Chapter 24: Sharp swords or human lives? Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
“That one’s my master!” the little gyrfalcon flapped his wings as he danced on Ning Xiaoyao’s shoulder. Ning Xiaoyao’s face was soundly smacked a few times by the gyrfalcon’s wings until she almost toppled off the wall.
“Calm down, calm down,” Ning Xiaoyao covered her face as she said in a low voice. “Right now, we have to stay cool!” All of the people in the courtyard were kneeling and dressed in black. She really couldn’t tell which one was Shadowgale, ah!
“Your Majesty?” Empress Dowager Xie stood up from her seat and walked out from beneath the eaves. She stood at the top of the steps and looked at Ning Xiaoyao.
“Awoo awoo awoo,” the little gyrfalcon cried out at the sight. “It’s that bad woman! I want to peck her to death!”
Ning Xiaoyao grabbed onto the gyrfalcon before he charged. “Can’t we calm down a bit? There’s a bunch of people holding bows and arrows down there. You want to be turned into a hedgehog? I can’t even kill that woman, so you think you can?”
“Awoo awoo awoo…” the gyrfalcon looked unresigned.
“Don’t cry out,” Ning Xiaoyao only held onto him. No helping it, falcon beaks are sharp, so you can’t muffle them.
“Your Majesty?!” Empress Dowager Xie exclaimed again, her voice filled with bitter pain.
Ning Xiaoyao held onto the gyrfalcon and jumped off the wall. The court ladies and mama who saw her leap from three meters up all shouted in alarm from fright. Empress Dowager Xie was scared as well; Ning Yu couldn't die right now! But her eyes shone with a sinister light as she saw Ning Xiaoyao land harmlessly on her feet. The empress dowager didn't believe it before, but after seeing her land soundlessly with her own two eyes, she was convinced that this daughter of hers not only knew martial arts, but was a high-level expert.
Ning Xiaoyao patted the gyrfalcon’s head and said, “Calm down. You can only start fighting after I start.”
“When does Your Majesty plan to start fighting?” the gyrfalcon asked.
Ning Xiaoyao warmed up her still aching hand and said, “We’ll talk reason first. If that doesn't work, we’ll fight.” Ning Xiaoyao saw that Empress Dowager Xie’s gaze was very unkind. When she had seen the empress dowager kill her own daughter, she'd considered the woman ruthless, but Ning Yu’s bad ending was caused by her own weaknesses as well. She brought it onto herself by misjudging others. But right now, all Ning Xiaoyao felt towards Empress Dowager Xie was annoyance. During the apocalypse, members of the military like her put their lives on the line and sacrificed themselves like martyrs to give humankind a chance to survive. What was this woman doing now? Using a lie, she snatched away hundreds of innocent lives? She was unforgivable!
Hacking at zombies didn't require plots or schemes, nor had anything taught Ning Xiaoyao how to hide her intentions, so her feelings were written all over her face. Empress Dowager Xie’s fingers dug into her palms. Ning Yu harbored killing intent towards her. Her daughter wanted her dead!
“You guys have no reaction despite seeing the emperor?” Ning Xiaoyao looked at the people in the courtyard. Don't treat her as an ignoramus, all right? She'd seen videos of ancient costume dramas before, you had to kneel upon seeing the emperor!
“Your servant greets Your Majesty.” Old Servant Lai was the first to react, and knelt before Ning Xiaoyao.
The people in the courtyard seem to wake from a dream as they all knelt down to pay their respects by wishing her ten thousand years of longevity. Ning Xiaoyao looked at Empress Dowager Xie. So did the gyrfalcon, who was prepared to fly over at a moment’s notice to peck all over her face.
Big Boss Black, who had crawled through the dog hole with Yellow Great Immortal and was now hiding behind a Chinese rose tree, asked the other, “What are the ninny and the gyrfalcon doing?”
Yellow Great Immortal rolled its beady eyes before shouting, “That's your biological mother, and you want her to kneel? Wake up!”
“...” said Ning Xiaoyao.
“Your Majesty,” Empress Dowager Xie said. “The imperial astronomers calculated this day to send off the Dragon Guards in service to the late emperor. Did Your Majesty come to send them off as well?”
“Pay your respects,” Yellow Great Immortal shouted. His words were just sounds to other humans that sounded like coughing.
“What was that noise?” Empress Dowager Xie asked.
Ning Xiaoyao stood stark straight. Ask her to pay respects to this woman? She’d rather die! Raising a hand to halt the eunuch who was preparing to look for Yellow Great Immortal, she spoke. “Now isn't the time to worry about such matters.”
“Then Your Majesty’s meaning is?” Empress Dowager Xie asked.
Ning Xiaoyao looked at the officials standing on left and right and said, “I…”
Yellow Great Immortal shouted out again. “You have to call yourself Zhen![1. Zhen (朕) - the royal “We,” a self-appellation used exclusively by the emperor.] Zhen!”
An archer pointed his bow at the weasel behind the tree and raised his hand to shoot.
“Put that bow down for me!” Ning Xiaoyao shouted as she pointed at the offending archer. The gyrfalcon pecked Ning Xiaoyao’s head as she spoke again. “Listen to me, you…”
The gyrfalcon continued to peck Ning Xiaoyao.
“Put down that thing in your claws for Zhen,” said Ning Xiaoyao. The archer lowered his bow, but it was still nocked with an arrow. A middle-aged man dressed in official’s robes took two steps forward and bowed towards Ning Xiaoyao and Empress Dowager Xie.
“Your Majesty, Esteemed Empress Dowager, three incense sticks have burned to the end. We can send off the Dragon Guards on their journey now.”
Ning Xiaoyao unconsciously looked behind the official, where a long altar for incense burners stood. The incense burner was filled with ashes.
“This Dowager[2. aijia (哀家) - a personal pronoun used by a widowed empress to refer to herself.] understands,” Empress Dowager Xie gave a small wave of her hands before speaking to the Dragon Guards kneeling on the ground. “When you meet with the late emperor, you have to serve him well.”
An eunuch in charging to managing affairs brought along a group of young eunuchs to walk towards the Dragon Guards. Each of the young eunuchs were carrying a tray, upon which rested a porcelain bowl filled with poison.
“Wait,” Ning Xiaoyao raised her hand. “I, no, Zhen didn’t let you guys start. Just who’s the emperor here?”
At her words, the eunuchs didn’t dare keep walking. Empress Dowager Xie might have made the calls, but they as eunuchs couldn’t ignore the emperor.
Empress Dowager Xie expelled a breath. “Your Majesty, this was the late emperor’s decree.” Then she raised her left hand. An eunuch hastened to placed a bright yellow imperial edict in her hands
“Does Your Majesty want to take a look?” Empress Dowager Xie asked Ning Xiaoyao, who snatched it over without a second word. The edict was filled with traditional Chinese characters that made her vision swim, but a combination of guesswork and context clues helped her understand its message. This really was an imperial edict sentencing the Dragon Guards to be buried alive with the dead. At the very end of the bright yellow satin cloth was a red stamp. Its seal script was unintelligible to Ning Xiaoyao, but she figured this had to be the Imperial Jade Seal.
“Does Your Majesty have any decrees?” Empress Dowager Xie asked.
Ning Xiaoyao’s mind flew as she thought. Did they have to come to a life and death struggle so soon? It looked like this was the only way. Oh right, she mused as she glanced down at herself. There’s one more way, I could take off my clothes!
“Your Majesty should come to This Dowager’s side,” Empress Dowager Xie extended her hand towards Ning Xiaoyao. Under the moonlight, the skin resembled white jade, the fingers covered in a silver sheath that was inlaid with luxurious gold and jade.
Ning Xiaoyao rested her hands on her collar, preparing to make her move when a voice called out from outside the door. “This one is Lou Zigui.”
The person she’d rolled around in the sheets with was here. Even if she lacked some moral principles, Ning Xiaoyao’s cheeks still flushed. The gyrfalcon flew from her shoulder to rise past the wall, sailing in a circle before returning again with a cry. “It’s Supreme Commander.”
“Who is the one in charge inside?” Lou Zigui’s voice called out again. “Can they open the doors?”
Empress Dowager Xie’s heart was filled with loathing. If Ning Xiaoyao hadn’t ran over, she would now have a chance to get rid of Lou Zigui and the Dragon Guards in one sweep! Rather than wait three days for the poison to overtake his body, she wanted Lou Zigui dead this instant. Ning Xiaoyao saw that no one was moving to open the door for Lou Zigui, so she ran to do it herself. After the large copper gates had been kicked and punched out of shape by her strength, its hinges had already started cracking. When she gave a strong tug on the doors, they finally fell to the ground with a crash. Once again, the ground beneath their feet shuddered and shook. The dust from the fallen doors enveloped Ning Xiaoyao.
“Cough cough cough,” Ning Xiaoyao spat out the dirt that had flown into her mouth.
Lou Zigui looked at the fallen doors, then at Ning Xiaoyao. Even if he didn’t want to remember, he recalled the joyous times he had just experienced recently. That’s right, he couldn’t deny that it was joyous despite all his conjectures regarding the motives of the actions. His head lowered slightly to cover up the complicated expression on his face.
Empress Dowager Xie took this chance to order, “We can’t miss the proper hour. Send them off on their journey.”
Ning Xiaoyao didn’t have time to speak to Fang Tang and the rest, who were bowing in respect. Nor did she had time to ask about the youth who had knelt on the ground as soon as he saw her by the door. She quickly spun back and shouted, “Nobody move!”
The eunuchs responsible for poisoning the Dragon Guards were at a loss. They had to listen to the empress dowager, but they couldn’t defy the emperor, either. Just what should they do?
Meanwhile, all the officials present in the courtyard were currently pretending they didn’t exist. How were they to interfere in matters between a son and his mother? Still, their hearts were clear from what they’d just seen. Empress Dowager Xie and His Majesty didn’t have the typical filial relationship of a parent and child.
Empress Dowager Xie’s tone turned severe as she shouted, “Your Majesty!”
Two generals held up Lou Zigui as he stood outside the gates to speak to Ning Xiaoyao in a low voice. “If you can save them tonight, they’ll be sharp swords in your hands in the future.”
Ning Xiaoyao turned back to roll her eyes at him. “What sharp swords? These are human lives, all right? Even if I die, I have to save them!”
Shadowrain was kneeling on the ground when he heard these words. He suddenly felt like tearing up. Just from these words alone, he was willing to use his life to protect Ning Xiaoyao! Lou Zigui wasn’t so easily moved. Perhaps this person really cared about lives; perhaps she was simply trying to win over their hearts. Saving lives was one of the greatest kindnesses in this world.
“How are you preparing to save them?” Lou Zigui asked calmly.
Ning Xiaoyao stood on the tall threshold of the door and whispered in Lou Zigui’s ear. “If nothing else works, I’ll take off my clothes. Once my secret’s exposed, the empress dowager has to die too, hehe.”
The ever-calm Lou Zigui was startled once again by Ning Xiaoyao. Just what had she said? Take off her clothes? Was there ever a girl who stripped in public?!
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