic as well, and walked with quick steps behind the carriage. At the same time, the refugees broke through the door and charged inside. A few of the retainers who were too slow to move out of the way were trampled to death underfoot.
“Kill them!” one of the refugees shouted.
The Tao Clan retainers could still stand up against some refugees, but their sheer numbers were overwhelming. Even after killing one wave, another would come to replace it like a flood. In the end, the retainers were scattered and quickly killed by the furious mob. Their eyes, red in their bloodlust, they killed everyone they saw and stole everything they laid hands on. Without any semblance of logic or reason left, they were nothing more than bloodthirsty monsters.
Xie Anshi brought a few guards with him to flee with Tao Chen. Compared to the streets that were on fire, these lanes were still quiet, the doors tightly shut with no pedestrians on the road. No sound could be heard beyond the high courtyard walls, either.
“Third Young Master,” the guard pulling Xie Anshi along said, “After this street, it’ll be the capital barracks. We won’t need to fear the refugees once we reach there. Third Young Master, please run a little fas---”
Before the guard finished speaking, arrows flew out from the shadows and shot him dead with the rest of Xie Anshi’s guards. Completely caught by surprise, Xie Anshi stood blankly at the end of the street, too dazed to feel any fear---yet. A row of men walked out from the shadows, their leader stopping right in front of Xie Anshi.
“Lou Zigui?” When Xie Anshi recognized the man, he took a step back. Lou Zigui simply kicked Xie Anshi to the ground, causing him to cry out. “It was you! You were the one who stirred up the refugees to rush into the Tao Estate!”
Lou Zigui ordered Fang Tang, “Hand him over to the refugees.”
Fang Tang stepped forward and dragged Xie Anshi to his feet.
“Lou Zigui!” Xie Anshi shouted. “You dare to kill me? My father will never forgive you for it!”
Fang Tang kicked Xie Anshi in the mouth, breaking his jaw. The third young master of the Xie Clan opened his mouth, but only a series of unintelligible noises came out. He couldn’t speak anymore. Meanwhile, Tao Chen’s party had been trapped by the refugees at the end of a street before the mob swallowed them whole.
When Fang Tang caught up to them, all he saw was a mess of bloody, mangled flesh on the ground. He tossed Xie Anshi onto the pulpy pile and announced in a loud voice, “He’s the one called Xie Anshi.”