Chapter 158: Supreme Commander says, you're different
Somehow, the refugees had gotten their hands on oil, which they now poured all over Xie Anshi’s body until he was completely soaked. Xie Anshi had only broken his jaw, so while he couldn’t speak, he could move perfectly fine. He tried multiple times to crawl to his feet and flee, but the refugees only kicked him back down again. Finally, the exhausted man simply laid paralyzed on the ground with the stench of urine emanating from his oil-sodden form.
Many refugees suddenly realized for the first time that the the sons of palace nobility resembled nothing more than stray curs when they were beaten and down. One of them tossed a torch on Xie Anshi’s body. As his body was swallowed by flames, Xie Anshi thrashed about wildly and howled.
Fang Tang ran back to Lou Zigui and said, “Supreme Commander, that whelp probably never expected to die like that.”
Lou Zigui didn’t speak. He stared wordlessly at the human torch writhing on the ground, his eyes ruthlessly cold. Hurried hoofbeats came from the other end of the street.
“Kill!” At the word of command, the capital barrack soldiers came rushing to the slaughter.
“It’s Chen Lu,” Fang Tang said after spotting the man in the lead.
“Have the refugees disperse,” Lou Zigui murmured in a low voice.
“Why aren’t you running yet?” Fang Tang shouted at the refugees. “Are you waiting to get killed? They’re calvarymen from the capital’s barracks, do you want to throw your lives away?!”
A few of the imperial guards joined in to help Fang Tang spread the word. When Chen Lu had galloped into the crowd and ran into their forces, he and his cavalrymen already held an advantage over the foot soldiers, to say nothing of the unarmed refugees. They fell in swarms before the onslaught. The rest were alerted by Fang Tang’s shouts and quelled by the sight of their dead kin. They began to scatter to the four winds. Chen Lu didn’t order his men to chase them down, but rushed to Xie Anshi’s side and cried frantically, “The fire, put out the fire!”
Fang Tang wanted to rush forward, but Lou Zigui held him back.
Two soldiers ran forward with water, but Chen Lu quickly called them off. “Can’t you smell the oil?!” If an oil-based fire met water, it would only exacerbate the flames. The two soldiers proceeded to take off their outer robes and beat the flames off Xie Anshi’s body.
“Are we going to let Xie Anshi go just like that?” Fang Tang asked Lou Zigui in a small voice.
“After being burnt like this,” Lou Zigui replied, “He’ll be living a fate worse than death,in fact he’ll be wishing for it.”
Soon enough, the soldiers put out the fires on Xie Anshi’s body. The third young master of the Xie Clan laid motionless on the ground, his entire body blackened by the flames. Even his four limbs had distorted as a result of the fire, leaving it impossible for anyone to tell whether he was still alive. Fang Tang arched a brow as he saw Xie Anshi’s ruined face. If he’s still alive after this, wouldn’t living simply be torture?
Chen Lu jumped off his horse and went to inspect the human figure that resembled a lump of charcoal. He didn’t know where to start.
“Judging by the shape of the body, it’s probably Third Young Master Xie,” Chen Lu’s vice commander muttered. Chen Lu knelt down to test for Xie Anshi’s breathing, only to find that he was still alive. He then picked up a scorched snuff bottle off the ground and inspected it before inhaling sharply.
“General?” his vice commander hastened to ask.
“He’s Xie Anshi,” Chen Lu said in a low voice. This was Xie Anshi’s personal snuff bottle that he carried around at all times. It was veritable proof of his identity. Now that his guesses had been confirmed, the vice commander broke out into cold sweat. All of the capital barracks’ soldiers had been busy fighting fires when Third Young Master Xie was burnt to a crisp by the refugees. How were they supposed to explain themselves to the Grand Preceptor?
“Someone come,” Chen Lu stood up to shout, “Deliver Third Young Master Xie back to the Grand Preceptor’s estate!”
A few soldiers ran forward to lift Xie Anshi off the ground, but the motion caused chunks of flesh to fall off his body, exposing the white bone beneath. The soldiers were terrified by the sight. The vice commander had men run to a shop facing the street and take off one of its door shutters. Xie Anshi was thus lifted onto the long wooden plank. Chen Lu tested his breathing one more time. Third Young Master Xie’s breaths were weak, as if he’d expire anytime.
“Quick,” Chen Lu commanded the soldiers. “Hurry and take him to the Grand Preceptor’s estate.” Originally, General Chen even wanted to have someone send for an imperial physician, but the sight of Lou Zigui made him swallow his words. The current emperor would rather the entire Xie Clan die according to the Grand Preceptor. Inviting an imperial physician? That’s just wishful thinking.
The soldiers carried Xie Anshi out of the alley.
“You, follow them,” Chen Lu ordered his vice commander.
His vice commander asked, “General, what do we tell the Grand Preceptor?”
“Just say that you saw Lou Zigui,” Chen Lu replied, “You don’t need to say anything else.” The vice commander nodded and chased after the troop of soldiers. Chen Lu walked to Lou Zigui and said, “Supreme Commander, I’m afraid it’ll be difficult to explain this.”
“Really?” Lou Zigui smiled from the shadows, revealing his white teeth.
Chen Lu said, “You’ll have to give the Grand Preceptor some sort of explanation.”
“The Grand Preceptor should be giving His Majesty an explanation for the fires in the capital tonight,” Lou Zigui said warmly. “When you see the Grand Preceptor, remember to tell him that he who schemes too much will end up entangling himself in his own plots as well.”
Chen Lu watched as Lou Zigui and his men strode off, his heart filled with misgivings. The Grand Preceptor set these fires to deal with His Majesty? Meanwhile, one of his military officers had just returned from Tao Chen’s estate to shout, “General, the Tao Estate---all of the Tao Estate’s people are dead!”
Chen Lu heard a loud buzzing between his ears. By the time he reached the Tao Estate with his men and opened the doors, all they saw inside were corpses. Blood flowed towards the lower ground of the courtyard to collect into a scarlet pool.
“Search about,” Chen Lu ordered as he stood in the courtyard. His fingers and toes were ice-cold. “See if there’s anyone still alive. We have to find His Excellency Tao Chen.”
The soldiers scattered to the four corners of the compound.
“They’ve looted everything from the estate as well,” the officer added in a small voice. “There were too many refugees in the streets, so it was impossible to tell which ones were the culprits.”
Chen Lu suddenly stepped on something soft beneath his feet. When he held his torch and looked down, he saw a human hand. There was no blood on the body part, but was simply lying by itself on the ground.
One of the capital’s soldiers ran into the courtyard and was momentarily stunned by the sight. When he recovered, it was only to report, “General, the refugees on the streets have dispersed.”
Chen Lu kicked the human hand aside. Aren’t they afraid of revenge from the Grand Preceptor? They’ve burnt Third Young Master Xie and decimated Tao Chen’s estate. How could Grand Preceptor Xie ever spare those worthless refugees’ lives?!
Fang Tang was thinking along the same lines as Chen Lu as he rode on his horse. Eventually, he asked Lou Zigui, “Supreme Commander, will Xie Wenyuan spare those refugees?”
Lou Zigui replied, “Xie Wenyuan has many things to do. He currently has no time to seek revenge.”
“Ah?” Fang Tang asked. “What other things are he planning?”
Lou Zigui suddenly pulled on his reins and stopped his horse with a muttered curse. “Damn it.”
Fang Tang followed Lou Zigui’s line of sight to see Ning Xiaoyao standing by the side of the road with Big Boss Black on her left shoulder and the snow wolf pup on her head. Lou Zigui dismounted his horse and reached her within a few steps to murmur, “Why did you leave the palace?”
Ning Xiaoyao pointed in the direction of the alley and said, “Tao Chen’s entire family was exterminated?”
Fang Tang asked, “Your Majesty, how did you know?”
Ning Xiaoyao scratched the palms of her hand. Just then, a bunch of crows were heading to feast on the corpses.
“Tao Chen has only himself to blame,” Lou Zigui grasped Ning Xiaoyao’s hand. Her fingers were frighteningly cold.
“Did a lot of people die this time?” Ning Xiaoyao asked.
Fang Tang didn’t speak. Many people did die, but it was difficult to say such things to His Majesty. Lou Zigui had Fang Tang lead the rest of the men away, leaving just him and Ning Xiaoyao standing by the streets.
“If I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have wanted the Grand Preceptor’s houses,” Ning Xiaoyao scruffed her shoes against the ground, head bowed in regret.
“It has nothing to do with you.” Seeing that there was no way to warm Ning Xiaoyao’s hand, Lou Zigui took off his outer robes and wrapped her up in them. “Xie Anshi heard the refugees cursing the Xie Clan and ordered his men to trap them in an alley and burn them to death.”
Ning Xiaoyao didn’t know that and was shocked by the news.
“After that, the refugees revolted and charged into Tao Chen’s estate to catch Xie Anshi,” Lou Zigui said. “That was why their entire family died.”
“T-then what about that bastard Xie Anshi?” Ning Xiaoyao cried angrily, her spirits recovering again.
“He was caught by the refugees and burned alive,” Lou Zigui led the horse with one hand and Ning Xiaoyao with the other, heading in the direction of the palace. “Whether or not he lives, he’ll be crippled for the rest of his life.”
Ning Xiaoyao sucked in a deep breath at the mention.
Lou Zigui said, “This is his retribution.”
Ning Xiaoyao said, “Whether or not Xie Anshi lives or dies has nothing to do with me, but what about those refugees? That old geezer Xie has troops, ah. He wouldn’t go crazy and send them to kill all the refugees, will he?”
Lou Zigui stopped walking. “That’s what you’re worried about?”
Ning Xiaoyao replied, “Yeah. If I’m not worried about that, am I supposed to be worrying for that bastard Xie Anshi instead? What are you worried about, ah?” Ning Xiaoyao looked uncomprehendingly at Lou Zigui. What could be more important at a time like this?
Lou Zigui removed his hands from the reins and pulled Ning Xiaoyao into an embrace. Ning Xiaoyao lifted a hand to rub Lou Zigui’s face. She couldn’t tell which one was colder, her hand or his cheek, but all she felt was ice beneath her fingers. “You,” Ning Xiaoyao guessed, “You’re worried too, but you just haven’t thought of a solution yet?”
“The capital’s soldiers are putting out the fires at the moment,” Lou Zigui said. “These flames won’t last for long.”
“Oh right, there’s the fires, too,” Ning Xiaoyao said. “How many houses were burnt in total?”
Lou Zigui bent down to rest his forehead against Ning Xiaoyao’s head. Completely lost, Ning Xiaoyao simply stood there unmoving.
She’s different from the late emperor and Xie Wenyuan, Lou Zigui thought as he hugged Ning Xiaoyao. Even though they share the same blood, this bit is different. This girl isn’t malicious and treats me very well. I owe my very life to her. “You’re different,” he murmured in a soft voice.
“What’s wrong with you?” Ning Xiaoyao asked anxiously. Can’t you give me a reason before you get all sentimental on me?
Big Boss Black had already jumped onto Little Red by this time and loudly meowed at her, “You ninny!”
“You’re not allowed to talk about Xiaoyao like that!” Next to Big Boss Black was the snow wolf cub, who bit a large mouthful of black fur in retaliation.
“Supreme Commander is courting you,” Big Boss Black gave Ning Xiaoyao a disdainful look. “You don’t even know that, stupid!” First snuggling, then rubbing against each other. That’s how we cats court each other! (Author: You’re a cat, those two are humans---)
Ning Xiaoyao tilted her head to look at Lou Zigui. Now’s not the time for romance, is it?